She doesn’t have a birthday, not technically. At least, not one that she knows. Still, when she finds herself indoctrinated into the Byers household, she’s immediately fascinated and perplexed when everyone in the family starts talking about Will’s upcoming birthday. Apparently, it’s a big occasion. That’s what she’s told. So, El does what she does best and observes the sudden onslaught of merriment and wonder around her. She’s never seen anything like it before. Joyce asking Will questions, like what he wants, ‘you only turn fifteen once after all’, or so she says. Her head tilts at the way Will bashfully talks around the subject. ‘Anything’s fine’, he assures her. ‘Don’t trouble yourself over me, Mom.’ Jonathan takes him out to look at things he might like, still.
El understands that they could all use a reason to be happy and maybe, maybe this is it. While they’re out, Joyce and El venture off to buy all sorts of new things she’s never seen or heard of before. Balloons, candles, and they even orders a cake. Pretty. It’s white and simple, but covered with rainbow star sprinkles and El just knows that Will’s going to love it. The room seems to be filled with a buzzing atmosphere. She hasn’t seen Joyce this full of nerves and excitement in a long time, and for a reason she doesn’t fully recognize, she feels the urge to reach over and grab the woman in a hug, so she does.
Will’s birthday comes and the air is filled with... something. For a moment, El can’t place it and then her heart skips once. Not quite sad, but not all the way happy, just half-way happy as her dad used to say to her. She thinks of Jim, his smile and his gruff, outward appearance. She misses him so much in that moment she almost can’t bear it. But then Joyce is knocking on her door and she is grabbing Will’s present that she picked out herself (with a little guidance from Jonathan). Will sits at the table, almost like he’s waiting for the Demogorgon to come find him, but he shoots El a small smile and seems to relax at her presence.
Joyce gifts him paints. He still draws with crayons and color pencils, but it’s clear she’s taken notice of his interest in expanding his art crafts. When Will unwraps his brother’s gift, he stifles a laugh. When he shows everybody, they see that it’s a shirt with The Clash on the front. Some band Will likes a lot that he's trying to get El into. Her present is next, and she’s a little surprised to find that she’s nervous. She hands the gift over and when Will unfolds it’s contents, inside are six handmade bracelets. She got a kit that taught her how to make them and honestly, they’re not that great to look at. But Will’s so happy he’s almost in tears over it. ‘He doesn’t even care what people have to say about a boy wearing a friendship bracelet, he’s gonna wear it every day until it falls off, and he’s gonna make the rest of their friends do the same.’ Will tells them all as much when they call to wish him a happy birthday. He looks at El and then pulls her into a hug. Maybe she’s starting to understand this birthday thing, after all.
One day, exactly four months and sixteen days later, El wakes up to Will jumping on her. He’s telling her to ‘wake up, there’s a big surprise in the kitchen’, but she’s so groggy that it takes a minute for his words to sink in. When she does catch his words, she follows him out of her room, down the hall and when she sees the kitchen, there’s Joyce, and Jonathan, and a small stack of presents waiting there for her at the table. Her confusion must be evident because Joyce walks over and puts an arm around her, leading her to the table and sitting her down. She asks if El remembers when they talked about birthdays and had one for Will. El does. ‘Well, we thought we should have one for you too. Her voice is heavy with emotion when she says this. But since we don’t know when you were born, we just thought, why not today?’, and as she says this, she give a hopeful smile towards El. El’s never had all that many people show her kindness before. It’s a little hard to receive. Still, she nods her head.
This is what she’s been missing, a family, people to love and who love her in return. She wishes Hopper were here to be with her in this special moment, more than anything. Joyce is pushing a small, wrapped package into her hand, and she opens it, then stares. It’s a small mirror, with a young deer etched into the side. A fawn, El remembers it being called. The work is intricate, and she hugs Joyce tightly as thanks. Jonathan gives her two new mixed tapes, one with her favorite songs, and the other with songs he thinks she’ll like. He ruffles her hair as she thanks him, sending a grateful smile his way. When Will turns his gift over, he’s fiddling with a tear in the wrapping paper around the present. She puts a hand on his arm to calm him and he passes the gift over to her with a soft smile. A walkie talkie. ‘So we can always hear each other’, he tells her with a small smile. She feels a grin tug at her mouth and stands to hug him. ‘Thank you, love you.’ And maybe they’ll be okay.