“Let’s go to dinner,” Hopper said, rolling to prop himself up on his elbow.
Joyce laughed and rolled her eyes. He ran his pointer finger along her collarbone and down to the swell of her breast but she swatted his hand away.
He frowned. “I’m beginning to think you’re ashamed of me.”
“Your pouting isn’t cute, take it somewhere else,” she said, brushing him off and grabbing a cigarette from her nightstand.
“I’m not seeing anybody else, strictly speaking, I think this counts as dating so you might as well let me take you out to dinner.”
“We’re having sex three to four times a week, that’s not dating.”
“It could be dating.”
Joyce sighed. “You know people in this town still love Lonnie?”
“I’d rather you didn’t bring up that piece of shit while we’re naked.” He really wished she’d never bring him up.
“I have a point,” Joyce amended.
“I don’t care what people in town think, I hate him.”
“But see, other people, they blame me for my failed marriage. They whisper about how I never had dinner on the table for him when he came home from his shitty job. I’m the crazy one who didn’t make him happy. I didn’t look past his gambling problem. Don’t act like you don’t know this. You missed the fake funeral but god, people were thrilled to see Lonnie back here.”
Hopper remembered plenty of people working the search party referred to Will as “Lonnie’s boy.”
“You’re not crazy,” he tried, but she shook her head.
“ You’re the kind of crazy that women want to fix. I’m the kind of crazy that people blame for my son going missing even though I was working against a goddamn alternate dimension.”
“That’s not true.”
She laughed at him again. “You’re not listening to me. But that’s fine, you don’t understand. Every couple of months something happens and I’m the gossip. I’m the divorced fuck up who’s got crazy eyes, they say my kids are weird, my ex husband was wronged. I lay low for a reason. Dating the town’s most eligible bachelor only puts me back in that limelight. People talk and they say nasty things, Hop. You know they do, and I’m not particularly keen to put myself in that position.”
“So this isn’t about the other women,” he tried to joke.
“I don’t care where you stuck your dick previously,” she said, dismissive. “Just not looking to be talked about more than I already am.”
It wasn’t worth the fight and her reasoning was sound. Hawkins loved gossip and gossip needed a pariah.
“So we’re just gonna keep doing this? This afternoon delight?” Hopper asked, smirking and letting his finger wander again.
She didn’t bat him away this time. He leaned over and kissed her shoulder, then across her collarbone. Joyce giggled. He really wished he could tell people about this because he was sure no one would believe that Joyce Byers giggled. He loved the sound of it.
Joyce put out her cigarette in the tray on the bedside table and put a finger under his chin, guiding him up to kiss her lips instead of across her chest.
“This is perfectly fine,” she answered in between kisses.
Hopper ignored the slight sting of her rejection and instead focused on the feel of her. Her soft skin and her chapped lips, the gasps she made when he moved his hand just right, skimming across her hip.
They hadn’t noticed the door to the bedroom open. But they definitely noticed Jonathan’s cursing. Hopper did his best to cover Joyce with his body but he figured any yelling should be Joyce’s purview.
“Shut the door!” she shouted.
He didn’t look back but he heard it slam shut and right before his eyes, the woman that was giggling seconds ago shifted to harsh lines, stressed brows, and he watched her shut down.
This could be the end of this thing. But god, he didn’t want it to end.
It’d been two months since they’d found Will. The first time it happened had been when the doctors kicked her out of the room when they took Will to the hospital after dragging him out of that place. Hopper was self aware enough to know that his particular speciality could be really useful at that moment. Grief sex was his bag. He’d perfected it over the years, making sure it was the best for all parties involved.
He’d taken Joyce’s hand, they’d found a supply closet, and he let her cry into his chest and then he kissed her forehead, her eyelids, her cheeks, her chin. She let him and before long he was on his knees, dragging her pants down, hoisting her leg over his shoulder while she held onto a storage shelf behind her. Hopper got her off twice like that, licking into her, while she rocked against his face.
Turned out it wasn’t a one time thing like he assumed. She called him and told him she had Tuesdays off (because she worked Saturdays), he came over for lunch and ended up grabbing a bag of sunflower seeds at the gas station on his way back to work because they hadn’t actually had any food. But they’d fucked, twice.
Of course, the day he was brave enough to ask her out, to try and move beyond this arrangement would be the day that one of her boys would walk in on them.
“Doesn’t he have school?” Hopper asked, getting up now to find his clothes. “Is he cutting class?”
Joyce was scrambling for her clothes too, she didn’t put her bra back on, just pulled her sweater on and dug in her drawer for a new pair of panties.
“Shut up,” she snapped.
“You want me to talk to him?” Hopper asked, it was brazen but he couldn’t help it.
“God no,” Joyce said, pulling on her pants, her face horrified.
Hopper needed to stamp that shit down. Those responses. He wasn’t involved in this. It’d been an agreement so many years ago. This wasn’t for him. Helping Joyce find Will had her reminding him of it at constant intervals but it was starting to chaff.
“Sorry.” He found his own pants and put them on.
“Stay here, I’ll tell you when you can come out.” She gave him one last glare before pulling the door shut.
Hopper threw himself back on the bed and worked the zipper up on his pants. Staring at the ceiling, he tried not to think about how this was going to work out. It’d probably not work in his favor. Nothing ever tipped things in his favor. He wasn’t lucky.
Joyce shut the door and took a beat to breathe. She closed her eyes and rolled her shoulders back, preparing herself for the conversation she’d managed to avoid for years.
She didn’t have time to date since she and Lonnie finally divorced. Here and there she’d had some encounters, a one night stand, some flirting at work. She was confident enough to admit that part of the reason she avoided dating was because the idea of explaining it to her kids was a nightmare.
The boys might get attached to someone and then it wouldn’t work out. They might be hostile towards someone, thinking no one could replace their dad, even if they didn’t really know or care for Lonnie. It was too complicated so it was just easier to avoid it altogether.
This thing with Hopper had been convenient, fun, low energy. But every time it happened, she had that sinking feeling that it was going to get tricky, they were playing with fire, not just because of the boys, but because of their own rocky, tangled history.
Joyce walked past Jonathan’s room, he wasn’t in it, but she found him in the kitchen, digging through the fridge. She cleared her throat and he turned to her, grabbing a soda and then standing awkwardly, pointedly avoiding her eyes.
“So, this seems like a good time to remind you that if you’re going to have sex with someone, there are condoms in the bathroom and I don’t count them, or care. I just want to make sure you’re safe.”
Jonathan made a disgusted face and groaned. “Are you serious right now?”
“Yes.” She scoffed. “If you can’t talk about that maturely then I don’t see why I have to explain what you just saw. But I’m open to talking about it. I want you to talk to me, if you’ve got questions.”
“Concerns, Mom, I have concerns. I don’t have questions. I’m well aware on the mechanics of, of, whatever.” He waved a hand and looked away from her again, embarrassed.
“Talk to me about your concerns then,” she offered. “But please remember that I’m a person outside of also being your mom.”
“But you’re my mom.” Jonathan shook his head. “Of all the people to...you know...that guy?”
He pointed towards the hallway, disgusted, and Joyce did her best to remember that if she’d caught even her own parents in bed at 17 it’d be jarring. She needed to give him space to figure this out.
“Hopper and I-” she stopped short, this was where things got messy. Joyce bit the inside of her cheek to give herself a second to properly respond. “I don’t suggest who you should date, you don’t get a lot of input in who I’m... seeing .”
That’s not what was happening here, they’d just gotten done defining, again, that this relationship wasn’t a relationship, it was fucking for fun, but it turned out that was not exactly something she wanted to explain to Jonathan.
“He’s been all over town,” Jonathan snapped back.
“Why do people think I have time to worry about that?” she muttered to herself, exasperated. Hadn’t she just told Hopper she didn’t care about this? “Like I said before, use protection, it keeps everyone clean and-”
“Mom, stop!” he interrupted. “You’re fine with that, being with someone, like that?”
Joyce paused. “Yes, and you shouldn’t have a problem with it either. I mean when you’re,” she waved a hand in his general direction, “Picking partners for...stuff.”
Maybe he wasn’t the only one uncomfortable. She could admit it.
“Don’t you want someone who is respectful?”
“You saw us together for hopefully, under five seconds, you can’t judge beyond that.”
“He yelled at you! When he left to find Will, and you went with him, to the lab. The two of you were practically biting each other’s heads off!”
Joyce softened, she tilted her head and took a step towards him.
“Sweetie, if you think that’s yelling, I guess it’s been a long time since your dad was here, that was, that was people having a disagreement. More importantly, he believed me. He listened.”
“So now what? We become one big happy family? He moves in, starts mowing the lawn and wants to throw a football on Sunday mornings?”
Joyce shook her head, the image was laughable.
“No, I don’t know what happens because I don’t want that. I don’t need that and you don’t need that. That’s not how this is going to work.”
They both heard the bedroom door in the back open and Jonathan shook his head.
“I have to go back to school. I’m working tonight so I’ll be home at 10.” He bolted out of the house before Joyce could get another word in.
Joyce walked backwards to look down the hall. Hopper poked his head sheepishly out of the door.
“I really had to pee, I’m sorry I thought I could just slip out and no one would notice,” he said.
“You sure you weren’t eavesdropping?” she asked, annoyed.
“I could hear just fine from inside the bedroom, these doors are thin, I can see why you go for this lunch break sex. They’d hear us for sure.”
She turned and walked back into the kitchen. She leaned her forehead against the freezer door, unfortunately it was right where last year’s school pictures were. Jonathan’s smile looked judgy and Will’s looked kind. What a disaster.
“I know this sounds revolutionary, and probably a bridge too far, but what if,” Hopper said, entering the kitchen, but she didn’t turn, she just kept her head against the freezer, her eyes closed. “What if, not everything you did was about your kids? What if you did some stuff for you?”
Joyce turned at that, she gave a short, bitter laugh.
“That’s rich coming from you.”
“Now that I’ve said it out loud, I see how it sounds. Never mind.” He reached for a cigarette and lit it, he offered her one but she declined. “You really keep condoms in the bathroom for him? You don't tell him not to have sex?”
“How'd that work for us in high school?”
“My parents never said anything to me and I never said anything to them.”
“Well, my mother warned me about boys like you.”
He preened. “Fun boys?”
“The kind that said they were good with their hands,” she replied, raising an eyebrow.
He grinned. “You're welcome.”
“Besides, accidents have happened and I’d much rather my sons be prepared.”
“That feels a little personal,” he said, walking to the table to tap ashes off his cigarette into the tray.
“People make mistakes, both people,” she said, skirting the issue. She didn’t want to talk about that today. Or any day. Ever.
Lonnie was gone. He’d packed a bag after an exhaustive shouting match, slammed the door, and left her. He took their only car. There wasn’t any money in their account or food in the house. Joyce called her mom in tears and she’d come get her, but she told Joyce it’d be fine, that newlyweds fought all the time and that men sometimes just needed to clear their heads.
“He’s been gone for two days,” Joyce argued.
“They always come back, your father did it to me once or twice, it’s normal.”
Joyce knew deep down this wasn’t normal and it wasn’t okay and she actually didn’t want him to come back. Marrying him was already proving a terrible decision.
Her mother fed her and let her stay the night, but she acted like she was offering her some kind of grand favor. After dinner she went for a walk, her parents’ house was close to the high school and the lights were on at the football field so she meandered that way. The crisp air of the first week of spring made it easier to think.
“Fancy meeting you here,” someone lying on the 50 yard line called out as she walked towards the center of the field.
Hopper shouldn’t be home. He’d left after graduation, hightailed it out of the town so fast she’d have gotten whiplash if she wasn’t so mad at him. Their breakup was not pleasant. But it’d been a couple of years since then.
As she got closer, she saw he was surrounded by beer cans.
“I live here, shouldn’t I be more surprised to see you?” Joyce asked, shoving some cans out of the way with her foot so she could sit down.
“My mom died. Where else would I be?”
She cringed, realizing that her mother had mentioned that in her idle prattle but Joyce had been so focused on her own problems she hadn’t even thought about Hopper.
“I heard, I’m sorry.”
He tried to sit up but it took him a few tries. He wasn’t slurring words yet but large motor skills were definitely impaired. When Hopper finally managed to sit up he pulled a unopened can from next to him and offered it to her.
She took it, why not?
“Where’s your jackass of a husband?”
“Congrats on holding off two whole minutes before mentioning Lonnie.” She held up the can in a mock toast.
“Well?” he asked, undeterred.
“He left me.” Joyce held eye contact, if she was gonna tell this story, she was gonna make him uncomfortable while she did it.
“Sounds like both of us need to be drinking more,” he said before she could tell anymore of the story. She was grateful for that.
Hopper opened the door to see Joyce standing on the steps, her hair was pulled back and she looked nervous, but she didn’t act it. She walked through his door without invitation, fisting the fabric of his shirt into her hands and standing up on her tiptoes to kiss him.
He thought this was done. It’d been a week and she hadn’t called, he hadn’t tried to call her exactly but he’d frequented places where she usually was: the grocery store, the gas station between her house and his where she sometimes got a Diet Coke late at night, he’d even walked past her store when he knew she was working but there was no indication that she wanted to get in touch with him so he’d let it sit.
He’d also turned down Leona McKenzie when she’d offered to get a beer. That was the moment he realized that he might have a problem. He’d gone home and jerked off to the greatest hits of Joyce and felt like a goddamn teenager.
But now she was at his house and she was doing that thing with her tongue and he could feel himself getting hard.
“I didn’t even know you knew where I lived,” he said, when she’d pulled away to pull her coat off.
“It’s in the phonebook, genius,” Joyce said, her hands going for his belt. He tried not to groan.
She dropped to her knees and yanked his pants down and he couldn’t do it. He shook his head and took two steps back, almost tripping because his pants were around his ankles.
“I so very much want you to do that but it’s been a week and I gotta be inside of you first,” he stuttered through every word but she got the point.
Giving a one arm shrug, she stood up and put one hand on his chest and the other around his dick. That was too much. He shuddered and he caught her mischievous smile.
“Couch good enough?” Joyce asked and this was all beginning to feel like a very vivid dream.
He backed into the couch and reached for her pants, he pulled them down but left her panties, he had plans, dreams, goals, whatever. She pulled her shirt over her head, he almost missed it doing the same thing himself, but he caught the important parts, (like her not wearing a bra) and then she was straddling him, grinding down, and again, he was overwhelmed. Especially when she moved his hand that was resting on her thigh closer to her center.
Hopper was sure she was trying to direct him, tell him what she wanted, but he was long gone. He hooked a finger into her panties and moved them over, as his fingers brushed across her core he felt how wet she was and bit his lip at the knowledge. With a practiced motion, he positioned his cock and guided her hips with his free hand so she slid down on him. He could probably have exploded in that moment, but he didn’t.
She rocked against him one, then twice, before lifting herself fully off of him, causing him to reach for her, but she stepped out, escaping his hands.
“Where do you keep the condoms around here?” she said, walking towards the bathroom in the back before he had a chance to answer. She adjusted her panties, running her fingers along each side of her ass and snapping the material back down and really a week was too long to wait. Every little movement she made was causing him to pant.
“Bedside table, the drawer,” he said, hearing how raw his own voice was.
Thankfully, she came back quickly, but she took her time standing over him. Pulling the condom out of the package, leaning in to kiss him while she rolled it on, stroking him up and down before he thought to grab her hips and drag her to him. When Joyce sunk down on him again, moving her panties aside herself this time, she hissed, he felt her clench around him and again, thought he might go over the edge immediately.
Hopper moved his hand from her thigh to stroke her clit through her panties and she bucked against him. That reaction, and every other she’d had since he opened the door, told him he wasn’t the only one who’d had a tough week apart.
He rounded on her clit a few more times and she started to ride him harder until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He pumped into her right as she clenched around him, burying her face in his neck and gasping. A few more strokes and he was just as gone as she was.
She giggled against his skin and Hopper couldn’t help but laugh too. Joyce deserved this. Not necessarily the sex, though he really liked that part and clearly did not do well without it, but he got off doubly on the way she seemed light and even happy when they were doing this.
Joyce shivered in the cool air of the trailer and he wrapped his arms around her tighter. She’d hate it, any second she’d untangle herself and get dressed and probably leave, but for this moment he wanted to hold her close to him. It was dangerous and he knew it.
Hopper had heard her a week ago when she told Jonathan that there was no Brady Bunch plan. She didn’t want anything beyond sex. Sex is what she had the time and energy for, she worked nonstop, she was raising her kids, she held her life together with duct tape and glue and hoped for the best.
All of those things were marked as reasons he’d never be allowed in. It struck him right between the ribs, he was in love with an emotionally unavailable woman and if that wasn’t the most karmic thing he’d ever experienced, shit.
Every woman in Hawkins that had ever had a go at him would love to see him hit this wall, at this moment, with Joyce Byers who finally started to wriggle herself free of his arms. His stupid, cursed, desperate to love her with everything he had arms.
He was fucked.
“What was that about?” he managed to say, when she’d stood up to gather her clothes.
“I had the worst day at work.”
“What happened?” he asked, heading to the bathroom to dispose of the condom.
“Nothing really, just a bad day at the store. People are grumpy and being as that cashiers are the lowest of all human beings, why not shit on them? It’s a fun pastime!” Her upbeat sarcasm had him smiling despite himself.
“It’s been a while.” Hopper hated how needy that sounded but it was out there now.
“Did you have a date tonight? Am I keeping you from something?”
Honest to God, it was the first time he’d heard a mildly jealous comment from her since high school. When she said she didn’t care about the other women, he believed her. Joyce knew and never made a fuss about it, but right there, that was as close as he was going to get. He shouldn’t gloat or lord it over her but it was hard. It took restraint.
“Keeping me from a Hungry Man dinner in the freezer and the game.”
Joyce pulled her shirt over her head and then gave him a look.
“Sorry about that,” she said.
Hopper leaned on the kitchen counter, trying to be casual about the fact that she was on her way out when he wanted her to stay all night.
“How’d the Jonathan thing go, any follow up questions from him?”
If all else failed, he could keep her a little longer by provoking a fight. She didn’t immediately rise to the bait though.
“No, he’s been working a lot this week so I haven’t really seen him.”
“Did he tell Will?” he asked, suddenly concerned what the other kid thought of him.
“Not that I know of, anyway, I don’t think so. We’re both pretty protective of Will since...you know,” she paused and he nodded. It was still a bizarre thing to wrap their heads around. “He knows it would make things weird and I don’t think Jonathan would do that. Why would he? To get back at me? That’d be petty.”
“Have you met me?” Hopper said, and instantly she changed.
Her brow furrowed and her body tensed.
“Don’t,” she lowered her voice and glared.
“Sorry, I won’t bring it up again.” It was a lie and she knew it.
“Between him walking in on us and you doing that, I should have known, I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t be here at all.”
Hopper gulped. He’d pushed too far.
“I don’t want Brady Bunch but would it really kill you to go out with me? You don’t want anything to do with me except the part where you ride my dick?”
He pushed too far so why not keep pushing?
“You act like this is about you,” Joyce said. “This isn’t about you. It’s complicated and it’ll be earth shattering, and you don’t get to just do that. So stop.”
“This was your idea, I didn’t get much choice,” Hopper said.
“Don’t you fuckin’ dare,” she whispered, sharp. “You can’t replace one kid with another. She’s gone, you can’t have mine.”
“Not just yours,” Hopper said.
“You don’t even want to be his dad. This is all just a ploy to get me to like you for the next what? Six months? How long until you get bored of me? Let the boys get attached to you and then you leave, that’s what men do, they leave.”
“I didn’t. Don’t blame me for Lonnie’s sins.”
“I gotta go.” She huffed for a minute, and he wondered if she wanted him to stop her, if this was a test.
But he didn’t stop her and she left.
The connection was fuzzy at first, but the second time she said it, he heard it loud and clear.
“I’m pregnant.” He could imagine her adjusting the receiver on the other end, nervously twisting her finger in the cord. “Please don’t make me say it again, please tell me you heard it that time.”
“I heard you,” he snapped, but instantly regretting how harsh he sounded. “How’re you feeling?”
“Physically or...?” she trailed off and he realized he wasn’t sure.
“You could come up here. Get out of Hawkins,” he said, his brain racing a million miles a minute, the words just came out.
Tomorrow night he had a date but they could do this. He could do this. That’s what he was supposed to do. It’d fix the problem.
“I can’t,” Joyce said.
“It’s the right thing-”
“Lonnie came back,” she cut him off.
The racing stopped, now everything felt like slow motion.
“Hop?” she asked.
He realized he hadn’t said anything for a few seconds.
“If you tell him this, he might beat the shit out of you.”
This time Joyce paused.
“He won’t,” she finally said.
“Glad you’re sure about that.” His tone was icy.
Hopper sat down, unsure what this conversation was going to come to, what his part in it was even supposed to be.
“I can tell him that it’s his. We can pretend it didn’t happen.”
“Or you could come up here, get away from the bastard and I’ll take care of you,” Hopper said. “Both.”
His throat went dry even uttering the word. He wasn’t ready for that. He wasn’t ready to be a parent or to support a family. His career was just starting and as the rookie he worked every hellish shift. The only reason he was home to answer the phone was because he’d been working nights and hadn’t gone to sleep yet.
“Jesus, Hopper, can you imagine the scandal? The talk all over town? We’d never be able to show our faces here again.”
“Well seeing as my parents are dead I’m not entirely sure I need to show my face in Hawkins again.”
“My parents aren’t dead,” she argued.
“I’m gonna save my marriage.” Joyce cleared her throat and he worried she didn’t know what she wanted.
“It’s not worth saving.” He didn’t have anything to base that statement on other than he had hated Lonnie Byers since the beginning of time, him and his stupid nose.
“Oh? Because you love me? And we’re going to be a happy family? You’ll resent me. I know you said you were doing well there. You’re going to be a big deal. I’m not going to let you resent me or a kid.”
He saw it, he saw himself resenting her and this mistake they’d made in the heat of a bad moment. It was clearly laid out and ugly. He and Joyce were prone to fighting and this could be just as volatile as her current shitty relationship.
“I’m gonna fix my marriage.”
“And what? You’re hoping Lonnie’s bad at math?”
This decision couldn’t be made sensibly, it was too intertwined with how he personally felt about Lonnie. He loved Joyce in high school, but time had passed, and high school love wasn’t adult love. They’d spent that night together, both so drunk they could barely see straight, it’s a wonder they could get their interlocking parts to work. There was no way to really know how he felt about Joyce now, but Lonnie, he’d never liked that guy, not a day in his damn life.
“He came home three weeks ago.”
“And you’re just now calling me?” he asked, offended.
“Why would I have called you? ‘Hey, Lonnie came back, marriage back on because there isn’t even a divorce lawyer in the tri county area and certainly not one that would listen to a woman.’”
“So you’re staying with him because it’s impossible not to?”
“No, I’ve got several reasons and I don’t have to lay them all out for you.”
“I think you do.”
She laughed, harsh. “You’ve got a lot of nerve for someone who doesn’t even want kids.”
“I never said that.”
“You did. You said it on that football field. ‘People only have kids so they have someone to bury them and clean out all their shit when they die,’” Joyce’s quote was so perfect he wondered if she’d written it down.
“And you do want kids? This accident has you thrilled at the prospect?”
She did want kids. He knew it. She’d told him. They’d talked about it when they were dating in high school and talking about their hopes and dreams and where they saw themselves in 10 years because Joyce had every dream in the world. She wanted to see Paris and the Louvre. She wanted to go to Hawaii and learn how to surf. But she’d always said after she was settled. After she figured out what she wanted in life.
“It’s not how I imagined it but I can make it work.”
“Without me.” He sighed heavy.
“You don’t want this. Admit it.”
He hated that she was right because he hated losing the fight but he hated that letting her do this meant he was a goddamn coward.
“Fine,” he said, feeling dirty at the relief he felt in his shoulders.
“This never happened. We pretend it never happened.”
“Hopper,” she said, gentler. “You’re gonna do good things with your life. Outside of Hawkins. I know it.”
If she’d never said that, he might have really done his best to forget any of this ever happened. But the words reminded him that she was giving up everything so he didn’t have to. Maybe she didn’t see it that way. But he did. And he felt guilty about it.
From that moment on.
Jonathan sat sulking at the very last cafeteria table. He didn’t always eat in here but it was cold outside and there was an away basketball game so the worst of the high school alpha male population was gone.
“Are you okay?” Nancy asked, standing in front of him, holding her tray out like she was waiting for an invitation to sit.
He shrugged and that was all she needed in an invitation because she put her tray down and sat across from him.
“This really weird thing happened last week and I’m still tied up in knots about it,” Jonathan said, hesitantly. Telling someone would probably make it worse.
“Well, what was it?” She put a fork into her mystery meat and dug around in it.
Jonathan scrunched up his face, unsure for a moment, and then let it loose.
“I walked in on my mom and Hopper in her bed, like…” He gave Nancy a look, tilting his head and grimacing.
“You what?” Steve Harrington appeared from out of thin air, it felt like, but he was plopping his tray down next to Nancy’s before Jonathan could even process it. “God, I walked in on my parents once when I was nine and I swear to God, I still have nightmares about it.”
“You should see a therapist about that,” Nancy said, swatting Steve’s fork away from her potatoes.
“Ha! I can imagine sitting on that couch, all the Freud references would be nuts.” Steve gestured with his fork towards Jonathan and back to his tray. “You want in on this, man?”
“I’ve lost my appetite.” Jonathan was still a little uncomfortable with Steve being nice to him. It always felt like a trap.
“Damn, that is bad. Have you had to look them in the eye yet? Or did you employ a hard and fast avoid tactic?” Steve asked.
“I keep telling my mom I’m working so I can avoid her. Thank god, I never see Chief Hopper.”
“Catching your parents is one thing, but your mom with another guy, that’s bizarre, huh?” Nancy asked, her eyes full of concern. “Has she even dated anyone since your parents split?”
Jonathan shook his head. Not that he knew of anyway, but if she’d been ...with Hopper, he didn’t know how long. She was obviously taking lengths to hide it.
“Did you see them, see them naked? Like did you see Hopper’s ass? I bet it’s hairy.”
Both he and Steve made horrified noises.
“Nance!” Steve almost shouted. “We’re eating! Why would you bring that up?”
“I didn’t look that closely and now I’m gonna have nightmares about that. Thanks a lot,” Jonathan said.
Nancy shrugged, chewing her food before speaking. “He looks like he only ever showers occasionally but he might be cute. If he bathed. Like 10 years ago he might have been cute.”
Again, he and Steve groaned, disgusted.
“Bright side,” Steve said, turning back to Jonathan. “Chief has the rep of being the local man whore so he probably won’t be banging your mom long. That was hopefully the one and only time, bad luck on catching them though.”
Now it was Nancy’s turn to groan. “That’s not gonna make him feel better, Steve!”
“Sorry, dude,” he added, sincerely. “Maybe it won’t be the only time, your mom’s mildly hot.”
“The two of you are making this so much worse.” Jonathan put his forehead on the table.
“Oh my gosh,” Nancy said, poking at Jonathan, her finger hitting the bare skin of his neck, he repressed the urge to startle at the touch.
He did that a lot. She was dating Steve and Steve was sitting here making nice, he shouldn’t be gross about Nancy. It was inappropriate and rude. Didn’t matter how much Jonathan liked her.
“What?” Jonathan lifted his head barely to look at her, resting his chin on the tabletop now.
“My mom said they dated in high school, I’m pretty sure she said that,” Nancy explained.
“Your mom and the Chief. That’s batshit. I never would have guessed it.” Steve shook his hair out and looked around the cafeteria. “Which table do you think they sat at?”
“Focus, Steve,” Nancy said, smacking him lightly in the shoulder. “Let’s go to my house right now and find the yearbook. My mom keeps them in the basement in a box under the stairs.”
“Are you, my potential valedictorian girlfriend, suggesting that we cut class to find dirt on Jonathan's mom and her maybe boyfriend?” Steve beamed at Nancy and Jonathan hoped they didn’t notice his eyes roll.
“I’ve got a study hall after lunch, so I don’t know what classes you two would be ditching but I’m covered,” she said.
This was the worst. Jonathan had made it worse by telling Nancy, and by extension Steve. But Nancy’s comment had piqued his interest.
As long as he could remember, his mom never dated. He knew she was busy, she worked so much and often went without a lot of things so that Jonathan and Will could have nice stuff.
But also she was considerate of their privacy in ways that Jonathan recognized, the older he got, that other people’s parents weren’t. She made a point to keep open channels of communication, she never got mad without reminding them that she was disappointed, and that she loved him and his brother to the ends of the Earth.
And sure, that was probably why this bothered him so much. This thing with Hopper. He was a good enough guy but Jonathan didn’t think anyone was good enough for his mom, certainly not a known womanizer, even if they had some history he didn’t know about. Even if Hopper had helped bring Will back.
“You ever walk in on your parents?” Steve asked Nancy as they walked to his car in the parking lot. Steve’s arm was slung around Nancy’s waist and Jonathan tried not to stare.
“Pretty sure my parents haven’t had sex since Holly was conceived, and even then, my mom was probably drunk.”
“Nice,” Steve said, getting a glare in return from Nancy. He looked at Jonathan again. “I can’t get over it, Hopper and your mom. What position were they in?”
“Come on, man!” Jonathan recoiled.
Nancy shoved Steve and he apologized again.
The ride to the Wheeler’s house was uneventful and quick, thankfully no one brought up the incident again. But it didn’t stop Jonathan from feeling awkward in the back of Steve’s car.
They headed into the house and were stopped in the kitchen by Nancy’s mom.
“What is going on?”
“Mom!” Nancy bit her lip and he and Steve kept quiet behind her, ready to follow her lead. “We were...there’s a school project...about history, like you know, personal histories, and we are all in a group together…”
She gestured to them, Jonathan waved, Steve nodded and gave that charming half smile that probably helped him skate out of any bad situation.
“And Nancy said you had yearbooks so we came to check those out. For school. A school project,” Steve added.
Mrs. Wheeler narrowed her eyes for a second but Holly shouted from the bathroom and that distracted her.
“I’m coming!” she shouted towards the bathroom, then she turned back to them. “Okay, well don’t be late for your next class.”
“Of course not,” Steve threw over his shoulder as she walked past them and they headed down the stairs to the basement.
“Your mom is really gullible,” Jonathan said, knowing there was no way his own mom would buy that story.
“She’s potty training Holly this week. It’s got her really stressed.” Nancy pulled out a box from under the stairs.
“It’s so hot when you lie, when good girls go bad, you know?” Steve said.
Jonathan looked away. It was weird watching them interact, was that how you were supposed to flirt? He really couldn’t believe lines like that worked, especially on Nancy, but they did. She shot him a look but she was blushing.
She dug through the box and pulled out three books.
“Okay so you’ve got junior year,” she said, tossing the book at Steve. She tossed one to him, too. “You’ve got sophomore year, and I’m taking senior year.”
“Class of ‘64, look at how cute they were with their slicked back hair.” Steve held up his book and showed them like a kindergarten teacher showed the class. “Your moms are young. Mine was like, I dunno, class of ‘59 I think.”
“Focus, Steve,” Nancy chided him.
Jonathan flipped to the back of the book, running his finger down the index, looking for his mother’s maiden name.
“Holy shit.” Steve’s eyes were wide. “Look at this! Found it on the first try.”
He held it out for both of them, Jonathan leaned closer in and saw it. A photo of Hopper and his mom. She was on the hood of a car, he was standing next to her, kissing her cheek and hiding a cigarette behind his back.
“This is bonkers,” Steve said, tapping his finger above the photo. “I knew your mom was hot.”
“Dude.” Jonathan groaned.
“Chief still looks like a hardass though. Was that guy ever fun?” Steve asked.
“You’re only mad because he breaks up any party you throw.” Nancy continued to flip through her book.
“It’s rude. Does he have an inside man, or what? How does he know when I’m throwing parties? Why does he have it out for me personally? I’m a nice guy.”
Nancy gave him a look before going back to her pages.
“Sure you are.”
“I am! The neighbors don’t complain, my parties are small, intimate affairs!” Steve defended. “And Hopper waltzes in like I’m the bad guy. You know what I wanna find in these pages? Chief smoking a joint or partying. I’m gonna rip out that page and show it to him the next time he tries to break up one of my parties.”
“And then he what? Stops enforcing the law? Let’s everyone go on their way? Nothing ever happens in Hawkins, it’s probably the highlight of his week when he breaks up one of your parties,” Nancy said.
“Or the highlight of his week is fucking Mrs. Byers,” Steve muttered under his breath.
“I can hear you, Jonathan said, irritated.
“Sorry, dude,” Steve said, sincerely.
“They were really cute together,” Nancy said, changing the subject back to their search. “There’s like eight photos of them in senior year, they were runners up for homecoming court.”
“What’d you find, man?” Steve asked Jonathan as he flipped through the book. “Wait, go back, is that your dad?”
Anyone would recognize that nose, even Steve Harrington, apparently. Lonnie looked stoic, his hair slicked back, he looked like one of the guys that used to beat Jonathan up before his growth spurt.
“You must get all your looks from your mom because you don’t look a damn thing like your dad,” Steve said, showing him a picture from junior year of his dad.
Jonathan had heard that before. He looked like his mom. He preferred that anyway. He hated his dad.
“Whoa.” Nancy put her book over his, in his lap, and pointed. “Look at this picture.”
Hopper was sitting at a cafeteria table. His chin resting on his hand, and his mom was leaning on his shoulder, flipping the bird, or he thought, someone had drawn over it with pen and in the margins, there was messy handwriting.
“Karen, I can’t believe you got this picture in the yearbook! I should burn it because my double chin but whatever, Hop looks good,” Nancy read off his mom’s words, Jonathan felt sick.
“You look just like him, I’ve seen you make that face,” Steve said lightly, he was joking, but it was too close.
Jonathan’s wheels were turning and so was his stomach.
“Let me see that picture of my dad.” He took the book Steve was looking through before Steve could hand it over.
Jonathan put it against the photo of Hopper and his mom and gulped. It was a good thing he hadn’t eaten any lunch because he was pretty sure he was gonna heave.
“Shit,” Steve whispered. “Maybe you did walk in on your parents screwing.”
Everything went quiet and suddenly he felt Nancy’s hand on his knee.
“Jonathan, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said, but he gathered up the yearbooks and ran up the stairs, ignoring Nancy and Steve shouting after him.
He ran home, which was stupid, he should have run to school. They were equal distance from the Wheeler’s house and his car was at school. It was cold out but Jonathan didn’t notice, he only knew he had to get home. The run kept him warm and when he made it home he threw the yearbooks on his bed and went rummaging through his closet. Somewhere in here, was his ninth grade biology project. In the very back corner, underneath who knows how many mismatched socks, he pulled the box out and found it. The worksheet with the blood drops and the instructions.
Joyce pulled up to the junior high a few minutes late. She felt awful about it but her till was missing $2.15 and Donald was a stickler about anymore more than $2 so of course, she had to stay until she could figure out what happened.
She rushed into the school and found everyone in the gym. Joyce wasn’t exactly sure what this was, some kind of science fair thing combined with AV Club. They’d all built radios, written stuff about them. There were two other schools showing off their stuff. Will waved from his table with his friends, where they were explaining their stuff to other kids. Joyce waved back and then leaned against the wall closest to the door.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Hopper said, walking up next to her.
She gave him a sidelong glance and looked back to Will. She folded her arms over here chest and ever so slightly took a step away from him. She was still pissed at him, still regretting her decision to go over to his house and fuck his brains out. It was nice for a few minutes, then when the sex was over and done with, he’d gotten rude.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, for lack of any other better question.
“Community outreach,” he supplied, nodding at someone across the room.
“Outreach somewhere else then.”
He laughed and she hated that she almost smiled. She liked making him laugh she got a little thrill from it, but she was mad at him, so no, she wasn’t gonna smile. Besides, it was definitely a courtesy laugh because he wanted her to stop avoiding him.
“How long do these things usually last?
“I wasn’t kidding. I don’t want to talk to you.” She kept her eyes on Will’s table, she wasn’t gonna look at him.
“I’m sorry I pushed too far, you won’t believe me but I was picking a fight to get you to stay a little longer.”
Her resolve wavered and she looked at him. He looked repentant. Shit.
“You could try saying nice things to get me to stay next time,” she snapped.
“I’ll do that.”
“There’s not going to be a next time,” Joyce corrected him, but she didn’t mean it. She could already feel herself slipping.
She liked spending time with him. At first it had been stress relief, a way to feel in control over one thing in her mundane, exhausting life. Plus the idea that he wanted her, she got a serious high off of that. It’d been ages since she’d considered herself desirable but he acted absolutely smitten. Whether it was leftover from his high school crush or genuine, or maybe he treated all the women he slept with like that, it didn’t matter. She liked it. But with highs came crashes and she figured it would happen any day now. This had been going on for over two months now and she knew the shelf life for his relationships was shorter than bananas sitting on her counter.
“You know Hawkins Lab is going to offer you a lot of money,” he said, changing the subject completely, and throwing her for a loop.
“The new people, who took over after Brenner, they want to offer you money, so that you’ll turn down reporters who come asking about Will’s miraculous comeback.” He waved to someone to the left, giving them a fake smile.
“How do you know that?” Joyce asked, annoyed.
“I uh,” he floundered for a minute before starting again, “You shouldn’t take the money. They want to examine Will regularly and you shouldn’t let them do that.”
“Where did you hear that?” she asked again. “Someone already came and offered the money to me and I turned them down but why do you know about that?”
Hopper signaled someone from the other end of the room to come over. He avoided her eyes and she knew he wasn’t going to answer the question. She filed it away for later.
“Mayor,” he said, shaking the man’s hand.
“Chief,” the Mayor greeted him warmly before offering Joyce a handshake. “Joyce, nice to see you!”
He chit chatted with the Mayor, including Joyce every now and then.
“You know Joyce used to play the piano,” he’d said in some moment when the Mayor was talking about music for some event in the spring.
“I quit when I was eight,” she cut in, mostly to make Hopper look stupid but the Mayor didn’t think so.
He continued eating up everything Hopper was saying, even asking Joyce her opinion on certain things in appropriate moments. It was ridiculous how at ease Hopper was and yet how included Joyce felt. She’d never felt like that in a conversation with anyone in this town outside of maybe Karen.
“Well Joyce,” the Mayor said, taking her hand again. “We’re just so happy everything worked out with Will. It was a miracle.”
People offered her these kinds of comments since they brought Will back and she never knew how to respond to them, but she nodded, gave a tight smile, and thanked him.
“Now I know how you got the job,” she said to Hopper after the Mayor walked away.
“I’m very good at kissing ass.” He clicked his tongue.
“There’s not a humble bone in your body, is there?”
“I had them removed.”
“You’re full of shit.” Joyce rolled her eyes, trying to stave off her smile.
“Yeah, that’s what they replaced all the humble bones with,” he said, and she finally laughed.
“Victory,” he whispered.
“I’d say ‘fuck you,’ but you’d like that,” Joyce said.
“You’re the perfect woman, Joyce.” He smiled at her fondly. “Knowing what I want before I even say it.”
“Can’t believe you went for that joke though when ‘bones’ was in play.”
“Dick jokes are more your speciality not mine.” He looked down but she caught his smile, it was too honest.
“I’m mad at you, don’t mistake this flirting for...I dunno, me not being mad at you,” Joyce said, schooling her face.
“I’ll stop bringing the thing up.”
She gave him a skeptical look.
“You get why we can’t say anything, don’t you?” she said, leaning in a little closer and lowering her voice. “Can you imagine how he’ll feel? If he finds out? It could crush him. He’s not going to understand why the decision we made was best for the situation.”
“I’m not sure,” Hopper started and Joyce shook her head, stopping him from continuing.
“It’s a little fuckin’ late to have strong feelings about this.”
Hopper’s jaw clenched and Joyce was very sure the good will from earlier was long gone.
“I get it. I get why and I don’t even think we should tell him, by the way. But I figure since what happened, since you know, he saw us, he’d think it wasn’t so weird if we were doing more than just having sex.”
Joyce’s jaw dropped. Was he honestly using this deep, dark secret as a way to get her to date him?
“Are you serious? This is about you wanting more out of this, this, this arrangement?” she whispered sharply.
She always took great care not to call it a relationship because it was certainly not.
Hopper pressed his lips together tightly and looked around before focusing back on her.
“Okay, when you say it like that it sounds really bad.”
“Oh, well, now that you’ve figured that out.” Joyce scoffed.
“Mom!” Will called out, he was heading towards them fast. “We got an honorable mention and it comes with a grant for us to build a more complicated radio system!”
Joyce tried to relax for Will’s sake. She didn’t want any of her hostility towards Hopper to show when she was speaking to Will. She uncrossed her arms and smiled wide, genuinely proud of him.
“That’s so great!” She pulled him close to hug him. She did that more now, she didn’t care if he was too old for it. “You guys did such a good job!”
When he pulled away from her, Will glanced at Hopper who was looking off to the side. Hopper was typically weird about Will. Joyce wasn’t ever sure why but his lack of interest was always there, it was one of the reasons Joyce didn’t think she could seriously, openly, have a relationship with him.
“Chief, do you think we could borrow some police radios to take apart and put back together? We could totally do it, you won’t even know we did anything to them,” he asked, forcing Hopper to look at him.
“Not sure the taxpayers would think that’s a valid use of our resources,” Hopper said, his face severe.
Will instantly shrunk, disappointed. Joyce couldn’t help but scoff.
Hopper worked his jaw a second and looked softer, but just barely.
“We might have some old ones, I’ll have Flo look.”
That perked Will up again and were Joyce not so annoyed with Hopper, she might have smiled at him.
“Let’s go home, sweetie,” Joyce said, seeing Hopper lose interest in Will again.
Hopper’s head turned back to her quickly.
“Are you-” he started but she cut him off.
“I’m going home, and the answer is no.”
“You didn’t even know what I was gonna say.” He scrunched his face up, annoyed.
“I knew,” Joyce replied, keeping vague because Will was standing right there. “And no thanks, I’m busy.”
She pulled Will’s hood up on his head and he tried to shrug her off but she chided, “It’s cold out!”
She left Hopper standing there. She didn’t even feel bad about it.
Someone was banging on her door. Joyce rolled over to see the clock said it was just after 1:00 am. Her mother always said nothing good happened after midnight and Joyce was sure that her mother’s ghost was sitting on the porch glaring at whoever had the nerve to be here at this hour.
She looked through the peephole, just in case, Hawkins was safe, but drunk Lonnie never was. But it wasn’t him. This was totally different.
“What are you doing here?” she asked Hopper, coming outside fully and closing the door behind her, hoping the boys would stay asleep now that she’d halted him from knocking.
He smelled of whiskey and beer, and he looked like he hadn’t showered in a few days. His clothes were disheveled and he looked gaunt in the face, but his eyes were wild. If anyone else had seen him, they might have been scared. Joyce did her best not to be.
“Is Jonathan okay?” His words were slurred and he was leaning against the post on her porch.
“Of course he is,” she whispered, harshly. “Why would you even bring it up?”
“I don’t think he is, you should take him to the hospital. Maybe I should look at him,” Hopper said.
Joyce moved to block the door while Hopper took a step forward like he might just go in the house.
“Don’t you dare.”
He stopped but looked confused.
“I wanna make sure he’s not sick.”
“You’re not a doctor, you’re not anything to him, it’s none of your business. I heard about your daughter and I’m sorry but you don’t come looking for this kid to replace one you lost.”
Hopper’s brows knit and he stood swaying.
“What if he’s sick and you don’t know it? Has he been breathing okay? You gotta take him to the hospital, make them take x-rays of his lungs, check if there’s tumors or cysts or stuff. If you can’t afford it, I’ll pay for it.”
Joyce pieced it together, she tilted her head and softened her face.
“You think you’re the reason she got sick?”
He looked away from her and she knew she was right.
“Sit down,” she said, taking his hand and guiding him to the porch swing. “Stay right here, do not try to come in the house. I’m going to get you some water. But don’t move. I swear to God if you wake up my kids I’ll murder you and they’ll never find your body.”
“Now I know who to investigate if Lonnie ever goes missing,” Hopper deadpanned.
“Don’t move,” she repeated and he nodded.
She went inside, got him some water, and grabbed a blanket from her couch. Back outside, she handed Hopper the water and wrapped the blanket around herself and sat down next to him on the swing.
“You don’t want to be his dad.”
Hopper shook his head.
“But you’re worried he’s got what killed your daughter?”
“Sarah,” Hopper provided. “What if I’m the reason, what if something about me made her sick? And it might make Jonathan sick? I don’t want you to watch him die...I’d rather die 100 times than watch her die again. Holding Diane while they...I don’t want you to live through that with Jonathan.”
Joyce swallowed past the lump in her throat. She took his hand and leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Jonathan is fine,” she said, and she heard him sniffle. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about Sarah and I’m sorry about your divorce. I’m sorry.”
She felt him start to tremble, Joyce sat up to look at him but he’d gotten himself under control, swiping at his eyes furiously.
“I gotta go,” Hopper said, chugging the water and standing up.
“Don’t crash your car on the way home, that’d be embarrassing for the new police chief.”
“I drive better drunk anyway,” he said, getting in his car.
Joyce watched him pull out, shaking her head, saying a silent prayer that he made it home okay and that maybe he’d sleep tonight. He looked like he needed it.
As was his prerogative on any given day, Hopper rolled into the station late. His sunglasses were sitting low on the bridge of his nose but they were a necessity. It snowed last night and sunlight reflecting off the new drifts and the icy roads were going to cause wrecks this morning. When he got in, Flo informed him there had indeed been two wrecks already and it was only 9am.
“So what you’re saying is I should just turn around and go back out to my truck and head to the intersection of,” he paused, trying to remember what she’d just told him.
“Main and Jefferson,” Flo supplied.
“Main and Jefferson, great,” he said, finally pushing his sunglasses up on the bridge of his nose.
“But no, I wasn’t saying that.” Flo gave him a look. “They’ve got it handled. But it was nice to see you weren’t listening while I was speaking.”
“Flo,” Hopper said, putting his hands gently on her shoulders. “My mother died 18 years ago and it’s heartwarming that you’re trying to fill the position but it’s really, wholly, unnecessary.”
Someone cleared their throat and Hopper turned to see Jonathan sitting in one of the plastic chairs in the waiting area.
“Did one of you yahoos arrest this kid or what?” he asked the room. No one answered but Jonathan glared at him.
“I need to talk to you,” he said in that unsteady but dire tone he definitely got from his mother.
Seeing Joyce in Jonathan always left Hopper uneasy. The few times he’d interacted with Jonathan, he would see him clutch himself tightly, like he might be able to shield himself from the world, but not in a strong offensive position, in a defensive one, like he might be able to just up and make himself disappear. Hopper had seen Joyce do that but it wasn’t something she was born with, it had developed over the years when Hopper was gone and whatever made her develop that particular mannerism always made Hopper angry. He hoped to God that Jonathan only mimicked his mother and had no real need for the stance.
Hopper tilted his head towards his office. “Alright, let’s get this over with.”
This would likely be some kind of noble speech where the kid was going to say Hopper wasn’t good enough for his mom. It’d be all the less irritating if Hopper hadn’t spent all night going over every conversation he’d ever had with Joyce in the last two months and pinpointing each wrong thing he’d said. Turns out he’d said very little right and Joyce had a solid case for not pursuing anything further than the sex they were previously having, before she became irate with him...for valid reasons.
He sat down at his desk and gestured for Jonathan to sit but he didn’t. He shook his head and kind of paced back and forth for a minute. Hopper figured that seeing what he saw could be traumatizing but Jonathan was perhaps being overdramatic.
“I actually have work to do so if you could get on with the lecture you’d like to give me about your mother, that’d be great.”
But that only seemed to irritate the kid more. He pulled a book out of his bag, opened it, then slammed it down in front of Hopper.
Hopper looked down and couldn’t help but smile. It was a yearbook and the photo in question was of he and Joyce. She was sitting on the hood of his dad’s car, he was leaning over and kissing her cheek, he remembered actually kissing along her neck but Ralph Knight, the guy who took the photos, had deemed that candid too risqué for the yearbook. Hopper realized he probably still had that first photo, in a shoebox somewhere in his closet.
“There’s a great story behind this photo if you want to hear it,” Hopper said, picking up his coffee mug and taking a sip.
“Does it involve you being my dad because if it doesn’t, we should probably skip it,” Jonathan said while Hopper tried not to choke on hot coffee.
He stuttered for a second, putting the mug down and wiping at his face.
“You gotta warn a guy before you throw shit like that out, I’m not gonna be able to taste food for a week,” Hopper scolded.
“Forgive me if I don’t muster up any pity for you.” He resumed pacing back and forth in front of Hopper’s desk, putting Hopper on edge.
“Can you at least sit down? Let me call your mom, you should really talk to your mom-”
“I don’t want to talk to my mom. I want to talk to the guy that when provoked enough makes stupid decisions.”
Hopper blew out a breath, loud and exaggerated. This was beyond uncomfortable or awkward. This was hellish.
Hopper rubbed his face a couple of times, trying to stall for something to say.
“I need to call your mom,” he said again.
Jonathan laughed bitterly.
“Wanna know why I came here first? I wondered if you knew. I was actually giving you the benefit of doubt. Maybe she hadn’t told you, but,” he trailed off and sighed heavily.
Hopper kept his mouth shut. Every thought he considered saying aloud was a potential landmine. Again, he realized that karma was definitely real and it was coming for him this week. He never should have brought this secret up to Joyce because he obviously invited this.
“You’re not going to defend yourself at all, not going to try and explain?” Jonathan poked, increasingly agitated.
The only advantage Hopper had in this situation was his ability to scowl better than this teenager. He had years of practice and the wrinkles to prove it.
“You’ve got some pictures in a yearbook, that’s all you’ve got,” he said, pulling a cigarette from his pack.
Jonathan shook his head, dug in his bag again, and produced a weathered piece of paper. He put it on top of the yearbook.
“What am I looking at?” Hopper said, lighting his cigarette, barely glancing at the wrinkled paper.
“In freshman bio we do a blood typing test. Prick your finger, put it on a slide, check it out in the microscope. Match the type.”
“Damn, biology is way more fun now than when I took it,” Hopper muttered. “I don’t even know my blood type.”
“Most people don’t, but see, Lonnie, he got into an accident when I was eight, I was at the hospital and I remember the nurse changing the bag of blood, it was a weird day for me, I can remember all of it, the bag of blood had a giant AB on it. When we were in the hospital with Will, his chart had an AB on it.”
“You read your brother’s medical chart?”
“I was sitting in there for a long time, waiting for him to wake up,” Jonathan noted.
Hopper figured now wasn’t the time to suggest that Jonathan picking up unimportant little facts wasn’t typical. Especially since those facts had suddenly become important.
“My mom told me she couldn’t remember her blood type when we did this experiment. But I heard her tell the nurse that if Will needed blood she could donate it.”
“Will didn’t need blood.” Hopper was there, he remembered now.
“I know, but she was panicked and frantic and she kept shouting about A positive. But I’m O and I’d bet my measly savings account for college that you are too.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve held onto this revelation for over two months,” Hopper said, raising an eyebrow.
“I didn’t make the connection until Steve Harrington had the yearbook.”
“That kid is a menace ,” Hopper mumbled, looking over the paper with blood drops and charts about blood cells and antibodies. It looked like a foreign language to him.
“He calls you a hard ass,” Jonathan replied, defensively. Why Jonathan wanted to defend Steve Harrington, Hopper didn’t have the wherewithal to ask.
Hopper picked up the phone but that kid’s hand hit the hook. Hopper looked up at him, he’d had enough of this.
“I’m calling your mom.”
“You’re getting a lot of leeway from me because you’re having a moment. I’m being as respectful as I can be but you’re gonna need to give me a little in return.”
Jonathan scoffed. “Good to know all dads are the same. That line could have come right out of Lonnie’s mouth.”
Hopper felt his blood boil and his grip tighten around the handset of the phone. Comparing him to Lonnie Byers was the fastest way to get him fired up but he knew he had to hold back.
“What do you want from me?” Hopper finally said, not angry, or harsh, but defeated.
The question caught Jonathan off guard. He pulled his hand off the phone, he looked down, he hadn’t thought this plan all the way through. Jonathan paced again and Hopper waited. Watching him struggle cooled that fire from earlier and Hopper felt bad for him. This is what Joyce had said, he saw it happening. The information was tearing Jonathan up.
“If you don’t want me to call your mom, is there someone else I can call? Let me drive you back to school or home, we’ll pick this up later, when you’ve had some time to think.”
“No,” Jonathan said, looking up, nervous but firm, before he stormed out of the office.
He could have gone after him but instead he dialed the store. Joyce needed a warning in case Hurricane Jonathan was heading towards her place of work next.
“He what?” Joyce’s panic was evident in her tone. “Where’d he go?”
“I don’t know, he stomped off, I thought calling you was more important than going after him.”
“Shit,” she whispered.
“Finish your shift at work, call me if you need me,” Hopper said as Flo opened the door to his office. “Hold on.”
He covered the receiver with his hand.
“There’s been a bad one, it’s at Independence and Lincoln,” Flo said.
He nodded and Flo closed the door, Hopper moved his hand from the receiver.
“There’s a bad accident, with the fresh snow, it’s gonna be like this all day. How about I just come over after I’m done here, is that okay?”
She sighed heavily. “Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Be safe driving,” he added, before he hung up.
Turned out that they were short on salt for the roads and you couldn’t really order more salt in November. You ordered salt in the spring, by November, most places were already sold out. So now it was January and the town wasn’t as salted as it should be. This was a problem that Hopper had helped make, but he’d much rather deal with this problem than the other one. He knew it was wrong, but he was grateful for the distraction.
The roads weren’t great but Joyce had made it home in one piece. She was supposed to pick up Will but Karen called and said all the boys were spending the night at her place. Tomorrow was Saturday and with the current situation, Joyce agreed to the sleepover without any complaints.
She spent the whole day at work with one foot out the door. Hopper didn’t explain any of what had happened when Jonathan confronted him and it was eating Joyce up, not knowing what was going on with him.
With no sign of Jonathan at 6:30, she called his job. He wasn’t there and Joyce worried. By the time Hopper knocked on her door at 7:00, she was feeling that stomach churning sense of deja vu like when she couldn’t find Will.
“Is he still at school?”
“You know the school is locked up by now,” she answered, annoyed.
“This isn’t like last time, Joyce,” Hopper told her, sitting on the couch, voicing exactly the thing she wasn’t sure of.
“How do you know?” She bit her lip and looked at the wall where that thing had made an entrance months ago.
She didn’t notice until he was pulling her against him that he’d stood up. Joyce put her cheek against his chest and kept looking at the wall.
“It’s not. I saw him earlier, he was angry and probably hurt, but it’s not the other thing. He’s out somewhere blowing off steam, trying to think. He’ll be back.”
Something about what he’d said really irked her. She took a step back and glared at him.
“Why can’t men just sit down and talk about things? Why is it forgivable for men to just walk away and think through things without telling people where they are? It’s rude, it’s inconsiderate, did you do that to Diane? Did you just leave the house when you got mad?”
Hopper’s mouth was open like he was trying to respond but he nothing came out. He finally shook his head.
“No, I didn’t.”
“So why is okay for other men to do that?”
“I’m not sure how we got to this place, are we still talking about Jonathan or…?”
Joyce deflated. “No.”
Her shoulders slumped and she sat on the couch now, he followed her.
“That time, at the football field, that was just the first time Lonnie left, huh?”
Joyce couldn’t look at him, but she nodded.
“I shouldn’t have tried to save my marriage,” she said, but looked at him quickly, worried for what he’d assume. “I’m not saying I should have married you though. To be clear.”
Hopper laughed softly and she felt him reach for her knee. His hand skimming up and down her jeans, slowly, comfortingly.
“No, you were right back then, it was a bad idea. Us getting married would have been catastrophic.”
“But you wanna date me now,” she said.
“We're different people now, different from the dumb kids we were 18 years ago.”
“We’re older, crazier. So much shit has been shoveled on you.”
“On me? What about you?” he asked, with a laugh.
“I guess me too, but I'm used to it.”
“I feel like I should buy you some kind of big ass gift,” he started. “You did the hard stuff and I got to live my life.”
“Don’t worry.” Joyce gave him a soft look. “I know you had your own hard stuff. Really, Jonathan’s a walk in the park. He’s such a good kid. This is the first time he’s ever left without telling me exactly where he is. It’s why I’m so worried.”
“That’s not why you’re so worried,” he said, seeing through her.
“Okay well yeah, the other thing too.” She leaned back against the couch, suddenly realizing she’d never asked how it all went down. “You didn’t tell me what happened. I want to know every word that was said. How did he figure it out?”
“Blame Steve Harrington,” Hopper said, mirroring her position, and turning to focus on her.
“What?” Joyce asked, confused.
He spent the next few minutes explaining everything that happened. If Joyce had been there, she’d have been angry, but she wondered how much of his account she could trust.
“You really tried to call me three times?”
“I’d have tried to call you 80 times if he’d stayed much longer. And sure, partly because I felt like you needed to be there, but mostly because I didn’t want to be there.”
“Coward,” she joked, but he cringed.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” she tried to comfort him but he went quiet. “You don’t want to be his dad.”
“I don’t want to be anyone’s dad. I fucked that up.”
“You can’t possibly still blame yourself?” Joyce asked, shocked. Five years had passed, surely he was beyond this.
“Who else would I blame?” he asked, like that was a run of the mill question.
How many nights did he sit around in his guilt and loneliness thinking about this? It made her want to fix it, how could he possibly think he was responsible for his daughter’s death? More importantly, how could she convince him he wasn’t?
“You could blame God, the universe, Reagan, just to start?”
He laughed at that and she gave him a small smile.
“Why would I blame Reagan?”
“I dunno.” She shrugged. “Someone handed me a pamphlet the other day claiming he’s poisoning children.”
“Normally that would sound like conspiracy theory nonsense but I’m not particularly inclined to trust our government after certain, recent events.”
There was something else though, she could tell he was holding back, but she didn’t push.
“I had my chance and if I could get her back, I’d do it, but otherwise I’m happy to never do it again, but, now…” he trailed off, unsure.
“Jonathan doesn’t need a dad and he doesn’t like you very much, so I can’t imagine him wanting anything from you,” Joyce said in what she hoped was a confident voice. She wasn’t actually sure but she hoped.
“I’ve fucked him up, too.”
“You didn’t see him today.”
“The good news is the one thing I’m really good at is not fucking up kids.” She smiled at him. “I think.”
He grinned back and she felt a sudden fondness for him.
“I was good at it for a minute. As soon as I felt like I was getting good at it, things spun out of control.” He got that far off look again and she touched his cheek.
“Hey, that wasn’t your fault.” She ran her thumb across his chin. “Remember, blame President Reagan.”
He laughed but she saw it didn’t reach his eyes. It was for her benefit, nothing had changed for him.
“Where’s Will?” Hopper asked, seeming to just notice that he wasn’t around.
“Spending the night at Karen’s.” Joyce saw her opening and pressed on, “Why are you weird to him?”
“Yeah, you are. You barely look at him. Jonathan, even in all this nonsense, you at least acknowledge. Why not Will?”
She could see his wheels turning, he took her hand that had been on his cheek and kissed her palm.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’re not gonna distract me from this,” she said as he tried to scoot closer to her. “You want a real relationship so much, those require communication, tell me why.”
He let go of her hand and looked away, sucking in air.
“Will idolizes me. I know it was those friends of his, but their version of what happened, of us bringing Will back, it involves me being some kind of a hero,” he explained. “But I didn’t believe you. You’re the hero. You’re the one who made sure he came home. I was the sidekick.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to get to him without you. Whatever deal you made in there, with Brenner, that got us in there. And-”
“I’m not the hero,” he interrupted her. “I didn’t do anything worth worshipping.”
“Fair enough.” She saw his shoulders tense and she figured it was better to drop it. At least she’d gotten a real answer out of him, even if it felt like he was holding something back.
“I know you were only being half serious before but you weren’t wrong, you’re the best mom these kids could have, and I know...I know that I’d just take your time and attention away from them.”
Joyce wasn’t sure what he was saying, but she listened as he went on.
“I’ll wait, five, six years, right? When they’re both safely tucked into whatever Ivy League college you get them into, maybe you’ll have time for me then, and I’ll be here, I’ll wait.”
“So you’re not asking me to dinner again?”
This was a completely different conversation than she’d imagined having today. Then again, her day had gone wildly off course from how she imagined it when she was getting up the motivation to get out of bed.
“No, I get it.”
“You get it now?” she asked, a brow raised.
“Yeah, I get it.”
She considered his words. No one had ever offered her such a thing.
“Lonnie left seven times.” She caught the vein in his neck strain. “Seven times in an eight year marriage. Monsters taking my boys isn’t the only thing I’m scared of.”
“I’m not fucking around.” He took a deep breath before going on, “You were right about Jonathan, it’s chipping away at his insides, he’s broken as you or me now, I can’t fix that. But you can. You’re the one he needs. And after seeing what happened today, he needs you 100% of the time. I’m not gonna take time from you that he needs. Same for Will. They need you more than I do.”
His voice was raw as he finished and Joyce knew he was being sincere.
“You sure you want to wait, there’s got to be other people, why put things on hold for me?” she asked, feeling insecure at the thought, wanting him to vehemently state his feelings for her, not someone else.
Shit, she wanted him to wait. More than anything. She surprised herself with that.
“I’m old, I’m tired, I’m crazy, but you know, sexy crazy, the kind women want to fix, right?” He waggled his eyebrows, recalling their earlier conversation. “You already know all that about me. Besides, I’m hoping we can still have sex on Tuesdays, is that back on the table?”
She rolled her eyes but smiled.
“Yeah,” Joyce said. “But don’t act like I’m not the last woman in town who doesn’t hate your guts, too.”
“That is not true.” He pouted.
“Are you counting Flo and Karen?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Ridiculous,” Joyce said, tenderly, letting her hand trace his jawline.
“I’ll wait,” he repeated, matching her tone. “If you want me.”
She leaned in, kissing him, letting her hands wrap around his neck, he came closer instantly, his own hands cradling her face. Joyce felt him relax around her, like he was finally comfortable and relieved. The pressure of his fingers on her face alternating, like he wasn’t sure how to hold her, but he couldn’t stop, made her smile. She felt relieved, too.
But the phone rang, startling them apart, a chill ran down Joyce’s spine as she jolted up and to the phone before it had a chance to ring a second time.
“Jonathan,” she said, desperate, when she picked up.
“Yeah, it’s me, I’m sorry I didn’t call. I should have called.”
“It’s okay, sweetie, are you okay?” She clutched the phone tightly with both hands.
“I’m fine, I’m at Dad’s. I just...wanted to see something. But with the weather, I’m going to stay here overnight. I’ll be home tomorrow. I’m sorry, I know you were worried.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. As long as you’re safe.”
She dreaded the thought that he was at Lonnie’s. If she felt like he could, she would have asked him to explain why, but his day had led him there and she was going to let him figure it out. She had faith that Jonathan wouldn't tell Lonnie, surely he knew that would be more of a mess. Then again, if he told him, that was that. Joyce had never worried what about Lonnie finding out because she didn't care half as much as she cared how the news would affect Jonathan.
When she hung up the phone, Hopper looked at her expectantly.
“He’s at Lonnie’s.”
“What the hell for?” he asked, annoyance lacing his tone.
“He didn't say but he's probably wanting to be sure.”
“Be sure? By what? Telling Lonnie about this tabloid gossip?”
“Put yourself in his shoes,” she said. “He’s having an identity crisis. It might be sort of a blessing that Lonnie’s already broken his heart but things are shifting and he probably wanted to see him, to look for himself in Lonnie, to really figure out where he fits.”
Hopper looked at her, soft and fond.
“You should be a shrink, you know that?”
It could have been rude but Hopper meant it as a compliment and Joyce gave him a half shrug.
“One that suffers from anxiety every minute of the day? I don’t think they’d let me.”
“One who’s empathetic to all kinds of,” he paused, needing to find the right words. “Feelings shit.”
“If you’re trying to compliment me in hopes of getting in my pants, you can stop trying so hard. I was already gonna ask you to stay the night.”
A slow smile took over his face.
“Stay over? That’s very exciting.”
“Well, when he comes home tomorrow morning you should probably be here, to talk, about stuff.”
“Sure,” he said, standing up to meet her by the phone.
He leaned down and kissed her, caging her in with one hand on the wall behind her and one at her hip. But she didn’t sit still for it. She pushed against his chest playfully and pulled away.
“Bedroom’s at the end of the hall, so start walking backwards,” Joyce ordered.
“Like I’ve forgotten where it is,” he said, a mischievous glint in his eye.
He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him, kissing along her neck and doing as she said, walking backwards to the bedroom. When they made it through the door and to the bed, he sat on the edge without moving his lips from her skin. But she stumbled and the force of her knocking into him pushed his back to the mattress and she fell on top of him. It didn't dampen her enthusiasm in the least as she shifted quickly to grinding against him and moving to kiss his lips. He gasped and she couldn't help but giggle against him.
“Wait, wait,” he said, turning his head so she was forced to kiss his jaw, the stubble tickling her lips.
“What?” she asked against his skin.
“It feels kind of weird getting off when Jonathan is upset and it's our fault.”
That had Joyce sitting up, her hands braced against his shoulders.
“That's very…” She tried not to laugh at him. “Very parental of you, paternal even.”
“And you're okay with that?”
“No, it's awful, stop,” she joked.
“Okay, better go ahead with the sex to get rid of that feeling,” he said, dryly, and she laughed. “Wait, how come yesterday bringing that up would get me in trouble but today it’s funny?
“Well,” Joyce said, recognizing the double standard. “Today he knows so I guess if he wants you to be...paternal, then you’ll have to be. But he probably won’t want that.”
Hopper shrugged as if he wasn’t really sure what he expected out of anything that might go down tomorrow.
“Cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.
“He’ll be okay.”
But now she was thinking about how upset Jonathan was, how confused and panicked he must be feeling. She'd been thinking about it all day since Hopper had called her to tell her what happened.
“Yes,” he said, his hands running up and down her thighs.
“Dammit.” Joyce didn't feel into this at all now.
“I ruined it, didn't I?”
Joyce put her head on his chest and sighed.
“Yeah,” she said. “But maybe later. It's early still.”
“I'm okay waiting for you,” Hopper said, moving his hands to run down her back.
His reminder that he meant in this and in the chance to have a relationship struck her. It was the most loving thing anyone had ever said. She burrowed into him more, kissing his chest where she was nestled against him.
His arms tightened around her and she felt a lightness in her chest she hadn't felt in a years, even if it settled next to her worry about Jonathan. It made that worry a little more bearable.
Jonathan drove around all day. After he left the station he drove in circles. He went around town over and over, then he went out a little further, to Jonesboro, then he decided to get on the highway and he was in Indianapolis before he really knew what had happened. He couldn't wrap his head around what was happening and it wasn't getting any better with time passing or miles driven.
The roads were icy in some spots but once he was on the highway, it was easy driving which is probably the reason he ended up in the city. He drove the loop around the city once before he needed to stop and get gas. He filled up the tank, got a soda, and took in where he was. Just a few streets over and he’d be at Lonnie’s house. It was a shitty neighborhood and it was getting colder and dark, but he wanted to go there.
He had no plan, no idea why he even felt the need to show up on Lonnie’s doorstep. Jonathan had learned years before that Lonnie was a fuck up. He didn’t expect the man to be thrilled to see him and figured it would probably be horrible, sitting in the same room as him. But something nagged at him that he needed to see him, maybe seeing him would be the catalyst for figuring all this out.
When Lonnie opened the door, he didn’t even speak. He just stood there, staring. Jonathan took a page from Nancy and lied about why he was there.
“Uh, I had a school assignment. I have some questions I need to ask you and I knew you wouldn't answer your phone.”
Lonnie looked him over and narrowed his eyes. He didn't look convinced, but he also didn’t look mad. His face didn’t change at all.
“With the snow, you're gonna have to stay the night. I can't let you drive home in this.”
Jonathan knew he was right so he mustered up a half smile, he didn't want to stay all night but he didn't want to piss Lonnie off either. Better to pretend he was okay with it.
“If you say so, can I call mom and tell her?”
Lonnie opened the door wider and gestured for him to come inside.
He called home and he hated hearing how worried his mom was. Joyce didn’t scold him or even say much, but he could hear her panic and he knew he was the reason for it. Jonathan had been mad at her for keeping this secret but the minute he heard her, he almost forgot his anger.
When he got off the phone, Lonnie handed him a plate of food. It had been microwaved and looked soggy, but he took it and followed Lonnie to the table.
“Where’s that woman?” Jonathan asked, dipping his fork in the noodles.
“Cynthia? Oh she’s at work.”
“When do you work?” Jonathan asked, knowing it would upset him, but he couldn’t help it.
“I don’t, I’m a business owner,” he answered, his shoulders straightening, and his face contorted into a smug look like Jonathan was supposed to be impressed.
“What kind of a business?”
“It’s not strictly legal so I won’t elaborate but it’s doing very well. Plus it pays under the table so I don’t have to send your mom a single penny of money. She does just fine. She doesn’t need my money. You and Will are fine.”
Lonnie had never so brazenly admitted to skirting his financial obligations in front of Jonathan before and were he not muddled about this whole “dude isn’t actually my dad” situation, he’d have been more upset. Plus, Jonathan assumed Lonnie was at the very least, exaggerating his success. He’d heard from his mom why his dad had come back when Will was missing. This was likely all an elaborate story for Jonathan’s benefit.
“You should come see Will, take him to do something he likes, the arcade or go to one of his AV club things.”
It’d been over two months since Will was found and Lonnie hadn’t come visit him. Hadn’t even called with some half assed “glad you’re not dead” comment.
“Those video games are rotting his brain. I don't get why they're popular. I saw that Tron movie. Boring as hell. That actor is never gonna book another gig.”
“It's something he likes. Why is it so hard to do something he likes?” Jonathan blurt out, his irritation finally bursting through.
Jonathan didn’t care what he was to Lonnie, even moreso now, he realized, but Lonnie was still Will’s dad and Jonathan would fight Lonnie any day of the week on Will’s behalf.
“Calm down,” he said, unaffected by Jonathan’s tone. “Anyway, I don't think your mom is telling me the whole story on Will’s miraculous return. Tempted to go down there just to ask Hopper to see the police report.”
Jonathan felt himself grip the fork harder, but he didn't want to give anything away so he made himself relax, counting backwards from five in his head.
“Mom’s telling you the truth. Trust her.”
“Hopper should be fired anyway, it's not like he did anything to help this family find Will.”
Jonathan was angry, frustrated, and annoyed at Hopper. He was hurt and still spinning on this new revelation about his role in Jonathan’s literal existence. But even if he hadn't been all of those things, he would have defended Hopper right then. If only because Lonnie would be pissed about it.
“Did more than you, asshole.” He didn’t shout but he didn’t whisper either, he wanted Lonnie to hear him.
“What'd you say?” Lonnie dropped his fork on the plate and Jonathan was sure the clang of it was supposed to intimidate him, but Jonathan didn't back down.
“I said, he did more than you.”
“Asshole,” Lonnie added.
“Hm?” Jonathan feigned ignorance.
“You got a pair of balls on you, I wondered if that would ever happen,” Lonnie said, leaning back into his chair, pleased with himself.
It made Jonathan feel sick. Lonnie was acting like this was somehow his doing. That who Jonathan was, as a man, was all about Lonnie.
The masculine bullshit was too much on a regular day, but Jonathan really couldn't take it today. His father, or who he thought had been, until yesterday, this jackass was trying to take credit for who Jonathan was just because he assumed he'd contributed to his genes. Well fuck that.
Jonathan thought of his mom. The woman working too many hours, going without, even now he knew, hiding relationships from he and Will for whatever reason, but he knew the reason must have been out of her concern for them. If anyone had made Jonathan the man he was, it was her. Not Lonnie, who’d been in and out of his life since he was born, not Hopper who had let his mother raise him and stepped away, his mom had made him.
Not Hopper and certainly not Lonnie Byers.
It took great restraint not to punch Lonnie in his big, stupid nose. He stood up, took his plate of food to the sink, and then turned back to Lonnie.
“Where am I gonna sleep?”
“It’s 8:00 pm, you go to bed the same time as a baby?” Lonnie taunted.
“No, I just don’t want to be in the same room as you anymore.”
“Should let you drive home to your mother’s in this weather just for being an ungrateful little prick.”
Jonathan gave him a neutral expression, he really wouldn’t be upset about that but he knew the roads were bad. When faced with possible death by car crash and a night at Lonnie’s, the choice was really a lesser of two evils and he’d have to make a pros and cons list to determine which was lesser.
“Just tell me where to sleep,” he ground out, hoping Lonnie wouldn’t fight him more.
“You can sleep on that couch,” he said, pointing to the floral couch in the living room. “I’m going out anyway.”
Jonathan wondered if the sting of watching Lonnie leave wouldn’t be there this time. He told himself so many times it wouldn’t hurt. Lonnie was a jerk: he was terrible to his mother, he neglected Will, he was mean to Jonathan. And Jonathan now knew that Lonnie wasn’t even related to him by blood, but still, he couldn’t convince himself to feel numb watching him walk out of the rickety house. It still hurt.
They’d never slept next to each other all night. In the two months they’d been doing this, they almost never had sex at night, and on the rare occasion they did, he was unceremoniously kicked out before one of the boys got home.
So this waking up next to her was a little heartstopping. Not in a bad way, but for a split second he wondered if they were about to be caught, if she’d get mad at him when she woke up, if this was all about to go sideways. Though, he was always waiting for something in his life to go sideways.
The shards of light coming in through the curtains fell on her face in just the right way, and he couldn’t stop looking at her, sleeping next to him, one leg thrown over his, her chin just touching the skin of his shoulder. He knew that when they were doing this, she was lighter, she didn’t often have those world weary lines on her brow, she looked younger and her skin looked brighter. She smiled easier and that was his favorite part.
But he saw that she looked like that (soft, content, comfortable) when she slept. Hopper wasn’t sure if Joyce looked like that because she was sleeping next to him or if she always looked like that in her sleep. He told himself it was because he was with her, it probably wasn’t true, but if he was going to wait for her, he’d indulge in these small assumptions to get him through. Being privy to this quiet part of her today would have to fuel him for a few more days.
“What time is it?” she asked, without opening her eyes.
“How’d you know I was awake?”
“I just ask that question at random times. I asked an hour ago but you were still asleep,” she said, a little laugh escaping before she opened her eyes.
He shook his head but he couldn’t stop staring. She held his gaze for a few seconds before she snapped out of it, brushing off what might have been discomfort and reaching for his wrist to look at his watch.
“I gotta shower,” she said, letting go of his wrist.
“Big plans today?” Hopper asked, hating the idea that she was about to leave this little spot where she was so close to him and warm.
He knew he was needy, but he didn’t care at the moment. After last night, he felt like maybe they’d come to an agreement of sorts, a breakthrough where he could be more open about the things they both wanted.
“Jonathan will be home soon and I’d rather not have him find us in bed, again,” Joyce explained.
“It’s-” He looked at his watch. “9:00 am, you really think he’s already up and on his way back?”
“Would you wanna spend the morning lounging around in Lonnie’s house?” Joyce asked, sitting up and stretching her arms over her head.
Since she was naked, he enjoyed how the motion lifted her breasts. Hopper chose to focus on that view, putting off his typical response to any mention of Joyce’s ex husband. It was mature because his blood pressure didn’t rise and she was beautiful, he could focus on that, instead of the other thing.
He wrapped an arm around her, she was so small that his hand reached all the way around to her belly button and pulled her back down to him. Joyce didn’t fight him at all, which was unexpected, and she even snorted when she was against his chest, half on top of him.
“I have to shower.” She kissed his neck while he ran his fingers along the skin of her bare back lightly.
“Oh come on,” he said, kissing the top of her head.
“We’ve already put him through the ringer recently.” Joyce kissed him, lazy and lingering before sitting up. “I’m starving anyway.”
“I wore you out.” He kept his hand on her back, his fingertips barely moving.
“You’re the one who said you were sore last night, we’re not teenagers anymore, you need some icy hot for your knees, sweetie?”
He let out a full bellied laugh.
“You’re mean,” Hopper said.
She gave him a wicked smile and stood up to wander her room, gathering odds and ends that she’d need after her shower.
“Do you have any bacon?” he asked, putting his hands behind his head and enjoying the way she was unembarrassed while going about her tasks. It made him feel like he belonged there.
“Uh, I think? I don’t usually cook bacon. It’s comes out soggy and I always burn myself,” she answered, putting all the clothes she’d gathered in a pile on the edge of the bed.
“I’m gonna check.”
“Be my guest,” she said, heading for the shower before he managed to convince himself to get up.
It took him a few minutes but he got up, pulled on his pants, and found some bacon in the back of the fridge. Hopper dug around in the cupboard to find a pan and was well in the thick of grease splatters when Jonathan walked in the door.
“Where’s my mom?” he said with a boldness Hopper thought he’d seen the last of yesterday in his office.
The cigarette that hung from his own mouth threatened to loose it’s ashes into the bacon pan so he put it out in the tray on the counter.
“She’s in the shower.”
“You stayed the night?” Jonathan asked.
“When you didn’t come home last night, your mom was nervous, so I came over,” Hopper said quickly. He turned the bacon down and pulled a few pieces out of the pan to avoid burning it.
“I decided what I want from you.”
Hopper tilted his head, a mixture of panic and curiosity rushed through him.
“Why don’t you wait for your mom to-”
“No, I don’t want her to hear this.”
“Um,” Hopper said, trying to drag the moment out so he could think of some response.
Joyce should be privy to whatever Jonathan was going to say but he supposed he could relay the message later.
“Two things. That’s all,” Jonathan started, he checked the hall before going on. “You can relax, none of it involves us being in any semblance of a typical father son relationship”
He felt guilty for breathing a sigh of relief, but it looked like Jonathan relaxed a hair when he did it. Hopper realized they were having this conversation in the least formal way possible, his own pants weren’t even zipped up, he wasn’t wearing a shirt and the entire house smelled like bacon. Jonathan looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. His eyes were red and his clothes were wrinkled, and he’d just dropped his bag on the couch in the other room, hadn’t even taken off his coat.
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“I’ve been worried my mom wasn’t going to make it without me, when I leave in the fall for school. I pitch in with some of the bills and if I’m gone, she might not be able to make ends meet. I mean, she will, because she won’t be putting money back for my tuition, she’s been doing it all year, she doesn’t think I know but I know. The point is, she’s not paying my tuition. I can work and pay my expenses, but you’re gonna pay my tuition.”
Hopper rubbed his eyebrow, giving him a chance to look down and away from Jonathan’s intense expression that looked eerily like Joyce when she was making demands.
“NYU tuition, got it,” he said.
“There’s a catalog on the coffee table,” Hopper interrupted Jonathan’s shocked question. He looked back up at him now. “Cops find clues everywhere.”
Hopper remembered Jonathan reciting back the bloodtypes from the hospital, this was going to be an odd game, figuring out the parts of himself in the kid in front of him.
“It’s expensive,” Jonathan said, but it was like a challenge.
“What’s the second thing?” Hopper asked, ignoring the bait.
“Take care of my mom.”
Hopper couldn’t help but scoff.
“I’d like to very much but you have met her, right? She doesn’t let people take care of her.”
“She lets me do it,” Jonathan replied.
“You’re different. She took care of you, you take care of her, that’s a thing I can’t get in with. I’m not part of the family. You’re better off talking to your little brother about that. She might let him do it.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “If you’re asking me not to fuck her over, easy. If this is your way of...making sure she’s got someone forcing her to eat, I can’t be that guy. No one can. She doesn’t let people help her.”
“Maybe you should try harder,” Jonathan said, his jaw tightening.
“That’s not how you treat women, if you’re treating them like you can just make them do what you want, you’re not doing it right.”
Jonathan fumed for a minute.
“Changed my mind, I have three things, the third is to have you never give me advice, on women or any other subject.”
Hopper rolled his eyes.
“Fine. I'll treat your mother as well as she'll let me, which should be your request anyway, if she heard you making that demand she'd be pissed, but I get your concern.”
Jonathan looked chastised but he stood tall, not wanting to backdown.
“That's it. I'm done.”
Hopper nodded. Now that this was taken care of, he wasn’t sure what else there was, but he felt a comfortable sense of closure.
“You want some bacon?” he asked Jonathan.
Jonathan gave a half shrug and came to sit at the table as Hopper put the plate in the middle. Hopper poured himself and Joyce coffee, he offered it to Jonathan but he turned him down.
“If you ever have a chance to buy Talking Heads concert tickets, I’d be open to you doing that for me,” Jonathan said, half a piece of bacon in his mouth.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Of course not,” Jonathan said, annoyed.
“You’re home,” Joyce said, interrupting any uncomfortable small talk, and wrapping her arms around Jonathan tightly where he sat.
Hopper saw the way Jonathan clung to her and he knew there must have been some revelation last night that made Jonathan so desperate to hold onto his mother.
“I’m sorry, I should have told you-”
“I should have told you! I shouldn’t have let this go on this long. I’m sorry you had to figure it out on your own and that you didn’t feel like you could talk to me. This is all my fault.” Her voice was shaky and Hopper hated it, but Jonathan quickly hugged her again.
Jonathan whispered something, Hopper didn’t hear what was said, but he assumed all was well now. Joyce pulled back wiping her eyes and Jonathan smiled weakly at her.
Joyce spent the next hour delicately telling the story of how and why they’d come to their decision. As far as Hopper could tell, Jonathan took it well. The hard parts had already been pushed into the harsh light of day so this was relatively easy.
“So, Hopper is here and he’s ready to be whatever you need him to be,” Joyce said when she was through, not knowing that Jonathan had already laid out his demands.
“I don’t want anything from him,” Jonathan answered, giving Hopper a wayward glance.
Joyce looked to Hopper and he nodded.
“If that changes, let me know,” he said, playing along.
He considered telling Joyce about the conversation later. It’d score him points with Joyce, which he was always in favor of. But it occurred to him that paying for Jonathan’s tuition was something that Joyce would probably fight against. She’d probably let him in the end, but Joyce had called his bullshit of using his connection to Jonathan as a way to get in her good graces or start a fight, and all of a sudden, it made more sense not to tell her about the tuition.
None of this was about Hopper, it wasn’t even about Joyce, it was about Jonathan. And Jonathan had asked him to not tell his mother, so Hopper could keep that secret, even from Joyce. He was keeping a number of balls in the air that could be considered secrets he should tell Joyce, but he wasn’t, for any number of reasons, so what was another? Especially since keeping the request would be because Jonathan asked for it.
He’d asked for almost nothing, so Hopper could do it.
“Are you going to tell Lonnie?”
Hopper quickly looked at Joyce, unsure of what her answer would be.
“I would have happily told him five years ago, ten even, but I was concerned about you, so I’ll follow your lead now. I don’t care if he knows or not.”
“It will probably make things harder, between the two of you, and you still have Will to consider, so maybe you shouldn’t tell him.”
Hopper was impressed at the maturity of that statement. He felt Joyce put her hand on his knee and squeeze, like she read his mind and agreed.
“Okay, for now we don’t do anything. You’re always welcome to revisit any of this. Ask any questions you want,” Joyce said.
“Mom,” Jonathan started but he looked down at his hands for a few seconds, nervous. “I was mad at you. I thought maybe you hadn’t even told Hopper, I was angry you didn’t tell me and I felt like an idiot for not knowing, but…”
Hopper reached for Joyce’s hand, it was still on his knee but he took it and put it between the both of his, trying to buoy her up with the touch. It’d been easy up until this point and he was worried that Jonathan was about to say something that might shatter Joyce.
He knew that she poured everything she had into raising her boys and when you focused all your energy on one thing and that one thing broke, then you’d break too. Hopper knew that feeling all too well.
“You don’t get enough credit. From me, from Will, from Lonnie, I’d say from Hopper too, but I don’t know so fine, he can have a pass today.”
He tried not to scoff, but Joyce elbowed him when she heard the noise.
“She doesn’t get enough credit,” Hopper said, trying to appease Joyce but also because he agreed.
“No one put more work into making sure I came out a decent human being, a well rounded person, than you. I’m sorry I don’t say it more often but thank you,” Jonathan said. “Most people have two parents when all I need is you. I know you’re looking out for me and rooting for me and that’s all I need.”
Joyce was up and hugging Jonathan again and Hopper felt like an intruder, but he was glad that Jonathan had said it. Joyce needed to hear it.
“The plane was freezing.” Joyce pulled off her sweatshirt. It was the NYU one Jonathan had given her for Christmas after his first semester. “And Hopper didn’t tell me I was practically drooling on his arm.”
Jonathan and Will rolled their eyes in tandem.
“You didn’t tell me he was coming,” Jonathan said, taking her bag.
Hopper came out of the airport men’s room and gave him a nod. That’s about as affectionate as the two of them got, a stoic nod of vague approval. But Joyce was happy to see it. They’d come ...a little way. To be fair, Jonathan had spent most of the time since the secret had come out away at school.
On the other hand, Joyce and Hopper had grown much closer. He kept insisting he would wait, but little by little Joyce found him to be a necessity in her life. Over the last few years, they’d eased into a relationship and Hopper had even moved in recently. They hadn’t said anything to Jonathan about it and Joyce tried to ignore the churning in her stomach that he might not be happy with that information.
“He wanted to come,” Joyce told Jonathan as they started the walk to the baggage claim carousels.
“Your mom was terrified of flying,” Hopper added, taking Joyce’s hand as they walked. It wasn’t something he did at home because he knew she didn’t like to be talked about, they laid low to avoid the chatter, but here, away from the gossip of Hawkins, it was sweet, she liked it. “I offered to drive but she wanted to fly.”
“Will’s never been on a plane before!” she reminded Jonathan.
“Now I have,” Will said. “Mom’s dramatic to fly with. I’m sure being on a plane is more fun when you’re not wedged into the window seat with Mom in the middle going on about all the people who have died in plane crashes.”
Hopper smacked the back of Will’s head.
“Be nice. She was scared,” he said, and Will muttered an apology.
“It’s fine, I know I wasn’t fun.”
She caught Jonathan’s irritated look before he turned away. Hopper and Will had bonded much better than Jonathan and Hopper had ever. She wondered if Jonathan was jealous of that or upset that Hopper was becoming part of the family.
“This is my friend, Randall.” Jonathan gestured to a tall, broad guy with a dark beard that had specks of paint in it. “His car is bigger than mine so I figured it’d be more comfortable driving back to the hotel.”
Randall hitched a thumb to point at a blue subaru station wagon just outside the sliding glass doors of the airport.
“We’ll get you back safely. Nice to see your dad came, too,” Randall said, making everyone uncomfortable.
“He’s not my dad,” Jonathan corrected.
“Oh, sorry,” Randall said, shaking Hopper’s hand, then Joyce’s, then Will’s. “Anyway, it’s gonna be a fun weekend! Can’t believe we’re graduating.”
The car trip wasn’t too awkward and on the way to Jonathan’s apartment, Randall drove them down some of the streets where NYU’s buildings were.
“Nice to see where all my money’s gone to,” Hopper muttered.
“Are you sure he’s not your dad? My dad said the same shit at Christmas when my parents came to visit,” Randall asked Jonathan.
Joyce tried not to smile, knowing it would embarrass both Hopper and Jonathan.
The tuition was supposed to stay a secret, but Jonathan was terrible at keeping secrets and Hopper, who was very good at keeping them, had held up his end of the bargain for over a year before Joyce told him she knew and he could quit acting like he wasn’t writing a check twice a year.
When Jonathan had let it slip that Hopper was paying his tuition, Joyce had been furious, but it lasted all of seven seconds. Jonathan had taken all the blame and explained why he’d done it. Joyce had felt a tinge of shame that someone else was paying for it, but when Jonathan said it was the only thing he’d asked for, Joyce decided she could get past it.
At the hotel, Joyce couldn’t stop staring out the massive windows that overlooked the Midtown skyline.
“The Village would have been closer but since you’ve never been to the city, I thought this would be better,” Jonathan explained, coming to stand next to her. “Plus my apartment is way too small for all of you.”
“Thanks sweetie, it’s beautiful,” she said, barely able to tear her eyes away from the view to smile at him.
“So, now that you’re graduating, are you coming home?” Hopper asked, he was sitting on one of the beds, flipping through the newspaper.
Jonathan scratched the back of his neck and looked put out.
“My lease isn’t up until Christmas and I’ve got some freelance photography gigs lined up.”
Joyce noticed Hopper’s look didn’t change. He wasn’t impressed but he was trying to pretend he was, for Jonathan’s sake. The fact that he asked if Jonathan was coming “home” reminded Joyce that Jonathan didn’t know that home looked a little different now, since Hopper was there.
“We’d love to have you home but if you’re going to stay in the city, that’s good, too,” she said.
Jonathan cleared his throat like he was about to say something uncomfortable.
“The other day I interviewed with…” He cleared his throat again. “I had an interview with the police department.”
Hopper sat up straighter, he was so transparent. Joyce smiled.
“They’re hiring forensic photographers,” Jonathan mumbled.
Hopper’s eyes definitely lit up.
“Do you need me to call a guy? I know a guy, Pete Bergen, he and I were in Indianapolis together and I know he’s here over at-”
“Stop,” Jonathan said, exasperated, his face squishing up like he was annoyed.
“The interviewer said they’d call back this week and he said I’m a shoe in.”
“You remember shit. Lots of little shit that other people think is irrelevant, it gets stuck in your brain,” Hopper said, excited.
“Please, don’t be proud of me, I don’t know how to react to that.” Jonathan crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the dresser of the hotel room.
“I’m not. I would never. Ever.” Hopper shook his head.
She could tell he was barely keeping a lid on his enthusiasm, but he did it, for Jonathan, because it’s what Jonathan asked for.
“Good,” Jonathan said.
“Well, I’m proud of you,” Joyce cut in.
She reached for him and held him tightly.
“I know he moved in, Will told me,” Jonathan whispered into her hair. “It’s fine. I just want you to be happy.”
Joyce sighed. “I am.”