After the whole . . . thing . . . Nancy isn't the same.
Barb isn't coming back.
It makes everything Nancy used to be concerned about seem stupid. The number one topic of conversation between Nancy and Barb used to be the future, or things that related to the future, like studying and colleges and this notebook game they made up where they played adult avatars of themselves who were always getting into shocking romantic scrapes. Barb had once told her, "All of this will be worth it when I'm thirty and have jackets with elbow patches."
What a total fucking scam. Barb will never be thirty. Barb got eaten.
So now Nancy mostly does what she wants.
She kisses Steve on the porch in front of her parents, because who knows if she'll see him again.
She goes to school in her dad's giant flannel shirts all winter, because they're warm and she doesn't really care if people call her a dyke.
She takes a huge chunk out of her allowance to help buy Jonathan Byers a new camera. And then she kisses him on the cheek, because she just feels like it.
She wonders if Barb would like the person she's becoming. Nancy thinks probably not, but in a way, that sort of makes her glad. She and Barb had made the mistake of thinking they could know the future, that they could control it, and that made it safe. Now she knows that the future is vast and weird and dangerous. That she knows nothing about it. That she knows nothing about herself. Last summer she was a person who could never run a knife over her palm, who thought Steve Harrington was untouchable. Then, suddenly, it was like she'd asked a silent question of herself. Can I do this? And her brain just went, Oh, yeah, sure, that's been there all along.
She wonders how many other things are just living in her, waiting for the right circumstances.
Nancy tells all that to Steve and Jonathan the next time she sees them. She made them stop using the tree and introduced them both to her mom and said they were going to hang out in her room. Her mom said, "Well . . ." and Nancy just took them upstairs. Since then her mom seems to have decided to be fine with the situation, especially because Nancy's mood always improves after Monster Bonding Hour.
Jonathan says, "I know what you mean. Except for me it was, you know . . ." He makes a vague gesture. "Bills."
"How old were you?" Steve asks.
"Twelve," Jonathan says.
He's brought over another record, something sort of dirty-sounding, and he makes Nancy and Steve listen to eight whole songs while Nancy offers him sandwich after sandwich, helpfully eating them herself as well so as to create an encouraging sandwich-eating environment. He won't let her buy him food, but he'll eat what her mother makes if she does, too. Steve is happily oblivious to the unspoken "charity"/"not charity, just nourishment" argument Nancy and Jonathan have been having since December and spends the whole time explaining the plot of Footloose to Jonathan, who refused to see it with them.
"But why are they against dancing," Jonathan says, chewing.
"Because of religion," Steve says. "It's not the point."
"But what part of religion says you can't dance?"
"It's in the Bible."
Nancy breaks in. "It's so Kevin what's-his-name can dance to the Kenny Loggins song. That's why."
"To the Kenny Loggins song?" Jonathan says, spewing crumbs. "What? Why are you trying to convince me this is a good movie," he demands, turning toward Steve.
"He thinks he can dance like the guy," Nancy puts in. "The Kevin guy."
Jonathan gives Steve a long look. Steve holds up his hands and protests, "I just have some of his moves, is all. He didn't make them up."
"Oh my god," Jonathan says, rolling onto his stomach on the carpet. Nancy laughs until her diaphragm hurts.
Steve leaps up. "Fuck you, Jonathan Byers. You just--" He grabs Nancy's hand and pulls her up to stand next to him. "You just watch." Steve grabs her hips and twists her, and then they're dancing clumsily to Jonathan's music, which is going When you kiss me, does the lipstick on your lip stick on my face? Nancy laughs some more and Jonathan turns the volume knob up.
Nancy's mother calls, "Nancy! Too loud!"
Nancy ignores her. Will you miss me? In your dreams does your lover have my face?
She looks at Jonathan's face and thinks about how she never once saw him look happy before this year.
Steve's parents get him a new car for his birthday, and he and Nancy christen it in the backseat in the middle of an empty parking lot with a shitton of streetlights nearby. They shine steadily the entire time, which does a lot for Steve's nerves.
He loves Nancy's body. She's so soft in certain places, like where her jaw meets her ear, and so hard in others, like her slim hips, no give to them where the other girls he's slept with have gone all wide and heavy there. She has a mole on the inside of her thigh, and it drives him crazy that he can't bite her there--he tried once and she said "Ow, crap, that's, like, muscle." He can feel the ridges of her sternum whenever they're pressed chest-to-chest. He likes to pull her in until he can feel her breasts trapped between them, feel her heartbeat. Until she moans "Steve, I'm too hot" and wriggles away. He used to think he'd like to . . . eat her, or merge with her, or something, but then the monster happened, so he had to stop thinking that.
She never wears mascara. He likes to study her individual eyelashes up close if he possibly can without tipping her off to it. He thinks it's something about how he can't figure out why they look so feminine, even though there's no makeup on them and guys have eyelashes, too. Once she let him kiss her on each eye, with her eyes closed. It felt intimate, like she was asleep, even though she wasn't.
He tries not to let on how he feels about her, or at least the ferocity of it. Honestly he's always had a lot of feelings; he didn't figure out that it wasn't normal until the sixth grade. After that they moved, so he was able to remake himself in Indiana as the type of guy that people liked. You can say almost anything as a joke. Steve wishes he'd known that when he was younger. It would have made him seem a lot less weird.
When they're done, he ties the condom off and rolls down the window to throw it into the woods. She's sweaty and smiling, sitting up and grabbing his cigarettes and a lighter. Steve collapses on the seat next to her, putting his head in her lap. She runs her fingers through his hair, moving it away from his face like she knows he likes.
"Do you ever, you know, masturbate?" he asks without thinking, then turns his face into her stomach and grimaces.
He feels her laugh. "Steve!" she says.
"I just wanna know," he says, because he does.
There's a long silence, and he looks back up at the underside of her sharp chin. He can see straight up her nose, but it's not really unflattering, somehow. "No," she says at last.
She huffs a little. "I don't know. I mean it's not like I avoid it. I just don't, you know, so I don't really bother."
"You don't?" He sits up.
She cracks a smile. "Just with you."
So then he tries to teach her, obviously, but it doesn't work. She hitches and sighs and soaks through her underwear, but she doesn't come like she does when he's inside her, and he doesn't know why. Nancy says, "It's just a weird biology thing. My mom gave me this whole lecture about how women's bodies work and what men don't understand, and it's like I'm totally the inverse of that. Like the exception that proves the rule." So then Steve drags her home with him while his parents are at a fundraiser and presses her naked up against the shower wall and does the thing with the handheld showerhead that his ex-girlfriend told him about, and she shrieks and turns pink and still doesn't come and says "Steve--Steve, come on--Steve, please!" and he finally drops the showerhead and fucks her up against the cold, wet wall, listening to her gasp in his ear and shudder around him.
So that's when he starts thinking.
He's in his bedroom after his mom and Will leave for the day, forcing Steve to listen to Brian Eno in exchange for one (1) Journey song of Steve's choosing when Nancy comes back in from the kitchen, walks straight across the bedroom, climbs in Jonathan's lap, and kisses him on the mouth.
He's so shocked he doesn't say anything for a minute, just looks at her, and then at Steve, who hasn't moved from his place stretched out on Jonathan's bed.
"What?" Jonathan manages at last.
She's still sitting on his lap. Her lips look pink. "I like the way you talk to him," she says.
"Okay," Jonathan says, frozen.
"Is this okay?" Nancy asks Steve.
Steve raises his eyebrows. "I have this feeling like it was sort of in . . . evitable," he says on an exhale.
"But is it okay," Nancy repeats.
"I don't know," Steve says. "Do it again and we'll see."
She turns back to Jonathan. Making eye contact with her is a--jolt. "Is it okay with you?" she asks.
"If it's . . . if Steve . . ."
"No," she says. "With you."
"Yes," he says, because he would crawl into a tree-abyss-womb-maw after her, and her bare legs under her skirt are burning up his jeans.
She nods, then leans in and kisses him again. She's cupping the back of his head like he's a girl, and he loves the way her thin, cold fingers feel against his scalp. Nancy has bad circulation, which he found out when he slept in a bed with her the first time and she stuck her ice-feet on his legs in the middle of the night and it woke him straight up into a mouthful of her hair. He can smell her hair now--flowers and mint. Her mouth is cooler in temperature than his, somehow, and kissing her feels clean because of it. She opens her mouth and he can't stop the breath he pulls in, shaky. His hands are still on the bedspread beside him, propping him up; he doesn't know what to do with them, what's okay.
She breaks the kiss suddenly; she's blushing. She looks over at Steve and so does Jonathan.
Steve tilts his head. "I think I need more data."
"Steve," Nancy says. Steve props himself up on one elbow and uses his other arm to pull her off Jonathan's lap and over to him, straddling him. Her denim skirt has ridden all the way up her thighs. Jonathan swallows. Steve fits his hand over Nancy's face, like Jonathan's seen him do a dozen times or more, his thumb right at the top of her cheekbone, and tugs her down to kiss him in that lazy way Jonathan has also seen a dozen times, except now Jonathan watches. She and Steve are smiling in between kisses. She runs her hands through Steve's hair, too. The way they kiss usually makes Jonathan feel a little sliver of anger, a little edge of that song that comes right after "Lipstick" on the album, it seems so real I can taste it. Something not-for-Jonathan, except it is for Jonathan, this time. They're doing it for him to see.
Then they stop kissing and Steve sits up and Nancy tugs down her skirt and folds her legs underneath her and they both look at Jonathan, and then--and then--and somehow this hadn't even occurred to Jonathan--Steve says, "You want to try?"
And he sounds confident but his eyes are a little twitchy, and Jonathan thinks: If he doesn't mean it--
And then Jonathan thinks: Well, fuck it anyway
And then he's kissing Steve Harrington.
And the thing is, Jonathan has spent a lot of time thinking about Nancy and Steve kissing, and about how fucking annoying Steve is sometimes, this possessive edge to him that means he grabs her face when they kiss and slings his arm around her and generally douses her in this aura of Steve Harrington's girl, and it isn't until Jonathan is actually kissing Steve that he realizes those thoughts were also fantasies, that some part of him, the gross, weird part of him that he doesn't wash, really, really wants to know what it's like to be Steve Harrington's girl. That even just now, kissing Nancy, he was wondering if he was doing it for her like Steve, if he was living up to the Steve Harrington experience, and then he himself gets doused in the full-on Steve Harrington experience, and he's so surprised he could, like, scream--or cry--or something, because he didn't know that you could have that as a Jonathan and not a Nancy. Steve grabs his face too, and his hips, and bites him on the mouth, and presses Jonathan back toward the wall, and then he puts his face in Jonathan's neck and like--licks?--him?--and Jonathan yelps, sort of, and Steve bolts backward like he's been slapped.
"Sorry," Steve says. "Sorry, sorry."
"Please come back," Jonathan croaks out.
Steve's gaze darts around, toward Nancy and then the door, then back to Jonathan. "You sure?"
"Yes," Jonathan says, trying to sound firm.
Steve crawls back toward him and so does Nancy, and she leans close on Steve's shoulder as Steve kisses Jonathan again. His tongue is in Jonathan's mouth and his left hand squeezes Jonathan's shoulder and Jonathan trembles underneath him, and Steve doesn't even react, like he's used to people trembling underneath him. He probably is. It's probably just part of being Steve Harrington's girl.
They kiss like that, back and forth, feeling down the length of each other's bodies, SteveandJonathanandNancy, until Joyce comes home around five with groceries and they have simultaneous near-heart attacks. "Your mouth is so red," Nancy says to Jonathan, her eyes wide; Steve paws at the back of her head, trying to tame the frizzy mess her hair's become, and Jonathan points at Steve's jeans, which are much tighter than Jonathan's and are not currently keeping any secrets. Steve glances down and Nancy and Jonathan burst into laughter, which is when Joyce walks in.
"Oh, you two are still here?" she says. Steve pulls his knees up to his chest as Jonathan and Nancy giggle. "Do you want to stay for dinner?" Joyce asks.
"We should probably be going," Steve says wildly.
"Yeah," Nancy adds, rescuing him, "my mom's expecting us."
"Oh, okay," Joyce says, retreating. "Well, come back soon."
"We will," Nancy says, looking at Jonathan.
The next week, Steve teaches Jonathan how to fuck Nancy exactly right, and the look on Jonathan's face as he watches her gasp and convulse around him is satisfying in a way Steve didn't expect. But it isn't manners to go around telling your friends how fucking hot and beautiful your girlfriend is, much less show them, even though that's exactly what Steve has always wanted to do--even though he knows they wouldn't appreciate it the right way. But Jonathan appreciates it exactly the right way, and the look on Nancy's face when Steve moves in to fuck her after Jonathan is enough to make his movements stuttered through the whole thing.
"I can't come over until Wednesday," he says, later. "I have to study."
Nancy makes a moue. She's running her fingers lightly over the hair on Jonathan's chest and he's squirming.
"Jonathan could come over, though." Their faces turn to him, identical looks of cautious surprise, and Steve grins. "I can't leave you like this the whole week," he says, sitting up from where he's been lying on the floor and pulling Nancy by the knees toward him. "I know how you get."
"I don't get like anything!" she protests. "I'm fine!" Her head falls back as Steve buries his face between her legs. She doesn't come this way but she likes the feeling, she told him once. He likes the feeling, too. He looks up a little while later and sees Jonathan kissing her as her chest heaves. Steve thinks hard about biting her on the inner thigh, but he can't, so he climbs up on the bed and pushes Jonathan flat on his back instead, kissing him with Nancy all over his tongue. Jonathan moans and Steve bites him the way he couldn't bite Nancy, and it's so satisfying that he grinds down against him even though there's no way he's coming again tonight. Jonathan's hand comes up to stroke his back, light the way his touch always is, and Nancy's small fingertips brush over his side, and it's like he's surrounded by--by sex butterflies, and he loves them both. He bites Jonathan again, on the jaw and neck and ear and shoulder, and Jonathan trembles underneath him just like Steve wanted him to.
"You should be Nancy's boyfriend," Steve says, mostly on accident.
Nancy's moved to lying beside them. She looks surprised, and then she nods.
"Okay," Jonathan says. Nancy reaches over and squeezes Jonathan's hand. Jonathan closes his eyes, then opens them again. His face is still inches from Steve's face. "Can I be--yours too," he asks, his voice cracking.
Steve hadn't thought of that. He has a brief moment of anxiety, and then, feeling Jonathan tense underneath him, says, "Yes. Yes." He turns over and insinuates himself between them. "Both of you. Mine."
And it's like a little alarm goes off in his head, an alarm of finally and Steve is suddenly, genuinely satisfied. He falls asleep almost instantly. Jonathan takes a picture of him like that. Nancy's bare shoulder is in the photo and Steve's drooling on it. Steve keeps it under his bed.
Somebody spray-paints NANCY WHEELER HAS TWO BOYFRIENDS on a wall she walks by on her way back from school in May. There are a couple of other students watching her as she passes. Nancy gives the sign a long look, then smirks at them politely. They walk faster in the other direction.
She got into Bloomington, anyway. She's out of here after this summer. This summer with her two boyfriends.
They have an odd, happy routine down now--on Mondays and Wednesdays Steve has practice, so she goes over to Jonathan's house before his mom gets off shift and they fuck in his messy bed, or watch old movies, or she makes him dinner, or all three. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Jonathan works and she and Steve park in his car or hang out in her bedroom or go to the diner and throw french fries at each other. On Fridays they're all free, and Steve's parents go out every Friday, so they spend it at Steve's house, fucking their brains out. Saturdays Jonathan works and Nancy has to babysit her brother and his friends, so Steve picks Jonathan up after his shift whenever he doesn't have a game and they do whatever they do when Nancy's not around. Sundays they can't see each other because that would be too much and their parents would start to get suspicious, so they wait until Monday.
Nancy doesn't know if there's a name for how she feels about it. Sometimes she smiles without meaning to. She wishes she could tell somebody.
She walks to Jonathan's house. He's in his room, sitting on his bed. He's got photographs spread out around him.
She knocks gently on the door and comes over to flop beside him. "What are you looking at?" she asks, and then she sees that Jonathan has pasted together the torn-up pictures of the party, Barb and the can, all of them in the pool. Barb sitting on the diving board, looking down at her hands.
"I just realized something," Jonathan says as Nancy says "Oh."
She looks at him. "Was she . . . ?"
He glances at the photos. "I just keep thinking, like, she was like me. Looking in at you." He looks back up at her. "I don't even think she knew. I didn't know. Not really."
Nancy's vision blurs. This was different; it was like the future hadn't even existed for Barb.
"I didn't know until you showed me," Jonathan says.
Nancy shakes her head. "I wouldn't have done it if she hadn't . . ."
"Yeah," Jonathan says. He sweeps the pictures off the bed and stuffs them under the rug. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Nancy says. "It's just so fucking unfair." She sits next to him. He lifts her hair off her shoulder. Her second boyfriend, in the unbelievably strange future, which had somehow been there all along, under the surface. Waiting.