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Hawkins has Flipped

Chapter Text

All I ever wanted was for Will Byers to leave me alone.

It all started in the summer of 1975, the summer before the first year of school ever ; Kindergarten.
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“Here we are” Ted Wheeler huffed as he pulled up the short driveway. His wife Karen smiled up at their new home, in their new town, in their new life.
Their car had been packed up the day before, along with their big moving truck. The wheelers moseyed down the freeways and backroads to come upon the relocation that Ted’s job offered in exchange for a doubled salary.

The house was nice enough by Mike’s standards. It was big and had lots of windows and a big yard. But any four year old would consider even the smallest plane of land as an expanse of plush when he’s been squeezed into their family’s automobile between boxes and an older sister for a little over a day and a half.

The street they had driven down was nice. It was a little out of the way of the town, but it had big shady trees and nice picket fences lining the manicured lawns of the laneway. There were kids playing in their front yards, parents doing yard work, and various older people walking small dogs along the sidewalk. The Wheelers had pulled into the house that was across from a run down house. Seemingly the only one on the street that wasn’t obviously maintained and in the driveway was a little boy who was drawing with chalk.

“What do you guys think?” Karen said, turning around to look at her children after clicking her seatbelt open. Her mascara was slightly damped in patches under her eyes that Mike thought made her look like a racoon, but her enthusiastic smile made her glow anyway.

“I like it” Nancy, who was nine at the time, smiled politely and open her door of the station wagon.

“It’s cool” Mike added as an afterthought, following his big sister’s lead and leaving the car, barely being able to reach the ground getting out.

They both stretched, releasing cracks and groans before turning back to their mother and father, who stood by the edge of the driveway trying to get the moving truck to park properly. They walked down the driveway as Ted opened the back of the truck when it was securely in place. Nancy walked up to her mother's right and Mike came behind on the left.

“What colour is my room?” Nancy asked, as her mother put her arms around her children.

“Can we see inside?” Mike asked, the summer wind sweeping his dark fringe into his eyes as he spoke.

“Oh uhm, come on Mike. Why don't, uh, you and I go help unload the van...and the womenfolk here can get in the kitchen and start setting up.” Ted called from the moving truck. He pulled out the platform to get up with a loud thud. Mike started towards the platform as Karen corralled Nancy towards the front door, eager to start setting up the kitchen apparently.

“Okay Dad” The young boy said as he looked past boxes and trinkets that were misplaced across the larger pieces of furniture in the truck.

—————
For me, it was the beginning of what would be more than half a decade of strategic avoidance and social discomfort.
—————

The little boy from across the street had just jogged over. He looked both ways for cars and then crossed with vigour, looking excited whilst being covered in chalk. He smiled from below the truck, making eye contact with Mike before climbing up the platform.

“Hi, I’m Will Byers” The boy said, brown hair shaking in his face. He had a bowl cut and gaps in his teeth. He had his hands stuck out. They were covered in pink chalk, which also coated the multicoloured shirt he wore under his overalls. The boy, Will, had brushed past Mike in favour of examining a small box at the front of the moving van.

“Hey, hey what are you doing?” Mike asked harsly, pulling Will back by his shoulder as so to look at him. Ted noticed the little boy and crouched down from his space among the boxes.

“Don’t you guys want some help?” Will asked in a semi-confident tone. Mike already thought this boy was odd.

“Uhm, No. there are valuables in that box” Ted snorted and went back to looking for his lay-z-boy chair that was hidden somewhere among the boxes and mess.
Will walked a little further into the truck as Mike and Ted stood watching him.

“How about this one?” Will pointed to a small box with the tape peeling off the corners.

“No, no, no.” Ted scratched his neck exhaustedly.
“Run home. Your mother's probably wondering where you are.” He dismissed with a wave of his hairy finger. Ted adjusted his glasses while rubbing his temples, hoping to actually work out this van and not spend the afternoon entertaining a little boy from across the street.

“Oh no, my mom knows where I am, she said it’s fine” Will quipped back immediately. The smile and rosy cheeks never vanished from his face, although Mike couldn’t tell wether he was generally stupid or just enthusiastic.

—————
It didn't take long for me to realize this boy could not take a hint.
—————

“It’s crowded in here with three people” Ted objected in a last ditch attempt
“ I don’t mind” Will smiled

—————
No hint of any kind
—————

Will turned back to Mike before pointing at a particularly big box for any four year old to be carrying.

“Do you wanna push this one togehter?” He asked, very adamant in helping the new neighbours.

Mike didn’t move and in that time, Ted finally snapped together a small plan.

—————
I mean, nothing would stop him. I was about to tell him to get lost when the weirdest thing happened.
—————

“Mike, isn't it time for you to go help your mother?” He said, motioning for the exit ramp .

“Huh?,” Mike looked at his dad confused for a moment, before he winked at him and Mike got the hint to use this ticket to leave the situation.
“Oh, yeah.” Mike smiled at his dad, before jumping down the ramp without batting a second glance at the weird neighbour boy.

Mike tried to run up the front yard, taking it slowly considering he was still stiff from the car ride. He tried his best to get up the grass to the front door, but Will had followed him out and caught his shoulder. Mike reacted at a strange angle to try and shake this boys hand off when his wrist got locked.

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I couldn't believe it. There I was holding hands with this strange boy. How did I get into this mess?
—————

Just as Will had sent Mike a small smile in the late afternoon sun that beat down on the Wheelers new home, the front door was cracked open. Mrs. Wheeler followed out, an apron now tied around her nice blue dress. She saw the boys in the front yard and a small smile stuck onto her face at seeing her youngest making friends.

“Well hello! I see you’ve met my son” She said while crouching somewhat on the porch, her hands bracing on where her knees appear to be while huddled beneath the cotton fabric of her ruffled skirt.

“Uh Huh” Will smiled, finally letting Mike’s hand drop as he looked kindly to the woman who stood on the porch steps.

—————
Finally, I did the only manly thing available when you're 4 years old. I hid behind my mother. However, my troubles were far from over. The minute I walked into my new kindergarten class.
—————

Mike looked up from his hand, where he had written down his teacher’s classroom number on the back of his hand in a fading blue marker. He had his backpack firm on his back as he walked through the open door, that according to kindergarten memory was about 30 feet tall.

He looked around the colourful room, scanning the faces of his new classmates.

A boy with curly hair,

A boy with a camo bandana,

A girl with red hair, and-

“Mike?! You’re here!” Will cried, pushing through the kindergarteners and across the classroom to crush the taller boy in a hug. Mike squirmed as Will’s arms wrapped around him.

—————
It was clear: School would not be a sanctuary.
—————

“Hey, Wheeler, where's your boyfriend?”

—————
I was branded for life.
—————

Mike sat in the lunchroom after the humiliating first morning of school he had. But again, there was no reprise or release of tension as every kid in Hawkins elementary had heard about what had happened. It was at a very young age Mike learned: Rumours spread like wildfire.

“Hey, Mike, why don't you ask him to marry you?” a boy in the first grade called across the mess of children, causing lots of giggles and other forms of teasing.
“Will and Mikey sitting in a tree, K-l-S-S-l-N-G!” a group of third grade girls called coldly.

—————
My first year in town was a disaster.
—————

“ Hey James! Look at queers!” Troy, a bully in the grade above him called out

—————
And the next five weren't much better. But finally, in the sixth grade, I took action. I hatched the plan. Stacey Albright.
I asked out Stacey Albright.
—————

“Hey Stace, wait up!” Mike called after the quickly departing girl. She was leaving their shared science class, strawberry hair bobbing as she walked.
She turned around, clutching her books to her chest. She smiled slightly at him, not noticing the brown haired boy that stood only a few feet behind Mike, still packing up his things from class.

“Oh hey Mike” She said, turning to face the boy who pushed his bangs back behind his ears as he gathered the courage to speak.

“I was wondering if you wanted to go out with me?” He smiled.

She smiled back and nodded. They chatted distinctly as Will finally pulled his bag over his shoulder and stormed past the pair on his way out of the classroom.

“Watch it Byers!” Stacey had called after him

—————
To fully appreciate the brilliance of this plan you have to understand that Will hated Stacey Albright
though I never understood why.
Stacey was nice, friendly and she had a lot of hair.
—————

“So the dance was so nice! There were streamers and disco lights and I obviously was the prettiest in the room. So much so that this weird curly haired kid came and asked me to dance, I turned him down but He seemed fine. But anyway, it inspired me to get these really cute earrings. But at first, my mother wouldn't let me get my ears pierced, but I begged…” Stacey ranted as Mike and her walked down the hall side by side.

Mike was zoning out slightly, not really caring about earrings or anything. He caught a glimpse of Will, putting something in his locker before they locked eyes. Mike straightened his posture and tried his best to look interested in what Stacey was saying.

He grabbed her hand quickly and laughed falsely at something Stacey said.
He could see Will storm past him the opposite way down the hall.

—————
The plan was that Stacey would eat with me, maybe we'd walk around together, and hopefully Will would lose interest.
Things were unfolding quite nicely. That is, until my supposed best friend, Lucas Sinclair took an interest in Stacey’s friend Max.
Loyalty gave way to desire
And Lucas, the turncoat told Max who Told Stacey what I was up to.
—————

Stacey forcefully walked up to Mike the next day after science class.

“Oh hey Stac-” Mike started before Stacey slapped him across the face.

“Jerk.” She muttered before walking away, leaving Mike with a red cheek and a scowl on his face.

—————
She didn't take it well. Word got back to Will, and pretty soon he started up with the goo-goo eyes again. Only this time it was worse.
He started sketching me.
That's right, sketching me.
What was that all about?
—————

Mike was trying to focus on the lesson Mr.Clarke was reading out to the class. But all he could hear was the light scratching of a pencil on paper. When he sat down in his assigned seat, directly beside Will, he caught a glimpse of a piece of paper that Will had been insanely focused on before the bell rang. Mike could make out the light outline and small details of his cheekbones and curly hair in pencil scratches.

He had been chatting with Lucas and Max. Max of whom had stopped talking to Stacey after she broke up with Mike. They were facing the series of chairs and desks that stretched across the linoleum tiles of the science room, chatting about the recent development that Jane Hopper and Max had started to rekindle their friendship from youth.
When the bell rang, Mike said adieu to his companions and trugged over to his place in the classroom layout. A quick glance at Will, as to not be the most rude person, made him rethink his decision to be cordial, as Will failed to hide the sketch of Mike at a ⅔ angle with a smile on his face.

Mike sat down as Mr.Clarke started the lesson, but his mind was racing.

—————
My only consolation was that next year would be different. Hawkins Middle School, bigger school. Maybe we'd be in different classes and it would finally,

Finally

Be over.

Chapter Text

The first day I met Mike Wheeler, I flipped.
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Will was drawing with chalk in his driveway. Rainbows and spaceships and...rainbow spaceships coated the black tar that cooked in the mid August sun. His mother was gardening in the patch of flowers that sprouted beneath their bay window. Will always loved to watch his mother tend to her gardens. She didn’t get to do it much these days though. His father had left and his mother had to take on so much work her brown hair started to sprout grey when she was only in her mid thirties.
Will looked back down to his drawings, taking out a purple piece of chalk and scraping the outline of a pansy. His mother's favorite flower.
He heard a rumbling from the end of the street, and looked up to see a marmalade coloured moving van coughing it’s way down the pavement. In front of it, was a green and brown station wagon with a tired looking man and a woman wearing a lot of makeup sitting in the front seat.
They pulled into the home across the street from Will’s and he got excited. The house was a family house, with four bedrooms, so surely the pair in the front seats would have children with them. Will could have a new friend!
Will ran to his mother while the new neighbours got out of their car, and Will asked if he could go and see if they wanted some help. Joyce Byers, her crows feet far to deep in her young face crinkled as she nodded at her youngest.
Will jogged across the street. He looked both ways for cars and then crossed with vigour, looking excited whilst being covered in chalk. He smiled from below the truck, making eye contact with the new neighbours before climbing up the platform.
—————
It was those eyes, something in those dazzling eyes.
—————
The boys eyes were dark brown that Will got lost in before he pulled himself to instead push his small frame into the truck. He then found a box to try to help with.
“You wanna push this one together?” he asked the brown eyed boy, bending over before a foot snapped down in front of the box. He looked up to see the man who had driven the car from before; The man looked gruff and unpleasant, but Will was always up for a challenge as he turned once again towards the neighbour boy who looked about his age.
—————
His family had just moved into the neighborhood and I'd gone over to help them. I'd been in the van all of two minutes when his dad sent him off to help his mom.
—————
“Mike, isn't it time for you to go help your mother?” He said, motioning for the exit ramp .
“Huh?,” The neighbour, Mike, looked at his dad confused for a moment, before he winked at him quite obviously.
“Oh, yeah.” Mike said to his dad, before jumping down the ramp without batting a second glance at Will
He jumped down off the platform and Will saw the flash of his striped t shirt vanish around the corner of the truck.
—————
I could see he didn't want to go. So I chased after him to see if we could play a little before he got trapped inside.
The next thing I know,
—————
Will jumped off the platform as well, losing his balance slightly before running off after Mike. The man in the truck was happy to be rid of him, some mumbling about meddling kids followed Will out of the van.
Will turned the truck’s corner to see a mop of black hair and striped t shirt running up the front lawn towards the door. Will wasn’t fast by any means but apparently running to the new neighbour was kryptonite, so Will caught up to him easily. He put a chalky hand on the boys shoulder, before he spasmed and did a weird motion with his arm.

—————
he's holding my hand.
—————
Mike looked at Will and Will saw stars. He could see the flecks of dark browns that were woven through the ashy ambers of Mike’s eyes. Will could feel a blush on his cheeks but he didn’t mind much as Mike’s face turned red as well. Mike had odd hair. It was straight in places and then curly in the next. It seemed it couldn’t make up it’s mind and decided to be every consistency at once. Freckles coated his cheeks and his eyelids.
—————
and he was looking right into my eyes. My heart stopped.
Was this it?
Would this be my first kiss?
—————
Just then the front door opened, and out came the woman who was in the car that drove down the street earlier. Will recognized her makeup and the apron around her waist. She looked friendly and well put together. Not that his own mother was prone to chaos, this woman just seemed to glow with an air of superlative order.
“Well, hello. I’m Karen Wheeler, I see you’ve met my son” She said cheerily. She looked at the boy beside Will. Mike glanced at Will before dropping his hand and running behind his mother.
—————
And he was so embarrassed, his cheeks turned completely red.
I went to bed that night thinking of the kiss that might have been.
I mean, it was clear he had feelings for me,
but he was just too shy to show them.
My mother said boys were like that. So I decided to help him out.

—————
Will was at the school building very early in the morning. He’d known everyone since pre school and was excited to see his best friends Dustin and Jane again. He had been thinking about Mike since they met the month prior. Would he come to his school? Would they be friends? Well if not Will was happy with the friends he had.
He met up with Dustin and Jane - who among them was nicknamed El- and they walked into their kindergarten class, leaving kisses on their mothers cheeks. The teacher was playing with some kids as they walked in and they decideed to share the reading nook in the corner.
The classroom slowly filled with rowdy four year olds and the teacher was starting to try to contain the manic energy. Everyone was to choose an activity and do it quietly with some friends. Just then the door opened and a small boy with black hair and a striped sweater walked into the room, eyes locked on the back of his hand.
“Mike? You're here!” Will called from the book nook, standing and trapping the other boy in a hug.
—————
I would give him plenty of opportunity to get over his shyness.
But by the sixth grade, I'd learned to control myself.
—————
The bell had rung, signing off another glorious day at Hawkins elementary. Will was packing up his science binders and waved Dustin and El off as they looked to him wondering if they should wait for him. He saw Mike staggering behind as well, and thought he might be able to talk to him before the end of the day.
Will scrambled around to find the pencil that he’d dropped on the floor. Where was it? It’s like it dissapea-
“Hey Stace, wait up!” Will heard Mike call after the departing girl.
Will could hear vague fragments of their conversation, them being in the doorway and all. Will found his pencil and zipped up his backpack. He pulled his bag over his shoulder, straightening up with the courage to go and talk to Mike before he heard-
“I was wondering if you wanted to go out with me?” Followed by Mike Wheelers signature smile, crooked on the left side
She smiled back and nodded. They chatted distinctly as Will stormed past the pair on his way out of the classroom.
“Watch it Byers!” Stacey had called after him
—————
Then Stacey Albright entered the picture. I thought she was nice until the snowball when she trashed Dustin. He’s my best friend and such a sweet guy. He asked her to dance and she not only rejected but humiliated him.
Since then I realised she was nothing but a whiny, gossipy, brat.
All hair and no substance.
But there she was…
—————
Will was taking books out of his locker. His step sister, El, leaning against his neighbours as they chatted about their next class. Their conversation was led by El as Will tuned out to the high pitched guffaw coming down the hall.
“-this weird curly haired kid came and asked me to dance, I turned him down-” Stacey ranted as Mike and her walked down the hall side by side. Will tuned out her voice, watching with sad eyes as Mike grabbed her hand quickly and laughed as he made eye contact with Will.
Will slammed his locker closed, a pinched mouth telling El that they should get going. He walked passed Mike down the hall, hitting his shoulder hard with El walking quickly at his heels
—————
Holding hands with Mike. My Mike. The one who was walking around with my first kiss.
My solution was to ignore her.
I knew a boy of Mike's caliber would eventually see through a shallow middle school girl like Stacey Albright.
—————
Will walked down the hall with El and Dustin at his sides. Dustin was making a long winded joke that had El ripping at the seams with laughter. Will listened briefly, chucking and leaving a small smile on his face from the pleasant company of his friends.
They walked out the doors of Hawking elementary school, onto the playground. The area for the oldest kids was covered in girls playing with dolls, boys rolling in the sand and hanging on the swingset was Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair and Max Mayfield.
El dragged them over so she could talk to Max.
Lucas and Dustin made conversation, being friends all throughout their earlier school days before breaking off peacefully into different social circles.
Will stood awkwardly, glancing at Mike occasionally and interjecting into Lucas and Dustin’s squabbles periodically.
Mike looked back at him before Stacey stormed up to the group of six.
“Oh hey Stac-” Mike said before Stacey slapped him across the face.
“Jerk” She muttered as she left, shaking her hand in annoyance.
Mike was left with a scowl and a red cheek that Will had to bite his lip not to laugh at.
—————
It took all of a week. They broke up at recess.
She didn't take it well.
But now that Mike was out of Stacey's clutches, he started being nicer to me.
—————
Will walked into his Science class, fourth period of the day. He sat down in his assigned seat, not being very good friends with anyone in his class. He looked around a bit before pulling out his brand new sketchbook. He’d saved up all his birthday money his grandparents gave him, plus the money he made mowing Mr. Nelson’s lawn and was able to afford a twenty two dollar sketchbook with nicer-than-normal paper.
Will pondered what to draw as he tapped the bud of his pencil against his bottom lip, before some quiet chuckling was heard from the other corner of the science lab. Will looked around to see Lucas Sinclair leaning against his girlfriend Max Mayfield whom of which stood against the furthest testing table of the room. Across from them, sitting haphazardly on a lecture desk that lined the rows of the classroom. He was smiling, his teeth framing his face beautifully as he chuckled to whatever comment Lucas made before they high fived.
When the bell rang, Mike said adieu to his companions and trugged over to his place in the classroom layout.
“Hey Will” Mike said politely as he sat down in his assigned seat in front of Will.
“Hey Mike” Will smiled.
—————
He was so shy and so cute.I spent most of the whole year sketching drawings of Mike Wheeler among ...other things.
and wondering
if I was ever going to get my kiss.

Chapter Text

Middle school finally came, and the seventh grade brought changes, all right. But the eighth grade brought a different kind of change.
But this one didn't happen at school. It happened at home.
My cousin, Richie, came to live with us.
—————
Richie had been dropped off at the train station the previous Saturday. Mike was forced to drive with his mom to go pick him up. They showed up at the exit of the train ramp in their car to see a gangly boy with huge glasses and an ugly hawaiin shirt lugging a suitcase that looked like it could bench press him easily if it wanted to. Karen popped the trunk and Mike got out to go say hi.
“Hey Richie” Mike said, walking towards his cousin.
Richie just looked up at him through a curtain of bangs, his magnified eyes making him look almost innocent as he mumbled out a response. Mike didn’t hear it but wasted no time grabbing the other handle of his bag to help Richie lug it to the car. They stumbled before slamming the trunk door closed and zipping along through the streets of Hawkins once again.
Richie had stayed with them because his mom, Mike’s aunt Maggie, went back to rehab and Richie’s dad left when he was seven. He didn’t talk. Which was odd considering Mike was always annoyed by the way his cousin would talk over everyone at thanksgiving dinners. Richie and him were closer when they were younger but this time he seemed closed off. Richie mostly just sat in the chair in the far corner of the living room, staring at the street and across occasionally while the paper boy would throw a paper at the Byers door.
—————
Mom said he stared like that because he missed home. But that was not something Richie ever talked about with me.
As a matter of fact, he never talked about much of anything with me.
That is, until months later when Will Byers appeared in the local newspaper.
—————
“Oh hey Mike. Can I talk to you?” Richie said one afternoon when Mike got back from school. Richie and Karen had decided that he could be homeschooled until high School so he wasn’t just joining a new school in a new town halfway through eighth grade. He was really smart so it was a breeze, but it cause Mike and Richie to hide out in their respective rooms and not talk even further.
“What’s up?” Mike asked, pulling his backpack strap off his shoulder as he sat down on the couch facing Richie’s chair.
Richie moved his textbook off his lap and pulled out a paper from under the couch cushion. He pushed his glasses up his nose and handed Mike the paper.
“Tell me about your friend Will Byers” He said, pulling up his right leg underneath his body on the chair.
Mike shifted in his seat, looking at Richie in a slight shock and discarding the newspaper to the cushion next to him.
“Will. He's not exactly my friend.”
“Oh. Why's that?” Richie said, looking out the window across the street where the Byers boy was drawing with a brown haired girl on the sidewalk with chalk.
“Why do you wanna know?” Mike asked, looking at the back of his cousin’s head. His natural defense to put the other on the offense coming through. Richie pointed at the newspaper as he turned back to Mike, gesturing for him to look at the picture on the front. Mike slumped his arm over and pulled the paper up to his face.
Smack dab on the front cover was a picture of Will Byers, sitting in the branches of a big tree. The headline “local boy takes a stand” printed in the sticky ink almost dared Mike to throw it in the recycling bin.
—————
Now, Will Byers did not wind up in The HawkinsTimes for being an eighth-grade Einstein.
No, he got front-page coverage because he refused to climb out of a sycamore tree.
Will Byers and that stupid sycamore tree. He always thought it was God's gift to our little corner of the universe.
—————
“Hey, Mike. Wanna come climb the tree with me and my sister?” Will called down to the boy who was passing on his bicycle. Mike, who had a backpack full of snacks and arcade tokens that he was planning on spending some time at the arcade alone with, pulled over to the side of the road. He saw the boy and his sister, Jane, up in the top branches of the stupid tree.
“No, thanks.” He yelled back up, hoping to ignore them and continue on his merry way.
“Mike. Come up here. It's fun.” Jane called down after him when he was preparing to kick off the pavement.
“ Yeah, you can see everything.” Will said, pushing himself up in the branches and staring at the fields of trees behind the rows of houses that lined Hawkins suburbia.

“Uh, sorry I can't. My dad needs me to help him fix…” Mike said, squinting up at them through the sun that broke through the rough leaves of the tree.
“ A thing.” He said eloquently as he pushed against the dirt and biked back the way he came from, deciding to take the long way to the arcade instead.
—————
That's all I needed; to climb up a tree with Will Byers. I'd be dragged right back into kindergarten.
“Will and Mikey sitting in a tree.”
Why don't you just make me eat dirt for the rest of my life.
—————
“It's three blocks away.” Will called down, backpack slung across his shoulder as he’s perched on one of the many high branches of the sycamore tree.
“Two blocks.” He called to his fellow bus goers as he saw the bus on the opposite street turning a corner. “One block away.”
The rest of the people at the bus stop below looked up to him in annoyance.
“Like that's valuable information,” Lucas Sincalir said from his spot beside Mike.
“I hate it when he does that.” He said finishing his thought as the bus trolled down the street as per Will’s predictions.
“I like to think there's at least a chance the bus won't show.” Mike chuckled adding on to Lucas’ razing of their classmate.
The bus pulled up to a stop in front of the group of kids. The squeaky doors opened up at the grimy bus driver snorted as if it was a greeting. Will had jumped down, scuffing his knee on the dirt before getting on the bus after his sister. Lucas and Mike stood behind him still on the lawn, Lucas chatting with Max.
“I think the tree looks particularly beautiful in this light. Don't you?” Will said, a small smile on his face as he stood on the rigged steps of the metal bus. He had said it to his sister, but he stood still looking at the tree so Mike had responded.
“If by "beautiful" you mean unbelievably ugly, then, yes, I would agree.” He said, a tight lipped smile on his face.
“You're just visually challenged. I feel sorry for you.” Will chuckled, following his sister who pulled him by his collar onto the bus.
Mike looked after him indignantly.
—————
"Visually challenged"?
"Visually challenged"?
This from the boy who lived in the house that was the joke of the neighborhood? They had a basically totaled car in the driveway and they had chalk drawings all over the place!
It bugged my dad bigtime.
—————
“Oh, there she is” Ted Wheeler sighed harshly looking out his living room window. Outside was Joyce Byers with oil on her face and working on her car. She loved fixing it up, buying a cheap car and making it better on her own accord. Down the driveway was Will, drawing with chalk. It covered his face and hands but they were having fun.
“The convenience store clerk who thinks she's a mechanic. But if that's not bad her son’s gotta chalk up the driveway?"
“No, he does oil paintings. Sells them at the county fair. People say they're beautiful.” Richie pipes up from the armchair Ted was looking over to see out the window. He had been playing on his gameboy, but Ted mentioning the Byers was interesting to him somehow. Mike sat on the couch, homework open in his lap as his sister, Nancy sat to his left helping him remember the events of world war two.
“Oil paintings? Let me tell you something, the world would have more beauty in it if he'd help his mom put some oil in that piece of crap she calls a car.”

 

—————
As annoying as the yard was to my dad it was nothing compared to how annoying Will Byers was in that tree.
—————
Mike closed the door to his house, calling a goodbye to his family before walking down the steps of his porch to where lucas waited for him at the end of his driveway. As they walked they shot the shit and made conversation about nothing of real importance.
“Why do they call it The Three Stooges? I mean, there's five of them.” Lucas said randomly after a moment of silence, like he’d been itching to ask someone this question.
“What?”
“Well, yeah, there's Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp and Curly Joe.”
“Yeah, but they only have three at a time.” Mike chuckled as they continued up until crossing the street to see working trucks and men in big yellow hard hats by their bus stop.
They crossed to hear snippets of what the men were saying before noticing Will Byers up in the tree. One round man came from the group, adjusted his hat and looked up at Will with his slimy teeth gnashing as he spoke.
“Listen, boy, I'm this close to calling the police. You are trespassing and obstructing progress on a contracted job.” He pointed a meaty finger up at the boy in the tree.
“What's going on?” Lucas said, squinting his eyes as the sun poured down through the leaves of the tree.
“Either you come down or we're gonna cut you down.” The fat man yelled back up to Will, nodding at his friend in overalls who fired up a chainsaw threateningly.
“You guys, come up here with me. They won't cut it down if we're all up here.” Will called down to the other kids at the bus stop. He was clinging to the tree with his bag hanging off a nearby branch. He looked scared, but also sad when trying to get people to climb up his tree with him.
“Bus, bus, bus.” Lucas called, pulling on Mike’s sleeve lightly before turning to get on the bus that pulled up next to the caution tape procured by the worker men.
“Mike, please.” Will’s voice cracked at the top of his sycamore tree. Mike looked up, tensed between getting on the bus and staying. He decided in a beat, even through the empathetic look on his face, to get on the bus and sit down roughly next to Lucas.
—————
Will was frantic. They wanted to cut down his tree. I couldn't understand why that mutant tangle of gnarly branches meant so much to him.
I felt bad for him.
But I wasn't about to cut school over it.
—————
“ So why isn't he your friend, Mike?” Richie asked, uncrossing his leg that had gone numb under his skinny amount of body weight. He stared at Mike questioningly with his magnified eyes.
“You'd have to know Will.” Mike replied, a smile trying to grace his features but ultimately it fell into one that looked sheepish.
“Well, I'd like to. That kid has an iron backbone.” Richie smiled, taking the paper back from Mike and scanning it over once more. “Why don't you invite him over sometime?”
“An iron backbone? He's just stubborn and he's pushy beyond belief. He's been stalking me since kindergarten.” Mike ranted, accusing Richie of not knowing Will as well as he did, but ultimately Mike didn’t know Will that well either.
“Well, a boy like that doesn't live next door to everyone. Come on. Read this. Without prejudice.” Richie said, handing the paper back to Mike before stretching and getting up. He left the room with the paper situated on Mike’s lap.

 

—————
Psh.
Like I needed to know anything more about Will Byers.
—————
Mike stomped to his room. He threw the paper on his desk and threw himself to his unmade bed. He looked up at the popcorn ceiling. Maybe Richie had gone crazy on the train ride from Derry all those months ago. Someone slipped something in a drink or something and his mind went to mush. He’d seemed like he grew up so much since the previous summer they spent together. They would laugh and shout at each other then. But now Richie seemed oddly wise, or depressed, or both.
Maybe He was right.
—————
Will wasn't at the bus stop the next morning. Or the morning after that. He was at school, but you'd never know it.
I told myself I should be glad about it.
I mean, isn't that what I'd always wanted?
—————
Mike peered over at Will’s desk during science class. They were learning something about biology but Mike couldn’t pay attention. He was looking at Will.
Will Byers.
The person who was always filled with energy and talked over the teacher if they were wrong and filled sketchbooks with plants and drawings of himself. He was slumped across his desk with his face mushed into his hands.
Doing nothing.

 

—————
I felt bad for him. I was gonna tell him I was sorry about his tree but then I thought, hey, no...
that's the last thing I needed: Will Byers thinking I missed him.

Chapter Text

—————
I loved to watch my mom fix up the car. Or really, I loved to talk to her while I drew with chalk and she worked
I learned a lot about my mom that way. She told me all sorts of things like how she got her first goldfish and accidentally overfed it within the week, and how she wishes she finished college.
Then one day she surprised me.
—————
“So kiddo, what's going on with you and, uh, wrench please” She said from the hood of the car that was just out of Will’s sight line. He got up from his place and picked up a discarded wrench from the pile of tools next to his mother’s feet and handed it to her.
“Thanks sweetie” She said, twisting a gear or something before stepping back and wiping her forehead. She turned to Will, wiping her oily hands on her overalls.
“So what's going on with you and Mike Wheeler?” She said, walking to the porch where Jane had put out glasses of lemonade for her family twenty minutes before. Will followed her sitting down next to the sticky glasses.
“ Well, what do you mean? Nothing’s ‘up’ with Mike Wheeler. Why would you even think that?” Will said, kicking the sidewalk of stones that led to his crumbly porch steps.
“Oh, okay. My mistake,” She smiled, handing Will his glass as she took her own. “No reason.” She smiled through her glass.
“Just that you talk about him all the time sweetheart.” She said pulling an arm around her youngest child. Pushing her cheek into his hair, thinking of how tall her baby is getting.
“I do?”
“Mm-hm.”
“I don't know. I guess it's something about his eyes. Or maybe his smile.” Will smiled softly, thinking of the smile that reflects the laughter in Mike’s eyes. Both being tied together like-
“But what about him?” Joyce interrupted his thoughts. Will pulled away from her a little to look her in the eyes. The same eyes he would see in his older brother when he was giving his patented pep talks or when his sister would poke him to wake him up in the morning.
“What?”
“You have to look at the whole thing. A car is more than the sum of its parts. A wheel can just be a wheel, an engine can just be an engine. But if you put them all together-” She said, pulling out her keys, clicking the start button.
The car sputtered and puffed out steam, starting for a moment before turning off again. Joyce had a slight disappointed but expecting look on her face. She shoved her keys back into her pocket.
“But you put them all together and it can be magic.” She said, tapping his nose before picking up the empty glass she had and walked into their home, leaving Will on the front porch.
—————
I didn't really understand what she was saying until one afternoon when I was up in the sycamore tree.
I was rescuing a random kite. It was a long way up, higher than I'd ever been. And the higher I got, the more amazed I was by the view.
I began to notice how wonderful the breeze smelled. Like sunshine and wild grass. I couldn't stop breathing it in filling my lungs with the sweetest smell I'd ever known. The forests behind the rows of Hawkins houses were broken down cars and different machines that seemed to be cast aside with the rest of the environment, growing into the earth. It was beautiful.
—————
“Hey, you found my kite.” Came a voice from down below.
Will looked down from his place in the tree branches. He saw a mess of black hair and a striped sweater. He moved the branches in front of him and Mike Wheeler came into view. He smiled.
“Mike, you should come up here. It's so beautiful.” Will said, looking out at the scene right out of a Katherine Patterson novel.
“I can't. I sprained my, um...I have a rash.” Mike said quickly, before continuing his way past the tree quickly.
—————
From that moment on, that became my spot. I could sit there for hours, just looking out at the world.
Some days the sunsets would be purple and pink. And some days they were a blazing orange...setting fire to the clouds on the horizon.
It was during one of those sunsets that my mother's idea of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts moved from my head to my heart. Some days I would get there extra early to watch the sunrise.
One morning I was making mental notes of how the streaks of light were cutting through the clouds, so I could paint it, when I heard a noise below.
—————
Will sat up in the top of the sycamore tree, thinking of waking Jane up early the next morning so she could come with him to see the sunrise. She was adopted by the Byers when they were in the fourth grade, and she looks so much like Will already people thought they were twins. She didn’t know anything, and people used to make up rumours that she was raised by wolves. She joined Will at school most days, but some days she stayed home with Joyce because everything was too much for her. Trauma or something. They never really told Will or Jonathan.
But she absolutely loved when Will would talk about artistic stuff. She loved to watch him paint. She was a girl of few words, but her smile could fill in the blanks when Will showed her a painting.
Will heard a vehicle pull up below the tree. Odd, he thought, he never saw the bus around the corner. He looked down to see a truck with three guys climbing out in construction hats.
“Excuse me,” He called down. “Excuse me. I'm sorry, but you can't park there. That's a bus stop.”
A plump man looked up, squinting at the tree. His face looked squished, like a rat’s face. He had whiskers and a pointy nose, both of which were coated in something white Will didn’t care enough to try and analyse.
“Hey, what are you doing up there?” The rat man called back up to him. “You can't be up there, we're gonna take this thing down.”
“The tree?” He asked, and the man nodded. “But who told you, you could cut it down?”
“The owner. He's gonna build a house, and this tree's in the way.” The rat man’s friend said coming up beside him with a chainsaw.
“So come on, son, we got work to do.” The rat man said, trying to persuade the boy to come down on his own accord, otherwise he could have a lawsuit on his hands.
“You can't cut it down. You just can't.” Will cried, hugging the closest branch to him. His cheeks turned pink and eyes misty. They couldn’t tear down this tree. This magnificent tree.
“Listen, son. I'm this close to calling the police. You are trespassing and obstructing progress on a contracted job. Now either you come down, or we're gonna cut you down.” The rat man’s friend said, revving the chainsaw; an empty threat but a threat nonetheless.
“Go ahead. Cut me down. I'm not coming down. I'm never coming down.” Will yelled, seeing children crossing the street towards the bus stop. “Mikee. You guys, come up here with me. They won't cut it down if we're all up here.”
All the children that he called to left, getting on the soon approaching bus. Benny Morgan left, Naomi Frorsyth left, Lucas Sinclair left. Mike Wheeler stood beneath the tree, looking up at Will with indecipherable expressions crossing his face.
“Mike, please don't let them do this.” But Mike left. He got on the bus.

—————
What happened after that was a blur. It seemed like the whole town was there. But still I wouldn't move.
Then my mother showed up.
She talked a fireman into letting her come up to where I was.
—————
“Sweetie, it's time to come down.” Joyce Byers, in her motherly voice said, pushing a hand out for Will to take.
“Momma, please don't let them do this.” Will pleaded, wanting his corner of the world to stay at peace.
“Sweetie…” Joyce tried. “Mom, look. You can see everything. You can see the whole world from here.”
“No view is worth my son's safety. Now, come on.” Joyce said firmly. Needing her son on the ground. She loved the tree too. Watching her kids climbing and laughing every sunday morning they would walk to the store to buy bread for breakfast. But it’s always time to let things go.
“I can't.” Will said quietly, a tear falling down his cheek.
“William, it's time to come down now. It's time.” Joyce said, a matching tear falling down her face. Will grabbed her hand and Joyce pulled him into a hug.
—————
And that was it. I must've cried for two weeks straight.
Oh, sure, I went to school and did the best I could but nothing seemed to matter.
—————
“Will?” Ms. Manson asked from the front of the room.
Will lifted his head off his desk lazily. “Huh?”
“Do you know the answer?” She asked softly, looking at his tired eyes.
“Uh, the Peloponnesian War?” He muttered, trying to pull himself further into his sweater. His face was bored and distant. Everyone who saw him thought he should be at home.
“I'm sure that's the answer to something, but I was looking for the area of a rhomboid.” She said softly, turning out to the rest of the class, looking for an answer.
—————
Somehow, rhomboids and isosceles right triangles didn't seem so important.
I rode my bike so I wouldn't have to pass by the stump that used to be the earth's most magnificent sycamore tree. But no matter what I did, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
—————
Will had his face shoved in his pillow. Feeling sorry for himself. Before his siblings decided to knock on his closed door. They poked their heads in, like in a bad reality show they would all gather and watch on family nights.
“Are you okay?” Jane asked, her soft curls bouncing against her cheeks.
“It was just a tree.” Will sniffed.
“No, it wasn't just a tree. We never want you to forget how you felt when you were up there.” Jonathan and Jane walked into his room, a large frame and a small frame in each of their hands.
El turned hers around to show a low quality crayon drawing of the tree. She wasn’t the best at art and she used a nice canvas for something cute like this but Will loved it. Jonothan turned his small frame around to show a picture of nine year old Jane and Will smiling brightly at the camera with the sycamore tree framing their faces from where they sat in it’s branches. It was the day they adopted Jane.
Will almost started crying again.
“Thanks, guys.” He said, sitting up as they sat on opposite sides of him on his bed. They all hugged each other as tightly as they could before they found somewhere to put the pieces of art.
—————
They were the first things I saw every morning and the last things I saw before I went to sleep. And once I could look at them without crying I saw more than the tree and what being up there meant to me.
I saw the day that my view of things around me started changing. And I wondered, did I still feel the same things about Mike?
—————

Chapter Text

I've never been a huge fan of eggs. I mean, I could always just take them or leave them.
That is, until one day in Robin Buckley's garage when my feelings about eggs were solidified.
—————
“Hey, hey, hey. Guys. Edna's found her breakfast.” Steve Harrington called the group of teenagers in his garage. Mike had been dragged to Robin’s house by his older sister. Her and Jonathan, Steve and Robin all wanted to hang out for a day before they started their last year of highschool. Mike was starting highschool in the same school his older sister the next day. It was nerve wracking but it was thrilling in its own respect. Mike had been brought along to their hangout because of Nancy’s “babysitting responsibility”.
Mostly they just shot the shit and talked about teachers and classes and other going on seniors that Mike had never heard of. Robin’s garage had bean bag chairs and fairy lights and a bunch of speakers that music poured out of. In the corner was a reptile cage, a name tag with “Edna” splayed on the glass.
There was an egg in the terrarium, Robin had called it, when the Wheelers got there. She said wait for it.
Now the five of them gathered around the snake, watching it circle the egg before it slithered, unhinged it’s jaw and started trying to suck it into its mouth.
—————
I mean, if a slimy reptile found them appetizing there was certainly no place for them in my diet.
—————
“Oh, man, that's so cool. She doesn't even have to chew. I mean, think of all the time you'd save.” Jonathan said from behind Mike somewhere. He was right in front of the snake. The rest of the teenagers gathered behind him. The snake swallowed the egg.
Gross.
But then the worst part was that it started hacking, its stomach started crunching and rolling, then out came an amniotic covered shell all broken in pieces.
“Gross, that’s so cool” Nancy muttered to her friends. They all returned to where they were but Mike stood, still stuck on the snake.
—————
I could've gone my whole life not knowing that snakes eat eggs raw if it hadn't been for Nancy. She had a major-league thing for Jonathan Byers. Who hung out with Steve and Robin.
I think it's gross.
—————
“It’s kinda cool. Steve and Will’s brother, are going into their last year of highschool and they both want to go to NYU. Nancy would go and help with getting art portfolios together with them.” Mike said, shoving his dinner into his mouth as he recounted the day’s events at family dinner.
Mike sat next to his mother, across from Richie and Nancy with his father at the head of the table.
“That is so neat. How was it today, Mike?” His mother smiled at him from down the table. He couldn’t stop thinking about the snake. He hadn’t touched his dinner.
“Yeah,” He said in a wavering smile. “Neat.”
—————
I tried to be casual about it, but it didn't take. I started having bad dreams.
I'd be trapped inside a huge egg and this monster would open his jaws and start to devour me. I'd wake up just in time.
Then the real nightmare began.
—————
“Hi, Mike. I brought these over for you and your family.” Will smiled on the porch of the Wheeler’s house, a basket of browned eggs in a basket he held out toward Mike. “My chickens are laying eggs.”
“What?” Mike said confused, hand still on the handle of the door. He wasn’t dressed for school yet, he stood in his pj’s in the doorway to the boy who was fully dressed and seemingly as chipper as a woodpecker.
“You remember Abby and Bonnie and Clyde and Dexter and Eunice and Florence? The ones I hatched for the science fair?” Will smiled, recounting the sixth grade science fair and smiling wider.
“How could I forget?” Mike said sarcastically, but the smile on his face masquerading his resent.
—————
It was classic Will Byers. He totally dominated the fair. And get this, his project was all about watching boring eggs hatch.
I mean, here I had a live-action erupting volcano and all anyone cared about was Will's boring chicks breaking out of their boring shells.
—————
“Oh, I think the last one's hatching!” A girlish voice said from amidst the crowd that surrounded Will Byers’ booth in the auditorium.
The science fair was in full swing, judges going around for their final tallies for winners and prizes. Mike was sure he was a shoe in with his baking soda volcano that he spent two whole months arms deep in paper mache to finish. The judges had been watching his eruption when cracking and rustling was heard from the group that circled Will’s table.
“It's hatching.”
“Oh, it's hatching.”
“Judges, come over here.” one of the adults passing by said.
Will’s chick’s had poked their way out of their shells, curling under the heated light that he’d set up above them.The blue ribbon was pinned to his poster board within minutes.
—————
But hey, he won. I lost. I've never been one to dwell. But that didn't mean I had to eat his lousy eggs.
—————
“I think it was very sweet of Will to bring us those eggs.” Karen Wheeler said, pushing a spot for the bucket of eggs into the fridge. She had always been fond of the Byers family, wishing for more than an acquaintanceship between her and Joyce. She wanted to be friends with her, but Ted and Mike seemed to dislike them for some reason, so she kept quiet.
“I don't care. I'm still having cereal tomorrow.” Mike said, shoving his toast into his mouth at the breakfast table.
“Yeah, how do we know there's no chicks in one of those eggs?” Ted said, pushing the rest of his bacon and lettuce sandwich down his throat.
“I used to eat farm-fresh eggs when I was back in Derry. They were delicious, my friend lived on a farm and gave them to us every Sunday.” Richie said, reading a comic next to his bowl of cereal.
“Yeah, well, that's all well and good but what if we crack one open and a dead chick falls out?” Ted continued, face flushing from the little expression of a different opinion than his.
“Do they have a rooster? If they don't have a rooster the eggs can't be fertile.” Richie piped up, handing Nancy her bowl of cereal as she sat down next to him. Nancy and Richie’s relationship was similar to hers and Mike’s, Richie had started talking to her and they’d bonded over god knows what to Mike.
“If they had a rooster, we'd know. The whole neighborhood would know.” Ted said, getting up and clacking his dishes harshly into the sink next to where Karen stood.
“Maybe they got it de-yodeled,” Nancy said, taking a spoonful of cheerios before noticing the lack of responses from her family. “You know,like, De-cock-a-doodle-doo'd.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Ted said from the sink.
“Like they de-bark dogs.”
“Mike, why don't you just ask Will?” Karen asked, moving from the kitchen counter to sitting next to her kids.
Mike almost choked on his toast. He it gulped down before talking again, hoping his voice didn’t crack so much. “I don't think that-”
“What? You afraid to talk to him?” Nancy teased from across the table. Richie smiled at his cousins, looking up from his comic to join in.
“I'm not afraid to talk to him!” Mike rebuffed, glaring at his sister.
Richie started to squack like a chicken, making fun of the cowardice Mike was letting slip.
“Okay come on guys. Mike, just talk to him and find out.” Karen stopped the teasing short.
Mike grumbled into his plate and clanged it as he dropped it into the sink.

“Mike.” Lucas whisper yelled across the yard, knocking his head towards the big wooden fence. Mike gulped and ducked as he jogged over to where Lucas was kneeling. They peered through holes in the fence, looking at a green backyard that expanded into the far corner where a hen house was built.
They observed the chickens for a few moments, looking as they cocked their heads around and corralled around the border where the chicken padding turned to grass; waiting for Will’s morning feeding.
“How do you tell if one's a rooster?” Mike’s harsh whisper came through to Lucas, whose face was still pressed against the fence hole.
“Well, a rooster's bigger. Longer feathers.” Lucas said, pulling away before looking back at the yard, obviously not concerned that they were trespassing. “They've got that red stuff growing out of their head. And around their neck too.”
“Okay” Mike said, pressing his face back to the fence, his brown eyes peering around at the chickens. Their heads flopped around with red rubber, not one was without it. “Lucas all of them have red stuff.”
“Oh, uh, well come to think of it, chickens have the rubbery red stuff too. Just not as much.” Lucas responded to Mike’s deadpan.
—————
Lucas’ expertise in roosters was the cornerstone of our plan to avoid contact with Will Byers. The balance of which involved spying over his back fence.
—————
“They all look like chickens.” Lucas said after a minute or two more of peeing into the Byers yard.
“How can you tell?” Mike fired back, nervous about the whole situation. His hands got clammy, wishing to be sure and get out of there and to the bus stop as soon as possible.
“They just do!” Lucas said louder than they had been talking.
“Shh, shh!”
“What?” Lucas said, ducking after Mike’s frantic shushing.
Mike raised a thumb and jabbed to the hole he’d been peering through. “Will!” He whisper shouted back at Lucas, pulling his collar away from the fence for a moment.
“Here, guys. Go on, there you go.” They heard from over the fence, Will had left the Byers back door to feed his chickens for the morning.
The boys behind the fence peered in once again to see Will Byers, wearing his usual baggy jeans paired with a striped t shirt. He had a bucket of chicken feed and was throwing it to his chickens, doing so with such pride. Mike almost felt bad doing this. He felt weird for sure, but it was just cause they were trespassing. That’s it.
“Yeah, they're all chickens.” Lucas said after a minute of watching Will walk around and drop feed. Mike watched him do it. He was used to doing this obviously, and it was natural for him. The small smile on his face when a chicken would come up to him was..weird. It made Mike feel even weirder about the whole situation. Maybe he should stay home today.
“There's no rooster?” Mike said, shaking his head away from the boy in front of them.
“What did I just say?” Lucas deadpanned, Mike’s signature.
“How can you tell?”Mike’s mouth flattened to a line. “Well, none of them are strutting.”
“Here, come on.” Will said to his chickens. Mike turned back to the fence, he watched him throw the last bit of seed before he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Roosters strut?”
“What did I just say?” Lucas said, reiterating his previous point “Plus, hardly any of them have any rubbery red stuff. They're definitely all chickens.”
Lucas pulled himself up from his crouch and started to scuffle away from the Byers house. Mike stayed where he was, watching Will sit down on the grass as he watched his chickens squabble over the last bit of feed. Will sat cross legged, his elbow holding his chin up from his knee. His cheeks were pink in the warm morning wind. He pushed his hair out of his face and subconsciously Mike pushed the longer ends of his hair behind his ears. He didn’t know why he was so fascinated by Will. He was convinced it was because his anxiety told him it was safer to wait until Will was gone to move.
“Mike” Lucas hissed from around the corner. That caused Will’s eyes to turn towards the noise. “Shit” Mike muttered.
He grabbed his backpack and raced towards Lucas and beyond towards the bus stop.
—————
“They're all chickens.” Mike said proudly, shoving a spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth. The dinner table was surrounded by his family, normal seats staring at each other across the table.
“I'm proud of you, Mike. You overcame your fear of talking to the oh-so-scary neighbour boy” Mike glared at Richie, who teased him as his glasses fell down his face.
“Heh. Yeah. It's no big deal.” He said with creased brows as he pushed his spoon harshly down into his pile of potatoes.
“That's what he told you? They're all chickens?” His father asked at the head of the table.
“Yeah.” Mike said, suddenly insecure. His dad always scared him, which was ironic cause other than complaining or victimizing he mostly sat in front of the TV and watched showtunes.
“He's a genius. You're both genius… of course they're all chickens. A rooster's a chicken. The question is: Is one of them a rooster or are they all hens?” Ted Wheeler yelled, causing the annual awkward lull in the conversation that happened every so often at supper time.
—————
Hens? Who said anything about hens? Then it hit me. Lucas didn't know jack shit about chickens.
—————
“Do roosters strut?” He asked aloud to no one in particular.
“Yes, they do.” Richie replied, shoving his own mashed potatoes in his face
“They're all hens.”
“Well, the main thing is the eggs are okay,” Karen interrupted.
Mike’s face quirked into one of thinking. A flash of the smile that Will was smiling earlier hit him in the face.
“It's all settled.” she said, smiling lightly at her grumbling boys before returning to her meal.
—————
Not for me. There was no way I was ever gonna eat anything that had anything to do with Will Byers.
I'm not eating them.
—————
“Well, why not?” Karen asked from beside him. Oops he must’ve said that part out loud.
“I uh, well have you seen their yard? It's...there's not even any grass. It's all mud and chicken shit.” Mike countered in uncertainty.
“Ew. Gross. Salmonella.” Nancy said from the other side of the table as her mother.
“Well do you suppose they could have salmonella?” She asked, looking at her husband before her nephew cut in. “It's not very likely.”
“Why take the risk?” Ted said with a smug look on his face. “We’ll just give them back.”
“Give them back? To Will?” Mike asked.
“Sure. You talked to him before, right? It didn't kill you. Tell him we don't eat eggs. Uh, we're allergic to them or something.” Ted said dully.
And with that the conversation was over, and adjoining it soon was dinner, Mike heading upstairs.
—————
It didn't feel right to lie. Besides, even an eighth grader would know that entire families aren't allergic to eggs. But I didn't wanna hurt his feelings either.
So that left me with only one option.
—————
The next morning, Mike walked slowly down the stairs and to the fridge. His dad was asleep on the Lay-z-boy chair as per usual, so he tiptoed to the garage with the basket of eggs in hand. He opened and shut the door quietly and opened the garage door. He walked down the side of the house, to where they kept the garbage, recycling and compost bins. He went directly to the compost bin and crushed the carton of eggs beneath the lid as he pushed them into the bin.
—————
And thus another near-death experience in my ongoing saga with Will Byers had been successfully avoided. Until one week later.
—————
“Hi, Mike. Brought you some more eggs.” Will Byers said the next monday morning, wearing bright blue overalls and pushing a basket of eggs out to the other boy. He had a smile on his face. That damn smile Mike had to look at.
“Uh, wow. Thanks.” Mike stumbled, taking the eggs very ungracefully. Will wrapped his arms around his back when his hands were empty.
“Did your family like the first batch?” He asked hopefully, the glow in his eyes to innocent for Mike to tell him that his family didn’t even touch them.
“Do you even have to ask?” Mike responded anyway, his conscience yelling at him that this was wrong.
“Great. See you at school.” Will said, hopping back down the driveway and across the street. Mike waved until Will was out of sight then slumped against the door frame. He looked down at the new basket of eggs. He was in deep shit now.
—————
What I hoped would be a one-time event was just the beginning of a life consumed with lies, intrigue and deception.
Every morning I'd be on the lookout for Will so if he happened to come, I could whip the door open before he knocked. Then I'd dump the eggs before anyone noticed.
And why? Why couldn't I just face him? Why couldn't I just say:
"No, thanks. Don't want them. Don't need them. Give them to the snake"?
Was I really afraid of hurting his feelings...
or was I just afraid of him?

Chapter Text

“Now, you wanna make sure you get it…” Jonathan quipped as he placed an egg over a flashlight. He stood with his hand on the back of Will’s chair, one eye closed watching the pink insides of the egg glow. There was a small seed sized something attached to two veiny tendrils that attached to the sides of the egg.
Will observed it curiously. Jane stood on the other side of his chair, looking over his head and watching what her brothers were doing.
—————
When Mr. Clark first suggested hatching eggs as my science project I was less than excited.
That is, until I saw my first sign of life.
—————
“Is that it?” Will asked lightly, looking at the pink shape in the eggshell.
“That's the embryo.” Jonathan said, the book of birds opened in front of him, specialising on the page about eggs.
“Wow. It looks like a bean.” Jane giggled from where she was leaning against the back of Will’s chair.
“Let's try the other ones.” He said excitedly, pulling the rest of the carton carefully towards himself as Jane took the egg of the flashlight and replaced it lightly with the next one, that had an identical bean in it.
—————
Suddenly it felt real. All the eggs were alive. There were, like, little bean babies inside every one.
On the day of the fair, all six chicks hatched. What are the odds?
—————
Will stood before his booth, everyone coming to watch as the eggs cracked and outcame his little fluffy chicks. He was smiling so wide. All of his chicks and the science behind how they came to be where interesting and thorough so it didn’t take long until...
“This year's top prize goes to Will Byers for his wonderful project: "A Chicken is Born."
They stuck the blue ribbon to the side of his project and Will’s smile grew tenfold, if that was possible. Somewhere Jonathan took a picture of him holding the ribbon with his rosy cheeks pulled all the way back so his smile seemed to take up his whole face. Will denies ever looking like that.
—————
I won first place. And that was cool, but all I really cared about were my chicks.
My mom wasn't crazy about us raising chickens. But I begged and pleaded. I told her I would take care of everything. Jane even said she would help sometimes.
And we raised them.
—————
“There you go. There you go, guys.” Will said happily has he spread chicken feed around his chicken house. He counted as they clucked around him, picking at the feed on the ground. One, Two, Three, Four, Five.
“Where's Clyde?” He asked aloud. He looked around the yard; no sign of any grand theft chicken or an escape. He walked to his chicken house and saw inside his last chicken. “Clyde? Hey, Clyde. What's the matter?” He asked, crouching into the house, petting the chicken’s head lightly. Clyde closed his eyes.
“Are you okay? Aren't you hungry?” He asked, bending over the exit to pick up some chicken feed from his bucket. “Come on. Come here. What's wrong, babe?”
He crawled further into the house, putting his hand in front of Clyde as he lazily pecked at the feed. He slowly stretched and ruffled his feathers. The chicken stood and walked slowly off of his nest and down to Will’s side. Will noticed something amidst Clyde’s nest. He bent near it, still sitting cross legged and rifling slowly through the hay that comprised the nest. He pulled out a smooth, brown egg.
“Hey, you're not Clyde. You're Clydette.” He said, looking down to his side where Clyde had sat down next to him. “Mom! Come look!”
—————
As it turned out, I had hens. And my hens laid more eggs than we could eat.
At first we tried to keep up...but after a month of boiling, frying and deviling, like that movie The Blob, we were being overtaken by eggs.
Then opportunity in the form of our neighbor, Mrs. Steuby, knocked.
—————
Will pushed his breakfast plate, covered in toast topped with an overeasy egg back towards his mom. He shook his head slightly, becoming somewhat sick of the eggs they kept eating. His mom nodded, almost as exasperated as he was concerning their egg epidemic.
Will walked to the foyer, pulling on some sneakers and grabbing his bucket. He shoveled some feed into it and opened the wire door. Walking over to his chickens in the morning was nice, he got to enjoy the fresh morning air. He threw some feed, waking his chickens and going to collect the eggs of the day.
“Hello, dear.” A voice came from over the fence. He pulled his head up and saw his neighbour, Angela Steuby. A nice older lady with white curly hair who always wore floral print dresses. She smiled at him, her crows feet framing her face. “If you ever have any extra eggs, I'd be happy to buy them from you.”
“Really?” Will asked, surprised that he could possibly make some money and solve his problem together.
“Certainly. And I happen to know that Mrs. Helms would be interested as well.” She false whispered, a hand to her face.
“Great. Nothing like fresh eggs I suppose. Thanks, Mrs. Steuby.” Will smiled at her.
“You bet, dear. Bye.” She said, her heels clacking against the sidewalk as she walked away.
Will smiled and ran back to the house to tell his family.
—————
Between Mrs. Steuby and Mrs. Helms, our egg overflow problem was solved. Then I realized that Mrs. Wheeler deserved eggs too. But I didn't think it would be right to charge her.
She had been such a good neighbor, lending us supplies when we ran out, giving my mother a ride to work when our car finally broke down and we had to get a new one, it was the least I could do.
Besides, if I happened to run into Mike, that wouldn't be the end of the world.
—————
Will, overall bound and his hair a slight mess from packaging eggs all morning, walked himself across the street the monday morning before school to give the Wheelers a carton of eggs. He hopped quickly up the driveway and knocked on the brown front door. He waited a few moments, mouth quirking awkwardly before the door creaked open to reveal the less than prim and pressed Mike Wheeler. A white sleep shirt tucked into light brown sweatpants held together by a black elastic drawstring.His hair was a mess and Will could’ve just dropped dead right there. He looked so cute.
“Uhm, hi Mike. I brought these over for you and your family.” Will smiled, looking at Mike. He stood on the porch of the Wheeler’s house, holding a basket of browned eggs in a basket. “My chickens are laying eggs.”
“What?” Mike said confused, hand still on the handle of the door. He looked to have just rolled out of bed and was staring at the boy who was fully dressed and as chipper as a woodpecker.
“You remember Abby and Bonnie and Clyde and Dexter and Eunice and Florence? The ones I hatched for the science fair?” Will smiled again, happy to be talking to Mike Wheeler.
“How could I forget?” Mike said with the same beautiful smile on his face shining through.
—————
By the third time I brought eggs over to the Wheelers I realized Mike was waiting for me. Waiting to pull open the door and say, "Thanks, Will. See you at school."
And in return, I got a few moments alone with the world's most dazzling eyes.
It was a bargain. Until the day it wasn't.
It was two weeks after the sycamore tree was cut down and I was just starting to feel normal again.
—————
“Hey, Will. Right on schedule.” Mike said smiling, pulling the door open to see the brown haired boy per usual.
“Yeah, well, neither rain nor sleet.” Will smiled, holding the basket out to Mike, shifting it to Mike’s hands carefully. Mike took them before shooting a confused face at Will. “Huh?”
“You know, the mailman thing?” Will said, eyebrow raised at Mike. Mike chuckled out an ‘oh, right’, with red coating is face out of subtle embarrassment. It was cute. Mike was cute when he didn’t get something obvious. His ears turned pink whenever Mr.Clark would call on him and he didn’t know the answer, which was occasionally.
Mike coughed. “So, um, will you start riding the bus again?” He asked, eyes shying away to the basket of eggs.
Will looked at him a little incredulous. He really didn’t want to see the stump that was once his beloved tree. But did that mean Mike Wheeler telling him to come back to the bus?
“I don't know. I haven't been up there since.” Will said slowly as he scuffed his shoes against each other and picked at his fingernail.
“It doesn't look so bad anymore.” Mike jumped in quickly. “It's all cleared away and you can see past the houses into the old car lot.” he smiled.
“Yeah. Well, um, I better get ready for school.” Will said, sticking a thumb over his shoulder, showing that he should get back across the street.
“Ok, guess I'll see you there.” Mike said awkwardly, quirking his mouth to the side of his face.
“See you.” Will smiled, standing as Mike closed the door and then slowly walking off the porch.
—————
Maybe Mike was right. Maybe it was time I started riding the bus again. After all, didn't he just tell me he wanted me to?
Could it be that Mike Wheeler actually misses me?
—————
Will stood at the end of the driveway, picking at the skin around his nails, watching a blue car pass by on the street before he crossed. He was thinking about a range of things. From Mike’s encounter to what kind of snacks he should bring to school to share with Dustin that day. The car went by agonizingly slowly, for an eighth graders taste, even though it was going the speed limit of the neighbourhood.
In the time Will was waiting, a click sounded from the Wheeler’s front door. Will turned to see Mike with a medium sized compost bag tucked into his arms, a disgusted look on his face as he got buzzed by fruit flies.
Will walked back up the driveway towards Mike, and Mike realized he was still there.
“Will? What are you still doing here?” Mike asked, a tad overwrought.
“I was waiting for a car to go by, but it's pickup day so I thought to ask if you need some help?” Will said nicely, folding his hands together in front of himself.
“Uh, No. Maybe I'll do it later.” Mike’s chuckle sounded strained as he turned quickly to go back inside. Will put his hand on Mike’s shoulder and turned him around, looking at the compost bag.
“Are those my eggs?” Will said, looking at Mike’s face with furrowed brows.
“Y-Yeah, I dropped them?” Mike tried to dig himself out of a hole.
“They're not broken. Why are you throwing them away?” Will looked at Mike, upset and lip close to quivering. “Don't you want them?”
“It wasn't me!” He said quickly before he looked down, his face sheepish. “My dad didn't think it was worth the risk.”
“Risk? What risk?” Will snapped.
“Salmonella.” Mike looked apologetic.
“What? He's afraid of being poisoned?” Will was getting more and more agitated. He was confused and Mike was guilty which clammed him up. Will was just confused.
“Well, Will, I mean, look at your yard. It's a complete mess. It's, like, covered in turds and motor oil.” Mike said, finally putting the smelly compost bag down next to him.
“That's not true. I clean up after my chicks every day and my mom is so careful about oil.” Will argued back.
“We just didn't wanna hurt your feelings.” Mike kept avoiding Will’s gaze.
“Have you always thrown them away?” Mike nodded. “You know, Mrs. Steuby and Mrs. Helms pay me for my eggs?” Will said, tears finally falling down his cheeks lightly.
“They do?” Mike looked at Will, feeling like the shittiest human being on earth.
“They pay me 60 cents a dozen. But how could you know? You don’t even talk to me, you don’t know me!” Will retaliated, taking the basket of eggs out of the compost bag Mike didn’t even bother to get rid of and he smashed it against the driveway. Mike flinched but he knew he deserved the effort it would take to clean up the yolk.
“How could you?” Will said after a beat.
“I'm sorry.”
“No, you're not.”

Chapter Text

—————
It didn't take me long to realize that I'd traded in my old problems with Will Byers for a whole set of new ones.
It was actually worse having him mad at me than having him annoy me. The way he ignored me was a constant reminder that I'd been such a dick.
It wasn’t until the summer between eighth grade and high school I realised how weird things could get though. I was coming home from playing basketball with Lucas.
—————
“Don't be so timid. Come on, you won't hurt it.” A voice Mike recognized came from the Byers driveway. He looked over to see Will and Richie covered in coveralls and motor oil.
Richie looked like he was helping Will fix up the old car in the driveway, showing Will the tools and where things would click together.
“Like this?” Will’s voice came across the street to Mike. He had the hood open and was twisting something before the engine roared to life. He got so excited he dropped the wrench he held. Richie had jumped too excitedly yammering and high fiving Will as they celebrated.
“ HELL YEAH THAT’S IT!” Richie yelled.
Mike looked at them confused.
—————
My cousin. All I ever saw Richie wear was stupid t shirts and sweatpants. Now, where did he get coveralls and all the energy to fix a car? I haven’t seen him outside the house in months.
—————
Mike bounced his ball up his driveway and threw the ball onto the lawn. He slammed the front door as he walked inside and ran up the stairs. He walked into his bedroom and threw himself on his bed.
He looked at the ceiling, the weird texture making pictures in his head. He didn’t like this. Richie is his cousin. They were best friends when they were ten. What the hell. He can’t hang out with Mike but he can hang out with Will Byers of all people?
He stood up and looked out the window, out there was Richie, coveralls now zipped down and tied around his waist, and Will had the same with his longish brown hair tied up behind his ears.
Mike flushed and shut the blinds.
—————
I couldn't stop looking over there. And the more I looked, the madder I got. Richie had already said more to Will in one hour than he'd said to me in the whole time he'd been living with us.
I was pretty sure I'd never seen him laugh in that time. Like genuinely laugh. But he was howling with Will Byers.
And what was his deal with Will Byers?
—————
Mike sat in the Wheelers living room, sweating his skin off as old looney tune reruns played on the tv. He kept looking out of the bay window, stretching over with his thighs sticking to the leather couch, to see Richie and Will working on the car as Jane sat on the pavement and watched them work. He would always flop back against the couch dramatically with his brows furrowed and his pouty lip showcasing for anyone who walked by that he was jealous.
Eventually the front door opened and Richie walked in, wiping the sweat from his face and leaving black streaks across his cheeks. Mike watched him walk to the kitchen and grab a glass of water before coming and sitting next to Mike on the couch.
“Hey Rich” He said after Richie had chugged his glass of water.
“Will told me about the eggs.” Richie said, looking over at Mike’s face that immediately fell into guilt, picking at the corners of the couch. “You know Mike, one's character is set at an early age. I'd hate to see you swim out so far you can't swim back.”
“Heh, what’s that mean Rich?” Mike asked, somewhat teasingly but the pit in his stomach refused to unfurl.
“I don’t know exactly. My friend Ben said it to me once a long time ago. But I think it's about honesty.” Richie said, stretching on the couch and thinking deeply about his old town. “He would say ‘sometimes a little discomfort in the beginning can save a whole lot of pain down the road.”
“Did you take his advice” Mike asked, looking over at his cousin who had a weird look on his face.
Richie waited a moment.
“Yeah” His voice cracked. “I did. But sometimes the pain reverberates somehow else. Just go apologize” Richie said quickly, standing up and making his way over to the stairs.
After he disappeared Mike looked out the window again, skin peeling up and snapping, before he focused on the boy outside. Will was smiling and spraying his sister with the hose. She shrieked in laughter and the smile on Will’s face stretched so wide.
There’s that weird fluttery feeling again.
—————
When it came to holding a grudge, Will Byers was truly impressive. All summer I tried to approach him, but he'd always find some way to duck me.
—————
Mike was at the arcade with Lucas and Max. They were watching Max beat the top score at Dig Dug again when she mentioned the Byers siblings joining them later.
“I invited Jane and Will to come” She said, tongue sticking out as she smashed the hot plastic buttons of the arcade game.
“Really?” Mike said surprised. Not at the fact that Jane was coming, seeing Max and her were good friends, but the fact that Will was coming too. Maybe he could finally talk to him.
When the siblings walked in, about twenty minutes later, Will spotted Mike immediately. Mike started to walk towards them before Will leaned over and whispered something to Jane before taking off towards the back room.
Mike sped up.
“H-hey Jane! Do you know where Will’s going?” He asked politely. Jane and him never exactly hated each other, they just never talked much before.
“Uhm, he said he was going to the bathroom” She said slowly, before Mike took off towards the bathroom. He muttered a thanks but eagerly followed the mop of brown hair that desperately tried to leave him.
He took a different path to the bathroom door, and saw Will emerge from the crowd.
They locked eyes and Will turned in the other direction and ran.
“Will wait!” Mike called, pushing past other sweaty teenagers to try and get to the boy who was clad in a rainbow striped shirt.
Mike left the crowd, scanning the arcade machines and saw Will talking to Max and Lucas. He’d missed his shot to talk to him alone. He trugged himself back over, Will making eye contact for a moment before laughing at something Jane said.
Mike didn’t much enjoy the arcade that day.
—————
Whenever he was working on the car, Richie was out front with him. They’d been working slowly. Cleaning up the front yard as they worked.
Richie was always there.
Finally, September rolled around and high school started. The normal chaos of first days happened but when I got to my homeroom Will was sitting with an empty seat next to him.
I saw my opening.
—————
Mike waited until the bell was about to ring, before sitting down quickly next to Will so he couldn’t change seats. The teacher had come in as Will started to panic about the boy next to him. She said the seating chart would be posted later that week, but for the time being they were to remain where they were sat.
Will grumbled something that sounded like a curse word before flipping open his notebook and doodling. He was trying to ignore Mike and Mike could tell.
Mike wasn’t one to give up easily however. He scribbled out a note and placed it quickly on Will’s desk.
Will looked at the offending paper, put down his pencil with a huff and unfolded it.
-It's looking real good.
The note said scribbled out in Mike’s messy handwriting. Will stared at it before pulling his pencil to answer. He threw it back to Mike’s desk
-What is?
Came Will’s neater handwriting. Mike was hopeful this meant he could hold a conversation with Will now.
“The car. It looks really cool the way you and Richie are fixing it up.” Mike whispered to the boy next to him. Although it was only the first day so they wouldn’t have gotten in trouble for talking anyway.
“Thanks.” Will said a little stiff. “Rich did most of it.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, while Mike built up some courage now that the metaphoric ice was broken.
“I'm sorry for what I did.” He said, the silence following ringing in his ears.
“I just don't get it, Mike.” Will said after thirty seconds. He turned towards Mike, looking at the brown eyed boy. “Why didn't you just tell me?”
“I don't know. It was dumb. And I shouldn't have said anything about your car or about the yard , either. It wasn't right.” Mike said. Guilt had been his most resilient emotion that summer and god be damned it would stop now.
“Maybe it's all for the best.” Will said after thinking. “I mean, Richie’s a great friend and I got so close to him through the car. it's amazing. You're lucky. I don't have any cousins.”
“Oh.” Mike said awkwardly, pushing the falling out sole of his shoe against the desk leg.
“I feel sorry for him. He misses Derry. Sometimes he talks about Eddie. He says I remind him of him” Will said, clicking the eraser end of his pencil against his desk.
“What?” Mike asked, remembering the firecracker dubbed Eddie Kaspbrak who sometimes visited when Richie did. Will hung out with Eddie maybe once when Mike, Richie and Eddie were at the park the summer of second grade.
“I know. That's what I said.” Will smiled. “But he meant it in a nice way. Something about his spirit.”
“Yeah.” Mike said, the man of many words. Will kind of was like Eddie. They were both short with messy brown hair. Will stood up for himself against people. Like the guys who wanted to cut down his tree.
The bell went, people gathering binders and preparing for the next class of their morning.
“Well...Good luck with the car. I'm sure it'll come up great.” Mike said, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. Will was shoving his notebook in his bag when he looked up at Mike, his pretty hazel eyes staring at him.
“Thanks. I guess I'll see you around.” He said, zipping his bag closed and walking to the door, leaving Mike standing by his desk. Mike watched him leave, his sneakers squeaking against the tiles.
“I guess so.” Mike said to himself.
—————
While Will's acceptance of my apology was not all that I'd hoped for at least the eggs thing was finally behind me. After three months I could truly enjoy Double Dare.
—————
Mike sat on the couch, in between his mom on his left and Richie who sat to the right in the arm chair. Ted was in the kitchen, fixing himself a drink. Double dare was playing on screen while the clack of high heels was coming down the stairs. Nancy came down, clad in a nice blouse and a high waisted skirt. Her hair had been crimped and she had silver heels on.
“Kay, bye guys” She said grabbing her coat from the back of Richie’s chair, kissing him on the forehead before heading to the door.
“Where you going...and why you dressed like that?” Ted asked from the kitchen, ducking his head below the window into the living room, watching his oldest walk back in to look at him.
“Robin’s. Steve and Jon are bringing over cameras and stuff. They're gonna take pictures and shots for their NYU portfolios.” She said, fixing one of her earrings.
“Psh, like they have the equipment to make a portfolio.” Ted snorted, sipping on his scotch.
“You don't even know them.” Nancy retaliated.
“I don't have to. I know the type” Ted guffawed, walking over and putting his glass on the end table next to his wife.
“You don't know anything.” Nancy grumbled trying to walk towards the door again.
Her brother watched as Ted walked towards her angrily. “Don't talk to me like that.”
“I'm late. I’ll be back by 11.” She said calmly, walking out the door keys in hand.
Ted rolled his eyes and sat down.
—————
Yep. Everything was back to normal.
—————
“Oh Richie dear, you have some oil on your elbow.” Karen fretted, handing Richie a box of tissues over the arm of the couch. Richie took one and wiped the black muck off of him.
“Is that boy working you too hard?” Ted asked, clinking the ice of his glass as he spoke.
“That boy's name is Will. And, no, he isn't working me too hard.” Richie fixed his glasses and slouched further into the chair.
“You've developed quite a soft spot for him, huh?” Ted said, licking his bottom lip the way old men tend to do when they’re upset.
“Ted.” Karen insisted.
“No, no, Karen. Just wanna find out why your nephew wants to hang out with a complete stranger when he won't even talk to his own cousin.”
“It's okay, Dad.” Mike cut in, looking from Richie and back to his dad.
“No, it's not okay.” Ted raised his voice, lumping out of the chair he sat in, standing in front of the TV.
“I don’t know, Will reminds him of Eddie.” Mike defended, standing in front of Richie, who curled further into the chair he sat in.
“Of that queer kid he would bring up? Heh, I don’t doubt” Ted pissed out of his mouth. Karen looked uncomfortable, she shifted. She loved her nephew and Ted never really thought of him as the ‘manly’ type. Ted’s opinions were always made of crystal.
“Dad stop it” Mike said.
Richie put a hand on Mike’s shoulder and stood up.
“You know why the Byers haven't fixed their yard? Or had a proper car since theirs broke down?” Richie asked with odd composure.
“Yeah, because Joyce’s too busy with her jackshit job” Ted said, spittle flying from his mouth.
“If you had a kid with a handicap, what would you do?” Richie asked, brow furrowed.
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“Will’s sister. Jane. She has Asperger’s and Autism.” Richie said coldly. The room was silent for a few moments before...
“So what? She's not the gardener, is she? Heh.” Ted rebutted.
“Ted!” Karen said, standing against her husband.
“He he he. It was a joke. Anyway, you know, other people have family troubles and they manage to mow their own lawns. I don't know where their pride in ownership is.” Ted said, waving his family off and sitting back down, now where Mike was sitting and he kicked his feet up. The other Wheelers kept standing, Richie to Mike’s left.
Richie was getting more visibly mad by the moment.
“They don't own that house.” He said. “The landlord's supposed to maintain it. Mrs. Byers puts every extra penny she has into helping her daughter.”
“Don't they have government facilities for this sort of thing?” Ted said as Karen slowly sat back down, uncomfortable. “Either way, it's not our fault that their family has some chromosomal abnormality.”
“It has nothing to do with chromosomes. They adopted Jane a few years ago. No one wanted her because when she was born, she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. If she'd had enough oxygen, she would've been a perfect little baby, just like your son” Richie yelled. He hated this. Hated that he had to defend his friends from his uncle.
“Goddamn it, Richard.” Ted said as Karen got up again. She sniffled, tears falling down her face, as she left the room.
“Karen? Karen!” Ted called, following her out of the room.
The house was quiet. Richie sat down hard in the chair, bouncing his knee as he rested his elbows on his knees. He rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses. A door slammed somewhere and Mike fell against the couch.
“Sorry Mike” Richie said, a tear falling down his cheek.
“Why is Mom so upset?” Mike said confused, looking at his cousin.
“Because... for the grace of God...aunt Karen could be standing in Joyce’s shoes.” He said, getting up and sitting next to Mike. He patted his shoulder, Mike pulling Richie into a hug after seeing how much he was crying.
“Did I have the cord wrapped around my neck too?” Mike said after they pulled away.
“You did. Luckily, the doctor who delivered you was on the ball and got it untangled but it easily could have gone the other way.” Richie said wiping his eyes.
They sat for a bit, calming down before Mike suggested they go for a walk. They got their coats and quietly slipped out the back door. They walked quietly for a bit, before they started kicking rocks and beer cans. They acted like normal teenage boys, taking sticks and playing swords with them before racing to the end of the street. They fell to the grass, laughing. They looked at the stars that were out. Finding random constellations and naming them ridiculous names. Then it was quiet.
“What would they have done with me?” Mike said, hands folded against his stomach and grass caressing his cheeks.
“You can't dwell on something that might've been, Mike.” Richie said, turning his face towards Mike as his glasses fell towards the ground.
“The way my dad was talking, sounds like he would've thrown me in a nuthouse.”
Richie chuckled. “Maybe he would’ve. But all he probably would’ve thought was ‘more chicken for him.” Mike laughed.
Mike looked over at his cousin. “How’d you get so wise.”
Richie sat up, looking over at a lump of wood in the distance. The stump of the sycamore tree.
“Do you really want to hear it?” He sounded nervous. Mike nodded, sitting up cross legged next to him.
“Well, back in Derry I fell in love, shocking I know,” Richie said as Mike dropped his jaw. “I realised I was absolutely, irreversibly in love with Eddie Kaspbrak. The boy completed my entire world. He made me so happy, and the best part was that he liked me back. But then Mags went off the rails. My dad left and she saw every bottom of any bottle within reach. Whenever I would try to help or stand up for myself to my dad he would hit me. Mom would just cry. But at least I had Eddie. But Eddie’s mom found out he was, well, with me, and she sent him away. Then Mags sent me away cause she wanted to quit drinking. I haven’t seen Eddie in about a year and a half. He’s still the love of my life.”
Richie had started crying again. Mike was close too. Mike hugged Richie so tightly that night. Richie sobbed into his shoulder. Then after he pulled his glasses up his nose and pointed at Mike.
“We started out badly. He hated me. Then eventually we turned into this.” Richie said.
Mike thought he knew where Richie was going with this.
“He reminds me of Will. He's quite the boy.” He said, Mike actually listened as Richie talked about Will. “Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss. But every once in a while, you find someone who's...iridescent. And when you do nothing will ever compare.”
—————
Iridescent? This was describing Will Byers? Will Byers had always just seemed plain to me.
Until now.
And the way he talked about what it felt like to be up in that tree...to be held above the earth, brushed by the wind. Who in high school talks like that?
This weird feeling started taking over in the pit of my stomach and I didn't like it.
I was slipping, man.
And it was time to get a grip.