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New Beginnings

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School.

Everybody knows school is boring.
It always has been.
Always will be.

But he was supposed to be in school with his friends.
Dustin. Lucas. Max. Mike, if he could separate himself from El for two seconds.
Or perhaps Hopper would’ve enrolled El into school with them.

Instead, here he is. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, stuck in a school with absolutely nobody that he knows.
His mom decided that El should be homeschooled for a while, so not even she is here to keep him company.

He’s tried to keep a positive outlook on things. This is a new school, in a new town, with new people. Of course he’s going to keep in contact with his friends back in Hawkins, but this is a chance for a new start. Nobody here knows what he’s been through.

At least that’s what he hopes.

All he needs to do is keep low, and hopefully, nobody will bother him.

As he runs his eyes over the dining room, he observes the people around him.

Everyone seems to have their group. Seated around the circular tables, talking about whatever it is that they have on their mind right now.

And then there’s him.
Sat all alone.

Second week into this new school, and he’s still all alone.

It’s not like he wasn’t expecting exactly that. This is him we’re talking about.

With a sigh, he looks back down to the table that he’s sat on. On top, his art book, full of all his memories, good and bad. Open is the piece he’s been working on recently: Him and his friends, all atop the mountain where Cerebro is now situated, all sporting their respective Dungeons and Dragons character’s outfits.

He misses DnD.
He misses Hawkins.
He misses home .
He misses his friends.

He knows why his mom decided to move them out. He gets it. He really does.

But that doesn’t take the pain away.



“Are you okay?”

The voice startles Will. So sudden and out of nowhere. His head spins around to look behind him, where he finds a girl standing there.

She’s got a concerned look on her face. Will stares for a moment, perhaps a moment too long, debating whether he should respond, or, perhaps just shrug and dismiss her.

“I uh…”

He’ll never get the hang of this “communication” thing.

“What’re you working on, there?” she asks, perhaps to break the tension.

But instead, that just makes Will more tense. He remembers his book sat atop the table, open wide for anyone to see. He spins around, quickly closing it.
“Oh, it’s uh- it’s nothing. I mean-”

“Hey-” she interrupts.
“Sorry… I just… really liked what you had there.” she says. The look on her face, Will spends a moment judging, doesn’t seem to be one of mean pranks, or tricks. No – she looks… genuine.

“Really?” Will questions, feeling for a moment that maybe – just maybe – he can trust this person.

“Yeah!” she nods eagerly. “It looked really good!”

“Oh…” That takes Will by surprise. Never has his work been complimented by a stranger. Usually it’s met with chants of “fairy” or “fag”.

Does she genuinely mean this?

“I uh…”
He can’t help but smile though, in the hope that she does mean it.
“Thanks.” he finally gets out. “I mean… its not even finished yet…”

“Yeah, I know.” she responds. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t see how good it’s going to be.”

Woah . Will’s eyes widen for a moment. Is this really happening?

“Can I take a look?”

Suddenly he’s tense again, for a moment.

This book. It contains a lot . A lot of things that he really shouldn’t let a stranger see.
But… he can’t say no.

No stranger has ever taken a curiosity into his work. He’s only ever shared his art with his friends. The closest he got to a stranger is El, perhaps, when he drew her a scene of her with Mike. She was, of course, ecstatic in response to that. She’d been seriously missing Mike ever since the move, and knowing that what she’s feeling must be much harder than what it is for himself, he felt a need to at least try to help.

This… this is completely new.

“Uh… sure…” Will slowly re-opens the book onto the page he’s been working on, before he watches as his hand – seemingly on auto-pilot – passes the book up to her.

But instead of taking it from his hand, the girl pulls the chair beside Will from underneath the table, taking a seat next to him. Will places the book back down, and she delicately takes hold of it, lightly holding it at an angle easier to look at.

His eyes watch hers dance over the page, and he can’t help but feel a little tense. This is so alien to him.
Firstly, a stranger showing concern about him. Then, showing an interest in his art, so much so to compliment it, and request a closer look. Now, you could argue, that she is voluntarily choosing to spend time with him.

This has to be some kind of setup.

This has to be an act.

He continues to watch her eyes dart across the page, as she takes in all there is to see.

And then suddenly, startling him just as much as she did earlier, her eyes break away from the page and catch him staring. Will can’t help but panic internally.

But- instead of calling him a creep, or weirdo, or fag, she smiles.
She smiles.

Looking back to the page again, she says:
“The amount of detail you’ve put into this…”

And then she’s looking back to him.

“It’s amazing. It’s not even finished yet, but you’ve paid attention to every small detail…”

Whether this is all just a plot to dig at him later on or not, Will can’t help but smile at her words. A compliment towards his work automatically makes him feel full of pride.

“You’re… really talented.”

What did she just say?

Did he… did he hear that right?

“How the hell do you even go about putting this much detail into something?”

She said it so quietly, but the words are so loud as they echo inside his mind.
Amazing. Talented.

“I… um… I just…”

How do people do this?

“I just… I picture a scene in my mind.” he finally manages to piece together.
“I imagine it, and then I trace it out, really lightly. Then I can go over it, adding the details.”

The girl smiles, nodding her head at his information.
“Maybe you should teach art class instead.”

Will can’t help it. His lips grow into a wide smile, and he feels his cheeks heat up slightly. He’s not used to compliments. Especially not from strangers. This is completely foreign territory for him.
“Do you really think so?”

“Yeah!” she responds enthusiastically, “We’d learn a lot more from you I bet.”

“Woah.” Will doesn’t quite know how to react other than smile wide.
“Thanks.”

“I’ve always had a love for art.” she tells him. “But... I’ve never really been good at it.”

“Hey, I’m sure you are!” Will says, surprising himself with his sudden change in confidence.
“We all have our own style that suits our personality. Just because your style is different doesn’t mean it’s any worse than someone else’s.”

She seems to take his words in for a moment. It seems that his words really sink in.

“And besides,” he continues, “we’re all our own worst critic.”

At that, she smiles once again. “You’re right about that.” she agrees.



“I’m Nicole.” she then eventually says.

“Oh, uh… Will.” he responds.

“Nice to meet you, Will.” she smiles, holding out her hand.

Will slowly raises his own hand, not used to this at all, but nonetheless takes his hand in hers.

“Nice to meet you too, Nicole.” he responds, shaking her hand softly.

“Hey… do you wanna meet up after school?” Nicole asks Will. “I’d love to keep talking about your art but lunch break is so short.” she explains.

Will, despite how pleasant this conversation has been, can’t help but tense up at the thought of social interaction. This was crazy enough.
But – despite his tensions, he does not want to turn her down on this. She seems like a nice person. She’s being kind to him. She’s offering her friendship - she’s the first person to do so over these two weeks – and he doesn’t want to throw that away.

“Sure.” Will agrees, nodding his head. “Shall we meet at the bike rack? We can decide where to go from there.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a plan.” she smiles.

And, as if on cue, the bell signaling the end of their lunch period rings then.

“I’ll meet you there.” she confirms. And then, he realizes suddenly that her hand just so happens to still be in his, as she shakes his once again.

“Y-yeah. I’ll meet you there.” he smiles softly.

And with that, he lets her hand free, and she’s off to whatever lesson she has next.

He can’t help but notice how… cold… his hand suddenly feels, as if it’s already grown accustom to being connected to hers.

Don’t be stupid, Will. You’ve only just met her. You can’t be feeling that way.



Surely not.

Right?

Chapter Text

What have you done?

What the absolute hell have you done?

You know you’re not cut out for this communication thing.

That thing in the cafeteria was… that was scary enough.

Now you have to meet up with this person? This poor person that you’ve met for just a few minutes, and have absolutely no idea about, other than the fact that they’re a bit of an artist?

Anyone could be faking that.



Oh man.
Oh no.
Oh good lord what have you done.



Maybe… maybe you should just… not go to the bike racks? Just… y’know, avoid them for a few minutes, before making sure they’ve given up waiting and assume you’re the antisocial loner than you truly are? Maybe then they won’t ever talk to you again and you can just stick to being your normal, lonely self.







No.

No, you will not do that.

This person has been nothing but kind to you.
You saw, deep down, that this person was good, with nothing but good intentions. They were kind, smart, they’re an artist. This could finally be an opportunity to meet a new friend.

Why would you throw this away?



Answer: You won’t!



No. You’ll suck this anxiety up. You’ll curl it up into a ball, and throw it out that window letting that cold-but-not-unpleasant breeze in. You’ll go the bike rack as fast as possible and then…

Well.

Then you’ll both figure out what you’re gonna do from there.
More art talking, for sure.

But it can’t just be that.



What the hell do people talk about?

Okay, what could logically lead off from art?

TV? Maybe. Music? Everyone loves music.

Hobbies. Other than art, duh.

Maybe… Maybe this won’t be so bad.

Maybe this will go well.

Maybe this can be the start of something great.

Or it could be an embarrassing hell.



Nope. Not gonna let it be.



There’s just one problem.

Why the hell is school going so slow?

 


 

She’s not sure why she did it.

What got into her?

Two months in this school and not once has she approached anyone.

Will, though…

There was just something about him that told her that he was approachable.
Something about his character told her that she could take the chance and come out the other side smiling.

He was a lot more timid than she’d expected. He was obviously a quiet person – keeping to himself, on his own table, with his head stuck into an art book – that’s pretty much the definition of a quiet person. But he nearly seemed… scared, of her. Not in a bad way, of course, but maybe he suffers the same way when it comes to approaching people, and holding conversations.

If you’d told Nicole yesterday that, come today, she’d gain the confidence to approach a boy who looked like he needed a friend, she’d never believe you.

That’s not her. She has no idea how to talk to people.

But, here we are. The school day finally coming to an end, and she’s about to head to the bike racks to meet up with said boy.

God I hope this goes well.

I really want this to go well.

 


 

The time has come.

Can’t be worrying any more.
We cannot let that show.

Time to put on a brave face, suck up our worries, and get on with it.

We can do this.
We can. And we will.

The bike racks stand out like a sore thumb, tall and proud, as if they were skyscrapers among a village.

There’s only a few bikes there.

Bikes which are slowly disappearing with their rightful owners.

But, as of right now, there’s no sign of them.

That fact is oddly reassuring.
I’d rather not try to meet up in the crowd that still swarms this place. There’s far too much going on for that to go well.

No – instead I’ll just wait for the crowd to weed themselves out. I’ll wait at the bench by the side of the school entrance.
Down these stairs.
To the left, and-

Oh.

Oh my god.



Okay.
They haven’t seen me yet.

Take a deep breath.
Collect yourself.

Okay.
Three…
Two…

Oh god their head is turning, I’m not-

“Oh!” They say, startled, probably by the fact that I was just standing here staring at them like a creep.

I’m not ready – I’m not ready – I’m not ready –

“H-hey!”

Not ready – not ready – not ready – not ready –

“Sorry, I was just waiting here for- for the crowd to disappear.”

Oh.

They had the same intention…

I can’t help but let out a little huff of laughter at that fact.
“I was going to do exactly the same!” I say, suddenly feeling a relief wash over me as I see their smile light up once again.

You can… sit with me, if you want.” they offer, scooting up on the bench to make room.

It’s funny, really.
How as soon as I’m with this person… all tensions just…
wash away.

Sure!” I say, with a confidence that I haven’t felt for a long time.
A confidence that
is seemingly out of nowhere.
How do they do this to me?

I sit down next to them, leaving enough of a gap that seems reasonable, and take a breath of relief.
No longer is my heart thumping in my chest.
I feel…
calm. Comfortable.

I turn my head to look at them, and they’re looking back at me.
Then they let out a small smile, and it’s immediately infectious. I can’t help but smile back, and it’s an amazing feeling.

The simplest form of communication, yet it provides such a relief.

So…” they start.
“How were your last lessons?”

And just like that, we’re conversing.

 


 

Talking with Will… It’s just so easy. There’s no form of awkwardness, there’s no moments of silence where we don’t know what to say…

It just flows.

He’s so kind .
We’ve been flicking through
my art book this time around, after I’d gained the confidence to let him see the monstrosities that I’ve doodled inside it.

And, I’m not sure if he truly means it, or if he’s acting, but he actually seems to…
he thinks they’re good.

Scratch that. In his own words, he thinks “They’re really good!” .

How can he possibly say that about my messy stuff, when he’s like… I don’t know, the new Picasso?

But then he’ll come out with something so wise.

He said it during lunch, and he’s said it again. We all have our own style.
It’s such a simple sentence, and it seems obvious when you say it out loud, but when you compare your art to someone else’s, and you truly believe that yours is a complete mess, that simple sentence can mean so much.

Flicking through each page, he’s studied each piece with so much attention. He’s pointed out small pieces of detail that I didn’t even realize I’d added.
He’s right. When you’re drawing, you just let it flow out. Your hands are on auto-pilot, and your imagination is imprinted on the page in a way that can hold so much description.

He can’t be acting.
He
actually likes my drawings.

He’s making me smile, so much. Every time he says something.
And then when he sees that, he smiles too.

He’s so…

Cute.



I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe a person before.

But Will…

He’s so wise, and kind, and wants to help me see my drawings as art , and he’s working so hard to help me see that…

I can’t think of any other word right now.

 


 

“So, those people in your drawing,” I start.
“Are they your friends from your old home?”

He looks at me as if I’ve just gone into his head and plucked the information right out.

“How do you know I moved?” Will asks, and I simply shrug.

“You just had that kind of… mood around you, at lunch.” I tell him.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It just… seemed obvious to me.”

“Huh…” he considers what I’ve said, and eventually shrugs himself. I guess he’s seen a point in what I said.

“I suppose.” he agrees.
“Yeah, they are.”

So… How long have you been here?” I ask.

A bit over a month, now.” he answers. “We moved around early October.”

“Ah, so I guess you’ve not had much of an opportunity to explore, huh?” I ask.

Not really.” he confirms. “And I definitely won’t now, with school.”

“Well, not during school days, maybe,” I agree, “but there’s always the weekend.”.

There’s a pause, before an idea suddenly comes to my mind.

“Maybe we could meet up early tomorrow… if you want. And I could show you the places I’ve found so far.”

Woah. I have never had a confidence burst like that before. That is so not like me.

He doesn’t respond for a moment. He’s paused, as if he’s considering whether to or not.
Oh god, have I pushed it too far?

“Sure.” he eventually responds, and the relief that surges through me is insane.
“That would be nice.”

“Yeah?” I can’t help but smile. I feel like I can finally… relax. Maybe, with Will, I don’t need to be worried about being myself any more.

“Yeah, I’d like that.” he confirms.

“Okay… Cool.”

“Cool.” He nods, smiling.



This feels like what would normally be the tail-end of a conversation. Where awkward silence could creep in.

But I’ve got a curiosity. I want to know more about my new friend. So I’ve got to ask,

“So where did you live, before here? What made you move?”

He huffs a laugh, before answering,
“Hawkins.”

Oh. That certainly explains the laugh.
“Oh…”

Yeah… No need to tell you why, I’m sure.” he jokes.

Definitely not.” I agree.
“Hawkins has been all over the news for the last two years, starting with that kid wh-”



Wait a minute.



Holy shit.

Wait…”



I don’t even need to ask.

His head has dropped, as if he dreaded anybody finding out.

I can’t exactly blame him.

But I do not want this to get in our way. No. Absolutely not.

“Hey, hey.” I jump into action, instantly sliding closer and taking hold of his shoulders.
“It’s okay, Will, we can just forget about it. I promise.”

“It’s fine.” Will sighs. Eventually, he lifts his head from his knees, looking straight ahead, as if he’s trying to contain his emotions.
“It’s… fine. I didn’t want anybody to know but…”

I let him talk. I can’t rush this, or pester him. I know that.

Then he’s looking me in the eyes, and I see one emotion standing out over all the others.

“I trust you.” he says.

Those words. That simple declaration, warms my heart beyond belief.

I can’t help but let my smile grow wide.

“I won’t tell anybody. I swear.” I tell him, and I mean it. It’s obvious they moved to get away from the hell-hole that Hawkins has become. He doesn’t need the stresses from there following him here.

“Thank you.” he smiles warmly. I can see, written all over his face, that he genuinely does trust me.



“So…” I sigh, thinking of any way to restore the conversation.
“I guess that tells me your family name then. Byers?”

“Yup.” he confirms. “That’s me.”

I nod, acknowledging how obvious that is at this point.

“Well,” I say.
“I’m Nicole Robinson.”

He smiles, as if knowing my family name is some kind of privilege.
Then, he holds out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Nicole Robinson.”

And then I’m smiling. I just can’t control it.

“Nice to meet you too, Will Byers.”

Chapter Text

“Did you find him?”
The panicked voice of Joyce Byers immediately echos through the house’s walls as Jonathan walks through the front door.
“Yeah, mom.” Jonathan calls back.
“I found him.”
Joyce had sent Jonathan on a Will-hunt once an hour had passed since the time that Will would usually get home. Will has never been late getting home without telling her beforehand, and has never had a reason to be late here, at their new home, as of yet. 

“Well?” She questions, now looking at Jonathan expectantly, likely wondering why the boy in question, Will, isn’t with Jonathan right now.
“He’s at school.” Jonathan answers simply.
“What? What’s he still doing at school?” Joyce asks, confused.
“He’s sat on the bench outside it, talking to somebody.”
“Somebody?”
Honestly, Jonathan can’t help but roll his eyes. He gets it, he really does, but good lord mother, give him some space.
“Who is somebody?”
“Mom, I know you just want to make sure he’s safe,” Jonathan affirms, “but why would I know that?”
“Well…” Joyce considers what she can ask, that Jonathan would know.
“Did he seem like an okay person? Is Will okay?”
“She seems absolutely fine, mom.” Jonathan insists, emphasizing his correction on her assumption.
“They were both just… talking. And by the smile on his face, I’m pretty sure he’s happy.”
Joyce, for a moment, looks like she wants to continue digging for more information. But then, as if something clicks in her mind, she pauses.
“Are you sure?” she eventually asks.
“Mom.” Jonathan insists. “You need to give Will some space. We all know he’s been through more than any of us combined, but he still needs his own space. I promise you, he’s fine.”
Joyce, as if having to force herself to stand down, sighs a breath of what might be partially relief as well as her nerves trying to relax.
“Okay.” she eventually agrees, nodding her head.
“But if he isn’t home soon-”
“I’ll go to get him, Mom.” Jonathan completes. “Please, stop panicking.”

 

 


 


As it turns out, the saying “Time flies when you’re having fun” is actually kinda accurate.
It’s just so easy to keep talking when the person you’re talking to is so interesting.
That is why, when Will looks down at the watch upon his wrist, a sudden panic surges through him.
“Oh crap!” he suddenly gasps, shooting up from the bench that he’d been sat on for multiple hours at this point.
“What? What’s wrong?” Nicole asks in concern.
“Sorry, I just- I didn’t notice the time.” Will explains.
“Do you need to be home at a certain time? Are you gonna be in trouble?”
As much as the words could be used in a sarcastic, taunting manner, Nicole’s concerns are completely genuine, and Will can see that.
“I won’t be in trouble.” Will states. “But my mom… she’s a bit… panicky.”
“Ah. Well, that’s not much of a surprise, considering.”
“I suppose. It can get annoying though, even if it is warranted.”
“Oh I bet.” Nicole agrees. “But hey, she’s your mom. Any good parent is protective over their children. Your mom’s got all the reason in the world to be ten times worse.”
“I know she does.” Will agrees. “But that doesn’t get her a free pass.”
“Nah, I’d get annoyed too.” Nicole agrees.
“But for now you’ll just have to put up with it.”
“Yeah… I better get home before she calls every single police department that has a phone line.”
Nicole nods her head alongside a small laugh. “Yeah, you better.”
They both start walking towards the bike rack – both their own bikes being the only ones there. As they walk together, Will realizes he needs to ask Nicole a simple question before they do split off. 
He’s never had anything to do in this new place, but now that he’s made himself a friend, that he can (apparently) spend hours with, even if they’re just talking for all those hours, he doesn’t want to let this go to waste.
“Hey, uh, before we do go, I wanted to ask…”
Nicole just listens intently, waiting for Will to ask whatever it is he needs to. That’s one of the things about Nicole that Will likes. She’s never pestering, she’s as good a listener as she is a conversation keeper.
“Do you wanna meet up tomorrow? I’m not doing anything, so…”
“Sure!” Nicole agrees with a smile on her face.
“I should be able to get out for one PM, and then I’m free from there.”
“Cool! Do you want to meet here?” Will asks.
“Yeah, that works. We can meet here and then, well, we can go exploring, I guess?” Nicole suggests.
“That would be good.” Will agrees. “I haven’t taken a look around this place at all. I really need to.”
“Well, we can do that tomorrow.” Nicole smiles.
“Awesome.” Will smiles wide. “I’ll see you tomorrow then!”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Nicole confirms.
“Goodnight, Will!” she says, as she hops onto her bike.
“Goodnight, Nicole.” Will repeats, as he hops onto his own.
And then, before they know it, they’re off. 

As he rides towards his house, Will finds himself smiling.
He finally has a new friend. A friend that he can talk for hours with. A friend that listens and doesn’t judge. A friend that he’s meeting with tomorrow.
And then something clicks inside Will’s head.
Something that surprises him more than most things.
That was so easy.
Will’s not a social person.
He doesn’t ask people to hang out with him.
Yet he’d just done exactly that.
And not once did it occur to him that doing so is so out of his normal comfort zone.
Had it been anyone else (minus the party, of course) Will supposes that would’ve been the case.
But with Nicole…
He doesn’t know how to describe it.
With her… it was just… normal.
He can’t help but love the feeling.
And so he looks forward to tomorrow, for the first time in many months.

Chapter Text

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.

Oops.

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…
Calm?

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?”

“Yeah, uh-”
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.

Uh, yeah…”
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.
Oops.
“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… smiles. That’s… not exactly 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… I just said that. In my head, but I said it.
She’s nice.

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.”

“Thanks, Mom.”



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.
Is it?
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?
Yeah but-
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.
Why not?
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.

“I uh…”

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’skind, 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.

Nicole.
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.”

Yeah…”
That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
“Thanks, guys.”






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’m scared.

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?”
It’s El.

Yeah…” I answer, trying to not sound like I’d just leaped out of my skin.
“Come in.”

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?”

I just…”

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.”

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.

And besides.

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.

Okay…
Maybe I
can do this.
No…

I can do this.
I
will.