“How are things going with Max?” Owens was leaning on his hand. He did not seem impatient or annoyed that Billy was just as uncooperative as usual. Somehow that was really annoying.
“Fine,” Billy said. He sat so low in the easy chair across from Owens, he was practically lying down. He squinted one eye. Owen’s head appeared just above his left knee.
Billy was wearing his big, black hoodie, chewing on one of the pull strings. His tongue liked the little plastic doodad at the end of the string that they also put on shoelaces. Was there a name for that thing? Whatever it was, it was satisfying to chew and suck on, letting the string twist around the tip of his tongue.
“How about your step-mother?” Owens said. Billy didn’t miss the little sigh in his voice and smirked to himself. He gave himself a point when he made Owens impatient at all. Billy came every single week and barely spoke a word. This was supposed to be good for him. It was also mandatory given the classified government medical care he received and the bi monthly check-ins. It wasn’t as if he could go to some local hick town doctor with his Mind Flayer scars and get his monthly checkup to make sure he wasn’t growing tentacles or something.
“She’s fine, I guess.”
“Yeah? How do you find settling in back home? Since your father left?”
Billy’s father had left Hawkins months ago, the same week Billy returned home from the military hospital in Chicago that had cared for him in secret. He never found out what exactly had passed between him and Susan and didn’t ask. It was enough that Susan let him stay at the house without asking for a thing. He lived in constant fear that she’d rescind the offer if he gave her the slightest reason. Not that he told Owens this, or anything else. But Owens didn’t seem to mind, even if he kept asking.
“Hmm.” Owens nodded and made a little circle in the air with his pen. “Loquacious as always.”
There was no clock in Owen’s office, which Billy had to think was by design. There was a couch and two comfy chairs. Owens always sat in the chair next to his desk, and Billy sat in the chair by the window instead of the couch. There was a big hedge and a maple tree outside Owens’ window, and birds hopped around on the branches and grabbed leaves in their beaks before flying away again. It was a form of distraction for his hour of giving Owens monotone answers.
Sometimes squirrels showed up.
That was always exciting.
“Our time is nearly up,” Owens said, glancing at his watch.
That usually meant he could go.
Billy sat forward, gripping the arms of his chair and said, “Okay, see ya-”
“Hold on there, cowboy,” Owens said.
Billy froze and raised an eyebrow.
“Got a little homework assignment for you.”
“Ah.” Billy sat back and tugged at his hoodie string. Owens was always giving him little homework assignments. They were things that should have been easy; go on a walk everyday just to get out of the house, go out somewhere at least twice a week, eat a few meals with Susan and Max every week, journal…
He made the stupid mistake of complaining to Max about these assignments and now she pestered him about them until he complied, especially when it came to walks and leaving the house every once in a while (doctor’s appointments didn’t count). The biggest exception was the journal. She wasn’t invasive enough to check up on that, and Owens took his word that he was using the notebook he’d given Billy to write down his feelings or whatever came to mind every day. He wasn’t.
A couple times he’d yelled at Max about her mothering, frustrated. But it only made him feel worse. Most of the time, he didn’t even have the energy to be angry.
Billy had changed a lot.
“This really doesn’t have to be a headache for you,” Owens said. He cast Billy a wry smile. That was fair. Billy acted equally irritated no matter what it was Owens asked of him. “I want you to find a hobby.”
“A hobby,” Billy said flatly. “Like what? Model trains or some shit?”
“No.” Owens chuckled at that. “I mean if that’s what you like, that would be fine. I mean something to do with your hands. Something expressive would be ideal. But we can discuss it further, if you have questions. I want you to think about it this week at the very least. Let me know if you choose something.”
“Drawing, painting, sculpting… That sort of thing.”
That struck a chord, and Billy pursed his lips. He wrapped the hoodie string—damp with his own spit—around his finger. “I took art classes in high school. Kinda liked drawing. Wasn’t too bad at it either. My dad said that stuff was for fags.”
It was barely audible, but Billy was sure he heard Owens say, “Your dad can go fuck himself.”
He covered his mouth, smiling into his palm.
“That’s good,” Owens said. “Maybe drawing then. Painting. Try to... eh, express yourself, like I said.”
“I guess,” Billy said. He shrugged noncommittally, promising nothing.
But it didn’t sound so bad. It sounded a lot easier than leaving the house was some days.
“Well, that’s all I can ask of you right now,” Owens said, sighing. He spread his hands. “You are released.”
“Thanks, doc,” Billy said, getting to his feet. He pulled his hood lower over his head. His golden curls only just touched his shoulders now after getting trimmed up at the hospital. But he didn’t hate the look. The cut gave his hair more volume. Still, he usually kept his hood up, hiding from the world. “See ya next week.”
“Have a great week, Billy.”
Owen's office sat in a small, nondescript building. Billy only knew that it was a government building where other people like Owens worked and that it was thirty miles outside Hawkins. Susan let him borrow her new (used) blue ‘82 Jetta to drive there.
The sun was sharp and bright outside and he squinted, shoving his hands in his pockets as he walked down the short set of stairs and across the lawn, past a sign that said “DO NOT WALK ON GRASS.”
He walked around the Jetta and climbed in and didn’t look at Max, who was sticking a bookmark into a copy of Dune. For reasons Billy couldn’t fathom, Max liked to come along when he went to therapy and wait in the car and afterwards, they would eat ice cream or get burgers or, if Billy was feeling up to it, go to the comic book store.
He had trouble saying no to Max since his return.
“How was it?” Max said.
Billy dreaded this question.
“Fine,” he said, shrugging. Susan’s keys still hung from the ignition and he tapped Susan’s lucky four-clover key chain from Atlantic City, not quite ready to drive yet.
He missed his Camaro, but he also didn’t. The Camaro sat under a giant tarp in Susan’s garage. Billy could not stand to look at it yet for multiple reasons.
“You always say that.” Max rolled her eyes.
Billy didn’t respond.
He didn’t want to go home yet, which was maybe a good thing. Despite his less than cooperative attitude, Owens had taught him a few things, like if he didn’t want to go home it was good to go wander around a little. For the first three months of his return to Hawkins, he’d barely left his bedroom at all.
“You wanna go get a Slurpee or something?” Billy said. He lit himself a cigarette. “Blizzard?”
“Did Owens give you something to do this time?” Max raised her eyebrows.
Billy grunted and rolled his eyes heavenward. “Get off my back already, Christ-”
“He wants me to get a hobby,” Billy blurted out. He took a drag. At first, he’d assumed Susan wouldn’t want him smoking in his car and then one day he’d found the secret pack of Virginia Slims under the driver’s seat. Max’s mom was a decent secret smoker. Billy had never smelled it on her with Neil, who wouldn’t have stood for it (women smoking was “unladylike”).
“A hobby?” Max said, perking up. “Like what? Video games? Oh! You could build robots or something-”
“I’m not going to build robots.” But he laughed despite himself. The very idea… “He said I should fuckin’... express myself.”
“Right.” Max nodded. “So, like art maybe. Well-”
“Don’t…” He waved a hand in her general direction. “Can you just not do this right now and leave me alone, Max? Alright? Just... let me do this how I want to do this.”
He sat back and shut his eyes, taking a drag. The spring sun was too bright.
He missed the way the sun felt on his skin when he was a kid, on the beach…
It hadn’t felt that way in a long time.
Maybe for a little bit just before the shadow…
Max turned her head, and Billy smoked in silence. Once he started driving, he had to focus on driving. He was solid on the road, but nothing was as easy as it had once been.
“Last week you…” Max spoke in a rushed, tight voice and stopped abruptly. He heard the little whimper in the back of her throat.
“C’mon, man,” Billy muttered. “Are you crying?”
“Last week you didn’t go anywhere,” Max said, wiping her eyes. “You just watched TV in your room and you cleaned the house and everything, but you barely talked and-”
“Had a bad week last week,” Billy murmured.
“Did you tell Owens about it?”
He smoked his cigarette and his non-answer was enough to make her cry out loud, clapping her hands to her face.
The worst part was, he knew she wasn’t doing it on purpose. Max wasn’t like that. She was the most straightforward person he’d ever met. She wouldn’t cry because she knew it would make him fold. She didn’t play those games.
“It-it’s just after everything you went through and…” She could barely speak for crying. He stuck his cigarette between his lips and twisted his hands in his lap. “And after what you did for us, I just want you to… I mean you’re so much different, but you’re so sad and-”
“I’m not always sad.” He sighed and put his cigarette out in Susan’s ashtray. Awkwardly, he patted Max’s back. “Hey, c’mon. Alright fine, we can go look at art stuff. Right now? I could… I dunno, maybe I’ll find something. I feel better this week? I think I’ll get out more.”
“I just want you to try,” she said, still tearful. She turned in her seat and buried her head in his shoulder. “Please try, please. I just want you to be glad you’re still alive, Billy.”
“Okay,” he whispered. “Okay, I’ll try.”
The art supply store in Hawkins was called Kechkner Art Supply and Billy thought it was a shitty name and hard to spell.
Even if the owner’s name was Kechkner with the extra k and everything, it seemed worth changing it for marketing purposes. Or change the name altogether. Kecker? Kecher? Fucking Hawkins Art Supply? Anything was better than Kechkner.
“What about oil paints!” Max was skipping and darting around the store. Billy had his hood up and his hands shoved in his pockets, a baseline level of anxiety at being out in about in Hawkins making him itchy and putting him on edge. “Oh, what about clay! You could like sculpt stuff?”
Billy picked up a random tube of Cerulean and balked. “Jesus. No way. Oil paints are expensive,” he mumbled. “Not that tempra stuff either. Always made the paper buckle and shit in school. I don’t like water colors…”
Because the U.S. government had gained a lot of information from the study of Billy Hargrove’s body upon his miraculous recovery, and because his ordeal was also at least partially their fault, they had traded the data for both his medical care and a weekly stipend. It wasn’t much, but considering he lived rent-free at Susan’s house, he was able to have some money in his pocket. Still, he chipped in for groceries whenever Susan actually let him.
“Can I help you two with anything?” The woman who walked out from behind the counter was somebody Billy would have mocked before. She was very round, and had close cropped hair. She wore paint-spattered overalls and a black t-shirt. She looked absolutely out of place in Hawkins. “I’m Cathy.”
Billy was wary of every single person he came across who wasn’t Max these days, but Cathy seemed non-threatening and he let his tensed up shoulders drop.
Still, he didn’t speak. He grunted and let Max say, “He needs to do... art. Something with art. It’s like homework. But... not for school. It’s for-”
“Max,” Billy said; a warning.
“Hmm.” Cathy nodded, sizing him up. He watched her expression shift slightly. He could always tell the moment somebody figured out they were talking to a human train wreck. It sucked. “Sounded like paint isn’t on your radar right now.”
She led them down a narrow aisle of colored pencils and drawing pads. There was something appealing about the art supplies all organized in their little boxes and stacked along the metal shelves in the quiet shop. He’d never stepped foot in the place before. In school, he doodled with a Bic pen in his notebook. In art class, he achieved the bare minimum and pretended he wasn’t more interested. Neil said it was for fags, so it was for fags. Which... made sense, Billy supposed.
But Neil was gone now.
Billy cleared his throat and quietly said, “I... like to draw? But it’s been a long time. I don’t know how to...” His voice cracked and rasped, as if he hadn’t just been talking to Max in the car, as if it had been years since he’d spoken. He let his sentence trail off.
Max gaped at him.
Billy never spoke to strangers if he didn’t absolutely have to. That was an advantage of taking Max along on errands. She could speak for him.
Cathy stopped in the middle of the aisle and blinked at him. She had bright green eyes, and they studied him for a moment before she said, “Let’s start simple, shall we?”
She led them to a shelf in the back where dozens of charcoal sticks of varying sizes stood upright in their respective slots and boxes. “What about charcoals?” She said. “Might be a nice way to start if you’d like to dip your toe in.”
“Charcoals,” Billy murmured. “We had those in art class. I dig charcoals.”
He remembered liking the way they were blunt, direct. Not easy exactly, but not complicated. He remembered watching those bold, black lines stretch across a paper. He’d wasted a lot of paper in freshman year art back in California just drawing the mountains over and over, or the roll of a wave…
He liked how deep and dark the black looked on a piece of paper.
“We have a couple books for beginners that might help you,” she said. “And I’ll find you some paper… You can start off with the cheap stuff first. Then when you’re comfortable, maybe you’ll want to come back and get the good stuff, some fixative… We’ll see how it goes. How’s that sound?”
Billy reached out and took one of the charcoal sticks between his fingers. Black dust came off on his skin and there should have been something scary about that. He thought of the Shadow leaving its mark on him…
But this wasn’t that. This was his tool, and this was for his art.
And Neil Hargrove couldn’t touch it.
“Okay,” he said, nodding. “Charcoals.”
Billy left the art supply shop with a bag full of loot and on their way out, Max asked for a dollar to buy Twizzlers at Melvald’s.
“Get me a Coke while you’re at it,” Billy said. “I’ll be in the car.”
Just on the way to the car, Billy passed three people who knew him as The Mall Kid. The Mall Kid was a big mystery in Hawkins and often spoken of in the same breath as Zombie Boy, except that Zombie Boy no longer lived in Hawkins. Now everyone could turn their attention to The Mall Kid and stare and whisper about him.
Billy got in the car as fast as his legs could carry him and sank down in his seat, pulling his hood low over his eyes.
He missed sunglasses.
The problem with sunglasses was wearing something on his face.
It reminded him of that night at the Brimborn Steel Works.
Nothing was worse than breathing tubes or oxygen masks at the hospital. They’d had to sedate him. But wearing sunglasses made him panic too. He hoped the feeling would go away, eventually. For one, it was just so stupid. And also, he missed his sunglasses.
Max liked to bend a Twizzler in half and let the ends stick out over her bottom lip. “I’m a walrus!” She was sitting on her legs in the passenger seat, high on sugar and bouncing off the walls of the Jetta.
“You’re a dweeb,” Billy countered. But he didn’t mind it and smiled softly. She was fourteen now and still a little kid in some ways. Good for her, really.
“Let’s rent a movie,” Max said, sucking one end of her Twizzler. “Lucas says Clue is really funny and my mom wants to watch Witness.”
“What the hell is Witness?”
“I dunno. It’s Han Solo and some Amish people.”
“Man, I die for five minutes and suddenly goddamn Indiana Jones is Amish.”
Max cracked up at that and he smirked to himself as he pulled out and headed to Family Video. It was usually Susan who rented movies. Max usually wanted to go as an excuse to hang out at the arcade. All the noises and lights and little kids sounded like a nightmare to him.
But he was feeling okay today, even being in town amongst the starers and whisperers. He felt a sense of accomplishment with his bag of art supplies in the back seat. Owens was always telling him to build on small accomplishments.
He liked to dismiss that stuff as mumbo jumbo. But he had just told Max he’d “try.”
“Sure,” Billy said. He popped open his Coke and took a sip. “Let’s check out this amazing video store.”
It was a Friday night in Hawkins, and that meant everyone wanted to rent a movie.
Family Video was packed, and that was Billy’s worst nightmare. But Max gave him sad eyes when he suggested sitting in the car and he grumbled, pulling his hood down low before following her inside.
His heart was racing as he stepped inside the store, but this time, nobody was staring. Everyone was much more concerned with finding the perfect movie to watch on a Friday night. Billy focussed on breathing in and out as Max jogged off to the New Release shelf.
That was when Billy saw Steve Harrington, looking harried as he re-shelved a bunch of videos from a stack he carried in one hand, secured by his chin on the top VHS that looked like a copy of Rambo.
He was fending off eager customers left and right.
“Iron Eagle? Uh, yeah, I think we got a copy behind the counter… Hold on, I’ll check.”
“Color Purple? If it’s not on the new release shelf, it’s out. Sorry about that. Well, I suppose I could… Okay, hold on, I’ll check.”
“Excuse me, excuse me… Yeah no, Murphy’s Romance is right there. Right there, Mrs. Gustafson. No, right… Look down and to the right. Your right. Yes, that is Sally Field… Places in the Heart? That would be in Drama, that’s not a new release. Well, it’s not a Sally Field section, Mrs. Gustafson. Hold on, I’ll check...”
Billy had been back in Hawkins for about six months and he had only seen Steve Harrington twice; once in Melvald’s and once walking down the street. Steve hadn’t seen him. Billy had just watched. There was something dizzying about it. Most people from Steve’s class were off at college or had joined the army or disappeared into the west. And some had stayed in town like Steve, destined to hunker down and find a job and marry their sweetheart and turn into a John Cougar Mellencamp song. But somehow Billy had never imagined seeing Steve Harrington again.
Not that he hadn’t fantasized about doing all kinds of things with Steve Harrington.
It was impossible to imagine what this version of himself would even be like standing next to Steve Harrington.
He was not eager to find out.
Billy spun around to face the window, just in case ole Harrington looked in his direction. He stuck by the door, waiting for Max to find the videos and come ask for the few dollars that Susan would fret about quickly paying him back. Susan was nice like that these days.
There was a magazine rack and Billy entertained himself skimming an article about special effects and lost track of the time.
“Billy? Billy Hargrove?”
Billy’s ears perked up as Steve’s voice chirped behind him. Reluctantly, he put the magazine back, taking his time to straighten it in the cheap wire wrack. He squinted and turned to face Steve who smiled at him, his arms crossed in front of him.
The video store had cleared a little, but there was still a good crowd. Yet Steve apparently had the time to talk to him. How he even noticed Billy was a mystery.
Billy looked around for Max, hoping for rescue. But she was way on the other side of the store, perusing the Science Fiction section.
Billy swallowed and said, “Hey. Harrington.”
“I’ve heard you’ve been back a while. It’s weird I haven’t seen you,” Steve said brightly. “How’ve you been?”
How’ve you been?
Like they were old pals or something. Not like he’d beaten the shit out of Steve that one time and never really apologized. His form of apology had been to wink at Steve during gym and tell him when he made a good play; to grin and flirt. He’d pulled that stuff as much as he thought he could get away with. Steve never responded to any of it. Not even a little. It was like even the fight had barely registered. Then summer… and then…
“I’ve been…” Billy couldn’t think of a reasonable answer and said, “I don’t... know.”
He stared down at his black Converse. He twirled one of his hoodie strings around his finger and brought it to his lips, nibbling on the plastic bit.
“Yeah,” Steve said. He wore a banana yellow long-sleeved t-shirt and his green Family Video vest. He looked so bright. Happy. He looked like sunshine in human form. “Yeah, I bet it must be... surreal. Probably sick of people asking.”
“Exactly,” Billy said with a snort. He unclenched a little. This was weird... and also not totally weird... which was weird. “Um… So how are you... then? Gainfully employed, huh?”
“Yeah.” Steve shrugged. “It’s not too bad. For now, anyway. Busy tonight, but ya know… Hey, we should catch up sometime? Hang out? I mean if you want too. If you feel like it.”
Hang out. With Steve Harrington. Catch up.
Billy shrunk in on himself like a turtle.
He didn’t hang out with people. Not anymore, not with anyone. There was only Max, and that was plenty.
He stared down at his Converse, regretting ever coming inside. “Um... I dunno,” he mumbled around the hoodie string. “Maybe. Pretty busy.”
“Sure sure.” Steve spoke lightly. He didn’t sound hurt. He reached out as if to touch Billy’s arm and then thought better of it and stopped. “No big deal then. Don’t worry though. I’m not gonna ask you a bunch of questions about ya know...Mind Flayer bullshit and all that. Trust me. I know better.”
Billy glanced up at him.
It was easy to forget that Harrington knew about all that...stuff. Even though Max had brought him up a few times in conversations about the Upside Down, Eleven, “demogorgons” et al. Billy usually tuned it out. But some things stuck.
Steve Harrington’s fought monsters a bunch.
He saved us from demodogs once. It was pretty badass.
Dustin says he got tortured by Soviets.
All that and Steve Harrington looked like sunshine.
“Right.” Billy considered this. “Well...can’t be worse than talking about high school, huh?”
Then Steve Harrington laughed and his eyes lit up and Billy turned up his face toward it like a blooming flower.
“Yeah, alright,” Billy said softly. “No, we could hang out. I’ll be around.”
That night, Billy set a few goals for himself. The goal thing was from Owens, who had suggested setting small goals he could actually accomplish, either for the day or for the week. Small tasks added up, according to Owens. It was all completely cheese ball in his estimation. But he kept thinking of Max looking up at him with red eyes. He’d promised to try. Maybe this was trying.
- Break out the charcoals and maybe draw something.
- Go to Family Video with Max to return the videos in two days and talk to Steve Harrington again.
- Clean out the rain gutters.
- Go on a smoke.
The smoke was really a walk. He’d walk about half a mile, smoke a cigarette on the corner by the park off Maple and walk back, preferably in the evening when no one was around who would stare.
He’d resisted the smoke/walk thing at first and caved after Max pestered him enough. But he had to admit, he felt better after going for a walk sometimes.
Billy wrote the goals down in the journal Owens had given him. It wasn’t just some notebook. It was a nice leather-bound thing. Billy had not used it at all, but he scrawled the four goals down on the first page and stared at them, chewing on his lip as he sat on his bed that night after dinner.
Billy imagined Steve Harrington finding his journal and seeing his stupid goals written out and numbered, like he was one of those especially weird nerds who carried their homework in a briefcase.
“Ugh…” He shut the journal and stuck it under his mattress near the pillows (just in case Max ever got nosy).
That night Billy dreamed he was lifeguarding at the pool again. Heather Holloway was alive, and she wanted to take her post up in the lifeguard chair.
The day was cold and dreary. Black clouds roiled overhead. Billy was sitting in the chair in his trunks. Down below, Heather was glaring up at him.
“Billy! Get out of the chair! It’s my shift!”
“I can’t move,” he muttered. The Shadow was coming. He saw its dark figure across the street. It was growing, looming. It would take him and Heather and make him kill and Heather would die…
“No no! You have to run! I can’t move!”
“Get out of the chair! It’s my turn!”
“It’s my turn to die, Billy! You have to move!”
Billy woke up at four in the morning and didn’t get back to sleep.
The next day was Sunday. That meant Max and Susan were around to worry about him too much and give him grief. Billy skipped breakfast and ignored Max, offering him toast and eggs at his door. He sat on the floor, drowning in his giant hoodie, smoking and watching cartoons on the little TV Susan had given him when he’d come back home. She’d give him all kinds of things. He wasn’t sure if she felt sorry for what had happened to him or if she felt sorry for how his dad had always treated him. Or both. He was afraid to ask.
At ten, he heard the Jetta pull out and he couldn’t hear Max thumping around. He made himself get up and went to the kitchen. Mechanically, he made himself peanut butter on a slice of bread and ate it with a Coke. It all tasted like cardboard.
It’s my turn to die.
Heather was dead and so were her parents.
Billy washed all dishes he found in the sink after he finished eating. His charcoals remained in the bag from the art supply store in his room. He had a powerful urge to destroy them. A few times before, after such nightmares, Billy had destroyed his room; cut up his old clothes, torn up favorite books, broken records. He stopped himself from destroying any of the new things Susan had given him. That would only make Susan feel bad.
The house was quiet. That should have been better, but it was so much worse. Empty and quiet, and even in the daytime, the shadows seemed to linger.
Billy didn’t go for a walk. Instead, he sat on the front stoop and smoked a cigarette.
Then he got to work on the rain gutters.
In the garage he found a couple extra tarps and a shovel. He was careful not to even look in the direction of the Camaro that still sat there in the dark, like some decaying monster they all pretended wasn’t there.
Billy had asked Susan multiple times what he should do around the house. She kept insisting he didn’t have to do anything; he was still recovering. But Billy was used to expectations and ultimatums. Do this, this, and this or you’re gone. She wasn’t his mother, and his father was gone. But he was living there, and she wasn’t charging him anything. She was nice and careful about him. It wasn’t bad. But he was not used to it.
Besides all that, doing stuff around the house kept him busy.
Billy was on a ladder in the backyard, carefully shoveling old, wet leaves and detritus out of the rain gutters and onto a tarp on the ground. Susan had recently planted flowers in pots and placed them around the yard and he was being careful not to let anything gross fall into the geraniums.
He stopped short and laid the shovel down on the roof, wiping off his hands. Susan stood below, holding two shopping bags. She had that go-to worried smile on her face, as if she wanted to help but was afraid he might either break or explode at any time. He blamed some of that on Neil Hargrove.
“Hey, Susan,” Billy said. “Um… Thought I should clean out the rain gutters? And um, last time it rained there was that leak in the attic. So I think I can fix it instead of just putting a bucket out every time. And I’ll check for water damage. You gotta watch out for that stuff.” He spoke so quietly, he wasn’t sure she heard him, as he held the edge of the rain gutter. His hands were filthy. He stared at his fingernails encrusted with mud.
Susan made a funny noise like maybe she was trying not to cry, which was strange since he’d only been talking about rain gutters.
“Thank you, Billy,” Susan said, her voice strained. “You don’t have to do all this, you know. But I... really appreciate it. It’s very good of you.”
“Will you come in when you’re done with that? I’m going to make barbecue chicken sandwiches? Please come join us.”
Billy had less than no desire to sit at the table with Max and Susan, but Susan’s barbecue chicken sandwiches were a weakness and his stomach rumbled. “Okay.”
An hour later, there was still crud under his fingernails.
When his dad had first married Susan, he’d checked Billy’s hands to make sure they were perfectly clean before dinner every night and if his fingernails looked too dirty, he didn’t get dinner at all.
But now Susan just smiled at him across the table as she slid a big bowl of coleslaw in his direction. He cast her a tight smile and scooped some onto his plate. Under the table, Max was swinging her legs, and her heel kept knocking into his knee.
Billy ate like a starved Viking. Susan put something addictive into her barbecue chicken, he suspected. Even when he didn’t feel like eating at all, he could never turn it down. When she stood up to get more iced tea, Max deliberately kicked his leg.
“Have you tried the charcoals yet?” Max said.
“Nah. I just got em’.”
Billy would have laughed if he were in a better mood. “I don’t know.” He took a giant bite of coleslaw, hoping she would leave it at that.
“Will you watch Clue with us tonight?” Max said. “Or...do you want to go on a walk later?”
“Not today, Max. Alright? Just not today,” he murmured. “And I got shit to do anyway.”
“Are you having a bad day?” She whispered.
He nodded mutely, and she leaned her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Two days later, Billy had not left the house at all even to go for a walk. The charcoals remained untouched. But Bu he could at least check off “cleaned out rain gutters" from his list of goals. He did a bunch of other stuff around the house to make up for his failures, and now he had a short shopping list of things he needed from the hardware store to fix the leak in the roof.
But Max wouldn’t leave him alone.
“We have to take the videos back or there’ll be late fees.” It was eight in the morning and she was hovering in the doorway, staring at him as he folded his laundry.
It was a ploy to get him out of the house, and it was thin as paper. There was no reason she couldn’t do it herself or that Susan couldn’t drop the videos off after work.
“And?” He muttered.
“So I thought you could pick me up after school,” Max said slowly. “And we could go… Because you haven’t gone out in days, even for a walk and-”
“Your mom needs the car for work,” he said. “You know that. Unless it’s important.”
“But we could walk,” Max argued. “It’s not super far.”
He’d said he would try and he hadn’t been trying the last couple days because Heather said it was her time to die…
Except that Family Video had Steve Harrington and the thought of watching Steve Harrington maybe light up and laugh again was as enchanting as Susan’s barbecue chicken sandwiches.
“Fine,” he said, angrily folding socks if such a thing was possible. “But I’m not going to the school. Meet me at the corner at-”
“Deerborn,” Max said. “I know.”
The only thing worse than staring, whispering adults were Hawkins High kids who would walk right up and ask him if he’d blown up the mall or if he was a zombie like Will Byers or if he was a Satanist who’d been practicing some ritual sacrifice.
Yeah, no thanks.
The thought of seeing Steve Harrington later in the day was frightening and exciting.
It was enough to motivate Billy to at least look at his stuff from the art supply store.
Once Max and Susan had left for the day, he sat on his bed with a cigarette while Van Halen played from his boombox and emptied the bag from Kechkner Art Supply.
That day, Billy drew the mountains and the crest of a wave just like in freshman year art class, and felt pretty good checking off the goal in his journal before he walked to meet Max.
“You’re wearing blue!” Max declared, when she found him loitering on the corner at Deerborn and Sunnyside. It was a good corner for loitering. There was nothing around but a vacant lot and the animal hospital across the street. Most kids coming from school turned before Sunnyside because there was a drugstore for soda and candy a block down and a short-cut to the main drag downtown.
Billy pursed his lips and stomped out his Marlboro. He’d opted for a slightly smaller hoodie and it was, indeed, royal blue instead of his usual black. But he still wore the hood up, his curls spilling out.
He was pretty sure the royal blue hoodie made his eyes kind of pop out and sparkle. He liked to think so.
Maybe he kind of wanted Steve Harrington to think so too.
“Yep, wearing blue. It’s front-page news,” he cracked. He shoved his hands in his pockets and they walked along to the video store, the videos tucked under his arm.
Max would want to hang out at the arcade for a bit. He was sort of hoping he could spend the time hanging out with or near Steve Harrington, except that he would be working…
Billy had not figured out the details on that yet.
“How was school?” Billy said.
“Lucas passed me a note in History and got detention,” Max said. “Totally unfair! Like it was one note. Plus, he passed it to me and I took it and I didn’t even get detention.”
“Lucas Sinclair passing you love notes, huh?” Billy stuck his tongue out, the corner of his lips turning up. “How adorable.”
“It wasn’t a love note,” Max said, scowling. “We were arguing about Star Trek-”
“Oh my God, of course.” He cackled. “Of course, you were.”
“Lucas says hi, by the way,” Max reported.
“Lucas Sinclair says hi?” Billy gaped at her.
Lucas had been over to the house several times (notably since Neil Hargrove had gone). Billy had made himself scarce for the most part. But he’d given Max a couple bucks for candy or ice cream that was meant to be shared with Lucas more than once. She must have told him.
“Yeah.” She shrugged. “He says hi. You should talk to him next time he’s over. And he might be at the arcade later.”
“I dunno,” Billy said. “Maybe.”
The walk to Family Video was pleasant and Billy felt alright, walking along with Max without people bothering him. It was spring in Hawkins, and the air was cool and crisp. Everything was increasingly green. It almost made the town pretty.
At the door to Family Video, Billy paused, the videos clutched in his hands.
“Billy?” Max said behind him. “You can just drop them in the slot, if you want.”
“No.” There was a girl behind the counter, but he didn’t see Steve. “I’ll go in.”
Max stepped ahead of him and pushed open the door, raising an eyebrow. “Do you know Robin?”
“Robin?” Billy said. “No.”
“Hey, Max!” The girl behind the counter looked up brightly.
Oh. Robin. She’d worked at Scoops Ahoy with Steve. He remembered that much. He also remembered Tommy referring to Robin Buckley as “that dyke from band.” That had always made him wonder.
Also, he was pretty sure Robin had been at Starcourt that night.
Max grabbed the videos and flounced up to the counter. “Hey, Robin. Just returning these.”
“Did you rewind?” Robin scowled as Max slid the videos across the counter, but it was obviously in good humor.
“Of course, we did,” Max said. “Last time Steve wouldn’t shut up about it.”
“Um…” Billy stepped forward, impatient.
Where was Steve Harrington?
His heart sank.
“How did you get here so fast?” Max was saying to Robin.
“I’m way ahead at school,” she said with a shrug. “No sixth period so I start my shift at two now.”
Billy watched them dumbly, feeling stupid because it had not occurred to him that Steve might not even be working today.
“And you’re Billy,” Robin said. She looked directly at him and he swallowed, wishing he was wearing his larger, more engulfing sweatshirt. He twisted a hoodie string around his finger and frowned.
“Yeah,” he said. “Um...Harrington working today?”
“Oh!” Robin said. “Yeah, he just went on lunch. He’s probably at the picnic table behind the arcade? You can go through if you-”
“Thanks,” Billy muttered, already beelining to the back exit through the store.
There was a communal area behind Palace Arcade and Family Video; a picnic table and a tall ashtray for cigarette breaks. There were even a couple potted trees around. The patio looked out on the employee parking lot and the yards and houses beyond it. It was almost pleasant.
Steve was, mercifully, by himself. He was paging through a magazine, listening to his Walkman, bobbing his head as he scarfed down a sandwich.
Billy walked out and stood in front of the table, working up his nerve.
He opened his mouth just as Harrington looked up and said, “Oh!” He laughed and took off his earphones. “Hey, man! Hey, whatcha doin’ out here?”
Harrington was wearing brown this time; a brown checkered sweater that looked incongruous with his green vest. Still. Billy didn’t understand how anyone could look so good in brown.
“Oh, uh...nothing.” He shrugged. “Just returning videos. Max is going to the arcade so…”
“Oh, cool cool.” Steve gestured to the bench on the other side of the table. “Come, hang out then. I got time. You want some chips? A fruit roll-up?” He held up a grape fruit roll-up from the heap of packaged foods in front of him which included two bags of Fritos, a Twix, a string cheese, and a tub of Jell-O chocolate pudding.
“Sure.” Billy took it because it gave him something to do.
“Oh my God, dude. You will not believe the nutcases we get coming in from out-of-town looking for videos are out of stock everywhere else.”
“Yeah?” Billy said. He unwrapped the fruit roll-up and wound it around his finger to suck on, just as he always had when he ate them at lunchtime in school.
“Huh.” Steve nodded at him. “That’s how I always eat em’.”
And just like that, they were friends.
On Saturday, Dr. Owens asked Billy for about the millionth time since Billy had met him, if he felt like talking about Starcourt, Brimborn, the beach, his father…
Billy said no thanks.
“Well…” Owens nodded as Billy chewed on his hoodie string. “That’s about what I expected. Anything interesting happen this week?”
Billy decided to throw Owens a bone.
“Um…” He wrapped the string around his finger tighter and tighter until the tip of his finger started to turn purple. “I ran into this guy from school… He was at Starcourt too. Steve. We kinda hung out. A couple times. It wasn’t bad.”
Owens looked at him as if he’d just performed a magic trick. “Wha- Well, that is great. Steve, right. I know the name. The Harrington kid. I’m glad you’ve befriended someone your own age who knows what you went through. I think that could be very helpful to you.”
“Yeah. He’s alright.”
Steve Harrington was so alright that by then, Billy had already shared lunch with him three times, plus a smoke break. Steve had somehow persuaded Billy to go to a movie with him and Robin on Sunday, and there was talk of the three of them going on a “drive” to some vague location, details To Be Declared.
Even Robin was not so bad, and after he had seen the way she looked at a platinum-haired girl who came in and headed straight for the Foreign films, Billy had decided Tommy was on to something and they might have something in common.
“Oh yeah,” Billy said. He sighed heavily. “I got charcoals? Like...to draw with. That’s like...my thing. You wanted me to have a thing-”
“Oh yes, yes.” Owens looked so proud. It was a little disturbing. “Well, this is excellent. No homework this week. I think these are some real strides. And I’m glad you actually told me about them.”
“Yeah, well I told Max I’d...try. Or something. So I guess I’m trying, doc.”
On Sunday, Billy went to see Highlander with Robin and Steve.
He went despite assuming he would panic around a crowd at the theater.
Except that Robin and Steve had planned around that without him mentioning a thing. They insisted on a matinee. They claimed it was because the show was cheaper. It was also mostly empty. Billy wondered if Max had said something or if they were just that considerate.
Whatever the case, it had been almost a year since Billy had gone to the movies. He sat next to Steve in the middle of a row, far in the back. Steve sat between Billy and Robin (as if this wasn’t new at all and they had always been a trio) with a giant popcorn in his lap. Robin made smartass comments the whole time, but they only made Billy laugh as he and Steve hooted and jeered because Billy was so absorbed in it, he forgot to be shy and feel weird.
Steve and Billy decided Highlander was totally kick-ass.
Robin had a different opinion.
It was fun.
Sometimes Billy had fun with Max. But this was different. This was the kind of feeling Billy didn’t know he could still have.
It was almost like the sun on his face.
On Sunday night, Billy dreamed of the Shadow, which was terrifying, but not as bad as dreaming of Heather.
When he woke up, he decided to draw the Mind Flayer with his charcoals.
Billy had two full good weeks, and then he ran into Heather Holloway’s aunt.
Billy met Heather’s aunt after going to the hardware store. He’d borrowed the Jetta because he was going to need a few pieces of lumber. On top of fixing the roof, he’d promised Max he would build her a skateboard ramp sometime. He’d put off fixing the leak until now, dreading the thought of potentially having to ask for help at the hardware store. But after two weeks of feeling not bad, he’d summed up the courage. Besides, it had rained twice in the last two weeks. Not that Susan was expecting him to fix it, but she seemed to understand that fixing things around the house was as much for him as it was for her and Max.
Billy was fully planning on finding Steve on his dinner break after the hardware store.
He was even wearing his royal blue hoodie for the occasion because, based on nothing, he felt like Steve liked it best.
He’d already loaded up the Jetta with the lumber and the caulk and the roof patching and everything else he needed when, on a whim, he opted to go to Melvald’s and pick up some Whoppers for Steve and Skittles for Robin.
On his way back out, Heather Holloway’s aunt found him. Not that he knew that’s who she was when he saw her.
But he sure found out.
Billy was always aware of anyone near him. So when a woman with wild dark hair who looked like she hadn’t slept in a while came right towards him on the sidewalk, he froze. Her glare was fixed on him. She wore a long, flowing skirt and a blouse half untucked, her purse clutched in both hands.
“You’re the Starcourt boy.”
Billy felt his throat close up. He forced himself to move toward the Jetta.
Any time somebody called him “the Starcourt boy” nothing good followed it.
“Hey, hey! I want to talk to you,” she said. Her voice didn’t shake. It was firm, loud, like thunder to his ears. She wasn’t crying. Billy fumbled with Susan’s keys and dropped the bag of candy.
“I know who you are!” She said. She was petite. She came up to maybe his shoulder, but she terrified him as she backed him up against the car. She might as well have been Arnold Schwarzenegger in his mind. “I know who you are. You were there! You were part of it! They won’t say why or how! They won’t tell me anything!”
“You knew my niece Heather,” she said. Billy shut his mouth, and his legs started to give. He clutched the Jetta’s hood, feeling sick. “Yeah, Heather. She’s dead. My sister’s dead. My brother-in-law is dead. Why are they dead? Why did I come here from Chicago to clean out their house because my only family is dead now? Do you know, you asshole? Why are you alive? Why are they dead, huh!” She shoved him and he fell back against the car. He thought he might pass out.
“I don’t know,” he said, and it felt like such a lie.
Because of me.
“I don’t know…” He twisted around and got the car door open. She screamed at him as onlookers watched, and he didn’t know what she was saying anymore. He was hardly aware of what he was doing; just that he managed to get in the car with the door closed.
He didn’t remember driving to Family Video.
He’d lost a few minutes of time at least. Maybe more. Maybe he drove around for an hour without being conscious of it. He had no idea.
He was parked in front of Family Video, clutching the steering wheel, and all he could hear in his head was Heather Holloway’s aunt screaming at him.
He jerked when the passenger side door opened and Steve climbed in.
“Hey…” Steve spoke quietly. Carefully. “You’ve been parked a while, man. I was on lunch. Robin told me you were out here, looking freaked out. You okay?”
All Billy could manage was a shake of his head.
They had only hung out a few times, and most of the time Steve was talking. Why Steve or Robin wanted to hang out with him, Billy had no idea. But they didn’t ask questions, just as Steve had promised they wouldn’t. And Billy wasn’t exactly forthcoming.
Things had been easy with both of them so far.
They didn’t feel easy now.
But he hadn’t gone home. He was upset, and he went to see Steve, even in the midst of a blackout. And Steve was sitting there silently, waiting for him to speak.
“I saw…” He had to turn his head away. He looked out the window toward Palace Arcade. He pretended he was talking to nobody. “Heather’s aunt. This woman. She saw me and she just started screaming at me. Probably thinks I killed them or something. Her sister, Heather, Heather’s dad…”
“Oh,” Steve whispered. “Billy…”
“There was this night where we had dinner with her parents,” Billy said. “I was in there, hiding under the Shadow, the Mind Flayer or whatever… I was so fucking scared, I just...let it take over. Let it do whatever it wanted. It felt like it was holding me down inside. Like I was paralyzed and it only let out this little part of me, the part going along with it. That’s who spoke, you know. And El and Max found us and I remember the rest of me that was trapped and held down saw her, you know. I wanted Max to see me and she couldn’t see me. But I wasn’t fighting it then. I fought it later. I really tried so hard to fight it, Steve.”
“I know,” Steve said. “El said you were crying once when-”
“If I’d fought more earlier, if I’d...maybe…” He started to cry and the shame of it burned. But tears had always come easy. He gripped the steering wheel and stared down at his sneakers, sniffling.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Steve said. “It wasn’t your fault anymore than it was Will Byers’ fault when he was...possessed. Or whatever you want to call it. I’m sorry that happened today. Heather’s aunt? She’s just really sad. She’s just...really sad and angry and she wants to put it somewhere. But it’s not your fault, Billy.”
“It held me down,” he said. His voice sounded high and creaky to his own ears. A little boy on a beach. “And I couldn’t get away. But I wanted to, Steve, I swear I wanted to...”
“Hey, come here, come here…”
The sun on his face…
Steve Harrington folded Billy in his arms and held him there. The angle was a little awkward in the car and Steve smelled like Cheetos and hairspray and Polo. And it was everything.
“Okay?” Steve whispered. He rubbed Billy’s back through his sweatshirt. “You’re gonna be okay, man. I swear, yeah? Hey, what if Rob and I come over tonight? Would that be cool? After closing?”
Billy sniffled and wept and got snot all over Steve’s bright green Family Video vest.
He didn’t seem to mind.
Steve and Robin rang the Mayfield doorbell just twenty-three minutes after nine. It was a little earlier than Billy had expected them and his heart thumped like a rabbit’s in his chest as he brushed by Max.
He had been shy to tell Susan that his friends were coming over, but you’d have thought it was Tom Selleck on his way to visit for how delighted she was that Billy had company. She forced him to take some cash for a pizza and insisted they hang out as late as they wanted. Then she’d said something about “drinks with the girls” and a Volvo drove over to pick her up. Billy sighed in relief.
“Hey…” Billy threw open the door. He’d changed out of his hoodie into a regular sweatshirt; for him a significant transition.
“Hi!” Steve and Robin spoke in unison. Steve was carrying a paper bag.
“We stopped and bought some snacks,” Robin said. “I don’t know what we’re doing yet. But we have Sour Cream Ruffles and Ho Hos and that’s the important thing.”
Max watched them, sucking on a Blow-Pop, hovering in the living room. She seemed very pleased.
“Hey, Max,” Steve said, tossing her a nod. He pulled a Milky Way out of his grocery bag and tossed it to her underhand.
“Oh, thanks!” Max caught it neatly and spun on her heel, heading off to her room, most likely to call Lucas or El back in Pittsburg. Probably both.
“Aha!” Robin said, shuffling into Billy’s room. “The inner sanctum.”
He’d tidied up a little, but his room was usually tidy. When he was restless he cleaned, and he was restless a lot.
“I like it. It’s cozy.” Steve handed the groceries to Robin and plopped down on the bed. He immediately started snooping around the nightstand, paging through books and magazines. He took a cigarette from the pack of Marlboros he found and grabbed for Billy’s Zippo.
“Yeah, right. You probably live in some palace,” Billy said. “A prince’s room.” He smirked and sat on the corner of the bed, taking the grocery bag from Robin, who made a beeline to his make-do vanity (or what was left of it after he’d destroyed his room a few times).
“Steve does not have a cool room,” Robin said. She knelt in front of his plastic crates and the mirror and the cheap third-hand train case of beautifying products he hadn’t touched in a year. “I’ve seen it. There’s plaid. It’s awful.”
Billy felt a white-hot spear of jealousy that Robin had seen Harrington’s bedroom and he hadn’t. He bit his lip, seething a little.
Billy dumped the snacks out on the bed and perused them, but he didn’t feel very hungry.
“What do you want to do?” Steve lit his cigarette and Billy watched the way he made a little o with his soft lips just as he reached down and scratched his stomach, the hem of his sweater rising a little.
“I dunno… I’ll put on some music,” Billy said. That was useful. That was something to at least distract him from Steve being beautiful and sitting on his bed.
“Billy!” Robin said. “You have eyeliner? You have nail polish! Oh my God…”
“Oh, yeah…” He knelt in front of his boombox and pawed through his shoe box of cassettes. “Haven’t worn that stuff in a while.”
“Hey uh, sugar plum? Can I paint my nails with this?” Robin said. She held up a bottle of red so dark it was almost black. Billy shrugged, and she beamed at him as if he’d just bestowed some precious gift upon her. He forgot about his jealousy for a minute.
“You’re going to paint your nails now? Steve said. “Why?”
“Because I can, dingus.” She pointed at Billy. “And I’m painting yours next.”
That didn’t sound so bad. He kind of missed that stuff. It was one of the small joys of his old life he hadn’t allowed himself since his return.
Steve grabbed the shoebox of cassettes from him and raised his eyebrows, picking out a tape and tossing it to Billy. “This one.”
Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith.
Billy nodded and slipped in the tape. He cranked the volume up, but not so much that they couldn’t talk. He grabbed the pack of cigarettes from the bed and lit up. He scooted back to lean against the wall with his legs outstretched. But it was hard to relax with Steve squished in next to him. Steve opened the window to let the smoke out. He nodded along to Aerosmith as he tipped his chin up, staring at the ceiling.
“Are you feeling a little better?” Steve said.
“Yeah,” Billy muttered. “Ya know... for now.”
“Right.” Steve nodded, as if it all made so much sense to him. He slid his gaze over to Robin, who sat on Billy’s freshly vacuumed carpet with her knees folded up, carefully painting her nails. “Oh, Robin?”
“Mm hmm?” Robin glanced up at him and it struck Billy that she seemed very at home in his room and he didn’t even mind it.
“Remember that time I had a panic attack at work and I had to go home?”
“Pfft.” Robin raised an eyebrow at him. “Which time?”
Billy blinked at him, baffled. “Seriously?”
“Sometimes it’s about monsters. Sometimes it’s Soviets beating the shit out of me, coming after me with a goddamn bone saw. Or I think someone’s following me or something’s happened to Dustin-”
“Is it ever me?” Billy stared at him, bracing himself for an answer.
“Couple times,” he said. “But that’s old business.”
“I get insomnia,” Robin said. “Especially if I have the news on and there’s anything about Russia or, I don’t know, I’ll have a nightmare and think that stuff they shot us up with is doing something to me after all this time.”
“You guys seem so...okay,” Billy said.
“I mean we haven’t been through what you’ve been through,” Steve said. “No comparison. And like...things get better, dude.”
“Also we talk about this shit all the time and it probably helps,” Robin said. “Once I convinced dingus you don’t have to pretend everything’s cool when it’s not.”
“I’ve gotten better,” Steve said.
“Yes, you have.” Robin waved her wet nails, smiling up at them. “You’re a quick learner.”
“That has never been said about me,” Steve said. “Surreal.”
“Oh my God! Not everything is surreal!” Robin rolled her eyes and walked on her knees over to the bed, looking straight at Billy as if imploring him to understand while she waved her wet nails around. “Every time I teach him a new word, he starts throwing it around left and right. Surreal, juxtaposition, serendipitous…”
“Okay, but juxtaposition is a really cool word,” Steve said. “And I don’t even use serene...ep...tit..us?”
Billy snorted a laugh at that. He snorted so loudly that Robin shrieked and clapped a hand to her mouth.
It wasn’t the last time he laughed that night.
Steve had a day off in the middle of the week.
He came over to help Billy fix the leak in the roof and build Max’s skate ramp, and afterward they ate burgers at the Dairy Queen and talked about everything and nothing.
After that, Billy worked on his charcoals even more often. The drawings of the Shadow became drawings of him; of Brimborn and Heather’s house and the swimming pool and Starcourt… Sometimes he drew himself fighting Steve. Or he drew his father, who became another shadow with long misty limbs growing out of his back, as if he too were part Mind Flayer. Sometimes everything became jumbled, and he started over. He wanted to tell the whole story, just for himself. But it always came pouring through his charcoals in non-linear bits and pieces.
He felt like the drawings needed something more and he wasn’t sure what.
When he got frustrated with his art project, he wrote about it in his journal, scribbling over unaccomplished goals. He wrote about other things too. The sentences were short and nearly incoherent, but they were something.
On a Thursday night, Billy and Robin went to Steve’s house to watch movies and Robin made Billy braid her hair.
Max had told Robin a terrible secret about Billy; that he’d learned to braid hair expertly one week while El was visiting. He had been bored out of his mind, but unwilling to leave the house.
Billy sat behind Robin on the Harringtons’ plush beige carpeting. Steve sat opposite them as he scarfed down a third slice of pepperoni. All of Me was on TV, but none of them were paying attention.
“It’s so cute you learned to braid hair just for Max and El, cupcake,” Robin said.
He thought Steve winced at that. But he wasn’t sure, and ignored it.
“Strictly because I was bored,” Billy insisted. “The only reason. It was something to do with my hands.”
“Whatever you say, sweet cheeks.”
“It looks good,” Steve said with his mouth full.
Billy had his fingers full of Buckley hair, and he rolled his eyes.
“How would you know?” Robin said. She was drawing a butterfly on the knee of Billy’s jeans, which was only faintly irritating but mostly just tickled.
“I don’t,” Steve said. “Will you braid my hair next, Mon-see-yer Hargrove?”
“Sure. You can’t get any uglier,” Billy cracked.
Steve grabbed for Billy’s socked foot and tickled him and he yelped, dropping Robin’s fishtail braid. Robin howled in consternation and tugged Steve’s hair. He tickled her stomach as she shrieked and twisted away, and the three of them ended up in a giggling heap.
That night, Billy saw Steve Harrington’s bedroom and indeed: the plaid was awful. But he loved being there.
One day, Billy was eating lunch with Robin at the picnic table behind Family Video.
À propos of nothing except the nerve that Billy finally worked up, he said, “Robin, tell me something. Are you into chicks?”
Robin didn’t blink, steadily meeting his gaze. “Yeah. Are you?”
“Are you into Steve?”
Billy took a long swallow of root beer and said, “Since always. Can’t help it.”
She patted him on the shoulder. “My condolences, sugarplum.”
Billy opened up a little more with Dr. Owens. He told him about living with Susan and his friendship with Robin and Steve and how much closer he was with Max.
Then Owens asked him about Starcourt and Brimborn and his dad.
Billy chewed on his hoodie strings and didn’t speak.
“Is Iron Eagle any good?” Billy said. He was leaning on the wall behind Family Video, smoking with Steve, and wondering whether or not he was standing unnecessarily close.
“Yes!” Steve said. “It’s awesome. We should watch it. Robin won’t stand for it though.”
“I mean we could just watch it,” Steve said. He stubbed his cigarette out. “Like we can hang out too. You know. Just you and I. That’s not like illegal. And Robin gets so busy with school...”
Just you and I.
Billy’s cigarette burned out and he dropped it, tugging on his hoodie strings, disappearing like a turtle again.
“What’re you all shy for now?” Steve said.
He stood too close, and he sounded too soft and his eyes sparkled because it was spring and the light hit him just so. He was wearing yellow on top of it.
The sun on my face, Billy thought.
“I’m not. Screw you.”
“Can I just try something really quick?” Steve said. Before Billy could answer, Steve was drawing closer. For a terrifying yet exhilarating moment, Billy thought he was about to get kissed. But instead Steve pulled Billy’s hands away from his hoodie strings. “Tell me to fuck off if you want too,” Steve murmured.
But Billy couldn’t.
He was skittish about things coming toward his face generally, but Steve was slow and gentle as he loosened Billy’s hood and pushed it back over his hair.
Billy had used nothing more than shampoo and conditioner in his hair for the last several months. His curls were wild and soft. Billy breathed in sharply as Steve's fingers tangled in his curls, fluffing it up and fixing it around his shoulders.
“I knew you had radical hair under there,” Steve said, grinning at him.
“Whatever,” Billy said. But he bounced on his toes. “You wanna play air hockey when you get off? They just put in a table at Palace.”
“I thought you never went to the arcade?” Steve said.
Billy shrugged. “I’m in the mood to give it a whirl, I guess.”
Steve had a short shift that day, and school wasn’t out yet. That meant there were only a couple people at Palace Arcade and none of them were teenagers. Billy and Steve played round after round of air hockey until one particularly enthusiastic strike on Billy’s part sent the puck straight at Steve’s fingers and he yanked back his hand, hissing in pain and inexplicably hopping on one foot.
“Oh shit, sorry,” Billy said. He walked around the table and watched Steve grimace.
“Eh, it’s fine,” Steve muttered. “Jesus. You’re hardcore. Ow ow…”
“You want me to kiss it and make it better,” Billy blurted, and immediately his entire face felt like it was burning with embarrassment. He bit down hard on his lip.
“Heh.” Steve ducked his head. “Um…”
“I’ll buy you a Coke,” Billy said. He felt like his brain had turned to the white noise of a TV set. “Make it up to ya.”
It took another hour before things felt normal again.
Everyone had a day off coming up and Steve wanted to take Billy and Robin on the long promised but vague “drive” they’d all talked about for a while. But no one could decide where to go.
Billy was perusing the Comedy section at the video store and pretending not to stare at Steve when Robin walked up to him and said, “I want to go to Pussy Willow Farms.”
“It’s a farm you can visit,” Robin said excitedly, talking with her hands. “It’s got ducks! And ya know, fresh honey and goats and sheep and horses and they grind up corn and make cornbread right in front of you! And they have strawberries and it’s strawberry season! And it’s really pretty! It’s a couple hours south. I used to go there as a kid!”
“And...it’s called what now?”
Robin narrowed her eyes and said, “It’s called Pussy Willow Farms.”
Billy burst out laughing. He laughed so hard he had to bend over and brace his hands on his knees. “P-pussy...willow…” Beside him, he could hear Robin sighing dramatically.
“Ah! I guess Robin told you about the farm,” Steve said, jogging over from the counter.
“You two are children,” Robin said. “Absolute children.”
“No, just…” Billy sniffed, and stood up straight. He wasn’t wearing his hood up. Ever since Steve had played with his hair, he’d had some motivation to show off his curls again. “I’m just saying, like you know it’s not an actual pussy farm-”
“Oh my God.” Robin pinched the bridge of her nose. “Pussy willow-”
“Endless acres of pussy,” Steve said.
“Pussy as far as the eye can see,” Billy said.
“I hate both of you so much,” Robin said.
Steve threw his arms around her and laid a wet kiss on her cheek. “Don’t worry. We’ll take you to your pussy farm. I wouldn’t want you to miss out.”
The drive up to Pussy Willow Farms was pleasant, even if Robin insisted they get up horribly early to make the drive and even if Steve was cranky about it until Robin suggested they stop and buy donuts.
“I’m sitting in the back with Billy,” Robin declared, as they traipsed back to Steve’s BMW stocked up on crullers and coffee.
“What about me?” Steve climbed in and frowned, sticking out his lower lip; a champion pout.
“You can pick the music,” Billy said, hopping in the backseat.
Steve took this as the magnanimous gesture it was and in the backseat, Robin and Billy played hangman and argued about movies and complained about high school and loudly insulted Steve at every opportunity, pretending they didn’t know he could hear them.
“Who’s a better dresser, cupcake?” Robin said to Billy. “Me or Steve?”
“How is that even a question?” Billy said, dusting his jeans of powdered sugar. “I can’t take anyone who wears goddamn Izod seriously.”
“Thank you, sugarplum.” She winked at Steve in the rearview mirror. “I told you.”
“You guys are jerks." Steve’s mouth was full of jelly donut as he gripped the steering wheel. “Grade A assholes.”
“Aw, Harrington is sad,” Billy said.
“Poor Steve.” Robin sighed and chirped from the backseat. “We love you, dingus!”
“Yeah,” Billy muttered, and he pretended not to blush. “We love you.”
Pussy Willow Farms wasn’t the kind of place Billy traditionally contemplated for a good time out. Maybe it was a sign of how much he’d changed that he braced himself for the place to suck and had counted on the company of Steve and Robin to save the day, only to end up enjoying himself.
It was actually...pretty cool.
The place was idyllic, with orchards full of ripening fruit, endless rows of bright red strawberries, and fields of still green corn sprouting up from the tilled soil. Steve found a parking spot next to a school bus in the dirt lot, and they all climbed out of the Beamer and stretched. Robin threw her arm around Billy’s shoulders as they made their way up to the gift shop to pay two bucks each for admission.
There was a lot to see, but Billy’s main goal was to avoid the field trip children running around.
Robin immediately ran off to check out the sheep, but Steve stuck by Billy’s side, shifting from foot to foot.
“Um...what do you want to do?” Steve said.
“I dunno. Horses?”
“Sure, let’s look at horses.”
Steve stuck to Billy like glue. Billy tried his damndest not to read too much into it, but the air smelled like fresh grass and honey and it was so warm he had to relent and take off his hoodie, tying the sleeves around his waist, and Steve kept staring at him as he crouched down to pet a goat or toss duck food into a pond. Steve kept laughing at anything he said that was mildly amusing or nodding gravely when something serious slipped out, like he was so absorbed in everything Billy had to say.
Billy felt high.
He felt so good that when Steve took a free chunk of honeycomb from the honeycomb stand by the duck pond and extended a honey-laden finger, Billy grabbed his wrist. He wrapped his lips around Steve’s finger without even thinking about it, but tasting the perfect sweetness of the honey and the slight saltiness of Steve’s skin as he lightly sucked on a digit, he abruptly realized what he was doing and raised his eyes.
Steve lips were parted as he stared at Billy, and his hand trembled slightly where Billy held it. “Uh...is it good?”
Around them, children were shrieking and petting goats and learning about farms, and all of it was a blur as he sucked on Steve’s finger before letting it go with a pop and dropping his hand.
Billy shoved his hands in his pockets and stared down at the dark soil under his sneakers.
He could still taste Steve’s skin and wanted more of it, yet fear sent a shiver up his spine.
What if Steve flipped out?
But Steve only tugged gently on his arm and said, “Hey, c’mon. Let’s find Rob.” Steve smiled at him, like nothing was wrong at all. They shared the rest of the honeycomb as they walked around the farm, looking for Robin, who they finally found making faces at a bunch of chickens as she tossed them corn.
“Hey, guys!” Robin sang. “I thought we could buy some strawberries and go hang out on the grass. It looks nice out there.”
“I like your t-shirt,” Steve said. Robin was buying them strawberries as they waited. Steve stared down at the ground, kicking at the dirt with his Nike. He seemed faintly discombobulated.
Billy looked down at his faded old Black Sabbath t-shirt with the sleeves long enough to cover up the couple of scars on his arms, courtesy of the Mind Flayer. “You like Sabbath?”
“Yeah, I like Sabbath!” Steve said. “I mean...I like all that pop stuff too. But yeah, I like harder rock and everything.”
“I figured you were Hall and Oates or bust,” Billy said, and fought a smirk, hoping to get a rise out of Steve.
“That’s not true!” Steve said. “I told you I like Aerosmith-”
“Well, Aerosmith.” Billy rolled his eyes.
“I thought you liked Aerosmith.” Steve pouted. He stuck his lip out and Billy felt like he was floating.
“And I like some Metallica!” Steve said quickly. “And a lot of Van Halen!”
If Billy didn’t know better, he might have thought Steve was trying to prove himself somehow.
“What about Judas Priest?” Billy said. He crossed his arms, issuing a challenge.
“I… Yeah, they’re great!”
“Steve, do you even know any Judas Priest songs?”
“I’ve...probably heard some? I’m sure I liked it!”
Billy felt like he was being wooed, like Steve wanted to make sure Billy thought he was cool, as if Billy wouldn’t hang out with him if Steve didn’t clear the bar.
It felt amazing.
“Dingus! Buttercup! Let’s go!” Robin had the fresh strawberries in a basket and she walked backwards toward the expanse of green with its long grasses swaying in the breeze beyond the petting zoo and the strawberry fields.
“Carry these.” Robin handed the strawberries to Steve, who dutifully took them so she could walk between the two of them with her arms around their shoulders. “Let me take you doooown…”
“Cause I’m going toooo strawberry fields…” Steve sang.
Billy grumbled but Robin kept pinching his side and, begrudgingly, he too began to sing.
They sang the entire song as they stomped through the grass until Robin plopped down in the middle of the field and went into “Penny Lane.”
“There beneath the bluuuue suburban skiiiies…” Robin waved at them from where she lay in the grass. “Lie down and we’ll make a trifecta!”
At this point, Billy and Steve had become accustomed to just going along with whatever Robin said and they plopped down in the grass next to her, their heads together as their bodies pointed in three different directions.
“This is perfect,” Robin said, and took another strawberry from Steve. “Me and my boys.”
Steve’s arm lay right next to Billy’s and he couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or not, but he could smell Steve’s soap and his hair brushed Billy’s cheek where their heads rested.
“It doesn’t suck,” Billy said.
“You know you love it, sugarplum,” Robin said.
“Okay, Rob, that’s it,” Steve said, sounding very huffy. “Why is Billy always cupcake and sugarplum and buttercup and I’m still dingus?”
“Because you’re a dingus, dingus,” Robin said simply.
Billy snorted a laugh and, as if to show a sense of solidarity, he nudged Steve’s arm where it rested in the grass between them. He couldn’t tell if Steve’s hand just sort of fell on top of his or if it was deliberate...but he left it there.
“I’m just special,” Billy said. “Can’t help it.”
“I mean cupcake?” Steve grumbled. “Seriously?”
“Steve is jealous,” Robin whispered.
“Aw, are you jealous, Harrington?” Billy said.
“I’m just not sure who he’s jealous of-”
“Robin,” Steve said, a clear warning.
“I just think a certain person should maybe tell another certain person that-”
Billy didn’t speak. Robin couldn’t possibly mean what it sounded like she meant. He couldn’t dare expect that, and he didn’t want a dashed hope to ruin the day. So instead he pretended he didn’t hear anything and remained quiet, staring up at the wisps of crisp white clouds moving through the cerulean sky.
“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done…” Robin sang out. Billy thought her voice was remarkably pretty.
“Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung…”
He should have felt silly, or at least self-conscious. But there was something happening in the moment that took all that away as the three of them sang “All You Need is Love,” their voices carried on the breeze.
And then Steve moved his hand under Billy’s so their fingers were clasped and held him there, and Billy closed his eyes and felt the sun on his face.
Billy had enjoyed so many good weeks, even he had to figure it was about time for a bad day to come ramming right into him like a freight train.
The bad days came after he dreamed of all the Flayed invading the house, destroying all the things he had not yet destroyed himself. Meanwhile, his father was angry at him because getting possessed by the Shadow was against house rules. Neil kept hitting him and hitting him and Billy woke up and half wished that part had been real because it felt like what he deserved.
Billy didn’t leave the house for four days and wouldn’t answer the phone and no amount of Max pestering him would bring him out of his funk, much less out of the house. To her credit, she didn’t try to guilt him into going on a walk or renting videos or answering Steve’s phone calls. But he could tell she was worried, and so was Susan. He tried to make up for it by mowing the lawn and fixing a clog in the kitchen sink. But somehow that seemed to worry them both more.
It was Friday, and Billy hadn’t left the house in almost two weeks. He’d even ditched his last appointment with Owens, though he called first and said he had the flu, because you couldn’t just ditch classified government-mandated therapy sessions without an excuse.
Billy was holed up in his room, smoking and trying to focus on Gilligan’s Island, when he heard the BMW drive up. A part of him was pleased that Steve had come to check on him even as he dreaded talking to anyone.
A minute later Steve knocked softly on his bedroom door and Billy said, “Come in, Harrington.”
Steve opened the door and leaned in the doorway. He didn’t look pitying or pissed or even worried, and Billy relaxed a little. He was chewing on a French fry and holding a big bag of McDonald’s, a tray of drinks balanced precariously on his arm.
“Hey, man.” He tossed Billy a wrapped up Big Mac and Billy caught it neatly. “Where ya been?”
“Just…” Billy shrugged. “Bad days.”
“Thought maybe you would talk to me about that stuff,” Steve said. He shut the door behind him and sat across from Billy on the bed. Billy grabbed a towel from the hamper and they spread out the food and set the drinks on the nightstand. “Or Robin. Somebody. I know you’re not talking to Max and she said you skipped out on Owens-”
“Jesus, you guys keepings tabs on me?” Billy said.
“Yeah,” Steve said, as if that should be obvious. “We always have been. Sorry to burst your bubble, but we give a shit. So does Max, so does Susan. And Dr. Owens.”
Billy swallowed the lump in his throat and made himself eat his burger. He hadn’t eaten very much the last few days, and it hit the spot. It occurred to him; he had maybe been testing Steve a little, seeing if he would show up. Which didn’t seem fair...but he was still glad Steve passed the test.
They ate in silence for a while. Then Steve sat back against the wall with his legs outstretched, his fries in his lap. “So? What happened?”
“You know, when you first wanted to hang out, you said you wouldn’t ask me about this stuff,” Billy said.
“Hargrove…” Steve gave him a knowing look. “It’s different now. Don’t bullshit me.”
“I dunno,” Billy murmured. He was wearing a thin white t-shirt with a low neck and it showed more of the scars on his arms and on his chest than Steve had seen before. He felt naked and chewed his lip, wringing his hands in his lap. “Nothing. Just… I dunno.”
“I know something happened,” Steve said, speaking softly in that gentle way of his. “‘Cause the last time I saw you was a pretty great day, wasn’t it?”
He nodded mutely.
“So something must have happened. Did you run into someone again or…?”
“Just dreams.” He squirmed and grabbed for the milkshake Steve had brought him, taking off the lid to poke at the ice cream with his straw. “Shitty dreams.”
“I know about those,” Steve said. “They suck.”
“Yeah…” Billy relaxed a little. He drank some milkshake and sat back against the wall, settling in next to Steve. “All the dead people, the ones you guys call the Flayed, they came here trying to get to me. And my dad was there, and I was in trouble. He was beating the shit out of me. Just...ya know. Pretty shit nightmares, man. Sometimes I can just think of them as dreams, and sometimes they get in my head. Ya know? And then…I just don’t want to see anyone because it’s like they can see in my head and see everything I’ve done and I just want to crawl in a fucking hole or whatever.”
“It can’t help that your dad was such an asshole before the Mind Flayer even came along,” Steve said.
“Yeah, it really doesn’t.”
“Is that the worst nightmare?”
Steve kept asking him questions, and Billy kept answering them. He told Steve that the worst nightmare was the one where Max and Steve and Robin and Susan and everyone else was flayed, and he couldn’t stop it, even as vacant-eyed Heather assured him it was fine; it was how things were supposed to be.
The worst worst part was watching Max melt into the Flayer and become part of it.
He told Steve all kinds of things. Once he started talking, he couldn’t stop, and Steve stayed with him for hours, just listening. Billy cried and smoked and leaned on Steve’s shoulder and eventually they got hungry again and ate grilled cheese and drank Pepsis, sprawled on Billy’s carpet this time, talking as they ate and sorting through the remains of Billy’s music collection.
“Will Byers used to draw the Mind Flayer,” Steve said. “Actually, that was all the weird stuff at his house that night of the fight? I guess at that point it was more because he was possessed, less like...expressing himself. Or whatever.”
“Um…” Billy squinted his Steve, tapping his finger on his knee. “You want to see something?”
Billy hesitated, rubbing his lip between his fingers. Showing Steve his drawings was major. But Steve just sat there, looking sweet and guileless as Zeppelin played from his boombox. Billy nodded and got to his feet. He kept his charcoals in the bottom drawer of his dresser; the charcoal sticks and pencils in a shoebox with the drawing pads on top. He unpacked everything and set it on the bed and, in a fit of nerves, he grabbed his big black hooded sweatshirt and threw it on over his t-shirt, though it was warm in the room.
Billy stayed on his feet, chewing on his hoodie strings.
“What is this?” Steve said.
“Something I’ve been working on. Look at the bigger pad first. Start at the beginning.”
He’d worked on his charcoal “telling” somewhat in the last two weeks, but he’d felt more “jumbled” than usual, and that made it harder. The second drawing pad was his back-up, where he scribbled or attempted to draw Steve or Robin or Max from memory or where he simply drew big black slashes across the cheap newsprint paper because it felt good.
But his real project, his story...that was something else.
“Holy shit,” Steve whispered. He was on the third page already; the Shadow attacking Billy at Brimborn.
Some of the pages weren’t quite what he pictured yet. Some drawings needed finer lines. But it was the beginning of something that felt important.
What he would do with it once it was finished, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. It was just for him.
Billy paced the room, chewing on his thumbnail, his heart racing. “I started it when we were first hanging out? Owens told me to find something like a hobby or… So I remembered I liked charcoals in art class? So ya know…”
“Billy, this is incredible,” Steve said. “It’s like a comic book.”
Billy raised an eyebrow. “A comic book? Not like any comic book I’ve read.”
“No, well like a really good one, like… I don’t know, like the pages look like panels? I’ve read a lot of comics, dude. Dustin made me, but I got hooked on some of em’. And you drew frames around some of these. And the action... It reminds me of it. Like it’s a whole story.”
“It’s rough,” Billy said, shrugging. “There’s a lot missing that I haven’t figured out how to draw yet.”
Steve stared down at Billy, Heather, and her parents sitting at a dining table. They were abstract figures, colored in black. The table was drawn like a bunch of fragile sticks stuck together. El and Max stood by in their raincoats.
“This one…” Steve shook his head. “I always said I didn’t understand art? But this is… It’s so good. It’s so simple, but it’s like...powerful.”
“It’s not art,” Billy muttered.
“Uh, yeah it is,” Steve said. “Show Robin, she’ll tell ya. She knows all about art.”
“Have you thought about maybe adding words?” Steve said. “Like writing the story? Like in a comic?”
“Actually, yeah kind of,” Billy said. He sat down on the bed again. “Just haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Maybe if you talk more about it, you’ll figure out what you want to say with this,” Steve said.
“That’s...possible,” Billy said.
Steve flipped a page and pointed to Billy playing lifeguard even as the shadow loomed over the Hawkins’ pool unbeknownst to the town. “This one has a uh...really cool juxtaposition.” He giggled and stuck out his tongue, and Billy snorted and grabbed for the pad. “It’s surreal!”
“You’re a dork.”
“I’m a dork with…” Steve took a crumbled sandwich baggie from his pocket. “Some super strong weed.”
“Harrington! You been holding out on me.”
Susan was working late, and Billy had convinced Max that he didn’t need a babysitter. She was at Lucas’s house.
That meant Billy and Steve had all the time they needed to light up in Billy’s room without fear of getting caught.
“Goddamn, Harrington…” Billy spoke while holding the smoke. “This is intense.” He exhaled and sat back. They sat close together on the carpet, leaning up against the bed.
Steve handed Billy a record and said, “Put this one on.”
Billy took the record: All Over the World: The Very Best of ELO. He flushed and felt the inclination to defend himself, though he was relieved to see the record, sure he’d destroyed it at some point.
“This is my mother’s influence,” Billy said, waving the album at Steve.
“Sure thing, Disco King,” Steve cracked. “Just put on the record.”
A few minutes later, Billy and Steve were floating. Or at least, Billy assumed Steve was floating because he was definitely floating and Steve was right next to him, so he must have been floating too.
They sat back against the bed, listening to “Strange Magic” and floating.
Billy had taken his sweatshirt off again, but he felt good enough that he didn’t even mind Steve potentially seeing his scars.
“My skin is…” Steve licked his lips and grabbed his Coke, drinking the melted ice left at the bottom. “My skin feels like it’s...tingling. Like touch my arm?” He held his hand out and Billy stared at it, thinking Steve’s hands were as stupidly pretty as the rest of him.
Billy reached out and tentatively touched the inside of Steve’s wrist, tracing his finger along the blue vein winding down his arm. “Whoa,” Billy whispered.
“Yeah...whoa.” Steve’s breath was short. The room felt even warmer than usual and Billy was even more aware of every little thing about Harrington, who was wearing Polo cologne and that stupid Farrah Fawcett spray, and whose color-block knit shirt smelled fresh from the dryer, and whose lips looked so goddamn soft, and who had three little moles on his cheek…
He kept tracing that vein, up one way and back down again; touching Steve because Steve hadn’t told him to stop.
“Do you want to try?” Steve whispered, as if touching each other’s arms was some complicated trick they’d just learned.
Billy bared his arm, and it took some will for him to so purposefully show it to Steve with the several silvery scars that marred his flesh. There was a starburst shape on his palm and Steve lightly pressed his fingers to it.
It was the weed (was it laced with something or was it just that strong?), or it was the weed and Steve and the music and the entire day. But Billy felt the touch throughout his entire body. He breathed in, and Steve smiled.
“See?” Steve murmured. He mimicked Billy, tracing a line down his palm to the inside of his wrist and up his forearm. “See how it feels…?”
“Steve…” Billy faced him and breathed his air.
“More?” Steve whispered.
It was as if Steve had just realized Billy had a body for how entranced he was as his careful touch trailed up Billy’s arm and traveled to his chest. He pressed his palm to Billy’s sternum, half-bared by the low neck of his t-shirt, and also directly on top of his worst scars. Steve turned his head, leaning closer, and their breath mingled.
“Billy… Do you think it’s the weed or…” Steve swallowed and ever so slowly slid his hand higher inch by inch, leaving a trail of heat as he moved to palm Billy’s throat, caressing the tender flesh he found there. “Is it because it’s us?”
But Steve stopped his words, his thumb pressing at Billy’s bottom lip as he cupped Billy’s cheek. “Maybe it’s...us,” he murmured before they both moved to kiss.
The mere sensation of pressing his lips to Steve Harrington’s lips was so powerful that Billy forgot how kissing was supposed to work. Maybe Steve did too because, for a few seconds, neither of them moved. They only basked in that gentle press. Billy felt that floaty feeling again, so strongly this time that he jerked and grabbed Steve’s shoulders, as if to keep himself on the ground. The motion moved Steve, who made a funny little chirping sound in Billy’s mouth before parting his lips and deepening the kiss, his tongue sneaking out to run along Billy’s top lip.
Billy had pictured himself kissing Steve countless times. He pictured passion (horniness) overcoming them. Steve would slam him against a wall and shove his tongue down Billy’s throat. Billy would cackle and grin against Steve’s mouth, smug that he’d brought such heat out of Harrington. It would be hot, sloppy, and slightly violent.
This was nothing like that.
This was so gentle, like everything about Harrington so far. Billy couldn’t figure it out. Steve fought monsters with a bat full of nails. He’d rammed the Camaro at full speed as if a Cadillac could grant immortality. Steve was some kind of superhero. But he kissed Billy as if they were both fragile, and it felt way too good for Billy to mind getting such delicate treatment. In fact, he wanted much more of it.
Steve pulled away and Billy chased the kiss, but then he was back again with sweet little pecks, only to surprise Billy by sucking at his bottom lip and making him whimper.
More more more…
Then Electric Light Orchestra started skipping on the record player and it was disruptive enough to break the spell, the two of them pulling away, breathless and wide-eyed.
Billy looked anywhere but at Steve, who he was sure would flip out and bolt. Boys had flipped out and bolted before. He had flipped out and bolted before.
But Steve was staring at him, as if waiting for him to do something.
Billy clenched his fists, paralyzed.
“Oh, goddammit,” Steve muttered. “Is it seven already? Shit, shit.”
Steve was on his feet, rubbing his eyes. “I am so sorry, dude. I told Dustin I would come over tonight. He’s felt all left out lately. And that is the only reason I have to go. I know the timing isn’t ideal…”
Billy hardly heard him. He was still trying to catch up with Steve having kissed him and that he’d seemed to enjoy it.
“Oh, that’s...fine.” He shook his head, still feeling high and floaty. He ran his hands through his hair, struggling to get his head together. Steve had his jacket and was heading for the door. Billy rose to follow him. “Harrington… Man, don’t worry about it.” He fought to sound easy going. No big deal. Chill. “I mean we’re high. It’s not…” He shrugged and made a vague “whatever” face as he followed Steve out to the living room.
Steve stopped and turned to face him, slipping his arms into his black Members Only jacket. He rubbed his chin and squinted at Billy.
“What,” Billy said flatly. His blood felt cold in his veins suddenly. He crossed his arms, his fingernails digging into the soft skin of his biceps. “What, we were high, man. It’s not… It-it doesn’t mean… I would never-”
“Billy,” Steve said. There was a hitch in his voice and when the light hit him a certain way, Billy saw that his eyes were wet with tears. “I’m just going to tell you something. And you don’t have to do anything about it, okay. Unless you want to. I’m just going to tell you that…” He took a deep breath and his eyes fluttered shut before he opened them again. “I love you. I mean I’m in love with you. Like balls to the wall in love with you. And...so if you ever want me, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. And I will always be your friend anyway. I swear. So like, either way. I’m right here, man. For you. For good. But if… so maybe you’re just not ready right now, that’s cool too. I’ll wait. I’ll wait for however long, I’m just… It wasn’t just cause we were high. I just…” He swallowed, staring down at his Nikes and Billy’s Converse, toe to toe. “I just wanted to kiss you, dude. So you don’t have to worry about me going anywhere. Not ever. So I just thought I should… Okay, shit. I’m going to stop talking.”
Billy could only stare and wonder if he was still dead after all.
“It’s just...something for you to keep in mind. Is all. I’ll see you later.” He sounded breathless, as if he’d just run several miles. Then he ducked forward and kissed Billy’s cheek before spinning on his heel and running out the door.
Late that night Max and Susan finally came home to find Billy sprawled on the couch in the living room, itself a bit of an aberration. He usually hid in his room unless he was joining them to watch a movie.
“Billy?” Max said. He was sketching, with pencils this time. Electric Light Orchestra blasted from the living room stereo.
“Hey, guys!” Billy said.
“Are you alright?” Susan looked wary as she hung her trench coat by the door.
“Yeah, I’m cool.”
Susan and Max exchanged a confused expression, and he smirked to himself. The last time he had seen them, he’d been in one of his dark moods.
“Steve came over,” Billy explained. “We talked about a lot of stuff. So…”
“Oh?” Susan came around the couch, looking hopeful. “Steve seems very sweet. And that Robin girl? I like her.”
He was working on a sketch of Robin. She would have to be in his comic book; the comic book he’d just decided he was drawing and writing that needed just the right ending. He wondered if she’d give him a photo to work from.
“Billy,” Max said again. “You’re listening to ELO and grinning like Joker. Sure you’re okay?”
Billy sighed and put down his drawing pad so he could focus on Max, who sat on the arm of the sofa, staring at him. “I’m okay. Sometimes I’m not. But I’m feeling a lot better.”
Max gaped at him. He was never so direct. “Oh.”
“So, do you want to go with me to Owens tomorrow?” Billy said. “I gotta stop by the art store after, but-”
“Yeah, okay!” Max said. He didn’t miss the way she smiled up at Susan. “Sounds good. Must’ve been a really good talk you had with Steve.”
Billy stifled a secret smile. It wasn’t just the love confession. It was everything that had preceded it. He nodded. “Yeah. Good talk.”
Billy slept little that night. He worked on ideas for the next iteration of his comic until he couldn’t keep his eyes open and dropped off at four in the morning. That night he dreamed of the Shadow, but when he woke up, he grabbed the journal Owens had given him and wrote it all down. When he was done writing down his nightmare, he wrote some goals.
- Outline comic, buy supplies for ink drawing.
- Fix the Camaro
- Get ready for Steve
They were big goals. But they didn’t frighten him.
That day, Billy plopped down in his regular chair in front of Owens. He was wearing a red hoodie this time, and he kept the hood down. He’d even fixed his hair that morning, breaking out his old AquaNet, despite his grogginess from just a few hours of sleep.
“Been a while,” Owens said, smiling kindly. “Are you feeling better? You look good.”
“I wasn’t sick,” Billy admitted.
“I kinda figured.” Owens shrugged. “You want to talk about it? Sounds like you might’ve had a rough couple weeks.”
Billy took a breath and said, “Yeah. I want to talk about everything. But I don’t really know where to start though, doc.”
Owen blinked and shifted in his chair. He tapped his pen on his clipboard and nodded. “Well, okay then. We can start anywhere you like, Billy. What comes to mind?”
Billy thought about that and said, “The beach. When I was a kid. And the sun on my face.”
Billy’s appointment was running long. He kept thinking of Max waiting in the car. But then, she’d packed a backpack this time with a bunch of books, comics, and some snacks, claiming that things got boring waiting in the Jetta.
Billy was Owens’ only regular patient, and he spent most of the time doing whatever his secretive government work usually entailed. Billy suspected this mostly comprised studying the “data” that Billy’s body had provided after Starcourt. An hour into the appointment, Owens asked him if he’d like to stay longer and Billy nodded. It felt as if they were just getting started. Owens made a call and cancelled what sounded like an important meeting before sitting down again.
“Now, where we?”
At two o’clock, Billy finally left. His eyes were sore from crying, yet he felt better. The idea of feeling better after you cried was still new. Though he was no stranger to tears.
He found Max sitting on the lawn in front of the building, reading The New Teen Titans and nibbling on Twizzlers. She jumped to her feet when she saw him walk out, shoving her candy and comics into her backpack.
“Billy! Whoa, that took forever!” She frowned at the sight of his swollen red eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “I’m cool. That was just kinda intense is all.” He felt like Owens had just peeled several layers of skin from his body. “You wanna get ice cream?”
They were heading back to the car, and he stopped short again, shifting from foot to foot. “Hey, Max? Thanks for always giving a shit.” Max spun around to face him. All at once, she lunged towards him, enfolding him in a hug. He sighed and hugged back. “Glad you’re my sister. Even if you’re a shitbird.”
“Me too, asshole,” Max whispered.
They broke apart, and Billy cleared his throat. “Okay, ice cream then art supplies. Did I tell you I’m working on a comic book about me and the Mind Flayer?”
“You’re what now?”
“Yeah, I think I should give your friend Will a call. And I should talk to El too. And maybe you should invite Lucas over soon.”
“Billy,” Max said, as they climbed in the car, “my head is spinning.”
That night it took Billy a couple hours to work up the nerve to go into the garage.
He picked up a corner of the dirty old canvas tarp covering the Camaro and took a deep breath, yanking it back and letting it slide off the trunk and crumple to the ground.
The garage was a little dim, but Billy could make out the damage. He remembered all too clearly the monster hitting his windshield, and the shock of it. He remembered Steve’s borrowed Caddy plowing him too. If he didn’t remember, the caved in body of the Camaro along the passenger side would remind him.
Yet, it could be fixed.
A lot of things could be fixed.
“Hey there, beautiful,” Billy said. He walked around the partially demolished car and rested a hand on the hood. The warm metal was calming, and his shoulders dropped. He’d been afraid to even look at it for so long. But the damage wasn’t as bad as he remembered. “Sorry, I’ve been ignoring you. Let’s see how we can get you fixed up, huh?”
For the next couple months, Billy was busier than he’d ever been in his life. When Cathy at Kechkner Art Supply told Billy she needed somebody part-time and thought of him since he was hanging around so much anyway, Billy took the job. He needed the extra money to fix the Camaro beyond what he could do himself anyway. Then there was the comic, and that took up a lot of time.
One Sunday afternoon, Max and Billy called up Will and El and Billy ended up talking to Will for hours about both art and the Upside Down. Will begged Billy to let him see the comic the next time he visited. El didn’t say a lot, but Billy felt they had a connection that didn’t require much explanation.
When Lucas came over specifically to talk to Billy, it started out awkward and ended with them watching Commando while Max disappeared into her room, grumbling about boys with terrible taste.
Billy was so busy, he hardly had time to hang out with Robin and Steve. Between the new job and the comic, he couldn’t stop by for lunches and one night he was so “in the zone” (as he put it to Max), he had to turn down an invitation to the movies, though it was a difficult call. And when they did hang out, they never talked about that day with the strong weed and what Steve had said to him.
But Billy thought about little else when his mind wasn’t occupied with work.
It was a sunny day in June when Billy went down to Family Video just to say hello, finding himself with a day off. The Camaro was up and running. It looked better than new. He’d spent the morning on the comic and finally forced himself to put it down, wondering if Steve was up for some air hockey once he got off work.
Billy wore the Sabbath t-shirt Steve had said he liked and his old denim jacket. He skipped the hooded sweatshirt. It was too warm for that.
Driving the Camaro felt like coming home and he smirked to himself, seeing heads turn as he pulled up in front of Family Video. He revved the engine a little, just for effect.
He thought he saw Steve go by inside and he got out, glancing in the side mirror to fix his hair. He tossed himself a wink.
Inside, Billy didn’t see Steve. He headed toward the back when Robin appeared, all but jumping in front of him.
“Hey!” Robin said. “Hey, how’s it going, sugarplum?”
Billy raised an eyebrow. “Hey, I just saw Steve. Where’d he go?”
“Now’s not a good time,” Robin said.
She was blocking his way, he realized. Billy narrowed his eyes.
“Buckley,” Billy growled. “What is going on?”
“Steve’s just having a crappy day,” Robin said. “Not like one of your bad days. Just a regular bad day in general.”
“So let me talk to him,” Billy said, gritting his teeth. “I’m his friend.”
Robin took a deep breath and said, “Can’t do it, buttercup. Sorry. He doesn’t want to talk to you right now. It’s not your fault, but-”
“Buckley, what the hell is going on!”
“See, this is exactly the problem,” Robin muttered. “He tells me this stuff and then he doesn’t want me to tell you, but it only makes it worse. He is such a dingus sometimes-”
“He’s afraid you don’t need him anymore!” Robin rolled her eyes. “Okay, listen-”
“What? What does that mean?” Billy stood on his toes, looking over her shoulder.
“If you’d let me explain!” Robin said, her already large eyes seemed impossibly big.
Billy crossed his arms. “Explain then.”
“It’s like this,” Robin said. She turned on her heel and paced in front of him. Fortunately, there were only a couple customers browsing the aisles, and they didn’t need help. “You are doing so much better. Like you’ve been thriving. And it’s great. And Steve sees it, and he’s so happy about it, Billy. Like he is so proud of you and he just… Honestly. But but… And I think he’s totally wrong about this. He thinks maybe you’ve like outgrown him or some stupid thing. Like you don’t need him or you don’t have time for him. But then he feels guilty for feeling that way and also, ya know… I know he told you he’s…” Robin looked around whispered, “in love with you, and then it never came up again and Steve is super insecure on a good day. So there’s just a lot. Plus, ya know, I’m graduating soon and I’m going off to school and I know he’s sad about it. Even though it’s only Chicago and he can totally visit. But anyway. He’s pretending he’s not sad about it because he’s Steve. So...yeah, that’s basically why he’s upset.”
“But I…” Billy swallowed. “I do need him. I...I do. I have to talk to him-”
“Do you know what you’re going to say?” Robin said.
“Um…” He opened and closed his mouth. “I mean-”
“Don’t do this now.” She took his hands in hers, and just that was calming. “He’ll be okay. It’s one lousy day. Go figure out what you want to say first. Figure out what you want and like…what you’re ready for.”
Good advice, Billy thought. Stupid Robin Buckley with her good advice.
Billy took a breath. “Look after him, will ya?”
“I always do.”
He nodded. “Am I invited to graduation?”
“Jesus, you better be there or it’ll be dull as hell.”
“Okay, but I’m sitting in the back,” he said, tossing her a wink. He turned on his heel and made himself leave. He had a lot of things to think about.
“That’s where all the cool people sit!” She called after him.
Billy went back home and headed straight for the journal Owens had given him. Clipped inside was Owen’s card with the number he’d told Billy he could call whenever there was an emergency or if he just really needed to talk.
Billy called from the kitchen phone, but since Susan and Max were nearby, he smiled at them tightly and hid in the bathroom, stretching the cord through the hallway.
Dr. Owens picked up on the third ring.
“This is Sam Owens…”
“Hey, doc. It’s Billy...Hargrove.”
“Billy? Hi, are you… Has something happened?”
“I just need, uh, emergency advice? Can’t wait.”
“Sorry to call you out of-”
“For you, it’s no problem, Billy. What can I do for you?”
Billy sighed and said, “Okay, so you know how I told you I’m um...gay?”
“I do recall that, yeah.”
“And I’m...I’m in...I have a thing for Harrington?”
“You’re in love with Steve,” Owen said casually. “Yeah, you’ve mentioned him once or twice or a thousand times.” He chuckled and the sound was warm. Billy relaxed a little. “At ease, soldier. You’re talking to a friend.”
“Right. So. I think… Well, I want to know if I’m like… He likes me and I like him and... I just dunno if… I don’t want to screw it up, doc. Not with him.”
“You’re asking if you’re ready for a relationship with Steve?”
“I guess. Yeah.”
“Well, short answer is, no one is ever really ready for anything. Most people have to jump into the shit before they’re ready, Billy. That’s how life usually ends up working. You sink or swim most of the time. Long answer is, you got a real solid shot at swimming. And you didn’t before. First time you met with me, you were huddled in the corner. No eye contact, didn’t say a word. Shaking like a leaf. I look at you now and… You got a job, you got friends, you got real interests, and you’re finding your way. You’ve opened up to people. You got a lot going for you, kid. I think you’re an intelligent and funny and admirable young man. And Steve would be lucky to have you. So... go get em’, kid. And when you need me, I’ll be here for ya.”
Billy hadn’t expected all of that. He had to bite down hard on his lip. It wasn’t as if Owens hadn’t seen him cry a hundred times or more at this point. But he didn’t want Max and Susan to worry.
He managed to say, “Thanks, doc. Thanks for everything.”
Billy cleared his throat and went back to the kitchen to hang up the phone.
Billy knew Steve’s usual work schedule like the back of his hand. Keith would be closing tonight, not Steve. Steve got off work in two hours.
Nothing to do now but wait.
Susan was chopping vegetables, and Max sat at the table doing homework. Billy leaned in the doorway and smiled. “Hey Susan, you need help with dinner?”
Billy knew Steve would definitely be home by six-thirty and by six thirty-five, Billy was pulling into Steve’s driveway. His dad’s car was gone. That was good. His mother’s car was parked in the driveway and that meant she was probably drinking wine in the den and listening to Streisand on giant earphones.
Billy grabbed his newest drawing pad that contained the latest iteration of his comic. He only had ten pages completed, but the rest of it was roughly sketched out. Billy checked his hair in the rearview, took a deep breath, and got out of the car.
He was wearing a new earring; a dangly black triangle that Susan had bought for him. His father had called him a fag for wearing an earring. His step-mom gave him one as a present.
Yeah, Susan was alright.
Billy rang the doorbell, clutching his drawing pad, and felt like he’d explode from nerves.
Steve threw the door open and a blast of air conditioning blew Billy’s hair back. Steve looked wide-eyed and tense, his hair sticking up in all directions.
“Hey,” Steve said. “Um...hey. I wasn’t expecting... You wanna come in?”
Billy nodded, silent. He was sure that once he started talking, he wouldn’t be able to stop.
How things had changed…
“Robin said you stopped by before,” Steve said. Billy followed him to the kitchen and Steve automatically grabbed them Cokes before they headed up to Steve’s room where he shut the door behind them.
Suddenly, everything felt charged.
Steve handed Billy his Coke, and he took a long drink, feeling overly warm. “Robin totally exaggerates, you know.” Steve laughed nervously, rolling his eyes. “Like…I know she means well, but she probably made it sound like I was all…” He shrugged. “It was no big deal, Billy. Seriously. Everything’s cool. I don’t want you to worry about it.”
“I’m not worried,” Billy said. He popped the tab on his Coke and drained half of it, before setting the can on a shelf.
“Oh.” Steve nodded and ran a hand through his hair, spinning on his heel and walking away to the window that looked out onto the pool and the woods beyond. He left his Coke on the windowsill, unopened. “Great. Glad you’re not worried. I’m just losing my mind over here, but that’s great.”
“Steve, you’re freaking out.” He slowly crossed the room. His nerves were down by the car. Now, he felt fine. He felt like he could swim.
“Okay, yeah maybe,” he said, shrugging. “I just want you to be happy. Billy. That’s it. Happy, healthy, okay. I’m just...trying to get my head around the idea you might not be happy with me, like there’s no guarantee that-”
“I know, I know. I’m being an asshole.”
“You’re not being an asshole.”
“If I was a good person, I would only care that you were happy.”
“You’re the best person I know, dumbass. Now will you please shut the hell up and look at this?” Billy crossed the room and shoved the drawing pad into his arms. “It’s not close to finished. But it’s what we were talking about. It’s everything. I’m writing it. I’m drawing it. Partly because of you. Just look at the first couple pages.”
Steve took the drawing pad and flipped to the first page. It was just captioned text on a blank white page. Neat black capital letters, just like a comic book.
FIRST I DIED.
THEN I FELL IN LOVE.
Steve choked and clapped a hand to his mouth. “Billy…” He flipped to the second page; the figure of a boy on a beach with his mother.
WHEN I WAS A BOY, I WENT TO THE BEACH AND FELT THE SUN ON MY FACE.
Billy took the drawing pad from Steve and set it on his desk. “When I’m with you, it’s like the sun on my face again,” Billy said. “Because I love you. And that’s how the story ends.”
Steve stared at him and Billy watched one tear slide down his cheek and dip around those delicate little moles. He stepped yet closer and took Steve’s hands in his, leaning forward to kiss the salty drop away before cupping Steve’s cheeks between his palms and kissing his mouth; that plush mouth with its fascinating curve.
Billy pulled away just as quickly and stared at Steve, astounded. “What the hell? How does that feel as good as when we were high?”
“I told you,” Steve said, and leaned forward to whisper against his lips. “Because it’s us.”
Steve wrapped his arms around Billy, and the dynamic shifted. The King of Hawkins High showed up, his lips expertly teasing with soft brushes before abruptly licking inside Billy’s mouth and then sucking on his top lip, making him whimper.
For the longest time, they simply kissed and kissed, enchanted with each other. But when Billy felt Steve’s dick pressing against his thigh, he hissed and held Steve tighter.
Billy murmured, “Can...can we-”
“Yes,” Steve whispered.
What they were agreeing to, he wasn’t sure. Just more.
Steve pulled away and peeled off his shirt, letting it drop to the floor.
Billy grinned, his tongue between his teeth. “Now we’re talkin’, pretty boy.” He took off his jacket and tossed it over his shoulder.
Billy spread his hands along Steve’s pale chest, his mouth watering at the sigh of his dark chest hair that formed a T. He raked his nails through it, tugging slightly, and Steve growled and lunged at Billy. He captured Billy in a kiss again and walked him backwards to the bed.
“You know, I got...some pretty gnarly scars and shit,” Billy said. He’d been feeling confident, but nerves crept up again. Steve gently pushed him back on the bed, climbing on top of him as they both kicked off their shoes.
Steve smiled at him and of all the sweet, sunshine smiles Billy had seen on Steve’s face, this one was different. This one was naked adoration.
“I just want to see you, baby,” Steve whispered. “I already know you’re beautiful.”
It’s going to be like this always, Billy thought, and shivered. He nodded and Steve helped him peel off his t-shirt.
Billy still worked out now and then, especially when he was on edge. But he was softer than he used to be and his weight had bounced up and down a bit after periods when he didn’t want to eat followed by better days when he ate whatever Susan handed to him. His build wasn’t much more muscular than Steve’s. But Steve didn’t look disappointed. He bit his lip and sat back, straddling Billy who gripped the pillow behind his head, baring himself. The largest scar was a big jagged mess at his sternum and Steve pressed his hand to it, ducking down to lay kisses there, his fingers moving slowly down Billy’s chest.
When Steve enveloped a nipple with his lips, Billy gasped. His dick swelled uncomfortably in his jeans, and he scrambled to unzip them. But he kept stopping and starting, distracted by Steve’s mouth on him. Part of him felt desperate, as if this could all be over at any moment, but Steve kept whispering sweet things even as he licked and sucked at Billy’s pectorals, apparently obsessed with Billy’s nipples.
“We got time,” he said. “Not going anywhere…”
Billy shoved his jeans and briefs down to mid-thigh, and his cock sprang out between them, thick and pink. Steve sat back again. His mouth was swollen and red, and Billy reached up to touch it, pressing his fingers to those plush lips.
Steve kissed his fingers just as he took Billy’s cock in his hand. Billy hissed, and his hand shook. He nudged Steve’s mouth open with his thumb and Steve took his fingers between his lips, sucking at them as he stroked Billy who squirmed and whined beneath him, already overwhelmed.
Steve drooled and Billy watched him sloppily suck, saliva sliding down his chin. It all felt filthy and also painfully intimate. His fingers were wet now and Billy took them from Steve’s mouth, reaching down to stroke himself, lubricating himself a little. Steve moved away and Billy shut his eyes, his dick painfully hard. He stroked himself slowly and concentrated, not wanting to come yet. He wanted this to last as close to forever as possible.
Steve was yanking on his jeans, grumbling. He sounded so impatient and fevered, and Billy chuckled. When he opened his eyes, they were both naked and Steve was climbing on top of him again.
Steve’s body was no surprise. Billy had seen it dozens of times back in gym; had imagined how big that impressive dick might get in the right circumstance.
But Steve naked body on top of him was something else.
Steve stopped Billy from jerking off, taking his hand to kiss his fingers again. He pressed Billy’s arms back over his head and for a few moments, he just laid on top of him. Their cocks were both hard and pressed together between their stomachs as the two of them laid still, and Billy felt overwhelming want buzzing in his blood.
“God, you feel so good,” Steve said. He mouthed along Billy’s neck. Billy spread his legs and Steve shifted between his knees and moaned as their cocks rubbed up against each other. “I can’t believe this… I don’t even what to do first…”
Billy knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he met Steve’s gaze steadily.
Billy had fantasized about Steve fucking his thighs for about the last year. He’d fantasized about doing a whole lot of things naked with Steve Harrington, but this thought in particular shot to the top of the list as Steve writhed on top of him.
“Do you have any lube?” Billy’s voice came out high and cracked.
But it was Steve who blushed as he moved, nodding his head. “Yeah, um...okay.” He looked so shy about it, as if possessing lube was scandalous, but rubbing his cock up against Billy’s was not.
Cute, Billy thought.
Billy felt cold and bereft as Steve climbed off of him. He smirked, watching Steve’s pale ass as he crawled over to the nightstand, fumbling in a drawer. Billy smacked Steve’s butt, and Steve yelped, glancing at him over his shoulder.
“Y-you’re driving me crazy.”
Billy lay back, feeling delicious and sexy and like the entire world was in the palm of his hand. He reached down to lazily stroke himself again. “Ditto, pretty boy.”
Steve had lube and when he crawled back over, Billy grabbed for it and pushed Steve back on the bed, climbing on top of him this time.
Now that the moment was at hand, he felt unaccountably nervous.
Sex with two dudes was aberration enough in Hawkins, Indiana. What if Steve laughed when Billy suggested he fuck his thighs?
Billy straddled Steve. He winced. His cock throbbed every time he moved. Every time it touched Steve’s skin, he was sure he was about to come. His hands shook as he squirted lube into his hand and breathed deep as he reached down and stroked Steve’s impressive erection.
Steve moaned and Billy stroked him more determinedly, fascinated by the way his body moved and the way his eyes fluttered as he tipped his head back on the pillows.
“So uh, I want you to fuck my thighs?” Billy said.
It wasn’t the smooth, cocksure attitude he’d been going for.
“Oh, hell yes,” Steve said, and his voice cracked all over the place.
Billy grinned and pushed Steve’s knees apart before lying down on top of him, carefully positioning himself so that Steve’s cock nestled between his legs. They both groaned and Billy trembled. His own cock lay hard against Steve’s stomach. The slightest sensation was apt to make him come. He braced himself on his elbows and looked down at Steve, locking his ankles and squeezing his thighs around Steve’s dick.
“Oh!” Steve threw his head back. He clutched Billy’s shoulders and experimentally, he arched up into the tight heat of Billy’s thighs that flexed around him. “Oh, my...fuck!”
“Ah...yeah,” Billy breathed, and they both moved, finding a rhythm as Steve fucked between his legs, Billy’s cock finding friction against Steve’s stomach. “It’s...it’s better than I even... God…”
He mouthed at Steve’s throat, tongue kissing him under his ear, exploring every little bit of him he’d dreamed about for so long as Steve thrusted and gripped his shoulders hard enough to bruise, mumbling obscenities along with endearments.
“You feel so fucking good… I love you so much, baby…. Oh, shit…”
Billy moved faster against Steve, chasing his orgasm and making Steve gasp and moan with every movement until all at once Billy felt bliss; a blast that made him quiver and spill into Steve’s belly. He shook as the orgasm wracked his body and clenched around Steve who cried out, wildly pumping into his thighs, and Billy felt warm cum on his skin as Steve held onto him through the peak of his pleasure.
A few minutes later, Billy felt like he was still drifting back to earth.
“Holy…” Steve’s voice pitched up and down, raspy and shaky. Billy grinned, resting half on top of him. They were sticky and sweaty. The filth of it alone was a turn on, and Billy didn’t want to move.
But soon enough, Billy was sure, one or both of them would be ready for round two.
He kissed Steve’s neck, his tongue sneaking out to lick at his throat.
“Holy hell,” Steve said.
“Yeah, that was pretty good,” Billy said.
“Pretty good?” Steve gaped at him.
“It was awesome.” Billy turned Steve’s head and kissed him.
“Is this part in your comic?” Steve said. He giggled and beamed at Billy.
“It’s not a porno,” Billy rasped. He pressed his ear to Steve’s chest, feeling his laugh travel through his body.
“I can’t wait to read the whole thing,” Steve said. “I can’t wait for…”
Billy sank his teeth into Steve’s skin, biting gently until he whimpered. “Can’t wait for what, huh?”
“I can’t wait for tomorrow,” Steve whispered. “Tomorrow with you. And the next day. Forever with you.”