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July, July

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November 1988

It’s been five years. Half a decade since their lives irrevocably changed, though they would all agree it was for the better. But there’s still pain in those memories...Will’s nightmares of a cold, dark world; Dustin’s recurring dream of his new friend shattering before him; the ache Mike still feels of looking for Eleven those long months; Lucas’ deep, dark fear that nothing he does will be enough to save his friends; the nagging guilt that El will never be able to shake, that she is truly the monster, that she will be the end of them. So, as they do every year, they make little mention of it.

They had been planning on their annual walk of the tracks, but their showdown with Troy ruins that. And none of them feel enough courage to put it into words, to express that something monumental has happened. So they keep on as normal.

That’s not good enough for Eleven, though, whose world has changed the most, who can still remember how the cold tile felt against her perpetually bare feet.

She goes over to the Wheeler house most afternoons, getting a basic cooking lesson from Karen before tucking into a book or two for a few hours until Holly returns from school. The eight-year-old is still in love with El, and relishes the time she gets to have her all to herself, before her brother comes home. They’ll paint each other’s nails or cover the sidewalks in chalk or climb the trees in the backyard or practice their cursive.

Holly learned how to make friendship bracelets in art class and has been excitedly teaching El her new skills. Eleven is a quick learner, as always, and soon her nimble fingers fly as they weave the threads together. When the blonde explains that the girls in her class trade them, El decides it’s perfect way to commemorate the anniversary: small, subtle, meaningful. She makes one for each of the boys - shades of green for Lucas, red and white for Dustin, bright oranges and yellows for Will, and soft blues for Mike. She makes a matching bracelet for each one, stacking them on her left wrist to cover her old tattoo.

When she finally presents her gifts to the boys, right before Thanksgiving, they can see the tentative excitement in her smile. Her eyes shine. She tells them they don't have to wear the bracelets, and she doesn't really expect them to, but she feels a swell of pride and love when she sees Dustin’s on the zipper of his jacket and Lucas’ on the handle of his backpack. When she finds Will’s intertwined in the spiral of his favorite sketchbook. When she holds Mike’s hand and the bracelet on his wrist brushes against the matching one on hers.