“Jane Eleanor Hopper!” Max pounded on the door. “If you and Mike are making out in there, I swear to God I’m gonna kill you!”
El pulled away from her and Mike’s kiss, her hair hitting against her face as she sharply turned to face the door. “Uh-huh,” she called, as Mike giggled, “And how is that any of your business?”
“You’ve been sucking face in there all day and we have to go!”
El groaned and turned the radio up. “Never Surrender” was playing on the mixtape Jonathan had taught her how to slap together, and she wasn’t going to let Max ruin everything right now.
“We’ve got, like, five minutes.” El shrugged.
Mike laughed, pushing a curl behind his ear- his hair had started to get curly recently, which both he and El thought was the coolest thing they’d ever seen. “Five minutes.” he nodded.
Max pounded on the door again. “El! El, the boys are gonna explode!”
“Sorry, can’t hear you!” El called, and Mike happily helped her by holding out his hand and using his powers to turn the volume up even farther. El giggled, and then stared as Mike started to dramatically sing along, grabbing her hands and bouncing on the cot.
He’d moved into a spare room in the Byers’ house until Nancy could get her temporary custody- even though she was eighteen now, it was apparently taking Owens a while to process the papers or some shit. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard on the Byers- Nancy had taken a job to help support Mike, even though Joyce tried multiple times to refuse her offers of money until Jonathan finally told her, “Mom, there’s no stopping Nancy, just let her take care of her little brother.” Jonathan and Nancy both got jobs at the Hawkins Post as interns, which seemed to be helping things a bit, even with the new mall driving away a lot of the customers at Joyce’s store- a lot of customers, really, so since Hopper was pretty busy breaking up riots and protests, the girls tended to spend all day with the Byers and the boys, which worked out perfect for them.
The room wasn’t really all Mike’s yet- for his own safety, he rarely went into town, and he didn’t want to bother the Byers by asking for trinkets or decorations. But Will had helped him put some drawings and art on the wall, and he had a corkboard from Nancy that he used to hang pictures and scraps. His favorite books were piled at the end of the cot, and El had made sure to bring him extra blankets and books and stuffed animals that she could smuggle out to him or force on him during holidays. (For his part, he liked to give her little doodles or used books he thought she’d like, which was probably the most adorable thing in the world.)
“Mike, Mike, stop!” El laughed as Mike continued singing and bouncing.
“What?” He stopped, cocking his head to the side. “You don’t like it?”
They heard what sounded like a kick from the door. “El, open it or I’m telling Hopper it wasn’t open three inches!”
El groaned and turned the radio down. “Hell’s sake, Max, Dad can’t do shit about it!”
“He and Nancy-”
“What are they gonna do?” El called, as Mike leaned onto her shoulder, still laughing. “Split us up for a year again? Mike’s got freaking superpowers.”
“So do these three very impatient boys who wanna see a damn movie! Card games aren’t gonna cut it forever!”
Mike’s eyes widened. “They’re doing card games out there? El, can we do card games?”
El leaned over, flicking the radio off. “Sounds like we better head to the theater. Guess we’ll just have to make out in the back row during the exciting bits.”
“Is that allowed?” Mike asked, shocked that this was a possibility. “Isn’t it against the rules?”
El grabbed his hand, helping him to his feet. “Something Max taught me, bud; I make my own rules. And speaking of Max, she’s gonna murder us.”
“I’ll protect you.” Mike said, beaming.
“We’re coming out!” El shouted at the door.
“Finally!” Max groaned. “I’ll get the boys!”
“We’re finally moving out, dorks!” Max said, opening the door to Will’s room.
Will and the boys were spread out on the floor, three cards in the middle of their circle. Lucas cheered and started to get up, until Dustin said, “Wait, wait! One more!”
“Come on, we finally got Mike and El to move!” Lucas said.
“We’re almost done!”
“Steve’s not gonna be on shift forever!”
“Sure seems like it!”
“Just hurry up.” Max groaned, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe.
Will nodded and turned to the cards. He pointed at the one in the center, and Dustin shut his eyes. “That’s…” he thought long and hard, and then said, “Ace of diamonds?”
“Color?” Lucas asked.
“Red, dipshit, diamonds are always red.”
Will flipped over the card, and then he and Dustin cheered as they saw the solitary diamond on the front.
“Three in a row!” Dustin chanted, and Will joined in after a second. “Three in a row! Three in a row! Three in a row!”
“Great. We know you can predict playing cards.” Max smiled slightly. “Remind me to have you on my team for poker.”
“What’s poker?” Lucas asked, narrowing his eyes in confusion.
“Maybe I can show you later.” Max said, smirking at him.
“Or you could tell me now.”
Max took a deep breath, just as El and Mike came out, holding hands. “Alright, are we going or not?” El said.
“Sure, lovebirds.” Max groaned. “Alright, team. Move out.”
They turned into the hall, with El and Mike leaning on each others’ arms and giggling as they walked, and Will stuffing extra drawing paper into his jacket pocket, careful not to jostle his headphones- for if the theater got too loud- and Dustin and Lucas bickering over whose turn it was to take out the trash when they got home.
“Hey, hey, wait!” As they passed the kitchen, Joyce stopped in the doorway, pushing her hair out of her face. “When are you getting back again?”
“Won’t be later than Mike.” Max said, which caused Mike and Will to burst into laughter; lately, her and El had taken to referring to certain numbers as the boys’ names, which they thought was the funniest thing she’d ever done. “And it’s a safe movie, Ms Byers, I’ve seen it before.”
“And you’ll stay together?”
“Of course, Ms Byers.” El said. “Nobody’s getting lost.”
“You don’t want a chaperone?”
“Steve’ll be there.” Dustin said.
“Steve’s nineteen and has never once won a fight.”
“And I can throw things with my mind.” Mike reminded her. “And Lucas can use light as a projectile weapon.”
“Boom!” Lucas said.
Joyce sighed. “Okay. But if you need anything, I’m here, Jonathan and Nancy will be here in about an hour-”
“We know all the numbers,” Will nodded, “And Hopper’s on duty.”
“He’s not at that time of night, so you’ll have to either-”
“Call home or use the walkie.” Lucas nodded.
“We’ve got this covered, Mom.” Will grinned, giving her a quick hug. “This isn’t the first time we’ve gone out.”
“I know, but…” Joyce sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “The crowds keep getting bigger, and you’re not even supposed to be seen that much yet.”
“We won’t be.” El assured her. “The bigger the crowd, the more we blend in. Now we gotta go, or Steve won’t be able to take us to the theater.”
Joyce sighed. “Alright. You all have fun, okay?”
“Got it, Ms Byers!” Max nodded, and she grabbed a surprised Lucas’s hand and dragged him towards the door. “Thank you!”
“I don’t see why you don’t bring your own bike.” Lucas said as he chained their transportation to the bikerack, the way El had shown him.
“Well, I ride with El, and then I can go with you on the way back.” Max shrugged, crossing her arms. “It’s free bike rides.”
“You can ride a bike, though.”
“Lucas, sweetie,” El sighed, patting his shoulder, “She likes you.”
“Max likes all of us.”
“Jesus Christ, Lucas.”
“Come on!” Dustin said, tapping his foot and gesturing at the people going inside. “We don’t wanna get split up in the crowd or your Dad and Will’s mom and Nancy are going to kill us!”
“They won’t kill us.” Will said jovially, sliding his headphones on. “Just El and Max.”
“I’d rather not die by the hand of an angry parent,” El said, “When I’ve survived goddamn demogorgons. Now, come on, let’s hurry it up.”
They ran into the mall, grabbing hands and giggling as they pushed past crowds, ducking by people and trying to make their way to the ice cream shop on the lower level. People glared at them on occasion for pushing past or moving too fast, but they didn’t really care until El slid to a sudden stop, pushing the group back.
“Oh, shit!” El had recognized a face. “I think she saw us!”
“Who?” Lucas asked.
“Into the store!” El pushed Mike through the door, and the boys quickly followed. El and Max linked arms, just as Karen Wheeler walked by, hand-in-hand with little Holly, who was holding a dripping ice cream cone.
“Hello, girls.” Karen said warmly.
“Hi, Ms Wheeler.” the girls said in unison. “How’s Nancy?” El asked.
Karen smiled. “She’s fine. How are you?”
“We’re good.” Max knelt down and waved at the little girl. “Hello, Holly.” She gestured to the ice cream. “Did you see Steve?”
Holly shook her head. “Robin! She’s not as nice.”
“Holly, be polite.” Karen chided.
“You’re doing great at remembering names, Hol.” El complimented. “Max and I are just heading to the movies. You going?”
“Oh, no, Holly and I are heading home. It’s getting late.”
“Well, we’ll see you around!” El waved, hoping that wasn’t as obvious a plea for her to leave as it felt. Thankfully, Karen just waved and walked off with her youngest.
Lucas stumbled out the door once Karen was gone and said, “That store’s weird, they just sell underwear.”
“Shit.” Max opened the door, and saw with relief that the boys hadn’t wandered far. Dustin and Will walked by her, chatting about something, while Mike, his face quite blank, simply walked over to El and grabbed her hand.
“Hey. Do you want to say hi?” El asked, glancing back at the disappearing Karen and Holly.
Mike, refusing to look around, shook his head. “Not yet. I… I still don’t…”
“It’s okay.” El squeezed his hand. “Not ready, I get it. Let’s go see that movie, huh?”
After pushing their way down an escalator, they managed to duck into Scoops Ahoy, lit up with a bright fluorescence. The group rushed past the tables, ignoring the occasional glance from other customers, and Dustin ran to the counter and pounded on the bell, ignoring the fact that Robin was standing precisely half a foot from him.
“Hey, dingus!” Robin called, rolling her eyes, “Your children are here!”
Steve swung open the back window, saying, “Dustin, Lucas, how many times, you can’t be coming out this much, Will and Mike-”
Robin started. “Wait, are they actually your kids?”
“Long story.” Lucas said with a smile, as he grabbed Will’s hand and directed them towards their temporary guardian.
“Thanks, Robin!” Dustin said cheerily as they ducked into the Staff Only room.
Steve sighed and moved to the back, opening the back door that led to the maintenance hallways. As the children moved past him, he said, “We will talk about this!”
“Okay!” Dustin shrugged.
“And if anybody hears about this-!”
“We’re dead!” all six of them replied.
They walked a few feet, and then El pushed open the right door, gave a few quick glances, and said, “All clear!”
They ran out into the hallway of the mall’s movie theater, and made a beeline for Day of the Dead. “This is way better than buying tickets.” Max grinned.
“Is it?” asked Lucas, who hadn’t yet had the opportunity to buy a movie ticket.
“Come on, it’ll be crowded!” El said, as she once again leaned onto Mike’s shoulder. “Do we wanna sit together or not?”
“Not if you and Mike are gonna be gross!”
El flipped her off as they raced in, ducking through the aisles and thankfully spotting six empty seats in the middle of a row.
“Lucas, sit by me!” Max whispered, grabbing his hand.
Lucas blinked. “Um, okay. Why?”
“Because I like sitting by you, you’re fun!”
“So are Will and Dustin-?”
“Is he serious?” El asked Mike, as they carefully made their way past the other people seated in the row.
“Lucas is always serious.” Mike informed her.
“We’ve been dating for six months, he’s gotta pick up on crushes by now.”
“Not likely.” Mike giggled.
They found their seats, and Max unfortunately found herself next to Mike and El. She groaned and turned to Lucas, whispering something about how they were gonna be gross the whole time, while Will sat beside Lucas and pulled his headphones down slightly.
“We missed previews.” Dustin seemed a bit upset.
“Still made it.” El said, leaning over and shooting him a grin. “See? We weren’t that late, Max.”
“Shut up.” Max said, pulling out her backpack and passing out drinks they’d smuggled in.
The movie began, then, with a shot of a woman sitting alone in a white room. The boys’ eyes widened, entranced; no matter how many times the girls had snuck them into a theater, they still found movies on such a huge screen to be the most incredible thing. Probably a side-effect of not having films for twelve years, and then suddenly being tossed into the world and able to see whatever they wanted, whenever they could.
The woman was staring at a calendar, and just then, the screen flickered. They all groaned as the projector shuttered out behind them, and the lights shut down. Will shoved his headphones back on as everyone started shouting.
“Another power outage? Can’t Starcourt Mall get its shit together?” Lucas huffed.
“It’s not gonna be dark for long, is it?” Mike asked, and El quickly shook her head.
“It’s not the mall, it’s the whole town. Power grid’s been busted for the last month or so.” El explained. “Dad says the rioters like to blame the mall, but it’s just some faulty wiring, it’ll get fixed soon-”
Just then, the lights and projector flickered back on, and the movie continued. Everyone cheered, and Will lowered his headphones once people stopped clapping.
Max, meanwhile, felt her face fall. There was something… wrong. She shivered slightly, some sort of tingle spreading over her as the film continued. It wasn’t the movie itself, it was… was it the power outage? She’d never been spooked by power outages before.
It took her a second to realize how vaguely familiar the shiver was. She’d felt it, all last year, whenever…
El grabbed her hand. “Hey. You okay?”
Max jumped, startled, but nodded quickly. “Yeah.”
“Yeah, of course.” Max slowly grabbed her coke, opening the bottle with a fizz. “Shut up. Movie’s starting.”
El shrugged and leaned over to whisper something in Mike’s ear. And as she did, Max tried her best not to look frightened. Lucas glanced at her worriedly, too, and she really hoped he couldn’t tell exactly why she was freaked out.
The Mind Flayer is not back, Max. It was just a weird power outage.
You’re fine. Everything’s fine. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong at all.