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Respect & Responsibility

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Despite wearing one of her father’s old button-ups and an apron, Y/N still managed to get charcoal pencil on her dress and face. She had hardly noticed. There were more impressive things to see. The kids in her class were finally taking a project seriously. After months of watercolor painting, clay pottery, and magazine collage, the students had finally found a project that they were interested in. For this lesson, Y/N asked the students to sketch one of their heroes in charcoal. They could choose anyone, real or fictional.

Y/N circled the room, surveying the students’ progress and helping them out when they couldn’t get the eyes are nose symmetrical. There was one drawing in particular that had caught her attention. It depicted a young girl in a leather jacket and slicked-back hair. She stood, arms stretched forward and dark eyes blazing. The detail that really made Y/N pause was that the girl’s nose was bleeding.

“Max, who is that? A character from one of your comic books?” she asked.

 The redhead looked up briefly and flashed Y/N a dimpled grin before turning back to her work. She was concentrating on the details of the girl’s sneakers.

 “Somethin’ like that,” Max quipped. “She’s kind of a superhero.”

 Y/N looked closely.

“This is really great, Max! Can I hang it up outside the classroom when it’s done?”

 The girl’s eyes widened, and she rushed to cover her paper.

 “No way! It’s, uh, really not for public viewing,” Max stuttered, face turning red.

  Y/N held up her hands in surrender.

  “Alright, alright! But it is pretty awesome,” Y/N urged.

 Y/N turned her attention to the sketch beside Max’s superhero. The lines weren’t as clean and precise of Max’s piece, but it made Y/N smile, nonetheless. The drawing depicted a mustachioed man wearing a sweater vest and tie. It looked a bit like Mister Rogers.

 “Dustin, is that the guy from that children’s show with the trolley?” Y/N wondered aloud.

 Dustin frowned. Max buried her face in her work, trying and failing to hide her snickers.

 “Aw, come on, Y/N!” Dustin crossed his arms. “It’s Mister Clarke!”

Y/N nodded silently. She didn’t see a resemblance.

 “Okay everyone, finish up! Ten more minutes!” she called, looking down her Casio. The room had to be vacant before the custodians came by. Even though she taught the after-school art class every Friday, she had to move her supplies to and from her car every week.

 Twenty minutes later, Y/N had gathered up the sketches to be displayed in the hallway. All except for Max’s. She had quickly slipped it into her Trapper Keeper. The handful of students who had stayed through the months of Y/N’s infectious love of art and community service milled out of the room. Max and Dustin stayed behind to help pack up her car.

The trio lugged the last of the bins into Y/N's hatchback. Dustin sat down with a huff.

 

"Alright! That's my workout for the week!" He kicked up his feet and reclined dramatically in the hatchback

 

"Since when does a Dungeons and Dragons campaign count as a workout?" scoffed Max.

 

"Hey!" Dustin couldn't help the blush that crept up his cheeks. So much for looking cool in front of the art teacher.

 

"Dungeons and Dragons? Is that why you're always in such a hurry to leave my class?" teased Y/N.

 

Dustin clutched his chest in mock offense. 

 

"I would never! Your art class is a ray of sunshine in the cloudy storm that is my life."

 

Distracted with laughter and talk of campaigns and canvases, the three hardly noticed the approach of a certain teal Camaro. The blaring of the car's horn in the quiet parking lot was enough to get their attention.


From behind mirrored aviators, Billy watched as Max's face changed from surprise to panic as she registered who she was looking at. Why did she suddenly look so nervous? She was with that Dustin kid, like always. There was someone else standing there too. Someone familiar. About his age. Max’s big head was blocking his view. He was usually late picking her up. Dustin was the only person he’d seen her with leaving the art class. Billy slid down his shades to get a better look as Max stomped toward the passenger side. She wrenched open the door and threw her bag to her feet.

 

Billy glared at Max for a beat, trying to decide how to approach his curiosity.

 

“What? You gonna drive?” Max snapped.

 

Shifting the car in reverse, Billy sped out of the parking lot. Clouds of dust and gravel rose behind them. He decided that being blunt and direct was the best approach.

 

“Who were you talking to?” His voice calm, even.

 

“Dustin.” Max looked out the window at the trees. She was a terrible liar.

 

“Yeah, I know who your loser friends are. Who was that chick you were talking to?”

 

“What chick?” Max feigned ignorance. She was starting to piss him off.

 

“Don’t be a fucking smartass. Who was that girl?” Billy paused and grinned. “You know what? I’ll just turn around and ask.”

 

“Wait!” Max shouted, just as Billy had slammed on the brakes. “It’s Y/N! Y/N Y/L/N, my art teacher.”

 

Billy’s jaw clenched. That’s why she had looked so familiar. He should have recognized her. Her picture had been in the school paper Max had brought home. Something about a volunteer art class. He should have put the pieces together sooner.

 

“You’re not goin’ to that art class anymore.”

 

Max rolled her eyes.

 

“It’s not up to you. I’m taking it because Mom wants me to. She wants me to have a hobby that’s more ladylike.”

 

Billy seethed. He swore Max was so dumb sometimes.

 

“It’s not about the class, doofus. It’s your teacher. Dad’s gonna flip his lid if he sees you with somebody like her.”

 

“Like what? She’s like a Girl Scout or something,” Max grumbled, sinking lower in the seat.

 

“You know what I mean.” He gripped the steering wheel tighter. He wasn’t about to let Max start more trouble for him.

 

It was bad enough that Max had been hanging out with Lucas Sinclair. But if Billy’s dad found out that Max was spending time with Y/N too? He’d never hear the end of it. Neil Hargrove was obsessed with keeping up appearances. Billy’s father had been even worse in California. His family had to look perfect on the outside. Wonder Bread and picket fences, well-behaved children and a manicured lawn. He believed that certain types of people would…sully that image. Billy didn’t agree, but it wasn’t worth getting his ass beat.

 

“Look, just don’t let him see you around town with her,” his voice taut, “Just art class.”

 

Max felt a lump form in her throat. She took a calming breath, eyes staring at the roof of the car. She hated that her stepfather was this way.

 

“Yeah, whatever. Just art class,” she conceded.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Regret was bitter in her throat. She knew better. She was smarter than this, more mature than this. Yet, she'd still managed to get herself into this mess. The remnants of her poor decisions would mark her skin, her hair, her clothing for who-knows how long. A strangled breath burst from her lips. She had forgotten, for a moment, to breath.

 

"Y/N, I am so so sorry. I'll clean it up, I swear!" Erica pleaded. She was in even worse shape. Her hands shook slightly as she, too, took in the sight before them. "Mom won't be home for, like, an hour and a half. I got this. It's fine."

 

Furniture.

 

Carpet.

 

The vase of silk flowers.

 

Both girls.

 

Covered in glitter.

 

Metallic and pink, it glistened throughout the entire sitting room. Buried in the fibers of the carpet, slipping between the couch cushions, stuck on perspiring skin.

 

Y/N nodded dumbly. The Sinclair's had a vacuum cleaner somewhere. A broom, too. What she really needed was a miracle.

 

"Erica--" Y/N stuttered. "The vacuum. We need a vacuum."

 

Erica nodded hurriedly before scampering off in search of a vacuum and a broom. 

 

Y/N grabbed a trash bin and a magazine. Using the piece of reading, she brushed the resplendent substance into the garbage. 

 

This was all her fault. Making snow globes had been her idea. She wanted to do a trial lesson before she tried it with her students. It should have gone smoothly. Erica had mixed the water and glycerin. The glass jar had been painted and dried thoroughly. She'd even added a My Little Pony figurine to the lid. It should have been perfect. But, Erica had a cold and a sneeze too powerful for a body so small. The jar of glitter was flung from her hand. The plastic container bounced from couch to coffee table to floor. The gust of the ceiling fan had done the rest.

 

At least Lucas was out with his friends. He would have been sure to snitch on his sister. Luckily, only Erica was home, with Y/N to babysit.

 

Erica trudged down the stairs, struggling to carry everything. Y/N rushed to grab the vacuum. After plugging it in, she made quick work of clearing the carpet of shimmery evidence. Her school-aged charge dusted cushions and shook clean the floral arrangement. The two blustered about the room, hunting down any trace of sparkle.

 

Some time later, the room was nearly pristine. Any glitter that had been left behind hid in cracks and corners, only noticeable to someone looking much too closely.

 

Erica plopped on the sofa with a huff.

 

"Whew! I don't want to see another piece of glitter ever again," Erica sighed.

 

Y/N groaned.

 

"Me neither. I guess I'll have come up with another idea for class. Something glitter-free," Y/N thought aloud. 

 

The silence of the room was broken by Y/N's sharp gasp.

 

"Erica! Your hair!"

 

"Huh?" Erica's hands reached for the ends of her carefully parted plaits. Glitter fell into her lap. "Uh oh."

 

"Don't move!" Y/N grabbed the trash bin and placed it on the floor. "Here. Shake it out. I'll go it your hair stuff. Your mom can't see your head lookin' like this."

 

Y/N sped out of the room and back again, armed with a brush, wide-toothed comb, gel, and black rubber bands. Erica dutifully sat on the floor.

 

"Man, I'm about to get into so much trouble! Mom just washed and pressed my hair yesterday."

 

Y/N's hands nimbly removed the barrettes and bands from Erica's hair. She combed through each section to detangle before attacking the glitter with the brush. Before long, Erica's hair was glitter-free. It was styled differently than before, but neat.

 

The telltale jangle of keys in the door had both girls’ hearts racing. Erica’s parents were back.

 

“Oh no,” whispered Y/N. If Mrs. Sinclair realized how big of a mess they made, she might never have Y/N babysit again.

 

“The moment of truth,” was Erica’s solemn reply.

 

The smells of Giorgio Beverly Hills perfume and Brut cologne mingled as Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair strolled in. The bright smile on Mrs. Sinclair’s face didn’t waiver as she entered the living room. In fact, it only grew as she took in the sight of spotless carpet and freshly dusted furniture.

 

“Y/N, did you help Erica finish her chores? The house is so clean, it nearly sparkles!” Mrs. Sinclair remarked.

 

Y/N and Erica exchanged cautious glances.

 

“And you did Erica’s hair! You are such a sweetheart, Y/N. What would we do without you?”

 

Y/N smiled nervously.

 

“Here’s your compensation for the night. Thank you for your help, Y/N.” Mr. Sinclair handed her a few bills from his wallet.

 

“That should be enough for some extra canvases or two, right?” asked Mrs. Sinclair.

 

Y/N stared at the cash in her hand: two twenty-dollar bills. She only charged three dollars an hour.

 

“Oh, I can’t take this. This is way too much.” Y/N tried to return the money, but Mrs. Sinclair placed her hands atop Y/N’s.

 

“Take it, dear. You’ve earned that and more. I don’t know anyone that can get Erica to clean,” she chuckled.

 

Erica sucked her teeth, earning a glare in the process.

 

“Thank you all so much,” Y/N said graciously. “Have a good night.”

 

Y/N gathered her bag and car keys.

 

“Take care of that cold, Erica,” she said, giving the girl a knowing look.

 

(Recommended listening – “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel)

 

The drive home was much less eventful than the evening had been. The static-crackling car radio played chipper pop music, adding a little pep to the dark and quiet streets. Y/N’s mind wandered to the events of the day before. Max and Dustin typically stayed after art class to help her clean up. Since the weather had been so cold, they would loiter in the hallways for a bit. Yesterday, though, the day had been unusually warm. They’d hung around in the parking lot; time had escaped them as they’d been caught up in easygoing conversation.

 

She had finally caught a glimpse of him: the legendary Billy Hargrove. The Keg King of Hawkins. Master of the Mullet. Incubus of Teen Wet Dreams. She’d heard whispers about him around town. He was known for his quick temper, smooth words, and competitive nature. There seemed to be a town-wide obsession with his long lashes and sculpted physique. Nearly everyone either wanted to get with him or get like him. Y/N didn’t understand the hype. From what she’d gathered about him, he was a total jerk. He got into fights, he smoked, he drank. He sauntered about like he was God’s gift to Indiana. Y/N hoped that he was, at least, kind to Max. Max hadn’t seemed very happy to see him, though. But that’s how siblings always were, right? Lucas and Erica certainly didn’t get along all the time. But Billy and Lucas were hardly comparable…

 

Y/N shook her thoughts from her head. She was probably just overthinking things. It’s not like she’d really run into him; she was home-schooled.

---

(Recommended listening – “You Might Think” by Cars)

 

The lazy drone of fluorescent lighting was the loudest sound in Melvald’s General Store. The other was the shrill scuff of Y/N’s tennis shoes as she went back and forth from aisle to aisle She had scrapped the snow globe idea. When she had gotten home that night, she’d found glitter in unimaginable places. Never again. The new plan was bigger, better: a movable mural. She envisioned large sheets of paper that could be arranged in any order. The sheets would be mounted along the school walls, forming a mural. It would be made of multiple panels of various mediums. She would let the students pick which they liked best. She had a feeling charcoal pencil would be the most popular.

 

Now, she just needed to find the paper. She wandered to the back of the store, where the office supplies were located. Spotting what she was looking for, Y/N hoisted the heavy roll of paper into her arms and started toward the register. Despite the weight, she stopped to check out the first aid aisle. A few of her students were a bit accident-prone. Y/N did her best to fit the band-aid box between her chin and the roll of paper. It was a risk, but the register was just a few paces away. In her struggle, she didn’t notice the presence of a certain Hawkins heartthrob. As she turned, she nearly collided into the t-shirt-clad chest of Billy Hargrove.

 

“Whoa there, now. Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.” Billy braced her shoulders with both hands to keep her from losing her balance. This close, she could smell the distinct scent of cologne, peppermint, and tobacco. Looking up nervously, she noticed that his lip was split and scabbed. That would explain the ointment in his hand. Had he gotten into another fight?

 

Unfortunately, with the precarious stack under her jaw, Y/N couldn’t get a word out. Billy took the silence as an opportunity to rake his eyes over her form. He looked her up in down, taking in the curves of her body visible underneath her sweatshirt and acid-wash jeans.

 

“Next time, try a cart,” he directed, sauntering from the aisle.

 

Y/N’s furrowed her brow. What was his deal? It wasn’t like she’d dropped anything.

 

She took her time comparing prices of paintbrushes. She wasn’t stalling, she told herself. Brushes could be expensive.

 

 Deciding against anymore purchases, she placed her items on the conveyor, smiling at a familiar face.

 

“Hi, Mrs. Byers!” she chirped.

 

“Y/N! It’s good to see you! How’s the family?” Joyce Byers asked while ringing up Y/N’s purchases.

 

“Good! My parents are doing well, same old,” she replied, fishing out her wallet.

 

“I heard your art class is going well, too! I’ve been thinking of having Will join you. I think it would be…therapeutic for him.” She smiled sadly. “He loves to draw.”

 

Y/N nodded understandingly and paid for her things. She remembered the tragedy that the town had thought was Will’s death. Miraculously, he had been discovered alive. But kids were even more cruel to him than they had been before.

 

“There’s always room for one more! The next project involves some drawing, if he’s up for it,” Y/N encouraged.

 

Joyce lifted the heavy paper roll into a shopping cart.

 

“Is that what all this is for?” she asked breathlessly.

 

Y/N smiled sheepishly.

 

“Uh, yeah. The plan is to do a jigsaw mural. The kids can split into groups, based on which art project they liked best and design a panel together. Then they can come together as a class and decide how to arrange the pieces.”

 

“That sounds like a great idea! And this is all for Girl Scouts? They should pay you,” Joyce remarked.

 

Y/N shrugged, unaccustomed to the flattery.

 

“It makes me happy. And it seems to make the kids happy, too. That’s all the payment I need.”

 

Joyce shook her head, expression wide-eyed with incredulity.

 

“Well, give me a ring when it’s cookie season!”

 

“Will do, Mrs. Byers!” Y/N called over her shoulder as she pushed the shopping cart out the door.

 

 

Chapter Text

The next week, Y/N and her class started the mural project. It went much better than the snow globe idea. To say it went over well was an understatement. The students took the assignment very seriously. Their teachers, peers, and parents would see their work covering the walls of the school hallways. Three weeks into the project, after each panel had been designed and outlined, Will Byers joined the class. Y/N was happy to have him and his friends were stoked to see him there.

After weeks planning and creating, the mural was completed. The students stayed late to mount the panels on the walls, turning many pieces into one communal work of art.

Dustin stood in front of the panel that he had collaborated on. He smugly admired his contribution: a polyhedral die. He wiped an imaginary tear.

“This is my life’s work,” he sniffled. “After weeks of grueling hours, arduous labor, and—.”

“Are you gonna stand there and cry or are you gonna help us out here?” Max called. She stood on a small ladder, Will handing her pieces of tape.

“C’mon, Dustin. Don’t be a pain in the ass!” Will joined.

“Watch your language, guys!” Y/N chastised from a few panels away.


With the mural project at last complete, Y/N could focus on getting into the holiday spirit. Hawkins was especially jolly this year. At least, that was how it appeared. Store windows were decked in reindeer figurines and fake snow. Car hoods were adorned with tinsel and miniature wreaths. Every store in town, including the post office, was playing Christmas music. The town was buzzing with…anxiety.

Just as things seemed to go smoothly in Hawkins, some dark cloud would creep into view. Disappearances, destruction, and death—anything could happen next. The easiest way to push away the sadness and suspicion was with eggnog and chocolate-filled advent calendars. The best method, however, was to pick the perfect Christmas tree. That’s what brought Y/N and her parents to Merrill Wright’s tree farm.

Against the warm glow of hundreds of strung lights, the bare evergreens appeared regal and tall. The crispness of tree sap filled the noses of the families milling around for the perfect arbor. Well-worn boots and sneakers crunched against the gravel and sawdust that lined the ground around them.

 

Her father marched ahead, determined to find a tree that met his high standards. Her mother was more than content to admire the scenery--sights, sounds, and smells. Y/N ambled behind them distractedly, more focused on keeping her nose from going numb with cold.

 

Her thoughts wandered to the weeks of upcoming Hawkins events. She'd heard talk of the middle school Snow Ball, the high school Winter Formal, of holiday parties and movie marathons. She appreciated all the effort and care her mother put into her homeschooling, but it was hard to meet people. Adding that to being shy? Impossible. She considered joining her art class students in their fun. What did they play? Something about dragons...

 

The sound of her name called, in a voice girlish and familiar, broke her thoughts. Turning to the source of the sound, she spotted a familiar, freckled face bounding towards her.

 

"Max!" Y/N laughed, pulling the girl into a tight hug. Their bright grins mirrored one another's. "Out tree hunting?"

 

"Yeah," Max groaned, rolling her eyes. "Dad insisted. There wasn't a tree farm back in California."

 

"I suppose it is part of the Christmas experience," Y/N replied, trying and failing to resist the urge to pull Max's hat down over her ears.

 

"He's making us get dressed up in holiday sweaters to decorate it tonight," she whined, adding, "while he plays Christmas music tapes."

 

Y/N laughed, her mirth filling the air in puffs of white vapor.

 

"You're kidding!"

 

Max snorted.

 

"I wish I was!"

 

The laughter quieted as Billy sauntered over to the two. He brusquely slung his arm around Max's shoulders. As a result, all three of them were standing uncomfortably close. Close enough to smell the mix of cigarettes, mint, and cologne.

 

His expression warred between smug and predatory.

 

"Wanna introduce me to your friend?" he smirked.

 

"You already know who she is," Max grumbled.

 

"Manners, Maxine," he growled, his tone not matching the wolfish smile on his face.

 

"Billy, this is my art teacher Y/N. Y/N, this is my step-brother, Billy," she presented, voice laden with false enthusiasm.

 

Y/N offered a mitten-covered hand.

 

"It's nice to meet you," she breathed. His hard gaze made her nervous.

 

Billy tilted his head to the side, ignoring the proffered hand as it was hastily hidden away in a coat pocket.

 

"I don't see you around much. Hear plenty about you, though."

 

Despite the cold, Y/N's face prickled with warmth.

 

"Good things, I hope?" It wasn't meant to be a question. He was just staring at her so intensely.

 

"Hurry up, Maxine," he said, eyes never wavering. "We've got a tree to trim."

 

As Billy's formed retreated among the trees, Y/N let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.

 

"Sorry about him," Max mumbled. "I don't know why he's such a jerk."

 

"Oh, I'm sure--I'm sure he means well?" That wasn't meant to be a question either.

 

Max shuffled awkwardly.

 

"Actually, I need your help with something," she said.

 

"What's up?"

 

Max blew out a puff of air. Her eyes drifted everywhere but to Y/N's.

 

"I need help with a project," she blurted. "It's extra credit so it's not a big deal. But it's for my English class. Shakespeare. It's a creative writing project. I have to write my own interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, but I can hardly understand the original one. Will you help me, please? My step-dad said I can get a tutor. I can pay you!"

 

Relief. She was certain Max was going to ask for womanly advice or help keeping some deep, dark secret.

 

"Sure, I'll help!" Y/N chirped. "And you don't have to pay me. It'll be fun!"

 

Max looked up from the brim of her knit hat.

 

"Are you sure? I really can pay you. If not money, I can pay you in pizza rolls or something. Just name it!"

 

Y/N laughed.

 

"It's fine, Max. Really! Just call later and we'll figure out the time and place, ok? I'll bring my copy of the book. It's got notes in the margins."

 

Max smiled with relief before launching herself into Y/N's arms.

 

"You're seriously the best."

 

Just as Y/N opened her mouth to reply, Billy's voice rang through the trees.

 

"Oh, Max!" he called in a sing-song, "We're leaving!"

 

Max scowled and mumbled a goodbye.

 

"Call me whenever," Y/N said with a smile.

 

She wandered through the foliage, spotting her parents easily in the sparse crowd.

 

Her father had found what he was calling the 'perfect' tree. It was nine feet tall. And, knowing him, he would insist on carrying it in himself.

 

Yards away, another family was loading their 'perfect' tree into their car.

 

Billy loomed over Max. His hand gripped her shoulder roughly.

 

"What did I tell you about being seen with her, Max?" he questioned lowly.

 

"Only you saw us. You promised you'd leave my friends alone," she shot back, eyes flashing.

 

Billy stepped back, hand instinctively grazing the side of his neck.

 

"So, she's your friend now?" He smirked, eyebrows raised.

 

"I mean, I hung out with her after school, once a week for like three months. So, yeah. She's my friend," she retorted, tipping up in chin with confidence.

 

"And she's gonna be my tutor," Max added quickly.

 

Billy scoffed, "For that stupid extra credit bullshit? Yeah, fat chance."

 

"Watch me," she challenged before climbing into the van.

 

Max called later that night, as promised. Since it was Winter Break, they agreed that Y/N would come over twice a week. The first study session of the week would be to interpret Shakespeare together; the second would be to proofread Max’s own version of the tale.

A week later, Y/N sat parked in the Hargrove driveway. She killed the engine before sitting back in her seat with a sigh. Today was the first of many trips to the Hargrove household. She shouldn't be nervous, she told herself. This was for Max, who she'd do anything for. She had become like a little sister to her. But, despite that fact, she couldn't stop thinking about the rumors she had heard about Billy's father. Sure, Billy was known to be something of a bad boy. His dad, though? People said he was just an all-around terrible man. Steeling her nerves, she gathered her things and rang the doorbell. She took another steadying breath, hoping that it would be Max or her mother to welcome her in. Alas, the door swung open and she was met with the withering gaze of Neil Hargrove.

 

"Hi, Mr. Hargrove. I'm Y/N. I'm here to help Max with her project," she said, as she stepped through the doorway.

 

"Well, aren't you punctual," he gruffed. It didn't sound like much of a compliment.

 

Y/N stood fidgeting in the foyer. Her winter coat was suddenly incredibly stifling.

 

For more than a brief moment, Neil Hargrove's calculating gaze took in Y/N's appearance. She'd tried to look nice. Casual and comfortable, but nice. However, under Mr. Hargrove's regard, her trouser and turtleneck ensemble felt frumpy. And much too warm.

 

"Maxine tells me you're the smartest girl she knows," he remarked.

 

Y/N shifted, her books growing heavy in her arms.

 

"She's too kind. I'm really not all that--" she began.

 

"So, you're not smart?" Neil interrupted, folding his arms across his chest.

 

"No, I mean, I'm just--," Y/N tried.

 

"Average? Lackluster? Unimpressive?" he pressed.

 

"Not all that special..." she mumbled, biting her cheek. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

 

"Y/N!" Max exclaimed, racing to give her a hug.

 

Y/N didn't miss Mr. Hargrove bristling at their contact. What was his deal?

 


The pair set up in the dining room. Thankfully, Neil Hargrove had left soon after Y/N's arrival. Susan Hargrove returned shortly after. She had gotten the girls each a glass of Tang and plate of snacks for their study session. The table quickly became littered with Post-It notes, index cards, and highlighters. Y/N had spent the last hour explaining iambic pentameter. After that endeavor and insisting to Max that this project was indeed a good idea, they started the play. Max read the prologue aloud, stopping every so often to ask a question. For the first scene, they decided to split the roles. Max read as Gregory; Y/N read as Sampson.

 

"'True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels,

are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push
Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids
to the wall,'" Y/N read.

 

"Wait a second. First off, that's sexist. And second, is he saying--implying...?" Max questioned.

 

"Yup." Y/N nodded.

 

"Gross!"

 

"It's only getting worse from here. We haven't even gotten to the wet nurse's part yet," Y/N replied, crunching a cheese puff. "C'mon, let's get through scene one and then call it a night.

 

"''Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I

have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the
maids, and cut off their heads,'" Y/N read dramatically.

 

"'The heads of maids?'" Max followed, in a British accent.

 

"'Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;

take it in what sense thou wilt.'"

 

"Wait, can you explain that line?" Max asked.

 

"It's a pun."

 

Max nodded and gestured for her to continue.

 

"It's another one of Shakespeare's adult jokes," Y/N continued as Max looked at her expectantly. "Maidenhead is--it's that thing, uh, concept--.”

 

“It means ‘virginity’.”

 

Both girls jumped at the sound of Billy’s voice through the mostly quiet house. He stood in the doorway,

having just come from the kitchen to make a sandwich.

 

“Get out, Billy!” Max yelled.

 

Billy scoffed between bites.

 

“I’m just being helpful, Maxine. Seems like there are a few things I could teach your friend here,” he said, smirking.

 

Y/N’s face grew hot.

 

“Why don’t you go back to your room?” Max said.

 

“Look, I gave you your space. But it’s nine o’clock, I wanted a sandwich.” He shrugged.

 

"Nine o'clock? I'm gonna be late for curfew!" Y/N jumped from her seat. She hurriedly began packing her bag.

 

Billy snorted, "Curfew? It's Winter Break."

 

"I always have a curfew," she said, not looking up. Max carried the dishes to the kitchen.

 

Billy sauntered closer to Y/N, bringing along with him the increasingly familiar scent of aftershave, peppermint, and cigarettes.

 

"Don't you ever break the rules?" His voice was suddenly low and rumbling. She could feel it in her teeth. 

 

She dared look up at him. After all, eye contact was essential for polite conversation. Her breath caught as their eyes met. She had never noticed just how blue his eyes were. Framed by long, dark lashes, his stare was almost wolf-like. With their proximity, his intensity as his eyes blazed down at her, she felt frozen where she stood. Like getting called on in class when not knowing the answer. Like the moment right before making a decision that could be incredibly rewarding or frightfully dangerous. 

 

Max bustled back into the room, interrupting anything rude her stepbrother might have been preparing to say.

 

"Thanks for helping me tonight, Y/N. I won't ask so many questions next time," Max added, face reddening.

 

"It was fun," she hummed to Max. "I'll see you around, Billy," she added, to be polite.

 

"Maybe even past curfew," he alluded.

 

Y/N's eyes widened. She turned away quickly to hide her embarrassment. She hurried to the door, praying Billy wouldn't say another word.

 

Max followed, after shooting the offender a glare. 

 

"Thanks again, Y/N. Maybe we should meet somewhere else next time?" Max offered. 

 

Y/N waved off the girl's concern.

 

"It's chill. If we met anywhere else, you'd have to get a ride and that would just be a hassle. I

 don't mind. Really!"

 

"Sorry about my...family." Mumbled words, a downcast expression. 

 

"No need." She smiled and headed to her car.

 

She made it through the entire drive home without her mind wandering. She greeted her parents, who had been worried and only slightly tempted to lecture her on the importance of checking in. She wiped off her makeup without losing focus. She showered and changed into her pajamas without thinking too hard. 

 

It was while she was carefully sectioning and rolling her hair that she began to ponder. Sitting on the floor in front of her mirror, hands moving thoughtlessly, she couldn't stop Billy from crossing her mind. There was something about him that she couldn't quite figure out. She'd heard about his reputation. Who hadn't? He was known to be boisterous, pompous, aggressive, and dangerously flirtatious. But with Max, he just seemed protective.  Y/N's mind wandered to the sight of him that night. He'd appeared so suddenly, clad in only a wife-beater and basketball shorts. She'd been embarrassed to see so much of him. The outline of his physique glaringly obvious in the thin cotton. And that little bit of knowledge of Shakespeare. She bet that Billy was much smarter than he let on. His reputation, though--his persona was all machismo. Maybe, it was a cover. A front to keep anyone from getting too close. And with a father like he had, he probably never opened up to anyone. Y/N sighed, wrapping a satin scarf around her hair for the night. What did it matter anyway?

 


 

Billy lay on his bed. Tossing a basketball into the air, tapping a foot lightly to Van Halen through the stereo. He shouldn't think about her, she was trouble. But he was thinking about her and he was trouble. It was dumb, really: Y/N drifting through his mind. She wasn't anything special. She was too nice, too boring. Sure, her eyes were pretty, kind of. Yeah, her smile was charming or whatever. And her hair. How did she make it look like that? Didn't matter. It wasn't like she'd ever mess around with him. Or go on a date. Not that her parents would allow it. Not that his father would allow it. Not that even he wanted to. 

 


 

In the days that passed, Max and Y/N's study sessions went more smoothly. Neil Hargrove was far from polite, but he kept his gruffness to himself. Whether that was out of human decency or gratitude for the hours of time Y/N was selflessly giving his stepdaughter, he didn't say. Susan, though, was a constant and warm presence in the Hargrove home. She didn't speak much. However, she was always happy to see Y/N and prepare the girls a few snacks. When Neal wasn’t home, Susan would even sit down and chat with the girls. Billy, when he wasn’t out, mostly kept to himself at home. Occasionally, he would pop in to swipe some junk food or give them a hard time. Even more rarely, he would be helpful.

 

“How can something be a comedy and a tragedy? That’s just complicated!” Max threw her hands in the air.

 

“Your story doesn’t have to be just like the original. You can make it one or the other, if you want,” Y/N encouraged.

 

“Just keep what you have and add some corny jokes or something. Tragic and comedic,” Billy said, leaning back in his chair. He’d come in with the excuse of stealing a handful of pizza rolls, but had quickly gotten comfortable.


A week later, Max’s extra credit was complete. She was so excited about it that she dropped it off to her teacher’s office before Winter Break was over. Her teacher had loved her story: a comedic tragedy about two teenagers from feuding families whose bond over monster-hunting had ended the centuries-old rivalry once and for all. Her grade had gone from a low B to a solid A. Her parents had been so excited that they’d gotten her a new skateboard. Her old one was covered in tape and wood glue. Max had called Y/N to thank her and insist on paying her back somehow. Y/N, of course, had declined.


With Winter Break soon coming to an end, one Hawkins educator was eager to make this semester the best he could. Scott Clarke arrived at Hawkins Middle School at 6:00am to ensure that everything was perfect. Closing his car door with his hip, he shuffled his way into the school with arms full of supplies. It took several trips back and forth before he noticed. After all, he was in charge of both science class and the AV Club. He carried boxes and bags of petri dishes, agar, glass beakers, and more, setting them carefully into their labeled places. On his fourth and final trip, he saw something that had the last box crashing to the floor.

 

The jigsaw mural created by Y/N’s after-school art class hung shredded on the wall. Mr. Clarke had been so preoccupied with his cargo that he’d completely overlooked it. But as he observed, his face paled and his stomach turned.  Scribbled on the remnants of the mural that weren’t dangling were hateful words and dehumanizing images covering the art that the students had spent weeks perfecting. Mr. Clarke looked around frantically. The entire school building was empty. Whoever had destroyed the mural had done so hours, days, or even weeks earlier. Long gone. 

 

Shouldering his lunch bag, Scott Clarke hurried to his office. He picked up the phone, fingers flying across the keypad to dial Hawkins' finest. 

 

Chief Jim Hopper and Officer Powell arrived at Hawkins Middle School moments later. The Blazer had hardly stopped running before the chief hauled through the front doors, Powell trailing behind him.

 

Mr. Clarke stood beside the torn mural wringing his hands.

 

"Morning, Chief," he greeted sullenly. "I called as soon as I saw it."

 

"As a formality, we'll have to ask you a few questions, Scott," Hopper said apologetically.

 

"Of course, I under--"

 

"Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me," swore Powell, having just caught up to Hopper's long strides.

 

Hopper glanced at Calvin in surprise. He didn't talk much and he swore even less. Jim followed his partner's gaze, taking in the remnants of the mural for the first time.

 

"Fuck."

 

 

 

Hopper and Powell drove to the station in silence. Mr. Clarke drove his own car behind them. They arrived at the police station shortly after. The three men made their way into Hopper's office, immediately shutting the door behind them. Flo, sensing the dramatic shift in Jim's already gruff mood bustled in with coffee and a tin of Christmas cookies.

 

"Thanks, Flo," Hopper mumbled, rubbing his temples. What a way to start the morning.

 

"Alright, Scott. Tell me everything you know. You're not a suspect, but you're likely the first on the scene," he said, once Flo left.

 

"Right. I went to the school early to prepare for the semester. I've got lots of different lessons and experiments planned for class and the AV club. So, I wanted to get things in order before the kids come back."

 

Powell sat silently, not touching his coffee. Hopper nodded for the teacher to continue, scribbling a few notes on the Steno pad in front of him.

 

"I was so busy arranging all my boxes and things that I hadn't even stopped to look at the new mural. It wasn't until my third or fourth trip back in that I saw it."

 

"And what do you know about this art project? Who was involved in making it? How long has it been up? Anything you can tell us is helpful." Hopper asked.

 

"As far as I know, it's part of the after-school classes that Y/N has been teaching. M--"

 

"Y/N Y/L/N?" Powell interrupted.

 

"You know her?" from Hopper.

 

"Her folks and I go way back. Her father and I were in the same graduating class. He works in computer science. Her mother home-schools her. Believes in 'experiential' education."

 

Hopper nodded in recognition. They were good people. Always lending a helping hand around Hawkins. He motioned for Mr. Clarke to continue.

 

"The art class started in September and ended before Winter Break. It was just once a week, after school. Some of my AV kids were part of it, Dustin Henderson and Maxine Mayfield. I'm sure they convinced some of their friends to join too."

 

"Mayfield?" Hopper repeated, looking up. "She's that Billy-kid's sister, right?"

 

Mr. Clarke nodded. 

 

"They're new in town, " Powell added. "Father and son have a reputation."

 

Hopper raised a brow. That might warrant a visit.

 

"All that shit written on the mural...I think it may constitute a hate crime," Hopper mused. "What was the subject of the mural, Scott? Do you know?"

 

The teacher shrugged. 

 

"I think it's just whatever the kids wanted to draw the most."

 

Hopper sighed.

 

"Thank you, Scott. You've been a great help."

 

"What will you do with the artwork?" Mr. Clarke asked as the three men rose to stand.

 

"We'll take it down and bring it in. It's evidence," Hopper sighed. 

 

For the rest of the morning, Officer Callahan pieced together the remnants of the mural. Hopper and Powell returned to the school to search the trash bins were discarded markers and spray paint cans to dust for fingerprints. The school didn't have any security cameras, so forensic evidence was all they had to go on.

 

As expected of a small town, word spread fast. Any remnants of faux holiday jolliness quickly evaporated. That very day, news of the vandalized mural reached nearly everyone's ears. Parents were horrified; students were heartbroken. Y/N was crushed. The mural had been the effort of many, but this event felt especially personal. Hopper called her in to the station that afternoon, when Callahan had put the pieces back together.

 

Y/N came in with her mother. Seeing her in her pastel sweater and legwarmers, walking in with her mom, Hopper was reminded of the youth of everyone affected. Hopper knew almost better than anyone how unsafe the world could be for children. Hawkins was supposed to be the exception. 

 

"Have a seat," Hopper instructed gently as they reached his office. "Can I get you anything? Flo made some cookies and hot chocolate, if you'd like some."

 

"No, thank you," Y/N breathed. She sniffled. Her eyes and the tip of her nose were red, likely not from the cold. Y/N's mother rubbed her daughter's back soothingly.

 

"We just want to know who did this."

 

Hopper leaned forward in his chair, a determined look painting his features.

 

"I can assure you, Mrs. L/N, we'll get to the bottom of this. I'm sure you know I'll have to ask Y/N a few questions. Try to figure out our perp's motive."

 

She nodded.

 

"Of course," she said, turning to her daughter. "Will you be alright, sweetheart? I'll be right outside if you need me."

 

"I'll be ok," she said, smiling sadly. "It's just a few questions."

 

Assured, Y/N's mother went to sit in the waiting room.

 

"I'm sorry the first time we're meeting has to be for this. Powell's told me a lot about you," Hopper began.

 

Y/N smiled bashfully.

 

"I've known him my whole life. He's like family," she replied.

 

"He's a good man. But, unfortunately, we're not here to talk about our families. Judging by what was written on the mural, you seem to be the main target of the vandalism.”

 

Y/N's eyebrows rose and her stomach dropped.

 

"Me? I don't--I don't know anyone who would want to hurt me," she mumbled, her throat feeling thick.

 

"No enemies? Bullies? Maybe a kid upset they didn't get into your class?" Hopper tried.

 

Y/N shook her head.

 

"Every student was welcome to join the class. There wasn't any sort of application or anything. Just show up."

 

"Anyone start the class but stop showing up?" Hopper asked.

 

"A couple students," Y/N replied with a shrug. "They were there 'cause their parents made them come. They just sat in the back and played paper football.

 

Hopper scribbled a few notes on the pad.

 

"And that mural. What was the subject?"

 

"It was just a chance for students to pick their favorite medium."

 

Hopper motioned for her to explain.

 

"Like, their favorite method. Pencil, watercolor, or whatever. For the subject, they could create anything they wanted," she continued.

 

"Anyone draw anything inappropriate?" Hopper asked.

 

Y/N shook her head.

 

"I've been told Will Byers, Dustin Henderson, and Max Mayfield were all in your class. They ever give you any trouble?"

 

Y/N couldn't help but laugh.

 

"Those three? Never. Will started the class right at the end during the last lesson. Dustin's a sweetheart; Max is a star student." she said with a smile.

 

"Is she now?" Hopper wondered, taking deep sip of coffee. "You ever cross paths with her brother, Billy Hargrove?"

 

Y/N fiddled with a stray thread of her sweater. She looked down at her lap.

 

"Not really," she replied.

 

Now we're getting somewhere, Hopper thought.

 

"Never ever?" he pressed.

 

Y/N looked up. She knew she had to be honest. But Hopper's questions were starting to give her a bad feeling.

 

"I saw him once or twice when he'd come to pick her up after school. He didn't like for her to hang around while me and Dustin cleaned up. Always in a hurry."

 

"Max is your star student and you only saw her brother once or twice?" He tented his fingers across his face, brow lowered.

 

"I ran into him once at Melvald's," she said, fidgeting, "And twice a week, every week over Winter Break."

 

Hopper leaned back in his chair in mild surprise.

 

"He your boyfriend?" he asked.

 

Y/N's mouth opened in shock.

 

"Oh, no! No, he's not. He's not even my friend! I've been--I was helping Max with an extra credit project during break. He was there half the time," Y/N rushed.

 

"He was where most of the time?"

 

"At home," Y/N said nonchalantly. "They don't live too far from me and it's not like Max can drive to me. So, I just came to her. Saved everyone the trouble."

 

"And you didn't think to meet at a library or something?"

 

"Max can't drive," Y/N repeated.

 

"Right."

 

"Plus, Mrs. Hargrove is super sweet. She makes these mini bagel pizza snacks with mozzarella cheese and homemade tomato sauce."

 

"Right." Hopper took some more notes. Maybe this wasn't a lead after all. 

 

"Was Mr. Hargrove ever home? You ever meet him?" Hopper pressed.

 

Y/N bit her lip.

 

"A few times..." She mumbled. "He's not the nicest guy. Didn't seem to like having me around."

 

Hopper jotted something else on his notepad.

 

"But he was fine with you going over there?"

 

She shrugged.

 

"He's really big on good grades. Plus, it seemed to make Mrs. Hargrove really happy so..."

 

"So, he dealt with it," Hopper finished for her.

 

"Yeah," she replied, nodding.

 

"And there's no one you can think of that might have done this?" he asked.

 

Y/N shook her head.

 

"Alright," he sighed, standing from his desk. "You've been a great help, Ms. Y/L/N. Try to enjoy the rest of your break, ok?"

 

Y/N gave a small smile. Not like things can get any worse.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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.

 

Billy scoffed.

 

"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."

 

"I guess."

 

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?"

 

"No, sir."

 

"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.

Chapter Text

In hardly any time at all, the buzz from the school mural died down. After all, it was still the holiday season. Christmas trees were still up, and snow was nowhere near melting. The new year was right around the corner. The fingerprints gathered at the scene were not match to anything in the system. Hawkins Police Department had suspected as much. The vandal was unlikely a felon or convict. A few more suspects were questioned, but no arrests were made. The case quickly grew cold. Replaced with the chatter of petty crimes and possible suspects was the talk of resolutions and ways to make the coming year just a little better than the year that preceded. Aside from the vandalism and a false-alarm home break-in, the Hawkins holiday season was going by fairly tamely. All that was left was to ring in 1986 without any disasters. Hawksinians everywhere had their fingers crossed. 

 

While adults were planning New Year's parties filled with hors d'oeuvres and their best champagne glasses, teenagers were (secretly) planning similarly. Of course, Max and her group of friends were keeping things tame with the plan of a night of popcorn and rented VHS tapes. The older kids, however, had their sights on something more legendary. Quite coincidentally, Heather Holloway's father was presenting at a journalism conference in Indianapolis. Her mother had decided to join him for a change of scenery. Heather, her parents believed, was wonderfully mature and more than capable of taking care of herself at home for a few weeks.

 

The same day the Holloways' plane touched down in the city, Heather was getting ready to throw the most epic New Year's house party Hawkins had ever seen. She recruited a few friends from cheerleading as well as Tommy, Carol, and Nicole to help her out. Her cheer squad friends, Bethany and Michelle, were in charge of music and decor. It was their job to make the mix tapes for the party and get plenty of streamers and party hats from Melvalds. Nicole's responsibility was to get extra snacks. Heather gave her a thorough list of things to get from Bradley's Big Buy. Tommy and Carol, who hardly went anywhere without each other, were delegating the task of procuring the alcohol. That was arguably the most important endeavor for the entire event. The plan was to raid the Holloway stash for champagne and purchase the more plebeian beverages from the local liquor store. The latter would doubtlessly be the more challenging feat.

 

Everyone in Heather’s social circle was invited. Feeling ever generous, she had invited the near entirety of the Hawkins High School student body. Naturally, that invite list included Billy Hargrove. As the reigning Keg King, it was expected that he be in attendance.

 

Just as gossip spread quickly among adults, even faster did it disseminate among the younger citizens of Hawkins. And despite not being part of Heather’s closest circle of friends, Y/N heard word of the party the day it was announced. Being the studious bibliophile she was, she had never been to a house party before. Certainly not one of this magnitude. Of course, she had attended parent-approved birthday celebrations and family gatherings. But, of this, she was curious. Her only challenges were to find the right outfit and to convince her parents to let her go.

 

 

I’m sure I can talk them into it, she thought. Considering, she never got into any trouble. Not even a speeding ticket. Her grades were nearly perfect. And the one time she had missed curfew, she had been helping a friend. It would be an easy sell. At least, she hoped so.

 

Y/N decided to breech the topic over the dinner table. Her parents would be distracted by food and their thoughts of the day that was coming to a close. She couldn’t think of a more opportune time.

She paused for a moment as the pushed sweet potato around on her plate. What if they say ‘no’? This was the one event that nearly every single one of her peers would be experiencing. She deserved to go too. Right?

 

She took a calming breath. 

 

"So, there's this New Year's party tomorrow night. It's at Heather Holloway's house," she began. 

 

Neither one of her parents looked up. Her mother was busy buttering a piece of bread. Her father was engrossed in the sports section of the day's newspaper. 

 

"Michelle and Bethany will be there," she added.

 

"That's nice, honey," her mother replied, taking a bite of her food.

 

The table was silent for a moment. Y/N expected her parents to say something else. Anything. Especially, yes honey you should go it will be a wonderful time have fun. Rather, she was met with her parents disinterested quiet.

 

"Can I go, please? It's right around the corner. And I'll know some people there. I'll even leave early, before the ball drops. Please I--."

 

"No," Her father gruffed from behind his paper. He hadn't even looked up. Hadn't let her finish her pitch. She was going to tell them that she would drive there so she didn't have to wait on a ride. She was going to say that she'd be sure to verify that parents would be there to chaperone. She was going to tell them that it was probably more than safe. He didn't let her finish.

 

"It won't be--," she tried again.

 

The newspaper was quickly folded. Her eyes met the stern gaze of her father.

 

"The answer is no."

 

Y/N's mother placed a hand on her husband's arm.

 

"What your father is trying to say is that we've heard about the party. We just don't think it's an activity that you should be participating in. Especially after what they did to your students' artwork. The awful things they wrote. Now isn't the best time. And you know those parties are just a way for kids to get their hands on drugs and alcohol."

 

Y/N's dad cleared his throat, readying his voice for a paternal lecture. 

 

"You don't have to tell her the story again, Michael. She's heard it half a dozen times before."

 

"If she knew, she wouldn't have asked. You're not goin' to that party. End of discussion,” her father declared.

 

Y/N's face burned hot. Her throat constricted. It wasn't fair. This felt like a punishment for trespasses she didn't commit. Of course, she knew what her dad was referring to. She'd heard it well over half a dozen times before.

 

Her father had moved to Hawkins as a teen. A new kid in town who looked different than nearly everyone there. Except for Calvin Powell. He'd taken him under his wing. Stood up for him when their classmates had a go at him. Despite the times, Calvin Powell was well-respected by everyone. After all, he was the star quarterback for Hawkins High and all-around Golden Boy. But even with Powell's protection, Michael had dealt with more than his fair share of harassment. He didn't want the same for his daughter. After the events just a few days before, however, it seemed inevitable.

 

"It's not the sixties anymore! It's almost--."

 

"I know very well what year it is, Y/N," her father interrupted. “Times haven’t changed that much. You know what I experienced just in the neighborhood and the classroom. Now, imagine that at some alcohol-fueled house party! You’re not going.”

 

Y/N’s mother took a small sip from her glass. She cleared her throat softly before speaking.

 

“You can go to the party, sweetheart.”

 

“Janine, are you out of your mind?” Her father bellowed.

 

“Listen, our daughter is right. Things are a little different now,” her mom began.

 

Y/N grinned. She knew she’d be the voice of reason.

 

“And your father is right. Parties like this are trouble. Kids make bad decisions. Especially if there isn’t proper supervision. But you have always made us very proud. You’ve always made the right choices. I believe that we can trust you to continue that at this party tomorrow.”

 

"Janine--," her father began.

 

"No, Michael. Listen. She's almost eighteen. And we know we can trust her," her mother interrupted. She turned to look her in the eye. "We're lifting your curfew for tomorrow night. Have fun. See your friends. Make good choices, like you always do. All we ask is that you check in from time to time. Call us when you get there. Call us when you're leaving. Call us if you need us."

 

Y/N's father sat scowling. It was rare that her parents disagreed on anything. And this matter, one her father felt so strongly about, went differently than she expected. Her parents gave her total freedom to just be a teenager. She was going to enjoy every second of it

 

Her parents had always been the helicopter-type. Overprotective. Immensely suspicious. Consistently concerned. She never played any sports because her mother was worried about concussions and broken bones. She had never gone to public, or even private, school because her parents didn't trust a curriculum they didn't have a say in. Her friends were only girls that her parents approved of and had met before. She wasn't permitted to date until she turned twenty. Going to a New Year's house party? Unheard of. 

 

The next morning, Y/N decided to get an early start. She drove to Starcourt Mall as soon as it opened in order to find the perfect outfit for the party. She had a few things in her closet. But none of them seemed enough to ring in the new year. 

 

Walking through the front doors, she immediately spotted her friend, Robin Buckley, sitting in the food court. Feet on the table. Headphones over her ears. Y/N waved and skipped over to her.

 

"Thanks for meeting me here so early. I know you'd rather be sleeping in today," Y/N said apologetically.

 

Robin waved her hand dismissively and pulled her headphones to her neck.

 

"It's whatever. I didn't have anything more exciting planned. What I don't get, though, is why your parents are suddenly cool with this. Aren't they, like, super controlling, anti-fun, weirdos?"

 

Y/N rolled her eyes and smiled sheepishly.

 

"They're not that bad. They just have a very long list of concerns about everything in my life. It's fine. I'm just glad they're letting me go," Y/N replied with a shrug.

 

"Are they from a cult or something? Didn't you say once that you're only allowed approved books and music in the house?" 

 

"That's not weird! Plenty of parents have rules about what their kids can watch and listen to!"

 

"You're right. It's not weird. It's mega-weird. My parents have been letting me read Stephen King since I was ten. And I listen to whatever I want to."

 

"Everyone's different, I guess," Y/N resolved.

 

"You can say that again," Robin said with a smirk. "Now, let's go find an outfit that your parents won't approve of.

 

They spent four hours in the mall going from store to store, from The Gap to Claire's and everywhere in between. They both tried on puff sleeves dresses, cowl-neck sweaters, and beaded skirts.

 

"That looks so good on you, Robin!" Y/N exclaimed. "You should come tonight!"

 

Robin posed dramatically in the changing room mirror, wearing an embroidered denim jumpsuit.

 

"Nope. No way. Not my scene," she refused, pulling her hair into a messy bun. "I'd rather lick this floor than suffer through Heather Holloway and her airhead friends.

 

"Oh, come on! We could wear matching outfits!" Y/N needled, zipping up a dress. 

 

"Absolutely not," She shot down. "I'd rather chug New Coke from a rusty can."

 

Y/N burst into a fit of laughter.

 

"Point well taken," she giggled.

 

A few shopping bags later, they sat down in the food court with Wendy's Frostys and fries.

 

"Hey, um," Robin began. "How are you holdin' up after the whole mural thing? I heard they still don't know who did it.

 

"I'm fine," Y/N quipped, dipping a French fry into her ice cream.

 

"Well, I know that's not true. Be honest." Robin reached out to squeeze her friend's hand. "You know I'm here for you."

 

Y/N's throat began to feel thick. Her eyes reddened with encroaching tears.

 

"I just want to know why? Like--," she sniffed. "Why are people so mean? I didn't do anything to anyone. But...it's not just about me. The students, too. They worked so hard on that project. What did that person have to gain by doing that? Writing all those awful things. What for?"

 

Robin slid into the seat next to Y/N and pulled her into a tight hug.

 

"I don't know who did this. But, when we find out, we're gonna kick their ass."

 

- - - 

 

Robin came over to Y/N's house later that day to help her get ready for the party. Their shopping trip had been a successful one. Now, all that was left to figure out was hair and makeup.

 

"You should totally do eye makeup. Lipstick is only gonna get smudged and whatever. Blush will be cute, too," Robin advised.

 

Y/N nodded, biting her lip nervously.

 

"Maybe I shouldn't go," she blurted.

 

"What?" Robin jumped up from her seat. "We just spent the entire morning at the mall and now you don't want to go?"

 

"I mean, I want to. But what if it's like my parents think it's gonna be? Lots of alcohol and bad decisions."

 

"Oh, it will be. It's Heather we're talking about her. Her parents let her do whatever she wants. And they won't even be there."

 

"What?" Y/N whirled around, mouth agape. "Who's chaperoning?"

 

Robin snorted laughter.

 

"It's a house party. There is no chaperone. That's the whole point. And there's gonna be tons of alcohol. Heather's parents have a wine cellar."

 

Y/N sat down on the floor and stared blankly ahead.

 

"Oh no. Oh, no, no, no. I can't go. No way." She shook her head.

 

"It will still be fun, I'm sure. And some of your friends are gonna be there. Go! Eat some food; dance a little bit. Ring in the New Year with the preps and then come home knowing you made holy, wholesome choices or whatever your parents say."

 

"Girls!" Y/N's mother called from downstairs. "I made Nesquick!"

 

"Thank you!" they replied in unison.

 

Robin turned back to her friend's stricken face.

 

"Look, if you don't go, you'll regret it," she predicted.

 

"Or, if I go, I'll regret it," Y/N argued.

 

"So, regret is inevitable! Might as well get some fun out of it."

 

Y/N grinned.

 

"You're a bad influence," she chided.

 

"I'm the best influence."

 

One Whitney Houston cassette tape later, Y/N was dressed. They'd decided on a white embroidered blouse and pink ra-ra skirt. Accessories included matching ruffle socks and a pink scrunchie. For hair, Y/N decided that a ponytail would have to do. Anything else was too time-consuming. Makeup was left to Robin who had insisted on eyeliner and shimmery eyeshadow. The air was heavy with Farrah Fawcett Ultra Holding Hair Spray. The floor was scattered with bobby pins and cotton swabs. Fingertips were stained with waterproof mascara and rose-tinted blush. Robin stepped back to admire her work. With a damp cotton pad, she fixed stray pigment and smudged eyeliner.

 

"Perfection," she breathed.

 

"You think so? Is it too much?" Y/N questioned.

 

"The only way it would be too much would be if you wore a metallic gold sweater dress painted with the New York City skyline, gogo boots, and confetti in your hair," Robin assured.

 

"That is quite specific. Is that what you were gonna wear?" 

 

"Oh, most definitely," she answered sardonically. "I just couldn't find a matching cardigan.

 

Y/N's laughter rose and retreated like an ocean wave. She felt a swell of gratitude. Robin was always a steady presence in her life. They'd met as children, both taking classical music lessons. Y/N had been quiet and shy during the first few classes. She was so nervous that she kept making silly mistakes when she played. It was Robin who had been there to ease her nerves with a witty joke and a bright smile. Music had brought them together, but trust and affection made the friendship last.

 

“Thanks, Rob. For everything. And not just the makeover,” Y/N stated, heartfelt.

 

Robin simply shrugged, understanding all the words Y/N didn’t say.

 

“That’s what best friends are for.

---

It seemed like all of Hawkins was at Heather’s party that night. Y/N had to park two blocks away just to find a decent space. As she got out of her car, she was grateful that she’d worn both tights and ruffle socks. Even in her winter coat, she was visibly shivering by the time she got to the front door of the Holloway home. She knocked hurriedly, afraid she’d lose feeling in her fingertips before she got into the warmth. When no one answered, she rang the doorbell. No response.

This would be the perfect time to go back home. No one would even know I was here. Or wasn’t—

The front door swung open. Y/N was met with a familiar face.

“Michelle!” she exclaimed, scurrying into the well-heated home.

“You came!” her friend returned her excitement. She pulled her into a tight hug, sending warmth into her friend’s near-numb limbs. “Let me take your coat.”

Y/N opened her mouth to protest.

“You’ll warm up quick!” Michelle interrupted. “You have to show off that cute outfit!

“How on earth did you convince your parents to let you come? This is, like, totally against everything they stand for.”

“It’s just a party, isn’t it? They’re ok with those.” Y/N answered candidly.

“Oh, hun,” Michelle sighed, taking her friend’s coat. “Sometimes I forget just how naive you are.”

Y/N fell silent, confused by her friend’s statement. But, as they ventured further into the house, Y/N began to understand just what Michelle meant.

The party had only started an hour or so before. Nevertheless, dozens of beer bottles and red plastic cups littered counter and tabletops. A trough of a punch bowl sat on the dining room table. It looked like fruit punch, but Y/N had a feeling there was more to it then that. In the large living room countless peers swayed their bodies in time to the music that seemed to reverberate from every corner of the room. And handful of others sat entangled on couches and loveseats, getting an early start to the tradition of a New Year’s kiss.

“Look who I found!” Michelle paraded Y/N to a group circled in the kitchen.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” Carol said, tilting up her chin. “I didn’t think this was your thing.”

Y/N laughed awkwardly, feeling very much in the spotlight.

“It’s not,” she explained. “I’m trying to…branch out.”

Gosh, that sounds so lame.

“Right,” Carol said, smirking. She walked away to the punch bowl, glaringly uninterested.

“Uh, thanks for having me over, Heather,” Y/N said shyly. She fiddled with the scrunchie on her wrist. This was way out of her comfort zone.

“Of course,” the brunette replied with a smile. “It’s good to have you.

“Has anyone heard from Billy? He never misses a party,” Heather asked.

Y/N felt heat rise to her face. She hadn’t about that. The thought of seeing Billy at the party made her stomach flip. Here, she was so out of her element. And they weren’t even really friends. She wouldn’t know how to act if she saw him. Being seen with her probably wouldn’t help his Bad Boy™ reputation.

“Haven’t seen him,” replied someone among the throng.

“He’s probably got a hot date. Ya know, start the year off with a bang, if you know what I mean,” another joked crassly.

A sigh of relief. She would have almost definitely embarrassed herself on front of Billy if he’d shown up. Not that it mattered, though. His opinion wasn’t important. Not much anyway. Y/N excused herself from the group to find a phone and a quiet room. Eventually, she found both in the home office. She dialed the familiar number quickly.

“Hello?” greeted her mother’s voice through the phone.

“Hey, mom.”

“Honey! How’s the party? See any friends there?”

Y/N twirled the phone cord around her fingers. She knew what her mother was really asking. She wanted to know if there was alcohol, drugs, or troublemakers.

“It’s alright. Michelle is here. It’s a little less, uh, tame then I thought it would be. I don’t think I’ll stay long.”

“Alright, sweetie. We’ll be home when you come back. Remember, no curfew tonight. Have a good time, ok?”

“Sure thing. Love you, mom,” Y/N hurried. Michelle was probably wondering where she was.

“Love you, too. See you later.”

Y/N found Michelle by the chips and salsa.

“You wanna dance?” she asked, licking tomato from her fingertips.

(Recommended listening – “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge)

“What?” Y/N asked. “I don’t—I don’t know how to dance to this.”

“Girl, are you for real? This is DeBarge!” Michelle grabbed her hand. “C’mon, just do what I do.”

Y/N stumbled behind her friend to the dance floor, which was simply the middle of the living room. Furniture and knickknacks had been pushed against the wall to make room for those pulled there by the music.

 

Michelle swayed to the music, mouthing along to the words. She looked carefree, uncaring of who watched her move to the beat.

“Now, follow my lead!” She yelled over the music.

Y/N mirrored her friend’s movements. The song was easy enough to follow. The dancing was simple too. Michelle just seemed to move her hips and arms around. Easy enough, right?

“You’re a natural! I didn’t know they taught dance lessons at Girl Scouts!” Michelle joked.

Y/N laughed, loud and free. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Fortunately for her nerves, Y/N spotted a few more friends. They went back and forth from the dancefloor to the kitchen to the snack table. Hours flew by like minutes when Heather announced that the new year was only ten minutes away.

“Everybody grab a hat and a noisemaker! If you brought a date, grab them too!”

Dozens scrambled to adorn themselves with paper hats and glittery sunglasses. Solo cups were refilled in preparation for the New Year’s toast. Confetti was sprinkled into overly sprayed hair. Heather turned on the TV and picked up her Polaroid to snap pictures of the last few moments of 1985. In the chaos, Y/N lost sight of her friends. She didn’t mind. She’d find them soon enough. Once the ball dropped, Y/N would say her goodbyes and head home. The night had hurried along. The minutes continued to tick away. Y/N went back into the home office to call her parents, tell them she’d be home soon.

“Hey,” a voice called from behind. Tommy Haynes sauntered up to Y/N with a crooked grin and a cup of something that wasn’t soda. “You wanna give me my kiss for the New Year?”

Y/N cringed. Tommy was another Hawkins guy with an awful reputation. Everyone knew he was a bully. And a creep.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend? I’m sure she’s looking for you.” Y/N made to pick up the phone. Tommy’s heavy hand stopped her.

“Would you kiss me if I was single?” He licked his lips.

“No. Go find Carol,” she said firmly. She was trying to be nice, but something about Tommy was making her stomach churn.

“Nah. Carol is great but you’re different,” Tommy breathed, blowing the scent of Kool Aid and grain alcohol straight into Y/N’s face.

“I’m sure Carol, your girlfriend, really appreciates that. Now, will you please--.”

In the living room, the countdown began.

Ten!

Tommy pushed Y/N against the desk, knocking papers onto the floor.

Nine!

“All I want is a kiss, Y/N. Is that so much to ask?” he drawled.

Eight!

Tommy set down his cup and fisted Y/N's blouse with both hands.  Y/N struggled against him.

Seven!

“Tommy, get off me! You’re drunk!” She pushed her weight against him.

Six!

“Don’t be a prude. Every guy deserves a little something sweet to ring in the New Year,” he sneered.

Five!

“Let me go or I’ll scream!” Y/N felt tears prink the corners of her eyes. Why is he so strong?

Four!

“No one will hear you,” he taunted.

Three!

“You think you’re so great, huh? So special and so pure,” he slurred.

Two!

“But you’re nothing. Just an ass and a pair of tits,” he went on.

One!

“No matter what you do, you’re still a n--.”

Happy New Year!

---

Billy sauntered out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist. Steam drifted from the shower into the hall after him. Water dripped from his hair into his face and onto his shoulders. He messily shook it out during his short walk to his room. As he passed the mirror in his bedroom, he gave his reflection a wink.

This particular night, he had the place to himself. Max was at a sleepover with one of her loser friends. His dad and stepmom were out of town for a few days for a holiday trip. There was a house party down the block, hosted by Heather Holloway. Her parents were loaded, and it was sure to be a good time. People had been talking about it all week. But he wasn’t feeling it. It was almost a shame he didn’t have a date tonight. He knew that could change with just a phone call. He had options. But not tonight.

Tonight, he would enjoy his own company. He turned up the volume on his boom box, hard rock vibrating through the speakers. He threw on a pair of boxers and climbed into bed, lights on. Reaching under his mattress, he pulled out his entertainment for the night: the March 1985 issue of Playboy. A birthday gift he’d bought for himself. He flipped past the articles to the good stuff. Just as Billy sank further under the sheets, his moment was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell.

“Mormons going door-to-door after midnight?” he mumbled. They’d go away eventually.

Billy continued flipping through the magazine, looking for the picture that was just right. His search was interrupted this time by the sound of banging on the door. The staccato of palm and knuckle reverberated through the empty house. So much for a night to himself.

Billy threw back his bedcovers and hurriedly pulled on a pair of flannel pajama pants. A dark scowl was making its way onto his face. He stomped to the front door and wrenched it open.

“What the hell do you want?” a phrase that didn’t make it past his lips as he took in the figure shaking under the porchlight.

Y/N stood shivering before him. Tonight, she wasn’t her usual, radiant self. She must have been at the party. Or at least dressed to go. Both her socks and white pumps were splattered with mud. Her pastel tiered skirt was ripped and stained with something hematic. Her white blouse was even worse. It was stained and torn at the collar. The few remaining buttons hung by meager threads. Her bright makeup was streaked down her face with blood and tears. Her wide brown eyes seemed to struggle to focus on his. They were glassy and swollen. She was dazed, swaying on her feet hauntingly.

“Y/N, what happened to you?” Billy questioned, taking a step forward.

“…didn’t know where else to go…” she whispered. Her eyes rolled backward as she crumpled into his arms.