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Spring Break

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Rains hits the hot dry tar of the road and lifts up smells that has been baked in all day under the sun.

Will’s pedals spin faster than his feet can keep up with, and Mike watches about a foot away— watches the way Will’s cheekbones raise with the grin he so proudly wears and how he twists his hands on the handles every time he looks back to see how far ahead he is.

The feeling of jealousy always has some sort of gravity to it; it pulls Mike down the entire rest of the bike ride back.

It makes him want to stay in second place, just so he can keep admiring him— but it also makes him a little jealous. Jealous of the rain and wind that ripples through his clothes.

And god, he just wants to feel it again. Having him close, feeling him breathe. When he laughs, it means the world to Mike. It isn’t just a sound; it’s his expression, the way his face twitches, the way his eyes fill with euphoria, and how he needs to gasp for air time and time again. It makes him feel younger again; Mike didn’t realize how much of a good thing that could be.

Lucas was right, he does have it bad.

“Try to keep up!” Will calls from ahead.

“Quit your trash-talk!”

“Slow-poke!”

“Not for long!”

 

It was “for long”. Will was first to hit the driveway, which isn’t much of a shocker. Those runner’s legs do come in handy once in a while. He just knows he’ll be feeling it in the morning.

The two were positive to have only left for a few minutes, but by the time get back, the clocks seem to indicate otherwise. The puddles in their shoes squish with every step they take. It’s uncomfortable and loud. And they expected, after peering down at their watches, that the girl’s would be right there waiting for them. They’d be angry, asking where they were and how worrisome the wait had been for them to get back.

But none of that happened. When Will breathlessly sludges toward the living room entrance, he sees them fast asleep on the sofa.

There’s a blanket over top of them, and El’s head is resting on Max’s shoulder. Like always— in their own world. He would help clean up the place; maybe make them feel a little more comfortable, but his clothes are actively sticking to his skin, and with every movement, comes a new outraging feeling of discomfort.

Mike opens the door now too, completely drenched in water.

After insisting Will go inside first, knowing how the rain chills, he had made a run for it towards the fort. Impressively enough, it stayed standing by the time he got to it which helped him to retrieve Will’s sketchbook and board games without much hassle. Rain poured through the open spaces between branches and sticks and soaked through the sheets, pillows and blankets. And after stacking as many items as he could find in his arms, he made a B line to the front entrance.

Now Will joins him as he shucks his sneakers off. Bending down, he takes the sketchbook first and opens up the first few pages. Water only bled through the first five, which is unfortunate, but could’ve been worse. His best works are toward the end anyway. Those are the most recent. The cardboard boxes suffered the worst damage; he hopes they’ll dry up before his mom gets to sees them. “thanks for getting everything,” he acknowledges Mike in a whisper, not wanting to wake the girls.

“yeah, no problem,” then, “where should we put them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we can put them on a towel somewhere? Just to let them air dry?”

“Sure.”

“maybe my room would be the best bet.”

So they gather up the book and games and head toward the stairs, Mike following suite. They shush each other, but the squishing of limbs and feet make it impossible to keep quiet. In the midst of jogging up the stairs, they bend down to peel off their socks— wet enough to wring in the tub if they wanted. The wood creaks underneath their weight, echoing in the silent house, safe for the faint whispers coming from the TV. It only motivates them to go faster.

Once they reach the top floor, they head in separate paths— Mike to the bathroom, Will to the bedroom.

Mike approaches the closet right away. He pulls the doors open with one hand and scans the top shelf where all of the folded towels are, hair still dripping in his face.

He debates which towels to bring out for a moment, but eventually decides on the thin, vibrantly colored ones the Byer’s family often took to the beach every summer. They’re lengthy, but only wide enough to cover your waist to your limbs, at most. It’ll make do for now. He takes three— one for the items, one for Will, and one for himself.

They work together to find a spot on the floor. It doesn’t take long, and soon enough, Mike’s leaving to the guestroom to find some dry clothes. Will whispers a goodnight to him and he says it back. Then the doors shut.

It doesn’t take long to dry off and redress; really, it only takes a few minutes. But for Mike, it takes longer. Because he’ll get side-tracked and forget what he’s in there to do, because all he can think about is Will, and his painted finger nails and yellow binoculars. And how after tomorrow at 9 AM, he won’t be able to see him anymore.

It’ll be same-old school, same-old sports tournaments, same-old Max sitting above him on the bleachers, chewing and offering licorice. Same-old choir performances, sometimes practices if he’s got nothing else planned, and same-old babysitting nights with Holly, and no Nancy there to help. Of course, all of that would be fine if Will were included. He wouldn’t mind seeing Will everyday; being apart of his same-old.

It’ll be this way until summer. The distance will remain, whether that be of a simple wall or hundreds of miles.

In the next room over, Will hangs his wet clothes along his bedframe like a makeshift clothesline, the towel along his chair, and makes sure to set the binoculars on his desk for next time he decides to go out. Rain beats against the window and mists through the screen, so he spins the handle closed. Watches the small streaks of lightning outside with rumbles of thunder accompanying it. Thinking of how it’s kind of scary, but pretty at the same time. like the tornado he’d seen on the news channel a few weeks ago, and how in it, lied the exact phenomenon.

There’re no traces of red in the storm, which is a good thing— just black, grey, and little bits of blue. It has no magnetic pull. he doesn’t feel the urge to go after it. He’s able to blink and remain calm and keep his breathing level, and that’s all that matters, because that means that right now he is safe. Safe, alone, in pure chrysalism.

 

 

By the time Will has thrown out the pizza box and turned off the TV, Mike has walked into the guestroom and taken some math homework out from his backpack. He’s been putting it off the entire break, which is ridiculous, because he’s had more than enough time to work on it. But procrastination took a toll, like it so often does, and now he’s fighting to remember everything he’s been exempt from for a week.

The warm light emitting from the lamp beside him glows the paper a brilliant gold—though that doesn’t make it any more appealing. It shadows the corners of the walls with a burgundy, fading into soft amber. It’s bright enough, but still, he clicks the flashlight on and shines it down on the black printed letters.

Tapping the end of his pencil idly on the blank worksheet sends him into an immediate daydream. Any other subject would be better than this. Stupid fractions. Mike wants nothing more than to scrunch the paper into a ball and throw it across the room. Had it belonged to him, the option would be more likely.

He’s so focused, the sound of a car parking doesn’t faze him. And neither does the sound of a car door opening and shutting. All it takes is the front door and quiet murmur of Joyce’s voice greeting whom he assumes to be Will downstairs, to snap him out of his concentration for a second.

 

She’s wearing her dark green raincoat and knee-high rubber boots. Little droplets of water race down the slippery materials as she unzips and pulls. Will turns to her sound, silently tip-toes to the front entrance.

In the midst of hanging her things, she motions to the living room, asking, “are they asleep?”

“yeah,” he whispers back, acknowledging them again and expecting that she’s doing the same— but she isn’t. Instead, her attention is on his hair.

She reaches forward to tussle it with her hand. Smile lines poke out around geranium lips as he tries catching her wrist with a step back, “did you take a shower?”

“No, I was outside.”

Her expression instantly falls, her hand doing the same. “Outside? But-but it’s dark. And raining. You weren’t alone, were you?”

“No, Mike was with me.”

She walks past him with a sigh, to the kitchen, and he follows. It’s brighter in there; a bit louder too, thanks to the constant hum of refrigerator. He stands still, keeping himself in the background as she carries the kettle to the sink and twists the tap on.

It’s questionable what she’s thinking now. From the looks of the knots in her hair and bags under her eyes, it appears to have been a long day. Which, unfortunately for her, isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Her bangs are parted in the middle, like she’s been running her hand through them a lot— something she does when she’s particularly tired or stressed.

She’s doing it now as she places the kettle on the stove. somehow, she still manages to shoot him a smirk. “Do you want one?”

And his mouth tightens in the same smile, showing the same indents in his cheeks when he shakes his head, “no thanks.”

“You’d have to take it to your room anyway, I’m taking this one to bed,” she grunts, opening one of the cupboards to get to the mugs, “I wish I could stay and talk, honey, but I’m so tired. So many tough customers. So, so many.”

“That’s okay.”

“There was this one woman, and she kept going on and on— why don’t you sell pink earplugs? My favourite color is pink!” She imitates in a squeaky voice and wavy hand gesture. “Like I don’t know! Yell at somebody else, I’m not the one in charge of that stuff.” Will smiles a bit at that, but there is another part of him that feels sort of bad. He could never put up with people like that all day. It makes him nervous about starting employment there for the summer, depending on how therapy goes.

But she laughs it off. Runs her hand through her hair again and searches the next cupboard for the tea she usually likes to make before bed. And Will ducks his head while smoothing his thumb over his nail again; a habit he definitely feels himself beginning to pick up. It’s still so new, so distracting and so weird. And he still can’t believe it happened, and that Mike likes it. Mike likes it.

“Where did you go?” She asks him, making him look up again, cheeks suddenly kissed pink like a spring rose.

“Just this place with water and grass and stuff.” She hums. “It was close by.”

“Oh,” she says, going up on her tip toes and stretches her wrist, “what did you do?”

“Just talked.”

“Is this— I mean, are you two close again? What’s happening?” Keeping up with Will’s social life has gotten more and more difficult lately. After he started getting more private about things earlier that year, their communication slightly deteriorated from what it once was. She figured it had something to do with age— he’s a teenager now, prone to more secrecy. Jonathan was the same way. So whenever she is able to get some information out of him, it’s an instant victory.

The full truth to her question is unknown to both of them, shamefully so. Because if Will knew— knew that every time he’s had a nightmare, or something so simple as a sad thought, Mike would feel it too. That he'd wake up in cold sweats, or just simply feel that uneasiness which makes it hard to breathe. or that every time Mike has been angry at something, he’s needed to move, whether that be bouncing his leg during class, impulsively running to town, or doing jumping jacks during gym class by the sidelines— he’d know that they’re a lot closer than he thought.

 “Yeah, I think so.”  

“I’d like it if you were. He’s always been.. you two have always been close. It’s one of the things I felt most guilty for with the move— separating you two.”

“Don’t feel guilty, mom.”

“I do. I miss it. I really do. It wasn’t perfect, and there are some terrible memories, but there are some amazing ones too.” And it may only be because she’s tired and emotional, but Will finds himself feeling a bit odd at the statement. It feels like, more often than not, she has more good things to say about Hawkins than St. Ignace. Maybe she isn’t the only one anchored to the small town they grew up in. Maybe they’re just not settled in yet— maybe more time needs to pass. But for now, they’re at a level of understanding. “I feel like Hawkins is truly where home is, you know?”

Finally, finding her tea, she reaches up high to grab it.

“anyways, what have you guys been up to today? I didn’t call to check in. You haven’t— erg” she grunts, causing Will to finally step forward and grab the box for her. She stands back, laughing sheepishly until he places it on the counter. She thanks him in the form of a feeble smile. “You haven’t gotten into any trouble, right?”

“no trouble.”

“Alright. Good.”

And Will notices it right away— the way her eyes stay on his hand, even after he lets go of the box. The way her face falls and movements turn to slow-motion, mouth pressing into a thin line. The same way he get’s when he’s taken off guard, like she’s frozen with stage fright to an empty crowd. It makes Will feel instantly nauseous.

He knows, logically, that she’d be okay with it. He couldn’t ever imagine her being one to kick their child out of their own home, scream at them, use violence, suggest something like conversion therapy or anything else that’s completely morally fucked up, just for something as simple as this.

But for a good while, she doesn’t have anything to say.

Which somehow, for a good second, is almost worse. Because really, it only builds the suspension. The hum of the refrigerator is back, as well as the start of another infomercial in the living room as Joyce drops the teabag into the empty "#1 MOM" mug. 

Finally, she speaks, “you know, when you were smaller, you would watch me do my makeup or paint my nails for job interviews, and you would just be… So enthralled. You loved all of the colors. The brighter, the better,” she stands by the sink, a few feet away, waiting for the kettle to whistle, “Lonnie didn’t agree with it, but I always thought— what’s the harm? It’s just art. And you love art. At the end of the day, I just want you to be happy being who you are— I want to see you grow into the person you’re meant to be. I want you to be comfortable with yourself. And I know that’ll happen. I know it will. You just have to practice— you know, build up to it. And,” she stretches her arm out, taking his hand in hers and turning it over so that the polish hits the kitchen light, “from the looks of it, you’re already on your way.

And that makes me so proud.”

And just from those simple words alone, for the first time in so long, he’s able to see a glimmer of hope.

Eventually is already on it’s way. Small steps, but steps all the same. He’s making it come faster on his own. And it feels better than anything he could possibly imagine. Maybe this painful dread isn’t forever, at least, in terms of himself and his identity. Maybe some day he won’t be seen as dirty or unusual for something he can’t help or else he would. He won’t have to hide or keep secrets.

“If you want to ever want to talk to me about anything, I’m here. I’m here, okay? I’m not going anywhere. I’m with you.”

God, he doesn’t deserve her. Sometimes she amazes him with the words she says. How perfect and comforting they are for every occasion, and she doesn’t even have to try. She can be half an inch close to losing her mind after work, at 8 o’clock, making tea with her eyes half-open in exhaustion, and she still manages to find time to make him feel better.

He thanks her, rubs his thumb into her hand and squeezes tight. And she just smiles. Because it’s as far as she’s ever gotten on this subject with Will. Normally, he doesn’t have an ear for anything relating to such subjects. He beats himself up for the little things. like his femininity. But now, he seems to have taken a few steps towards the landmark of acceptance. He’s making progress.

And she can see it on his features too. He looks proud. He’s glowing, radiating all-around composure. And that’s how it should be, always.

“you did a good job too,” she comments, taking an extra second to admire, “holy smokes.”

“It was Max and El.”

“Ah.”

“So you’re not mad?” he needs to make sure.

“honey, I would never…” she starts off, soft and surprised, eyes immediately finding his. But it quickly turns into something firmer once she realizes how much he needs to hear this, “I would never be mad at you for something like this. Ever. Listen— I love you no matter what,” she assures him, and it sounds like it comes straight from the chest. And he’s about to say it back, but then the whistle blows, and her hand disappears. She turns around and lifts the kettle off the stove, silently hoping it didn’t wake the girls.

He breathes with her back turned to him. In and out. How close that was— so close, it might’ve even counted, “I’m going to go upstairs. See what Mike’s doing,” he reports as she pours the boiling water into the mug. The teabag floats the top, slightly inflates with air before dropping back down into the cup. It bobs a little bit, and infuses the water a dark rouge color. She sets the kettle down on a cool element and nods, saying something about how she’s about to get going as well, but before she can finish, Will's walking behind her and wrapping his arms around her shoulders, trapping her in a hug from behind.

The embrace starts gentle but tightens with every moment she doesn’t move away. It lasts only a few seconds before he’s turning his head to kiss her temple and stepping away. He would like to thank her more, but he really doesn’t feel crying right now, and even more so, doesn’t want to make her watch. So, immediately heading for the stairs, he pinpoints a spot and follows it quickly— pushes his legs to go faster and faster.

It’s still early. He doesn’t know how the girls managed to sleep already— maybe they’re just taking a nap. In that case, they’ll be up the whole night. Still, the time is a promise that Mike is still awake somewhere behind that closed door.

 

Will’s footsteps creak slightly against the wood floors, his mom’s footsteps somewhere off in the distance. When he reaches the platform and manages closer to the door, he doesn’t waste much time before knocking softly.

The wait is short. Mike opens it almost right away, knowing very well himself that the first goodnight had not been the last, and welcomes Will inside.

The taller boy smiles a lot, the whole walk to the bed until he slumps down. And that makes Will smile too. Perhaps its leftover giddiness from the race in the rain, or the conversation at the river. Whatever it is, it pumps their heart with adrenaline despite the enervation from it all.

Will sits down beside him, looking over the homework splayed out on the comforter, “what’s this?” his fingers make feather light touches at the questions, seeing but not reading. He leaves that to Mike.

“Homework,” Mike answers with a sigh, like he’s disappointed just to say it.

“And you chose to do it now?”

“Yeah.”

“I mean, if you can’t finish tonight, at least you have tomorrow.”

“It’ll be a long trip. I’ll be exhausted.”

“You can do it during the trip, can’t you?”

“I guess,” Mike says, though he’s not too keen on the idea of that either, “are you good at this stuff?”

“Not really.”

Mike groans exaggeratedly. He clenches the sheet of paper at eye level and shakes it savagely, “why?! Why are you a thing?!” then, sighing out, “I’m just going to tell her my dog died or something, and that’s why I couldn’t finish it.”

“You don’t have a dog.”

“She doesn’t know that.”

“Look, I’m sure you can do it. Just look at the question,” Will leans in closer, points to the third question. The one Mike seems to be stuck on, “see, you just have to convert the fraction into a decimal and see which one’s bigger.”

“How do I do that again?”

“Think. Guess.”

“I don’t know. Do I divide them? The two numbers? Numerator and denominator?”

“Yeah. See, you got it.”

“wait, that’s it?”

“Yeah, you’re just overthinking,” he points to the top of the page to the note Mike forgot he made before leaving class on Friday— FRACTION TO DECIMAL: DIVIDE NUMERATOR AND DENOMINATOR— something that would’ve been helpful when he started.

“These damn word problems. They make everything more complicated.”

Will only smirks and sits back while Mike leans down to write out the answer, not entirely sure of what to do with himself now. 

 Mike assures him he isn’t being forced to stay, and that he knows math homework isn’t the most exciting way to be spending the night, but he still doesn’t leave. He stays put, and admittedly gets Mike a little side-tracked at times.

They talk a lot— the math sheet becomes easily forgotten within the first thirty minutes, leaving two questions unfinished and put off until tomorrow, or the morning before class, depending on how it goes. Most likely the latter. The only time they’re quiet are when their mouths are occupied with toothbrushes and foaming toothpaste during their bathroom intermission.

Neither Sam nor El’s names come up once, which is good for both of their sake. Instead, they talk about unrelated things. Nothing and everything at the same time— skateboards, storms— they’re cool until the power goes out, their comic, math, new hobbies, favorite songs, movies, games, anything besides the fact that the lamp is now off, worksheet placed somewhere off to the side as they lay facing each other with the covers drawn up to their shoulders.

This happens rather easily now. Getting distracted and lost in one another. That’s okay, though. It’s nice like this. Somehow, even in the dark, they’re able to see each other a whole lot better.

 

The flashlight lies between them, shadowing their movements on the wall. They spend a long while making animals with their hands, having the other one guess it, and if it’s cool enough, try to recreate it.

“Like this,” Mike shines the flashlight at their hands as he tries manipulating Will’s fingers to imitate a dog’s silhouette.

“Like this?” Mike takes his hands away and admires the shadow on the wall.

He’d done it just fine, almost better than Mike had done before, but still, he shakes his head and says, “not quite,” and puts his hands back on Will’s, telling him to start over again.

after they run out of animals to show each other, Will manages to bring up their fort, exclaiming how he wishes it weren’t raining so that they could spend the night in it again, and Mike agrees.

Everything must be soaked by now, he thinks. It’s best to just collect them in the morning at this point— throw them in the laundry room in a spare hamper, where they’ll later be thrown into the dryer. Will is the one to decide where they go after that.

It only takes so long before he sighs, rolls onto his back and stares up to the ceiling. Thinking about the fort reminds him of Castle Byers, and Castle Byers reminds him of their fight. And their fight reminds him of the unanswered question that still manages to take somewhat of a toll on everything.

“What happened?” Will inquires softly, because everything should feel normal again— they’re talking, they’re friends again, they’re close like they were before this all happened— but for some reason, it’s different. It’s still a little weird, and tense all the same as when Mike first walked in the door last week. He feels like he’s holding himself back. “to us? After everything, you just… Disappeared.”

“I didn’t,” Mike counterargues, “you did.” There are billboards and roads between them. After a while, it’d seemed like Will had thrown roadblocks behind him and ripped off the rear-view mirror.

“You let go of us.”

“So did you. I know I never called, but you never came back like you said you would.”

“Because I thought you hated me.”

“Hated you?” Mike asks in disbelief, eyes solemnly on the boy beside him, “Will, I could never hate you. I… Listen, I’ve been trying to make things better. I know what you want to hear, and I want to tell you, I do, I want to tell you why, but…” He trails off again, rolls onto his back too, combs his hands through his hair, grips, and pulls, “ugh.”

His mouth won’t let him. There’s a part of him that tries so hard to break through the surface; a part that wants to sing or dance out a musical number about how much he loves Will, but the other half wants to hide away into a hole and never let the words pass his lips. As much as he enjoys acting like he’s a grown mature adult, deep down inside, he remains that scared little kid, all alone on the playground.

 “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine, I really don’t care anymore, we can just—”

“Yes you do, I know you do.”

“Fine, then just say it,” Will tells him, like its that simple, “I promise I won’t get offended.”

“No, it’s not that you’d get offended—”

“then what is it?”

“I don’t know how you’d react.”

and Will breathes out like an angry bull. Swallows up to the ceiling and shuts his eyes, but doesn’t let one bit of his frustration show through his voice when he asks, “you’re really driving me insane, you know that?”

“I want to tell you, trust me, I just…” Mike struggles, suddenly feeling like he’s on a timer before Will loses patience and walks out, “I’ve been trying to find the words, I just don’t know how to say them.”

So Will waits; he lets Mike stutter and rephrase and take time to think. But nothing substantial ever comes out. He’s having a war with himself, only vocalized. And Will hears every bit of it, wondering if it’ll ever stop at some point— if Mike will give up or actually build up the courage to finally spit it out.

One minute turns into three, and three turns to five, until finally Will reaches his hand out of the covers to grab onto the flashlight.

The swift movement puts Mike’s babbling to an abrupt stop. Will pushes the flashlight to his chest, and whilst Mike brings his hands up to hold onto it, he suggests, “maybe you can tell me in a different way.”

And Mike knows exactly what Will means. His heart slams painfully in his chest just at the thought of actually doing it this way— a language they haven’t used in ages. The irony in all the times they’ve used it in the past, all leading up to this moment.

The light shifts in the room as Mike points the flashlight to the ceiling. Thinking, maybe this could work. Maybe this is the way he confesses, once and for all.

He looks at Will from underneath the misty glow, the spotlight feeling more on him now than it does above of him. Then, with a bobbing throat, looks back up toward the ceiling. Determined. Ready, after days of mentally preparing himself. And by clicking the power button on and off, spells out the words:

I LIKE YOU

Not a single inch of Will’s body moves. All the oxygen is sucked clean from his lungs like a vacuum had reached straight into his chest. Taking the form of a lying statue, he wonders if he read it correctly, “can you repeat that? You started too quick, I wasn’t ready.”

I LOVE YOU

Immediate emotion passes through them that neither needs to articulate. Neither are breathing at this point, and Will forgets how to function proper words. “I…” he tries but trails off, because he can’t believe what he just read. Something thrums in his veins, an energy, a spark flooding his system with adrenaline as he feels on the precipice of something that had been on for a long time. A knife-edge of potential with an endless drop.

“Will,” Mike’s voice is almost as shaky as his hands, and so desperate. He thinks he still doesn’t get it somehow.

It's now or never. 

And his heart wants so badly to beat free of it’s cage. It pounds like it’s going to crack a rib as he finds Will’s wide eyes in the dark. Head swimming faster than his movements, he sets the flashlight down between them again and impulsively sits up.

Everything, all the background color vanishes to glow vibrantly in the other person. Mike’s elbow pushes into the sheets beside Will’s arm, pre-warmth grazing over him with his shadow.

Another surge of intrepidity hits him as he lowers his head, tilting slightly so that their lips barely brush against each other. Searching and then locating in the dark.

But it isn’t long lasting. He pulls back after a second, a moment of hesitation, even though he’s dug himself far too deep to back out now. It gives Will a chance to push closer or pull away, but he doesn’t. Barely breathing, anticipating the wish he had made before blowing out the 1 and 5, he keeps still, like one movement could ruin everything.

The kisses in the tent were quicker and less experienced— this one, however— they know what they're doing. And they know the consequences that would follow them if anyone happened to come out for another goodnight at just the wrong moment.

It is a brutal anarchy that Will changes by tilting his chin upwards, so much that their lips are touching again. Unwilling to let a moment like that be lost so easily. But Mike is the one who instantly sinks into it, now entirely certain.

Contrary to El’s soap operas, there are no fireworks or bells going off. There isn’t a heeled foot being lifted off the ground with harmonious music playing in the background; but there are a rush of emotions. every single chalked up emotion Mike has felt for Will during their childhood and months apart finally being released from it’s cage, the locks popping open all at once in a long row. It’s been difficult, keeping them from coming to life and doing as they are now, breaking free. Maybe that’s why he’s so fervent with it now.

In Will’s brain, sunflowers and dandelions bloom. Dark clouds part to reveal the blue sky. Every individual snowflake melts back into summer, waking and succumbing to the bright golden sun above. Because when winter comes, everything from summer doesn’t just go away— it’s only put on hold. He feels everything come back to life, especially when Mike’s nose nudges into the same cheek he holds, heat radiating off the fingertips and sinking into Will’s skin, spreading from his skull to his spine and then everywhere else.

Their love for each other dominates both, and when they break apart for air, an energy connects them like a string of electricity. When Will's eyes open, they're wide. Surprised, yet so full of admiration and understanding and disbelief, he’s barely able to comprehend what just happened.

Mike's eyebrows are gently furrowed— not enough to make any crease, but furrowed still. His eyes hold less awe than they do fear, because holy shit. It is just as good as he remembers. Logically, it should be the same as kissing anybody else. But it isn't. Will's different, and he isn't sure if it's because of the fact that he's a boy, or that he's just Will, but whatever it is, it wraps around his chest and pulls in the best possible way.

Will’s first to speak, whispering out a small, "oh."

"I,” he starts, knowing he has to explain a little more, "was scared. I still am. And that's why I didn't tell you sooner. I thought that if I tried really hard, I could grow out of it. But I can't- I can't grow out of it. I was pushing you away. I was an asshole to you because I was angry and confused and stupid and if you don't feel the same way, that's fine—”

Will’s eyes frantically dart from Mike’s left eye to his right. Realizing: so that was the answer. That's what he's been stressing over for so long. This whole time, it really hadn't been his fault. It hurts him that Mike had been hurting for so long, but he can't help but feel joy that he wasn't the only one to feel this way. Mike loves him too. He tries to focus on his words, but Mike is still on top of him and still so, so close. It’s overwhelming, and he feels like maybe he should push him off, start running somewhere far, do something irrational and later on, regret not staying.

But he doesn’t do that. He doesn’t freak out.

He stays, forgetting about all the stress and worry. And lets himself relax.

And by doing so, smiles. It’s small, but somehow big enough to take the frightful edge off of Mike’s words. The boy above him stops and looks down at him, lips twitching into a smirk of his own, “what?” he asks. Will’s teeth are showing now, a gentle laugh floating through in small chuckles.

He glows in the blue hues of night, coming in through the sheer fabric of the makeshift-bed sheet-curtain. “nothing.”

“Are you laughing at me?” It’s said comically but there’s some insecurity behind it that’s inevitable.

“No, no, I just never— I never thought that this— you would… I never thought that you would come around. I never thought that this would happen. I mean, this week— has been crazy, but I didn’t think this would happen.”

“Wait, ‘come around’, what does that mean.”

“Mike,” Will says, speechless for a second, “I’ve loved you since the swing set.”

In 1976, Will had shared with Mike that since he was his best friend, he was automatically invited to every single one of his birthday parties for the rest of his life. “Even when we’re old people!” He promised after Mike asked. At the time, it felt like the sweetest victory is the world, knowing that he’d be having free birthday cake for one extra day a year. His demeanor then had been all light and smiles, jumping up and down during a hug that eventually transitioned into arms around the other’s shoulder. The position in which they’d stay until someone made them break apart.

Of course, a reaction such as that had not only been stemmed from birthday cake, but the fact that it was the first time Will ever called him his best friend. He already knew they were friends, but “best friend” had a totally different meaning. It meant Will liked him more than all the other kids at school, and something about that filled him with profound jubilation.

Now the hovering boy’s eyebrows are frowned. All the same emotions, but presented in a different way. Brown eyes, which have always been dark, become even blacker with dilation as his jaw slacks slightly. Replacing his hand upon Will’s cheek, Will reaches up to grab onto it as well, hand enveloping Mike’s almost completely.

“Wait,” it isn’t fully settled in yet. Mike’s thumbs over his cheekbone, looking for the answer he’s been waiting for, “so you… You feel this too?”

And Will is bewildered. Bewildered that he isn’t the one in Mike’s place, having always thought that what they had was one-sided, and that he was the one side.

Without a second thought, he reaches up to hold Mike’s nape and pulls him down for a second kiss, the world falling away once more. Vestiges of mint are still left from the toothpaste as well as some coolness from airdried rain, a reminder that they’d been out there; where the water pellets beat against the window and sway the tree branches.

And Mike kisses back like he needs it, needs to feel Will’s mouth on his or he’ll die. Because he’s never let himself have this before. To want someone without the fear and self-loathing just a moment behind. He knows Will’s in the same boat, unlearning years of internalized shame with every kiss, every affectionate touch. They forget and replace the space with each other. They remember each other, what they had, and restore it by ruining it again.

Nothing has ever felt warmer than this. Heat engulfs Will as Mike slants his head further, deepening the kiss slowly, inexorably. It’s soft and gentle and chaste and maybe there’s no fireworks or sparks, but it’s better than that— it’s a wave of warmth that fills him up, spilling out from his heart and rushing to every corner of his body: the cracks in between his toes, the crooks of his elbows, the tips of his ears.

Every inch of him is saturated with love; the gross kind he would scrunch his nose at when it came to Jonathon and Nancy or his mom and Jim.

When they pull away again, they pull right back in, never wanting to waste a second of it. both crying slightly—especially Mike— they cling to the other like lifelines. Like they’re on a raft, stranded and lost somewhere out in the ocean where there’s only cold winds.

It lasts longer than they anticipate at first, stretching from five seconds to ten, and then ten to fifteen. Until finally, something interrupts.

The front door opens again, causing the boys to gasp apart. Mike whips his head behind his shoulder, but only sees a window and some darkness. They wait stiffly for a few more seconds before a man coughs downstairs, to which they then separate. Slumping back into the sheets and sighing out the same breath. Jim.

Will sits there calmly perplexed. His chest rises up and down like a trampoline, small tears built up in the corners of his eyes beginning to slowly trickle down his temples now.Mike lays back and wipes his eyes— it’s damp there, along his lash line.

It certainly took a lot. To a have hated himself so intensely for so long, and to betray the intrusive thoughts which he let control him, leaves him immensely drained. Tired and lovesick. “shit,” he mutters. and Will’s doesn’t think he could’ve said it better himself.

He watches Mike’s side-profile, waits for something else, anything else, but in return, gets nothing. There’s no guide for where to go from here. He doesn’t know what to do, what the right decision is— to speak, stay silent, touch, don’t touch, stay, go.

Will asks softly, desperate to get into Mike’s head, “what are you thinking about?”

But he seems just as clueless, locking eyes with the latter and exclaiming, “I really want to punch that chief guy in the face,” his dimples poke through then and he can’t help but smile too.

Mike face warms into a bashful red blush, like it's just sort of caught up to him now. He thinks of where to go from here. Wonders what Will is expecting after this. "Will..." he starts, "did you mean what you said?"

"Yeah. Did you?"

"Yeah," then, "but I don't think... I don't know what you want to do, what you want after this, but I'm just... going to need a bit more time.” Before the other boy can get a word in, Mike continues on, rushed and anxious, “you know, before we start calling ourselves… I don't know.”

Mike’s face instantly turns an even deeper shade of red, and Will’s does the same. Even imagining the word—boyfriends— puts in hindsight how fast everything is moving. It makes it easier to understand where Mike is coming from. “Oh—” Will says solemnly, “let’s just— not worry about any of that right now. Let’s not even think about it,”

At eye level, he’s almost able to make out the dim features of the older boy’s hand coming up to rest on top of his. “I don’t wanna—” he explains, “I don’t wanna freak us both out. There’s no rush for anything.” Mike full-heartedly agrees. He doesn’t want to permanently assign himself to a term that scares him. The only thing that matters right now is that he loves Will. As long as he knows that, and Will knows that, it’ll be okay.

“We have all the time in the world.”

But as comforting as those words may sound, they just aren’t true. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”

And maybe Will forgot. Maybe he hasn’t been counting the days, or the statement had just caught him off guard in the sentimental moment he was trying to initiate, but he doesn’t talk anymore after that.

Mike waits and waits— feeling like he messed up somehow, but it’s the truth. It’s the only thing he’s been able to think about since this morning— it’s been eating him up on the inside. It’s what pressured him to finally take the final step. Confessing to Will. Kissing him.

“Right.” He’s caught off guard.

“I mean, you’re not wrong, anyway. We still have time, right?” it’ll just be over a distance.

“yeah,” He tries putting enough confidence into his voice to make up for the hopeful phrase. Words like these spoken with confidence help a lot in a situation such as this.

 

They do try staying up for as long as they can, but it doesn’t take long for Will to get tired. Mike can tell by the slowing pace of his responses— every word dragging on longer and longer. He’d been persistent— “it’s your last night. That calls for an all-nighter. Are you staying up with me?” that’d been the plan. When Will wakes up in the morning, he’ll be enraged it wasn’t followed through. It has been a long afternoon, after lots of thinking, talking, and biking; he was bound to crash at some point.

They’ve stopped bothering saying new things now. Mike is turned on his other side with Will close enough to use his pillow alongside him. Neither are quite asleep; both only lulled under the same heavy feeling of cosines. Unlike Will, Mike’s eyes are open and pointed at the wall in front of him. He traces out shapes from the darkness.

There’s a point when all he can think about is the kiss. Then, he thinks about leaving. how at this exact time tomorrow, he’ll be all alone without the weight behind him. Instead, with school to stress about in the morning.

He wants to enjoy it, this time with Will— and he has. This whole day has been incredible, never mind tonight. And thinking about it makes him smile, but it also makes him cry a little too. Just enough to let small shudders come through with little to no sound at all. Not enough to disturb the quietness.

It’s his fault— had he known the kiss would work out, he surely would’ve done things differently. Sooner. Definitely sooner. They could’ve had the whole week. So many days, wasted. Doing it so late feels cruel now, both to himself, and to the boy who subconsciously twists and turns in his sleep, barely an inch to his right.

There’re moments when he’s felt like he’s okay, lying on his back now, but then Will would roll over on his stomach and stretch his arm out so his hand would be palm-face-down on Mike’s stomach, and he’d start playing with Will’s fingers, and then all the feelings would come back again. it just sort of stays like that.

He avoids sleep. Even when Will eventually falls deep into unconsciousness, breathing out soft breaths overtop of the persistent patters amongst the roof, he keeps his eyes open. It bubbles up this feeling inside of him that makes him start grinning again. Looking up to the ceiling gratefully, thanking the universe for this insane miracle.

In the distance beyond the closed window he can hear the hum of far-off traffic on the roads to intersections leading to larger communities. It’s quiet enough to hear Will’s breathing, and if he listens hard enough, the flutter of his eyelids when he dreams. How could it be that you could love someone so much and keep it a secret form yourself as you woke daily so far away?

There on that shelf is the silliness of their early love, the braid that began to form their dreams, the solid root of a burgeoning connection that lasts a lifetime. Immortal.

 

Around four A.M. the rain stopped and sent everything into a peaceful silence. The aftermath of the storm isn’t too bad. They woke up to a fairly peaceful glow, despite it’s bitter meaning. Now the light streams down like it’s beaming through shards of broken glass.

The volume does not match the tranquillity of the sun, however. Voices converge between rooms, different conversations with different people, all at the same time. Breakfast is less formal, as Joyce is in a persistent hurry to get Max and Mike fed and packed in time for the taxi. They sit on counters, or in the living room, on couch arms, and look out the window.

Max hasn’t been in much of a rush to get showered and ready as she usually is; only wears loose pieces of clothing that sag on her form, which is what Mike sports as well. No makeup, hair down in unbrushed waves. It gives her more time to spend with El than in the mirror. She likes not trying some days anyway.

The two pairs of friends eagerly milk out as much time as they can out of whatever they left together.

 

“Toiletries?”

“Check, check, and check.”

“Homework?”

“Check.”

“Clothes?”

Mike throws the last sock in his suitcase on the bed, “check.”

“Bike?”

“Parked outside. Ready to go.”

Will sits on the edge of the guest bed, beside the backpack which had once held his comics, but now hold Mike’s homework sheet. He holds a list in his hand and hesitantly checks off the fourth box before placing it to the side. “alright. That’s everything on the list. You’re set.”  

 

 

“I hope you have fun at school tomorrow,” Max says to a frowning El, standing in the driveway. It’s empty now, but any minute, someone else should be strolling in and warning them that the taxi will pull up any second.

It’s meant to take the weight off of what they’re thinking. But El just squints under the sun and exclaims, “I probably won’t. I’ll spend the whole day missing you.”

Max smiles, “don’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because you have other friends there who are excited to see you. Sandy, and Melissa, and Jess. Remember them?”

“Yes, I remember,” El answers as though it were obvious, missing Max’s sarcasm, “but I would rather have you. You’re my favorite.”

And Max can’t deny the blush that rises to her cheeks at that last statement. Eyebrow quirking, she teases, “favorite, huh?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Don’t tell them that.”

“I’m pretty sure they already know. They say I talk a lot about you— I told them they’re crazy.”

Max laughs embarrassedly. “Well, don’t tell any of the boys, but…” then, stepping closer, cups her hand on the side of her mouth and whispers, “you’re my favorite.”

“Really?” El whispers back as Max pulls away.

“Really. But I’m sure they already know.”

“woah.” The o shape of her mouth turns into a wide-toothed grin and her dimples start showing again. She likes being somebody’s favorite. Max wishes she could take the image and carry it around with her wherever she went. She curses her memory for not being eidetic. How long she would stare at it that same image is unknown but predictable. Forever.

 

 

Joyce and Jim are starting to trickle out into the driveway already, as expected. Mike can see them through the window, sipping on cups of coffee and making small talk with Max. The only one’s left are him and the boy sitting limply on the bed behind him.

Mike glances at his watch— 8:55. “It’ll be here soon, so…” he says, stopping to take a deep breath. He lets it roll out in one sigh, watching it float off and smudge the glass before slowly disappearing back to clear again. he turns around to Will, swallowing hard. “I guess— I guess this is…” He doesn’t want to say it. Goodbye.

And Will doesn’t want to hear it. He clasps a hand over his eyes and rests his elbow onto his knee, sputtering out the sob he’s held in all morning.

It was bound to happen sometime. He knew this spring break couldn’t last forever no matter how many times he wished it upon the stars, but it still hurts when reality sets in that time exists and goes by really fucking fast when you’re so caught up in it.

Mike trudges over to him, eyes glossing over already, and sinks to the ground by his feet. “Come on, Will,” he whispers, placing a hand on his other knee, “come on, man. Don’t cry.”

But Will doesn’t listen. Only weeps harder— the silent kind that hurts the most. Coming from inside his chest, tearing holes in his lungs. From the looks of his forehead, his face is flushed the exact shade of a tomato.

“If you cry, then I’m gonna cry.”

But Mike’s voice is already choked off. He doesn’t need Will to make him emotional; he’s been holding this in too. Being so persistent on enjoying the last part of his stay, that he hadn’t even allowed himself to actually feel, and think: wow, it’s really over. It seems like Will’s thought about it a lot leading up to now.

“Come here,” he helps Will up and scoops him into a hug.

Mike’s embrace is stronger than anything he’s ever known. As if holding each other isn’t enough, they have to feel every ounce of the other’s body press into every ounce of theirs. In that moment, feeling so close, they are awake— for there are times they are a butterfly who yearns for the cocoon, to be safe within walls, protected.

It’s their gold, their food and pure rain. It is the love that makes everything else possible. Waiting for an opportunity like this to happen again. Their eyes are screwed shut and trickle warm tears down onto the other’s shoulder. Will grips him tight while trying to discreetly smell his hair, taking a million mental photographs that he can replay like a flip book. Constructing a text, a narrative, a story to house this moment so he can read it again and again.

It isn’t fair. They just got this. And now it’s being taken away from them before they’ve even had to chance to really experience it.

Will reaches his hand around Mike’s back to control the waterworks before uttering in a strained voice, the last syllable barely audible, “I don’t want you to go.”

Mike rubs his back with his hand, comforting. “I’ll visit whenever I can.”

That gentle voice is definitely something Will is going to miss the most. “I know. I will too.”

“I’ll also call this time.”

The statement is what breaks the hug and pulls them away from each other with matching grins. Will laughs and sniffles, “yeah,” before pushing his knuckles into his wet eyes and rubbing the tears away.

After taking a few seconds to recover, he steps forward to push Mike’s shoulder, like a puppy wanting to play. It causes him to stumble slightly, making him smile even more.

He tries jabbing into Mike’s stomach but Mike catches his wrist just in time before bending down to jab his stomach right back. Together, they playfight like a couple of kids; poking, prodding, having fun, wiping their tears, sniffling and chuckling.

Suddenly, Mike presses his fingers into the side of Will’s side. It causes him to crunch over and wheeze out, nearly dropping to floor in defeat.

Until Max’s voice rings through the hall “Mike!” The boys freeze, simultaneously looking at the door and separating themselves.

“Yeah!”

Then, closer to the door, “Taxi’s here.”

Will’s heart drops.

“Uh— coming!”

No, not yet. Not yet. Please…

He stands stiffly, mouth going dry. Hands clammy. Stomach churning in his throat. Whereas Mike just straightens up and steadily walks toward the backpack on the bed. Will watches him as he slings the strap over his shoulder— the room losing it’s energy from before, now eerily silent— and reaches for the suitcase.

There’s still so much they have to unpack. So much time and experiences they have to make up for. Mike shouldn’t be packing up right now; he should be helping him take the drenched blankets inside. Bringing the games back out. Maybe adding more stuff to the fort— making it theirs. Forgetting about lunch because they’re having too much fun biking back to that spot with the water, and seeing the fish and ducks in daylight this time. Possibly naming a few. That’s what he wants right now.

“What if,” he speaks up, freezing Mike in place. his throat tighten up again. it constricts any air from getting in. “what if I just don’t let you go?”

Mike loosens slightly, “I think Jim might kick me out.”

“You could stay in our basement.”

“He’d love that.”

“I could hide you in a tent. Or the fort. Fortress Mike and Will.”

“or I could hide you in my suitcase.”

The laugh they share is sadder and quieter than the last. They know it isn’t possible. They have separate lives now; lives they need to attend to, that don’t involve the other.

“Next time we see each other, I was thinking we could just… Pick up where we left off. Are you— I mean, what do you think? Are you okay with that?”

Will nods at the words of comfort. It puts him at ease, knowing that they’re both willing to wait for each other. That this isn’t going anywhere. It’s sort of like the winter to summer phenomenon from last night. Everything from summer doesn’t just disappear with winter; it’s only put on hold. “yeah, I’d like that.”

He asks finally, looking back toward the window, “do you think you’re ready to go out there?”

“I guess. You?”

“think so.”

 

The car parked by the side of the road feels more like a ticking time bomb than a taxi waiting for pickup. The soft wind from outside cools the sensitive parts of their face, where they’d been crying, and makes them squint slightly at the sun.

Max and Will are first to hug after Joyce tells everyone to say their goodbyes. Mike and El are a very quick second, almost crashing into each other the moment their eyes meet.

Will whispers a thank you in the ear of the redhead, who responds with a smile and an extra squeeze— faintly tipping side-by-side on each foot before pulling away. They share a smile before moving on to the next person.

After El sniffles out of Mike’s hold, she’s instantly met with the force of Max falling into her arms. She starts sobbing then, as she feels herself being lifted into this oblivion of something indescribable. Warmth emits through the embers and burns through her chest. and Max feels it too. She holds her as though she’s falling from a cliff and El’s a twig wedged in the middle of two rocks.

Mike and Will, on the other hand, settle on a quick side hug without sparing even a single glance to each other. They pat each other’s backs, mumble goodbye, and part ways without looking back. The emotions are soaring now; if they take one look at the other person, they will break. They will absolutely break.

Will thinks he hears Mike hug Joyce as she wishes him safe travels, but honestly, he isn’t paying attention. Instead, he stands, dumbfoundedly staring at the ground like a zombie. It isn’t until Hopper pats him on the back and asks him if he’s okay, does he actually notice how broken he’s letting himself look. He hadn’t been this way when Lucas and Dustin left. He hadn’t been so quiet, and blank, and numb.

So, forcing a smile, he nods.

Jim points to his hands then, laughing a bit, as a way to lighten his mood, and asks, “the girls got you, did they?” Will looks down at the nail polish. Jim pats him a few more times and grins at Mike struggling to lift and fit his bike inside the trunk. “there’s remover in the bathroom for you, kid. Downstairs, top left shelf. Don’t want to show up to school tomorrow with that on. Yeesh.”

And that just makes him want to break down even more. He knows he’s being overly sensitive, he'd figured that he'd have to clean it off already. But then he’s pulling away from Jim and the rest of the family and heading towards the front door.

The sound of creaking catches Joyce’s attention. She calls out to him, “hey Will, aren’t you going to say goodbye? —”

But she’s interrupted by the sound of the door slamming shut. A blunt sound with followed silence, something to let him know he’s alone.

He holds in a breath the whole way up the stairs and down the hall, all the way until he’s crashing on his bed. It’s then that Will realizes, the pain of letting go is far worse than that of anything else he’s felt before. Besides all of the obvious stuff. Obviously.

Eyes squeezed shut, he listens to the voices outside. They start out hushed, but with a few short minutes, start to elevate and become more distinct. They speak the very word he hates most. Goodbye.

The rumble of the engine starting is what prompts him to finally spring up, as though the sheets had, by some chance, turned to boiling lava. When he finally pushes himself to brace his hands against the frame, they’re driving away.

He can vaguely make out Mike’s face in the back window now, looking out, searching for someone who is no longer on the front steps. It makes him feel terrible, but at the same time, relieved. Relieved that Mike doesn’t have to feel whatever he’s feeling right now.

Will wants to chase it. To run downstairs, out the front door, and down the driveway. He wants to run beside Mike’s window and force the taxi to pull over. He wants Mike to get out of the car and kiss him again, just like he had last night.

But he holds back. It isn’t that simple. They disappear into the distance.

The gloss in his eyes is inevitable now; it spills out on his cheeks and down the cup of his chin. His fingers touch the glass until the car is no longer in sight, creating their own circular smudges when he drops them back down.

As Mike slumps back down in his seat, his body goes slack with numbness.

The driver, an older looking man with black hair and a mustache, calculates the route and twists the volume dial on the radio. The Smiths, Max recognizes almost right away. The guitar is prominent and tempoed a smidge faster than the voice. The driver nods along to the steady percussion. 

Playing with her hands now, Max thinks about El. She thinks about love, and she thinks about distance. All three have a power far stronger than herself. 

It hurts how much she loves her, and it hurts even more, knowing she’ll have to wait and make sacrifices and work hard if she even wants the slimmest chance of getting to El. None of it will be easy and this is only the beginning. 

The distance is only an obstacle she’ll have to get around. Somehow. 

If only El’s powers could shrink it.

When a piece of her hair falls in her face, she tucks it behind her ear, like she’d done to El when she woke by her side on the couch last night. The way El snuggled closer in that moment will be the very thing which keeps her heart beating every time she thinks back to it. 

After sensing Mike out of the corner of her eye, she looks past the middle seat to find him watching. 

And for a moment, they share a look of sadness as exhaustion starts to overcome them. It’s a curse, yet in its wake, serves as sort of a blessing too. It grants them the gift of peace between one another. A mutual understanding. Temporary. But existing. 

Mike’s head touches the headrest. He slowly slumps against the seat and tilts his head toward the window, sighing out as he does. Objects pass, stores, Jennifer’s house, Sandy’s house, Melissa’s, the café, the motel and the school. 

Suddenly remembering the object he’d discretely pulled out of the fort that night, the boy reaches down to pull out a folded piece of artist paper from the smaller pocket of his backpack. It’s water stained, and a little smudged, but as he unravels it, it’s as perfect as ever. 

TO: MIKE 

FROM: WILL 

 

 

The day is slow and heavy. As the sky changes, Will does not. He remains inside his bedroom with the door and curtains closed.

Nobody dares walk in, safe for Joyce, who had offered to talk at first. He didn’t want to. Two hours later, She asked if he wanted anything to eat or drink. He said no. So she left him in peace with the nickname “my sweet boy” ingrained in his head and hair scattered from where she combed her hand through. 

El spends the day the same way; laying in bed, staring at the wall. Sleeping sometimes, waking up disappointed, and then trying again. he supposes this when he sees her walk downstairs a minute or two after he has. They’re both hungry after a full day of no appetite.

Joyce and Jim had let them be to themselves tonight, announcing that dinner is a free-for-all. Unconventional. 

And it’s a bit of a panic-stricken feeling at first, seeing her. In the beginning of Mike’s visit, she was dating him. Now, in the end, it’s switched around. It feels kind of dirty when it’s put that way.

Will’s spreading strawberry jam over some peanut butter on a slice of bread when she asks for one herself. Now they sit side-by-side on the stools, where him and Mike had worked on their comic, and eat together silently. Redness covers both of their eyes and noses. It looks like someone died, rather than just left. 

“I hope my eyes aren’t swollen for school tomorrow,” El exclaims, sipping some of the milk she poured. “Are you showering tonight?”

“No,” he answers, “I’m too tired. In the morning.” 

“Okay,” she’ll take one tonight then. There’s only so much hot water in the tank, so usually they try to trade off times to conserve it a bit. 

“I was wondering,” he says after a few minutes, “if maybe we can hang out after school sometime tomorrow.”

“Do you mean the willow tree?”

“I was thinking somewhere different. There’s ducks and fish.”

“Really?” 

“Yeah. You can help me name them. Just a thought.” He just really needs the company. He needs to be there again, but not alone. When he had been there alone, it was sad. He needs it to be happy, like it was with Mike’s second presence.

Part of him feels guilty for corrupting their spot, but being fair, they already have one, and it’s the fort. Maybe this could be a new safe space which he can share with someone who needs it just as much. 

Something inside her changes. It’s brighter. Like a jack-o-lantern but less creepy looking. Happiness shows through all of her features as she nods, “Okay.”

And he smiles back. 

Until a few more minutes later, when the sound of the phone ringing shocks them both. It stops after a few rings, and then Joyce is calling that it’s for Will. 

The speed in which he leaps up is probably equal to something of the Flash’s capability. El barely even sees him get off the stool. Just— one minute he was there, and the next, he’s on the stairs. 

“I’m here now,” the boy gasps into his phone when he finally picks it up. After waiting for the sound of Joyce hanging up, he asks, “hello?”

“Will?”

“Mike,” he sighs out in a smile, relieved beyond words to hear that voice. It calms him instantly. 

“Hey. I just got home.”

Will sits down. “How was the trip?”

“Exhausting.” 

“I don’t doubt it.”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m good,” there’s a small pause as he looks at the stereo in the corner of the room, and Mike looks at Will’s newest drawing pinned up on the basement wall. Then he’s murmuring into the speaker, “I miss you.”

“I miss you too. A lot.”

“When do you think your next visit will be?” He asks hopefully.

“I don’t know. I’ll have to save up the cash again. Which could take a while.” Will frowns and hangs his head back. Stares at the ceiling and follows the ridges with his eyes. “Maybe I’ll try to get a job at Family Video with Dustin. Or the bowling alley. I could probably get money faster that way instead of walking Mrs. Plavinsky’s dogs three days a week after school.”

Will agrees glumly, “yeah.”

“Nancy totally lucked out when she babysat the neighbour’s kids a few years ago. They payed her a ton.”

“How much?”

“Twenty-five bucks an hour.”

“Holy.”

“I know right.”

“How old are they now?”

“Old enough to not need a babysitter anymore.”

“Dammit.”

“I know. It’s too bad I spent half her salary on Dig Dug.” Will smiles. The arcade was definitely one of the highlights of Hawkins. It has some of his fondest memories. “I could have saved up for important shit like this.”

“Well hey, I was thinking of taking a trip anyway. I mean, the birthday cards from my family should be coming in soon. They usually have some money in them.”

“Oh— my god. Yeah. That works out perfect.” 

“Maybe I could come for a weekend sometime soon. If you’re free.”

“Yeah,” he breathes, “yeah. I’m always free.”

Will smiles, “okay.”

“Okay,” Mike says triumphantly.

“Cool.”

“Cool.”

“Okay. Well. Let’s talk more about it later. El’s waiting for me downstairs. I’ll call you before bed or something?”

“Sure. I’ll be here.”

“Kay, see you Mike.”

“Wait.” Will puts the phone back to his ear. “Wait, hold on. I forgot. Sorry.”

“What is it?” he asks, a bit worried at the suddenly urgent tone.

“Uh. This is gonna sound...” Mike trails off, “ugh.” Then, after a faint shuffling sound, “look in your closet sometime for me, okay?” 

Will twists in his chair to look at the closet and then back at his desk, eyebrows now furrowed. “why?”

“I kind of put my jacket in there.” Mike admits, “Y’know, to help you stay warm.”

Immediately, Will’s face softens, “...Don’t you need it?” On the other line, invisible to him, Mike smiles. 

“Nah, I have sweaters, I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

Well now he’s anxious to look in the closet. For Mike to do something like this is totally unexpected. He almost can’t believe it. Yet, at the same time, he can. 

It becomes apparent to him then that this is an old Mike thing to do. Not new, douchebag Mike who’s been around for the past two or so years until just short of a half a week ago. He’s finally back to normal. Will hopes with all his being that it lasts. “Mike?”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

“Really.” he stumbles over his words for a minute, not knowing whether to say it or not. He doesn’t know if they’re at the point yet where they can just say it regularly on the phone. But he means it and he’s so thankful, and he just needs Mike to know. “I...” love you. “Feel bad I didn’t leave you anything. Oh. And also. Sorry I didn’t stay outside to wave with everyone else when you and Max left, I couldn’t—”

“Woah, woah—“ Mike interrupts him, “hey, you don’t have to feel bad. It’s okay. Really, it is,” when Will gives an unconvinced sigh. “I’ve got your drawing. The one you did of me. So.. yeah, everything’s good. Don’t feel bad. And as for the outside thing, I get it. No sweat.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m totally sure.”

Will hears the sink running downstairs— El washing her dishes. Suddenly he remembers he has to go. “so I’ll call you, then.”

“Sounds good. Later.”

“Okay. Bye Mike.”

And just before Will hangs up, he manages to pick up the tiniest, softest voice, saying what had been on the tip of his tongue just a moment earlier. “I love you.” 

It melts him into a puddle right there.

 

The night’s still young after the two siblings finish cleaning up, so when El attends to her shower, Will joins his parents in the living room. 

The phone call helped tremendously in making him feel better. There’s still stress; the uncertainty of what school is going to look like after the Sam situation terrifies him, but he doesn’t let it control him for the rest of the evening. Now he just focuses on sharing a blanket with his mom, and engaging in the television show with his dad. Spending time with the people whom he loves. 

And later that night, after he moved the phone to the guest room and snuggled up under the covers, he let himself relax to Mike’s voice again. They talked as normal friends would, with the occasional implication of something meaning a bit more. 

“I wish I was with you,” is a common statement. 

Vestiges of Mike’s scent had seeped through the sheets and pillowcase, so Will takes advantage of it. Breathes it in whilst he speaks, as well as after he hangs up. It feels safe— like they’re connected somehow still, despite everything. 

It’s like every fiber holds healing powers. It makes everything better.

Out the smaller window, the moon is that of a small silver beam of light. He remembers what Mike had told him the last few minutes of the call, that at least they have the same moon. It’s sweet and melancholy, but comforting all the rest. He knows Mike is looking at it now too.

“Recognize what you’re feeling, accept it, and think of our session and what methods you learned.” Donna’s voice. And right now, staring into the light amidst the darkness, Will decides he feels content. Then retreats his answer, replacing it with instead, peacefulness, felicity, clarity, yearning… warmth. That’s it. Warmth.