Walking up to the front door of our new house, I can’t help but feel a little tense.
I know I’m not going to be in trouble – not as most people would imagine it, at least. But… They do say time flies when you’re having fun.
And man, are they right.
I’ve been gone for hot minute.
So no. I’m not worried about being in trouble, but I am quite well aware that this is a new place, with new people, that none of us have had time to fully explore yet . And my mother? My mother loves to get worked up as soon as the smallest thing isn’t going according to plan.
I haven’t deviated from my usual schedule once yet.
So as I delicately twist down the handle of the front door, and slowly push my way into the house, I expect a full parade of police officers to greet me on the other side.
Instead, I find…
Is my mother in a coma or something?
I immediately find Jonathan sat in the living area to my left, and thanks to the fact that the sofa is facing towards the front of the house, he immediately notices me creeping through the door.
“Hey, man.” he greets me. “Finally home, huh?”
I look around, from the living area to the kitchen and dining area on the other side, and find no trace of my mother.
Is she out? Is she looking for me?
“I got distracted, uh-… Where’s mom?”
“Her room.” he answers.
Oh. Fair enough…
“You should know she did send me out to look for you.” Jonathan quickly mentions.
“You know what she’s like.”
“Yea-yeah I do. You… you were looking for me?”
“Sorry, bud.” Jonathan apologizes. “I’m trying to let you keep your privacy, but you know Mom. She was getting pretty worked up.”
“Yeah, thanks. Did you… find me?”
“The school was the first place I checked.” Jonathan confirms. “You’ve been making new friends, huh?” he asks with a smirk.
Why are my cheeks warming up?
“I met her today during lunch and, well… we’ve got a lot in common so… we lost track of time.”
“Hey man, I’m happy for you.” Jonathan says.
“I told you you’d find some friends soon.”
I can’t help but smile. He did insist on that fact. I’d been so certain that I’d never find friends here. I’ve known the Party since elementary school and never strayed away from them (with the exception of El and Max being brought in) so why would that be any different here?
But, proven wrong, I’ve met a friend. Someone that I get along with very well and can talk with for hours without realizing, apparently.
“Thanks, Jonathan.” I say.
And with that, I make my way to my bedroom, intent on freshening up and getting into something a bit more comfortable.
As I approach my room, I can hear the music that Mike had mixed together for El emerging quietly through the three-inch gap that she insists on leaving her door open in respect of her father’s rule, despite Mom insisting that we would never mind her wanting some privacy.
I’m about to enter my room, when a sudden voice from behind me causes a small startle in me.
“Well hello there stranger!”
Well, now the rest of the state knows I’m home.
“Hey Mom.” I greet back, turning to face her standing against her bedroom’s door frame.
“And where exactly have you been for the last three hours?” she asks, and yikes, hearing it out loud makes me cringe. I really just spent three hours sat outside the school and didn’t realize.
“Mom, Jonathan told me you had him look for me.” I explain.
She shrugs, as if to say
‘Well what do you expect?’
“Listen, I don’t mind you spending time out, especially if you’re with a friend. But… just let me know, okay? Either beforehand, or you can phone. If you need money to-”
“Mom.” I cut her off. “I will, I promise. I just… lost track of time. I promise I’ll let you know.”
She seems to accept this. I guess I do have to appreciate the new approach my Mom’s taking on this. Previously she’d be screaming the house down and harassing me to never do it again, but here… this is what I guess a reasonable reaction looks like.
“Um, actually-” I quickly remember that I’d promised Nicole that I’d meet her tomorrow. Without checking with my Mom.
“I… kinda promised I’d meet them at the school tomorrow, at one. They’re pretty new to the area too, so we were gonna go take a look around town, I guess.”
Instead of replying, she…
the response I’d expected.
“Of course you can, honey.” she then tells me.
“Do you know how long you’ll be out?”
“I… don’t know. If it’s anything like today, time will just fly by without either of us realizing.” I explain.
Why is everyone smirking at me?
“She must be a pretty nice girl then if you can lose track of time like that.”
Oh no. Why does Mom know she’s a girl? This is not what I need.
“She’s… We’ve got a lot in common, so we have a lot to talk about.” I explain.
Through her continued smirk, she says “I’m happy for you. I know you didn’t think you’d find any new friends here, so seeing you so happy to find one… it’s nice.”
Oh, my mother. She’s not great at hiding her true thoughts. But it’s not like that. We haven’t even known each-other for a day. Sure we’ve talked about a lot, but I’m pretty sure, even if it was like that, and I’d made it known to her, that would scare her off instantly. I absolutely do not want that. She’s a nice person. I don’t want to ruin this friendship.
I just said that. In my head, but I said it.
Stop it. It’s not like that.
“Yeah.” I finally say.
“It’s nice. It was getting pretty boring, being alone.”
“I know. But I told you that wouldn’t be forever. And look who’s right.”
“You, as always.” I grumble. Might as well agree just to make this easy on myself.
“Of course.” she smirks once again.
“Go on, I’ll let you go.”
Finally, I can head into my room. Before I do anything though, I take a moment to just lie on my bed. To just think. To clear my mind.
It’s not like that.
We’ve only just met each-other. I can’t feel that way already.
But what’s with all the blushing over her then?
I’m not blushing!
You sure did when talking about her to Jonathan.
That- That wasn’t… No.
Sure it wasn’t.
I… I can’t feel like this yet. That’s insane, it just doesn’t work that way.
Why doesn’t it? Didn’t it work like that for Mike and El?
But what? They’re special? Sure, she’s a superhero, but Mike just sees her like any other girl.
Well, we all know that’s a lie.
Okay sure, he’s completely over his head for her. But he forgets about her powers. He told you that himself. She’s just ‘a normal, beautiful girl who he gets the honor of calling his girlfriend’. So if he felt that way about her while he was twelve years old…
I can’t. I just can’t.
It just doesn’t work that way!
But what if she likes you too?
Why would she?
Why would she not? If tomorrow she told you she does, what would you do?
Before I know it, I’m knocking on El’s door. I’ve heard of internal monologue, but this insane.
Don’t they say arguing with yourself is the first sign of insanity?
“Come in.” El’s voice emerges from the other side of the door.
As I slowly push her door open, I see her laying front-down on her bed, with the handset of her own phone in her hands.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, I-”
But then, I cut myself off. I realize, actually, maybe I do want to speak to both her and Mike. Maybe that way I can get both sides of the story.
“Actually… Can I talk to you both? I’ve… got a few questions.”
She then places the phone handset against her ear.
“Did you hear that, Mike?”
I hear a quick muffled voice emerge from the ear piece that certainly sounds like Mike, and then El gives me an inviting smile. She quickly sits up, and pats the now empty space on her bed.
I take a seat beside her, and then…
Well, then I just sit there.
How do I start? What do I ask?
“Is everything okay, Will?” El asks with a concerned look on her face.
“Yeah!” I quickly respond. “Everything’s fine, great, actually. I just… don’t know how to start.”
“Okay…” I can see El thinking of how to help me with this. That’s one thing amazing about her. She’s great at helping you with stuff like this. You’d never think she’d been isolated from the world for the first twelve years of her life, because she never lets it show.
“Okay, what’s the subject?” she soon asks.
“Well… this might sound weird, but… I guess I want to know more about you.” I point between her and the phone, signaling Mike, before remembering that Mike can’t see me.
“The two of you.”
“What do you want to know?”
Here we go. Back to wondering how to word things.
Nope. Try again.
“I was wondering… When did you both realize you… liked… each-other? Like… What made you realize that maybe this person is more than just a friend?”
El, after considering my question, slowly starts to smile. I guess even when you’re being chased by government goons and fighting a giant flower-faced killing machine, falling in love is a happy memory.
“Is there something you’re not telling us, Will?” Mike’s voice asks through the phone on El’s lap.
“No!” I quickly (too quickly) snap.
“I mean… no. I’m just… curious.”
I hope El doesn’t notice these cheeks of mine which certainly feel like they’re glowing red.
“Alright, well… we’ve never really spoken about this…” Mike informs me.
“Uh… I can try to go first if you want, El.”
“Okay.” El answers, “I’d like to hear you first.”
“Okay, well…” Mike starts, pausing for a moment, I assume constructing the story in his head.
“I guess I first started feeling a little… more than friends… when she first said she understood me, while I was rambling about not wanting to look like a wasteoid to her because I got bullied. I guess… when she told me that, I realized that even though I’m bullied and I can’t defend myself, she still wanted to be my friend, and that felt… amazing.”
I watch El as she listens intently to Mike describing his thoughts, and by the look on her face, it makes her happy to be listening to him. Maybe it’s the fact that she made him feel happy? Or maybe it’s knowing that he started liking her that early on?
“But the moment I knew I liked El more than a friend was when she saved my life for the first time. Not because she’s a superhero who can make people fly, but because I knew how hard it was for her to use her powers so much.
As soon as I started falling off the cliff, I was so scared. I wasn’t thinking at the time because I knew I had to do it to save Dustin, but once you’re falling that fast, from that high up… you realize you’ve got no way out and you’re screwed.”
Mike has told me about this before. But never to this detail.
We’re all lucky to have Mike as a friend. That’s for sure.
“But then I just… stopped. I felt this… cushion around me, as if I was being held up by a blanket. I wasn’t trapped, because I could still flail my arms about as if that helped. But I felt… I don’t know. I was still scared, but I think, as soon as I felt that hold on me I just knew I wasn’t going to die.”
El is… she’s amazing.
“Then I started flying back up and before I knew it, I landed on the ground. It wasn’t the most elegant landing sure, but I was alive. I was safe. I looked to the side and there she was. The girl who I’d shouted at for trying to get Lucas off me. The girl who, despite the fact I’d insulted and upset her, still came and saved my life. She burned herself out to save me.”
“Then she collapses onto the floor, so I run over to her. When I ask her what’s wrong, what does she say? She tells me she is the monster. Apparently it didn’t matter that she’d just saved me. No, instead she thinks she’s a monster because she accidentally opened the gate. I knew then that I couldn’t let her feel like that any more. She didn’t deserve to think of herself that way. She was never a monster. She’s… kind, and caring. She’s a hero, and… she’s pretty. With or without the hair, she’s beautiful.
We got home and, while I was cleaning her face, the word started floating in the back of my head. I was scared, because I was only twelve, but I knew.
I knew I wanted her to be happy, and have the best life she could ever wish for, because she deserved it more than anyone else. I knew… I loved her.”
Neither El or I have any idea what to say. The tears making their way to her smile say a million words, though. If only Mike could see them.
“I love you, Mike.” she soon says with a small sniffle.
“I love you, El.” he responds. “I always will.”
“Always.” El repeats. “I promise.”
Any of the others would probably be rolling their eyes, fake gagging, groaning, you name it. Sure, I used to find their constant affection disgusting, more-so annoying, but right now…
I’m happy for them. I can feel my heart swell for them, and can’t help but smile.
And that makes me realize, suddenly…
I want this.
Sure, I don’t need the life saving and scary situations and all of that… but I want what they have.
Nothing has ever felt so clear.
They’re both so happy together and they truly do love each-other more than anything else in this world.
They are soulmates. And there’s no denying it.
The scary thing is…
I can imagine it.
There’s a picture in my head. A person.
How can I be feeling like this already?
El sniffles again, pulling me out of my internal panic, and then says,
“Well, I guess it’s my turn now then.”
Mike’s laugh sounds through the phone for a moment, before he eventually tells El,
“If you’re comfortable, El. You don’t have to.”
“No, no. I want to.” El reassures.
I can see her thinking, flashing back through her memories, wondering where it truly began for her.
“So… obviously, coming from the lab… I didn’t know what love was. Well, I didn’t even know what a friend was until Mike told me.” El quickly clarifies, before starting her story.
“But right from the beginning, when Mike pulled his coat off, getting himself soaked in the rain just so he could put it on me, I felt a… connection. I knew that this person was good, not like the people in the lab.”
We’re looking at each-other as she tells her story, and I can see the memories flashing behind her eyes. I can see how much she means what she’s saying.
“When we got to Mike’s house, he wrapped me up in a blanket, he did everything he could to make me comfortable. He gave me a new set of clothes, taught me about privacy, and he didn’t even freak out when I told him I didn’t want the door closed. He just let me keep it cracked open and looked away.
And then once his friends – Dustin and Lucas – were gone, he set up the blanket fort and made sure I was comfortable there. I might not have known how to say it, but from that point on, I knew that I wanted to stay there. I knew I wanted to stay with this kind and caring boy, Mike.
As we went through everything and he kept protecting me as much as he could from the bad men, I just kept growing closer to him. I already knew I never wanted to be without him, but our bond kept growing. I knew that we were being chased and that the Demogorgon was out there, but somehow, being with Mike made me feel safe.”
The irony of that, considering she is the one with superpowers. Surely you’d think this would be the other way around.
But I get it. Having someone looking out for you, protecting you, does make you feel so much more secure.
“I know one moment I’ll never forget is when Mike told me I don’t need hair.” she says.
“We’d just gotten home from the quarry, and Mike had cleaned my face in the basement restroom. I was looking at myself in the mirror, and… I couldn’t help but miss the wig they’d given me. I’d felt… normal, with it. I felt… pretty. Without it, I was back to my old… experiment self.
But then Mike told me that I didn’t need it. He told me I was still pretty, even without it.
I… didn’t know why he’d think that… but… I could hear the truthfulness in his voice. He meant it, and for the first time, I… I felt pretty. If Mike thought so, then that was all that mattered.”
I’m so glad the guys found El in the woods, and not somebody else.
I can only imagine what Troy would’ve acted like if he had been the one to stumble across her.
If their meeting doesn’t show that these two are star-crossed lovers, I don’t know what will.
“When Mike kissed me in the school, I didn’t know what it was or what it meant, but… it still gave me that butterfly feeling. The same feeling that I got when Mike called me pretty, but… amplified. I knew I liked it, and… I think if Mike hadn’t had to run off to see who was outside, I would’ve asked him to do it again, because I knew it made me feel… good. Somehow I knew it was important, and meant something between us.”
El has never been stupid. She may have had a slow start in some areas of life, but some things are simply primal instinct. I guess this is one of those things.
“Being separated for three-hundred and fifty-three days, listing to how much pain Mike was in and not being able to do anything about it, was the hardest time of my life. Living with Hopper included a lot of watching TV, so obviously I eventually learned what love meant.
Every time I watched a soap, or anything with romance, I just thought about Mike. I thought about the kiss, and I realized what he was telling me. When he invited me to the Snow Ball, and tried to explain the kind of person you usually go with, and then kissed me to show me what he meant, I didn’t get it at the time but once all that TV gave me an understanding, I figured it out.
Mike liked me. In that way.
He didn’t care that I didn’t have any hair. He didn’t care that I was so behind in some of the most basic things. He didn’t care that I was… different. He liked me.
I think once I knew what it meant, and I made that link, I realize then that I felt the same.
Mike had always been so caring, and never once cared how I looked or made me feel like a freak. He… tried to make me feel normal.
And hearing how desperate he was to know I was safe… every single night saying that he needed me…
I knew. I knew then that, this special word that I’d heard on TV and had Hopper explain to me… it applied to me. I love Mike.”
The room’s silent for a moment. El, still with some tears shining in her eyes, is waiting for one of us to say something, I guess.
Mike, however, is completely silent. Is he in shock?
Did the line drop?
“I cannot wait to see you, El.” Mike’s voice eventually breaks the silence.
“I can’t wait to get over there, grab you, squeeze you so tight, and never let you go.”
El’s laughing in response to that. Wiping at her teary eyes, she replies,
“I can’t wait either, Mike. I am never letting you leave once you’re here.”
“Good.” Mike immediately says. “Because I never want to leave. Will, you better have a spare room up there because I’m moving in.”
“Sure thing, Mike.” I respond, laughing. “I’m sure our mothers would love that.”
“They’ll just have to deal with it.” Mike states. “Because as nice as it is being able to talk to El every day still, it’s just not the same as being there.”
“No, of course not.” I agree. “Well, not long now. Just four more days, then you’ll both be able to attack each-other’s lips for five days straight.”
“Four days.” El nods. “Too long, but we can do it.”
“You did three-hundred and fifty-three.” I remind them. “You can make it four days.”
“We can.” Mike agrees. “I’ll be there before you know it. And, hey, as much as I’d like to, I won’t spend the entire time kissing El.” Mike teases.
“We’ll hang out too, Will. Both of you can take me on a tour of your new ‘base of operations’.”
“Hah, I like that.”
I do like the sound of that. But I barely know this place myself.
I hope Nicole knows some cool spots.
Should I introduce her to Mike?
Uh, hello, she hasn’t met your own family yet.
One step at a time.
That would be cool, though.
“Yeah, I’ll have to scope out some spots.”
“Well the three of us can do that once I’m there.” Mike says.
“That could be fun.” El agrees. “I haven’t seen a lot of here.”
“Neither have I.” I agree. “Other than school and the roads between. So yeah, we will.”
“Cool! That’s one activity we’ve got planned.” Mike acknowledges.
“Sweet. Well, I’ll leave you two be now then. I need to get changed.” I say, as I hop off El’s bed and head towards the door.
“Hey, uh, thank you, both of you. That talk… was really helpful.”
“No problem, Will.” El responds.
“Yeah man, no problem at all.” Mike agrees.
“You’ll find your special someone, Will. We all have someone.”
That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
Later that night, as I’m laying in bed, all I can do is stare at my ceiling. My mind is running wild, repeating both El and Mike’s stories over and over. But instead of it being them both, my mind is injecting myself into the story. Myself and… well. I’m sure you know who , by this point.
I’ve never, ever , felt this way before. Hell, everyone around me has always thought I was gay . I wasn’t entirely sure about that, but now, evidently, I’m not.
What if this ruins our friendship?
If she doesn’t feel the same way… am I going to freak her out if I say what I think?
I thought surviving in the Upside-Down against a Demogorgon was scary. Hah.
This is so much worse.
It’s the weirdest thing. I feel happy and excited, because I’ve finally found somebody who I feel this way about.
But I am petrified of taking any action on that.
The sudden knocking of my door sends my body nearly flying upward out of my bed as my heart leaps into my throat.
Dude, calm down. It can’t be her.
“Will? Are you awake?”
“Yeah…” I answer, trying to not sound like I’d just leaped out of my skin.
She slowly opens the door, and steps inside.
“I… have a question, I need to ask you.” she tells me.
“Okay, sure.” I nod. “What is it?”
“When you asked Mike and I to tell you when we fell in love… was there a reason for that?”
I should’ve figured it would’ve looked suspicious. Good going, Will.
“Uh… not really. I was just curious, is all.”
“Will, you don’t need to hide anything from me.” she reminds me.
“I’m not going to tell anybody if you don’t want that.”
“I’m not lying, I-”
I want to keep it up. I want to make her believe that I was just curious. But I can see it in her face. She knows . She is smart , and she knows .
“Okay, fine. I… made a new friend today.”
“A girl.” El clarifies. “Jonathan told us.”
“Yeah, I figured…” Man, my mother. No privacy in the world when your mom is as paranoid as mine.
“Well… she’s… nice. We got on really well, and… I know I shouldn’t feel this way so quickly, but I just feel like… there’s something there, between us.”
“Why shouldn’t you feel that way?” El asks.
“Well, it’s just… way too quick, you know? I’ve only known her since lunch today.”
“So?” El questions. “Remember what I said about Mike? I knew there was something between us on the first day too.”
“Yeah but… you two are like… literal soulmates.” I counter. “Star-crossed and everything. You two are meant for each-other.”
That gets her smiling. I knew it would. These two are so in love.
“Well why can’t that be true about you and her, too?” El asks me then. “If I can stumble across my soulmate while running away from a lab, without any idea of where I’m going… why can’t she be yours?”
There’s no reason why she can’t be.
“I just can’t believe that happening to me.”
“Will… what Mike told you is true. We all have somebody. Mike and I, Max and Lucas, Dustin and Suzie… you and…”
She pauses, expecting me to insert the name of said girl. I hesitate, as if saying her name automatically implies that she’ll suddenly know how I feel. But that’s ridiculous. So…
“Nicole.” El repeats.
“That’s… a nice name.”
“She’s a nice girl.” I automatically say, as if on instinct, and then it catches up with me.
Why did I just say that? Now El’s going to think that you really do like her-
Oh, who are you kidding. You do.
“I’m just… scared.” I finally admit.
“If I tell her how I feel… I can just picture her being freaked out. You know, me feeling like this after one day… I just don’t want to ruin the friendship that’s started between us.”
Wow. I never thought I’d be able to open up about this. But doing so… feels good . It’s like a weight is being lifted off my chest.
El seems to be pondering about what I’d said. I suppose since she hasn’t had to experience this tension about feelings before, she doesn’t have any first-hand experience to relate this to.
But then, as if we’re living a cartoon, I can practically see the light bulb spawn above her head as she suddenly gets an idea.
“You’re meeting up with her tomorrow, aren’t you?”
“Y- Yeah. Mom told you that too?”
“Of course.” she jokes.
“Well… if you can… why don’t you invite her here? Use me as your excuse. I’ve not got any friends here, so just say you want to introduce us.”
“Uh… I’m sure you two would get along, and I’d love for you to meet, absolutely, but… how does that help me?”
“I can try and find out if she likes you, too.” she answers.
Oh god. The sickening feeling is back.
“But… what if that’s too obvious? What if she-”
“I won’t go right in.” El clarifies. “Hanging out with Max taught me a few things. I’ll just… bring it up, like a tease. And then based on her response… I’ll know.”
Why is this so hard?
“Are you sure you can do that? Are you sure you want to?”
“Of course.” El answers. “Will, you’re my brother now. We stick together.”
I can’t help but smile. El really is the most wholesome person you could ever meet.
“El… you’re awesome. You know that, right?”
And then she’s smiling again.
“Well, my powers still aren’t back, so I need to be awesome in other ways for now.”
“Hey, you’re awesome with or without.” I reassure her. “Thank you, El. Seriously, thank you.”
“Of course, Will.”
And considering this is where the conversation naturally comes to an end, El slowly makes her way back to my bedroom door.
“Have fun tomorrow, okay?” she tells me. “Don’t let this ruin your day. Just… act normal, and then… bring me up at some point. If she can’t come here tomorrow, maybe you can plan it another day.”
“Yeah… I will.” I assure her. “Thanks again, El.”
“You’re welcome.” she answers.
“Good night, Will.”
“Goodnight, El.” I echo. And then she’s through my door, slowly closing it again, leaving me to my own mind once more.
At least now I have a plan of action, I guess.
Nicole… really doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would throw away our friendship over something like this. If I really can judge her character from this one day of knowing her, I think if she doesn’t like me back… she’d simply tell me that. Sure, things might feel a bit awkward between us for a while – for me, at least – but I don’t think she’d throw it in my face.
At least I hope not.
Maybe I can do this.