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Please Don't Ask About Barbara

Chapter Text

“‘Cause I would try to smile but in a little while

My tears would show and then you'd know it's true

Please don't ask about Barbara

The hurt will bring the teardrops to my eyes” Bobby Vee, Please Don’t Ask About Barbara

 

Marsha Benson Holland

Taking off her curlers to let down her hair just after she put on her heavy coat and dress and stockings and shoes (all black), she thought she’d never have to see this day, the day she would bury (not literally, her body could not be returned) her only child. Her lovely, red-haired, intelligent Barbara, after she has been missing for a year she has to bury her. She and Kenneth decided to keep the gathering small although they will have family, friends, and neighbors at the ceremony and the reception will be aided by Barbara’s babysitting clients and her supervisors and mentors throughout her various volunteering efforts with Rotary Youth and the public library, Barbara’s favorite Aunt from New York City (Marsha’s cousin) will be coming. Steeling herself for strength, she thought back to the day she first became a mother….

 

September 1967

“That’s a good girl, suck on that bottle,” said Marsha Holland in Hawkins Memorial Hospital. She was still a bit tired, six hours she gave birth to her firstborn daughter (and hopefully one of many children), she inspected the gentle countenance of her daughter. Fair porcelain skin covered her tiny body, the soft cheeks were pink even pinker than her lips, the eyelashes were a bit pale but didn’t detract from her already lovely brown eyes, and her hair was carrot-red and shiny. She was proud of the plump baby she gave birth to, even the doctors said she was well and her tests came out perfect, she smiled at her husband Kenneth coming in. “She is such a contented baby,” he beamed. “She is, but we need to decide on a name.” “How about we name her after my Aunt Barbara?” “Barbara Holland, I love that Kenneth” and the two of them kissed.

Chapter Text

So miserable, it took a lot of nerve for Joan to put on her false lashes on; she then concentrated on her appearance to make sure everything is so. It was even harder, because even when she stared at her reflection, something that made her proud, she saw her late niece. The niece she enjoyed seeing grow up, taking her around New York City and various travel, spoiled when she came to Hawkins even meeting her friends (she really liked Nancy Wheeler, an inquisitive petite brunette that reminded her of Peggy Olson at a younger age and Trudy Campbell a little), the one she really wants to indulge in shopping, help her find clothing that will enhance her figure which included her small waist and wide hips, which Joan even finds on herself.

Joan has been through a lot in her lifetime, when will it get any easier? Her father left home after the war was over, her mother had drinking problems and was impossible, she got married too young to a man who wasn’t good for her, people shamed her for her beauty and sensuality assuming a woman that looked like her wouldn’t be proper or intelligent, men who underestimated her at work even questioning her worth despite benefiting from her gifts, men who underestimated her and treated her like a trophy during dating, a husband who raped her (she found the nerve to say it), and she was cheated out of her half of million dollars. Joan had eventually started her own production company, concentrated on raising Kevin when she wasn’t dating and got closer to her maternal side of the family which included her prissy and quiet Cousin Marsha, her taciturn and Viking-like husband Kenneth, and finally their daughter Barbara, who just held a wealth of potential. Potential that Joan was going to help foster, potential that got snuffed out….

December 1968

“Welcome to our humble abode!” trilled Marsha as she watched her husband help her Aunt and Cousin with little Kevin and the luggage, “How is the new Mom and Partner at a Madison Avenue agency?” Joan replied with a breezy “Very well! Everything is going along swimmingly, how is the baby?” She looked her cousin over: Marsha still wore her hair in very large and tall sprayed bouffant like she did on her wedding day in 1964, her sweater was slightly out of date yet very cozy looking and the best Sears and Roebuck had to offer with slacks that were nearing a decade old.

It was amazing to think how different she and Marsha were: she was only 8 when Marsha was born and even while Joan was in junior high, she was constantly compared to her very ladylike and prim cousin by her mother. While Joan was in that poorly thought marriage and speedy divorce from Scotty, Marsha was making straight As in school and made President of her Elementary School’s Future Homemakers of America chapter; while Joan was making moves in Sterling Cooper and collecting dance cards like a preteen boy did baseball cards, Marsha was winning academic and homemaking awards and took courses at a community college to become a grade school teacher; at Joan’s wedding to an aspiring surgeon named Greg (shudder the thought), a then 23 year old Marsha had brought a beau over, a large and slightly older man named Kenneth who was working for an accounting agency in Spokane and planning to transfer back to Indianapolis to be closer to relatives in a small town called Hawkins. It always felt that while Joan’s life was of untold glamour, Marsha made the moves approved of by their family, the ones that gave her a life of security and comfort. She is sure to figure that the chic pantsuit that Joan is wearing have caused waves of confusion in her cousin’s and her husband’s heads.

Kenneth joined in “Ohhhhhh I will bring her!” Gail looked with a worried expression, “Are you sure? You have been carrying luggage!” Marsha beamed and explained “We are just over the moon over our Barbara, you know how hard it has been,” clutching both Gail’s and Joan’s hands to which Gail gently patted Marsha’s hand. “Oh yes, I know darling, Joan didn’t it take a while for you and Greg to have Kevin?” Joan blushed and took ahold of herself, “Now is not the time mother, Kevin wants to see his new cousin, don’t you darling?” to which her tow-headed boy just grinned. Kenneth stooped his large form down, helping a little baby walk “Barbie, this is your Aunt Joan, Aunt Gail, and Cousin Kevin here to see you. Say ‘Hi’,” the little girl stood up and waved her hand smiling. She was an adorable little girl: large, expressive brown eyes with delicate, porcelain skin, soft full cheeks, a snub nose, and a full head of shining, red hair “She looks just like you did at that age Joan,” beamed Gail who bent down to welcome the little girl into a hug. Barbara came to hug Gail and then blew a kiss to Joan and went to give a teddy bear she had in her hand to Kevin, who accepted it and asked she wanted to play. Later when they were watching Get Smart, young Barbara climbed off of her Mother’s lap and climbed onto Joan’s lap and hugged her, Joan embraced the girl back and stole a look at the baby who gave her a light wink. Chip off the old block.

Chapter Text

He brushed his hair and spritzed some spray on it. It was wavy, shiny, styled and despite the wheat color of it, it reminded him of “Cousin Barb,” he thought, stealing a look at this old picture of Barb and her friend Nancy in Halloween costumes where his cousin brilliantly played a scary clown and Nancy made an excellent demonic looking bunny. He had a hard senior year of high school after hearing that she disappeared before Thanksgiving, he loved visiting Hawkins despite the backwater it was but the news was weird and she was not the only person who disappeared or had something freaky happen: a boy named Will Byers was taken, then thought dead, and then came back alive. There was a man named Benny who was found in his diner with a bullet to his head, execution style. Several hunters and wildlife had disappeared and then his cousin’s car was found near a bus depot with all her belongings inside and no sign of her. He feared for his cousin, wondering if she was cold and scared, if someone was taking care of her or worse, had kidnapped her and was doing a number of God knows what to her (courtesy of his morbid study mate Curt’s imagination).

Then just when exams at his first year at NYU were barely over, he got a call from his Grandma Gail to come home right away where she and Joan had to break the bad news: Barbara, his younger cousin and his playmate with whom they often rode on his Uncle Roger’s yacht with his wife Marie and her older, cool grandkids and even hung out with her and her friend Nancy, was dead. He begged at the university to bring his schoolwork and offered to mail them to the university so he could attend her funeral in Indiana where the snow has yet to fall to the ground. Seeing his Aunt and Uncle, they looked much older than they were, and he saw the effect the tragedy was taking on his mother and grandmother and then he found a familiar looking vinyl powder blue round carry case with a grimacing Tinkerbell on the front and he stroked it gently, remembering the day he bought that bag for her….

“Kevin! It’s time!”

He stopped stroking that purse, and noticed the pink Alice in Wonderland shoulder purse from childhood and held back his tears.

“Coming Mom,” where he met his fair-skinned, red haired, wise-eyed, wry, tall, and curvaceous (yes he notices that, it’s her body, nothing to be ashamed) form, he saw for a moment the adult that Barbara could have grown up to be, that she could never be….

August 1972

“Seven, eight, nine, ten…ready or not! Here I come!” Within the seemingly cavernous entrance of Cinderella’s castle, a small blond boy and a small girl with long, wavy red hair were running around and squealing with delight until a tall brunette with sparkling green eyes stood in front of them with mock consternation and her hands on her double-knit covered hips. “Children, please settle down, your father and mother will be coming with treats soon.” A shorter woman with permed red hair and a cotton culottes ensemble smiled “Marsha, I’m sure they aren’t causing any trouble” as Gail ruffled the heads of the two children.

Young Barbara (“Barb” to the juvenile tongues of her friends and cousins) Holland and Kevin Harris were visiting the still-new Walt Disney World with their parents and Gail Holloway (her great-aunt and his grandmother) awaiting the thrills that were to come. He turned to Barb and grinned, who gave him a freckled and toothy (a couple were missing) smile, she was holding the huge wad of cash in her purse that Uncle Roger gave Kevin for his birthday last Spring, his mother having relented that he would use about 10% for something special (which he decided will be for Disney World). Said purse of Barb’s was a personal party favor from her best friend Nancy’s birthday party, from a box that her grandmother ordered from the theme park, and Barb loved it and used it for her change, Tinkerbell lip-gloss, her comb, her baggie of animal crackers or cookies (sometimes Tinkerbell cookies to dip with the Peter Pan peanut butter served at Aunt Joanie’s friend Peggy’s house in Brooklyn), or her neatly packed box of crayons. Like her cousin, she was excited to spend the whole week at Disney World, despite the air being hot and sticky it was very exotic and more exciting than summertime in her hometown of Hawkins.

In his plaid Bermuda shorts and her trusty capris and angel sleeved blouse, came Mommy and Uncle Kenny-with-the-Mustache (to differentiate with Uncle Kenny-with-the-Pirate-Patch) with popcorn and sodas and hot dogs. “If you kids behave very well, we can take you to the Carnation Ice Cream Parlor, that was quite a walk to Tomorrowland Kenneth,” she said turning to Uncle Kenny who shrugged “I cannot help it Joan, I remember Don Draper at your house telling me about the one in Disneyland.” Barb and Kevin took in all the views that the expansive park had to offer: there was a train with an old-fashioned station that looked like photos of Hawkins in the olden days and a bullet shaped white train buzzing on a tall structure and a boat taking tourists to the Magic Kingdom. They noticed several singing young men with straw boat hats and colorful suits with white pants on bicycle built for many and a building advertising “Peter Pan’s Flight”, “Oh, Mommy and Daddy, can we go on that ride first?” asked Barb. The adults looked with Joan looking at the brochure, “According to this, the Peter Pan ride was one of the first rides on opening day of the park in California and does make you feel like you are flying over London and Neverland, I say we go” smiling at the children. With Marsha and Joan in one flying ship with Barb while Kevin joined Uncle Kenny and Grandma Gail, the family enjoyed the innovative designs and thrill of the ride where the painted miniature structure of London looked so real with the lights shining bright as stars and the beautifully painted statues of the characters of the film, when they saw Tiger Lily being kept in the water, Barb remarked about how fascinating it must be to be in need of saving by some handsome and daring boy.

Joan smiled and said “I thought so too, but I found it is much better to be able to depend on yourself” and Marsha added “I suppose you know plenty about that Joan” but then regretted it when she saw how tense Joan got. Marsha should have known better, she knew that everyone in their family often gave Joan grief for doing things unheard of in their family, being a single mother and a independently wealthy businesswoman was quite unheard of in the family and Marsha’s lifestyle was comfortable and traditional, but she did wonder what it was like to stake things out on your own, especially cross the country. For most of her youth she stayed in Spokane until she got married and they moved to small town Hawkins, Indiana while Joan lived 18 years in the same apartment in Manhattan and bought a larger apartment in a nicer part of town and now is considering on looking for a townhouse in two years. She would watch the news on the “Women’s Libbers” and see young women fighting to be defined beyond what the law and society expected of them; ideally she hoped that Barb would be able to achieve things in her future rather than be dependent. They later flew on Dumbo the Flying Elephant (which they were able to board earlier after a couple with a four year old daughter whose head was stuck in the fence let them and a few parties go), visited the Hall of Presidents where they delighted at the lifelike representations of the late Kennedy, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, Truman, and the then still living LBJ; next was the Mad Tea Party and the Small World Ride where Kevin got dizzy and Barb got a little seasick. They rested while watching the Magic Kingdom Afternoon Parade and then made it to the Swiss Family Treehouse before listening to music at the Tiki Room and having dinner at the Golden Bear Lodge in Bear Country (Salads for the grown-ups, sandwiches for Barb and Marsha, Hot Dog and fries for Kevin and Joan, Hamburger and fries for Gail and Ken, sodas for all).

Under their hotel room bed covers, Kevin and Barb made up their itinerary for the next few days. Barb wanted to go to the Snow White ride, which Kevin heard was very scary, and when she suggested the Jungle Cruise, he was quite surprised. “But didn’t you get sick on Small World?” he asked and Barb replied “I still liked it, and I even want to ride the merry go round and go on the speedway” Kevin smiled and added “Okay, and lets try to hug every character! I want Winnie the Pooh!” Barb smiled and then her face went tense under the small flashlight, “What is it Barb? Why do you look so sad?” Barb composed herself and admitted that in the Peter Pan ride, “Your Mommy was talking to me about how it’s important to save yourself and not wait for someone, like another man to do it, and my Mommy said your Mommy would know a lot and your Mommy looked sad.”

Kevin thought about it, he was one of the only kids in his Kindergarten class last year who had a Mom who worked outside the home, while he knew two other kids who either lost their daddy or their parents divorced but their Mommies were given a lot of money by their Daddies or lived off of money from the family, they didn’t go to work. He heard from his Grandma and Mommy that his classmate Lisa Allport’s Mommy was going back to school for a degree, his Aunt Kate had big boys (one of them just graduated from high school) and worked for Avon, his Mommy’s friend Bunny Apfel has a seven year old boy and girl who is twelve and she works as a big boss at Lord & Taylor, his Aunt Carol and Aunt Joyce both had jobs and no kids and made mommy and daddy faces with each other, Mommy’s old work pal Peggy has twin baby girls and worked a big job, Uncle Don’s kids had a step mommy who was a tv actress and a mommy who was going to school again before she died, Aunt Cynthia stayed home as a mommy but also did a lot of work on their tiny backyard with some chickens and a goat and vegetables and flowers in Long Island, some of the secretaries Mommy used to work with had their own kids, but he knew a lot of grown-ups thought that Mommies needed to stay home while the Daddies went to work and the kids went to school and some Daddies didn’t want their wives working. Even Grandma Gail, while she was happy Mommy had a big job that made a lot of money, seemed to want Mommy to find another nice man and stay home with him; his young mind figured that where Barb lived, a lot of the mommies just stayed home and never worked.

“Do you know any mommies who work where you live Barb?” asked Kevin. Barb thought about it, she always tries to think about things before she did or say them, something that every grown up to keep. “Well Mommy doesn’t work, some of the mommies in my class don’t work, Jonathon’s mommy works different jobs and has to take care of him and his baby brother, Heather’s mommy doesn’t work, Nancy’s mommy doesn’t work and Carol made her cry by telling her she heard her parents say Nancy’s mommy married her daddy because he has money and she’s too dumb.” She remembered having to comfort poor Nancy after Carol told her that and Nancy told Barb that she doesn’t see her Mommy and Daddy kiss at home, and Daddy doesn’t spend time with her and her baby brother Michael and that her Mommy cries every time she has to talk him into going to her ballet recitals. She always envied Nancy for having brown hair, very dark lashes, having a delicate frame like a ballerina, a mommy that everyone said was drop dead gorgeous like a model (her mommy was pretty but didn’t fuss much with her appearance like Aunt Joanie and Mrs. Wheeler) and that Nancy will look like, being able to talk to lots of kids and have kids talk to her, no freckles but Nancy’s parents didn’t seem to love each other and being pretty like a Malibu Barbie and hair as pretty as a Disney World princess didn’t give Mrs. Wheeler true love, while Barb has a family that loved each other and loved her. Also her Aunt Joanie is awesome and turns heads whenever she comes to Hawkins, being proud of her red hair, big boobies and bottom, and her clothes. “I think really Kevin, my Mommy thinks your Mommy is brave like Prince Charming, smart like Doc, and prettier than all the mermaids and princesses and fairies. She’s like Daphne and Velma!” and Kevin smiled before nodding off to sleep, “I think my Mommy is amazing.”

“Now Kevin, I think it would be nice if you used some of the money you saved to buy Barbara a gift from the souvenir shop,” said Joan. The families were at the souvenir shop, selecting items for themselves and even as gifts to each other. Mommy already got a Florida handkerchief and tablecloth (with a tea towel!) that was pretty for Aunt Marsha and a Florida mug for Uncle Kenny (with no eyepatch), while Grandma Gail got motion pens for them both, now they were helping Kevin select something for Barb. He saw something bright blue and shiny that caught his eye, it was a Tinkerbell round suitcase and thinking of how Barb might want to carry her clothes in it and how pretty it was and how she loved Peter Pan, he asked Mommy and Grandma if they can get that for her.

On their last day together, the families gathered at Tico’s Tacos (Uncle Kenny loved Ponderosa Steakhouse, Aunt Marsha Sweden House, Grandma Gail wanted Chinese Treats, but Mommy seeing that it’s rare they will have Mexican food very often in Manhattan and Hawkins, pulled over and Aunt Marsha followed) where they found the carne asada very juicy and filling despite its minced appearance. They exchanged gifts together: Aunt Marsha loved the set and declared the handkerchief too pretty for use, Uncle Kenny found the mug endearing, and they both loved their motion pens. Barb squealed over the carrying case, hugging and kissing all who gave it to her (Kevin was slightly embarrassed) and clutching the bag, saying it’d be perfect for sleepovers and summer camp in the future and how she was going to show it to Nancy. Barb picked out a Mickey Mouse Club pencil case with a small pocket for lunch money and a Bambi book for Kevin, knowing it was his favorite movie (despite his friends finding the deer “wimpy”), Mommy received a pretty glass dish commemorating the visit from Aunt and Uncle, and finally Grandma Gail delighted over the set of Small World figurines she was given so she’d decorate her part of the new living room. When Kevin turned 10, he put the book and pencil case in a safe that a Mr. Campbell gave Mommy; he wanted to make sure the precious souvenirs stayed safe.

Chapter Text

“Ken, we are going to be late to the funeral,” stated Gail Holloway.

He was purposely being stingy with the gas pedal; he didn’t want to face the “burial” of his dear, sweet, beautiful, devoted, and well-behaved daughter Barbara. A girl who made him proud from every waking minute of her young life, his playmate who encouraged him to pick up a baseball and bat a few balls with her and her friend Nancy, who used her tea set and dollies to “help” him prepare for meetings that would be coming up, and a young woman who was barely making her own mark out in the world. She’s dead, she won’t be coming back, he won’t even see her body at the funeral or cradle her anymore, and he cannot give her a customary kiss good-bye like he did before important business trips when she was small. He was glad that Murray Bauman gave him a discount on his investigative services, a rather low rate given his skillset and willingness to help find her, now he and Marsha can keep living in the home where Barb grew up learning shop and cooking from her parents, spent time with her relatives including her glamourous Aunt making fried chicken, and played outside with Nancy and Kevin. He really couldn’t go through with it, so he pulls over the car and confesses to all the passengers present: “Joan, do you think you and I can switch seats and you drive?” Joan opened her door and gamely told him it was no problem, he was so glad Joan had a strong role model in her Aunt, a woman who really helped challenge his own ideas about women….

September 1976

“Check out the love child of Betty Crocker and Billie Jean King,” smirked Liz on a chair chain smoking while Jill sipped on a Tab and wondered out loud where Winnie Kline, the wife of a local council member was coming over.

Watching his wife at the local tennis club where she fought the flying ball with an increased ferocity, he noticed his wife was feeling very confident, not unlike the young men who entered his place of work right after college (minus the cockiness), it was both fascinating and unnerving to him, he remembered her as a meek girl who just wanted to please and please but lately she seemed to be following the example of her cousin, aunt, and cousin’s circle (Creative Director of an ad agency and mother of twins Peggy Rizzo amongst others) in addition to attending a consciousness raising group where she promised to accompany Karen Wheeler (who bailed at the last minute) and Joyce Byers to outside of town. He feared that (due to sitcom plots and Ted Wheeler’s blathering and editorial pieces in the Hawkins Post) she’d turn into a militant, who can take him in judo, stop cooking altogether, stop dressing up, and divorce him like he heard Joyce did to the (admittedly awful) Lonnie Byers. No such thing, but Marsha was asserting her requests more and while she provided a home-cooked meal at the end of the day, she wasn’t stressed much about being gussied up as much, stating that she is rather decent-looking in appearance and while she likes being dolled up, she cannot be expected to be on display and this relaxed her and she even ignored the passive-aggressive putdowns of the sort of mothers that hung around clubs and the community pool, staring at the young lifeguards while they judged women like Joyce Byers for getting separated from their unhappy marriages.

Now his tea party-holding and Tinkerbell loving daughter Barbara asks him if they can play a little baseball, stating she wanted to try out for the new softball team for girls that recently was started and she wanted to do something that Billie Jean King isn’t doing. He was quite surprised and Marsha stated from behind him “I think it’s a great idea, the weather is lovely outside and you two cannot be cooped up all day, I also need the time to set up the crockpot and do some macramé.” So curiously and reluctantly, he digs around his old box of things in the attic and digs out an old but intact baseball and bat that haven’t seen the light of day since the Eisenhower Administration. They go outside after he lends her his old baseball cap to cover her head given how her own hats were inappropriate to the game where they set up their positions and he goes over the rules, he looks curiously at his daughter: wavy red hair tied in a ponytail tucked under the ragged yet intact cap, large glasses shielding her brown doe eyes, freckles sprinkling her pale complexion, body becoming more sturdy, and a frame that stretched so vertically that she had to quit ballet. When the ballet teacher told Marsha that Barbara was getting too big to dance, Marsha verbally and gracefully shut down the instructor: “Barbara is a graceful girl; she knows her movements, her posture is incredible, and is a diligent student who works hard and it shows. If she isn’t good enough for this class because of something out of her control and isn’t wrong, you are losing out.” Kenneth was very proud of Marsha, a far cry from the young woman he met who was obsessive about calories and was secretive about her beauty regimen and murmured to Joan that Gail was only trying to help after Gail made comments about Joan’s physique after Kevin was born, it seems this was the goal of Women’s Lib, making women more comfortable in their skin.

Barbara was a marvel, apparently the ballet lessons payed off; she was quick and graceful on their yard and even could stretch her long legs when reaching bases. She wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty and had a hardy tolerance for some scrapes and her batting and ball skills were getting better, coupled with her natural sense of observations. Soon came the day of the try outs for the girl’s team at Little League, where there were some passersby giving huge side eyes and glares at the idea of girls doing something so “unladylike”, Marsha didn’t deign to address them and Kenneth was on the defensive. Peter Perkin’s snotty young daughter Carol was making faces at Barbara who noticeably got pretty nervous and Kenneth was sure that he heard Carol say “Eat my dust wide load” to her before wiping out before reaching first base. Now came the moment where Barbara was going to prove her mettle and she proved them all, and became a new member of the team. Her coach noted her for her movements on the field and her ease with the bat, even being able to throw the softball with her hands, some of the kids (even the begrudging ones) called her “Billie Jean King” which made Barbara beam, and she admired the woman because she was smart, strong, fearless, and athletic, had short hair, was fit without looking like a skinny model, was nice looking without looking like a doll, and wore glasses.

When Barb entered high school, she tried out for the softball team and quickly ended up on the Varsity team before her sophomore year to the chagrin of that Carol Perkins, who despite being mediocre in grades and averse to conflict despite her bullying, wanted to be a judge. Barb also was in band (Joan’s overachieving friend Peggy Rizzo cheered Barb on and mentioned “Melanie and Jenny are playing tennis and swimming and they are in Chess Club and in Creative Arts, the sky is the limit Barb”) where she sometimes did group projects with the Buckley’s daughter Robin (who was a bit odd for Hawkins but played soccer) and studied with Nancy in between their practices (volleyball and cheerleading for Nancy). Teen girls on the field or on skateboards, girls biking and jump-roping, women playing tennis, trophy wives in aerobics classes, Esther Williams slowly making a comeback, and Joyce Byers looking as though she her fragile shoulders carried a heavy weight. The future was female, and she wasn’t wimping out.

Chapter Text

This was the moment of truth, the moment she’d see the coffin holding her sweet, darling great-niece (symbolically for lack of an actual body) being lowered six feet into the ground. She cannot touch her soft cheek or help brush the shiny red locks that reminded her of Joan’s as a child. A sweet child who was very meek towards herself but also direct regarding the things Gail believed in, Gail really loved young people like her grandson and his friends, Barb and her friends, Kevin’s former babysitter (now Head of Media at Holloway-Harris Productions) Maureen, HHP head of PR Dawn (and now her children), Don Draper’s adult children, Joan and her friend Kate were amazing company as youngsters, and Peggy Olson and her twins and nephews. Young people who really challenged her view on life and re-invigorated her zest for all things new and fun. Gail was quite skeptical about the particulars of her niece’s death, “If that leak killed her to the point her body couldn’t be brought back to us, why is Hawkins still habitable?” she thought. She caught a young woman crying, someone she did not recognize at all, Gail made a move to talk to the young woman despite her grief Gail was very protective of young people.

“Hello sweetie is everything alright?” asked Gail. The young woman looked a bit surprised, even a little scared, she was very pretty with dark brows and full lips and a long nose with light brown hair with clearly dyed blonde bits. “Oh I’m sorry, I’m a…..classmate of Barbara’s, I was on the school band and interacted through languages and sports, I j…juuu….just wanted to pay my respects. Are you a relative?” Gail smiled at the young woman, “Yes, I’m Gail Holloway and I was Barbara’s great aunt from New York City. I’m sure she’d be glad to see a nice young woman like you being so thoughtful.” The younger girl looked as though she was going to burst to tears, “Thank you and I’m sorry for your loss, excuse me I need to go to the restroom.” The girl went away.

Gail was befuddled; you would have thought the girl was mourning the love of her life. Perhaps she was, thinking of Carol McCardy and Joyce Ramsay before Gail put that out of her mind and joined her family at their seats. Her poor, sweet, adorable niece who will never go steady or get married or have children or travel or go to college and whom she will never be able to cook with again or have deep talks with again, they won’t even macramé or crochet or needlepoint again.

June 1979

Barb saw herself in the offices where her Aunt Joan and Great Aunt Gail were working, there weren’t a lot of crazy colors but it looked rather clean with pretty colors that were mixed and coordinated with one another. A trim, black woman with smooth skin came up to her “Hello Barbara, you have grown into a pretty girl! Practically a woman now, makes me feel quite old.” exclaimed Dawn Chambers in her new pantsuit that looked really snazzy and more sophisticated than even anything Mrs. Wheeler would wear. “I’m doing great Ms. Chambers, I’m glad to be here and thank you” Barbara had went through several growth spurts making her the tallest girl in her class, still had childish padding on her face, sprouted breasts that required bras from the grown ladies section, and put on weight especially around her hips and thighs and she was still freckled and bespectacled, she was amazed anyone would find her pretty. Nancy came out from the bathroom, Dawn took notice and asked “And who is this young lady?” “Ms. Chambers, this is my friend Nancy Wheeler” “Nice to meet you Ms. Chambers, this is a really nice office and I never have seen this much ladies at my Daddy’s office.” “Well, girls this is a nice workplace for women to work at.” Gail came in and filled in “Different skin colors, religions, ages, education, and experiences. I worked several years at a department store since your Aunt Joan was a child and I was just lucky to graduate from high school, but here I am a partner at a production company,” she smiled. “Come here for lunch.” She beckoned the girls to join them in Joan’s large office where Joan and Kevin were waiting to accompany them to a burger spot where there where phones on the tables; right there when they made their orders there was one thing that happened, while Kevin ordered the bacon cheeseburger with fries and a milkshake and Nancy ordered an ice cream sundae to follow her meal of a chili cheese dog with potato chips and a pickle on the side without much comment, as soon as Barb was ready to order a BLT with a chocolate egg cream and French fries, Aunt Gail commented “Oh maybe not Barbara, we girls need to watch our figures. Perhaps cottage cheese and a melon with bacon and water” she winked. Joan gave Gail a glare and smiled to Barb “Order what you’d like, we’re going roller skating with the Rizzo family and Sally Draper. Then we will be having vegetarian stir-fry for dinner. Enjoy your food Barb.” Barb wondered, did Great Aunt Gail think she needed to diet? That she wasn’t pretty enough? Nancy and Kevin gave her looks of concern, pleading with her to eat her sandwich, which she did, with Nancy protectively clutching Barb’s hand.

They went out to a roller rink with to meet Peggy and Stan Rizzo and their twins already there. Little Melanie and Jenny were 8 years old and delighted to see Kevin and Barb, even getting excited over Nancy’s appearance. They were sturdy little girls who looked a lot alike except for their eye colors (Melanie had her mother’s bright blue eyes while Jenny had her father’s hazel) and with different styles of light brown hair (Jenny had short hair like the Nancy Drew character on TV while Melanie had a long simple ponytail that went down her back) and their parents were complete, total physical opposites of one another. Peggy Olson Rizzo was a personal hero of Nancy’s given that she is short with brown hair and a good writer (Nancy was even thrilled to learn that she and Aunt Joan were acquainted with Ken Cosgrove, the sci-fi writer that she used to read to Mike) giving Nancy tips on how to write well and Nancy used her own skills for her little brother’s and his friends’ Elder Tree Campaign for Dungeons & Dragons; she has chestnut brown hair cut into a simple bob like Mary Tyler Moore and dressed simply, she had fair skin and bright blue eyes that stood out from her face and aside from a few details dressed not unlike the ladies in Hawkins did for work albeit more modern, she wasn’t a natural around children but gave patient advice. Barb thought she was incredible: another grown up lady who was pretty with her own career and a husband that loved her and didn’t want her to dumb herself down!

Her husband Stan was less conservative looking with big belt buckles at his slight gut, a beard with long light brown hair, he sometimes wore necklaces but never looked girly, he wore more jeans like Jonathan Byer’s father but he looked and is a lot nicer, he did photography and is an artist, and he is a tall bear of a man who was more outgoing and playful than his wife. “Hey! Barb, Nancy, and Kevin! Get your skates on! Mrs. Rizzo is already on the rink with the twins!” joyously pointing to where his wife and the children were, Mrs. Rizzo did a lot of tricks and twists and turns for a grown lady, Barb thought she was pretty amazing, she didn’t know a lot of grown ladies in Hawkins who’d still play around on the rink, she even remembered when the twins were smaller that they would skate under their mother’s spread out legs as part of their tricks, now they are creating elaborate circles around their mother and taking turns in the center with her. Barb and Nancy joined while Kevin and Joan gingerly practiced their skating on the sidelines with Stan as their guide and Ms. Sally Draper sat with Aunt Gail patiently while she waited for the next available pair of skates to be ready to rent, while her brothers Bobby (out to join people simply skating around the rink and now attending graduate school) and Gene (a high school boy with long hair like Leif Garrett and a t-shirt declaring that Disco is forever) skated to Donna Summer and other music playing on the radio. Barb skated and skated around feeling like Dorothy Hamill, “Go Barb!” shouted Melanie, joined by Dawn Chambers and Maureen on skates and her 3 year old daughter Kimberly who came to practice her skating on the rink. “That family has the groove, don’t they?” Maureen commented with admiration. Dawn smiled in the affirmative and added, “They’re terrific but imagine if there was a Soul Train line here.” She winked, obviously having a few tricks up her sleeve.

Barb gets exhausted and goes to rest with Gail where they watched Sally perform ballet tricks on her skates in the middle of Dawn’s Soul Train line. “Aunt Gail, do you think I’m not pretty?” asked Barb. Gail looked at her shocked, “Now why would you say that?” Barb gingerly thought about it and she blushed before replying back, “Because you said I needed to watch my figure and didn’t like what I was ordering at the restaurant” before looking down at her strong, thick, wide yet shapely thighs. Now Kimberly was making a straight skate down the line with Gene catching and lifting her up above his head to the admiration of other people on the rink. Gail felt taken aback, this reminded her of all the times Joanie would sharply answer her regarding her diet or needing to get a man, she was trying to help but seeing her sweet, quiet niece be so vulnerable and hurt really reminded her that she would say things that were insensitive (and to be fair, archaic). Did Barb or Joan or herself really need to catch the attention of the kind of men who would be judgmental about the looks of a woman and not count any virtues she offered? “I’m sorry Barbara, I don’t know what I am talking about and the secret is that grown adults don’t always know everything and they make mistakes, this is something I need to work on. But you are a beautiful young woman, I love you, the right person will come along and love you for you and not just what you look like. They will see what I, your Aunt Joan, your parents will see but more. You are such a pretty girl, but more than that.” Gail then thought, “And I am too.” Bobby, Joan, Nancy, and Kevin formed a deliberately clumsy looking chain down the line without anyone getting hurt. Barb looked at her worried, “The boys at my school seem to like skinnier, tinier girls or girls that look like Mrs. Wheeler. My hips are too wide” Barb thought “I wonder if I won’t get the girls to be attracted either.” Gail smirked and said, patting her own hip, “Here is a secret that I and your Aunt Joan know: Men love to hold on to wide hips. Plus it does make your waistline look smaller and can emphasize a bust line and pull off a full skirt.”

“Time was on my side when I was running down the street it was so fine, fine, fine”

They then sipped on sodas while watching everyone roller skate until the occupants begged Barb to join their circle (“C’mon Barb! Beat this old lady here!” said Sally), as she was the Queen of the Rink, now that Peggy relinquished her crown and as Kimberly was not yet old enough and the Rizzo Twins lacked the commitment (it was all fun for them). Jennifer came to Sally and asked if she believed in heaven and was shocked when Sally answered no , which got Nancy to ask “You really don’t think there is anything beyond our world?” and Sally stated “It doesn’t bother me except when I think about eternity and time and when I think about time, I get upset.”

How little they knew….

Chapter Text

A tall, slim young woman in black with dirty blonde (mostly dyed punk style and hidden under a veil) came crying up the street after spending extra time at the gravesite.

Marissa the Librarian was able to pull strings with the local Fire Department to get a discount on the firefighter’s hall in Hawkins for the repast. Something Kenneth and Marsha will be eternally grateful for, the closeness of this small town never ceased to amaze them no matter the many shortcomings. Joyce Byers even brought some food that Jonathan prepared and her young son Will, who came bearing beautiful homemade portraits of their daughter; it was generous given that Joyce recently lost her boyfriend Bob Newby (such a nice man who helped install a new car radio in Barbara’s car when she first received it and after she disappeared, he offered them his personal services free of charge) and Will seemed to still be reeling from his trauma from last Fall. “I’m so sorry Marsha and Kenneth, I cannot imagine what you are feeling right now, and I was hoping your Barbara would come home safe even more fortunate than my Will. She was such a sweet girl, always kind to my boys, so thoughtful when she saw me at the store. I am at your disposal if you need anything, even an ear for support,” Joyce smiled a sweet and sympathetic, but rare smile. It really struck the both of them how pretty Joyce was when she wasn’t worried or frustrated, they knew it was partly from being married to Lonnie Byers for years and Marsha cheered when she heard that Joyce kicked him out. She wondered if she could get Joyce and Joan together, then she saw Karen Wheeler go outside of a door where Joan was taking a smoke, and smiled: maybe Karen will get some sort of pointers from Joan, pointers on how to stake her own good fortune on her own, even if Ted isn’t involved. Sadly, as Kenneth thought, his young daughter will never get her chance to be that strong, vivacious, independent woman or a mother or go to college or do anything.

“Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Holland, this may be inappropriate but I have something for you,” the couple turned where they saw Mr. Murray Bauman looking unkempt as when they first met him but he made the effort to wear a dark coat and dark slacks and comb his hair and beard and he held a large box in both hands. “This is a box of the photographs you have given me of Barbara, I personally gotten them framed before wrapping them. I figure you’d want her photos back.” Marsha opened the box slowly and took out two medium photos of Barbara, one picture during her sophomore year of high school where she wore a high-necked and buttoned-up blouse with hoop earrings and her hair all soft and winged back framing her face. Marsha remembered Joan gushing to Barbara over how beautiful and adult she looked in her photo and was happy she was pleased with the hoop earrings that she sent out for Barb’s birthday before she turned privately to Marsha and scolded her for giving her something so matronly to wear. Kenneth gently took one other photo: Barbara’s Eighth grade graduation photo where her hair was winged back but more curlier and elaborate (he remembered her writing instructions from her Aunt Joan on the phone on how to get an elaborate look and worked very meticulously to get things right) and she had a hair ribbon tied into a bow where she wore a bright colored and geometric printed dress and wore a buttercup yellow cardigan because despite it being spring, she felt a little chilly. “Oh thank you Mr. Bauman, I have to add we cannot at the moment pay until next mo….” Murray stopped them, “No need.”

Gail was making a small acquaintance with Ted Wheeler and Joyce Byers, the father of Barbara’s best friend Nancy and mother of their schoolmate Jonathan. Unfortunately Joyce couldn’t spend a lot of time: “I need to get Will well rested and store his energy for a big school dance, we are so sorry for your loss Mrs. Holloway, I didn’t know Barb that well but the few times she came to the store she was such a sweet and lively girl, I even thought of setting her up with my son Jonathan but he’s such a loner and I didn’t know if she’d be interested.” Gail was flattered, “Oh yes, my Barbara was such a sweetie and I made sure she was admired.” Ted was eating food from his plate, Joyce smiled nervously “Ted, would you like to say something to Gail about Barbara?” hoping that he would take a hint and be sensitive for once. “Hhhhmmmm good chicken,” he said biting into the fried chicken “My wife makes good fried chicken.” Gail, looking shocked, replied “That’s my daughter’s fried chicken recipe.” Ted looked at Gail and asked, “Does she go to school with Barbara?” Gail, keeping her frustration in check, said “No, Barbara is my niece, my daughter is a grown woman in her fifties.” “That’s a bit old for high school, isn’t it?” Gail walked away to bade farewell to Joyce and her sweet son Will, in a huff. Ted looking confused asked “What did I do?” and looked helplessly around for Karen. Gail then met this bearded (Jewish? She wondered) man with Kenneth and Marsha, who held a couple of framed photographs of Barbara, “Aunt Gail this is Mr. Murray Bauman, we hired him to investigate Barbara’s disappearance” they shook hands “he framed these photos he used for Barbara”, Gail touched the photo of a 14 year old Barbara, looking very young and pretty with her dewy freckled skin, bright brown eyes, round cheeks with dimples, and her wavy shiny red hair. “Oh Mr. Bauman, she looks just like my daughter Joanie did at that age,” Gail exclaimed beaming at the three of them.

Joan decided to get some air when she ran into a distracted, beautiful, medium-height woman with elaborate long, wavy, frosted light brown hair who appeared to be in her mid to late 30s. “Do you want a light?” asked Joan (she wondered if Karen was related to an old colleague of hers named Faye Miller). “Oh thank you, I’m sorry but the room just got suffocating and my husband…he’s so irritating” scoffed the woman. Joan noticed her own mother, who always encouraged strict manners and raised her “to be admired”, walking huffily away from Ted. “My name is Karen Wheeler, my daughter Nancy was friends with Barbara…” she looked up to Joan’s face and said “I’m so sorry, how selfish of me.” “Its fine Karen, I understand how it can get,” sympathized Joan. Joan looked at Karen, just one of those girls, like Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis and Megan Calvet Draper before her. A young, beautiful, intensely intelligent and vivacious young woman who settled for the “easy” life of being a rich man’s wife, only to find it didn’t make her happy, all because she was afraid to venture out on her own for something bigger and grander and reflect her worth. This occurred to her when Karen said, “I remember Nancy and Marsha talking about you and how you moved across the country and became a partner at an ad agency before starting your own production company. It’s like you were fearless and staked out your own fortune, I just only gotten married very young and kept up my youthful looks for a man who can barely notice I changed my hair color. What was that like?” Karen looked very eager like Joan was going to impart the true meaning of life. Joan smiled sympathetically “Well it wasn’t easy, I was scrimping and saving in an apartment alone when I started out as a minor secretary even after I got my own roommate, and after a few years and even a few niceties to perform, we shall say, I was made Office Manager after the previous one quit to get married.” Joan thought about her relationship with Roger and Paul Kinsey, how the latter imploded and how heartbroken she was when she Roger told her she was “the finest piece off ass” he’s ever been with after his heart attack. “There were a lot of men, some were fantastic, some were mistakes, one of them was really Kevin’s father” she looked to Karen’s well-made up face going pale at the shock “but they didn’t understand who I was nor did they want me to, so I had to work, and I was even divorced twice. But I held on to the dream of being a rich housewife out in the suburbs, but then I was given an assignment where I would read Tv scripts to make sure there was nothing that would upset the sponsors but found there were also plenty that the sponsors could gain from in terms of advertising from the viewers watching the special summer storylines, and I found I loved the job and would be pleased to take it on full time, then that position of Broadcast Operations was given to a man.” She thought sadly, that still hurt and to this day she still barely tolerated Harry Crane; it even ached when Kevin had Harry’s twin boys over and she would hear Barbara and Nancy talk about how cute they were and it didn’t help Harry became a massive jerk who resented her promotion to Junior Partner and even humiliated her about her “meeting” in front of the other partners. She couldn’t trust him anymore, she sighed and Karen came close giving a sweet squeeze on her shoulder, “I’m sorry Joan, I figure it wasn’t easy. I never told Nancy this, but I wanted to be something. I had perfect grades in school and I wanted to be Hope Lange from The Best of Everything and move to a city, but it was hard because all the guys, even my teachers would give me a hard time about my awards and I would get my hair pulled and when I ran for Class President and was defeated, the big man on campus came up to me and said he didn’t vote for me because I was a stupid girl and only good to give his penis a lick,” Karen shook, tears falling “I had a crush on him and it ended that day, my parents didn’t want to pay for college because I was going to get married anyways, and I wanted to leave home sooooo bad that I married Ted because he had everything set and my parents liked him!” Joan hugged her, “You know there is still time, I was only 35 when I was made partner and then McCann-Erickson got so difficult after they absorbed the agency, but I started my own production company. You’re still young and you can do so much, don’t sell yourself short.” Joan knew that Karen wasn’t going to immediately become independent and demand changes in her life, she’d probably do something foolish as lusting after a young adult lifeguard and carry on an affair, but it was the nudge she felt the younger woman needed.

Several students from Hawkins High, including the high school band had showed up, even (to the surprise of Kevin) that awful Tommy Hagen and Carol Perkins he heard Barb and Nancy talk about. Kevin was glad for the company of Nancy, her ex-boyfriend Steve and new boyfriend (and brother of Will) Jonathan who brought some pictures that his little brother Will drew for Barb’s parents. He was blown away about how Will captured small details like his late cousin’s freckle locations, the color and depth of them, how her forehead would line with expression, her lashes, and her dimples. He even captured the highlights of her hair and the shape and curvature of her lips. He captured Barb smiling, thinking, frowning, laughing, and dreaming. “That’s a great picture of her,” Kevin turned around and saw a somewhat humbled redhead facing him. “Thanks,” he replied as he caught Nancy and the boys making faces even shooting a death glare at another guy. “Tommy Hagen,” thought Kevin, so this girl must be…. “I’m Carol, I went to class with Barb, if it helps I really was hoping she ran off to someplace warm, warmer than Indiana.” “Thanks, that means a lot Carol, please, have some fried chicken my Mother made it,” Carol actually looked touched by his kindness, smiled and walked away leading Tommy to the table. Kevin then saw a young blonde girl talking with his aunt and uncle, he asked Nancy who she was and Nancy admitted “No idea, I think I’ve seen her around when Barb had band or when the girls’ sports teams were on break.” The boys shook their heads in affirmation, the girl turned around and despite her tear-stained face melting her eyeliner, she looked gorgeous. He went up to the girl and asked politely if he could help her, she was nervous and apologized, excusing herself and saying that she needed to help her mother with the dishes. “Thank you for attending her funeral, I’m her Cousin Kevin, it means a lot to me…” “Robin, Robin Buckley and she was very nice, sorry” she walked away after smiling at him and suppressing her sobs. Kevin felt sorry for this girl and wondered if there was something she knew about his cousin and for a brief moment he thought he saw Barb’s ghost and went up to touch the girl’s shoulder “Barb!” and the girl turned and he realized it wasn’t her, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

August 1981

“Look at the incoming high school girl going home! Ah bet you might be your Aunt’s secret love child,” said Roger Sterling.

Barb blushed, she was hardly as glamorous as her aunt but it tickled her to think that Uncle Roger thought she was going to break hearts if only “Well you’re too polite to do so, seems boys want what they can’t have.” “Especially when some of us are also interested in girls,” thought Barb of cute Robin Buckley glaring at Steve Harrington in class, Robin looked so much like Kim Wilde and Debbie Harry it was not funny, so it shocked her when Robin showed a particular interest in her, given her conservative dress and her large size. Robin would tell her how beautiful she was and how she looked like she came out of a classic painting and wished she could paint Barb like Madame X, which Barb protested because Madame X was wearing a sexy dress that she once found in Aunt Joan’s wardrobe which came with an old cocktail napkin with a note saying “I will always think of you, dress on and off”, which slightly grossed Barb out. They were currently at a banquet dinner in NYC for a birthday celebration for Stan Rizzo where various colleagues and friends and family members were there, she went with Aunt Joan to help along with a Ms. Joyce Ramsay and Ms. Carol McCardy (they were both in a relationship, which Barb found so cool and encouraging) to help Ms. Peggy find an outfit for the event, before Ms. Rizzo just decided on new shoes and a purse and earrings, given she had this gorgeous low cut teal cocktail dress she hadn’t worn in a long time. Ms. Peggy looked almost as glamourous as Mrs. Wheeler during formal events in Hawkins with her hair all loose and wavy and Barbie Doll perfect makeup now getting smudged by a heavy kissing fest with Mr. Stan, which grossed out the Jenny and Melanie. Stephen and Nathan Crane came by arguing about soda flavors and the merits of the sex appeal of Debbie Harry versus Juice Newton versus Dolly Parton versus Brooke Shields before they saw Barb and stopped their arguing, Stephen shook a little and made a macho looking pose “So Barb, how are things going? You’re looking pretty good, new dress?” Barb giggled and replied “No, I borrowed an old dress of Aunt Joan’s and I just liked the rose pattern because it looked like strawberries. You look taller.” “Not like Sly Stallone,” joked Nathan who waggled his brows at Barb, “but I think I look like that guy from Blue Lagoon, what do you think Barb?”

As the boys started arguing with one another, Barb took the time to observe them: they were both the same height as their father and possessed rounded faces, but both were as scrawny as their mother which looked awkward with their broad shoulders,  she was rescued by Uncle Roger’s wife Marie who took her to the appetizers. “Those little boys fight with the idea that they are men, but they bicker like little boys,” she said smiling at the younger girl. Barb smiled; Aunt Joan’s world is so sophisticated! She heard the birthday toast from Peggy, talking about how at 25 she didn’t think she’d marry Stan but she feels so lucky to be married to him and “As everyone can see with my appearance right now,” motioning to her smudged lipstick and mussed hair, “he feels pretty lucky. Happy Birthday Stan! You make 45 look good!” Then Marie asked a very un-sophisticated question of Barb, “What television shows are you watching ma Cherie?” Barb looked shocked, she never expected this from a worldly woman, Marie observed how the cheeks on the girl’s cheeks were getting redder than her hair, “Don’t be so shocked, I have grandchildren, we Canadians are not so far from you Americans. Even the Prime Minister Trudeau saw that Space Wars with his son Justin.” “Star Wars,” corrected Barb politely “I like watching Square Pegs, Saturday Night Live, the After School Specials, The Facts Of Life, Laverne & Shirley, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries, Little House on the Prairie, Good Times, Carol Burnett, Maude, Fantasy Island, American Bandstand, Solid Gold, Bosom Buddies, Scooby Doo, Gimme A Break, and Paradise Cove.” Barb knew she watched too much TV with Nancy and Kevin this summer (she got distracted with Robin sometimes), she loved seeing the star Debbie Eagan on the show. While Debbie Eagan was blonder and skinnier and tanner than Barb, she had genuine curves with a prominent butt and round hips and thighs that weren’t model skinny and big boobs and she looked tall on the tv and wore clothes that flaunted her figure rather than hide it to look like a toothpick and she had fabulous eye shadow skills. She was fabulous and strong and tough and Barb wanted to be just like her.

June 1983

“Smile, girls!”

“Cheese!”

“Strike that pose! C’mon!”

Kevin was visiting Hawkins and taking photos of Nancy and Barb with their sunglasses, he brought his money over and treated them to a visit at The Hawk Theater and some video rentals, and he still had a slight crush on Nancy and enjoyed a friendly rapport with her. Barb had to break it to him that Nancy has a huge crush on Steve Harrington, the big man on campus, and he seemed to be reciprocating but Barb is concerned given that Steve had played around with a few girls in the last 9 months, “I’m really going to work on suggesting she consider you as an option instead.” Kevin begged off, given that he’s now going to college and he’ll have to get over Nancy as she’ll be too young, “I think her Mom was 18 when she married Nancy’s Dad” and he replied “And look how that’s turning out.”

As they walked to Barb’s house so they could do their marathon (Nancy rode on a bike while Kevin borrowed Barb’s bike and Barb would try to outrun them, celebrating that she made it to varsity on the softball team during Spring Tryouts) and swim at a pond, they spotted Jonathon Byers (in thrift clothes that still looked kind of cool to Kevin) taking photographs of wildlife before the boy saw them and nervously hid behind a tree. “Have a nice day!” said Kevin sincerely. They soon made it to the pond (after a detour where they picked up Nancy’s little brother Mike and a few of his friends, on the demands of Nancy’s mother that Mike “get some rays”) where they either sunned, explored, or went swimming. Barb wore a modest but cute (Kevin could see that it was a gift Mom sent for Christmas) one piece with a flirty skirt that revealed parts of Barb that made everyone take notice, especially the younger boys (Kevin would have thought they saw cleavage, especially substantial than an A cup breasts), a note fell out of Barb’s swimsuit and Mike exclaimed that Barb got a love note from someone named “R”. Everyone made teasing sounds, albeit lovingly, a thick browed boy named Lucas exclaimed “Wow Barb, someone noticed you are plenty of woman, even said they liked your red hair.” A mouthy but kind boy named Dustin smiled, revealing more gums than teeth, “C’mon leave Barb alone, I bet you set her up with New York boys Kev! What are they like? Do they ride bikes in Manhattan?” Will, sitting quiet after swimming several laps with Nancy and Lucas, added quietly “My brother Jonathon said he wants to go to NYU, have you seen it?” and Kevin smiled saying “I actually got to tour it and it looks great, they have a lot of photographers, I take it he wants to study that? But I just want to go to Syracuse, just to see more woods and genuine white snow.” Nancy adds “I want to become a writer and I want to work at a newspaper like Brenda Starr while I go to college, I wouldn’t mind leaving Hawkins, maybe to a women’s college. Dad wants Smith College because Nancy Reagan, President Nixon’s daughter, and Barbara Bush went there, I’m more interested in Gloria Steinem, Sylvia Plath, and Madeline L’Engle went there.” Dustin looked surprised and sincerely (though Barb suspected he wanted to impress Nancy) said “Mom said Betty Friedan, the writer Molly Ivins, and Julia Child went there” Lucas added “So did Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter Yolanda went there.” Mike added “Mom said that lady who wrote Gone With the Wind went there,” Lucas made a face “and Jean Harris, that lady whose husband wrote the Scarsdale Book.” Everyone laughed, Nancy asks “Barb what do you want to do?” Barb thought about it: “I want to work independently, maybe be a professor or a librarian, maybe write books. I’d like to go to Wellesley where Marjory Stoneman Douglas went before she saved the Everglades, remember when we saw that Kevin?” Kevin nodded, “Annie Jump Cannon went there and she was an astronomer, Diane Sawyer, and the girl from Love Story went there.” “A girl astronomer?” “No way!” remarked the boys. “My mom said a Dr. Jean Kilbourne went there,” said Dustin “a lady who studies how the media is bad for girls and women.” From afar, Robin Buckley watched, Barb looked like a Botticelli goddess in her swimsuit surrounded by her cousin and friend and the boys, she looked beautiful and full of life. For a brief moment, the future looked bright.

Chapter Text

"The hurt will bring the teardrops to my eyes
Though I would pretend that now she's just a friend
You'd look at me and see right through the lies" Bobby Vee, Please Don't Ask About Barbara

January 1986

After a disastrous summer in Hawkins where the controversial Starcourt Mall and several people were killed in a fire there (including Tom Holloway, whom Kenneth was acquainted with and his family), Kenneth and Marsha gladly took up an invitation to go with Joan and Gail to Las Vegas where they’d see a GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) show, starring Barb’s favorite soap opera actress Debbie Eagan from Paradise Cove. Kevin came at the last minute, he was a little tired of everyone either pitying him and the kids that he and Barb played with were all older and there wasn’t much an inclination to get together for things. Jenny and Melanie turned Sweet 16, the same age Barb was when she died (Jenny was trying to emulate Lea Thompson in Back to the Future and Melanie had her hair cut into a Molly Ringwald style), Nathan Crane seemed to be crying every time she was mentioned and his and Stephen’s sister Beatrice took him out for perms (that they regretted, making her look rounder while it made him look scarecrow like), Stephen seemed to be remaking his girlfriends into Barb’s image and once had a zaftig girl with red hair and glasses scream at him “You’re only dating me for my looks!”, Kevin would sometimes babysit Bobby Draper’s 2 year old daughter  Tiffany Ruth, Gene joined ACT Up and was hoping Sally and Bobby will name a kid after their parents (the ailing Don, stepdad Henry, and the late Betty), Sally Draper was seriously dating a guy (one of Ellery Hargrove’s old tutors whom Roger and Ellery introduced to her), Maureen recently sent her kid to kindergarten at a reputable Montessori School, Kimberly was making straight A’s and breakdancing when she wasn’t watching Care Bears, everyone seemed to be getting older even Ellery who was re-connecting with his long-lost mother who once approached Kevin “Hey, how are you doing? I know it has been hard on you.” Kevin looked at Ellery, who grew up to be what a young and tan Uncle Roger would have looked like and had a better perm than most other people and is juggling college with his father finally getting a legal divorce from his father and now he has to contend with his grandfather aging (somehow it ached at Kevin’s heartstrings, even worse than the loss of Barb) and his grandmother and mother arguing over inheritances. “I’m fine Ellery, do you think you can take a rest yourself?” asked Kevin, especially as they heard the arguments between Mona Sterling and Margaret Sterling Hargrove now “Marigold” with the former Jane Sterling on the phone.

“I would rather kill myself than let you take anything from Daddy!”

“You spoiled brat! You never even gave me a chance! I bet your hag mother poisoned you against me!”

“Jane, I actually encouraged Margaret to give you grace but you can’t seem to let things go, so go back and feed your infants.”

“My children have finished the 6th grade and I nourished them with something other than alcohol-tainted milk!”

Ellery looked sheepish, “Thank God Grandpa Roger and Grand’Mere are out somewhere with her daughter Megan.” Megan Calvet Draper was formerly a glamourous soap opera actress who worked as a secretary and now became a dance instructor and acting coach at UCLA, Ellery and Kevin (and once Barb) had a special liking for how she made spaghetti and when Barb was with them, it was the first time they willingly ate their vegetables. A year before, Megan wrote her recipes for sauce and mixtures down, smiling a straight but gap toothed smile that combined with her wrinkles made her look like a worldly and earthy Italian actress “I remember you liked it very much and I’m sorry about Barbara, she was a darling girl.” Ellery interrupted Kevin’s memories, “Hey you should see that GLOW show in Vegas with your Mom, Barb liked it and the girls are pretty hot.” Ellery winked and Kevin is not ashamed to admit that the title of the show was not false advertising, the women are gorgeous (he especially liked Junkchain, Fortune Cookie, and Zoya).

After exploring the stores and casinos and buffets of Las Vegas, the family stopped by the Fan Tan for the GLOW show, it was all a distraction while they enjoyed the trip they all saw the Challenger explode on Live Tv and recently learned that the astronauts on board had died. Kenneth focused on Marsha, it was hard for her but she seemed to be moving forward and has even applied for some courses at the University of Indianapolis for the summer to earn a degree in Women’s Studies and starting a local Women’s Shelter with a grassroots feminist group for Roane County and she is even taking courses in Spanish and French so she could use her schoolteacher skills to help recent emigrants and immigrants in the county. Right now she had her hair styled not unlike Debbie Reynolds and had a calf length cocktail dress that flattered and showed off her figure without revealing much (the silk covered her breasts shoulders creating cap sleeves and the waist and skirt were velvet) and she was looking quite beautiful, a more mature and stronger woman than the girl he married (he was glad he his hair in a Robert Stack style and that Kevin talked him into a corduroy blazer and blue jeans, “You’ll look like Robert Redford” he promised). Gail had gotten her hair teased to high heaven and was wearing a silk jacket from the hotel with khaki slacks and a too familiar looking plaid blouse with ruffles edging the v-line of the blouse while Joan looked like a red-haired Liz Taylor with her hair, jewelry, eyeliner, lips, high waisted jeans with a belt with an old sweater with a window and a red Burberry coat. Kevin felt like Michael J. Fox in his preppy look and was looking forward to some Gorgeous Ladies wrestling (and then get an autograph in memory of Barbara from Debbie Eagan).

The dark room soon lits up centering on a handsome young man in the center of the ring (Gail wondered, was that glitter eyeshadow on his lids? Whatever it was, it really helped the effect) announcing “Ladies and Gentlemen, Bash Howard Productions proudly presents live from the Fan-Tan Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, the opening night of GLOW! The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling!” The audience cheered as bright pink streamers shot up around him and he chuckled in delight over the show and the audience before taking a seat to read his announcements.

“For our first match tonight, reeking of Bengay and prune juice, it’s Ethel and Edna, the Beatdown Biddies!”

The family watched as a couple of young women done up like old ladies playing the slot machines (Joan chuckled, they look even more garish than her mother), appeared joining a tall, strong black man in the rink chuckling about how they haven’t had sex since the ‘70s… “The 1870s!” as they chuckled and clumsily got on the ring, stumbling over each other.

Kenneth shook as Soviet music started playing where Bash announced the coming of two wrestlers: “Zoya the Destroya and Fortune Cookie!” two young petite women, a white girl with brown hair teased up to look like a beehive gone wrong and an Asian girl in a tight velour leotard proclaiming dominance over the idiotic and capitalistic United States. The white girl had a thick, hammy Russian accent lamenting American decadence as the Asian Girl made panda bear and chow mein puns and mimicked karate kicks. Soon the Soviet Menace started fighting the goofy old ladies and defeating them before Zoya betrayed her partner and started boasting that no one can defeat her. “Everyone here is too much sissy!” as she bounced around and attempted to put on the tiara for the winner.

“I’ll fight you!” yelled an attractive blonde woman with curly hair in large glasses and a conservative dress (“She looks familiar,” thought Kevin) and American music started playing as the American Flag was presented. It’s Liberty Belle! “And I’ll kiss your sorry ass back to Siberia!” as she peeled off her dress and disposed of her glasses presenting a sparkly leotard with red and blue stars and an impressive bosom (Marsha and Joan smiled at each other). Just when Liberty Belle defeated Zoya, a large black woman in a garish leotard took the All-American Beauty down and took the crown and starts laughing. The woman opened up her beautiful mouth to introduce herself as Welfare Queen, (shudder to think what Dawn Chambers would think), and how she is taking back her crown to the ghetto.

The show went onto Junkchain (a sexy Latina in a gold two piece suit who was breakdancing) fighting Beirut the Mad Bomber (a thin, cute Indian girl playing a terrorist), giving way to Britannica (a modelesque redhead with glasses and a plaid jumper and London accent playing a genius) teaming up with Melrose (a glamorous Valley Girl with long legs) against Vicky the Viking (Kenneth and Joan remembered seeing her as an Olympics athlete, vaguely) and Sheila the She-Wolf (a fierce, pale girl in mussed black hair and a fur costume) before Britannica got married to the announcer on stage and the girls (dressed in gold and pink leotards) started fighting for the bouquet and the crown before Zoya zipped in to steal….errrr win the wrestling match to the jeers of the crowd “Awwwww you love to hate Zoya!”

For that show, while thoughts went back to Barbara, there were no tears although everyone wished that she would be there to see the show and she’d enjoy it. But for now, they wanted to meet the wrestlers and get an autograph from Debbie Eagan, just before the wrestlers went into their dressing room to dress down. Marsha sighed, “Well it was worth a shot.”

The next day at the buffet, Joan bumped into a blonde woman, “Watch where you’re going you ass….” the blonde woman looked up to Joan, it was Debbie Eagan and the star regained her composure. “I’m so sorry, I have been up late last night” Joan smiled and said “It’s okay, I understand, you’re feeling hungry, I will give you your space Ms. Eagan.” At the family’s table they observed the crowd of women Debbie was sitting with, looking totally unlike their stage personas (except for Sheila the She-Wolf and Melrose). Debbie still looked glamorous but dressed down in a patterned pastel sweater and seafoam pants that hugged her shapely bottom with her voluminous hair piled in a ponytail, the fierce Zoya was a petite, fresh-faced brunette with a perm and wearing an old t shirt and jeans, two young women (the dark haired one is on the chunkier side) with magazine ready hair who looked punk and girly and vintage were laughing out loud, Fortune Cookie looked like any Hawkins girl (albeit with colorful eyeshadow, pin straight hair that was teased, and less conservative colors and fit), Welfare Queen’s actress had a colorful style all her own but she looked like an active mother in-between PTA meetings and aerobics classes, Beirut was a conservative dressed girl who was sitting very close to Junkchain, the red-haired girl was wearing a bodysuit and a poufy skirt and happily chattering, Vicky the Viking was in a warm up suit and had a plate less laden with fat, Kevin could catch that the two California girls, the large girl (nice smile, pretty eyes, light brown hair and butter soft beige skin, her name was Carmen?), and Melrose were checking him out (Melrose more so) and sending him signals to come hither, the other girls (and a few women) huddled and giggled. Kevin looked at his Mom, Grandmother, Aunt, and Uncle who smiled at him for him to go over to the table, where the tall black man came with a lean beauty with cornrows (Black magic) pulling faces at the buffet laden plates and they were accompanied by the announcer and an older man with glasses and a mustache. The older man “Awwwwww lucky I came here before some of you girls,” eyeing the California girls (including Fortune Cookie and Melrose) who just smirked, “I need to eat something.” The petite brunette told him to get specific cuts of steak and to avoid certain breads “Trust me, I’m from Omaha, I know quality bread and steak.”

Kevin got up to their table where all the heads turned, having cleaned their plates, “Hello, Ms. Eagan, do you mind if I talk with you for a few minutes?” Melrose winked “You want our autographs?” making a coquettish look, Kevin smiled “Not yet, I actually came with a mission.” The tall blonde woman stood up and offered to discuss it in private with him, “I’m sure that will put you more on ease,” and shoots a look at the older man and younger man “Stay out of it.” They walked over to a corner where Kevin thanked her for coming and then explained his intentions, “My late cousin Barb, she really liked watching Paradise Cove and you were her favorite actress and character, she actually saw you as a role model for being a strong woman who was her own person. She died almost three years ago, she was sixteen, here’s a picture of her.” Debbie takes the picture from him, it was a color photograph of a bespectacled teenage girl with flaming red hair, upon closer inspection she saw the girl was plump, pretty with clear freckled ivory skin, had a soft and introspective look in her brown eyes, dimples on her soft cheeks. Even her red hair was curvy, being slightly wavy and short, meticulously styled, she smiled at the ill-thought lavender blue shadow and the ruffled blouse, and she could see Arthie, Jenny, Justine, and Carmen getting along with her. Debbie thought the gold stud earrings worked for Barb, complementing her red hair and orange-pink glasses without looking garish but brought out the highlights in her hair. “Oh she’s beautiful, what happened to her, if it’s okay to ask?” “Well she came from Hawkins where they had that leak, amongst other things, she was missing for about a year and we were all worried,” said Kevin “I actually blew off my classes for her funeral, I didn’t feel like studying anyways, wished she was here to meet you.” Debbie shuddered at the thought of Hawkins, Indiana where she heard of that awful Fourth of July fire at Starcourt Mall and those deaths involving a few hunters, a Radio Shack employee, and a teenage girl along with the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of Will Byers; as if it wasn’t bad enough she was far from California, she couldn’t imagine losing Randy in such hideous fashions. She ached for Kevin and his family to be put through hell, “Do you mind if I meet with your family? Are Barbara’s parents here?” Kevin smiled, “I think they will be glad to see you.” Debbie shook his hand, “And later I will get the girls to autograph for her.” Kevin smiled again, “If it’s all the same, I also know of a few people who could like some autographs.”

Kevin made the introductions to his mother, grandmother, aunt, and uncle for Debbie, who took the time to talk to them and ask them about Barb; she even talked about her infant son Randy who is in Los Angeles with his father (her ex-husband), she sounded sheepish about it, Joan took the time to take her hand “Don’t beat yourself up, there were times I was taken away from Kevin when he was young and you can see how gentlemanly he turned out to be.” Aunt Marsha and Grandma Gail nodded in affirmations with the latter voicing she had to work in and out of her home to support her and Joan even when she was small and she is still working, albeit at the production company and gave Debbie their business cards while Aunt Marsha stated “Even with me as a mother who stayed home with her child, even I felt there were times I wasn’t spending enough time with Barbara, especially now.” Uncle Kenny nodded and said “It can never feel like there was enough time, not when your child is taken away.”

On the plane home to school, Kevin smiled to himself about what happened. It feels like his aunt and uncle are going to be able to heal and move on with their lives, especially Marsha with her work with immigrant communities and women in Roane County along with her work on a degree. Uncle Kenneth started attending support groups for parents who have lost children and expanding his square middle-American style, Kevin’s Mom was successful in her career and she is starting to see a new man that she wants to get serious with, Grandma Gail was taking college courses to supplement her position in the company, he was looking forward to a meeting with his Mom and Grandma next week with Uncle Roger and Aunt Marie coming over to discuss something very important with him, and he felt he succeeded in Vegas. He got autographs from his favorite GLOW stars and even autographs for Nancy, Steve, Mike, Lucas and his little sister Erica, Dustin, and their new friends Robin, Max, and Elle. It turned out that Steve’s new friend Robin was the mysterious girl from the funeral and that she is a lesbian and as Kevin looked through photos of the female athletes at Hawkins High, he noticed that Robin and Barb looked especially pleased, both looking like they were the luckiest women in the world. In his envelope containing autographed photos of Zoya, Junkchain, Beriut, and Welfare Queen he also inserted a letter he wrote to Robin.

Robin relaxed on her bed opening a letter after a long day at Family Video (telling Keith that girls would like it better if he improved his hygiene skills and watching Steve strike out with, on his mistake, Marsha Holland who was sporting a new look to the amusement of the older woman and Claudia Henderson (who are partnering in feminist causes) and the embarrassment of Robin (who volunteers in her spare time at the women’s shelter and with setting up Take Back The Night rallies). She saw the letter came from Barb’s cousin Kevin, which she found strange until she figured either Steve or Nancy gave him her address, she was ecstatic to see her favorite GLOW wrestlers having given their autographs for her, personalized! But also a letter from Kevin:

Dear Robin,

Hey this is Kevin Harris, Barb’s cousin; I remember seeing you at the funeral and you were distraught but I wondered why you didn’t want anyone to get close to you. I don’t know if it would be a huge shock but I am aware of your orientation, your inclination towards girls and that you might have dated my late cousin, probably even loved her. I wished you didn’t hide, I would have wanted to get to know you and I hope one day we can get together and talk about our memories of Barb. It really makes me happy that she had a girlfriend and it looked from the few photos I saw of you two together that you made each other happy. I hope you can start something for gay people in Hawkins, kind of like how my Aunt Marsha is helping with women’s issues there, or you can move away to somewhere more cosmopolitan and more progressive (there is a big community in NYC!),I found out that Beirut and Junkchain are in a relationship together (but on the down low somewhat) and that Welfare Queen has a son attending Stanford where they have a lot of groups for gay people and lesbian-feminist leanings, even an acquaintance my family knows is in ACT Up. There is a big world Robin and I really hope you can find your community and live and love openly. It’s what Barb would want.

Feel free to write back when you can,

Kevin Harris

Robin smiled, it feels nice to have someone else to talk about Barbara, while it was nice to talk to members of the Party (especially now they are in the conspiracy about what really killed her red haired love), she appreciated the opportunity to talk to a relative of Barb who can commiserate with her about what it was like to grow up together.