"Michael, can you come down here please?"
Mike sighed as he stood up from his desk. He had a feeling he knew what this conversation was going to be about, and he hadn't been looking forward to it. Reluctantly, he left his room and went downstairs. His parents were waiting for him in the living room. He sat down next to his mother on the sofa, but he kept his distance from her; it was almost like Mike was trying to make himself as small as possible.
"What?" Mike asked when neither of his parents said anything.
"You don't have to look like you're in trouble or something, son," said Ted with a slight grin. "We're not here to lecture you about anything."
"We just wanted to talk to you about Christmas," Karen added.
"What about it?" Mike asked in a bored tone.
"Well, it's coming up soon and you still haven't told us what you want. We're having a little trouble picking out gifts for you, sweetie," said Karen.
"So, what is it, son? What do you want for Christmas?"
Mike rolled his eyes and didn't say anything.
"Michael?" prompted Ted.
"What?" Mike snapped irritably.
"Tell us what you want for Christmas!"
"I don't want anything for stupid Christmas!"
"Michael, what are you talking about?" asked Karen in a shocked tone.
"I don't care about Christmas!" Mike yelled. "I don't want anything and I don't want to anything about it. You can just donate anything you already bought for me. I don't want it."
Mike stood up and stormed out of the room and back upstairs. He slammed his door and collapsed onto his bed, breathing heavily. The conversation was exactly what he thought it would be. He had been hoping that his parents would take the hint that he didn't want to talk about Christmas, but apparently they were clueless in that regard. Just like they were about most things that involved him.
There was a knock at Mike's door. He groaned but didn't say anything.
"Mike, can I come in please?" his mother asked in a gentle voice.
Mike didn't respond, but Karen walked into the room anyway. She walked over to his bed and sat down on it. Mike curled his body to keep away from any contact with his mother.
"Look, honey, I know you're upset that Will can't come for Christmas, but that doesn't mean you have to ruin Christmas for everyone else," Karen said.
"I'm not trying to ruin it," Mike replied. "I just don't want anything to do with it this year."
"Mike, come on. You can't just not celebrate Christmas!"
"Why not? Why should I celebrate Christmas? Why should I celebrate when I'm not happy?"
Karen's face softened slightly.
"Mike, I'm sorry. I know this is hard for you. I just want you to have a normal life, even though Will isn't here."
"Well, it's not gonna happen, Mom," Mike said. "I'm not going to be normal without Will around. And I'm not celebrating Christmas this year. You guys can carry on, but I'm not interested."
"Will you at least spend some time with us on Christmas Day? Please, Michael. I just want all of the family to be together for the holiday. Can you just do that for me?"
"Fine," Mike said. "But that's all I'm promising. I will come downstairs on Christmas morning, but that's it. I'm not doing gifts, I'm not singing carols, I'm not watching Christmas movies, I'm not doing anything else. I'll just be there."
"All right, Michael," Karen said as she stood up from Mike's bed. "If you change your mind, you're welcome to participate in Christmas, of course."
Mike nodded but didn't say anything. He could feel tears threatening to spill down his face, but he was determined not to do it in front of his mother. Karen left the room and shut the door behind her. Once he heard her footsteps walk away, Mike finally allowed himself to cry.
There was a knock at the front door. Karen hurried to answer it, looking excited. She opened the door and Nancy stood in the doorway.
"Hi!" Nancy exclaimed, throwing her arms around her mother.
"Oh, it's so good to see you, honey," Karen said as she hugged her daughter and pulled her into the house. "Your Dad's sorry he couldn't be here to greet you, but you know him and his work."
Nancy rolled her eyes and grinned slightly.
"Yeah, I know Dad and his work," Nancy said.
She followed Karen into the living room, where Mike was sitting on the couch, watching Holly look through the presents.
"Hey, little brother!" Nancy said when she saw Mike.
"Hey, Nance," Mike said in a quiet voice, standing up to hug his older sister. He held her a little tighter than he normally would have. When the hug was broken, he sat back down and still had a blank expression on his face.
"Listen, Nancy, I'm gonna go into the kitchen and fix lunch with Holly. Why don't you and Mike catch up?" Karen said.
"Yeah, sure, that sounds good. You sure you don't need any help, Mom?"
"No, no, I've got it. Come on, Holly, sweetie!"
Holly stood up from her spot under the Christmas tree and followed Karen out of the living room.
"So, how's college life?" Mike asked.
"It's not bad," Nancy replied. "A lot of studying for upcoming exams, writing papers and doing lab work. Nothing too exciting."
Mike smiled and nodded before his face returned to the blank look he had been wearing when Nancy first walked into the room.
"So, Mom tells me you're being a bit of a Grinch this year," Nancy said.
"Great, she told you," he said.
"Of course she told me, Mike. She's worried about you. I am too. What's going on?"
"Is it Will and El?" Nancy asked.
Mike didn't say anything, but Nancy saw his mouth twitch slightly. And suddenly, Mike looked close to tears.
"Oh, Mike," Nancy said as she scooted closer to Mike and wrapped her arm around him.
"I miss them so much," Mike said as he started to cry.
"I know, Mike, I know," Nancy said. "I miss them too. And I miss Jonathan. And Joyce."
Nancy held onto Mike as he cried into her shoulder for a few minutes. When he calmed down, Mike sat up properly and wiped away the tears from his face.
"So, why don't you wanna celebrate Christmas?" Nancy asked gently.
"I just don't have the energy for it, Nance," Mike said. "I can't get into the Christmas spirit at all. I've tried and tried, but I just can't get excited about it."
Mike dissolved into more tears and Nancy patiently let Mike cry them out. When he was done, Mike cleared his throat.
"I don't even remember celebrating Christmas without being able to have Will here or to go over to his house," Mike said. "I've always spent time with him on Christmas ever since we became friends. I'm not ready to not get to do that. And I don't want to celebrate Christmas if I'm not happy."
Nancy patted Mike on the back.
"I get that, Mike," she said. "But what if I told you I had a way for you to be happy this Christmas?"
"What do you mean?" Mike asked, frowning.
Nancy grinned as someone knocked on the front door. Mike turned to look at the door, feeling confused.
"Go see who's there, Mike," Nancy said with a smile.
Mike stood up and hurried to the front door, hardly daring to believe what he was hoping. He ripped the front door open and nearly passed out from shock. Standing on his front porch with huge smiles on their faces was Will, El, Jonathan and Joyce.
"Surprise!" they all shouted as they walked into the house. Will hugged Mike first and held him tightly. Mike was frozen to the spot and his brain was having difficulty processing what was happening.
"Hey, share him with me!" El exclaimed.
Will chuckled as he let go of Mike and stepped aside to let El hug Mike. She threw her arms around Mike and hugged him tightly for just a moment before she continued inside.
"Good to see you, Mike," Jonathan said, thumping Mike on the shoulder.
"It really is, honey," Joyce added, giving Mike a kiss on the forehead.
Mike finally snapped out of his trance and fully realized that the Byers family was back in his house. He quickly shut the front door and turned to look at them. They all looked mostly the same, although Will had gotten a hair cut; it seemed he had grown tired of the bowl cut and instead got a trim that suited him much better, Mike thought.
"I can't believe you're all here!" Mike said breathlessly.
"Well, we have Nancy to thank for it," Jonathan said, giving his girlfriend a kiss on the cheek. "She decided to pick us up on her way here to surprise you and the rest of your family!"
"Yeah, we didn't want to spend Christmas away from you!" added Will, who was beaming with happiness. "And we told your Mom to invite The Party over tomorrow so we can all be together!"
"Wait till you see what we got for you, Mike!" El exclaimed.
"Oh no," Mike said, his eyes going wide.
"Mike?" Will asked, frowning.
"I, uh....I..." Mike stammered, unable to get the words out.
"Are you okay?" demanded El.
Mike's chest started to heave. He grabbed onto the wall for support. His heart was beating rapidly. Will hurried over to Mike.
"Come on, let's go sit down," Will said, grabbing Mike's arm and slinging it over himself. El did the same with Mike's other arm and they helped him into the living room. They sat Mike down on the sofa and Will plopped down next to him. He turned to the others. "You guys go on ahead. I'll sit with him for a minute. It'll be okay."
The others all nodded and hurried out of the living room, presumably to go and greet Karen and Holly in the kitchen.
Will turned his attention to Mike, who was still breathing heavily. He gently grabbed onto one of Mike's wrists and immediately saw tension leave Mike's shoulders.
"Hey, it's gonna be okay, Mikey," Will said gently. "Deep breaths, Mike, deep breaths."
Will breathed in and out deeply so that Mike could follow him. The two of them breathed together until Mike calmed down and resumed his normal breathing pattern. Will didn't take his hand off of Mike's wrist.
"What's going on, Mike?" Will asked.
"I didn't get you guys anything for Christmas!" Mike almost shouted.
Will's face softened.
"Hey, it's okay, Mike. You don't have to get us anything. We're just happy that we get to spend time with you!"
"But you guys got me stuff!" Mike protested. "I can't just take gifts from you without getting you guys anything!"
"Well, it's just Christmas Eve, Mike. What if you and Nancy go Christmas shopping together? She told us on the way that she hadn't done much shopping either because of her classes. So you guys can both get your gifts!"
Mike's eyes lit up.
"Will, you're a genius!"
"I don't know about that, but thanks for the compliment!"
"You're sure you don't mind sharing your bed, Mike?" Will asked.
It was almost midnight on Christmas Eve night. Mike and Nancy had went shopping and managed to get gifts for everyone, which they had quickly wrapped and placed under the tree. Karen had smugly told Mike that she knew Mike would come around, to which Mike stuck his tongue out at her before he hurried to the basement to spend time catching up with Will and El. They had spent hours talking in the basement before they decided to call it a night. Jonathan and Nancy were sleeping in Nancy's old room. Although Mike had offered his bed to El, she had refused, insisting that she wanted to sleep in Ted's La-Z-Boy recliner near the Christmas tree so she could try and see Santa when he stopped by. Mike didn't have the heart to tell her the truth about Santa, so he smiled and agreed with her.
"Yeah, of course I'm sure, Will," Mike said. "This bed is definitely big enough for the two of us and I'm not gonna make you sleep on the floor."
Will grinned as he climbed into Mike's bed. Mike plopped down on top of the blankets while Will buried himself in them.
"So, have you been doing okay?" Will asked gently. "I talked with Dustin the other day and he says you've been down lately. Like, more than normal."
Mike sighed deeply.
"I just miss you so much, Will," Mike said softly. "I hate not having you around. I miss El, too, but it's different. You and I have known each other for so long that my life feels....empty without you in it."
Tears welled in Mike's eyes again. He impatiently tried to wipe them away.
"I miss you, too, Mikey," Will said. "I don't like not seeing you at school. I mean, I know it's a new school, but I hate that you're not there."
Mike smiled as he scooted over and pulled Will into a hug. They held each other tightly for several moments, neither of them saying a word. When they broke apart, they kept their arms around each other and stared deeply into each other's eyes.
"I love you, Will," Mike said.
"You what?" he asked in a tone barely louder than a whisper.
"I love you," Mike said. "I love you so much. I think I've known for a long time and I'm sorry it took me so long to say it. But I love you, Will. I love you."
Will didn't say anything but grabbed onto Mike's shirt and pulled him closer. Will pressed their lips together and they both felt their bodies heat up. The kiss felt like coming home for the both of them. They both felt loved and protected.
"In case it wasn't clear just then, I love you too, Mike," Will said.
Mike giggled as he laid down on the bed, pulling Will closer to him. Will buried himself into Mike's embrace, wrapping his legs around Mike's and clinging onto Mike's body. Mike reached over and shut off the lamp. Mike then adjusted himself so that he was comfortable, with Will's head resting on his shoulder. Just as he got into the right position, Mike's watch beeped to announce the midnight hour. It was officially Christmas.
"Merry Christmas, Mike," Will said in a sleepy voice as he lifted his head and gave Mike a quick kiss.
"Merry Christmas, Will," Mike said after the kiss. Will lay his head back down on Mike's chest. "I love you."
"I love you, too, Mikey."