Since Christmas, Hopper has had to set new rules for El. Now that he is trying to be more lenient in allowing her to see her friends, he needs to ensure she’ll do so in a safe way. One which won’t get them found out, or in any kind of risk of that happening.
As much as he may be in a constant state of panic whenever she’s not in his sight, he prefers letting her out to where-ever they happen to be hanging out this time of the week.
He hasn’t quite gotten to like the idea of her going to Mike’s - The Wheeler’s – house just yet.
As much as El understands why – the fear of them recognising her face despite the new hair, or the fear of still-active wiretaps being in the house – she can’t help but be annoyed by this restriction.
Still – Hopper isn’t around right now. Crime doesn’t stop for any man, even the father of a telekinetic, superhero teenage girl. So, taking the opportunity while it’s available, she decides she’s going to take a chance. It’s not like Mike’s dumb enough to belt out her lab-assigned label anyhow; her name is Jane, although they still use ‘El’ as a nickname.
Hopper had recently gotten a telephone line installed for the cabin – he knew he’d be needing one to keep in contact with whoever El was closest to, although he’d started speaking to Joyce a lot more in recent weeks (as much as he might deny it).
This, of course, gives El the perfect opportunity to seem more ‘normal’ in letting Mike know of her plan to show up. If someone were to overhear her on a radio, they may wonder who this new girl that he’s talking to happens to be and why he’s never mentioned her before. A phone call is much less likely to stir up questions.
So, she picks the handset up, and reading through the list of phone numbers written on a post-it note stuck to the small circular table it sits on, she locates the long number labelled as “Wheeler”, and then recalls Hopper teaching her how to use the older style rotary phone that he had spare.
Place your finger in this hole, and drag it to the number you want. Then, let go, and let it turn all the way back.
She does this multiple times until the full number which directs her to the Wheeler house is entered.
After a few tones ring through her ear, she hears a short rustling, before a voice emerges.
A female voice – one she doesn’t initially recognise, until she thinks about it logically. It’s obviously not going to be Holly, and it’s not Nancy’s voice either.
So it must be Mike’s mama. Karen.
“Hello..?” the voice calls again.
El swallows her nerves quickly and tries to form words that come across as normal as she can manage.
“Um… Hello, miss Wheeler.” she manages to speak, convincingly enough, in her opinion.
“Hello…” Karen answers back, sounding a little confused.
“Who am I talking to?”
“Um… sorry.” El mumbles, nervously. She knows she should answer with ‘Jane’, but how does she explain who she is? She can’t just be some random girl calling to talk to her son – she needs to have an excuse.
She hears a word echoing through her mind. One she hears all the time in the many TV shows she watches while she’s stuck in the cabin alone. She’s been thinking about it, lately, but she hasn’t found the opportunity to bring it up to Mike just yet.
Should she just say it?
Would it be right?
Would it be wrong?
Would it cause an issue?
Would Mike be annoyed? Angry?
No. She’s sure he wouldn’t be. She thinks of how they are, together, and she can’t help but think of the words.
She can’t help but let her mouth form a smile as she lets the word tumble off her tongue for the first time ever.
It feels so good to say the word. It rolls off her tongue so nicely and gives her that same old swimming feeling in her stomach as it does so.
She hears a small gasp, one clearly of surprise once she says it.
“Did I hear that right? My Michael? He’s found himself a girlfriend?”
“You… heard right.” El confirms, hoping she doesn’t end up coming off as rude by a bad choice of words. She’s not used to talking to new people, and as much as she hates it, they aren’t quite used to talking to a girl like El, either.
“Is he… there?”
“Oh, he is indeed!” Karen excitedly responds. “I’ll go fetch him right away!”
“Thank you, Miss Wheeler.”
She listens intently through the handset after it’s quite excitedly dropped to the table on the other end, followed by light footsteps that grow quieter as the distance grows.
“Michael!” Karen’s voice echoes through the line, causing El to jump slightly. But all to soon,
“What?” El can’t help but let a smile grow upon her lips as she hears his voice call.
“Why have I never heard about this girlfriend of yours?”
Silence lingers for the briefest of moments, but it is long enough to allow El to panic. Should she not have called herself that? Is Mike going to be mad at her?
But when she hears his shocked voice shout out, she can’t help but giggle.
His voice is followed by heavy, lanky footsteps charging up the creak of what she knows to be the basement stairs.
“What did you say?”
“Were you ever thinking of telling me about this apparent girlfriend of yours?”
El can literally hear Karen’s stance – hands on hips, an expectant face that just forces a response out of its target.
“I…” Mike stumbles, not knowing what to say. He’s never spoken to El about being boyfriend and girlfriend. Has she suddenly decided she wants to call herself that? Or could someone else be prank calling?
He decides to not even speak to his mother about the subject, and instead bolts pas t his mother towards the telephone.
“We’re talking about this later!” his mother informs him, not making it a choice.
“Fine!” Mike calls back, before El suddenly hears the other end rattle slightly, followed by a deep breath, that is apparently contagious, as she takes her own too.
And then, as cliché as she knows their friends would call it, she practically melts at the sound of his voice. She flops back onto the sofa behind her, and through a breath of relief, cheerfully responds,
“El…” he gasps in relief; the small doubt in his mind evaporating as he hears the voice of his dreams through the tinny speaker. All too soon, realisation kicks in once the excitement allows room.
“You… you called yourself my… girlfriend.”
She nods her head with a smile, before rolling her eyes at herself once she remembers he can’t quite see her through a telephone.
“Yes… I did.”
He doesn’t respond for a moment, which causes a small fear to start building inside El.
“Is that okay?”
“Y-yeah!” he quickly responds, realising he’d not spoken at all.
“I… I would… I mean…”
He takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself down so that he can talk properly, without stumbling over every other word.
“I’d… love… to be able to… I guess… call you… my…”
He has to take another deep breath before he can manage to get the word out.
The brightest of smiles forms on her face in response. Hearing him say the word makes her stomach swim in every possible direction.
“I would love that too… boyfriend.”
That word. Being called that. By El.
He could drop dead right now.
Maybe he has. Maybe he’s died, and this is his first telephone call in heaven.
“What were you calling for?” he asks her eventually.
“I… want to see you.” she tells him. “I want to come visit.”
“You… wan to visit?” he questions. “But… everyone’s here. My mom, dad, and my sisters.”
She considers the possible outcomes of visiting with everyone there. Truthfully, she feels as if it could go very well. She’s changed – a lot – since she was last there. By the sounds of it, Karen would be excited to meet her. Ted… by what Mike has told her, would probably be fast asleep on the La-Z Boy. Nancy already knows her and knows the background story they’ve formed for El, while Holly is too young to know what’s going on.
“And… you still want to visit?” Mike asks.
“Yes.” she confirms. “I do.”
“El…” Mike sighs, wishing he didn’t have to worry. El just deserves a normal life; not one where she has to worry about being found by government goons who want to use her as a weapon.
“I’d love for you to visit, but I’m sure Hopper would kill us both.”
“I’d never let him touch you.” she says firmly, reminding him of how protective she is, which he loves to no end, as much as he wishes he could be the one protecting her.
“I know you wouldn’t, but we need him on our side, El.” Mike reasons.
“He will be.” El tells him. “He’s… been thinking about it. I think… he’s expecting it.”
Mike’s shocked, taken aback by this idea.
“Really!” she confirms.
“But… why would you want to do it behind his back then? What if that ruins it?”
“I’m tired of waiting.” she says honestly.
“I’ll leave a note. Then I’m coming to visit.”
Mike is taken aback by the firmness in her voice. She’s certain of what she wants, and she’s going to get it.
He loves that.
“I’ll… see you soon then. I guess.”
“I’ll see you soon… boyfriend.”
And with that, he hears the other side click, disconnecting the call.
He slowly lowers his own handset, trying to comprehend what just happened.
El… just phoned his house. His mother answered, and she called herself his girlfriend, to his mother. They then decide that they’re going to call each-other boyfriend and girlfriend, and now she’s going to meet his family?
He feels overwhelmed, but after a deep breath, he can’t help but feel excited.
Very excited. El… his girlfriend… is coming to meet his family.
This is really happening.