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Little Do You Know

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(El's POV) Flashback 1983

 

I could barely make out the sight of my legs sat dangled in front of me, tears having blurred my vision. I rocked back and forth slowly, my pent up frustration releasing through nervous energy. The old swing creaked and cracked each time I dared move, hanging loosely by a thread of corroding metal chains and I knew it wouldn’t be long before it broke completely, just like me.

I can’t exactly remember when it all went wrong and maybe it was my fault for being so oblivious to what was clearly bubbling underneath the surface this whole time. The back and forth bickering between my parents had erupted like magma at the beginning of last year and now it burned them entirely, consuming everything they once were into black ash.

I’ve never seen two people who once claimed to love each other spew out such hatred like a toxic vomit they couldn’t control. It was like an ugly monster rendered it’s head right before my very eyes and devoured two people whole, not even leaving a pulse of what they once had behind.

My dad had left a few months ago with not so much as a goodbye. The only evident trace of him was a stack of divorce papers haphazardly thrown onto the kitchen counter, all his other belongings vanished.

I once believed my dad had loved me. He used to take me out to the Indianapolis baseball games when I was younger. Although he tried his hardest to get us closer seats we’d always end up sitting in the nosebleeds, but that never mattered to me. I simply enjoyed being with him.

He’d made sure to buy us foot-long hot dogs during every halftime, that I never seemed to be able to finish. I found it hilarious whenever he would openly curse out the other team’s umpire, insulting him for the “stupid” calls he made even though there was no possible way the ump could even hear him from our place in the stands.

We’d always cheer for our home team the Indians at the top of our lungs even though we both secretly knew it would be a miracle in itself if they’d won the game. (I think they only won three out of the twenty we’d attended).

My mom had never been a fan of baseball so I didn’t think twice about it when she eventually stopped coming to the games with us. Now looking back on it I should have noticed that there was something else hidden beneath. I should have known. But whatever was brewing between them they had been so good at keeping it away from me that I didn’t notice, or maybe I just didn’t want to.

After my mom found out my dad had left, she told me I would go live with my uncle in a town I’d never even heard of, a town called Hawkins.

I didn’t understand at all and I immediately combusted at the seams. The betrayal and pain I felt bursting forth, like a dam that’d been battered by storms and cruel currents far too many times until it had enough and flooded forth.

But regardless of how I felt, how much I screamed, and much I begged to stay with her, it was final.

She said it would be better for me. She said she couldn’t take care of me on her own.

I once believed my mom had loved me. We would watch soap operas together every Saturday night, snuggling up on the couch together with a big bowl of popcorn as we indulged in the late-night shows. It was the only time she’d let me stay up past ten and I enjoyed every single minute of it despite how tired I’d become the next morning.

Days of our Lives was hands down our absolute favorite. We laughed, we cried, and then we’d theorize who would end up with who while we anxiously waited for the next episode. She’d made sure to cover up my eyes with her hands any time a heated scene came on which I always found funny.

On those late nights, she’d sometimes even braid my hair. I’d sit criss cross on the floor, while she sat up the couch and hummed along to the show’s opening theme song while weaving my hair to and fro between each other until it ended in a beautiful french braid.

But before long our Saturday nights started to dwindle. She’d either say she was too tired to stay up that night or whenever she’d end up a fight with my dad she’d leave and wouldn’t come home at all until the following day.

"Days of our Lives" was never as much fun to watch alone but I still did, waiting patiently for her to return so I could fill her in on all the stuff she’d missed. I was blinded though, having figured that her absence was temporary and she would eventually come to join me soon because she must’ve been dying to find out what happened between Marlena and Roman, she must’ve been.

Yet, she never came.

And today was the end of the first week since I’d officially moved in with my uncle in this godforsaken awfully small town that I hadn’t known was even on the map.

I found myself hating my parents.

It wasn’t fair.

Why would they do this to me? They were supposed to be in love! They were supposed to make it work! They were supposed to always be!

Isn’t that what marriage was?

I could feel my chest rattle as another flood of tears began to shed when the realization of it all overcame me. I stopped the swing, and took my hands off the chains, groveling my face into them not caring about the specks of copper that littered my fingers or the lingering smell of rust.

All I could think about at that moment was the only reasonable explanation of why my parents suddenly wanted nothing to do with each other anymore and also why they wanted nothing to do with me.

It was there sitting alone on that swing set that I uncovered the mystery of why my life had completely and utterly gone to bullshit.

Love wasn’t real and it didn’t exist.

“Hey,”

I didn’t even bother to look up, hoping whoever it was would catch the hint and leave me alone. I had chosen this spot solely because I didn’t think anyone else would be here. I wanted to be alone, I needed to be, and I really thought an abandoned swing set found deep in the woods would be the best place for seclusion, but then again, I guess not.

It wasn’t long before I heard a thud like something had been dropped along with a short breathless pant and before I knew it, I heard a soft rattle of chains right beside me.

Whoever this person was they decided to sit in the swing next to me and I could now feel myself boiling over.

“Why are you here?” I furiously wiped at my eyes with the backs of my hands before daring to look the perpetrator in the face.

He was a boy that looked to be around my age. He had jet black hair styled in a messy bowl cut which curled at the ends. His unruly bangs plastered stuck upon his forehead perceivably from the sweat that was started to drip down his face. I could see a silver bike laid on its side right behind him.

His face was soft and round, cherry cheeks flushed from the harsh summer heat, but taut with an expression of concern, or maybe it was pity. “My friends and I made a bet on who could make it to the lake first so I decided to take a shortcut through the woods-

“No.” I spat firmly, interrupting his spiel. “Why are you here?”

I didn’t care that he decided to bike through the woods or whatever he was going on about. He could’ve easily raced through and been on his way and that would’ve been that but I didn’t understand why he decided to stop and sit beside me and that began to frustrate me to no end.

“I-well.. um, I saw you sitting here alone and I thought I’d check, uh... you know, to see if you were okay.” He fumbled through his words like I’d thrown him for a loop that he didn’t see coming.

“I’m fine alright.” I harshly retorted, not interested in progressing this conversation. “I don’t need a babysitter, so you can go now.” I flippantly waved him off.

I stared down at my feet in an effort to avoid him and to also blink away any stray tears still left behind in my eyes. I was expecting that to be that and he’d leave and forget this whole situation ever happened but when I didn’t hear so much as the swing shake from him getting off of it I grew increasingly confused.

“You’ve been crying... What’s wrong?”

I don’t know whether it was the fact that he’d been the first individual to ask how I was this entire time or the fact this his gentle voice sounded so genuine in that moment that my initial frustration with him slowly began to dissipate.

“Everything,” I mumbled under my breath and it was solely the truth, everything that could possibly be wrong in my life was wrong and I hated it.

He ran a hand through his damp curls and glanced up thoughtfully for a second before his gaze landed back on me. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

I watched curiously as he took off the backpack he’d carried on his shoulders and set it on his lap. He unzipped it and rummaged through it having stopped only once he found what he was looking for.

He slowly pulled out a small bag of M&Ms and tore them open. He then turned back to me, lifting the bag towards me with a nod to ask I wanted any.

I brushed off the chips of rust from the swing onto my shorts and then opened the palm of my hand towards him.

He poured some of the M&MS into my open palm. “Thanks..?” I asked not understanding the reason behind the gesture. “Why though?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged, his eyes darting nervously as if he were second-guessing himself. “I guess because M&Ms are my favorite candy of all time and since they usually cheer me up, I thought maybe they’d do the same for you.”

‘I like M&Ms.” I said, quickly popping the chocolate pieces into my mouth before they could melt in my hand.

“Cool.” I could see a slight smile grow on his face and suddenly I could feel my expression match his own. The first kind of half-smile I had even smiled for the whole month.

“I’m Michael by the way.” He stated, through chomped bits of chocolate. “Well actually you can call me Mike, everyone else does.”

“I’m El.”

“El, huh?” He pondered. “Is that like short for something?”

I shook my head. “It’s actually my middle name. I don’t really care much for my first, so I just go by El.”

“What’s your first name?”

“Jane.” I slightly winced, disliking the way the name even rolled off my tongue.

“I see.” he hummed, starting to pick up speed on his swing. “I think I prefer El too.”

“You do realize that swing is super old?”

“Yep.” He replied, although not seeming to care as he continued to sway back and forth, his legs now setting into a faster-paced motion. “So, you’re new here, right?”

Although Mike was friendly for whatever strange reason which I still hadn’t a clue. I just couldn’t seem to wrap my mind on why he was here bumming it out with me on a mangey old swing set in the middle of the woods in ninety-degree heat when he could be at the lake with his friends right now.

I ignored his question. “You lost your bet.”

“Huh?”

I rolled my eyes then resumed my gaze on the chains in his hands, anticipating the swing to collapse any second. “Your bet with your friends?” I reminded him. “You totally lost it.”

“Oh yeah.” He replied unbothered. “I was probably gonna lose anyway. They had a head start.”

“So what did you even bet?”

He shot me a knowing smirk and it made me feel a little funny, almost like it had tickled the insides of my stomach. “These M&Ms.” he replied, holding up the half-emptied brown paper bag so I could see.

I couldn’t hold back the chuckle that threatened my lips. “You’re dumb.” I breathed, playfully glancing back at him.

He put a hand over his heart in mock offense. “Hey! I-

And then it happened,

The swing finally snapped, the sound piercing through the ominous silence of the woods.

The rusted chains fell swiftly onto the floor and Mike flew into the open air shortly before his body collided roughly onto the mossy dirt covered ground.

I immediately jumped from my swing and rushed over beside him. I couldn’t see his face for he’d pulled his body up into fetal position. “Mike!”

I heard a muffled noise that sounded a lot like wailing and I began to panic. “Oh my god, Mike! are you okay?” I tugged at his arm.

He turned to face me and that’s when I realized he wasn’t crying at all. He was laughing. In fact, his obnoxious laughter was so loud that it seemed to echo, the sound bouncing off of the trees and scaring away the cardinals and robins that were once at rest.

“Scratch that, You’re not dumb. You’re just an idiot.”

I should’ve been mad at him for the stunt he just pulled but I couldn’t seem to keep a straight face, his laughter was so contagious that I soon found myself right there along with him.

 


 

It was during that turbulent summer of ‘83 right before seventh grade that Mike and I became inseparable. He was my first real friend. It’s not like I hadn’t any friends before, don’t get wrong. I left a few back home in Indianapolis, but I never in my twelve years of life had a friend quite like Michael Wheeler.

Over the course of the next two months, I’d practically go over to his house every day to play D&D with him and the rest of his friends in the hub of his basement. Their names were Will, Dustin, and Lucas who slowly but surely became my friends as well. Even though I hadn’t played the magical role-playing fantasy game before I met them, it wasn’t too long before I caught up with the others and matched their skill level in no time.

We had established ourselves as the Party and every single day it would be an adventure.

I, the mage, Mike the Paladin, Lucas the Ranger, Will the Wizard, and Dustin the Bard.

Mike’s mom didn’t bat an eye anymore when I’d show up unannounced to their house. I liked his mom, she’d offer us snacks or fresh cookies that she’d bake while we planned our latest campaign.

What I enjoyed most about that summer though was that there was always something new to look forward to with the party. There was always another adventure to explore which allowed me to escape. It was with them that I was able to take my mind off of everything and even for the briefest of moments if I were lucky enough, I’d forget how shitty my life actually was. It had been a breath of fresh air and my lungs were desperate.

Aside from our campaigns, we’d race bikes practically everywhere. We’d zip by on the streets, down forest trails, underneath tunnels, and shortcuts through neighborhoods that we’d claimed as our secret magical passageways even though most were off-limits, given it was private property.

We’d only got caught once though and after we barely managed to escape their beast of a rottweiler we’d vowed as a group to steer clear of shortcuts, no matter how badly we wanted to win a race. But through all the bets we waged, Mike probably ended up losing more candy and comics than we could count.

We’d play hide and seek and capture the flag during nightfall because we thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. But more often than not, a fight would break out because teams were uneven due to our group of five. Mike and I would sometimes get so distracted wandering off by ourselves or catching fireflies that the other boys would eventually scrap the game and start a new one without us.

I’d managed to drag the boys to the mall a few times but they never liked it as much as me. I could go and window shop for hours on end but if they lasted a mere thirty minutes it was a miracle. We mainly went for the ice cream at Scoops Ahoy and sometimes if we were feeling risky, we’d sneak into R rated movies. Surprisingly, we never got caught.

We also spent many late afternoons at the lake which was without a doubt our favorite spot. The pool was just far too crowded with annoying teenagers who just lounged around to gossip and pretentious adults who would get onto us for roughhousing. In an effort to avoid that, we always went swimming down at Lover’s lake, and even though I loathed the name for obvious reasons, it was still in my opinion the highlight of that summer.

“Stop it!” I squealed as Mike continued to splash me with water. I couldn’t help but notice that the specks on his sunburned nose and shoulders multiplied every time we went swimming. I would never tell him, but I kinda liked his freckles.

He continued to splash me despite my plea and laughed at my struggled attempt to get him back. “You’re so dead,” I warned, with a sneaky smile.

Once he finally ceased I swam after him and attempted to dunk his head into the murky water in means of revenge. We went back and forth, splashing and trying to dunk each other. We’d been so easily caught up within our own world that we hadn’t even realized that the rest of the boys had already gotten out of the lake and dried off, sitting off to the side while murmuring among themselves and suggestively glancing back towards us.

The thing was that the others didn’t really understand my bond with Mike, and to be honest, I didn’t really understand it myself. All I knew was that the friendship I had with him didn’t compare to the friendship I had with anyone else, nobody in the party even came remotely close. What Mike and I had was just special.

I felt myself the most when I was around him. He saw me for me and I never had to pretend or even felt the need to.

Aside from our shared jokes, and the pranks we pulled, we shared secrets. He listened well and never judged and it was becoming so easy to tell him almost anything, almost.

He told me about the bullies he’d faced in school and how they pushed him into the lockers and called him frog face. It made me mad and I vowed to kick their asses for him next year if they dared try again.

I eventually opened up to him about what happened between my parents, eventually confessing to him as well that I would never in my lifetime get married.

He was the only one who knew anything out of our friend group and he’d been sworn to secrecy, but even then he still didn’t know everything.

We saw each other practically every day, rain or shine. Eventually, Mike became so good at reading me he’d know if I was in a good or bad mood by the way I simply carried myself. I don’t know how, but it was like a third sense he had or something. The only downside is that I could never get anything past him.

But whenever I was in a really low place and didn’t even feel like hanging out with the rest of the party he always without fail, knew where to find me. He’d look for me on the abandoned swing set in the woods or the bench near the far edge of the lake and if I felt like it, we would talk. But if I didn’t, I’d just lay my head on his shoulder and cry.

It was clearly evident that I enjoyed his company more than the other boys and they caught onto that in no time. They’d often tease us about us liking each other which I found irritating as hell because as far as that went, that wasn’t the case, we were just friends.

Best Friends.

I admit whenever I was around Mike he’d cause me to have these funny sensations that I couldn’t really explain. My heart would speed up whenever I heard the sound of his laugh and my hands would grow clammy whenever he held onto them before we jumped into the lake together. But the thought of becoming anything more than friends was a concept that was far from my mind.

Because dating entailed feelings, and feelings entailed “love” and...

Love didn’t exist


 

Before we knew it September rolled by and summer was coming to an end. It frightened me to know that the pains of life were creeping up again ready to snatch me at a moment’s notice.

But more than anything it frightened me to know that my fresh breath of air would soon be gone and I’d be gasping again, drowning, not only in a sea of my parental issues but also anchored down by the dreaded weight in which I wasn’t yet ready to face, a new school.

Mike and I headed down to the lake with slushies in hand that we had just gotten from the nearby corner store, his cherry and mine blue raspberry.

Dustin was currently on his way back from Space Camp, Will spending time with his brother, and Lucas forced into back to school shopping which meant Mike and I were left alone.

We sat right near the water’s edge, far enough to where we wouldn’t get wet but close enough that we could dip our bare feet in the shallows. The sun was beginning to set, the last golden rays fading into a purple hue and we could feel the faint autumn breeze ripple through the warm air.

“Mike,”

“Yeah?”

“Can I tell you something?”

He turned to me with expectant riddled eyes, and I noticed him absentmindedly pulling at the grass beside him as if he felt nervous. “Yeah.”

“I really don’t wanna go to school.” I groaned aloud, hoping to conceal the anxiousness I was actually battling inside. “I’m gonna be the new kid.”

“You have to think optimistically.” He suddenly stopped pulling at the grass and it seemed his nerves settled. “Since it’s a small town at least everybody will already know who you are.”

“And how is that a good thing?”

“Makes for easy introductions?” He quirked a smile, knocking his shoulder into mine.

“Mike!” I swatted at his arm. “Stop being an idiot right now, I’m being for real.” I took another sip of my slush then sat it down, my gaze locked ahead on the stillness of the lake’s surface secretly wishing for the day I’d feel that calm. “I’ve never moved schools before, I don’t... I don’t know how it’s gonna be.”

“Well, how do you want it to be?”

I glanced over at him, the earnesty in his voice catching me off guard. I sat there quiet for a minute as I picked at the question he’d presented me at least a hundred times in my mind before I settled on an answer. “Like this summer.”

I read his perplexed expression and felt the need to clarify. “I’d want it to be something extraordinary you know. I’d want it to be different. Where I won’t just be the random new girl and you won’t just be the kid who gets picked on but it would be like another adventure, like one of our D&D campaigns.” I turned away from him and let out a small huff. “It won’t be like that though.”

“Why do you say that?” He raised his brows in genuine curiosity.

“Because Mike, it’s middle school.” I rolled off my tongue like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “All anyone cares about is trying to secure a top spot on the social ladder before high school. There are sadly no mages or paladins... Just a bunch of kids who think they know what they’re doing, but really don’t.”

“It could still be an adventure though.” His red-stained lips lifted up into a reassuring smile while purple hues from the setting sun danced across his face. “But this time instead of facing the Demogorgon or Mind flayer we’d be taking on the monster known as Hawkin’s middle.”

“Sounds a hell of a lot scarier in my opinion.”

“True, I don’t think if we’ve even acquired enough experience points for that yet.”

We both looked at each other and began to harmonize in fits of laughter.

Once we finally composed, my overthinking started to get the best of me again, and although I tried to act like it didn’t bother me I knew right off the bat Mike could tell. He always could.

“Hey.” he soothed, interrupting the silence between us. “It may suck at first, but it’ll be okay.” He placed his hand on top of mine where it laid rested on the grass but he didn’t retract it like I had expected him to and I could feel my pulse quicken. “You’ve got this.”

“You mean we’ve got this,” I remarked causing him to smile. “A mere mage can’t simply take on the Hawkins Middle monster by herself, now can she?”

“Together then?”

Together.

I don’t quite know when it happened but I realized Mike’s face had drawn closer to mine, it felt almost magnetic. He was so close that I could now count the stars of freckles across his nose and feel the coolness of his breath fan across my face.

As I stared back into his dark eyes, I saw an explosion of warmth inside of them that I’d only ever seen mere traces of before. What was happening?

But before I could think twice about it he suddenly pressed his smooth cold lips onto my own.

I closed my eyes momentarily but in a split second, I snapped them back open.

This was wrong. He was my friend.

I shoved him away from me, catching him by surprise as he nearly toppled backward, losing his balance. “What are you doing?” I asked, scrambling up to my feet.

“I-I was-”

But before he could try to explain himself, I did the only logical thing I knew to do at that moment,

I ran.

Chapter Text

Mike's POV ( Flashback 1984)

 

That night after coming home, I plopped morosely onto my bed and laid there for hours on end. Unable to sleep, I studied the chipped paint on the ceiling while my mind unraveled at the seams.

Did I hate myself for screwing things up? Yes.

Did I regret it? Oddly.. no.

If I thought about it hard enough, I could still faintly feel her delicate lips on mine and I smiled to myself dwelling in the remnants of the memory. She'd been my first kiss. It wasn't how you'd expect a first kiss to go either, it wasn't awkward nor inexperienced. It was like I'd been lifted from a shrouded fog and into a state of clarity, and for once everything made sense.

I never expected to catch her that day in the woods seated on that old rusty swing set by herself.

I certainly never expected to stop what I was doing and approach her either.

Maybe it was the fact that her loneliness had reminded me so much of my own that I'd felt for her. That I resonated with her. That I sympathized with her. So I just had to make sure she was okay.

I didn't have the best relationship with my father, I practically didn't have a relationship with him at all. If he'd been bothered enough to ask how my day went that would pretty much sum up the entirety of conversations we'd share together. He was much more a fan of his lazy boy recliner and western reruns than he was of me.

My mother, she tried. She'd force us to all sit down for family dinners every evening which only seemed to magnify the cracks that had long broken through. Her attention was always stolen by baby Holly's antics or either Nancy's college dreams which made it easy for me to slip right through those open cracks without her noticing. She hadn't even seen that I'd become the embodiment of the forgotten middle child stereotype.

I'd never known what love between two people looked looked like or what expressions of romance entailed. My parents were hardly ever affectionate towards one another. They never acted like the happy married couples do on TV, their relationship more so complacent and stale churning right along with the mundane routines of every day existence. They didn't go out on dates, or tell each other stories, or laugh together at funny jokes the other had said.

I never gave much thought to it before. I never felt the need to, but something new was now stirring inside of me and I started to wonder about love for the first time in my life.

El unknowingly drew me in like a moth to a flame.

We'd become fast friends that summer, best friends even and although I'd known the boys for most of my life, it was different with her in a way which I didn't know how to process.

I tried many times to deny the strange attraction I'd begun feeling towards her at the start of the summer. I'd never been close friends with a girl before, especially not one whose smile made my heart hammer instantly or whose golden eyes enticed me every time she held my gaze.

The guys would tease us mercilessly whenever we were together and she'd always been so adamant to shut down their assumptions, making me feel guilty for carrying around any feelings I had for her in the first place.

I ended up shoving them away and hoping they'd eventually disappear.

I didn't want it to be weird. It wasn't supposed to be, we were friends.

However, maneuvering through my newly budding feelings for El was like trying to steer a bike with no handlebars, next to impossible.

I stuffed my pillow in my face, wallowing in the fact that I'd just messed up BIG TIME.

It was careless,

It was ignorant,

But I couldn't entirely rid myself of the whispering thought that told me that maybe somewhere deep inside she had felt it too.. The spark between us, the electricity, the undeniable shift in the air whenever we were together.

I would never forget her telling me how her parents had given up on each other and dropped her off on the doorstep of her uncle's home. It was the very first time she'd confided in me and actually let down one of her many walls she'd so heavily armored herself with.

She also told me marriage was a trap, it was a lie, and she'd swore she'd never get caught in it.

She didn't believe in love but even after hearing her fairly strong arguments against it..

I still did.

                                                                                                


 

Over the next few days, I tried my hardest to get in touch with her. I'd left her several voicemails all of which ended in slew of frantic apologies but after the seventh attempt and a harsh threat from her uncle later, I eventually stopped calling altogether.

El had ignored me for three straight months after the incident at the lake and I had never been more miserable.

Seventh grade was already in full swing at this point. The initial uncertainty and first day jitters long gone and now settled into a well known and familiar routine.

The guys never asked me why El hadn't bothered to show up anymore or why she didn't at least hang with us after school. I guessed maybe she'd already told them and they'd found no point in bringing it up, for which I was grateful.

El and I hadn't shared any classes that year.

I'd still sometimes spot her in the halls in between periods or I'd catch her leaving the library with a stack of books towed in hand.

She looked so much different than she had from the past summer. I almost didn't recognize her at first. She dressed in black from head to toe, her shoulder length light brown hair gelled back, and her eyes smudged heavily with dark makeup.

We never spoke to each other since the day at the lake and I'd assumed she wanted to leave it that way, but whenever we crossed paths and accidentally made eye contact I couldn't help but notice a familiar amiable twinkle in her eye.

El certainly made a splash as the new girl. She'd even managed to disrupt the consistent ebb and flow of the middle school hierarchy, which is a pretty big feat if you ask me.

For the first two weeks everyone's gossip and lingering stares were desperate to find a box to place her in. She was pretty and bright and they knew that, which only made it harder for them to label her. I'd even witnessed some of the populars weighing their judgement by talking to her outside of school, gauging to see if she was anything like them.

She carried herself with such an "I don't care, screw you" attitude that if I hadn't already known her I don't think I'd ever want to. She was abrasive, bold, and inconsiderate of what others thought and because of that and also the way she dressed they'd eventually made their choice and stamped her before she even had a say in the matter.

They called her a freak, a weirdo, a goth.

That was the sole reason why she didn't have many friends. The other reason being some just found her to be way too intimidating to even approach. She wasn't a troublemaker though, she just looked like one, but still that didn't stop the constant rumors from the kids in our grade as they grabbed at straws, making crazy guesses on her mysterious past Pre-Hawkins.

Everyday at lunch she would sit by herself with her nose in a book. She seemed so invested at times that I bet if the cafeteria suddenly caught fire she still probably wouldn't be bothered to look up. It was almost like she was purposely shielding herself from the world around her by acting like it didn't exist.

"Mike, you're doing it again." I shook my head interrupted from my daze by the frustrated tone in Dustin's voice.

"Doing what?"

"Staring."

I was now quite aware of the judgmental glances my friends were throwing my way further reminding how I'd hadn't paid much attention to our conversation in the last twenty minutes.

"She always sits by herself." I replied, absentmindedly poking at the cafeteria's meatloaf with my fork while lost in thought.

"So?" Lucas huffed. "It's not our problem. She clearly made that choice."

"I know, but still.. it must suck."

"Yeah probably." By the way Dustin shrugged it off I could tell he wasn't fussed over it. "But you know what really sucks?"

"What?"

"The fact I got this detention slip from Mr. Roberts." My toothless friend pulled out the crumbled pink slip from his pocket to show us. "Total bullshit!"

"Whoa, really?" Will chimed in bemused. "Dude, how!" Lucas jumped in as well and it wasn't long before the conversation about El came to an abrupt halt and trailed off into what stunt Dustin pulled that had landed him in trouble.

But even during that discussion my gaze eventually wandered back towards her. She looked as lonely as she did the first day I met her and although she was really good at hiding behind her appearance and books, I knew this wasn't something she wanted. She didn't want to be the freak. She didn't want to be an outcast. She definitely didn't want to be the girl who sits by herself with only a book to keep her company.

We were supposed to do this together. 

So after a couple months of not speaking to her, I made up my mind at that precise moment that I'd do just that.     

                                                             


 

"Hey El," I said to her the next day while she was grabbing her things from her locker. She turned around startled which didn't surprise me knowing it'd been awhile since we last exchanged words.

"Um, hi?" She wore an over-sized red flannel and tights that were nearly hidden by her long black trench coat which she paired with clunky combat boots.

"How's it going?"

She eyed me skeptically. "Good, I guess..?" she slowly replied, stuffing her books in her backpack.

"Me too." I smiled, as I leaned against the row of metal lockers. "I mean, I'm doing good too." I awkwardly rephrased. Wow, I was shit at small talk.

Silence filled the air, and I could tell she was attempting to avoid eye contact. My confidence was dwindling rapidly and I began to second guess my decision to even speak to her, now thinking of the best way out of this situation before I looked even more like an idiot. 

"Why are you talking to me?" She said breaking the silence as well as my poorly thought out escape plan. She wasn't aggravated like I'd expected but more so contemplative.

"Why not?"

"I figured you hated me by now." El finally looked me in the eyes, hers searching mine for evident truth. "So.. you don't hate me?"

"No. Do you hate me?"

"No."

"Well seems we've reached a mutual conclusion then." I quirked a smile at her and she gave me one back and I could've easily melted right there on the spot. I really missed that smile.

"I guess so."

"So do you wanna sit with me and the guys at lunch?" I blurted out without thinking about it. I then cringed at how stupid that must've sounded before remembering the chocolate candies tucked away in my pocket. I pulled them out in hopes to salvage the moment. "I've got M&Ms."

She laughed at this, which caused my heart to flutter in my chest but then she soon stopped, an uneasiness creeping back over her face. "Are you sure about that? I don't exactly have the best reputation, you know."

"I know." I simply shrugged, not understanding the problem. She could've been wanted for murder and I still wouldn't have cared as long as we could sit at lunch together.

"It doesn't bother you?"

"Not really."

Her rose petal lips curled into a coy smirk. "Well Wheeler, I guess there's really only one thing left to say."

"What's that?"

"Sucks to suck." She then snatched the bag of candy from my grasp and before I could even register what just happened she took down the hall but before she went too far, she turned around and shot a teasing smile over her shoulder, egging me on. "Better hurry, before they're gone!"

Once I understood, I shook my head and chuckled to myself at her typical antics. It wasn't long before I bolted down the hall right after her, following the melodic sound of her laughter that trailed throughout the hall.

The next year and a half were spent hanging out with each other every moment we possibly could.

She easily integrated back into our group and it was like she'd never left in the first place. She shared interesting stories from her hometown along with many funny memories. We slipped right into being best friends again like it was the most natural thing ever.

Our bond was unmatched and everyone knew it.

It was always Mike and El.

It was always El and Mike.

It was always us.

I only wished it would've stayed that way.   

                                                                                              


 

(Flashback 1985)

 

The 8th grade formal was not only the biggest dance in middle school. It was THE dance.

It was the last dance before heading off to high-school.

It was the last dance to finally ask out your crush in hopes to spur a summer fling.

It was the last dance of our childhood,

And it was fast approaching.

Once I received the tickets, I folded them quickly and slid them into my back pocket.

"You bought two tickets?"

"So?" I remarked once we walked away from the sign up booth.

"So.." Lucas's eyebrows lifted in amusement. "That means you've either already asked someone or you're planning to ask someone."

"I haven't asked anyone yet." I tried my best to play it cool despite how incredibly giddy I was feeling. I knew exactly who I was gonna ask and I was on cloud nine.

"Yet?" Lucas grinned, nudging me in my side with his elbow. "Who's the girl? Is it Olivia Newton?" he asked enthusiastically.

"Why would it be her?"

"Well for one, she's totally into you." He waggled his brows. "Also, she's such a babe! I mean you'd have to be mental or something not to ask her."

"Well it's not her." I huffed, trying to bite back the irritation in my tone. I quickly rounded the corner and headed straight through the corridors with him trailing behind me.

There was nothing wrong with Olivia. She was smart and really cute. She was also the lead singer in chorus and definitely out of my league. But ever since that one day in science class when she was paired up as my lab partner only because Will was home sick with the flu, she began acting super friendly towards me, flirty even.

She managed to convince Will to permanently switch with her so she could be my partner for the rest of the year. It didn't take much convincing given he was a bit of a push over. Now like clock work she would linger by my locker every morning just to say Hi and then follow me like a lost puppy to our science class. I knew she liked me. She'd even been bold enough to tell me and any other guy in my grade would've jumped at that given opportunity in a heartbeat.

But..

She didn't make everything else fade away but her when she walked into a room

She didn't make me smile ear to ear like a crazy person every time we talked.

She wasn't the first person on my mind when I woke up and neither was she the last one on my mind when I went to bed

She wasn't El.

I'd fully convinced myself that things were different between us now.

We would hang out alone more times than not.

El would come over to my house every week so I could help her with her math homework, it was the only subject she hated with a passion. But even after she'd finish her homework it seemed like she never quite wanted to leave so we'd always end up finding ourselves making pillow forts in my basement or staying up watching movies until my mom passively aggressively told me it was time for bed, her way of also signaling El had worn out her welcome.

We would pool our loose change together every weekend so we could buy slushies and candy from the corner store. We then would stroll through the park until we found an empty picnic table so we could split the newly bought goods between us. We'd sit there for hours on end eating junk food and just talking about anything and everything.

El would sometimes choose to ride with me on the back of my bike even though she had her own. She'd say she didn't feel like biking that day or that it was a short trip so it made more sense to ride together. But every time she held onto me on those bike rides together, I swear I felt like I could fly.

My feelings for El had blown up that year like fireworks on the fourth of July.

It was no longer just a silly crush but it was turning into something else, something more, and the harder I tried to fight it, the truth was.. I couldn't.

I found it increasingly difficult to restrain myself from doing something impulsive like reaching out to hold her hand during movie night when our fingers would accidentally brush from when we both went for the bowl of popcorn at the same time or even something utterly stupid, like kissing her whenever we'd compare mouths to see who's tongue was a brighter color from the slushies we'd just consumed.

"What!" He shouted in disbelief, catching the door I just swung open. A beat of silence passed between us. He then gave me a peculiar look as it dawned on him. "Wait, please don't tell me.." he winced, gritting his teeth.

I held his glare briefly, choosing not to say a word as I unlocked then mounted my bike. I knew what he was bound to say, and I really didn't want to hear it.

"Dude, don't do it." Lucas shook his head, grabbing my shoulder to prevent me from biking away. "It's a bad idea."

I muttered a quick whatever under my breath before I sped off. What did Lucas know anyways?" I scoffed to myself.

And I later that day I found out..

He apparently knew a lot more than me.                       

                                                                      


 

I hadn't known where I went wrong.

Maybe I should've actually saved up some money to buy her actual flowers instead of stealing one from her neighbors garden.

Maybe I should've just hung out with her like she was hoping instead of asking to talk to her.

Maybe I should've just left things alone.

 

"Hey kid! your friend is here!" The gruff middle aged man hollered behind him through the house. "again.." he added, turning to me with obvious annoyance written across his face.

I paid her uncle no mind as I kept reciting the words I'd planned on saying, over and over. My head buzzing with a thousand ways to ask her while I stood there uncomfortably on her front porch.

"You're late." El soon cut me off, her hands on her hips as she looked expectantly to me for an answer.

She was wearing a black hoodie and a simple pair of blue jeans which were cuffed over her purple converse. A few loose strands of honey waves had finally broken free from the strong gel hold on them since earlier this morning and fell, framing around her face.

My heart caught in my throat.

I caught myself staring then immediately glanced down at my feet. "Y-Yeah, I had something to do after school." I stammered.

"Only you would purposely stay after school on a Friday. You're such a dork." She teased, and I could see her curiously trying to take a peek at my hands that I'd intentionally tucked behind my back away from her.

I closed my eyes briefly and took in a deep breath. It was now or never. "El, I-

"So you ready?" She asked, closing the front door behind her. "Shh, don't say anything." she slipped a finger in front of her lips with a knowing smile. "But I totally raided Hop's coin jar." Look, I even scored some quarters!" she exclaimed, pulling out the coins from her pockets.

"Oh, uh.. awesome." I stated, trying to catch my train of thoughts that had been thrown off it's tracks by her rambling.

"Oooh Mike, did you hear? Apparently they have a new slushie favor, and guess what it is? watermelon! Oh my god, We totally have to try it." In her excitement she'd left me on the porch, walking off to grab her bike from where it sat rested against the tree in her front yard. "You coming?" she motioned me over with a quick nod.

"El, I wanted to ask you something."

"I don't see why it can't wait until we have watermelon slushies." She rolled her eyes at me, gripping onto her bike's handlebars and walking it beside her. "But sure, shoot."

I approached her slowly and with every step I took I swear I heard my heart audibly pound like a drum inside my chest. I only hoped she couldn't hear it as well. I also could feel the heat rising in my cheeks and a bout of anxiousness swirling inside of me. But before I could talk myself out of it, I took another deep breath then pulled out the white daisy I'd been holding behind my back and presented it to her.

"I um.. I was wondering if you.. well.. if you wanted to go to formal with me?"

She stared back at me like a deer caught in headlights and I scrambled for a better way to communicate that to her.

"I know it's a cheesy school dance and all. It's probably not even worth the hype, but I don't know, I was thinking maybe it would be kinda fun, you know.. if we went together." I scratched the back of my head, giving her an awkward smile.

"Why?"

I gulped the thick lump that was lingering in the back of my throat. "I mean, I really like you El. I like you a lot and I just-

"No. She blatantly interrupted. "Why do you always do this?" Her caught off guard expression had now twisted into one of rage. She threw her bike down, the harsh clang that reverberated off the asphalt making me wince. "You mess up everything!"

I shook my head, completely taken aback by that response. "Wha-what?"

"When will you finally get it through your head that we-" Her frigid eyes bore into mine while she adamantly gestured between us. "Are not gonna happen, okay. We are never going to happen." the added sharpness in her tone dripped like deadly acid from her mouth.

I felt like I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. It was as if every limb in my body was suddenly doused in ice and frozen over. The cloud nine I'd once been riding on viciously ripped right from underneath me without so much as a warning and I just crashed and shattered into a thousand pieces.

She unclenched her fists, the taut vexation in her face slowly dissolving into shame. My only guess for the sudden shift in her demeanor was that she must've been alarmed by all the undressed emotions etched into my face. "Mike.." her voice suddenly dipped into a whisper.

It was as if I suddenly gained control of my body once she spoke my name. The daisy fell from my hand and hit the ground once the blistering pain finally bubbled up to the surface and melted away the ice that had previously locked me into place.

"I shouldn't have said it like it.. I didn't mean-

I can't recall what she said after that because all my senses completely blocked her out. She even reached out to grab my arm at one point but I had pulled away before she could. All I knew in that moment was that I had to get out of there. I had to get out of there fast, and so that's what I did.

I biked home, doing everything I could to hold back the hot tears pricking the corners of my eyes.

It didn't help that I continued to torture myself by replaying what she had said earlier on an endless loop in my mind. Never gonna happen. Never. Never.

There was just one thing about the whole situation that didn't quite add up no matter how much I thought it through. If it were anybody else they would've just denied my ask or shut me down with a simple no, but for some reason it was as if the mere fact that I had feelings for her bothered her and I didn't know why.

I wouldn't know why for quite awhile.

But regardless of how I felt that late Friday afternoon in 1985,

I didn't blame her.

And even though I really wanted to,

I didn't hate her. I couldn't. It just wasn't possible.

However, I hated that I had been so wrong about the only thing in my life that felt so right.

I hated how I even fooled myself into believing she'd felt it too.

The following Monday at school,

I asked Olivia Newton to our eighth grade formal.

She said yes.

Chapter Text

El's POV (Flashback 1985)

 

After that day, things were never quite the same between us.

I tried to repair the damage that was done by pretending it never happened in hopes to move forward but it didn't exactly go according to plan.

What was once never ending conversations full of jokes and witty banter had now diminished into brief one word sentences.

What were once movie nights and corner store stops that we could hardly wait for, ceased to even happen.

The laughter and delight in his eyes had vanished having been replaced with a hollowness that made him appear almost empty, and every time I saw it, I felt my heart lurch in my chest.

Our friendship had ruptured at the worst possible moment, because there'd been no time to salvage it. There was no time to fix what had already been done because the school year was practically over.

We'd went from best friends to strangers in a span of a month.

As the final chapter of our middle school lives concluded and we were let out for that summer, the very last exchanges between us were awkward goodbyes and wish you wells tainted with unfamiliarity.

And during that point in my life, I really could've used a best friend.

 

"How much longer?"

"Soon. I've got an interview for this receptionist spot next week and it looks promising."

"You've been saying soon for a year now."

"I know, I also realize it hasn't been easy on you, but I'm trying. I really am. It's just not that simple right now."

"But it was pretty simple for you to just ditch me here right? Apparently, you didn't need to give it a second thought."

"Please don't think like that. I'll be back for you before you know it. Things are looking up Ellie, I promise."

".. Don't…"

"Don't what?"

"Don't make promises you can't keep, I'm sick of you promising you'll be back and you never do! It's always the same bull shit. You promise you'll come back for me and it doesn't end up working out and I end up stuck in this hell hole for another year. Nothing ever happens!"

"Jane, come on sweetie.."

"No mom. I'm done!"

 

I slammed the phone on the receiver and slid off the bed and onto my bedroom floor like my legs had just given up along with my hope of ever going home. The angry tears I tried so hard to restrain flooded forth uncontrollably.

My mom called me every couple of months to check in on me and she was like a broken record, always spinning the same shit about coming back every time she called but the truth of the matter was becoming clearer to me every day, no matter how much I didn't want to believe it, she probably wasn't ever coming back. At least she called I guess.. my dad never bothered to call, the most I'd received from him was a lousy card he sent on my birthday other than that I never heard from him, but that still didn't make up for the fact that they just up and left me without so much as a proper explanation as to why. My own parents, the ones who always said they would be there no matter what. The ones who said they "loved" me and they always would, simply abandoned me.

I began to wonder if they ever truly cared about me in the first place or maybe it had been just a mirage that I'd painted for myself in an effort to see what I wanted, but wasn't really there.

"El?" I heard a light knock on my door but didn't bother to move. "You okay?" Hopper inquired, cracking the door slightly, like he was deciding whether or not to come in.

My eyes shifted to the side while they became glazed with a glassy layer of tears. "She's not coming." I muttered.  

He finally decided to come in and then sat on the floor beside me. "I'm sorry kid."

When I looked at him, his eyes were full of gentle concern and I knew he'd already known. I felt my world crashing, the dreams of my parents ever getting back together had long gone but the dream of them ever coming back for me was now fleeting just as fast.

"What if she never comes back?" I hung my head down as salty drops fell from my chin and soaked into my shirt."What will happen to me? Will-will you put me in a foster home?"

Hopper put his arm lightly around my shoulder. "El, look at me." his voice was comforting as if he'd wrapped me in a warm blanket.

I hesitantly glanced at him with tear filled eyes, and I could feel the muscles in my chin trembling.

"Your mom, she's going through a lot right now and wish I could say that things will get better, but I honestly, I don't know what's gonna happen."

Before I could look away, he lifted my chin up with his finger. "But what I do know is that I told her I'd take care of you, so that's what I plan on doing. I'm not going anywhere." his mustache twitched as his lips lifted up into a smile. "So hate to break it to ya kid, but you're kinda stuck with me until then, got it?"

I sniffed, giving him a half smile in agreement. Those simple words brought relief, but I still wasn't entirely convinced. He'd get tired of me one day, I just knew it, but for now he was all I had.

"Got it."

"Good." He mussed up my hair but before he got up to leave he rummaged through his jacket pocket. "And here." he said, placing a couple of dollars in my hand. "Slushies on me today or whatever you want. I think it'll do you some good to get out of the house and get some fresh air. You probably can even buy something better than my little chump change could get ya." He smirked seeing the shock register on my face before I could hide it. "Oh, you didn't think I knew about that, huh?"

I guiltily grimaced, I didn't know what was worse, being caught red handed or knowing I wasn't as smooth as I thought I'd been. "um.. It was for a good cause?" I bluffed.

"You and Wheeler's sweet tooth is not a cause." Hopper huffed, shaking his head. "But just make sure you guys don't stay out so late this time." He narrowed his eyes at me. "Home by sunset, remember?"

Just hearing Mike's name made my face falter and my head swarm with half-formed regrets. "Yeah.. but actually." I handed Hopper his money back. "I'm not really in the mood today, so just keep it."

He stared back at me puzzled, scratching his beard. "Come to think of it, I haven't seen that kid around here in awhile. Is everything okay between you two?"

"Other than the fact that I'm one hundred percent positive he hates my guts, sure." I crossed my arms tightly across my chest while I reflected on Mike's indifference towards me. "But it's whatever." I played off, not wanting to accept how much his absence actually bothered me.

"Isn't that what you said the last time you two weren't speaking to each other?"

"But this time it's different. I tried Hop, but he doesn't want to hang anymore. I guess he really is through with me." I let out a heavy sigh, hoping it would ease the ache in my chest. It was a lot easier for me to blame Mike than to take the fault. After all, he was the one who had to go and make things difficult between us. I know that I messed up and all, but still.. he just left. I guess everyone leaves eventually, Perhaps, it was about time I got used to it. 

"El trust me." Hopper snorted, the tone in his voice drawn out like he knew something I didn't. "That boy could never hate you. Give him some time and he'll come around."

 


( Fall 1987)

 

That was three years ago.

Since then things have changed.. a lot.

Mike never came around,

but then again neither did I.

It was hard letting him go. He was a comfort that I hadn't realized how much I needed until he was gone. He was like my safety net, and without our friendship, I felt so out of place, lost even. But the more I thought about it, the more I justified that maybe it was for the better this way.

After the 8th grade formal, Mike started dating Olivia Newton, a pretty chorus singer with gorgeous feathered blonde hair who was fairly well known in our grade. She wasn't A list popular like the cheerleaders or the football players, but she was halfway there. She was that girl who everyone knew and all the teachers adored.

Mike had not only defeated the middle school monster by going out with Olivia and becoming mildly popular by association. But hell, he even conquered the monster that ravages every poor young pubescent teen, the beast simply known as puberty.

I first noticed he'd first begun to shoot up in height during eighth grade. He had me beat by an inch or two at most and his baby face had started fading and his voice began deepening.

But now, so far gone were the days when he was bullied and called frog face.

Because at sixteen, Mike was a towering six foot. His shaggy raven hair was a little shorter now and no longer styled in a bowl cut but was now curlier than it had ever been before. His strong jawline and high cheekbones were now his trademark aside from his splattered freckles and his once skinny frame was now lean and toned ever since he joined the Hawkins High swim team.

I could no longer deny that I found him quite attractive and even though I once fought so hard to admit that to myself before, as I got older I eventually learned to embrace it. Physical attraction was inevitable. I convinced myself it didn't mean anything though. Mike was just another good looking guy, that's it. I found a few other guys at our school attractive too, so it wasn't a big deal or anything. But honestly, if I could've chosen my sexuality, I would've just gone with asexual and saved myself the grief of being attracted towards anyone altogether. I figured my life would be so much simpler that way.. but sadly, I had no say in that matter.

Unlike Mike I didn't find myself in high school. I was no longer branded a "freak" thank god, but I wasn't a somebody either. I was just a wallflower. You know that one girl who just seemed to blend in with the background, the one that nobody knew went to their school until they saw her face in the yearbook, the girl who was always on the outside looking in? yeah her, that was me. I didn't mind it though, I actually preferred flying under the radar. It had at least made my high-school life tolerable which helped since everything else in my life was hell.

"So let me get this straight. You're saying you don't believe love exists?" The redhead in front of me suddenly stopped picking at her food, and put her fork down. Her eyebrows knit together, as she gave me her full attention. "I've heard people say they don't believe in god, but love..? That's a first."

I'd stumbled upon Maxine Mayfield or just Max as she was so adamant about being called, smoking in the girls locker room nearly three months ago on a late Monday afternoon. She had looked a mess with tear stained mascara and unkempt hair thrown into a lazy bun on top of her head. I still to this day don't know why I even felt led to approach her. I guess it might of had to do with someone having once done the same for me. I don't know. However, I'm still utterly surprised she didn't tell me fuck off like she normally would've, but instead actually chose me of all people to open up and rant to about her relationship issues. I figured she must've had no one else to talk to about it because that was the only thing that made sense to me. Max says otherwise. She said, I didn't look like a typical stuck up bitch and that I seemed cool, so sometimes I just roll with that instead.

Whatever the case of the matter was, it still forged our bond for we'd been friends ever since. 

Max is very pretty, which is also obvious from the amount of attention she attracts from guys. She's not like the other girls at our school though. Her temper is as fiery as the color of her hair and she doesn't give two shits about what people think of her. Our flippant attitudes are probably the only thing we have in common and I'm guessing that why we hit it off so well. She's a lot more outspoken and sarcastic than I am though. Sarcasm is her immediate go-to in any given situation. If she's ever serious at all, it's never for too long because she always reverts back to her witty comebacks and crude jokes, always.

I don't think we've ever had a deep meaningful conversation since we've known each other. The only time that came remotely close was the first time we met, but even then she eventually reverted back to her usual ways. It can be hard at times, but I've learned to accept that's just the way she is. I know it's all probably a defense mechanism she uses to hide behind anyways. Who knows? maybe she had a screwed up childhood too? It's not like she'd say. I can't help but also think that's why we got along so well and even though we never spoke of it we just kind of knew that we were both a couple of damaged kids, just trying to make it through life.

"It's a chemical reaction at best, like an illusion your brain creates. If you just pair a bunch of hormones with a surge of dopamine, there you have it. The concept of what modern society calls love."

"Interesting." Max pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment and then her eyes widened like a light bulb went off.. "Ah, so that's why you don't date."

"What? I date."

"No." She cut in, pointing her fork at me before stabbing it back into her mac and cheese."You go out on dates, but you don't actually date."

I rolled my eyes at her, knowing what she was getting it. Max was right, I hadn't actually dated anybody. Sure, a couple of guys had asked me to hang out before and sometimes we'd even make out, it was nothing serious and my plan was to make sure it stayed that way. Although, that was a lot easier said than done. The guys who showed interest in me (which were few and far between) always wanted an actual relationship. They wanted a girlfriend to show off to their friends and also to take home to their mom and dad. They wanted the entire package, the whole she-bang, and that was never gonna happen with me.

"I think dating is pointless." I bluntly stated and then once I realized what I said I uneasily glanced back up at her. "No offense."

"None taken." She waved off. "But why?"

"It's just the whole girlfriend and boyfriend notion is tacked with way too many expectations. If you're interested in someone you can be interested without being exclusive and putting a label on things. Most initial interests are usually lust driven anyways."

"Hmm, good point." Max suggestively wagged her eyebrows while she took a sip of her grape soda. "Maybe instead of looking for a rebound, what I really should be looking for is a hit it and quit it."

She joked about it but I was very aware of the underlying implication. She was still hung up on her ex who had broken things off between them. He had been her first serious relationship and now she didn't really know what to do. She was floundering and craving someone new to date in hopes to get over him. After having been there for her throughout her whole break up fiasco, it only further instilled in me how right I'd been about what I said earlier.

"Remind me why I'm still friends with you again?"

"Because you love me." Max cocked her head and cheekily smiled. "Wait, damn it. I guess I can't say that, huh?" She hesitated momentarily before smiling once again. "Because you platonically care about my well being."

"I don't know.. care might be pushing it just a bit."

"Shut up." Max remarking, throwing a balled up napkin at me at which I just laughed. Her smile then fell abruptly as she completely stopped what she was doing, and stared right past me with such a laser focus she almost looked lost in trance.

I curiously followed her gaze and turned to look behind me and I wish I hadn't.

Mike was walking right past us with his arm wrapped around none other than Hawkins High It girl herself.. Jennifer Hayes.

From what I knew, she was a popular prep who thought everyday was apparently a fashion show given the kind of outfits she wore. It wasn't like she was rude to me or anything, in fact we never talked so I don't have much input about her personality wise, but I just never thought her and Mike looked right together. Maybe I was wrong, but it seemed like their relationship was kind of forced, as if someone had crammed the wrong puzzle pieces together, wanting them to fit but they never really did.

Mike and I accidentally made eye contact for the briefest second, until he decidedly looked away and I felt my stomach knot. Did he still hate me?

He went to join the table a few tables down from us, sitting with his girlfriend and the rest of her pep squad. From what I noticed he'd still hung around our old group of friends. Well he used to anyways. He used to change where he sat for lunch weekly, either choosing to sit with Will, Lucas, and Dustin out in the courtyard or choosing to sit at a table with his swim team buddies. I even had once mentally applauded him for not selling out to social status. I thought maybe he'd actually done it you know, maybe he'd actually managed to not get sucked into the black hole that undoubtedly always comes with popularity, but apparently I was proven wrong when he started dating Jennifer.

Once we stopped hanging out, my friendships with the other boys had fizzled out too.

Well all except for Will, because strangely enough his mom and my uncle recently started dating, so we were still friends by default. He was quiet but sweet. We didn't hang out much at school given our conflicting schedules but I'd see him practically every weekend when his mom invited me and Hop over for dinner.

Dustin and I were still on good terms too, even though we weren't close as we used to be. We talked every once in awhile though. He was still as goofy as ever and was probably the only reason I hadn't clawed out my eyes from frustration yet in algebra.

However Lucas was another story altogether. He literally despised me. We've shared at least one class together ever since freshman year and every single year it's the same with him. He purposely avoids me like I have the bubonic plague and I have no clue what I did to him either, I mean I know Mike and I fell out, but damn, it's been years. 

"Ugh, tell me what she has that I don't?"

I blinked rapidly, her question bringing me out of my daze. "I thought you were over him."

"I am."

"If you say so."

"I just don't understand why in the world he'd choose such an air headed skank like that over me." Max spat as she let her eyes heavily bore into the couple, not seeming to care in the least that she could easily be caught staring. "Must be the sex. It has to be."

When I think about it I still find it extremely weird that my former best friend had actually once dated my current best friend. I never told Max though. I figured Mike had told her and if he hadn't, well there was no point in bringing up the past now. However, it was times like these where I wish I would've at least told her we used to be friends. Maybe then she'd understand why I didn't really want to hear it. I don't know why it bothered me so much either. If it were anyone else I wouldn't have cared but I came to the conclusion that since Mike and I had been so close and he was my first best friend it was uncomfortable to hear about his dating life and especially his sex life.  Who would wanna hear that about their former bestie right? Right, it makes sense.

"I don't know.." I reluctantly answered, trying to find my best way to avert this conversation. "But you're overthinking it."

"I guess you're right.." She slowly nods. I can't help but notice the longing in her gaze. It's like she's washed in state of dissonance. "It would be easier if I didn't believe in love like you." she mumbled under her breath and if I hadn't been paying close attention I wouldn't have caught it. But before I could reply, she continued. "Well anyways, fuck Mike." She threw her middle finger up in the air before placing it back down. "Now back to what matters. If you're not looking for a boyfriend we're just gonna have to find you a hit and quit it buddy." She bounced back with a sly grin and just like that, any trace of sincerity vanished.

"Max.."

"Fine." She formed exaggerated air quotes with her fingers. "A friend with benefits."

"What?"

Max nearly spit out her soda. "You seriously don't know what a friend with benefits is? She stared at me like I had lost it. "What the hell? Sure you weren't like raised in a lab or something?"

I rolled my eyes with a sigh. "I mean I've heard the term before. I just don't really know what it is."

"My poor virgin child." She shook her head, patting my arm in mock comfort. "There, there."

"Whatever." I huffed, snatching my arm away. "Virginity is a-

"Social construct. I know, you've said it like a thousand times." Max interrupted with a groan. "But anyways.. " She cleared her throat getting back on topic. "A friend with benefits is pretty much that. It's a friend that you get to release your sexual frustrations with, hence the "benefits" part. Like you know.. make out when you feel like it and get it on when you feel like it." She obnoxiously winked my way. "It would be so perfect for you since there's no strings attached. "

I had never actually knew the term for it until now.

Guys just didn't seem to understand that I didn't want to be their girlfriend but just a friend who wanted to occasionally make out with them. I wanted the companionship without the emotional involvement. I never quite figured out how to relay that message to them either, which would always result in us parting ways, but now.. well now I knew. I also knew I had to be super careful because I didn't want just any guy to have this friends with benefits thing with. I definitely wanted to make sure he wasn't just some Grade A asshole who wanted nothing more than to use me as a pawn to have his way with and brag to his friends about.

I wanted something low key but fun, something that wouldn't stir up drama, but could be our little secret, something where there would be absolutely NO feelings involved whatsoever and to think.. I just happened to figure it out.

"Friends with benefits." I mouthed to myself curiously before a small smile crossed my face.

Little did I know,

it would end up being hell of a lot more trouble than I ever could've imagined.

Chapter Text

Mike's POV ( Winter 1987)

 

 

Blue dust coated the tips of my fingers while I continuously smudged the tint into my abstract, blending it with the ruby red until it produced a faint lavender.

Before I knew it distant memory of the slushies I used to get with El crawled forward from the recesses of my mind and danced before me upon noticing the colors I'd been using. Hers was always blue raspberry and mine always cherry.

It had been awhile since I thought about those days we shared. Occasionally memories of old conversations and hang outs would flash through my head, but just when I'd think they were fading, a sporadic reminder like this one would always shake them out of their dormancy.

I can't say it's been easy these past years without her. It hasn't. We had a friendship that people only dreamed of, a closeness that most would envy. I trusted her and she trusted me. We were two empty shells until we came together and found a wholeness neither of us had expected.

I miss her, well I miss who she was.

I miss the girl who would curse out bullies on my behalf. I miss the girl who'd share her ideas on who she thought the first woman president should be while we laid under the canopy of pillows and blankets we'd made. I miss the girl who would randomly dance whenever a Madonna song blasted from the speakers in the corner store, not caring at all who might be watching.

I miss the girl who was my best friend.

El made somewhat of an effort to renew what had been lost but it wasn't the same. I'd been completely broken and I didn't know how to just bounce back like she'd expected of me. She'd acted like nothing even happened and it only pummeled my heart further into the ground in which she'd buried it.

Upon entering high school, my objective was to put the past behind me, to make a fresh start for myself, but most importantly.. to forget about her.

So that's what I attempted to do.

I started, as many would coin a middle school relationship with Olivia shortly after she'd been my date to the dance. It was as tentatively sweet as the friendly conversations and banana splits we shared together that summer and even though we didn't have much in common, she still turned out to be a pretty good friend. However, before the start of our freshman year Olivia's parents had sent her off to a private boarding school and that was the last I'd ever seen of her.

But I don't think that or anything else could have properly prepared me for the massive storm that was headed my way. The chaotic whirlwind of flaming hair and glacier eyes that suddenly came out of nowhere and took me by surprise.

A girl known only as Maxine Mayfield.


(Flashback 1985)

Thunk

I turned around for the third time in the span of thirty minutes and my patience was worn thin.

"What the hell?" I hissed, picking up the paper ball to chuck back at her. "Seriously, what's your problem?"

"You're my problem." Max loosely smirked in my direction, her piercing gaze making my heart sputter in my chest. I wrote it off as nothing more than hormones. I always did.

Max was beautiful and of course I'd taken notice. Her beauty derived from the strawberry freckles that dusted her cheeks, her bottomless ocean eyes, and her bright red hair. She had moved to Hawkins from California during ninth grade. It had only been the start of the year and she'd already made her presence known. She was bad ass. She was cool. She was the type of cool in which she didn't even have to try, it just came natural to her. She'd carry a skateboard in one hand and flip you off with the other and even though she was as tough as nails she still embraced her femininity in a way that made even upper-class men double take. 

Max also happened to my very pestering seatmate in our shared civics class. Ever since the first day of school, she'd always found a way to purposely get under my skin with her teasing jabs and crude sarcasm. I'd been convinced it was her sole mission to harass me as much possible, because honestly that's all she did.

But it as when I'd almost made up my mind that I absolutely could not stand her, that everything suddenly started to change.

"Oh really?" I snorted audibly. "And what did I ever do to you?"

"Simple. You exist."

There was an underlying implication in her tone that sent a shiver down my spine. I knew in the way she stated it that she meant more than she let on. I didn't know why but it sparked my boyish curiosity, so I toyed with her.

"Likewise, Mayfield."

"Good to know." She cracked another smirk, glancing between me and the paper ball still wound tightly in my fist as if to relay an unspoken message. Before I could ask her about it, she cut me off with a harsh whisper. "Now turn your giraffe ass back around in your seat before Ms. Trumble loses her shit."

I exhaled sharply and reluctantly faced forward in my desk well aware that the teacher was glaring our way. My mind was still reeling on why she was acting weird, well weirder than normal. It was then that I remembered her coded gesture and decided to open the crumpled piece of paper she'd thrown at me.

 

Meet by my locker after class dipshit

- Max

 

I don't know why I found myself actually following through and walking towards her locker. Well at that time I didn't. I'm now fully aware I was clearly enticed by her. I found her strangely alluring. But for all I knew at the time it could've been just a set up for some stupid prank she wanted to pull and I don't know why but even the thought of that still didn't stop me from taking the bait regardless.

Max was already there, using one foot to stabilize herself while she propped the other behind her against her locker. I took in her attire for the first time that day. She was wearing a tight yellow sweater with mom jeans and black vans and I had to stop myself from letting my gaze wander over her.

"Okay, so what do you want?" I huffed, eyeing her warily.

"I want to talk."

"You want to talk?"

"Yes, is that so wrong?" I caught her gnawing at her bottom lip and for the very first time since I met her, I could tell she was nervous. It was unusual to see her stark confidence compromised and reduced to mere anxiousness. It wasn't like Max, it wasn't like her at all.

I still didn't know what to expect though so I mentally prepared for the worst. I readied myself for the flaming darts I expected her to shoot my way by arming myself with a shield of apprehension.

"Max, what's there to even talk about it? We never talk. I really don't know why I even came here to be honest. This is stupid and I swear to god if this is some kind of-

She stopped my rant by grabbing my face with both of her hands and pulling my mouth down to meet hers in soft chaste kiss.

I didn't pull away.

 


 

Max had been my world

or more so what I wanted my world to be.

She was my first real girlfriend and she eased me right along into what that consisted of. We had scary movie marathons every other weekend and went on dates to her favorite pizza joint. We'd hold hands and trade kisses in the hallways. She'd come to my swim meets and I'd attempt to skateboard with her at the park. Our conversations were always surface level at best so once we ran out of things to talk about we made up for it by sneaking off into the janitor's closet at school, skinny dipping after hours, or eventually rounding all the bases together until we reached home on the couch in my basement. We were definitely an on and off again couple. Max's explosive temperament along with my innate stubbornness birthed many, many fights between us which would often result in a break up, but sooner or later we always managed to find our way back to each other..

Until we didn't.

I really liked her. I liked her a lot. I even thought I could love her.

Six months ago, we called it quits like we usually did after a huge argument, but before we could fall back into our normal routine of making up and making out, I put an end to it. After our last fall out I took a moment to sit back and analyze everything and that's when I discovered that over the course of our entire relationship it was more physical than anything else.

I'd get more excited about sneaking off together than I was about just being with her, and enjoying her company.

The rush I felt was always more so from the heat of the moment than from the actual way I felt towards her.

I cared about her. I really did, but I never felt the same way for her that I did with El.

I chased that feeling.

I craved it.

It was wrong of me. I know, but I desperately wanted to fill the void she had unknowingly left behind, so I started dating Jennifer shortly afterwards.

She wasn't like Olivia or Max at all. She was bossy and headstrong and for the most part she ran our relationship. We went on dates when she wanted. We hung out with her friends when she wanted. We went to parties when she wanted. We even had sex when she wanted. It was always when she wanted and I was pulled around by her like a dog on leash right until a few days ago when I'd caught her cheating with her ex boyfriend. It didn't faze me as much as one would expect given the circumstances. It had only served as an excuse to finally go our separate ways. I sometimes question why I'd even stayed with her so long in the first place. It didn't make much sense.

Perhaps, I just preferred her company over being alone.

I heard the swoosh of the door being swung open and I flicked my gaze towards the entrance.

There stood El.

Still to this day, she's the most stunning girl I've ever laid eyes on.

And for the first time in a long time, I was truly able to see her and not just a glimpse of her seated in the bustling lunchroom or bobbing through the crowded halls but I could actually see her.

Her caramel waves were rested right below her shoulders and her hazel eyes glistened from the overhead lights. Her ivory skin looked so fragile yet so soft with pink cheeks and fluttery eyelashes. Her perfect figure also caught my attention, a small waist hidden under a red ribbed long sleeved top and white washed jeans that hugged her curvy hips.

Why the hell was she here?

I felt myself tense up and the oil pastel I was holding rolled from my fingertips and clattered against the desk, sounding ten times louder now than it normally would've. I swallowed roughly, it was suddenly as if the air around me became dense like jello and the simple act of breathing became a chore.

She cleared her throat, possibly struggling to breathe in the heavy air herself. "My book" she muttered, pointing at the table behind me. "I left it here yesterday."

"Okay."

I picked up the oil pastel and pretended to busy myself with my project again as she sauntered in but I couldn't for the life of me remember what I'd been doing. My mind felt like it had been detached from me, far too caught up swimming in the awkward tension of the atmosphere to focus on the task at hand.

I wouldn't have been in this situation at all if hadn't been scrambling to somehow get this project for my art elective finished. I sucked at art and I was so caught up with everything else in my life that I had put it on the back burner. But now here I was rushing to get it done in three days from the initial two week span I was given. I even thought that coming to an empty art room before the start of school would be the perfect chance to work on it and limit any unnecessary distractions.

Guess I was wrong.

I heard the sound of her footsteps lightly thud against the tile of the floor and I could smell the vague waft of her floral shampoo as she passed me by. I was suddenly well aware of our proximity and I didn't know what to make of it. It was terrifying, awkward, yet exhilarating all at the same time and I fought the immediate urge to glance behind me.

A minute hadn't even passed before I heard her making her trek back towards the door. My eyes betrayed my reason and snapped up to watch her leave only to be met with her standing right in front of me with her head cocked to the side, and her arms tightly hugging her book to her chest.

"Why are you here so early?"

It has been so long since I'd heard her tender voice directed towards me that I didn't know what to say at first and my mouth struggled to catch up with my mind, resulting in another bout of silence between us. I didn't understand why she was all of a sudden speaking to me after everything that happened between us and her act of casual small talk like everything was suddenly a-okay agitated me.

"Why does it matter?" I spoke sharply causing her brows to lift in surprise.

"Figures you'd still be mad at me."

"I'm not mad at you." I lied under my breath causing her to stop before she could turn on her heel to leave.

I was mad and had been for awhile but I hated how just being back in her presence was making it difficult to be.

"Yes, you are." She corrected me. "You even proved my theory."

"Your theory?"

"I theorized before I decided to approach you that you'd either A- ignore me completely or B-give me the cold shoulder." She sighed, tapping her nails against the back of her book. "Seems you chose the latter."

"What did you expect? It's not like we haven't talked in three years or anything."

"Well, I wish we had."

My mouth opened for another sarcastic retort but snapped shut after her response finally sunk in. I don't know what I was expecting her to say but I definitely wasn't expecting that. I felt gobsmacked, and even though I searched her hazel orbs for any sliver of a fault in what she'd told me. I couldn't seem to find any.

There were many days where I wish things would have panned out different for us. I had often wondered what secrets we didn't get an opportunity to share or what adventures we missed out on. It was a relief to know that I hadn't been the only one who felt that way either.

"Yeah, me too."

"No."

"What?"

"You stopped talking to me, remember?"

She was so nonchalantly honest that for the first time I realized she wasn't aware of how she much she actually hurt me back then. She must've not understood the intensity behind my feelings for her, probably having rationalized it as a simple grade school crush at best. I felt my nerves instantly eat away at the fake confidence I constructed for myself and I suddenly deflated, the taste of bitterness no longer ruling my sense of judgment.

"It just wasn't the same between us, you know.. after I asked you to formal."

"Yeah." She mused, looking straight ahead clearly thinking but the small move distracted me in a callous way. "I never meant to be such an ass about that either but I didn't know what to do. It was just different- you're feelings for me, I mean. I guess I didn't want it to come between our friendship. I really liked what we had."

"I understand." I muttered softly. " I was sort of an ass too, for pushing you away like I did."

"We were both asses." El snorted, a half smile appearing on her lips. "I don't know why we hadn't talked this through sooner. We wasted so much time. It's not like you even remotely feel that way towards me anymore."

A pause of silence settled between us as we locked eyes.

It was comfortably familiar, like the feeling you get when you first step in your front door after having been away for far too long. In that moment I felt like we were twelve again and that's all I could see. I saw a child like wonder dancing behind her amber irises and captivating me in a way that made everything else disappear. It was a feeling I had missed. It was home.

I realized I hadn't yet replied.

"No, of course not."

Chapter Text

 

El's POV

 

I don’t understand why I came back the next day.

Well a part of me doesn’t. 

The other part knew since there was now an ounce of hope for our friendship to be restored, just the idea was enough for me to find myself catching the early bus to make it back to that art class at the same time I’d been the day before.

I had no idea if he’d even be there this time around. I hadn’t even expected to run into him yesterday, and I certainly hadn’t planned on talking to him either, it just happened. 

It’s funny to think that working things out with Mike had been a lot easier than my quest to find “A friend with benefits.” I had assumed it would be a piece of cake, like what’s so hard about befriending a cute guy and making simple arrangements? Apparently for me.. very. I knew for my sanity’s sake that I had to at least like the guy to an extent. I wasn’t like other girls. I couldn’t just ignore how annoying or obnoxious a guy was just to sleep with him. I figured that was my problem. Most every guy I knew was either exactly like that or just not my type. Honestly, I’m starting to think I’m just better off alone, and regardless what Max says, I think I’m okay with that. 

It was the first Monday in December, and as if it were routine I glided through the empty halls passing by a few early morning club meets until I found the art room. 

I reached for the door handle with a buoyant feeling in my chest knowing there was a possibility he could be already inside. Most people would never be this eager to rekindle an old friendship that fell apart years ago. Actually, most wouldn’t even try, because friends come and go right? That’s the philosophy that’s ingrained in us from an early age. It’s a natural part of life. It seemed to be true for the most part, I’ve lost plenty of friends and made plenty of new ones over the course of my sixteen years on this planet. That continuous cycle had never once fazed me before. It wasn’t difficult to let any of those old friendships fade and then start over with new people, it was the way it always was. Well, it was the way it had been.. until I met Mike.

With him, it was just different. 

I cracked the door just enough to peek in,

There he was.

I could barely make out his face only seeing the top of his raven curls and a side view of the assignment he was intensely focused on. He was so far off in his own world that I almost didn’t want to disturb him. 

“Hi.” I spoke up softly, opening the door further. 

His head jolted up, eyes widened with what seemed like a concoction of shock and confusion, but softened once he met my gaze. “Hi.” 

 


 

And you only have two more days?” I winced, trying to decipher what he’d even drawn. It appeared more of a jumble of colors and triangles than the mountainous scenery he’d told me it was supposed to be earlier. 

“Yes. Wait, why? Is it bad?”

I shrugged, giving him a sympathetic smile. “I mean..” 

“Ugh!” He ran both hands through his thick curls. “I knew it. It’s total shit, isn’t it?” 

“Well, I’m not gonna lie.. it’s shit, but it’s not total shit. There’s a difference you know.” 

“The difference being?” 

“It’s salvageable.” I answered with a smirk before sitting in the chair beside him and swiping a black pastel from where he had them sprawled out on the table. “Here, let me see.” 

Despite his protests, I began to smudge in the shade adding definition to his lopsided triangles. It had been so long since I had been this close to him. I could smell the faint scent of his aftershave and could practically feel warmth radiating off of his body. It gave me a strange feeling, one of familiar comfort mixed with apprehension. I decided that awkward was the best way to describe it. 

“So why’d you wait last minute to do this anyways?” 

“I’ve just been busy, I guess.”

I shot him a small grin before grabbing another pastel. “Busy being popular?” 

“Please, I’m not popular.”  

“Like hell you’re not.” I scoffed, using my thumb to smudge in the snowy white for the mountains peaks. "Even though you’re not football star status, You’re still captain of the varsity swim team and junior class president. Also, everyone in the school knows you or either wants to, and you could practically get any girl you want. You are the textbook definition of popular.”

I chuckled under my breath and in my peripheral I swore I saw his expression falter but when I lifted my eyes to look up at him it had vanished, replaced with a half smile instead. I expelled the thought with a shake of my head. “You know, you’ve changed a lot since middle school.” I told him.

He looked pensive for a moment, and I could tell he was chewing on what I’d said. Then he finally spoke. “So have you.”

“True. I no longer outwardly portray my burning hatred for the world by dressing like some MTV punk. God.. I was so embarrassing.” 

He laughed at this which caused my heart to flutter for a second. It startled me at first, but I kept it contained. “Those combat boots were especially a nice touch.” 

“Oh shut up, Mr. Striped shirts.” I playfully swatted at him.

“Striped shirts?” 

“Oh, don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.” I rolled my eyes. “That’s literally all you used to wear in middle school.” 

“Hey, don’t hate on the stripes. They were my statement.” 

“Yeah the statement being- my mom clearly picks out my clothes.”

"Damn, so the real truth finally surfaces after all this time."

"The truth hurts, huh?" I played along, noting the mild amusement in his tone. "Although, it was kind of dorky. I still found it adorable, especially the sweaters you used to wear. 

"Nope, it's too late to back track now. The damage has already been done." He tried but failed to keep a straight face, soon breaking out into laughter and I quickly found myself laughing along with him. Why did I feel... so happy? 

I forgot how much I missed this. How much I missed our teasing remarks and our back and forth banter. Even though we'd been right, we had changed. We changed a lot. But I was so grateful that this hadn’t. It felt like old times. 

There was now a different tension in the air between us. It was exciting.. thrilling even, the process similar to reaching the top of a roller coaster and anticipating the drop to follow. 

I finished what I’d been working and even though there was still more to be done, it looked a lot better than it had previously.

“Now doesn’t that look more like a mountain?” I asked proudly, showing him the final touches I placed on his drawing. I watched as his eyes widened and his mouth pucker in surprise. 

“Wow. You’re really good you know.”

“Mhmm, but I only take my payment in the form of cash please, no checks.” I spoke in a teasing tone, continuing my joke by sticking my hand in front of him. 

“Well how about...” he dug through the pocket of his jean jacket and pulled out a very familiar small brown paper bag, making me break out in a huge smile once I recognized what it was. He quickly tore it open with his teeth before dropping a few chocolate pieces into my open palm. “Do you accept this as payment?” He asked, and there was a boyish charm in the way he spread his lips wider into a grin.

“I mean, it’s not cash but.."I popped a red one inside my mouth, my eyes met his and I could feel myself mirroring his expression. “It’ll do.” 

I left the art room feeling the same way I felt the day before, maybe even more so. 

Yesterday, I’d left hopeful but today, I left… content.

Because all I knew in that moment,

Is that Mike and I were friends again. 

 


 

Mike's POV

 

It had been a month since we’d first made amends, and ever since then we continued to meet every single morning in that art room before school started. There wasn’t a real reason to meet either since I’d already finished my project a long time ago thanks to her help. But for some reason it was as if we craved being in each other’s presence. It was like being together after being apart for so long was similar to finally coming across an oasis in a dry desert. 

It was everything we needed. 

Most days we’d sit there and talk. We’d catch each other up on what was happening in our lives or try to make the most of the school gossip floating around. Other days, I’d finish up homework while she’d read her book and we'd let a comfortable silence settle over us. 

But once our newly rejoined friendship began to branch outside of our art room haven, people began to take notice. They’d often whisper to each other as we walked by or give us strange looks. I knew they’d never expected me and someone like El to actually be friends. 

To everyone else we were on polar opposite sides of the social ladder.

I couldn’t care less about what others thought though. 

Because to me, Jane El Ives was my best friend again and that’s all that mattered. 

The only thing we hadn't took into account was our other friends. I’d honestly thought we’d receive more push back from Max, given my shared history with her and all. I was almost certain she’d curse me out but I was rather surprised when it turned out to be the opposite of what I’d expected. After a rather awkward reintroduction and a few other small encounters held between us, it wasn’t long before we actually managed to be on good terms again. Of course we weren’t close, but at least now I'd be able to occasionally sit with her and El at lunch and easily integrate into their shared conversations without it being weird or uncomfortable for us. 

I’m starting to think that Max and I were always better off this way,

Better off as friends. 


 

It was a typical Sunday afternoon, it was the day I'd get together with the guys to just hang out.

We’d often scope the junkyard for extra parts to fix onto our cars or in Will’s case a cheap fixer upper so he could have finally one of his own. Sometimes we’d go back to the arcade to play our favorite childhood classics or we'd hang out with our good pal Steve, who was my sister’s ex but odd enough like a brother to Dustin. He’d always score us beer.

Today it was freezing out. So we’d opted to stay in, choosing to order pizza and play video games instead of braving the in climate weather. 

Sunday was the only day out of the week where we happened to all be free of our other obligations. We didn’t have to worry about classes, other friend groups, extra shifts at work, after school practices, or... girls. 

Well, for the exception of one.

“You’re lucky we even allowed you back into the party after you ditched us for Jennifer. But even then we decided to cut you some slack because it was pretty obvious you weren't thinking with the right head.”

“Whatever. Jennifer was a mistake.” I brushed him off, grabbing a soda from the fridge and shutting the door. 

“Oh, and El’s not?” Lucas fired back, he crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned against his kitchen’s island. “She’s just gonna end up hurting you like she always does. I swear you’re a damn masochist!”

“No!”

“Guys, back me up on this one!”  He yelled out to our other friends in the living room, who were far more invested in getting to the next level of Gauntlet than they were with our discussion.  

“I'm Switzerland.” Dustin piped up, his attention still clearly glued on the TV set as he fumbled with the Atari joystick in his hand. 

Will shrugged, not even bothering to look our way. “El’s not so bad.” 

“I don’t know why I bothered to ask you. You don’t even count, you’re practically her stepbrother.” Lucas groaned in response. 

Dustin and Will hadn’t made an attempt to get up from the couch since they first started the game, which had been nearly three hours ago now. I had left earlier to get some fresh air and to smoke a cigarette- a bad habit I picked up when I dated Max. But when I returned there they still sat, surrounded by a litter empty soda cans and pizza boxes at their feet. 

I was bored out of my mind, and honestly, all I wanted to do was to find a way to somehow still catch that early matinee of "Rain Man" that El had invited me to go see with her. Which sadly, wasn't happening any time soon, considering it was the sole reason this whole argument started in the first place. 

“It’s different this time, okay?” 

“Different?” He mocked. “Different how?”

“We’re just friends. That’s it.” 

“Now that has to be absolutely the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.” 

I felt my expression fall like wet cement as he howled in laughter. I restrained myself by clenching the can of coke so tight in my hand, I’d for sure thought it would bust at any moment. 

Lucas must’ve caught on because he soon ceased. “Mike think about it..” He heaved a deep sigh, before turning to face me, staring me dead in the eyes. "Actually think about it.. Can you really just be her friend?”

For the first time since our argument began I didn’t know what to say. I had no comeback or snappy remark. I froze, just standing there probably looking exactly like the idiot he’d been so convinced I was in the moment. 

“That’s what I thought.” He answered for me, flashing me one last look of disappointment before heading out of the kitchen.

I mentally cursed myself for not saying anything, but I just couldn’t. I’d never really thought about it in that way before. It was so easy being her friend. It was as easy as breathing, and as second nature as riding a bike. However, remaining just a friend to her was where lines would always seem to blur. But that was before, back when I was just a little boy with an unrequited crush who didn’t know any better.

It was different now.

I flinched as I heard Dustin's voice yell over from the adjacent room, abruptly breaking me away from my thoughts. "Lucas kind of has a point, you know!”

“I thought you were Switzerland!” 

I left the coke can behind on the counter no longer in the mood for it. I then mumbled quick goodbyes under my breath as I stormed out the door.

Once I met the bitter air, I pulled my hood over my head and stuck my hands in my pockets, before slumping back to the question that was now inherently plaguing my mind.

I could just be her friend.. 

I could.

 

Chapter Text

Max’s Pov (Spring 1987)

 

I was growing more and more pissed off with each passing day.

At first, I couldn’t quite decipher it. I thought I was just being a moody bitch. Hell, it was near that time of the month anyway.

But today, I finally had a general idea. 

I heard joyful laughter ring through the halls, followed by the feel of a quick breeze as two people flew right past me. 

I turned from my locker, to see Mike and El having skidded to a halt at the end of the hall, both panting and laughing all at once. 

“Give it back!” 

“Say it then.” 

“Forget it. Not happening.” 

“Well, guess it’s mine.” Mike replied smugly, flaunting a cassette over her head. He nodded in victory as she leapt for it but wasn’t able to reach it.

“No fair using your height against me like that. You’re a damn giant!” 

“All you have to do is admit I’m right.” He continued to tease, maneuvering the tape around her as she continued to fight him for it. 

El deflated with a huff. “Okay. fine.”

“I’m listening.” Mike perked up expectantly, while still holding the cassette above her. 

“I guess.. you’re-” she broke into a slick smile before pouncing on him and tickling his sides. “Still wrong! Now give it!” 

“Ch-Cheater!” He writhed in a fit of giggles, still not releasing his death grip on the cassette tape while she now wrestled him for it. 

They were wrestling in the halls, pushed up against the lockers as they fought back and forth over that stupid cassette like ten year olds. They didn’t seem to care that irritated bystanders were struggling to pass them by or that teachers were glaring at them, or that I was only a foot away from it all. It was as if they were so caught up in each other that the rest of the world ceased to exist, like it was only them. 

It made my stomach sour. 

All I knew in that moment was that I had to do something, anything, so I purposely shoved right past them. "Make sure to invite me to the wedding, okay?" I sniggered, and upon hearing me they clambered away from each other while I continued to storm off.

I hadn’t expected those two to ever be friends. Actually I’m pretty sure the whole school hadn’t.

My best friend being friends with my ex-boyfriend? Frankly, it was weird. 

I didn’t quite understand their out of the blue friendship but I accepted it, because it meant Mike was now back in my life.

Even though it’s been nearly a year since Mike broke up with me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have feelings for him still. At first, I initially liked that El and Mike were friends. I’d get to hang around him more. Mike was easy. You’d just say what he wants to hear, flash a flirty smile or two his way, and soon enough he’d be like putty in your hands. 

That had been my plan,

But it was no longer that simple. 

El had sworn to girl-code that they were nothing but friends and as much as I wanted to believe it, I still expected that the day would come when those two would stroll through our school’s double door hand in hand, announcing they’d finally gotten together or some shit. But I held my breath, remembering how she was dead set against relationships and Mike was all about commitment. 

El might be blind as fuck, but I knew everyone else could see it. It was evident, it was out in the open- visible to anyone with a pair of eyes. Apparently, to everyone but her. 

It’s been months now and nothing has happened, nothing’s progressed between them and I honestly miss being with Mike. Although he could be stubborn as hell sometimes, he’d been a good boyfriend. He even made me feel things I hadn’t felt with anyone else.

I just have to find a way for him to notice me again.

Wham

I stumbled backwards from having the air suddenly knocked from my lungs. “Shit!” I cursed, feeling like I just slammed into a tree. Even though it was technically my fault for not paying attention, I wasn’t about to let that stop me from ripping this person a new one, well right until I recognized who it was. 

Lucas

We'd been friends ever since I dated Mike. He was laid back, collected, and always the level headed one out of Mike’s nerdy little friend group. We were still cool. We just didn’t talk as much as we used to, which was mainly due to my fall out with Mike and partially because of his blatant dislike towards El. I don’t even know why he hates her so much, I figure one day I’ll ask him.

He winced in pain and I heard him mutter a string of swears under his breath. “Max..?" He looked at me slowly, and I could tell he was still slightly disoriented. "What the hell? why are you so pissed?"

"I'm not." I retorted, adjusting the fallen strap of my book bag back onto my shoulder as I continued to march away.  

He strode behind me in cautiously timed steps. "You're a crappy liar. Come on, you totally almost plowed me over. What was that about?"

"Nothing."

"Something." Lucas pressed as he continued to follow me down the hall. 

Lucas was always a good guy. Ever since I can remember, he went out of his way to make sure I was okay, even when some of the break ups with Mike had been solely my fault. I should’ve expected him to be the one to ask, considering my other friends were too far up each others asses to give a damn. I was really hoping Mike would come through this time. He usually did. But I guess, Lucas will do.

“Nothing. Our friends are just annoying as hell, alright?" I said through gritted teeth, coming to a stop and turning around to face him. "So, can you stop stalking me now?"

"Mike and El?" 

"Duh.. who else?"

"What did they do?" 

"Practically each other just a minute ago." I pretended to gag. And upon noticing his utter confusion, I scoffed. “Don’t play dumb. You know how they act.” 

Lucas’s brows arched, intrigued. "So, I take it you’re jealous?"

“I don’t know..” I muttered. “ I guess a little.” 

“But I thought you were moving on?”

“Easier said than done.” I crossed my arms, leaning against a random locker. “It’s just..” I let out a deep breath. “Mike was my person.”

“Your person?”

“You know.. The person you feel comfortable around and you enjoy doing stuff with.” I searched the back of my mind for a better explanation. “The person who just gets you.”

I don't know why I was explaining this to him either. This wasn't something I'd usually tell anybody, but for some reason I felt comfortable around him. 

“Maybe what you need is a new person then.” He opened his mouth and closed it slowly, a little taken aback, as if he hadn’t expected to say that.

I arched a brow at his comment. “Are you trying to make a move, stalker?” 

“Wha-what? No.” He choked out, ducking his head in embarrassment.

Even though I was messing with him, he actually made me think for a moment. I never really thought about Lucas that way before. All he’d been to me was Mike’s right hand man and that friend who just so happened to be there when I needed him. I looked at him, taking him in truly for the first time since I’d met him. He had smooth dark skin, broad shoulders, and a nice smile.

Overall, he wasn’t bad. 

In fact, he was cute.

"Relax. It's a joke." I breathed through my nose in amusement. "We better get going though.” I showed him my watch. “Bell’s about to ring." 

“Catch you later then?” 

“Yeah.” I noticed a shift in him, a glint in his eyes that hadn't been there before and I couldn’t help but smile. “Later.” 

 


 

El’s POV

 

When I pushed through the door, the smell of frying oil smacked me in the face. The sound of sizzling grease cutting through the air, only slightly overtaken by old school rock & roll blasting from the radio.

The diner was sectioned off into a small dining room with a dozen high top tables scattered in the center and snug booths lined along the right wall. Set right behind the register, was an open window that smoked like a chimney. Through it, I could see a heavy set middle aged man flipping meat patties onto a charcoal grill.

We easily slunk into the booths near the back and it wasn’t long before a salt & pepper haired waitress with bright red lipstick approached us. “Welcome to Benny's, Home of the Best Burgers in Hawkins. What can I get for ya’ll today?’ 

Mike glanced to me for confirmation then politely replied.“Two strawberry milkshakes and a large order of fries, please.

“Sure thing, hon.” The waitress loudly popped her gum, scribbling our order down on her yellow notepad. “Coming right up.” She said, as she stuffed her pen back into the pocket of her apron and began her trek towards the kitchen.

“Hey, do you think Max is still mad at us?” 

Ever since Mike and I became friends again, Max had been acting different, sort of stand-offish even. If the fact she’d been more distant wasn’t proof enough, that little comment of hers in the hall certainly was, and it irritated me like crazy.  

His eyes cut to me as I captured his attention. “I don’t know,” he mumbled and for some reason he seemed uninterested. “But if she is, she’ll get over it soon enough.”

“She still likes you.. You know.”

“Yeah.”

“So..”  I nudged him with my eyes to tell me more. 

“So..?” He trailed and then as if on cue the waitress returned, grabbing his attention as she set down the milkshakes and the plate of fries between us. 

“Can I get ya’ll anything else?” 

“No, thank you.” I answered for us, waiting until she left before I continued our conversation. “So.. are you gonna get back with her?”

“Probably not.” 

I knew without a doubt he was being honest because there wasn’t the slightest bit of hesitation in his voice. 

I shouldn’t be this curious, but I couldn’t help it. Why didn’t he want to get back together with Max? It didn’t make sense, especially taking into account his history with her. Not that I’ve been paying attention or anything, but ever since they first started dating they always eventually got back together. Among our peers that’s even what they were notoriously known for. But it’s been practically a year now and so far.. nothing. 

“How come you broke it off with her in the first place?” I wondered out loud. 

“It’s a long story.” He shrugged with a sigh, helping himself to a few fries.

“I have time. Well, unless you don’t and have a date or something that I’m not aware of.” I crinkled my eyebrows in playful suspicion, which made him break out into a smile.

How does he do that? How can something as simple as a smile from him make my breath catch?

“Nah, not today.” He replied with a teasing edge in his tone. “So, unfortunately for you, you’re kind of stuck with me.”

“Well, if that’s the case, then you’re obligated to appease my questions.” I smirked in response, snagging a fry from the plate. 

“Is that so?”

“Yup.” 

“I’m not entirely convinced.”

“Please?” I begged, giving him my best puppy dog eyes.

“Fine.” He exhaled in defeat, flicking me a small smile. “But you can’t tell Max.. deal?” 

“Deal.”

“Well for one,” he started off, absentmindedly swirling his straw inside his shake. “My relationship with Max was super inconsistent. One day it was like we couldn’t stand each other and then the next we’d somehow end up back together. It was back and forth like that for awhile and it was getting old fast. We’re also very different. Not even in the opposites attract type of way either, we’re just completely different people altogether. I think that’s also why we’d butt heads a lot, we weren’t really all that compatible.” 

I quirked my brow in silent agreement and sipped from my milkshake. 

He scratched the back of his neck, one of his fingers tangling in a loose curl. “But I guess I finally took off the rose colored glasses one day, and that’s when I realized.”

“Realized what?”

“That I wasn’t in love with her.” Mike breathed, his words brimming with something I couldn’t name. 

“How would you even know you’re in love?” I slipped without realizing. 

He eyed me skeptically and I knew what he was already thinking. 

“Chill, I’m not judging you for believing in love either.” I threw my hands up in surrender. “Although, I may not personally believe it. You’re free to believe in whatever you want.  Well, as long as you’re not believing you’re still right about Yoko Ono being the reason the Beatles broke up, then we’re all good.” 

“What?” he gasped in exaggeration. “Everyone knows John didn’t start distancing himself from his band mates until Yoko came along, all I’m gonna say.” 

“Yeah, sure. Typical male response.” I snorted sarcastically. “Blame the woman.” 

The two of us carried on for about another twenty minutes on why "The Beatles" broke up until the conversation somehow steered into what we’d do if time travel really existed. If anybody were to eavesdrop on our conversations they’d probably think they were childish, but to me they were everything. Mike had always been the only person I could talk to for hours on end and never get bored. 

I’d been so wrapped up with our discussion that I hadn’t even noticed how much time had passed or that the waitress had cleared our dishes and left the tab, until I saw Mike pull out his wallet. I objected almost immediately but being as stubborn as he was he brushed me off, telling me I could just pay next time. 

The bells on the door clanged behind us while we walked side by side towards the unpaved parking lot, rough with dirt and rocks. The only cars there, were a big brown truck eaten with rust, a green station wagon, and Mike’s little white Acura. 

Suddenly it dawned on me. “You never answered my question.” I grabbed his arm, stilling him and I could feel his firm bicep through his shirt. I’d felt a sudden rush course through me followed by an uneasy sense of guilt for liking how it felt in my grasp and I instantly snatched my hand away like I just touched a hot stove. 

“Wait, what?” He cocked his head to the side. 

I felt my cheeks flush and I shook my head forcing myself to get back on track. “My question from earlier, remember?” 

He looked at me just as clueless as before and I groaned, knowing I’d have to repeat myself. “You mentioned that you weren’t in love with Max, but how would you know you’re in love or whatever? Like if you never actually felt it before, how would you know what to expect? I just don’t really get it.” 

His lips pursed in thought, while he kicked at the loose gravel. A moment of silence passed, before his eyes then darted to lock on mine, and it was strangely intimate. “Hard to explain, but.. I think I’d just know.”

It seemed as if he was holding himself back with the way he answered, like he wanted to say more but for some reason didn't.

However, I decided not to bother him about it any further. After all, he had the right to believe in whatever he wanted, even if he was chasing after what I thought to be an illusion or far fetched dream. 

If that's what would make him happy,

Then I only hope one day, he’ll eventually find what he's looking for. 

Chapter Text

Mike's POV

 

“Good job today Wheeler. Keep swimming like that and there’s no doubt we’ll make it to Regionals.” 

“That’s the plan coach.” I responded, drying my hair off with a white towel before swinging it around my neck. 

The older man with a receding hairline gave me a fatherly pat on the back as I headed down the tunnel of the locker room. I was met with praise from my teammates as they reached out to slap my back or pat my head while I strode past them towards my locker. It had been one hell of a practice and having held onto the thought that El would be coming to my next meet had been my motivation to push myself harder.

“Ah shit, there he is! The man of the hour.” I heard a boisterous voice ring out, followed by a friendly punch to my arm. “I don’t know what’s changed with you in the last few months but keep it up. You really kicked some ass out there.” 

“Just a new drive, I guess.” I fist bumped him with a thankful grin. “But appreciate it man.”

Aside from the original party, Jeff was probably one of my closer friends. He was a suave senior who always had a comb in hand to make sure his dark hair stayed perfectly in tact. He was probably on every sport team imaginable at our school aside from soccer, which for some reason he didn't like. However, Jeff only truly cared about two things and they were as followed- getting scouted and getting girls. 

“So forgot to ask, but you’re coming to my party this weekend, right?” 

Lately, I hadn’t gone to any parties. I simply had no reason to anymore. Parties had been a way for me to either pass time or get drunk enough so I could forget. But ever since El came along, I lived for every single moment I spent with her. Now whenever I’d get invited, I’d always end up making up some excuse or another to wiggle my way out of going, knowing I’d much rather hang with her instead. But it wasn't quite that easy anymore. People were now starting to take notice, especially Jeff.

“I don’t know. I kinda have some stuff I need to get done.” I said, grabbing my change of clothes before shutting my locker door. 

I could tell Jeff easily saw right through my lie by the look on his face. He purposely stood right in front of me, preventing me from walking off.

“Dude, there's no way you’re going awol again. It’s my birthday. You gotta come through.”  

Shit. I totally forgot it was his birthday. I definitely had no clever way out of this one. “I mean, I could always just get it done later..” I hesitantly responded with a tight lipped smile. 

“Hell yeah” He exclaimed, clapping his hands. “I’m telling you, you won’t regret it. Get this, my cousin and some of his college buddies are coming over and they’re bringing this massive keg. It’s gonna be fuckin wild.” He then nudged me with a knowing smirk. “Hey, you should bring that new girl of yours.” 

“Who?” 

“You know that little cutie you’re always hanging around with. She’s about this tall..” he said, bringing his hand up to his chest. “Has brown wavy hair.”

“Oh. uh.. El? El’s not my girl.” I sputtered, the mere mention of her causing me to fluster.

“Really?” His eyes widened in surprise, but a flash of relief passed through them at the same time. Weird. “Damn Wheels, you losing your touch or what? I’ve never known you to be single for this long.” He slapped my shoulder, then winked suggestively. “But no worries my friend, there will be plenty of fine ass ladies there who’ll be looking for some late night company, if you know what I’m sayin.”


 

“Hear me out, I know we planned on going to the movies this weekend but what if we changed it up a little. I even have an idea. You might not like it, but at least consider it before-” 

“No.” 

“What?” I asked in confusion. “You didn’t even hear what I was gonna say.” 

“I’m kidding.” El laughed through her nose. “But geez Mike, you act like we’re gonna rob a gas station or something, and as much fun as that sounds, I’d rather not spend the rest of high-school in juvie. Thank you very much.”   

“Oh, funny.” I responded sarcastically. “Since I was actually thinking of robbing a bank instead, but you know.. “

“A bank? Such a classical robbery. Hmm, might even be worth the jail time.” El played along, stroking her chin in thought. “Alright.. fine. But only if I get to be the Clyde to your Bonnie.” 

“What? Why do you get be Clyde?” 

“Because he wears the cool hats, duh.”

Before I could reply, I was interrupted by the clattering sound of a tray being dropped on the table and I turned to see the pale redhead seating herself right across from us. 

I was sort of shocked to see Max and by the look on El’s face she was just as shocked as I was, if not more so. Max hadn’t spoken to us ever since that incident in the hall which had been a little over a week ago now. I wonder what brought her back. 

“Don’t stop talking on my account.” Max waved us to continue with one hand, while using the other to pick up her sandwich.” Say, what did I miss?”

“Oh- um not much.” El spoke first, disrupting the awkwardness that stunned the air. “Mike was just about to propose some new idea for a hangout this weekend. You’re welcome to come with if you want.”

I could tell El was extending the olive branch but I hadn’t even considered Max joining. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she's talking to us again, but this past week with it just being El and I had been the best thing ever and I kind of was hoping it would stay that way. 

“Depends. What is it?” Max questioned taking a bite into her sandwich and El also turned to me expectantly.

“Well…" I scratched the back of my neck. "Jeff’s sorta having this party at his place Friday. ”

As soon as I finished that sentence they both had different reactions cross their face. Max’s face lit up like a Christmas tree whereas El’s smile wilted as soon as I had breathed the word party.  

“Oh, I’m so down.” Max instantly jumped at the opportunity. 

El rubbed her arm, appearing uncertain. "I don't know.. What’s wrong with the movies?”

“Nothing, I just kinda promised him I’d go since it’s his birthday and all. If you don’t wanna come you don’t have to.” I sighed, trying to bury the disappointment in my voice.

I should’ve figured she’d say no. El wasn’t the party type. She actually wasn’t any type to be honest. She was never the one to cave to peer pressure or indulge high-school norms. Even after seventh grade, she still couldn’t be placed in any mold but her own. She was an enigma. She was different. She was El. And the mere fact that she was comfortable just being herself regardless of others opinions was something I always admired. 

“Yeah El, you really don’t have to go. It’s okay.” Max was quick to assure her, before locking her eyes on mine. "I guess we’ll just check it out for ourselves. Right Mike?” 

I could sense the flirty undertones bubbling behind her ask, and noting the suspicious glare amp up in El’s eyes, I’m sure she detected it too. 

“Well, I also invited the guys so-

“I’ll go.” El cut in so abruptly that I almost didn’t hear her.

“What?” Max asked in disbelief. “I thought you didn’t want to.” 

“I never said I didn’t want to.” She shook her head. “I said I didn’t know. But I’ve made up my mind now.”

Even though I was thrilled, the last thing I wanted was for her to feel pressured. “Are you sure?” 

“Positive.”


 

The huge house was coated with a heavy haze of smoke from pot and cigarettes. Strung lights shed colors across the faces of many kids I knew and a few I didn’t, along with a mixed concoction of ongoing chatter and loud music. It was more populous than I’d expected, like Jeff had invited the whole school or something. 

There wasn’t a set dress code per say, it was more so unspoken. Girls always tended to dress up for these type of things while the boys typically dressed casually. Lucas, Dustin, and Will followed suit and wore what they had to school earlier that day. Whereas I spruced up a little, wearing a long sleeved black button up shirt in which I purposely paired with jeans, so I didn't come off as trying too hard. Max had followed the unspoken dress code, wearing an off the shoulder top that matched her bright blue eye shadow, with tight white pants. Although El, had also just worn what she had that day to school, a baby pink sweater and a jean skirt with her usual scuffed white converses. She still looked great. She always did. 

“Holy shit, this is awesome.” Dustin toothily grinned, observing the new surroundings. 

“Props to Jeff, guy knows how to throw one hell of a party.” Lucas remarked, trying to keep cool but I could tell by the little upturned corners of his mouth he was stoked. 

“So are you idiots just gonna stand around all night or what? Come on.” Max soon dissolved right into the horde of people dancing, as Will, Lucas, and Dustin followed. 

I peered over at El who was standing there frozen in place with wide eyes, glancing left and right as though she didn’t know what to make of it all. It was unusual to see her so timid and unsure but it was warranted, given she was clearly out of her comfort zone.

“You okay?” I asked her, with a concerned look on my face. She hesitantly nodded and I started walking towards the crowd. 

Wait,” She suddenly chimed, and as I looked back at her she linked her arm through mine. (The last time we did this was in middle school, when she would excitedly pull me through the halls just to tell me secrets in the AV room.) My arm tingled where she touched me and I could feel my heartbeat shaking my throat, as my chest swelled oddly in pleasure. 

We got plenty of looks as I led her through the throng of people while gripping onto one another tightly so we wouldn’t get lost. 

As we finally approached the other side of the room away from blaring the stereo and horde of drunken dancers, El released her grasp, taking in a deep breath. “Wow..” 

“I gotta find Jeff and let him know we’re here. You’ll be fine, right?”

“Yeah.” She muttered, a sense of uncertainty lingering in her gaze. “Bring me back something alcoholic?” 

“Sure. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

I began navigating back through the crowd and noise, some people stopped me along the way to chat, but when I’d asked about Jeff’s whereabouts they were just as clueless as I was. About how many people were in this damn house?

Suddenly I felt a warm hand grab mine, and as I turned around, I saw a flash of red. 

“Can we talk?” Max asked, and from the potent smell on her breath I could tell she’d been drinking. 

I automatically glanced over towards where I’d left El before hesitantly answering. “Okay.”

“But not here.” She replied, pulling me along through a dark hall where a few couples were making out against the walls. 

I grew wary when I saw her leading us upstairs to a room but regardless I followed. Max wanted to talk, which I figured must’ve been important, because it was something she rarely did. 

She closed the door behind us and I felt a bout of apprehension churn in my stomach. 

“So, what did you want to talk about?” 

She stood so close to me that I could smell her heavy vanilla perfume mingle with the scent of beer from her breath. “I think we should get back together.” she spoke confidently as her icy eyes seemed to impale me with her gaze.

“I don't understand.” I replied, and I felt like my head was swimming.

She slid her hand across my chest, undoing the top buttons of my shirt. “I miss you.” she spoke in a low and sultry tone. 

I knew what she was doing. She'd done it countless times before, and each time I would've easily succumbed to her without fail. But ever since El returned, it was as if a surge of self control I never knew I had suddenly activated within me.

Max closed her eyes, leaning up towards me and I quickly moved away, dodging her before she could place her lips on mine. "What are you doing?"

Panic flashed across her face. “I thought-

“You thought wrong.” I furiously shook my head, backing away from her. “I-I gotta go find El.” I spilled out the words, hastily darting out the door and down the stairs. 

   


                       

I began to curse under my breath when I hadn’t seen El in the spot where I’d left her.

I weaved in and out of people, searching meticulously through the crowd,

Until I finally found her.

And what I saw, made rage stir inside of me. 

El was seated on a couch, gripping a red cup in her hand while struggling to push off some husky blonde guy who had an arm draped around one of her shoulders. 

This guy who looked way too old to be in high school, didn't seem to care that she was clearly uncomfortable as he began pulling her closer to himself, whispering in her ear, while inching his hand up on her thigh. 

“Get away from her!” I shouted. Her eyes darted toward me and the older blonde dude slowly moved off of her, his tree trunk neck turning my direction. 

“The hell's your problem?” he questioned, his hand still squeezing her thigh. 

“Leave her alone.” I replied forcefully, shoving his shoulder back. His eyebrows raised in threat and he stood to his feet. 

“Don’t fucking touch me.” he seethed menacingly, stepping closer and closer. 

We might have been the same height wise but this guy was literally two times my build.

I felt my heart begin to rapidly beat in fear, but regardless, I stood there, my face cool and collected.

"Yeah?” I asked, giving him a smug look. I clenched my fists tightly against my sides, while I stepped closer to him until our noses were mere inches apart.

“Mike, stop.” 

I whipped my head around to see El tapping my shoulder. “It’s not worth it, okay?” she pleaded, and respecting her demands, I distanced myself from him and followed her as she led us away. 

“I was handling that.” She sighed, swiping a red cup from the dining table, where cheeto puffs, pretzels, beer bottles, and god knows what else were messily strewn about. 

“Didn’t seem like it.” I retorted, anger still settled in my tone. “Why the hell did you leave anyway?”

“I was bored, okay.” she huffed back defensively. “You were taking forever and I was just standing there all awkward.” 

“I know.. Sorry." I muttered quietly, simmering down. 

“You should be sorry. You didn’t even bring me back a drink.” El threw me a teasing smile over her shoulder, and just like that, the quarreling between us had fizzled. 

She led us out to Jeff’s front yard, where we found a couple of lawn chairs, and rested there, away from all the people and the noise. 

Her eyebrows raised in concern as I pulled out a cigarette and stuck it in my mouth. “I didn’t know you smoke.”

“I didn’t know you drink.” I nodded over at the red cup in her hand, lighting the end of the stick. 

“Touché.” She remarked putting the cup to her lips. “But you’re a swimmer..” 

“And you’re the sheriff's niece.” 

“Okay, fine you win.” El burst out in laughter and I reciprocated, laughing along with her. I was now aware that she was nearly intoxicated, her cheeks flushed, and her words slurring slightly on her tongue. 

Once the laughter diminished, I motioned with my hand back towards the house, where the sound of music bled through the yard, leaving a comfortable reverb of sound wrapped around us. “So what do you think?” 

“Do you want my honest opinion?”

I nodded, breathing out a puff of smoke. 

“Well, You’ve got the jocks playing beer pong with the cheerleaders, obnoxiously loud shitty music, handsy couples, and oh yeah, where are the unpopular kids like myself? That’s right, uninvited. So with that being said, hate to break it to ya.. but this party is the epitome of cliché.”

I let out a breathy chuckle at her choice of words. “So, wait.. since I invited you, are you callin me cliché too?” I sarcastically gaped, putting my hand to my heart.

“Maybe.” She then turned to look at me with a smile, the light of the moon bathing her face in silver. “I’m kidding, there’s absolutely nothing cliché about you Michael Wheeler. Well besides the fact you go to these stupid parties.” Her laugh was lovely and low and it sent a warmth through my chest.

I tried but I couldn’t stop the smile that was tugging at my lips. “Agreed, this party is pretty stupid. So.. do you maybe want to get out of here?” I asked, flicking the cigarette butt to the ground and stamping out any remaining embers with my shoe. 

“Yeah.”  She quickly nodded. “But where would we go?” 

I let out an uh.. as my mind went blank. I hadn’t thought that far. Honestly, as long as I was with her I’d go anywhere.

El pursed her lips in thought momentarily. It wasn’t too long before she looked at me and smiled a crescent moon smile that made my heart skip a beat. “I have an idea.” 

 


 

“You’re drunk.” I chuckled, watching as she pulled down the handle of the slushie machine and sloppily mixing both cherry and blue raspberry in a large foam cup. 

“No, I’m not.” she protested, and soon enough her cup started to overflow and drip onto the floor. 

I glanced over at the cashier- an older man who was sitting on a stool behind the register, mindlessly flipping through a newspaper with one hand and sipping on a coke with the other. He hadn’t bothered to look up since we first arrived ten minutes ago. 

Thank god.. 

I quickly snagged some napkins from the adjacent counter and began cleaning up the spill. 

“Um. Yeah, you are.” I replied, standing back to my feet. I then grabbed the cup from her, and wiped it down as well before handing it back. “You’re a messy drunk at that.” 

She ignored me, sticking a straw through the dome lid of her cup. She then took a huge sip, closing her eyes in pleasure until they immediately shot back open. “Holy shit. This is awesome. You have to try it.” She shoved the drink my way. 

My nose pinched in disgust. “You mixed the flavors though.”

“Just try it.” She persisted and I rolled my eyes, grabbing the cup and reluctantly taking a sip.  I quirked my eyebrows in amused surprise. It actually wasn’t half bad..

“Told ya.” She smiled proudly, having already read the expression on my face.

“Yeah, I guess I-" El stopped me by placing her finger in front of my mouth. “Shh.” She tilted her head upwards. “Do you hear that?” 

At first I was a bit confused but as I tuned in closely, I heard it.. The song that played over the corner’s store’s speaker. Her favorite song. 

“Come on!" She squealed in excitement, motioning for me to follow her which I did as she pranced through the rows of snacks, maps and trinkets, her sneakers squeaking a little on the freshly cleaned tiled floor. 

She finally settled in the far back of the store beside the refrigerated beverages, where the speaker was mounted right overhead on the wall, making the music that much louder and clearer. 

Before I knew it she was jumping up and down to the song, singing, with her hands lifted up in the air. It was like she didn’t care that she was already getting a few peculiar glances or that it was ten o'clock at night or that she was in a gas station. It was like she didn’t have a care in the world.  Alcohol had made her eyes wide, her cheeks flushed, her tongue loose. I liked it.

“Dance with me Mike!” She exclaimed, and I quickly set her cup on a nearby shelf before doing as I was told. She grabbed my clammy hands, and encouraged me to jump along with her. I awkwardly started to lift myself off of the floor to the beat. If it were anybody else I wouldn’t have been caught dead dancing in such a public place.

But it wasn’t just anybody.

It was El. 

 

“Oh, I just died in your arms tonight.

It must’ve been something you said.”

I just died in your arms tonight.”  

 

She sang carelessly with a bright smile on her face, as her hands were still interlocked with mine.

She was so damn beautiful. 

I was mesmerized, at the way her glassy eyes sparkled in the low light of the store, at the way it seemed to bring out every pigment of her honey golden skin, and shine on her messy waves that brushed down her shoulder, 

But her smile.. Her smile was the most captivating thing about her.

 

“Oh, I just died in your arms tonight.

It must’ve been some kind of kiss,

I should’ve walked away, I should’ve walked away.”

 

Every time she flashed her vibrant grin my way I’d fall into a daze, my mind nor body seeming to remember how to function as all I could do was just stand there and take in her beauty. Her body began to move closer to mine with each beat of the music and soon my hands had moved from just holding hers to holding her waist. We danced freely, singing together and laughing our asses off in bliss. 

I’d never felt so happy. 

Suddenly the cashier’s booming voice cut through the music, snapping me out of my reverie. “Hey if you kids aren’t gonna buy anything, then you need to get out!”

We suddenly pulled away from each other and whatever had been densely built around us collapsed in a matter of seconds. 

 


 

I tore through town, my foot heavy on the gas pedal. So many urging thoughts and feelings were badgering me all at once and I tried with every ounce of might to focus on the road. It also didn’t help that I was simultaneously trying to ignore El’s every movement beside me. The press of her chest against the seat belt, the caress of her fingers along her cheekbone as she pushed away loose strands of hair flying in the wind, and the way her skirt hitched slightly as she crossed her legs. I had to make myself channel my attention not only for the sake of safe driving but also because I didn’t want her to catch me staring again like some pervert.

“So how’d it go with Max?” She questioned and I dared to sneak a glance at her. I briefly caught sight of the reflection of tail lights in her eyes. She looked contemplative, even in her drunken stupor as she kept her gaze straight ahead. 

“What are you talking about?” 

“At the party, I saw you go upstairs with her.” 

“Oh that..” I paused, thrown off a little that she’d even brought that up. “We just talked, that’s it.”  

“You don’t have to lie.” She responded nonchalantly, pointing to where the top of my shirt was undone. 

Even though she mean't no harm, I don't know why but I still grew defensive. “I’m not lying.” I silently shook my head while self consciously buttoning up my shirt. “Nothing happened.” 

“Why are you getting upset?”

“I’m not.” I retorted, as we pulled near her house. I put the car in park and hastily took my hands off the wheel. “I just don’t want to talk about Max alright. I’ve moved on.” 

“Okay.” 

“Okay..?” I questioned, not knowing what she quite meant by that. 

El unfastened her seat belt and then opened the car door. “I believe you.” 

“Cool. Well, I guess this is goodnight then.”

But she didn’t leave like I’d expected, instead El turned to me, her eyes suddenly piercing me in a way they hadn’t before as her hand lingered on the door handle.

“Mike.” she breathed, her gaze was heavy, her voice soft but edged with something rough. 

For a moment, I almost forgot how to breathe. “Yeah?” I gulped, my throat tight.

And before I knew it, I felt a pair of soft lips envelop my own, and the flutter of long eyelashes against my skin. 

It was like the cogs in my brain stopped working. Every thought or worry in my mind obliterated. The world had vanished instantly, my eyes fell closed and all I could feel was her, her warmth, her touch, her being. My muscles suddenly moved on their own accord and I kissed her back.

It happened so quickly, yet it was like in that moment time stood still. I didn’t feel anything but heat as her slender fingers ran through my hair, and her mouth played with mine. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around her, as she continued to kiss me, urging my lips apart and dipping her tongue in my mouth. 

Kissing her felt like the most natural thing in the world.. 

It just felt right, as though somehow the act of affection was solely made for us. 

It took every ounce of self control I had, but knowing she was still intoxicated, I felt guilty and decidedly pulled away. 

But before I could properly catch my breath,

my car door slammed shut, 

and just like that…

She was gone. 

The vague traces of sweet syrup and alcohol still lingered in my mouth while my head panged with confusion, frustration, and unanswered questions.

But my heart was so full. 

Maybe this time it was different.

Maybe now, she finally felt the same way too. 

Chapter Text

El's POV 

 

For the better half of the morning I stared up at the ceiling cursing myself continuously while mulling last night’s events over in my brain.

And after coming to the conclusion it wasn’t just another dream,

I knew…

I completely fucked up. 

Why did I have to go and ruin our friendship by letting some stupid impulse get in the way? 

I sat upright in bed, running my hands through my mess of tangles. My impending headache was getting worse by the second, now aching with guilt and frustration. 

I thought I had it all figured out.

I thought I could do it.

After all, he was supposed to just get back together with Max and things would’ve easily been resolved. But he didn’t, and also if I’m being honest I was kinda relieved he hadn’t. What is wrong with me? 

Last night was one of those nights you never forget. 

Images of him holding me and smiling as we swayed together flickered through my thoughts, spinning like a top in my mind. The feeling of his soft lips lingered and all I could do was shake the sensation away.

Why couldn’t I just leave well enough alone? Why did I have to be the one to make shit difficult?

I don’t know.. I don’t even have an idea what I’m feeling.

But I reasoned I’m only human and having intimate thoughts about my best friend, who was not only the sweetest guy ever but who I also found undoubtedly attractive was natural. It was instinct. It was just overall a part of my sexual drive.  

So right there I’d made a decision. A clear decision that fighting off any innate desires was useless and tiring. I also couldn’t just pretend like I hadn’t kissed him either. I had, and although I was inebriated I knew what I was doing. He’d kissed me back though and suddenly I wondered if he was possibly battling through the same shit I was. 

I knew that I had only one option moving forward. 

After all, This is what I really wanted..

Right?

*Dial Tone*

Hello?

Hey.. can we talk?

*Long pause* “Oh um.. about.. last night?” 

"Yeah."

“Oh, uh. okay. I guess so.” 

“But not over the phone. Can I just meet at your place?”

“Sure.” 

“Okay. I’ll be there in about the next hour or so?” 

“That works. See you then.”

“See you.”

*Click*

 


 

It had been so long since I’d been down to his basement. Although I've been to his house a couple of times since we renewed our friendship, I hadn’t stepped foot in his basement again until today. 

Memories crossed my mind, remembering how his eyes lit up as he’d animatedly discuss the plot of the Star Wars movie we’d finish watching. That satisfied smirk plastered on his face whenever he’d put the finishing touches on our fort by draping a blanket over the top of it. The two of us being kids telling each other ghost stories, our hopes and dreams, and unraveling the mysteries of the adult universe while we laid together, side by side, in our pillow fortress. Holding hands while we jumped into the lake together. The first time we hugged and the first time he kissed me. Arm wrestling. Sharing M&Ms. Teasing jokes. Holding his arm at the party. Laughing so hard we'd cry. His smile. 

My heart was doing it again. Beating so hard, I could hear it pounding in my head and I had only wished it was the remaining migraine from my hangover. 

What is wrong with you? Get it together. 

It’s just infatuation. 

All it is, is infatuation. 

Mike looked just as nervous as I felt.

He was drumming his fingers against the side of his leg, while glancing up at me with unsettled eyes. 

What if I was overthinking last night? What if he hadn’t liked the kiss and I just messed up everything that took us so long to restore. Stupid, stupid.. 

“So um… what did you want to talk about?” He asked, thankfully clearing away the uncomfortable tension. 

“Well..”  I started off, not really knowing how I’d proceed with this. “Even though that party was a total bust. I still had a lot of fun hanging out with you afterwards. Well, I always do Mike. You’re my best friend. It’s just, about that kiss, last night...”

“I know. You were drunk.” 

“I kinda liked it.”

“Wait, what?” He asked, his eyes widening in disbelief. “You liked it?” 

I slowly nodded, feeling my throat going dry. “Um.. did you?”

“Yeah.” he whispered in agreement. 

Silence engulfed us again and I was really hoping he’d say something else because after those declarations, I wasn’t even sure how we kept calm. Before I even realized it I was opening my mouth to speak. “Maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad..  if it were to happen again. Well, with me being sober this time of course.” 

He gave me a look that I hardly saw from him. One of astonishment and incomprehension. His brows narrowed, and he looked at me suspiciously as if he was making sure he heard me correctly. “What do you mean exactly?” 

“I mean, it wouldn’t be anything serious. We’ll still hang out like we normally do but whenever we feel the urge to uh.. kiss and stuff, we could. It would be like, you know.. friends with benefits.”

“Friends with benefits?” Mike’s face straightened with apprehension and I could see his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. “I-I just.. I’m not sure. I don’t know if that’s a good idea El. I’ve never even done that before.” 

I hadn’t been surprised by his answer. I never pegged him the hook up type and Max had even once told me herself that he only followed through with commitment. I knew before coming into this that I was more likely to hear a no if anything, but regardless, I still had to ask. I could tell he was growing uncomfortable and the last thing I wanted to do was push him. 

“Me either, but we could always figure it out.. if you want?” 

He swallowed again, some of the apprehension now fading once he looked at me, but there was still doubt swimming in the edge of his dark irises. “uh, alright.” he finally answered. 

“Really?” I responded more out of surprise than anything.

He nodded with a small smile and right then I knew that we were in way over our heads. But I still didn’t bother to heed the last warning sign my brain threw my way, knowing this could be my only resolve for all the harboring tension and weird feelings I carried for him. 

I knew it would finally be my relief. 

“So if we’re gonna do this, We’re probably gonna need to set some rules in place. You know to ensure proper boundaries.” I brought up. 

“Oh, um, what should they be?”  

I paused, biting the side of my cheek contemplatively. I hadn’t prepared for this, honestly. I hadn’t really expected him to agree in the first place. 

“Well here are a few I thought of.” I finally said, causing him to turn toward me in what appeared to be a snap of his own clouded thoughts. “Let me know what you think.”

“Rule number one.” I continued, “We don’t tell anybody, not Will, not Lucas, not Dustin and especially not Max.” I added with extra emphasis, to stress the point. “This is just between us, so it’ll be our little secret.”

He thought about this for a moment, biting his pillowy bottom lip and rubbing his chin. “But what if somebody still happens to find out.. Like what if they catch us or something?” 

I could feel my cheeks redden at the prospect of us actually getting caught. “I suppose, we’ll just have to be extra cautious then. This way nobody finds out and any rumors floating around will quickly die down.” 

“That makes sense.” 

“Rule Number Two- If you decide you want to date again or if I find interest in somebody else, then we’re done. We won’t allow… this.” I gestured at the space between us.” To interfere with whatever else we might want to pursue. Sound good?” 

He nodded in agreement but he had this strange look on his face. I wondered what he was thinking but I decided not to ask.

“Rule Number Three- And this is by far the most important one. No romantic feelings whatsoever, which also means nothing that could lead to that.. So no dates, no dances, sleep overs, nothing of the sort. Do you understand?”

He knew I’d singled him out. I could tell by how fast he evaded eye contact with me, choosing to glance down at the floor instead. Even though he’d already assured me that he had no longer felt that way towards me, I just needed him to know again that we could never be anything more. 

“I understand.” Mike finally muttered, but his eyes were still distant like his mind was somewhere else when he looked up at me. But before I could focus on it, he opened his mouth to speak. “So, is that all?” 

“Yeah.. Did you need me to write it down for you? I know how forgetful you can be.” I purposely shifted the tone of our discussion by throwing in a teasing remark. 

The awkwardness of this entire conversation had been eating away at me. It was just not how we worked. Even though necessary, this whole setting rules about our relationship was far from what I was accustomed to with him. Our conversations with each other were always sarcastic, full of playful insults, and cracking jokes. I felt the need to get us back to that. 

“Me? Forgetful?” He protested, taking the bait without hesitation and I figured he must’ve been just as relieved as I was to clear the air. 

“Need I remind you, that you literally forgot you had a whole damn art project due.” 

“Okay fair, but at least I didn’t forget about my pet gold fish that I won at the carnival.” 

“First of all, doesn’t count, since that was years ago. Second of all, I didn’t forget about him. I couldn’t bring him on the bumper cars with me so I set him aside and I’m pretty sure he got stolen.” 

“Or.. you forgot about him. Well until I reminded you about it an hour later after we were on our way back home.” He held back a chuckle by forcing himself to act sad. “Rest in Peace Sparky, hopefully you're somewhere swimming with the fishes again."

“Oh. You know what Mike.” I said, stepping even closer to him, gently jutting my index finger in his chest. 

I examined him in more detail than I had in the past. For some reason, he looked really good today. He didn’t have to try either, his midnight hair contrasted perfectly against his milky complexion and his accentuated cheekbones set off his strong jawline. He had his white long sleeved shirt rolled up to his elbows, showing off the veins in his forearm. 

He was handsome

"What?” he asked, a smile growing on his face as the two of us maintained our eye contact.  

“Shut up.” I scoffed, my own smile forming. 

“Make me.” 

We stared in silence for a few seconds, and I could tell he hadn’t been aware until right now of the heavy new implication of that retort. If he’d said that before, it would’ve easily earned him a slug to the arm, but things were different now. Ever since that shared kiss between us there was this massive tension building between us and it was like we were both standing there at the precipice waiting for the other to finally make a move. 

So, I moved first. 

Before I could process what was happening, my eyes drifted shut, and I gave away to instinct by wrapping my hands around his neck and pulling his mouth down to meet my own.

Our lips moved together slowly at first, but before long, I felt his tongue run across my bottom lip asking for entrance, which I accepted without hesitation. 

I felt an overwhelming feeling of desire erupt in my body, and I wanted more. I needed more.  Ever since last night when I tasted his lips, they were suddenly all that I craved.

He held firmly onto my waist while I still grasped onto his neck and we moved in sync together until we somehow found the couch. I pushed him backwards onto it and he devoured my mouth, as I sat myself on his lap, straddling him.  

“MICHAEL” We heard his mom shout down the stairs which instantly caused us both to jump apart, but it wasn’t until after we’d pulled away that I realized just how breathless I was.

“HURRY UP, YOUR SISTER IS WAITING.”

“COMING!” He yelled back in obvious annoyance before turning to me. “Shit, I totally forgot I’m supposed to take Holly to soccer practice.” He muttered in disappointment.

I could see still the lingering desire in his eyes and I shivered under his tender gaze, goosebumps shooting down my spine. 

I climbed off of him trying my best to ignore the effect he was having on me of him and as I grabbed my things, I faced him once again. 

“Told you.” I purposely said in that sing song voice of mine I used to get under his skin, but instead this time daring to be a little flirtatious. 

“Told me what?”  

When he looked at me all I could do was smile, feeling the first rush of bliss course through my bones in what seemed like an eternity. 

“You’re forgetful.”

Chapter Text

Mike's POV (Summer 1987)

 

The summer before senior year, dandelions were sprouting fiercely, clothing the empty fields around Lover’s Lake in cloves of golden blossoms and snowy puffs which grew alongside the tall weeds and flourished around the towering white Birch. We’d soon discovered that parked right underneath it was the best spot not only for solitude but shade, especially during the evening when the breeze would hit the water just right, blowing off a gentle breeze through the rolled down windows of my acura. 

There are few moments that you just know will be a part of you forever. 

They’re etched into your soul, rattling in your bones, and pulsing through your veins, always to be remembered. 

Summer of ‘88 was filled with those moments, 

Stolen beers and late night talks, Driving through town- blasting Gun N’ Roses with her feet propped on the dash, Fries and shakes at Benny’s, Finally solving her Rubik’s cube, Spinning together on the tire swing in the park. 

Endlessly sneaking around, her floral fragrance left behind on the seats of my car, fevered kisses beneath the setting sun and the feel of her silky skin beneath the tips of my fingers. 

She drove me mad, and the best part about it or possibly the worst, was that she knew it. 

El very well knew the effect she had on me. 

She found joy in it too, knowing that I couldn’t get enough of her. 

But what she didn’t know, 

and what she couldn’t know.. 

Was that I had already broken one of our established rules a long time ago, and all this summer did was finally bring the truth of the matter to light. 

It was as clear as the vast velvet sky above us, and as vivid as the brilliant stars that pierced through. 

I was absolutely and completely in love with her. 

 


 

“We have to stop.” I insisted, but my growing smirk betrayed my words. 

Her lips nibbled the side of my neck and jaw wildly, making me tingle all over. “That would be more convincing if you weren’t already undoing my bra.” she replied, before her lips fell back onto my jaw.

I let out a quick sigh, slowly releasing the clasp hidden beneath her tank top before letting my hands trail down her bare back and down to her waist, causing her to shiver. 

She finally made her way from my jaw to my lips, sucking on the bottom one.

As I felt her mouth apply pressure to my own, I quickly snapped out of my dazed state. “El, seriously, it’s getting late.” 

“So?” She continued to latch onto my lip with her mouth, both of us breathing heavy as her hips rocked towards mine, and her fingers ran through my messy curls with wonder. 

Practically every week since our agreement and most of the summer had played out just like this- the two of us, right up against each other, doing whatever we wanted. We’d cross many boundaries in the spanse of a few months, having practically done everything under the sun except for the actual act of sex itself. 

When she informed me that she was inexperienced, I respected that, never wanting to push her to do anything she was uncomfortable with. I let her set the pace between us, moving as slow or as fast as she wanted me to. And although we hadn’t talked about it much, I think we both knew it was now just a matter of time before it actually did happen.

I almost caved in and let her continue to have her way (because damn, she was good at this) But my pressing anxiety overruled, and I reluctantly pulled away. “Curfew, remember?” I finally caught a breath to say, grappling the backseat to sit myself upright. “Hop’s gonna kill us.” 

She rolled her eyes, her lips still plump and wet. “He’s on a date with Joyce and they won’t be back till later tonight, so we still have time.” 

“Guess they’re having a little fun of their own.” I shrugged, letting out a withdrawn chuckle. 

El squirmed, her face turning up in disgust. “Ew. I can’t believe you just said that.” 

“You know I’m right. I mean it’s almost ten, what else could they possibly doing out this late? Besides, well you know..” I threw her a suggestive wink. 

She feigned a gag, pushing my chest away from her, as I laughed at her reaction. “You’re gonna make me puke.” 

I pulled her towards me wanting to pick up where we left off, but before I could kiss her, she stopped me by putting her hand in my face. “Nope, don’t think so, mister.” she clucked her tongue, opening the car door.

“What? Where are you going?”

“You killed the mood.” El remarked, with a faint hint of amusement in her voice and I felt like she was teasing me. 

I stared after her in awe as she pranced towards the edge of the lake. Her cotton shorts hugged her hips tightly. A ball of something that felt like a mix of nausea and desire burned low in my belly as I watched her hips sway, back in forth in a hypnotic fashion. She then disappeared off into the distance, breaking me from my spell. 

It was kind of ironic that I ended up in a situation like this, being friends with benefits with my best friend also known as the girl who’s had my heart since we were twelve. For what it’s worth, it wasn’t my intention. I never wanted to be in a friends with benefits relationship at all.. let alone with her. 

So when she asked me about it, I’ll admit that at first I was scared. Scared because all my emotions seemed to cram into one moment of weakness. Scared that if I said yes, the world as I knew it would change forever. 

I knew without a shadow of a doubt how I felt. 

Yet, the fact that El kissed me. She kissed me. 

It proved everything I thought I’d just imagined in my head. Everything I wrote off as just wishful thinking, a romantic fantasy I’d got swept away with, a hopeless daydream that would never come true. 

But ever since the night when she first kissed me, I realized that I’d been right all along. 

El felt the same way too. 

She was just finally starting to realize it. 

I got out of the car and followed in the direction I saw her head off to. The moon shone across the stillness of the lake along with the hazy illumination beaming from my headlights providing just enough light to see where I was going. As I neared the bank, chirping crickets began to drown out the soft sounds of the car’s radio and fireflies danced around the night sky. 

“El..?” I asked, when I hadn’t seen her. However, when I was only met with silence I began to grow paranoid.

“EL?” I practically shouted this time, straining my eyes to see through the pitch-dark. “Where are you?” 

I suddenly heard the snap of twigs and turned to look around but when I did, I saw nothing. Even though it was humid out, a cold shiver ran down my spine. I then turned to face forward. 

“Gotcha!” 

“SHIT!” I yelped in horror when I felt hands grab my side but before I could register what was happening, I heard high-pitched giggling and I instantly knew who it was. I huffed heavily, placing a hand to my chest while trying to catch my breath and calm down my racing heart. 

“You should’ve seen the look on your face!” El dissolved into another puddle of laughter, doubling over while patting her right leg. “You were so scared! I wish I could’ve gotten a picture, it was priceless!” 

“Ha ha.. very funny.” I retorted while my mind raced for a surefire way to get her back. Suddenly, the perfect idea hit me and I had to bite back a smile. “Whoa, what’s that?” I pointed behind her. 

Once she turned to look, I enacted my revenge by grabbing her by the waist, she shrieked as I picked her up to carry her in my arms.

“What the hell? Put me down!” El weakly protested, swatting at me. 

I smiled coyly, tightening my grip as I started walking off with her. “Not until justice is served.”

“You wouldn’t..” She cried in disbelief once she noticed me carrying her towards the lake. “Mike, don’t you dare! I swear to god!"

I couldn’t help but laugh as she tried but failed to wiggle out of my grasp, kicking at the air.  

“Who’s scared now?” I responded smugly, deliberately lowering her towards the water and she let out one last scream as I threw her in, making an abrupt splash.  

El came up a second later, sputtering for air, her hair now dripping flat and her clothes soaked through. She shot me a dirty look as I erupted in laughter.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be laughing if I were you.” she warned, trying her best to keep a straight face but her sly smile was peaking through.

“And why’s that?” I scoffed. 

“Because-” 

El didn’t even finish her sentence before she suddenly leapt on top of me knocking me backwards into the water. 

Other than just the two of us the lake was empty. Nobody came this time of night and to be honest it was probably illegal, but we didn’t care as we swam together, splashing, and playing around before eventually wading out of the water. 

We then took off our clothes lying down on the bank in our underwear so we could dry off in the hot July air. 

“Remember the last summer we were here?” I said in a low whisper. The moon was full and the sky was clear, dotted with more stars than I could count. But it didn't matter, because I still couldn’t keep my eyes off of her.

“Yeah,” El nodded without looking at me. “Sorry, I ruined it by being so shitty.” she replied with guilt subtly laced in her tone. 

“I still can’t believe you ran away like that.” I softly chuckled, reflecting on the memory. 

“Shut up.” She laughed, shaking her head in shame. “I was just a kid, I didn’t really know what else to do. I mean who really knows what to do in that kind of situation?”

“I don't know, anything but run?" I shrugged, still chuckling, as I ran a hand through my drying curls. “I went home that night thinking I was the worst kisser ever.” 

“Well, if it’s any consolation.. You’re actually not so bad.” El smirked, and as if routine she pulled my face to meet hers, connecting our lips in a tender embrace. But before the kiss could deepen, she pulled back. “Damn it.” she muttered, her eyes widening . 

“What’s wrong?” I kinked an eyebrow, watching as she rushed to put on her clothes before tossing me mine. 

“Hop’s gonna kill us.” 

 


 

I drove her back to her house, down that old bumpy stretch of road I’d long committed to memory, maneuvering around every sharp turn and pothole as if it was second nature.

Nights like these were almost perfect, almost. 

We’d fooled around some, hung out together, and laughed our asses off well into the night. And to anyone else that would be enough.  After all, it was lowkey.. no strings attached fun and companionship. It couldn't get much better than that, right?

Now If only I could convince myself that.  

Because even though I enjoyed our time together, I wanted more than just a physical connection. I desired something deeper, something intimate that went beyond the realm of lust filled passion. More than anything, I longed to lace my fingers through hers, or wrap my arms around her and hold her close. 

I wanted to tell her how much she truly meant to me.

I wanted to tell her how she made my world a better place by just being a part of it. 

I wanted to tell her everything.

“So what are your plans after high school?” She asked, capturing my flitted attention at once. The moon light spilled on her face making her honey eyes stand out, only to be slightly covered by her chocolate golden waves, which were growing out longer than I’d seen before. 

“I don’t know, I was thinking about going to NYU and possibly majoring in creative writing.” I shrugged, sucking in air as I tried to think of a better response. “I’m still not sure though. My dad says it’s a waste of time.”

“Wow, didn’t expect that.” She raised her eyebrows in interest and I’d expected her to tease me for it but instead her face fell with sincerity. “But is that what you want?” 

“What do you mean?” 

“Forgetting your dad’s opinion, your friends, mine, or anybody else’s for that matter.. Is writing what you want to do?”

‘“Well, it’s what I’d want to do most.” 

“Then do it.” She remarked blatantly as if it was the most obvious answer in the world. “Although, I’ll admit I’m a bit skeptical given that I’ve yet to read a single story of yours.” she arched a brow with a half grin.

“Hmm, maybe soon.” 

“Please tell me it’s at least better than your drawing skills?”

“Shut up. You’re so mean.” 

“Boo hoo, cry me a river.”

I rolled my eyes with a snort. “Well, what about you then? What are you gonna do after highschool?

She paused for a moment, the curl of her lips easing itself into a thin line, pressing together ardently. “I want to make movies. So, I’ll probably apply to film school.”

“Why movies?” I asked turning to look at her with inquisitive eyes. 

“Well, I’ve always had an interest in film scores and cinematography. But my moment of revelation was actually in middle school, when you forced me to watch all those Star Wars films with you..” She scoffed, with a half hearted smile. “So I guess I should actually be thanking you, because it was after watching those movies that I knew I wanted to create them.”

A broad smile formed across my face knowing I'd somehow inspired her. “I think that’s really cool.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” I nodded enthusiastically. “Count on me attending your first premiere.” 

“Duh, you better be there.” El gave me a loose grin, before quickly grabbing her things and unclicking her seatbelt. It then finally dawned on me that we’d reached the end of her driveaway. She turned to me right before opening the door. “But hey, if I don’t see you tomorrow, just know to prepare my funeral arrangements.” 

“Gotcha. White flowers right?

"You know me so well." El cooed with a whimsical smirk. 

She then looked at me with that same intensity in her eyes that she had the night I’d driven her home from the party, the same glimmer that seemed to embed some hidden message. “Night, Mike.” she spoke softly. 

It was then that those three simple words were crashing around violently in my head. They were on the very tip of my tongue, desperate to escape. It was such an effort to hold myself back from spilling my heart to her. But I knew I couldn’t, I had to keep those words locked up, leave them unsaid for now. It was better this way.

"Night, El."

I watched wistfully as she walked away, her silhouette soon fading off into the distance- breaking me free from the illusion of the world my mind had sunk into the last few minutes. 

Groaning, I laid my forehead on the steering wheel. 

I’m so fucking screwed. 

Chapter Text

El's POV (Two Months Later)

 

It was the middle of September, The days were drawing shorter, the weather was cooling and the leaves were changing. However, the leaves weren't alone. I felt a change inside of me too, a shift of some kind that made me feel lighter.. happier even.

It was foreign. 

For the first time in awhile, I’d wake up and not immediately dread the day, but instead I looked forward to it. I looked forward to seeing Mike at lunch, in between classes, or even during our rides home together after school.. 

Especially when it was just the two of us. 

I wanted to bask in it, this warm fuzzy thrilling sensation that made everyday feel as if it were the first day of my life. But a part of me held back, instead blaming it on senior year jitters and our ongoing arrangement. It was just a matter of time before this unusually good mood would soon pass by. 

In fact, I’m certain of it.  

 


 

“Mike!” 

He stopped and turned around when he heard me call his name, and it wasn’t long before he swam towards me. As he finally reached the edge of the pool where I stood, he removed his goggles with one hand as he slicked his hair back with the other. 

“El.” he breathed, with a smile naturally gracing his lips. “What are you doing here?” 

I glanced around and noting that we weren't alone, I knew to play it cool. “I need to talk to you about our um.. science fair project, do you have a moment?”

“Science fair project?” he mumbled under his breath with a puzzled expression. 

“Yeah, you know.. our project.” I repeated slowly, nudging him with my eyes. “We’ve been working on it for quite some time.”

Thankfully it isn’t long before realization finally dawned on him. “Ohh.. yeah, oh, okay.” he vehemently nodded, swallowing.

He then ducked back under for a moment, heading towards the steel ladder closest to him but once he climbed out I completely lost all ability to function. 

I can’t help but take in the sight of his broad shoulders and firm chest where distracting beads of water are dragging across the surface of his pale soft skin, in turn feeding the fire that’s already started burning low within me. 

Grabbing a towel, he vigorously dried off his hair, before swinging it around his neck, his rough hands slicking back his raven mop of hair once more.

I don’t want to get caught ogling him, but for some reason I can’t stop..  The dipped lines of his waist in those dark swim shorts and the way his shoulder muscles go taut at his accord are awfully distracting.  

“You couldn’t wait until after I got my laps in, huh?” He said with a glint of mirth in his eyes, putting his shirt back on and I could feel the heat rise to my cheeks. Shit, he totally noticed. 

I quickly shushed him, shooting him a warning glare before motioning him to follow me with a quick nod. 

As we walked away from the indoor pool and further down the corridor, I glanced back one last time to make sure nobody saw us, before pulling him into a nearby storage closet. 

After having done this for awhile, there was just something about the thrill of sneaking off that heightened the heat between us. 

It was risky, it was scandalous, but most of all, it was damn near intoxicating.

In that split second before his touch every nerve in my body and brain is electrified. It's the anticipation of being together in a way that's more than words, in a way that's so completely tangible. 

So I made the first move by crashing into him, my lips devouring his hungrily, I could feel him groan into my mouth as I kissed him. 

The few past experiences I've had doesn’t hold a candle to this. I’d never known kissing could feel this way, so fucking irresistible.  

I’d been all logic and feigned cool detachment until I’d tasted his lips. Then something not only stirred in me, but it took over my thinking. The rest of my world became an unimportant blur that was banished into the far corners of my mind. The only thing that mattered was getting as close to him as I possibly could. 

My whole body warmed as he kissed me back with lips as soft as butter. God, he was such an amazing kisser. He gently pushed me into the wall, entrapping me as his lips fell onto my neck at a punishing pace. 

“Mike.” I gasped, my head instinctively tilting back to offer him more access while grabbing at his shirt to steady myself, not caring whatsoever that he was still damp from the pool. He continued to pepper my neck with his lips, his tongue flicking across the expanse of my skin. “That feels.. good.” 

“Yeah?” He asked, his voice rough and ragged, and I could feel his hand sneak under my sweater and up my bare back, teasing the back of my bra until finally unsnapping the hooks. 

He then pulled back, his half-lidded eyes looking to see if I was still okay with this. But with the way he’s looking at me right now, I know he’d do anything I asked, and that’s such a strange and powerful feeling. 

I answered his unspoken request by capturing his mouth again, and his other hand that had been resting on my hip,slipped under the front of my turquoise sweater, cupping my breast, and squeezing gently. I encouraged this further by catching his bottom lip between my teeth, tugging on it. I felt him squeeze a little harder, thumbing my nipple and as I let his lip go, I then leaned back and shut my eyes. 

His touch felt euphoric, and I reveled in it, gripping his shoulders as he continued to explore, his breathing was heavy and I could tell he was just as affected as I was, panting hotly against my ear as I whimpered. 

Being with Mike was as wild as things had gotten for me. 

He knew exactly what to do and how to do it,

And it was heaven.

It was as if he read my body like a map. His hands know every single curve of mine and his sinful lips know how to trail my skin in a way that nearly makes me lose my mind.

Even if half the time I don’t really know what I’m doing, he’s so patient with me. 

Also very much the gentleman, he's never pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Even going so far as to actually make sure that I’m okay with everything before he does it.

And honestly, I don’t think I could’ve chosen anyone better for this sort of thing than Mike.

Why didn’t I agree to this sooner?


Max's POV

 

With each step I take, my fingers itch for the box of cigarettes tucked away in my back pocket. 

My suede checkered vans plop against the hallway at a steady pace, my long hair swaying along with it, while my eyes are on the lookout for an escape from my grueling physics class… and truthfully, just life in general. 

Escape,

Mike had once been that for me. 

And maybe that’s why a part of me was still hung up on him. 

This past summer had been a search for another “Mike” in my life. It was filled with parties every weekend, new friends who didn’t give a shit, and even a couple of hooks ups. But in the end it was all just a waste, because I didn’t even find what I’d been looking for. 

Love. 

It might be a sappy thing to say, but it’s what I really want.

Not that fake shit either, but something genuine, something real. 

At one point, I truly think I loved Mike, it’s hard to pinpoint when though because we’d broken up so many times that my emotions were always at a varied range of highs and lows. But he was the closest to real that I had.

I don’t even know if he’d ever felt the same way towards me, but sometimes I like to believe he did. 

It’s been weird between us ever since I tried to kiss him at Jeff’s party. Now we’re back at square one with being distant again. We hardly talked this past summer and he kind of avoids me now that we’re back in school. It's total shit.. especially after all the progress we've made. 

But I know it’s because of El. 

It still bothers me that Mike would rather spend his time making eyes at her than trying to make things work with me.

Either he’s not gotten the memo yet or he’s just stupidly oblivious, 

But she’s never gonna date him.

As I continue my trek down the hall, I can’t help but feel the unfamiliar presence of someone lingering behind me.

I peek over my shoulder to see Troy slightly grinning at me and I clench my jaw in exasperation, walking away without so much as speaking a word to him in hopes that he’d catch a hint. 

Troy had been a drunken one night mistake, and if I could take it back in a heartbeat I would. Ever since we hooked up that one time he’s been persistent on getting back with me again, but I would rather bang my fucking pinky toe on a side table repeatedly than get back together with that shit stain. 

“Hey red, where ya goin?” He called out loudly. I could smell his cheap cologne a mile away, the stench was overwhelming. His brown hair was matted down with curled sprigs dusting the top of his pimply forehead. 

I turned behind me again but this time he was much closer and quickly approaching me. 

“Anywhere you’re not.” I mumbled, diverting my path down a connected corridor when I noticed he was following me. 

“Aw, come on babe, don’t be like that.” He smirked, catching up to me. 

“First of all, I’m not your babe.” I retorted, my rope of tolerance was thinning and I was a second away from strangling him. “Second of all, fuck off Troy. I’m not in the mood.” 

Suddenly, I felt the weight of his arm slipping over my shoulders, completely shaking me out of my early morning daze. 

I made eye contact with him once more to see a smug look planted on his face, his arm wrapped around my shoulders, and his fingers lazily trailing up and down my arm. 

“Playing hard to get, aren’t ya sexy?” his words wormed their way out of his mouth like thick molasses, making me cringe. 

However, I blatantly ignored his comment, continuing to walk forward while prying his arm off me. 

“Hey, I know you hear me.” He said roughly, yanking me back towards him and he wrapped his arm around me again, smiling at my uncomfortable reaction. “Don’t act like you don’t want this, because you sure wanted it last summer.” He whispered, tangling his fingers through my hair, while one of his grimy hands slowly slid down my backside. 

That was the breaking point of my patience as hot rage suddenly hissed through my body. 

“GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME” I screamed, and using all of my strength, I harshly shoved him off. 

His eyes flew open in shock as he helplessly stumbled backwards into the storage closet, the force of my shove added with his body weight caused the door to fling wide open. 

It all happened so fast, yet in slow motion all at once. 

The lights from inside of the closet cast a bright beam at my vision as I watched two silhouettes move and gasp in front of me. 

One was taller, a lot taller, with visibly messy hair. 

And one was shorter, around my height, her hair was a mess and her top was lopsided. 

But as soon as the angry fog cleared my vision, my eyes set in and nausea began to bubble up like boiling soup inside of me.

I couldn’t decide which one to focus on, my gaze shifting back and forth rapidly. 

In that moment, all I could do was stand there while my feelings waged war with each other: Anger, bitterness, betrayal, jealousy, disappointment all fighting inside of me at once and I didn’t know how to process it. 

Then my eyes locked on El. 

 


El’s POV 

 

“God, you look a mess.” I giggled. His tousled curls were wild and I could see remnants of my lip gloss still smudged across his mouth. 

“And whose fault is that?”

“Hey, it takes two to tango.” I replied, picking my sweater off of the floor and putting it back on. “But just for future reference, pink is definitely not your color.” I mentioned, biting back a laugh. 

He scoffed at this with a smile before swiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Better?” 

“Not quite, there’s still a lot-.” 

“Where?” he interrupted, as he profusely tried to rub it off. “Did I get it?”

“Nope, still there.” 

He wiped at his face again. “How bout now?”

“You’re helpless.” I rolled my eyes at his failed attempts and without thinking, I quickly licked the inside of my thumb and proceeded to wipe off the remaining gloss on his chin. "There, now that's better."

It wasn’t until I heard him release a sharp breath at my touch, that I realized how intimate it had been.

Oddly, it was even more intimate than the moments we shared prior.

Our eyes caught and the laughter slid from our faces as something softer filled the space between us, something that felt right

Wait. 

No,

My head must still be hazy from our session earlier. 

That has to be it. I'm not thinking straight.

Because Mike’s my friend, 

Just my friend.

Before I could reprimand myself further my heart dropped all the way down to my toes as I heard a loud thud followed by the door swinging wide open. 

All I saw was a blur as a guy staggered towards us, barely catching himself before he fell onto the floor. But behind him, I saw a flash of familiar red locks whisking in my direction one second, and whipping in another direction the next, as the face of the other intruder was uncovered. 

Max. 

The bright lights from the storage closet beamed at her and I stared wide-eyed at her as she tried to adjust to the lights, her eyes squinting. But then her mouth parted slightly. Anger was already present in her eyes but suddenly a cold kind of betrayal stirred in them as well. She knew it was me. 

“Way to go Wheeler.” a gruff voice cut through the silence. It had come from the guy who I now recognized as Troy Walsh (aka the biggest douche bag in our grade.) He let out a low whistle but came to an immediate halt when he met Max’s intense glare and then like a frightened deer he scurried off. 

Now it was just the three of us left standing there and I swear the tension was so heavy you could cut it with a knife. 

So, I proceeded with caution. “Max, I-

 

“Fuck you.”

Chapter Text

Max's Pov

 

I think it’s the worst when a rhythm you're so accustomed to just ends unexpectedly and now you’re subjected to change. 

When Mike and I first started dating freshman year we had our own rhythm. We weren’t by any means in sync but we still went with the flow. Our up and down relationship had been a bumpy pattern that I was so well acquainted with. I enjoyed it. I liked knowing that no matter what, I could eventually fall back on him and we could pick up where we left off. 

My friendship with El too had been rhythmic. We’d gotten to a place where it became nice and effortless. It had been routine to hang out every lunch period and then make plans for the weekend together. El had been my first real friend in this shit hole high school. I'd even welcomed her with open arms. We used to get along so well but now-now it was almost like we were enemies, competitors, even. 

“Okay, I know what that looked like and I- well, I know what you’re probably thinking, but we’re not together or anything.” El grabbed my arm after having finally caught up to me in the hallway. 

I turned towards her before yanking my arm from her grasp. “Oh so what? You’re fuck buddies? Even better!”

“What’s the big deal? You've  been broken up for a year!” El retorted, the guilt that had once been prevalent on her face now subsided, twisting in frustration. 

“The big deal?” I scoffed roughly. “The big deal is that you're a fucking liar. You swore you and Mike were just friends!”

“We are!” 

“Are you that stupid?  I  mocked, shaking my head. “Just friends don’t act the way you guys do!”

After our argument, nothing was the same. 

But nobody seemed to care. El stopped talking to me. Mike still wasn't talking to me. I couldn’t talk to Will because he and El were so close and Dustin just didn’t want to hear it. 

The only person I had now was Lucas. 

 


 

I sat on the front steps that led to his house, inhaling deeply as I shut my eyes, unprecedented anger was still unsettling me and I don’t know why. I shouldn’t still be angry. El was right, we’d been broken up for an entire year, but it still didn’t stop the pain that stung my chest and the feeling of losing something that was once mine had made it that much worse. 

“I should’ve known.” I thought aloud, blowing out a black cloud that tapered off into the wind. ”I mean, it’s not like he’s ever looked at me that way.”

“What way?” Upon hearing his soothing voice I opened my eyes only to be met with his chestnut irises. I felt so warm under his gaze. 

“The way he looks at her, like she’s the damn sun among every other star he’s ever seen in his life.” I replied in a dwindled tone, staring down at the cigarette sitting between my fingers.

“Hate to break it to you, but he’s always looked at her like that.” Lucas shrugged sympathetically. 

“What do you mean?” 

“Like when we were kids, him and El would-”

“Wait, what?!” I loudly interrupted him, grabbing his arm. “They’ve known each since they were kids?” I asked bewildered, my mouth dropping. 

“Yeah, since they were twelve... You didn’t know that?” He questioned, looking as clearly confused as I felt.

“But they weren’t friends until last year.” Was all that I could seem to wrap my mind around enough to let out.

“Again.” Lucas gently corrected. “They weren’t friends again until last year.” He exhaled sharply and shook his head giving off the sense that their relationship bothered him. “It’s an ongoing cycle with them. At first they’re friends and then Mike’s soon obsessed with her until she breaks his heart and freezes him out. But eventually his lovesick dumbass self finds a way to accept her back and then it starts all over.

“I can’t believe they never told me.” I laughed bitterly in disbelief, smashing the butt of my cigarette into the concrete step. “Especially El, she was supposed to be my best friend.” I seethed, the baffled anger still continuing to weave in and out of each nerve and bone in my body. 

“Welcome to my world.” Lucas heaved a heartfelt sigh. “Mike doesn’t tell me shit anymore, but I know it’s only because he doesn't want to hear what I have to say about El. She practically has him wrapped around her finger.” 

Even though Lucas was trying to give off a nonchalant attitude about the whole situation, I could tell by the slight falter in his tone and by the dejection he carried in his eyes that this affected him more than he let on. He cared. 

Feeling emboldened, I dared to move closer to him on the shared step we sat on and carefully rested my head on his broad shoulder, my red hair flowing in the wind like embers of fire. At first his dark eyes widened with a concoction of shock and confusion and then slowly they softened and the corners of his mouth seemed to be fighting to remain calm as a smile erupted onto the center of his face. 

“So, I’m guessing that’s why you never liked her?” I asked him.  

“Yeah. It’s just, I don’t know.. El’s kind of..” 

“A friend stealing bitch?” I questioned with a smirk, finishing his statement for him.

I could feel his shoulder shake under my cheek as he laughed. “I was gonna say she’s using him, but I guess that works too.” he replied and my own smile tattered onto my lips.

“Well I couldn’t care less anymore, because I’m moving on, for real this time.” 

He looked at me with surprise, eyes wide but delight dipped into his reaction. “Are you sure it’s not just gonna end up like all the other times?” 

I shook my head against his shoulder. “I’m sure-because the other times when I said that I never seriously meant it. I actually didn’t want to move on from Mike. This may sound dumb, but I honestly thought he was as good as it was ever gonna get for me.”

“So what made you change your mind then?” he asked with wonder coating each word, as he brushed a piece of fallen red hair behind my ear. 

When I had dated Wheeler he made me feel something I hadn’t before. It was like he made me feel complete- whole even and I couldn’t just let that go. I couldn’t just give that up. I had to fight for it and so I did. For the longest I’d still been holding onto him by a thread. 

But now here with Lucas, I’m beginning to see him in a whole new light, a way I hadn’t before, and suddenly everything’s changing. everything. 

Perhaps, change could be good. 

“I guess I'm just starting to realize...” I grinned, my cheeks growing hot and pink. “That maybe there’s even better.”

Chapter Text

 El's POV

 

I found out it's true when they say nothing good lasts forever. 

Before you know it your favorite song has come to an end, the sun has already set, and those moments you were hoping would somehow last, end up becoming just another reminder that everything is temporary. 

Like the sound of his laugh- of warm arms wrapping around you, pulling you close, of his scent filling your system each time you get in his car. 

You see fragments of those moments for the rest of your life and you never forget the day in which it all disappears as fast as a vapor in the wind or a wave tossed in the ocean. 

You're left with bits and pieces of everything. Of his embrace, of the two of you walking together as he’s smiling. As he’s yelling.

How you felt when he told you he loved you.

 


 

“What about this one?” I asked for the third time in the past twenty minutes, now lifting up a hanger with a yellow floral dress.

We’d been in the mall for two hours so far searching for an outfit I needed for this upcoming weekend. Usually, I’d go shopping with Max and not subject Mike to this kind of torture but after our fallout that was definitely out of the question.

It's been three weeks since the closet incident and I’m trying my best not to think about it. However, it’s easier said than done especially when it’s super obvious that all our other friends know what happened. They haven’t said anything directly, but they don’t need to, the evident look of disapproval on their faces says enough. 

They don’t understand though. They never really tried to understand either, probably just buying whatever shit Max had already told them. 

But she’s gone for good now, so it doesn't matter. Lucas now spends all his time with Max, so by default he left the group too, now leaving just Will, Dustin, Mike and I. It doesn't bother me much because we don't talk anyways but I can tell that it bothers Mike. 

Yeah, I like that one.” He complimented with a half smile. 

“You said that about the last two.” I rolled my eyes with an exaggerated huff. “Quit fooling around and tell me what you really think. Should I wear this one to dinner with the Byers?” I queried, holding the dress up to my chest. “Or this one?” I asked, switching it between the red one I’d been holding onto earlier. 

“I still don’t see what’s wrong with the dresses you already have.” 

“Mike, need I remind you that we are going to Enzo’s.” I strongly emphasized with wide eyes. “Which is without a doubt the most upscale restaurant in all of Hawkins, and I don’t own a dress nearly nice enough to wear to a place like that.” 

“What’s up with the fancy dinner anyways? I thought Joyce and Hop usually just cooked for everyone.” 

“Yeah, usually.” I nodded along with a shrug. “But they said it was for a special occasion or something.. I don’t really know though, maybe it’s their anniversary or like some family bonding thing they’re trying out?” 

“Family bonding thing?” He mouthed cluelessly . 

“Shit, Mike what is this twenty questions?” I scoffed in amusement. “I have no clue, but as long as they don’t try to take us kayaking again, I’m perfectly fine with it. You know, I still have nightmares from that day.”

“You’re so dramatic.” He laughed a little at my comment, shaking his head with a smile stuck on his face. “Just because your kayak somehow tipped over and a little frog jumped in your shirt doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.”

“My life literally flashed before my eyes, okay? You know how much I fucking detest those gross slimy things." I grimaced, shuddering at the thought. "Talk about traumatizing.” 

“Draaamatic” He replied in a sing song tone, rolling his dark eyes. 

“Oh, hush.” I playfully slugged at his arm. “Just consider yourself lucky that you're the only frog face I can tolerate.” I laughed. 

He arched a brow, grinning slightly at this himself. “Oh wow, how nice, See I’d actually forgotten about that particular dig since middle school, so thank you so much for reminding me.”

“Of course. Any time.” 

We stared at each other in silence for a few seconds before bursting out in laughter. 

“Okay, okay, we need to focus!” I urged, tugging on the sleeve of his jacket.  “So tell me your honest opinion. Yay or nay?” I questioned, picking the dress back up from the rack.

“Honestly..?

"Honestly."

"Well, I think you look pretty in anything, El.” 

His flattering remark made me stop dead in my tracks. I quickly averted his gaze as my cheeks flushed. It wasn’t like that with Mike. We’d never really complimented each other or even talked about that kind of stuff. It just wasn’t what we did. This was different though and I didn’t know how I felt about it. 

“Wow, you’re no help at all.” I sarcastically remarked in order to diffuse the situation. “But fine. I guess I'll just go ahead and get the red one.” I muttered, finally deciding on the sequined ruby dress from earlier.

As we walked towards the check out line the first thing I noticed was how incredibly long the line was and I internally groaned. 

"Well, so much for ice cream, huh?” I sighed, glancing down at my watch noting that Scoops Ahoy would be closing soon, before looking back at Mike apologetically.

Not only had I dragged him with me but he didn’t get to really do much besides accompany me the entire time I’d been shopping. Even though he hadn’t complained, I still felt bad about it.

“Actually..” He drew out, as if an idea came to mind. “How about I go ahead and get the ice cream and once you’re finished up here you can just meet me afterwards?” 

“Aww Mikey, that's so very thoughtful of you.” I cooed, with a purposely cheesy smile.

He shook his head at this with a breathy laugh. “So, fudge ripple?” 

“And he remembers my order too?” I dreamily sighed, putting a hand over my heart. “Damn, He treats me well.”

“Don’t mention it.” He sarcastically winked my way. 

“Whatever.” I laughed, swatting at him. “Just go and get our ice cream already.” 

 


 

After purchasing the dress, I wandered out of the store and looked towards the food court for Mike, who’d I’d been able to spot by his head of midnight curls. He was sitting off to the side at a little table with two cups of ice cream, he looked relaxed, swirling his spoon around in his bowl absentmindedly as he waited, face passive. My heart did that weird little erratic jump again, and immediately, I looked down at the ground, doing my best to squelch it. 

At first I’d overlooked it for the most part, these feelings. I’d easily dismiss it as just lustful desire or mutual attraction but now it was constant, it was overwhelming. It didn’t make sense. Suddenly everything was jumbling together inside creating a huge mess, confusing me further and -

“Hey!”

I instantly turned around startled. It was a random guy, and he appeared a little breathless as if he’d been trying to catch up to me. “You dropped this back at Macy’s.” He thumbed behind him before handing me a couple of dollar bills.

I self consciously checked my jacket pockets for my change but instead I felt a small hole and it all pieced together. “Oh shit, thanks.” I blurted, feeling stupid for not noticing. “By the way sorry, for practically making you chase after me.” I winced, stuffing the money in my purse this time. 

“It's no problem.” He smiled, but then he narrowed his eyes at me. “Wait a minute, I know you from somewhere.” he glanced up momentarily in thought before looking back at me. “El.. right? Wheeler’s friend?”

“Uh, yeah.” I answered, finally clearing my head enough to actually pay attention to the guy in front of me. I tried my best to place him, taking in his dark coiffed hair and tawny brown eyes. He looked vaguely familiar. “And.. you are..?” I asked curiously.

“My bad.” he laughed amiably and then offered his hand. “I’m Jeff.” 

Once he said his name it clicked. I then shook his hand figuring he was nice enough. My eyes scanned behind him realizing I’d lost sight of Mike in the busy food court. “Oh, um.. I’m pretty sure I went to a party of yours once.” I replied rather distractedly. 

“Really?” He grinned, flashing his pearly white teeth and I let my gaze fall back on him. It was the type of grin that made me realize he hadn’t just returned my change to be friendly, and it caused me to shy away, pulling my hand back in response. 

He was wearing a Hawkins High Varsity jacket and even sported a bright green class ring that glistened on his right ring finger. He was definitely the rich jock type. 

“So, did you have fun?” he asked. 

“Well, I kind of had to leave early.” I responded, trying my best to sound polite, because truthfully the only fun thing about that party was leaving. 

“Damn, that’s a bummer.” He shrugged off nonchalantly. “But it’s cool though, because I’m throwing another party on Halloween if you want to come.” He smiled, licking his lips. “Only one catch though, you have to be in costume.” 

“Uh, about that..” I trailed, starting to think of my best way out of this.

“Trust me, it’s gonna be hella fun, and I really want you to come, especially since we didn’t get to hang last time. You can even be the Charlie to my Maverick. What do you say?” He sweet talked so effortlessly as if he’d done this a thousand times before, which I’m pretty sure he had. 

“Jeff, I-” 

“Here you are, fudge ripple with sprinkles just like you wanted.” Cut in an all too familiar husky voice but before I could say anything back, suddenly I felt a cup being shoved into my hands along with an arm wrapped around my waist.

I glanced up at Mike as he shamelessly tugged me into his side, with an obvious look of annoyance. “Oh, hey man, I almost didn’t see you there.” He feigned clueless, turning to Jeff with a forced smile. “What’s up?” 

I squirmed from Mike’s grasp, shoving him off, and glaring up at him. He looked surprised and then frowned, moving his arm.

What the hell was he doing? 

"Uh, hey... Mike?” Jeff slowly asked out of confusion, like he’d been ambushed. “I was just inviting El to my party next weekend. You know, the one I mentioned earlier?” 

“We actually already have plans, but thanks.” Mike clipped with a faux smile. “Maybe next time.”

“Um.. yeah, yeah, alright." Jeff glanced between us, uncomfortably scratching the back of his neck. “I guess.. I didn’t realize you two were-” 

“We’re not.” I interrupted, scowling fiercely at the lanky boy beside me before turning back to his friend. “Actually.. Jeff, can you give us a minute?” I asked with a polite smile, biting back the frustration in my tone.

‘Sure?” 

Immediately, I yanked Mike by the arm and stormed off, leaving the clueless jock behind us. After making sure we were far enough out of earshot, I dug my feet into the floor and dropped his arm. Who did he think he was acting all possessive like that?

“What the fuck was that?” I snapped, my pent up frustration finally surfacing. 

“I-well..” He looked alarmed as if he didn’t realize he’d done something wrong. “I know how Jeff can be. I was just trying to help?”

“Help me how?” I demanded to know, fury rising in my tone. “He wasn’t doing anything wrong, you were just being an asshole!” 

“He was trying to get in your pants!” He shot back. 

“So what..? Did you think you could just swoop in and play hero again like you did before with that guy from the party? I don’t need saving, okay. I can take care of myself!” 

I stomped off, the cup of fudge ripple starting to drip as it hung carelessly in my hand. I tossed it in the nearest trash can I spotted, having lost my taste for it while I headed outside of the mall, finding a bench to sit down on, needing to cool off for a minute. 

It was chilly out, the moonlight and the lighting from the mall’s neon sign were really the only source of light at such a late hour, as other surrounding shops had already closed and the parking lot was emptying as people were leaving. 

Mike had pulled what could only be deemed as a stupid testosterone-fueled alpha male move. I’d only excused it before because he was genuinely protecting me from a creep, but this time the guy was literally just talking to me. That’s it. My head panged with dizziness and it felt like a rock plummeted to the bottom of my stomach once it finally occurred to me. He was acting like a jealous boyfriend. 

I heard the sound of soft footsteps approach me and the melody of pocketed jingling keys. I then let out a sharp breath, opening my eyes, knowing who it was before I even looked up. 

“El..” he breathed, cautiously. 

The wind blew his curls, but in an almost ethereal way as it swept back and forth over his ears and across his forehead. His nose and cheeks were starting to pink from the cold wind, his mouth slightly gaping and his eyes panic stricken. 

“I’m really sorry, alright. Can we just talk this through?” 

“What’s there to talk about?” I snapped in response. “What you did back there was beyond stupid. You can’t just charge in and act all possessive like that when I’m trying to talk to another guy!” My voice had heightened in strain and volume towards the end when I realized just how angry I was for him disregarding the parameters set between us.  

“Also news flash, who I talk to shouldn’t fucking concern you anyways.” I continued, while my furious words continued to spew from my mouth. “We’re not together, so I sure as hell don't need you telling me- 

“Is that so wrong?” He cut me off, his body shaking slightly with what appeared to be a mixture of fear and rage all at once.  “Is it so wrong to want that?” he repeated, his voice sounding like he’d been strangled. '

"To want what?" I exclaimed, my annoyance rising. 

"Us!"

He looked at me, with such wistful yearning pouring from his eyes that it cut me like shards of black glass. I stared back at him, emptily, shocked, and utterly confused. 

“I want to take you out, like on an actual date to dinner or the movies. I want to walk down the street holding your hand and be able to kiss you whenever, not just settling for hidden ones when we think nobody’s looking. I.. well, I just want us, El.”

His face had relaxed, and his tone softened. I blinked, puzzled at the sudden change of reaction while also trying my best to process the confession he’d just bombarded me with.  

“Mike.. " I took a deep breath and shook my head silently. "There is no us. You know I don’t do relationships.” 

“I don’t understand.” He wondered out loud, insistent and puzzled as his brows furrowed. 

“Well, you should.” I remarked, standing up to my feet in frustration. “I’ve told you a thousand times already.” 

“I should?” He laughed coldly. 

"Yes!"

“Tell me how then? When I know you want this just as much as I do!” He yelled, his words seemed to echo across the parking lot to the front of the mall entrance, in which we were standing.

“You don’t know what I want!” I shouted the reply, I hadn’t meant to but I realized just how red my face had gotten and how tense my body was. Believing he knew what I wanted- What was he trying to say? That he somehow knows me better than I know myself?

I met his glare. “I wanted what we had. I mean, we had such a good thing going! Why couldn’t that have been enough for you?” 

“Because..” he whispered.

“Because? Because what?” I asked loudly, raising an eyebrow, probably coming off more intimidating than I’d intended. 

“Because I’m in love with you!” He screamed, his voice cracking with raw emotion.

He refused to look away even when his lips trembled and a lone tear slipped down his freckled cheek.

I didn’t know how to react, it’s as if all along I knew it, but hearing it come out of his mouth was different. Hearing him say “love” was different.

He loved me.

We stood there staring at each other motionless and wordless for what seemed like an eternity.

“Y-You don’t know what you're talking about.” Was all I could muster, stuttering over my words as I finally penetrated the silence between us. “Love isn’t even real.”

“What?” His voice was calm yet trembling all at once. “How can you possibly still believe that after everything we’ve been through?”

I could feel him staring at me, the imprint of his glare causing the surface of my skin to tingle, urging me to explain myself but for some reason I couldn't. 

“This was a huge mistake.” I muttered, gathering my purse and shopping bag before slinging them across my shoulder. 

“Where are you going?" He scoffed. "I gave you a ride!”

“I don't care, I’ll just walk home or catch the bus.” I brushed off his comment before turning to face him, my hands balled in fists and my eyebrows raised in frustration. 

“But you know something, ever since we were kids you couldn’t leave well enough alone. You were never content with just being my friend. I should’ve known better, I should've known things were gonna just end up the same way they always do. Why’d you have to go and ruin that again, Mike? We were such great friends.” I shouted more insistently than loud. He furiously shook his head in anger and disbelief.

“There’s always been more between us!” He yelled out in distress, veins coursing through his neck, as his voice strained. “You know it's true. ”

We looked back at each other speechless, the only noise coming from the wind whistling through the air.

“But you’re right. We can’t just be friends.” He said, breaking the cold silence as tears fell from his red rimmed eyes. “Not now, not ever.” each word cracked, as if he was fighting himself on each syllable. 

 

“Mike..”

“Just please don’t come back this time.”

“Mike, I-”

“Because you know damn well that if you come back, I won’t hesitate to let you back in.”

“Mike!”

 

Then he left with tears still swelling in his eyes.

And without so much as looking back,

He left. 

And this time, I thought it may have been for good. 

 


 

I lied there in bed, with the blankets wrapped tightly around me as I tried to warm from the excruciating walk back home through the cold. I felt oddly numb and it wasn’t just because of the weather either. It was like a shear of emptiness consumed me from the inside out and I was now viewing the world through a hollow shell.  

A lingering haze of sleep sat somewhere in the back of my mind, but was too far away to reach, floating around in the pool of today’s memories. I stared up at the ceiling, watching the little particles my mind makes me see floating around in the dark, but then I see flashes of Mike, of our argument, of the pain in his eyes and the numbness becomes tantalizing. 

 

brrring, brrring.

 

My brain stuttered for a moment before my heart nearly leapt from my chest, and soon I found myself leaping along with it, snatching the phone off the hook without hesitation. 

 

“Hello? Mike?”

“Hey Ellie- *pause* Wait, Mike..? whose Mike?”

“Just-never mind, it’s nobody. You’re the last person I expected to hear from though. It's been what? months.”

“I know. I know, sweetie. I should’ve called a lot sooner but it’s been so hectic here lately. There was this whole issue with plumbing in the apartment for the longest and then you can probably just imagine how hard it was trying to catch a break from work and-

“Why did you call?” 

“Sorry. I got carried away, didn't I? I just missed talking to you is all. I know it’s late but there was just no way I could keep it a secret anymore. I had it planned out and everything. It was gonna be this big surprise but I’m just gonna go ahead and tell you.”

“Tell me what?” 

“I’m coming to see you.”

Chapter Text

Mike's POV

 

Frosty chill hung in the early morning air as we sat in silence, taking in the sight of crisp leaves falling around us and the crack of light shining through the opening of the trees.

“I could talk to her if you want,” He began, “Maybe, I could even get her to understand.”

“No. It’s fine.” I replied, my shoulders slumping down as I kicked at a pile of browning leaves. 

“It’s not though.” He shook his head. “I hate seeing you like this.”

“I know.” I muttered admittedly. “It’s just-it’s hard for me.”

“Yeah, I understand.” He sighed, scratching his head. “I would tell you to move on from her, but- well, never mind.”

I cocked my eyebrows in confusion. “No-what?

“You know.”

“Actually, I don’t” 

“It’s like.. It’s just different when it comes to her. Ever since you met her it’s even been that way. You have this certain vulnerability in your voice when you speak about her that I never hear when you talk about any other girl. It’s like your whole demeanor just kind of.. shifts. That means something.”

“You think so?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.” Will nodded, closing his eyes in thought. 

“Here’s the thing.” I explained, “I know I need to get over her. I have to so I can go on with my life. But for some reason even after the constant rejection and heartache she always brings, it’s like something inside of me still wants to hold on to her.” I then paused, before breathing out a humorless chuckle.” Who knows, maybe Lucas is right? Maybe, I am a masochist.”

“You’re not.” Will assured me, “Unlike Lucas, I see where you’re coming from.” 

“You do?”

“Yeah, but I do agree with him on one thing. You gotta let her go Mike, because at this point you’re doing yourself a lot more harm than good.”

“I know.” I exhaled sharply. “It’s as if I know wholeheartedly how much this hurts me, but it’s like I can’t help myself from still hoping.” 

“Hoping?” Will wondered out loud.

“I’m probably gonna sound crazy for saying this- but hoping for the day that it finally happens, you know? Something just clicks and completely changes her perspective. I might sound like I’ve lost it, but sometimes I think that one of these days I’ll hear my doorbell ring and she’ll be right there, standing in her own regret.” 

The shorter boy shook his head with a smile.

“What?” I asked him.

“Nothing.” He grinned. “It’s just.. You have high hopes.” 

“So I’ve been told.” I muttered. 

“But if you know just how much you won’t end up together then why do you still try? Or at least, still let her in?” 

I let out a defeated sigh. “I-I don’t know. It’s kind of like even throughout the turbulent years and the chaotic back and forth of it all, we’re our best selves when we’re together. There’s just this calm and happiness when it’s just the two of us that can’t be found anywhere else. I know we’ll never work out but that’s okay! Because we still had what we had, and that was.. It was good.”

“I thought when you last spoke a few days ago, you were fighting and yelling about how you guys were never gonna talk to each other again?” Will brought up, causing my stomach to twist in knots.

Suddenly, I saw our screaming match in front of the mall. I remember vividly how hot my cheeks turned, how my knuckles had stained white with the anguish her words had caused me. But still, I regretted every second of it. 

“You know better than anyone that if she wanted to come back I’d still let her.”

Will sighed in what seemed like disappointment. “Yeah, I know.”

“But where do you stand now? Like with her I mean.”

I paused for a moment in thought. 

I wasn’t sure how to answer this. Because it felt as if my feelings and my status with El seemed to be at this strange gray area - a place I’ve been in before, but never quite under the same circumstances. It seemed as though I was stuck, stranded at sea, unable to find my way out, while floundering about in a current of confusion, frustration, and inconsistency. And the rest of everything else felt like out of control waves that crashed around me: El putting me in a place where I’d started to question everything, Max’s erratic behavior, Lucas leaving, and Will and Dustin’s disappointment. It seemed like I was struggling to stay afloat in all the commotion and stretched out feelings, with absolutely no hope of making it out without sinking. 

“I don’t know.” Was all that ended up leaving my lips. 

“Are you still so sure of your feelings for her?” Will pressed on, I knew he was just trying to be a good friend-  trying his best to help me gain a sense of awareness so I could stop floundering and find stability, but it seemed like the more questions he asked, the more I felt like I was drowning. 

“It’s like every time this happens between me and El, I feel like I’m caught in between these two worlds, wanting to be a part of a new one without her, but still feeling so at home in the old. But now it’s like I’m not a part of either and I’m alone, by myself, trapped in nothingness and I hate it. I know that probably makes zero sense and I’ve already ranted and yelled about this whole situation earlier. I even told you I was so fucking done, so done with this, so done with her. Because I want to be. I really want to. I’m so damn tired of feeling this way, so tired of always missing her. So tired of being miserable over some hazel eyed girl who doesn’t give a shit about me and who’s just one small part of my entire life. I know you’ve been here since the beginning and you’re probably so sick of hearing all of this again. I still remember the time when you told me that she was my first love and that first loves aren’t easy to get over. You also helped me to understand and accept that I need to move on but then it’s like every time I close my eyes I see her, whether it’s in a dream or just a memory of us together, she’s there. It's as if every movie I watch, every song I hear, and every place I go, there’s always something that reminds me of her. Even though subconsciously, I know everything will be alright. After all, there was a time we didn’t talk for years and I made it through that, so I know it’ll eventually be alright. But I just wish I could stop missing her, you know? I wish I could stop thinking about her. Stop caring about her, Stop loving her. I wish things were different. I wish I didn’t feel this giant gaping hole inside of my chest that she left behind. I wish that I could always have that same joy I feel whenever I’m with her for the rest of my life. But more than anything, I wish I could finally move on. I know I need to, but I can’t, okay! I-I just don't know how, man! I don’t fucking know how!"

Will gently placed his hand on my shoulder as tears fell from my eyes, slipping down my cheeks with each shaky breath I took. 

“Hey-hey, I’m sorry, alright? It’s gonna be okay though. You’re gonna be okay.” He pleaded his voice slightly trembling, but mostly encased with concern. 

I nodded slowly as I composed myself, forcing down any more tears from surfacing. “Yeah, you’re right. I will be.” I whispered. “Thanks, Will.”

 



El’s POV

 

The smell of cigar smoke and garlic bread lingered heavily in the restaurant. I could hear the tinkling sound of ice against glasses and the faint noise of silverware scraping against porcelain plates.The lighting was dim, the lit candles on each table providing an almost romantic ambience as classical music hummed in the background blending in with the low ongoing chatter.

“Welcome to Enzo’s. Do you have a reservation?” The host asked. He was an older man with a thin mustache in a pressed gray suit, the type who seemed as if he took his job a little too seriously. 

Hop’s gruff voice suddenly cut through. “Should be under Jim Hopper.”

The man politely smiled and bent to pull a stack of menus from his stand. “Yes sir, right this way.” 

Joyce linked her arm around Hopper’s and they followed the host while Will didn’t even glance my way before immediately brushing past me to catch up to them. Although strange, I didn’t think much of it as I trailed behind. 

The restaurant was bigger than I expected. The room also included a full bar, dark booths that sat below framed portraits of Italy, and a beautiful crystal chandelier that dangled right above. I glanced around at the busy tables. An old couple eating across from each other, one glass of wine each, studiously bent over their meals. Business men in their gray suits lighting up cigars as they celebrated a closed deal. A family with two teenagers, A group of women in their thirties, gossiping, giggling and sipping martinis.

“Here we are.” The host spoke, motioning an outstretched hand to our white clothed table that lay in the center of the restaurant. Hopper then pulled out a chair for Joyce to sit in before settling down himself. Despite Joyce’s urging glare for Will to do the same for me, he swiftly sat down. I then hesitantly pulled out my chair and sat beside him. 

“Your server will be on their way shortly.” The host said, passing us leather bonded menus. “Enjoy!” he sung, before he was gone, slipping away into the dining room. 

My eyes scanned the room once again, taking in the hazy atmosphere before landing on the smitten couple in front of me, curious as to why they’d invited me and Will to tag along on what I was certain was supposed to be a celebratory date night alone. 

I observed them.

I always had over the years, closely watching the way they spoke sweetly to each other and about each other, the way they faithfully stuck by each other’s sides. Their constant gushing smiles and incessant flirty touches whenever they were together. 

At first I’d thought this thing they had between them was too good to be true. That it would’ve faded by now. Yet, here they were celebrating their three year anniversary and they were still unable to keep their eyes off each other. 

I felt a sudden pang in my heart. I liked Hopper very much. He was a great uncle, and I liked Joyce too. She was kind. But I couldn’t help but wonder what my life might’ve been like if my parents had stayed together and stayed with me. 

It wasn’t like they’d haphazardly rushed into anything. According to my mother, they went through what seemed to be all the foundational steps. They met by chance, fell for each other, and got married. But even then.. everything still went wrong. 

There was still that cynical part of me that derided the idea of a relationship. That love was a disillusionment, an ideal fairy tale that people strive for but never actually reach. That being with someone was pointless only to have it burn in the end, ruined by eventual complacency and fleeting feelings.  

But then there was Joyce and Hopper, and… Mike. 

All who evidently caused this flickering belief in the back of my mind, that perhaps.. there was something more than I’d initially expected.  

“Hello. I’ll be your server for tonight, can I start everyone off with something to drink?” A rather bubbly and rosy cheeked waitress asked us. She looked no older than twenty and was the exact opposite of our host from earlier. 

Hopper shared a confirming nod with Joyce before speaking. “A bottle of red wine please and two glasses.” 

The waitress scribbled on her notepad before looking towards me and Will. “And what can I get for you two?”

I shot Hop a smirk before I turned to the waitress. “I’ll have the same, but only one glass please. I don’t really share.” 

“Yeah right kid, try again.” Hopper snorted in amusement.  

But when I hadn’t heard even the slightest chuckle from Will like I normally would’ve, I stole a glance at the chestnut haired boy beside me only to be met with an unamused and rather stony expression.

“Fine, I’ll just have a coke then.” I sighed, losing my playfulness. 

“I’ll take a water.” Will answered after me and once the waitress left with our order, I turned back to him.

“Hey, what gives?” I whispered, prodding him lightly with my elbow but instead he ignored me, glaring a hole in me with his copper eyes. “Wait, you’re not upset about-”

“So, El.” Joyce interrupted with a smile. “Hop tells me your mom is coming to visit soon, is that right?” 

In an instant all of my attention tore away from Will when I heard the word mom. 

My eyes fell. Was it right? I hadn’t seen my mom face to face since she first dropped me off in Hawkins nearly six years ago. Ever since our phone call a few nights ago, I’d been wading through a swamp of various conflicting emotions. I was still so torn and angry at her for leaving me behind but at the same time, hopeful.. excited even, at that prospect that she could be coming back for me. 

“Yeah, some time during Christmas Break.” I finally managed. 

“Wow, that’s such great news sweetheart. I know it’s been a little while since you’ve seen her, huh?” Joyce quickly glanced at Hopper to confirm. 

Hopper answered for me. “Yeah, it’s been a few years give or take. However, she’s been busy palling it around with her favorite uncle since." He then lowered his voice as if he were sharing a secret. “Lucky enough, she’s not gotten into too much trouble. She probably won’t admit it, but I think she’s a little intimidated by the badge.” he winked my way.

I smiled, rolling my eyes at his attempt to make this lighthearted, he was always good at that. No matter what it was, Hop would always try to find something positive out of the worst possible situations which I admired about him. 

“It’s not set in stone or anything, but I’ll probably end up moving back with her after graduation.” I heard myself admit out loud for the first time. “She’s not too far from U of C.” 

Joyce and even Will looked caught by surprise while Hop just stared back at me, bridging his hands and resting his chin on them. 

“I thought you applied for out of state?” he asked, a bit of confusion donning his tone. 

“Changed my mind.” I answered. 

Joyce’s eyes glittered. “Well, it’s a relief to know you’ll be at the same school as Will. Lord knows, I’ve been worried sick about him letting him go in August.” 

“Mom, it’s not a big deal.” Will let out a small huff. 

“I know, I know.” Joyce dismissed with a quick wave. “But you’ve been a bit stressed about being away from your friends.” She then looked back at me with a smile before turning back to her son. “So how exciting is it to know that El’s gonna be there too?” 

“Very.” he scoffed, dipping his voice low enough so that only I could hear. “Because at least she’ll be far away from Mike.”

For a moment I froze, though nobody else seemed to notice. 

There it was. The truth of the matter finally coming to light. The sole reason he’d been so upset with me all day. I should’ve known. 

As much as I wanted to snap back, I simply was at a loss for words, too blindsided by his sudden boldness.
 
Will was seldom the one to take sides. He’d always been the mediator of our group, the one to try and understand everyone’s point of view before forming his own opinion. And now because of his brash bias a single thought plagued my spinning mind. What did Mike tell him?

“What was that?” Joyce asked. 

“I said, I’m looking forward to it.” Will replied with a tight smile. 

I narrowed my eyes at him, but attempted to maintain my composure but judging by the suspicious glares shining red in both Joyce’s and Hopper’s eyes, they noticed it too, the sarcasm that dropped heavy like bricks in his tone. 

Before anyone could dispel the awkward tension, a moment later, a silver tray sliced through my vision. The hostess then handed everyone their drinks with a chipper smile, clearly unaware of what had just taken place. 

“Are you all ready to order?” 

Hopper ordered a parmesan chicken with a reluctant side salad thanks to Joyce’s persistent pestering. Joyce ordered shrimp scampi, Will lasagna, and I got the fettuccine alfredo.  

“Your food should be out shortly.” The waitress concluded before she left. 

“So.. guys.” Hopper cleared his throat, in an active effort to move on from earlier. “Joyce and I..’ He then shared a smile with the petite woman next to him before facing us again. “Well, we invited you both here because we had something important we wanted to talk to you about.”

In the corner of my eye I saw Will’s puzzled face, and I realized he was just as clueless as I was.

“Well we actually wanted to tell you kids a lot sooner, but we both decided big news like this should be saved for the right moment. So, here it goes.” Hop took in a deep breath and exhaled, a smile spreading slowly across his face. “We are-” 

“Holy shit. You’re pregnant!”  My eyes nearly fell out of my head as I shouted the first thought that came to mind.

“El!” Hop hissed. “Language!” he then looked at me pointedly while Joyce sat there, cheeks ablaze in embarrassment. 

“Oh my god, you’re pregnant?” Will asked baffled, glancing back and forth between Hop and his mom. “Wait, does Jonathan know about this?”

“No-No.” Joyce rapidly shook her head. 

“Listen-”

“So he doesn’t know?” Will pressed, cutting off Hopper in the process. 

Joyce let out a sharp sigh. “No Will, it’s not that-” 

“So how far along are you?” I asked, my curiosity getting the best of me. “You’re hardly showing.”

Hop raised a hand up. “Hold on, okay just listen-”

“Mom, what are you doing? You have to tell him.”

“Are you hoping it’s a boy or girl?”

“LISTEN.” Hop slammed a closed fist on the table with such force it caused the silverware to shake and nearby guests to glance in our direction. 

Silence fell over Will and I immediately as we looked on in bewilderment. 

“Jim, lower your voice.” Joyce commanded in a sharp breath. “There’s no need to yell.”

“Alright.” Hop heaved a sigh, relaxing a moment before speaking again. “How about we just start this whole thing over? But first things first.. We’re not pregnant.”

“And knock on wood.” Joyce chuckled breathlessly at that, rapping the table with her knuckles. “We’re not gonna be.”

“Will exhaled slightly in relief before his face washed again with shock. ‘“Okay, so- wait. Does that mean..?”

Hop then took Joyce’s hand in his, glancing at her for confirmation before turning to face us again.

“We’re getting married.”

Chapter Text

 

Mike’s POV (December 1987) 

 

The digital clock resting on my night stand was the only source of light in my room, assisting me to just barely make out the general shapes of my surroundings. 7:30pm it glowed brightly, too damn early to go to bed. But nowadays sleep was an enticing comfort for me, allowing me a chance to dream away my current reality.

Just two months ago, I was smiling and laughing beside her. Just two months ago, we’d wander the night, treasuring every moment and avoiding going home as long as we could. Just two months ago, my heart sped looking into her eyes as they softened when she spoke to me. Just two months ago, maybe I thought she felt the same.

How is it now that we’ve become complete strangers?

Some days I’m good at pushing her to the back of my mind. Purposely busying myself with swim team and college apps in an effort to keep her at bay. But other days, I’d accidentally make eye contact with her when passing by in the hall and I’d fall right back into that hole. That hole where I’ll think about her and think about what we once had and I’ll wonder how I’ll possibly have a relationship as perfect as that again, and quite honestly, I don’t think I ever will. The inside jokes we shared and stories we both knew so well, are ones I can never share with another person, and that kills me. 

More than anything else she was my best friend. I trusted her with my life. I told her things that I’ve never told anyone. She listened without judgement and never commented until I spun my heart out. She did her best to help me, always there to encourage or make me laugh and I miss it so much. It’s so hard to process that the person I knew so well and held so many incredible memories with, is now decaying somewhere in the dirt and depths of yesterday. 

It’s a different kind of grief that I’ve come to experience, and I wish I knew how to deal with it because every person that I’ve ever known that has died were not as close to me as she was. But what do you do when you know you will never talk to that person again, never know about the path their life will take, or never know if they’re okay or not because they chose to tell you goodbye?

I have to stop myself from dwelling on these questions for too long because it usually ends in me spiraling back into that hole and I’m past that. I’m past the stage of El consuming all that I am. She’s managed to do that every single year since I met her.. but no.

No more.

I will continue on alone and unbothered, with my head held high as I finish the rest of senior year without a care in the world. 

---

 

It’s crazy when I think about how much the party has changed this year,

and that my best friends now are Will and Dustin. 

Lucas doesn’t talk to us much anymore, he mainly talks to Max. And also, Will and El had some sort of big disagreement so they’re not as close as they used to be. 

So now it’s just the three of us remaining. 

Funny, that’s how it was when we first entered High School, and aside from Lucas, that’s how it’ll be when we depart. It’s been a big change for us though and I can tell the others are struggling to adjust.

Will misses El. Dustin misses Lucas & Max. I try not to miss any of them. 

But we try not to let that bother us. The three of us get by alone even though our usual weekend hangouts aren’t the same, they’re lacking in a way, quieter even. 

I try not to let it bother me, because now that we’re out for break, I don’t accidentally make eye contact with El anymore and I’m no longer easily sucked right back into that hole again. 

I can finally escape. 

So what better way to escape than to just forget? Well, at least for a little while. 

And just as my eyelids drifted shut and my body seemed to be melting into the mattress that floated beneath me, a jolt of electricity seemed to shoot up my spine, as my eyes shot open like a cannon and I abruptly sat upright. 

No, no it wasn’t a jolt of electricity- but more so a sound. 

Of a doorbell.

Chapter Text

 

El's POV (December 1987)

 

My knee bounced furiously as I glanced up at the big analog clock that hung on the back wall at Benny’s. 

Tik. Tik. Tik. Tik. 

“Where are you?” I whispered under my breath as my eyes instinctively glanced towards the door once more. 

I’d sat in the same spot for almost an hour in that ruby dress I’ve only worn once so far, which was hidden underneath my black wool coat. Since it was now just a few days before Christmas, the diner was practically empty. Everyone in town was either last minute shopping at the mall or spending time with their families in the cozy comforts of their homes.. but not me. 

“You sure I can’t get you anything else?” The waitress cut off my line of view as she stepped in front of me, motioning towards my plate of crumbs and half empty mug. 

“I’m sure.” I nodded. “I’m uh, kind of just waiting on someone.”

“Alrighty then.” She responded unconvinced as she picked up my dishes. “But if you change your mind sugar, just give me a holler.” 

“Thanks.” I mumbled, my anxious gaze switching from her back to the clock. 

As I watched the red hand glide effortlessly around the rounded 6, the doubts in my mind began pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. 

“Did she forget?” “Did she get lost?” “I told her the right time, didn’t I?” “What if she changed her mind?” “What if she doesn’t want to see me?” 

Suddenly, I felt the pang of instant regret for not letting Hopper come with me. He’d offered to keep me company before he dropped me off, but I declined, wanting to do this by myself. 

But now in this moment, I didn’t want to be alone. 

And as my thoughts began to intensify, I felt like I was suffocating, as if the particles in the air around me grew so dense I could no longer breathe in. 

I suddenly needed to get out of here.

I needed fresh air. 

I was just about to get up from the booth until a rough startled tremor rocked through me as I heard the jangling of bells as the door opened and a breeze of frigid air rush past me. 

And as my eyes landed on the person walking in, I froze. 

My brain stuttered for a moment and my eyes took in more light than I expected, every part of me going on pause while my thoughts were struggling to catch up.

“Mom?” 

Six years after we last saw each other, I almost didn’t recognize her. Her once lush blonde hair was now stringy and streaked with gray. Her once rosy cheeks and round face had paled and sunken in as if the pigment and life had been drained from them. She’d also lost so much weight that the hourglass figure she once had, now appeared more sticklike- almost skeletal, her clothes hanging off her body like rags. 

She wasn’t the woman I’d remembered, but a semblance of what I once knew. It was like death had come early to haunt her and was stealing her away piece by piece. 

A perplexed expression crossed her face when she saw me, but soon disappeared as recognition set in. Then I saw the corners of her mouth lift up into that smile, the one thing that hadn’t changed about her- that honeyed smile that didn’t stop until it reached her amber eyes and I swore right then I'd felt like a little girl again.

Her eyes widened in shock and her hand went to her mouth. “Oh my god, Jane.” She hugged me with her bony frame and I didn’t know what to do, so I stood there in her embrace. 

“I can’t believe it’s really you.” She cooed, pulling a part from me. “Wow, just.. wow. Look at you. “You’re so beautiful. I always knew you’d grow up to be-”

“You’re late.”

My direct remark didn’t seem to faze her as she slipped into the booth right in front of me. “I know. Ugh, I’m sorry sweetie. Indy traffic is the absolute worst, especially this time of year.”  

She then paused, her expression softening back into a tender smile. “I-I can’t believe this. I can’t believe we’re together again.”

“And it only took six years, right?”

But even underneath the crudeness of my remark there was a light in my heart that was missing just yesterday. Right now it's a spark of hope, a ray of sunshine yet to be born but it’s there and I feel it. 

She’s come back for me. 

“Ellie,” She sighed. “I thought we already talked about this.” 

“No.” I shook my head. “You told me you were in between jobs. You told me you were struggling with money.  But you never told me you were…” I stopped, and by the guilt pooling in her eyes, she knew what I was referring to. “I just don’t understand.. why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”

“I-I’ve just..” Her golden eyes swooped to the table between us before she meekly replied. “ I didn’t want to worry you. Especially not after everything that happened with your father.”  

“How long?” I demanded. “How long have you been this way?” 

“For quite awhile, but-.”

“Seriously? I could’ve been with you this whole time. We could’ve gotten through this together." The bitter resentment in my tone was now fading into one of worry. "I don’t even know how much longer you have or whether it's terminal or not, and all because you never told me.” 

“It’s just.. much more complicated than that.”

I took in a deep breath. “Is.. is it cancer?” 

She shook her head. 

“Well whatever you have. You need to see a specialist, okay? And I can help find you one. A good one too, not one of those pricks who are in it only for the money.” 

“No, it’s not-.”

“After I move in, I’ll find a decent job. I'll even put college on hold for a little while If I have to, and I’ll make sure to take you to all the right doctors. I’ll find you the best treatment and-

“Jane, stop it,” She abruptly raised her voice. “You can’t live with me.”

“What?” I choked, like my chest had taken a sharp unexpected blow. “I-I don’t understand.” My voice began to shake. 

She reached out to grab my hand, accidentally knocking over her purse in the process. 

“You just can’t. You have such a bright future ahead of you and I don’t want you to waste it-” 

But all I noticed in that moment were the contents that had spilled. 

A very familiar bottle of pills. 

But before she could shove it back into her bag, I snatched the bottle from her. 

And in an instant I was brought back to an earlier haze. In this haze, I see my mom take a handful of what she calls her “vitamins” only to end up passed out on the bathroom floor later that day. I also recall the loud voices that echoed down the hallway into my bedroom, waking me from my sleep. They are yelling. Yelling about money, about something called Oxy. I hear the back and forth screaming and the sound of glass being shattered. I quietly crawl into my bed. Curling up with my teddy bear and blanket in the dark. I then drift off to sleep, the noises in the hall fading away as I fall back into my dream where everything is peaceful and happy.

It’s like the block in my brain has finally lifted. The natural anesthesia that had forced me to forget all these years was now giving way into this sudden moment of clarity. 

Unlike before, I'm now aware of the slight twitching of her body and her red shot eyes. It wasn’t the illness I’d initially suspected but it was one far worse.

Because this one had not only stripped away her health.. but her marriage, her livelihood, her being.

Addiction.

She looked at me with panic filled eyes. “I-

But I didn’t even give her a chance to form her lie as I yelled out. “So this is why you left!” I shook the pills angrily before slamming them down on the table. 

If she was hoping the tears welling up behind her eyelids were going to get any sympathy from me, well she was definitely wrong. “I’m so sorry.” She whispered. “I… I, All I wanted was a better life for you.” 

“You know it’s funny,” I swallowed, silently demanding my own tears not to surface. “I always heard that mothers would do anything for their daughters. They'd jump hurdles, leap fences, or do whatever they have to, because that’s how much they care. But you would’ve never left me if you really cared about me. You especially wouldn’t have left me for a bottle of pills. But hey, why worry about me? When you can just move on to another city and have the freedom to do whatever you want.” 

She was quiet as her hands shook. 

“I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much.”

“Don’t.” I stopped her by putting my hand up. “Don’t say you miss me, because you don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like waiting weeks and months on end just for a lousy phone call or what it's like holding your breath every year hoping for at least a visit. You certainly have no idea what it’s like to always get your hopes up, only for them to end up being crushed every single time by another bullshit excuse.”

She looked like a child being scolded. 

“I guess you really had me fooled, huh?” I silently cursed because my eyes weren’t cooperating and I felt warm tears stream down my face. “Well good luck with that next time, because now I know the real you.”

“I’m trying to change.” her voice was soft, almost desperate. 

I glared at her. I felt the resentment come back tenfold, twisting sharply like a hot knife in my stomach. I’d just replayed this scenario countless times. Each time ending with me going off. But when I opened my mouth, the only words that would come out were.

 “Why did you stop loving me?” 

That’s not the question I’d hoped to ask. I’d planned to curse her out. I’d plan my hardest to make her feel at least a taste of the pain she’d caused me all these years but yet, those were the only words that seemed to surface. 

Her eyes never left mine. “I never stopped loving you. Ever.”

“Bullshit.” I retorted, “Because if you did, you would’ve never left.”

She let her tears fall. “I left to save my life. I was miserable. I was dying. I don’t expect you to understand, but I was no good to you the way I was.”

“You’re right.” I said, meeting her gaze, “I don’t understand. I’ll never understand a mom who abandons their daughter for drugs.”

Her shoulders rose then fell, then she began fidgeting with the zipper on her purse. “It was your father-”

I jabbed a finger in her face. “You don’t get to use him as an excuse.” I cut her off, before she could continue. “Because unlike you, at least he had the decency to leave entirely. He never once lied saying he’d come back or had me falsely believing that he still cared.”

“But I’m here now.” she said, ignoring my admonishment.

“And why’s that? So you can ease your guilty conscience.” I said disgusted that she just tried to use that as an excuse. My cold eyes then locked on hers. “You’re not even planning to stick around.. are you?”  

Her shoulders sank and she avoided my gaze.

And right then, I knew. 

She never came here for me. She came for herself. 

“I-I don’t know what to say. It’s so much more complicated than you can even imagine.” 

I rolled my eyes and angrily wiped the tears from my face. “You’ve said enough.” I inhaled, standing up from the booth. 

“Can we-oh god, I came all this way.”

Those five little words packed an unimaginable punch. Terry Ives had just visited her daughter after six long years and all she could say was “I came all this way?” The words were like gasoline being poured into a small brush fire. Was that all I was to her? An inconvenience?

“Well you won't have to worry about me being a burden anymore.”  

“Ellie.” her voice was just above a whisper. 

“Don’t you dare call me that!” The bite in my voice was sharp. “My name’s El.”

“But you can go. You can go back to getting high as hell everyday since that seems to be the only thing you actually do care about. I’m no longer that twelve year old little girl who needs her mom, so you don’t have to pretend for me anymore. You know.. I’ve actually done perfectly fine without you. Bet you didn’t know that I always made honor roll in middle school? Did you? Or that I’ve kept that up throughout high school and I’m now in the top ten percent of my class. And you wanna know something? when I walk across that stage during graduation and I don’t see you with all the other parents cheering on their kids. I’ll be okay! Actually, I’ll be better than okay! Because you know what? I don’t fucking need you!”

And with those final words, I left..  and didn't look back. 

After I'd made it outside of the diner I ran as quickly as my legs could carry me, bolting down the alleyway and cutting through all the shortcuts I'd remembered from the first summer I spent here.

The harsh wind didn't phase me as my pace started to quicken to an all out sprint. The pounding noise of my boots resonating off the empty streets with a clanging echo that matched my heart throbbing inside my chest.  I didn't know what to make of the frenzy of thoughts and emotions pummeling my mind, nor did I stop long enough to allow myself to. 

All I knew was that I had to just keep running until I made it. 

Until I made it somewhere safe. 

 


 

“Hi.”

 

He looked at me with fear in his eyes yet the words had exited his lips before mine. 

“Wha-what are you doi-”

“Where’s your family?” I cut him off hastily, my voice loud and clear with a strict intent behind them. 

“Mom and Holls are visiting Nancy an-and Dad’s working a late shift.” He stumbled quietly, his eyes still wide in shock at my very presence and his lip trembling in both confusion and the sudden gust of what was occurring hitting him all at once. 

I let myself in the dim house and without a word, and with no time to spare I shed my coat, tossing it over the couch before I darted up the stairs that led to his bedroom. 

There was something comforting about being back in his house. I’d caught sight of the family photos and tan furniture as I made my way up the carpeted stairwell, Mike close behind me with the thudding of his own footsteps. As I reached the top of the stairs and made my way to his bedroom on the left, it was as if all the air had left my lungs, tears that I had no control over and that came from deep within rushed through me. I’d never experienced anything like this because I wouldn’t allow myself to get this far, this “Out of control.” I had no control over anything, not even my own thoughts. It was as if my body decided for me. I’d come here instinctively-the place I’d spent most of my life in middle school. Mike’s house- the place for some reason, I just knew I needed to be. 

“What the hell, El?” he asked with a sense of anger coating each word, his brows furrowed in confusion but then anguish drenched his face once he’d met my gaze.  

I knew it was wrong to have just shown up like this but I didn’t have the time or the emotional energy to dwell on the subject. Things seemed to happen in an instant- years of buried feelings, emotions, and thoughts all flooding me at once and sweeping away any trace of rational reasoning along with it. 

“I’m sorry.” was all that managed to flee my dry throat, my words cracking, and my body shaking with adrenaline. 

Mike ran a hand roughly through his curls. “What’s going on?” he asked softly, the color disappearing from his face. 

“My mom- sh- she just-” I tried to get the words out but it was like they refused to come, as all my built up energy and raging notions imprisoned them at the very tip of my tongue, intentionally halting my ability to speak clearly with every effort.

“Your mom? You talked to her?” Mike blurted in frustration. It was clear he was upset and puzzled at me being there which was understandable but it bothered me that I’d lost the ability to explain it to him. 

“She-she’s-I-don’t-”

“Is your mom here?” Mike interrupted me loudly, trying to maintain order within my frantic stutters and movements. 

“Yeah- and-she’s just-I don’t know-

“You need to calm down, okay? Just take a deep breath.” Mike redirected, his tone tightly stretched out.  

“We saw each other.” I finally managed to utter. 

“Wait, you saw her today?” Mike glanced up at me. He still had a mixture of anger and hurt in his eyes but now they were encased in concern. Perhaps, he’d even felt for me.

I nodded, glancing down at the floor. "She doesn't want me.” 

My eyes still dripped with tears, but now my walls, the walls that held me up for so long, the walls that have always been my crutch.. 

Just collapsed.  

“W-Why-” I tripped over my words, my voice shaking at the seams. “Why don’t my parents want me?”

It’s that look he gives me, those midnight eyes probing into my soul desperate to understand what’s going on inside, and the way his hand gently reaches out to caress my arm that I find myself falling into him, sobbing into his chest unceasingly, hands clutching his shirt.   

And much to my surprise, he doesn't pull away but instead he wraps an arm around my shoulders.

He then held me in the silence of his room, rocking me slowly, as my tears soaked his chest. 

 


 

Mike's POV

 

When she stood there in front of me motionless and wordless, I realized I had no idea what would happen next. 

And just as well realized, neither did she.

So when she fell into me. When she finally allowed herself to rid the mask she’d been hiding behind since I’d met her, and let go, grappling onto me as though I was her lifeline. It was like I’d  crashed with her, as every part of my being that I’d promised to keep built up to resist every inch of what she was seemed to evaporate and melt away. 

Because as much as she had hurt me, as much as she’d left my heart in a shattered disarray of pieces and never bothered to clean up the mess, as much as I tried to get over the late nights where we’d shake in place over the outrageous amount of sugar we’d consumed from those slushies, or the D&D adventures we brought to life in the woods behind my house, or the evenings we’d spent at the lake, sitting beside each other and watching the sun go down- as much as I’d try to get over that. I realized in that very moment that I’d always love her and that was something I could never change.

It’s the kind of love that’s embedded in you like tattoo ink in your skin. The kind of love that's much like the lyrics of your favorite song that you never seem to be able to get out of your head. The kind of love that’s like a stain in your white t-shirt that won't come out no matter how many times you’ve washed it. It was the kind of love that would never disappear: because once you love someone- truly love someone you never get over them. It’s just as the days go on it becomes easier not to think about them. 

So once she looked at me it was as if every ounce of breath was taken from my lungs floating into the air like midnight smoke and a gravitational pull that I couldn’t explain drew me unto her like a magnet. Before this I’d never been so sure. I’d never been so sure that we all have a soulmate out there: that one extraordinary relationship that could never be recreated or replicated- and El was mine. 

As her head buried in my chest and her sobs came rough and heavy, I realized through her shaking cries that droplets of my own salty tears began to fall. 

“I’m so sorry.” She whispered, disrupting the silence between us. I then wiped away my tears with the back of my hands, before pulling a part to look at her through a clouded hazy vision. 

“Why are you sorry?” I sniffed, trying to compose myself. “It’s not your fault your mom-

“No, not that.” She gently interrupted me, her own damp eyes locking on mine. “I’m sorry for how shitty I’ve been. I know you care a lot and I-I I’m sorry. I’m just a fucking mess.” 

“It’s okay.” I replied earnestly with a soft smile. “I don’t blame you. I’d never blame you.’

“I don’t get it. Why do you do that?” She wondered out loud with raised eyebrows. “Why don’t you hate me?”

“Trust me, I’ve tried.. but I can’t. I think we both know, I just can’t.”

“You may not think so, but you’re one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”

“I-I don’t really know what to say to that.”

“Me neither.”

And just when it seemed like I'd finally regained the power to be able to predict her next move, she’d took that from me, mercilessly and quickly without a moment’s notice.

Her lips against mine, her honey waves tickling the side of my face, her hands hanging around my neck.  

And an in instant, my world fell away. 

The kiss was slow and soft, comforting in ways that words could never be. She moved her hand from my neck and cradled my jaw, her thumb caressing my cheek as our breaths mingled together. 

I hesitantly glanced up at her. The swirls of emotion I saw there made my heart stagger. Her eyes were like candles in the night, their light a spark of passion.. desire.

However, before I could ponder it further, she pulled me back to her and pressed her lips against mine once again. 

As our mouths met, I felt like I was being lifted up into the air above the clouds, like I was going to slip free from the hold of gravity any moment and float on up into a world of pure sensation, flying by the sun and stars in a moment of ecstasy pumping through my veins.

Before I knew it I found myself crumbling, as I willingly gave into her. My hands wrapped around her waist and I drew her closer to me, deepening the kiss in such a way that it made her stumble over, taking me down with her onto my bed.

I watched as a small smile crept on her face while she reached to untie her dress. 

And in that moment, I should’ve stopped her,

I should’ve pulled away, 

I should’ve done something..

Anything. 

But I’m so enraptured by her that my hearts racing, skins buzzing, and I can feel fireworks exploding in the pit of my stomach at her very touch and I know I've already become lost within a heady trance.

And there’s no other feeling in the world that can ever compare to how I feel when I'm with El.

Because when I'm with her..

Only then do I realize,

I’m finally home.

Chapter Text

 

El's POV

 

Not only was the world around me dull and gray, but so was I.

I began to search everywhere, longing for the light and the color I couldn’t seem to find. I even chased it in everything I found beautiful. In every sunset, in every flower, in the moon and in every star of the night sky. But the stars only ever stared back at me, cold and far away. And every time I thought I finally found what I’d been looking for it turned out to be nothing more than a handful of sparkles that dimly lit up my soul.

Then out of nowhere he appears, with his messy dark curls and his dusky eyes which fill me with a warmth I can’t describe. But even as complicated and flawed and terribly human as he is, he shines so bright that I can’t see anything else.

And he is just so close that I’m afraid if I stretched out my hand and reached out to him I would fade as well. But yet, he reassures me with a smile and takes my hand in his. And as our fingers intertwine, not only am I filled with life again but in an instant color scatters the air around us. It’s as if gallons of dopamine filled the air, encircling our senses for my vision grows hazy but peaceful as if things were just how they should be. 

I woke up to the crack of thunder and the pattering of raindrops on the roof. My dream was still there, lingering in my mind.

What the fuck was that?

For some reason that dream of Mike felt so real, so tangible and yet, I had no idea what the hell it even meant.

Perhaps my subconscious was trying its best to distract me from all my shitty problems.  

I started to mull over the dream again, until the events of last night snatched my attention bringing me to the startling realization that this wasn’t my home. 

This wasn’t my bed. 

My breathing became low and heavy as my vision flickered back and forth at the crevasses and corners of Mike’s face. I watched as his body rose and fell with the beats of his soft and sleepy breaths, his eyelashes brushing against his freckled cheeks and his mouth parted loosely. 

What had I done?

Coming to Mike was an impulse decision that overcame me, almost like my brain was a gas pedal that got stuck down and in that momentum, that acceleration I’d somehow recklessly found myself back here. But choosing to kiss him, choosing to sleep with him- my heartbeat quickened at the thought- was a decision that was almost out of my control, it was like the cogs in my brain stopped turning, thinking wasn’t even an option, and my body suddenly had a mind of its own.  

But my rash impulsiveness was all tied back to the conversation I had with my mom. I know it’s done, it’s over. But that doesn’t stop the feelings and emotions that had once cluttered my system to once again spread through my body. It haunts me, taunts me, replaying like an echo in my mind. I shut my eyes tight and felt the familiar pounding beating through my temples, wiring itself in my nerves, and throbbing in rhythm. 

I know Mike cares about me. But I’m wary, because I know it can be just a temporary feeling. Just like the seasons, people’s feelings change. Maybe right now, he feels something for me but I don’t know until when.

But my feelings for him are there, they’re prominent and I can’t explain the reasons why. All I know is that right now… no matter his imperfections, I’d accept him for what he is. It’s something I want to feel maybe for the rest of my life. But at the same time… I want and don’t want this feeling, it’s just so confusing. 

To be honest, everything confused me. Nothing made sense.

But I still didn't believe in love, I knew that much. 

As my eyes remained shut,

I remember how seeing Mike again was like a breath of fresh air, after having felt nothing but drowning. 

How the simplest things he’d done to comfort me had my heart fluttering and chest lurching in a way that I can’t even explain.

How his voice was calm and collected and hearing him say my name again was a melody so sweet to my ears.

His smile meeting my eyes calmed me immensely and the warmth of his arms around me brought my nerves down. 

He allowed me to rid myself of this burden I’d been carrying for far too long, by being there and taking it from me. 

And before I knew it our lips met. 

It’s been so long, but you’d think I’d be used to it already, yet it still doesn’t cease to make me melt into him.

His hands on my waist brought me a sense of safety

The warmth of him heating me up more than the sun ever could.

When we pulled away, I pulled him in one more time because in a second I’m wrapped up in everything he is. 

And then I felt him. All of him- pressed against me. 

I inhaled his aftershave, his shampoo, and that extra scent that’s just him. The most delicious smell that I could ever imagine.

His face had the slightest bit of stubble and it rubbed my skin, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care at all. He felt wonderful. 

His hands were everywhere and it didn’t matter that his mouth was already on mine because I wanted him closer. 

I needed him closer. 

Maybe it was only meant to be a while, a few short moments where we could meet again and feel content, but it was still everything and more.

Being with him brought back a little bit of the light,

Just a crack through the blinds that let me soak in worth.

A sliver of sun to bring my day out of the clouds.

But that’s all it was.. 

And that’s all it could ever be.  

 

I sat up in bed, a cold chill causing my skin to prick with goosebumps as I threw off the duvet that had once kept my body hidden and warm. 

After a minute of struggling to find my clothing in the dark, I eventually found and slipped back into them before sitting back on the edge of his bed. 

“Mike.” I whispered, nudging him softly. 

“Hm?” he mumbled groggily, his eyelids slowly fluttering open as his vision tried to adjust to the dim light around us.  

“Wake up.” 

He sat up slowly, turning on the lamp on his nightstand, his bare chest now exposed as the blanket fell to his lap. 

“You okay?” He asked, looking at me with concern drifting past his features, his fingers reaching towards my own.

Almost instinctively, I pulled my hand back from his, earning me a confused and hesitant look from him.   

“What is it?” he asked quietly, his fingers slowly drawing back to his body, and fidgeting with one another nervously. 

“We need to talk.”


 

Mike's POV

“No. ” 

I shook my head repeatedly, my eyes filling with concern and distress all centered and fixed on her. 

After I’d gotten dressed, I had sat next to her on the bed, but she didn’t even have to utter a word, because by the look on her face I already knew. 

It was the same look she gave me before she had shattered me to pieces, taken my limbs and joints and crushed them bit by bit with only her words. I was not about to let it happen again.

“Mike, I can’t keep doing this to you. I can’t keep playing with your emotions like this. I just can’t.”

“If you need some time because of everything that happened- then I’ll-well, I’ll wait for you. I’ll wait as long as it takes.” My head continued to shake while I swallowed the lump of tears in my throat.

“But please, don’t- don’t do this again,” 

I took her small hands in mine, holding them through my cold shaky fingers. 

“Mike, I can’t-

“No!” 

She’s right here within my grasp yet she seems so distant and vague now, like a shattered reality.

Maybe, in an alternate universe she could love me. I know they existed. Maybe there, life would’ve been fair to her. She’d be happy and free without pain. 

I imagine that somewhere another version of me and another version of her had met on that swing-set that one hot day in mid June under better circumstances. A universe where she would’ve been laughing instead of crying. A universe where her heart would’ve been safe to hold- and there was one, I knew there had to be one, in which she loved me just as much as I loved her, and we could be happy together. 

That was the universe I belonged to, that was the life I should’ve been born in. 

“There is no us."

That was the universe I wanted to escape to, because I sure as hell did not belong to this one. 

And for once, I felt foolish for giving into that tiny burst of false hope. That feeling I had for a moment that things were gonna change for us and we would have our second chance. That expectation I had for a moment that I was gonna be different to her and she wouldn’t give up on us. That hope she destroyed without a second thought and right then, I only wish I’d never known what it was like to love her in the first place. That I never met or opened up myself to her. That I’d never lived a life with her in it. 

I felt in danger of shutting down completely, and the only thing keeping me breathing was the feel of her skin against mine, her fingers interlocked and almost connected to my own. 

But the worst thing about it is that I’d betrayed myself, gone against my better judgement, and ripped myself open, robbed early of the tape and glue necessary to put my soul back together. I had done it so many times, convincing myself that this time it would be worth it. Again and Again, stitching myself back up and then ripping the seams once more just so she could trample my heart and for what? the pleasure of a one night stand. I was done. 

“So, is that..” I laughed coldly, my voice trembling slightly. “Is that all I am to you? Just a physical distraction? A quick fuck to brighten your mood?”

“Mike-no, that’s not why I came here.” She protested, her grip on my hands growing tighter. “We both know last night was in the heat of the moment.”

“Then why did you come here!”

She sighed with a quick breath. “I just-”

“What?” I cut her off, with a look of unbelief on my face. 

“I-I don’t really know.”

“Of course.” I snorted cynically, pulling my hands from her grasp. “You know for some reason, I thought it would be different this time. That it wouldn’t always come to this- but I guess it just does.”

“I want it to stop,” she insisted, her tone wavering with guilt. “I want to stop hurting you. I want to stop the back and forth.”

“Oh really?” I mocked, my head pounding with a flood of unshed tears. “You want it to stop when you come back here, despite knowing how I feel, and you kiss me! You fucking kiss me just like you did the night of the party and like all those times last summer. I don’t get it, what the hell am I supposed to think?”

“Mike, I know you’re angry-

“I am angry!” I screamed, my voice matching in pitch with the thunderclap outside.

I realized being with her was a lot like being alone, because even though she was there, sitting right next to me, handing me apology after apology, she was never really there. She didn’t know what she wanted, and I don’t know if she ever would. 

“Because you’re still buying this bullshit lie that love isn’t real.” I continued, finding it hard to push the words through gritted teeth. “Even though you know you’re the most important thing to me in the world. You know that the way I look at you when it’s just the two of us is different than when I look at everyone else. You know you were everything-everything to me.”

“I’m not sure what to say.” was all that fell from her mouth. 

“It’s fine.” I nodded, swallowing every bit of compassion I had for her. “I was stupid to think I could ever change your mind.”

“I just don’t want to hurt you anymore-”

“Well a little too late for that, don’t you think? You’ll never understand how worthless you made me feel. 

I thought to myself how unfair this was. How for some reason the girl I loved had to also be my best friend. How unfair the universe was for taking both from me and in turn leaving me with nothing. The more I dwelled on it, the more I felt an emptiness transpire, wracking my body of viability and stealing any remaining light left from my eyes. 

“This isn’t easy for me either!” she fought back, her lips bitter and her tongue sharp. I laughed in her face once more knowing there was nothing I could say to make her understand. 

“Then how come you’re always the first to walk away?”

She stared back at me rattled as if she’s shrinking into herself, falling into a pit of her own making. But it was because I was right and she knew it. She knew it all along.

“Mike, I need you to hear me out. I don’t know how I feel. I mean, I never know how I’ve felt for you.”

“So answer me this,” I proposed, my tone was sharp and rough. “That whole friends with benefits thing we had- did that mean anything to you? At all? That entire time- what was I to you? just a friend? Nothing else?”

“No-I mean- I don’t-I don’t know.” She seemed out of breath, her eyes scared and frantic. “I just.. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how I feel about you- because I’ve done enough. I’m not gonna continue doing this to you. Not anymore.” 

“Well I don’t know either.” I choked, unable to hold back the tears any longer as they raced down my face. “I’m just stuck.. I just want to get on with my life, you know? Without you.. And I just- I don’t want to need you anymore.”

“Why not?” she asked in a whisper almost as if it were a thought to herself that accidentally slipped from her tongue.

“Because I can never have you.”

Chapter Text

 

Mike's POV 

 

It’s the strangest feeling to be sitting in a place where you once sat a long time ago with someone, but this time everything has changed. 

Seeing the exact same visuals surrounding you, the same trees planted where they’ve always been and the exact same weathered out wooden planks bridged out in front of you. The same abandoned boat residing in the same place. Your body in the exact same bench where she once took up that hollow space next to you. It’s like you’re in a dream, it’s surreal almost. 

But the air isn't as fresh as it once was, the lake doesn’t glisten the same way, and the sun doesn’t shine nearly as brightly as it did before. The world feels like you’ve been trapped back in that same precise moment in time but instead it’s a different version of that reality- a duller one, an emptier one. 

Isn’t it funny, that if I had made a different decision I wouldn’t be here now? 

If I hadn’t spontaneously decided to bike through the woods that day, only to run into the lonely girl on the swingset, maybe I would be happier now. Maybe I would have a girlfriend, different friends, or even still be friends with Lucas. If I hadn’t dropped what I was doing just to sit beside her. If I hadn’t asked for her name and offered her my m&m’s. If I hadn’t invited her to play D&D with me and the guys, If I didn’t spend all those months coming with her to this exact lake. If we hadn’t sat on this very bench and talked until the sun went down everyday. 

Maybe it would’ve all been different. 

It’s been several months since the last time we spoke. The last time was the night that I thought was one of the happiest nights of my life that quickly turned out to be the worst. But then again that’s always how things end up with Jane El Ives

Now, it’s summer. The summer before college. The last summer before the rest of my life. The last two months of finding myself leaning in to listen when I hear people mention her name, or having to stop myself from asking Will about the things going on in her life that she will never again tell me about. It’s the last summer we have to be kids, to be free, to have one last shot at finally being what we’ve both known we were always supposed to be-

No. get that out of your head.  

This summer was not going to be like the other ones. It was going to be how it always is: me missing El and wondering what I did wrong to lose her again. Me trying to fill up my time with new hobbies and friends who just can’t put the pieces of me back into place like she always can, me wishing that any day now, she would just come back to me and finally realize what I’ve known about us all along. That we were meant to be. 

No, it wasn’t going to be like that. Because this time I finally had enough. She had finally taken all I had left, and ripped it away from me without a second thought. I’d finally come to the raw and startling realization that the only person I needed to fill this deep emptiness inside of me, and to also make me feel alive again… was myself. 

This was gonna be the summer where I’d finally move on for good. 

Yet, as I look around me, I seem to find pieces of her in every corner of this town. In every shop, in every patch of green on the sidewalk, in every secret place we’ve made our own. There are ghosts of our laughter in small convenience stores, remnants of our stories whispered in the wind on abandoned playgrounds, hidden away in cement, in sand, in empty soda cans

We found peace in the small moments, in the little things, like watching the sun vanish behind the lake at the end of a long day, sharing our secrets as if we had to. As if we needed to. It gave us space, freedom, and happiness. And even though this town keeps reminding me of her in ways that are both beautiful and painful, I can’t make myself forget. 

Because this town holds all my memories of us like a diary, like a photo album, and sometimes I can’t help flick through the pages, even though the sharp edges leave me with cuts on the tips of my fingers. Even though remembering hurts, I found that choosing to forget hurts a lot more.

So I remember. 

I remember everything. 

Yet, nothing feels the same. 

How do you get over someone that you’ve invested all your time, your effort, all your thoughts, energy, and emotions into- how can that just disappear? How do you really get over someone, anyway? Others made it out to be so simple. That one day you’d wake up, and everything you once felt would disappear completely, the same way a wick of a candle burns until it’s eventually been snuffed out. But I knew all too well how utterly fallacious that was. 

I had done everything for her in the past years. I’d pour my all into her. She lit every bone in my body on fire. She made my heart beg and ache every minute we were apart. She was the oxygen in my lungs, the pulse in my veins, and the brag of my heart that beat to a rhythm that only she could understand. That was what loving her felt like.  

We’d gone through the motions far too many times at this point for me to continue any longer. Everything I’d just experienced, all the happiness and attachment was for nothing. She wielded a hammer to my heart, and smashed it one too many times. It’s been so long that we’ve known each other- how could she not have known that it was bound to shatter? That my hands would be covered in blood from picking up the broken pieces and trying my hardest to put them back together. How could she not have known-especially when she understands exactly how it feels to have someone walk away?

But I was through with blaming her. I had to place some of the fault of my pain onto my own shoulders. Because honestly, it was my fault for letting her walk in and out of my life as she pleased. It was also my fault for believing I could be with someone who only saw me as a way to numb but not as a means to heal.

But still she incites the pain.

It’s always her who leans in first, kissing me one moment but then leaving the next. It’s always her who says one thing, but then does the exact opposite. It’s always her who looks at me with that same longing in her eyes that I hold in mine, but then looks away. It’s always her who grabs a hold of my heart, instead of leaving it be, squeezing it just hard enough so she can hear the pulsing rhythm: I’m hurting, I’m hurting, I’m hurting. 

I’m hurting-oh god, I’m hurting. And now we haven’t spoken in months, and god , what happened to us?

Who even are we now?

I don’t even notice the tears that have gathered in the corners of my eyes, the drops that have pooled together encasing my black irises in a sea of glass, weighing me down lower and lower into the bench where I made her laugh for some of the first times. 

I feel like the entirety of all I am will be consumed if I don’t get over her, but it seems as though the consumption is inevitable, because just like a disease she’s spread to every part of me and I don’t think I’ll find the cure anytime soon. 

But who am I to continue trying and trying for someone who easily just gives up on us?

It’s been years now and tomorrow it’ll be seven years that I’ve allowed her to toss my heart around so carelessly. Seven years I’ve spent wallowing in misery each time she’s walked away, seven years she’s continued to hurtle me towards a life that I only feel is worth living if she’s in it. 

As the thoughts ricocheted around my brain, I suppose my mind had blocked out just how tightly I’d been clenching my jaw and the deep shade of red that combusted over my face. And when I finally realized it, my lungs bursted with dry air as I realized I’ve been holding in my breath this entire time. 

I’d been holding onto this unresolved anger for so long that I'd become desensitized to it- barely noticing my clenched fists and my nerves tying in knots. She made me angry. So angry I could scream. All these years, all this time-for what? What was the point of hanging onto someone who did nothing but cause me stress, anger, and pain? I can’t handle this. I can’t continue doing this to myself. I don’t even know who I am anymore. It’s like my brain somehow misplaced the old memories of who I was before her. I have no idea what I was like. I had no memory of what thoughts I’d think about before she captured every single one. I had no memory of what jokes I found funny or what I enjoyed doing without her. I’ve lost myself- and that kills me.

Perhaps I’m more angry with myself than I am at her. Because I’m the one who allowed her to take my sense of self, my independence, my person hood and intertwine it with her own. And now that she left, she took what I knew of myself along with her. I was no longer Mike. I was El’s friend, Mike. I had been El’s friend, Mike for all these years now. El’s friend-

“Mike?”

My head jolted upwards at the sudden intrusion of hearing my name. And at this moment I was now kicking myself to reel my mind back to reality, attempting to grasp at the self awareness I had pushed to the side for the time being as a small “huh?” left my lips in question.

“Mike Wheeler? I can’t believe it’s you.”

My eyes narrowed in on the slender figure talking to me, as they stood behind the sun and therefore obscuring my view of their face. But as they came closer, a wave of familiarity washed over me and I scrambled to pick out their name in my mind.

“Olivia?” the word finally left the tip of my tongue. 

“Yeah. Wasn’t sure you’d remember.”

“Of course I do. We used to go out.”

“Yeah, in like the 8th grade.” She scoffed. 

“I know, but still.” I pushed on.

Needless to say I hadn’t really thought about Olivia ever since she’d left for boarding school all those years ago. We’d never bothered to stay in touch, both of us knowing our fling wasn’t meant to last. It isn’t like we ended on a bad note either. There were no harsh feelings, no regrets, no nothing- we’d just gone our separate ways and that was that. All that popped in my head at the thought of her now was our awkward slow dance in a stuffy school gym, with us trying to play off like we’ve done it before even though we both kept stepping on each other’s feet. 

“So did you end up going to Hawkins High?” She asked, and I noticed her walk closer towards me before setting her purse down on the bench I sat on.

I nodded, watching as the blonde haired girl took the spot next to me. 

El’s spot. 

“Lucky.” She smiled, her bright blue eyes skirting to connect with my own. “Practically everybody from our middle school went there. You know.. to this day, I’m still kind of ticked that my parents made me leave.“

“You went to Chaplain Hall, right?”

“Yup. That’s the one. It was an all girl’s school too. So you can probably imagine all the drama and cattiness I had to put up with.” She shook her head with a smirk, causing a small chuckle to escape my own mouth. “But what are you up to these days?”

“Oh. not much really besides college stuff. You know, just trying to make sure everything is good to go for the first year, I guess. What about you?”

“Same here.” Olivia sighed, tilting her head up slightly towards the sky, and her irises seemed to match the exact shade of blue painted above us. 

“Do you still live in the same place?” I questioned, and she turned to face my direction. 

“Yeah, do you?” 

“Same as always.” I answered with a grin, “Is your dog still alive?”

“Munchkin? Of course she is.” Olivia almost laughed, shaking her head slightly in amusement, which drew a bigger grin from the edges of my lips. “You know, you should come over and see her sometime, I’m pretty sure she misses you.”

“Misses me?” I laughed, “It’s been.. what- several years? You really think she’d remember me?”

“Oh totally,” Olivia sarcastically replied. “I’m sure she’d remember your bowl cut, at least.” 

“Hey!” I laughed, knocking my shoulder into hers which made her giggle. “That was a tragic time okay? My mom cut my hair.” 

“Oh really? I liked it.” She commented in an obvious sarcastic manner, causing me to roll my eyes playfully.

Olivia laughed, and placed the handle of her purse on her shoulder, beginning to get up from the bench as she looked at me with what seemed like a kindness brewing in her eyes. It was a look that I’d only ever really seen from El. 

“Anyways,” She said, “I should get going, but you really should come see her when you have a chance. We only live a block away from each other anyway.” 

“You know what,” I said with a smile, perhaps one of the most genuine ones I’d given in awhile, 

“I’d like that.”

 


 

El's POV

 

“We’re about to put in Nightmare On Elm. You down?”

“Sure, I just have to use the restroom real quick. Don’t wait up.”

I locked the door behind me, and let out a shuddered sigh before I started pacing around the small bathroom, clawing at my senses with each anxious step that landed on the tiled floor. 

What was I doing?

This was the epitome of my summer. I’d gone to Max’s house every weekend, hanging on her couch with a drink in hand, while her and Lucas stayed huddled in a concoction of legs over laps, and hands caressing thighs, staring at each other eagerly as the two of them enjoyed each other’s company so freely. 

Why did I do this to myself?

Perhaps I missed having a best friend. That someone I could talk to about anything and everything. Maybe I thought the more I hung around Max, it would somehow naturally fall back to that- just like old times. But things were different now. She had Lucas. 

 

“By the way, sorry for calling you a bitch.”

“You called me a bitch?” 

“Yeah, behind your back.”

“Sorry for acting like one.” 

“We both were being bitchy.” 

“You’re right.”

“Let’s never let a boy come between us again, okay?” Max insisted, nudging her elbow in my side as we walked alongside each other through the park. 

“Yeah.” I replied, with an eye roll. “That was kinda stupid.”

“You mean- very.” She emphasized, with a lighthearted laugh which caused a smile to cross my face. 

“So.. you and Lucas?” I asked, turning to her with inquisitive eyes. 

“Yeah.” She blushed, glancing towards the ground. “I know he can be a dick sometimes, but once you get to know him he’s not half bad.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Max this genuinely happy. I couldn’t help but think that maybe this relationship would turn out different for her, or at least I hoped so.  

“You know, I’m convinced he hates me or something.” I admitted.

“He doesn’t.”

“I’m pretty sure he does. 

“Well he won’t.” Max reassured me with a smirk. “I’ll talk to him.

She then glanced over at me with a peculiar look hanging in her eyes, and I knew what she was about to say before she said it. It was the dreaded question I’d only been trying my hardest to avoid this entire time. 

“Say, what ever happened between you and Mike?”

My face faltered and my heart sank with it. “I don’t know.” I mumbled under my breath. “We just kind of fell out.” 

“Weird. I was so sure he’d be the one you’d break your no dating rule for.” Max said, before pulling out a pack of cigarettes from her back pocket. “But I get it, shit happens.” she muttered, flipping the lid open with her thumb before offering it to me. 

I shook my head, waving away the box. “What do you mean?” I asked her. 

‘You never saw it, did you?” The redhead scoffed more in amusement than surprise, as she wedged a Marlboro between her teeth. “The way he was whenever you were around. I swear, it was like you were his whole world.”

 

And the more time I spent alone, muted, and sentenced to third wheeling Max and Lucas’s relationship, as I continued to wonder about what was missing from my own life that led me here, my mind eventually started wandering in other directions. 

Mike. 

At first I would try to block it out, telling myself that we’d ended it once and for all. I could never go back there again and neither could he. After all, I was the one who ended it anyway. But still my thoughts would eventually drift back to him, and much as I tried to force myself to focus on anything else, the memories of us seemed to push their way through, gripping at my lungs and wires, easily breaking the barrier I tried to place between them, just to make its way to the front and center of my mind. And soon enough, that’s all it was- in the front of my mind. 

He was in the front of my mind,

And I missed him, god, I missed him. 

The nostalgia began to flood my brain like a tsunami, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and unrelentless. Seeping into each pore of my skin and filling my veins, until the memory of him made its home inside of me. 

Mike’s laughter echoing throughout the park, as we spun together as fast as we possibly could on the tire swing.

Mike’s hand gripping onto mine, helping me to stay balanced in my attempt to ride Max’s skateboard. 

Mike’s awkward wave, whenever he heard me yelling his name from the stands during his swim meets. 

Mike’s lanky stride, as he trotted down the halls beside me, the two of us making some weird hilarious comment that only we could understand, obnoxious belly laughs filling the air around us as students glared at us in annoyance for making so much noise. 

Mike’s proud gaze and enthusiastic smile when he told me that he’d attend my first movie premiere. The dream I’ve had ever since I was thirteen years old. The dream that he helped to inspire.

Mike’s eyes fluttering to a close as he told me in a shaky voice, his worst fears, his problems, and feelings about how he never felt like his dad really cared. How he’s most scared of ending up alone. How he feels he never quite measures up. How he’s scared he’ll live an unfulfilled life similar to his parents. How he always feels that anything good in his life won’t last for long but how talking to me always makes him feel better. 

Mike’s tears falling onto my arms as we continue this game of tug of war, pushing and pulling on our feelings for one another. Friends again, yelling again, kissing again-

Mike telling me to leave for the last time. 

The realization then hits me like a wave of bricks, pushing each inch of skin back into a state of comprehension. I stopped pacing and stood there, just long enough so I could be still with my own thoughts.

And for once they’re finally clear,

“I’ve made a big mistake."

Chapter Text

El’s POV

 

I’m not quite sure who I am anymore.

It’s strange- when you’re constantly tagging along with the same two people who are often too wrapped up in one other to even notice that you’re still in the room. It’s like you can feel yourself fade into obscurity. 

The couple’s polarization takes over each choice, each decision that’s made, and you don’t play much of a role, you’re just there taking up space. It’s as if you were to leave, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference because you’re just that irrelevant background character in someone else’s story. 

“Babe let's hurry before all the food’s gone.” Lucas beckoned as he began to usher his girlfriend towards the reception hall. 

“El, you coming with?” Max looked over her shoulder to ask me, her hand still intermingling with Lucas’s. 

“I guess so,” I answered hesitantly, following behind them as they delved towards the crowd, leading into a muffled cacophony of sound with each hollow step. 

That’s how things usually go, and it also happens so regularly that being the third wheel is no longer a passing thought. 

“Do you know who they’ve got singing?” Lucas turned to Max, somewhat shouting through the combustion of music ringing in the air. 

“No clue,” Max hollered back in response. “But they’re local.” 

We treaded closer and closer, and with each step, the music got louder and louder. 

The venue wasn’t a large one. It was simply a small gazebo with tables scattered around and a stage decorating the front area with no more than forty or so people crowding the dance floor, yet the sound encasing the music was booming loud enough to make you feel the cage of your chest rattle along with each thrum of the rhythm. 

Lucas groaned loudly upon noticing the number of people gathered around the food table. “Shit, the line is insane.”

“Race you to the front!” Max smirked, meeting his gaze. The pair immediately rushed into the sea of people and disappeared off into the crash of a wave in a matter of seconds.

And just like that, I was alone again. 

While I was left standing by myself, I observed the waves crashing back and forth in front of me, getting dangerously close but never close enough to pull me in, the music filling each corner of my being, my limbs ringing with the heavy bass and the sound of soprano vocals.  

All I really wanted to do was leave. There was no point in me still being here. I’d already fulfilled my bridesmaid duty. I’d stood through a whole wedding ceremony in the sweltering August heat, smiling, clapping along, and playing cordial. Honestly, I doubt anybody would notice if I left anyways. Max had Lucas, Hopper had Joyce. Will was off somewhere catching up with friends, and I was left alone - isolated with nothing but the music filling my system.

My body began to move away from the celebration-

But then, 

I swear it couldn’t be.

I saw a flash of raven curls out of the corner of my eye. 

And just barely enough, 

I heard that familiar low chuckle that had rung through my ears for the past few years. 

and then my body kept moving.

But this time it wasn’t away from the party, no, this time I was voluntarily sinking in the sea of dancing people, all of them with bright smiles painted on their faces, stringed white lights pigmenting their skin in a soft angelic glow. But I brushed past them with each stride, not caring where I was stepping, or who I was bumping into as I shoved myself past the sweaty flesh and tangled hair. 

I pushed my way through until a face became clear. 

And then I saw him. 

Mike.  

 


 

Mike’s POV

 

I think one of the things I like most about Olivia is the music she likes. 

She has a wide range of interests. She likes almost any genre you can name: metal, rock, punk- and the crazy thing is, she can sing along to all of it too. When you hear her voice you can tell she’s been doing this for a while, that she’s been trained and knows her to adjust her vocals and pitch just the right way to practically fit any song. For that reason, I call her the magic singer, and I think she finds the label quite fitting as each time I do her eyes light up with a sort of pride.  

She’ll occasionally jam a self-made mixtape into my car stereo, and to my surprise, loud music will begin to pour out from the interior speakers. But then I’ll settle down, and I’ll listen to each twang of string, each key on the piano, and the flow of vocal harmonies- and I’ll fill up with pure joy. I love her music taste and I love the way her voice sounds when she sings. 

She's the forefront of a band she’s formed. She usually only sings but sometimes she’ll play the keys or strum a few chords on the guitar. However, she’s the foundation of each song, the strong vocals that carry each lyric, and I’m there for every show.

 

Olivia and I aren’t together. 

We aren’t in love and we’re not dating.

But we might as well be. 

It’s odd, how we picked right back up where we left off within the short span of the summer. It’s like we never fell off, almost as if we’ve been close friends for all this time. 

It’s not the same feeling I felt for El, but it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten. That in itself means something to me. I feel so happy when I’m with Olivia, so reassured- and it’s a world away from El because when I’m with Olivia I feel she actually wants to talk to me. Like each time she sees me she actually wants me there. Like I’m needed for something other than just to be a physical distraction. 

But when I’m with Olivia, I still don’t feel the same. 

 

I don’t feel like I’ve found my one extraordinary relationship in my lifetime. I don’t feel like I’m with the person who I wish I could spend the rest of my life with. I don’t feel like she’s... my home not the way El made me feel. 

El is gone now, and I’ve done my best with keeping her at bay. And If it wasn’t for Olivia being the wedding singer, I wouldn’t have made an appearance today at all. But, even still, I've purposely arrived late just to keep a distance. 

Because I’m doing it. 

I’m finally moving on without her. 


 

El’s POV

 

How could it be? 

There was no way he was here. I’d ruled it impossible, especially when he didn't show up at the ceremony,

but yet...

He’s looking up at the stage, his lips pulled into a smile which exposes his row of brilliant pearls, his eyes beaming with a light I hadn’t seen from him in forever. 

And I watch those lips softly cascade beneath his two front teeth, as they press down lightly to contain the bliss seeping from the creased expression on his face. 

god, that agonizing feeling that I can’t help but miss crashes over me again and again and carries me into the crowd of people who are bumping into me left and right without a semblance of care.

It’s like walking through a storm, but I held my ground as I watched him, feet planted firmly to the floor as if the soles of my shoes were anchored to the floor beneath me. 

The noise around me is almost unnerving, loud music and voices scattered around me as I feel the hem of dresses brush past me and the smell of alcohol tickle my nostrils while bodies sway back and forth to the rhythm of the blaring music - but my eyes stay locked in on him, as he does nothing but admire the group onstage, laughing and smiling and doing everything he once did with me almost a year ago. 

It’s a feeling that's all too familiar: the world disappearing around us and dissolving into nothing but one big watercolor blur, the sounds, colors, and shapes and lines transfiguring into a merely distorted lens of reality. All that remains now is us. 

Mike and El. 

Yet as I stay grounded, barely just a yard away from him, nothing but a few reception guests standing in between us. I keep my gaze focused and my body statued in one spot, my nerves in both my brain and body failing to signal to each other to move in any way. And at this point, I’m not sure where I want to go-  towards him or away. 

But before I make my decision, the universe falls through again.

And I watch as Mike moves his head from facing the musical group on stage who are dancing and singing, clutching onto microphones in the palms of their hands, towards my direction.

And like a magnet clicking perfectly into place, 

We lock eyes

And I feel it: 

Home 

Chapter Text

Mike's POV

 

My heart plummets at the sight of her. 

It’s not like I don’t remember what her eyes look like, but now looking into them for the first time in months, I feel every ounce of passion and emotion I had spent so long trying to scrape out of the shells of my bones come flooding back all at once with the final strum of the band’s guitar, stealing the breath from my lungs so effortlessly, so easily, just the same as if I was looking at her for the first time all over again. - How does one look manage to do this to me?

More importantly, what in the hell was I thinking, coming here? 

The intermingling of our eyes seems to have a conversation all their own. Speaking with such tenacity that it begins blocking out the bustle of music, the screaming kids, and the applauding of the last song on the setlist. I barely even catch the echo of Olivia’s voice seeping from the stage and into the corners of the venue, announcing that she and the band will be taking a quick break before starting the next set.

I’m too busy wondering if she’s really looking at me, or if it’s just a figment of my imagination, a faulty idealization I’d conjure up in my head after I’ve tried so hard to murder her from the thoughts in my mind. It’s as if my perception is faulty, having been diluted from simply knowing we’re both in close proximity again. 

But as she begins walking towards me, I soon realize that this wasn’t just some mind trick my brain had manifested from the flood of fights and unrequited pain she had forced me under. This was real. She saw me

“Mike.”

Her voice came out soft and poignant, drenched in a sense of sincerity and sorrow all at once, slapping me awake from the nights I had spent tossing and turning, trying desperately to rid her from my mind. 

“El.” I breathed back, feeling a rattling pang rush through my whole being, drawing a hitch to my breath. 

“You’re here.” She replied before I could stutter out my next thought. Her eyes gleaming with both surprise and wonder. 

“Yeah.” I swallowed heavily.

“Didn’t think you would make it- well, um, you know, because you weren’t here during the wedding and all.” She continued, her eyes suddenly flickering back and forth at our surroundings, her gaze wandering about like a lost child tottering through gravity. 

“How was it?” I questioned not even noticing the way my voice had begun shaking at the seams.

“Nice,” El mumbled. “Well, it was, until my friends left me for food.” She finished, letting out a withdrawn chuckle.

“Your friends?” 

“Yeah,” she slowly answered. “Max and uh, Lucas.”

“Oh,” I uttered, my own focus shifting from her face down to my feet for the first time since we’d locked eyes.

“Max and I- we worked things out and-and Lucas too. We’re all… friends now.” She stuttered over her explanation. 

“Oh,” I repeated, still in enigmatic shock at her very presence and the very existence of our exchange.

What the hell was I even doing?

I’d sworn the last night we’d fought I would never speak to her again and yet here I was flustered and falling apart, leaving myself wide open yet again for her to reach inside my chest and take my heart for her own.

No. no more. 

I had changed now. I was no longer just an insecure boy desperate for acceptance and a girl who would never pour herself into me like the way I’d invested every piece of who I am into her. I was so tired of chasing love. I’d spent way too long trying to recover from having been scorched by the trail of fire she left behind, with the words of still loving her stained on my tongue like ash. 

I didn’t want to hurt anymore. 

“Hey! What did ya think?”

The voice seemingly came out of nowhere as an arm looped around my side, my head spinning like a top, trying to find out who this voice belonged to. 

“It was.. awesome! You did great!” I exclaimed when my eyes met Olivia’s. My body sinking into hers as I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and gave her a quick but sincere embrace. 

“So, who’s this?” She asked nonchalantly, motioning her head in El’s direction, with her arm still wrapped around me. 

El’s face seemed to hold nothing. 

It was like she was in a catatonic state, her eyes dull and vacant as if all the light fled to the confines of her hazel irises. Her features statued and immobile except for the slight quiver of her bottom lip, barely noticeable but prominent to only those who knew her as well as I did. 

“This is El,” I began, gesturing towards the girl with an open hand, “Don’t you remember? We all went to middle school together. She’s an old… friend.” 

“Oh yes!” Olivia’s face brightened upon recollection and soon enough a familiar friendly smile painted across her face. “El Ives. Wow, I almost didn’t recognize you. It’s just been so long since we saw each other last. But oh my god, how are you?” 

“Fine.” El curtly responded. I watched as her focus still held strong onto my face rather than Olivia’s as her silvery voice departed from her lips. “You mind if I borrow Mike for a second?” 

My heart almost twisted at the awkward tension looming in the air, coiling around all three of us as we looked back and forth at each other in almost a dissociated state of reality. 

“Okay,” Olivia said, her eyebrows perked up at El’s question while her arm hesitantly left my waist. “Yeah, okay sure.”

“Cool, thanks.” El nodded unfazed. Something about the boldness she embraced sent a rush of memories through me, a nostalgic sense of the old, careless, brash yet utterly confident El Ives filling my system. God, how I missed that girl. That was the El I’d fallen for in the first place anyways. 

I walked in the opposite direction, following El as she led me outside the gazebo, giving Olivia a small parting smile in reassurance. I was fully aware of how much I shouldn’t have spoken to El in the first place, after swearing off any interaction with the girl who had completely destroyed me time and time again, but something about the way she looked at me…. The way our eyes locked from across the room as the stringed lights glowed upon our faces, the otherworldly bodies around us swaying in sync to the music and rhythm of the night. It was like an impenetrable force unknown to man- not a choice to make but something deeper- a need. 

 




El’s POV

 

A light breeze flowed through the pair of us as we stepped away from the venue and off to a quieter place. 

Somehow the scene seemed as if it were strangely familiar; the two of us standing across one another, the damp air bustling about as the trees blew gently in the distance, stars speckling the dark sky and bringing just enough light so I could see the edges and features of his face. It reminded me of the night of the party we went to all those years ago, where we sat under the moon talking and laughing together- just the two of us, before leaving and embarking on an adventure of our own.

So much has changed since then. 

So many regrets and mistakes I’d made. 

“So?” he drew out, his head tilting in confusion as the wind swirled gently at our skin, the autumn air blossoming around us. 

“I just…” I began, not even sure where I was going, “I just wanted to talk.”

“About?” He asked again, the panic settling in as I realized I asked to get him alone for no reason at all other than the fact that I didn’t want to be interrupted anymore by that girl.

that girl.

“I thought she moved away.” the words suddenly sprung from my mouth. 

“What- who?”

“That girl. The singer-” I searched the back of my mind for her name failing to remember it amidst the confusion and shock of seeing her put her arms around his side. 

“Olivia?” He answered for me.

“Yeah, her.” 

“She did, but she just moved back.” My irritation grew, lurching in the pit of my stomach as I watched a tiny smile form on his lips at the thought of her. “We’ve... reconnected.”

“Reconnected?” I repeated, trying as hard as possible to push my agitation back against my teeth.

“Yeah, we caught up over the summer, and we’ve been hanging out since. ”

Something about the fact that they had shared history together and now she was suddenly back in his life sent a burst of panting angst drilled into my flesh, as I clenched my fist harder to attempt to control just how much I wanted to combust into flames. Why was I so damn angry?

“Oh,” I uttered, my eyebrows furrowing as my gaze flickered down to my feet. 

“Are- are you okay El?” He asked me, taking a step closer to me, causing my heart to skip a beat. 

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I lied, bringing my eyes back to his. I hadn’t noticed until now how tall he was in comparison, as I looked up at his defined face, his gazing down at mine in slight concern. 

“So, are you like dating her again?” I asked, the words slipping out past my lips like soap. 

Mike inhaled in what seemed like surprise at my question and took a small step back.

“I.. I’m not sure- well, see it’s- we haven’t really officially-

“So you basically are,” I cut him off, knowing that once he started rambling he wouldn’t stop. 

“We have.. a thing.”

“yeah.” 

“yeah.”

I turned away from him, leaning my back against one of the nearby trees, the breeze softly brushing against the hem of my dress. Shortly, I began to reach for a cigarette in my jacket pocket. Which had recently started to become a bad habit under the influence of Max and Lucas.

“Whoa-” Mike interrupted, striding nearer to me, “What the hell? Since when do you smoke?”

“Since when did it matter? You smoke too.” I muttered before sticking it between my teeth. 

“Not anymore. It’s stupid, not to mention bad for you,” Mike protested, snatching it out of my mouth and tucking it into his own pocket. “This shit kills, you know.”

“And why do you care what I do? huh? It’s not like we’re friends anymore.” 

The words seemed to puncture him into silence, as I watched his eyes widen at the sounds leaving my mouth, his mouth dropping slightly in disbelief. 

“You’re forgetting who's fault that is. Stop,” he began, his voice sharp and commanding, “just stop, we aren’t fucking kids anymore. I thought we moved past that- matured a little.”

“It’s only been what, Mike? some months since we last talked and you already have a girlfriend? I don’t understand. You were popular in high school. You could’ve had any girl you wanted. So why didn’t you just date again after Max?  Why’d it have to be now?”

“What are you talking about? Why do you always start something? Why do we always have to fight?” He shook his head, words nabbing at me like leeches, “I didn’t want to date back then. you know  why- 

“The only girl I ever wanted was you.” 

My heart stops at that sentence, the shock of how quickly he moved past that hit me like a wall of bricks. “And now?” I walk closer to him, meeting his gaze. “you’ve just... moved on?”

“I had to.. right? You never wanted a relationship, anyways. Life went on without you, El. Of course, it did. What we had... our friendship or whatever that mess was- that was an ending, not the end.”

“And what if I wanted to be with you now?” I uttered, the words cracking through painfully as I realized the sudden hammering of my chest. My eyes shut in immense hate for myself and all I had done to him. I was such a damn fool, and here I was begging to be taken back, knowing that he had also felt the same hurt, but double the span of time, and double the pain.

I’d hurt him. I’d hurt him so badly, and I’d been way too fucking self-absorbed to realize it. 

My eyes opened again to see him standing even closer to me than before, close enough that his head was tilted downwards just to make eye contact. And underneath the illuminated moon I saw a glisten, a tear, trickling down his face like it was crawling towards the ground, his eyes sincere and filled with loss. 

“El,” He whispered, his own voice festered with cracks, “you have no idea how long I’ve waited to hear you say that.” 

My heart leaped at his words as I brought my hand up to his cheek, wiping softly at the remnants of his tear with my thumb, a smile forming on my lips as he grinned at my touch.

“But it’s too late.”

The world suddenly came crashing down all around me, buildings, trees, and all toppling over one another like a black hole were sucking out all life of a lively world I’d once known in which Mike Wheeler wanted nothing in life but me to be in it. And now... that was gone. I’d lost him. 

My fingers left his cheek as tears began streaming down my own, I stood paralyzed in place as I once again entered a state of catatonia, hollow, immobile, and simply... existing. 

“I’m leaving for New York soon. I’ve been accepted into NYU...” his words fizzled into nothing but garbled speech, blurred at the ends, and fuzzy at others. Everything around me seemed to fall dull, transfixing into shapes and lines and noises- nothing made sense anymore.

“... maybe if you’re ever in New York,”

The sounds came back to me, slightly less warbled as his face started to come back into focus again. I watched in slow motion as his fingers reached toward me, coming into contact with my face and cupping the side of it, sending an electrifying shiver down my spine. Slowly but surely, a tender smile graced his face, he then gently moved his hand to tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear as 

Mike whispered-

“We could catch up.”