Billy Hargrove. Starcourt Mall fire. Only survivor. Town hero. Hawkins, Indiana.
Her son. Her baby. Half dead in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, bedridden and possibly still in comatose since July.
It’s November now.
Adelina had never moved so quickly.
It was just like any other day in Pacifica. She sat at the cafe by the beach, sipping her peach tea with honey since caffeine made her shake, when she picked up the newspaper. She liked to read, could pick up any book, newspaper, magazine, and read it from cover to cover in one sitting. Just like she did every morning at the beach cafe with her extra sweet peach tea and blueberry scone. She has a sweet tooth.
She wonders if Billy still likes to read. If he still has a sweet tooth.
This morning she happened to pick up The Hawkins Post newspaper. She’s read a couple of their editions over the years. Vaguely remembers a story about a boy gone missing, presumably dead before he was reunited with his mother.
Adelina wished she could be reunited with Billy. Nearly had a breakdown in the cafe when she finished the article, feeling the oncomings of a panic attack.
Those happen when she thinks too much about Billy.
Billy, who was gone when she was finally able to leave the hospital, free of Neil’s bruises, on a new medication that helped much more than her ex-husband’s fists. Medication that cleared her mind of its worries and anxieties, its sadness. She looked for him for about a year, sent letters to their old address that would get sent back. Asked other mothers from his school if they had any idea where Neil had taken him, only to be met with judgmental stares and unknowing answers.
Now, nearly ten years later, she’s doing better. Steady. She works at the library, lives in an apartment with her partner Carol and their five year brown old cat Artie, the spoiled fucker. To the outside world, Carol is just a close friend, a roommate. No one knows how she holds Adelina on the especially bad nights, when she wakes up heaving and sobbing, just wanting to see her son. How she reassures her that they’ll find him, even after years. She loves Carol and Carol loves her.
She’s sipping on her honeyed tea, taking a bite out of her scone as she looks over the newspaper. It’s dated from July, not exactly recent, but the headline reads something about a tragic mall fire with numerous casualties and one survivor. She’s skimming over the article, half-interested, blowing on her tea when she sees the name. His name.
Adelina’s hand shakes, sending scalding water down her hand. She hisses and sets the cup down, focusing all her attention onto this article. Her hand continues to shake as she scribbles the details onto a napkin.
Eighteen years old.
Before she knows it, she’s out of her seat and dashing outside, tea and pastry forgotten on the table beside the newspaper. She’s nearly running back to the apartment, grateful to find Carol still inside.
“What’s wrong?” Carol asks immediately.
“I found him - Billy. I found him. He’s in Hawkins, Indiana. He survived a mall fire, he’s the only survivor. He-he’s in the hospital right now, Carol, I have to go. I have to go find him. I have to see him,” her rambling is cut off by Carol gently grabbing her hands, bringing her out of her head and back to reality.
“Go.” Carol urges with a gentle kiss to her knuckles. “I’ll handle everything here. Call me the second you land. Go find him.”
Adelina called Carol the second she found a payphone in the airport in Indiana. She couldn’t help but miss her, the gentle, soothing tone of her voice, the way she could calm her down by just a soft touch. She missed her dearly, but she came for Billy.
As soon as she parked outside of the hospital with her rental, she was storming inside. Long, curly blonde locks bouncing with each determined step. She reached the woman at the front desk, earning a questioning gaze.
“My - Billy. I’m here to see Billy Hargrove. Do you know where I can find him?” She looks and sounds panicked, blue eyes big and wide, hands and voice shaking.
“Depends. What’s your relation to him?” The woman asks.
“I’m,” she pauses, unsure if she’s earned the title. “I’m his mother. Can I please just-” she takes a breath, nails digging into her palm, a nervous habit she would catch Billy repeating. She wonders if he still does. “Can I please see him?” Her voice cracks and she has to shut her mouth, swallow down the lump in her throat. “Please?” It’s barely above a whisper.
The woman looks skeptical at first. Unsure. She seems to be in deep thought, staring at Adelina doubtfully before her expression calms. “Room 17. Be quiet, though. He might be sleeping.”
Adelina gives her a nod and a soft smile. “Thank you.” Then, she’s on her way, eyeing the room numbers before she gets to 17. She pauses, stares at the door, bites on the inside of her cheek. Billy used to do that, too. She wonders.
About a minute goes by before she’s relaxed just a fraction, readying herself. She knocks on the door once, twice. Doesn’t hear a response before she cracks the door open and steps inside, gently closes it behind her. She shuts her eyes before turning around, finds Billy sleeping. She can’t help the soft gasp that leaves her mouth before she takes a few steps closer, just staring.
He looks different, now. Older, more mature. His features are sharper, not as round or soft. He has just a shadow of a mustache on his upper lip. His eyebrows have gotten thicker, darker. His freckles still remain, same with the slight slant in his nose and long, thick eyelashes. She lets out a watery laugh when she sees his blonde hair has only gotten longer and curlier and he now has a silver hoop in one earlobe. He has a small silver scar on his cheek. As she looks over his body, though, she sees the scars peeking out of his collar, beneath her Saint Christopher pendant. She’s glad he kept it, along with her silver ring on his middle finger. Smaller scars litter his hands and arms, all of which she assumes is from the fire.
Adelina can’t help herself when she slowly reaches over and brushes his hair out of his face, cups his cheek and rubs her thumb over the scar on his cheek. She reaches down and grabs his hand, squeezes it gently and rubs small circles into his palm, the same way Carol does to her. Tears are running down her cheeks when she leans down and presses a soft kiss to his forehead, right above the slit in his brow. When she pulls away, she finds tired blue eyes, same as her own, staring up at her. Feels his hand squeeze hers as his eyes widen in recognition and he’s immediately awake.
Her breath hitches and she staggers backwards, scared she's overstepped a boundary in just being there, unsure if she’s even allowed to touch him. She goes to move to the door when his grip on her hand tightens, holding her in place.
Billy sits up, winces a little and her first instinct is to reach out and help him, but she holds back, doesn’t want to overwhelm him.
“Billy,” she speaks slowly, voice soft. “Billy, I-” she gets choked up, shuts her eyes tightly to hold back any more tears.
“Mom?” He speaks after a pause, never letting go of her.
“It’s me,” she nods. “It’s me. I-I found you. I finally found you.”
She squeezes his hand tight before she breaks, grip trembling.
“I’m sorry.” She whispers, using her free hand to wipe her damp cheeks. “I’m sorry, Angel. I didn’t want to leave you, I didn’t mean to.” Her grip on his hand eases and she resorts to rubbing circles into his palm again. “I just. I needed help and I was in the ward for a little bit and I was better when I got out. I was going to find you and be a better mom and take you with me but you - he took you away.” Her voice breaks as she looks down at the floor, too ashamed to meet his eyes. “I tried looking, Bee, I promise, but I couldn’t find you and I’m sorry, Baby. I’m so sorry.” Her tears are flowing freely. She opens her mouth to continue her rambling, but quickly gets cut off. She doesn’t expect Billy’s sob. It sounds like both a mix of pain and relief as he starts crying.
Chokes out, “Mom.” Waits for her to look back up at him before he brokenly whispers, “don’t leave.”
Adelina’s heart breaks. Her expression crumples as she makes an aborted move to reach out. Stops her arms mid-air when she asks,
“Can I hug you?” A pause, then a quiet, “please.” It’s a second or two before she earns a jerky nod. Hesitant.
Billy doesn’t know how to tell her about his life of abuse and hurt. Doesn’t know how to tell her he’s had more beatings than hugs in his life. Doesn’t know how to tell her that he’s so sick of being angry all the time. After what she’s just told him, he doesn’t blame her for leaving, isn’t angry at her. He hasn’t quite forgiven her, not yet, but he just wants to be held. Wants to feel young and small again, protected and shielded by his mother.
He isn’t able to get too in his head before her arms are wrapped around him, secure and tight. He melts into her touch, buries his face into her shoulder as he cries silent sobs, clutching onto her shirt so tight like he’s scared to let go in case she disappears again. He feels the way she rubs circles onto his back, presses kisses to his forehead and hair as she runs her other hand through his head, gently scratching at his scalp.
Everything feels so familiar - her arms wrapped around him, hands in his hair, kisses on his head. Even her perfume and hair smell the same. She smells like the beach, like home. It makes him cry a little harder, hold on a little tighter with shaky hands. He spent months afraid of his own hands, scared he’ll lose control of them and hurt people again, kill them. Now, they’re holding onto his mother like a lifeline, balled into fists as he clutches at her shirt like a child.
It takes a few minutes for him to calm down. Adelina knows he’s relaxed when his grip on her loosens and his shoulders stop shaking, breath evening out. He keeps his face in her shoulder, just holds onto her, not yet ready to pull away. She’s still playing with his hair when he speaks up.
“How did you find me?”
“I read about the fire in the newspaper,” she kisses his head again. “Saw your name and booked the first flight.”
She looks down at him as he looks up at her. Billy looks like he’s thinking, still has the same expression when he’s deep in his thoughts. She wonders what he’s thinking.
Billy frowns as he reaches one hand up to her head, gently moves her hair to the side to find the scar on her temple. He still remembers the day she got it. Neil had smacked her so hard she fell, head hitting a shelf on her way down. She still looks the same as that day, he notes. Same long, curly blonde hair, gentle smile, loving blue eyes so similar to his own yet so much softer. She’s aged, just a little. Notices her smile lines and crow's feet, frown indent between her eyebrows.
She looks happier than before, more serene. Just as beautiful, though, if not more.
“You remember that.” She frowns. It’s not a question.
“Did he. Neil. Did he…”
He nods again. Listens to the way she lets out a shaky breath before smoothing a finger over his eyebrow slit, not expecting him to lean into her touch, rest his cheek in her palm. She opens her mouth to ask another question.
“I don’t want to talk about him.”
“Okay. That’s okay.”
The room falls quiet again. Adelina runs her hand through Billy’s hair, knots clinging to her fingers.
“Your hair’s gotten so long.” She smiles. “Looks good, Angel. You’re really into the mullet trend, huh? Back in my day braids were big. The hippies loved them. Do you still remember how to braid?”
Billy chuckled as he nodded, memories of Max begging him to braid her hair flooding his mind. Recalls the way she told him he braided better than Susan.
“It wasn’t this long before,” he shrugs. “It got long in the hospital. I can’t really brush it, though. Can’t move my arms. Kinda just wanna shave it off since it’s all tangled and,” he waves a hand towards his hair, curls frizzy and untamed.
“No.” Adelina immediately protests. “Your hair is beautiful, Angel. It just needs some care.” She pauses. “Can I brush it? I have a comb in my bag. Only if you want me to.”
“Yeah,” Billy nods. “Yeah. That would be nice.”
He lets her help him as he scoots forward on the bed, ignoring the protest of his aching body. She’s digging in her bag as she settles down behind him, props a pillow up on her legs for him to lean back against. She pulls out the comb and a cherry lollipop, handing it to Billy. He takes it and immediately pops it into his mouth.
“I quit smoking. Cigarettes, at least.” She chuckles as she parts his hair, starts brushing from the bottom. “Those helped me curb the craving in the beginning. Now I keep them in my bag if I want something sweet.”
“I had to quit smoking when I got in here. Fire fucked up my lungs. Too much smoke inhalation or whatever.” He shrugs, unable to tell her about the literal monster that pierced its tentacle through his heart and lungs.
“They had me hooked up to an oxygen machine for months until I could breathe on my own. It sucked.” He sighs around the lollipop, stick hanging from his mouth. “Just wanted a cigarette and, like, pie or something. Hospital food is gross.” He groans. “Miss your cherry pies.” He mumbles.
Adelina smiles softly, moves on to another section of hair.
“I’ll make you one soon, I promise.”
It gets quiet as she works on brushing his hair, untangling all the knots and watching his curls bounce to life. They both know this isn’t where it ends and that they need to eventually discuss everything, like how she can earn Billy’s forgiveness and establish a place in his life again. They also need to get to know each other again, catch each other up on all that’s happened since.
But, until then, they can do this. They can act like everything is okay and allow themselves to just relax. Appreciate the other’s company and spend time together. Bond.
“Can I tell you something?” Adelina murmurs. Billy nods.
“I have someone.” She runs her fingers through his brushed hair. “She’s, uh. She’s special. She’s good.”
Billy immediately turns to face her, eyes wide. He’s obviously in shock, but there seems to be something else there. Something that looks like hope.
“She?” Billy asks warily. Adelina nods.
“Her name is Carol.” She smiles lovingly. “I met her at my lowest. I just got out of the hospital and couldn’t find you. Embarrassed the hell out of myself when I started crying outside of our old house. The poor woman,” she laughs. “She saw me in the middle of the sidewalk nearly pulling my hair out. She was just trying to walk to the bus stop, found me instead. She took me in when no one else did. Let this crazy woman sleep on her couch for months until I picked myself up again. She helped me find a job at the library. I have a list of books I think you’d like.” She smiles.
“How long have you been together?” Billy asks, stick still hanging from his mouth.
“Seven years now. We were originally just roommates, but we got… closer.” She goes back to brushing the last section of his hair. “We have a five year old cat, Artie, the spoiled fucker. Chubby and brown and mean but so goddamn cute.”
Billy hums, nodding. He looks like he’s thinking, again, but Adelina can’t tell about what.
“Carol knows about you. She knows everything. I’d really love for you to meet. I think you’d like her. She’s pretty badass. Grows her own pot.” She smiles wide when Billy laughs. “Do you have anyone special, Bee?”
Billy opens his mouth to answer, expression conflicted. He looks nervous, almost. Unsure. She gives him time to answer as she starts to play with his hair, looping his curls around her fingers and watching them bounce as she releases them. She’s tucking some behind his ear and he’s about to answer when she hears a soft gasp.
“Oh,” the woman gapes from the doorway, one hand still on the knob as she stares at the two.
The woman is cute. Big brown eyes with brown hangs hanging above them. She’s small, but she looks tough. Like a mother.
“Mrs. Byers,” Billy greets.
“Joyce.” She immediately corrects before walking over.
“You’re Billy’s mom.” She smiles warmly, staring between the two of them. “God, you look so much alike. Even the freckles.” She chuckles.
“Adelina,” she nods, unsure if she’s earned the title of his mom just yet. “Oh, please. He’s much prettier than me.” She smiles at Billy, relieved when he smiles bashfully in response.
“Adelina. I’m Joyce Byers,” she holds out her hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you. Sorry to barge in like that on you guys, I didn’t think there’d be anyone else in here. I usually come and check on Billy to make sure he’s okay to see visitors. His sister is here.”
“Sister?” Adelina frowns, looking at Billy.
“Shitbird,” Billy calls out towards the door.
The three of them turn in time to catch a head of fiery red ducking down, attempting to hide.
“I can see you listening to us, creep, you’re not very hard to miss. Just get in here.” He demands, amusement in his tone.
The three of them watch as the girl sags her shoulders, shame in her step as she walks into the room, glaring at Billy.
“I’m not a creep, asshole. Just wanted to see you.” She mumbles the last part, cheeks reddening to match her hair before she looks to Adelina. “Holy shit.”
“Language, shithead.” Billy warns. “This is my sister.” He gestures towards her. “Mom, Maxine,”
“Max.” She cuts him off. He rolls his eyes.
“Max, Mom.” He finishes.
She can’t help but feel warm at the way he introduces her as “Mom.” Her heart clenches in her chest.
“Max.” Adelina greets. “Billy’s sister. Hello. I’m Adelina, Billy’s-”
“Mom. I know. He’s shown me pictures. And you look alike,” she shrugs. “It’s not hard to tell.” She looks down at the floor when she says, “he missed you.”
And. There’s some hostility between the two, Adelina and Max. She can sense that the girl is just protective of her brother, and she doesn’t blame her. She’s glad he’s had people to love and watch out for him. She isn’t able to respond, though, because Max continues.
“We’re step-siblings. My mom married his piece of shit dad. I don’t know why,” she fake gags. “But I guess meeting Billy and getting a brother was worth it.” She looks up at Billy, sending him a sharp, obviously fake glare. “Even though he’s a pain in the ass.”
Adelina can’t help but laugh at their unique sibling complex. “Well, Max, it’s nice meeting you. I can tell you both love each other very much in your own, odd ways. I’m glad Billy has a sister like you.”
“Well I’m not.” Billy grumbles. “She didn’t even bring candy today like I asked.” He huffs.
“I can’t keep smuggling in candy for you, Billy! That witch at the front already caught me sneaking in Skittles last week. She’s on my ass now! And you already got a lollipop, you dick. Don’t be greedy.”
Adelina and Joyce exchange humored looks as the two go at each other’s throats. They come to an abrupt silence and the two women look at the door, finding a very tall man standing there. She can’t help the way she tenses and wraps her arms protectively around Billy’s shoulders, pulling his back to her chest.
She can feel the way Billy’s also tensed at his presence in her embrace. Neither of them do very well with authoritative men, especially big authoritative men who can easily overpower them. She’s watching his every move, holding Billy protectively. Joyce, on the other hand, excitedly rushes over to him.
“Hop,” she rests her hands on his forearms, sensing their discomfort. “Jim, honey. That’s Adelina, Billy’s mom.”
Billy knows Hopper is essentially harmless. Protective and a bit overbearing, yes, but harmless. However, his presence has the same effect on him as Neil’s. He can’t help the way he goes stiff, shoulders up to his ears, avoiding eye contact. He feels most protected in his mother’s arms, though. Relaxes against her.
“Billy’s mom?” Hopper frowns, looks at the woman then at Billy, frown only deepening.
He wants to be mad at her. He wants to tell her she doesn’t deserve to be here because of what she’s done to Billy, what she’s put him through. But all he’s seeing is a scared woman and fiercely protective mother and he’s been in that situation before. Has had to arrest too many deadbeat, abusive husbands and watch the way their wives shy away from him. His presence is a lot, something he had to learn from Joyce when he couldn’t understand why Billy would shrink around him. Added “looming” to his dictionary.
Hop takes a deep breath, nods towards Adelina and Billy. Says, “Don’t hurt him again.” Bites his cheek before he adds on, “Don’t leave,” making direct eye contact with Adelina.
She frowns before nodding once. She understands.
“The name’s Jim Hopper. Chief of Police.” He raises his hands, almost in surrender as he waves.
“Listen, you need something, anything, you come to me. All of you,” he looks around the room at everyone before directing his gaze back onto Adelina. “And if that son of a bitch hears you’re here and tries anything… I won’t let him.” He nods.
Adelina relaxes and blinks once. Twice. Not used to feeling protected by a man.
“It was nice meeting you, sir.” She doesn’t miss the way he and Billy both wince.
“Jim.” He corrects. “Or Hopper. Hop. Chief at the most. Asshole works too. Whatever you want, just not sir. That goes for both of you. Bad habit.” He looks at Billy, smiles. “I’ll be waiting outside. It was nice finally meeting you, Adelina.”
Then he’s gone.
“Asshole.” Billy snorts. “At least he knows he’s a hardass.”
Joyce smiles. Adelina senses something between them. They’re cute.
“He’s cool.” Max argues. “He let me sleep over with El at his place when shit blew up. Literally. He punched Neil in the face.” She snorts, laugh similar to Billy’s. “It was badass. Neil almost cried like a little bitch.”
Billy and Adelina are both laughing now, Joyce joining in, the room’s mood lifted.
“Hey, Sunshine,” the tall boy greets sarcastically as he walks through the door, head downcast on the hoodie in his hands.
“I know this isn’t the same hoodie you asked for but this one’s a lot softer and warmer and I know you get cold when I’m not around to keep you warm,” he smirks smugly. “So I brought this one instead and I got those gross cherry candies you kept bugging-”
He snaps his mouth shut as he finally looks up, big brown eyes wide as he looks around the room. First at Joyce who’s smiling to herself, then at Max who’s smirking knowingly, then at Billy. Adelina watches the way his gaze drops down from Billy’s styled hair, long and pretty, to his lips, stained red from the lollipop, before they meet his eyes, both of the boys blushing. Lastly, he looks at Adelina.
“Holy shit.” He murmurs.
Adelina looks at Joyce, who nods knowingly. She then shifts her gaze onto Billy, whose eyes are wide and cheeks red, matching the cherry candy stain. She immediately recalls watching A Streetcar Named Desire with Billy when he was young. He took one look at Marlon Brando before he looked back to his mom.
Pretty, is what he told her. He’s pretty.
She’s delighted but also amused that his type has never changed. Brown eyed brunettes with good hair and pretty faces.
“Angel,” she whispers. Kisses his head. “Aren’t you gonna introduce me to your friend?” She hums. “He’s very pretty.”