When El invited Mike over for dinner earlier that morning over the phone, nothing could have prepared Will for the insufferably large lump wedged snugly in the hollow of his throat to churn the way it did. The coil twists in his esophagus, as well as his stomach, when he looks into those brown eyes for the first time in… Months. How many months? He remembers keeping track once, and then stopping somewhere along the way.
It feels as painful as it sounds, is what he thinks to himself as he desperately tries to pinpoint his feelings – a tactic recommended by Donna, his therapist. Just Donna. Friendly first name instead of a more professional-sounding Dr. or Mrs. – supposed to sound less intimidating, but Will sees no difference either way. “Recognize what you’re feeling, accept it, and think of our session and what methods you learned.” Her timid voice rings in his ear, relaxing his nerves only slightly below the bar of actual effectiveness. With Donna’s voice, comes knitted sweaters, gentle touches on the arm or hand, apple-cinnamon scented candles, cheetah print cardigans, vanilla hand cream, and complimentary wool blankets, because she knows how strong Will’s detestation for the cold is. He talked about it in one of his earliest sessions. With Donna, comes peace and serenity. Safeness. Warmth.
And right now, staring eye-to-eye with none other than Mike Wheeler himself, the boy who only knows how to talk over the phone when its El’s voice coming through the other end, Will decides he feels pain. Then retreats his answer, replacing it with instead, nervousness, excitement, intimidation, anger, confusion, hurt… Cold. That’s it. Cold. Will feels cold looking at Mike. Like winter after a hot summer, Mike loses the warmth he once provided Will and instead replaces it with unpleasant goosebumps and shivers all over.
He’s not sure how long he’s stood there in the doorway without saying anything, but when he clues back in to the world around him, he finds that Mike’s eyes are wide, as though he’d expected someone else to answer the door. El, Joyce, hell, even Hop. Judging by his expression, Will ponders the thought of Mike possibly forgetting El wasn’t the only kid living in this house.
Could Mike have forgotten him? It isn'timpossible. How many months has it been, again?
Mike clears his throat dryly. He swallows his own spit, then coughs again before mumbling, “Hi.” The first thing Will notices is his voice. It’s deepened- the change is barely noticeable to anyone who’s not paying attention, but it’s there. He hasn’t changed much appearance-wise, except now, Will’s viewing him from a slightly different angle, having grown four extra inches since leaving Hawkins. Mike’s still taller, but not by much.
Will purses his lips, unsure of whether to yell at him – “Oh, look who it is! Fancy seeing you here, Wheeler, I was beginning to think you were dead!” – or envelope him into the tightest hug imaginable because no matter how angry and hurt he was, he still missed him more than anything. The silence between them is uncomfortable and tension filled, and different from the ones they used to share when they were younger. The kind that used to unleash a gate of butterflies in Will’s stomach, where they fluttered aimlessly in crowded, indecisive mobs, making his heart soar. Now, it’s as if someone has reached out and wringed his heart like a wet cloth. Twisting and squeezing until it oozes apart onto the front porch. Realizing now that looking at Mike is equivalent to looking at a stranger – someone he probably shouldn’t hug, now that he thinks about it – serves as a complimentary gab in the stomach for good measure.
Will skips the greeting, already feeling a bit to overwhelmed, and instead crooks a chin over his shoulder to call Joyce, who’s busy setting the table in the next room over. The clang of plates and silverware is loud from the entryway; echoing down the hall, making his mother’s presence prominent. “Mike’s here,” He says loud enough for everyone to hear, including El, who’s room, which had been once booming with Madonna, goes silent. Will opens the door wider and steps back with it, hand firm against the knob, white at the knuckles. “come in.”
Everyone is gathered around the table, except, of course, Jonathan, who’s away for school. Will wishes they could switch places, swap identities, just for a little bit. At least until this dinner is over. Jonathan would be better at filling in the silent, awkward gaps between every conversation. He’d play the field instead of sitting on the bench. Will just knows he would.
He doesn’t speak for a majority of dinner, until his name is spoken by his mother, who sits by his right, with Hopper on the other side of her. El sits by Hop’s side, with Mike close enough to nudge against her other elbow. Will fights the urge of glancing to his left with the knowledge of what he’d see making him even more annoyed than he already was.
Over the course of seven months – they moved to Michigan in September, it’s March now, he did the math – El, his sister, and El, the girl who stole his best friend, have become easier to tell apart, except for when El occasionally declares she’s visiting the Wheeler’s for a few days and vice versa, or her giggly voice is loud enough to hear outside her bedroom door - Oh Mike, I love you, Mike, I miss you, Mike! - It’s times like that when their sibling companionship slowly withers away, and Will’s pettiness comes creeping in.
Hearing their whispers, feeling Mike’s feet shuffle under the table to bump against El’s, and not even having to look to know their hands are interlocked, El is less than likeable.
She stole him, he thinks. She took him away from me. And now everything’s weird.
If El hadn’t forgotten to tell everybody he was coming for the week of Spring Break before it was too late, Will would have made plans before Mike arrived. He’s able to set some arrangements for the rest of the break, but for the time being, he’s forced to sit and pretend Mike’s not there, sitting right beside him. Five inches to his left instead of an agonizing four hundred and sixty miles away.
“Isn’t that right, Will?” Joyce asks, smiling at him with those glimmering, coffee-coloured eyes. His name sparks his attention once more, and silence descends over the table. Everyone stops what their doing, waiting for Will to respond, even the giddy couple in the corner. And somehow, it takes him back to World History class, when he zoned out during a lesson and Mr. Dobson quizzed him for several minutes onward, in front of the entire class, with every intent of embarrassing him.
Will thinks hard for a moment. Yes or no? “Yes.”
Joyce seems satisfied with that answer, so he breaths a heavy sigh of relief. The rest of dinner is slow and agonizing. Mostly catching up with Mike about school, home, and how the rest of the party is doing. Max and Lucas are apparently still a thing, which despite their constant bickering have a bond that’s “stronger than it’s ever been”. Dustin’s moved on from Suzie and is now dating this new girl from choir. She’s a year older and described to resemble a hotter version of Heather Locklear- Dustin’s words, Mike adds when he notices El’s stare.
“They open for assemblies and stuff like that. They also have their own concerts but not many people go to them. It’s usually just me, Max, Lucas, and the parents of whoever’s in it.” Mike explains. He catches Hopper’s eye, then falters his gaze back down to the take-out Chinese food on his plate, Joyce’s go-to for last minute guests. Mike knows his appearance was unexpected, and it’s not his fault, but it still doesn’t help the fact that Hopper’s stare is burning holes in his skull from across the table.
It’s not a secret that with the move, Jim had been hoping El would move on and find someone new – A more respectable boy with manners and thoughtfulness. Shit. Anything.
So, to have that vision shattered, was annoying. Having Mike stay for days at a time, overnight, at any time he pleases, isn’t something he particularly finds enjoyment in. Will feels the same way, and it’s made pretty clear when the only people looking even remotely interested in his stories are Joyce and El.
They pack up soon after. Will hurries washing his plate before running up the stairs to his room, desperate to get his hands on the cream-coloured rotary phone sitting on his desk, next to the scattered pencil crayons and paper.
Quickly, his fingers fumble with the dial. Then he’s pressing the phone flat against his cheek and waiting impatiently for the opposing side to pick up.
Please, please, please. He repeats faintly under his breath. He’s gripping the desk, steadying himself as though he were two seconds from toppling over. Please pick up, please…
Will's chest caves from the long, relieved sigh that leaves it. How long have I been holding it? Since Mike showed up at the door? Has it been that long? Then they quirk into a smile, and Will breathes, “Hey you,” He finally slumps down sideways on the chair next to his desk as though a puppeteer had cut his strings. Joyce and Jim's voices have drowned into soft murmurs from the kitchen, loud enough to hear but not enough to understand. Multiple footsteps trample the stairway, on their way to El’s room, no doubt. He doesn’t care. “Spring break. You up to anything?”
The other line shuffles a bit, “Nope.”
Will waits a few moments, fiddling with the orange coloured pencil between the sky-blue and magenta. He pushes them gently with his fingers before catching them near the edge, just in time. “Is it cool if I come over or something?”
“Sure, yeah,” Then, “is everything okay?”
Will sits up straight, somewhat shocked by the concern. Which, he shouldn’t’ve been. Him and Sam are close. Really close. They're not dating, but they're not not dating, in a sense. They feed off of each other’s affection. They’re friends at heart, but with their shared loneliness in regards to their sexuality - which may as well make them the two four-leaf-clovers of the town, except not as lucky - they often exchange in comfort and companionship when one – or both – of them needs it. Their labelless relationship was born out of desperate longing and solitude. Bittersweet. “Yeah,” He says hastily. Then, “No. I don’t know.”
Sam’s patient, though. His voice is gentle and calm. “What’s going on?” And from that simple phrase alone, Will can picture the dark, combed-out curls, carelessly dispersed freckles, the immense deepness in his big, brown eyes, and how the brows sitting just above them are furrowed in the front. He's probably fidgeting with something right now, the hem of his shirt maybe- that, or he's standing completely still, nervous for what's to come next.
“Well, you know Mike?” The question was rhetorical. There was no question that Sam knew who Mike was. When you have Will ranting in your bedroom about stupid homophobes, stereotypes, liking boys, liking one boy in particular... After a while, the name becomes fairly familiar.
"It’s so frustrating. He used to be so nice, but now he’s just acting like a complete asshole. Do you think he knows? Do you think that’s why he's started avoiding me? Oh, God, what if he knows, and is freaked out by me or something?"
Will glances around his room, at the different bookshelves and sketches plastered over the wall. Some from when he was younger, others from just days ago.“He’s here,” His mouth hangs open for a moment, his voice barely catching up to his lips, “I can’t be here right now. Not with him around.”
"He's there? Right now?"
"And... You're avoiding him?" Though it sounds less like a question, and more like an observation. "After spending months complaining about him avoiding you?"
Will groans, "Look, it's just... It's not that I'm avoiding him, okay?"
"Every time he visits, you come over to my house," He points out. "Dude, this is your chance to talk to him. I thought that was what you wanted."
"It is," Will argues. "But I can't with El around. At least, not in private."
There's a long pause as Sam thinks over what to say next. Will almost thinks he's hung up, until he finally murmurs, "I'll let you come over, if you promise to sort things out with him tomorrow. That means figuring out a way to get him in private and really talking it out with him."
And Will hesitates. Tomorrow seems so soon, and honestly, the thought of saying more than he did in the doorway is nerve-wracking; terrifying, even. Seven months apart with little to no communication is a long time; long enough for both parties to accept that they've drifted apart. There's no way he can jump into Mike's life so abruptly after the seven months of just nothingness.
Sam's triumphant smirk on the other end is almost identical to Mike's, whose sitting against El's wooden headboard, knees drawn tightly against his chest. El's showing him videos from the family videocamera onto the small TV on her dresser, flipping through different recordings of her friends smiling, waving, laughing, and posing for the camera. El's voice can be heard from behind it for the majority of the videos, whether she's narrating or laughing, or both. There's many new faces that pop up, but there's a few recurring ones.
A blonde girl with crazy, curly hair, like cotton candy. Sandy, her name is. Then, Melissa, a short brunette with cute, chubby cheeks; most videos that include her, show her standing next to Jess, a taller brunette with striking, blue eyes. Their height difference makes both Mike and El chuckle a bit.
The video with Melissa and Jess cuts to a close up of El, now centre screen. Her eyes are closed and Sandy's swiping blue eyeshadow over her right eyelid with a foamy applicator. Mike knows it's Sandy when the camera pans outward and a lock of yellow hair comes into frame from the far left side. They're in the same bathroom he passed by on his way dropping off his suitcase in the guest room, he realizes, before Sandy turns to look at the camera and announces, "And now, the final step," She reaches for something out of frame, and then pulls back with a tube of hot pink lip gloss. Meanwhile, El's face is slack, submitting to anything Sandy says. Suck in your cheeks, close your eyes, rub your lips together. It's not long before she's given permission to look in the mirror, and then she's grinning wide with Sandy's cheek pressed against hers and her hands clasped around her shoulders.
Watching her on the TV screen, it's almost impossible to picture who she was until just short of three years ago. Over and over again, he has to remind himself of what she's done; killed, stolen, opened and closed the gate to an alternate universe- a parallel to their world. Fought off vicious, deadly creatures using her mind.
He pays attention to Sandy, who now stands behind El, fixing a few wavy strands out of place, then to Jess who stands beside El in the mirror and asks if she should cut her hair shorter, then to Melissa's finger that accidently blocks the top left part of the camera, and wonders if they know. If Eleven told them about her history, the meaning behind her name. How her and Mike met. That her family is less biologically related than they appear.
He doubt she has, hence the whole point of the move being the fresh start and a chance to finally be normal.
Besides, even if she did decide to tell anyone, he's not sure they would believe it anyway. He knows that if he hadn't have been there for the ride, there's no way in hell he'd believe it either.
She turns the volume down a little bit by spinning one of the dials on the TV, "Last time Max visited, she fit in well. The girls liked her. They still talk about her," She exclaims over the more hushed laughs and giggles coming from the recording. She then mimics their voices, "When will Max be back? We miss Max!" Mike huffs out a laugh. "She's gonna spend part of the summer up here. Did you know that?" His dark waves tousle when he shakes his head no, "If we had more than one guest room, I'd invite the whole party. I miss Dustin. And Lucas. A lot."
He nods, "You'll see them. They're dying to see you again."
"Are they dying to see Will again too?"
The name takes him by surprise. He doesn't know how to respond at first, "Uh... Yeah. Yeah, him too. Of course." She smiles, seemingly content with that answer. "And, you know, just because there's only one guest room, doesn't mean there's not enough space. That's what sleeping bags are for," He doesn't know about Max, but the boys of the party, the "core four", all had their own sleeping bags from when they used to sleepover at each other's houses in middle school. "We could share your room, Lucas and Max can take the guest room, and Dustin can sleep on Will's floor."
She snickers, "Or... Max and I share my room, and you guys figure out the rest." He rolls his eyes playfully in response, already knowing Hopper would never let him and El share a bed for the night anyway. Deep down, he wasn't too attached to the idea. He doesn't care who he roomed with, just as long as it's with either Lucas or Dustin, or both, if Will rathers sleeping alone.
Her dimples dig deeper into her cheeks the more she thinks about it: the party back together again. All of her favourite people in the same place at the same time.
"Summer." She settles. And she can't wait to tell Max about it over the phone.
The bike ride was all thunder but no rain. His hoodie flapped mercilessly in the wind at the same time his bangs flew back, exposing his bare forehead to every passing vehicle. At any second, the clouds could break and a heavy crash of water could come barreling down on him, soaking him until he was shivering by Sam's doorstep, like a stray dog or a rat you'd expect to find in a sewer. That luckily wasn't the case, when he missed it by only a few minutes.
Now, he lays, sprawled out on Sam's bed while Sam sits by the edge, head hung low as he finishes the chapter he was in the middle of reading when Will first arrived. Raindrops slam against the windows of the empty house and had them both questioning whether or not the power was going to go out.
"I hope it doesn't. I don't have anything battery powered to get me through these last couple pages."
"You don't have a flashlight?"
"Maybe. Somewhere. I'd have to look, but even if we did have one, I doubt it works."
Will just hums as he fumbles with the rubix cube he found on the nightstand, not really knowing what else to say. Sam can tell he's a bit too focused to care about the power from the way his teeth catch his bottom lip and his eyes stare into the cube, as though he were trying to use his mind to make the puzzle solve itself. And Will doesn't think or care too much about anything else besides those little distractions until they've called it a night and Sam's arms are wrapped firm around small of his waist. In the darkness of the bedroom that doesn't belong to him, he stays awake thinking... Thinking about the boy he redirected his thoughts from whenever he caught them landing back on him.
Mike doesn't like you like that. Even before you moved out of Hawkins, it was obvious. Remember Castle Byers? Sure, you were the one who struck it with the bat, but who really destroyed it?
That was my home, Will thinks. My safe space. Mike was my safe space. And then one day, they were both gone.
He clenches his jaw, feeling an odd ache in his chest from the memory. Mike's words - "It's not my fault you don't like girls!" - He had to have known then.There's not a single doubt in his mind that Mike suspected something and then somehow figured it all out.
No wonder he's kept his distance.
Intractably negative thoughts and scenarios crowd Will's brain, sending it into overdrive. He's shaking, and can physically feel the anxiety of it all shivering down his nape until Sam's breath warms it, momentarily anchoring him back down to Earth.
Then he's asking the question, What would I even say?
Why haven't you... Is there a reason for... Did I do something... He shakes his head slightly against the pillow. Everything he comes up with sounds so stupid and... Desperate.
Sure, he could lie to Sam. He could make up this big, long story about how him and Mike are cool now and everything's back to normal. But that's sounds too easy. Something so quintessentially simple sounding is bound to end in regret. And even if he did decide to do it- to lie, his conscious would force him to retreat, saying "no wait, listen, what actually happened is..."
And if he ever lied to Sam, ever betrayed his trust, well, he'd lose this. Even though he knows it would be hard for Sam to give it all up so easily, he still can't risk it. Like holding painite over the edge of a balcony overlooking a big city.
He gives Sam's hand a gentle squeeze and closes his eyes, even though he's not all that tired. The warmth the other boy radiates relieves the tenseness of his muscles, and the more he lets himself sink into the embrace, the heavier his eyelids become.
He wonders to himself if they'll ever grow up to find people like them. He wonders if Sam will find someone. He deserves a boyfriend- someone kind and into books as much as he is. Maybe they could share a favorite author or series, even recommend some to each other sometimes.
Will could totally picture it. Sam in a coffee shop with another guy, probably bickering over what book series is better. Sam probably making a list on the nearest napkin with a pen he found in his coat pocket as to why his argument is the most valid. He's stubborn like that; adorable, and sweet beyond words, but stubborn.
He opens his eyes to squint at the cover of the book Sam had placed on the nightstand before settling in bed next to Will, titled, Bridge of Birds. Littered on the floor, below him, Carrie by Stephen King. He recalls seeing the same book in El's room once.
He slips his eyes shut once more as he thinks back to Sam and his future boyfriend. And before he can worry about any of that happening before he's had the chance of finding a relationship of his own, leaving him all alone with no cuddle-buddy to fall back onto, Will falls asleep, unaware that the exact scenario was already set in place, but not in the way he thinks.