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Spring Break

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The walk home was silent after Mike had come to terms with the fact that Will wouldn’t talk to him again for the rest of the night. He wished they had taken their bikes instead- it would make the journey back home quicker by a thousand. Right now, it’s all he wants.

Feeling like an asshole is an understatement. He doesn’t know how he can ever make up for what he did. From Will’s perspective, his reasoning to be frustrated is completely valid. But it’s a tough spot- giving him what he deserves- an explanation would also mean saying it out loud. And saying it out loud means accepting it. And he’s not sure if he’s capable of doing that just yet.

Mike stays behind, respecting Will’s need for space and kicking pebbles against his sneakers along the sidewalk. After the fight, the air had somehow shifted to a much colder temperature- cold enough to make him envy Will’s winter attire. Maybe then, the goosebumps would quit biting his arms like millions of minuscule piranhas.

Everything’s quiet, like the calm after a storm. Except, there’s no rainbow. In fact, the ache in his heart hasn’t subsided- if anything, only worsened. The soft taps against the concrete, wind rustling the grocery bag, sniffles coming from Will as his arm reaches up and wipes his face against the sleeve. He’s sad, he’s angry, he’s hurt- and those reasons alone are enough to tug on Mike’s heartstrings- but the fact that he's the reason why Will is feeling those things. He brought him that pain. He’s making him cry. That changes everything.

“It isn’t good when you bottle things up,” Will remembers Donna saying, “it always leads to bad things.” Will reckons this is one of them. It all should have been said earlier. He knew that the longer he waited, the harder the outcome will hit. And, well, it’s hit.

His adrenaline is still on a high, and he can’t wait to get home, just to lock himself in his bedroom until it’s all simmered down. Jonathan’s tapes always help with that. Some are on the calm side, while others are on the head-banging, jump-up-and-down-on-your-carpet side.

He would start running, just to burn off some of the energy, but it’s difficult to move in all of his layers- plus, once he starts running, he won’t be able to stop.

It happened once in PE while running laps. Him and his classmates were out on the field, when all of a sudden, he glanced down and saw a shadow beneath him. Following him. He remembers the way his heart sank in his chest, and how afterwards he threw his head up and pushed his legs to go faster. He remembers the feeling of being chased, the aching need to go faster and faster. Crossing busy streets, car horns, turning street corners, and then finally, stopping after hearing someone scream after him.

“William Byers!” Turns out, behind him wasn’t some dimension-shifting, deadly, possessing monster, but instead, his red-faced PE teacher, all the way on the other side of the street. He stared at her, heaving from lack of oxygen, sweat matting his bangs to his forehead and clothes to his trembling body, and hearing her holler, “Principal’s office! Now!!”  

So, he walks. Faster than he normally would, but still moderately fast- still enough to feel the stretch in his limbs. He feels Mike’s eyes on his back, hears the scuffing of his shoes behind him. He doesn’t know what happens after this- where they go from here. But thinking about it causes his lips to tighten and another dreaded tear to fall out despite his aching attempt to keep it in.

Despite how sick he feels inside, there’s no denying how light everything feels now. Now that he’s said everything- that Mike knows his place. It’s an achievement. Mike isn’t asking any more questions or even trying of matching his pace- which he isn’t sure if he’s frustrated or relieved about. There’s still two missing pieces to the puzzle, which is the explanation and apology. Will wishes he could have at least been given the latter- its what he deserves, anyway.

Once his house is in view, Will puts his gloves in his coat pocket and wipes his eyes one last time. He blinks and sniffles, and hopes his cheeks aren’t too red. The last thing he wants for his birthday is for his family to see him upset. To interrogate him about what exactly happened. To which, he would then have to make something up, like- “I have something in my eyes” or “allergies”. Out of all days, why does his birthday have to fall on today?

 

"Guys! Everyone! Stay on target! Mike and Will should be here any second, which means we’ve got to haul our asses to the closest hiding spot we can find ASAP!” Dustin yells from on top of the couch, arms stretched wide to get everyone’s attention. Little does he know, he’s had it since the first blast of the air horn he grips tightly in his left hand.

Lucas stands by the side, hands clamped around his ears, “Will you please cut that out?!” And grimaces when Dustin blasts it again.

Max yelps behind him, “Dustin, come on! Get down from there!”

He jumps down, then, “Fine!” landing behind the couch, he squeaks the horn again, “I’ve got dibs on the couch!" And he wastes not a second before plunging to the ground and disappearing like a gopher and a hole in the ground. Meanwhile, Sam, Becca and Jennifer all watch from the sidelines, hands around their ears as well and grimacing at the silence- more so at the untrustworthiness of it. At any given moment, the horn could blast again and leave them all completely deaf in both ears. Where did he even get that thing?

Lucas springs up, "No, I got dibs!" 

"I called it first!" Dustin jumps back up. 

"You know the couch is big enough for the both of you, right?"

Lucas turns to face Max, "But that means I have to crouch down more, and that's not good on my sore, athlete's bod." 

She winces with a sarcastic fake-sympathy, "You poor thing."

"If you're so sore, hide behind the lamp. You're skinny enough." Dustin points to the lamp in the corner, almost tall enough to reach the ceiling.

"Shut up. I’ve got muscle." Lucas retorts, and pulls the sleeve of his t-shirt up to flex his bicep.  

"Look, can you guys just sort it out already?" Max calls, already tired of their bickering, "We don't have all day." 

"Yeah guys," El agrees while crossing her arms, "We don't have all day."

 

Will’s approaching the front porch now as Mike watches sadly from a few feet away. He doesn’t want to go in there without saying what he should have said almost a year ago.

So he speaks up, “Will,” standing still in the driveway. Will turns around on the steps. And when Mike sees his tear-stained face, his heart leaps right into his throat. There’s one single tear in the middle of his right cheek- one he seemingly doesn’t notice or else it would have been wiped away by now- staring at him in the face, which for some reason makes it so much worse to watch, “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.”

“I’m sorry.” There’s less voice than there is breath, and just by hearing it, the pain is inevitably clear, “I’m really sorry.”

Will sighs deep and slow, not really knowing how to respond. He’s relieved, having finally heard the two words he’s been anticipating. Nonetheless, he just can’t bring himself to say it’s okay. There’s still an agonizing piece left missing, and it may be selfish, it may seem unnecessary to anyone else, but he just needs to know- he needs to know it isn’t because Mike had figured him out. He needs reassurance that it isn’t his fault for being born the way he is. That he isn’t losing his best friend because of something out of his control.

So, he tightens the edges of his lips into sad smile, responds, “I know,” again, and then ducks his head bashfully, jumping up the extra few steps to reach the door.

 

The sound of the creaking door has everyone frozen in an instant. In the span of a single second, Lucas manages to jump behind the couch and plummet to the floor beside Dustin, along with El and Max, who crouch behind the side of the television against the wall. Meanwhile, Sam, Jennifer, and Becca hide behind the other couch, as Joyce and Hopper stand flat against the wall by the opening.

Will feels it now- the tickle on his cheek. He uses the back of his hand to smear the droplet, lets it soak in the rest of his skin. He takes his shoes off, and strips his coat and jacket, along with his hat and gloves, purposely tossing them on the vent to warm them for next time.

After he’s done, he steps further inside the house, reveling in its ghost-like silence. He then spins on his heel to see Mike holding the doorknob behind his hip and closing it with a click. The boy looks up at him through dark, fanned lashes, waiting for him to say something.

“Um… Where is everyone?”

Mike takes his time unlacing his shoes, focusing on the laces now, instead of Will’s face. He clears his throat before reading from the script El had given him before they left for the groceries, “Check living- check the living room.”

Will blinks, then eyes the bag Mike had set on the floor, “In a second. Let me—”

“No,” Mike interjects, placing a hand on the bag, claiming it first, “it’s fine, I got it.”

Breathing out and accepting his defeat, Will looks around the empty house before making his way over to the living room. And within milliseconds of stepping in the room, he’s met with abrupt sound. Screaming, singing, streamers and different coloured balloons on the floor.

Everything, even the visible things are so lurid- he winces, inhales sharply and covers his ears out of instinct. He’s never been good with anything loud, especially anything of the sorts happening so suddenly. And he’s about to react- about to yelp, or scream, or worse: cry out Mike’s name. But then, a pair of arms wrap around him and squeeze tight. They pull him out of whatever fearful daze he had been caught in for a second, and before he even knows who it is, he’s throwing his arms around their neck and shoulders, using them as his anchor back down to safety. They’re warm, and strong, and pull away almost as soon as they came.

When they do, Will’s instantly met with Lucas’s beaming face. He wastes no time to trap him into another firm hug before holding Will’s neck into the crook of his arm, pressing him flush against his side as the others flood in. Eight other faces fill his vision, and he finds himself unable to process them all at once. It’s all so overwhelming.

Dustin rolls in next, pushing through the sea of people (which he’s able to do quite easily with his air horn), and immediately latches onto Will’s other side, “Willard!”

“What’s going on?” Will asks when he’s pulled into a group hug.

Lucas answers in the small space between the three of them, “You think we would miss your fifteenth birthday?”

He doesn’t know what he thought. He sure hadn’t expected them to do this, though. What were they all doing here? And at the same time?

Their gazes all divert to the space in between Lucas and Dustin, where a girl with ginger hair and sky-blue eyes, accentuated with matching eye shadow, squirms through, “Can I join?” Lucas and Dustin answer by opening their circle and giving her space to move inside.

“Oh my gosh,” Will breathes, seeing all the faces of the people he’s missed painfully over the months, particularly sticking to Max. It’s all starting to process now, “am I dreaming?”

“You’re not dreaming.” She confirms. With grounding, reminiscent warmth, she gives him the smile not many people are so easily gifted. It softens once she notices the rose-colored speckles of watercolor decorating the sensitive skin around his eyes.

He lifts his chin up and sees his other three friends smiling and watching the reunion. His parents by the side. And he waves to them without letting his Hawkins friends go.

He looks so happy, Mike thinks from the kitchen. The bag is on the counter, and he’s leaned up against the wall now, watching the surprise from afar. He does; look happy. He’s smiling and laughing and hugging everyone in the room- goes back in for seconds to some: Lucas, Dustin, Sam. It’s a drastic change from what he saw in the parking lot, and Mike’s thankful for that. Seeing Will upset is one of the most excruciating things in the world- it should never have to last long.

And now that he’s looking, it becomes apparent to him that when Will’s happy, he’s pretty. Really pretty. Mike wonders how he gets the light to shine on him like that when he’s smiling. He also wonders if its selfish, looking at him the way he is now.

The way he did the night before, when they were counting down on Will’s watch. The way he’s been trying to avoid but somehow keeps falling back onto, like a default.

Will’s angry at him. He did something wrong, and he fucked everything up. He lost something that should have been immortal, and he didn’t mean to do it.

There’s no denying it anymore; at least not while he’s staying here. Will Byers exists, and he just has to deal with it. Has to deal with hearing his name, seeing his face, and missing him whenever he’s in another room. Staring at his door from his bed in the middle of the night with the hopes of it opening- for a familiar silhouette to come creeping in for one last goodnight. Has to deal with all of it.

The party doesn’t start right away. At least, the real party doesn’t.

Dinner was more exciting with Lucas and Dustin there. They entertained everyone while everyone ate silently, occasionally scoffing into their drinks when something particularly funny happened. There was barely enough space at the table for all eleven of them, and Mike had a hard time moving in between El and Lucas, but after some time, it became unnoticed, because Sam was seated directly across from him, and beside him, sat Will. And when he realized that, it was the only thing he could pay attention to for the rest of dinner.

When the cake comes out, it’s like Sam and everyone else has been vanished into thin air, because it’s only Will. When everyone sings Happy Birthday to him, their melodies slowly morph into something more angelic sounding around Will’s dimly lit face in the darkness of the room.

Before, it was only stolen glances between him and his plate, but now Mike’s full-on staring, and he knows he is. From the other end of the table, tiny flames illuminating his face, Will pauses before blowing them out, and looks up at Mike- Mike, who doesn’t put in the effort to look away.

And then, without breaking eye contact, Will blows out enough air to extinguish the 1 and the 5 at the same time. Everyone claps, but Mike stays still in his trance.

I really don’t want to lose him. I have to get him back. I have to fix this mess I made, he thinks- he almost doesn’t notice Eleven’s hand finding his under the table. The boy takes it out of instinct, rubs her knuckles with his thumb, turns it over to press it into her palm, and finds Will’s eyes again.

And suddenly, something happens- something that’s never happened before. Because typically, Eleven takes the thought of Will away. But now, it’s the entire opposite. Now it’s no longer her hand; its Will’s. And he hates how comforting it feels telling himself that. He hates how much he loves it- the shift in allowing himself to give in to his thoughts instead of pushing them away. He doesn’t know what prompted him to do it, if it’s the determination of getting him back, but now that he has, he finds himself enjoying it so much more.

She presses closer to him, her breath warm in his ear, “I have a new present for Will. You don’t mind, do you?”

He shakes his head, and whispers when she pulls back a bit, “What’d you get?”

“Secret,” She smiles, biting her lip, “you’ll see.”

 

The cake was okay- Mike probably would’ve liked it better if he had the proper appetite for it. But everyone else seemed to love it. Despite the sickness in his stomach still carried over from the argument in the parking lot, he allowed himself to laugh a bit, and to engage in some of the conversations.

Soon enough, it’s time to give out presents- Will’s favorite part.

“Our apologies,” Dustin starts off, on behalf of Max, Lucas, and himself, “we did not arrive with any gifts.” Hopper throws his hands up in an exaggerated defiance, which only multiplies Dustin’s energy by two, “Hey, I didn’t even know I was coming until yesterday! --”

“Yeah, that’s Max’s fault.” Lucas joins in, earning a trivial glare from the redhead across the table.

Will swallows his water and exclaims, “It’s okay. You guys being here is more than enough,” earning a series of awe’s, but it’s the truth. He hopes they know how much love he has for them and how happy he is to have them all here. It's one of those things you can't quite put into words, because words diminish them- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they're brought out. He wishes it were visible so he could paint a mural of it and just show them upfront.

 

 

He liked his art set. He also liked his new socks, the card from Sam, Becca, and Jennifer, and the complimentary mixtape full of Joan Jett songs.

“Sorry about the packaging,” Mike sighs when Will pulls on the zipper of the backpack. Everyone’s invested, and it almost makes him feel a little embarrassed, because it really isn’t all that interesting. Just a couple of comics. But when Will turns the flap over, revealing the four covers, his face lights up, “there’s no card--“

“X-Men,” He reads, ignoring Mike’s comment and awing at the cover, “The Uncanny. I don’t have this one.”

“It just came out.”

“No way!”

“Way,” Mike grins, sighing in relief. He likes it, “there’s a couple more in there” Will looks back at the other three. He sets the one down, and carefully, as though they’re fine pieces of art, picks them up and looks through them like a stack of cards, “but… Yeah, I don’t know. I hoped you would like them. Sorry.” He wants to say it over and over: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

He knows that if him and Will had been alone, his reaction would’ve been different. It’s awkward; going from yelling at each other to smiling like everything leading up to this moment had been some crazy, twisted dream.

He wants to talk about it more; there are so many things that were left unsaid, and he just hopes that Will’s patient enough to wait for him. For him to be okay enough with himself before having to explain it out loud. The reason. He knows things won’t be the same until he does.

He can’t run away from it anymore; watching Will from the other side of the table, he knows what his true desires are. No matter how much he wants to punch himself for having them.

“I love them,” Will confirms, eyeing the covers some more before handing the backpack back to him over the table, “thank you.” But his eyes are on something else, distant, unmeaningful, dismissive. Thank you is a lot to say after demanding a sorry, and that in itself is rather embarrassing- like an exchange for power. The fact that losing his temper was done at such a horrible time.

And before Mike can respond with a, “No problem,” Eleven jumps up and rounds the table.

“Okay,” She starts, placing her right hand behind her back, turned away from the table, “so this is really last minute. But it looked like you would want it, so…”

Will’s so caught up in the excitement of his other gifts, and quite frankly by the unexpected presence of his friends from Hawkins, that the words flowing out of her mouth accidentally jumble with the rest of his thoughts. Voices everywhere, speaking on top of each other, music, balloons, smiles, colors, faces.

He wasn’t listening to a single word she was saying. And he wishes now that he had been; because maybe then, he’d be prepared for what she hands out next.

The room goes silent. Or perhaps, it’s his brain that goes silent. Either way, his body completely shuts down- because what El holds in her hand is none other than the tiny bottle of royal-blue nail polish from yesterday morning. And what makes the whole thing worse, is the fact that she doesn’t stop talking, “I figured I’d just give it to you. It looks like it’d suit you more.”

Max asks, “Hey, didn’t I get you that?”

And El blushes, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” She smiles, looking over at Will, who appears as though he’s just spotted a ghost, “I’m… Glad it’s going to a good cause.”

El looks back at his expression, sits in the uncomfortable silence, and wonders to herself what exactly the problem is. He doesn’t take it, doesn’t even look at it. Just sits there under everybody’s stare, wide-eyed and humiliated, mortified, “Um…” She hums awkwardly, placing it on the table in front of him, “It’s a cool color. I can understand why you liked it so much,” She looks around and sees everyone glancing between the glossy bottle and Will’s paling face. Joyce looks at it, gives a sympathetic smile, and rests her chin on her weaved hands that are held up by her thin elbows against the table, “I was going to give you the comics with Mike, but I thought this would be more personal.”

The silence goes on, Will not quite knowing what to say. Thank you would be confirming all that she’s said: that he liked it. Wanted it. But being defensive, and not accepting of the gift, would come off as snobby and rude. It would make him into somebody he doesn’t want to be around El, who respectively doesn’t know any better.

Becca talks, and Will wishes someone other than a girl would say something already, “I think it’s really pretty.” Pretty. A word that he hates more than anything right now. A feminine praise meant for a feminine product. A feminine gift for a boy who wishes to be seen as more masculine so that everyone would stop slapping the same label on him.

“Yeah,” Jennifer joins, nodding against her hand. Will looks around and sees Dustin and Lucas are exchanging looks. Mike’s staring at the bottle, and Sam’s fidgeting under the table. He doesn’t even dare look at his mom- he already knows what’s coming. The same old lecture. You can tell me anything. I love you so much.

But I can’t tell you this, he thinks. I can’t tell anyone this.

Will’s afraid of coming out to the world, and the boy on the other side of the table, with empathy frowning his eyebrows, jaw slacked and open at the scene unraveling in front of him, is afraid of coming out to himself. That’s where they differ yet collide on the same spectrum of understanding.

Mike watches, cringing at Eleven’s innocent mistake, and wanting nothing more than to take all of Will’s embarrassment away. Because he gets it. He wouldn’t want to be in that situation either, yet here he is, standing up from his spot in the table, and willingly submerging himself in it. Because he owes it to him. If he wants Will back, he needs to work for it. Let him know he cares, at least.

Will watches through fogged vision as Mike reaches for the nail polish and examines it.

“This is awesome,” He exclaims, turning it over without reading the label, “it’s like, if you were transformed into a color. Isn’t it?” He looks at Lucas for his opinion.

“Totally.”

“Like Will in a bottle.” Dustin pitches in.

“Yeah.”

“Hold on to this, dude,” He hands it back to Will, who takes it in a trembling hand, “if not for you, for me. Okay?” He can’t believe what he’s saying. What’s prompting him to do this. It works though, because now, people aren’t looking at Will anymore.

Max helps to diffuse it some more, “Well, I’m glad everyone loves my present!”

With a sheepish smile, El pushes her shoulder, “It can be both our present.”

The redhead leans into the table, her eyes wide at Dustin and Lucas, “Ha! Get on my level, losers!”

“No, you can’t do that! You can’t just--“Dustin retorts, “She can’t just claim a gift! No, you can’t do that! That bypasses every single law of birthdays and friendship- you take that back!”

“You guys are bad friends!” Max argues in between his rants, “You didn’t get Will anything for his birthday!”

“You know what, fine!” He throws his hands up, “I got him those comics over there!”

Lucas points to the socks, “I got him the striped ones.”

Will breathes out steadily in attempt to calm down from the situation as the voices of his friends go on their tangents in the background. He thanks Mike with a half-smile, to which he soulfully returns with a few pats to the shoulder before returning to his seat.

Mike listens to Will thank Eleven and slowly begin to blend back in to the conversation. He did the right thing, he thinks. It’s a step in the right path.

 

 

“What’s the backpack for?” Will asks Sam once they’ve descended downstairs. The basement is large- about half the size of Mike’s, but still roomy. There’s a big, navy green couch, a record player, and tons of carpets put down. Picture frames of various films and bands decorate the walls.

Sam looks back, his body moving with him, and Will watches the way his beige khakis and button up wrinkle against the burgundy wall he leans against. The others are further inside, far enough to give them some privacy, which makes it so that they don’t have to whisper, “I’ve got another present for you.”

“Another present?” He points his thumb toward the set off stairs behind him, “Why didn’t you give it to me up there?”

Sam snickers, the nature of his smile coming off a tad uneasy, “I’m not really sure it’s something you want your parents seeing.” Then, Will’s brows furrow, and he examines Sam’s face for any signs that he’s joking- but there is none. He’s completely serious, and he’d be lying if he said it didn’t frighten him a bit. The rebellion etched on his face, “You’ll have to wait though. Till they go to bed.”

“My dad’s making hourly check ups.”

“No he’s not,” he argues, “give it till midnight. No parent stays up past midnight to make some stupid hourly check up.”

“Sam, this is a bad idea.”

“How?”

“I don’t like sneaking around. You know that.”

Sam twists his lips into an awkward, toothy smile, but his cheeks are not so compromising. He can feel their reluctance to be molded falsely at Will’s annoying devotion to innocence, “You don’t even know what it is yet, and you already expect the worse from me.” He awes, and the frustrated undertone to his voice must have been more obvious than he intended it to be, because the other boy suddenly freezes up and stares hard into the floor- similar to a child being chastised by a condescending father. So, to lighten up the mood, Sam chuckles a bit, and tilts his head to the side until he gets Will’s attention, “Hey, relax, alright? You won’t be the only one sneaking around. It’ll be everybody.”

Green-hazel irises flicker from the dark hardwood to the teenagers behind Sam’s shoulder. Dustin, Jennifer, and Lucas are crouched by the TV, flicking through channels, Max is talking to Becca, and El’s sitting with Mike’s arm wrapped around her on the couch- Will unexpectedly catching Mike’s gaze for a moment.

Despite the awkward, silent encounter, he finds himself lingering, whereas Mike reverts his eyes almost immediately in panic. And he’s about to look away too, until Mike timidly looks back, and holds eye contact until Will speaks again, drifting his attention toward Sam, “Everybody?” He hates not knowing what it is, and he hates even more the fact that it’ll take three hours to know for sure, “You mean the present’s for everybody?”

“Yeah.”

“What?” How does that make sense?

“Hey, Will!” Will looks back up to see Mike staring at him still. Except now, it isn’t just his eyes- it’s everyone else’s too. He shrinks at the sudden pressure being thrown at him, “You coming?”

He hesitates for a moment before answering, “Yeah.” And then his feet move on their own, pulling themselves closer to the couch, until a firm hand stops him by the shoulder.

When he looks back, Sam murmurs, “Relax. It’ll be fine.”

Will shrugs, “I’m relaxed.”

“You sure?”

“Of course.”

“Doesn’t look it.” All of a sudden, Sam stands behind him and digs his thumbs into the soft parts of his shoulders, causing him to grit his teeth and squirm away.

He winces, “Ow!” and Mike watches tentatively from the couch as Will continues walking, keeping mindful distance from Sam now.

Their energies aren’t matching. Maybe Sam has good intentions, but Will definitely isn’t seeing it the same way, and neither is Mike, who’s eyebrows are pinching closer together by the second. His fingers tighten on El’s shoulder, hugging her closer- not so much for her comfort, but for his own. That, and to hold himself back from jumping up and making a scene out of what could be nothing. He’s wanted to punch Sam ever since that morning and the urge isn’t weakening much.

Will hunches his shoulders to stretch the pain away at the same time Sam chuckles, shrugging his backpack off to place beside the couch and taking a seat on the arm beside El.

The majority of the night afterwards is spent making fun of infomercials and playing random board games. Despite his questioning behavior before, Sam acted like his normal self. A bit shy, stubborn, joking, and as always, kind. Mike still kept a good eye on him, though. Like, the entire time.

“Red,” Dustin calls out, pointing to the spinner. Everyone’s in different poses on the Twister mat, and things seemed to be going well for the most part. Well, until now.

Mike looks up, his bangs shielding his eyes, “You’ve got to be shitting me.”

The curly haired boy reads it again and shakes his head, “Not shitting you.”

Sighing out, Mike tilts his chin down, and sees that his legs are already spread as far as they can go on either side of the mat, as well as his left-hand pressed flat in front of his left foot on the green circle. Will is in almost the exact mirror image of that, all crouched down and not looking to be struggling all that much yet. Reluctantly, Mike bends down to his level, and places his hand on the red circle.

As Dustin spins again for Max, Will takes the initiative to glance up and realize how close they are. If one of them leans any closer, their noses will be close enough to touch. And when Mike realizes this too, their eyes go wide together, because now their noses are touching. Mike can barely feel it- its like some distant itch or tickle that he’s too nervous to pull away from. And at first, he doesn’t want to, until Lucas breaks out in a cackling fit.

“Oh my god, do you see Mike and Will?” El is first to turn her head at the pair, “Hurry up on that spinner and save them!”

“Yeah,” Mike agrees, looking to the side as to not embarrass himself any longer, “come on, Dustin. No more splits.”

“Can both of you calm down for a second? I’m trying my best here.”

Will joins in on the bicker-fest, “How long does it take to spin a spinner? I’m after Max, remember?”

“Yes, I know that,” Dustin responds dully, propping his legs up on the couch, “Will- right hand on yellow."

It doesn’t help Will’s situation, given the harder position he’s forced to adjust to, but it does give their faces some space, which serves as some sort of relief. Enough for the unforeseen giggles to roll out of both boys as they look back at each other afterwards, like the waves on a long shallow beach. The chittering laughter seems to disappear for a while only to build up and break to the surface once more.

 

After the fourth or fifth checkup from Hopper, Sam brings out his backpack and pulls the zipper and Will’s face goes hot from what he pulls out.

One by one, Sam passes around a bottle of beer to every person in the room. Max stops him once he approaches El, gesturing to her and exclaiming passively, “We’ll share.” Even though she’s planning on hogging it all night long. She doesn’t care if El’s been to other parties before. Anything that involves any kind of impairment to the brain is one that’s best to keep her away from. Who knows who she could end up hurting when she’s not completely in control of her powers?  

Jennifer, Dustin, Becca, Mike, and Lucas seem equally surprised as they are intrigued, especially Mike, who for some reason, can’t pull his eyes away from his bottle or the backpack, which is visibly full of loads more. It looks as though Sam emptied out all of  his books just to fit as many bottles as he possibly could before it became too heavy.

Meanwhile, Will stands in complete shock, finally understanding Sam’s description from earlier, which at the time, seemed impossible to imagine.

We were just playing Twister, he thinks. Watching his friends hold out their beers for Sam to open is like going from elementary school to high school in a span of two seconds.

“Gnarly.” Dustin admires, watching him prick the cap off.

It’s only when Will blinks, does he finally grasp what’s happening.

Faintly, in the distance, Lucas’s mocking voice chastises, “GnArLy.” And then Mike’s laughing along, and Will just can’t help it anymore. He lunges forward, captures Sam’s sleeve in a tight fist and pulls him to the other side of the room. Before Sam’s pulled away entirely, Becca manages to steal the opener from his hand and finish the rest herself, earning a few snickers from the rest.

And when they reach the other side of the room, rage flashes Will’s face immediately. He’s almost had it to his breaking point for the second time today. Most of the time, the two are pretty compatible and find it rather easy to get along, but there are other times, like this one, when it’s the complete opposite.

"Sam. You know how I feel about alcohol." He starts. Sam nods, following along, "So why the hell did you bring those here?"

"It's not good to hold on to the past, Will.” He lectures, as if he’s Donna, or one of his school teachers, or even his mother, “Look, I get it. Okay? I have a shit dad too. I mean, you've seen him. Always angry at something. It sucks. But you shouldn't let him ruin this sort of stuff for you. You're at the prime of your youth! Enjoy it. Have a beer.”

"I don't want one. You knew I would have never wanted this. You have to understand- we're not the same. We can sit here, and pretend we are, just because we're both- we both like guys” He passes a subconscious glance to his friends, making sure they can’t hear, “but we're not. I like comics, you like novels. I like drinking water, you like stealing from your dad's liquor cabinet-"

Sam sighs, the pupil-concealing irises doing a full somersault, "You don’t put beers in the cabinet, you put them in the fridge. And plus, everyone has their differences, Will."

"You don't respect ours, though. If you did, you would have never brought those with you."

"You don't have to have any if it's really that important to you."

"Look at my friends," Sam turns to look behind his shoulder, only to see Mike, Lucas and Dustin reciting a scene from Star Wars. Anyone could be able to tell just from watching Mike dorkily attempt a Yoda impression, with his cheek pressed against Lucas’s (Luke’s) temple and arms wrapped around the back of his shoulders, pulling a series of giggles from Jennifer and Becca.

“A Jedi uses the force for knowledge and for defense, never for attack… Clear your mind of questions!”

Sam looks back at Will when he hears him utter the question, "Do you think they've ever had a drink in their life?” The answer is left unsaid, but they both know well enough, “They're sleeping over tonight, and I don't want to be responsible for them after you leave. That wouldn’t be fair.”

"You really think a beer is enough to make them drunk?"

"I don't know how many they're gonna have." He argues, raising his arms limply in defiance. To be honest, he doesn’t know the exact science behind stuff like this. He doesn’t understand alcohol percentages and what it takes to get drunk because he’s never had to endure that lesson.

"Look. Will. You're overreacting." He furrows his brows in confusion and frustration, "Can you at least try and have some fun? Why does everything have to be so serious with you all the time?"

Will’s about to react- he’s about to lose his absolute shit, until he swallows it down, mindful of his surroundings and the fact that his parents have just gone to bed. He doesn’t want to wake them up, never mind ruin the party and make it awkward for everybody. That, and he isn’t sure he has the energy to fight with somebody else today. So, he considers the empathetic route, "Look, I don't know what's gotten into you, if it's because of the motel thing or what, but it's not cool."

Sam snarks back, "What does the motel have to do with this?"

"I don't know! Bad influence, I guess?"

"You think my family's a bad influence." All it is now is two teenagers with defensive mentalities going at each other. There’s no sign of progress whatsoever from where they stand. With Sam’s doggedness, there’s almost never progress unless the latter apologizes first.

"I know they are, Sam. Don't become all defensive over them now, you've told me about how badly they treat you before."

Sam takes a deep breath, slowly falling down from his high. Will is right, "Look, I didn't have any bad intentions. Okay? I genuinely just wanted to see you having a good time." His voice sounds strangely melodic. It’s sweet but venomous, like cupcakes sprinkled with poison.

"Will!" Eleven calls.

"Coming!"

Leaning slightly to the right in attempt to block El from Will’s line of vision, Sam says exasperatedly, "Look, I'm sorry, alright?"

Will stands straight, "If you're sorry, put everything back in your backpack."

"I think it's a bit too late for that." He replies, and sure enough, straining a bit to catch a glance, Will sees his friends now having a chugging contest, and then Dustin pulling away to gag at the floor. Mike hasn’t even finished his first one, and Becca’s already teaching him how to open a second. The real party has just started.

Well shit.

 

 

“Okay,” Jennifer staggers, tucking a piece of her blonde hair behind her ear, “I think” She swallows thickly, “that we should play a game.”

Dustin’s face lights up as he yells, “Yes!” causing Lucas to throw a palm over his mouth in attempt to silence him, muttering a hushed shut it.

Her radiant smile shines like the stars in the sky, with no bright artificial lights to dim them. It’s like the sun has opened its eager light to shine about her, only brightening her slightly crooked teeth as she thinks up an idea, “I haven’t seen you guys since middle school, so why don’t we play a middle school game?”

“Elaborate.” Lucas says, pulling away.

“How bout’ Spin the Bottle?”

“Or better,” Max pitches before anyone has time to react, “Seven Minutes in Heaven.”

There’s an equal ratio of groans and noises of agreement. Jennifer, looking a little nervous, nods her head and subconsciously glances around the room for a closet she already knows exists. It’s in the far-left corner of the room, perpendicular to the set of stairs, “That could work.” It’s been awhile, so sitting alone in a room with a someone from Hawkins could be a little awkward. The chances are 6/8 (3/4), which isn’t all that assuring.

Sam fidgets with his empty backpack resting upon his lap, and cranes his neck to look at Will, who sits on the other side of the couch beside Lucas, and asks, “What do you say, Will? It’s your party.”

And Will thinks for a moment before coming to the ultimate conclusion that if its what his friends want, then that’s what they’ll do. He can’t ask them to play Twister all night, and he’s certain Mike didn’t bring his D&D, so there’s no harm in trying something else. Besides, he’s sure that the kissing part is optional, so it shouldn’t be too awkward, “Okay.”

 

They have the radio playing now- some song is playing, but Will’s never heard it before. It’s got a girly vibe to it, and El bops her head to the beat, so he figures it must be good. Her taste in music is pretty decent- not his style, but bearable enough to dance along to in her bedroom during some of the rainier days. The organically shaped bottle in his pocket fumbles between his fingers subconsciously as he listens.

Meanwhile, Mike finishes his third bottle and places it in the centre of the circle they’re sat in, grimacing at the awful taste but loving the way it fuzzes his thoughts. He then looks around, taking in the order in which everyone is placed: Beside him is El, then on her right side, Max, then Lucas, Will, Sam, Becca, Dustin, and Jennifer- who’s sitting on his left. And counts them off in his head.

Four girls and five guys- even enough.

“Someone go first.” He directs dismissively, letting anyone take it. The rest of the thrilled teenagers share a look that says the same thing: do you want to go? And Will ensures that he avoids any eye contact, because he knows that if he doesn’t, someone will surely call on him.

And though it wouldn’t be the end of the world, he still doesn’t want to get lost in the discomfort of having eyes on him if he does make it into the closet. Nothing may happen, but it’s the implication that something will, that puts him out of ease. The sounds his friends would make- Will with a girl! or worse, Will with a boy! He regrets not turning down the offer to play now. He’d much rather be playing Twister.

Before he can really worry, Lucas is spinning. And then after about ten seconds of silence, he’s looking up at Jennifer.

Will immediately looks over to Max, suddenly intrigued, and sees that she’s staring at the bottle with her brows raised and lips pursed. Lucas turns to her apologetically, uttering out, “Nothing will happen, I swear.”

Max’s lips eventually curve into a forced smile, then she kisses her palm and smacks his cheek with it before saying teasingly, “Stay true to your word, and you’ll be spared, Don Juan.” And as the group watches the two walk into the closet, Lucas blows out one final kiss to Max and closes it.

Settling back in her initial position, Max’s eyes focus on the wall clock, and she listens intently as the second hand ticks. It’s all apart of the game, and Lucas is loyal, so she logically has nothing to worry about. Still, it doesn’t stop her from hoping the seven minutes go by quick. Which they don’t, considering how it’s basically spent listening to Sam and Will speak to each other and watching Mike scarf down his fourth beer. After a few minutes, Becca praises her and Lucas’s relationship by calling it adorable, which Max finds hard to believe but accepts anyway.

Then it’s Dustin’s turn, and he lands on Becca. And after they emerge from the closet, she looks almost exactly how they all expected her to, seeing how everything he said during the seven minutes was audible from where they sat. They must have laughed for the entire seven minutes straight, because all Dustin talked about was his choir girlfriend- listing the pet names they have for each other and how she taught him to roller blade last fall. It’s annoying when he does it to them but hearing him do it to someone else is hysterical.

Mike catches notice of the way Sam throws a hand on Will’s shoulder- the way their laughs sound together. He hates it to his very core, and now that he knows the reason why, he gulps another sip down.

Next is El and Max. Once they make it into the closet, Max sits down and leans her head up on the wall. It’s cold in there, the frosty air biting her bare arms. Its quiet for a minute before El reaches for the chain and tugs it, beaming the small room full of color. Now, the shelves and everything are visible. Wine glasses, an electric mixer, two bottles of whiskey, a gingerbread house box, a green jack-o-lantern basket for trick-or-treating, bunny ears attached to a furry headband, presumably for Easter, and a small stack of coupons.

El looks down at her, her legs looking freakishly long from this angle, “Hi.”

Max smiles warmly, “Hi.”

El looks beside her, and then sits down, mirroring her position- head leaned back, arms wrapped around her legs that are held up to her chest, “I don’t understand the point of this game,” She says softly, staring into the wall in front of her, “you go into the closet, and you talk?” It’s sounds like she was expecting there to be more to it.

Max shrugs, “Most people just make out and stuff. But talking is also an option.” El pauses for a second before nodding, figuring to take her word for it, “So how are you? I don’t think I ever got to ask. After everything that happened over the summer, have you been holding up okay?” El looks beside her, taking in how close they are, and nods timidly.

“I was sad for a while. A long while. But I’m doing better now. I feel happy.”

“That’s the most important thing.” She exclaims, “As long as you’re happy, right?”

Eleven’s eyebrows raise, the sparkle in those doe eyes captivating in all their purity, “I’d probably be happier if you lived here. We could see each other every day again. It sucks it took us so long to become friends. We wasted a lot of time, didn’t we?”

“Yeah. Yeah, we sure did. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying it here. Your new friends, they’re really awesome. You’re super lucky to have them.”

Its mute again for a moment, the only sounds coming from outside of the closet. Then, without looking away, El asks, “Hey, Max?”

“Yeah, El?”

“Some teenagers earlier were saying these words, and I didn’t know what they meant. Nobody will tell me. Will you? Tell me what they mean?”

“I think I can do that. Shoot.”

El’s delicate eyebrows furrow in an expression almost resembling fright, “Shoot?”

“Tell me what they are.” She clarifies.

Frowning, Eleven exclaims, “Mike told me not to say them.”

“Well, now you have to tell me.” After a beat of hesitation, El leans closer into her ear, cups her hand to block out an imaginary audience, and repeats the two words that have been replaying in her mind nonstop, “Woah!” Max gasps, causing her to flinch away, “Okay, wow.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t worry. It’s just- I didn’t expect to hear your voice say things like that.” Max swallows, trading eye contact before looking away, “So… They basically mean the same thing. Gay.”

“Gay?”

“You can say gay. It isn’t a bad word. But those other two are. They’re really offensive to gay people. Like, really offensive.”

“What’s gay?”

Max sighs before starting, “Basically… It’s like, when two people of the same sex love each other. Gay’s mostly used for boys, though. Lesbian’s for girls.”

Lesbian?”

“Yeah. Girls who love girls.”

I love girls.”

“No—”

“I really love girls.”

“Not like that. Like, you would date a girl. Or kiss a girl.” Her ocean eyes wander off to the side, “I think you can also like both.”

Both? Both boys and girls?”

“Sure.”

“What’s that called?”

“Bisexual.”

El lets the new words digest for a second before asking, “How can you tell who’s who?”

“You can’t, really. Not unless they tell you. But people like to make assumptions on other people. Certain things, like what they do or how they act. That’s why Will reacted the way he did when you gave him the nail polish. Because boys don’t wear it. Not unless they want to be totally mauled for being gay.”

“What’s mauled mean?”

“Viciously attacked.”

“Oh.” She settles back into the wall, tonguing the roof of her mouth for a second before asking, “Is gay bad?”

“To most people, yeah. To others, not at all.”

“Do you think it’s bad?”

“No. I think people should love whoever they want. It’s not really anybody else’s business. It’s not like its hurting anybody.”

“Oh,” She sits up again, almost eagerly, “and they also said something else. They said… Something like AIDS?”

“Shit, El.” Max breathes, “Where were you today?”

“Just in town with Will and Mike.”

“They weren’t saying these things to them, were they?”

“No, it was some other boy. I’ve never seen him before.”

“Okay, well all you need to know about AIDS, is that it’s a deadly disease that’s rumored to be spread through gay people. But I don’t know if it’s true. I don’t think it is.”

Eleven’s tone becomes more anxious, “I thought you said it isn’t hurting anybody.”

“Because it isn’t, I think. I don’t know. I’m not super educated in this topic.” Max says defensively.

“It’s okay. Thanks Max.”

“Anytime.”

“And Max?”

“Yeah, El.”

She points to her chest, “How do I know if I’m ga-lesbian? Or bisexual?”

“Um… I guess it all depends on what you feel inside. But I don’t think you’re really at that point yet. You’ll figure it out eventually but give it time. Okay? You may not even have to worry about it.”

“Okay.” She pipes up again, “Max?”

“Yeah, El.” Max smiles.

“Are you lesbian or bisexual?” And just like that, it disappears as fast as it came.

She stammers, “Um… I… If I tell you, will you promise not to tell anyone? Because the thing about identifying as one of these is that it has to be a secret. No one can know. When a person tells you, it’s a big deal. Then you have to keep their secret until its out and everyone knows.”

She purses her lips, looking into Max’s eyes with a certain determined energy, “Promise.”

“Okay…” She sighs, subconsciously rubbing her legs that are full of goosebumps from the cold. And thinks about Lucas. Her jealousy when he went into the closet with Jennifer, and how she likes calling him weird nicknames and feeling his kiss on her cheek. But then, she thinks about El, and what she’s recently started feeling for her. She remembers standing in the shower the night before and being torn over what it is she wants exactly. She loves Lucas, so why is she starting to look at El in this new light?

Maybe it isn’t romantic attraction in the sense that she’d be willing to drop everything to date her, but it certainly is in the way she likes bringing her gifts- likes seeing the look on her face when she receives one of them. Likes how she sounds over the phone and likes how she looks when she’s wearing her shirts. Then, she says what’s been on her mind for what's felt like ages, for the first time, out loud, “Um… I’m pretty sure I’m bi.”

“Bisexual?”

“Mhm.” She hums shakily.

“So you like boys and girls?”

“Yeah.” There’s a long pause, and Max feels like running away or even digging a hole to crawl into, until she sees Eleven start grinning from ear to ear. And then she finds herself breaking into a toothy smile too, which quickly manifests into uncontrollable laughter. There’s no reason why any of it should be funny, but they simply can’t help themselves. It’s in their nature. When it comes to them, seriousness is unheard of.

 

 

When the two girls come out and sit back down, Lucas and Mike are next up. Mike pulls the string, flooding the room with light, and sits across the room from Lucas. Their ankles meet in the middle of the unswept floor.

For some reason, Lucas’s smile is gone, and if Mike isn’t mistaken, he looks a bit pissed off. It could also be because it’s so late- everyone’s tired, and its been a long day for them in terms of travelling here. Choosing not to mention it, Mike sighs and straightens his left leg while bending his right one. He looks around the room, as if it interests him at all, breathing in its stale scent.

“Hey, you,” Lucas speaks up, “Water boy.”

Mike breathes out a chuckle, which makes Lucas laugh a bit too, “Shut up.” He expects him to make some stupid remark over the fact that Jennifer’s here, or the fact that the gingerbread house box has been in Joyce’s storage room since they were little kids- not used once. The gingerbread and icing must be stale and moulding by now. But he doesn’t.

Instead, he asks, a bit slurred, “What’s going on with you, man?” Mike looks up.

“What’s going on with me?”

“Yeah.”

He snickers, shaking his head in confusion, “Nothing.”

“You’ve been acting weird.”

“How?”

“All night, you’ve been giving Sam the death glare. It’s making all of us uncomfortable.” The way Lucas says the last part, no longer joking, turns Mike’s mind into a surging perplexity. He wears a puzzled expression, because honestly, he can’t remember doing anything of the sort.

His brows crease when he squeezes his eyes closed, shakes his head and lifts a steady hand, as though to stop Lucas from talking any more, “M’… Not following.” He could have closed is eyes to reflect on the allegation being thrown at him, but it could also have been a lousy attempt to keep the walls from transforming into a fun house, changing figure every time he blinked.

“What’s your problem with him?” He asks.

“I don’t have a problem with him. Sam’s… Cool.”

The expression on the latter’s face is exactly what Mike would imagined giving himself after hearing those words leave his mouth. The lie just slipped out, smooth and easy like melted butter running down toast- but Lucas doesn’t buy it.

He repeats after Mike in a dissatisfied tone, “Cool.”

“Yeah.” He shrugs, opening his tired eyes again.

“Is it because you’re jealous?” Mike isn’t tired anymore. His eyes snap open and stare hard into Lucas’s. His calm has been replaced by a carousal of ideas, each one more worrying than the last.

Mouth dry, Mike swallows and breathes out another nervous laugh, “Why would I be jealous of Sam? That’s, like, the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Is it?”  

“Yea—”

“Come on, Mike.” He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose exasperatingly.

Still partially calmed by the warmth from his last beer, Mike continues longer than he would’ve if he were his normal, sober self. The way he speaks is almost dismissive and carefree, tired again, “Swear to god. You’re being delusional, dude.”

“No,” He argues, “you’re the delusional one for thinking none of us can notice you ogling Mr. Bowlcut in the corner with the Wheeler clone attached to his hip.”

“Wha—” Mike stammers, pulled out of his tired state for the second time. It’s then that he starts to wonder if he’d been that obvious, if anyone else has noticed, “I’m dating Eleven.” He states firmly, making sure his words are clear.

“I really hope you don’t take this the wrong way.” Then, “Do you actually love El?”

Right away, Mike answers, “Yes.” As if the answer were obvious, “Of course I do. She’s my girlfriend.”

“But... Do you think about her when she’s not around?”

Mike thinks it over for a minute, “No.”

“Do you ever actually want to kiss her?”

“I don’t know.”

And despite the dirtiness of the floor, Lucas scoots over until he’s sat beside Mike and looking at his side profile. Mike doesn’t dare exchange it- only swallows and tries desperately to keep his thoughts in order. If he hadn’t been morphing into complete drunkenness, he’d probably have a stiffer guard right now. But Lucas is breaking away, piece by piece, like it’s made of bricks with no cement.

It’s scary for him- he doesn’t want to tell anyone. But something tells him he’s going to anyway.

It’s scary to find out that someone else, even a friend, knows just how things are with you.

Lucas’s voice is smoother now, less rough around the edges, like a cool summer breeze, “To be honest,” He starts, “it doesn’t really sound like you love her.” Mike’s throat stings- from the leftover taste of alcohol or creeping anxiety, he’s not completely sure, “I’m just saying all of this because I know you, Mike. You are my best friend. I know you. I can tell when you’re struggling.”

“You don’ know me. You don’ know jack shit, Lucas.”

“Y—”

“No, if you know me so much, you’d know that even if I was struggling, its best just to leave me alone.” He says angrily.

“Anyone who knows you, knows that being left alone isn’t how you cope, Mike. You’re the complete opposite.” He says, “Just tell me your true feelings for El. I don’t know if I can watch you guys be all overly touchy anymore. It’s so painful watching you.”

Mike’s silent for a minute, feeling his dam start to crack and break. He parallels his hands in front of each other. And utters out, “I love her… I just don’t know if it’s… girlfriend. Okay? Is that what you wanted to hear?” There it is. The start of it all. The only question now is: will he go through with it? He squeaks like a vulnerable child before Lucas has time to answer, “And I don’t know what to do.”

After a knowing sigh, Lucas exclaims in a soft, melodic voice, “You sure do have it bad. This thing for Will.”

Air automatically leaves him. He stares hard into the floor, his heart falling silent. No matter how much he knows he need to, he can’t will his lips to move. As if stuck underwater, everything is slow and warbled as Lucas continues, “I see the way you act around him compared to El. How you stare at him? You know, we all kind of thought… But then, she… and… Is it true? Do you like him back?”

Do you like him back?

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

And suddenly, Mike’s walls, the walls that hold him up, make him strong, just… Collapse. The dam breaks, billions of gallons of water pushing through at rapid speed. He puts up a good fight, but the tears still manage to push through his red rimmed eyes and spill out past his waterline, and he knows that there’s no saving himself now.

More nervous laughter as he squeaks, “I don’t know.” But he knows well enough.

“It’s okay if you do.” Lucas assures him, still as gently as before.

“Lucas, dude.” It comes out ragged and broken.

“Hey, come on,” He stretches his arm to wrap around Mike’s shoulder, “I don’t care.”

And that’s when Mike breaks down. When he cries, there’s a rawness to it, like the pain is still an open wound, all of his defenses washing away in beer and those salty, pearl-shaped tears. As much as he tried to hold it in, the agony of loneliness, self-guilt and ridicule comes out like an uproar in his throat in the form of a silent, tattered sob, “Please don’t hate me, man.”

“Hey…” He coos, rubbing his shoulder with his thumb, “Stop! Alright? I don’t hate you, Mike, I could never hate you.” He waits for the shuttering gasps and hitches of breath to subside before he speaks up again, “I get it. I know what its like to be judged for something you can’t control. You remember my nickname in school? Midnight. Do you remember that?” Mike nods, “What about Toothless?” Lucas finishes, “You think Dustin chose to have that- that thing? Crane… Crane something?”

“Cleidocranial Dysplasia.” He croaks. 

“Yeah, that. You think he chose that? You think anyone would willingly choose to have something different about them? That brings them discrimination?”

“No way.”

“Hell no! What I’m saying is, we're all born a certain way. None of us are the same. It'll all work out, man, I promise. You don't have to be scared. All of us- we love you. And we'll stick by your side no matter what." Mike nods, wiping his eyes and sniffling. He can’t believe this is happening, "And who you love is such a small fraction of what makes you who you are. You're still Mike." Mike hitches his breath and hiccups another small sob before sniffling again, “I mean it,” Lucas tightens his grasp on his shoulder, holding him close, and Mike almost starts crying all over again, because it’s exactly what he’s needed this whole time. Through this whole agonising journey of finding himself and not accepting the truth for what it is, all he’s really needed is for someone to hold him. Reassurance that things aren't turning to shit. Like Will did, that night after The Outsiders, “Nothings changed. And you can tell me things, you know. I'm always here for you, man, always." 

"Thanks." 

"Sure." 

“So…” He croaks, trying his best to keep his breathing steady. Still, his voice comes out shaky and unstable, “So what do I do?”

“Do what you feel is right. You're given one life. All you gotta do with it, is live it. Live the hell out of it before it’s taken away from you. And do it happily.” Mike’s sigh inflates and deflates like a balloon, the tension and melancholy evaporating from his aura as calmness and relief settle in. He licks his flushed lips and finally looks at Lucas, smiling at him through wet eyes, before Lucas mumbles,

 

“Our time’s almost up.”