As Mike Wheeler biked hurriedly over to Starcourt Mall that morning he had exactly $10 burning a hole in his pocket. Five of those dollars were from his overly trusting mom who insisted he buy himself new socks, due to a relentless growth spurt. Two of those dollars were leftover change from his last week of school lunch money. The last three were from poorly mowing the front lawn for the Thompsons who lived three houses down.
With this money, he had one mission and one mission only. He parked his bike, ran through the crowded food court and made his way up the escalator. There was a selection of cassette tapes on sale at Sam Goody’s and you could buy 2 for $10. It couldn’t be more perfect.
Ever since the Snow Ball and he had more time with El he had been thinking about making her a mixtape. He would grab a couple of tapes from Radio Shack and record songs from the local music stations. But what he didn’t factor was the amount of time and effort that took and in the end it just meant he had less time to spend with her. Less time with his girlfriend was not the ideal.
The tapes weren’t just a romantic gesture or present either. They really needed these tapes. When El was finally allowed out of the cabin for the summer, they had begrudgingly agreed to not hang out alone in the Wheeler’s basement. Instead, if they weren’t outside with the Party they were allowed in Hopper’s cabin but only when the Chief himself was there to supervise.
Considering Mike had waited 353 days for El to come back to him and then waited for his middle school career to finally end, he agreed to any deal that meant he got to spend time with her. Even if the chief of police was breathing down their necks. They were just happy to be in each other’s presence and didn’t care what that meant.
That feeling of contentment vanished quickly a few hours into the first day of summer.
They thought they’d be able to spend their time together playing board games and watching TV. Mike made a list of all the movies he wanted to show her and books he wanted to read to her. He even thought up a mini D&D adventure that they could play together so he could teach her the rules.
As soon as they sat down to the first movie they immediately became restless. Suddenly they had all this time together, an entire summers worth of time and all those plans felt stupid. Mike and El quickly realised all they wanted to do was hold hands, whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ears and kiss. Like, they wanted to kiss all the time. Kissing suddenly became Mike’s favourite thing to do. It was better than any D&D campaign, R-rated horror movie or Atari game out there. He couldn’t think about anything else.
And who could blame him? El was without a doubt the prettiest girl he had ever met. She was way prettier than any of the girls who go to his school. Her hair was now down to her shoulders and was curly with light honey streaks shining through it. She had these big brown eyes that were framed by dark lashes and he wasn’t sure if she was aware of the power she had when she fluttered them in his direction. And then her lips…
Let’s just say that physics couldn’t even explain the gravitational pull Mike had to those.
So after the longest afternoon in history, where he and El were forced to watch TV with Hopper sitting behind them at the dining table, they asked if they could hang out in El’s room. The discreet hand holding just wasn’t going to cut it and El could only concoct so many telekinetic ‘accidents’ for Hopper to leave the room and they could sneak in a kiss.
Mike was convinced that Hopper would throw a fit and say no. He already knew that he pissed the man off. They’d spent the last six months finding any excuse to see each other or call each other on the phone. But what Mike underestimated was how Jim Hopper was putty in El’s hands. He felt so guilty about keeping them apart the year prior that he was willing to give that girl nearly anything she wanted. She just needed to flutter those eyelashes.
‘Fine. But here’s your number one rule: the door stays open 3 inches at all times. You got that? At all times.’
Mike had blushed furiously, knowing what Hopper was implying about what would happen if the door was closed. El, however, was perfectly oblivious and immediately dragged him to her bedroom and closed the door behind them with a wave of her hand. Hopper had stomped over and adjusted the gap wider.
They couldn’t believe it. Mike barely had time to process their newfound freedom when El pulled him to sit down on the mattress. This was it. The dream of every teenage boy. He was alone, in his girlfriend’s bedroom and she was smiling at him like he was some sort of teen idol you find in Teen Beat magazine. If he didn’t kiss her right then he was going to explode.
But as soon as their lips met they realised they’d forgotten to factor in one important thing. Kissing was loud. At least, the way Mike and El kissed. He winced once their lips parted, quickly checking the door for any sign Hopper had heard and was pulling out his gun. The silence throughout the cabin was a stark reminder that Jim Hopper was everywhere and if you were even thinking about touching his daughter he was one step ahead of you. Every movement, every creak of the floorboard, every rustling of Hopper’s chip packets and beer cans destroyed any mood Mike set out to establish.
That night El begged the Chief to buy her a cassette player and Mike offered to buy her tapes to play.
So here Mike was, multiple Sam Goody sales bins in front of him and $10 in the pocket of his denim vest. He had no idea where to start. He didn’t really listen to the radio much, his walkman was collecting dust and even though his dad had a big record collection he barely listened to it. He wanted to buy something El would like but would also be perfect to kiss her to. He didn’t want to buy something that would ruin the mood because it had embarrassing lyrics.
‘Can I help you?’
A voice broke through his thoughts and Mike turned to find a sales assistant, an older woman with eyes framed by blue eyeshadow looking at him expectantly. Perhaps he could use some help.
‘Uh…I’d like to buy some tapes.’
‘Well, you’re in the right place, honey.’
Mike could only nod, already feeling awkward enough about the situation. He had exactly one hour until Hopper was home from work and if he biked fast enough he could have a few minutes of alone time with El before the Chief’s Chevy Blazer pulled in out front.
‘So…do you have a favourite artist?’
‘Oh..um I don’t listen to a lot of music.’
‘Okay…’ He could tell the sales assistant was exasperated with him already.
‘Uh…I guess I like that band with the two guys. Hall and Grain…or something.’
‘You mean Hall & Oates?’ The woman barely contained her laughter and Mike could feel his cheeks burning with embarrassment.
‘Yeah sure. Anyway, I’m looking for something a bit…’ He could barely stutter it out. Thank god the other guys weren’t here to make fun of him. He’d never hear the end of it, especially from Lucas.
’Romantic.’ He said it so softly that the woman had to lean in to hear him. An amused grin took over her face. The kind you get from adults who don’t take you seriously. Mike hated that look. When it came to El he was nothing but serious.
‘Romantic, huh? For your girlfriend?’
‘Uh just looking for something she would enjoy.’
‘Want to set a mood, huh?’
‘Something like that.’ If a giant Kraken was to break open the ceiling of this mall and devour them whole he would welcome it. Really.
‘I think I know just the thing. You want some love ballads but nothing your ma would listen to.’
‘Definitely not.’ Mike shuddered thinking of Karen Wheeler’s Barbra Streisand collection. The ultimate mood killer.
‘Hold tight sweetheart, I’ve got you and your girl covered.’
Mike left Starcourt Mall with two tapes and biked over to the cabin as fast as his legs would go. He had no idea who Corey Hart and Bryan Adams were but the smile on El’s face when she pressed play on her stereo made them the greatest musicians to ever live in his eyes. Even better than those Hall & Oatmeal guys.