The mural vandalism had put a real damper on the Hawkins holiday spirit. The town had its fair share of graffiti on alleyway walls and payphone stalls, but never anything like this. Even worse, Hawkins police were no closer to closing the case. It would be weeks before results from the fingerprint analysis would come in. In the meantime, Neil and Billy Hargrove were brought into the station for questioning. Neil had been furious when he'd gotten the phone call from the station. He had been sure to tell the caller exactly what was on his mind. Hopper, who had placed the call, had to use all of his restraint not to retaliate against all the obscenities that Mr. Hargrove had hurled at him.
The next day, Neil and Billy Hargrove sat in Hopper's office, sitting side by side. Despite his bristled behavior over the phone, Mr. Hargrove presented as clean-shaven and suburban. When he'd arrived there that morning, he'd brought with him a saccharine smile and a plate of his wife's lemon bars. A family recipe, he'd said. Hopper had politely (for him, at least) declined, taking in the curious sight of Billy Hargrove in a sweater vest and corduroys. Any stranger who had seen would have thought them the perfect father-son duo. Jim knew better.
"I'm sure you know why you all are here today, Mr. Hargrove," Hopper began.
"Please, call me Neil," he interrupted. "And, no, I can't say I do, Chief Hopper. Something about a vandalism."
"Jim," he corrected. "On December 26th, the after-school art class mural was vandalized at Hawkins Middle School with offensive images and racial epithets."
Neil shifted straighter in his chair next to an apathetic Billy. He suddenly seemed much taller, much more imposing.
"And you suspect my son?" with voice low.
Jim mirrored Neil's posture. He sat taller, drew back his shoulders, and folded his hands across his face.
"Due to your son's reputation and proximity to the presumed target of the attack, he is considered our primary suspect."
Neil fumed. His neck and face reddened. A vein in his jaw spasmed.
“And just who is this presumed target that my boy is so close to? From what I’ve heard through the grapevine, no specific person’s name was mentioned in the vandalism. And if no one person was specified, how can you assume that my son has anything to do with this?”
Billy struggled to keep his countenance neutral. His fists clenched against his knees as he sank an iota lower in his chair. The target was Y/N Y/L/N. Everyone in town knew. What they didn't all know was how often Y/N had been in the Hargrove home. They didn't know how often she'd laughed at Billy's more appropriate jokes. How they'd both pored over Max's project, making small edits and helpful suggestions. He wasn’t going a word about that in front of his father.
“We have our reasons, Neil. Now, this can all be cleared up with after a few questions. It’s not you I need to hear from,” Hopper said firmly.
"Any questions you have for my son, you'll have to ask in front of me. He's a minor. I know my rights."
"I got nothin' to hide," Billy mumbled. He couldn't be honest with his father sitting right next to him.
Neil shot his son an acerbic glare.
"If you think I'm--."
"You're free to sit in the lobby and wait, Mr.Hargrove," Hopper said with a smirk. "Have a cookie and a cup of hot chocolate while you're there."
Neil rose slowly, undoubtedly warring between the decision to leave or stay and make a scene. Although the door and blinds to the office were shut, the walls were likely not soundproof. He had a reputation to maintain. After a beat, he strode to the door with a scowl.
"I'll be back in thirty minutes. You try any funny business and I'll sue your ass, Hopper. You and the whole precinct." Neil Hargrove stalked out of the room, a muttered curse crossing his lips.
Jim sat back in his chair and removed a tape recorder from his desk. He pulled out a newly sharpened pencil and worn Steno pad. After taking a sip of coffee, he pressed "play" on the recorder.
"Go on and state your name and date of birth for me, kid," Jim instructed.
Billy leaned forward.
"William Hargrove. Date of birth, March 17th, 1967,” he recited.
Hopper took another sip of coffee and watched Billy with a calculating gaze. He looked innocent enough in argyle and beige. Sitting there, in front of the wooden desk, undoubtedly immensely uncomfortable. Here, he didn't seem like the raucous teen he'd heard about. He knew all about Billy's conduct around town. Speeding through Hawkins in a teal Camaro, littering town with half-smoked clove cigarettes. The fights, the threats. He even knew about the keg stand a couple months back. No, this kid looked squeaky clean from his head down to his--
Are those dress shoes? He almost laughed. Kid really was trying to look like the boy-next-door.
Hopper toyed between playing Good Cop or Bad Cop. On one hand, any kid that went around giving out bloody noses like Halloween candy might only respond to that same show of aggression. But, on the other hand, the teenager before him hardly looked like he wanted to put up a fight. He'd sunk lower in his chair and continued to stare down at his hands.
"You're known as "Billy", is that correct?" Hopper began.
- - -
"Yeah, that's right," Billy answered, rubbing his palms down his pant legs. I shouldn't be this nervous. I don't have anything to do with this shit.
The office suddenly seemed smaller. The air warmer. The building quieter. Billy felt his ears grow hot. His palms continued to sweat.
Hopper broke the deafening silence.
"Where were you on December 27th?" he asked, staring down at his empty coffee mug.
"Home, most of the day," Billy replied, clearing his throat. He wished he had a glass of water or something. "That morning I went to Bradley's with my stepmom. Needed to get some groceries."
"What time did you go to Bradley's Big Buy with Susan Hargrove?"
"Maybe around 9:30am or something," he answered, shrugging.
Hopper raised a brow.
"You didn't want to sleep in? It's Winter Break, isn't it? Weren't tired from all the fun?"
"My dad doesn't let us sleep past 8:30."
Hopper's brow creeped ever closer to the brim of his hat.
"Even on holidays?" he asked.
"Even on holidays." Billy nodded.
"And how 's that make you feel?" Hopper began scribbling notes on his pad.
"What is this, a therapy session?"
"You gonna answer the question or not?"
Billy huffed, trying and failing not to roll his eyes. He didn't see what these questions had to do with the mural or Y/N.
"It's a pain in the ass, I guess. Not much I can do about it."
Hopper grunted. Whether out of disagreement or something else, Billy couldn't tell.
"He that hard on your step-sister too?"
"Nah, not so much."
Hopper nodded, pencil jigging across the paper.
"He like her friends?" Hopper asked.
"He doesn't know much about them. I know he wouldn't be a fan of that Sinclair kid if he met him."
"He like your friends?" Hopper asked.
"He says they're trash. Looks bad that I hang around 'em."
Billy's heart rate calmed a bit. Judging by all the questions Chief Hopper was asking him, it was his father they suspected. That wasn't much better, but at least it wouldn't go on his own record. The office seemed a little bigger. The air a bit cooler. The building no longer so silent. The phone rang in the background. Someone yelled for Flo to let them take the call.
"Does your dad think Y/N is trash?"
"She's not my friend," Billy clipped. He’d practiced that.
Hopper shot Billy a skeptical look.
"She's not your friend but she's comin' over your house twice a week?"
"She's my sister's friend. She was helping her with a project."
"You never talked to her then? She's more your age than your sister's."
Hopper leaned forward, his arms resting in front of him.
"Look, kid. This will be easier on everyone involved the more open and honest you are with me. Anything we discuss in here, stays here. Unless it's a crime. You commit a crime?"
"Alright! Go on, then. Get honest."
"We talked a few times. Only 'cause she came over so much. Sometimes, I'd sit in there with them while they studied. Susan would cook for them. Stuff she only made when we have company. Which is almost never. I'd grab a couple snacks and listen to Max stumble over Shakespearean English."
"'Parting is such sweet sorrow," began Hopper.
"'That I shall say good night till it be morrow,'" he finished impulsively. "Yeah, she was doing Romeo and Juliet," he added, suddenly feeling like a huge nerd.
"You ever spend time with her when Max wasn't involved?"
Billy cleared his throat. His palms began to sweat again. These questions weren't incriminating, but they sure felt like it.
"Uh, yeah. One night, it started to snow but the moon was still real bright. Y/N wanted to give Max some space so she could write. We, uh, drove out to Lookout Point to get some air. Enjoy the view." Billy knew how that must have sounded. Lookout Point was a hook-up spot. It was an overlook surrounded by trees, perfect for teenagers looking for a little privacy.
Billy drove them. He'd insisted that the Camaro was a much smoother ride than Y/N's hatchback. It didn't take long to get there. Only a little while, just long enough to enjoy three songs on the radio. Billy killed the engine and the headlights. The moon shone so bright that night, that the clearing was perfectly illuminated. They leaned against the hood of the car. The engine had run long enough that the metal was warm to the touch.
"This view is beautiful," Y/N hummed, her breath puffing white in the cold air. "I can't believe I've never been up here before."
The falling snow sparkled in the moonlight. Thick, heavy flakes that settled steadily all around. Thin ice gleamed in solid rivulets on the tips of tree branches. The secluded precipice seemed like the only part of Hawkins that remained untouched from everything unkind and unclean.
"Yeah, it's...peaceful," Billy agreed. "I come here to get away. Breathe."
Y/N smiled. Snowflakes landed and melted on her hair, the moisture undoing the hours she'd spent straightening it.
"You deal with a lot."
Billy looked at her then. Searching her face for any sign of deceit or derision.
"Your dad, your step-mom," she continued. "And you're almost raising Max yourself. That's a lot on one person."
Billy shrugged, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
"I don't care. They don't. Why should I?" he muttered.
"But, you do," Y/N contradicted.
Before Billy could interject, she continued.
"You sit with Max when we work on her project. You help."
"Susan makes food," he explained.
"It's more than that and you know it. You stay even when you're not eating. And you laugh at all the puns Max put in her story. Even the ones that don't make sense."
"I laugh because they're dumb," he dismissed.
"You call me beforehand to warn me if your dad is gonna be home or not," Y/N challenged.
"I don't want to deal with that any more than you do."
"You make that little smile when--."
"You've been watching me," Billy said, a smirk creeping onto his face. “Why? You see something you like?” Billy leant arm on the car’s hood and leaned closer to Y/N. Even under the layers of his coat, the smell of clove and mint drifted in the air with the falling snow.
Y/N kissed her teeth and crossed her arms.
“Don’t try that with me, Hargrove,” she snapped with the hint of a smile.
“Harsh!” he laughed. “Try what exactly?”
“Don’t try to distract me with your charm while we’re talking about something serious.”
Billy’s smirk grew into a toothy grin.
“So, I’m charming?” He leaned in closer. In the light of the moon, Y/N’s dark eyes were cast in a silvery-blue. He wondered how they looked in the warm sun. Not that it mattered, though. He was simply curious.
“No,” Y/N said defiantly. “You’re a pompous flirt.”
“Ouch! What a blow to the ego,” he chuckled.
Y/N rolled her eyes. She strode toward the passenger side and started to get into the car.
“You’ll live. Now, let’s go. I’m sure Max has a few more paragraphs for us to look over.”
Billy smiled at the memory. It had been the first time he’d seen that side of Y/N. Something other than syrupy sweet and kind. There was a fire in there somewhere. It seemed to only show up when he was around.
Hopper gave Billy a knowing smirk.
“Lookout Point, huh? I guess you two aren’t 'just friends'.”
Billy scowled. Hopper didn’t understand. There was nothing between them. Not really. Certainly not anything like that. He wouldn’t treat Y/N that way if he had the chance. Not like she’d give him one. Not that he wanted one.
“Y/N ever mention anyone bothering her? Someone she didn’t get along with, maybe?” Hopper changed the subject.
Billy racked his brain for anything that might help. Try as he might, he couldn’t think of a single person with a problem with Y/N. She more or less kept to herself when she wasn’t out serving the community. She had a few close friends, but they were just as upstanding as she was.
“Nah, she’s Hawkins’ sweetheart. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Hopper put down his pencil. With a sigh, he ran a hand over his beard. For a moment, he simply looked at Billy. No doubt gauging his sincerity during questioning. Wondering if there was something, anything that he knew to help solve this case.
Billy shifted under his gaze. He wasn’t the vandal, but the weight of Hopper’s stare made him feel like he had something to confess.
“Alright, kid. You’re free to go. Thank you for your cooperation. If you think of anything, you give me a call,” he declared.
In the car ride home and the hours after, Neil Hargrove asked Billy more questions than Jim Hopper had. He demanded that Billy tell him every question Hopper had asked and exactly how he’d answered it. Billy evaded his father’s inquiries. To answer with the full truth meant admitting to wrongdoing. At least, in his father’s eyes. Any semblance of a friendship with Y/N would lead to hurtful consequences. Of course, Max was an exception. She was the youngest, the step-daughter. She got away with so much more. But, if Billy was truthful about the careful acquaintanceship that he had formed with Y/N, even Max might not be safe from Neil Hargrove’s temper. So, instead, Billy dodged the truth. He had learned how to do so early as a form of self-preservation. He gracefully weaved between honesty and false implications. He denied when he could and confessed nothing. Eventually, Neil was satisfied with his son’s answers. He was assured that whatever had been said behind that closed office door had been just as good as anything he would have told Jim himself.
That night, Billy lay in bed feeling just a little relieved. Sure, the jerk who destroyed the mural was still at large. But for now, Billy was safe from any legal or paternal repercussions. Still, as he stared up at his bedroom ceiling, he couldn’t help but feel that Y/N likely didn’t have that same peace of mind.