The lights in the apartment building no longer flicker.
Thank God for that, too, because Josh and Maisie were getting a little sick of the kids in the apartment next door acting like it’s the second coming every time the electricity stutters for even a second. They got used to it, sure; they’ve come to expect the unexpected when it comes to apartment 4B. But that doesn’t mean they’re not happy when the lights no longer flicker.
Fall, 1988. Josh and Maisie have been in apartment 4C for a year and a half; the kids next door haven’t moved out yet. They probably won’t for another four years, at least; Nancy Wheeler, very obviously the most rational of all the kids, is starting her third year at Emerson. Robin Buckley, meanwhile, whose habit of talking without stopping has not gone away and instead has morphed into something rather endearing, has enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, and is about to start her first year.
Which is very evident with the fact that the sounds of an unidentifiable brass instrument (Josh and Maisie were not band kids, but they think it’s either trumpet or french horn) rarely stop.
“I was considering becoming a translator,” she adds when she tells them about her enrollment at Berklee. “Because I’m fluent in, like, four languages other than English. But I’m already fluent, so why would I need to go to school for it?”
“You’re fluent in four languages?” Maisie, whose Spanish is mediocre at best, says in surprise. Josh’s secondary language skills are practically non-existent.
“Spanish, French, Italian, and Russian,” Robin says proudly. “And I’m conversationally fluent in Mandarin and Japanese.”
“Oh,” Maisie says. Robin just grins.
Steve Harrington and Eddie Munson are still working. Josh and Maisie have learned that Nancy’s parents and a very good scholarship are funding her education, but Robin wasn’t so lucky. Well, she was lucky enough to also get quite a large scholarship, but the remainder of her tuition is being paid by any excess money that Steve and Eddie make. They’ve both picked up second jobs; Steve continues to work as a bartender at night while also waiting tables at a very high-end restaurant, and Eddie’s finished his apprenticeship and works as a mechanic as well as DJ-ing at a radio station.
To anyone that doesn’t know what the relationships between the four kids are like, the fact that Steve and Eddie are paying for Robin’s college would seem odd. (Josh and Maisie call them kids, but they’re not really, though; they were recently invited to Steve’s twenty-first birthday party, in which everyone involved got immensely hammered. Josh and Maisie do not remember much of the party.) In fact, Josh and Maisie have had the immense pleasure of educating the new couple in 4A about the intricacies of living next door to Nancy, Robin, Steve, and Eddie.
“So, hold on,” Mark says to Josh at the end of August. It’s his and Wren’s housewarming party, which is being held down at the pool, which means the kids’ scars are all proudly on display. “It seems rude to just ask them.”
“Oh, they don’t mind,” Josh promises. “But if you don’t want to ask them, I can just tell you. I don’t think you’ll believe me, though.”
“It can’t be that weird,” Mark laughs. Josh’s face remains impassive. “Can it?”
Mark goes to ask. He returns about ten minutes later with a very odd look on his face. “Are they pulling my leg?” he asks.
“No,” Josh says, shaking his head. There was a time when he thought “attacked by bats the size of my torso” and “tortured in an underground Russian bunker” were lies to keep from revealing where the scars actually came from, but after the whole mercenaries-storming-the-building event, he pretty much believes anything the kids say, no matter how weird it seems. He can’t tell Mark that, though, because of the NDA they signed with some secret branch of the government.
Maisie, meanwhile, sits back and watches as Wren’s expression grows more and more confused as they sit near the pool, watching Nancy on Eddie’s shoulders and Robin on Steve’s as they chicken fight.
“So, Nancy and Eddie aren’t together,” she says.
“No,” Maisie agrees.
“Even though they say things at the same time.”
“And Steve and Robin aren’t together.”
“Despite how perfect they’d be for each other?”
Maisie knows it can be a lot to try and understand, when a man and woman seem good together and then aren’t in a romantic relationship. Personally, she thinks the couples of Steve-and-Eddie and Robin-and-Nancy are perfect for each other, really. But she’s not about to out them or anything. She’s not an idiot.
“And Nancy and Steve aren’t together.”
“They are not.”
“But they were holding hands earlier.”
“They do that.”
“And Eddie and Robin-”
“Also not together.”
“Right. But they were cuddling?”
“They do that, too.”
“Okay,” Wren says, nodding along.
“They’re from a small town,” Maisie says conspiratorially, like this explains everything. Wren still looks confused. “Have you heard of Hawkins, Indiana?”
“No,” Wren says, frowning.
“Exactly,” Maisie says sagely. Wren’s brows furrow even further, which should be impossible. Maise and Josh went to the local library to research Hawkins when they found out that was the town the kids are from; they are no longer surprised the kids turned out the way they are.
These aren’t the only things Josh and Maisie get to educate the new couple about, but those are the big ones. Most of the strange things Mark and Wren figure out for themselves. Like when Wren knocks on 4C (Josh and Maisie)’s door at two in the morning.
“We just got back from the bar,” she says to Josh, who’d thrown on a robe when he heard the pounding and is now blinking at her. “Nancy Wheeler got catcalled and I had to tell you guys what I saw.”
“Ah,” Josh says, and he already knows where this is going. “Did she pull a gun on him, or…?”
“She flipped him over her shoulder,” Wren says. Then, “You don’t seem even a little bit surprised.”
Or, two days later, when Mark catches Maisie in the lobby, looking panicked.
“There was an armed robbery at the coffee shop down the street,” he says. His hands are shaking, and Maisie sits down on one of the benches with him. “I’m fine, no one got hurt, but-”
“Let me guess,” Maisie says. “One or all of the kids from 4B were there?”
“All of them but Nancy,” Mark agrees. “Eddie just stood there holding their drink order while Steve and Robin went- they went ballistic. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Maisie thinks back to the mercenary incident, a shield and a baseball bat with nails driven through them, crowbars and spears and a sawed-off shotgun. She keeps her mouth shut.
“They’re weird kids,” she says eventually.
“That is an understatement,” Mark laughs breathlessly.
Of course, Josh and Maisie aren’t done learning everything about the kids from 4B, either. At one point their friends from California, who come by at least once every couple of months and make the whole hallway smell like weed, visit for a few days about a week into October. Nancy and Robin are going out, and they invite Maisie and Wren along; Steve asks Josh and Mark if they want to come over and smoke. Mark politely declines, but Josh- alright, he was a partier in college, and he hasn’t gotten high in a long time. So he goes over and is finally formally introduced to Jonathan and Argyle, who have bought some very high-quality weed across state borders with them.
Somehow, the topic turns to D&D; Steve and Argyle attempt to follow along as Eddie and Josh shoot questions and anecdotes back and forth, Jonathan keeping up.
“Oh, I don’t play,” Jonathan says at one point. “But my brother really likes it, and I know a lot about the villains.” This is followed with a knowing look around the room that Josh quickly forgets about.
“Favorite villain, then,” Josh says. “Or monster, or whatever.”
“I do enjoy Lolth,” Jonathan says, nodding.
“Oh, easily Tiamat, the Dragon Queen,” Eddie follows up. “You?”
“You know,” Josh says. “I’m a big fan of Kas the Betrayer. Or the Bloody Handed, whichever you prefer.”
Slowly, Steve, Jonathan, and Argyle all swivel their heads to stare at Eddie, who’s gone a bit red in the face, and not from the weed.
“Did I say something?” Josh asks, instantly anxious, and Eddie bursts into laughter.
“No,” he says. “No, you’re fine, don’t worry- I’ve been referred to as Kas the Betrayer before, it’s a fun little inside joke-”
“It is not fun, you almost died, ” Steve says, and Eddie continues laughing. Josh recalls vaguely how their high school basketball team thought Eddie was leading a satanic cult at one point; it probably has something to do with that, he decides.
“Wait,” Wren says at nearly the same time, sitting across from Robin and Nancy and next to Maisie. “You know how to use a shotgun?”
“Since I was sixteen,” Nancy says, nodding.
“She’s also technically nationally ranked,” Robin adds proudly. This has Maisie staring in surprise; she knew Nancy was good close-range, but nationally ranked? “With, like, four different kinds of firearms.”
“Five,” Nancy says humbly.
“ Five different kinds of firearms,” Robin corrects.
Not for the first time where these kids are concerned, Maisie thinks, what the fuck.
Even with all of this, they’re convinced that the four kids from 4B can’t get any weirder. They are, to say the least, incorrect.
It’s Wednesday, November 23rd, 1988. The day before Thanksgiving; Josh and Maisie are due to fly out to Los Angeles later that night. There are three kids staying in apartment 4B; Dustin Henderson, who drives out from Indiana every other weekend to sleep on the couch just as he’s done since his sophomore year of high school (he’s now a senior); Max Mayfield, the redhead who skateboards on the sidewalk outside the building and swears at people who get in her way; and Mike Wheeler, Nancy’s younger brother, who has a habit of forgetting which apartment is his sister’s.
The night before, Mike accidentally knocked on their door, and when Maisie opened it, he took two steps inside before realizing he was in the wrong apartment.
“What gave it away?” Maisie asked dryly.
“There’s no shotgun on the fridge,” Mike replied, equally as dryly, before marching back out the door.
It’s seven in the morning when they hear a disturbance in the hallway. It’s mostly a lot of screaming, swearing, and screaming swears; Josh looks through the peephole to investigate, then throws the door open completely.
“What the fuck !” Maisie cries, peering over his shoulder. The door to 4B is wide open; Robin and Steve are both on different phones. Eddie is pointing a spear, holding the trash can shield, and Nancy is pointing a shotgun. Both are aimed at the ceiling. The ceiling, which Dustin and Max are standing under, where there is a massive, multi-colored swirling circular mass that could only be described as a portal.
“You should probably stay in your apartment,” Dustin says, rushing over to them and trying to shove them back. “This is a little bit of an issue.”
“A little bit ?” Josh cries. “What is that thing?”
“It’s an interdimensional portal,” Max says. “Maybe. We think.”
“You think ?” Maisie says, completely aghast. “What-”
“Owens is on his way,” Steve says.
“I can’t get ahold of anyone!” Robin cries at the same time.
And then the interdimensional portal that only might be an interdimensional portal starts pulsing.
“What the fuck!” Maisie shrieks again. Josh pushes her back a little bit so they can slam the door shut if they need to. Steve tosses Dustin another spear and holds up the nail-spiked bat; Robin hands Max a crowbar as Mike comes rushing out of the apartment, mallet in hand.
“Nothing from Eleven or Will,” Mike says. “I don’t know what’s happening- is it supposed to be doing that?”
“NO!” at least three people yell in unison.
That’s when something drops out of the portal. There’s a lot more screaming, from all of them, Josh and Maisie included. Instead of some monster from another dimension, however, it’s- a girl. It’s a girl with long brown hair and a very bright grin.
“It worked!” she cries, and a second later a boy drops down through the portal next to her.
“Eleven?” Max asks.
“Will!” Mike cries gleefully.
“What the hell just happened?” Steve asks.
Because, yes, this is Eleven and Will, two more of Steve’s kids. Josh and Maisie recognize them both. But the portal is new. The portal is definitely new.
“We’re a few feet off,” Eleven says, frowning as she notes the positioning of the portal. “And on the ceiling. But we’ll make a note for next time.”
“Next time?” Nancy asks.
“Can there not be a next time?” Eddie asks weakly.
Several more people drop through the portal over the next few minutes. The government arrives about an hour later.
Josh and Maisie sign another NDA.
“So, what?” Maisie says as the government agents pack up to leave. “These two high schoolers have superpowers?”
“Something like that,” one of the agents agrees.
“What the fuck,” Josh whispers under his breath. The agent hears him anyways, and she chuckles as she goes.
The kids from 4B bring an apology casserole when Maisie and Josh get back from Thanksgiving in Los Angeles.
“Oh, thank God,” Maisie says. It’s been a good few months since they’ve gotten a casserole; over the past few years the kids have gotten really good at making them, and they know which ones are Josh and Maisie’s favorite. This one is a delicious french toast, a recipe that hasn’t been whipped out since Robin knocked a hole through the wall between their apartments. (They don’t know how she did it, but they got three french toast casseroles for their trouble.)
“Thank God?” Nancy asks as she hands the dish over.
“I was hoping something good would come of this,” Maisie says, and Nancy laughs. There is no longer a hole in the time-space continuum in their hallway; Eleven and Will closed it up as soon as they were all through. Josh and Maisie were the only two that saw it, though they’re sure others woke up due to all the screaming and decided to just. Not deal with it. Which is smart of them, Maisie thinks.
Sometimes, she thinks as she and Josh dig in to the casserole, she wonders what it would be like if they had literally any other neighbors. She asks Josh for his opinion on the matter.
“Boring,” he settles on eventually. “It would be very, very boring.”
And, as there’s the sound of very loud laughter from next door, Maisie thinks she would have to agree.