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Yourself or Someone Like You

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Yourself or Someone Like You

by halfempty

 

Chapter One

 

Welcome to where time stands still
No one leaves and no one will
Moon is full, never seems to change
Just labeled mentally deranged
Dream the same thing every night
I see our freedom in my sight
No locked doors, no windows barred
No things to make my brain seem scarred
Sleep my friend and you will see
That dream is my reality

- ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium),’  Metallica

 

July 1986

Hawkins, Indiana

 

July in Hawkins sucked ass; it was really no surprise. It sucked just as much as the last nine months had.

Billy hadn’t gotten up to much during his time in Hawkins. It kind of felt like there was a curse over the town or something; bad shit had been happening to him ever since the first goddamn week when Max’d gone ballistic on him and shot him full of some mystery drugs. He’d never gotten to find out what they were; it wasn’t like he was going to ask her how or why she’d gotten a hold of some powerful potent shit, hanging out with her faggot friends and Steve fucking Harrington. He couldn’t believe he’d even thought for two seconds that he could ever actually be friends with Harrington.

Billy didn’t know how to have friends, anyway. It didn’t matter. He only had two regrets, if you wanted to know about it: he regretted that he hadn’t been able to punch Harrington in his goddamn face some more. The other regret was going home at all after he’d gotten up from his little dalliance with Steve and the fag tribe back in November. He’d woken up passed out in some bushes and he guessed Harrington had hawked his fucking car for God-knows-what and then parked it all crazy in the driveway. Maxine hadn’t gotten home until the morning either; God knows what the fuck she’d been doing and they’d caught holy hell from both their parents. Susan wasn’t mean like Billy’s dad but man was she a screamer. It’d really been quite a lovely time in the Hargrove-Mayfield household. Max’d been grounded for two months until it was lifted for her stupid Snowflake Ball. Billy’d been grounded until forever, apparently. It was an ongoing process.

Getting grounded was for the birds, but there was fuck-all to do in Hawkins, anyway. His dad actually hadn’t beat the shit out of him for not bringing Max home all night and Billy didn’t really feel the need to give him a reason. He’d kept his head down for the most part and he and Max literally hadn’t spoken two words to each other until after Christmas when Billy was graced with the great chore of giving her rides again.

He joined the basketball team in January and spent a lot of afternoons after practice fucking around with Tommy Hall, who was a total piece of shit but usually had weed. Weed was the drug of choice in Hawkins; it was so sad.

In March he went and got himself a job working at a car garage. There were only two mechanics in town: Billy’d gone to both of them and had picked the one who’d had the best tools. His boss was a guy named Hank and he owned Hawkins Auto with his faggot brother who did the books. Hank was a fat fuck but he was turning out to be an all right boss; he liked what Billy could do and basically left him alone. Billy was good with cars; he understood them. His uncle’d taught him to change a tire when he was nine and he’d been learning as much shit as he could ever since. He’d turned eighteen in February so by now he knew a lot of shit.

So that’d been his nine months in Hawkins: basketball and smoking shitty weed with Tommy, working at the garage. He hadn’t even dated any girls; he hadn’t been with anybody since that whole mess with Tracey back in Riverside. He’d fucked up so bad with Tracey and he didn’t like thinking about it, how he’d acted. Maxine and her goddamn mouth. All the girls in Hawkins were sluts or stuck up bitches like Harrington’s ex Nancy Wheeler anyway; Billy didn’t need to bother with them. The only stuck up bitch he needed to bother with was Maxine. He spent a lot of time running all over the goddamn town to pick Max up when she needed a ride home from her fucking brat friends’ houses.

The kids were a goddamn mess. Billy thought Max was for shit and he couldn’t clean up after her all the time. She was still running around with that Sinclair kid and it was only by the grace of God that Billy’s dad hadn’t seen her with him yet. Billy knew Max thought he was a giant asshole about Sinclair, and he was a giant asshole about Sinclair, but she didn’t understand about Billy’s father. It was going on four years now and she still didn’t understand Billy’s father. She didn’t understand the rules. Billy didn’t know how she didn’t understand the rules; she had seen enough of what would happen to you if you broke them. She was definitely going to understand them if Neil ever caught her hanging out with Sinclair or making eyes at Sinclair.

It was the going into July now and Billy’d already got the holy shit kicked out of him twice by his dad since just June. School was out for the year but not for Billy; he’d failed most of his classes the second semester, skipping with Tommy Hall. He was already supposed to be a senior and he couldn’t be held back again.

It was really shaping up to be a great summer: Neil’d already screamed his head off about both Max and Billy’s report cards the week school was letting out. Susan fluttered around him in her usual way like a nervous bird, telling him it was okay and that the kids were adjusting and that Max would do better next year. When the final word had come in and Billy’d told him he’d have to either do a repeat or take summer classes Neil had gone fucking ballistic on him; it was about what Billy’d expected. Frankly he was surprised he’d even made it to the summer courses after the beating he’d got. Summer school in Hawkins cost money and they were already having trouble keeping up with the mortgage.

“You know, maybe if you hadn’t sold our goddamn house you wouldn’t have to worry about a mortgage,” Billy’d said. That’d started the ass-kicking and he’d almost welcomed it. Billy knew better than to run his mouth off to his dad but he couldn’t help it; that house in Cali had been his mom’s parents house. It was his mom’s house and she didn’t owe any money on it. His dad was a goddamn idiot for giving it up. It was his mom’s house.

“You disrespectful shit, you don’t know anything about it,” Neil said and slapped him in the face like he was a bitch. Billy’s head cracked against the wall.

“Know enough about it.”

Neil grabbed his by the collar of his jacket and shook him a little. “That’s real funny, your report card says you don’t know shit,” he said. He slammed Billy up against the basement door; Billy flopped like a fish. He was bigger than his dad now and he’d been bigger than him for a while but he always turned into a goddamn rag doll around his father.

You don’t know shit,” Billy gritted out. He couldn’t help it. It was always easier not to talk back but his dad had had to mention the goddamn house and get Billy’s mom into his head.

Neil wailed on him for a while; Billy took it like usual. Max came out of her room halfway through with an empty drinking glass and stood in the kitchen doorway with her eyes getting bigger and bigger. She’d seen Billy’s dad smack him around before but it hadn’t really gotten bad like this since that time back in Cali. Neil saw Max watching them and he started to wail on Billy even more; it was clearly a real fun game for him. He asked Max if she understood what happened here in this house if you were disrespectful; he beat the holy shit out of Billy until Max’s face was bright red and she was screaming and screaming that she understood.

Billy’d gotten thrown down the basement steps: actually if you wanted to get technical about it he and his dad had kinda broken the door shoving each other around. Mostly Neil had done the shoving; Billy was the one who’d sailed down the steps like he was in a goddamn cartoon. He’d landed bad on his side with his arm crumpled up under him; there was a huge reverberating snap! that echoed throughout his whole body under his skin and he’d known right away that it was broke. He was pretty sure he’d given out some kind of great of manly scream; for all the shit his dad had kicked out of him over the years, he’d never broken a bone before. Max’d come rushing around past Neil (definitely not a smart thing for her to do in Billy’s opinion) and thundered down the basement steps to help him up. Billy’s old man had told him to clean himself up in a real annoyed tone, like Billy’d spilled paint on himself or something. He went out and started his car up to take Billy to the hospital.

He’d got himself back up the stairs and stood leaning against the kitchen counter and cradling his arm against his chest; Max had fluttered around him like her mother and turned the sink on and gotten him a wet rag for his face. It wasn’t a rag; it’d been Susan’s best dish towel. Billy silently apologized to her in his head. Max’d helped him wipe most of the blood off his face; she didn’t have to do that. He said thanks to her and went out to the car with his dad. Neil gave him one of his roundabout apologies like he usually did after he’d kicked the shit out of Billy. The apologies usually amounted to him saying that he didn’t understand why Billy had to go and piss him off. Billy didn’t know why either; he’d been pissing his dad off just about his whole goddamn life.

The worst part of it hadn’t been the broken arm or Maxine seeing. It hadn’t even been his dad mentioning his goddamn mom’s house. The worst part had been after the whole thing, driving back after he’d got his arm set. Billy’s dad told him that he’d pay for summer school and that Billy could owe him. He said, “You have got to do better, kid. You can’t be so irresponsible. You know what your mother would think? She’d be so damn disappointed in you; she taught you better,” and Billy had to look away from him and out the window because he knew his old man was right. His old man was always right about him.


 

So it was the fourth of July now; July 4th was a huge deal in the great patriotic town of Hawkins apparently. Billy hadn’t even had classes today and at work Hank’s faggot brother had swept in like a fairy wearing a bandana with an American flag on it; Billy was real proud of himself for not puking on him or making any shitty comments.

Hank paid him and let him go around six. When Billy got home his dad was still gone for the week on his sales calls and Max and Susan were in their little kitchen making dinner. “You want to eat with us, Billy?” Max asked him.

“Yeah, sure, I guess,” Billy said. He was kind of hungry after all. They’d gotten food at work but Hank’d looked so gross eating eighteen chicken wings and thirty goddamn hot dogs while his brother pranced and floated around the shop that Billy was pretty sure he was never gonna want any barbecued food again. “You guys need me to do something?”

Susan looked real happy with the two of them getting along and asked him if he’d put plates out; Billy went and did it. He and Max weren’t magical best friends now but they had been getting along better for the last week at least, since the second time Billy’s dad had kicked the shit out of him. He’d kicked the shit out of him because of Max and Billy’d let him do it. He guessed Maxine thought she owed him now or some shit; he didn’t mind her thinking that since she was pissing him off a whole lot less now because of it.

It wasn’t really Max’s fault but it had been because of her. It’d been last week on Friday night; Billy’d came home from work a little late. He’d smoked a joint with Tommy Hall who was in summer school with him too and he’d been pretty high once he came home. He was pretty high so even though his dad was home too he’d parked himself in front of the TV instead of going right on to his room. His dad stayed in the kitchen heating up dinner for himself, and he only came out one time to give Billy a dirty look and warn him to take his feet off of Susan’s coffee table.

Billy took his feet off of Susan’s coffee table and kept watching TV. Scooby-Doo was on TV so he felt pretty good; man he’d watched this shit with his mom all the time when she’d gotten sick the first time and had been home a lot. Billy let himself think about his mom for a little while. Shitty Hawkins weed made him real whimsical, he guessed. He was still watching cartoons and thinking about his mom when Max came home, covered in dirt like a Garbage Pail Kid with her skateboard tucked up under her arm.

Billy’s dad came back out of the kitchen and he went on the offense right away. Billy guessed he must’ve thought Maxine had been home already or something. He asked Max just where the hell she’d been and for some reason Max looked at Billy real quick. Billy was pretty sure that meant that she’d been with Sinclair and she didn’t want Billy to open his mouth; maybe she was getting a little smart if she didn’t want Billy to open his mouth.

Billy wasn’t going to open his mouth; firstly, Scooby-Doo was still on, and secondly, Billy’d be deader than a doornail if he ever let his old man know that his darling stepdaughter was running around town with a dirty nigger. All niggers were dirty niggers if you asked Billy’s dad, and you didn’t even need to be black to be called a dirty nigger, you just had to piss Billy’s dad off at the right time.

Billy kept on watching the TV as Neil crossed the room to go holler at Max some more. Max hunched against the doorframe like a scared rabbit. She was probably still pretty freaked out from seeing Billy go flying down the stairs the other week. She told Neil she had just been out with the guys and Billy knew right away it was the wrong thing for her to say. She shoulda said she was at the weird girl Ellen’s house or made up a lie or something.

Neil grabbed Max’s arm; it was probably the first real time he’d actually grabbed her since he’d married Susan. Susan wasn’t home, she was out getting groceries. Billy was pretty sure his old man felt like a real tough guy in charge of the house. “Fourteen years old and already running around with a pack of boys,” Neil said. It was the wrong thing for her to have said.

Billy wasn’t watching them. He was really trying hard not to watch them. They were standing right by the door by the TV, though, and he couldn’t help but look at them. Max screwed her face up and scowled at Billy’s dad; it was the wrong thing to do too since he already had her arm. “They’re just my friends!” she said.

“Oh, yeah, they’re your friends, yeah,” Neil said. He still had ahold of Max’s shoulder and he pushed her up against the wall, real hard. “I’m sure they’re your friends. I’m sure they loved keepin’ you out past nine o’clock doing god knows what to you.”

Max stared past him and didn’t say anything; she must have been learning from Billy after all. Her hair had come out of her ponytail when Neil had shook her and it was splayed all around her face, falling over one eye. It did something to Billy; he didn’t know what but it did something. He and Max weren’t related and she wasn’t his sister but people always said they kinda looked alike anyhow. It was weird. Max had red hair like his mom and like him. She looked kinda like his mom or something right then, her face turned away and blank and Neil’s goddamn arm around her goddamn shoulder. It just did something to Billy. He said, “Dad, come on.” He sat up on the couch.

“Stay out of this, Bill,” Neil told him. Then he pushed Max into the wall again. Her head lolled and she looked even more like Billy’s fucking mom.

Dad,” said Billy.

Neil looked back at him over his shoulder and his face was filled with fury; Billy could never get over the fact that his father could just look at him and get pissed the fuck off. He turned back to Max. “Actually,” he said, and he was real happy to say it, “let me use my goddamn faggot of a son as an example. Do you know what happens to little girls when they hang out with boys after dark? Do you remember what Billy did?”

Billy didn’t really understand how he could be a goddamn faggot and at the same time still be a poster boy for warning off girls in the night. He wasn’t a faggot; he wasn’t a goddamn queer like his dad said, but there was something wrong with him anyway and his dad had always known it. He’d always known it and he knew just what to say to dig at it, to pick at what was wrong in Billy. He was gonna open it up like an old sore that’d crack and bleed everywhere. Billy wasn’t gonna let him open it tonight, he was not fucking going to open it. Anyway he was pretty sure Max remembered what he’d did. She’d told on him.

“I remember,” Max said. She was still looking past Neil and her eyes were locked on Billy’s now. Fuck if she didn’t look just like his mom.

Neil grabbed her face so she’d look at him and not at Billy; that was a reminder too. “Do you want something like that to happen to you?” he asked her. He was being real rough and Billy couldn’t take it. He’d been taking it. Billy didn’t care about Max but he’d seen Neil grab his mom like that his whole life. Max looked so much like his mom right then; her whole face fit in Neil’s hand. It was probably because he was high but Billy thought it was gonna break her and it made him real scared real fast. He got up off the couch and shoved at his dad. It was probably the first time he’d shoved his dad back in years and years.

“Jesus, get the fuck off her!” he said. It was the first time he’d told his dad what to do in years and years, too. “Look, she was at the library, okay, I forgot to go and get her. She’s fucking covering for me, leave her the fuck alone.”

Neil was always ready to kick the shit out of him but he took pause at this new information. Now he actually looked overjoyed at the prospect of beating the shit out of Billy some more. “Is this true, Maxine? Were you lying for your brother?”

Max looked back and forth between them; she had red marks on her cheeks where Neil had grabbed her face. Billy remembered those marks too.

She was deciding what to do. Billy shook his head at her; if his dad found out he was lying for her it’d be worse for both of them. Max decided. “I … didn’t want to get him in trouble again,” she said slowly.

Billy’s dad’s face cracked in glee; he looked like a goddamn maniac. He’d already lost his temper on Maxine but Susan wasn’t gonna yell at him for wailing on Billy. He whirled around and punched Billy in the stomach; Billy hadn’t been expecting it and double over right away. Neil grabbed him by his hair and threw him into the wall. “Your sister’s fourteen and you’re letting her walk home at night?” he cried in almost euphoric glee; Max had really gotten him into a mood. “What did we just talk about?”

Billy didn’t answer so Neil kicked him in the stomach right where he’d hit him; he was real good at calculating what would hurt the most. “Being irresponsible,” Billy gritted out.

Neil kicked him again. “And what can’t we do in this house?”

Billy’d already resigned himself to the ass-kicking but he didn’t want his arm to get more fucked up. He curled in around himself. “Can’t be irresponsible.”

What?

“Can’t be irresponsible, sir.

Billy’s dad straightened up and looked at Max. “I really hate to do this to you,” he said to her. “I really hate to show this to you again. I thought you understood last week. I really did. Do you understand yet how things work in this house?” He kicked Billy again.

“I UNDERSTAND!” Max screamed; she was real good at going from zero to hysteria in two seconds. “I UNDERSTAND, DON’T HURT HIM.” She was real worked up over him; Billy remembered he’d been kind of touched by it after he’d stopped seeing stars. Billy’s dad kicked the shit out of him for a couple minutes; it actually wasn’t as long as usual. Probably he was tired from acting like such a nice guy at work all week. After a couple of minutes he got sick of it and left Billy in a crumpled heap on the floor. He told Max to go and clean herself the fuck up and went off to go and eat his dinner.

Max’d helped Billy up for the second time in a goddamn week. Her eyes were big and crazy and scared; she looked just like his goddamn mom helping him up when he’d been a kid. “He’s crazy,” she whispered.

“You just now learning this?” Billy asked her. His mouth was bleeding again and he didn’t know why. He guessed he’d hit it on the wall or some shit.

“Thanks for doing that for me.” Max was staring and staring at him with her eyes all wide; it made Billy feel weird. He didn’t like it when people looked at him too long, really looked at him. They’d know everything, not just what he wanted them to see.

“Didn’t do it for you,” Billy said, which made no sense anyway. He stormed past her as best he could and went to his room; he was still kinda hunched over so it wasn’t his greatest exit.

That’d been last week though and Max had been real nice to him ever since. She’d even made brownies the other day and left him three instead of taking all of them to her faggot friends; they’d been the end pieces which were the best ones. She was clearly trying to appeal to Billy’s softer side even if he didn’t know why they hell she’d want to.

Max and Susan and Billy all ate dinner together; it was always better when Neil wasn’t there. Susan even cooked better when Neil wasn’t there, in Billy’s personal opinion. Neil and Susan’d moved out here to work on their marriage; it wasn’t the real reason why but it was part of it, and the small town wasn’t doing them any good. Anyway Neil wasn’t home right now and no one mentioned him. “What are you kids doing tonight, you going to see the fireworks at the baseball field?” Susan asked them.

Max and Billy both rolled their eyes at each other. They weren’t kids, and fireworks were for lame babies. Either way it was still only Wednesday night and there wasn’t shit else to do. Susan smiled at them rolling their eyes. “I don’t know what I’m doing yet,” Max said. She was looking at Billy out of the corner of her eyes which meant she wanted a ride somewhere.

“Take ya to see ‘em if you want,” Billy said. She hadn’t been an asshole to him all week so he could return the favor. Anyway he didn’t want to sit at home tonight; probably Tommy Hall would be there and maybe Billy’d finally find someone who had some goddamn coke in this town.

Max beamed at him; it made him feel weird. “Okay, thanks!” she said. They finished eating dinner and then Max and Billy brought their dishes into the kitchen and helped Susan clean up. Max washed the dishes and Billy dried them and handed them to Susan who put them away.

Susan was frowning like a mom. She wasn’t Billy’s mom, mind you, and she was a dumb bitch but she wasn’t a cunt. She was all right. “I just don’t understand what could have happened to my good dish towel,” she said. Max made a great face and caught Billy’s eye; Billy almost fucking laughed. He was pretty sure Susan’s good dish towel was still somewhere on the floor of Hawkins General. It was pretty fucked up that they were laughing about Billy’s dad beating the shit out of him but maybe it was better than not laughing.

He and Max watched MTV for a while; they both thought that new AD/DC song ‘Who Made Who’ was pretty bitchin’. It was gonna start getting dark soon so eventually they stopped fucking around and got into Billy’s car. They drove to the baseball field; Billy was pretty sure everyone in the damn town was here. “Meet me back at ten and don’t be late,” he told Max.

“Okay, sure,” Max said. She was already scanning the crowd and not paying attention to him; Billy was still pretty sure he was for shit to her compared to Sinclair and the rest of the brat pack no matter how many beatings he’d take for her.

Billy smoked his cigarettes and wandered around until he found a couple of kids from school. Tommy Hall was fucking around with a couple of juniors in Billy’s year; still no one had any coke and Billy silently lamented his entire existence. Billy drank a beer and smoked a joint with Carol and Tommy. They were always good for beers and smokes but they were literally the dumbest people on the planet; put them together and they had maybe a combined three brain cells. Billy was glad they were graduating and he wouldn’t have to see them again.

“Did you see Harrington and his group of faggots earlier?” Tommy asked Carol. She laughed like he’d said something hilarious.

Billy wished that Tommy wouldn’t talk about Harrington all the time. He kind of already thought about Harrington too much anyway and he didn’t need anybody else mentioning him. He’d mostly gotten over it but it was hard not to think of the guy who’d kicked off his bad luck in Hawkins. He’d noticed Harrington right away and he didn’t know why. It was that part of him that was fucked up inside; he’d wanted Harrington to notice him and he hadn’t. He was used to that shit too.

Tommy and Carol split the rest of their joint and laughed and talked shit on Harrington for a while; Billy drank the rest of their beers and didn’t talk much. After January had came around gym classes had switched; Billy wasn’t a senior like the rest of them so he really hadn’t even seen Steve around much. He’d seen him just a couple of times since then when he’d been driving Max around somewhere. Harrington was usually with the most annoying of Max’s brat pack, that kid Henderson, and he always looked like he was having a grand old time at the arcade with a bunch of middle schoolers. He was so goddamn queer and Billy didn’t get him. He shouldn’t be thinking about him at all.

The fireworks were pretty nice or whatever and they lasted a long time; over an hour. Tommy and Carol stared at them with their mouths open and Billy cracked himself up, thinking about them catching flies in their mouths. Maybe Tommy’d choke on one and he wouldn’t be able to cry over Harrington anymore. Billy was a little high again so it was real funny to him. With his last dying breath Tommy’d wheeze out that Steve was a faggot. Then the fly would come out and go on its way.

Billy left without saying goodbye to them once the festivities died down; it was definitely after ten and Max wasn’t waiting at his car like she’d said. Neil wouldn’t be home so Billy didn’t need to worry about him flipping his shit again, but the baseball stadium was kind of far from their house and Max didn’t have her board. He decided he’d give himself ten minutes to look for her and if he couldn’t find her she was fucked.

He walked back through the groups of people exiting the baseball field and checked the bleachers again for Max. Really he was looking for any of the brat pack; find one and you found them all, usually.

He spotted the little faggy Byers kid walking with a soda; he was not with his equally faggy brother who’d stolen Harrington’s girlfriend so he was probably hanging with Max and the Garbage Pail Kids. Billy could have said hey but he didn’t; he just started following the kid. The kid was drinking his soda and singing ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ by The Clash; they were all right. He followed Byers across the baseball field and past an empty lot and then into the woods on the other side of Main Street.

The whole brat pack was there and they were having a campfire; it looked like a real sweet old time. Max was sitting next to Sinclair and annoying ass Henderson was there too and so was Wheeler Jr and his sister Nancy and Steve Harrington, of course. Billy wondered if they’d gotten back together. That girl Eileen or Ellen was there too; she was real small and always got lost in a crowd, even if it was just a couple of people. He’d seen her a couple of times when he’d been dropping Maxine off somewhere. She was sitting by Wheeler Jr and everyone was laughing. They had their little campfire going and there were a bunch of sparklers, those cheap little fireworks sticks you could buy for a dime, floating around in the air by the fire, flickering pink and blue and purple.

“WHAT THE FUCK,” Billy said. Clearly he was higher than he thought.

The sparklers instantly fell to the ground and everyone immediately started screaming; the brat pack was real good at that, Billy’d learned over the last couple of months. “Billy!” Max yelled. She looked all surprised like she hadn’t been meant to meet him twenty minutes ago. “What are you doing here?”

Henderson was yelling his fat head off and Sinclair was looking scared of Billy like usual. It brought Billy such joy. Wheeler Jr grabbed at that Ellen girl like she was pet or something and glared at Billy. “What are you doing here?”

“Picking up my fucking sister,” Billy told him. He definitely was pretty high; he hadn’t even said stepsister. “What the hell are you doing here? What the hell was that?”

“NOTHING!” everyone yelled like crazy people; Billy guessed they didn’t want him to know they were all fucking magicians or some shit. Sinclair grabbed Max’s hand. He was being real brave. He said to her, “You’ve got to get him out of here!”

“Sinclair, you got something to say to me?” Billy asked him. Sinclair stared at him like a deer in a pair of headlights. Harrington was staring at him too; he had his arm around Nancy Wheeler’s shoulder all protective.

Max was standing up and letting go of Sinclair’s hand. Billy could hear his dad instantly howling in rage about the goddamn niggers far away in whatever fuckin’ state he was in. “It’s fine,” Max was saying to Sinclair and the guys; Henderson was still yelling his head off. “Shut up, oh my god, I didn’t think he’d come looking for me!” She turned to Billy and started stalking past him. Billy didn’t move right away. He was still staring down Sinclair, so Max wound around and grabbed his hand, the bad one with the cast on it. “Come on, let’s go.”

Billy let her drag him off. He didn’t feel like fighting seven people (eight if you count Max; and three of them were girls and you couldn’t hit girls); he didn’t want Harrington or Max or whoever it’d been to shoot him full of those mystery drugs again. Actually he did want the mystery drugs but he still had to drive Max and himself home. He let Max drag him out of the woods and then he shook his hand out of hers. “The fuck was that, what the fuck was going on?”

“What are you talking about?” Max asked in her hysterical high voice; Billy had a deep sense of foreboding that she was gonna start a whole new round of womanly screaming very soon.

“Those fucking – lights or whatever,” Billy said anyway. “How’d you guys do that?”

Max rounded on him and her eyes flashed like fire in the streetlights. “Nothing, we didn’t, you can’t say anything!” she said.

“What the fuck,” Billy said. He said again, “How’d you do it?”

“It was just a trick.” Max was stomping ahead of him towards the parking lot. “You seriously can’t say anything.”

Billy rolled his eyes after her; no matter what it’d been it, wasn’t that cool. “Who the fuck would I say it to?”

“It doesn’t matter!” Max had reached his car and her eyes were spitting fire again; so much for her goodwill towards him or whatever the fuck it was lasting. “You said you’d leave my friends alone!”

“Jesus Christ, Max, chill your fucking roll,” Billy said. “I could seriously care less about what you faggots do, take a breath.”

He and Max got into the car and she kept staring at him. She stared at him as he started the Camaro up and kept staring at him all the way down Main Street and after they’d turned onto Broad. “I’m serious, Billy,” she said. “You can’t tell anyone.”

“Do you not hear me?” Billy asked her. “I. Could. Care. Less.”

Max slammed herself back into the seat and scowled over the dashboard. “Fine,” she said.

“Fine,” Billy mimicked her; she scowled again. Billy drove them home.


 A couple of day went by and Max was still acting weird as shit. She spent all the next day whispering on her phone and whispering on her damn walkie talkie that Sinclair had given her and making weird eyes at Billy. Billy went to class and to work and ignored her mostly. After a couple of days she calmed down and started acting real nicey nice to him again. Billy almost forgot about the incident. If it had even been an incident really; he’d been real fucking high off shitty Hawkins weed. Maybe he was just imagining things and the kids had just been being their damn weird selves.

Billy finally gave in and bought a new battery for his car; it’d been having problems for a while but he’d been putting it off since he was giving most of his checks to his dad. Everyone in Hawkins thought he had a real great car but that was only because he’d fixed it up with his uncle. Billy loved his car but she was a real piece of work; she was ten years old now and he’d changed most of the paneling and her doors himself. He took the Camaro to the garage and he and Hank had to change some wires in her so he left her there overnight. He felt real mournful walking home without her. She was his only girl here in Hawkins.

In the morning he walked himself to his summer class – it took fucking forever and he felt like he was on Little House on the Prairie or some shit; Susan was always killing him and Max watching it and talking about Michael Landon – and then when class was over he started walking himself down to the garage. Once he got to Broad Street, Steve Harrington drove by in his fucking BMW and stared at him. Then he turned around back on the street and started following him in his car.

“Hey man,” he said. He had his stupid plastic sunglasses on and a collared shirt and tie and just looking at him made Billy feel pissed off. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

“I gotta get to work,” Billy said.

Harrington kept driving next to him all slow. “Just for a second.” Billy kept walking and Steve kept driving next to him.

Billy counted to ten in his head, two times so he wouldn’t start wailing and beating on Harrington’s car with his cast. He turned and jumped in front of Harrington’s car and Harrington screeched on his brakes. He looked all startled even though he’d been going like four miles an hour. Billy came around to the passenger side and wrenched the door open. “Whatdya want?”

Harrington stared at him; his expression was unreadable with his stupid glasses. “I want to talk to you,” he said again. “Just get in.”

Billy eyed him for a moment. Harrington just kept staring at him. After another minute Billy got in the car. “I don’t really think you and me have got anything to talk about.”

“It’ll just take a minute,” Harrington said. He put his car back into drive. He said, “Look, about what you saw the other night – “

“What, you and your little pedo ring?”

“Jesus!” Harrington made a great face at him. “No, you asshole! God. Why do you have to be such a piece of shit all the time?”

Billy counted to ten again in his head; he literally hadn’t said shit to Harrington in eight months. “Well, it’s what I do best,” he said.

Steve looked annoyed; his mouth turned down like he was smelling dog shit. Cow shit, really, since they were out in bumfuck nowhere. It was a great look for him. “Look,” he said. “I really don’t want to waste my lunch hour talking to you. I just need to make sure you’re not going to tell anyone what you saw.”

“Did I see somethin’?” Billy asked him, real sweet.

“Jesus,” Harrington said. “Look, Max told me that you guys were cool now. She said you’ve always been a fucking asshole, but you weren’t always so damn angry all the time. She said you weren’t going to run your mouth and I need to know that you’re cool.”

Billy didn’t answer him for a moment. He felt kind of pissed off that Max had been telling Harrington shit about him, that he was always an asshole. He wasn’t always an asshole. It’s not like he and Max had ever been real close but they’d known each other for going on four years now; shit hadn’t really gotten bad with them until all that bullshit had happened back in Riverside and Max had squealed on him for what he’d done to Tracey. Billy’d used to take Max out places; he’d watched her for a fucking week when their parents had gone off on their honeymoon. He’d even let her drive his goddamn Camaro in a parking lot, not too long after he’d bought the car when he was sixteen. “What else did my lovely sister tell you about me?”

Harrington just stared at him steadily. “She told me you took the fall for her with your dad the other week,” he said. He stared at Billy some more; he was looking at all of him and it made Billy feel weird as shit. “She told me you were looking out for her. Your dad break your arm while he was beating on you?”

Billy was going to kill Max; he was going to do it slow; he was gonna get real creative with it. He couldn’t believe Max’d told Steve Harrington that his dad had busted his arm. “The fuck he did,” Billy scoffed. “She’s a goddamn liar, I broke it fucking around at work.”

Steve didn’t say anything; he was staring at Billy all unreadable again with his fucking sunglasses. “What?” Billy said.

“Nothing!” Steve said; he sounded weird. “Look, I just – okay, the kids wouldn’t leave me alone until I talked to you about El. I need you to tell me you’re not going to tell anyone what you saw El do.”

“What the fuck am I gonna say, and to who?” Billy demanded. “What, I’m gonna tell my boss I saw a little kid do a goddamn magic trick?”

They were stopped at the red light to turn onto Main and Steve took off his stupid sunglasses finally and looked at him; he looked real serious. “Anyone, anything,” he said. “Anyone weird who asks you about El.”

Billy stared back at him. “You know, I wouldn’t even fucking know it was Ellen ‘til you just ran your goddamn mouth off.”

Steve’s mouth went slack. “Oh,” he said. “Well. Shit. Shit, you didn’t know it was her?”

Jesus, Harrington might actually be as stupid as Tommy Hall. No wonder they’d palled around for years before Harrington’d decided to go queer off with a bunch of fourteen-year-olds. “Max didn’t say shit about her,” he told Steve. “That’s all you, man.”

“Shit!” Steve said. “Okay, well look, you definitely can’t say anything about her. All right?”

“Whatever,” said Billy. He really didn’t give a goddamn about that weird little girl; the only way he’d ever care about her was if she brought him some fucking coke or something, then he’d give her a goddamn hug and a cookie and braid her fucking hair. “What’s her deal, anyway?”

“Shit if I know,” Harrington said. “I don’t … really know too much about it. You saw her. She can, like.” He paused and stared at Billy all crazy. “Move shit with her mind.”

“Okay,” Billy said. Maybe Harrington was the one in town with the whole stash of coke; he was obviously off his rocker and there was nothing no one could do to help him. It was really a damn shame. “That’s real cute, that is some cute Outer Limits shit. Are you done fucking with me, can I go now?”

“I’m not fucking with you!” Steve said. “You think I give a shit about you? I don’t.”

“I don’t give a shit about you either.”

“Great!”

“Fine!” Billy said.

Someone honked behind them; Harrington made a real cute annoyed sound and floored it. They roared down Main Street and Harrington slammed his brakes on in front of the auto shop. Then he turned and stared at Billy again. “Look, man, I don’t give a shit what you do, beat my ass again, just fucking say you’re not gonna say shit and I’ll leave you alone.”

Billy reached out and grabbed Harrington’s face with his bad arm; Harrington hissed away from him but Billy had him good. He leaned over and slammed Harrington’s head back against his seat. It hurt his arm but it felt so good too. “Not gonna beat your ass again,” he said. “Your face is too goddamn pretty to be worth it, I am so glad I didn’t leave any scars.”

Harrington stared at him; his face was filled with rage. “You’re an asshole,” he spit out.

Billy smiled at him again; he squeezed Steve’s face. It hurt his fingers real bad. “I told you, Harrington, it’s what I’m best at,” he said. “I won’t say shit about that girl. Now tell me you’re not doing anything fucked up to my sister.”

“Jesus, I’m not doing anything to her!” Harrington said. He looked really appalled. “She’s a kid, are you crazy?”

“The fuck am I supposed to think?” Billy spit out. He slammed Steve’s head back against the seat again. He didn’t care about Harrington but the whole situation with him was fucked; he still didn’t know why the hell Steve had been out with his kid stepsister all night after they’d only been in town for a week. He was about to ask Steve where the hell he’d got the drugs that Max had shot him up with but then Steve did grab his arm. He managed to twist his face away from Billy’s grip.

“It’s not like that,” Steve said. “She’s a kid! You know she’s with Sinclair, right?”

“Sinclair’s for shit.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I know all about what you think about Lucas.”

“You don’t know shit about what I think.”

Steve seemed to realize he was still holding onto Billy’s cast; Billy hadn’t realized it either. Steve dropped his hands. “Just get out of my fucking car.”

“Fuck you,” Billy said. He got out of the car. Steve didn’t drive away so Billy leaned over the window again. “Thanks for the ride, pretty boy.”

Steve just stared at him. “I’ll be watching you,” he said. He drove off all crazy like he was in Knight Rider.

Billy went into the shop and he and Hank fixed his car; he was real pissed off and after a couple minutes Hank got the message and stopped with his chatty bullshit. By the time they finished for the day it was getting dark. Billy thanked Hank for the work on his car and he went off and drove around looking for Max. He spotted her in one of the big windows of the arcade and laid on his horn until she looked up and saw him. Her face fell right away and that made him feel even more pissed off.

Max ran outside and came across the parking lot to his car. “What do you want?” she asked him. “I don’t have to be home til nine.”

“You and me gotta have a little talk,” Billy told her. Max rolled her eyes at him like a sullen princess and slumped against his door.

“What now, what’d I do now?”

“What the fuck did you say about me to Steve Harrington?”

Max wrinkled her nose up and bounced off herself up off his door. She leaned over into his window and looked at him. “I didn’t say anything to Steve about you!” she said.

“Like shit you didn’t. You tell him my dad broke my arm?”

What?” Max said. She looked taken aback and her eyes got big. “No! No, Billy, Jesus, I wouldn’t tell anyone that.”

Billy counted to ten in his head. “Okay, so why’s he know about it?”

“Ummm,” Max said. She chewed on her lip; that was her guilty face. “Okaaaay, well, he did ask me about you. It was awhile ago! It was a couple days ago. Mike and Dustin were bugging me and I promised them you weren’t going to say anything! I told them you were cool now and Steve asked me about your arm. I said you broke it falling down the basement; I didn’t say anything about Neil!”

“FUCK!” said Billy. Shit. Fuck. Harrington’d played him; now he probably really did know about Billy’s old man. He didn’t know why it mattered but Steve probably knew.

“Why?” Max was leaning into the car all interested; she smelled like cheese fries. “What did he say? Did he talk to you or something? We all yelled at him not to for like two hours.”

Great, cute, Harrington was real cute, so fucking cute. “Yeah he fucking talked to me,” Billy said. “He told me all about your magician friend Ellen, she do any more tricks for you?”

Max looked at him like he was an insane person, which he was not. He was clearly the only sane person in Hawkins. “You mean El?” she asked finally. “No, she – you can’t – “ Four words in and she’d already cranked her womenly hysteria up to an eight; she was pretty impressive.

“Oh my fucking god, I’m not going to say shit,” Billy moaned. “Okay, you know what, just – just go back inside, I’m tired of looking at your freckled face.”

“Really? You’re not going to make me go home?”

“I don’t care if you’re home,” Billy told her.

“Okay, fine.” Max straightened up and then looked at him all hesitant with her hands in her dumb green jacket. “You promise you won’t say anything about El?”

“I won’t say anything about El,” Billy repeated.

“Okay.” Max kept on looking at him and fiddling around in her jacket pockets. “So ... do you want to come in and hang out with us or something?”

Yep, he was the only sane person in Hawkins. “No, I don’t want to hang out with your faggot friends! Just fucking use the phone there and call me when you want me to get you, okay?”

“Okay.” Max just stood there looking at him; she didn’t even yell her head off about him calling her friends faggots like usual. She just kept on looking at him so Billy turned his car back on. He put it in drive and went home. No one was there at home so he laid on the couch for a while watching MTV and he thought about how much he hated Steve Harrington’s stupid, smug fucking face. He thought about his face for a long time.


 

A couple of weeks went by; Harrington really was being a huge homo freak and watching him all the time. For eight months Billy’d had nothing to do with him and now he saw Harrington everywhere he went. It was the curse of Hawkins coming back to haunt him, he was sure of it.

He came by the shop at least twice a week while Billy was in there and drove by looking at him. He came into the grocery store when Billy was there with Max and Susan and stood there staring at him (“Hey Steve!” Max said. Steve looked all shocked that she’d seen him, like he hadn’t been looming over the vegetable section all inept like Inspector Gadget. “Uh,” he said. “Hey Max.” He picked up a tomato and stared at it like it held the answers to the universe). Max and Billy played basketball out in their yard and Harrington drove by all slow with his faggy sunglasses and stared at them (“Hey Steve!” Max said. “Shit!” Steve said and popped his collar up and sank down in his seat. “Hey Max!”).

Friday night in Hawkins rolled around and left Billy with fuck-all to do as usual. It was getting towards the end of August now and he and Max had spent most of the week fucking around the house; doing their summer work for school and bitching about it at each other. He’d dropped Max off at the movie theater at noon and then drove down the main drag to the garage. He didn’t really have set hours during the week, especially in summer. If he needed him, Hank called him. Even so he came in most days anyway; Hank usually needed him. People in Hawkins were amazingly shit at taking care of their cars, it was great. Billy swore they got more business than out in Riverside; Hank didn’t believe him.

He went in and said hey to Hank. Hank was sitting at the service counter and eating something like usual. They fucked around with the radio for a long time (Billy felt like they were always fucking around with the radio for a long time; reception was for shit in the garage) and Hank showed him the orders from the morning. Hank shot the shit and made small talk while Billy looked through the orders. He could already tell Hank wasn’t going to let him do some of them on account of the arm. He guessed he was pretty lucky Hank hadn’t fired him or some shit.

Hank kept on talking. He talked a lot, Jesus could he talk a lot, but he never really got pissed off about anything, except for when he talked about football. Billy could understand. “Bad season for the Angels,” Hank said, shaking his head.

“You’re telling me, my old man’s one foul away from a goddamn coronary,” Billy said. Hank laughed.

He worked all day on the simple shit Hank was letting him do and then put in a couple extra hours, organizing all the junk in the back. It was an okay day; no one came in acting all clueless to piss him off. Hank had way more tools than Billy’d realized. They were all in disarray and it was a damn shame. Billy’d kill for that wrench set, he told Hank for the third or fourth time. He drove out to the next town over to pick up parts for the Pontiac that’d came in yesterday after he’d left; it was a gorgeous car. Mrs. Mercer came in at five to pick up her husband’s pickup and Billy leaned on the counter and turned on the charm; Hank laughed his ass off at him and went off to go fuck around in the back. Mrs. Mercer left giggling and blushing with her car keys. Married women were so damn fun.

Hank went across the street and bought him a sandwich from the general store; Billy told him thanks. He didn’t have to do that. Billy changed the tire on a Pinto while Hank ate more goddamn food and shook his head at him.

“You’re gonna rebreak your arm on that old jack, kid,” Hank said.

“I’m good.” Hank was still a fat fuck but he was nicer than Billy’s old man, not that that was a hard line to cross.

After a while longer Hank hung up his coveralls and keys at the door. He snapped his fingers along to the song ending on the radio; he’d been torturing Billy all goddamn day and playing POWER 99. “Don’t stay too late, Bill, it ain’t worth it,” he said. “We don’t do pick-ups on the weekend, ‘member?”

“Yeah, I know.” Billy was under the engine of a Chevy, dripping old oil into the filter pan. It wasn’t late at all, only past eight.

“Have a good night, kid. Have a night, anyway.” It was the first time Hank’d left him to stay late in the shop alone; Billy guessed he trusted him now or some shit.

Billy finished changing the Impala’s oil – he estimated the last time it’d been stripped had been right around ‘79, the year the car’d been made. He turned the radio up in the garage (he turned off fuckin’ POWER 99) and put the new windshield on the Acura waiting in the back. It only took him a couple minutes and Hank paid him by the job. Even so he was right and there was no point in staying all night when they didn’t do pickups on the weekend. Billy marked down what he’d done and hung his keys up too. He checked the keys twice and tidied up the front; there was no use in leaving shit a mess even though he’d probably be back before Hank. He was a decent boss, not like the piece of shit Billy’d worked with back in Cali, and this was a good job. He got into his Camaro and drove home.

The one saving grace of living in a middle-of-nowhere shithole town was that it meant his father had to travel further and further to do his sales calls. He’d been out on the road since Tuesday; even though he was probably done now Billy and Max’d figured he shouldn’t be home until at least Sunday morning. He’d been out for most of the summer really and only came home for a couple of days at the start of the week to scream his head off at everyone. Susan was off staying at her sister’s again a couple of towns over.

Back in Riverside Billy would’ve had a party and bribed Max with a Sade tape or a fuckin’ Madonna tape to keep her mouth shut. Here in Hawkins there wasn’t much point to it.

The house was all dark when he got home aside from a light on in Max’s room; Billy didn’t feel like messing with her. He sat on his bed and felt like a goddamn loser for a while; he could hear Max in her room, singing and playing her record player. She was probably reading her stupid comics that her dork friends had gotten her into.

He thought about stealing a beer from the fridge but decided against it. He wasn’t above drinking alone but he didn’t need Max squawking on him, not over his dad’s Miller Lite. He flexed his fingers and looked at the cast on his left arm; he had two weeks left to go and then he could start doing more shit around the shop again. He worked out for a while, the best he could with the stupid cast on anyway, then he got his shit out from under his bed and worked on his summer school work too like a fucking loser. He was still ignoring the math parts; summer reading was This Side of Paradise and he’d read that shit back in 10th grade in Cali. They were slow learners here in Hawkins. Not that that said shit for him, really, since here he was reading it again.

The shitty pop music in Max’s room came to an abrupt stop. Billy heard her yelping everywhere and then the door slammed a couple of times. Suddenly he could hear two voices out in the hallway; Max wasn’t alone like he’d thought. He knew right away it was Sinclair – it was always fucking Sinclair. Max was a goddamn idiot and she was playing with fire. She still didn’t understand the rules; she still didn’t understand Billy’s father.

Billy looked at the clock on his dresser; it was past ten now. Past ten and Max had goddamn Sinclair in the goddamn house. Billy counted to ten to calm himself down. He wasn’t her babysitter. He wasn’t supposed to watch her every moment, and if it was anyone else it’d be fine. Not fine but okay; Neil wasn’t home. Even so he could practically feel his father’s rage from across state lines or wherever the fuck he was. He’d literally kill Billy if he knew he’d let Max hang around with the negro in his house, doing god knows what at past ten on a Friday night. He’d kill Billy and Max and Sinclair and then drive their corpses around town to show what happens when you break the rules. He’d probably kill Linda too just for the hell of it.

He counted to ten again. He was trying, he was really trying. Max’d already shown that, time and time again, she wasn’t going to respond to him screaming his goddamn head off or threatening Sinclair. He wasn’t going to shake her goddamn arm off like his dad would, either. You couldn’t do that to girls, to women. He’d already lost his temper a couple of times and he felt like shit about it; he didn’t want to be like his old man. He counted to ten again, two more times. He looked at his book. He didn’t even care; he shouldn’t care.

Then suddenly his door was being thrown open and Max was storming in before Billy’d even figured out what he was going to do about her. Sinclair trailed after her like a neutered puppy. Billy had to hand it to her; Max had him pretty whipped.

“Billy!” Max said. “I need you to give us a ride somewhere!”

Billy didn’t look up from his book. He was still counting in his head. “I ain’t a cab service,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Please!” Max said. Half-yelled, really. “Come on, I’ll give you money!”

Billy slowly looked up from his book to gaze at her. Max faltered; it was almost funny. “I’ll – I’ll owe you, okay? Please!”

“You do realize you’re in the danger zone here,” Billy said. Max had thrown herself further across the threshold of the door and was standing all the way in his goddamn room now, not even looking like she feared for her life. She was standing on his jean jacket, crumpled on the floor. He looked back and forth between her and Sinclair, standing half in the room with his gaze rooted on the floor. “Fuck, Max. You are seriously, seriously asking for it. What exactly do you think you’re doing, running around with this – ”

“Oh my fucking god Billy, this is serious shit!” Max literally screamed like an insane person. “WE HAVE TO GO NOW! CAN YOU NOT BE A DICK FOR FIVE MINUTES AND GIVE US A RIDE OR NOT?”

“Fucking shit, Maxine! Do not fucking scream at me!” Billy exploded back. He sat up on his bed and stared at her until she held his gaze. She looked really freaked out; her eyes were huge in her pale freckled face. It made him feel weird. Kinda scared almost. He never knew what the kid was up to these days, who she was hanging around with. “Okay, all right. You need to tell me why this is serious shit if you think I’m gonna take you anywhere. What the fuck is going on?”

Max hesitated; her eyes roved all around the room. Sinclair put his hand on her arm. Billy stared at him like murder but he didn’t move his hand. “I … I can’t tell you,” she said finally.

“All right then.” Bill flopped back on his back and reached for his book again, real slow. “Well, I can’t help you. Sorry.”

“PLEASE!” Max started screaming her head off like an insane person again. Her face had turned red and she was getting tears in her eyes and shit too; Billy was very nearly affected. Fucking women.

Max kept screaming and enunciating her words all weird, same as Linda when she got worked up. She was really going. “THERE’S PEOPLE and we CAN’T FIND El! We have to get the SHERIFF! Dustin said that STEVE said there’s these men following – “

Billy stopped reaching for his book. “Okay, you freaks got Harrington into more of your shit again?”

“They were all at Mike’s house, it’s D&D night,” Sinclair explained.

“Oh, my god, Sinclair,” Billy said in thrall, “please tell me Harrington is playing D&D with you faggots every Friday night.” Sinclair shot him a massively impatient look. Billy managed to contain himself. “All right, all right, and you two are dicking around here because … ?”

Max’s eyes stopped roaming around and her gaze dropped to her sneakers. She didn’t say anything for a moment and then when she did her voice got quiet; she was all hoarse from her hysterical womanly screaming. “El still, El still doesn’t really like me. It’s Mike’s house and they’re, they’re like a thing, so...” She looked like a hurt animal.

Fucking Wheelers. “All right,” Billy said. “Look, you seriously gotta give me something to go on here, kid. Like, what fuckin’ men are you talking about? Is this like police shit? Drugs or something?”

Max and Sinclair did double takes and stared at him like he was the crazy person and not them, bursting into his room at ten at night screaming their heads off. “NO!” they said. Sinclair thought about it; he made a great face. “Well...” he said. Then he said, “No. No no. It’s not drugs. It’s … it’s … there’s these bad people looking for El. We need to be together. We have to find them. We always stick together.”

“That is really just the sweetest thing. You’re really swaying me here, Sinclair. You got me feeling real emotions.” Billy wiped away a couple of fake tears. Max looked super annoyed so Billy took his time and wiped away a few more. She was so goddamn easy.

Max turned to Sinclair and grabbed his hand. They gazed all deep into each other’s eyes. “Forget him,” Max said. “He’s not going to take us. I knew he wouldn’t. We can just, we’ll just go – “

“Oh my fucking god, I’ll take you!” Billy snapped. He thought about Harrington saying, Max said you were always an asshole and how pissed and weird he’d made him feel. Max and Sinclair stared at him with wide eyes. He didn’t need to see any more of their Love Boat shit; he was gonna puke everywhere in two more seconds. It’d been like a week since Harrington’d done one of his weird drive-bys anyway. Billy wouldn’t mind seeing him and pissing him off. “Jesus fuck, Max. I’m going to take you! If you get into any more bullshit I’m gonna get raked for it anyway! Let’s go, all right.”

He threw his This Side of Paradise book and stood up; Max fucking launched herself at him in a bear hug. “THANK YOU BILLY!” she positively screamed into the vicinity of his shoulder.

“FUCKOFFMYARM!” A stab of pain rippled through him.

Max let him go. She calmed her hysterics. “Sorry, sorry!”

They all hustled out of the house and down the driveway to his car; Max ran ahead of them and stood there pulling and shaking the shit out of his passenger side doorhandle like she could unlock it with sheer stupid will.

“Quit messing with my car!” Billy hollered at her. Sinclair was walking beside him and he clearly did not want to be: his shoulders were all hunched and he looked majorly uncomfortable. Billy stared down at him; Sinclair looked even more uncomfortable. It was kind of pissing Billy off: he had literally not fucking said a goddamn thing to the kid in months. He and Max had gotten seriously lucky that Neil hadn’t seen them together. “Okay, for serious. Does Harrington really fucking play D&D with you guys?”

The line in Sinclair’s shoulders eased out for some reason. “Yeah, sometimes.”

Life was so awesome. Life was grand; life was a picnic and Steve Harrington played Dungeons and Dragons on Friday nights. Apparently his other hobbies were being a fucking dork and driving around staring at Billy. “Such a gift you just gave me, Sinclair. A true, true gift, I’m going to remember this.”

Sinclair laughed suddenly, short and sharp. “You’re crazy,” he said.

“You’re the ones who’re screaming about bad people at fucking ten at night.” Billy unlocked his car; Max dove into the backseat like a crazy person avoiding a bomb. She’d still been jiggling the door handle like a piece of shit this whole time. “Maxine! This ain’t Knight Rider.” Sinclair slid into the car beside her and then they both stared at Billy from the backseat like twin raccoons; he could see their eyes all big and bright and shining in his rearview mirror. “Aw, what, nobody wants to sit up front with me? Where we headed?”

“Dustin said they were in the woods,” Sinclair said quietly. “He said by his house, I think. If you go up to Elm Street – “

“Are you kidding me? I’m not gonna go traipsing through the forest while you guys hold hands and – “

“BILLY!” Max screamed. “YOU SAID YOU WOULD TAKE US! THEY COULD BE HURT!”

“Oh Jesus Christ, all right.” Billy revved his engine over her hysterics; the car started roaring down Hill Drive. He guessed his English homework could wait so that he and Harrington could goddamn stare at each other in the forest as a bunch of brats screamed their crazy bullshit heads off. What the fuck did she mean, they could be hurt? He didn’t understand who’d want to hurt Harrington and a bunch of kids; even though he hated Steve he was pretty sure he was too much of a dork to really have a pedo ring. All of Max’s screaming and her huge hurt eyes were freaking him the fuck out.

They sped on in silence. The stereo in the car was still blasting from earlier; Billy didn’t bother to turn it down. He kept seeing Max’s big scared eyes in his mirror. Once Sinclair said, ‘If you turn up off Main – “

“I know where to go,” Billy said shortly. Sinclair fell silent and then no one said anything again for a while. Africa by Toto blared on the speakers; it felt like they were in a goddamn movie.

He turned off of Elm and got onto the state road. They roared past the houses and then the river, the other little general store on the outskirts of town. The powerlines gave way to clustered groups of trees and big shale slabs sloping down from the woods; they were really on the edge of town and Billy was starting to think that Max and Sinclair were fucking with him. He had no clue why they wanted him to drive out to the middle of the woods but they were probably fucking with him. He was about to turn back in his seat and start yelling at them when they turned up a hill in the road and saw the headlights of another car, parked all crazy on the wrong side of the road.

It was Harrington’s car; Billy knew that right away. He knew what Harrington’s fucking pristine BMW looked like first of off; he’d seen it enough over the last few weeks. Second of all Harrington himself was just standing out in the middle of the goddamn road like a maniac. Billy could see the outline of him, dark in the headlights. He knew what Harrington looked like, too.

“There!” Sinclair and Max screamed like Billy was a blind person who was gonna mow down Harrington. Billy considered it for a split second anyway, then decided there’d be too many witnesses. He pulled the car off to the left and parked it a couple yards away from Harrington’s car. He still felt like he was in a goddamn movie. You could never find anyone for shit in this town and he’d driven himself right to Steve fucking Harrington.

It wasn’t just Steve, it was the whole brat pack, scattered on the side of the road like fuckin’ morons. Max and Sinclair jumped out of the car and were running to them and Harrington before Billy’d even killed his engine.

Not the whole brat pack, he saw as he got out of the car too. Looked like that little Byers was missing, that girl Ellen too. He didn’t see her that much anyway; he remembered Max looking at the floor and saying El doesn’t me. Why the fuck’d she run all the way out here then?

Harrington was yelling his head off on the middle of the road as Sinclair and Billy’s crazy sister ran up to him. “OH JESUS CHRIST!” he said. “THERE’S MORE OF YOU?” He looked up and saw Billy. “Oh Jesus Christ,” he said again, almost moaned. “No, no, no. You brought him too?”

“Miss me, honey?” Billy said. Harrington rolled his eyes all over the goddamn state; it made Billy grin. Harrington looked pale and skinny against the bright lights of his BMW.

“Why are you seriously every place I am?” Harrington moaned.

“Trust me, I’m not searching for you, pretty boy. I think you’ve got that covered.”

“You seriously cannot be here,” Steve half-yelled at him. He looked all crazy like Max; his eyes were huge in his head too. He turned to Max and Sinclair. “He seriously doesn’t need to be here, what were you thinking? How, how are you guys even here?”

“Pure intuition,” Billy said. Harrington rolled his eyes all over the state again.

“Look, man – “

“Can you guys do your Breakfast Club shit later?” Sinclair demanded.

Billy and Harrington both stared at him. “Excuse me?”

Sinclair was rolling his eyes at them. “Dustin radio’d us. Where’s Mike?” He grabbed Max’s hand and they dashed off down the road to where the rest of the brat pack were squawking away.

Billy leaned up against Harrington’s car; Harrington stared at him with murderous intent. It was great. Harrington’s huge hair was floating all around his face. “Stevie, this is the second time I’ve found you around with a bunch of little kids in the middle of the night. Want to tell me what the fuck’s going on? D&D got a little too crazy?”

“Oh my god,” Harrington said to the sky. “First off, man, I don’t have time for your shit, you can seriously just go home. Second, it’s like ten thirty, are you a grandfather?”

“Look, this is not really my idea of a great night,” Billy told him. He figured he probably shouldn’t tell Harrington he’d be pretty deep into This Side of Paradise otherwise. “My kid sister bursts into my room and screams her ass off until I drive her somewhere; I’m kinda thinking it’s you that’s the bad people she’s been screaming about.”

Harrington’s eyes got even bigger and more crazy. “Oh my god, what?” he said. “What? Did she say there’s people out here?”

Billy took pause. “Wait, so you don’t know? So what the fuck’s going on?”

“I NEVER KNOW WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!” Harrington screamed; it was a bit much. “All I know is that El’s gone missing, I tried to call the sheriff and he’s supposed to meet us.”

That Ellen girl was the sheriff’s daughter, Billy was pretty sure. The Hoppers. He’d seen them being all weird as fuck together in the grocery store a couple times. Max’d said hey and Ellen’d stared right through her. “She was with you kids? How’d you lose her?”

“I didn’t lose her!” Harrington snapped. He looked like a mental patient with his hair sticking up all crazy. “She’s not – like, supposed to go out. Mike started flipping out, he said something was wrong. So I called Hopper and he flipped out and said she wasn’t home, and then, I don’t know, everyone screamed their heads off, and somehow here I am out in the goddamn woods! Again!

“Hmmmm,” said Billy. He was still leaning against Harrington’s car. “Do you experience lapses in time a lot, Harrington? That could be, there could be, you know, signs of a serious psychological problem there. You know – “

“Ooooooh my god,” Harrington said. He whirled away from Billy and started stalking towards the kids; they were further down the road where there was a break in the trees. The kids all looked at Steve and then started tumbling down into the woods. “HEY! WHAT THE FUCK! NO, NO, NO, WE ARE NOT DOING THAT SHIT. OH, MY GOD.”

Billy stared after them all running into the woods. He dug around in his jacket pocket and dragged out a cigarette. He lit it up and started following after Steve. It didn’t take too long to reach him; Harrington was still standing at the edge of the road with his hands on his hips like a mother hen.

“MAXINE!” Billy roared. He kind of felt like a mother hen, too, honestly. He should have drank all of his dad’s beers after all; he’d’ve been too fucked up to drive and get himself into this bullshit. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?”

Max turned and stared at him; she was the last kid on the road standing next to Steve. She took two steps off to the side and then just jumped down the fucking hill and disappeared into the grove of trees too.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” said Billy. “I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU.”

“No, I’m going to fucking kill them,” Steve said. He stepped off the road too and started following after them. “You can fight me for it. So, so dead. Beautiful bodies littered everywhere.”

“Gonna take all of Max’s records and fucking smash them, gonna take the wheels off her fuckin’ board – “

“I hate these kids, I am never giving Dustin a goddamn ride again, I’m gonna bury Sinclair’s slingshot in my fucking yard – “ Steve and Billy stormed down the hill and into the trees; he could hear the kids crashing around and running through the fallen leaves. They finally caught up to the brats a couple hundred yard later at a break in the underbrush. Billy’s cigarette had gone out already and he felt real sulky.

“You guys!” Steve screamed his damn head off. His voice was shrill and hoarse. “What the FUCK!”

All the kids ignored him again; it’d be truly great if they weren’t all running through the goddamn woods in the middle of the night making Billy chase after them.

That kid Mike – Billy was pretty sure it was Mike; he knew what Henderson and Sinclair looked like – was grabbing Sinclair’s arm all crazy. “Steve, you can just go if you don’t care. We don’t need you here.”

“Oh, you don’t need me here but you need my fucking car, that is so goddamn sweet,” Steve said. “Yeah, sure, me and Billy can go fuck off at the diner; Max can just drive his fucking car home again!”

“Wait, what?” Billy said. He looked over at Max; it was dark as shit but the moon was bright. “You drove my fucking car?”

Max gave him a huge nervous smile. “The engine runs real great, Bill!”

“Oh, my fucking god,” Billy said. “You’re unbelievable.”

“Tell me about it, I was passed out in the backseat,” Steve said. “Thanks for that, by the way. That blood on your door’s mine.”

“Excuse me? You rolled me into the fucking bushes!”

“I didn’t roll you anywhere!” snapped Steve. He was real worked up. “I was unconscious! You concussed me, man. I could fucking sue you. My dad would win it. I mean, okay, if we hadn’t been – “

“Fuck you, sue me for shit, you fucking drug dealer, we ain’t got any fuckin’ money anyway.” Billy wanted to break his goddamn arm again on Harrington’s face.

“Drug dealer?” Steve looked massively insulted. “Drug dealer?! I’ll scrap your fucking car and sell it for parts – “

“SHUT. THE FUCK. UP!” Mike screamed at them. “DO YOU WANT THEM TO HEAR US?”

Mike was crazy; everyone was goddamn crazy. There was something here in the water in Hawkins and Billy was the only sane person left. He took a moment to stop being pissed the fuck off at Harrington. “Man, what the FUCK are you talking about?” he demanded.

Mike ignored them. He turned back to the goonies. “I know El’s here,” he said. “I know she’s close. She showed me where she was, I don’t think she meant to. She’s been getting so strong lately.”

“What the fuck is he talking about?” Billy asked Steve.

Steve was back to looking like a man consigned to his death. “I never fucking have any idea, man.”

The kids stared at them again and then took off running; they splashed through some little creek that was probably run-off from a fucking sewer pipe and ran up another hill. They started tumbling down it like maniacs. “JANE!” Mike was screaming his head off even though he’d just told Billy and Harrington to shut the fuck up. “JAAAAAAAANE!”

Billy screwed up his face. “Who the fuck is Jane?” he asked. “Thought we were looking for the sheriff and his kid.”

“We are, she is.” Steve was ahead of him going down the ravine; he almost fell on his fucking face. “I mean, it’s not, it’s kind of complicated, okay. We don’t really know what to call her yet. She’s really, um, she’s like, she’s really eleven.”

Billy stared at his back. “I don’t fucking care how old she is!”

“Ooooooh my fucking god!” Steve yelled like he was in pain. “Can you just shut the fuck up and come on?”

“Whatever.” So they were running around in the woods looking for a goddamn preteen; the sheriff was gonna book him and Steve for kidnapping. Surely there’d be some cocaine in prison. He followed Harrington down the hill and up the other side of it; the kids were all standing in a group huddled in front of another cluster of trees, gazing into it like psychos. A tree branch snapped loudly somewhere in front of them.

Harrington jumped back and knocked into Billy’s bad arm; Billy let out a grunt and shoved him back, hard. Steve ignored him. “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” he screamed like he’d never heard a goddamn squirrel jumping off a tree before.

The kids all looked freaked out too. Max and Sinclair grabbed at each other; they gazed all deep into each other’s eyes again. Billy felt like puking, but it was really from his arm throbbing. “What – what if it’s one of those things again?” Max asked Lucas.

Steve looked even more crazy. “WHY WOULD IT BE ONE OF THOSE THINGS AGAIN?” he screamed.

“SHUT UP!” Mike and Henderson screamed at him. The thing in the woods snapped another branch; everyone went fucking ballistic.

“AHHHHHH!” Henderson yelled his head off and started running back down the ravine. He knocked Steve full force into Billy and they both tumbled down into the creek. Billy landed on some sharp rocks and Harrington fell on top of him; it was really so great, a fucking romantic night, just what Billy’d always wanted.

“FUCK!” Steve said. He jammed his elbow right into Billy’s sternum, probably on purpose. “Fuck! Shit! Sorry!”

Billy’s arm was folded up underneath him; waves of pain were shooting down his shoulder and he was pretty sure he’d broken the damn thing again. “Get. The fuck. Off me,” he gritted out.

“Shit, sorry!” Steve was scrambling off him; somehow he fell again and flopped his whole weight on Billy.

“MOTHERFUCKER!”

“Sorry! Christ!” Steve rolled off him and sat up; they were both soaking wet and the kids were gone. He stood up and stood there looking down at Billy. “You all right?”

He wasn’t fucking all right; he hadn’t been all right all goddamn night. He managed to pick himself up without moving his arm too much. It hurt like a motherfucker and his fingers were already numb. “You are a lot heavier than you look, Harrington.”

“I’m compact,” Steve told him, a little sassy-like. It was real cute. “You okay? Did you see where the fuck they went off to now?”

“No, I didn’t see shit.” Billy’s chest hurt where Steve’d elbowed him. Steve offered him a hand but he couldn’t take it; he didn’t really want to use his left arm. Max was so dead; she was so beyond dead; she was a little redhaired ghost dancing on her grave. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Jesus, I don’t know – “ A shadow fell over them and Steve fell silent. He locked eyes with Billy and then they both slowly drug their gazes up to the top of the ravine. Billy was pretty sure they were about to fucking die.

A huge deer was standing at the top of the ravine and staring at them silently. It had giant antlers and a big thick puffed out chest; Billy felt like he’d just stepped into a live-action version of Bambi. The deer stared at them and lowered its head slowly.

“Oh my god,” said Steve. “Oh my fucking god, are you kidding me? GUYS, IT’S JUST A FUCKING DEER!”

No kids answered them; they were probably halfway across the state line at this point. Steve and Billy stared at the deer. Billy managed to fumble his way to his feet. Steve stared at him all crazy. “Is it … gonna charge at us?”

“No it’s not gonna fucking charge at us!” Billy snapped. “It’s not a moose, ain’t you ever seen a goddamn deer out here before?”

“Fuck you,” Steve said, mostly on autopilot. He was staring past the deer now, which was slowly walking by them. “That’s not the only thing out here. We should go.” He sounded so serious that Billy didn’t even answer him. He followed Steve back up the other side of the ravine.

They walked in silence for a while; it felt like a long time. Billy’s arm was throbbing like a motherfucker and he was starting to feel pretty freaked out. Getting lost in the woods with Steve Harrington was not very high up on his list of things to do in Hawkins. Every now and then they’d scream out for Max or one of the other shitheads. As they walked they detailed to each other in graphic ways how they were gonna kill the kids and how much they were gonna enjoy it. Harrington had a really dark mind; Billy could dig it. “First I’m gonna tie Mike up and make him eat his fucking dungeonmaster handbook,” Steve said. “Maybe I’ll smear it in dog shit first. Then I’m gonna rip his eyeballs out, I’ll do it real slow. Take his 20-sided dice and stick ‘em in his eyesockets. How are you gonna kill Maxine?”

“I think I’m just gonna drive over her a couple times, pull some Christine shit on her,” Billy said. He was tired and his arm hurt a lot; he couldn’t really get too creative. “You’ve got a lot more kids to kill than me, can I have one of them?”

“Sure, you can have Dustin, he’s a fucking pain in my ass,” Steve said. Billy almost laughed at him but he didn’t know how Steve would take that. After a while longer of wandering around lost Steve sighed and turned to him. “I’m pretty sure we’re fucking lost and we’re gonna die,” he said like a dramatic heroine. “Got any apologies you want to make to me?”

Billy was holding his cast against his chest so that his arm wasn’t flapping around everywhere. “I am really sorry I never asked you what you shot me up with back in November,” he said. “That shit was awesome, I slept better than I had since I was a fuckin’ baby.”

Steve laughed out in surprise; he sounded a little hysterical. “That wasn’t my shit,” he said. “I think, I think it was the sheriff’s.”

“What the fuck,” Billy said. It was the phrase of the night.

Steve was still laughing like a crazy person. “Welcome to Hawkins!” he said. He finally stopped laughing and suddenly they could hear the kids up ahead. They were still near the water and Billy knew that the sound carried.

“Go north,” he told Steve.

Steve looked confused. His face was pale in the weak light of the moon. “Huh? Which way’s north?”

“Oh my fucking god!” Billy said. “Just fucking follow it upstream!” Fucking midwestern fuck didn’t know how to follow a goddamn river. Billy stalked ahead of him and led them up the creek; they were only walking for a couple of minutes before they went up another hill and found the brat pack all standing on the rocks in the water, illuminated in the moonlight.

“Oh, my god, Jesus,” Steve said and ran up ahead of Billy like a mother duck flocking to his chicks. “There you guys are. Jesus Christ.”

“Sorry Steve, did you kill the demodog?” Henderson asked him. “We found El!”

“It wasn’t a demodog,” Steve said. Billy had no clue what the fuck they were talking about as usual. “It was a fucking deer, you asshole!”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Billy stopped paying attention to them and stared down at the creek; the Sheriff’s daughter was sitting in it like a freakshow and not saying anything. All the kids were crowded around her and no one was talking. That Mike kid was kneeling down over her and he had both his hands on her shoulder, grabbing her. The sheriff’s daughter was crying a lot; Billy took a couple of steps closer and saw. She was all messy and blood and snot were coming out of her nose and blood was coming out of her ears.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” Billy screamed. He grabbed Mike and drug him off her; Steve and Henderson stopped arguing about the deer and stared at him with their eyes wide. “THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO HER?”

Mike shoved Billy off of him; it wasn’t hard to do since Billy only had the use of one goddamn arm. “I didn’t do anything to her, you asshole! WHY are you even HERE?”

Billy didn’t answer him; he kept looking at the kid. She was still looking up at Mike and crying and snotting out blood. Christ it was a lot of blood. Billy felt sick; his arm throbbed in sympathy. “What the fuck happened? Someone hit you, kid?”

“NO ONE HIT HER, YOU DOUCHEBAG!” Mike screamed. “ARE YOU CRAZY?”

Billy shoved him back; he felt a little hysterical himself. “Someone hit her, motherfucker,” he said. He felt really unhinged. The little girl looked like someone’d kicked her in the head and she was crying. Once his dad had kicked him into the front door so hard as a kid his ears had bled like that and he’d been so goddamn dizzy. Dad said he’d kicked the last of his smarts out of him; he hadn’t let Billy’s mom take him to the hospital. The sheriff’s little kid with her snotty bloody face was freaking him the fuck out.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Mike was yelling. Billy barely even heard him.

“Mike.” The sheriff’s daughter spoke up; she had a weird soft voice. Billy’d never heard her talk before. He was kind of surprised she could talk, with all the fucking blood coming out of her ears. “Stop.” She looked up and her eyes burned right through Billy; he took a step back. “No one hit me. We have to go.”

She turned her head and locked eyes with Mike. Her face caught the moonlight; the blood on her lip was so red. Jesus. She said, “I saw Papa. He’s looking for me.”

WHAT THE FUCK WHAT THE FUCK, Billy said in his head.

“Okay,” Mike said, real soft all of the sudden like he was talking to a little kitten or some shit. He leaned down again and grabbed the girl’s shoulders. Jane or El or Ellen or whatever the fuck her name was. He helped Elijane to her feet. “Can you walk?”

“I can walk.” She stood up and took Mike’s hand; she started leading him out of the creek. They walked past Billy and she didn’t look at him again. Billy looked up; everyone else was staring at him, though, looking like he was a crazy person. Max looked really sad.

Harrington was staring at him too and chewing on his lip; he turned away after a long second. “Okay, guys? What the fuck? Guys? El, do you know where the fuck we are?”

“Car’s close.”

“Okay, great, fucking great,” Steve said. “So glad we just ran around in a giant fucking circle. So are there like, can you see, like, can you see shit now? Are we alone or, what the fuck is going on?”

“Stop. Talking.”

“Great, fucking great,” Harrington whispered to himself again. He ran his hands through his hair and dashed off past Billy, following after Mike and the sheriff’s bloody crazy daughter. Henderson followed quickly after him and Max and Sinclair came and stood by Billy.

Max was staring at him. “Are you okay?”

Billy didn’t answer her for a minute. Then he said, “Found your goddamn friend, huh.” He started following after Harrington too.

The crazy chick was right; the car was close. It only took them all about five minutes to climb out of the woods and back up to the road. As they reached the outskirts of the forest there came a loud squeal of tires; a black Civic roared past them and around Steve and Billy’s parked cars. It was just a car and it was anyone’s car but it freaked Billy the fuck out. He thought about Max screaming, eighty million hours ago, There’s PEOPLE and we CAN’T FIND El. Jesus it freaked him the fuck out.

“WHAT WAS THAT?” Steve screamed his head off. “WHO WAS THAT?” No one answered him; Billy guessed it was about what was usual for him.

They got out of the woods and then the sheriff came rumbling down the road in his Jeep with the lights all flashing like crazy, because Billy’s life was a goddamn movie so of course the sheriff would show up right after all the crazy shit had already happened. He grabbed up Ellen or Jane or whatever the fuck her name was and held his face in her hands; she started crying a lot and put her hands over his. Hopper picked her up and carried her into his car. Mike and Henderson and Sinclair all climbed in after them; Sinclair didn’t even look over his shoulder at Max which was pretty fucked up.

“Cool, great to see you again, Hopper,” Steve said weakly as the sheriff started his car up. He went to drive around them and then stopped the car and stared out at Billy and Max, mostly at Billy.

“Hargrove,” he said all slowly like he was saying a swear. Billy wouldn’t be surprised if his dad had marched down to the sheriff’s office on the day they’d closed on their house and read him off Billy’s whole record from California. “Look, what you saw tonight – “

Billy was so fucking tired. “Didn’t see shit, I don’t know shit, we were all playing fuckin’ flashlight tag,” he said.

Hopper stared at him some more; he looked like the Terminator or some shit. Henderson and Sinclair and Wheeler were all staring at him from the backseat too. “All right,” Hopper said finally. “Good. Thanks, kid.” He looked at Steve. “Make sure he doesn’t say anything.”

“Sure, great,” Steve said weakly. Hopper drove off and left them on the side of the road.

The three of them all just stood on the side of the road for a minute. Nobody was talking. Billy finally took his eyes off the road and looked up; Harrington and his stepsister were having a very animated conversation with their eyes and hand gestures. They both looked at him at the same time; both their hands were in the air.

Max glared at Steve until he sighed and put his hands down. “Okay,” he said. He looked at Billy. “Okay, I guess, I guess you really want to know what the fuck is going on.”

Billy did really want to know what the fuck was going on, but now that the kid was safe or whatever he kind of had more pressing matters. “Look, I’d seriously love to hear your creepy kid shit, but I’m pretty sure I broke my fucking arm again, me and my sister gotta go.”

Steve recoiled and Max jumped forward at him like a crazy person; Billy took a step back and warded her off with a glare before she jumped all the fuck over him. “WHAT?” Steve yelled. “ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS, ARE YOU KIDDING?”

“No I’m not kidding, asshole, you fucking broke it falling on me, you compact trash can,” Billy said.

“Oh my god,” Steve said. His eyes were all huge in his head. “Are you, are you, are you fucking serious? That, that was like two hours ago, the whole time we were walking!”

“No shit,” said Billy. “Fucking hurts.”

“Oh my god,” Steve said. “Shit. Fuck. I am so sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Shit.”

“How are you just walking around right now?” Max demanded. “Can you even drive?”

“Should I, should I like drive you?” Steve was looking pretty panicked. “To the hospital?”

“No, I can do it,” Billy said. He was pretty sure he could make it; he was half sure. He needed to be away from Harrington and his huge eyes and his stupid hair and his crazy screaming and his. Whatever.

“Jesus. Jesus, are you sure?”

“M’allright.” Billy walked back to his car; he had to fumble around all awkward in his pocket with his right arm. He was left-handed and he probably looked like a fucking idiot trying to take his keys out of his pocket. Max followed him to the car and got into the passenger side; Steve followed her too for some reason and he stood there staring at Billy like a huge freakshow.

Billy didn’t say anything and got into the car. Max took his keys from him and started the engine; she didn’t need to do that. Harrington leaned over his opened window and kept staring at him. Billy closed his eyes. “Fuck’re you doing?”

“Fuck,” Steve said. “I am really sorry, man.”

Billy didn’t open his eyes. His arm was throbbing again and he needed Harrington to go away. “Look, fuck off, all right? We’re even, okay, stop saying sorry.”

“Shit. Right. All right. Sorry.” Billy opened his eyes to glare at him. “Fuck! Sorry, all right?”

Billy pressed down on the gas pedal and revved the engine. He was still holding his arm against his chest the best he could. “Better back up,” he said.

“All right, all right.” Harrington stopped leaning on the car and stepped back a couple paces. He kept staring at Billy. “I’m gonna come by and talk to you, all right?”

“I can tell him,” Max said. Her head was whipping back and forth as she looked between the two of them; she was leaned over too close and kept hitting him in the face with her hair. “I’ll tell him everything if you want.”

“Oh,” Harrington said. “Uh. Yeah, okay. Do you want – “

“Can you really drive like this, Billy?”

“If I pass the fuck out you can take the wheel, apparently you’re so great at driving my fucking car.”

“Ha ha ha,” Max said very nervously.

Steve was still fucking staring at him. “Are you sure you’re – “

Billy drove off before Harrington could finish. Steve just stood there in the road looking after them; Billy could see him in the rearview mirror, so bright. The lights of his BMW had been on this whole time. After a few seconds he was just another blurred shape.

 

Chapter Text


Chapter Two

We got something, we both know it, we don't talk too much about it
Ain't no real big secret, all the same, somehow we get around it
Listen, it don't really matter to me
You believe what you want to believe, you see
You don't have to live like a refugee
Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Tell me why you want to lay there and revel in your abandon
It don't make no difference to me, baby
Everybody's had to fight to be free, you see
You don't have to live like a refugee

– “Refugee,” Tom Petty

 

September 1986

Hawkins, Indiana

 

Another week went by and school started up again. For all he tried, and he was really trying, Billy couldn’t keep Steve Harrington out of his goddamn mind. He couldn’t keep a couple of things out of his goddamn mind – the Sheriff’s kid looking all bloody for one – but Harrington was pretty much the main thing. What else was new, Billy asked himself.

Harrington hadn’t done one of his creepy drive-bys past Billy’s house or his work again since their big adventure together in the woods so Billy hadn’t really seen him around. It was kind of weird. Over the last couple weeks he’d gotten pretty used to Harrington popping up everywhere, staring at him in the grocery store or driving past his house all slow like he was in the FBI; he and Max had like three jokes about Steve being in the FBI now. Billy didn’t know if he hadn’t seen him because Harrington’d decided he was trustworthy or some shit, or if Harrington’d just been so goddamn annoyed by him the whole night that he’d gone and had an aneurysm or something. Maybe the brain trauma had kickstarted some wires in his head that made him decide to start acting like a normal human who didn’t follow innocent, unassuming people around anymore.

He was pretty sure Harrington was never going to be a normal human, though. No normal human could be as fucking annoying as Steve Harrington. It wasn’t physically possible; Billy was sure of it.

Billy thought about him a lot. It wasn’t a big thing, though, because he thought about a lot of things a lot. He thought about his car a lot. He thought school was for shit a lot. He thought Max was a stupid shithead twerp a lot.

He thought about that weird girl Ellen or Jane a lot, too. It’d been a week and Max still hadn’t told him the shit on the kid; by now Billy had about eight theories about her. It was the end of summer so he and Max were both running around, really they hadn’t seen each other much at all. Billy’d even went to two parties he’d found out about; he got super drunk at one which he hadn’t done in a couple months honestly. He’d woke up all strung out with a killer headache in someone’s backyard in the bushes. It was some real deja vu shit.

Anyway, school’d started up again and he and Max were real miserable about it. She and her little queer friends were all in the high school with him this year and Billy was definitely real miserable about that. It was Wednesday now and he was walking out of the school and he stopped dead in his tracks: he couldn’t keep Steve Harrington off his mind and he couldn’t keep him off his goddamn car either, apparently.

He’d only stayed late for a couple minutes but Max was already at his car waiting for him. She had her stupid green track jacket on like usual and she was beaming and bouncing around, talking to Sinclair and Henderson and fucking Steve Harrington. Fucking Steve Harrington who was actually leaning up against Billy’s Camaro like he had absolutely no regard for his life.

Billy stomped his way over to his car; he was sure he looked real threatening with his new cast that Max had drawn some bullshit all over and his world history book and his math book. Max saw him coming and went and leaned on his car too next to Steve. They looked real cute together smiling at him, just like a damn postcard at the general store. Billy came up to them. “What the fuck is going on over here?” he asked Max. “Whatever it is, I do not like it.”

“Steve got off of work early and he wants to take us to get food,” Max told him.

“That is so sweet, I can’t tell you,” Billy said. He didn’t know what kinda job Harrington had where he had to wear a collared shirt and a tie and just got to fucking skip out on whole afternoons.

“Hey man,” Steve said. He ignored the fact that Billy pointedly wasn’t looking at him. “How’s uh, how’s your arm doing?”

“S’fine.” It was really hard not to look at him; Harrington was some kind of presence. A really annoying one, Billy told himself. “Why’re you guys all hanging out at my car, it’s not the Pizza Hut. You don’t need my permission to go out, Maxine.”

Max rolled her eyes at him using her full name. Sinclair said, “Well, yeah, the thing is, we wanted to ask you if you wanted to go with us.” Henderson pulled a face and Max pinched him.

“That is so sweet,” Billy said again. “You got me feeling those real emotions as usual, Lucas.” Sinclair actually smiled at him. Somewhere in the back of his head Billy could hear his dad wailing away about all the blacks and the fags in this town but he ignored it.

“Yeah, he’s a real cutie pie,” Harrington said. He flipped his stupid sunglasses onto his face. “Whatdya say, you want to come with us?”

“Nope, not really.”

“Come on, I’ll buy you a milkshake,” Harrington said. He gave Billy his best pretty boy smile; it really was real fucking pretty if Billy wanted to be honest. “I owe it to you.”

Billy just stared at him; the fuck he owed it to him. He was pretty sure Harrington was screwing with him. He was either screwing with him or he was a goddamn moron who didn’t remember that Billy’d went crazy and beat the shit out of him last year. Beat the shit out of him and probably would’ve actually killed him or something if Max hadn’t stopped him with her glorious mystery syringe. “I gotta go to work,” Billy said; it wasn’t a lie.

Harrington stared back at him. Billy couldn’t really read his expression because of the stupid sunglasses; it didn’t matter anyway, he told himself. “Sure, okay,” Harrington said. He kept leaning on Billy’s car and looking at him. He clearly had a death wish. Billy didn’t know what the fuck he wanted from him.

Henderson gave out one of his gross sighing noises; the kid was the worst and was always making some gross noise or gurgling like a Wookie. Billy barely even fuckin’ saw him but he was always gurgling like a Wookie. “Okay, guys, it didn’t work, can we go now?”

Dustin,” Steve said in a reproving tone. Even with the sunglasses on he instantly looked like Mr. Mom or some shit. “What the hell, man.”

“What!” yapped Henderson. “He said he didn’t want to go!”

Billy put his books on top of the car and starting shoving Max away from his door, not that hard so she’d know he wasn’t real pissed. Even so she could usually tell when he was real pissed. “Yeah, I don’t want to go.”

Max let him slide her off the car. “Will you pick me up at the arcade later?” she asked him.

“Just call me at work,” Billy said. Neil was home all this week and the next so Billy basically planned on being at work all the goddamn time, even if it meant having to listen to a million shitty hour-blocks of Madonna on POWER 99 while Hank talked his fucking ear off and his faggot brother floated around the shop. “Dad’s home,” he told her as a reminder.

Max made a face. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “You sure you don’t want to come with us?”

“We’re reeeeally fun,” Steve put in. He had his winsome pretty boy smile on again.

Billy rolled his eyes; he still didn’t know what the fuck Harrington was up to. “Oh, I’m sure of that,” he said. “I know we’ve all had so much fun together lately.” Actually now he got it: they probably wanted to drive him back to the woods and kill him and dump the body to make sure he wasn’t going to say shit about Ellen or Jane or whatever her name was. He couldn’t believe it’d been over a damn week already and he hadn’t gotten Max to tell him the scoop on the kid.

“Could’ve been worse,” Steve said. He was smiling at Billy a little and it made him feel weird as shit; Harrington definitely wanted to kill him.

“Could have been way worse,” Sinclair said; he looked real serious.

Billy was bored with them. He opened his door and started knocking Max in the hip with it. “Are you guys going or what?”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Max said. She finally moved away from his car and grabbed Sinclair’s hand. “See you later, Billy.”

“Yeah, bye.” He watched the kids and Harrington walk away.

Billy drove down to the shop; Hank was there ordering food and getting ready for the baseball game tonight. He told Billy he’d be leaving early, if Billy could stay til at least five in case anyone came in. Billy thanked god; Hank was all right and all but Billy really didn’t feel like hearing him chatter on til nine at night like he had yesterday. He didn’t really see himself going anywhere else for the foreseeable future, though. “I got you.”

Hank was already eating like three sub sandwiches at once; Billy kind of felt like he was in a cartoon. “What you doing next weekend?” Hank asked him. “You want to repaint a car with me on Saturday, the twelfth? It’s my niece’s for her birthday. I’ll pay you extra.”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll be around. Call me at my house and remind me.” He hadn’t done too much body work on cars really; it’d be nice to learn it.

Hank clapped him on the back. Billy watched some of the lettuce from his sandwich go flying. He managed not to make a comment. “You’re a great kid, Bill. Great kid.” Hank was probably the only person in the whole state of Indiana who thought that; shit, in the state of California too. Even Billy’s uncle, his mom’s brother, knew he was rotten.

Hank closed up shop and went home after another hour of talking Billy’s head off like usual. It was a slow day; Hank was doing even more shit around the garage now because of Billy’s school starting this week and because Billy’d gone and broke his arm again. Hank had laughed real loud when Billy’d told him the story. Billy had to edit a couple of bits. Okay half. Okay most of it, really. It sounded funny and less freaky when he told it to Hank.

It hadn’t been funny when it’d been happening and it’d been pretty freaky. He and Max hadn’t even talked at all or anything on the drive to the hospital: Billy was real intent on not crashing his fucking Camaro, and he’d been so damn tired from not screaming and crying about his arm. Then at the hospital the same nurse had been there who’d checked him in a couple weeks ago when he’d been there with his old man; she’d given Billy a real suspicious look like he went around breaking his wrist for fun all the time. It’d been past two in the morning when they’d gotten there (no sign of Susan’s good dish towel anywhere on the floor there either; he and Max were pretty sure it was gone for good). Billy’d got another bill and now he was gonna owe his dad even more money.

By the time he’d gotten his damn arm reset and they’d gone home it’d been nearly five and they’d caught holy hell from Susan. It was just Susan though so instead of holy hell it’d been more like a mild purgatory. She really thought they had been playing fucking flashlight tag. Bless her fucking heart, she was such a goddamn mom. She still wasn’t Billy’s mom, though.

Anyway, Hank went on home and Billy changed a tire and gave the keys back to a couple of guys that came in to pick up their cars. There was just the lonely gorgeous Pontiac left in the back. It basically needed the whole engine reworked and he and Hank kept finding more shit wrong with it. After that it was past five so no one else came in.

Billy sat at the desk at the front and felt like a fucking loser for a while. It wasn’t like back in Cali; there was shit here to do in Hawkins, especially on a Wednesday, but he still felt like a fucking loser. Damn if he didn’t actually miss Tracey, he was such a piece of shit. He went and got his books and actually did most of his homework. He was still putting the math aside. And aside and aside. Billy was going to be a mechanic and he already knew all the math he needed to know. A steady stream of C’s or D’s in class would probably keep Neil from wailing on him again.

The phone rang at a little before eight; Billy picked it up without taking his gaze off his book for English. They were reading East of Eden and Billy’d already gone through the first couple chapters since they’d got it on Monday. He wasn’t sure it’d be as good as The Grapes of Wrath. It was definitely better than Of Mice and Men at any rate. They didn’t need to drown those puppies and they didn’t need to kill Lennie, either; actually the whole book had been a goddamn tragedy. He guessed that was the point. He realized he was still reading and not answering the phone. “Hawkins Auto,” he said into the line.

“Billy?” It was Maxine. “Are you still at work?”

“How could I not be at work if I’m answering the phone?” He thought about saying I don’t got mind powers like your little friend but didn’t for some reason. Harrington’d probably been fucking with him when he’d said that shit. Not probably but definitely. He thought about Steve staring at him all crazy in his car. She can like. Move shit with her mind. Sure she could; Harrington was a piece of work.

“I just meant are you still working.” Max was scoffing at him like he was a huge bozo.

“I’m just finishing here,” Billy lied; it wasn’t a big lie. “You want to come home already or what?”

“Hell no I don’t want to go home!” Max said, still like he was a huge bozo. Billy rolled his eyes. “I’m just telling you we’re not at the arcade now, we went there first.”

“Okay,” said Billy. He was reading his book again.

“We’re going out to eat now,” Max said all pointedly.

“Okay.”

Max sighed. “You know you can still come with us if you want.”

Billy made a face and closed his book finally. “Maxine,” he said. “You and your little queer friends are real cute and all, but I don’t need to you recruit me into the Creepy Kid Club, okay?”

“That’s not what I’m doing!” Max yapped her head off. “And stop calling us queers, you don’t have to be such a dick all the time.” She sighed heavily into the phone; it was gross. “What else are you going to do, sit in the garage and read your book all night again?”

Billy glared suspiciously out the shop window; there was no one on the street. “I ain’t reading my book!” he lied; he tried to sound real mean so she’d know just how much he wasn’t reading his book. He didn’t need Maxine feeling all sorry for him thinking he was a loser. Books and poetry were for faggots and queers, his old man said. Unless you were reading a book about sports or some shit, Billy guessed.

“Steve said he drove by the garage yesterday and you were sitting by yourself reading your book. I guess he thought you looked really sweet.” Max cackled like a witch.

“The fuck,” Billy said. “Why the fuck's he driving by my job for?” It was right on Main Street, but still. “He actually obsessed with me now or some shit? I said I wasn’t gonna say shit.”

“He might be!” Max just said, all chipper. “The last like two friends he had went off to college, he doesn’t have anything else to do. Maybe he wants to recruit you for the secret service.” Poor little Harrington, Billy thought. He could hear Steve yelping around in the background through the phone line; he sounded real annoyed and was telling Max she didn’t need to tell Billy his whole damn life story. Max ignored him and she started laughing a lot. “Oh my god, you remember how stupid he looked holding the tomato?”

Billy kinda smiled; he couldn’t help it. Maxine wasn’t looking at him so it didn’t matter anyway. “Jesus, can you just tell me what you’re doing so I can go?”

“We’re going to eat at Hathaway’s, can’t you just come Billy?” Max started moaning and whining; goddamn but she was annoying. She hadn’t begged him to do shit with her since she was like twelve.

“I got better things to do.” He had East of Eden, anyway.

“But I waited for fifteen minutes to use the phoooone here,” Max whined and moaned at him. “Dustin was complaining like the whole tiiiiime.”

“That’s really sad for you, I didn’t ask you to call me to tell me your nightly itinerary.”

“Oh, El’s here though!” Max said, ignoring him being an asshole. She was pretty good at that by now. “Well, she is going to be. Hopper’s dropping her off! Maybe she’ll float a salt shaker for you or something.”

“Yeah right.” Billy guessed Harrington’d told Max about what they’d talked about the other month in his car; he guessed the whole group had a real fun time talking all about him and what a piece of shit he was when he wasn’t there. Anyway he wondered if the kid really could float a salt shaker. July’d been so long ago and he really wasn’t sure what he’d seen anymore.

He thought about it, chewing on his lip for a minute. He felt real fucking weird about going, kinda unsure of himself which rarely happened, even though all that shit with Harrington and the kids had happened way back last year. “Okay, you know what, I am really curious about this mystery girl though.”

“You have to be nice to her,” Max warned him.

“I am nice,” Billy said. “I can be so nice.”

He could sense Maxine rolling her eyes at him. He didn’t see it but he could sense it, after all she did it a lot. “Not like, gross nice. Please don’t be a creep. Don’t flirt with her like Mrs. Wheeler!”

“Mrs. Wheeler is a goddamn saint,” Billy told her. Billy didn’t have a mom anymore so practically any mom that paid attention to you for shit was a saint. He’d been at the Wheelers’ a couple times to get Max; Mrs. Wheeler always invited him in even though Wheeler Jr groaned about it and Nancy’d looked at him once like he was a demon. She wasn’t quite a saint really but she was something else.

“You just want into her panties,” said Max. Underneath her nicey nice act Maxine was a real perv; Billy felt proud for a second.

“I can’t hear you, I’m being real nice, my shirt is unbuttoning itself.”

Max laughed at him. “Are you really gonna come?”

“Don’t make a big fucking deal about it.”

“Really? OKAY, COOL!” Max said like a crazy person, making a big fucking deal about it. Billy hung up on her.

 

Billy got off the phone and fucked around at the shop for a little bit more. He was putting it off; he still wasn’t sure he was gonna go. He wondered if the kids really planned to jump him and drug him and kill him at Hathaway’s; would they really do it? It was a family restaurant after all. He finished the next chapter of East of Eden and marked his place. It didn’t take him too long. He was shit at everything else but he was an okay reader, a real faggot if you asked his old man. A real faggot even if you didn’t ask his old man. Anyway his mom’d taught him when he was young; she’d been all proud of him, reading his little books to her. He put his keys to the garage away and then smoked a cigarette out in his Camaro.

He gave in and went and drove to the diner. Max instantly waved at him all happy, which made him feel even weirder, actually. He came around to the table and sat down. Harrington was across from him and still wearing his stupid sunglasses. Henderson’d must have gone home and it was just Harrington and Sinclair left. And Maxine of course, beaming away next to him like an awful gremlin. “Hey,” Steve said.

Billy ignored him saying hey. “Where is this mystery girl, she is the only reason I came,” he said to Max.

“She’s coming!” Max said. She looked real happy about Mystery Girl Ellen or Jane coming; Billy wondered if they were getting along better. “I think Hopper wants to talk to you too, he was asking about you the other day.”

“Great, that’s really wonderful.” Billy’s favorite thing was law enforcement officers talking to him, especially high-ranking sheriffs.

“He’s probably just gonna say like twelve words to you and then grunt a lot and smoke three cigarettes,” Steve said.

Billy guessed he could handle that. “So what is her name anyway, the kid?” Billy asked; he was really on his best behavior. “El or Jane or whatever?”

Everyone looked at him kind of weird, then they all looked at each other kind of weird. Harrington looked annoyed. “I knew you didn’t tell him shit!” he said to Max.

Max made a face at him. “It’s only been like a week! Our dad’s been back so we’ve been trying not to be home!”

“Max,” Billy said. He thought it was real great that she was apparently telling everything about Billy’s father to Harrington and Sinclair and everyone else in the damn town.

“Yes?” Max was stuffing a whole goddamn dinner roll in her mouth.

“Her name is Eleven,” Steve told him. “I told you that already!”

Billy stared at him. “The fuck you mean her name’s Eleven.”

“Guys! We are really still not supposed to talk about this stuff, can you guys tell him all this shit later?” Sinclair demanded.

“Fine.” Steve looked all sulky for some reason. “Look, her real name’s Jane, but she likes to be called El.”

“So … not named Eleven, then.”

“No, she’s – “ Sinclair glared severely; Steve made a face at him. “I’ll tell you later, okay?”

“You don’t even know all about it!” Lucas said.

“Okay, well, apparently Max is off sucking your face all the time and can’t talk to her own brother for two seconds – “

Max made a face at Steve; she looked real great because she still had the whole dinner roll puffing up her cheeks. “He’s not my brother!”

“Okay okay okay, shut the fuck up!” Billy said. He didn’t need the gross image of Max and Sinclair kissing to invade his mind and mentally scar him. “I can’t believe you faggots let me go around calling her Ellen for eight months.” Steve started laughing for some reason.

They went up and ordered their food: Max got her usual gross chicken fingers and fries and a huge milkshake. “Who exactly is paying for you, now?” Billy asked. Max gave him her shit-eating smile. “Wow!” Billy said to her with false cheer. “Real cute, found out the real reason why you wanted me to tag along with you guys.” Max grinned at him even more; she was a fucking piece of work.

“I can pay for her,” Harrington said from behind them. He’d pushed his sunglasses up and he had big dark circles under his eyes. He looked real tired and washed out; he kinda looked like he’d been doing all the coke in town. He was totally a drug dealer and was clearly hiding his stash. Even all fucked up he still looked like a pretty boy though.

“I got her.” Billy didn’t need Harrington paying for his sister when Billy was right there for her to suck his money up or whatever.

Back at the table Billy felt pretty bored; Maxine was honestly okay and all sometimes but she still wasn’t really his idea of scintillating company. She and Sinclair were talking about how Star Wars was going to be on TV on Sunday night; it was the first time it’d been on TV apparently and it was some kinda big deal.

“Billy took me to see Return of the Jedi when it came out,” Max informed the table. That’d been like three or four years ago and she’d been pretty young; Billy had taken her along with one of his girlfriends. Not Tracey, the one before her. Actually Tracey’d really been his only girlfriend if you wanted the truth, the only real one. She’d been the only one he ever really talked to about shit or was kind of nice to like a boyfriend should be. Until he hadn’t been nice anymore.

Harrington looked surprised. “You like Star Wars?

“Everyone likes Star Wars, dipshit,” Billy said. He didn’t want to think about Tracey.

Sinclair was grinning. “You know, Steve has two – “

“NOPE,” Steve said. “No, you are not doing that to me, that is sensitive information and I should not have told you anything!”

“Oh come on, it’s just your stupid – “

“No! Shut your mouth!”

Billy was feeling pretty okay. “Steve has two what?” He turned to Max. “Do you know?” Max was grinning too.

“Steve has two nothings, Steve has nothing,” Harrington was saying. He flipped his sunglasses back on his face like a dramatic bitch. Then the diner door opened and that sheriff Hopper came in with Eleven or Jane or whatever the fucking hell he’d named his daughter. Elijane, sounded like El-or-Jane, Billy was sticking with that.

Hopper came up to the table and looked around at them with his usual severe expression. His gaze fell on Steve and then Billy. “Hargrove and Harrington, ain’t that too cute,” he said.

“Is it?” Billy said. Max was making a face at him like he should shut up.

Hopper just stared down at him. He had his hand on the little kid’s shoulder. She was wearing a big baggy sweatshirt and she seemed real small. Hopper turned to the kid and looked at her. “You’ve got one hour and then I’m coming back,” he said: his whole voice changed and he didn’t sound like the sheriff anymore. “You gonna be okay?”

Elijane nodded. Hopper gave Billy a final look and walked out back to his truck. Elijane (El-or-Jane) sat down next to Max – they’d switched seats getting food and now Billy was stuck sitting next to Harrington – and Max and Sinclair started squawking away to her about what they’d did in school today. Billy guessed she didn’t go to regular school or something; maybe the big secret was she was actually retarded. That was one of his theories. But then he thought about her sitting in the water with the blood and tears on her face and felt bad for thinking that.

The kids talked for a while; Billy was real aware of Harrington’s presence next to him, not saying much. Then Elijane turned her head and looked up at him with her weird big eyes. “Hi. Billy,” she said after a whole thirty seconds of staring at him. She talked so fucking weird.

“Hey kid,” he said. He wanted to say, nice to see ya not sitting in a fucking creek. He didn’t, though.

Harrington and Sinclair and Max were all staring at him; probably they thought he was gonna be a huge asshole to the kid or something. It made him feel annoyed. He could be nice; he could be so nice.

Elijane reached out and tapped his arm that was laying all awkward on the table. “New plaster.”

“Oh. Yeah. Yeah, my new cast.”

She was still staring at him with her weird eyes. “You got hurt?” she said. “That night.”

Billy flexed his arm. “Nah, it’s not bad.”

“I fell on him,” Steve put in all eloquently.

“He’s compact,” Billy said.

“Compact,” Elijane repeated slowly. She nodded real serious.

“Like a trash can,” Billy said.

“Like a trash can.”

“Fuck you,” Steve said. Then he said to El, “Don’t say that.” She was smiling.

Max and Sinclair got up to get even more goddamn food; El-or-Jane stood up to let them out of the booth and then sat back down. She looked at Billy some more. Billy looked back at her some more.

“Hey kid,” he said confidentially. “Can you make the salt shaker fly for me?”

“Billy! The hell!” Steve said. He instantly looked like Mr. Mom again.

“What? I want to see her do it!”

Harrington shook his head at him; even with the sunglasses Billy could sense he was rolling his eyes. “Don’t make the salt shaker fly,” he told El-or-Jane.

Elijane ignored Harrington, just like everybody should. She looked around all covertly; she was scoping out the scene. Jesus she was gonna make the salt shaker fly. Billy looked around too. Nobody was paying attention to them. He widened his eyes all pretty at the kid and batted his lashes at her. He was being real nice. Elijane turned one corner of her mouth up at him and then lowered her gaze to the table. The salt shaker and the pepper shaker swirled around the table in a little figure-eight.

“HOOOOOOLY SHIT!” Billy yelled his head off like a little kid. “ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS, THAT IS SOME STEPHEN FUCKING KING SHIT!”

Harrington started laughing at him. “Man, shut the hell up!”

“Holy shit,” Billy said again. He felt real gleeful; he felt real wired up in two seconds. Honestly he was pretty sure the brat pack couldn’t have rigged the whole goddamn diner. It was just a salt and pepper shaker she’d moved but it was insane; people couldn’t do that in real life. Billy leaned forward against the table and grinned at the kid. He was sitting here across from a baby Carrie White!

“I told you,” Harrington said.

“Holy shit,” Billy said for a third time. He was real excited; he banged his cast against the table twice. He kept looking at El-or-Jane. “Kid. That is so cool, how did you do that? Can you move bigger shit?” Elijane nodded. “Oh my god! Fucking float Harrington into that trash can where he belongs!”

“You are such a piece of shit,” Steve said. He still sounded like he was laughing though. The kid was looking at Billy and that corner of her mouth turned up again.

Max and Sinclair were dashing back to the table looking all harried with their french fries. Max had a second giant damn milkshake. “Why are you flipping out?” Sinclair demanded. He looked real menacing as he slid his fries onto the table. He looked at El-or-Jane. Eleven-or-Jane, the fuck. “El, did he make you do something?”

“He didn’t make me do something,” Elijane said. She wasn’t quite lying; he hadn’t made her do anything. She’d done it herself! Because she was fucking telekinetic!! She was goddamn Carrie White!!

Jesus Christ! Billy leaned back and looked at her in reverence; he stole a couple of Max’s fries. El-or-Jane took some too. She was still watching Billy and he gave her a big grin. Goddamn if he wasn’t pretty sure he was halfway in love with her, she didn’t even talk that much like a normal annoying girl. If she could really put Harrington into a trash can he’d fucking drive her to Mexico and marry her. She could be his child bride; she could float Harrington into a trash can in a million different states. He got real happy thinking of Harrington in a trash can with a banana peel on his head like in a damn cartoon. “Kid, you want a soda or something?” Billy asked her. He was so damn jazzed up and Max was spending all his fucking money anyway. “You want some fries or something?”

Elijane looked at him with her huge eyes again. She looked real young; she looked so much younger than Max and Sinclair and the rest of the creepy kid club. Even though he was so jazzed up it made him feel kind of weird. After a million years of looking at him she said, “Okay.”

Billy got up with her and took her over to the counter to order. He could feel Harrington and Max and Sinclair all staring at him; man they were pieces of work. The girl at the counter asked Elijane what she wanted and Elijane just stared back at her so Billy leaned on the counter real cute and ordered for her. He and Elijane walked back to the table with her soda and fries. She ate her food so weird too: she ate real fast and also real careful like it was her last meal or something.

A couple minutes later the sheriff pulled back up in his truck. He didn’t even get out of it but Elijane stood up right away. She looked around at them all and reached into her grubby sweatshirt pocket to pull out a few dollars.

“No, no, no, we got you, kid,” Billy said. He was still in a thrall over her really. Goddamn.

“Bye El,” said Max and Sinclair. “Thanks for coming out.”

Elijane left. Billy watched her walk out. “Goddamn Carrie White,” he whispered, shaking his head.

Harrington laughed at him again. Sinclair was making a face. “What?” he said. “Seriously, did you make her do something?”

“I didn’t make her do nothing!” Billy said. “She did it all herself!”

Sinclair rolled his eyes. “Oh my god, Mike is gonna kill you.”

Ha! Billy thought about Wheeler Jr, the amazing stick boy, killing anyone. Sinclair was real funny! “What is he, her keeper?” Billy asked.

“It was just a little bit of mind power, no one saw,” Steve said. He was sticking up for Billy; it was even crazier than the salt and pepper shakers flying around.

Sinclair rolled his eyes again. “Okay, okay, whatever,” he said to Billy. “So now you really know. We have to keep it a secret, what she can do. We’re not supposed to – “

“Okay okay okay, no more emotional speeches please, I’m still drained from last week.” He wondered if this meant he was really in the Creepy Kid Club now. Sinclair rolled his eyes at him; he stopped looking all serious and then he and Max started talking about their regular kid stuff again. Billy looked down at the dumb shit Max’d drawn on his cast and thought about the kid, Elijane, El-or-Jane. Eleven. The fuck her name was Eleven. He thought about her sitting in the river all bloody; she’d looked a lot better this time.

They all fucked around the dinner for about as late as they could; around ten-thirty Billy figured he really ought to be getting Max home, mostly for Susan’s sake. She was a worrier; she didn’t have to be, though, because Maxine’s friend was a goddamn Stephen King book come to life!

He got all jazzed up thinking about it again. He was so jazzed up he even said bye to Harrington as they were leaving. Maxine seemed real happy with him; she slugged him in the shoulder and turned up the radio. Def Leppard was on playing ‘Photograph’ and Billy turned it up even more and sped them home.


 

The rest of the week went by and the weekend too; it was the same shit as always. Neil was still home and he made Max and Billy stay home all Saturday and help Susan clean the house, then they all had a lovely tense dinner together. Max wanted to go to the Wheelers’ after; she told Billy that Elijane wasn’t going to be there so Billy didn’t bother with going in.

He drove around for a couple hours til he went back to get Max at ten. It was pretty fuckin’ lame to be all by himself, but he usually was nowadays. Anyway he loved driving and turning up his music as loud as it could go. He could get up to about ninety on the state roads here. It was the one good thing about living in bumfuck nowhere; no one was ever on the roads after nine.

Sunday was more of the same and goddamn if he wasn’t bored out of his skull. He wondered if he could convince Hank to start opening the shop up on weekends; he needed shit to do. He worked out for a long time and then Max played some basketball with him out in the yard. She was pretty good for a bratty little girl but he couldn’t really get too aggressive with her or knock her about too much.

Once five o’clock hit Susan had to go into work; she did some filing for a little law company and she had real weird hours sometimes. Her sister’d gotten her the job when they’d moved out here. She gave Billy some money to get dinner for himself and Max even though Billy had his own money; they decided to get a pizza.

Neil was in the living room watching the baseball game and Billy had a feeling the Angels were gonna lose again and his dad was gonna lose his shit. If it got really bad he and Max could eat their pizza out in the backyard like they were in Cub Scouts or some shit. They had used to do that sometimes back in Cali, when Max’d been a little kid and before everything went to total shit. Neil had been pretty nice for the first year or so after he and Susan’d got hitched but sometimes it was easier to go eat outside and not deal with him.

There were two pizza joints in town aside from the diner. Rino’s had the best and was more of a sit-down place; Mike’s was good for takeout. Max told him what he guessed she thought was a real cute story about there being confusion between Mike’s the pizza place and Wheeler Jr’s house: apparently Henderson was always going to Mike’s the pizza place instead and then would get all mad and be yelling and radioing for eighty years when no one else showed up. The kid was a lost cause.

They went to Rino’s to order their pizza and hung out by the counter waiting for it. Some faggy new song by Eddie Money was playing; it was definitely POWER 99 and Billy lamented his life. Then he looked up and lamented his life even more: Steve Harrington was sitting at a booth with his parents and yucking it up. Of course Harrington would have to be there. Billy stood there looking at him and feeling annoyed. “Anticipation is running through me!!” sang fucking Eddie Money. “Let’s find the key and turn this engine on!!” Steve had his stupid fucking sunglasses on again. Then he looked up at Billy and kind of waved at him. Billy wondered how long he’d been noticing Billy looking at him.

Maxine popped up next to him; she’d gone off to the quarter machines and was chomping on a huge jawbreaker like a gross gremlin child. She waved back at Steve. “Look, it’s your secret agent man!” she said and cackled like a witch again. She thought she was a real laugh riot. She hurried over to Steve and his parents to say hi. Billy got their pizza and felt like a huge giant asshole just standing there and holding the box, looking at Steve Harrington while some queer ass pop song played in the background. “Take me home tonight!” sang Eddie Money. “I don’t want to let you go ‘til you see the light!”

Eventually he rolled his eyes and headed over too; Maxine didn’t look like she was coming back anytime soon. Since Harrington was there with his parents Billy turned on the charm. “Hey there, Stevie,” he said. “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Harrington.”

Steve’s parents said hi to him and Steve grinned at him even though Billy’d just called him Stevie. Billy wondered if Harrington’s parents knew that he’d beat the holy hell out of their kid last year. “You guys excited for Star Wars?” Steve asked.

Max instantly looked depressed. She’d been planning on going over to Sinclair’s to watch it but the plans had changed at the last minute; Billy’d had to hear the whole damn story like three times as they’d been playing basketball earlier. Sinclair’s aunt had lupus or some shit and his parents’d decided to go and visit her yesterday. Even so Billy’d already forgotten about the movie being on TV. He couldn’t believe Harrington had remembered it and mentioned it to them right away. “We can’t watch it, our dad’s home and he’s watching the baseball game,” Max told him. Billy rolled his eyes at her; she said we like he was gonna watch Star Wars with her.

Harrington looked all upset on their behalf. Apparently it was some kinda crime to not be able to watch Star Wars on the TV. “Hey, you guys can come over and watch it at my house if you want,” he said.

Pretty much the last thing in the universe that Billy wanted to do was go to Steve Harrington’s house and watch Star Wars with him and his kid stepsister. The parents were still there so he was still turning the charm on, though. “Oh, no, no man, we don’t wanna bother you while you’re eating dinner.”

“I’m done eating.” Harrington was already standing up and getting out of the booth. “We were going to go to the country club after this, I don’t have to go though.”

Max and Billy exchanged a quick look; of course he’d been going to go to the fuckin’ country club. Billy wondered what that kinda life was like. Then Max’s look turned into an annoying one. “Can we go with him?” she asked. She looked like a goddamn puppy or some shit.

Still pretty much the last thing Billy wanted to do was go to Harrington’s house and watch Star Wars. Max was looking at him all eager though; Harrington’s parents were looking at him too and so was Harrington. Billy felt real put on the spot. Damn, it wasn’t like he and Max had shit else to do. “Fine I guess if you want,” he said, real annoyed.

Max bounced twice in joy. She took the pizza box from him and followed Billy and Harrington out to their cars. “You guys can just follow me, I only live like five minutes away,” Harrington said. Billy and Max exchanged another look; five minutes away was the real ritzy part of town. What counted as ritzy in Hawkins, anyway.

They followed Harrington to his house. It was real fancy; it was even fancier than the Wheeler’s house. His neighbors were all crazy far away and you could probably fit like three of Billy’s house in the Harringtons’. He was pretty sure there was a damn pool in the backyard. Steve let them in and Max and Billy looked around. In about three seconds Billy saw a bunch of furniture and a rug that probably cost more than his and Maxine’s lives put together.

Harrington led them into the living room and sat down on one of the couches that cost more than Billy and Max’s lives. “Can I eat some of your pizza?” he asked even though he’d just fucking ate. Clearly this whole thing was just a ploy for Harrington to scarf down their whole pizza. Max handed the box over to him and she sat down next to Steve. Billy had no choice but to sit down too on the other side of him.

Harrington opened up their pizza box and then looked horrified. “What the hell is this?” he said.

“It’s a white pizza,” Max told him. “You never had one?”

Harrington looked more horrified. He actually poked at their pizza like a goddamn animal. “Where’s all the sauce?” he asked in a tone of horror. “I guess this is like some of your crazy hippie California shit.”

Max and Billy exchanged another look over him. “Man, it’s right on the menu,” Billy said.

Harrington was already eating their pizza anyway like a fucking savage. He started acting like he was choking on it. “Oh my god, what the fuck is this, broccoli?”

Jesus Christ he was annoying; he was definitely the most annoying person on the planet. Maxine snatched the pizza box back from him. “Stop hogging it!” she said. Harrington laughed at them and got up to get drinks. He had actual Cokes, not just the store brand like Susan bought and everybody else’s parents bought. Then they watched Star Wars and told Billy the scoop on Elijane. The scoop was kind of a lot; it was a crazy goddamn story.

It started because Steve asked him if Hopper’d came and talked to him yet. Max gave him a kind of annoyed look; R2-D2 was beeping off on his search for Obi-Wan. Billy felt real glad that Harrington’d invited them over to watch a movie and then just wanted to chatter through it. He said, “No, I ain’t seen him.” He was pretty sure that Hopper knew he worked at the garage; he knew where to go to come find him. “I guess he knows I’m not going to squeal on his daughter.” For being goddamn Carrie White.

Harrington leaned over look at Billy all crazy. He didn’t need to get so close. “She’s not really his daughter,” he said. Max rolled her eyes at Steve being dramatic.

“What do you mean, she’s not his daughter?” Billy said. “She adopted?” He thought about it. “Shit, did he kidnap her?” Max rolled her eyes at him too.

“Jesus, how have you not told him anything?” Steve demanded. “You didn’t have any questions after you saw her at the diner last week?” Billy rolled his eyes too; Def Leppard had been on the radio. He didn’t expect Harrington to understand. Max was an annoying brat but he’d gotten her into his music after all. “Do you guys actually communicate at your house at all? Do you even talk to each other?”

“Not really,” said Billy.

“Mostly we watch cartoons,” Max said. Thunder Cats had been some real wild shit this week.

Harrington rolled his eyes. “Jesus,” he said again. “Okay, man, I mean, nevermind I guess, do you even care?”

“Sure I care,” Billy said. He really did. He wanted to hear the whole scoop on the kid; he needed to know everything and make her his partner in crime. Jesus he bet she could steal him so many smokes. She could float them right out of the store. “No, seriously, I have been really curious, tell me the shit.”

Harrington told him the shit. It was real crazy shit.

“Okay, so you know that old power company out in the woods? Off of route 34? The Hawkins Lab? The energy plant??”

“Oh, sure, of course. I spend all my free time there out in the woods in abandoned buildings.”

Harrington rolled his eyes at him again. God he was a sulky bitch. “A lot of people go out around there drinking, I thought you might have gone with your best buddy Tommy.”

“I guess I’m not popular enough.”

“Guys, come on!” Max whined. She was real into Star Wars.

“Okay okay.” Steve lowered his voice a little and leaned in all close to Billy; Jesus he didn’t need to get that fucking close. “Well, you know it’s closed down now. Because of … “ Steve made a face. “I don’t know if you’ve heard. What happened to Barbara Holland.”

“Yeah, sure,” Billy said. He remembered seeing it in all the papers last year. Some girl had died out there the last year, before he and Max had moved to Hawkins. It was some kinda gas leak or fume leak and it had been a big thing when all the news about what happened had came out. They’d tried to cover it up or something; she’d been missing for a long time.

“You know she … died near my house.” Harrington was looking at him all crazy. “She died at a party I was having.”

“Really?” Maxine actually turned her face away from the TV screen. She was eating like two slices of pizza and she looked great. “I didn’t know that part.”

“Yeah … yeah. It was my party. It was my party.” Harrington looked so weird. He had those big circles under his eyes again, and in the flickering light from the TV he looked real pale. Then he said, “Anyway, it’s not really a power company. It’s like a science lab, the government runs it. Ran it. That’s where she’s from, El-or-Jane. She lived at the lab.”

“Okay,” Billy said. “What, her parents die in the gas leak too?”

“She doesn’t have parents,” Max told him. “Aside from Hopper now I guess.”

“She lived at the lab, she grew up there,” Harrington said.

“I don’t get you,” Billy said. They were spinning him some kinda crazy tale; he could already tell. He thought they were fucking with him again but he’d already seen the kid move shit and you couldn’t fake that.

“They, like, kept her at that lab. Like she was prisoner there?” Harrington told him like he was dumb. Because that was such a normal sentence that you said to people all the time. “Her name’s Eleven like number eleven, like experiment eleven? That’s why she can move shit with her mind. She broke out of the lab one day and that’s when Mike and Dustin and Lucas found her.”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Billy said. El-or-Jane was already some Stephen King shit, but this was some goddamn Firestarter shit. She broke out of the lab. Okay.

“No, nope,” Steve said. “Well at least I don’t think I’m fucking kidding you, I wasn’t really around for that shit. Since I was so busy partying and getting girls killed, you know.”

“Uh-huh,” Billy said.

“This all happened like two years ago; I really only know all the shit from what Dustin and Mike have told me in five minutes like I should be up to speed on everything.”

“Yeah, I really only know everything too from Lucas telling me everything in five minutes and then acting like I should be up to speed,” Max said.

Billy glared at Steve, then he turned and glared at Max. “You’re fucking with me,” he said, looking around at both of them. “This is real cute, I don’t know why you’re fucking with me. I already saw her move shit, you guys giving me LSD or something?”

“Yeah right, if I could get my hands on that I wouldn’t waste it on you,” Harrington scoffed. “You wanted to know about her, and I’m telling you. I’m telling you why it’s important that you don’t say anything to anyone. It’s … she’s … look, I wasn’t there for it.”

“Me either,” put in Max.

“But it’s really fucked up,” Steve said. “I feel really bad for the kid, I didn’t believe it either. But, I mean, I saw … you saw what she can do.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. He’d seen.

“After she got out I guess all these people were after her. Mike told me he hid her for a while, it was this whole crazy story.”

“What people?” He still remembered Max and Sinclair screaming their heads off.

“I don’t know!” Steve snapped. “The FBI, the CIA, your guess is as good as mine, I told you I wasn’t there for half the shit. Apparently she was missing for a long time, but it turned out that the Sheriff was hiding her. So now she’s his kid.”

“That makes no goddamn sense,” Billy said.

“Yeah, I know,” Steve said. He said again, “Welcome to Hawkins!”

“Her nose bleeds when she moves really heavy stuff,” Max told him. He’d been about to ask why she’d been all bloody. “Like when you saw her and freaked out? The guys are like used to it, but it is pretty scary.”

“I wasn’t scared, Maxine,” Billy said.

Max ignored him. She said, “But we don’t know what she could have moved that would’ve made her bleed that much. She can do way more than move salt shakers! Last year, when those things – “

“Don’t tell him about that!” Harrington said right away. He looked really crazy again. “He won’t believe it anyway.”

“What won’t I believe?” Billy said. They were hiding some shit or they were fucking with him again.

“It’s over now anyway,” Harrington said. “Last year when you beat my ass, that was the first time I ever even got stuck babysitting these brats. That’s what we were doing, I mean. There was … “

“The demodogs,” Max supplied.

What?” Billy said. If there was some cool-ass pack of dogs in the woods, he wanted to know about it. “That shit you were all scared of screaming your head off about?”

Steve made a face. “I wasn’t scared! " he said too. "Never, nevermind! Look, we were – looking for Eleven when you found us and went crazy. Or Jane. Kind of. Or whatever the fuck you want to call her.”

Billy decided to let it slide for now and he didn’t feel like mentioning when he’d beat Harrington’s ass. “Okay, well, what does she want to be called?”

“We just call her El,” Max said. “I mean, I don’t call her anything, really. She doesn’t talk to me too much. The other night was the first time I’ve ever really hung out with her when Mike wasn’t there.”

“Yeah, me too, honestly,” Harrington said.

“Okay,” Billy said. He was still calling her Elijane, he decided. He leaned back on the couch and stared at the screen; he needed to wrap his head around this shit. It sounded insane and there was no way it could be real. But he thought about the kid sitting all by herself bleeding in the creek and that weird black car that’d been following them. Thought about her moving the salt shakers and how she’d acted when she’d been out with them, like she’d barely ever been out to eat before in her life. He thought it all had to be true. “This is still some Stephen King shit,” he said.

Harrington laughed again; Billy guessed he thought Billy was real cute with his horror movie knowledge. “Yeah, I know, right?”

“Fuck,” Billy said. He looked over at Max; she was already watching the TV again. Darth Vader was about to take his mask off and tell Luke that he was his father. “I need a goddamn cigarette.”

He went outside and Harrington followed him. He sat down on the front steps; after a moment Steve sat down next to him. It was so dark out in Harrington’s yard. “Can I bum one of those off of you?” he asked Billy.

Billy glowered at him; he only had like five left. He handed one over to Harrington anyway. He smoked a whole cigarette and neither of them talked. Billy was still trying to wrap his mind around the origin story of El-or-Jane. Part of him wished that Harrington and Max were fucking with him but he knew they weren’t; he knew what Maxine looked like when she told a lie. She’d told a lot. He couldn’t believe Elijane’d grown up in a lab; he didn’t understand it. He had a million questions but he was too freaked out to ask them, really.

Harrington was still just sitting next to him and holding his cigarette; Billy wondered if he needed a light. He also felt pretty goddamn weird sitting next to Harrington out on the porch steps of his house. There was no reason for him to be here, not really. It had been bothering him all goddamn night. He said, “Stevie, why the fuck am I at your house?”

Harrington looked at him like he was a crazy person. “Um, so we could watch Star Wars?” he said all slow like Billy was stupid. “And I wanted to tell you about El.”

Billy lit another cigarette. He took a real big drag and held it in for a long time before he exhaled. “That ain’t what I mean,” he said, “and you know it.” Harrington made a little face at him; Billy was pretty sure he knew it. “I mean why the fuck am I watching Star Wars at your house.”

Harrington was still looking at him like he was a crazy person. “I wanted to talk to you about El?” He said it almost like a question.

“Yeah, okay.” Billy smoked his cigarette. He said, “Why’d you want to tell me about El? I already told you I wasn’t gonna say anything. You didn’t have to tell me shit.”

“Look, I just – “

“Why’d you follow me around for half the fucking summer?” Billy demanded. “Why you driving around my job and looking at me? Why’d you ask Maxine about my old man? Why’d you ask me to go and get food with you, why’m I at your house, why’re you sitting out here with me right now holding one of my damn cigarettes?”

He was pretty sure he knew why; Max’d basically said it to him on the phone earlier when she’d been laaghing her ass off. But he wanted to hear Harrington say it. He wanted to hear him to say it before Billy’d let himself get all faggy again thinking maybe Harrington wasn’t the most goddamn annoying person in the universe.

Harrington was making a real great face; he was looking like he was smelled cow shit again. “Okay, Jesus! Can you, could you shut the hell up? You’re making me sound real gay for you, it’s not like that.” Billy managed not to make a comment. Steve was still making a face. “Look, I … I think everyone deserves a second chance, okay?”

“That is so goddamn adorable, you really have a heart of gold.”

“Oh my god, seriously, fucking shut up for two seconds?” Harrington was rolling his eyes. “We didn’t know each other last year, okay? And you were a real fucking asshole to me, okay, but you haven’t done shit to me since. It’s not like I’ve never – never done something fucked up to someone else. And, like, okay, I was like … I was surprised you even – showed up in the woods last month with Max and Lucas. I didn’t think you gave a shit about what Max did. And then – you know, before, when we were talking in my car – ”

“Oh, right! You mean, ah, when we both so passionately declared our mutual hatred for each other?” Billy reminded him. And Billy’d grabbed his face and told him he was too goddamn pretty, Billy didn’t remind him.

Harrington was rolling his eyes again. Pretty soon they were gonna roll right out of his head, Billy figured. “Yeah. Yeah, that. And you accused me of having a pedo ring?” He held up his hand when Billy opened his mouth. “Which, again, I don’t, you are such a gross asshole. But I didn’t think you were – I mean, I thought you were just being a fucking asshole that night. I didn’t think you were actually worried about Max or something back then.”

“Shut the fuck up, do you want her to fucking hear you?” Billy demanded. Steve grinned at him like he was being funny but he wasn’t. Maxine was like ten feet away watching TV; if she really knew that Billy maybe didn’t think she was for shit all the time, she’d become downright insufferable. She was already trying to get her grubby paws on his record player all the damn time. “I was really being a fucking asshole back then,” he told Harrington. It was mostly the truth after all.

“Okay, sure, whatever,” Steve said. “I just mean – I mean, Christ, I did break your arm again after all. I do owe you. I just … I don’t know, I didn’t fucking … hate being stuck with you all night, all right? I mean, I hated it at the time, but you know, whatever. I really did enjoy talking about killing those damn kids with you. And you were really nice to El last week, I was surprised.”

“I can be fuckin’ nice,” Billy said, real grumpy. Elijane was basically a fucking superhero; she was a goddamn Stephen King protagonist, and she was a damn little kid also, of course he was going to be nice.

“I’m not sure about that.” Harrington was smiling at him again. “Look, all three of my remaining friends graduated and I’m stuck here working with my dad until I decide what the fuck I want to do with my life. I just thought – I don’t know, maybe it’d be cool to hang out with someone that wasn’t a fucking annoying fourteen year old. Okay?”

“Okay,” Billy said.

“Okay, so?” Harrington was staring at him; his brows were all drawn down and he had a little wrinkle of worry or something between his eyebrows. “So what do you say?” he said.

Billy smoked his cigarette. He blew some smoke out and licked his lips. “I said okay,” he said finally.

“Okay,” Steve said for a second time. He was still staring at Billy and he still had the eyebrow wrinkle. “So … ?“

“So do you need a fucking light or what?”

“Oh.” Steve stared at him blankly. Then he said. “Oh. Yeah. Thanks.” He leaned over and Billy flicked his lighter for him and lit his cigarette. They were real close for a second. Then they just sat there together, smoking and not talking.

Billy inhaled for a long time again, then he let it out. The smoke billowed out into the night. He thought about it. He wasn’t looking at Steve. He said, “Fucking just about lost my mind when I found out Luke and Leia were brother and sister.”

Harrington stared at him and then he grinned real big. “Yeah, me too,” he said. “I really dig her and Han though.”

“Yeah, they’re cool.” They were real romantic, honestly. I love you. I know. Jesus it was good.

“I still can’t believe you like Star Wars,” Harrington said. “They are seriously my favorite movies.”

“That does not surprise me about you,” Billy said.


 

The whole next week after he and Max had hung out with Steve sucked major ass. Billy about expected it; usually after something good happened to him everything instantly turned to shit. It like a real fun game that the universe played with him.

Not that Harrington wanting to be friends with him or whatever was a good thing. It was just a thing. It was no skin off of Billy’s back; Harrington could do what he wanted. Billy didn’t even see him for practically a whole goddamn week after.

It wasn’t major shit that happened; it was just Billy being a goddamn little bitch or something. Monday Max left early for school on her board and Billy woke up to a lovely round of his dad screaming his head off at Susan. Really he didn’t scream at Susan that much but it was becoming a more frequent thing since the move to Hawkins. Billy could see the shift happening. The move to the small town had been Billy and Max’s fault and it made Billy feel like total shit even though Susan was closer to her sister now or whatever. Billy’d gotten up and gotten dressed in two seconds and Susan had been in the kitchen crying over a bunch of pancakes that had gotten knocked to the floor. Billy’s old man had already left for work.

Billy helped Susan picked up broken pieces of the plate and Susan cried into her second best dish towel. He was trying real hard not to look at her; she wasn’t his goddamn mom or some shit. “I’m sorry, Billy,” she said, all crying and wringing the dish towel at him. “These were supposed to be for you and Max; you can just go on to school.” She definitely wasn’t his mom but goddamn if he didn’t feel like total shit.

Tuesday he went to school and spectacularly failed his first math quiz; math was for shit but it was just another goddamn reminder of how stupid he was. Wednesday he was flirting with Rachel Evangelista in study hall when fucking Henderson came up to him and started babbling on and making his Wookie noises. Henderson’d never came up to him in school before and Billy and Rachel both looked at him like he had the plague. Rachel was edging away from the table and told Billy, “I guess I’ll just see you later or whatever.”

She’d been making eyes at him since last year and Billy had decided he was going to get it in with her. She was pretty fucking stupid and he didn’t really give a shit about her but he figured it was about time he got over Tracey and his bullshit and started talking to some girls again. He shouldn’t be sitting in the shop all the time reading his book like a faggot, wondering if Steve Harrington was gonna drive by and look at him for two seconds.

Billy leaned over on the table and closed his eyes to count to ten before he looked back up at Henderson. The counting thing didn’t work as well when he used it on Henderson; he was still pissed the fuck off. “Man. What. The fuck. Are you doing.”

“Is that girl a junior or a senior, she is pretty hot,” Henderson said. He made the Wookie noise again; Billy snarled. “Wow, she looks really good in that sweater. Listen, do you want to go to the arcade tonight? It’s just going to be me and Steve and he said to ask you – “

Jesus fucking Christ. Billy guessed this was the curse of being in the Creepy Kid Club; it was the price of thinking little Elijane was a motherfucking badass and being all nicey nice and shit to Maxine so she’d let him see the kid again. He couldn’t believe Dustin had just walked up to him like they were fucking friends. Even Max knew better than to talk to him at school. “HENDERSON, YOU ARE FUCKING ON DANGEROUS GROUND HERE,” he said. He swept his arms across the table and knocked all of Henderson’s books off of it.

“Okay, okay, okay, Jesus Christ!” Henderson was lisping and reaching down to grab his books like he was on autopilot; probably he was pretty used to people fucking screaming at him and knocking his shit everywhere. He didn’t even look that scared of Billy. “Son of a bitch, you broke my pencil! So is that a no to the arcade because I guess I have to somehow tell Steve you’re not – “

“YES IT’S A NO TO THE ARCADE, YOU STUPID FUCK!” Billy roared and got detention for himself and Henderson too. He was late to work at the shop and he was pissed the hell off about it. Hank was a fat fuck but he was probably the best boss Billy’d had; Billy didn’t need Hank thinking he was irresponsible. He owed a lot of money to his dad now and he was never gonna pay it off. He was gonna be stuck in Hawkins forever paying off money to his dad.

Hank didn’t even seem to notice that Billy was late but Billy was still pissed off about it. Tommy Hall came in and bothered him and then Billy was real pissed off. Tommy Hall was drunk off his ass at 4pm and usually Billy’d appreciate that kinda style but not when he was at fucking work. He told Tommy he didn’t have time for his bullshit and then when Tommy wouldn’t leave Billy had to literally grab him and manhandle and shove him out of the shop. It made his broken arm hurt real bad but it felt nice to push someone around again. “You’re for shit, man!” Tommy yelled. Billy could care less. He went in the back and worked on the Pontiac with Hank for two hours until he felt kind of okay again. Kind of okay but barely.

When he got home it was past eight and he could hear Max in her room, listening to her shitty records. He hoped she hadn’t gone into his room again and made off with his again; it was his mom’s fancy old one and it was one of the few things of hers Neil hadn’t sold off two seconds after they’d put her in the ground. He dug around in the fridge; they had jack-shit as usual.

Susan had left a note on the freezer saying that Neil’d taken her out to dinner and a movie and they’d be back home around ten. Billy guessed Neil was trying to make up for screaming his head off and making Susan drop her pancakes everywhere. Neil had a fucking temper but the thing about him was that he could act real nicey nice sometimes too; he could make you forget he had a temper and that you had to be careful. He even made Billy forget sometimes. Not lately but sometimes.

Max came out of her room as Billy was coming out of the kitchen; she was giggling and talking and throwing her hair over her shoulder. Sinclair was behind her and she was dragging him by his arm. They were both laughing. Max looked up when she saw Billy coming out of the kitchen. “Hey Billy!” she said.

Billy stared at her; he guessed he’d forgotten how goddamn stupid Max was. He thought she’d been learning but apparently not. He looked at Sinclair and instantly got a vision of his dad coming home early and going ballistic on them. Not just him and Max but Sinclair too. “Nope, no way, uh-uh,” he said. “Maxine, get your fucking boyfriend out of this house, he cannot be here.”

Max’s face clouded over instantly and she scowled at him. “God, okay! Don’t be a jerk!” she said.

Billy wasn’t being a jerk; Max was being an idiot. He crossed the room and slammed his hands down on Sinclair and started frog-marching him to the front door. “Let’s go, let’s fucking go, you cannot fucking be here man, you are not allowed in my goddamn house, Midnight.”

Sinclair was letting him frog-march him out; he wasn’t struggling too much because maybe he actually had brains and understood that Billy was way bigger than him. “Jesus, man, let me go! I’m going, I’m going!”

“Little faster, kid.” Billy grabbed the collar of Sinclair’s shirt and wrenched him around the front door.

Max was storming after them and she stood there clenching her fists like a redheaded storm cloud as Billy opened the front door up and shoved Sinclair out in the night. “Lucas, you don’t have to go!”

The fuck he didn’t have to go. Billy counted to ten again but it didn’t work; he was still really angry. Max could not be this goddamn stupid; they had both heard Billy’s dad going off on one of his rants about the blacks and the fags just Saturday night at dinner. If Maxine had one fucking brain cell in her head she’d understand. Billy couldn’t imagine that she hadn’t told Sinclair some of the shit Billy’s father said; if Sinclair really didn’t care either and thought he could fuck around at Max’s house and get her in deep shit, then he was for shit too.

“Yes, he fucking does have to go.” Billy shoved the kid out onto the porch. “See you later Lucas, real sweet of you to drop by, don’t fucking come back here.” Max pushed Billy out of the way and stood in the doorway looking at Lucas all doe-eyed and crazy.

Sinclair was rolling his eyes and getting his bike from the bushes; Billy didn’t know how he hadn’t seen the damn thing when he’d came in. “It’s fine, Max, it’s whatever. I’ll see you at school, okay?” He hopped on his bike and wheeled around the dirt driveway. Billy grabbed Max’s arm real rough and pulled her away from the door to slam it shut.

Max wrenched her arm away from him; her fists were still clenched and her eyes were spitting fire again. “DON’T TOUCH ME! YOU ARE SUCH AN ASSHOLE!” she yelled.

“Whatever,” Billy said. He didn’t care if she thought he was an asshole. It was better than her being dead and thinking he was an asshole. “The fuck you thinking, having that kid over here? Your mom and my dad are coming back in an hour.”

“HE WAS JUST LEAVING,” Max yelled her head off; she was still sneering at him. Her womanly hysteria was pitched up to a seven already. “You didn’t have to be a piece of shit to him! He never does anything to you! You’re such a RACIST!”

“Fuck you, I ain’t a racist,” Billy said. “I am fucking looking out for you, Maxine, if my goddamn dad sees you with him, and you know this – “

“You’re not looking out for me! I know you hate Lucas! You’re racist! You’re just the same as your dad!”

“The fuck I am,” Billy said. Maxine didn’t know shit; Billy had thought she was starting to know. A nigger was a nigger but Billy didn’t care either way; first of all you couldn’t trust anybody for shit, it didn’t matter if they were black or white or a girl or a guy or your fucking parent. Second of all he’d never said that word in his life. His dad certainly had said it. There’d been a bunch of black kids on the basketball team back in Riverside and Billy’d palled around with two or three of them before his old man had flipped out and made him quit. Billy’d never called them that word even when they were beating his ass all around the basketball court. He felt like telling Max that he’d never even called anyone a nigger but he thought probably that wouldn’t really help his case.

Max was still screwing up her face and yelling her damn head off. “I CAN’T BELIEVE I ACTUALLY THOUGHT YOU COULD BE FRIENDS WITH MY FRIENDS!” she hollered. She stormed away from him and went into her bedroom and slammed the door. Billy sat down on the couch and felt pissed off. He didn’t want to be friends with her fucking friends. He thought about how he’d just grabbed her arm and felt like a piece of shit.

After about two minutes Max’s door opened and she came back out; Billy guessed she wasn’t done with him yet. “What the fuck do you want now.”

“You know what else, Billy?” Max yelled at him all angry. She looked like she was gearing up to really get going. “Answer me!”

Billy consigned himself to the pain of being talked to death by Max in her womanly hysteria. “What, what else do I know.”

Maxine scowled at him some more. “Not ONLY are you a racist and an ASSHOLE, you’re a COWARD! You’re not looking out for me, you’re looking out for YOURSELF!”

“The fuck are you even talking about.”

“You’re all scared that Neil will hit you again if he knows you’ve been letting me hang out with Lucas,” Max said. Billy rolled his eyes and looked past her at the TV; he wasn’t letting her hang out with Lucas. He wasn’t her damn keeper anymore after all, and she didn’t listen to him for shit anyway. Max went on and on in her womanly hysteria. “You’re SUCH a coward! You’re BIGGER than him! You know if you hit him back once, I bet he’d leave you alone!”

“Man, get the hell out of my face already,” Billy said. He was looking at the TV; Max was just a little stormcloud in the side of his vision. She was wrong anyway; she was real fucking wrong. He hadn’t hit his dad back in a little while but did she think he’d never tried? Did she think he’d never tried when his dad had beat the shit out of him over Tracey?

“YOU’RE SUCH AN ASSHOLE, YOU DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT ANYTHING,” Max yelled her head off. She yelled her head off for a while and then she stomped back to her room and slammed the door three times; Jesus she was a dramatic cunt. She started playing her records real loud. Billy turned the TV up over them.

 

Max zoomed off on her skateboard the next morning; really for the rest of the week she treated him like he had the damn plague. Mind you Billy didn’t give a fuck what she thought about him but goddamn if she didn’t piss him off. This was probably the worst they’d been since right after they’d moved here, after all the shit had happened back in Cali.

Neil and Susan had came home early anyway, just like Billy’d known they would, about fifteen minutes after Sinclair had left and Max had had her screaming fit. She was cutting it real close and she didn’t understand how close she’d got. She yelled at him that she didn’t need any rides anywhere and stomped around the house whenever she saw him; basically she was just acting like a huge grade A bitch. Max was for shit and Billy seriously couldn’t believe he’d actually let himself think she was okay and all for a while.

Saturday morning Hank called him about painting the car so Billy drove down to the shop. He drove past Max and Sinclair at the arcade with the whole creepy kid club aside from Elijane. It was the little Byers kid and Henderson and Wheeler Jr too. Max scowled up a storm when he drove past and Sinclair wasn’t looking at him. He was touching Max’s arm. Henderson just waved at him like a great big fag for some reason.

He and Hank spent all day painting the car and they only got about halfway done; doing a whole paint job was a big task and you could only do so much at once. It was a VW Bug and they were painting it bright purple for Hank’s niece. It was a damn shame to paint the Bug fucking purple but that’s what the girl wanted. Hank bitched his ass off the whole time but Billy thought it was real fun. “Just don’t smoke in here, Bill, the fumes from these cans are flammable as shit. You could make a real blowtorch with this shit. The whole place’ll go up and you’ll singe your pretty hair.” Billy rolled his eyes all over the goddamn garage.

Around nine they’d finished all they could do. Even with their masks and jumpsuits on they were covered in purple paint from the spray cans; Billy was pretty sure they both looked even gayer than Hank’s brother.

“Can probably finish up when you come in on Monday,” Hank told him, hanging up his keys. “I found these real neat speakers that’d fit in your car, I’ll bring the book in then.”

Billy really wanted new speakers for the Camaro. It was the next big thing he wanted to do to his car; he wanted to redo the whole interior too. “Thanks, but I really ain’t got the money for that.” He waved his cast at Hank; fuck if the whole thing wasn’t all fucking purple now too. At least it covered up the retarded shit Maxine had drew on it. He didn’t feel like looking at it now that she was back to thinking he was a piece of shit. “My old man’s been charging me up the ass for this shit, and my summer school. He takes about more than half of my checks.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.” Hank looked kind of surprised. “Christ, your father charged you for your damn arm?”

“We don’t got medical insurance.”

“Okay. Okay, I know how that is.” Hank thought about it. He said, “Look, how about I talk to my brother. You’re in high school, you need money to go out and take girls out and shit. Maybe we can work something out; I’ll start paying you half under the table or something. I’ll figure out a base rate.”

“Really? You’d do that?”

“Sure, I don’t fucking gotta do my own taxes.” Hank hung up his keys. “You gonna hang out around here and do your homework again?”

Billy felt weird; he hadn’t know Hank knew he did that shit here. He didn’t want Hank thinking that he thought the garage was a damn playground or something. “I’m sorry, man. I don’t need to do that anymore.”

“Nah, I don’t care what you do here. You do great work, Bill. Just don’t bring any girls around here; people are always looking to hawk my shit.” Hank laughed like he’d told a great joke. “Jesus Christ, once Miles was bringing this guy around and I swear to god he made off with like half my wrenches. Why some queer’d want them all, goddamn if I know.” Miles was Hank’s fairy brother that he owned the shop with.

“I won’t bring nobody else around,” Billy said. Hank talked his ear off some more about his faggot brother and then he finally left. Billy cleaned up most of their paint cans and then locked up the garage. He went outside to smoke a cigarette; he’d had to park his car way down on the street earlier so he just leaned against the shop window smoking. Even his fucking cigarettes kinda tasted like paint fumes.

He looked down Main Street; the car garage was way down at the end of the street. Most of the shops were closed already aside from the comic book store over on the corner of Main and Broad. Half the streetlights were out on the street over here and it was real dark; pretty much the only thing still open was the movie theater about a half mile down the road with its big sign and billboard lights. Probably there were about twenty people still out, watching The Fly or that Stand By Me movie that’d finally hit Hawkins. Billy could never get over how fucking empty this town looked after ten PM; it was nothing like California. Everyone here probably went to bed at like nine because there was no coke in town for them to do.

He turned his head forward again and did a double take; Steve Harrington had appeared out of the shadows across the street from him, walking a huge German Shepherd.

Steve glanced up to look at the car garage and he did a double take too when he saw Billy. He stood still for a moment with the dog pulling on the leash like crazy and then he smiled and waved. Billy raised a hand back; he wasn’t sure if he was gonna walk over. He guessed that Maxine hadn’t yapped her head off to Steve yet about what a racist and a coward Billy was. He really didn’t think Harrington would be smiling and waving at him otherwise.

The dog pulled Harrington forward a little into the light of the one working streetlamp on the block; Harrington looked like some kinda vision in the flickering light. He almost banged into a mailbox and then Billy saw he was walking not one but two dogs. That decided it; Billy loved dogs. He stamped his cigarette out and walked across the street.

“Hey, man,” Steve said as he came over. The dogs were pulling at the leash like crazy and sniffing at Billy. “I swear I was not actually walking by the garage looking for you for once, I was just out walking these guys.” Then he looked at Billy kind of weird. “Um … why are you purple?” he asked him.

“I was paintin’ a car all day.”

“Oh. Right, cool. You can really do all that shit?”

“I can now,” Billy said. He wondered what the hell Harrington was doing, out by himself at ten on a Saturday night walking two dogs. “These guys really yours? I didn’t see no dogs in your fancy house.”

Harrington grinned down at them. “Yeah, they’re mine, my mom always makes me keep them tied up out in the yard.” The one Shepherd was wagging its tail real hard so Billy started petting it.

“Hi! Hi!” he said to it. Harrington looked real weirded out by him. What, he never talked to his own damn dogs? Billy’d kill to have a dog; he’d never got to have a pet before aside from some rabbit his mom had had when he was like eight. “What’re their names?”

Harrington looked up at the streetlamp; he looked really pained for a second. He wrapped one of the long leashes around his hand a couple times. “They have no names, they are fuckin’ wild beasts,” he said. “They aren’t even mine, I’m lying, I just found ‘em. Okay, okay, don’t tell anyone, their names are Luke and Leia.”

“NO SHIT,” Billy said in a great glee. Jesus Harrington was such a goddamn fag. “You homo, did you name your damn animals after fucking Star Wars?

“Screw you, I got them when I was thirteen, it was right after The Empire Strikes Back came out,” Harrington told him.

Billy grinned; Harrington was such an asshole. “Which one’s Leia?”

“The lighter one.”

“Okay, so her formal title’s Princess, right?” Billy fucking bet it was.

“You are such an asshole,” Steve said. “Of course it is, she is royalty and you can address her as such.”

Billy laughed his ass off; Harrington rolled his eyes. Anyway the dogs were real cute though. “Princess Leia! Princess Leia!” Billy yapped at the lighter one. She got real excited and started shaking everywhere; Billy leaned over to pet her. “Hahahaha!”

Harrington still looked real weirded out by him. “Kind of can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “Anyway, I’m glad I ran into you. Do you know George Millstone? He graduated a year ahead of me.”

“Why the fuck would I know him then?”

Harrington made one of his great faces at him. “He still lives in town,” he said. “He works at my dad’s office with me. He’s having a party on Thursday night, it’s going to be a huge kegger. I was gonna tell you you should come if you hadn’t heard about it.”

“Jesus Christ, a party on a Thursday night?” Billy said dramatically. “Right out here in Hawkins?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s some real A list shit. He lives out on LeGrange and Hillcrest.” That was even a more ritzy part of town than Harrington’s.

“I’ll think about it,” Billy told him. Harrington was still pretty much the most annoying person in the universe, even if he did have two cool dogs and liked Star Wars. He definitely remembered the last party he’d been to that Harrington had been at; it’d been the second night he’d been in town. “Maybe if I don’t have to drive Max all over the place.” He’d mentioned Maxine on purpose; he wanted to see if she had yapped her damn head off about him to Steve.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Man, they’re doing some new secretive bullshit, I can’t even tell you.” Probably plotting out Billy’s death or something. “They stole this whole huge transmission radio from the middle school and I got banned from the Wheelers’ house for saying they should take it back. Nobody ever fuckin’ listens to me.”

Billy wondered what the fuck they needed a huge transmission radio for, but only for a minute. He didn’t really care what they were up to (unless they were planning to drop it on him in his sleep and kill him). “You see El-or-Jane around or anything?”

Harrington rolled his eyes at him again; he was smiling. “No, I haven’t seen your girl Carrie around, you fucking pedophile.”

“Fuck you, you’re the pedo,” Billy said. “Dustin! Dustin! Get your hand out of my pocket!”

Harrington laughed real loud. “You are disgusting,” he said. Luke was pulling at his leash and whining a lot. “Okay, okay, okay, Jesus.” He looked up at Billy. “I guess I should go. See you around, all right?”

“Sure,” Billy said. He wasn’t going to go searching for him but whatever.

“Don’t forget about the party, okay? Thursday night.”

“Sure.”

Harrington let the dogs pull him across the street and off down Broad. Billy stared after him for a minute and then he turned to walk to his car. He smoked another cigarette and started to drive home. He felt real jazzed up from seeing Harrington and his two Star Wars dogs; he told himself it was mostly because of the dogs. He saw Sinclair coming out of the comic book shop and he was so jazzed up that he actually pulled the car over without really thinking.

“Hey Sinclair, the fuck you doing out here?” It was past ten and the comic book store was probably just closing.

Sinclair was unlocking his bike from the bike rack. He walked it over to the edge of the sidewalk and glared mistrustfully into Billy’s car. “What, is there some new Jim Crow law that says I can’t walk around town after dark?”

“Well, you do blend right in with the night,” Billy said sweetly. Sinclair rolled his eyes all over Broad Street. “You got my sister with you or what?”

“No, Max isn’t with me, don’t worry,” Sinclair said all nasty. Billy blew some cigarette smoke at him. “She went home after the movie at eight, I’m not out here corrupting her.”

“You’re a piece of fucking work,” Billy told him. He was still pretty jazzed up and Jesus Sinclair was amusing him so. “Get in, I’ll give you a ride.”

Sinclair made one of his sassy faces. “Where? To the morgue?”

Billy took another drag off his cigarette and blew some more smoke at him. “No, to your fuckin’ house, you shithead.”

The kid hesitated for a minute; he glared at Billy all skeptically like a dramatic bitch. “You’re for real?” he said finally.

“Offer’s expiring in five, four, three … “

“Okay, all right!” Sinclair hurried his bike around to the passenger side of Billy’s car and mashed it into the backseat. He pushed the seat back up and climbed in. Then he looked at Billy weird. “Man, why are you all purple?”

Billy rolled his eyes all over Broad Street too. “I had a paint ball gun fight with my boss and his faggot brother,” he said. “They shot me up with fuckin’ glitter listening to Madonna.”

Sinclair made one of his lovely faces at Billy again. Billy turned his speakers up and roared down Main Street. Sinclair lived about fifteen minutes away, next to the Wheelers. Van Halen was playing and luckily Sinclair didn’t try to talk to him or anything. “Thanks I guess,” he said when he got out of the car.

It was after eleven (Eleven!) by the time Billy got in and Neil and Susan were already asleep. Max was sitting in the living room watching some old horror movie and she glared at him when he came in, then looked at him weird. “Why are you purple?” she said, the question of the night. It was the first thing she’d said to him in about four days that hadn’t been totally bitchy.

“I was at a fucking dance club,” Billy told her and she rolled her eyes at him. He went to take a shower; damn if taking a shower wasn’t a huge ordeal with his broken arm that he had to cover up. He still had some of the purple in his hair when he was done. His dad was really gonna love that shit.

He left Maxine to watch her horror movie and laid down in his bed. He put his record player on and smoked the last of his cigarettes. He didn’t mean for it to happen but his mind kept drifting back to Harrington, raising his eyes up to the streetlamps with his hair falling all over the collar of his jacket. Then he thought about his dad smacking his head against the wall and calling him pussy, faggot, queer. Billy put out his cigarette and pulled his pillow over his face.


The week went by and Maxine was still pretty much treating him like he was a leper, not that he gave a shit. On Tuesday morning she ate all his fucking cereal and made faces at him when he bitched at her. Billy’s old man was getting ready to go out on the road again and he clapped his hand down on Billy’s shoulder as he went by, way too hard. “You better do something about that fucking hair of yours,” he told Billy. Billy’d taken like four showers and he still had a bunch of fucking purple paint in the back of it. “I don’t want to see that shit in it when I get back.” Damn if he didn’t make Billy feel like going out and getting a pink mohawk and painting his nails.

He drove Max and himself to school and she glowered at him all mistrustfully as he parked in the lot. “Don’t think that I think you’re less of an asshole because you gave Lucas one ride home,” she told him.

“I could care less what you fuckin’ think about me,” Billy said.

Max glared at him some more. She was gathering all her books up from the floor of the car. “Whatever,” she said. She rolled one of her notebooks up in her hand; Billy wondered if she was gonna start another round of hysteria and start beating him with it. Then she said, “Sorry for what I said about you being like your dad.”

“Sorry I grabbed your fuckin’ arm like I was my dad,” Billy said.

Max got out of the car. “It’s not like you haven’t done it before,” she said and made him feel like total shit. Billy watched her walk into the school. Then he got out and went to class too.

Wednesday Henderson bugged the shit out of him in study hall again. Billy slammed his books to the floor again and stalked off to smoke in the gym. Henderson’d told him that his hair was ‘really bitching’ and that decided it; after school ended he drove down to the barber shop and got a haircut to get the purple bits out of it. It was mostly all the same length now. Billy took a couple minutes to smoke and mourn the loss of his mullet and then he drove down to the shop. He and Hank worked on the Pontiac some more and then Billy went home. Maxine glared at him when he came in and sat down but she didn’t stomp off to her room in a fit of womanly hysteria. They watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on TV and didn’t talk to each other.

Thursday he went to work and worked on the Pontiac until nine, then he drove himself down to LeGrange and Hillcrest. Harrington had said Don’t forget after all. Billy thought about him under the streetlight again. He could spot the party house right away; it was all lit up and there were a shitload of cars in the huge driveway. It was about the size of a fucking mansion.

Billy invited himself in and started drinking. After about ten minutes Harrington came into the kitchen and found him; he must have his Billy Hargrove radar turned up real high. “Hey, I can’t believe you actually showed up.”

Billy rolled his eyes; he was always up for a party, even if there was no coke. He decided he shouldn’t tell Harrington that he’d probably be sitting around at home watching Little House on the Prairie with Maxine and his stepmother otherwise. “Didn’t want you to miss me too much.”

Harrington was staring at him. “You got a haircut,” he said.

“Thanks for noticing, Stella.” Now Harrington was rolling his eyes.

There were a lot of people at the party; a lot of other seniors and a couple of older kids that Billy remembered from last year. He didn’t really care about them though. No sign of Tommy Hall which was a good thing; Billy was getting drunk and he had a deep desire to beat Tommy’s ass into the pavement.

He chugged a couple of beers with Harrington; Billy could still drink him under the table but that was no surprise. One of Harrington’s beer cans exploded all over him and Billy laughed his ass off at him. Harrington said fuck you to him three times but he was smiling; he didn't look like Mr. Mom tonight. Billy felt real good drinking with him.

Rachel Evangelista was across the living room making eyes at him and Harrington waggled his eyebrows all stupid. “She has been watching you all night, man,” he said.

“She’s not my type,” Billy said. He was probably still going to fuck her, though.

Billy went off to get another beer. When he came back Harrington wasn’t on the couch anymore, not like it mattered or they were together or some shit. He was across the room at the front door and he was in deep conversation with Nancy Wheeler. Billy hadn’t even realized she’d been here. She was in English with him and she was an uptight stuck up bitch; she was always talking her ass off in class like she was so smart because she was dating that camera freak Jonathan Byers. He still remembered Harrington being all fucked about her last year: basically she was fucking Cathy Ames from East of Eden. He hadn’t thought she was much of a party person. Anyway she was looking up at Harrington with her big doe eyes and he was looking down at her with his big doe eyes. He put his hand on his elbow and went outside with her.

Billy went off to do more keg shots. He came back into the living room and Harrington still wasn’t there. Rachel Evangelista was, though, she was making eyes at him from the steps. Billy sauntered over to her. “You been looking for me?” Rachel smiled and took his hand. She started dragging him upstairs; Billy already knew they were gonna fuck.

Rachel led him right into an empty bedroom. Apparently she knew the layout of the house real well. She took her shirt off in two seconds; Jesus women in Hawkins moved fast. Her tits were all right. Rachel put her hands in his hair and kissed him all sloppy with her mouth open. Her lipstick tasted like plastic. They fumbled their way to the bed and Rachel pulled him on top of her; Billy let himself be pulled. She kissed Billy and writhed around under him and helped him take his clothes off. He’d barely been able to get his jeans off before she was grabbing his dick and guiding him into her. He hoped to Christ she was on birth control.

The sex was okay; Rachel was pretty wild. She scratched the shit out of his back and kept telling him to fuck her harder, fuck her fucker. They were in a kind of weird position with her half-sitting up against a million pillows on the bed. Billy wound his arm around the wooden bedpost and pulled himself up so he could fuck her like she wanted him to. It actually ended up hurting his broken wrist a lot but he kept fucking her. There was something wrong with him; usually about halfway during sex he just wanted it to be over.

Rachel yelled and moaned a lot and it was a little much. He wasn’t trying that hard. When they were finished Rachel stretched out on the bed naked and smoked one of his cigarettes. Billy managed not to roll his eyes at her; her tits weren’t that great.

Rachel blew some smoke at him. “Do you think you can keep quiet about this?” she asked him. “I kind of have a boyfriend in Eastgate.”

Wonderful, really fucking lovely. Women were so great. She was another goddamn Cathy Ames. “Sure, whatever you want,” Billy said. He was already putting his jeans on. There was something wrong with him and he already wanted to leave. He fixed his necklace; Rachel’d gotten it all twisted around while she’d been grabbing him and moaning her head off. It was his mom’s St. Christopher’s pendant and it was on a silver chain he’d bought when he was fifteen. He dragged his t-shirt on over his head. “So what, you just gonna hang out there naked on the bed all night?”

Rachel laughed at him and rolled over; honestly her ass wasn’t some kind of big deal. “See you in study hall,” she said. “I had a good time.”

Billy buttoned up his jean jacket. He left her there without saying goodbye. Metallica was playing downstairs which was always a good thing; he didn’t really feel like drinking anymore though. He’d copped off okay with Rachel but it hadn’t been that good; his arm was fucking throbbing again now and he kind of thought it hadn’t been worth it. He left the house and started across the yard towards his car. He made a point of it not to look around for Steve.


September was drawing to a close now; it was getting on to be Billy’s favorite time of year. Not really. It was after eight by the time he got home that night; his left arm still hurt from fucking around at the party last week and he was tired as hell. The tow had brought a Chevy in last minute and Hank said he’d pay him double if he’d change the tires before he left.

Billy parked on the street and headed up the dirt driveway to his house. He was pretty sure there wasn’t a single part of his body that didn’t have motor oil slicked on it; it had stained his cast along with the purple and he was pretty sure he looked awesome. It was cold as shit outside but Max was sitting on the broken front step in her ratty parka. She was reading some comic in the flickering porch light and drawing patterns in the dirt with her Chucks.

“Hell’re you doing outside?”

Max looked up at him. In the weak light of the porch the circles under her eyes looked like bruises. Billy wondered if she’d be speaking in civil sentences to him tonight. “The Angels’re losing again.”

“Ah, shit,” Billy said. His dad was probably on his ninth or tenth beer and was probably pissed the fuck off. “Really don’t feel like getting my ass beat tonight.” Max made a face at him; it was almost a smile. “All right, you wanna get food or something?”

Max twisted her shitty paperbook up in her hands and looked at him skeptically. “Really?”

Billy jingled his keys at her. He guessed she did know what a huge brat she’d been being to him. “Before I change my fuckin’ mind, okay.”

Max bounded after him to his car. Def Leppard was playing on the radio again; Billy turned it up. No one else was on the roads but he didn’t speed that much.

“You smell like a truckstop,” Max informed him.

“Please, keep on sweet-talkin’ me.” Billy turned onto the main drag. Max almost smiled again.

They went to Hathaway’s and ordered burgers and fries; Max got a milkshake. She was being gross as shit and dipping her fries in it. You’d think the kid hadn’t eaten in a week. She told him what had happened on Knight Rider last night; he’d been at work then too.

They didn’t usually watch the reruns together or some shit. They just happened to be in the same room sometimes watching them.

“So Devon reunited Knight with Stephanie and they were going to get married!” Max said. Her eyes were real big; Billy guessed it must’ve been real romantic. “But then these evil guys from the start of the episode showed up to kill him and Stephanie took the bullet for him!”

Billy rolled his eyes. He stole a couple of the fries off her plate. “Don’t cry about it, they’ll do their bullshit next week and show him rolling her out of the way or some shit. They’re not actually going to kill the lead guy’s wife off. Fucking asshole.”

“Who’s a fucking asshole?” someone asked from behind him. Billy froze for a second and something below his throat thudded in a weird way. He rolled his eyes again and stole more of Max’s fries. He wasn’t stealing them; he’d paid for them. And now Harrington was standing behind him listening in on him talking with his stepsister about fucking Knight Rider.

It could be worse. They could have been talking about Thunder Cats or some shit. Which they also didn’t watch together, but in the same room, whatever. It was on.

Max got her stupid it’s Steve Harrington! beam on her face. The it’s Steve Harrington! beam was reserved for when she wasn’t off running the fuck away from him in the woods or making fun of him for being a secret agent man, Billy guessed. “David Hasselhoff!”

“Oh, Knight Rider?” Harrington came around to the table; he had a takeout bag of food in his hand. He sat down at the booth next to Max like they’d invited him; Max slid over to make room for him. “My dad watches that.” Great. “He is a fucking asshole. Knight, not my dad.”

Max and Billy looked at each other for two seconds; if only they could say the same. “You guys think everyone is a fucking asshole,” Max said. She was still looking at Billy for some reason.

“Hey!” Steve said like a den mom. Or a den dad, whatever. He was wearing a pale yellow shirt and a black tie with little yellow stripes on it; he looked stupid as shit. His hair got bigger and shinier every time Billy saw him. “Language, all right?”

“Sorry!” Max didn’t look too sorry. She reached out for her last fry; Billy snatched it and made a big display of eating it. Steve grinned at him and Max scowled exaggeratedly, then slurped her milkshake.

Steve started opening up his takeout bag and pulling his burger out; Billy guessed he was fucking dining with them. “I like Dr. Bonnie.”

“You would,” said Billy. “She’s a fucking asshole too.” Steve grinned at him again. He was Mister Smiles tonight.

Max sighed heavily at her empty plate; Billy scowled at her. He dug around in his jeans pocket with his right arm – it was still hard not to use the left – and tossed her a buck. She wasn’t being as fucking annoying as she had been being tonight; he’d liked her synopsis of Knight Rider. He thought he had off next week to watch it. Now thanks to her they’d run into Harrington. He realized he wasn’t being sarcastic and felt surprised at himself. Even now Harrington wouldn’t have came and sat down if it’d just been him, he was pretty sure of that.

Max got up to get more fries or whatever the fuck she was going to get; Steve let her out of the booth and then sat back down. “Hathaway’s on a Friday night, we are both living it up again,” Steve said to him.

“Yeah,” Billy said. He’d forgotten it was Friday, really. That’d never happen back in California; there was always some shit to go to. Here there was Hathway’s. “I was at work, so.” He always said the most interesting shit to Harrington.

“Yeah, I can tell.” Billy raised his eyebrows and didn’t say anything; he suddenly felt really aware of the fact that he was probably streaked with exhausted fumes, not that it mattered. “How you been?” Steve asked. He could fit a lot of french fries in his mouth. Billy wondered what else he could fit in there. God shit fuck, he was pretty fucked in the head. He wasn’t answering so Harrington kept on talking. “Haven’t seen ya since ya ditched me at the party I invited you to.”

Billy didn’t feel like telling him he’d gone off and fucked Rachel. He should be bragging about it; he didn’t feel like telling Steve though. He hadn’t even said any shit about her at school. He was losing his edge. “All right, you ditched me,” he said. “I disappear for five minutes and you’re fucking gone.”

“I was outside talking to Nancy for a while. I came back in.”

Billy started eating Steve’s fries too. He looked at his left arm and his crummy cast. “Yeah, I saw that,” he said. He wasn’t looking at Harrington. “She crying to get back with you yet or was it more creepy kid shit?”

Steve was smiling at Billy again like, Billy didn’t fucking know. He looked amused or something. Guys didn’t usually smile at him; usually it was some slut who was tryin’ to bang him or soccer moms he was flirting with for fun. “Creepy kid shit,” he said. “Well, kid shit, not that creepy. Mike and El had some fight and he ran off. Nance always freaks out, but he was just at Dustin’s house.”

“Elijane’s getting smart, she knows to stay the fuck away from the Wheelers.”

Steve opened his mouth to say something; he was still smiling. Max came bumbling back with her fries before he could say whatever he was gonna say. “You want some of these, Billy? I asked for cheese but I didn’t know it’d be the orange kind.”

“You have to ask for mozzarella if you want it, they always do that,” Steve told her.

“I like the orange kind,” Billy said. He ate their food; Steve and Max kept talking about Knight Rider.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

When you walk without ease
On these streets where you were raised
I had a really bad dream
It lasted 20 years, 7 months, and 27 days
And I know that, I know that
I never had no one ever
Now I'm outside your house
I'm alone and I'm outside your house
I hate to intrude; I know I'm alone
I'm alone, I'm alone, I'm alone
And I never, never had no one ever
I never had no one ever

- ‘Never Had No One Ever,’ The Smiths

 

October 1986

By the first day of the month the temperature was already below freezing; apparently that was a thing that happened here. Billy had to wait in his car for twenty minutes that morning with Max as the windshield defrosted. The Camaro was probably going to freeze and overheat at the same time and finally totally fucking die on him; Billy was pretty sure he was also going to fucking die if he had to sit in there for another half hour on another morning, listening to Maxine go on and on about Dungeons and Dragons at the Wheelers’ household. His own kid stepsister, a fantasy nerd. She was already a gamer nerd so it made sense. Jesus she hurt him so much.

As far as Billy was concerned, the whole month of October was for shit, especially here in Hawkins. A string of bad shit always happened to him in October; he was waiting for it to go down.

His mom had died in October first of all. It was coming up on five years now and Billy was depressed as hell about it; he wasn’t thinking about it. Then last year they’d moved to this shithole town and he’d first laid eyes on Harrington, kickstarting off his bad luck for the year. It was the curse of Hawkins and all that shit. This year the worst that had happened so far was fuckin’ Henderson following him around in study hall again (Billy also considered that part of the curse of Hawkins), but the potential for more shit was always growing, especially when you were in the creepy kid club.

Billy guessed he really was in the creepy kid club now. Maybe not fully integrated but a junior member or some shit; he still wasn’t quite sure how that’d happened.

On the second of October, Billy’s dad came up to him while he was eating breakfast and laid a hand on his shoulder. The hand didn’t clamp down too hard but Billy clenched up anyway; he was such a fucking pussy. A real coward like Maxine’d said. In his head he ran through the list of things he could have done this week to piss his old man off.

His dad wasn’t out for blood that morning though. Billy thought he might be. His dad said, “Bill, I don’t want you to think I’ve forgotten.” Billy ran through the list in his head again. His dad said, “I haven’t forgotten about your mother. It’s coming up.”

Oh. Of course. “Yeah,” Billy said. He didn’t want to talk about his mom.

“It’s a hard month for both of us,” Neil said. Billy really hoped his dad wasn’t going to start going on and on about his mom; sometimes he did. He hadn’t cared for shit when she’d been alive or when she’d been sick, it felt like. “We’ve just got to get through it. We always do.”

“Yeah,” Billy said again.

Billy’s dad took his arm away. “You gonna be okay?” he asked. He was being real nicey nice again; Billy’d almost forgot he could be that way.

“I’m okay,” Billy said. He was always okay.

Max ran by with her board and Billy gave her his keys to go out and start the car up. She was running late and she was making him late so she could start the car up. Billy sat and ate his cereal while Maxine thundered about in the background, running in and out of the house, screaming about her shoes and arguing with Susan about lunch money. Neil sat down across from him and looked at him.

“Your mom would be real proud of you, taking care of your sister like this.”

Billy got up and put his cereal bowl in the sink; he filled it up with water so Susan wouldn’t have to rinse it. He could feel something red behind his eyes. “She’s not my sister,” he said and went to go outside and wait for Max. It didn’t matter what his mom would think anyway. She was dead. She’d been dead.

Maxine finally ran out and met him at his car; her hair was still wet from her shower and her grubby green jacket had a stain on the sleeve. She waved her packet of Poptarts in his face; Billy shook his head. He put the Camaro into gear and started driving.

Max unwrapped her Poptarts and started gnawing at the edge of one like some kinda sewer rat. She kept looking at him all funny out of the corner of her eyes. She looked at him all the way down Redwood Lane. Finally she said, “I heard Neil talking to you about your mom. You guys never talk about her. How … how did she die again?”

Billy looked out at the road; he turned his blinker on to turn onto Elm Street. “She had cancer,” he said, real slow so Max would know how for shit she was. His mom had only been in the ground for a year when Neil’d married Susan; he knew they knew the whole story.

“Oh. Right, I knew that. Sorry.” Max looked down at her Poptarts. Then she looked back up at him. “Was she sick for a long time?”

She hadn’t been sick for a long time; she’d been sick for forever. It had felt like forever. Sometimes he still woke up and felt like he had to go and check on her. Even when she’d stayed at the hospital for the end of it he’d felt like that.

Billy didn’t say anything for a couple minutes. He didn’t think he was gonna say anything at all, but eventually the words came out without him meaning them to. “Yeah, she was sick for a long time,” he told Max. “She had these tumors on her lungs; they took ‘em out but it came back.” It usually came back, cancer that was; Billy was pretty sure. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It wasn’t even supposed to be a real bad one. Billy still didn’t really know how any kind of cancer couldn’t be a bad one. Even just five years later they could go all kinds of new shit; they couldn’t do that shit when Billy’s mom had been sick. “When she got real bad again it was too late to really do anything.”

Maxine looked real sad for him; she even stopped eating her Poptart. “Sorry,” she said again. “I guess you really miss her.”

Billy didn’t want to talk about his mom. Even though he’d barely said anything he felt like he’d said too much. “What about you, didn’t you have a uh, some cherished family member that died?” he asked. He snapped his fingers at her. “What was it? Not your dad, but his … “

Max didn’t answer him for a minute. Then she said, “My mom’s brother.”

“Right, right,” Billy said. “Your uncle. You guys stayed with him after your dad fucked off, right?”

Max was just staring at him being an asshole; he knew he was being an asshole. She was used to him being an asshole. “Yeah.”

“He’s dead too, right? Your uncle? How’d he kick it?”

He knew how Max’s uncle had died. He wasn’t for shit like her; he remembered. He wanted to hear her say it. Wanted her to feel like total shit like he did.

Maxine looked out the window. “Car accident,” she said.

“Somebody hit him, right?” Billy said. He turned his car onto the main drag. “Somebody was speeding, right? Mashed him up?”

“Yeah.”

“Kinda funny that your uncle got himself killed driving around and you still thought it was cool to jack my fucking car and drive it all over Hawkins.”

Max scowled out the window. “I did what I had to do,” she gritted out.

That was cute; she was real cute. Billy still hadn’t seen little Elijane around again but he still considered her a fucking badass; he didn’t know if whatever shit Max and her friends and Harrington had been doing last year had been important enough that they needed to hawk his fucking car though.

They drove onto school the rest of the way in silence. Max got out of the car and stalked away before he’d even got the engine turned off. Billy sat and watched her go. He knew that he hadn’t needed to say that shit to her. He couldn’t stop himself, never could.

Fleetwood Mac started playing on the radio so he turned it off. Fleetwood Mac was good but they’d been his mom’s favorite band; he didn’t need to hear them. He remembered when he’d gone out and bought Rumors for her. He still had it in his room, somewhere. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror; he looked like a piece of shit. He smoked two cigarettes before he felt okay enough to go in.

 

That night he was sitting at the service desk at the shop when the bell on the door jingled. Billy looked up and Harrington was walking in; he’d forgotten to lock up. It was after eight.

He’d seen Harrington three or four times since he and Max had run into him at the diner the other week. He hadn’t exactly gone looking for him but he’d found him anyway. By proxy he’d seen a lot of the creepy kids too.

Last week Harrington’d been conveniently out walking his dogs again right when Billy’d been getting out of work. They’d talked for a couple minutes and once again hadn’t punched each other in the face; Billy considered it a real success. Steve was super interested in what Billy did at the garage; apparently the kid could barely change a tire. Why he’d entrusted Billy with this sensitive information remained a mystery.

He’d been at Mike’s (the pizza place, not Wheeler Jr’s house) with Henderson and the little Byers kid one afternoon when Billy’d dropped Max off. Maxine was acting like less of a grade A bitch by then, more kinda like a grade B or C, so Billy’d followed her in and bought her some food. Then he’d been at the arcade the other night with the kids too; Max had told Billy that he should come in. He’d laughed his ass off at Harrington playing Ms. Pac Man. “TAKE THAT, SHITFACE!” Steve had yelled in Henderson’s face. His hair was everywhere. “YOU OWE ME FIVE BUCKS NOW!”

“Son of a bitch!” Henderson’d been lisping as Steve put his initials into the machine. “Steve. Steve, Steve, what’s the A stand for? Asshole?”

Billy sat in the shop and stared at Steve. Steve walked over to the counter. “Hey, I figured you’d be in here. What’re you doing, homework?” he asked like he hadn’t driven by the shop two times this week all slow like an FBI agent and stared at Billy doing his homework.

Billy pulled his papers away from him. He was kind of doing homework; mostly he was thinking about his mom. She’d gotten so thin right before she’d died; she’d looked like a skeleton. He kept seeing it, what she’d looked like. He thought he’d have been okay if his old man hadn't brought her up in the morning. He was still thinking of being a piece of shit to Maxine, too. She hadn’t shown up at his car today for him to drive her home. Not that he cared but he’d been taking her home usually.

Harrington was still looking at him. “It’s my fuckin’ math sheets, they’re like three days late already.”

“Oh yeah, who do you have? I had Lestner last year, got a fuckin’ C in Calc.”

Pretty much the last thing Billy ever really wanted to do was sit in the shop and tell Steve Harrington all about what a stupid piece of shit he was. He’d already seen the papers, though. “Man, I don’t got Lestner. I’m taking fuckin’ algebra. Algebra II.”

“Oh, okay,” was all Harrington said. He was leaning over real serious looking at Billy’s worksheet; his hair was falling into his eyes all pretty. “Okay, that’s not too bad. You take it back in California?”

Billy didn’t feel like telling Harrington he’d failed out of all his classes when his mom had been dying. It wasn’t really something people wanted to hear. He’d failed out of all his classes and had had to repeat the eighth grade; somehow his old man hadn’t kicked the shit out of him for that and honestly Billy still felt surprised over it. He’d been too busy burying Billy’s mom and selling all her shit. “Yeah, I had to retake all my classes. I’m not smart like that.”

“You can’t be that bad if you’re in English with Nancy,” Steve said. Billy wondered how he knew that. “You know, I can help you if you want. I’m a real good study partner.” He rolled his eyes for some reason.

Billy stared at him; he didn’t know if Harrington was for serious. Then he thought about Harrington saying Look, I just thought maybe it’d be cool to hang out with someone who wasn’t a fucking annoying fourteen year old. He thought about Harrington saying, I can’t believe you like Star Wars, they are my favorite movies and drinking with him at the party. He figured he could be Steve’s charity case if he wanted him to be. He didn’t have shit else to do either.

“Okay,” he said.

“Yeah? Okay!” said Harrington. He looked real jazzed up for some reason. He also kind of looked like a crazy person; he had those huge circles under his eyes again. He said, “I dated Nancy Wheeler for a whole year, I can make a pretty mean fucking flashcard. Will I remember what’s on the fucking flashcard? No. No, definitely not. But I can make it.”

Jesus he was cute. It was real terrible. Billy licked his lips and didn’t look at him. “What are you doing here?”

“I was looking for you,” Harrington said. He leaned on the counter and looked at Billy all stupid; it took Billy a minute to realize he was looking that way on purpose. Harrington was a goddamn goofball. “I just got some sensitive intel on your girl Carrie from Dustin. She is going to be at the arcade tonight, I wanted to see you cream your pants again.”

“HOT SHIT!” Billy said. He wondered just how bad Harrington wanted to see him cream his pants. He wanted Harrington to tell him all about it. Anyway he wasn’t actually going to cream his pants; Elijane was like twelve. He was still gonna marry her though. “Why the fuck’re you talking to me about Algebra, then?”

Maxine hadn’t told him El would be at the arcade. Maybe she would’ve if he hadn’t been a shitbag to her this morning; all she’d done was ask him one question. Billy slammed his papers into his backpack and closed up the shop. Even though he was rushing he made sure to check twice that he’d hung up his keys. “You got your car?”

“No, I took a walk. I kinda needed to clear my head.”

Harrington was some kinda philosopher or some shit apparently. “I’ll give you a ride.”

They got into Billy’s car. Harrington didn’t talk too much; usually he had about a million annoying things to say. He leaned his head against the window and looked out at the street. It was raining a little, then it started raining a lot. Harrington breathed against the glass til it fogged up, then he drew a dick on the window.

“That is so nice, you fuckin’ ten year old,” Billy said. Steve grinned out the window.

At the arcade Sinclair was sitting at a table by himself with El-or-Jane. She was eating some soggy french fries and she had another huge baggy sweatshirt on; it was a pink one this time and her hair was real curly. Billy pulled out a chair across from her and grinned.

Maxine wasn’t there; Billy remembered now that she was having some kinda sleepover at this girl Beverly’s house. Max had actually managed to make a couple friends who weren’t in the creepy kid club. She coulda reminded him. “How come you kids ain’t playing?” Henderson and Wheeler Jr and the Byers kid were over at the Dig Dug machine, whooping their heads off.

Sinclair was giving him a skeptical look; Billy guessed he still wasn’t forgiven for kicking him out of the house and saving his ass. “Ran out of money.”

Elijane made a little face too; goddamn she was too cute (in a totally different way than Harrington. Sinclair still wasn’t cute at all). “Too many lights,” she said.

“I hear you, kid.”

Steve went up and got sodas; Billy kept sitting and looking at the kids. Even though he was real jazzed up about seeing baby Carrie again he still felt kind of down about his mom and all. He was trying not to think about it but he was anyway. He couldn’t even turn the charm on too much.

Harrington came back with sodas and a menu and sat down. Billy didn’t know why they had menus at the arcade; all they served were curly fries and chicken nuggets. “Did you guys bring that fuckin’ radio back?” Steve asked Sinclair.

Sinclair rolled his eyes at him; he was a real joy tonight. “Don’t worry about the radio,” he said. “We’re doing stuff with it.”

“What stuff?” Harrington demanded. He looked like a den dad again.

“Things, Steve!”

The kids came back to steal Steve’s soda; Wheeler Jr glared at Billy like he had the plague. He leaned over and whispered to Elijane all cryptic for a couple minutes.

“I’m okay, Mike,” Elijane told him. “I don’t want to play.”

They stayed at the arcade for an hour or so. Elijane stared at Billy for a long time, long enough to make him start feeling really weird: it was like she had x-ray vision or something. Then she started flipping the menu open and flipping through it for him. With her fuckin’ mind! Billy got such a kick out of it that she did it like three times. He was pretty sure she kept doing it because he was being a fuckin’ dumbass.

“Hot shit, kid!” Billy said. “Okay okay, I wanna see the dessert menu.”

Elijane flipped the menu closed to the back without even looking at it. “HAHAHAHA,” said Billy.

“Oh my god,” Sinclair said; he had his head in his hands like a dramatic bitch. Harrington was smiling at Billy being a dumbass. “You guys are so freaking retarded.

Elijane looked at Sinclair and then made his hoodie zipper all the way up. It got caught on his polo shirt. “HAHAHAHA,” said Billy again. “FUCKING AWESOME!”

Sinclair glared at him and then Elijane. “El, stop!” he said.

“Okay okay okay,” Billy said. There were kind of a lot of people here. “Okay I’m good. Kid you gotta stop.”

“Okay, I stopped,” said Elijane. Then she looked at Harrington’s empty soda can and crushed it with her mind.

“HAHAHAHAHA!” said Billy again in true delight. Harrington started laughing at him.

“Oh my god!” said Sinclair again too, definitely not in delight. He threw his hands up all agitated. “El, seriously?”

The rest of the brat pack was trooping over; Billy guessed they’d ran out of money too. “Is Billy having a stroke?” Henderson asked. “He looks like a mental patient.” Billy flipped him off.

Sinclair was rolling his eyes for the eightieth time of the night. “Man, you belong in a mental institution.”

Billy ignored him; it was hard but he did it. He was trying to be on his best behavior since El-or-Jane was around; he’d only cursed like six times.

“You ready to go to my house?” Wheeler Jr was asking Elijane.

Steve instantly looked like a den dad again. “Excuse me, it’s fucking almost ten o’clock,” he said. Billy thought again he was too cute. “Does Hopper know she’s going to your house?”

The kids all instantly looked shifty; they looked just like the super obvious villians on Knight Rider. “He’s not home,” Elijane said.

WHAT?” yelled Steve. He had begun the slow transition from den dad to Mr. Mom. “Jesus, are you even allowed to be out?”

“Steve, she can take care of herself,” Henderson was yapping.

“Like hell!” Steve said. “You little assholes are gonna get kidnapped or something, she is going straight the fuck home.”

“I can give her a ride back,” Billy said. He was real jazzed up thinking about it. Anyway it was raining pretty hard; the Chief's house was all the way on the other side of town.

Wheeler Jr was glaring at him like he was some kinda cockroach. “She’s not going anywhere with you,” he scoffed.

“She’s not going anywhere with you on your ratty-ass bike,” Harrington told him.

“IT’S NOT RATTY, I JUST GOT IT LAST YEAR!” Wheeler Jr hollered his head off.

“Fucking ten-speed bike,” Harrington said. He flicked his crushed-up soda can across the table.

“You’re a ten-speed bike!”

Elijane was looking around; Billy gave her his most winsome smile. “Billy can take me home,” she said, deciding it.

Wheeler Jr stopped yelling about his bike. “What? El, no way!” he said. Jesus he really did think he was her damn keeper.

“What, you think I’m some kinda rapist?”

“No, I just think you’re an asshole!”

“Mike, it’s fine, I got a ride with him,” Harrington was telling him, rolling his eyes. “Stop being a little shit, you know she’s not supposed to go out when Hopper’s not here.” They were all talking about the kid like she wasn’t even there.

They paid for their food and went outside. Steve and Billy leaned on his car and watched the kids all convalesce in a big group. They looked all gay and shit with their arms around each other; they were always doing that queer shit. Wheeler Jr pulled El aside and whispered at her for about five minutes.

Harrington looked real annoyed getting rained on. “Fucking annoying fucks,” he said. “COME ON, ASSHOLES. Not you, El. DEFINITELY YOU, DUSTIN.”

Wheeler Jr gave him a massively annoyed look. The kids said bye to El and got on their bikes, then they all stood around looking at Billy and Steve. Billy put his hand on Elijane’s back and guided her to his car, same way he’d guided her up to the counter at the diner the other month. Wheeler Jr was scowling up a storm so Billy put his hand on El’s shoulder, too. “Come on kid, you can sit up front with me.” He threw a glance over his shoulder at Harrington. “Bitches get the backseat.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Steve said. He opened the door to the Camaro and climbed into the backseat, then pushed the seat back up so Elijane could get in.

They drove out of the lot; Wheeler Jr watched them, glaring furiously, and Henderson flipped them off. Harrington flipped him off back. Nobody really talked for a while. Harrington was sprawled out in the backseat like a coma patient, playing with his sunglasses. Elijane stared at the dick on the window pane; in the rearview mirror, Harrington made a great face.

Fleetwood Mac came on the radio again playing ‘Dreams’ because of course they fucking would; it was POWER 99 and it was the curse of Hawkins. Billy reached out to change the station but Elijane put her hand on his arm to stop him. He just about jumped when she touched him; he wasn’t used to people touching him anymore. “Pretty,” she said.

Billy took his hand off the radio. “Yeah, okay,” he said.

Elijane kept her hand on his arm; she started playing with his bracelet. “Pretty,” she said again.

“Oh, you like that?” Billy said. “That’s my mom’s bracelet, kid. She had real good taste, right?”

Elijane didn’t say anything. She kept playing with the bracelet and looking at it. Billy felt real goddamn weird with her touching him; nobody ever fucking touched him. It was his mom’s gold bracelet and it had red stones on it. Billy always forgot what they were called.

Harrington was sitting up a little in the backseat. “You wear your mom’s jewelry?” he asked.

Billy felt real stupid; he’d been so focused on the kid and the shitty radio that actually he’d kind of forgotten Harrington was even there. “Some real Boy George shit, right?”

“Kind of.” Billy felt like getting mad but Harrington was grinning at him so he couldn’t get mad. It was pretty weird; it sure as hell pissed his old man off, half of why he did it.

Elijane was still looking at him in her serious way. “Your mom ... doesn’t want ... her bracelet?” she asked. Billy thought again that she talked so fucking weird; he guessed he knew why now.

“She don’t want anything, she’s dead,” Billy told her.

Elijane stared at him; her big eyes looked real sad for him. “Sorry,” she whispered. She drew her arm back away from the bracelet like a hurt animal. She was still touching him though.

Billy hated it when people looked sorry for him, and the kid looking that way for him was even worse than Max this morning. He didn’t feel that mad though. For some reason he thought about Harrington saying Her name’s Eleven like number eleven, like experiment eleven? He wondered if she’d ever seen her own damn mom in her life. “Nah, it was a while ago, kid,” he said. He pulled his arm out of her grasp and reached up to pull his pendant out from under the collar of his shirt. “Here, look at this shit, I got her necklace on too. It’s real pretty, right?”

Really pretty,” Elijane said. She reached out and touched the St. Christopher’s pendant too.

“Right, right, really pretty,” Billy said. She’d grown up in a test tube apparently but she could speak better English than him.

Finally the kid let his pendant go and he tucked it back under his shirt. ‘Dreams’ kept on playing. Harrington kept on being a faggot in the backseat. They got to the Chief’s house and it was all dark. Elijane said thanks and climbed out of the car. She started up the long dark driveway; she used her fucking mind powers to turn all the lights on in the house before she’d even reached the porch. She went inside without looking back at them.

“Goddamn,” Billy said.

Harrington laughed at him; he was sitting up in the backseat now. He leaned over and looked at Billy. Billy could see him looking in the rearview mirror. “I didn’t know your mom was dead,” he said.

“It ain’t a secret,” Billy said. “Why the fuck else would I be living with my old man in this shithole town?”

“I don’t know, I thought maybe she was like your dad or something.”

“No, she wasn’t like my dad,” Billy told him. Jesus he’d be dead too if she was like his dad. “She was great, okay?”

Steve kept on staring. “How’d she die?”

It was a fucking great day. It was the second damn time someone’d asked him that today. “She had cancer, man,” Billy said. He wasn’t gonna fuck up like he had with Max and say too much.

“Jesus,” Steve said. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t know that. How old were you?”

Harrington was asking him too many fucking questions. “It doesn’t matter. Am I taking you back to your house, or you gonna go fag around at the Wheelers’?”

Harrington got out of the car to climb into the front seat. “I barely ever go to the Wheelers’,” he said.

“Don’t you play D&D with those kids?” He hoped Sinclair hadn’t been breaking his heart and lying to him.

“They started playing at the Byers’ house, which is another great place for me,” Steve told him. Byers was the guy Nancy’d chucked him for. “I don’t want to run into Nancy.”

“She’s a fucking piece of work.”

“No, man, Nancy’s great,” Steve said. “Too great for me.” He looked all broken up about her again.

“You just fucking said you don’t want to run into her.”

“I don’t,” Steve said. “Look, Nancy’s a good person. That’s my, that’s my thing for this year, I am trying to be a good person.”

“Uh-huh,” Billy said. The big thing at school last year had been Nancy cheating on Harrington, then just a week or so later she’d been going around, holding hands with and making eyes at Jonathan Byers. Billy didn’t really see how that made her a good person, but apparently he didn’t know shit. He rubbed at his mouth with his left hand; his cast felt rough. “That why you hanging out with me all the time now?”

Harrington looked over and him and then started smiling. “No, I hang out with you when I get tired of that shit.”

“You fucking sweet-talker, King Steve.” Steve grinned at him. Billy started driving him back to his house. They got all the way back to Main Street and Steve said, “You know, I hawked a bunch of beers off my old man. You want to drink them with me and go throw rocks at Tommy H’s house?”

Billy absolutely did. “Okay,” he said.



Max was waiting for him at his car at the end of school the next day; they both got in without saying anything. Billy started driving them home. “You ain’t gonna tell me about your slumber party last night?” he asked her. “What you kids do, talk about your periods and paint your nails?”

Max ignored him; she laid her head against the windowpane. Goddamn if she wasn’t making him feel like total shit still. The thing about him and Max was that they weren’t brother and sister, but they’d been living with each other for going on four years now. They weren’t a real family but they had something in common anyway.

Usually they understood each other. They had to see each other all the time; they were both stuck. He didn’t know why her being in a stupid sulk was making him feel like a piece of shit right now; he’d said way worse to her. He thought about Harrington last night saying he was trying to be a good person.

Billy looked out at the road. “Max,” he said. “Ma-aaax,” he drawled when she didn’t answer him.

Max rolled her eyes over to him. “What.

“I’m sorry, okay?” It sucked to say it.

“What are you sorry for?” She had her little scowl on her face; it was usually there.

“For whatever the fuck I said that made you mad,” Billy said. Max just looked at him. “For yesterday, okay?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. Sorry, okay?”

“Okay.” Max pursed her mouth up and considered him. “I guess I’m sorry for asking you about your mom and making you get all weird.”

“I ain’t fucking weird,” Billy said. “I don’t like to talk about it, okay?”

“I know.” Max flung herself forward in her seat so she wasn’t all squashed up against the window anymore. “Lucas told me you drove El home last night. You met her for five minutes and you already like her more than me.”

“Who said I like you?” Billy demanded. Max almost smiled at him so he jabbed her in her side a little. “Who fuckin’ said it?”

When they got to the corner of their street, Neil was out in the yard with the lawn mower, scowling up a storm. Billy turned the car left instead of right and went straight back around the block. Max looked relieved. “You want me to drop you at the arcade?”

“I don’t have any money.”

“Okay. Wheeler central?”

Max made a face. “Why, so they can all ignore me to use their stupid radio again?”

Apparently Maxine was still just a junior member of the creepy kid club too; Billy didn’t really care enough about the radio to ask about it. Max was now making one of her nicey nice faces at him. Billy glared back at her suspiciously. “Want to see a movie?” she asked him.

“Ha. Not if you don’t have any fuckin’ money,” Billy said. He drove them down to the theater anyway. He parked a couple blocks down and started walking up the main drag; Max bounced along next to him. They passed by the diner and Max pressed her face up against the big window by the door. She snagged the sleeve of Billy’s leather jacket as he went by her.

“Look, it’s Steve!” she said.

Of course it was Steve. “You want me to throw a parade?” Billy looked in the window too; Harrington was sitting at the breakfast counter and drinking a coffee. He had one of his collared shirt-and-tie combos on and his retarded Raybans sunglasses on.

“Should we go say hi?” Max asked. “He looks tired.”

Billy made a noncommittal noise that Maxine seemed to take for an affirmative; she latched onto his sleeve again and started leading him into the diner.

Billy let himself be led. He’d been out with Harrington til past one; he wouldn’t mind seeing him again. A little flicker of something was clicking away in his head but he pushed it down deep.

He and Max came and stood behind Steve looking at him. Steve was still hunched down around his coffee looking straight ahead; his green jacket was crumpled up on the empty seat next to him. He was folding a napkin up into a little square. There were three others folded next to him.

Billy leaned over. “Hey shitface,” he said into the back of his head.

“JE-SUS!” said Harrington and almost upset his coffee. He rolled his head back to stare at Billy and Max. “Oh, hey. Hey guys. What are you doing here?”

“Our dad is, like, on the warpath again so Billy’s taking me to a movie, do you want to come with us?” Max yapped.

“Maxine!” Billy said.

What?” Max looked like a gross gremlin child again.

Billy was counting to ten in his head. “Stevie here doesn’t need to hear about our wonderful home life, okay.”

“Okay, okay.”

Harrington swiveled around in his counter chair; he was looking at both of them with one of his unreadable expressions. He said after a moment, “You know what? I would love to see a movie with you guys.” He sounded so goddamn sincere that it made Billy feel weird as shit.

“Don’t you got work or something?”

“I leave at noon most Fridays,” Harrington said. “Perk of being the boss’s kid. What are we going to see?” Max was beaming.

Harrington put a few dollars on the counter and got a take-out cup for his coffee; he drank it as they walked down the street to the theater. The only thing playing until after five was that Gremlins movie and some Woody Allen flick. Gremlins had came out two or three years ago; Billy guessed it was just hitting Hawkins now.

At the ticket window, Harrington paid for their movie stubs as Maxine looked hopefully over towards the snack counter. “You really don’t gotta do that, man,” Billy said. He felt real weird hanging out at the movies with Harrington and Max. Even a month ago he never would have believed it.

“What?” Steve was already handing over his money. “I’d seriously be doing shit else, you guys are giving me something to do.”

Great, so now he was basically on a date with Harrington and his kid stepsister. Steve had paid so that made Billy the girl, didn’t it? Maxine could be their dedicated chaperon, he thought sarcastically, letting Max drag him over to the candy display. He bought her a large popcorn since she’d got them out with Harrington and all.

Billy kind of loved being at the movies; usually there was shit playing here in Hawkins so he hadn’t been too much. He’d gone to the theater just about every Saturday with his mom until he was about eleven. It was their favorite pastime and the best way to get away from Neil for a few hours. He’d even taken Maxine a couple times back in Cali. They’d seen more than just Return of the Jedi together.

He sat at the end of the row close to the front; most people liked to sit in the back but that was for shit. Less people to piss you off in the front. He figured Max would sit next to him but Steve slid down beside him and Max scampered around them.

“Wish we could see this in 3D,” Harrington said, because he was some kinda fucking dork. “They played this last year too up until after Christmas.”

“Look, are you going to talk through this whole damn thing?” Billy asked him.

Harrington made one of his stupid faces at Billy; he was being a goddamn goofball again. “Proooobably.”

The movie started and really, Harrington didn’t talk his ass off too much. Billy was learning that Steve fed into it the more annoyed you got at him; the best way to stop him from saying his stupid shit was to ignore him or buy him a cheeseburger. On the screen, the little gremlins were wreaking havoc on the kitchen. Billy leaned over Steve. “Maxine,” he whispered. She looked over at him. “I didn’t know you were in a movie.” He pointed at one of the little monsters spinning in a blender.

“Screw you!” said Max. She had some popcorn falling out of her mouth. She pointed at the screen too; there was a big ugly fucker eating out of the trash can. “That one’s you.”

Harrington laughed at them. “You guys are fuckin’ adorable,” he said, grinning. Max scowled. Billy liked to think he didn’t scowl but he probably did too. He leaned back in his seat. Steve kept laughing real loud at the stupidest parts in the movie; he was like a live-action laugh track. It was pretty fuckin’ cute and pretty fuckin’ annoying.

“Want to meet up on Sunday night?” Harrington said to him as they were parting ways. It was almost six now and Neil was real hardcore about Max and Billy being on time for dinner when he was home. “We can meet at the diner and I’ll do your math homework.”

Billy still had shit else to do, he told himself. “Okay,” he said. He wondered if Harrington would still buy him a milkshake.

Maxine looked happy as they parted from Steve and walked down Main Street. She slid into the passenger seat of Billy’s car. “That was really fun,” she said. She looked at him like a gremlin and then smiled real cutesy. “Did you and Steve hold hands in the popcorn?”

“I hope you had a real fucking good time, I’m going to kill you in your sleep tonight,” Billy told her.

 

They met up at the diner on Sunday night and then Friday night, again on the following Sunday. Harrington was actually kind of teaching him shit; he didn’t feel so lost in class anymore.

The first Sunday night Steve had been staring at his papers for a real long time not saying anything. He drank his coffee. He ran his hands through his shiny hair. He furrowed his brow. “Okay,” he said. “Okay, okay.”

“What, ’s that bad?” Billy was feeling kind of defensive; he and Maxine had gotten to endure a whole weekend of Neil yelling at both of them about how goddamn stupid they were. Max had hid out in her room for most of Saturday and Billy’d gone to a party (sucked ass like everything else here in Hawkins, especially without Harrington there), but you couldn’t escape hearing it at dinner and shit. They were both waiting for Billy’s dad to go back on the road. Now Max was at the Wheelers’ and Billy was with Harrington.

“No, no,” Harrington lied his ass off. He ran his hands through his hair again. He drank his coffee (Billy didn’t know why he needed a coffee at eight on a Sunday night; then realized he was soundin’ like his mom in his head or some shit). “It’s not that bad!” he said, looking at Billy’s face. He was probably scowling or something. “Just, uh, funny story, okay I totally don’t remember how to do this shit anymore.”

Billy stared at him. “Are you serious?”

“What, I haven’t been in school!” Harrington said. “Who needs math? Okay, it is gonna come back to me.” He drank more of his coffee. “Did anyone ever tell you you have really bad handwriting? It really looks like you were having a seizure writing out problem three.”

“I probably was.” Math was for shit; it made his brain lock up. Kinda like Harrington.

“Hmmm.” Steve was chewing on his lip; Billy wasn’t looking at it. “Okay. Okay. I remember now. Uh, you’re kind of – just doing the problems backwards? You have to do what’s in the parentheses first.”

“Why?”

“That’s just, that’s the rules.” Harrington was looking at him like he was being funny. He was not being funny; math was for shit.

Billy took his paper back. “Okay, well. Who made the goddamn rules?”

“You’re like a little kid.” Harrington was laughing at him. “I don’t know, some old guy who’s been dead for like three hundred and fifty years.”

Billy wondered if people had really been suffering through Algebra II for three hundred years. It couldn’t be true. He bowed his head down and started redoing his problems. Harrington looked through his English book and pulled out some papers; he started reading Billy’s essay on East of Eden. After a couple of minutes, he said, “Hey, this is actually pretty good. Max write this for you or something?”

“Screw off,” Billy said. He was still writing out problem three. “The fuck Maxine wrote it. No, I wrote it myself, douchebag.”

“Okay, okay, sorry.” Harrington kept reading the paper. “I didn’t know you liked English.”

“I don’t.” He didn’t like English or school, anything about being in school. He liked books, some books.

“I always forget you’re in class with Nancy. I didn’t have O’Hearn last year, I was in retardo English.” Harrington smiled at the paper. “You got a lot of feelings about this Cathy lady.”

“I got a lot of feelings about my fist and your face.”

Harrington looked up at him; it made Billy feel weird. “Yeah, I remember.” He kept looking at him. “You know, you never said sorry to me.”

“I’m not sorry,” Billy told him. “I really thought you guys were doing some fucked up shit.”

Harrington stared at him. “We were doing some fucked up shit,” he said like a crazy person. “But not like whatever you think.”

“You don’t know what I think.” He thought about his dad grabbing Maxine’s arm back in the summer time; he thought about his dad grabbing her fucking face. Fourteen years old and running with a pack of boys. Do you remember what Billy did?

Steve was still staring at him; he had the frown-wrinkle between his eyebrows again like when they’d been out on his porch steps. Other than that Billy didn’t know how he looked. He didn’t know why Harrington looked like that. He was hoping they weren’t about to get into a fight or some shit; he still hadn’t gotten his milkshake. Steve said, “You know, you – “ He broke off and stared at him some more. “Have you, like, ever trusted anybody not to be an asshole in your whole life?”

“Not really.” Billy shoved his paper at him. “That better or what?”

Harrington looked at problem three; he was making a great face. “Uhh. Okay. Not, not really.”

 

Halfway through the month Billy finally got his cast off; Harrington spent a long time at the diner holding his arm up next to Billy’s and comparing them. They were at Hathway’s again with Maxine and Henderson and the little Byers kid. The kids were giving Billy more intel on Elijane. Apparently two years ago she’d blown all the windows out at the goddamn supermarket; it’d been some big thing. They’d been showing a drawing of her on TV and saying she was a Russian spy. Billy could not goddamn believe it.

“She didn’t have any hair!” Henderson was yapping to him. “She tried to take her clothes off right in front of us after twenty minutes!”

The little Byers kid was sitting between Henderson and Max; he had eyes the size of saucer plates. He never talked too much; Billy couldn’t remember his name for shit. “She did?” he asked.

“Can’t imagine a girl not wanting to take her clothes off in front of you after twenty minutes, Dustin,” Billy told Henderson sarcastically. Max laughed into her soda and Henderson made a face at him.

“Ha, ha, ha.”

Steve was squashed up real close to Billy comparing his forearm to his; he didn’t need to get so close. “How the hell is your arm still bigger than mine?” Harrington asked. “You couldn’t even work out for like three months.”

“I have a great metabolism. Can you stop fagging off on me for two seconds, I need to hear this shit about the kid,” Billy told him.

Harrington looked like a sulky bitch; he moved his arm away from Billy’s. “Wait, why didn’t she have any hair?” he asked Henderson.

Henderson made one of his gross sighing noises. “I’m getting to that, I already told you like three times anyway!”

“Like hell you told me three times,” Steve said. He flicked his straw at Henderson and it bounced right off his face; the kid had no goddamn reflexes.

“Son of a bitch, Steve!” Henderson yelled his head off. Billy and Max ate the last of his fries while he was distracted. It made him yell even more.


 

One Friday after school Billy was fucking around in the parking lot with two of the kids from his shop class; he thought they might go out drinking. Maxine had actually found him at his locker and told him she didn’t need a ride home. She was going to that Beverly girl’s house again so Billy had fuck-all to do until he was supposed to meet Harrington at eight at the diner. He’d basically been waiting all week to meet Harrington at the diner. It was a real sad thing, thinking of that, how bad he’d been waiting.

It wasn’t the same as back in California and he didn’t feel the same. Everybody was so goddamn stupid here and they were all the same; there was never anything to do. At least back home he’d had Tracey and their friend Jack for a while; they were the only two people Billy’d ever been able to hold a goddamn conversation with. Now he had Maxine and Steve.

Harrington’s car pulled up alongside the curb. He honked the horn and waved at Billy; goddamn if he didn’t look like he was right out of a movie with his pristine BMW and his shiny hair and his stupid sunglasses on. He sure as hell still was a pretty boy rich boy but Billy could kinda see how he’d owned the school until he’d got all soft dating Nancy Wheeler.

Billy flicked his cigarette out and started heading over to Steve without even saying bye to the two assholes he’d been talking to. Apparently he only had eyes for Harrington or some shit. He leaned over into Steve’s window. “You lookin’ for me again?”

Steve smiled at him instead of looking annoyed; he seemed to be doing that more and more lately. “Yeah, I want to take you to get some goddamn tapes for your car, I’m tired of listening to you cry about the radio.” He paused for a second. “Know we’re not doing anything ‘til later, are you busy?”

Billy decided not to tell Harrington about his theories on the curse of Hawkins and the curse of POWER 99. He also decided not to tell Harrington about how he’d just made plans with the two guys from shop class. “I’m not busy,” he said. He walked around to the passenger side and got into the car.

Steve stared at him for a moment. “What happened to your eye?” he asked.

“The fuck you think happened to my eye?” This morning Neil and Susan had been going on and on about Maxine’s shitty science grades; Billy had made a smartass comment at the wrong time. Neil leaned over and cracked Billy real hard in the face real fast; Susan had started screaming her head off about oh my god Neil, you can’t do that.

It would’ve been better if she hadn’t started screaming. Maxine had gotten her toast ready at lightning speed and they’d rushed out to the Camaro. The stone from his dad’s new wedding ring had cut up Billy’s eyebrow and now by 3pm he had a real nice shiner.

Harrington was still staring at him. “It doesn’t matter, Stella, I’m fine, okay,” Billy said.

“Okay. All right,” Harrington said finally. He had the frown-wrinkle between his eyes again. He drove Billy and himself out to Loch Nora to the record shop; it was about a fifteen minute drive off one of the state roads. It wasn’t like out in Riverside where they had secondhand stores and record shops on every corner, Billy told him.

“I know, I know, okay, Hawkins is for shit, right,” Harrington said. He was rolling his eyes; he’d heard Max and Billy going on about it for almost two months now. “So you gonna move back out there, you think?”

“I dunno, maybe. Maybe after I graduate or something.” Maybe if he finally ever finished paying off his old man all the money he owed him, Billy didn’t say. He missed California but there was shit left for him there too.

Steve was looking out at the road like a sweet responsible driver but he glanced over at Billy. “What about Max?” he asked.

“What about Max?”

“Nothing. I don’t know.” Harrington chewed on his lip. “How come you – you guys moved out here anyway? Max said it was her fault, she never really says why though.”

Huh. Billy felt kind of surprised – Maxine’d definitely never said it was her fault to him. “Wasn’t really her fault,” he said. It was probably the first time he’d said that, that it wasn’t her fault. “It was, uh, couple’a things. It was my fault.”

Harrington raised his eyebrows. When Billy didn’t say anything for a few minutes, he said, “So … ?”

Billy thought about it. He didn’t really want to think about it, didn’t want to say it. He guessed it was time for Emotional Car Confessions with Steve and Billy, part two. “Mostly it was my fault,” he said. “I had this – girlfriend. My girl, Tracey.” She was still his girl, even if he was a piece of shit. He said, “I got her, got her pregnant last year.”

Harrington’s eyebrows practically shot off his forehead. “Oh shit, man,” he said.

“Yeah,” Billy said. “Yeah, yeah. It was pretty bad.” It was pretty bad, how he’d acted when he found out. Tracey’d called him for three days straight and been crying on the phone to him. I don’t know, I don’t know what to do, she’d said. Fucking get rid of it, Billy’d told her. Screamed at her, maybe. Jesus she’d been crying.

Steve was staring at him; his eyebrows were still shot all the way up, disappearing into his crazy hair. “What happened?” he asked. “Did she – have the kid or whatever?”

“No she didn’t have the kid, idiot,” Billy snapped. “I was, like – I was a real asshole to her. I fucking ignored her, told her to get rid of it. I didn’t … “ Billy made a face; goddamn he didn’t want to talk about this shit. “It was a while ago, it was like over a year ago now. I didn’t think about how it was for her. I just wanted her to fuckin’ go away.”

“Jesus.” Steve made a face.

“Yeah. I was a real prick to her.”

“I don’t know …oh man, I mean.” Harrington looked like he was trying to find the right thing to say; he was a real sweetheart. “I don’t – really, I don’t know how I’d act either. Seriously.”

“No, man,” Billy told him. It didn’t matter what the right thing to say was. For some reason it was real important that Steve understood what a piece of shit he was. “Look. Tracey was – okay, when my mom died, she and our one friend, they were the only fuckin’ people who didn’t fuck off on me. She was always around. She was like the only – I didn’t need to do that. Treat her like that.”

“So what happened?”

“What happened?” Billy said. He almost laughed. “What happened. Well, Max fuckin’ heard me screaming my ass off at her on the phone one day. She picked up the line. She heard us talking and told her mom.”

Harrington made a great face. “Je-sus,” he said again.

“Yeah. Yeah it was real bad.” Max had already been on Neil and Susan’s shit list; she’d gotten caught on some private property, skating around an abandoned pool with her faggot friends. Billy knew she’d squealed on him to take the heat off of her. He didn’t say this to Harrington though. “My dad beat the holy shit out of me; he was gonna pull me out of school and make me marry her and shit.”

“Jesus,” Harrington said again. “So what happened to the – baby?” Christ Billy didn’t like him saying the baby. “Did she – “ he leaned over like a ten-year-old saying a swear word – “abort it?”

Billy rolled his eyes. “No she didn’t fuckin’ abort it. She lost it, like three days later I guess.”

“Jesus,” Steve said for the fourth time. He looked really overwhelmed.

“I guess it happens a lot,” Billy said. He decided not to tell Harrington he’d read like five articles about teen pregnancy since then. A lot of girls didn’t even know when they’d had miscarriages or that they’d even been pregnant. “She was real young. That’s why – my dad was so mad at me and all. She was like fifteen, almost sixteen. I was seventeen I guess.”

“That’s not that bad,” Steve said slowly.

Billy thought it was pretty bad. He’d known Tracey since they were kids; she was poor as shit like him and they’d both gone to the same broke-ass primary school before they’d been mainstreamed into the high school. He remembered snapping her bra strap and pulling her pigtails in sixth grade recess. She only had one parent like he did, after, and her mom was a fucking junkie; she’d had a lot of time to pal around with Billy once they’d both gotten to high school.

She was always that little girl with the wavy hair that had made him cookies and given him a card she’d written when his mom died. She’d always seemed real young to him; he’d always told himself that was why he felt so weird whenever they fucked. She acted like he was so goddamn weird when he didn’t want to have sex with her practically every fucking day or something. It was the worst part of their relationship. Billy, Billy, I want you, don’t you want me? What’s wrong, what’s wrong.

He’d been so goddamn mad when she’d got herself pregnant. She hadn’t done it herself. He hadn’t wanted to fuck her so it was her fault.

He was such a piece of shit. God he’d screamed at her so much; he could still hear her crying and crying. She’d sounded like she was fucking dying or he was killing her or some shit, right over the phone. He realized he wasn’t answering Harrington and looked up again. “What?”

“I said, so what happened?”

“Oh. What, you mean, after my old man kicked the shit out of me a second time?”

Steve stared at him; he actually took both eyes off the goddamn road. He looked real sad and shit. “Yeah, after he kicked the shit out of you a second time.” Billy didn’t say anything for a long time, so Steve said, “Do you still talk to her?”

“No. No man, I couldn’t. I wanted to.” After Tracey’d lost the baby his dad had beat him so bad he couldn’t go to school for a whole week. By then Tracey wasn’t talking to him anymore and even Jack had said stay the fuck away from her, stay the fuck away from her. Then they’d packed their shit up in three weeks and moved here to bumfuck nowhere.

Harrington was still just staring at him. “Sorry,” he said.

Billy was the one who should be sorry (not to Harrington, though, he reminded himself). “It was a while ago,” he said. He felt like laughing again. “I told you I’m a real asshole, it’s what I’m best at.”

Steve made a face; he didn’t say anything for a while. Billy was pretty sure he was thinking about what an asshole he was. They got to the record store and Steve parked and stared at him. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Sure I’m okay,” Billy said. He was always okay. He said, “Look, I don’t really wanna – don’t, don’t tell anyone this shit, okay?”

“Who would I tell it to?”

“Okay,” Billy said. He rubbed at his mouth. “So you still want to go in or what?”

“Sure. Sure, yeah.”

They got out of the car and Steve clapped him on the shoulder; Billy almost jumped. He still wasn’t used to people touching him anymore. He guessed Maxine touched him sometimes but it didn't count; usually she was either punching him or dragging him around to make him buy her food.

He and Steve went into the record shop and Billy still felt weird as shit. Kind of shaky almost; he felt like he was going crazy. He said sorry to Tracey again for the millionth time in his head.

Harrington started acting like a goddamn goofball again, looking through tapes and pointing at posters on the walls. It was like a switch went off; Billy was pretty sure he was doing it on purpose to make him feel better. He thought again Harrington was a real sweetheart.

Steve flipped his sunglasses on and starting singing along to the stereo playing behind the counter. It was some fucking Madonna song; Max had it on tape.

“You’re killing me, man,” Billy told him. “Your brain needs some fucking rewiring.”

“I’m not that bad,” Steve said. “I like your Metallica band. I like your Def Leopard.” It sounded the same but Billy could fucking feel him saying Def Leopard instead of Def Leppard; he rolled his eyes. A label caught his eyes and he moved over to one of the aisles and started flipping through the stacks of records.

Harrington leaned over Billy’s shoulder; he was too close as usual. “The Queen is Deaf?” he said. Billy sighed internally for a thousand years. “Oh, The Queen is Dead. What’s that?”

“Man, you never heard of The Smiths?” Billy asked him.

“No. What is it, metal?”

Jesus. “No, it’s some faggy fuckin’ British shit,” Billy told him. “Tracey was crazy for this shit.” This was a new record: goddamn they put out like a record a year. Tracey was super in love with that Morrissey guy; Billy’d never seen a bigger fag in his life. “She liked all that mopey shit. Joy Division, that guy that kicked it. Echo and the, the Something Men. Nick Cave, he put out some crazy album. Probably what I fucking knocked her up to.”

Steve laughed and then looked guilty. “Sorry, sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to laugh at that.”

“S’fine.”

Harrington was still too close to him; he was still leaned over Billy. Goddamn he felt so weird talking about the music Tracey’d made him listen to right after he’d told Steve all that horrible shit he’d done. “Yeah, I, I don’t know who any of those people are.”

He was still looking at The Queen is Dead; he took it out of Billy’s hands and flipped it over. His arms were around Billy’s shoulders for a couple seconds while he looked at the record sleeve and Billy felt some of Steve’s hair hit the side of his neck; Jesus he was pretty sure you weren’t supposed to feel this way about a guy. “Ooooh, cute, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again?’ They write a song about you?”

“Fuck you,” Billy said. He bought The Smiths record; maybe Tracey was somewhere listening to it. Hopefully she wasn’t thinking about him like he was thinking about her. He apologized in his head again. He bought a couple of Def LEPPARD tapes too.



October 27th came; it was the day Billy’s mom had died. He got into two fights and his mom was still dead; it was a fucking terrible day and it was an awesome day. He hadn’t been in a fight for a while and it felt real good. Elijane floated someone into a trash can and Steve Harrington smoked a huge joint with him.

He woke up in the morning thinking about his mom and feeling like he had to go check on her; she might need some water. She might want to see him. Then he remembered he wasn’t in California anymore and she wasn’t staying in their extra bedroom and he wasn’t thirteen anymore. He rolled out of bed and took a shower. He stared at himself in the mirror for a long time.

He took himself and Maxine to school; she squabbled on about some bullshit the whole ride there but he barely even heard her. She told him she didn’t need a ride home but that she was going to go to the arcade later with Henderson and Elijane; she told him he should stop by.

“Yeah, maybe,” Billy said. He wanted to see El-or-Jane again but he also didn’t really want to do anything, anything at all.

After school he had to go to work and it was probably the first time he really didn’t want to go to work. He had shit else to do though; he didn’t know what time Harrington got off of his job. Maybe he’d be at the arcade or something later too.

He sat outside of the shop for a couple minutes and smoked two cigarettes; he didn’t feel like going in and hearing Hank talk and talk. He didn’t feel like telling Hank he didn’t want to come in because his mom was fucking dead. He couldn’t tell him anyway. He smoked another cigarette; he was okay. He was okay he was okay. He was always okay. He wasn’t okay but he was all right.

He went on into the shop. Hank wasn’t even in tonight and his faggot brother was there; he usually came in once or twice a week to do the books. He had POWER 99 on on full blast and he floated over to Billy to give him his check and another big envelope.

Miles was smiling at him like a fairy; Billy hoped he wasn’t gonna say some queer shit and make Billy have to punch him. He stood there smiling at him while Billy sat down and opened his check. Hank always made him go over it with him to make sure he hadn’t short-changed him somehow.

“Really glad that my brother’s taken you on as an apprentice,” Miles said. “Sorry about the pay cut, though.” His check was a little less than half of what it normally was. Miles pushed the envelope over to him; Billy opened it and it was full of fives and tens.

“Oh,” Billy said. “Oh, shit. Right.” He chewed on his lip. “Thanks, man.”

Miles winked at him; Billy sighed internally again for a thousand years and managed not to make a face. Miles hovered over the counter with his fuckin’ bandana. He said, “Look, I know what it’s like to have a total asshole for a father.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. He felt real weird.

Miles floated off to the little office in the corner of the shop; thankfully he took the radio with him. Billy could still hear the fucking shit song that was playing. It was that ‘Higher Love’ song by Steve Winwood.

Billy got to work. He was changing a pair of front brake pads when there was a weird kinda sound from outside maybe, a weird thunking sound. Billy looked up and the big window that faced Main Street was streaked yellow. Then there was another thunk; Tommy Hall was standing out on the street like a fucking ten year old and throwing eggs at the shop.

Billy threw down the rusted-up rotor he was holding and went outside. Tommy Hall threw an egg at him and missed; he was probably drunk as shit like usual. “What the FUCK are you doing?” Billy said.

“I saw you and Steve Harrington the other night!” Tommy said. It was practically freezing out but he was wearing a muscle shirt with The Terminator on it; Billy lamented his life over Tommy apparently liking The Terminator. “You shitbags! You broke my fuckin’ living room window! You guys go and jerk each other off after?”

“Fuck you,” Billy said. He felt real happy about breaking the window.

“You two faggots better watch yourself!” Tommy said. “Your fucking sister better watch herself too! Skateboard’s not as fast as a car!”

Being called a faggot was one hell of a thing, but goddamn nobody was allowed to threaten Maxine: that was Billy’s job! He’d earned it! He stormed across the street towards Tommy; Tommy stood fucking staring at him like Billy wasn’t about to punch him in the face. Billy punched him in the face.

“YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” Tommy roared. He swung at Billy; Billy ducked it and punched Tommy in the face again. Then he slammed him up against the wall of the general store.

“The fuck you say about my sister?”

Tommy punched him in the face; it was a pretty good punch but Billy was used to getting punched in the face. He cracked his head against Tommy’s and Tommy went down. It had snowed a couple days ago, just an inch or two; and the slush got real red when Tommy spit in it. “You faggot,” he said. It was his favorite word.

“Man, you really don’t know when to shut your fucking mouth.” Billy grabbed him up by his jacket and slugged him again, a couple of times. “What. The fuck. Did you say. About Max.”

“Fuck you!” Tommy said; his words came out all mushy. Billy punched him until he wasn’t talking. He stopped before he knocked him the fuck out; he kept seeing Harrington’s face last year and that made him stop hitting him.

He threw Tommy on the ground again. Then he reached into Tommy’s jacket pocket and pulled out the big baggie of shitty Hawkins weed that he knew was there.

“Don’t threaten my sister again,” Billy told him. Then he said, too, “And leave Harrington the fuck alone.” It was almost like saying sorry for last year; Steve’d never know about it. He pocketed the weed and left Tommy there bleeding in the snow and stormed back into the shop. Miles was standing out in the front by the counter and staring at him. He looked massively freaked.

“What the hell was that?” he asked.

“Some guy called me a faggot and was threatening my kid sister,” Billy told him. He wiped at his nose; it was bleeding a little. He was used to his nose bleeding too. “He getting up or what?”

Miles looked past him out the egg-streaked window. “Yeah, he’s getting up.”

“He coming back?”

“I think he’s running to his car. Jesus he’s a bleeder!” Miles lisped.

Billy wiped at his nose again. “I’ll clean the window,” he said.

“Are you okay, Bill?”

“Sure.”

Miles held his hands up. He looked kind of overwhelmed. “I did not see a thing, then,” he said. He stared at Billy for a couple more seconds and then floated back into the office with his bandana.

Billy went outside and cleaned the window off; he cleaned his face off. Then he finished changing the brakes. He fucked around with the Pontiac and finally put the new battery in. It was the very last thing they had to do to it and they’d been saving it for no reason. Putting the battery it was a big deal; he felt kind of sad Hank wasn’t around. Then he went over to the office. He felt real fucking weird standing there. He always tried his hardest to never talk to Hank’s brother.

“I’m heading out,” Billy said. “I hung my keys up already. Thanks for, uh, thanks for the check and shit.”

“Sure thing.” Miles was still looking at him in a weird way; Billy was pretty sure he was going to tell Hank the whole thing and probably get Billy fired. At least he wouldn’t have to give his old man all the money from his last pay. “Have a good night, kid.”

Billy drove down to the arcade; he parked out on the street and stood in the parking lot, smoking for a few minutes before he went in. Henderson and Max and Elijane were standing around by some game and they all waved at him. Billy sat down at one of the little tables in the corner; he felt real mopey. After a couple of minutes Elijane wandered over to him.

“Hey kid,” he said. He tried to feel less mopey. “You play any games yet?”

“I played two games,” Elijane told him.

“Your dad or whatever actually let you out of the house for once?”

Elijane nodded. “He’s coming at nine,” she told him. It was a little after eight.

Billy didn’t really know what to say to her. He didn’t feel that jazzed up; he didn’t even want her to float a salt shaker. After all the shit Henderson’d told him a couple weeks ago he figured it was a pretty bad idea to make her float another salt shaker.

Elijane kept standing and looking at him with her weird x-ray vision; it made Billy feel like his back was prickling up. Then she stopped looking at him; he could feel her eyes leave him. He looked up too. She was looking over at Max and Henderson over by the Dig Dug machine. There were two older guys standing by them and it looked like Henderson was arguing with them; Billy guessed they wanted to play or something.

One of the kids pushed Henderson into the machine; Maxine got her trademark scowl on her face. Billy put his head in his hand and watched her start going off in her womanly hysteria. The guys laughed at her and Max started scowling even more.

Elijane was looking back and forth between the guys and Max and Henderson and Billy. Billy could hear Henderson yapping from all the way across the arcade. Elijane looked at Billy again; she looked like she was gonna shake right out of her oversized sweatshirt. “Should I do something?” she asked him.

Billy sighed heavily. Goddamn Maxine was always ruining his goddamn night. “No, I got it, kid,” he said in a resigned tone. He got up from the table and left El standing by herself.

The two guys looked like teenagers but Billy didn’t remember them from school; either they were from out of town or they were assholes who’d already graduated. One of them went and grabbed Max’s arm that she was waving all crazy. Max’s eyes bugged out of her head and Billy started walking faster; goddamn nobody was allowed to grab Max’s fucking arm either (even him; even though he’d done it). He grabbed the kid and pulled him off of Max. Then he spun him around and punched him in the face.

“AHHHH!” screamed Henderson like a fucking dumbass. Goon number two grabbed at Billy’s shoulder so he punched him in the face too. He went flying into the Dig Dug machine and Max started laughing her head off.

Henderson was yelling his head off and above him, Billy could hear the manager of the arcade hollering too. Billy punched the two goons out into the parking lot. They were some real skinny assholes and they didn’t stand a chance. He hadn’t been in a good fight in a while; Tommy Hall’s faggot ass didn’t count. Even Harrington’s ass last year didn’t really count: he’d gotten in about one good punch on Billy.

The guys fought Billy all over the parking lot; Billy was laughing his ass off. Henderson must’ve followed him out because he could still hear him hollering and whooping. Billy didn’t know what kinda guys grabbed a little kid’s arm at the arcade and thought they were tough.

He punched Thing Number One to the ground and was about to throw Thing Number Two onto the hood of a Jeep when a third guy came up from behind him and started punching him in the back of the neck. Billy reared his arm around to elbow him off of him but then there was a weird rush of air that went all the way through him, almost like some kinda electric current. It made his hair stand on end and then his elbow met with nothing but air. There was a huge metallic clatter and then everyone started screaming their heads off.

Thing Number Two slid out of his grasp and starting screaming; Thing Number One was scrabbling up and falling in the snow. Billy turned around and looked for the third guy. He didn’t see him; there were just a couple kids standing around by the door of the arcade staring. Max and Henderson and Elijane were in the front of the crowd. Elijane’s nose was bleeding a little (Billy was pretty sure his nose was bleeding a lot) and Billy remembered Max and Steve telling him the shit on her. Her nose bleeds when she moves real heavy stuff.

His gaze followed Thing One and Two; they were helping their friend out of the dumpster on the side of the arcade.

“HOOOOLY SHIT,” Billy yelled like a little kid. He pushed himself up off the hood of the Jeep and almost slid in the snow. Max and Henderson were rushing over to him; Elijane followed at a more sedate pace. There was a lot of lights and a lot of yelling; Billy was pretty sure the cops were going to pull up in about five minutes.

“HOLY SHIT!” Henderson screamed too. He was really loud. “SON OF A BITCH! THAT WAS SO AWESOME!”

“Shut up, Dustin!” Max commanded him; her big bug eyes were sparkling though. “Billy, Neil is gonna kick your ass!”

“HAHAHAHA,” Billy said. “ELIJANE, DID YOU FUCKIN’ DO IT!”

Ellie-Jane?” Henderson said.

“I put him in the trash can,” Elijane said. She wiped her nose; she wasn’t bleeding too much.

“Jesus, El, people probably saw!” Max yapped.

“IT WAS SO COOL!” Henderson screamed.

Too many kids were talking. Billy wiped his nose; it hurt a lot. He was bleeding a lot into the snow, probably too much. There was the sound of a car pulling up real close to them and Billy figured it was the Sheriff; when he looked up all he saw was Harrington’s BMW. Steve got out of the car real quick.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?” he screamed; it was real familiar.

“HI STEVE!” Henderson said. His volume was broken at ten. “You are really late, Billy fought three guys and El put someone in a trash can.”

“WHAT?” screamed Steve. That was familiar too.

The arcade manager was yelling too and helping Goon Number Three out of the dumpster; he started pushing all the guys around. Max and Henderson ran off to do damage control and yell their heads off some more; Elijane stood still staring at Billy and Steve.

“Jesus Christ, you are bleeding a lot,” Steve said. He was wearing one of his preppy Oxford shirts and he started unbuttoning it. “Why the hell did you fight someone, what are you – Eleven!” he said like he was just noticing her. “Did you really put someone in a trash can?”

“It was a dumpster,” Billy said.

“It was a dumpster,” Elijane told him, real serious.

Steve sighed. “Oh my fucking god,” he said. Then he took off his Oxford shirt and pulled his t-shirt off right in the parking lot. He was real skinny.

Elijane and Billy stared at him. “What the fuck are you doing?” Billy said.

“I’m too turned on,” Steve said, rolling his eyes. “Jesus. I’m giving you my shirt, fucking dumbass.” He tossed the t-shirt at Billy’s face, then shrugged back into his collared shirt.

“Oh,” said Billy. He crumpled the t-shirt up and wiped his face with it. It was a black shirt so the blood blended right in. “What’re you doing here?”

“I figured you guys would be here.” Harrington was looking over his shoulder; the collar of his shirt was warped all crazy. “Why’d you get into a fight? Jesus you look like shit.”

“These guys were fucking with Max.” Billy leaned against the Jeep and watched his blood trickle down into the slushy snow. He could hear sirens in the distance.

Harrington looked real crazy. “What happened? Who was it?”

Elijane wiped her nose again, then put her hands in her baggy sweatshirt pocket.  She looked around; she was ignoring Steve like usual. “I think – Jim’s coming soon.” It was real weird to hear her call the Chief Jim. She looked like a little kid for the first time Billy’d really seen. She said, “I’m going to get grounded again. You should go soon.” She wandered off through the slushy parking lot towards the crowd around the dumpster; Henderson was laughing and he slung his arm around her shoulder.

Harrington looked real crazy still. “Why does this whole situation not surprise me?” he said. Then looked annoyed and he said, “Jesus, do you not know how to stop a nosebleed? Tilt your head back, you stupid fuck.”

“What?” Billy said. He’d been watching Elijane and he felt pretty dizzy. Steve snatched his t-shirt away and stood real close to him. Billy tried to back away and almost slid off the Jeep. Steve grabbed his shoulder.

“Tilt your fuckin’ head back,” he said again, so Billy did. Steve put the t-shirt over his face and pinched his nose.

“Ow!”

“Hurts, don’t it?” Steve said like an asshole. He said for a second time, “God, you’re bleeding a lot.” He had some blood on his shirt now somehow; it was probably Billy’s blood. He looked like a goddamn vision again.

“It’s just my nose,” Billy managed. He still felt pretty dizzy and Steve was way too close to him. “This’s like the third time I got punched in the face today.”

“Your dad hit you again or something?”

“No,” Billy said. It sounded like doe. “I got ‘n a fight with Tommy Hall at work. He threw an egg at the shop and called me a faggot.”

Steve laughed in his face. “Oh my god, you’re fucking crazy,” he said. He was still standing so close to him and his arm was on Billy’s shoulder now. His hair was all crazy from when he’d taken his shirt off and he was grinning. He had blood on his collar and Jesus God Billy wanted him.

It wasn’t the first time he’d thought it or wanted him. Billy guessed that he’d known it before; he knew he wanted him. Steve had laughed at Billy about a hundred times in the last couple months and told him he was crazy about a hundred times and Billy’d wanted him, shit he wanted him.

It wasn’t really a thought this time though. It crashed through his whole body like the electricity that’d gone through him and Billy couldn’t even talk. He didn’t even know what the fuck he wanted. He just wanted.

Harrington was taking his hand off his shoulder and was looking around. “We should probably go,” he said. The sirens were getting louder. “Where’s your car?”

Billy just stared at him. He was rooted to the spot.

Steve leaned in at him all crazy. “Hello? Billy, Billy? Bills? Brain damage? Where’s your fuckin’ car?”

“On the. On the street.”

“Okay, good.” Harrington put his arm back on Billy’s shoulder and started leading him around to the side of his car. “We can come back for it later or something. I don’t really think you should be here. Let Hopper deal with it.”

“Okay,” said Billy. Right now he’d probably say okay to anything Steve wanted. He let Harrington push him into the passenger seat. Then he said, “Wait, did you call me Bills?

Harrington closed the door. “What, you don’t like it?”

He got into the driver’s side and turned the BMW around. “Okay, we are being super casual!” he said as he pulled around through the lot. He drummed his hands on the steering wheel. “Okay okay, cop cars. I just want a goddamn burger. I am just driving home.” They passed two cops cars and Hopper’s police chief Jeep. “Did you really fight Tommy Hall?”

“I been waiting to fight Tommy Hall all year,” Billy said. He thought about Tommy saying, You guys go and jerk each other off after? Jesus.

“You are seriously out of your mind,” Steve told him. “You know his mom basically runs the town, right?”

“Thought your daddy ran the town.”

Harrington rolled his eyes. “Okay, after him.”

“I don’t give a fuck about Tommy Hall,” Billy said. He peeled Steve’s t-shirt off his face; he was pretty sure his nose had stopped bleeding.

Steve was glancing over at him. “Man, you look like total shit.” He was a real sweet-talker; he knew just what to say.

“I feel like total shit,” Billy told him. “Also I stole all of Tommy’s weed.”

Steve stared at him and then started laughing again. “Oh my god,” he said. “What are you going to do with it?”

Billy stared back at him like he was stupid. “Well, I plan on smoking like half of it right now,” he said slowly. He said before he could help himself, “My mom died today, so.”

“Oh,” said Steve. His mouth made a weird shape. “Oh, shit. Okay.”

Billy didn’t know why he’d said that. He chewed on his lip; it hurt real bad. He was looking out past the dashboard at the road. “So do you wanna smoke a joint with me?” he asked.

“Yes,” Steve said right away. He turned his car left down Redwood Lane; he was still staring at Billy. “Yes, sure, absolutely, I will totally smoke with you. You don’t even have to give me a hit, I will just watch you smoke it.”

“You can have a hit,” Billy told him. He tried to wipe his nose; it hurt real bad too.

Harrington drove them out to the woods. Billy guessed he was finally a cool kid.

 

Steve dropped him back at car and Billy drove himself home past eleven-thirty; it was a Monday night so it was late but not too late. He got out of the Camaro and looked at his house for a moment before he went in. All the lights were on and he was pretty sure he was about to catch holy hell. Honestly he was surprised his dad hadn’t gone looking for him, or been waiting outside.

Inside Neil and Susan were yelling their heads off and they didn’t even bother to look over at him when he opened the door and came in. Billy stood there for a couple seconds, looking at them, but they just kept going on and on like he wasn’t even there. He figured the cops hadn’t been here yet. He wasn’t sure how the cops hadn’t been here yet but he wasn’t about to question it. He swept past Susan and his old man and went into his room.

He closed his door and laid down; he could still hear them going at it though. He felt pretty restless and he was still a little high. His mom was still dead. Harrington was still some kinda beautiful. He decided it was a real bad night after all.

He opened his window and climbed outside. Then he boosted himself up onto the roof. What little snow there was had melted off, and he stretched out and laid there looking up at the sky. Hawkins was eternally for shit but you could see a lot of stars out here. He laid there looking for a while, listening to Neil and Susan scream at each other. He smoked a cigarette. He didn’t want to think about his mom so he thought about Steve for a little bit. It was okay to just think about him for a little bit.

He heard another window open below him and then Maxine was climbing out too. She came over and looked up at him, then starting climbing up the gutter too. It shook like crazy because she had no moves; Billy pushed himself off his back and gave her a hand up.

Max sat next to him with a thump. Billy laid back down. “Sorry for not giving you a ride,” he said. It was the first time all night he’d thought of it.

“That’s okay,” Max said. “Hopper drove me and Dustin home. He is really mad at El. He smoked like three cigarettes.”

“So?” Billy asked her. “What happened? Am I under arrest or what?”

“No. At least I don’t think so. Hopper took care of everything in like five minutes. He threw that guy against the trash can again too.” Billy laughed a little and Max looked real jazzed up. “Thanks for helping me and Dustin,” she said. “You totally could have taken that third guy!”

“Yeah, I know.” Billy smoked more of his cigarette. He didn’t feel like pointing out that he had definitely not been helping Henderson.

“Where’d you and Steve go?”

“Drove around.”

They’d gone out to some clearing and sat on the hood of Steve’s BMW; Billy couldn’t believe that he was sitting on the hood of a car that was worth more than Billy’s life. Just the hood was worth more than his life. Harrington had coughed a lot smoking the joint that Billy’d rolled; Billy hadn’t felt like making fun of him. He’d asked Billy, Do you want to talk about your mom?

Billy hadn’t wanted to talk about his mom. Then he’d gotten high and wanted to talk about her. He hadn’t said too much. He hadn’t said too much, he didn’t think. He told Steve that he woke up sometimes thinking he had to check on her. He told Steve that she’d started screaming in her bed sometimes, near the end. It’d hurt her too bad. It was so bad, hearing her scream like that. After he’d used to ride his bike down to the hospital and go to see her. One night he hadn’t gone; she’d died like four days later. He should have gone to see her. He’d said, “I miss her, you know?”

“Sure,” Steve had said. He was leaned up all close again and he’d put his hand on Billy’s shoulder. He didn’t have to do that. “Sure, man. I know.”

Max was sitting Indian-style and looking at him. “Are you guys like friends now?” she asked him.

“No,” said Billy. He said, “I don’t know.”

Max just looked at him, then she laid down too. Billy was glad that she wasn’t asking him twenty questions about Harrington. She asked instead, “Can I have one of your smokes?”

“No. Cigarettes kill you, Maxine.”

Max lolled her head and looked at him until he turned his head and looked at her too. She made one of her gross gremlin faces. “You smoked like two whole packs since Friday.”

“That’s different.”

They laid on the roof and listened to their parents scream at each other. Susan was locking Neil out of the bedroom; it was this huge production that they’d been doing for the last couple weeks since Neil’d been home. Susan slammed the door real hard and the whole house shook. Billy had a vision of him and Max crashing right through the floor.

“JUST OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR AND TALK TO ME!” Neil screamed.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Susan screamed back. “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” She slammed the door again.

Max was scowling. Billy wasn’t looking at her but he was pretty sure she was scowling. She usually was. “How long they been going on like this?”

“Since before I got home,” Max told him. “Since like nine I guess.”

“They got some fucking lungs.”

Max scoffed. She kicked one of her legs against the gutter. “I hate your dad,” she said.

“Join the club.” It was a real exclusive club; it was even more exclusive than the creepy kid club.

“I hate my mom, too,” Max said.

“She’s okay.”

“No she’s not,” Max scoffed. “She married your dad, didn’t she? She’s stupid. I hate her.”

“Don’t say that fucking shit,” Billy told her. “Your mom’s okay.”

He must’ve sounded some kinda way. Max sat up again and looked at him. Billy flicked some ash off his cigarette; he held it up above him and looked at the cherry burning out.

Max kept looking at him; she almost had some type of x-ray vision like Elijane. “Sorry,” she said softly. “I guess I don’t mean it. I don’t know what I’d do if she wasn’t – “ She stopped.

“Yeah,” Billy said.

“Sorry.” Max flopped back onto her back. They laid and listened to their parents yell for a long time. Max pulled her Walkman out of her pocket and cranked the little radio up; they got the classic rock station out here but it was real fuzzy. They listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival; they were okay.


 

Halloween fell on a Friday night this year; it was some kinda miracle even though Billy didn’t care about Halloween. He took Maxine to the diner and then at eight sharp he drove her and Sinclair over to the Wheelers. They were wearing some kinda matching costumes and they looked lame as shit, Billy made sure to tell them three times. Freshmen were too old for costumes.

Max was rolling her eyes at him and getting out of the car; apparently he couldn’t even piss her off properly anymore. He was getting too soft. Max leaned in the passenger window and smiled at him, quirking her eyebrows. “Try to not get into a fight tonight, I don’t think your ugly face can handle any more trauma,” she said sweetly. Billy blew some smoke from his cigarette at her.

He watched Max and Sinclair scurry across the lawn; Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers were out on the steps all queer with their arms around each other. Billy blew some smoke at them too.

He threw the Camaro back into gear and drove back down to Main Street; he had shit to do. He passed Hopper and a cute little sheet-ghost that he presumed was Elijane walking down towards the Wheeler’s house; Hopper looked real resigned and was carrying Elijane’s plastic pumpkin. He looked up at Billy as he drove by and gave him a very threatening nod.

After school on Tuesday Hopper’d been waiting outside in the parking lot for Billy in his Jeep. “Think you and me ought to take a ride,” he’d said. Billy had bet the Sheriff had a million places in town to dump a body but he’d climbed in next to him anyway.

“I’ve been meaning to have a talk with you,” Hopper’d said. He was glaring out at the road like a huge bear and he’d been smoking like four cigarettes at once. Not really but he might well have been. “Hair boy told me that you were all right. I just get so goddamn busy. Do you know how many damn hairbows a little girl needs, Hargrove?”

“Yes sir,” Billy’d said.

“At least twelve.” Hopper’d looked like a man consigned to his death. He’d said, “I think I owe you a thanks for your discretion with my daughter.”

Billy had been shocked out of his goddamn mind. “Yes sir,” he’d said.

“I assume you’re like halfway up to speed and I can spare you the bullshit.”

“Yes sir.”

“So I’m cutting you some fucking slack, kid,” Hopper told him. “You know you’re a real asshole? Those kids you punched up wanted to press charges against you.”

“Yes sir,” Billy’d said. At least in prison he wouldn’t have to deal with his dad. He’d thought again surely there’d be some coke in the Indiana State Peneteniary. Smoking pot with Steve and looking at his hair all pretty in the moonlight was great and all but there had to be some coke in Indiana State.

“Well, they changed their tune real quick when they found out one of the kids they were messing with was the police chief's daughter.”

“They see her put that guy in the trash can?”

Hopper’d glared at him. “I took care of it,” he said, real gruff. He probably had like eight bodies in his trunk. “You know, if you go off and beat the shit out of Tommy Hall anymore, I can’t take care of it again,” he’d warned Billy. “At least wait til it’s full dark out, kid.”

“Yes sir,” Billy’d said.

Hopper’d drove him around and threatened him a lot. He’d shown Billy some of the paperwork he had on Elijane; he had a lot of paperwork. Billy didn’t really understand half of it. He already knew she was goddamn Carrie White.

Hopper’d said, “She can do a lot more than put some guy in a dumpster. If you tell anybody about what she can do, I’m just gonna let her take care of you.”

“Yes sir,” Billy’d said. He felt it probably wasn’t a smart thing to tell the chief that he was gonna marry his kid one day.

The chief had dropped him back off at his car. “Good talk,” he’d said. He’d smoked like six more cigarettes at once and then drove away. Billy’d stared after him.

That’d been like three days ago though. Yesterday Steve and Henderson had met Billy at Hathaway’s and made him tell them the story like four times. Steve even bought him a milkshake and Henderson’d laughed his ass off at Billy saying the chief had smoked six cigarettes at once.

Anyway now it was Halloween night. He was going to another party with Harrington; he was real jazzed up about it. Booze and Steve and girls in slutty costumes. Unfortunately Steve was not going to be wearing a slutty costume but Billy’d take what he could get.

Billy’d driven over and he was standing in Steve’s room watching him get ready. He wasn’t watching him that much; he was looking around Steve’s room. His room was real big and he had a TV in here. He had an Atari and a Nintendo; Maxine would shit her pants. Billy made a mental note to tell her later.

Steve fluffed his hair in his mirror for the 80th time. He was already wearing his faggy sunglasses. “Who’re you dressed up as, Billy Idol?” he asked. He didn’t even sound like he was kidding.

“That’s real cute,” Billy said. He was wearing his leather jacket but he couldn’t pass for Idol; he didn’t have the cheekbones. “Who are you, Farrah Fawcett?”

“Ha ha,” said Steve. He gave Billy a kind of weird look in his mirror. “Um … you been talking to Dustin?”

“Why you wanna insult me?” Billy demanded. Steve laughed again. He finally finished fucking with his hair.

“Do I look okay?” he asked.

Billy thought he looked worth about a million bucks. “Jesus, can we go?”

“Okay okay.” They went out to Billy’s car and Steve gave him directions. They started driving.

Harrington was fucking with the radio; he put on POWER 99 and looked at Billy’s face to gauge his reaction, then grinned. Then he stopped grinning. “I saw Nancy and Jonathan earlier when I dropped Dustin off,” he said.

“Yeah, I saw ‘em too.”

Steve instantly looked all broken up about them. He said, “Do you think they’re sleeping together?”

Billy stared at him: Harrington could not be that big of a goddamn moron. Actually Billy was pretty sure that Nancy and Byers had probably been boning before she’d even dumped Steve; he really didn’t want to say that to him though. He didn’t know why he didn’t want to say it. “Man, I don’t know. I bet Byers has got a real pretty pussy.” Steve just looked depressed instead of laughing at Billy’s supreme humor.

The party was at the house of some guy who’d graduated two years ago; Billy didn’t know him but Steve said he was cool. Once they got inside Billy lost track of Harrington pretty quick. He was in a good mood and there were lots of people to talk to. There was a lot of booze too. Billy counted six slutty nurses and four sexy devils, also a girl in a pretty realistic werewolf costume which wasn’t sexy but Billy gave her props for. He did some shots with werewolf girl and then went off to find Harrington.

Steve was in the den where there was less people, taking up space on a couch. He had covered himself in pillows and was watching the TV. He also had like four jackets on him; Billy wasn’t sure why.

“Man, what are you doing? Didn’t you come here to have fun?”

“I am having fun,” Steve said. He pointed at the TV. “Look, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is on.” Billy managed not to make a comment. Steve stared at him. “You’re having fun, right?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

“Okay then.” Some guy dressed as Michael Myers walked by and dropped his jacket on Steve; Steve gave him a thumbs up.

“Okay, so are you like the designated coat rack tonight?”

“I guess so. I’ve been going through all the pockets.” Steve grinned.

“You get a lot of candy?”

“Actually yes. I got a pack of smokes too, you want them?” Steve handed them over to him; they were Chesterfields which were all right.

“Okay, I guess you can watch my jacket too.” Billy threw his leather jacket in Steve’s face; he laughed when Steve sputtered. He left Steve to be a coatrack and wandered back into the kitchen. He counted three sexy teachers and two devilish angels. One girl was dressed as Velma from Scooby-Doo so Billy drank a beer with her. He’d always thought that Velma was a hip, hip lady, really; he had always preferred her over Daphne.

He went back and checked on Steve; Steve was kinda like his charity case tonight, it seemed. He didn’t know why Harrington had taken him to a party if he didn’t want to be at a party.

Steve was still on the couch and he had at least seven jackets and a huge bottle of vodka now. It was half-empty; Billy was hoping it hadn’t been full when Harrington’d started with it. Harrington was also wearing Billy’s leather jacket.

“No, no no, no, man, we’re not doing that,” Billy told him. “Take my jacket off.”

“What?” Steve laughed at him. He was clearly drunk; he popped the collar of Billy’s jacket and looked like a huge douchebag. He slid his sunglasses down on his nose. “Hey there. Name’s Billy. Billy Hargrove.”

Billy leaned against the doorframe and laughed at him. “Okay, all right. That’s pretty good.”

“This place is a reeeeal shithole, did you know I’m from California? I don’t see no waves out here, man,” Steve went on; he was still imitating him. He pointed his bottle at a short kid walking by them. “You’re dead, kid!”

The kid gave Steve a real weird look. Billy laughed at him. “You’re a piece of shit.”

Steve drank from his vodka bottle; Billy stared at his neck when he titled his head back. Then he turned and walked back out of the den without saying another word to Harrington. He was at a party, he told himself. He was at a party and there were tons of girls here; he didn’t need to start that shit. That Steve shit, whatever it was.

Billy went back out into the kitchen; he went out into the backyard and smoked a couple of his harvested Chesterfields with two guys from his math class. In the living room he drank some more beers and did some shots. He counted two sexy black cats, three slutty librarians, and someone dressed as Sandy from Grease, pre-leather bodysuit at the end. He drank a beer with Sandy from Grease.

Then he started to feel kind of guilty for abandoning Harrington in the living room; he was probably buried under like eighty coats or something and flushed with alcohol poisoning. He kind of felt like he was the Grinch or some shit, even though it wasn’t Christmas yet. He was the Grinch and Maxine and Harrington were like those little weird people-types – Billy didn’t remember what they were called – banging away on their toys and making his heart grow three sizes or some shit. He was getting too soft.

Man he was drunk. He couldn’t believe he was thinking about some cartoon at a party. It wasn’t even Scooby-Doo or Maxine’s favorite, Thunder Cats.

Billy went back into the den and jumped onto the couch beside Steve; he really was buried under like eighty coats. He was at least sitting up now, though. He was still wearing Billy’s leather jacket.

“What you doing, man?” Billy said.

Steve leaned over and looked at him. He looked like he’d drank a lot of vodka; he’d passed over the goofy drunk stage and sped straight to maudlin. He reached out and grabbed Billy’s arm and looked at him; Billy had a long line of lipstick smears on his forearm from girls doing tequila shots off his arm. He thought he had lipstick on his neck too from some girl being real bold.

Steve inspected the line of lipstick kisses. He ran a finger down Billy’s wrist, dead center, smearing them. It basically felt like he was electrocuting Billy’s whole body; he went really still and stared at Steve.

“This is a lot more than I ever got,” Steve said.

Billy licked his lips. “Ah, don’t feel too bad, Harrington,” he said. “You were off the market for a while, right? I’m still basically the new guy. I’m real exotic, you know.”

“I guess so.” Steve was frowning at Billy’s forearm; he was still holding his wrist. Then he looked up at him. “You know,” he said. “Tonight is the anniversary of when we first met.”

“Oh yeah. I guess so.” Billy pulled his arm away; Steve let it slide out of his grasp.

“This is also the anniversary of the night that Nancy told me she didn’t love me,” Steve informed him. He looked real serious and very drunk. “It is a great night. And I – you know, sometimes I feel like you started off all this bad luck for me.”

Billy felt bad; he was pretty sure Harrington was drunk and kidding but he still felt bad. He hadn’t known Nancy’d told him she didn’t love him or whatever. She was really crazy. Henderson’d told Billy that Nancy and Harrington had gone out for almost a year. “Sorry,” he said.

“No, don’t be sorry, man,” Steve said. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean that. I don’t even know what I’m fucking saying anymore.”

“Okay, so do you like wanna go?” He was pretty sure Steve had drank that whole bottle; he didn’t see it anywhere around.

“No. Maybe. Yeah. No, I’m good. Aren’t you having fun?”

“It’s okay,” Billy said. It was almost one in the morning anyway; he didn’t exactly have a curfew but his dad probably wouldn’t be too happy with him if he came in at like four am covered in lipstick. “Anyway you know what, I feel like the cops are probably gonna show up here real soon, I got a real sixth sense about that kinda bullshit.”

“For some reason I actually believe you.” Steve tried to sit up; he knocked like four coats to the floor. Then he made a face and sank back into the couch cushions. He sighed loudly. “Just leave me here to die,” he said.

“Jesus Christ.” Harrington was a dramatic bitch. Billy put his arm around Steve’s shoulder – he guessed it was okay to do that – and helped him up. “You really want to go?”

“Sure. I don’t care.” He was leaning on Billy’s shoulder; he turned and looked at him. “I don’t care about anything, man. I don’t. Care. You know?”

“I sure do!” Billy told him encouragingly. Like usual he didn’t really have a clue what Harrington was going on about.

They got out of the house and walked back down the block to where Billy’s car was parked. Harrington still had his leather jacket on; he looked cool as shit and Billy didn’t have the heart to take it off him.

In the car Harrington put POWER 99 back on and laughed at Billy’s face for a long time. He stretched out in the seat and watched Billy while he drove them down the block. Then he reached over and touched Billy’s arm; he was wearing his Metallica shirt that he’d cut the sleeves off of. “Hey, you got a birthmark,” Steve said. He poked Billy’s shoulder. “I never noticed this one before.”

“Didn’t know you were lookin’.”

“Hmm.” Steve said. He scrunched up his face. “This looks like a … “ He scrunched up his face a little more. “New Mexico.”

Billy laughed without meaning to. “Oh yeah? It looks like a New Mexico?”

“Your face. Is a New Mexico,” Harrington told him like a philosopher.

Jesus, he was so fucking drunk. Billy tried real hard not to think of ways he could take advantage of this situation; he guessed he was trying to be a good person too. He drove Steve home like a responsible boyfriend and then helped him into his house. Harrington stumbled all over his damn living room and Billy could hear Luke and Leia barking their heads off in the backyard. He was surprised out of his goddamn mind that Harrington’s parents didn’t come out of their room to see what the fuck was going on. At least Steve wasn’t covered in lipstick like Billy was.

He deposited Steve onto his bed; he thought once again that he was a responsible boyfriend. He was making himself roll his eyes. Steve stared up at him; he squinted and closed one eye. “You look like a painting,” he told Billy.

Billy made a great face at him. “What, a Picasso?”

“No, like those naked guys on the ceiling.”

“Uhhh.” Billy stared at him. His mind went perfectly, purposefully blank. “The fuckin’ Sistine Chapel? Michelangelo?”

“Man, I don’t know who painted it,” Steve said. He’d closed his eyes; he looked like a real angel too. “Da Vinci?”

God he was dumb. He was pretty cute. “Okay, I am going!” Billy announced. It was probably for the best that he get the fuck out of here. “You okay, you gonna puke on my fucking jacket?”

Harrington made a face; he didn’t open his eyes. “No, I’m not gonna puke. I might actually sleep for once.”

“Okay. Well. See ya later.”

“Okay,” Harrington said. He said, “Billy.”

Billy stopped in the doorway; he turned around a little. “What?”

“I planted my feet like you told me.”

Steve was real crazy. He was probably missing like ten screws in his head. He was still real cute though. “Okay, Harrington,” Billy said. “See you later. Try not to dream about me, kay?”

“Okay.”

“Want me to turn your light off?”

“It’s okay.”

“Okay.”

Billy went out into the hall; he looked around surreptitiously for any signs of life from Harrington’s parents but the hall remained dark. He went back outside and leaned against his car. It was real cold out but he felt okay. He stared up at the light in Steve’s window and smoked a cigarette. He wasn’t even drunk anymore. He didn’t want to go home to his house; he didn’t want to go home, even if Maxine was around to lay out on the roof again.

He smoked his cigarette and looked up at the light in Steve’s room. He looked at it for a while. He wished he could’ve stayed.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Four

 

Now here I go again
I see the crystal visions
I keep my visions to myself
It's only me who wants to wrap around your dreams
Have you any dreams you'd like to sell?
Dreams of loneliness, like a heartbeat:
Drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering
What you had ... and what you lost
And what you had and what you lost
Thunder only happens when it's raining
Players only love you when they're playing
Women, they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean, you'll know
- ‘Dreams,’ Fleetwood Mac

 

 

November 1986

Saturday morning Neil got Max and Billy up early and they made breakfast with Susan. Billy didn’t really mind getting up early or making breakfast with Susan; the fact that his dad was forcing Max and him to do so was definitely something he minded. Anyway he was sure that one day there’d be some kinda day where Susan didn’t burn the damn eggs. Surely there’d be one day. Susan’s eyes were real red though so Billy didn’t bitch his head off.

He and Max were just sitting down at the table and fighting over the first Eggo when the phone rang. Billy’s old man was closest to where it was hanging on the wall; he picked it up and said hello. He didn’t say anything for a long minute and he just stared dead at Billy. He had that look in his eyes that made them go really hard and cold; it was like gazing into the blade of a steel knife. Then he pulled the phone away from his ear and said, “Some guy calling for you.”

Billy got up and went to pick up the line in the living room; Maxine was making a face like a fish. He stretched the cord out as far as it could go and leaned out against the back of the couch. “Yeah?”

“I just want you to know I threw up all over myself at 4am,” Harrington said into the line. Billy smiled without meaning to.

“Oh yeah? You get it on my fucking jacket?”

“No, man, your jacket is safe, don’t worry. I just thought you’d appreciate hearing that about me.”

Billy did, so much. “You feelin’ okay and all?”

“Yeah, I’m okay now,” Steve said. He was quiet for a second. “Did I do anything embarrassing last night? I usually do.”

Billy thought about Steve laying around with all the coats on him all night. He thought about Steve putting his leather jacket on and acting like a total idiot, then later telling him he looked like a goddamn Michelangelo. It didn’t mean anything; after all Billy knew he was pretty good-looking, even with his face all fucked from two fights. You started off all this bad luck for me. He chewed on his lip. “Nah, you were okay.”

“Okay,” Steve said. “Okay, good.”

Billy could feel his dad staring at him through the wall. He realized he hadn’t heard the phone line click. “Can’t really talk right now.”

“Sure, okay. Sorry I called so early. Uh, thanks for taking me home and stuff, man.”

“Thought that was the plan, me being your designated driver and all.”

Steve laughed a little. “Yeah, yeah, I guess so.”

Billy was still chewing on his lip. “See ya later, okay? Bring my jacket to the diner tomorrow.”

“Okay. Later Bills.”

“Don’t call me that,” Billy told him and hung up.

 

Wednesday afternoon he was sitting in his study hall, looking over his math test that he’d just gotten back. He’d gotten an 84 on it and it was probably the highest grade he’d gotten on a math test since he’d been fuckin’ twelve or something. He was real jazzed up about it; he was picturing how Steve’s stupid face was gonna look when he showed it to him later. He’d probably be real proud; he might even touch Billy’s shoulder again. Billy was telling himself he definitely wasn’t going to flinch this time. He didn’t need to do that shit.

A shadow fell over him at the table and Billy closed his eyes for a second: it was the curse of Hawkins coming for him. It was fucking Henderson leaning over the table.

Henderson thunked his giant bookbag down onto the tabletop. Billy kept his eyes closed. “Man. The hell do you want.”

The table shook as Henderson leaned on it. “Hi, I just have two questions for you today, okay Billy?”

Billy opened his eyes at looked at the kid; Henderson grinned at him like a big puppy. Mind you Billy loved dogs, but not when they looked like Henderson. “All right, same rules as Monday, you got forty-five seconds for each question.” Monday it’d been Henderson and Wheeler Jr; Billy’d just about hanged himself with the string of Henderson’s hoodie.

“Okay!” Henderson grinned at him some more. “First of all, do you want to play D&D with us tomorrow? We’re doing it on Thursday night now and I think I can get Mike to – “

“No, nope, next question,” Billy said. “I ain’t playing your faggy little game with you.”

“You didn’t even let me finish!” Henderson yapped. “I spent like two days on a character map for you, you can be our barbarian! Billy the Destroyer!”

All right. That actually sounded kind of cool. Even so: “Kid, I ain’t playing your game with you. Anyway, I got a date on Thursday.”

“You do?” Henderson looked surprised. “I thought you were going to the movies with Steve.”

Billy sighed. Harrington was such a Chatty Cathy. “Next question.

“I still have twelve seconds!” Henderson sat down across from Billy with a thump! ; Billy put his head in his hands and just looked at the kid. “Okay.” Henderson looked back at him all serious. “How do you get a woman?”

Billy stared. “What?”

“I really really like this girl, I need to get her to notice me before someone else asks her to the Christmas dance.”

Billy stared some more. The Christmas dance was like two months away. “What?” he said again. Then he scowled. “Look, if this is about my fucking sister – “

Henderson made a face. “No, it’s not Max! That was last year! We’re in high school now, Jesus Christ!”

Jesus Christ indeed. Billy still had like at least thirty seconds of Henderson’s bullshit, though. He figured it was okay to humor the kid: he was annoying as shit, but he wasn’t as bad as Sinclair or Wheeler Jr, honestly. “Okay, so what girl is it? Now, is this like, an actual human female? Not one of your fuckin’ elves or whatever?”

“Yes, Billy, it’s an actual human female!” Henderson snapped. He leaned in like a creepy kid. “She is a sophomore. We have class together but she never talks to me. Steve said I just have to ignore her, but it’s not working.”

“The fuck? Why’d he tell you to ignore some girl you like?”

“Steve said I have to like read the room and stuff,” Henderson told him. “Also he said something about sexual electricity but I don’t think I’m experienced enough to understand that. He said I have to act really cool and like I don’t care. So far it hasn’t been working though, like at all.”

“Uhhh,” Billy said. Jesus that was some real bad dating advice; no wonder Steve hadn’t been with anyone since Nancy’d chucked him. He leaned over on the table too. His brain was short-circuiting and dying at having to have heard Dustin utter the words ‘sexual electricity.’ “Okay. Okay, Henderson, you gotta give me some shit to work with here. What’s this girl like, what’s she look like?”

Henderson leaned over the table even more. “Can you lower your voice a little, she is right over there.” .

Billy sighed internally for a thousand years. “All right, so point her out to me.”

“Okay.” Henderson laid across his bookbag like a dead fat seal and stretched his arm out; Billy turned in his seat and followed the finger that Henderson was pointing. There was a little trio of underclassmen girls sitting together at a table near the door. “She’s the one in the pink. Her name is Rebecca,” he stage-whispered. He said the name like Steve would say Nancy Wheeler, or the way Maxine would fuckin’ say George Michael. Maybe the way Billy’d say the name Steve Harrington except he was way too smart to ever sound that way about Steve out loud.

Billy looked at the girl and almost laughed; even if Henderson hadn’t pointed her out Billy would have figured her to be the one right away. She was sitting at the table hunched over some textbook, chewing on her pen a little. Her elbows were on the table and she was wearing a pink blouse and a blue pencil skirt that went down past her knees. She had wavy black hair tied in a side braid; she was the only girl at the table who wasn’t wearing about a pound of makeup. She looked real serious about her textbook.

The sleeves of her blouse were a little frayed; you could tell she’d got it at the five-and-dime and not one of the fancy stores in the mall. Actually with the way she was dressed and the way she was lookin’ at her book she looked so goddamn much like Tracey that Billy had to do a double-take; Henderson would probably pass out and laugh his ass off if Billy ever told him he’d went around with a girl like that for damn close to two years.

“Okay,” Billy said. He leaned back in his desk chair and considered Tracey-Rebecca. “All right, that girl is actually not that much of a dog, we can work with this Henderson. You got any classes with her, you said?”

“Science class, next period,” Henderson told him.

“You ever talk to her before?”

“Only twice. She sits in front of me and gives me my papers back, last week she said good job on the test!” Henderson looked like a Wookie in love.

“All right, that works.” Billy thought about it. “Okay. Go up to her and ask her to carry her books to class.”

Henderson stared at him. “What? No. That won’t work! That is like, the total opposite of what Steve says to do!”

“Look, you just told me that the shit Steve says don’t work,” Billy told him. “All right, listen, that Mr. Cool shit might work for some guys; it is definitely not going to work for you.”

Henderson looked miffed.

“Dustin,” Billy said. He felt the need to use the kid’s first name to make his point. “Listen to me. A girl like that, she wants a guy to be real nicey nicey to her. I know this, I’ve been there. Okay, you’re a goddamn goofball, but you might have a fucking shot if you play your cards right.”

“Really? Do you think so?”

Billy wasn’t really sure what he thought. He thought they had definitely gone way past his forty-five second rule. “Sure kid. It can’t hurt ya, anyway. The worst she can do is say no.”

Henderson looked doubtful. “I guess so. It really sucks when they say no though.”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Billy said; Henderson actually laughed at him. “Okay, so you walk up to her real cool, you say hey – “ he’d seriously almost said Hey Tracey – “hey Rebecca, I was just thinkin’ about you, why don’t you let me carry your books to class, I don’t want you to strain yourself.”

“Billy, that won’t work,” Henderson yapped again.

“Like hell it won’t work.” Billy gestured at the girl. “Okay, I look at that girl, I see, like, a straight B-student, she’s probably kinda quiet, right?”

“Yeah, she is pretty quiet.” Dustin looked like a Wookie in love again; Billy definitely understood the appeal of a girl who didn’t fuckin’ talk too much.

“Okay. So you, you know she’s probably not that experienced, anyway what am I saying, this is Hawkins. Look, girls like that eat this shit up, you just gotta be real nice to them. You gotta mean it too, look real eager okay? She’s gonna laugh with her friends later and say how fuckin’ cute you are.”

“Okay. Really?” Henderson was still looking really doubtful but he was standing up and grabbing his books. He squared his shoulders. “Okay, okay. I’m gonna try.”

“Kid, put your fuckin’ books away first, how the hell you gonna carry hers?”

“Oh! Right!” Henderson snatched for his science book and knocked it off the damn table himself; Billy sighed internally again for a thousand years. Dustin put his books in his backpack and slid it over one shoulder. “Okay, okay, okay. I’m going. Do I look okay?”

“Absolutely not,” Billy told him. “Look, take your fuckin’ hat off, okay?”

“Okay!” Henderson pulled his baseball cap off; his ungodly curly hair sproinged up to nearly touch the ceiling.

Billy made a face. “No no no, Dustin, okay, put the hat back on,” he said real quick.

“Really? Okay.” Henderson jammed the cap back on his head.

Billy sighed. “Don’t make any of your weird noises!” he said to the kid’s back. There were two minutes of class left; he watched Henderson walk up to the girl as the warning bell rang.

Tracey-Rebecca looked up as Henderson yapped at her. She looked real surprised and then she smiled at him. Henderson gestured and waved his arms; the other two girls started giggling up a storm. Girls liked to do that, Billy figured. Tracey-Rebecca stared up at Henderson. She put her pen down and bit her bottom lip. She looked at her friends and then looked back at Dustin. She was pulling on her braid; she was thinking about it. Then she smiled again and stood up. She picked up her pile of books and gave it to him.

HAHAHA!, Billy said inside of his head, then he got control of himself. He had to remind himself that he hated Henderson still and didn’t give a fuck about him. Henderson slid Tracey-Rebecca’s books under his arm and shouldered his backpack again. He started walking out of the classroom with her. He turned around and gave Billy a huge grin and a thumbs up; he almost dropped the girl’s fucking books everywhere.

Billy didn’t give Henderson a thumbs-up back but he did nod at him. He skipped shop class and went to smoke in the locker room. Man but it was real tiring, trying to be a good person.

 

Study hall was fifth period for him; he had it this year instead of a lunch. After sixth (which was supposed to be shop class but was becoming smoke break class more and more often), Billy walked himself down to English. On his way he passed one of the creepy kid club members – it was the little Byers kid and he was getting beat around on like usual. This time it was two sophomores. One kid had Byers’ books and another one was in his face, taunting him and making faces.

Billy sighed again: internally and externally this time, and very heavily. Really all he wanted in his life was to fuckin’ graduate and not have to look at these little brats every day. He wanted that, he thought, really, even more than he wanted Steve Harrington, in whatever way it was that he wanted Steve.

This was like the fourth or fifth time he’d walked by and seen Byers getting picked on; it was getting to be like a TV show or something. The kid was clearly a total fag and his ugly Beatles haircut didn’t help anything but Billy didn’t care about that. Truth be told, aside from Elijane, Byers was probably his favorite of the Creepy Kid Club. He barely ever talked!

In his head Billy could hear Max yapping on and on in her womanly hysteria: she’d go on fuckin’ forever about it if she found out he’d walked by more than once and hadn’t helped Byers out. He reached out as he was walking by and snagged the bookbag strap of the kid in Byers’ face. He swung the brat around the hallway and threw him up against a bunch of lockers, then kept walking. He didn’t even break his stride. “Why don’t you queers at least pick on some loser in your own grade?” he asked. It was an honest question.

“Fuck you, Hargrove!” yelled the kid he’d thrown into the locker.

“You’re dead, Hargrove!” said the other.

The kids got cuter and sweeter every week, Billy thought. He went on to English class as the two goons were yelling their threats; he was hoping Byers had had enough sense to grab his stuff and book it while the guys had been hollering at Billy.

After school Max was waiting for him at his locker; she was holding her science project which was some kinda atom thing made out of paper mache (Billy was pretty sure it was a sugar molecule). She looked like a real big dork and Billy sighed at her holding it and being at his locker. Max gave him a piece of gum which was all right. They started walking out of the building together; it was beginning to snow again which as usual was just making Billy feel all kinds of joy.

Out on the steps the two baby shitbags from earlier were waiting for him. One of them hit Max’s science project out of her hands (“WHAT THE HECK, I GOT A B ON THAT, YOU STUPID MOUTH-BREATHERS!” Max yelled her damn head off) so Billy had to knock him around the parking lot. Then he had to knock the other kid around the parking lot too for grabbing at his shirt collar.

He didn’t beat them around too much, though; they were just sophomores, and anyway they were still on school property. Billy really didn’t need to get suspended and have to deal with any bullshit from his father. So far it had been a pretty good year and he’d only gotten smacked around once or twice since school’d started; it would be nice to keep it that way for once. He and Max had four more days until his dad went back out on the road and then they could rejoice for a while.

Max held her squashed-up science project as they got into his car. “Why’d two stupid sophomores want to fight you?” she asked him.

“Hell if I know.” Max would yap her head off if she thought he hadn’t helped Byers, but she didn’t exactly need to know he’d done it either, Billy figured. It didn’t matter.

‘Blister in the Sun’ by the Violent Femmes came on the radio and Billy and Max started arguing about it. They’d been arguing about it for about a week now; it was a pretty big argument. They were gonna do a poll over it and Max was gonna end up owing him three jawbreakers and a cigarillo. There was no way Max could get her hands on a cigar so she was gonna be owing him forever.

“He’s totally singing about a guy,” Maxine said.

“He’s not singing about a guy,” Billy said. “You nitwit. They ain’t gonna put some song like that on the radio.”

“Yes they would! He’s singing about a guy and having wet dreams about him, it’s called subtext Billy.”

“There ain’t no guy in the music video,” Billy pointed out. “He is just walking around town, high as shit, living his life.”

And singing about a guy!”

They argued all the way down Main Street. Then Billy parked and went down to the car garage; Max was heading to some store to meet her friend Beverly. “We’re going out to eat at Mike’s at seven, you wanna come?” Max asked him. “The pizza place, not Mike’s house.”

Billy’d figured. “See how I feel once I pick you up,” he said. He was pretty sure El-or-Jane wouldn’t be there; apparently she was still grounded and the ban had only been lifted so she could go out trick-or-treating. Billy didn’t really know how you could ground a little kid that’d spent most of her life in a damn test tube but apparently that was something that was happening.

He felt pretty all right; he and Max had been getting along real good for more than a month now. More than a month was a long time when you were brother and sister (forced to be brother and sister, he reminded himself). Shit, with a sister like Max, even getting along for two days was a long time.

He went into the garage and talked to Hank for a while. Over two weeks’d gone by since he’d fought Tommy Hall out in front of the shop and Hank hadn’t fired him yet. Billy wasn’t sure if Miles had forgotten to tell Hank what happened or if Hank just didn’t care; he wasn’t going to jinx himself and ask about it, though.

Hank showed him the list of new orders they had and asked him if he’d drive out to South Bend tomorrow to pick up parts. Billy was going to the movies with Harrington but he figured he’d have time to do that. He was Hank’s new apprentice anyway after all. He thought about asking Hank about ‘Blister in the Sun’ but figured Hank wouldn’t have heard it since the only fuckin’ music he listened to came from POWER 99.

Max came back and met him at quarter to seven; Billy gave his keys to Hank and they resumed their argument. “Bev says it’s about a guy too,” Max informed him; Billy scowled. He drove them to Mike’s the pizza place and they went on in. Harrington was there which Billy hadn’t expected and did not let himself get excited about. Sinclair was there too with the Byers kid. They all stared at Billy and Max when they came in with their backpacks and sat down.

Max looked around at them. “What?” she said finally.

Sinclair said, “Dustin told us that you helped him get a date and then beat up two guys for Will? Did you have a brain transplant or something?”

Billy tried hard not to ask who the fuck Will was. “Wait, he actually got the date already?” He actually felt pretty proud of Henderson.

“They’re at the liiiiibrary,” Sinclair said and made a stupid face.

“Oh shit. You know what that means.”

Max made a stupid face too. “No, what’s it mean?” Billy gave her a look.

Harrington was sprawled out at the table and he looked either pretty tired or pretty annoyed; Billy wondered if he was pissed off that Billy’d been giving Henderson dating advice or something. “Who did you fight now? ” he asked.

“Dunno their names.”

“Justin something and Tommy Hall’s little brother,” Max informed Harrington. She turned back to Billy. “Is that why you fought two sophomores?!”

Steve looked even more annoyed. He kinda looked like a den dad again. “You fought Tommy Hall’s little brother?” he asked. “Man, he is really gonna be out for you now.”

“It wasn’t even a real fight,” Billy said. Max added, “They squashed my science project!”

“She got a fuckin’ B on it,” Billy said.

Harrington looked slightly mollified. “Hey, that’s a pretty good grade,” he told Max.

“Oh yeah!” said Billy. He dug around in his backpack. “Speaking of pretty good grades, check this shit out.” He slammed his math test down on the table.

Steve leaned over to look at it. His hair fell into his eyes and he reached up to sweep it behind his ears. He started grinning like a crazy person and looked up at Billy. Jesus he had some huge fuckin’ eyes; Billy hadn’t been ready for him to look like that. “No shit, that’s awesome, man!” he said. He reached across the table to shove at Billy’s shoulder; he almost upset Sinclair’s soda with his elbow. Sinclair glowered at him. “Hey, I guess you don’t need me anymore.”

No, I still need you, Billy almost said like a great big fag. Since Sinclair and the Byers kid and Max were all there he managed not to say it.

Max leaned over the table too; she had her biggest gremlin face on. “Can we talk about something actually important?” she demanded. She looked over at Steve. “Steve, ‘Blister in the Sun’ is about a guy, right?”

Steve looked surprised. “Uh, what now?”

“That Violent Femmes song. They play it all the time on 102.5?”

“Oh, right.” He still looked a little blank. 102.5 was the college radio and Billy was pretty sure that Harrington just got his kicks listening to fuckin’ POWER 99 all the time too. He needed so much help.

“It’s not about a guy.” Sinclair was making a face.

“See?” Billy said to Max.

“I think he’s singing like he’s, you know, the girl in the song,” Byers piped up; probably one of the first times Billy’d heard him talk. Billy thought that it being from the girl’s perspective was some Boy George shit.

“So what’s the final tally though, kid? Is it about a guy or not? We got candy on the line here.” Byers smiled at him like he was being funny.

“Okay, so why’s his girlfriend crying then?” Max demanded over him. She and Sinclair were playing footsie under the table and it made Billy want to puke everywhere. Max got in a nice good kick on Sinclair; he made a terrible face at her. “Or her girlfriend, I guess.”

“Girlfriend doesn’t have to mean girlfriend girlfriend,” Sinclair told her; he was still making the face. “It could be girlfriend like, like your mom meets her girlfriend for book club?”

Max made a face. “But … it’s still about a guy.”

“No it’s not!”

“No, I’m … I’m pretty sure it’s about a guy,” Steve said slowly.

“See?”

“It’s not about a guy,” said Billy.

“You’re so homophobic!” Max told him.

“No I ain’t!” Mostly he just wanted the jawbreakers. He felt like telling Max about working with Miles and his fuckin’ bandana collection; she had not even seen him yet.

“Yes you are!”

“No I’m not!”

“He’s not homophobic just for thinking a song isn’t about a guy, because it’s not, ” Sinclair said. Billy couldn’t believe that the first thing he and Lucas had ever agreed on was that the singer from the Violent Femmes hadn’t wrote a song about a dude with big hands.

The little Byers kid was standing and gathering his books; he put a few dollars on the table. “I have to go and meet Jonathan,” he said. He looked at Billy for a minute; his little shoulder quirked up and he looked even more like a gay Beatle. “Um, thank … thank you for helping me today,” he said. Then he said, “Actually, I think the song’s not about a guy after all. Bye guys.”

“HA, SEE?” Billy said. Everyone else at the table rolled their eyes at him.

“Bye Will!” said Sinclair and Max.

Billy stared after him. “Wait, he has the same goddamn name as me?”

Sinclair and Max stared at him too. “You have got to be kidding,” Sinclair said. “You didn’t know that?”

Steve started laughing. He’d been pretty quiet for most of the argument with the kids; he had his head propped up in his hand and had been leaning on the table, tugging at his hair. It sounded nice to hear him laughing or whatever. Steve looked up at him. “Willy Hargrove,” he said, smiling. He laughed some more. Billy flipped him off.

Max and Sinclair finished their pizza and then everyone parted ways; Sinclair hopped onto his bike and blended off into the night. Steve had walked over again so Billy told him he’d give him a ride home. Steve stared at him as they got into the car.

“You need to stop getting into fights, man,” he said like he was Billy’s dad. Except totally not like Billy’s dad because Billy’s dad would be kicking the shit out of him. Also Steve did not look remotely like Billy’s dad; he looked way better. Okay Billy was going to stop thinking about his dad right now.

“It was just two sophomores,” Maxine yapped from the backseat. “Billy can take at least three or four guys, he’s got like retardo strength.”

Billy rolled his eyes at her in the rearview mirror. She was so kind. Actually he guessed she was so kind; he’d really only won the few fights she’d seen him in due to pure dumb luck. She looked real excited in the backseat; she looked just like her little ten-year-old self that Billy’d used to pick up and take out to the stupid comic book shop while their parents went out on dates. He said, “You remember when me’n Tracey took you to Venice Beach?”

Max stared at him for a second; it was probably the first time in a goddamn year he’d mentioned Tracey to her without screaming his head off. Then she started smiling. “Yes,” she said. She told Steve, “This guy grabbed his girlfriend’s butt so Billy threw him and his three friends off the pier, it was probably the best day of my life.”

“What?” Steve was laughing and making a great face; Max started laughing at it. “That did not happen, you guys are freakin’ liars.”

“It was high tide, they just swam away,” Billy told him. “Maxine was yelling her damn head off like usual.”

“Yeah, and remember I bet you guys you couldn’t eat that whole pack of hot dogs?”

“Oh my fucking god,” Billy said. He started laughing a little bit too, despite himself. “Trace blew chunks all over the goddamn boardwalk.”

“It was so gross.

Harrington was smiling at them. “I didn’t think you guys used to do stuff together,” he said. “That’s a really cute story. I mean, also fucking disgusting.” He said, “You know, I never – I mean, I don’t have any brothers or sisters. You guys are really lucky.”

Billy and Max exchanged a look in the rearview mirror; it said they both knew exactly how not-lucky they both were. Billy thought Steve had kind of been starting to know about that. Maybe not though. Also: “She’s not my sister,” he said as Max squawked, “He’s not my brother!”

Steve was still laughing; he laid his head back against the seat and looked at Billy. “Okay okay okay,” he said. “Je-sus, look at your face. It is so cute when you get all fired up.” He was smiling; he was saying it to Billy and not to Max.

Him saying shit like that made Billy feel real weird. Really weird, in fact, as a certain telekinetic little badass might say. Really, really weird. He knew that it was a joke and he knew that it was meant to be a joke. He said shit like that to Steve all the time but it made him feel weird.

The thing was he knew that it didn’t make Harrington feel weird. It didn’t matter. He knew that it didn’t make his throat lock up when Billy said shit like that and it just. Made him feel. Shit he didn’t know. Made him feel something. He didn’t know if it was a sadness or a sickness or what. He knew Harrington didn’t mean it; maybe it’d be kinda nice if he meant it or something.

Goddamn he was such a girl. He didn’t know when this shit had started to happen to him; he was trying not to think about it. He wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Billy rubbed the back of his neck. “You ain’t even seen me try to be cute yet.” Then he stopped rubbing the back of his neck. He said, “SHIT.”

Steve blinked. “What?”

“Nothin’.” Billy touched the side of his neck, too, then he looked down his shirt. “I lost my fuckin’ necklace.”

Max popped forward from the backseat; some of her hair swung onto his jacket. “What? Your mom’s?” she asked. Her eyes were big. “You lost her pendant?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh man,” said Steve. He started frowning. “Okay. Uh, where’d you have it last?”

“I don’t know, I always fuckin’ have it.”

“Should we get out and look for it?” Max asked. “Maybe it fell off in the pizza place.”

“Maybe. Maybe, I don’t know.”

They all got out of the car; Billy and Max started looking on the ground and Harrington trotted off to check back in Mike’s. It was still snowing, coming down pretty hard; Max’s red hair was covered in flakes in about two minutes. Steve came back out chewing on his bottom lip and looking upset. “No, sorry man. Shit.”

“Shit,” Billy said too. He was so stupid. Steve starting kicking around in the snow too and Billy felt so goddamn stupid. They didn’t need to do that.

Maxine was down on her knees looking under the Camaro like a total fruit loop; she skidded in the slush and pulled herself up on the doorhandle. Then she made a sound and hit at his arm. “Oh! Billy!” she said. “The school!”

“What?”

“When you threw those guys around in the parking lot today?” Max said. “Didn’t Tommy’s brother grab you? It probably came off then, I bet it’s still out there by the stupid steps.”

Harrington had the big frown-wrinkle between his eyebrows again. “Should we go look there, do you wanna look?”

Billy licked his lips; he didn’t want to make a big fucking deal over it. He felt so goddamn stupid. Irresponsible just like his old man always said. He could never take care of his things; he couldn’t take care of one thing. He slammed his fist against the hood of his car, but just once. “Nah, no, it’s all right.”

“We can go look.”

“It’s fucking storming out, we’re never gonna find it,” Billy told him. Goddamn he felt so stupid; he was so stupid. “It’s okay, it don’t matter. It’s probably not even there anymore. It’s just a – I have other shit of hers.”

“Not that much,” Max said tactfully.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Are you sure?” Steve was still making his concerned face.

Billy really wished that he wasn’t making the concerned face. He didn’t need to look like that. Billy didn’t need Harrington feeling all sorry for him and shit. God he was stupid. It was just a necklace. “Let’s just go, all right.”

They all got back into the car and it was pretty quiet as Billy drove Harrington back to his big house. ‘Blister in the Sun’ came on the radio again and Maxine didn’t even start her bullshit up. Billy parked at the curb and Steve got out; Max climbed around to steal his seat up front.

Steve stood standing out there in the snow with his hands in his jacket. “I’m sorry, man,” he said.

“It’s fine, it don’t matter.”

“Okay. Well. See you tomorrow, right?”

“Okay.”

Billy drove off; he let Max turn the radio back up. In the rearview mirror, Steve was still just standing there out in the snow, looking after them.

 

He took Max to school the next day; he was trying not to feel like a big fuckin’ baby about losing his mom’s necklace. He was such a goddamn girl.

Maxine was right and he didn’t have too much of his mom’s stuff; there was no reason to keep it, his old man said. Billy had a couple of books she’d got him and her record player. He had some pictures and this stupid old astronomy map his mom’d had when she was a kid. An old quilt she’d made him with her mom when he’d been seven or eight. He had her jewelry box hidden down in the basement; he’d fought like holy hell with his dad over that one. He was pretty sure his old man had hawked her wedding ring and sold it. He hadn’t asked but he was pretty sure he’d sold it.

He had her bracelet and her pendant; now he’d lost her fucking pendant. It wasn’t even expensive or anything but her mom had given it to her when she was a kid and she’d given it to him when she’d known she was really dying. It had been right when she’d started to get really bad and he hadn’t wanted it. It was Saint Christopher and he was supposed to protect kids or something; Billy pretty much felt like all the saints never protected anything. But he’d always had it.

He and Max kicked around in the snow a little bit but it wasn’t on the steps anyway. He hadn’t thought it would be there; he could have lost it anywhere really. “Sorry Billy,” Max said. She had a weird look on her face; he didn’t feel like lookin’ at her.

School went by and Billy went to work. He drove out to South Bend for Hank and came back and picked up Maxine; she was actually at the library for once. It was Thursday night and he felt surprised she wasn’t hanging out with the Creepy Kid Club playing D&D. Max made a face at him like he’d said something awful and slammed her door in his face. Billy counted to ten in his head and went to get ready.

Harrington came and picked him up at eight. Billy really would have preferred meeting him but Steve’d said that Billy’d been driving him around a lot lately; he could do the same. It was nice and all but he’d rather have met him there. Steve coming to get him shouldn’t be a big deal but it felt like one though. Billy hadn’t really had many friends since he was a kid; he’d had Tracey and Jack for a while but Jack'd been mostly Tracey’s pal. He wasn’t really used to people going out of their way to get him and stuff.

Billy’s dad was sitting out on the couch watching TV when Steve rang the doorbell. Billy’s dad was hardly ever sitting on the couch unless some kinda sport was on but of course he’d have to be on the couch when Steve Harrington was knocking for Billy. He could feel his father staring over his shoulder with his steel-blade gaze as he opened the door.

“Hey man, you ready?” Steve said. He flipped his sunglasses off his face (he was such a fucking dork; it was goddamn night out) and then he stared past Billy’s shoulder too at his old man. Billy wondered if they were about to brawl over his honor or some shit. He didn’t know why his dad was staring at Steve like that; Steve didn’t matter. Well Steve did matter but it wasn’t like Billy was gonna fucking kiss him right out there on the steps or something. He could never do right for his dad: he was either a goddamn faggot or he was a goddamn degenerate, knocking up his poor little girlfriend.

Billy didn’t see how he could possibly be both. He couldn't be both. His dad wasn’t inside his goddamn head anyway, he reminded himself.

Billy stepped out and closed the door. “Hey, let’s go, okay.”

Steve followed him around to his car. “Your father is fuckin’ a piece of work,” he told Billy as they got into his fancy BMW. “Jesus, I always thought my dad was a dick, but … “ He kind of laughed; it wasn't really a real laugh though.

“What’s your dad do?” Billy asked. He was honestly curious. He’d never met anyone else as crazy as his old man; it’d taken him damn near his whole life to realize that you weren’t supposed to actually be terrified of your father. Kinda he was still learning that.

Steve’s mouth curled up; he rolled his head against the back of his seat and looked over at Billy. “Oh, you know,” he said. “He ignores me,” he said all dramatic like he was in The Breakfast Club. Billy laughed without meaning to; Harrington was getting good at making him do that. Steve smiled. “No, no, I mean, you know. The usual stuff, likes to tell me I’m stupid all the time.”

“Oh yeah, I get that one a lot.” He thought Steve’d go on but he just chewed on his lip and stared out at the road; then he stared at Billy.

“I’m just sorry, okay,” he said. “I didn’t really believe Max at first, not for a long time. About your old man. But – you know – over the summer, when I saw your arm – “

Billy stared at him and raised his eyebrows. It felt like a challenge. “You really think my dad busted my arm?”

“Yeah. I do.” Steve was just looking at him.

“Okay,” Billy said. He leaned back in his seat; he wished Steve would just start the car up already. “What, you feel sorry for me?”

“No! I. I just. I dunno. I’m just sorry.”

“We really don’t gotta talk about this,” Billy told him. He was playing with all the fancy buttons on the dashboard of the car; Harrington rolled his eyes as Billy made his window go up and down twice. “Look, you gonna take me to the movies or what? Thought you were gonna take me to the fuckin’ movies, Stella, show me the night life.”

Steve was smiling at him like he’d said something cute; Billy was pretty sure he’d never said anything cute in his whole life. “Yeah, okay, let’s go.” He finally turned his car on.

They went and saw Stand By Me ; this time it was Billy cracking up in the theater. He was never gonna stop quoting it. Also it kept looking like Chris and Gordie were gonna kiss each other; he got such a kick out of it. Steve leaned over in his seat. “You sound like a mental patient, I'm just telling you,” he said. “They just found a dead body.”

“Suck my fat one, you cheap dimestore hood,” Billy told him. Then he cracked up again.

Steve leaned over even more; he was being annoying as shit on purpose. “I feel like that line really resonates with you, do you need to talk about it?”

“Fuck you,” Billy said. “Gimme your Skittles.”

Steve was making a stupid face at him, then he started grinning. “Ask me really nice, I'll give you two,” he said.

Billy asked him really nice; Steve gave him the whole box.

 

The weekend went by and on Monday Billy’s dad went back out on the road. The house felt like a house again and not a prison; Susan didn’t have to make terrible breakfast anymore. Susan was pretty cool with letting them go out and do what they wanted and they ate take-out for a week straight. Max told Billy that her old man had used to cook mostly.

Wednesday night they found Steve all by himself at the diner looking like a lost puppy in his cute button-up shirt and tie. “My dad was supposed to meet me here after his meeting, I guess he forgot,” he said. He looked so goddamn bummed out that Max and Billy changed their orders to to-go; Max called up Henderson on the diner phone and yapped her head off to him. They picked up Dustin and everyone trooped over to Steve’s big empty house. Max and Dustin were losing their minds yelling and playing Donkey Kong Jr on Steve’s Nintendo; Maxine’d been drooling about the Nintendo for close to three weeks now. Steve and Billy went downstairs and drank a beer in the kitchen as the kids destroyed Steve's room. Billy was pretty sure you could fit both his and Max’s bedrooms in the Harringtons' kitchen.

Steve followed them out to his porch when they left at past ten; Billy figured he might as well give Henderson a ride back. He kinda wanted to hear the shit on Tracey-Rebecca anyway.

“Thanks for hanging out with me,” Steve said like he hadn’t bought Max and Billy their food and let them play fancy games and fuck up his room and let Billy drink his dad’s beer. “You good to drive?”

“I’m okay,” Billy said. Steve was too cute; they’d only had one drink. Anyway it was probably the kids he was worried about.

Billy worked at the shop a lot; it was easier to be at the garage and listen to Hank or Miles talk and talk when he knew he didn’t have to go home to a lecture from his old man. He was saving up a lot of money now, not that he knew what the fuck he was saving it for. The way Hank paid him he might actually be able to afford an apartment or something when he graduated. He wasn't really thinking about it; he definitely couldn't stay home for forever. He wasn't sure what the hell Maxine would do left alone with his crazy old man but he wasn't thinking about it. Anyway his dad wasn't there half the time anyway; it's not like she really needed Billy for shit. They were getting along fine now but she didn't need him for shit.

Steve came over a couple nights and they played basketball in the driveway with all the porch lights on. Billy still kicked Steve’s ass and knocked him around like way back last year; the only difference was now he actually gave him a hand getting up. Max rolled her eyes and scowled at them like a forty-year-old mom from the kitchen window as they were jumping around and swearing at each other. She made a big production of slamming the kitchen window twice.

“Why’s she got the window open anyway, it’s like forty degrees out,” Steve said. He was panting and sweating even though it was cold as shit out; Billy threw the ball at his face. “YOU ASSHOLE.” He got real close to Billy trying to dribble the ball past him; Jesus Billy got such a kick out of him. “You gonna join the team again in January?”

“Maybe, if you let me have a fuckin’ day to myself.”

Steve ignored him being an asshole; he was getting real good at that too. “Dustin is going to come to all your games and annoy the shit out of you, I can't wait for it.”

“He better fuckin’ not.”

“I’m gonna make him a flag with your face on it,” Steve said; he stole the ball back from Billy.

“You got a lot of pictures of my face, Harrington?”

Steve laughed at him. He made the shot from midway down the driveway; they were calling that half-court. “Boom!” he said like a total dork. Then he sat down on the pavement. “Okay, I am going to die now.”

Billy sat down too. He'd still beat him but Harrington'd kind of whipped his ass too. He was pretty sure he was getting a huge bruise on his side from Steve tackling him into the bushes; the kid really did not like to be tripped. “You're getting pretty good, man.”

“Thanks, you make me want to try to be a better person,” Steve said; Billy threw his head back and laughed. Steve ran his hands through his hair a couple of times and Billy tried not to want him.

It was real little things that made him want Steve; it wasn't like what Billy'd thought he was supposed to feel about a person. It wasn't some huge thing. It was when Steve was looking up at him in the diner or singing along to some bullshit song on the radio or choking on his food laughing because Billy'd said some dumb shit that he'd thought was funny. He'd do that shit or look a certain way or make a face and Billy'd think that one, I want that one. It was weird and it made his brain shake in his skull. He'd never felt that way about someone, he kind of hadn't thought he could. It was that thing that was wrong with him. Now what was wrong with him was a whole new can of shit apparently.

Steve was leaning over and looking at him; he was stretched out sitting on the pavement and leaning with his weight on his shoulder and he looked real good. “Hello? Bills? Can you stop thinking about your hair for two seconds?”

“Sorry, sorry. What?” Billy felt taken aback; he'd said sorry about four times in his goddamn life.

“I said I can't hang out on Sunday night, I have to go on this – date or whatever with this chick that works in accounting, my dad set it up.”

Billy wasn't upset about Harrington going out on a date; he seriously wasn't. He knew there was no chance he and Steve could ever be a thing; he wasn't even fully sure what the fuck he'd do with Harrington if he got in five minutes with him. Okay he had a couple ideas. Anyway he knew it wouldn't happen; it would never happen. Also Steve needed to get laid badly if all the sob stories he'd told Billy about Nancy Wheeler were true. It'd been a real long time for him. Harrington was all romantic and shit and hadn't even copped off with anyone at any parties or anything.

“You seen this girl before, she look all right?”

“I saw her for probably five minutes, about six months ago right when I started. She was all right.” No Nancy, apparently. Billy managed not to make a face. “Anyway if she didn't look all right my dad wouldn't have made the date, he's a real asshole like that. She's older, I wanna say twenty?”

“Okay, we can work with that.”

“No, I seriously don't want to go, I haven't been on a real date in over a year. I'm not like you, man, I can't get whoever I want,” Steve told him. If only. He fixed Billy with a real mean look. “You didn't even tell me you hooked up with Rachel,” he said.

Billy felt about two inches tall. It didn't matter but he felt two inches tall. “That was a while ago, I barely even remember that. How'd you hear about that?”

“I have my sources,” Steve said mysteriously; he probably meant Henderson. So much for Rachel's keeping it quiet over her boyfriend in Eastgate. “Look, I'm not like you, I get really nervous. I'm gonna drop like eight plates on this girl, can you like beat the shit out of me again so I don't have to go.”

“Man, you're gonna be fine.”

“No, I'm not gonna be fine,” Steve told him. “I get really sweaty when I'm nervous, my hands sweat real bad. And I'm hanging out with you way too much, I keep swearing and calling everything a faggot. My mom almost beat me to death at the dinner table last week.”

Billy started laughing; goddamn he was too cute. “Look, we can go out now if you want to make up for Sunday. I thought up like six line pickup lines to use on Mrs. Wheeler, I will let you have them.”

Steve got fake tears in his eyes; he was such a piece of shit. Billy wondered if Steve could show him how to do that. It'd work wonders on Maxine and especially Susan. “You'd really do that for me?”

Billy stood up; he was definitely gonna have a bruise. “Come on, shitbag.” He gave Steve a hand up.

 


The night before Thanksgiving Maxine dragged him over to the Byers’ house; she told him El-or-Jane was gonna be there and Billy stopped letting her drag him and started dragging her. Only Wheeler Jr made a face at him once they'd shown up. Steve was there too which made Billy feel all right.

Mostly all right, anyway. He sat down next to Elijane on one of the little couches, he tried not to feel weird as fuck about throwing Sinclair into the bookshelf in the corner last year or knocking Steve out cold on the floor. There was still an indentation there next to the rug from where Max'd been slamming that serial killer bat around.

Billy looked at the indentation on the floor, then he looked at Elijane. He wondered if the rest of the brat pack had told her all about it. Elijane looked up and gave her her little half-smile; maybe not.

“Hey kid,” he said. She looked all serious reading some ratty paperback. He was surprised she wasn't sitting over at the table with her jailer Wheeler Jr. He said, “No shit, you can read?”

Steve glanced up at him; he was all laid out on the floor again. He and the Byers kid had a bunch of papers taped together and they were drawing some weird map out with fucking crayons. “Bill!” he said like Mr. Mom. Goddamn but he looked cute as shit laying on the floor wearing his little sweatshirt and glaring up at Billy.

“What? I'm asking a question.”

“I can read,” Elijane told him. “My – dad's been teaching me.”

Billy thought it was pretty cute too that she was calling the sheriff her dad. He guessed she should be after all. The sheriff was pretty fuckin' terrifying but maybe he was all right.

Elijane had a little torn-up dictionary too. She scooted over closer and showed him the book she was reading; it was some kinda murder mystery novel. Not Stephen King or anything but one of those crime dramas, like a Perry Mason or some shit. Not really the best reading material for twelve year old in Billy's opinion, not that anyone wanted it. “Kid, you ought to be reading some Narnia books or something.” He wondered if he had any of his old copies down in his basement.

Steve was laughing at him; Billy was too far away to kick him. “You got something to say, Harrington? What're you, a topographer now?”

Steve looked blank. Byers leaned over closer to him. “He means a map-maker,” he supplied.

“Oh, I knew that.” Steve still looked blank.

“So what're you guys doing?” Billy nudged the map with his foot. “That a map of Hawkins?”

“Uh, yeah. We've been working on it for a while.”

Byers leaned over Steve again and drew a big X on the river that Steve was coloring in. “You don't actually have to color it,” he told him. Steve made a face at him. “Danford Creek and East Bend. Do you think it means anything?”

“Nah, I dunno, Maybe not. I mean, both those rivers run south.” Steve looked up at Billy for some reason. He said, “I know that now.”

Harrington was clearly a crazy person; it was such a shame about him. Billy looked over at Elijane. “What's the map for?” he asked again.

“When I go missing,” Elijane said.

“Uhhhh right,” Billy said. Honestly the kid wasn't much better though she had his devotion and shit. “Okay, I don't really know what that means.”

Steve was scratching his eyebrow in a resigned way. “Uh, okay. So look. That night over the summer when we had our great adventure, and you flipped the fuck out. It wasn't – “

“Wait, wait, I flipped the fuck out?”

Byers was smiling; he hadn't even been there.

“It wasn't the first time that'd happened, that she went off into the woods,” Steve said. “I mean, I don't know. Was it the first time, El?”

Elijane shook her head. “Two other times.”

“Okay,” Billy said. “You felt like going for a stroll or something?”

Elijane shook her head again. “I can't remember.”

“It's like she … goes into a trace or something,” Little Byers told him. “She's been out there two other times.”

Okay, that was pretty fucking weird. “You can't remember why you was out there?” Billy asked El. She shook her head. “You start bleeding like that and shit the other times too?”

Elijane nodded again. “Always bloody,” she said.

“It hasn't happened for a couple months,” Little Byers told him. “We've been trying to pinpoint, um, where she's been, to see if there's any patterns. It's probably about the gate.”

“It's not the gate,” Elijane said.

As usual Billy had no clue what the kids or Harrington were going on about. Funny that Byers and Elijane were his two favorites and they were definitely the weirdest fuckin' ones, aside from Steve probably. “What gate?”

Byers stared at him. “Steve didn't tell you about the gate?”

“I just love talking about the gate, I tell all my new friends who used to beat the shit out of me about the gate.” Steve was rolling his eyes.

Byers sat up. “Mike? Billy doesn't know about the gate.”

Wheeler Jr looked up from where he'd been arguing with Max and Sinclair and Henderson; Billy thought they'd been squawking about D&D or some shit. “He doesn't?” He looked at Max. “I thought you were going to tell him!”

“Steve said not to!”

“I didn't say not to!”

Henderson was lisping his way over with his stupid goddamn baseball cap. “Okay, move Will, I want to tell him!”

“No, you always tell everything wrong!” Mike yapped, knocking him out of the way. All the kids were starting to go off again; Billy sighed again in his head.

“Okay, so El has these powers – “

“I know she has frickin' powers, thanks.”

“SHE HAS THESE POWERS – “

“She opened the gate with her mind!”

“Basically she is like a mage, she can create a portal – “

“ – kind of like a flea – “ Wheeler Jr made a weird punching motion with his hand for some reason –

“ – when she was being tortured in the lab they made her open this gate into another dimension – “

“Will got sucked into it and everyone thought he was dead!“

The kids yapped on and on. Basically they were spinning him some Stephen King shit for about the twelfth time; actually it was beyond Stephen King shit. Billy just about got up and walked out when they started talking about monsters and packs of monsters and El-or-Jane exploding brains and snapping arms and demodogs and Mind Flayers.

“Oh my god, sit down, you drama queen!” No less than three creepy kids grabbed his arm; truly he felt assaulted.

“So basically last year I found this really cute little lizard one day and I named him d'Artagnan, right – “

“IN WHAT FREAKING WORLD WAS THAT THING CUTE?”

“By the way it wasn't a lizard, it was a huge monster.”

“What IS a monster, anyway? What makes a monster?”

“Oh my fucking god Dustin, shut the hell up – “

“It ate his cat, by the way!”

“It almost ate me!

“ – yeah, Mews, God rest her soul, anyway it turns out he wasn't really a lizard, he was kind of like an alien – “

“Is it really an alien if it's from Earth?”

“Wow, wow. Is that really the question you should be asking now, Lucas?”

“YOU just said – “

“Anyway then El closed the gate for a second time, after you knocked Steve the hell out we loaded him up in your car and we went down into the tunnel to the Upside Down to burn a bunch of those demodogs up – “

“ – that's why we were all at Will's house – “

“I wasn't there though, I was possessed at the time.”

“But he's okay now!”

“But I'm okay now.”

“Steve was so cool, he was like swinging his bat everywhere and then he threw his lighter – “

“Steve, why didn't you tell Billy about how we burned the demodogs?”

“I … “ Steve was still laying on the floor with his crayons. “I wasn't really … “

“Anyway then El used her mind powers to close the gate and all the demodogs died anyway. But the gate might not be closed because of her blackouts now.”

“Dustin, the gate's closed,” Steve said. He sounded real annoyed.

“It's not the gate,” El said again. Billy stared at her; he wondered if she really had exploded people's brains with her mind.

“It's probably the gate,” said Dustin. “Ummm. Billy looks like he's having a stroke again.”

“Fuck off,” Billy said. He looked around; all the kids were crowded around him like a litter of puppies and looking at him. He was pretty sure they were lying; they had to be lying. The thing was though they didn't look like they were lying. Elijane was looking at him too and she didn't look like she was lying and apparently she'd killed a bunch of people and also monsters. Billy's head was gonna fucking explode. He said, real nice, “Maxine?”

“Yes?”

“Okay, so you've known for a year now. That we moved to a town that's full of fucking monsters and government agents. And you decided not to tell me this shit?”

“Steve said not to!” Max yapped. “We were watching Star Wars!

“I didn't say not to!” Steve yelled. “Can we not talk about the fuckin' gate for one night? Anyway, it, the – portal or whatever's closed, okay?!”

“Maybe,” added Dustin. Steve rolled his eyes. He looked about ready to snap his little crayon in half.

Billy rubbed his face. “I don't really believe you guys.”

“It's true!”

“It happened!”

“We'd have a demodog corpse if Mrs. Byers hadn't freaked out! It was for science!”

“El, can you like go in his head and show him?”

“No!” said Elijane. “I'm not supposed to do that.”

Billy stared at her. “You can do that?”

“She can do everything!” yapped Dustin.

Elijane was shaking her head. “Not supposed to.” Then she looked at him again. “It's true,” she said. “The monsters are real.”

“Okay,” Billy said. Okay okay okay. Cool cool cool. The kids were all still standing and staring at him. “Can you guys like disperse now? I need a fucking minute.”

“Okay!” said all the kids. Then they kept standing there and staring at him.

“GUYS!” said Steve.

“Okay okay okay!”

The kids all split up; Henderson and Sinclair went back to the table and Wheeler Jr grabbed up Elijane. Max got all up in Billy's face anyway. “Are you wigging out?”

“I'm not sure.”

“You've screamed like way less than Steve, and he already knew about them!”

“THANK YOU MAX,” said Steve. Max gave him her shit-eating smile.

Mrs. Byers came home then and saved Billy from any more creepy kid shit; she was holding about eighty grocery bags and she didn't seem at all annoyed to see five extra kids in her house and Steve on the floor holding crayons and Billy on her couch. She put all her bags down and smiled them and then at Elijane; she put her hand on the kid's shoulder and touched her hair. “Hi, sweetheart! Did Jim finally let you out of the house?”

“Ye-es,” Elijane said in a real unconvincing tone; Billy grinned at her.

“What are you kids doing?”

“We just told Billy about the gate,” Little Byers told her.

Mrs. Byers looked kind of overwhelmed; she usually looked that way. She looked at Billy and then at her kid. “Oh, sweetie, I don't really know that you should be talking about that – ”

“It's okay, he took it really well!”

“Uh, not really,” Billy said. He needed to smoke like six cigarettes at once like he was the chief or something.

“It's a lot,” Mrs. Byers said to him; she sounded like such a goddamn mom, even though apparently there’d been an alien or a monster in her freezer. She was still playing with El-or-Jane's hair. “It's a lot. But you know, it's been over a year now, and we haven't had any monsters in our refrigerator since.” Steve was making a great face down at his map. “And we have our angel now, so we're all all right, aren't we, sweetheart?”

Elijane was smiling up at her. “We're all right.”

The creepy kids helped Joyce put her groceries away and then she started making noises about taking them all home. Billy figured he ought to be getting Max and heading back too but Max asked if she could go to Elijane's for a while; Mrs. Byers said she'd take her over.

Steve was looking over at him; he was helping Little Byers pick up all his pencils and roll up his map. “You wanna chill or something?” he asked Billy. “Are you still wigging out?”

Billy was still wigging out. “We can chill, if you want,” he decided.

They said bye to Mrs. Byers and the creepy kids; Billy looked at Elijane and thought he'd have to remember the books for her. Fucking traumatized little kid reading mystery novels. He and Steve walked on outside. Billy thought about the last time he and Harrington had been outside at the Byers'.

“What do you wanna do, you wanna go somewhere?” Steve asked him. It was after nine which wasn't late at all, especially with no school or work tomorrow.

“I want to have a fucking drink is what I wanna do.”

“Okay. We can go back to my house, I'll take something of my dad's for you if you want.”

Steve was so goddamn cute; he sounded like fuckin' Tracey talking about hawking her mom's smokes. “Can just go buy a bottle of something.” He didn't want Harrington to think he was just using him for his booze or something. Steve looked surprised; Billy said, “What, I don't get carded.”

“I always forget that I'm actually older than you, you look about 27 goddamn years old.”

“Man, you're three months older than me.”

Steve was walking down the driveway towards his car. “Older than you, taller than you, way better-looking than you. Also my dad probably has way better shit than what you can buy.”

“Yeah, you're the full package, Harrington.” He was still pretty freaked the fuck out but Steve was making him feel okay. Taller than him. By a goddamn half inch.

Steve got into his car and Billy got into his Camaro; he followed Steve down Dearborn and then they turned onto Main. When they got to Steve's house it was all dark again even though it wasn't ten yet, and there weren't any other cars in the big driveway. Billy wondered if Harrington's parents ever came home or if they were even really real parents; he'd only seen them once when they'd been together at the diner. Maybe Steve'd grown up in some kinda test tube too. They went down into the basement (it was an actual finished basment, not all concrete and spiderwebs like at Billy's house) and Harrington showed him his parents’ huge liquor cache.

Billy looked around the fancy basement and thought it was a damn shame that he was destined to marry Elijane; in another timeline he'd try real hard for Steve and get to be his kept woman or something. He wasn't a woman but he'd totally be a kept woman for Harrington. Maybe Elijane could send him through a portal. He was getting kind of hsyterical in his head; eventually he picked out a bottle of whiskey that probably cost more than his and Maxine and Henderson's life and they went back upstairs.

Billy stood in Steve's huge empty kitchen holding the bottle of 32 year old whiskey and looked around. “Can I go play with your dogs?” he asked.

Steve got the wrinkle frown for two seconds but then it went away and he smiled. “Uh, sure, if you want.”

Billy wanted. They went out back and Luke and Leia loped around the huge heated pool and ran at them. “HAHAHA!” Billy said as Luke and Leia jumped on him. He collapsed into a lawn chair and grabbed Leia's paws. “ARE YOU A PUPPY?” he asked her.

“Oh, my god,” said Steve in a weird voice.

“Fucking what?” Billy said. He shook Leia's paws. “ARE YOU A PUPPY, ARE YOU A PUPPY?” he asked her. She snorted and licked his face. “Hahahaha!” Billy said.

Steve sat down next to him; he was holding the 32 year old bottle of whiskey. “I cannot believe you're like this, I have so much blackmail material on you.”

“No one would ever believe you,” Billy said. You had to be nice to animals, they were nicer than people. “Who's a Princess Leia????” he asked Princess Leia. Luke was licking the bottom of his Converse. “Who is???” Then he said, “Okay,” and let go of Leia's paws. “Where's my booze?” Steve gave him the bottle.

“Are you okay?”

“Sure, I ain't fought any monsters,” Billy said, real sarcastic-like. Except maybe not because maybe it all made sense. “Was that shit for real?”

“Yeah, it was for real.”

“I keep thinking of reasons why you guys'd want to fuck with me,” Billy told him. “I mean, you got reasons. But the story is pretty far-fetched. I feel like you guys could make up something better.”

“No, man, it's real,” Steve said. Billy looked over at him; in the light from the moon and the light from the porch he looked real crazy again, also real good. Billy stared back out at the pool. “I mean, like I told you, I wasn't there for most of it. But yeah. That's what we were doing last year when you came to Will's. I would not have had to do that shit if you hadn't knocked me unconscious.”

“Sorry,” Billy said. He actually meant it; he took a real big drink. Steve stared at him drinking until it made him feel bad. Then he said, “El-or-Jane really kill all those people like Mike and Dustin said? Those. Scientists or whatever.”

Steve made a face and shifted on his lawn chair. “Um, I, I really don't know, man. I wasn't – look, I keep saying it, but I wasn't there for that. I seriously just happen to be in the worst place at the worst time. But I guess – I guess she must've. I mean, they were trying to kidnap her, right? They wanted to kill Mike and Lucas and Dustin.”

“Jesus,” Billy said. He took another real big drink. He wasn't sure if he should be terrified or what; mostly he was getting drunk and deciding not to feel anything about it. El'd been so small when he'd first seen her, bleeding in that creek. And now she could squeeze people's brains out with her mind. He wished he could squeeze some fucking people's brains out. He said, “What's the age of consent in Indiana?”

“Um.” Steve looked at him weird. “What?”

“For when I marry that kid,” Billy told him. Steve laughed like he was being funny.

They laid out on the beach chairs for a while and talked; Billy got nice and drunk and felt less freaked out. Then he started feeling kind of romantic which was terrible so he drank more. Then he just felt fuzzy which was okay. Steve told him some more shit about the monsters; apparently that was what had really killed that Barbara girl.

Billy was staring up at the sky; goddamn you could see a lot of stars in Hawkins. You could see everything. “So how d'you know the gate's really closed?”

“Um. I guess I don't.”

“So I could be plastered out right here and some big Alien-type shit could come at me,” Billy said. “You'd run away and be hiding in your wine cellar.”

“Luke and Leia would protect you,” Steve said; Billy was drunk but he was being a goddamn goofball again. “The Force is strong in them.” He made Billy laugh. “Are you okay, can we stop talking about this? The kids talk about the goddamn gate and shit like every day; I kind of liked having one person not know about it.”

“We don't have to talk about the gate,” Billy said. He took another big drink; he needed to stop. “What do you want to talk about? Hey, what about your date?”

“I don't want to talk about that either,” Steve told him. “I told the girl I hung out with a bunch of faggots and then I spilled my drink on her. Then I said, no no no, they're not really faggots, it's a term of endearment, they are all fourteen. I think she is going to ask my dad for a transfer to a building that's even farther away.”

“Oh my god,” Billy said in a great drunk glee. “That is so good, I am so glad you told me that.”

“That's not even the worst thing, I don't want to talk about it.”

“So you didn't kiss her?”

Steve looked at him like he was an insane person. Billy'd still kiss him even though he was an insane person. Yep he needed to stop drinking about twenty minutes ago. “No, I didn't kiss her!”

“I'm just checking.” Steve looked real bummed out and it made Billy feel bad; he was drunk as shit and his little Grinch heart was growing and growing. He didn't know what to say, though. He turned his head and kept looking up at the stars. Then he started pointing them out to Harrington like a great big faggot (it was a term of endearment, after all). “You don't even know what you got out here, man. You can't see shit like this in the city. Cassiopeia, you see the W?”

“Um, kind of.” Steve scraped his chair closer. “Show me.” Billy pointed again.

“I think it's too late to really see the Milky Way or whatever. Uh, you got Ursa Minor, I can't find Major.” Steve laughed at him for some reason. “The Big Dipper, that's always there. Orion's Belt.”

“Huh,” said Steve. “Where's the rest of him?”

Billy licked his lips and didn't say anything. After a second Steve rolled his head to the side and looked at Billy. He was grinning. “Oh my god, I was fucking joking! I'm not that stupid.”

“I ain't say you were stupid.”

“You're like the only one,” Steve said. Then he said real quick, or maybe it was just real quick because Billy was drunk, “How come you know all this shit?”

“It's real gay right?” Billy said. “No, my mom really liked shit like this. She had her books and shit. We used to go out on the roof sometimes. Go out on the beach. Not like fuckin' Venice Beach, we'd go out where there was nobody else.”

“That's really cool, man,” Steve said. “I – that sounds really nice. My mom'd never – I've never been to the beach or anything.”

“Really?” That was a goddamn tragedy.

“Yeah. I mean, I've been to like the mountains and stuff. Uh, Lake Michigan two years ago. I've never seen the actual ocean or anything.”

“Take you if you want,” Billy said; he hadn't really meant to say it.

Steve was looking at him again though. “Yeah? You'd want to?”

“Maybe over the summer or something. We can take Maxine.” Something in Billy's chest was making him itch. He wasn't drunk enough for this; it was too much. It wasn't anything. “If you don't make me beat your fucking face in again or something.”

Steve was sitting up in his chair; when Billy looked over he had the big wrinkle-frown between his eyebrows again. “Um, okay, I hope you won't,” he said. “I mean I – kind of thought we were friends now or whatever.”

He kind of looked like a kicked puppy again, like how he'd looked at the diner a couple weeks ago. Billy didn't know why it mattered. “Okay, we are friends, Harrington.”

Steve looked at him like a goddamn goofball again. “My friends call me by my actual first name,” he said, “Sometimes, you know.”

“What, I say it.”

“Harrington, asshole, shitbag, Stella. I can't find a Steve in there.”

“You are a shitbag,” Billy said. He was asking so much. “Steve, okay? You happy, Steve?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Steve flopped back in his chair; it was cold as shit out but Billy felt okay. Then Steve said, “Willy,” and he felt less okay. Steve laughed at him after he finished swearing. “Okay, show me more shit. What else you got? I want to see Pluto.”

“You can't see Pluto without a telescope,” Billy told him. “If you wait til like 3am we can see Mercury.”

Steve was sliding the bottle of whiskey away from Billy; it scraped real loud on the concrete. “You'll probably need to wait until like 3am to sober up.”

They did wait til 3am and they saw Mercury. Billy felt okay enough to drive and Steve walked him to his car. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said.

“Yeah, you too,” Billy said. He got in his car and started driving; he turned the radio up. It was POWER 99 as usual 'cause of fucking Max, but apparently they didn't play horrible shit at 3am. 'Sweet Jane' by The Velvet Underground was on and Billy and his mom had liked that song; she'd had that record. He turned it up real loud. Now he had a Jane to think about when he sang it.

He tried to be real quiet when he got into the house. Max'd left all the lights on like a stupid shithead and he went through the living room and the kitchen and down the hall, turning everything dark. In his room he took his clothes off and got into bed. He could still hear the jangly guitar from the song playing in his head. In his head, too, he said Steve Steve Steve like a goddamn girl. He fell asleep and dreamed of the river red with blood in it; the moon was real bright.


 

Thursday was the new designated D&D night or whatever it was the brat pack was doing; Billy left work after a couple of hours and swung by the library to pick Max up and take her to the Wheelers’. It was a week after Thanksgiving and it was the last day of the month. They saw Elijane trooping down Redwood Lane all by herself in her serious way and Billy pulled over so she could get in the car. Elijane smiled tentatively and said thanks. She and Max whispered their secret girl shit in the backseat; Billy guessed they were getting along better now or whatever.

They pulled up at the Wheelers’ at the same time that Steve got there with Dustin. Steve and Billy nodded at each other and Wheeler Jr ran out of the house to grab Elijane like the controlling freak he was. “Hi Mike, I’m here too!” Dustin said. Elijane put her hand on his arm and he grinned at her. Then he said, “Hey Max! Hey Billy!” which was all right.

“Hey,” Billy and Max. Steve walked over next to them; he didn’t look all too eager about following Henderson in.

“Are you guys coming or what?” Mike asked from the front steps. Steve looked over at him and didn’t answer right away. He was getting that little wrinkle between his eyebrows and Mike rolled his eyes. “Ooooh my god. Nancy’s ... not … home,” he said exaggeratedly.

“All right, fine. Fine.”

“I guess call when you want me to get you,” Billy told Max; she was still getting out of the car like a goddamn snail with her comic books.

“Seriously? You’re leavin’ me?” Steve asked. He was leaning on Billy’s car and smiling all goofy. He still had the eyebrow wrinkle though.

“What, I ain’t invited.”

Steve and Max looked up at Mike on the front steps. Billy didn’t; he didn’t really care either way. Mike sighed hugely with Billy’s two little cheerleaders looking at him. “I guess you can come in if you don’t FLIRT WITH MY MOM AGAIN,” he said. Billy leaned against his car too and gave him a charming smile. “Ugh,” said Mike.

“Yeah, you should come in,” Max said. She was smiling a little and she looked pretty happy. Billy felt all right too; he felt kinda surprised. He and Steve followed the kids inside. The brat pack thundered down to the basement right away and he and Steve headed straight for the kitchen. Mrs. Wheeler was in there making a pie and wearing an amazing dress; Billy swore she looked 25. She definitely wasn’t his type but goddamn if she didn’t look 25. She gave Steve and Billy some cookies and Billy flirted with her a little; he hadn’t told Mike he wouldn’t. Mrs. Wheeler always had awesome snacks and she deserved to be flirted with.

“Mrs. Wheeler, excuse me for saying, but truly, you look amazing. That dress is something else.”

Mrs. Wheeler laughed and put her hand up to her chest; women were so fun. “Oh, my goodness, this old thing? I’m surprised it still fits me.”

“Jesus. It fits you great , Mrs. Wheeler .

“You are shameless, ” Mrs. Wheeler said. Steve stuffed two cookies in his mouth and made a great face at Billy; Billy grinned at him and leaned far back in his kitchen chair. Mrs. Wheeler fluttered over them a little and Steve ate like 80 cookies in just a couple minutes. He was still chewing and shaking his head once Mrs. Wheeler went upstairs.

“You know, back in the day before you came along, all the moms liked me, ” Steve said. He had some crumbs on his mouth like a fucking animal.

Billy was choosing his next cookie very seriously and he definitely wasn’t looking at Harrington’s mouth. “Tell me, does this hurt you, Steven? Keep ya up at night?”

“I cry sometimes,” Steve said; Billy grinned again. “I cry a lot, really. Mostly I’ve accepted it. I’ve moved on.”

“Surprised you’re not down there playing Labyrinth with the Muppet Babies.”

Steve smiled at Billy saying Muppet Babies. He made Billy say such dumb shit. “Mike’s last campaign was like seven hours long, I have work tomorrow.” Billy started laughing. “What? What?”

“You, you’re so fuckin’ queer.”

“Hey. Don’t knock it til you try it.” Steve found another chocolate cookie buried under the others on the plate; he pointed it at Billy and then stuffed it in his mouth triumphantly.

Billy wisely chose to direct the conversation to other matters. He asked Steve about work and Steve got all wound up talking about some business contract his dad was trying to close. His dad had let him sit in on a conference call; it was some kinda big deal. Billy nodded along and tried to look like he understood why was important; he guessed he and Harrington really were real friends now and friends cared about that stuff, that stuff about each other.

He did care, but not really about that shit, Steve’s work shit, suit and tie bullshit. Even though Steve was wound up he didn’t care about that stuff too much either, Billy knew that. It was just because it was his old man. Harrington should find something he really liked to do, not make service calls all day. He got more wound up talking about what he’d gotten up to with the brat pack or talking about baseball or swimming, those weird maps he’d made with the Byers kid.

Billy didn’t know if he should say that shit or not, though. He just listened to Steve talk. If he was a normal human and knew how to have friends he’d know how much to care about it and what to say. He was too much or too little, it felt like.

The Wheelers had a nice house; it was nice being in there and hearing the kids downstairs and talking to Steve with no parents screaming. Billy liked the way Steve looked when he got worked up, even if it was just over conference calls. He let himself look at Harrington and think his faggy thoughts a little bit; it was just thinking. Steve’s shiny hair was parted in the middle today and it looked good, flopping over his eyes. He looked better in the yellow shirt than Billy had remembered. No tie tonight. Business casual; Billy could dig it.

Then the kids started yelling and arguing downstairs and Billy and Steve had to go play referee; Mrs. Wheeler was in the bathtub. Billy managed with all his might not to make a lecherous comment when she yelled that down; Steve told him he was proud.

“Thanks, I am really tryin’,” Billy said. They went down to the basement. Dustin and Mike and Lucas were all yelling at each other; Max’s face was red and she had her trademark superscowl on. Elijane and Little Byers were sitting on the little couch together looking upset.

Steve was the main referee; Billy was just enjoying the show. “All right!” Steve yelled, holding his hands up. Billy sat down on the couch next to El and Byers. Steve waited until he had everyone’s attention. He looked like a rooster with his hair all sticking up; shit he’d be a nice pet. “What the fuck is going on!”

Everyone started yelling again right away; Steve dropped his arms. “HE STARTED IT!” yelled Max and Sinclair and Wheeler Jr and Henderson. Actually Henderson yelled SHE; he must be brawling with Max. They all pointed around in each other’s faces.

“Okay, okay, can you guys talk one at a time,” Steve was saying. His hands were in the air again. Wheeler Jr jumped up from the table and started yelling over him even more.

Billy wished he had some snacks or popcorn; he should have brought the cookies from upstairs. “What the fuck is going on?” he asked Elijane and Little Byers. Byers made a face and Elijane shook her head a little. She had this weird way of looking at you and not looking at you. “Dragons and boys,” she said.

“Oh. Right.” Billy remember why he basically never asked the kid any questions. She was still his goddamn bride though.

The kids yelled at each other some more; Billy seriously had no clue what the fuck was going on. Steve was the worst referee but eventually he got Wheeler Jr and Henderson to shut the fuck up. Max’s face was bright red the whole time and finally she stomped over to Billy. “LET’S GO!” she screamed in his face and then stormed up the stairs without waiting for him. She was such a joy; she was probably going to steal his fucking car again.

“Later, I guess,” Billy said to Elijane; she only looked sad. He went upstairs after Max and stole a couple cookies as he went through the kitchen. Max was already in the car. She wasn’t hot-wiring it or anything, just sitting in the passenger seat. She was crying a little so Billy didn’t say anything; he just started up the Camaro up and started driving. After a while she stopped crying and he felt relieved. “You okay?”

Max glared at him; she was getting so so good at being a surly teenager. She’d been a fucking surly kid so she’d grown into it well. “LIKE YOU CARE,” she hollered at him.

Billy counted to ten in his head; he only made it to six before he stopped being pissed off. “Okay, all right. So is this like a fight about creepy shit or just stupid kid shit?”

Max scowled some more. “I hate you and I hate all boys,” she said.

Ahh. “Uh-huh,” said Billy.

Max puffed her cheeks out all angry. “And I think Lucas and I broke up.”

HALLE-FUCKING-LUJAH, Billy thought. He didn’t say it though. “Uh-huh,” he just said again.

“It’s Dustin’s fault,” Max told him. “And Mike. He’s stupid too. They’re both stupid.”

“Uh-huh,” Billy said for the third time. “You want me to take ‘em out?”

Max looked thoughtful and Billy felt hopeful. He didn’t care about the brat pack enough to really dislike them anymore, but it’d been a while since he’d got to threaten anyone. He’d take ‘em out if Max wanted. “No,” she said finally. “I don’t want to mess up your relationship with Steve.”

“Don’t got a fucking relationship with Steve,” Billy said right away. Max thought she was so cute. Max rolled her eyes and looked out the window; she didn’t say much else. They got home to their empty house and Max ran into her room right away. Even though the kids had broken up their game or whatever early it was still past ten; Billy let her be. He took a shower and went into his room. He realized he hadn’t said bye or anything to Harrington and felt kind of bad for a moment, but only for a moment. It’s not like he was his goddamn boyfriend or anything.

He drove Max to school the next morning like usual; they both sat in the car in the parking lot and stared at the building. Max still looked all upset and grim. She looked like she was going into a goddamn funeral; she was scowling and not getting out of the car and running to her friends like usual.

Billy’d spent all last year wishing she’d stop fucking around with Sinclair and the brat pack, but he kind of felt like shit for her right now. It was weird to feel like that for someone else, especially over some kiddie bullshit. Not like he’d ever really had good friends or anything like she did. But he remembered how a lot of his pals had ditched him when he’d been with his mom all the time when she’d been dying. He remembered fighting and feeling like shit and dreading going to school a lot.

Billy drummed his hands on the steering wheel. He thought about it. “You got any tests today, Max?”

She looked up at him weird. “No,” she said. “Why?”

“Wanna skip?”

Max’s eyes got big and she started smiling. “Really?”

“Yeah, fuck it, it’s Friday. Long weekend, right?”

“Oh my god, yes!” Max turned the radio up. Billy drove them back home; he kinda couldn’t believe they’d both gotten up and gotten dressed and decided to go to school in the first place. “You have to call us out or pretend to be Neil, they’re gonna keep calling and give us Saturday detention.”

“Okay. Okay, I’m real ill. You gave me the fucking flu drinking my soda, you stupid cunt.” Billy was getting into character; Max threw a blanket over him. Billy put the blanket over his shoulders and called up the school, pretending to shiver. When the guidance office picked up he started coughing and hacking up a fake lung into the phone; Max was grinning at him.”H-hello, Miss Graves? Hi there, how are ya?” Billy coughed up another fake lung. It sounded pretty realistic, he’d been smoking since he was 11. “Hey, this is Billy Hargrove, my sister Maxine and I are really feeling terribly under the weather.” He listened to Graves talk and made a mournful face at Max. “Yeah, yes, I know, there is that flu bug going around, I think we both got it pretty bad. Oh, it’s terrible. Maxine has had the runs all mornin’.”

Max jumped onto the couch next to him and started coughing all over him; Billy held both his middle fingers up at her, cradling the phone against his shoulder. “Yeah, you see, our parents aren’t home so I wanted to give you a call. They work so much, you know … it’s really tough on us ...“ He made another great face at Max. “No, I know, yeah, we really aren’t used to this cold weather.” He started coughing again. Max was laughing so he shoved her off the couch. “Yeah, California babies. I know, I just said to her yesterday, Maxine, we have got to get you a better winter coat … ”

Mrs. Graves lapped up his bullshit. The old ones always did. Max was grinning at him from the floor when he finally hung up. “Dumb bitch.”

“The teachers here are so easy,” Max said. “I haven’t been to science in like a week.”

“The fuck, you’re good at that shit,” Billy said.

“We learned it all last year.”

So, it should be easy this year, ” Billy said. He realized he sounded like a damn mom and shut up. “All right, I’m sleeping til three. You good out here?”

“Yeah, you’re sitting on the remote.”

“I just fucking farted on it like four times,” Billy told her. “You still want it?” Max started punching him.

Billy laid down and slept til about noon; when he came back out to the living room Max was laying around watching MTV. They watched music videos for a while and then Billy had to swing by work. He dropped Max off at the arcade and stopped by the shop; Hank was in the front eating a giant sub sandwich.

“Hey Bill, you’re in early today. Ain’t you got school?”

“My kid sister had a big fight with her friends so we skipped out,” Billy told him. It wasn’t worth it to lie to Hank; he was cool.

“That was nice of you,” Hank said. Billy didn’t answer him. “Hey, you don’t have to stay if you don’t want. I just got one job to do.”

“It don’t matter.” He helped Hank tune an engine even though Hank probably didn’t really need his help and then Hank paid him for the week, half in a check and half in cash. “Thanks a lot,” Billy said. “Really. You sure you don’t need me?”

“I do need you up in the front so I don’t gotta deal with these fucking moron customers,” Hank said. “Your favorite, Miss Ellenburg’s pickin’ up her Chevy today.”

“Oh, my lady’s coming in?” Miss Ellenburg was about forty; she was a widow and had an amazing rack. She liked Billy, hated Hank. Billy always made a display of himself cleaning her windshield off for her. She was so much fun. There was no need for them to check her car every month; it was only three years old.

“Yeah, your lady, she’s gonna want my fat ass to clean her windows for her now.” Hank made him laugh. “Thanks for that shit. Nah, go ahead, it’s Friday. Go have fun with your sis.”

“Thanks, man.” Hank clapped him on the shoulder; Billy guessed it was okay for him to do that. He went down to the arcade to pick Max back up; she looked kinda weird standing around by the front when he came in. “What happened? You ran out of quarters that you stole from me?”

“That was one time and I said sorry,” Max said. “I just don’t really want to be here in case the guys come by.”

“Okay.” It was a little past four already. Billy was definitely not dying to be at the arcade; it was really only fun when Harrington was there, making an ass out of himself and being bad at video games. He waved his cash in Max’s face. “Let’s go get a pizza or some shit, yeah?”

Max followed him out to the car; she was making a weird face at him. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

Billy felt surprised. “I’m not,” he said. He was just being a normal fucking human. She hadn’t even pissed him off yet today; he hoped she wasn’t going to start.

Max kept looking at him weird. “Okay.”

Billy started up the car; he debated whether he should turn left or right onto Main Street. Rino’s had the best pizza (what passed for pizza in Hawkins), but Hathaways was faster. “What, I always act so fucking horrible?”

“No. Not lately.”

“All right then.”

“Can we get movies?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Billy said, since he was acting so nice apparently. He turned left onto Main; he guessed it would be Rino’s after all. Max spent forever looking at movies while Billy spent forever looking at candy and making eyes at the girls over at the checkout counter. “I want The Terminator! ” he yelled to Max.

“I know.” Max rolled her eyes at him; she was such a classless brat. She finally came over to him holding five fucking tapes and looking hopeful. Billy groaned at her; they were all animated. “Jesus. You want to spend my whole check?”

“Billy, come on, we have all night to watch them!” Then she frowned. “You are going to watch them with me, right?”

Billy couldn’t believe his kid stepsister thought he was going to spend a Friday night watching fucking Watership Down. He couldn’t believe he was fucking gonna. Her stupid eyes were getting all big again. “Yeah, I’ll watch ‘em with you, cut your shit out. Did you get my movie?”

“Of course.” Max rolled her eyes and showed him; Billy snatched the other movies from her and rifled through them.

“Oh, no. No. No. I am not sitting through the goddamn Hobbit again.”

Max made a face. “When did you sit through it before?

“What?” Billy said. “Don’t question me. Pick another.”

Max rolled her eyes a third time and huffed at him. She was really so rude, since he was renting her movies and getting her a pizza. Christ, the kids these days. He felt like having a martini and commiserating with Mrs. Wheeler. Max ran off and came back with The Secret of NIMH; Billy didn’t know what the secret was but it looked like it was talking animals. It was still probably better than The Hobbit. He sighed very heavily. Max smiled and dragged him to the checkout counter. He didn’t flirt with the checkout girls too much; he hadn’t fucked with his hair or anything today.

They went to Rino’s and ordered their pizza; by the time they got home it was after six already. It was a pretty good day so far; really they’d done jack shit and so Billy considered that a good day.

Max spread their movies out while Billy went into the kitchen and got sodas. When he came back she’d put on Alice in Wonderland so Billy said “Oh Christ” and went and got a joint from his room. He actually hadn’t smoked in a couple weeks so he got pretty high right away; he kept laughing at the big purple cat and Max told him to shut up four times. Then she piqued her eyebrows at him. “Can I have a hit? Of that?” she asked like a huge dork.

Billy passed the joint over to her anyway. “You gonna tell on me to Harrington?” Then he said, “Shit, what time is it?”

“How should I know?” Max took her hit and then made an awful face and coughed her goddamn lung up for eight minutes; she was so experienced.

Billy got up and wandered into the kitchen to check the time. It was past eight-thirty; he had no clue how the fuck they’d been watching Alice in Wonderland for over two hours.

He and Harrington had been meeting up at the diner every Friday for the last month at least; it hadn’t felt like a Friday since he and Max had skipped. Even so he was a goddamn asshole, he couldn’t even be a proper faggot and think about Harrington all the time or whatever. He’d gotten distracted with Max and her bullshit and her cartoons. He called Steve’s house but his mom said he wasn’t in; Billy asked her to say he’d called and said sorry for not meeting him.

He went back in the living room; Max was still coughing like a freak. He snatched the joint away from her. It’d gone out. “How is this movie so long?” he asked her.

Max looked at him like he was a lunatic. “We watched it twice, do you seriously not remember?”

“What?” said Billy. “The fuck we did!”

Alice is my favorite,” Max told him. “You said okay and I rewound it while you were reorganizing the pizza slices and talking about John Steinbeck.”

“Hmmm,” said Billy, real deep. He didn’t remember that either. He couldn’t believe he’d gotten so high off of shitty Hawkins weed that he’d started talking about books; he clearly needed to find way cooler friends than Harrington and sweet little Elijane. He realized he’d just called a twelve year old his friend and frowned at himself, even if it was just in his head.

Max was laughing at him, a lot. She was probably buzzed already from her bitty little hit that she’d took. “You look so stupid,” she said.

Billy threw the end of the blunt at her. “Get this shit away from me. I can’t trust anything that makes me watch a Disney movie twice.”

Max got rid of the rest of the joint – Billy didn’t want to ask what she’d did with it – and he laid on the couch while she set up their next movie. “Rock and Rule or Black Beauty? ” Max asked him.

Terminator!” Max put on Black Beauty because she was the worst. The watched their movies and Max passed out on the loveseat around midnight; Billy covered her with the throw blanket from the couch and went into his room. Harrington hadn’t called him back and he felt like a sulky bitch about it. He smoked a couple cigarettes and fell asleep too.

He woke up weirdly early; he always felt so refreshed after he’d smoked for the first time in a while. Max was awake too and she wrinkled her nose up at him when he came out into the living room. “God, Billy. Can you put a shirt on for once in your life?”

Billy looked down at himself; he kinda didn’t even remember taking his shirt off last night. “Sorry I’m not your sexy chocolate Sinclair bar,” he said. Max made a face at him and Billy kind of felt like an asshole; he hadn’t meant to mention the kid to her. Since he’d made her make a face he went back to his room to find a shirt to wear. He hadn’t done the wash in forever and the only shirt he could find was the t-shirt Harrington’d given him when he’d busted his nose fighting those two guys at the arcade. Susan’d washed it forever ago and it had ended up in his room.

He went back out to the living room and spread his arms out. “Better?”

Max made another face; it was making him laugh. “Not really.” Okay, the shirt was a little tight. “Is that Steve’s shirt?”

“Yeah, remember, he gave it to me after I beat up those guys for you and Henderson.”

“Oh yeah!” said Max. “That is sooo sweet, what else did he give you?” Billy flipped her off.

They went into the kitchen and made breakfast together; it was real cute. They could only act like an actual family when their parents weren’t around apparently. That was fine by Billy. Max made him make the scrambled eggs because she said he did it better.

They ate their food and were too lazy to get up and put another movie on; Max found the remote buried behind the couch and put the Saturday morning cartoons on. Thunder Cats was on and Scooby-Doo came on after it; it was one of the hour-long ones with the special guest stars. The Addams Family was in this one; Billy hadn’t seen it since he was a kid.

“Don’t you want to see Wednesday again?” Daphne was asking Shaggy on the TV.

“I sure do,” Shaggy said. “And I want to see Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, too!” Billy cackled over his toast; Max looked at him being a stupid dumbass and started laughing too. Billy poked her in the head with his fork. They both looked up at the TV again and then Max gasped and almost dropped her plate; Harrington was standing at the window to the right of the TV and grinning at them with his face all mashed up against the pane.

“Fucking Christ!” Billy said. He rubbed his shoulder and got up and went to the window and threw it open. He hoped he hadn’t looked as freaked out as Max had. “There’s this actual thing called a door, I think you might have seen one of ‘em once or twice in your life.”

Steve was grinning at him. He ducked his head and just started coming through the window like a crazy person; Billy didn’t back up on purpose and Steve knocked into him. He didn’t move his shoulder away from Billy’s for a couple seconds. “I did knock on the actual door, asshole, I was knocking for like five minutes! You guys were too busy out here having a ball with, uh,” he looked at the TV, “Scooby-Doo apparently. I could hear the laugh-track out front.”

Billy seriously hoped Steve wasn’t about to rag on Scooby; he’d hate it if Harrington disappointed him like that. He opened his mouth to defend the show but Steve all of a sudden was looking at him weird. His eyes were flickering all around Billy’s shoulders. “What?”

“Nothing.” Steve kept staring at him. He crossed his arms over his chest and brought a hand to his mouth to start chewing on his nails; his grossest habit in Billy’s opinion. Steve said, “Is that my shirt?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Billy looked down at himself. “You want it or something? I don’t got anything clean.”

“Uh, no, that’s okay.” Steve kept staring at him; he was starting to get the eyebrow wrinkle and it made Billy feel weird as fuck. He was about to tell Harrington not to worry and that he hadn’t slept in the shirt like he was Steve’s goddamn boyfriend or something but then Steve just frowned and said, “That’s uh, real tight on you, man. It’s not tight on me. You are seriously giving me, like, a huge body complex, do you think you could try to look less good or something?”

“Oh.” Billy stopped feeling weird. Actually he felt more weird but it really wasn’t bad. He leaned against the window to give Harrington a nice little show of how good he looked. “You’ll fill out one day, honey.”

“Ha ha.”

“Hey, you know, some people like skinny guys,” Billy told him, real nice. “I dunno where those people are, but they’re probably out there somewhere.”

“Thank you so much.”

“We can work out together if you want,” Billy said. Yeah, that was a real great idea; he could just picture himself slobbering over Harrington as he did his little push-ups and shit. “I’ll show you my routine or whatever.”

“Yeah? You gonna train me?” Harrington was grinning at him; he was still chewing on his nail like a gross person.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll train you. Make you my bitch is what I’ll do.”

“Steve?” Max said and Harrington finally looked away from him. She was taking advantage of Billy being across the room and drinking his whole damn glass of orange juice. “I know Billy’s really distracting in your tiny shirt, but could you move? You’re blocking the whole TV.”

“Oh! Right, sorry.”

“Just tell him to stand sideways, he’ll disappear,” Billy said. Steve flipped him off and went and stood by the couch next to Max. Billy closed the window and then crossed the room to sit back down.

Max looked up at Steve standing by the TV. Billy looked at him too, since Max was looking. He had his green jacket on like usual and one of his Hawkins sports t-shirts on. His hair was more messed up than it normally was. Billy said, “So what’re you doing here anyway? You checking up on us?”

“What? Oh, no.” Steve looked kind of embarrassed; the arms crossed again and the hand went back up to his mouth. If Billy was closer he’d pull it away. “No, sorry. Uh, just, I thought maybe since we didn’t do nothing last night you’d want to do something today.”

“It’s like nine in the morning,” Max pointed out.

Steve laughed kind of shortly, it turned into a sigh halfway through. “Yeah, I know. I don’t really sleep good anymore.”

“How come?”

“Uh. I don’t know.” Steve had the corner of his thumb in his mouth and was gnawing away at the nail. “I was just driving, I didn’t think you guys’d really be awake. I can - go if you want.”

Max and Billy looked at each other, just for a split second. “Nah, it’s cool with me,” Billy said.

“There’s food if you want it, Billy and I made breakfast,” Max told Steve.

Steve looked happy; he even stopped chewing on his nail and shit. “Okay, cool, thanks.” He went into the kitchen and started clattering around. Max shifted on the couch and looked at Billy for a second; he looked back at her. He couldn’t tell if they were thinking the same thing. It was the first time Harrington’d really been in their house and Billy was trying not to feel weird about it. His house was fine for him and Max but Harrington was a pretty boy rich boy; just his garage was about the size of this whole place.

Steve stuck his head through the kitchen doorway. “Hey, can I use your coffee maker?”

“Sure,” Billy said. Max turned the TV down a little; it really was pretty loud.

Steve stuck his head through the doorway again a minute later. “Hey, can I have the rest of this pizza?”

Max made a great face. “Sure,” Billy said again.

Steve came back out with his coffee and his toast and eggs and pizza. He’d even heated up the pizza too, he was a disgusting human. “You fuckin’ barbarian, you can’t reheat pizza,” Billy told him.

“It’s breakfast pizza, it’s different,” Steve said. He took a huge bite of it and then immediately drank coffee; Billy kind of felt like he was making a great face too probably.

“I’m looking at you right now and I kind of want to puke,” Max told Steve; her voice was laden with regret.

“Ha, funny, that’s literally what my date last week said at the end of the night,” Steve said.

“Awwwwww,” said Billy. “Stevie.”

“I am not even kidding, I still didn’t get to tell you all of it.” Steve picked at the pizza crust. “Actually I’m not going to, I never will, I just made myself really sad.”

“Awwwwww, Stevie,” said Max too. Steve grinned at them.

Max got up eventually after Scooby-Doo ended (the gang did find Wednesday, of course) and put on their last movie; it was time for The Terminator. Fucking finally!

“Should have known this was your favorite movie,” Steve said to Billy. He kept getting up and getting more food; he was like a human garbage disposal. Billy was trash so Harrington could eat him up. Jesus he needed to stop. Steve ate the rest of their pizza and the eggs and then stole the rest of Billy’s cold toast. Max moved over to the smaller couch again so that Harrington could stretch out in his food coma. He dug his feet under Billy’s thigh and wriggled his toes against the couch cushion.

Billy moved away from him but he was already at the edge of the couch; Harrington was playing a dangerous game here. “Quit flirting with me, you fuckin’ fag.”

“It’s cold in here,” Steve whined like a huge baby. He lolled his head back on the arm of the couch.

Billy ignored him being a huge baby. He felt pretty good in his house with no parents and with Max and Harrington. The Terminator wasn’t his favorite movie but it was pretty goddamn good. He wondered if they’d ever make a sequel or something. Michael Biehn grabbed Linda Hamilton’s arm all intense. “Come with me if you want to live,” he said; it was so fucking good. Billy aspired to one day be that level of fucking badass. He looked over at Harrington sprawled out on the couch next to him, half-asleep with his mouth open and pizza crumbs on his shirt. He could be Billy’s Linda Hamilton or something.

The phone rang and Max dragged herself up off the couch to answer it; it was Susan calling to check up on them. Max dragged the cord into the kitchen and talked to her for a while; she came back out rolling her eyes and handed the phone to Billy. Billy took it from her. “Hey Susan,” he said. Susan said hi and how are you; she said she was just calling to check up on them.

“Max told me she had a little fight with her friends, thank you for being there with her.”

Billy didn’t know how little of a fight it was but he wasn’t going to gossip with Max’s mom when the kid was right there in the fucking room. He got up and wandered into the kitchen too. “Oh yeah, we just had a movie night and ordered some pizza,” he said. He didn’t think Susan’d want to hear about skipping school and the joint they’d smoked.

Susan told him he was a real sweetheart; it made him roll his eyes but she was all right. She talked for a while about her sister’s and told him she was coming home in the morning; she said for him and Max to start thinking about what they wanted for Sunday dinner. Billy finally got her off the phone after about a million years and came back into the living room. He’d missed the end of the movie and the credits were playing.

Max was asleep on the loveseat across the room with her blanket from last night wrapped around her. Billy guessed she was real exhausted from a big morning of being a super brat. Harrington was asleep too, rolled over onto his side with his arm dangling off the couch and his mouth open a little; he looked real sexy and all. Billy leaned against the wall by the kitchen door for a minute and looked at him. He looked tired as shit. Those rings were back under his eyes and in the dark of the living room they looked almost purple against his pale face. Even sleeping he looked kinda unhappy; his mouth was turned down and he had that frown wrinkle right between his eyebrows.

Billy went into his room and looked through his closet; he hesitated for a moment before he pulled his old blanket out; his mom’d made it for him when he was a kid. Back out in the living room he bent over Steve and moved his arm so it wasn’t hanging off the edge of the couch anymore and covered him up with the blanket; pretty boy was probably cold. Harrington didn’t even move. He was real knocked out. Billy drew the blanket up to Steve’s shoulders and looked at him, looked at his tired face. He reached out smoothed his big hair back from his forehead, then let his hand drift down. He touched Harrington’s hair that was falling over the side of his neck, just for a moment. He only let himself touch him for a moment. It didn’t mean anything anyway, didn’t have to. Steve’s hair was real soft though.

Billy straightened up and turned away from Steve. Max wasn’t asleep and she laying there across the room was staring at him; her blue eyes were wide and unreadable. They flickered back and forth between him and Steve and then stayed planted on his face. She looked shocked out of her goddamn mind.

Billy scowled and stormed past her to take a shower. Max stared at him the whole time he went by. “Fucking what!”

“Nothing,” said Max. “Nothing, nothing.” She pulled the blanket over her head.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Five

 

Last Christmas I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special
Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance but you still catch my eye
Tell me, baby, do you recognize me?
It's been a year, it doesn't surprise me
– 'Last Christmas,' WHAM!

 

December 1986

Billy stayed in the shower for a long time; he stayed in the shower until the water ran cold. He didn't feel like going back out there and looking at Max's surprised little face. Even so after he got dressed there was nothing to do but go back into the living room. He still had no clean clothes so he had to put Steve's little t-shirt on again which was a great thing.

Max was still sitting on the loveseat but she was dressed too now in faded jeans and her yellow sweater with the frayed collar. She looked up at him when he came out of the bathroom and leaned against the doorframe. She still had the weird shell-shocked look on her face, like he'd slapped her around and she was in a big daze. You'd've thought she'd walked in on him fuckin' blowing Harrington or something; Billy had no clue what she was thinking.

Max narrowed her eyes and then stared at him some more. Her mouth twisted up. Then she said, “Can I go over to Bev's house?”

“I don't care what you do.”

“Okay.” She was already grabbing up her bookbag – he guessed she'd packed up all her stuff in a big hurry while he'd been in the shower – and skittering off towards the front door. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob again and looked back at him. She looked like she didn't recognize him. “I'm, I'm gonna sleep over there.”

“'member your mom's coming back at five tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I know, I'll be back.” Out the door she went; goddamn but she was in a big rush to get the fuck away from him now after clinging to him all month and beyond. Billy counted to ten in his head twice; he went and sat down on the smaller couch. He looked at Steve for a couple seconds, his big problem. Definitely the biggest problem now that Maxine maybe knew; with the way she was acting there was no way she didn't know.

It made Billy feel kind of down, kind of dirty or something. He knew he should be feeling that way anyway but he felt disappointed. Not that he was gonna ever tell anyone but if he did ever tell anyone. Like maybe if El-or-Jane sent him through a portal or something. And he was in a place where he could tell someone. Just one thing. He'd figured that the person he'd tell would probably be Max. But now he guessed not. Sometimes Max tricked him; people fuckin’ loved to do that, trick you. Sometimes he was a fucking dumbass and he’d forget for two minutes that Max was actually for shit.

Steve was still knocked the fuck out; he'd curled up in Billy's quilt like a baby. The VCR had gone off and the blue of the TV screen shown on his face. He looked so — whatever. Lookin’ at Steve right now made Billy feel weird as shit so he went on into his room. He gathered up all his dirty clothes and headed down into the basement and turned the washing machine on.

While he was down there he hunted through a bunch of boxes in the corner of the basement by the window. They'd been living here for over a year now and he and Max still hadn't unpacked half their shit. He guessed they both still kinda felt like they were temporary people in Hawkins. He certainly felt temporary; maybe he didn't have a clue what the fuck Max thought.

Mostly they had a bunch of baby shit anyway. He found a box full of Max's Legos and her ugly old stuffed bear that had buttons sewn on for the eyes. He found a couple more of his mom's records that he'd been looking for. Rolling Stones and The Steve Miller Band; his mom had liked the best music. He remembered he’d used to spend whole Sundays in her room with her, listening to records and watching the TV on mute. Even when she’d gotten real sick they’d done that. He could remember the sun coming in through the curtains. The way it’d looked and felt. See his mom’s red hair in the light, he could hear her laughing. Weird how you could remember some stuff like that so clear, imprinted in your mind like a painting on a glass window.

He opened up a box of old books that were his and Max's and a couple of Susan's shitty romance paperbacks. Max had a bunch of Frog and Toad books from when she’d been real small; he found Bridge to Terabithia too which was still the goddamn most depressing thing he'd ever read in his life. Nothing too good for Elijane, he thought. Maybe it wouldn't be too weird if he bought a book or something for the kid. It was almost Christmas time after all.

That was if Max didn't squawk her damn head off to Susan and his old man about Billy making eyes at Harrington; it was just making eyes but Billy'd be deader than a doornail for Christmas if his old man ever found out. He didn’t know if Max would squawk but she might.

Goddamn but he felt pissed off; he didn't feel like being pissed off at Maxine. It seemed like he'd been mad at her for the better part of a year and he didn't feel like feeling that way anymore. It felt good not to be so angry it made you tired. He hadn’t thought she’d look at him like that.

Billy finished his clothes; he switched out Steve's little shirt for his Metallic tee with the cut off sleeves. Back upstairs Steve was still sleeping away. Billy rolled his eyes and went into his room for his backpack. It was pretty lame to do homework on a Saturday afternoon but he had shit else to do; Maxine was apparently terrified of him now and the only guy he liked being around was passed the fuck out on his couch.

He muddled through his math problems – they were into about three sets of parentheses now which were three too many – and started his new book for English. They were reading The Awakening now; Billy guessed women had had it pretty tough for about forever. He got through three chapters and then Steve was snorting and almost falling off the couch. He sat up real crazy real fast and looked around.

“Oh my god, okay,” he said like a huge freak. He looked around some more. “What was I, did I fall asleep?”

Billy closed his book up; he was laying on the smaller couch with his feet dangling off the edge. “Yeah, you were out for a while, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Oh. Oh, sorry, you coulda woken me up. What time is it?”

There was a clock on the wall right above Steve's head but Billy didn't feel the need to point that out. “Uh. Like four o'clock.”

“Je-sus, I slept for five hours?” Some of his hair was sticking straight up towards the ceiling. ”Sorry. You coulda woke me up, jeez.”

“You looked like you needed it.” Steve stared at him and didn't say anything. Billy said, “It don't matter.”

“Mm.” Steve rubbed his face. He still had Billy's quilt wrapped around him; he wiggled around and then put the quilt over his head and looked out at Billy from it like he was an Eskimo. He was so fuckin' weird. He was also cute as hell and it hit Billy like a truck again; Billy lamented his life. Why’d he have to feel this way. Why'd he have to feel this way. “Where's Max?”

“Went to her friends.”

“Oh.” Harrington kept staring at him with the blanket around his head. Then he said, “I'm hungry. Are you doing anything, can we get more food?”

Billy wasn't doing anything. “Yeah we can get more food,” he said.

 

They went out and got food; Steve whined a lot in the diner like a big baby and said that his neck hurt from Billy's couch. Billy wasn't about to rub it for him or some shit. Then they went back to Steve's house; it was all empty again like usual. Steve made a face and didn't answer when Billy said, “Shit, your folks ever here?”

They went out back so that Billy could play with Luke and Leia; Steve laughed his ass off at Billy like usual. Billy didn't see what was so funny. It was still snowing like crazy but they stayed outside for a while. Princess Leia could catch a Frisbee like a pro; Billy was pretty sure she could be state champ. Harrington also laughed when he said this because he was an asshole who didn't appreciate his dogs.

“DID YOU CATCH A FRISBEE?” Billy asked Leia. She wagged her tail hard and laid down and snuffled in the snow; she was real tired from jumping around the yard. “Harrington, I swear to god, I'll breaking your fucking nose.”

“Oh my god, man, you're like a little kid.”

“I haven’t had a pet before!” Billy told him again, with a lot of passion so that Steve’d understand he was for shit. Then he said, “LUKE LUKE LUKE,” and petted Luke; he didn't want him to feel neglected. Luke ran around in a huge circle and knocked Steve the fuck down. “HAHAHA!” Billy said; it was great. He had high hopes that one day Luke would knock Steve into the pool. Steve wasn’t supposed to but he brought the dogs into the house since it was a fuckin’ snowstorm again.

He left Steve's at around nine; he felt like it was time to go. All in all he'd spent about twelve hours with Harrington. Granted he'd been asleep for half the time but it still counted. Billy thought it was a big deal when you could be around someone for more than an hour and not want to punch them; it was a big deal because Steve's face was quite punchable in fact.

Back at his house he instantly felt bored; he didn't have shit to do. He hadn't been fucking around with the guys from shop class that much anymore; usually on Saturday nights he was out with Max and the Creepy Kid Club now. He watched MTV for a while: Concrete Blonde had some new song out that Max would think kicked ass. He smoked the last of the weed he'd hawked off Tommy Hall and fell asleep past midnight.

Sunday was more boring shit; Billy actually started cleaning the house so's Susan wouldn't come home and flip her shit. She called in at about two anyway all distressed. It was snowing again and her train out of Indianapolis was shut down for the day already and she was stuck at her sister’s. She apologized fifty times like usual and said she'd be home first thing in the morning; Billy told her they'd manage without her somehow.

Max came in around four; she had snow in her hair and was still in her grubby yellow sweater. She stared at him from the door again like she was surprised he was still alive and hadn't exploded out into rainbow particles or some shit. Billy'd felt okay all yesterday with Steve and he'd felt okay today but now he felt less okay with her staring at him like that.

“Your mom ain't here,” he told Max in case she felt the need to run the fuck away from him again.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Her train got canceled; she ain't gonna be back until tomorrow now.”

“Okay.” Max kept staring at him. Then she just said, “Is there anything to eat here?”

“Hell if I know.”

Max followed him into the kitchen; they decided to make spaghetti since it was the only thing left in the house aside from eggs and cereal. Max didn't say much and she turned the little radio on the counter on. Usually Billy'd be overjoyed for her silence.

Max cut up a bunch of hot dogs like a gross gremlin to put into her pasta. She stared at him over the big bowl.

“Don't you fucking dare.” Max laughed at him and then took some noodles for herself; she dumped all her cold hot dogs into her bowl and then poured some sauce over it. Billy mostly managed not to gag.

Then Max stared at him some more. “Can we talk about Steve?” she asked finally.

“There's nothin’ to talk about.” Billy didn't even know why he was sitting at the goddamn table with her.

“I didn't mean to freak out yesterday.” Max kept looking at him. “I was just ... surprised.”

Billy didn't answer her.

Max said, “I just – I just, I thought you liked girls. You’ve always liked girls. I mean, you and Tracey – “

“Dont fuckin’ talk about fuckin' Tracey to me.” He hadn’t meant to sound so mad but it came out like a growl anyway.

Sorry. God.” Max pursed her lips up at him; it was her worst gremlin face. “I liked her too, you know.”

“Oh yeah. Yeah, I'm sure you liked her.”

“Do you always have to be such a dick?” Max asked him. “It's not like I knew Neil was going to keep you from seeing her! I didn't know my mom was going to tell him!”

“Whatever. You fuckin' knew.”

“No I didn't!” Max yapped her head off. “I was worried about you!”

She was a goddamn piece of work. “I said don't fucking talk about her, okay?” Goddamn he didn't want to think about Tracey; he never did. He'd thought it before but she'd always seemed real young to him. Hell she was only about two years older than Max, really. Tracey had no dad and no family; her mom was a junkie so she was always alone. Billy'd screamed his head off at her and then fucked off to Indiana. He didn't want to think about Tracey. He guessed she was his other big problem, even now. Jesus he'd left her all alone.

Fine.” Max stared at him some more. She started eating her pasta and kept staring at him. She was looking and looking at him. Billy didn't like people looking at him too much, not like how she was looking.

“Max.”

What?” Max ate more of her gross hot dogs. “So do you like Steve now or something?”

“The fuck I like Steve.”

Max stared at him; she swirled her fork around her plate. “I never really saw you look at anyone that way before. Even – “ she made a face; thought better of it. She said, “You never looked at Jack that way.”

Billy almost laughed; Jack was for shit. Also he was a blonde and liked fuckin’ Devo. He said, “Look, it doesn't matter, okay.”

“It'd be okay if you liked Steve,” Max told him. “I like him. And I wouldn't tell anyone!”

“Yeah, I bet you wouldn't tell anyone. Til you fuckin' get in trouble over some shit again and then run squealing to your mom.”

“I wouldn't do that!” Max yapped. “Look, I said I'm sorry a million times about Tracey, I wouldn't do that anymore! I kept quiet about El and the demodogs for a year, I can keep quiet about stuff! I'm getting better,” she told him. Her fork scraped on her plate. “Maybe you are too.”

“Whatever.”

Max kept staring at him and torturing him. “So do you like Steve?”

“I don't fuckin' like Steve,” Billy told her. “I can't like Steve. I'm not a fuckin' queer.” He couldn't be a fuckin' queer. He couldn't be a fuckin' queer in this house; he thought Max understood that.

She was making a terrible face. “God, why does it matter so much?”

“BECAUSE I'M NOT FUCKIN' QUEER,” Billy yelled at her.

Max scrunched her mouth up at him again and sat back in her chair; she looked like a little rat. “You don't have to say it like that,” she said. “God, Billy. Jesus. You – there's people that don't care about that. Why can't you just be, whatever, be Billy that likes Steve?”

Billy didn't say anything. He leaned forward on his elbows and started eating his pasta; it was cold now.

Max stared at him and stared at him with her blue bug eyes, then she narrowed them. He could feel the storm brewing; he could feel her getting ready to go off.

The womanly hysteria kicked up to at least a six right away. “YOU KNOW, I thought we were starting to be FRIENDS AGAIN,” Max caterwauled. Billy sighed, externally and internally. “You NEVER tell me ANYTHING, and I've told you SO MUCH. I TOOK YOU to the DINER to MEET EL! SHE FLOATED A SALT SHAKER FOR YOU!”

“Je-sus, the fuck are you even going on about – “

The womanly hysteria kicked up to about an eight; Billy leaned back in slight actual terror. Max's face was all red which meant she was either gonna shriek or cry. He had no clue why the fuck she was getting so worked up. “YOU'RE LIKE MY ONLY FAMILY HERE AND MY MOM'S A ZOMBIE!!!!!!!” Max went the fuck off. “YOU'RE FRIENDS WITH ALL MY FRIENDS NOW AND YOU BEAT UP TWO GUYS FOR WILL!!!!!!!” She absolutely wailed Will's name; it sounded like Wiiiiiiiillll . “I FIND OUT maybe you LIKE SOMEONE and you just TREAT ME LIKE SHIT. STEVE'S A GOOD PERSON! HE HAS A NINTENDO! WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO – “

“Excuse me, excuse me, I treat you like shit? You're the one who fucking booked it out of here yesterday like I just got diagnosed with fucking AIDS.”

“I WAS SURPRISED!” Max yelled back at him. “I NEVER SAW YOU LOOK LIKE THAT BEFORE, I'VE NEVER SEEN YOU HAVE AN EMOTION BEFORE!”

Jesus she was crazy. “What the fuck does that even mean? I fuckin' have emotions all the time.”

“Yeah, Billy smash, Billy yell!” She was real cute. “You actually looked like a real human for two seconds, you looked like you really liked him and stuff! I guess it was so horrible!”

“God, you're such a bitch.”

Max made a face at him; then she leaned her elbows on the table too and stared at him. She narrowed her blue bug eyes and then widened them. She speared one of her gross hot dog bits and slowly started moving it towards him.

“THE FUCK!” said Billy; he smacked her fork out of her hand. Max looked surprised, then started laughing at him. She looked at him for a moment and picked her fork back up off the table. She'd stopped laughing. Now she was just looking at him again.

Billy felt trapped and like his head was in a vise. It didn't matter what Max thought. He knew it didn't matter. But she was still looking at him. “You’re such a bitch, Max,” he told her again. Max just stared at him and clutched her fork; she was making his head hurt. “All right, fucking fine. I like Steve, okay?”

Max dropped her fork. “OH MY GOD, OKAY!” she said, real excited. “OKAY! Okay okay.”

“Max, I swear to god -- ”

“No no no I'm cool, Billy.” Max stuffed eighty hot dog bits into her face; Billy mostly managed not to gag again. Muffled: “How long have you liked him?”

The magnitude of how much Billy didn’t want to talk about this was insurmountable. It was inconceivable. It was innumerable. It was like three or four other big words he couldn’t think up right then. He actually thought he’d prefer Maxine being disgusted and running the fuck away from him again. “I don’t know. Two days.”

Max rolled her eyes at him. “Since the summer?” she demanded.

“No,” lied Billy. Maybe lied. He didn’t know. He didn’t know anymore; it didn’t matter. “I don’t know,” he said. “Couple months or something.” Felt like forever when you didn’t get what you wanted.

“That’s still a long time,” Max said with all of her fourteen years of wisdom. “Wow,” she said. She ate some more of her pasta. Then her eyes bugged out and she started choking on her stupid hot dogs. She coughed and swallowed. “Wait, so does he like you back? OH MY GOD. Are you guys doing stuff?“

“MAX!” Billy said. He briefly went deaf dumb and blind over Max thinking about him and Harrington doing stuff. Then he went deaf dumb and blind just thinking about him and Harrington doing stuff. “Oh my fucking god, chill your roll. He doesn't fucking like me, Jesus. He has no idea.” Not that you had to like people to do stuff with them but that was the ideal, wasn’t it, the Sixteen Candles shit. He did like Steve, as awful as it was to admit, so it’d be the real Sixteen Candles shit.

“Are you sure?” Max tried to give him a mysterious look over her pasta; mostly it looked like she was having some kinda facial spasm. “Like, I mean, I kind of thought you liked him before.”

“Great, that’s real great.”  

“You stare at him like all the time,” Max informed him. “Also you do this weird thing with your tongue, like, a lot.

What was she even talking about? “The fuck I do.”

Max ignored his tone; now she was looking down at her pasta all serious. Her stupid bug eyes glazed over. Billy sighed: the womanly hysteria was awful and all, but this look was even worse. She looked like she was watching Love Story. “I think he likes you too!”

Billy was not gonna do that to himself. “Oh my god, okay, we're done talking about this.”

“No, come on!” Max yapped. “I know things , Billy.”

“Uh-huh. What things do you know.” Billy missed being fourteen and thinking he knew shit.

Max made a face. “Um. Well. I know he – I, I just know things!” Billy rolled his eyes; he started taking his plate to the sink. “He looks at you too!”

“Yeah, do you blame him?”

“Oh my god,” Max huffed. She followed him to the sink. “If you guys got together, it'd be so cool. You guys are already friends, I never even thought you'd be friends.”

Jesus she was making him tired. “Max, we ain't talking about this.”

Max took his plate from him and started scraping it into the garbage disposal. She blabbered on over the sink gurgling. “If you guys got together, I'd have like two brothers. Not that you're my brother,” she told him.

Billy leaned against the sink. “Uh-huh.”

“We could play his Nintendo all the time! Use his pool. Billy, he could take us to the country club probably.”

“Is that what the gays do out here in Indiana?” Billy asked her.

Maxine ignored him. “You could show him how to actually change a tire. Oh! We could take him to the beach back home.”

Billy didn't really feel that it was necessary to tell her that he'd already gotten drunk and romantic and told Steve all about how he'd take him and Maxine to the beach. Max started laughing like a demon. “How many hot dogs do you think he could eat at once?”

Billy was going to have to kill her; there was no way around it. “Max, this ain't a fucking Disney movie, okay? It’s not gonna happen.” Actually it'd definitely never happen if it was a Disney movie; probably even in 2017 they'd never show two queers together on screen for more than eight seconds. Not that Steve was queer – maybe Billy didn't have to be either. Maybe he could just be Billy that liked Steve.

Max yapped on and on. Even though it was her turn to do the dishes, Billy helped her dry.


Monday morning Susan came back just in time to burn up the last of the eggs for them; Billy and Max choked down as much as they could and dashed out to the Camaro. It’d snowed a couple inches and Max popped into the driver’s side to start the car up; it took her a few tries. Then she helped Billy dig the car out and part of the driveway so Susan could at least walk around a little. All the while they bitched to each other about how terrible and cold Indiana was; it was hell’s asshole if hell had froze over. They finally got into the car and drove off down the street. On the way up Dearborn Street they passed Neil heading towards the house in his Sedan.

Max made a great face; Billy was sure he looked the same. “I thought he wasn’t supposed to be back until Wednesday,” Max said.

“Yeah, merry fuckin’ Christmas,” Billy told her. They got to school and parted ways; Billy went off to fail his science test and Max went off to fail her math test. Henderson was conveniently avoiding him in study hall today and Billy couldn’t say he minded. Some girl came over and sat by him and they flirted a little; Billy thought she’d either been Velma from Scooby-Doo or Sandy from Grease at that party back on Halloween. It didn’t hurt to flirt. You had to keep your game up, even if you couldn’t get who you wanted. He left her giggling into her binder and went off to push a kid into a locker for Little Byers, his new routine before and after shop class it seemed.

After school Billy had to go to work and Max had nothing to do, nothing to do at all!, she wailed like a dramatic bitch. She looked all mournful and shit sitting in the Camaro as she decided where to go. Both of them didn’t want to go home. “Pretty much the only people I’m talking to right now are El and MAYBE Will,” Max informed him. “And you , I guess.” Billy tried not to feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude; he put his hand over his heart. Max ignored him and yapped on. “And El BARELY talks. Mike’s usually with her, can’t I just come to your work Billy? I won’t even touch anything.”

Billy rolled his eyes at her; he wanted to tell her no. Even though she apparently wanted him and Harrington to hook up and take her to the country club he still felt like he was on dangerous ground with her.

Anyway, even more than that, he kinda felt bad for her. It didn’t matter but he felt bad. He could remember back to a time when his mom had been real real sick and then after she’d died. After she’d died but before he’d met Max and started really dating Tracey and had had them to drag around to places. He remembered dreading going home a lot; shit he’d do anything not to go home. Even now even still he’d do anything not to go home.

“You gotta stay up front and if Hank says you’re going, you’re going.”

Max beamed at him like sunshine melting the snow or some shit. “Okay!”

Hank didn’t say she was going. Max sat up front with him and chatted his fat ear off while Billy sighed and went into the back. There was a Honda Civic that’d been brought in with half its front end torn off; Billy guessed it’d taken a bad turn out in the storm Saturday night. He probably shouldn’t have let Maxine go off all over town when it’d been bad out like that. Hank’d started a list of shit they needed to fix; Billy pulled himself under the engine and started adding to the list in his head.

When he came back out front two hours later Maxine was almost finished telling Hank Billy’s whole life story as she knew it. They were eating a huge pizza that Hank’d probably pulled out of his ass somehow; it didn’t look like it was from Rino’s or Mike’s. “You kids really go out to see Def Leppard together?” Hank asked him.

“Went out to San Diego.” Susan and Neil still didn’t know he and Tracey’d been out there, nonetheless that they’d taken Max. It’d been the Pyromania tour; he and Max still liked the song ‘Photograph.’

“Think they came to Indianapolis in ‘83; we don’t get shit around here though.”

“We know,” said Max. At least they had 102.5. Max got the look on her face that said she was about to ask Hank about ‘Blister in the Sun’; Billy leaned on the counter and started detailing to Hank all the shit the Civic was gonna need done to it.

“You want this to be your project, Bill?” Hank asked him because he was a lazy fuck. Billy didn’t mind, though; Hank paid him by the job. “I’ll teach you how to weld. You should take those welding classes, they got ‘em over in Eastgate over the summer. Be easy to pass if you know what you’re doing.”

“Yeah, I’ll do the Civic. You gotta order these parts.” He gave Hank the list.

“Je-sus Christ,” Hank said.

“Basically totaled, man.”

“Christ. I’ll call ‘em, see what they wanna do.”

Hank let Billy go a little early since he had Maxine with him; neither of them told Hank they didn’t want to go early. Max skidded in the snow. “What do you think your dad’ll be yelling about tonight?”

Billy unlocked her door for her and went around to the driver’s side. “Uh, lemme see. SUSAN,” he said loudly as he started the car up. Max started laughing. “WHY THE FUCK’S THERE NO FOOD IN THIS HOUSE, DOES ANYBODY KNOW HOW TO RUN A HOUSEHOLD WHEN I’M NOT HERE. WHERE’S MY SHITHEAD SON, WHERE’S YOUR SHITHEAD DAUGHTER. WHO OPENED THESE GODDAMN BOXES IN THE BASEMENT. Found your stupid bear, by the way.”

Max’d been smiling but her eyes got big and she stared at him. “You found George?!”

“That thing that looks haunted and has gold buttons for eyes? He’s on the dryer.”

“I thought I lost him.”

“The fuck’s his name George for?”

Max looked at him like he was a huge bozo. “Because that’s his name. Didn’t you ever have any toys?”

“No,” Billy lied.

When they got home Neil wasn’t even there; Susan said he was at the bar and Billy and Max rejoiced. The bar meant he wouldn’t be back until midnight at least. Max went and rescued George from the basement and they watched Christmas Evil together on the TV. All they had to eat were a bunch of Eggos; Billy guessed Neil hadn’t let Susan go shopping. It’d probably been a real great day for her. Susan had an old Ford Explorer that didn’t run half the time; Billy’d been kind of thinking maybe he’d fix it up for her.

 

Wednesday night it snowed again and Billy's car didn't start up Thursday morning. He was pretty sure it was the goddamn ignition; half the time you had to jiggle the key for two or three minutes before it’d turn. Usually it always started up right away for Max (likely another part of the curse of Hawkins) but even she couldn’t get the key to turn that morning. Billy's old man bitched up a storm so Billy and Max started walking; they sure as hell weren't going to wait til eight for him to take them in.

Billy felt like he was on fuckin’ Little House on the Prairie again, walking down Dearborn with the houses all dark. The high school wasn't that far but it was far enough. Once they hit Main Street Max pressed her face up against the windows of the general store; for about a month now she'd been going on about how she wanted some kinda Polaroid camera and annoying the shit out of him. She was saving up all her arcade quarters for it. They walked past the diner and decided to get breakfast. Mostly Billy decided; he just walked right in.

Max stared at him. She was wearing her fuzzy hat and she looked like a big goober. She really did need a better winter coat. “We're already late!” she said. “They're gonna call the house.”

“I'll take the hit for it.”

Max made a face; he probably really would take a hit for it, if not a few. She followed him in anyway. They sat down at their usual table. It was faster to go up and order at the counter but neither of them were in a hurry anymore.

Max yammered on to him as she ate her pancakes; she was detailing her fight with the Creepy Kid Club to him finally. Billy wasn’t sure why she thought he cared but he let her go on. Apparently she and Sinclair had gotten back together and held hands at the lunch table yesterday or some shit, much to Billy's eternal chagrin.

“It took me like eighty years to get El to even say three sentences to me,” Max went on. She stole Billy's orange juice. “Half the time Mike doesn't even write me into their stupid campaign, but it's okay for Dustin's dumb girlfriend who isn't even his girlfriend yet to come over and play D&D!”

“You kids got that girl into your dragon shit already?” Billy asked. Maybe there was less hope for Tracey-Rebecca that he'd initially thought.

Max scowled her trademark superscowl. “THAT'S NOT THE POINT,” she said. “And I – I – and I hate it when your dad's home. I can't even talk to Lucas or Steve for two seconds without him getting on the line and yelling at me.” She'd been blabbering away on the phone last night to someone; Billy hadn't thought it was Harrington.

“Why's Steve calling you on the phone?”

Max made her fish face at him. “That's a private matter,” she said all snooty.

“Max.”

“What?” Fish face #2. “Don't worry, I'm not going to tell him you want to have his babies.

“Max, I swear to fuckin’ god – “

“Oh my god, he was calling for you anyway, not that I could say more than two words.” The hockey game'd been on; Billy got real jazzed up about hockey and Harrington found it hilarious for some reason. Billy guessed that Steve still must think he was some kinda cartoon villain or some shit; he guessed Steve thought all he did was look at his hair in the mirror and think up insults and shit. Max was still going on. “And when Lucas called, I had to pretend he was Mike! Lucas just, he – Lucas doesn’t understand.”

“What, that my dad’s a racist prick?” It was probably the first time he’d said it out loud and it felt sacrilegious; your family was your family. Max and Billy barely had a family so they had fuckin' nobody.

“I -- I guess.” Max’s face looked weird; she wasn’t geared up towards her womanly hysteria but she looked about ready to cry and they'd barely even been talking. “It’s not even that, it’s – it’s – no one understands.”

Billy didn't want to talk about this but her fuckin' eyes were so big. “Yeah? Think I don't?”

Max looked at him; her eyes welled up in two seconds. Je-sus, Billy thought in his head like Harrington. “Will and Dustin don’t see their dads, but it’s not the same. And Lucas doesn’t understand. When I say I don’t want to go home he says don’t go home. Or when I say I can’t be late. They think, so what, he’ll scream at me.” Her little face crumpled up. “I’m scared of him, Billy. He does more than scream at you. I don’t want him to hit you, I don’t want him to hit me.” She looked like a little kid; she looked so little.

“He ain’t gonna hit you.” He didn’t know. “Won’t let him hit you.”

Max wiped her face off. “I don’t know how you’re even alive sometimes.”

Billy didn’t know what to say; Max had not seen half the shit. “Had my mom.”

“Did he hit her?”

“Sometimes, I guess.” He didn't want to think about his mom. “Look, quit cryin', okay? You ain't in fucking science class, you're eating pancakes. Should be happy.”

“I'm not crying! ” Max yapped. She wiped her snotty nose and stole his orange juice again.

They sat for a couple minutes and ate their food. The bacon was good at Hathaway's, Billy had to give them that. He felt weird as fuck; Maxine usually didn't go off telling him all her emotional shit. Why would she, he guessed. She never had, not really. Just one time before when she'd been eleven or some shit and crying all over the couch about her old man ditching one of her track games. Tracey'd made him take Max along to a movie with them; Tracey was such a goddamn bleeding heart, so was Max. He thought about her yelling her head off in the kitchen, I never saw you have an emotion before! She was also a piece of work.

The diner door jingled and Steve walked in. He saw Billy and Max when he was halfway to the counter and veered over. “Hey guys, you skipping again?” he said. He sounded actually excited to see them at 7:30 in the morning on a Thursday; he was a fucking crazy person. Then he looked at Max's face which was still kind of blotchy from her two seconds of crying. “Are you okay?”

Max gave him a look that said he was a huge bozo. “Why are you here?” She was such a joy.

“Jesus. I'm heading to work, I'm just getting coffee.” Steve held his hands up.

“Sorry,” Max said. She smiled her It's Steve Harrington! smile for two seconds. Billy wondered if he had a It’s Steve Harrington! smile; according to Max he had some kinda face for Steve. Max told him,“Billy's car wouldn't start so we're walking. But now we’re eating. Obviously.”

“You’re walking in all this snow?” Steve looked surprised; it wasn't that bad. “What happened to your car?”

Billy was eating his food and ignoring the stupid shit-ass look that Maxine was giving him. “Think it's just the ignition.”

“Can you fix that?” Steve ran his hands through his pretty hair; Billy ignored Max’s look even more.

“Yeah, get a new one, put it in.”

“Okay, oh. Right.” Steve was rolling his eyes and smiling. “I can give you guys a lift the rest of the way if you want. Lemme get my coffee.”

He wandered off to the counter. Max made her biggest fish face at Billy.

“Max, I swear to god, if you start your stupid shit – “

“I'm not doing anything!” She stole the rest of his orange juice; Billy let her since he was under duress with Harrington here and all. Steve came back with his coffee and sat down next to Billy. Max stared at him. “Wow, what are you wearing?

Steve looked down at himself; he was wearing a red knitted sweater with a bunch of reindeer on it. He smiled at the reindeer. “What, you don't like it?” he said. “It's Christmas, Max.”

Max made a face; Steve made one back at her. Billy ate his eggs and Harrington started yammering on like he usually did; Jesus Steve could talk. Usually Billy didn’t mind on account of he got to look at Steve while he talked but it was pretty early. Max listened to Steve and Billy rehash the hockey game for a while, then Steve asked her if she was still fighting with Mike and Dustin. She made another real cute face. “What, you think I'm being dramatic too?”

“No, no, I feel you,” Steve said. Billy guessed that really he was just a junior member of the Creepy Kid Club too, since he never knew what the fuck was going on. “I am not picking sides or anything, I like everyone. I'm like, ah, Poland or some shit.”

Max and Billy stared at him. Steve looked around at them. Billy kept on eating his eggs. “You know, like – World War II? I'm neutral.”

Max gave Billy a look that said This is the man you want to have your babies? “Steve!” she yapped. “Germany invaded Poland in like two seconds! Are you totally dumb?”

Billy gave her a look back that said I don't want any fuckin' babies . “Think you mean one of the Nordic countries, man. Or Switzerland or something.”

“Oh. Oh right.” Steve got the huge wrinkle-frown for a second; he looked real embarrassed. “Right, that's what I mean, sorry, I'm, I’m Switzerland.”

Max was rolling her eyes. Billy kept on eating his eggs. He didn't care if Steve was Poland or Switzerland; he could care less if Steve'd learned his European history. There were more important things in life, such as how one looked in a reindeer sweater (the answer in this case was ‘fucking adorable’). Max scowled. “Dustin is so Germany,” she said. “He's like the fattest stupidest German.”

She made Billy laugh; he was thinking of Henderson with a little Hitler mustache. Max rolled her eyes again at Billy laughing into his toast. They finished eating and then Steve drove them the rest of the way to school like a responsible boyfriend. Okay Billy really needed to stop making jokes like that in his head.

“I can't pick you guys up, sorry, I work til five,” Steve told them. “Well, I can get you from your work if you want. I can pick you up tomorrow, I can get you in the morning, I got a half day, do you wanna do something?”

Jesus Christ he said a lot of words before eight AM; Billy was thinking this was his biggest fault, even more than chewing on his nails all the time. Billy could give him something else to put in his mouth. Jesus God he needed to stop. “Okay,” he said anyway. He and Max got out of the car and went to class to get detention for being late.


After school he and Max walked down to the car garage; Max chatted off both Hank's ear and Miles' for a while and then scampered off to make eyes at Sinclair at the arcade. Hank ordered the part for Billy's car and about a quarter of the shit for the Civic; he told Billy he'd swing by Billy’s house one day next week if he wanted and they could change his ignition out. It made Billy feel weird; he didn't have to do that. Then Harrington came by with Max and drove them home. Billy and Max ate Susan's burnt pot roast for dinner; Neil'd finally let her go shopping apparently.

Steve came and picked them up Friday morning. He was wearing another great sweater; this one was red too but darker with a big snowflake. Max and Billy ran out to his car before Billy’s old man could look out the window and start his bullshit. Steve laughed at Billy huffing and shivering with his hoodie strings tied up under his chin. “Chilly Billy,” he said and cracked his shit up; Billy lamented his life again. Steve was smiling a lot at him and that made him feel weird too. Then he fixed Max with a den dad look in the rearview mirror. “You guys really need to get winter coats,” he said.

“Yes, Ms. Graves!” Max chirruped. Billy cackled; Jesus she was really cracking him up this week.

Steve rolled his eyes. “That’s cute, come crying to me when you catch the flu.” Max and Billy laughed some more.

It was an okay day. Billy was waiting for the weekend even though his old man was home; he was always waiting for the weekend. After school he was heading out towards the parking lot once English class had ended and he sighed in his head: Little Byers was at his locker like usual getting picked on. Damn, Billy didn't know why he'd even walked this way. Now he was fated to intervene yet again because he had morals and shit. He wondered when exactly he'd started getting morals and shit; the Muppet Babies were rubbing off on him with their queer crap.

There were three of them this time: two guys and a girl all in a circle around Little Byers. You could tell right away when kids were just talking and when they were picking on each other; Billy could tell at least. He'd been on both sides of it really and you had to punch your way to the other side. Little Byers didn't look like he could punch for shit, though.

Anyway the girl was a real fuckin' porker and Billy didn't really think a slob like her needed to be picking on anyone; either way she was a girl so Billy couldn't smash her face in. He tried not to feel disappointed. He was trying not to get into fights this year and the year was almost over.

“Hey Zombie Boy, why don't you go back to your crypt?” Baby Shitbag #1 was saying as Billy got closer. Mind you Billy was real well-versed in horror movies and that shit didn't even make sense. He should be calling Byers a vampire or something. If they wanted to get real clever they could call him Martin. Hahaha, Billy said in his head and then calmed himself down.

He didn't really get the Zombie Boy thing: Max'd told him that a lot of the kids that picked on Will liked to call him a queer or a zombie, sometimes a cute combination of both. Billy was kinda wondering if the gays had taken over zombies like they'd taken over disco or some shit. Max had not looked amused when he'd asked her about this; the kid had no humor in her life. You had to laugh at bullies or punch them the fuck out.

Billy pulled his hood back up and stomped his way over to Byers; man he really wished that Miss Piggy wasn't around so he could wail on the boys. She looked like the kinda tub of lard that would get in his way and probably get him suspended until the end of time. Since he couldn't wail on them he just pushed his way right through the group. He went and leaned up against the locker next to Little Byers. He was real close to Shitbag #2 and all three instantly went quiet. Damn Billy wished he was smoking a cigarette so's he could look even more threatening.

He brushed some of his hair out of his eyes; he leaned against the locker and looked down at Byers. “You ready to go or what, Will?” Byers looked up at him with big eyes; he didn't say anything for a couple seconds. “Ain't got all day,” Billy said.

Byers closed up his locker; his eyes were about as big as teacup saucers. “You -- I -- we can go,” he said.

“Atta boy,” Billy told him. He slung an arm around the kid's shoulders and pushed him past the three shitbags.

He and Byers walked down the hallway towards the exit; Byers was clutching his little binder and notebooks to his chest like a girl. Once they got out to the door Billy removed his arm and they went outside. “I ain't really giving you a ride or anything.”

“Yeah, I know.” Byers looked up at him with his eyes all bright; he kinda looked like a little Christmas elf or some shit. “I like your sweatshirt,” he said.

“Oh yeah, kid? You like the Misfits?” Billy felt real tickled. He leaned against the railing on the steps. No one here in Hawkins liked Misfits or anything. Tracey'd bought him the hoodie for his sixteenth birthday; to Billy it'd been a real big deal 'cause Tracey'd never had any fuckin' money. “Bet you like that, ah, Night of the Living Dead song on account of you bein’ a zombie and all.”

The kid still looked like a Christmas elf. “I haven't, haven't heard that one.”

“Think it's on their first tape.”

Byers fiddled with his notebook. “Yeah. We're, we're waiting to get their compilations record. Probably for Christmas.”

Jonathan Byers was coming out of the school; he did a double take when he saw Billy standing around on the steps with his kid brother. He was wearing his usual outfit of black jeans and a black t-shirt; he looked like a gay Ramone with his stupid white sneakers. “Will, I was looking for you,” he said. “What, uh, what're you guys doing?”

“Billy likes the Misfits too!” Byers yapped all excited.

Byers #2 looked amused. Technically Will should be Byers #2, but since Billy definitely liked the kid way more than Jonathan, Will was Byers #1. “Yeah, I guess I see that,” he said. Then he just stood there like an awkward Ramone. Billy rolled his eyes and looked out at the parking lot; Steve had just pulled up in his BMW and Max'd already spawned out of the fuckin' bushes or whatever and was leaning over into his window, chattering away. Steve looked up and just stared at Billy and Byers #1 and #2 for a moment; after a minute he raised a hand and kind of waved at them. Byers #1 waved back all happy like a girl.

“Gotta go,” Billy said. “Later kid.”

“Bye Billy!” said Byers #1. “Thanks!”

Once he got to Steve's car he thumped Maxine on the head and got into the passenger side; Max made a couple of her gremlin noises and climbed into the backseat. “What, ah, were you and Jonathan talking about?” Steve asked him.

Billy made a terrible face at the crazy rudeness of Steve thinking he'd actually be talking to Jonathan Byers, the guy who'd stole Steve's girl. “Talked about a record for one minute.” Actually he’d been talking to Little Byers but really he was too insulted to make the distinction.

Steve had the frown-wrinkle for no reason that Billy could see; maybe he thought Billy was gonna go all queer and start wearing white sneakers or something. “Oh yeah, I guess – I guess you guys would like the same kinda music,” he said. Billy also made a terrible face at the crazy rudeness of liking the same music as Jonathan. It couldn't be true.

Max popped her head up between them from the backseat. “Steve, can we still go to your house?”

Steve smoothed out the frown-wrinkle and made his eyebrows look normal again. “Sure, if you guys want,” he said.

“We want to watch the Knight Rider marathon and then get movies,” Max informed him like as if she and Billy had had some kinda discussion about this.

“Do we?” Billy asked her.

“And Billy wants pasta too,” Max went on.

“Do I?” Billy asked her. Max gave him her most nicey nicey smile.

And we want to go to Christmas Village!” Billy didn’t know what that was.

Steve looked real amused by her; Billy guessed it was a good thing or a nice thing that he found Maxine amusing. She was usually with Billy nowadays which was probably why Steve usually was too. “That’s a lot of stuff for a Friday night,” Steve said. He was smiling a lot again. “Okay, we can make pasta,” he said.

 

Steve drove them to his big empty house; they ended up not renting movies because Steve's family had about a bazillion of them in the den. The den that was an actual separate room from the living room. Billy and Max looked around like they were in a museum and then went through all the tapes.

Max had a weird look on her face. “Don't you have any horror movies?”

“I don't really watch that many, that's more like your and Dustin's thing.”

Max was giving Billy the This is the man you want to have your babies? look again; Billy ignored her. “Okay, we can just watch the show.”

They watched three episodes of Knight Rider and Steve talked the whole time; Max kept giving him real mean looks which he blithely ignored. Billy'd been hanging out with Steve for a little over two months now so this was about what he'd expected.

Steve yapped on about his birthday which was right before Christmas. He was apparently one of those annoying people that thought their birthday was the whole month or something; he said no one'd done anything with him last year. “Do you know what I'm doing for my birthday this year?” he asked them.

Billy sighed in his head; there was a big shootout happening on the TV. Max was indulging him now though. “What are you doing this year?”

“I'm having surgery, I'll probably die.”

What? ” said Max and Billy.

Steve laughed at them. He was getting his wisdom teeth out; it was the only date they had for him until like February. “I have like five wisdom teeth, one of them's impacted so they actually have to knock me out.”

“Aren't you only supposed to have four?” Max asked.

“I guess I'm too wise.” Max rolled her eyes all over the room. Steve said his parents weren't going to be back until the 22nd; he was probably going to walk himself home all looped up.

Max was looking like an awful gremlin. “Billy can pick you up,” she said real sweet. Billy rolled his head towards her on the couch and looked at her; Max ignored him.

Steve looked kind of weird. “Oh, no, that's okay,” he said. “I mean I wasn't saying – “

“Can get you if you want,” Billy said. Steve'd gave them rides already two days this week; surely Billy'd have his car back by the 19th.

Steve still looked weird. “Okay, if you want. It doesn't matter.”

They watched another episode of Knight Rider ; Stephanie really got killed and Steve and Billy couldn't believe it (“I TOLD YOU,” Maxine said). Steve bugged the shit out of Billy making him read his application essay into Huntington. He said he'd applied last year too. Billy didn't know if that meant he hadn't got in or what; he didn't ask though. If Steve wanted to tell him he didn't get in he'd tell him. Steve said, “My dad went there, so.”

Jesus but the essay was real bad. Like it was really bad; it was bad enough to make Billy think with correct grammar inside of his head. He tried hard not to make a face while he was reading it.

He didn't get it; Steve wasn't actually stupid. If he was stupid Billy wouldn't be able to talk to him for more than a minute. He got jokes and shit and he made good jokes; shit he was helping Billy get the first B in math he'd ever gotten in his life. He had a way of looking at things that wasn't like Billy's which was a good thing. He didn't see how Steve couldn't string two sentences together while he was writing them; did he know what a paragraph was? The layout and everything was just real bad and he didn't know what he fuckin' wanted to say.

“Okay, this is a real, real … real rough draft, right?”

“Screw you!” Steve said even though Billy hadn't been joking. Or maybe because he hadn't been joking. “It's due in like two weeks.”

“Ohhhh okay,” was all Billy said. He guessed that yeah, Steve was not getting into Huntington. “Right, right. It's not that bad,” he lied. He was still trying not to make a face.

Steve snatched his essay away. “Come on, I'm still lookin' at it!” Billy said.

“It doesn't matter, forget it,” Steve said. “I don't even know if I really wanna go there anyway.” He yapped on some more until Maxine finally shushed him, then when the episode of Knight Rider finished Harrington actually made them pasta.

Max and Billy sat in Steve's huge kitchen and Max pounded her fork on the table like a baby; Billy was trying not to be amused by her. Probably he should feel weird being with Max and Steve now but he still felt okay. The thing was that Steve made him feel okay; he guessed Max made him feel okay too when she wasn't annoying the shit out of him. Max squawked that Steve overcooked the pasta but Billy ate a lot; he didn't have a lunch period at school this year. Anyway pasta was always good, even better if Steve Harrington made it for you while wearing a holiday sweater, Billy figured.

“Steve, can I look through your kitchen?” Max demanded; she was a weirdo and liked to do shit like that.

Steve had his 'Max is amusing' face on again. “Sure, whatever,” he said.

Max hopped up and starting going through all the cabinets and shit; she spent a long time cataloging what Steve had in his fridge. “I love this countertop,” she said like a forty-year-old mom. She looked like she was plotting to move in. Steve watched Billy eat his pasta; he was kinda making Billy feel weird as shit looking at him.

“I got something on my face?”

“Oh. No, sorry,” Steve said.

“Can we eat these cookies?” Max asked from where she was deep inside the huge pantry.

“Yeah, sure.” Steve sat and watched Max and Billy eat all his food. Billy guessed they were both his charity cases now; it wasn't too bad. Steve and Max talked to each other about the grocery store and the general store like they were two moms; apparently Steve did most of the shopping at his house because his parents were never around now.

Max was eating from three different packages of cookies. “You make a good grocery list, that's a good quality in a man,” she said. Billy lamented his life for the fourth or fifth time just since getting to Steve's house.

Steve was leaning back in his chair at the kitchen table and he looked real amused by her instead of weirded out. “Okay, Max, tell that to my long, long list of dating options,” he said. Max cackled like a gremlin and ate her Oreos.

Then it was time for Christmas Village; Max jammed her fuzzy hat on her head and bounded out to Steve's car. “I can't wait to see Billy's face as he becomes overwhelmed by the spirit of holiday cheer or whatever,” Steve said. He was such an asshole.

“I don't know about all that,” Max said. “It's just Wrigley Field.”

“Did you go last year? The lights are amazing.” Max and Billy exchanged a look. Steve was such a small-town boy.

The big baseball field out by the woods was transformed into some kind of Santa's village; it looked straight out of a cartoon or something, all bright against the dark trees. Billy guessed it was cute and all. There was just enough snow left on the ground to make it look nice. White lights were strewn up everywhere like stars and there was a big tree in the center of the field. They had little tents and stores set up; there was some asshole playing a lute or some shit and Max gave him one of her quarters.

Henderson and Sinclair came up and found them in about two seconds; it was the curse of Hawkins once again. Dustin started yapping away and waving his arms around like usual. Max gave him a look that said he was still Germany but then she started talking and laughing too. Even if she was pissed off to holy hell at you Max could never shut her mouth for more than two minutes.

Max turned back towards Steve and Billy. She was holding Sinclair's hand and was dragging him around like a good dog like usual. “I have to go and get my last present I need to buy,” she announced to them. Then she glared at Billy. “DON'T FOLLOW ME,” she said in slight womanly hysteria (level four). Billy figured she was off to kiss Sinclair under some mistletoe; he mentally despaired at the image.

Maxine dragged Henderson and Sinclair off into one of the tents. Billy let Steve lead him around for a while. Steve started walking backwards in front of him; he was laughing and talking and not crashing into anything somehow. He was the cutest guy in Hawkins. “So?” he said. “Whatdaya think?” He made a stupid motion with his hands; he was gesturing at all the lights. They were at the end of the field and Steve leaned against a streetlamp and looked at him.

Billy was mostly looking at Harrington under the lights. He didn’t care about the little shops. Jesus Steve had a lot of freckles and beauty marks; Billy bet he could map out a ton of constellations on him. The lights were real pretty and all but Steve was really pretty. Billy didn't know why he kept thinking of him as pretty. He wasn't a girl or something.

Steve laughed at him not saying anything. “That good, huh? Did your heart grow three sizes? Is it stuck in your throat?”

“Fuck you, I'm not the Grinch.” It was funny because he'd thought that too on account of the creepy kids making his heart grow and grow or whatever. It wasn't the Christmas lights.

“You've got the same eyebrows.” Steve laughed his ass off at his witty remark.

“Fuck you,” Billy said again without much conviction. He guessed he was feeling the Christmas magic. “You gonna buy me a hot chocolate or something?”

Steve was still laughing his ass off. “Ask me real nice,” he said. Billy leaned against the streetlight too and asked him real nice; Steve looked weirded out. Maybe Billy was gonna have to stop doing that. “Jesus, you make me feel like Mrs. Wheeler,” he said. “Okay, do you want whipped cream?”

“What do you think I want, Steve?” Billy asked. He was still leaning.

“Oh my god, bye,” said Steve. Billy laughed. Steve went off to get the hot chocolate; he came back with Max and Sinclair in tow. Max was scowling up a storm.

“They didn't have what I wanted!” she yapped.

“I can't believe you didn't get it yet,” Steve said. He was giving Billy his hot chocolate.

“What's she want?”

Max glared at him. “None of your business!” she said. “Steve, can we go to the mall tomorrow?”

“Yeah, we can go to the mall,” Steve said.

Billy guessed they were going to the mall. Max leaned over and took his hot chocolate right out of his hand. “Dustin says ‘Blister in the Sun’ is about a guy and he asked Mr. Clarke and Mr. Clarke made a face and said it’s probably about a guy.”

“The fuck,” said Billy.

“AND Will asked Jonathan and Jonathan said it could be about a guy if you want it to be! So it’s about a guy! That’s officially all the people we know unless we try to ask Mom again,” Max yapped. “Everyone knows it’s about a guy, you owe me three jawbreakers!” She thought about it. “And I want a Madonna tape, okay?”

Steve and Sinclair were laughing at him. Billy hated Christmas.

 

The week went on. Steve took them to the mall out in Eastgate on Saturday; it was pretty fancy and had a roller skating rink and a big fountain with an elephant statue in it. Max acted cryptic as shit like a CIA agent slinking through the stores. She situated Steve and Billy in the food court and glared at them. “Don’t follow me!” she squawked.

“I don’t care what you’re buying,” Billy told her. Max glowered at him anyway and then sidled off like a CIA agent. Steve was probably giving her lessons.

Steve was eating like six slices of pizza at once. He also kept drinking Billy’s soda for some reason; he had his own. “Think she’s getting you a present.”

“No, we don’t do that,” Billy said. They never had. Maybe a present for her mom or something she didn’t want him to see.

“I don’t know,” Steve said. He kept eating his six slices of pizza.

They wandered around the stores for a while; in the little bookstore Billy bought The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for Elijane as Steve made fun of him. Billy picked up a Babysitter’s Club book and shoved it in his face. “Here’s your autobiography, Kristy,” he said. He was so goddamn glad Max was too old for this series. Actually he guessed he would really have to buy her a present now if he’d got one for El-or-Jane; Jesus he’d never hear the end of it. He wasn’t sure what to get her though. “Okay,” he told Steve, “go the fuck away for a while so I can buy your birthday present.”

“Are you serious?” Steve was smiling (also still drinking Billy’s soda; he was holding it though). “Are you going to buy me a book?”

“You can read?” Billy pretended to be shocked out of his goddamn mind. Steve laughed again.

“Screw you.”

“Go and sit at the food court, go wait for me and eat some more goddamn food,” Billy told him. “I’ll be like twenty minutes, you ain’t gonna get lost, are you?”

Steve was already wandering away and drinking Billy’s soda. He was the cutest guy in Eastgate too. “I won’t get lost, Mom,” he said like he wasn’t Mr. Mom and a den dad all put together in one hot guy body. Billy had a real problem.

He bought the book for Elijane and then wandered around for a couple minutes. He got distracted looking at records like usual; he hadn’t brought too much money though. He bought Steve some records (they had a deal where you got the fifth one free; he picked up the first Misfits album for Byers #1) and a silver lighter since he’d apparently lost his last year fighting monsters; Billy didn’t know why he hadn’t gotten another good one yet. Now he wouldn’t need to bum a light off of Billy every ten minutes and stand all close to him and shit.

Back at the food court Steve and Max were eating even more goddamn pizza and talking up a storm. “Did you get your thing?” Billy asked Max.

Maybe, ” Max said like a CIA agent. “That’s classified. Can we go look at the elephant fountain again?”

Monday and Tuesday Steve drove them to school; Max came to Billy’s work at seven and Steve picked them up again and they continued their new tradition of eating all the food at Steve’s house. Steve made them watch two Christmas specials on Tuesday. “This one is my favorite, the little guy just wants to be a dentist.”

Wednesday morning Billy woke up having some kinda dream; he was looking for his mom except it wasn’t really his mom. Felt like his mom in the dream. He woke up feeling cold and not knowing where he was. Jesus but he felt bad; a dream hadn’t made him feel bad like that in a long time.

Over breakfast he made a crack about Susan burning the eggs; Neil gave him a real mean look even though Susan wasn’t bothered. She knew she always burned the eggs. Billy’s dad followed him back to his room and threw him around; Billy wasn’t expecting it and he flew right into the window. Billy’s old man grabbed him by the collar of his t-shirt and threw him again. Billy landed on his dresser and knocked his record player over; he cracked his head on the wall. Neil went on about respect as Billy waited for his head to stop spinning. He looked at his mom’s record player; it was in about six pieces on the floor now.

“Shit,” he said. He waited for his dad to kick the shit out of him for swearing but just left for work. Apparently there wasn’t enough time in the world to properly discipline Billy on a Wednesday morning.

Max popped her head into the room to check on him; her eyes welled up again in about two seconds. Jesus she was a real bleeding heart for him lately.

“Okay, okay, don’t cry about it,” Billy told her. He picked himself up off the ground. Crying always made it worse; Billy hadn’t cried in front of his old man since he was like ten or eleven. Even though he’d already left for work Billy kinda felt like his dad would be able to sense Max’s tears and come roaring back to go apeshit on them some more. Anyway she didn’t need to be crying over him.

He got Max situated back at the table with her burnt eggs; she and Susan blubbered at each other while Billy went into the bathroom and wiped at his eyebrow until it stopped bleeding. He wished they wouldn’t do that; if they just ignored him everything’d be fine for them, probably. He was trying not to think about his mom’s record player on the floor in pieces. He still kinda felt like he was flying into the window. Jesus he felt about three years old sometimes.

Steve stared at them as they came out to his car; honestly Billy wished he’d just let them walk. “Jesus Christ, what the hell happened to you?”

Max went off in her womanly hysteria. “BILLY’S DAD BROKE HIS RECORD PLAYER!” she yelled her head off in the backseat.

“What, are you serious?” Steve said. “Are you joking?”

“Yeah, it’s hilarious,” Billy said. Max yelled her head off, “HIS MOM’S RECORD PLAYER!”

“Oh my god, I’m sorry, man,” Steve said. Then he grabbed Billy’s face and turned it towards him like a den dad and Mr. Mom to look at the cut; Billy was too startled to even do anything. “How’d you do this, you get punched again?”

“Hit the windowsill.”

Steve was way too close to his face. “You could have popped your fuckin’ eyeball out or something,” he said.

“CAN THAT HAPPEN?” Max asked from the backseat in her womanly hysteria.

Billy really wished Steve would stop touching him; he really needed Steve to stop touching him. Sometimes he got too fucking weird and people couldn’t touch him.

It hadn’t happened in a while. When he was little it had used to happen after his old man beat on him but sometimes it would just happen. It was one of the things that was wrong with him. It didn’t have to be anything; he’d just be sitting at home or in class and he’d get the shakey feeling and he wouldn’t be able to breathe. It felt like the floor was going to swallow him up and everything seemed too big and too small. Once or twice it’d even happened when he’d been kissing Tracey and he’d had to shove her off him. It was the worst thing because Tracey was supposed to be safe; she was his safe spot. He remembered saying, There’s something wrong with me. Tracey’d put her arms back around him anyway and that was okay. Billy, there’s nothing wrong with you.

Right now it felt like the floor of Steve’s car was getting ready to swallow him up. He slapped Steve’s hand away from his face, harder than he’d meant to. “Fuckoffme.”

“Sorry.” Steve looked all shocked and shit; Billy guessed he hadn’t slapped Steve off him in a while. Not that Steve was on him or whatever. “Are you okay?”

“M’fine.”

Steve started driving them to school; Billy looked out the window until he felt sort of okay again. After a while Steve asked, “So can you fix the record player?”

“It’s in like six pieces, Steve,” Max yapped from the backseat.

“It doesn’t matter,” Billy said. It was the second thing of his mom’s he’d fucked up in less than two months.

“God, that really sucks,” Steve said. “I’m sorry. Man, I bought you like four records for Christmas, too,” he said. “I bought you that Violent Femmes record.”

Billy laughed even though he didn’t feel like laughing. “Fuck off, I bought that one for you too.”

Max stuck her head up between them; she looked like she was watching Love Story again. “That’s really cute, I guess you’ll have to listen to them in Steve’s room now,” she said like a gremlin.

“I guess so,” Steve said.


It was the next week now and Billy was real jazzed up. It was Thursday night and he and Max were going to the movies. Normally Billy wouldn't get so excited over the movies and especially with Max but the whole Creepy Kid Club was going and so was El-or-Jane; it was going to be her first actual movie in her first actual theater.

“Of course you can come!” Wheeler Jr had yelped last night in the diner when Max'd started yelling her head off. Then he'd turned his head and glowered at Billy; he looked about like Billy'd killed and skinned his dog (not that Wheeler Jr was even cool enough to have a dog). He made an awful face. “El said ...she wants you to come too,” he'd said like he was being tortured.

HAHAHA, Billy'd said in his head in a great joy. “HAHAHA,” he said now out loud. It was six o'clock and they was getting ready to go. Susan was off at work so they didn't have a horrible dinner to eat. Maxine was sitting on his bed watching him get ready; Billy wasn't sure when she'd started thinking she was allowed in his room and shit.

Max made a face; Billy could see it in his mirror. “Are you talking to one of your personalities?” she asked him.

“Get outta my room,” Billy told her. He was fucking with his hair in the mirror; he needed to look real sharp. He was wearing a new black shirt and his only pair of jeans that didn't have holes in them. The shirt had snap buttons on it so he could pop them off at will – not like he'd need to pop them at Elijane but maybe he'd pop them at Steve or something. He cackled again in his head. “ Standing on the corner, suitcase in my hand, ” he sang into his mirror. He arranged one curl on his forehead and sprayed his hairspray; he was going for sensitive and soulful tonight.

Max looked at him in abject disgust; she was amusing the shit out of him. “You take soooo much longer than me to get ready.”

“Yeah, I also look soooo much better than you, don't I?”

Max made one of her gremlin faces in the mirror. She flopped over onto his mattress. “I don't even know who you're trying to look good for anymore!” she yapped. “Is it El or Steve?”

Billy wasn't sure either. “Maxine, you know what I do in that bed, you really wanna be laying all over it?”

OH MY GOD, EW BILLY!” screamed Max. She sat up and jumped off the bed with lightening speed. “I hate you soooo much!”

“HAHAHA!” Billy said into his mirror. She was safe anyway; he'd just washed his sheets two nights ago.

“I HATE YOU!” Max squealed again. Billy fluttered his eyes at her scowling reflection. What a little shithead. She wouldn't hate him next week at Christmas when he showed her her stupid Polaroid camera that he'd got her! He'd been feeling real charitable towards her lately; he'd gone out and got it earlier in the week when she'd been at the arcade with Sinclair. The next night they'd gone to the Byers' house and Billy'd gotten Joyce to wrap it all fancy for him. He'd sneaked it in and sneaked into the kitchen while Max and Will and Wheeler Jr were watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on the little TV.

Mrs. Byers was hot as shit; she dressed kinda dumpy but she had real pretty eyes and hair. Billy had tried to lay the charm on her, but she'd just put her hand on his arm and told him what a sweetheart he was, totally killing any moves that he'd been getting ready to roll out. “Why don't you just sit down, do you want something to drink?” Mrs. Byers had asked him like a mom.

Billy'd sat at the table like a little kid. “Yes ma'am,” he'd said. Maxine would laugh her ass off at him. Joyce wrapped the camera up for him real nice and yapped on to him about how nice it was to have a sibling you were close to; Billy thought he'd managed not to make a face. “I guess Max has got a photographer's eye just like Jonathan!” she'd said too. Billy'd also managed not to make a face at the crazy rudeness of Maxine being anything like Byers #2.

Billy finally finished fucking around in front of his mirror; he guessed he looked about as good as he was going to get. His hair was getting real long again. He'd hit the windowstill harder than he'd thought last Wednesday: about half his face had been blue and gray for the whole fuckin' week. Now it was down to a nice greenish color and he kinda felt like Frankenstein. He had a huge bruise on his elbow too, one going down the small of his back; they hurt worse than his face.

He was okay though like always. He was used to lookin' like this. He was going to the movies tonight and tomorrow he was getting to pick Steve up from the dentist. Maybe he'd be real looped up and say that Billy looked like a painting again or something; Billy was looking forward to it.

Hank had came over last week – Billy thought it'd been on Thursday – and helped Billy change his ignition out with the part that'd finally came in. Billy's old man had been there and he'd shaken Hank's hand all nicey nicey. They'd talked for a couple minutes and then Hank had lumbered into the garage with Billy to check out the Camaro.

“Piece of shit,” Hank had huffed. “'Scuse me, Bill, sorry to say it. I know all about your old man. I can tell everything from lookin' at a person, you know.” Billy hoped that wasn't true: he didn't need Hank looking at him and knowing everything.

Even so it was okay if Hank thought Billy's old man was for shit. Most people thought that his dad was the best; Neil was real good at putting on a show. It was nice that maybe one person could see that he was an asshole without having to live with him for two years straight. Billy wasn't ten anymore and it wasn't like Hank was gonna call child services or anything. He figured he could move out soon anyway; he was almost finished owing his father money. He'd figure out what to do about Max. Maybe she could hang out at his place after school or some shit. If he even stayed in Hawkins that was.

Anyway Billy was real jazzed up. He didn't need to figure out what to do about Maxine yet; he put his hands on her shoulders and hustled her out of his room. She was still squawking and yelling about his bed and what a gross person he was. “Is your pillow even safe, Billy?” she caterwauled as Billy leaned against the wall and put his combat boots on. “Is it?”

“Sometimes, usually I got real good aim.”

OH MY GOD,” Max wailed like she was dying.

“Get a UV light and check out the walls, got like fifty crime scenes in there.” They'd both been watching Dateline last night.

I HATE YOU!

Billy cackled. “Put your fuckin' shoes on, you're makin' us late.”

Billy's old man was home watching TV on the couch and he looked up to glare at him. “Watch your goddamn language in this house,” he warned him.

Billy laughed at him. The thing was that he knew he wasn't a perfect angel that just got beat on for nothing. He knew he pissed his old man the fuck off; he knew he was a piece of shit. Sometimes he just didn't care about it. Tonight he didn't care about it. He'd already got punched around and got his mom's record player broken this month; he had shit else. Honestly he felt really down about the record player; most of this week though he'd been around with Steve and Maxine so much that he hadn't had time to feel down about it.

He leaned against the wall some more; he was still laughing at his dad. “Maxine, do you think I need to watch my goddamn language in this goddamn house?”

Max was giving him a look that said what he needed to do was shut the fuck up. “I thought we were going to be late.”

“Okay okay.” Billy popped a couple of his shirt buttons at her; Max made a face like he was killing her. Billy cackled again in his head. “Dad, I'm taking Max and her friends out to a movie, we allowed to leave the house or you gonna come looking for us?”

Neil fixed him with a real hard look. It was similar to the steel-blade gaze but not quite the same; Billy hadn't seen this one before. Billy just looked back at him. Neil's eyes slid over to Max. “Curfew's ten-thirty,” he said gruffly to her.

“Yes sir,” Max said like a ghost.

Billy dragged her out of the house and into the car. They'd both done pretty good staying out of Neil's way since last week. He was going out on the road again soon until Christmas; she didn't need to look like that. 'Your Haunted Head' by Concrete Blonde came on the radio and Max turned it up as they roared down the street. Billy knew she'd like that one.

“YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY, CLEARFIELD'S FASTER!” Max yapped her head off.

“Told you I gotta stop by work.”

Maxine huffed like he was killing her once again; she walked down the block with him to the car garage. It was after hours but Hank was still there. Billy'd said he'd help him bring in some of the parts for the Civic that had came in; Hank had a bad back.

Billy helped Hank bring in the two doors that were leaned up out in front of the shop; they were going to try and fix the hood and front bumper themselves. Hank huffed and puffed like a dying fish. “Hey, you look real nice, Bill,” he said. “You got a date or something?”

Behind him Max cackled like a witch; Billy was ignoring her. “Just going to the movies,” he said. Hank chattered on to Max for about eight minutes as Billy lugged in the rest of the stuff, then they headed off down the street. It was cold but not too cold; their breath made steam in the air but there wasn't any wind.

“I can't wait to see Steve!” Max said as they walked up the main drag. She'd been all distressed when Billy'd gotten his car back and they couldn't hang out at Steve's until ten at night anymore; Billy kinda missed it too. Probably they could just go over there anyway but they hadn't gone over. “What stupid sweater do you think he'll be wearing?”

Billy was partial to the reindeer one honestly. “Hasn't seen us in like two, three days, maybe he went out and bought a new one.” Max laughed her head off. They stopped into the general store so that Billy could buy her her stupid jawbreakers; she spent a lot of time killing him and picking out her Madonna tape.

At the cash register Max sighed her dramatic head off looking at the camera displays. The good Polaroids here were about eighty bucks, a little more than he'd paid out at the mall. Even looking at them now he couldn't believe he'd spent so much money on Maxine. He must've briefly gone crazy or some shit. He definitely wasn't getting new seats for his car anytime soon.

Max pressed her nose against the camera display like a freakshow. “Do you know what my mom's getting me for Christmas?” she asked Billy.

“Uh, I know she ain't spending no eighty dollars on you,” Billy said. Susan was actually getting Max a new jacket; Billy'd told her the one Max wanted at the mall. “Thought you were saving up your quarters and shit, aren't you like halfway there?” He wanted to make sure she wasn't gonna buy it somehow.

Max stuck her nose up in the air like a snooty poodle. “I had to buy something else.”

HAHAHA, Billy said in his head. “Okay. Whatcha get?”

“Nothing for you! ” Max yapped. She grabbed his change off the counter and grabbed his arm too. “Can we go? You're making us late!”

“Am I?” Billy asked her. He let her drag him down the street. The rest of the brat pack was already there at the theater; as usual Steve was pulling up in his BMW right when Billy got on the scene.

They said hey to the pack of creepy kids and to Steve; Steve really was wearing a new sweater and Max cackled and hit Billy's side. “Steve, we missed being at your house!” she said.

Steve had the look on his face that said Max was amusing him. “Yeah, I missed you guys too,” he said. “You coulda still came and hung out with me.”

“Thought we had some kinda big date tomorrow anyway,” Billy told him.

Henderson was yapping his way over to them with his baseball cap. “Oh yeah, aren't you getting all your wisdom taken out tomorrow?” he lisped. “Have fun with him, he is a real baby about pain. Steve, remember when you jammed your thumb at the arcade?”

“Yeah, thank you Dustin,” Steve said, real annoyed. Billy was laughing.

The rest of the creepy kids floated over; Max and Sinclair started yapping their Love Story shit to each other. Like usual Wheeler Jr had a sour look on his face and was dressed like a huge douchebag. Elijane and Little Byers wandered over in front of Billy; El was wearing a puffy pink dress and Will had his hair slicked back like James Dean. Billy got such a kick out of them. “Hey kid, you look real sharp,” he said to Little Byers.

Byers sparkled at him like a rainbow. “Thanks!”

Elijane was looking up at Billy in her serious way; goddamn she looked too cute in her pink dress and baggy jean jacket. “What happened to your face?” she asked him.

“Ah, this? People love to fight me in this town.”

“It looks a lot better now,” Byers told her.

Elijane considered him and narrowed her eyes. “Still pretty,” she decided finally.

Truly Billy felt touched. “Thanks kid,” he said. Wheeler Jr made a terrible face.

“El, you don't really call guys pretty,” he said. Elijane gave him a look that said he was a huge bozo; she was the best ever.

Billy slung an arm around Steve's shoulder. He guessed it was okay to do that; normal people did that. “Ah, Harrington's the only real pretty boy we got around here,” he said.

Steve let Billy shake him around. “You haven't called me that in like three months, I was beginning to think you lost your feelings for me.”

Billy was still trying to think of something to say that wouldn't make him sound like a huge queer when Henderson let out one of his gross Wookie noises. “So what are we even seeing, guys?” he asked. “I could be at the library right now with Rebecca, I really hope we're not going to see Howard the Duck.

Five out of six creepy kids groaned, also Steve. “Oh my god, shut the hell up about Rebecca for two seconds,” Mike moaned.

Henderson looked like a Wookie in love. “Mike, I'm sorry that I'm experienced and dating an older woman now, I'm still the same guy you've known since the fourth grade.”

Wheeler Jr made another one of his awful faces. “What are you even talking about?”

“Man, you haven't even kissed yet,” said Sinclair.

“Think how annoying he'll be if they do!”

Dustin ignored them. “You mean when we do? I can't decide if I want to have Steve drive us to the Christmas dance like a rich guy, or if Billy should take me like a bad-ass.”

“No no no, I ain't driving you anywhere for shit,” Billy told him. The stupid Snowflake dance at the high school was next week and he was pretty sure he was already getting stuck driving Maxine: the horror of both Max and Henderson in his car in formalwear was too much to handle right now.

“Wait, so I'm not cool anymore?” Steve asked Henderson. “When did that happen?” He looked super hip in his Christmas tree sweater.

“Steve, sorry, you haven't done anything cool in like a year,” Dustin yapped. “You're still my friend and all, and I appreciate the dating tips that didn't work, but – ”

“Okay, okay, okay.”

Max was giving Billy a big look; Billy realized he still had his arm around Steve and removed it. “So what're we seeing?”

The creepy kids poured over the ticket window; there wasn't too much playing on account of it being Thursday night. Aliens was playing and The Fly, some animated movie with a mouse with a cowboy hat that Billy knew Max was losing her goddamn girl mind over. There were a couple older movies playing, the dollar features that Hawkins rolled out year-round.

Sinclair and Wheeler Jr and Henderson were losing their shit over The Fly; it was the last week it was playing apparently. “Do you really think you deserve an R-rated movie right now?” Steve asked Henderson like a den dad.

Henderson looked like a sulky Wookie. Elijane was gazing at the The Fly poster with a skeptical look on her face; Billy was sure she'd seen movies and shit on the TV before and all but he kind of felt like a den dad too. He leaned against the ticket window.

“Looks like we're seeing Grease, ” he announced.

Four out of six creepy kids moaned their heads off. Max said, “Oh my god, Billy, don't do this to me!”

“Are you kidding? Why is that even playing?” yapped Sinclair. Because it was the best! Billy leaned over the creepy kids and shouted at the ticket girl; she looked a little overwhelmed with all the creepy kids going off too. The brat pack lapsed into sulky silence as their tickets got printed out; El-or-Jane and Byers looked pretty okay with it.

“What is Grease? ” Elijane asked. She was holding her little ticket like it was a real important thing.

“Oh, you're about to find out,” Steve said; he sounded like he was laughing. They went inside the theater and Max ran off with Billy's stolen change to buy snacks; he hoped she would have the decency to buy him a goddamn soda.

Billy and Steve leaned against the wall of theater #1 and watched the kids buy their popcorn. Steve was real close to him. Billy was trying not to want him; they were about to see a family film. “So, Grease, huh?” Steve asked him. “You a big secret musical fan?”

“No, asshole,” Billy said. Then he said without meaning to, “Probably saw this shit in the theater with my mom like six times.” He didn't know why he said it.

“Really? Are you serious?”

“If you fucking say shit – “

Steve was laughing at him which was great. “Chill out, everyone's seen Grease like six times with their mom,” he said. “Not me, of course, my mother goes not go to the Hawkins theater. That's cute, Bills.”

“Whatever,” Billy said. He watched the kids getting their snacks; Elijane was still holding onto her ticket like she was in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory . Little kid had never seen a movie in her life and Billy felt like it should be a cute one. Not the one with the mouse and the cowboy hat though. Steve was staring at him so he nodded over towards El. “Kid grew up in some lab surrounded by scientists, you think she should be seein' Doctor Jeff Goldblum on the big screen turning into a fuckin' monster?”

Steve looked blank. “I did not think of that,” he said. “I woulda thought of that like forty minutes into the movie after the first death scene.”

“Surprised Wheeler Jr didn't think of it.”

“Wheeler Jr?” Steve was laughing at him again.

“He's a junior something.” Junior asshole, junior shitbag.

“Do you have nicknames for all of them?”

“Not really.” Sinclair was Midnight, probably he shouldn't really say that one out loud anymore or to Steve. “Uh, okay, Max is Mad Max, as ya know.”

“Yeah, Lucas and Dustin always call her that.”

“Fuck Lucas and Dustin, I been calling her that since she was ten.”

“Really?” Steve looked surprised.

“Who the fuck you think she watched Mad Max with?”

“Oh. Huh.”

Billy considered the kids. “Okay, Henderson's a total Wookie. Usually Sinclair pains me too much to think about him for more'n two seconds. Will is, uh, I dunno, Billy the Kid or somethin'.”

Steve laughed. “That's really cute,” he said. “By the way, you are really fucking weird.”

Billy didn't mind being really fucking weird. He thought about Maxine yapping, If you guys got together, I'd have like two brothers! and thought Steve didn't know the half of it.

The kids came over to them squawking and groaning; Billy noticed none of them were turning down a free movie, though, even if it was a musical about ten years old. Max gave him a soda and a box of Skittles as she walked by. Billy actually felt touched for a moment and then he remembered she'd hawked his fuckin' money anyway. Jesus he was turning into a bleeding heart too.

The brat pack wanted to sit in the back row because they were for shit; not too many other people were in the theater though so it was all right. The kids took up a whole row and Billy and Steve sat behind them like a couple of gay dads watching their ducklings. The goonies yapped on through the previews and stole each other's candy. Henderson spilled half his soda and yelled his damn head off for about a minute. A preview for some movie called The Lost Boys played and Max yelped and creamed her pants; she was apeshit for one of those Corey guys, maybe both. They both looked like fuckin' frogs to Billy; there were too many blondes in Hollywood.

Finally the movie started playing. For all their complaining, by the time the credits were finishing rolling all the kids were into it. Max had her head on Sinclair's shoulder which made Billy want to blow chunks. He ate a lot of Skittles to console himself. Steve leaned in all close to him; as usual he didn't need to get so close. He'd been saying stupid shit for about the whole movie so far and Billy'd expected no less. “Are you going to lose your shit and jump up to do the dance during Greased Lightning ?” he asked him.

“Shut the fuck up,” Billy said for the ninth time. Also, “Don't tempt me, okay.” Steve laughed his ass off.

It was a real good time because Grease was always a good time; Henderson started singing along to a couple of songs and everyone yelled at him to shut the fuck up. Billy bet Steve could get his hair to look just like John Travolta's. “I really love the ending, all the leather really does something to me.” Steve was still talking his head off. Maxine turned around to fix Billy with a significant look for some reason; Billy ate the last of his Skittles.

They left the theater once the movie ended and hung out on the empty sidewalk, deciding what to do. It was still pretty early and he and Max had time so they decided to get food. Billy felt real wired up. He'd got to see Grease and Elijane and Steve; Maxine was continuing her strange trend of not annoying the shit out of him.

Max latched onto the sleeve of Billy's leather jacket and was dragging him along because she said he was being too slow. “Did you like the movie, El?” she asked.

“We can see a better one next time,” Wheeler Jr consoled her. Billy made a terrible face at his back.

“That's okay, I liked Grease, ” Elijane said placidly. She'd make a real cute Sandy, Billy thought. Then he thought of Wheeler Jr being Danny and almost blew chunks again. “Wish people would sing like that in real life.”

“Oh, they can, kid, you just gotta smoke with the right people.”

Elijane was giving him a weird little look. “Smoke what?”

“Oh, my god,” Steve said. “Nothing, El, ignore him, he's a terrible person.” Somehow yet again he was drinking Billy's soda. Maxine was laughing and pulling his sleeve (Billy started walking even slower on purpose) and Wheeler Jr wasn't complaining his head off for once, just walking next to El.

Billy felt okay and all. Steve was right next to him. He walked even slower; Max skidded in the snow like a dramatic bitch trying to pull him along. They walked on down the street to the diner.


Friday afternoon Billy put Tommy Hall's little brother in a trash can for Byers, then he drove Will and Max down to the arcade. “You gotta be home for seven at dinner, don't eat all your fuckin' jawbreakers,” Billy told Max as she climbed out of the car.

“I know, I know!” Max yapped. “Have fun with Steve! Tell me the deets!”

Billy ignored her; Max grabbed Byers #1 by his jacket and dragged him off into the arcade. Billy parked his car and walked down the street to the dental office. Steve was still in the back getting his surgery; Billy leaned on the counter and flirted with the receptionist for a long time until more patients came in. Billy sat down and read three Highlights magazines. Goofus and Gallant cracked his shit up.

Steve came out around four-thirty; he looked all fucked up and his face was puffy. He went and talked to the receptionist for a couple minutes before even noticed Billy. “Oh my god, you actually came to get me.”

“Just said I would yesterday.”

“I thought you'd forget me.” Steve stood looking fucked up and looked down at Billy and the Highlights magazine. He sounded kinda muffled; his hair still looked good though. “Did you color that picture of Elmo?”

“No,” lied Billy. “The fuck. Why does your face look like Alvin and the Chipmunks?”

“I got so much cotton in my mouth,” Steve said. “My drugs are gonna wear off in like two hours, can we go?”

“Yeah, we can go.” Billy stood up and Steve just stood there looking at him. Billy sighed and put his hand on Steve's shoulder; he marched him out of the office like he was Maxine taking forever to get ready.

“WHY IS IT SO BRIGHT OUT,” Steve said. He didn't even have his gay-ass sunglasses today. He leaned against the wall of the dental office and put his head on Billy's shoulder. “They took so many of my teeth, Bills,” he said sadly. “Do I even have any left?”

Jesus it was so great and it'd been like five minutes. “Yeah, man, I think you still got some teeth left,” Billy told him.

“My face hurts.” Steve kept his head on Billy's shoulder.

“Are you supposed to be talkin'?”

“I don't know. Probably not. I think I will sleep here.” He leaned on Billy's shoulder even more.

“No no no,” Billy said. He hadn't expected Steve to be so fucked up; it was hilarious but he felt a little bad for him and all. A group of old ladies walking by gave them a bunch of weird looks. “You can sleep on me at your house, my car is right over here.” He led Steve to his car; Steve collapsed in the passenger seat and laid his head against the windowpane. He moaned loudly as Billy started the Camaro up; Billy was trying to ignore him.

“MY FUCKING FACE HURTS,” Steve said.

“I know, man.” Billy hadn't ever gotten any teeth pulled but he guessed he'd been punched in the face enough to imagine how it would hurt real bad.

Steve leaned on the windowpane real sad. “It's my birthday,” he said all mournful.

“I know, man.”

“I can't even eat anything for a week. I don't have any teeth.”

“You still have teeth, okay.”

“Uhhhhhhh,” Steve moaned. Billy turned the radio up on him; it was some new band called the Throwing Muses on 102.5. “What the FUCK is this SHIT.”

“I don't know, man.”

It only took a few minutes to get to Steve's house; once Billy parked Steve just kept sitting with his head against the windowpane until Billy sighed and dragged him out of the car. He dragged Steve up his steps and to the front door. “You got your key?”

“It's in my pocket,” Steve told him.

Billy stared at him. And stared at him. Steve stared back at him. “Harrington, I ain't going in your pockets, you are going to have to try harder than that.”

“Oh. Right. Okay. No you're right.” Steve dug around in his jeans for about eighty years; finally he found his key and opened the door. The house was all dark inside like it usually was. In the backyard, Luke and Leia were barking their heads off. Steve moaned again. “MY CHILDREN ARE CALLING ME,” he wailed.

“Oh my god,” said Billy. He was so happy again. “You want me to let 'em in?”

“No, I'm tired of cleaning up after them. Can I really lay on you?”

Billy felt more happy and also less happy. Harrington was really fucked up; Billy was hoping he wouldn't be like one of the four people out of every million who fucking died from general anesthesia or something. “You wanna go on your couch?” he said. Steve was just standing there against the front door and he looked like he needed direction.

No, ” Steve said like a two-year-old. “I want my bed.”

Of course he did. “Okay, so go upstairs.”

“Okay.” Steve stumbled up the stairs. Billy didn't know if he was supposed to follow him or what; eventually he did.

Up in his room Steve struggled for eighty years to take his stupid sweater off; Billy turned the light on for him. Steve flopped onto his bed like a dead fish; he was wearing his black t-shirt that Billy'd given him back and he looked real skinny. He moaned away again. “Oh my god, my mouth. My teeth. You can just go if you want.”

“Thought I was supposed to hang out with you and make sure you ain't gonna die.” Billy picked up Steve's bat that was full of nails; it was on his dresser for some reason.

“I am dying,” Steve informed him like a dramatic bitch. Billy ignored him.

“I like your monster weapon,” he told Steve. He turned the bat in his hands a couple times. Henderson was always swinging it around like a crazy person the few times Billy'd seen him here.

“Oh yeah?” Steve laughed on his bed; it sounded like it hurt him. “Guess what, that is actually Jonathan's. You should probably just go over there.”

“Don't ever say that shit to me again,” Billy said. Steve smiled at him like he'd said something cute; he really did look like a chipmunk.

Then he stopped smiling. “MY FUCKING FACE HURTS,” he said.

“I know, man.”

Steve covered his face with his hands like a dramatic bitch. “Can you open my window?” he asked.

Billy stared at him; it was like thirty degrees out. “Really?”

“I can't sleep with my window shut.”

“Jesus, okay.”

Steve's window was over on the side of his bed; Billy had to climb over him to get to it. Steve laid there like a chipmunk in a coma and stared up at him. “Thanks,” he said. “You can go if you want.”

Billy felt weird as fuck climbing over him; he shoved Steve into the wall and sat down on the corner of the bed. “You want me to go?”

“It doesn't matter, everyone leaves me. It's my birthday,” Steve said like a dramatic chipmunk.

“Okay, okay, calm down, Stella. Where your parents at?”

Steve moaned again. “Skiing in the mountains with my dad's brother, they didn't even ask me to go this year.”

Billy felt surprised; he actually stopped being affected by the moan. “Seriously?”

“Hrnnnnngh,” Steve said like a crazy person. Billy turned his head and stared down at him. If he was having a seizure they were totally fucked. Steve just made the eyebrow-wrinkle face. “I mean, I didn't go for like the last two years. I mean I started dating Nancy, I wanted to be with her all the time because that's, that's how I am. Then last year I went to Dustin's house. He's all alone with his mom. But now he, he's got that girlfriend.”

“Sorry, man,” Billy said. “I didn't mean to help him get lucky.”

“No no no,” Steve said. His eyes were still closed. “I'm happy, happy for him. I gave him like the worst advice, I was all fucked up from Nancy. I'm glad he got a girl that likes him.”

“Still kinda can't believe it.”

“I know. Have you talked to her for a minute? She is like. Mostly normal.” Billy laughed. Steve flopped over on his side; he was kinda laying behind Billy on the bed. Billy really didn't need to be on the bed. Steve reached out and started touching and poking at Billy's elbow that had the huge bruise on it. “This, this looks kinda better,” he said.

“Yeah, it actually hurts way fuckin' more than my face did.”

Steve pouted like a dying chipmunk; Billy was never gonna forget it. “Sad Billy,” he said. “That's cause you hit your funny bone. Not that you have a funny bone, 'cause you're not funny.” Even drugged up as shit Harrington cracked himself up.

“M'funny,” Billy said. Steve was still touching his arm like a weird person; Billy felt really weird.

“You can really go if you want,” Steve said. “I'm okay, I am used to being alone. I lost most of my friends when I was dating Nancy. And I, I'm not good enough for her. I am always alone.”

“You're good enough for me,” Billy told him like a huge homo; Steve was fucked up and wouldn't remember it. “Me and Max, we like ya enough.”

“Thank you,” Steve said all serious. He was still touching Billy's arm. “That means a lot to me. You and Max are good people.”

“I dunno about that.”

“Did you get her a Christmas present?”

“Yeah, got her that camera she wanted.” He probably really should get off the bed.

“Man. She's gonna lose her shit.”

“Dunno why I even got it.”

“She's your family,” Steve said.

“I guess so, ” Billy said very resentfully.

Steve laughed at him. “Oh my god. You're so cute, man.”

“I ain't even trying.”

“Hmm,” said Steve. “I'm sleeping now.”

“Okay.”

Steve fell asleep in like two seconds; he still had his hand on Billy's arm. After a couple minutes Billy got up off the bed; he dug around in his pockets and put the silver lighter he'd got him in Steve's hand. It was a little after five and he wondered if he should just go. He kept hearing Steve saying though I am always alone. He turned on Steve's Nintendo and put the volume on mute. He sat on the floor and played it til Steve woke up at eight.

“Hey, you're still here,” Steve said. He flopped over on the bed and leaned over on his pillow; he was practically hanging over Billy's shoulder. “Did you put a lighter in my hand?”

“Yeah, happy birthday.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Steve sounded all surprised like he hadn't been wailing that the 19th was his 19th birthday all month. “I need to take like eight Percocets, I am seriously about to cry.”

“Can I – “

Steve huffed and interrupted him. “Yeah you can have the rest if I don't use 'em all.” Billy felt happy; he was pretty sure he was at least halfway in love with Harrington. Wouldn't even matter if he didn't have any teeth.

“You want me to make you some soup or something?” He could feel Steve staring at him; some of his hair was falling onto Billy's shoulder. “What? That's what you're supposed to eat if you don't feel good.” He didn't even have a mom anymore and he knew that shit. “I don't want you to go on a bad trip.”

“Okay,” Steve said. He followed Billy downstairs. “I'm not supposed to use a straw for a week.”

“Why the fuck would you use a straw to eat soup.”

“I don't know!” snapped Steve. He followed Billy into the kitchen and sat down at the table like a little kid. He was still too fucked up to even make fun of Billy that much.


Christmas was about the same as usual; it sucked a little less than usual. He and Max didn't hate each other's guts this year so they had some sort of sibling solidarity going on. Billy's old man was home and everyone tried their hardest not to be in the living room for more than two minutes. Susan was burning the turkey somehow and it'd only been in the oven for an hour; Max came into the kitchen and said “Oh thank god,” when she saw Billy making the mashed potatoes.

“Comments to yourself, Max,” Susan said. She opened the kitchen window to let some of the smoke from the oven out.

Max was leaning into the stove and looking into it like a fire hazard. “The turkey's upside down again,” she told her mom.

Susan gasped. “No it's not!”

“Billy!” Max yapped. “The turkey's upside down!”

Billy looked at the turkey. “Yeah, sorry, it's upside down.”

“Does that matter?” Susan asked.

Max and Billy exchanged a look; they spent about five minutes managing to flip the turkey over. Max screamed her head off that she had third degree burns now. Somehow Susan's second-best dishtowel ended up out the window and Max and Susan were both yelling at each other. Women were so dramatic.

They ate a tense lovely dinner together; the turkey looked all lopsided and like it was from a cartoon. It fell apart when they tried to cut into it. Billy could see Max trying not to lose her shit.

“This is better than last year,” Billy's old man said. “Do we have any stuffing?”

The fire alarm in the kitchen started going off. Max lost her shit laughing. “Not anymore!” she said.

By six o'clock they'd cleaned up and Max started squawking at him to take her over to the Wheeler's. She'd already told him about the stupid Christmas party at the Wheeler's three times this week and so had Steve; they'd both looked at Billy like he was gonna jump for joy and run out and buy a new Christmas sweater to wear for it.

Two nights before had been Maxine's stupid Snowflake dance at school; Billy'd ended up driving her like he knew he'd have to. Maxine wore a blue dress and freaked him the fuck out looking like an actual pretty teenager. She was getting kind of tall and even had boobs and shit now; it was really fucking weird and terrible. She was gonna be fifteen in a couple months, older than Tracey'd been when Billy'd started sleeping with her. He thought about this and thought he'd probably have to kill Sinclair real soon. Then he thought about Elijane and Wheeler Jr and thought he'd definitely have to kill Wheeler Jr real soon.

“Holy shit, Max, you almost look like a real girl,” Billy'd told her while she was putting on her little baby half-inch heels in the living room.

Max made a gremlin face at him and then smiled. “Thanks, I almost feel like a real girl,” she said. Billy's dad was giving them a weird glare from the couch; Billy thought they were supposed to be getting along and all.

He'd driven Max to Sinclair's house and picked him up too; Billy was 105% sure his father would kill him and skin him alive if he knew Billy'd picked up Midnight but he wasn't thinking about it. He even let them play Power 99 in the car; they needed to get into that shitty school-dance mentality.

Once they got to the school he'd climbed out of the car so Max could push the front seat up and climb out; she'd shocked the holy hell out of him and threw herself at him and gave him a hug. “Thanks for driving me and Lucas!” she said.

“Please stop, we're in public,” Billy'd said. He'd drove down to the diner to meet Steve; Steve had given Henderson a lift to the dance. He guessed Henderson had decided to be a rich boy for the night since it was his only option.

Steve had bugged him about the party at the Wheeler's too; he'd laughed at Billy saying I'll think about it for the second time. Steve was making leaps and strides and was mostly eating solid foods again by then.

“Fucking what?” Billy'd said. He'd still felt all grossed out by Maxine hugging him.

“Nothing. I've just heard you say that to Max all month and then you do whatever she wants, you're totally going.”

“The fuck I am, I'm definitely not going now.”

“It's my birthday,” Steve had reminded him.

“Ain't your fucking birthday.” Billy didn't feel the need to remind him that he'd laid on his bed and touched Billy's arm for a fucking hour on his birthday.

“Come on, you're like half the reason I said I'd go, you want to leave me with Nancy and Jonathan?”

“Wow, half the reason, keep sweet-talkin' me,”

Steve had laughed at him. “What, you want to be the whole reason?”

“No,” Billy'd lied. “Look, I said I'll think about it, okay?”

“See you Thursday!” Steve had said like an annoying person.

Anyway it was Thursday and anyway Billy was going. He felt real annoyed that Maxine and Steve apparently thought they had him on a little leash. He did what he wanted! Mostly he was going to see El! Stupid shitheads.

Neil was being real generous with them and said Max could stay out until midnight; she bounced out in the new snow to Billy's car. She was wearing her new bomber jacket with spikes on the collar; Susan'd gotten her the green one like Billy'd said.

“I know you picked this out for me,” Max told him as they climbed into the car.

“I didn't pick out shit for you.”

“My mom always gets me pink stuff, it clashes with my hair.”

“Everything clashes with your hair,” Billy told her.

“Shut up! Yours too!”

Billy ignored her being a stupid shithead; he stretched around behind him and rummaged in his backseat. He'd been hiding Max's present in the trunk but he'd taken it out earlier when he'd gone out into the yard looking for Susan's second-best dishtowel. “Got you a present.” He hadn't wanted her to open it up in front of Neil and her mom; it sucked to open up gifts when you weren't sure if your old man was about to start screaming his head off at you.

Max looked surprised as shit like he'd expected her to. “You got me a present?” she asked. “What is it?”

“I forget.”

Max took the box from him and shook it like a crazy person. “Probably coal or Luke and Leia's dog shit.” She cracked him the fuck up.

“Quit fucking shakin' it and open it.”

Max gave him a mistrustful glance. “It better not be dog shit.” Billy wished it was dog shit. She tore one corner of the pretty snowflake paper off and started screaming her head off. “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU SERIOUS!” She ripped the rest of the paper off with lightning gremlin speed.

“What you wanted, ain't it?”

“Oh my god.” Max was holding the stupid Polaroid camera like it was a box of gold or candy; she looked really happy. “Oh my god, did you steal this?”

Jesus she was annoying. “No I didn’t fuckin’ steal it.”

“Oh my god, it has the automatic flash on it!”

She was looking all affected and it made Billy feel real scared. He could not handle her crying twice in one month. He wasn't used to giving people shit; he wished she'd been unconscious like Steve. “Chill out, okay?”

“THANK YOU SO MUCH, BILLY!”

“What you wanted, right?”

“Yes, it's what I wanted.” Max was beaming at him. She started tearing the package open in two seconds. “Does it have any film?”

“Got you like three rolls, they're in the trunk still.”

“OH MY GOD, YOU'RE THE BEST.” Max threw her arms around him and hugged him for the second time this month; truly he felt assaulted. He hoped none of the neighbors were looking at them in his car. The sharp end of the camera box jabbed into his stomach.

“Okay, okay, calm the fuck down.”

Max yapped and squawked about the camera for the whole ride to the Wheelers; it actually came with a roll of film in the box and she set everything up. She took two terrible blurry pictures as they drove down Main Street; she caught old man Keegan walking his ugly dog on the corner of Main and Broad. She looked real happy and Billy felt okay.

He felt slightly less okay when he'd parked in front of the Wheelers; they were nice and all but it had already been a long day. He wanted to see El and Steve and Max being a retard with her camera but he didn't feel like being around everyone's parents and probably no alcohol. “Okay, let's get this shit over with.” Five hours at the Wheelers; god help him. But he wanted to see Steve again. He wanted to see Steve real bad.

“Okay, wait!” said Max. “I got you something too.” She was digging around in the pockets of her puffy vest.

“Are you serious?” Maxine tossed a little lumpy present at him; it was wrapped in red reindeer paper and truly looked like a lump of dogshit. “Okay, is this Luke's or Leia's?”

Max cackled like a witch. “Open it and find out.”

Billy gave her a mistrustful glance of his own; he hated opening gifts. He peeled back the paper and found more paper; it was the same snowflake paper that Joyce had wrapped her camera with. “Look, if you're fucking with me we ain't got time – “

“Just open it!” Max yapped.

Billy sighed. He kept peeling the paper off. Finally he opened the snowflake wrapper up and didn't see anything; he couldn't believe she was fucking with him after he'd got her her stupid camera. Then he found it and pulled it out; it was some kinda jewelry or something, a long silver chain. He pulled it out and it was his mom's pendant on the end of it.

Max cackled like a witch again; Billy held the pendant and just stared at it. He turned it around in his hands a couple times. It was definitely his mother's St. Christopher medal; it had the little dent on the back of it from when he'd accidentally sent it through the dryer two years ago. “How'd you get this?”

“Do you like it?” Max demanded. “I spent all my money on the chain, it's way better than the one you got!”

“Yeah, I – “ Billy didn't know what to say. He thought he'd lost it; he was sure he'd lost it. “How'd you get this?”

“Are you mad I didn't give it to you before? I wanted to get you the necklace part, we thought we'd surprise you.”

“I'm not mad,” Billy told her. He was just looking at the pendant; he thought he'd lost it. “How'd you get it? Where'd you find it?”

“I didn't find it, Steve found it,” Max told him. Billy stared at her. “What? He loves you!” Max yapped her head off. “He went and found it the same night you lost it!” Billy didn't say anything so Max kept on going. “He gave it to me to give to you, I told him he should do it! I guess he didn't want to be super gay, he said you'd make fun of him. Do you like it, are you mad?”

“I'm not mad,” Billy said again. He didn't know what to say. He thought he'd lost it. His mind was exploding thinking about Steve looking for it in the snowstorm. “I – thanks, Max. I mean it.”

“The chain is really good, me and Mike pulled each other all over the parking lot checking to see if it'd break, you can totally keep beating people up for Will!”

“What were you gonna do if it broke?” Billy asked her.

Max made a face. “Well I – okay well it didn't break!” she yapped. “Are you happy?”

“Yeah, I'm happy.”

“Well, are you going to put it on? I want Steve to see it! You have to complete your douchebag outfit.” He was wearing his black shirt with the pop buttons again and a stupid red sweater Susan'd got him. Billy put it on. Max snapped a photo of him right away; Billy already regretted buying her the stupid camera.

“Do we have to hug again or some shit?” Billy asked her.

Max considered him and made a face. “No, I think I'm good.” Billy thanked God. “Come on, I want to eat stuff that's not burnt!” She dragged him out of the car; Billy barely had time to go to the trunk and grab his gifts for Byers and Eliane. He'd wrapped them himself and they looked like shit.

“I can't believe you got a present for Will, I didn't even get him anything,” Max said as she drug him up the walkway. “Did you seriously have a brain transplant? I like this brain way better.”

“I don't like to see kids get picked on.”

Max banged on the door like a gremlin. “You pick on like eighty people a day!”

“That's different,” Billy told her. On all his report cards it said he had aggression issues. “Byers is a harmless little fairy, he don't do shit to nobody.”

“Don't call him a fairy!” Max yapped her head off. God she was taking away all his fun language. “Should you be saying that when you're in love with the richest boy in town?”

Maxine was a terrible person; he regretted the whole night. “I ain't in love, you moron.”

“Okaaaaay,” Max said. They both put on their biggest smiles when Mrs. Wheeler opened the door; their argument was to-be-continued.

Mrs. Wheeler was wearing a green dress and she looked hot as shit as usual. Max grabbed Billy's arm and dragged him away before he could start hitting on her; she was such a mood-killer. They passed Mr. Wheeler getting drunk in the kitchen and Mrs. Byers wearing a sweater that actually fit her for once. The Creepy Kid Club and Steve and a bunch of other people were in the living room; Steve made room for Max and Billy on the couch by shoving Henderson the fuck off of it. “Hey, you guys look really nice!”

“Thanks, you look like Freddy Krueger,” Billy told him. Steve was wearing a red-and-green striped sweater.

“Oh my god,” Steve said. He looked down at himself. “Do I?” Max grabbed her camera and snapped a picture of him; the flash went off in his face. “Je-sus, thanks. You like your camera, huh?”

“Yup!” said Max. “Do you like my jacket?” She struck a pose.

“Sure, you look great.”

“Do you see Billy's new sweater? Does it look good?”

“Max, go find your fuckin' boyfriend,” Billy told her. Max snapped her camera in his face and wandered off.

Henderson was yapping over with his arm around Tracey-Rebecca; she looked real shy. “Billy, did you buy me a present?” Dustin asked.

Steve flicked his lighter in Dustin's face. “Go away, I just got rid of you!”

“Jesus Christ!” Henderson batted the lighter away. “Stop doing that, my mom says my hat is a fire hazard. Where'd you get that, did you finally buy one?”

Steve flicked his lighter again. “It was a birthday present, asshole.”

“Who got it for you?”

“The only person who got me a present, you stupid shithead!”

“Steve, I bought you cupcakes!” Dustin yapped his head off.

“You ate fuckin' nine of them!”

“Oh my god, it was like six, you're so dramatic.” Dustin was pulling away at the presents in Billy's hand; Billy could not believe the nerve of him. “Merry Christmas, who are the presents for?”

“Henderson, do you wanna get killed in front of your girlfriend?” Billy asked him. “Send El and Byers over to me, okay?”

“Jonathan?”

“No, you idiot!”

“Okay okay!” Dustin yapped on for about five minutes; Tracey-Rebecca said about two things. Finally they wandered away so that Dustin could find more food to shove in his piehole. Every now and then Billy could see a flash going off; Max was being a shithead and documenting everything at the party.

“Oh my god, he makes my head hurt,” Steve said. He dug around in his pockets. “Merry Christmas, here's your Percocets.” He gave Billy the bottle; maybe Billy was in love with him like Maxine said. It wasn't coke but it was something; Billy still had high hopes. Hahaha.

“You feel okay and all? Your parents come home?”

“Yeah, my mom made me cookies yesterday and I only cried a little when I ate them. That was a joke, by the way.”

“Don't lie to me, I'm real proud of you,” Billy said.

Steve poked the new chain on his neck. “Did Max give you your thing?”

“Yeah, she gave it to me,” Billy played with his necklace. “How come you ain't wanna tell me you found it?”

“Oh.” Steve stared at him with his big doe eyes; he bit his bottom lip. Across the room the flash went off again; Billy could sense Max being a huge shithead. “I ... she told you that, huh?”

“Yeah, she told me.”

“Are you mad? We were gonna give it to you right away.”

“I ain't mad.”

“I didn't want you to think I was obsessed with you or something.”

“Ain't you?”

Steve laughed at him. “Umm,” he said. He looked kinda embarrassed; it was truly, truly amazing. “I don't know. I guess I must be, I looked for it for like two hours.” It made Billy feel weird; he didn't have to do that. He definitely didn't have to do that. He was just looking at Steve and looking at him. “It totally wasn't on the steps either, it was like out in the parking lot. Did you know there's a night janitor at the school now? He hit me with a pipe.”

Billy laughed. “Shut the fuck up.”

“Okay, it was a rake. We had a real nice time together. Sorry I couldn't find your chain, I was like frozen solid.”

“This one's better.”

“Yeah … so … uh, Merry Christmas.” Steve was still chewing his lip. “I got your records in my car, you can come over tomorrow and listen to them. Or whenever I mean. Whenever you want.”

“Okay,” Billy said. He still felt really weird. Kinda like the floor was gonna swallow him up again but not in a bad way. “Thanks, man,” he said. Like with Max, he said, “I mean it.”

“Sure, it's not a big deal.” He didn't understand what Billy meant. Max came up like a gremlin and took another picture of them.

“Steve, can you take a picture of me and Billy?”

“Jesus Christ,” said Billy.

“It's Christmas!” Max yapped her head off. Steve got off the couch and Max sat down next to Billy so Steve could take their picture. “Wait, hold on!” Max adjusted her bra. “Okay, go.”

“Oh my fucking god,” said Billy; he was blind. Steve took the picture of Max laughing her head off.

After that it was a revolving door of people wanting to come and sit with him; he was real popular with the Creepy Kid Club tonight. He even talked to Lucas for two minutes. El came and sat by him for a long time and he gave her her book; she looked real happy looking at it. Byers #1 about exploded into glitter when Billy gave him his Misfits record. After that Byers kept bringing him food and sodas which was swell because it meant Billy didn't have to get up; Henderson kept trooping over and taking about half the shit though.

Billy talked to the Creepy Kid Club and a couple of girls from school; he guessed they were Nancy's girlfriends. Velma or Sandy from the Halloween party came up and talked to him for a while; he wouldn't have flirted with her if he'd known she was one of Nancy's girlfriends.

Mostly he was looking at Steve. His heart felt about three sizes too big and stuck in his throat. Steve talked to him a lot and to Max and Henderson; he was looking around for Nancy though. He finally caught her in the doorway to the kitchen; she wasn't really looking at him. Billy'd seen Steve act like a huge dumbass in front of Nancy twice this month when they'd been at the Byers' house. They'd went out for a year so he didn't know why Steve couldn't talk to her.

Steve looked so good even though he was dressed like Freddy Krueger; Jesus he even had brown dress pants on. Billy and Max were gonna have to tie him down and make him watch a lot of horror movies. Billy sat and watched Steve talk to Nancy, a horror movie in itself. She was smiling and glancing at him; she wasn't really looking at him. Billy thought Nancy was for shit but the way Steve was looking at her, Billy wished she'd look at him back. People'd kill to get looked at that way; Billy'd kill for it.

Nancy smiled and touched Steve's arm; she pushed past him into the kitchen. Steve watched her go. He wandered off into the den.

Maxine collapsed on the couch next to him. She had a weird look on her face. “Can you die from drinking too much vegetable oil?”

Billy stared at her. “Why?”

“No reason. Do we have to go soon?”

Billy looked around for a clock; it was almost midnight. “I guess so.”

“Okay! I have to go get my camera and say bye to the guys! Do you want to come say bye to El?”

Billy did; they trooped down to the basement. Elijane gave him a hug which was great (especially for Wheeler Jr's face) and Henderson gave him a hug which was disgusting (especially for Wheeler Jr's face). El hugged Max too which was nice or whatever Billy guessed.

They left the Wheeler's right at midnight; Max'd called her mom to say they were gonna be home late. Susan had told her just to be quiet when they came in. Max was yapping her head off and carrying eight plates of food from Mrs. Wheeler as they went outside; somehow she’d got a felt pair of reindeer antlers and had been wearing them all night. Once they got outside they found Steve smoking on the front steps and looking like a kicked puppy.

“You guys leaving?”

“Yeah, we have a stupid curfew,” Max told him.

You have a curfew,” Billy corrected her.

“Whatever!”

“Do you guys want to do something this weekend?” Steve asked them. He was still looking like a kicked puppy.

“Sure!” said Max.

“Is it safe to call your house or what?”

Max and Billy exchanged a look; Max said, “We better call you.” She brightened. “We should get walkie talkies like the guys!” Billy sighed internally for a million years. They said bye to Steve and got situated in Billy's car; Max stacked up all her food precariously in the little backseat and then shuffled through her photos as Billy started driving. She started putting her best ones on his leg.

“Here's Hopper touching Joyce's butt, I am gonna need that back for evidence. Here's you and me!”

“I don't need a picture of your ugly face.”

Max made a gremlin face at him. “Here's Dustin eating eighty cupcakes. Here's Dustin eating a piece of pie. Here's Dustin drinking vegetable oil.”

“Why the fuck's – “

“Oh, here's you and Steve!” Max waved the picture in his face; Billy almost drove off the road. “Steve is looking at you like you're a t-bone steak in this one. I took like three pictures of you guys.”

“Oh my god, please don't start your shit.” Max had eaten after midnight; she was definitely turning into a huge gremlin.

“Steve totally likes you!” Max yapped. “He looked at you all night!”

Billy was still not going to do this to himself. “No he wasn't.”

“Okay, I'm Steve.” Max leaned on the console and stared at him with her chin in her hand. With her stupid antlers on she looked like the biggest asshole Billy’d ever seen in his life. “Billy, do you want to go to the moooovies? Oh Billy, you look really cute, I looked for your necklace in the snow for five hours. Billy, why were you talking to Joooonathan? Do you like Joooonathan more than me?”

She was making him laugh. “Shut the fuck up.”

Max flopped back into her seat; her photos scattered everywhere. “ I think he likes you.” She got her biggest gremlin face on. “Do you want to make another bet?”

There was definitely never going to be anything between him and Harrington but Billy loved a bet, especially one he could win. “What bet?”

“Okay, I bet Steve likes you.”

“That's not even a bet, how you gonna bet on that?”

“I'm not finished!” Max yapped. “Okay, if you guys get together by like … the end of March, I win the bet. If you guys don't get together then I lose.”

She was making Billy tired. “Define get together, what bases are we talking about?”

“I HATE YOU,” Max reminded him.

“Fucking what? I'm not in a Disney movie. I need the Sixteen Candles shit. Do I have to suck his dick or what?”

“I HATE YOU, okay, I don't need to hear about it all! I mean like kissing and stuff! Holding hands!”

“Jesus Christ.”

“You already tucked him in and petted his hair, you totally want to hold his hand!”

Billy ignored her. “Okay, so what do I get when I win this stupid bet and Steve punches me in the fucking face?”

Max thought about it. “Hmm. Okay, if you win, I'll take you to the Metallica concert in June.” They were gonna play up in Indianapolis.

They were home already; Billy parked in the dark driveway. “You're full of shit, you don't have any Metallica money.”

“I'm going to get a JOB as soon as I turn FIFTEEN!” Her birthday was in April. “Joyce already said I can work at the general store with her!”

“Okay, okay, stop screaming at me.”

Fine. Okay, when I win the bet – “ Billy opened his mouth; Max yapped over him – “ WHEN I WIN THE BET, you have to take me to see … “ She thought about it. Billy sighed; he already knew what she was gonna say. “YOU HAVE TO TAKE ME TO SEE GEORGE MICHAEL! And I want to go to the country club. I want a new dress for the country club.”

“That is like, way more shit than I'm getting when I win,” Billy pointed out.

“You and Steve will be in love and he's rich,” Max told him. “Can't you get him to buy me a dress?”

Billy wondered if somehow she'd taken all his Percocets. He checked his pockets; they were still there. “Okay, fine. I'll take you to see George Michael and to the country club. When I win, you better fucking buy me Metallica tickets. You ain't coming either.”

Fine! ” Max looked like a demon. “Shake on it?”

Billy shook her hand. “You're totally fucked up,” he told her.

“I'm not fucked up, I'm a romantic.” Max got all her food and got out of the car.

They sneaked into their house; Max put her snacks in the fridge and Billy went around turning all the lights off. It was real quiet and Susan and Neil weren't screaming at each other for once; Max and Billy went out onto the roof anyway. Max laid her Care Bears blanket out for them to lay on on top of the snow.

Max tuned her Walkman for a bit; the classic rock station was all fuzzy so she put on 102.5. Throwing Muses was on playing 'Soul Soldier' again. Billy smoked a cigarette and looked up at the stars; he didn't even need a Percocet. He and Max stayed out there for a while.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

You can all just kiss off into the air
Behind my back, I can see them stare
They'll hurt me bad, but I don't mind
They'll hurt me bad, they do it all the time
Yeah, yeah, they do it all the time
Yeah, yeah, they do it all the time
Yeah, yeah, they do it all the time
They do it all the time

— 'Kiss Off,' The Violent Femmes

 

January 1987

New Year's Eve came and Billy took Max to a party at her girl Beverly's house. It was an actual fuckin’ party with actual other teenagers and alcohol and no parents; Billy ended up staying too. He drank a couple beers on the couch – not too many on account of Maxine popping up and yelling her head off that he still had to drive them home. Then she kept popping up some more and rolling her goddamn eyes out of her head at him; after ten o'clock Billy was surrounded by about three or four underclassmen girls on the couch.

HAHAHA, Billy said in his head at Max. He loved being surrounded by girls on a couch. He got up and wandered off at quarter to midnight anyway; he didn't want to have to kiss anyone he didn't care about. It didn't feel right. He was trying not to do that shit this year. Or next year. Starting in about fifteen minutes, whatever.

Billy went outside and smoked a cigarette before he could start up with his faggy shit. On his way through the kitchen he bumped into Henderson and Tracey-Rebecca; he felt surprised as shit to see them there and they both waved at him. Henderson was shoving a million pounds of food into his pie-hole like usual and talking up a storm to poor Rebecca. Billy wanted to tell him to lay off the snacks: he wouldn't be able to kiss his girl at midnight with a mouthful of brownie.

Then Billy shuddered internally at the thought of Henderson kissing anyone anyway. He rushed outside before he'd have to see it.

Max came and found him at about twelve-thirty still outside smoking. “You look like you're having so much fun,” she said sarcastically. “Are you ready to go? Or do you wanna sit out here and think about kissing Steve at midnight some more?” She pantomimed sticking her tongue in someone's mouth; she was the true worst.

Billy'd been sitting on the hood of his car; he slid forward until his feet touched the ground and then stood up. “Swear to god, Max, watch your fuckin' mouth,” he warned her. They weren't alone gabbing like girls in their little kitchen; she was gonna say the wrong shit in front of someone one day.

Max ignored him being threatening. She was good at that. “He was supposed to be here!”

“Just saw Steve for like four days straight.” They'd been continuing their tradition of eating Harrington out of house and home; Harrington was continuing his strange tradition of not minding.

“Yeah, but it's New Year's!” Max yapped. “Anyway, I bet he wasn’t coming here for me. ” Billy rolled his eyes and lit another cigarette. Max climbed into the passenger seat and started fucking with the radio right away. Madonna was playing on POWER 99; Max hesitated hopefully but then clicked past it at Billy's look.

The Replacements were on on the college station singing 'Can't Hardly Wait.' Max sang along fucking the words up like usual and Billy glanced over at her while he was driving. She'd been all jazzed up all week about the party at Bev's; Bev was a sophomore and Max's coolest friend apparently. She'd got her mom to do her hair up real nice and she was wearing some kinda fancy girl blouse under her bomber jacket. Her hair was in a ponytail spilling down over her skinny neck and she was even wearing fuckin' eyeshadow.

She looked like an actual pretty teenager again: Billy glared at her for growing the fuck up on him.

Max looked over at him glaring at her and then she made one of her familiar gremlin faces; she just looked like Max again. “ What? ” she said. “Oh my god, Billy, it was like half a beer!”

“Wait wait, you're drinkin' now?”

Max made another face. “Lucas had some too and it was gross anyway!” she said like that made it better. Goddamn he really was gonna have to kill Sinclair pretty soon.

“You are such a piece of shit, Max,” Billy told her.

They got home just before one; Susan was sitting and waiting for them on the couch. Billy's old man had gone out on the road two days after Christmas so they had permission to go out again without worrying.

Max hugged her mom and kissed her on the cheek; Billy wasn't looking at them. “Happy New Year, Mom!” she said.

Susan hugged her back. Then she narrowed her eyes. “Max, why do you smell like a whole pack of cigarettes?”

“What? That's from Billy smoking in the car!” Max lied her ass off and zoomed off to the bathroom.

Susan went off to bed with her chickadee safe at home and Billy lounged around on the couch waiting for Max to get the fuck out of the bathroom so's he could shower. After eighty years Max came out with her hair in a bunch of rollers; she was gonna look like a goddamn idiot in the morning.

“Night, Billy!” she said.

“You better not be fucking smoking,” Billy warned her. “Lemme borrow your Walkman, okay?”

Max went into her room and came back out to toss her tape player at him; Billy put it in his own room and went to shower. Once he was finished he laid around on his bed and plugged his headphones in.

Last night he'd been at Steve's til almost three AM. He'd slept in late and wasn't tired now even though he'd been at work all day fucking with the Civic. He felt pretty bored laying around in his bed; he wondered if he should whack off or something.

The reception was still for shit at the house; Billy managed to get 102.5 with just a bit of static. They played a big block of Talking Heads and then some Metallica. The Dead Milkmen played a new song and after that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds came on singing their crazy shit.

Nick Cave looked kinda all right. Weird and skinny with crazy hair but all right. Anyway that was Tracey's band so Billy wasn't gonna spend any time thinking about how good or not good Nick Cave looked.

Billy laid on his bed and thought about Tracey for a couple minutes; it was two thirty-four in the morning so it was a good time to think about her. Usually he tried not to think about Tracey too much but it was a new year and all. He wondered if she was out somewhere and if she was having a good time. She still had Jack, he hoped, and she didn't need Billy; she and Jack had been friends for years too but Billy'd been the one she wanted to go with. Maybe Jack'd take her out now.

He was so busy thinking about Tracey and listening to his headset that it took him about five minutes to notice his window was rattling away. Finally he looked up and almost had a goddamn coronary. Steve was standing there and looking in his window; apparently this was a thing Steve did now. Billy’s and Max's bedrooms were on the first floor on account of it being the only floor.

“JESUS FUCK,” Billy said. He sat up and pulled the headphones off; he thanked god he hadn't actually been whacking off or some shit. Then he got up and opened the window. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Steve leaned in the window and looked up at him. Like usual he didn’t seem bothered by Billy’s tone. “I didn't want to knock out front in case your dad was here,” he said; it didn’t really answer Billy’s question.

“He still ain't back yet.”

“Oh, okay.” Steve was staring at him in a weird way; Billy was so glad he was ringing in the new year by giving Harrington a show of himself in his underwear and Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Steve started laughing at him. “Oh my god, Bills, do you always wear socks to bed?” he asked; he sounded truly delighted.

Billy lamented his life. “Fuck off.” Steve laughed some more at him and started climbing through the window; apparently that was a thing he did now too. “Harrington. We gotta stop meeting like this.”

Steve fell into the room. He was wearing his green jacket like usual and some kinda preppy polo shirt. Just jeans tonight and no dress pants; apparently New Year's wasn't as special an occasion as Christmas. “Ow. I can go if you want.”

“It don't matter.” Billy said again, “What are you doin' here?”

“Funny story, I was supposed to be at the party you were at.” So Maxine'd said. “Dustin told me to meet him at Mike's, apparently he meant the pizza place. I showed up at the Wheelers' and Mrs. Wheeler basically kidnapped me for the last four hours, it was a really great time.”

Billy tried not to laugh his ass off. “Good going, man.” He was trying, too, not not feel weird as fuck with Steve here in his empty little room. He didn't mind him being here or anything. Just felt strange after being in Steve's fancy house all the time. “So I guess you missed me too much.”

Steve looked around the room slowly; Billy noticed for the first time that Steve was drunk off his ass. “I did, actually, I guess,” he said. He was frowning; man he really knew how to flatter a guy.

“Did you fuckin’ drive here?”

Steve looked at him like he was dumb. “No, I walked, don't worry Mom.”

Billy felt eternally offended; Steve was such a piece of shit. “You walked from the Wheeler’s?” They were all the way on the other side of town.

“It’s not that far.” It was pretty far. “I, uh, had a real fun talk with Nancy and all.”

“Uh-huh,” Billy said. Okay. Suddenly Steve showing up here at close to three AM made a lot more sense. “You start drinking before or after this talk?”

“Oh, before. Nancy's dad kept giving me whiskey, I think he forgets that I'm only a year older than her.”

“Uh-huh,” Billy said again. “Okay, so you wanna talk about it?”

“What? Not really,” Steve said unconvincingly; he looked like he wanted to talk about it.

Billy sighed internally for a million years. Jesus Harrington was such a goddamn girl about certain things, Nancy Wheeler being one of them. “Lemme take some drugs and put some pants on.”

“Okay.”

Billy took two Percocets and put his jeans from earlier on. Steve stood staring at him with his big eyes the whole time like a drunken Froot Loop; Billy didn't know why he was lookin' and he was trying not to feel weird still. He'd never really had a guy friend that he'd hung out with a lot before. He never knew if he was feeling weird about shit because of how he felt about Steve, or if it was because shit actually was weird with them. Probably it was wishful thinking. He knew it was.

Steve stopped looking at him finally and he picked up Max's little radio that was on the bed. He just stood there looking at it like a drunk little kid; the headphones were still in. “What were you listening to?”

“College radio.” Billy pulled the headphones out and the music started playing tinnily through the little speakers. It was some REM song now. If your world is a monster bad to swallow you whole.

They decided to go out on the roof; moreso Billy decided since really there was no safe space in his room for him and a drunk Steve. Max's awful Care Bears blanket was still on his floor from when they'd been out at Christmastime and he handed it over to Steve after he'd climbed back out the window. Steve stared at it for a while and apparently decided not to make a comment. They laid out on the roof (Billy had to give Steve a hand up like he was a clumsy little kid), not really talking and listening to the static-y radio for a couple minutes.

“Jesus. It's really cold.” Steve was so observant and succinct tonight.

“No shit,” Billy said. He'd never be happy here in Hawkins but he was used to it. “This is, like, me 'n Max's spot right out here.”

“Really?” Steve smiled over at him. Billy guessed that Steve thought it was real cute that he and Maxine usually had fuck-all to do at night aside from lay out together on their roof and freeze to death.

It was pretty cold out but at least there was no snow anymore. Billy had his leather jacket on; he put his hands in his pockets. “That's her fuckin' blanket, by the way,” he told Steve.

“Yeah, I figured.”

“You wanna go back in?”

“No, I'm okay.” Steve draped the Care Bears blanket over himself. He looked really drunk and really amused. “Let me tell you, I feel really honored out here with this blanket and all, Max's blanket. Do you want a corner?”

Mind you Billy's feelings had been getting way worse since Christmastime – it couldn't be helped – but he wondered if he'd ever be queer enough to get under a Care Bears blanket with Steve Harrington. Jesus he was so cute though; Billy felt like launching himself off the roof. It was only about fifteen feet high so it wouldn't do shit anyway. “I'm good, man.” After another couple minutes the Percs kicked in and then Billy actually was good. He wrapped his necklace around his fingers. “Okay, go off.”

“Huh?” Steve turned his head and looked at him; the moon was bright like usual out here and his eyes were so big. He looked good like usual too. Billy looked away.

“Thought you came over here to cry about Nancy. Tell me the shit if you want.”

“Oh,” said Steve. Billy could hear him shifting around in the blanket like a kid. “Okay, uh, I just … I don't know. It doesn't matter. I'm so – I'm, I don’t know, I'm a fucking dumbass.”

“I ain't arguing.”

Steve made his just-ate-dogshit face at him; it made Billy smile without meaning to. “Whatever. Okay, so Nancy and Jonathan've been – like, having this big fight since Christmas apparently,” Steve told him. “Something about college I guess, Nance doesn't want him to stay in state for her. Since he is so. So, so, so. So smart and all, he can do anything, you know. He can go anywhere. He's Mr. NYU.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So Nance is like storming around all night, she's got her drink in her hand. She's going off, you know, as you do when your boyfriend, you know Mr. NYU, wants to stay in state for ya – “

He was making Billy smile again; he probably shouldn't be smiling. Steve had a way of saying stuff that amused the shit out of him. “Uh-huh.”

“Okay, so Jonathan's there for like ten minutes which is a great time before he fucks off. I am sitting on the couch listening to Mike talkin' to El on his stupid radio, somehow he keeps telling me to shut up even though I only say two things.”

“Happy New Year,” Billy said which wasn't even funny; Steve laughed anyway.

“Nancy's still storming around. I've had like five drinks so, okay, here I come, King Dumbass – “

“That your official title or just what the little people call ya?”

“Fuck off,” Steve told him; he was smiling. “Lemme tell my story.”

“Okay, all right.”

“So I do my usual shit, I go over and I'm comforting her, I'm like – “ Steve made his voice go up two octaves like a fuckin' pussy – “I'm like, oh Nancy, don't worry, everything'll work out like you wanted , bullshit bullshit.”

“Dunno why you always follow her around doing that shit.”

Steve was staring up at the sky. “Yeah, I don't know either. I barely do it now. What?!” he said when Billy looked at him. “Anyway, that – that doesn't matter. None of it matters actually. So I calm her down, we start talking, she's, like, apologizing to me and shit. I'm like, oh Nancy, no hard feelings – “ he laughed for some reason. “And she's like – well, we never really talked about stuff I guess.”

He didn't say anything for a while. Billy waited. Then he waited some more. Finally Steve started talking again. “So she was like. Apologizing for last year. And I said you don't need to apologize.” Billy sighed; Steve ignored him. “And she said, you know. She said she didn't mean to sleep with Jonathan back last November, it just happened so fast.”

Billy tried hard not to make a pun, really he tried so hard. He managed not to; in his head he congratulated himself. “Okay,” he said so Steve’d go on.

Steve was still staring straight up at the sky and he had the big wrinkle-frown between his eyebrows again; it was a pretty big one. “The thing is I – didn't really know they'd did that,” he said. “You know. So that was really fun, it was a really fun conversation. And I'm just holding her drink like an asshole as she's telling me how she cheated on me.”

Billy rolled his head to the side and stared at him. “Man. You didn't know that shit?”

Everybody knew that shit; everyone at school had been talking about it last year. Everyone knew Nancy'd slept with Byers before she'd dumped Steve. Everyone knew and talked about it. Even the Creepy Kid Club talked about it; Mike and Lucas and even Will talked about it when Steve wasn't around. They had thought Steve was a real sad sack all last year, Max'd told Billy. Henderson was always yapping and defending him.

Steve was making a face. “I don't know, ” he said. “I mean – okay. Okay I guess I fuckin' knew. I knew. I knew they hooked up. I just didn’t think – we never talk about it. There was other stuff going on. I mean, you know. Fuckin' monsters and shit. And apparently Will was possessed, like okay, that was a thing. And that – that whole mess with Barb came out.”

“Who the fuck's Barb?”

Steve was looking at him like he was an asshole. “Uh, are you ser — Nancy, Nancy's friend that died?!” he said all loud. “I told you about her. You know, that girl I got killed?”

“Oh right.” There was too much crazy shit to remember when you were in the Creepy Kid Club, even if you were just a junior member. Billy still didn’t know all the shit, he was pretty sure. “Right, sorry.” Steve looked all crazy again and it was makin' Billy feel like he was supposed to say something. “I don't really think you guys got her killed, man. It was just a party.” He was pretty sure they hadn't known there were fucking aliens in the backyard; he wondered how Luke and Leia'd stayed safe.

“According to Nancy we got her killed,” Steve told him. “She said that to me before, you know. I guess that's why she – I dunno. I guess if you and your shitty boyfriend get your best friend killed and shit, you gotta stay with him for a whole year after. Otherwise it kinda makes the whole thing pretty damn pointless, right?”

Now, Billy was pretty well-versed in being a shitty boyfriend – mind you he and Tracey'd never fought no monsters or aliens or any shit like that. Honestly he wasn't even sure still that that shit'd really happened; he felt like he'd probably have to see it to believe it. Hopefully he'd never see it. “I don't think chicks really think that way,” is all he said.

“I don't know.” Steve wasn't looking at him anymore; he looked real sad and shit. Billy wished again that he was a normal person and that he knew what to say. Not that there was anything normal about what they were talkin' about, monsters and Barbara Holland dying in your backyard, someone being stupid enough to cheat on Steve. “I don't know. When I think about it, it just feels like. Maybe she wanted him the whole time. Jonathan I mean.”

Probably she had; Nancy Wheeler was a goddamn idiot. “Man, it's been a year. You gotta get over her.”

“I am over her!” Steve snapped. “I'm just not over her – her screwing with me.” He said, “And I guess I fucked up too. I never – wanted to talk about that shit. I should have. I just wanted to pretend everything's normal, I still do. You know you're like the only fuckin' person I ever talk to about normal shit?”

“Yeah, you never shut the fuck up.”

Steve ignored him being an asshole; he pulled the Care Bears blanket up to his chin. For some reason he looked like he was about to go off again. It was the Harrington brand of womanly hysteria; Billy’d seen it a couple times before. Probably Steve'd got it from his mom or some shit. “Not that you're fucking normal either. Every time I come over here I gotta worry what Max's gonna be screaming about this time or if your fuckin' father's beat you half to death – “

“Okay, we don't gotta talk about that,” Billy interrupted him. “Look, my dad ain't here half the time anyway. You're real sweet, Stella, you don't gotta worry about us.”

“Uh, someone has to,” Steve huffed like a forty-year-old mom. Even Billy's mom wouldn't be forty if she'd lived; she'd had him real young.

Anyway Billy didn't know what to say. “Was worse before. When I was a kid.”

Steve stared at him. “Yeah? How bad?”

Billy didn't answer him; he didn't need Steve feeling sorry for him. Apparently he already did which was so great. Anyway they were supposed to be talkin’ about Nancy.

Steve stared at him for a while. Eventually Billy took his hands out of his jacket pockets and turned Maxine's Walkman up so he didn't have to speak. It was the Violent Femmes playing their new song 'Never Tell' and Steve laughed; they'd listened to the first record together practically all yesterday. Steve really liked the songs 'Prove My Love' and 'Promise' because he was a fuckin' bleeding heart like Tracey and Maxine and everybody else Billy goddamn knew.

Those songs were okay anyway; that whole record was okay. He and Steve stayed out on the roof for a real long time. They stayed out there until the sun came up. Billy felt like Steve must be tired but Steve said he didn't really sleep much anymore. “You'd make fun of me if I told you.”

“Why, you dream about the monsters or some shit?”

Steve stared at him for a long moment; he looked weird again. “I guess so,” he said finally. “I don't know. It's pretty bad sometimes.”

Billy'd figured. He'd been figuring for a while. “What, you think that gate’s open again or something? You scared they’re gonna come after you?”

“I’m not scared, ” Steve told him real annoyed; Billy tried not to grin. He didn't want Harrington to think he wasn't serious.

“El-or-Jane'd take care of 'em for you.”

“Maybe.”

“Got your monster weapon too.”

“You mean Jonathan’s?”

Billy rolled his eyes. “Man, whatever.”

Steve squinted at him in the pale light of the sun coming up; he was still drunk. He was probably the saddest most pathetic drunk Billy'd ever met – he just cried about a girl he hadn't dated in a year. Billy thought about Tracey again for a second; there was no use crying. Steve squinted at him for a couple minutes. “I can never tell if your hair's fucking blonde or brown or red,” he said out of nowhere.

Billy was still a little high; he was going to have to make sure not to be high around Steve anymore. It made him feel all romantic and shit even though Steve was the most boring drunk and wanted the worst girl. “What color do you want it to be?” he asked.

Steve stared at him for a moment and then kind of laughed; Billy guessed he was making him feel like Mrs. Wheeler again. “Man, don't – do that.”

“Sorry. It's fucking brown.”

“I don't know,” Steve said. He was still looking at Billy and it made him feel uncomfortable now that the sun was coming out, too open or something.

He sat up; it was almost seven. He was tired as fuck even if Steve never slept. “Bet we can get Maxine to make us food.”

“Okay.” Steve sat up too.

 

Maxine did make them food, after she'd yelled her head off for about five minutes calling them perverts for peeping in her room at seven-thirty in the morning. Then she screamed some more about Steve seeing her with her hair in rollers. Steve and Billy sat in the kitchen like kids laughing at her; Maxine finally stormed into the kitchen sans rollers. Her hair was still straight as a board.

“You look like crap,” she told Steve after about a full minute of glaring at him. Billy thought he looked all right.

“Thanks, Max.”

“Seriously? Those things didn't do shit to your clown hair?” Billy asked her.

Max slammed a frying pan on the stove in womanly hysteria. She was about at level five. “SHUT UP , BILLY!” she yelled with amazing volume; Steve and Billy leaned back in slight actual terror. Harrington always thought Billy was exaggerating when he said Maxine was fucking terrifying before 8am. Max looked thoughtfully down at the frying pan, probably envisioning bludgeoning them to death with it. “I think I'm going to get a perm,” she announced.

“The fuck you are,” Billy said.

Maxine slammed another frying pan for no reason; she was just making eggs. “NEWS FLASH, YOU'RE NOT MY DAD!”

“Still ain't getting no perm, your mom'd kill you and me.”

“She already said I can when I'm fifteen!”

“Are you fifteen?”

Max made a face at him; Steve was smiling at them arguing like usual. Somehow Max bitched her head off until Billy got up and ended up making the eggs which destroyed the fuckin' point of getting her up. She burned his toast too; truly women were useless.

“Should I help with something?” Steve asked.

“No, I've had your gross spaghetti,” Max said; even at 8:15 she was a true joy. “Just sit there and look pretty.”

“Oh, huh, thought I looked like crap.”

“I'm sure someone here thinks you look pretty,” Max said; Billy made a face at her.

Susan came in clutching her robe; she looked surprised as hell to see Steve Harrington in their little kitchen at eight in the morning on New Year's Day. “Oh, hi Steve. Happy New Year!” Billy had to give her points; for all he and Max'd been hanging out with Steve lately, it'd nearly always been at his place.

“Hi Mrs. Hargrove,” Steve said like a gentleman; Billy and Max rolled their eyes at each other. She was still just Mayfield like Max. “Uh, Happy New Year. Sorry for – ah, being here so early and all.”

“Oh, that's okay, we're all dressed.” Billy and Max rolled their eyes at each other again.

Max collapsed at the table. “Billy made breakfast so it's actually edible for once.”

Susan just looked at her like she was being funny; Billy slammed Max's plate of eggs down in front of her. “ So fucking rude to your mother,” he told her.

Billy!” Susan said at him swearing; Steve grinned at him. Max ignored him like usual.

“Mom, I can still get a perm when I'm fifteen, right?”

Susan looked surprised. “Excuse me? I never said that.”

“WHAT? YES YOU DID, RIGHT AT THIS TABLE.” Max started going off in her womanly hysteria: it kicked up to a level seven right away. Susan was ignoring her and making coffee; Steve leaned back in his chair in slight actual terror again. Billy gave him a plate too. After a moment Steve said over Max's yelling, “Well, happy 1987.”

“Yeah, happy 1987.” Billy ate his eggs.


 

The week went on. School started back up on Monday; Max and Billy managed to drag themselves into the high school only two periods late. Billy looked at his detention slip and put it in his backpack. He had basketball tryouts at five on Thursday anyway.

At work he and Hank hammered out his new schedule for when the season started and Hank gave him his own actual set of keys to the shop. He said Billy could come in and work on stuff whenever he wanted; Billy guessed Hank actually really trusted him and shit now. His own keys. He'd have to try not to fuck it up.

That same night Harrington came around and stuck his head through Billy's bedroom window again; Billy yelled his head off once again even though luckily he wasn't in his underwear this time. It was just on principle because Steve was fucking weird.

Steve ignored him yelling. “Oh my god, you look so cute reading your little book for school,” he said. He was grinning like a piece of shit and as usual Billy lamented his life. He managed not to yell his head off some more; he was going to wake up Max and Susan. “Look, I got Dustin and Rebecca in my car, I'm taking them to a movie out in Eastgate. Do you wanna come with us?”

It was after ten o'clock. “Think Max's asleep already.”

Steve stared at him. “I'm not asking Max, I'm asking you, ” he said all patient and shit like Billy was dumb.

“Oh. Yeah, I'll see a movie.” Billy closed The Awakening and got up off his bed.

They went out to Eastgate and ended up seeing a horror movie called The Hitcher; it had some guy in it who Susan always squawked that Billy looked so much like to Maxine's disgust and amusement. Susan was always saying he and Max looked like some kids on the TV. She was real cute like that. She was nice enough even if she was still a dumb bitch who'd married Billy's dad.

It was mostly couples there at the movies and Billy was certainly not feeling weird about that; the only couple he and Harrington were ever going to be was a couple of assholes. Anyway Steve and Billy got a kick out of Henderson trying to stretch and put his arm around Rebecca; he kept spilling his popcorn everywhere and he did it three times. She kept laughing at him. She seemed like a pretty okay girl honestly; really she didn't talk too much but she knew what to say in two seconds to get Henderson to shut the fuck up. Basically no one ever could get Henderson to shut the fuck up; it was amazing, truly and deeply.

After the movie Steve parked out in front of Tracey-Rebecca's house to drop her off first – Billy was gonna have to stop calling her that in his head if she was really gonna be hanging around Henderson all the time. She only lived about two blocks away from Billy, maybe why Steve'd decided to come and get him. Either way it meant she was poor as shit too like he and Max were. Billy guessed Dustin didn't care about that. That was nice because some people cared about that shit.

Henderson got out to walk his girl up to the door. He held his hand out and helped her out of Steve's car like a fuckin' gentleman too; Billy actually felt proud for a split second. He and Steve leaned over against the window like a cartoon to watch and see if they'd finally fucking kiss; unfortunately Henderson and his girl went around to the side-door of the house so they couldn't see shit anyways. Billy realized he was leaning way too close to Steve and sat back in his seat.

The seconds ticked by. “Ho-ly shit, okay, they're definitely mackin',” Billy said.

“He's gonna be so fucking annoying now.”

Now? ” Billy said incredulously; Steve laughed. He was still in his white shirt and tie from work with his hair kinda slicked back and he truly looked like he'd been chaperoning them all.

After a couple minutes Henderson came floating back around from the side of the house like he was on cloud nine. He floated on cloud nine all the way back to Steve's BMW. He opened up the rear door and laid down in the backseat; once again he looked like a Wookie in love. Then he grinned and put his baseball cap over his face.

Steve put the car in gear and started driving and no one said anything for a couple minutes. Steve was biting his lip; he looked like he was about to lose his shit laughing.

Finally Billy couldn't take it anymore. “Kid!” he said. “The fuck! Did you get it or not?”

Dustin pulled his baseball cap off his face. “I KISSED HER AND SHE PUT HER TONGUE IN MY MOUTH AND THEN I PUT MY TONGUE IN HER MOUTH AND WE TOTALLY KISSED,” he yelled.

“Oh, my god, man,” Steve said in what Billy felt was a combination of pride and disgust. Billy started laughing.

“IT WAS SO AWESOME!” Dustin shrieked his head off.

“Okay, okay, be cool,” Steve was telling him.

“I AM COOL, STEVE!” Dustin screamed like an insane person. “STEVE! I FELT THE ELECTRICITY!”

“Oh, my god, okay — “

“Took you long enough,” Billy told him.

Henderson was clutching his baseball cap up against his chest like a girl and laying in the backseat with his sneakers up against the window. He still had that dopey smile on his face; he looked about ready to pass out. Billy looked back at him and couldn't fucking stop laughing. “True love takes time, my mom says it grows like a rose vine,” Henderson said.

“Jesus, kid, that is actually really beautiful,” Billy told him; Henderson had him feeling those real emotions. Henderson grinned at him. “You gotta use that line on the girl, what else you got?”

“Oh, my god,” Steve said again. He turned POWER 99 up on them.

 

Tuesday Billy worked at the shop til past ten; Wednesday Max came boarding into the garage at around six like a shithead and Hank told Billy he could go early. “Good luck tomorrow, kid,” he said; Billy felt surprised he remembered about the basketball tryouts.

He and Max headed on down to the diner to meet Steve and the rest of the creepy kids. It was just Steve and Sinclair there so far and Max gave Sinclair a kiss on the cheek (Billy heaved his guts up internally, very nearly externally too). Steve did not give Billy a kiss on the cheek; he gave Billy a major den dad look as they sat down.

“Man, can you fucking stop putting Tommy Hall's brother in a trash can?” Steve asked him. “I freaking know him and he is gonna get his whole family to kick your ass, they've got about eighty cousins out in South Bend.”

“Why'd you know about that already?” Billy asked suspiciously. Harrington'd probably came here right from work and Henderson and Byers weren't around yet; they'd been the only ones at the lockers today. Sometimes it really did feel like Harrington was his actual guardian angel or some shit, but he couldn't actually be following Billy around all the time.

“I have my sources,” Harrington said mysteriously; Billy and Max and Sinclair stared at him. “Oh, my god. Dustin has double Bio with the sophomores on Monday and Wednesday, he always calls me on my lunch hour in case he gets nervous.”

“Oh, my god,” said Maxine too in a great joy. Billy was pretty sure he was making a face.

“What?” Steve glared at Billy some more. “Uh, Dustin said the guys didn't even do anything to Will today.”

Billy felt grumpy; he didn't know why Harrington wanted to spoil all his fun at school. He could put whoever he wanted into a trashcan for Byers #1, whenever he wanted! “Uh,” he said, imitating Steve, “they looked like they was going to.

“Jesus.” Steve was rolling his eyes.

The diner door opened and Henderson and Byers and Wheeler Jr finally came in; Byers looked shy and queer like always and Henderson had that dopey grin on his face again. He'd probably been at the library feeling Tracey-Rebecca up against the comic book racks. Wheeler Jr in comparison looked like a huge douchebag such as usual. Billy felt surprised to see him; he guessed usually Mike was with Elijane after school.

The creepy kids started chattering on like usual; they really overwhelmed their waitress today. Steve asked him over the din of kids squabbling, “You doing anything tomorrow?”

“Got basketball tryouts.”

“Oh, right,” Steve said. “Don't worry, you'll make the team.”

Billy rolled his eyes. “Yeah I know that already.”

“Hey, do you want me to come and watch you?” Steve asked him like a den dad; next to him Billy could sense Maxine making a face.

“It don't matter.”

Henderson stopped yelling at Byers about their English class. “Steve, you already graduated! Why would you come back, that's creepy,” he said. Steve made a face too. “Don't worry Billy, I'm going to be there for you!”

“No no no, I don't need ya there for me Henderson,” Billy told him quickly.

“Me and Will made a sign for you, do you want us to bring it?”

Jesus Christ they were both queers; it didn't matter that Henderson had a girl. They'd probably made it with fuckin' crayons. “No I don't want you to bring a fuckin' sign – “

Max laughed her ass off. “I think you should save that for his first game,” she told Henderson all sarcastic-like. Henderson gave her a thumbs-up.

“Henderson, I swear to god, you ruin my season with your bullshit I will kick your ass and put you in like twenty trash cans – “

“Yeah, like he'd fit, you'd need twenty,” Sinclair said; he and Wheeler Jr and Byers laughed their asses off.

“Hey! Guys!” Steve said sharply.

“YOU GUYS ARE SUCH ASSHOLES, ” Dustin yelled. “I'VE BEEN SLIMMING! I HAVE A GIRLFRIEND NOW!”

“Oh my god, we all have girlfriends,” Wheeler Jr said. He was making one of his douchebag faces.

“NOT WILL! YOU GUYS DON'T EVEN DO ANYTHING!”

Max made an interesting sound into her soda; Billy went deaf dumb and blind at her horrible implication of even doing anything.

“Shut up!” Wheeler Jr got all defensive in two seconds. “You don't even do anything!”

“I HAD MY TONGUE IN HER MOUTH!”

“Uhh! I had my tongue in her mouth!” Sinclair imitated him; Wheeler Jr laughed.

“Guys!” said Steve again.

Henderson was yapping away. Billy was still deaf and dumb and blind; it took him a couple minutes to realize that Dustin was talking to him. “What?”

“I said, you're probably had the most girlfriends, right?”

“Jesus,” Billy said. Slowly his sight was coming back to him. “Out of you little faggots? I'm sure.”

Sinclair and Wheeler Jr made a face at him; Byers and Henderson didn't look too bothered. “So, but why don't you have a girlfriend now?” Henderson asked him all curious; Billy lamented his life. “You could probably date any senior you wanted.”

“Uh, highly debatable,” said Wheeler Jr like a shitbag. “Nancy says – “

Henderson ignored him. “Who cares about Nancy? Definitely any junior! Billy! Did you really sleep with Janice Thompson?”

Billy stared. “Who's the fuck's Janice Thompson?”

“I told you he didn't!” Max yapped at Dustin.

“Who the fuck's Janice Thompson?”

“She is this junior who is telling everyone that she slept with you,” Henderson informed him. “Apparently you are very mysterious this year, it drives the girls wild. They have all these theories about you.”

“Oh, my god,” Billy said; Max and Harrington started laughing at him. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means you don't talk to anyone except me and Will, you are like our protector this year,” Henderson informed him some more. Truly Billy felt assaulted; he twirled his necklace around his fingers. Protector!

“I fucking talk to people.” It wasn't his fault that everyone in Hawkins was boring as shit.

“No, apparently you just sleep with them,” Maxine said; she was cracking her shit up.

“So did you not sleep with Janice?” Henderson asked him. He sounded disappointed. “Okay, what about, what about Kimberly Harris? I know you didn't sleep with Nicole Bradford because she said you took her out on Monday night, I told her you were at the movies with me and Steve and Rebecca!”

Billy was pretty sure his mind was exploding. “Henderson, you goddamn Wookie, how the fuck do you talk to all these girls?”

“They're in our study hall!” Henderson yapped like Billy was dumb.

What? ” Billy said.

“How do you not notice all the hot girls in our study hall?” Henderson was smiling at him like he was real amusing.

Steve was still laughing at him; Billy was pretty sure Steve'd been the only person at school he'd ever noticed. “This is such a good night,” Steve said.

“Oh my god, this is so fucked up.”

“Billy!” Henderson yapped. “Did you do it or not!”

“No, I didn't fucking sleep with anyone!”

Henderson looked disappointed because he was a creepy kid; Billy scowled at him. Usually he didn't care about rumors but he felt kind of creeped out. Definitely back in California no one'd ever cared enough to make up some lie about him fucking them. Jesus all the girls here in Hawkins really were a bunch of dumb cows.

“Also some guy from Eastgate wants to beat you up I heard yesterday, he used to go out with Rachel Evangelista,” Henderson went on.

“Oh shit.” Billy sat forward in the booth. “Okay, I actually did sleep with her.”

“WHAT?” Max yelled her head off as Henderson gasped and said, “How did her tits look?”

“DUSTIN!” said four out of four other creepy kids and also Steve.

“What? What?”

“Dude, you just yelled all about your stupid girlfriend – “

“Oh my god, my devotion to Rebecca is unalterable, please don't tell her, it is just a question! It's a point of reference! It's for science!”

Maxine made a horrible face. “What branch of science is that?” she asked. “Oh, science of your prick, you mongoloid!”

Max! ” Steve gasped like Mr. Mom; he was fucking adorable.

“Ain't she got a mouth on her?”

Max ignored them and slugged Billy on the shoulder; she almost knocked over his soda that the waitress had just brought over. Billy was sure their poor waitress loved hearing about his fake sex life. Max was glaring up a storm. “WHY DID YOU SLEEP WITH RACHEL, YOU DOUCHEBAG? I THOUGHT YOU LIKED SOMEONE!” She slugged him again, two times.

“Oh my fucking god, don't assault me!”

Max glared up an even bigger storm. Henderson was still going about boobs; Steve leaned with his elbows on the table and looked at Billy. He looked real interested. “What? I didn't know you liked someone.”

“Chill your roll, it was like back in September,” Billy told Max. Just what he'd always wanted, to talk to his kid sister about his sex life, lack of sex life really.

“BILLY! Do you really think you should be doing that?” Maxine asked like she was his goddamn mom. She even scowled and crossed her arms all imperious-like.

“Oh my god, it was one fucking time, lasted about four minutes.”

Max made a face like he was killing her. “GOD! PLEASE DON'T TELL ME ABOUT IT.”

“No, tell us about it!” said Sinclair and Henderson.

“YOU CAVEMEN!” Max gave Sinclair a real hard kick under the table.

“Hahahaha!” said Billy; he got such a kick out of her being disgusted by him. “Okay, first off, she was so – “

“SHUT UP, BILLY!”

Steve was still leaning on the table like a kid. “Bills, who do you like?”

“What? Don't like anyone,” Billy lied.

“Come on, I won't tell anyone.”

“MIND YOUR BUSINESS, STEVE!” Max was yelling her head off. “SHE DOESN'T LIVE AROUND HERE!”

“Je-sus, don't scream at me.”

“Her tits were all right,” Billy told Henderson; he looked heartened. He let Billy have most of his fries.


 

After detention the next day Billy had his basketball tryouts. Down by the gym he found Maxine skulking around with her ratty skateboard. Jesus she really needed a new board; probably he should have gotten her that instead of her stupid camera. Then again in about another year she'd be driving anyway.

“I'm keeping watch so Dustin doesn't burst in and embarrass you,” Max told him. Billy felt touched, even though she'd screamed at him for two hours last night about how he was a giant slut while they'd been watching Theater of Blood together.

“Thanks, I mean it,” he said. Max grabbed her camera from around her neck and snapped a picture of him; Billy flipped her off and went into the gym.

In the gym there was a gaggle of girls giggling and talking to him and Billy kind of felt like a piece of meat; he didn't know if this was the bunch that apparently wanted to sleep with him or not. Normally he didn't mind feeling like a piece of meat but it was a bit much. Anyway he did the drills and the tryouts and made the team like he knew he would; it really wasn't much of a competition. He was good at basketball and football but he'd never be caught dead on the football team, especially here. Anyway basketball was only half as fun without Steve to knock around.

Max was still waiting for him at seven once all the guys trickled out of the gym. Billy'd taken a shower and his t-shirt was clinging to his back; they stopped at his locker so he could get his jacket out. “You coulda came in.”

“I didn't want to embarrass you, ” Max said like she didn't fucking embarrass him Monday through Friday at his locker squawking about her lunch money. “You were pretty good, you only knocked four people over!” Max told him, his little cheerleader.

“Thanks, I was tryin' to be nice.” He didn't feel the need to tell her that the only guy he really wanted to knock around was Harrington, who'd gone off and graduated on him.

Max bounced alongside him as they went down the hallway. “You don't have work, right? Did you know Hank is Jewish and didn't even celebrate Christmas?! We should get him something for Hanukkah next year. Are we going to the diner? I want to meet Lucas there. I'm sure Steve will be there too waiting to hear about all your free-throws.”

Jesus she was talkin' a lot. “Yeah we can go to the diner,” Billy said. “You fuckin' kids are gonna make me fat eating out all the time.”

“Uh, no one forces you to get double fries!” Billy ignored her; he needed double fries and then some of Henderson's too to put up with the pain of them all gabbing away.

Billy drove them down to the diner; Max gave him a whole dollar for gas money and Billy tried not to be emotional over it. Max ignored him being a shitbag. She leaned out the window and took a picture of Joyce Byers closing up the general store. Joyce waved at them so Max leaned over and honked the horn.

“Outta my space!” Billy told her. When they got to the diner and walked in Steve was at their usual table talking to Nancy Wheeler; Max instantly started scowling up a storm. Billy felt like scowling too but unlike Maxine he had some goddamn decorum. Not a lot but a little at times; he thought he was getting better.

Jesus. Christ,” Maxine huffed like Henderson. “Why is she here?”

Billy felt surprised; he hadn't thought she had a problem with Nancy. Then he remembered their stupid bet that Max thought she could win; he could see George Michael in her eyes.

“Je-sus, you dickhead. Can you tone it down?”

“Uh, no, I can't!” said Max like a huge brat. She seized Billy's arm and dragged him over to the table. “HI STEVE!” she said all loud and obvious like a gremlin.

Steve looked up at them. “Oh! Hey guys,” he said. “Lucas is at the arcade, I was waitin' for you.”

“Billy only knocked over four people at basketball tryouts, he is really good this year,” Max told Steve.

“Hey, that's great, man.” Steve smiled at him and Billy tried not to feel like a huge girl. It was nice or whatever when people smiled at you sometimes. Better if they looked like Steve Harrington.

Nancy was standing and holding a big bag of takeout food; she looked amused. She looked preppy and rich as usual too. Not as preppy and rich as Harrington with his button-down shirt and tie for work but still. In comparison Max and Billy both had holes in their jeans and looked like Garbage Pail Kids. Billy felt like he was in a Highlights magazine: What's Wrong With This Picture?

“Hi Max,” Nancy said. She hesitated for a split second. “Hey Billy.”

Max gave her a nasty look. “Hey.” Billy didn't say anything. Steve looked amused too which was great. They all stood there for a moment with Max scowling her head off and sending out her trademark superglare.

“Okay then!” Nancy said. She was smiling at the warm welcome from the Hargrove-Mayfields. “Well. Um. I have to go, I have Mike waiting in the car.” Billy imagined Wheeler Jr strapped into the trunk like a cave-troll. She looked down at Steve with her big terrible doe eyes. “Um, thanks Steve. I'll see you around.”

“Bye Nance.”

Max scowled up an even bigger storm as Nancy left, then she collapsed in the booth across from Harrington. “What's she thanking you for, did you buy her food?” she demanded. Billy sighed in his head for a thousand years.

Steve had his ‘Max-is-amusing’ face on; he probably thought she was getting a crush on him. God if he knew. “Don't worry, we were just talking.”

“So I see.” Angrily Max ate some of Steve's fries; Steve looked even more amused.

“Max, you're being fucking rude,” Billy told her. He was still standing there like a Garbage Pail Kid.

Max scowled. “Do you know what I think is rude?” she asked; Billy sighed in his head for a thousand more years. He could tell she was getting ready to go off. “I think it's rude to walk around in Hathaway's leading your ex-boyfriend on! I think – ”

“Okay, okay, that is not what's happening,” Steve said. “That's really sweet of you, Max, I can take care of myself.”

“I don't think you can,” Max said wisely; Billy was pretty sure she was thinking about her Care Bears blanket which was still on the roof. “You know, Steve, you have other options.”

Harrington looked delighted at her surly tone; he was getting a kick out of her. “Do I?”

“Okay, okay,” Billy said too. “What are you doing, you eating all of Harrington's food or am I taking you to the arcade?”

“Don't you want to get something?” Steve asked.

“Not hungry.” Seeing Nancy'd made him want to blow chunks everywhere honestly; he didn't even feel jazzed up about basketball anymore.

“Okay. Well do you want to hang out or something?”

“I guess so,” Billy said like a sulky bitch. Steve and Max hammered out the details; Max was such a fucking meddler. She told Billy that he could go out to Steve's for two hours and reminded him to pick her up at the arcade; her board was busting down again. “Don't have too much fun,” she said like a huge gremlin.

Steve looked like she was being funny. “Uh, okay, we won't.” He got into his BMW and Billy followed him to his house. He still felt like a sulky bitch; each time he hung out with Harrington it got more and more dangerous. When they got to his huge fancy house Steve still looked amused. “Do you want to watch TV or something? There's one of your horror movie marathons on channel five.”

“Whatever you want.”

“Do you want something to eat?”

“M'fine.”

“Okay.” Harrington had a weird look on his face; he looked amused and something else. Billy didn't know what he looked like. He was gonna have to stop acting like he knew what Steve looked liked. “Thanks for hanging out with me,” Steve said like always. Jesus he made Billy feel weird as hell.

They watched Blood of Dracula; there were a lot of of Blood or Blood of movies on the TV this week it seemed. Steve made a bunch of faces and groaned at all the gore but Billy didn't really comment on them like usual or make fun of him. “Are you okay?” Steve asked him like a mom or a girlfriend. Billy wanted to grab him and pin him down against the couch.

“Yeah.”

“Are you worried about basketball or something? You'll make the team.”

“Already made the team.”

“Oh. Okay. Hey, that’s great.” Steve stared at him like a Froot Loop. He said, “Uh, Max was something else at the diner.”

“Yeah, she's a piece of work.”

“I thought she liked Nancy.”

Billy didn't say anything for a while; he felt like a sulky bitch again. Who liked Nancy? Then he said, “Thought you were over her bullshit.”

Steve looked at him; he started smiling. “Oh, my god, are you jealous ?”

“No,” lied Billy. “I don't feel like listenin’ to you crying about her in a week or so.”

“Oh my god, you're so jealous,” Steve said. “Wow! I'm not going to cry, we were just talking. Don't worry, you're still my best guy.” He made a stupid face at Billy.

Jesus Christ but he was annoying; Billy guessed he wanted to pin him against the couch in a couple'a ways. “Man, what the fuck are you even talking to her for? What's she possibly got to say to you?”

Steve looked surprised. “Uh, we're still friends,” he said. “I've known Nancy for years, we still talk.”

“You don't talk, you fuckin' fall all over yourself over her,” Billy told him.

“Uh, no I don't.” Now he looked kinda pissed; he was getting that familiar big wrinkle between his eyebrows. “Wow, you really think I can't take care of myself? You and Max talk about me?” Billy didn't say anything; Jesus he didn't know how Billy and Max talked about him. “Oh my god, look, if your old girlfriend showed up here, you'd be doing the exact same thing.”

Steve didn't ever need to talk about Tracey; he really didn't need to ever talk about Tracey. Billy should have never told him about Tracey. “That's not the fucking same thing,” Billy said. “She didn't fucking cheat on me, fuckface.”

“Okay, okay. I didn't mean – “

“Been a goddamn year and you're still fucked up about this girl, I'm fucking tired of watching you shit your pants over her.”

“It's not like that,” Steve said. He looked massively annoyed; it was a good look on him. He ran his hands through his crazy hair and stared at Billy. “What's your deal, why do you hate Nance so much? I don't hate her.”

Billy felt like a goddamn moron — Steve usually made him feel like a goddamn moron. He felt like screaming I HATE HER ‘CAUSE I WANT YOU. “Just think you can do better than her.”

“Um, yeah, I know that.” Steve still looked annoyed. “It's not a big deal, you don't need to play the shit-on-Nancy game every time I – “

“Look, you don't need someone who'll treat you like that,” Billy said like a goddamn moron and a goddamn girl; Steve was good at making him sound like that. Billy didn't know what it was. He could never keep his fucking mouth shut around Harrington; Harrington made him crazy. It was like he was wired to some part of Billy's brain labeled 'FUCKING DUMBASS' and every time Billy saw him it'd fucking go off.

Steve laughed at him; clearly he thought Billy was a big goddamn joke, as well as a moron and a girl. He was pressing the FUCKING DUMBASS button. “Oh yeah?” he said. He was still fucking laughing at him. “What exactly do I need, Billy? You gonna give it to me?”

“Fuck you.”

“Yeah, like you want to, right?”

Billy stared at him. He wondered if he knew; he couldn't know. Billy stood up and got off the couch. “Okay, I'm not doing this with you.” He slid his backpack over his shoulder.

“Oh my god, it's a fucking joke, don't freak out,” Steve said.

“Whatever. I gotta pick up my sister.”

Steve rolled his head back on the couch and looked at him upside down as Billy went past him; he reached out and grabbed his arm. Mind you this was a new year and all; Billy was trying not to kiss people he didn't care about and he was trying not to punch Steve in the fucking face again. He'd managed last year.

Steve had him trapped with his hand around Billy's wrist though. “Man, are you serious? You say shit like that to me all the time. Chill out.”

Billy was pretty sure he'd never implied that Steve wanted to fuck him before. “Lemme go.” He shook his arm; Steve let him go.

“Are you serious?” Steve sat on the couch and watched him walk to the front door. “Oh my god, Bills, are you seriously fuckin' mad at me now?”

“I'm not mad at you, I'm not doing this shit with you.”

“You don't have to actually leave – “

“I gotta pick up Max,” Billy said again.

Steve kept looking at him. “Okay, but are you going to Will's house on Saturday?”

Billy didn't know why the hell Steve thought he'd be going to the Byers' house; he guessed the Creepy Kid Club was doing something. “I'll think about it.” He left Steve sitting on his couch and staring after him.

 

He didn't say too much when he picked up Max; he was a couple minutes early but not too early. Max yapped on for half the ride home, then she fell silent too. Usually they both knew when the other was pissed off. The difference was sometimes Billy fucked with her even more when she was pissed; Max usually left him alone.

They got home and watched the rest of the horror movie marathon together; Max was stuffing her face with popcorn like a gross gremlin child. Billy watched the movie and tried not to think about Harrington. Didn't really work but you had to give yourself points for trying.

Billy's old man came home for the weekend; he surprised the hell out of Billy the next night when Billy came in after work and then a couple hours later he surprised the hell out of Max too when she got in. She slammed the door too hard when she saw him and Neil told her to watch herself; Maxine looked scared out of her goddamn mind and dashed off to her room.

Later after Neil and Susan went to bed Max and Billy snuck back out into the living room to watch the TV; Billy lit up a cigarette and Max opened the window near him without missing a beat. She told him she'd been out with Sinclair all afternoon and had only decided about ten seconds before she'd opened the front door not to bring him in with her.

Billy stared at her and didn’t even get mad; he felt surprised as hell that he wasn’t getting mad. By this point he was well-versed in Max’s special brand of bullshit and her love of the darkies he guessed.

“Max, you can't fuckin' do that shit,” he told her anyway.“You can't bring him around here.”

Maxine looked like a surly redheaded stormcloud in the light of the TV. “I know that!” she yapped.

“Okay, you know that, you keep doin' it though.”

“Because it's not fair!

“Why the hell you want to bring him over anyway?” Billy asked her. “It ain’t like there's shit to do here, we don't got a Nintendo.” Sinclair was kind of a rich bitch too; if Billy were Max he'd never leave Lucas's place.

Max scowled even more. “He's my friend! He's my – my boyfriend ! I should be able to bring someone here if I want!” Jesus he didn't know how she could fuckin' scream at him without even raising her voice.

“Look, I don't care where you bring him. I don't care what you do,” Billy reminded her. Maybe he cared a little. “My old man ever catches you guys – “

“I know, I know! Jesus! I didn't think he'd be home!” Max scowled away at the TV. “I won’t do it again, can you just shut the hell up?”

Billy blew some smoke at her. “Watch your fuckin' language,” he said.

All in all that was the only incident with Neil; Saturday Billy and Max booked it out of the house real early. They fucked around at the arcade until Sinclair and Henderson showed up with Steve, then they did end up going over to the Byers' house. Billy was still refusing to play that dragon shit with the kids but they managed to rope him into a game of Monopoly around noon; Jonathan came out of his bedroom at one point and stared at Billy laughing his ass off at Henderson getting himself thrown into jail for the third time. Billy ignored him; playing Monopoly was pretty much the only way he'd ever get to be the richest kid on the block.

Jonathan stood staring at them for a while; he and Harrington exchanged their awkward ‘Hey man’s like usual. Billy was still ignoring them. He didn't know why Harrington didn't just knock Byers #2 the fuck out; really Billy'd do it for him but he was utilizing his decorum again and all. Henderson was squawking and yapping and going on that he didn’t know how Billy could be so low as to cheat at Monopoly; Billy cackled and moved his piece on the board.

The Creepy Kids were at their total worst because it was the weekend; they were loud as shit and Billy didn't even end up having to talk to Harrington that much. Anyway he was on his best behavior so that Little Byers would keep bringing him snacks; Maxine nearly rolled her goddamn eyes out of her head at Will bringing Billy two sodas.

Steve followed them out as they were leaving; he was going to drive Henderson and Sinclair home. Wheeler Jr'd already left on his bike to go bug the Chief and Elijane.

He followed Billy and Max over to the Camaro. Dustin and Lucas were yelling their heads off at each other like usual over by his car.

“Hey, man, are we cool?” he asked Billy.

“Sure, whatever,” Billy said. Max was giving him a weird look and Steve kept staring at him. “Yeah, we're cool, all right?”

“Okay.” Steve kept standing there and staring; Billy didn't know what he wanted. He looked like he wanted to say something. He stood there staring until Henderson started yelling his head off for him. “Okay. I guess see you guys later.”

Max stared at him too as they got into the car. “What was that about?”

“Mind your business,” Billy mimicked her; she scowled at him and put on POWER 99 to hurt him the most.

 

Sunday morning Billy's old man left early to go back on the road; he woke Billy up at about seven AM slamming the front door shut. Billy laid in bed and listened to his dad's Sedan start up and then drive away; he guessed he and Max were safe for a while again to be fags and nigger-lovers.

It was still pretty early and he figured he'd fall back asleep. He'd been having some kinda dream about Steve – usually Billy didn't have dreams really, unless they were horrible ones about his mother; this one'd been real nice though even though he barely remembered it. He barely remembered it but he'd been hard when he woke up. That was a thing that'd been happening lately like he was goddamn twelve years old again.

The thing was that even though he loved to say a bunch of shit to gross out Maxine, he really didn't jack off that much or anything; he never had. First off he'd never really needed to. There was always some girl who wanted to go and get off with him, and anyway after he'd been with Tracey for a real long time, almost two years. Even so he'd really just never done it that much, not like the guys at school or in the locker room talked about, joking about whacking off three or four times a day.

Wasn't like he'd never done it. Usually he didn't feel like it; he never had nobody to think of while he was doing it. He'd never been crazy for any movie stars or anything. He'd never even been crazy about Tracey that way. He'd just always thought there was something wrong with him; maybe he just wasn't that way for anyone.

He was that way for Steve though. Jesus he was that way for Steve. He was such a goddamn moron. He couldn't believe it'd taken him over eighteen years to realize he wanted to jerk off to a guy. One guy really. Just one.

He was a goddamn moron and he was also horny as hell; it'd been a while again. Billy put his hand down his boxers and got to work. He was trying to remember his dream from earlier but he couldn't; he guessed he'd have to make up some new shit.

It wasn't going to take too long; it never did. Jesus Billy could come like a rocket going off just thinking about Steve touching him for one minute or whispering some romantic shit into his ear. Afterwards he'd feel all bad and dirty about it but it was so fuckin' good while he was doing it.

He didn't really feel dirty about Steve. Really he didn't; he'd gotten over that pretty fast. He fucking liked him too much. You couldn't feel dirty about Steve Harrington; he was too fucking pretty. Usually he felt bad after because if Steve ever knew. If Steve ever knew. He'd probably never fuckin' talk to him again and Billy needed him to fuckin' talk to him. God he was the only one.

He wrapped his hand tighter around his cock; it almost kinda hurt but that was okay sometimes. He thought about Steve's very punchable face. God if he could get one minute with him. Two minutes. Okay five would be good. He thought about Steve saying. Bills, who do you like? Hahaha. He'd never know.

Maybe he knew; he couldn't know. He thought about saying Fuck you and Steve saying Yeah like you want to?; it made his whole body flush for a second. He didn't know if he actually wanted to; he didn't know if he could do that to a guy. Okay he could do it if Steve wanted it. He probably could. Jesus he was gonna come in two seconds. He bit his lip really hard; when he did come he wasn't even thinking about fucking Steve or anything but just his huge stupid eyes looking at Billy.

He couldn't breathe for a couple seconds after. Finally he could and he took his hand out of his boxers. He could feel his heart pounding away in his chest and in his ears; he closed his eyes and sighed. He wiped his hand off on his bed. Okay Maxine was definitely not allowed on his bed ever again.

Billy laid on his bed for a couple minutes; he just laid there. He thought he had it pretty bad. Really he'd never had it so bad; it was the Sixteen Candles shit. He laid in bed and thought about that for a couple minutes. He didn't know what to do with himself. He was about to get up and go shower or something when he heard his window slide open. Billy stared at his ceiling because he couldn't believe his goddamn life.

It was Steve sticking his head in through his window about four minutes after Billy'd fuckin' jerked off to him – why would it be anyone else. Once again Billy's life was a movie; it was a fucking horror movie actually. Steve said, “Hey, are you awake?”

Billy felt like a rat in a cage. He snapped up into a sitting position. “Man, what the FUCK are you doing here?” Jesus he'd just fucking gotten off.

“Wow, okay, you're not a morning person.” Steve was staring at him like a chipmunk with his head through the window. His expression went from amused to unsure in about two seconds; Billy hadn't yelled really at him like that in a while. “Are you okay?”

“No I'm not okay.” It felt like there was an alarm going off in his head; Steve was too close. Billy got out of bed and crossed the room to the window. “You can't be here right now, man.”

Steve looked kind of alarmed now too. “Uh, okay, what happened? Is your dad here or something?”

“Nothing fucking happened.” Shot off onto my wall thinking about you, the normal stuff. Also once again he was in his underwear in front of Steve; maybe he'd came over purely for the show. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“What? Uh, I wanted to see you,” Steve said like fucking saying something like that wasn't a big deal. He started coming through the window; Billy shoved him back out. “Ow, what the hell!”

“Dude, it is fucking eight in the morning, you cannot keep doing this shit!”

“I – sorry?” Steve said like a retard. “Okay, I'm, I'm sorry.” He stared at Billy with his big doe eyes and now he looked uncertain too; it pissed Billy the fuck off. “Hey, are you really still mad at me? I thought you said we were cool.”

“Look, we're not cool, you can't keep climbing into my window like a fucking faggot,” Billy told him. “You know how bad my goddamn dad would kill me if he saw this shit? Do you ever think with your fuckin' brain?”

“Yeah, I – Jesus, look, I'm sorry, okay? I wasn't thinkin'. I just wanted to – “

“Don't care about your sorry,” Billy said before Steve could say his I wanted to see you bullshit again. Jesus he was a piece of work saying that shit. “Don't care about your bullshit. What'd you come over here at fuckin' eight in the morning for, you need me to hold your fuckin' hand again as you cry about the Wheeler bitch some more?”

“Jesus,” Steve said again. “What the hell's your problem?”

“Uh, you're my fuckin' problem, princess,” Billy told him; it was the truth after all.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Don't call me that.”

Fucking Christ he felt overwhelmed: if Steve'd came over ten minutes earlier. If he'd seen him. Well everybody whacked off but if he'd seen him. Billy couldn't handle it. It was too much; he needed Harrington to get the fuck away from him.

He was getting madder and madder looking at Steve. He didn't know why he was getting mad. He guessed Harrington was used to just waltzing around wherever he wanted and expecting everyone to drop their shit for him at eight in the morning on a Sunday when they should be whacking off; he was not gonna do that to Billy though.

“Why the fuck are you here?” he asked Steve again, then went on before Steve could answer. “Shit, you need to see me every day or something? Max and I don't need your goddamn charity, you fuckin' retard.”

“Oh my god , what are you even talking about?” Steve demanded. “What the fuck's – did something happen?” He actually tried to come through the window again; Billy shoved him again and he went sprawling into the gravel of the backyard. It felt good to shove him. Maybe that's what Billy needed to do all along. “WHAT THE FUCK, MAN.”

Billy leaned out the window. “I just fucking told you you can't come in here, Harrington.”

Steve was picking himself up off the ground; he didn't even say anything for a couple seconds. He was making a great face, it was even more than the just-ate-dogshit face. “What the fuck's your problem?”

“Jesus, are you actually fucking stupid?” Billy asked him; Steve stared. “I just said you're my goddamn problem! I'm fucking tired of you coming around here with your bullshit! Tired of listening to your bullshit, you never shut the fuck up, man! You're worse than a goddamn woman!”

“Oh, fuck you!”

“Yeah, right, like you want me to, right?” Billy said mockingly; Steve just looked at him for a second and it made him feel real weird. “Look, you know what, I don't – I'm tired of your bullshit, Harrington. This whole thing is fucking bullshit, I'm tired of it. You're bullshit, actually.”

Steve kept staring at him; he didn't say anything again for a couple seconds. His eyes looked like black fire in his head; he looked all hurt and shit. Even though Billy was pissed off too he could see that.“You – what?” he said finally.

“I SAID YOU'RE BULLSHIT!” Billy yelled at him. “I said you and me, this thing, whatever the fuck you think it is, is total bullshit! I'm tired of your shit, man! Leave me the fuck alone!”

Once more Steve just stared at him for a couple seconds; to Billy it still felt like he was in a goddamn horror movie and this was the climax where Steve fuckin' killed him or whatever. Steve didn't look like the Steve he'd been palling around with the last couple months, the guy who laughed at him when he threatened Henderson over his french fries or who he leaned back in actual slight terror with over Maxine. He just looked like the Steve who'd hated Billy's guts all last year; maybe that was for the best.

Steve's lip curled up. “FUCK YOU!” he screamed. He stalked forward real fast and shoved at Billy through his window. Billy wasn't expecting it and stumbled back a few steps. It made him laugh.

“There ya go, Harrington!”

“FUCK YOU!” Steve just said again; truly he looked like he wanted to spit on Billy. “YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! I CAN'T BELIEVE I EVER – FUCK YOU!” He turned away and started storming off out the side of the backyard.

Billy leaned out his window again. “Don't fucking come back here bothering me!” he yelled after him.

Steve didn't turn around; he threw both his middle fingers up. “FUCK YOU!” he screamed again like a broken record. Billy watched him go. His heart felt about in his throat again and he didn't know why. He already regretted about half the shit he'd said; give him another five minutes and he'd regret all of it.

He went and laid back down on his bed. He had some blood on his t-shirt from where Steve had shoved him; probably he'd scraped his hands up in the gravel when Billy'd pushed him the fuck down. Billy thought about that and he thought he hadn't needed to do that.

After a couple minutes he could hear Maxine and Susan getting up; he had no clue how the fuck he and Harrington hadn't woken them screaming their heads off at each other. The Mayfields slept like the fucking dead.

Max knocked on his door twice; Billy didn't answer her. She knocked again. “Billy? Are you okay?” she asked all muffled through the door. “Who were you yelling at?”

“LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE,” Billy said.

Max didn't answer; she kicked his door and he felt her sulky silence wash over him. He just laid on his bed and felt like a piece of shit like usual. It'd been a real bad morning to whack off.


 

A couple days went by; Harrington definitely wasn't talking to him. Billy felt annoyed and then he felt like a piece of shit. He hadn't needed to say all that shit to Steve. He hadn’t needed to call him stupid; he hadn’t needed to yell all that shit at him. He couldn't stop himself. He didn't know why he could never stop himself.

Wednesday Max waited for him after basketball practice. She'd been sulky at him all fuckin' week still for screaming at her and Monday she hadn't waited for him. “Are you fighting with Steve?” she asked him as they headed out of the school.

“Dunno.”

“Dustin says you really hurt his feelings,” Max informed him; Billy didn’t want to hear that. She scowled up a storm. “What did he do to you?”

Jesus Maxine had such faith in him asking what did he do to you like Billy wasn't an asshole every goddamn day; he had no clue why she had such faith in him. “He didn't do shit to me, I don't want to talk about it.”

“Fine,” Max said like a sulky bitch; she knew when to not press his buttons. She asked the important question: “Are we still getting food though?”

“Yeah we can get food.”

Off to the diner they went to be annoyed by Henderson and Sinclair. Billy rolled his eyes at Max and Lucas doing their Love Boat shit; he wished Little Byers was here. “You kids know my dad's coming home this weekend, right?” he said.

Lucas was giving him a weird look that he couldn't read. “Yeah, we know,” he said.

“Billy, I have a message for you from Steve!” Henderson told him; Max and Sinclair sighed their heads off. “Will you accept the message?”

“Oh, my god,” said Sinclair.

Billy sighed too; he ate some of Henderson's fries to prepare himself. Henderson was still letting Billy eat his fries for some reason even though he and Steve weren't talking now. “Yeah, tell me the shit.”

“Okay.” Henderson pulled a piece of looseleaf out of his pocket.

“Oh Jesus fuckin' Christ.”

Dustin ignored him; he was smoothing his paper out. He cleared his throat. “Okay, first off, you're a grade-A asshole, you never should have been friends in the first place. Um, here there was a lot of screaming and I couldn't catch everything, what'd you say to Steve?” Henderson asked him. He kept reading. “Okay. Uh, you're dogshit, total dogshit, don't talk to him ever again, go back to California, also you're bullshit, I underlined that three times, also you're a huge cheesedick, and you like terrible music.”

“That's great, that's the best poem I've gotten in a while.”

Henderson folded up his paper and put it back in his pocket. He watched Billy eat his fries. “What are you guys fighting about, I thought you were best friends now.”

“What, he ain't tell you?”

“Not really.” Henderson leaned over on the table. “Is it about a woman?”

Max and Sinclair rolled their eyes. “No it ain't about a woman,” Billy told him. He felt surprised that Steve hadn't told Henderson about all the awful shit Billy'd said to him; he didn't know why he wouldn't tell him. Anyway Billy wasn't going to tell him. “It don't matter okay, you kiddies can pick your sides.”

“I refuse to do that, you're both my friends,” Henderson yapped dramatically; Billy rolled his eyes.

“Ain't your fuckin' friend.”

“Billy,” Henderson said all serious over his french fries. “Billy! I know that your personal trauma and your abuse makes it hard for you to connect with people, but me and Lucas are here for you!”

Lucas was making a terrible face and so was Max; Billy almost laughed at them even though he didn't feel like laughing. “Dustin, shut the hell up!” Sinclair said. “Why are you gonna say something like that in public? You're not his therapist.” Sometimes Sinclair was almost okay.

“Um, according to Steve he needs a therapist!” Henderson yapped. “Steve says – “

“I don't have any personal trauma,” Billy told him. He was still eating the kid's fries.

“I'm being supportive!” Dustin said. “Oh my god, are you going to leave me any of those, do you just want the plate to lick? Do you have a return rebuttal for Steve?”

“I don't got anything to say to him.”

“Really? Nothing?” Henderson stared at him. “Okay.” He pulled his paper out of his pocket again and wrote something down on it; Billy had no clue what the fuck he was writing.

“What the hell are you writing?” Maxine asked him.

“What! Nothing!” Henderson said, clearly writing something. He wrote for a while; Billy and Max and Lucas all stared at him. Finally he finished and put his little paper away. Billy wondered why this was his life now. “Okay. Billy, I'm going to come to your practice next week, okay?”

As usual Henderson was making him feel those real emotions; it was okay because he was trying not to feel like a sulky bitch about Steve. Go back to California! Terrible music! What the hell was a cheesedick? “Don't need you to come to my practice,” Billy said. He ate the rest of Henderson's fries.

“Watch your figure,” Maxine told him; she stole his soda.

 

A couple more days went by, then a whole week 'nother with no Harrington; Max yapped away to him that she'd seen Steve at the grocery store looking like a lost puppy and Billy didn't want to hear about it. Then Henderson yapped away to him that he'd been at Steve's house and Steve was acting like a lost puppy and Billy didn't want to hear about it. Harrington wasn't his puppy. Then that made Billy get all depressed about Luke and Leia. He was pretty sure he'd lost his puppy privileges.

Dog privileges aside, Billy didn't know what to do. He'd never really had a friend before; he'd definitely never had a friend before that he whacked off to and he didn't know what to do about it. He didn't know how to say sorry and he wasn't going to call Steve's house like a goddamn girl. He'd felt real lonely for the first couple days but he was getting used to it.

He hadn't realized how much time he and Harrington had spent together until he didn't have him to hang around with anymore; it sucked ass. He thought too about Steve saying I am always alone and felt like a piece of shit. It wasn't true because Steve had Henderson and the creepy kids too and apparently Nancy Wheeler but he felt like a piece of shit. He kept telling himself it was for the best but goddamn if he didn’t feel like a piece of shit. He was a piece of shit. He put Tommy Hall's little brother in three different trash cans just because he could and because Harrington wasn't gonna bitch him out for it later.

Billy went home after basketball practice; it was about five-thirty when Max came in with her skateboard and looked at him. Her hair was all crazy from the wind. “Hey,” she said, closing up the front door. “You're not at work?”

“Had practice.”

“Oh, right. When's your first game?”

“Not 'til February. It's an away.”

“Okay! I can’t promise that I can keep Dustin from going, my powers of persuasion only reach so far with him now.” Billy made a face and Max grinned at it. She leaned her skateboard up behind the door — Susan was gonna scream her head off when she came home from work— and flopped down onto the couch beside him.

“Woulda picked you up,” Billy told her; he guessed she'd boarded home. “Thought you was going to the Wheelers'.”

Max gave him a look that said that he was, unequivocally, a huge bozo. “Uh, no. The Wham! farewell tour is on MTV at six, I'm not watching that shit at Mike's!”

“Jesus,” said Billy in disgust.

Max ignored him being in pain; she took the remote right out of his hand and started flicking through the TV channels. She wasn't even looking at him but he could sense her being a shithead. “So … are you still fighting with Steve I guess?” she asked. It was pretty obvious.

“Yep.” Really it wasn't even a fight at this point; Billy was pretty sure they were just done.

“Are you ever gonna tell me what about?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, well, we all want you to stop fighting,” Max told him. “Dustin says Steve has been a huge asshole all week about you, do you think you can make up with him?”

“Don’t think so.”

Max turned her head and made a face at him which then morphed into another look. Suddenly she actually looked all sad for him and shit. “Oh my god, wait,” she yelped. “Did you tell him? That you – ? And he didn't – ?”

Jesus, Billy said again in his head. “No I didn't fuckin' tell him, you shithead!” He guessed Max thought that he and Harrington really queered around braiding each other's hair all the time and talking about their fuckin' feelings.

“Okay, okay, okay!” Max had got the channel down to MTV; she was just sitting and looking at him now. “So are you actually mad at him or something?”

He didn't know what he was at Steve. “No.”

“Okay,” Max said again. She brightened. “So … okay, so the bet is still on, right?”

Billy sighed; he didn't want to talk about the fucking bet. The fucking bet was the problem. Well not the whole problem but it was part of the problem. It was a symbol of the problem anyway. Billy definitely couldn't win the bet just like he definitely couldn't win Harrington.

“Look, Max,” he said. “Your little bet's real cute and all, I'm so glad you're having so much fuckin' fun with it. But you know you're taking me to see Metallica, right?”

Maybe. ” Max stuck her nose up in the air like a snooty poodle. She was still being funny and it wasn't really funny.

“No not maybe,” Billy told her; he felt pretty annoyed at her. Something in his tone made her look at him. “Look, this ain't actually a fuckin' game for me.”

“I know that, I'm just – “

“It's never gonna happen.”

“Okay, but you don't know – “

“Think all your jokes and shit are real funny, I'm so glad I can fucking amuse you so much – “

“They're not jokes!” Max yapped. “Billy, Steve likes you! At least he did til last week! He always – “

“Shut the fuck up, no he don't.” Billy leaned back and laid his head against the back of the couch. “I'm tired of gossiping about this shit with you like a fuckin' girl.”

Max glared at MTV on the screen; they were playing a shitty Devo video. “Okay, but he does like you!”

“What part of your brain doesn't process me talkin'?” Billy asked her. “It ain't gonna fuckin' happen.”

“You still don't know that. ” Max was making one of her gremlin scowly faces; she looked all annoyed at him now for some reason. Jesus fuck she was a piece of work! He was letting her watch the TV! “You don't know! He could like both, like you!”

Billy didn't say anything for a couple minutes. He’d thought she’d known already.

He didn't think he was gonna say anything, say anything at all, but Max was still staring at him and making the scowly face. God he felt so terrible inside, thinking of saying it. He sat there thinking of it, chewing on his lower lip and feeling terrible. Finally he said, “Don't like both.”

Max's eyes bugged out and she didn't say anything for a couple seconds; she looked totally blank. For a moment Billy thought maybe she didn’t get it or something. What he was telling her. Then: “You – oh,” she said. “But that doesn't make sense. I thought you ...” She trailed off. “But what about – Tracey?” she yelped, like she was scared to say Tracey, like it was a swear word. “I thought you – loved her! Didn't you?”

Once again he was being forced to think about Tracey; he didn't want to think about Tracey, especially not like this. He apologized to her again in his head. “Sure. I loved her, okay? But not like – like I was supposed to or whatever.”

God it was bad to say it. Tracey'd been basically his best friend; he'd known her since he was about twelve goddamn years old and she was about ten. Sure he'd loved her but not in a really good way. Not the way a guy was supposed to feel about his girl. He'd just did what she'd wanted because it was what she'd wanted. He'd never really wanted to touch her or anything. He'd always thought there was something wrong with him. Now he knew what it was.

“...Oh,” Max said after a about a million years of looking at him. “Okay, but what about – those, like, eighty girls you went around with before Tracey?”

“Jesus, wasn’t no eighty — “

“Okay, whatever! Sixty-seven. And what about – “ Max glared strongly at him and he felt true slight terror again; shit but Maxine had a glare on her when she got about her morals – “what about stupid Rachel back in September?”

Jesus God Billy didn't want to talk about this; he didn't know why he'd fucking said anything to her. “I didn't know before, okay. I didn't know in September.” Maybe he'd known. The thing was he'd probably known. But it was easier not to say it to Max.

“Oh. Okay.” Max was still staring at him; she’d stopped glaring though. She looked like her brain was short-circuiting. Her eyes were bugging out again. “So ... so just guys?”

“I guess.”

“Oh. Okay.” She frowned hugely at his face; he wondered what he looked like, looking back at her. “Okay. Okay. Billy, that's okay!”

“No, it ain't really okay.”

Uh, yes it is!” Max yapped in her new supportive womanly hysteria. He could feel her staring at him and feel her getting ready to go off; he didn't know why she was gonna go off but he could fucking sense it. He glared over at her. Jesus God she actually looked all excited; it was fucking terrible. Once again he'd rather she freak out and run the fuck away from him.

Max leaned forward to look at him and they were real close for a second. If Susan walked in right now it'd probably look like they were about to kiss; the total hysteria of that almost made Billy laugh. “So you – okay, so what, what other guys have you liked?!”

Billy stared at her blankly. “I haven't.”

Max stared back at him blankly too. “Oh,” she said for the millionth time. “But how – okay … okay.” She stared at him some more and then made an incredulous face. “Really? So … just Steve?”

“I guess.”

“Okay.” She was still looking at him with her weird girl x-ray vision; Billy lamented his life. “You know, I guess that makes sense anyway. You basically hate everyone on sight after all.”

Billy rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”

Max laughed at him. She was laughing at him like it wasn't even a big fuckin' deal, what he'd just told her. “Billy, you're such a loser,” she said. Jesus she was supportive. “Oh my god, Steve's not that good-looking!”

“Fuck off!” Billy told her; he felt all offended in two seconds. “He's all right.”

Max made her fish face. “Uh, okay, but he's no George Michael.”

Thank God for that. “Fuck off, okay?” Billy begged her.

“He's no Corey Haim either.” Jesus God Maxine would never fuck off; she'd never leave him alone either. She flopped back on the couch and made the whole thing shake. “Okay, so what other guys do you think are cute? Famous guys,” she clarified.

“Je-sus Christ!” Billy said. He felt so uncomfortable; he never thought he'd tell anybody this shit. El-or-Jane must've sent him through some kinda portal. “I don't fucking know, okay? I don't think about it.”

“Well you should sta-art! ” Max yapped; she was clearly thinking of all the fun she was gonna have talking about boys and glitter nail polish with her faggot brother. Truly he wanted to die. “Billy Idol? What about Eddie Van Halen?” Billy gave her a look; she amended: “God! In the seventies, I mean!”

“I don't like blondes.”

Max cackled. “Okay. What about Eddie Money?”

“Oh my fuckin' god, no, he's so old.”

Max was cracking her shit up. “Steve Jobs?” she asked him; she was so hilarious. “He's a liberal!”

“You are absolutely the worst fuckin' person I've met in my life, I want you to burn in a ditch,” Billy told her.

Max laughed her head off; Billy scowled at the TV and crossed his arms. After a while he said, “Nick Cave's all right I guess.”

“Oh my god, that skinny guy?” Max asked. Truly she looked overjoyed. “You dweeb, I guess you have a type.”

“Fuck off,” Billy begged her again.

Max looked happy. “Can I watch Wham! out here or do I have to go into Mom's bedroom?”

Billy felt so grumpy and also like a huge faggot. God he hated her, hated her. “You can fuckin' watch it out here,” he told her.

“Okay!” Max watched her George Michael shit; she kept listing famous guys that she thought Billy should think were cute and Billy kept telling her to shut the fuck up. After a while he got up and made them sandwiches for dinner. Susan came home and screamed when Max's skateboard hit her on the ankle.

 


 

Billy was bored as shit without Steve. It was like back at the start of last year when he'd just been thinking of Harrington all the time; it was way worse now because Billy actually missed him and shit. It was so bad. He missed him more than he missed fuckin' Tracey; he missed him more than the beach and pizza at the boardwalk. Goddamn but he was getting to be such a girl. He might as well let Maxine start braiding his fuckin' hair.

He took Max and her girl Beverly out to the mall over the weekend; they spent the whole time annoying the shit out of him. He and Max wandered off to look at shirts while Beverly was at the makeup counter getting her eyes done up.

Max sighed her head off at him looking at band t-shirts. “You should get something other than a stupid Metallica shirt, maybe you'll actually get a boyfriend if you dress nice,” she said like a stupid shithead.

“Watch your fucking mouth,” Billy told her; there were people around. “Don't want a boyfriend.” He only wanted one guy really. Just one.

Max rolled her eyes at him buying a Def Leppard shirt; she rolled her eyes a little less when he bought her one too. As usual she was spending all his fucking money. Beverly wandered over to them lookin' like she was in a Madonna music video and Max finally shut the fuck up about Billy finding himself a boyfriend. Fuckin' boyfriend.

Thursday morning Billy woke up having the same crazy dream about the blonde lady that wasn't his mom; he went and showered until he felt kind of okay again and until Max was banging on the bathroom door screaming that she had to pee. “Go out the window!” Billy yelled to be an asshole.

“I'm not a guy! I can't aim!” Max yelled like an asshole right back.

Billy drove them to school; during study hall Henderson and his girl came and sat with him. Henderson finally pointed out Janice Thompson. She was a tall bitch with her hair dyed red to look like Molly Ringwald; Billy could care less about her. “How's Harrington?” he asked Dustin, half because he cared and half to shut him the fuck up from talking about another girl in front of Tracey-Rebecca. Henderson was all right but he was a fucking dumbass with women.

Henderson gave him a strange look. “That's classified,” he said; Billy rolled his eyes. “Why, do you miss him?”

“No I don't fuckin' miss him,” Billy lied.

“Hmmm,” said Henderson. He reached into his jeans pocket again and pulled out a piece of paper. Tracey-Rebecca grabbed his arm.

“Dustin, no more, seriously!”

“Okay okay okay!” Henderson yapped. He told Billy, “Steve does not really appreciate my lists.”

“Yeah, he screamed last week and got us kicked out of the movie theater,” Tracey-Rebecca said.

“What the fuck you writing about?”

“That's CLASSIFED, Billy!” Henderson said. Tracey-Rebecca was rolling her eyes. Jesus God.

“Gimme a candy bar,” Billy instructed him.

Henderson looked like a Wookie. “Why do you think I'd have candy?” He gave Billy a Three Musketeers anyway. Then he smiled. “Just like dart,” he said happily. He was clearly having a stroke; that wasn't even a sentence.

“What?”

“Hahahahaha!” Dustin said still happily. “Nothing! Here, have two.” Billy guessed the creepy kids wanted him to get fat as shit and not fit into his Camaro. Then what their plans were for him after that, he didn't know.

He had health class this semester instead of gym; today they were talkin' about breast cancer which was lovely. “Has anyone ever known anyone who passed from cancer?” the teacher asked. Two people raised their hands; Billy felt like killing about everyone in the room.

Billy went home after school; he had shit else to do and nowhere to go. He sat around on the couch and watched MTV for a while and felt like a piece of shit. He twirled his stupid heavy necklace around his fingers. He couldn't even dream about his own goddamn mom; actually now he couldn't even fuckin' look at her goddamn pendant without thinking about Harrington, without thinking of Maxine.

Why'd they have to go and do that shit for him. He didn't do shit for anybody. Couldn't keep his fucking mouth closed for two seconds. Couldn't go a goddamn week without screaming at his sister, couldn't go a goddamn week without screaming at the one guy he liked.

Max came in at about five and stared at him being a sulky bitch. Billy felt even sulkier; it was Thursday and she usually played her D&D shit over at the Byers'. “What're you doing here?”

Max ignored his tone; she was kicking her shoes off. “Weird thing, I actually live here!” she told him all fake-bright.

“Thought you had your dragon shit tonight.”

“Yeah, but Mom is coming home early!” Max yapped. “They're having a movie marathon on on Lifetime, we always watch them together.”

Billy stared at her and didn't say anything. He'd fucking kill a person to watch another movie with his mom; he'd kill a lot of people actually.

Max looked at him weird and sat down by him on the couch. “Do you want to stay and watch them with us?” she asked. “Mom always cries!”

Of course Susan'd fucking cry over a made-for-TV movie. “I gotta work,” Billy lied and then realized it wasn't a lie. He had the keys to the shop; he could go in any time he wanted.

Max looked all disappointed. “Oh. When do you have to go in?”

“Uh. Right about now.”

“Oh. Okay.” Maxine looked all disappointed again like he hadn't been hanging around with her all week.

Billy got his keys and his car keys and drove himself to work. It was after five so everything was dark and Hank'd already gone home; he just lived up the street in a little apartment. Billy went into the back and rolled his eyes at the mess Hank'd left for him. He rearranged the wrenches for the eightieth time this month and then started fucking around with the Civic; he was hoping to have it done by mid-February. Hank was still slowly ordering the parts.

Hank'd been teaching him welding and how to do framework; doing framework was about the only good thing in Billy's life this month. Welding was also fun as shit and Hank said he was good at it; he also said that Billy with a fuckin' blowtorch was about the scariest goddamn thing he'd ever seen in his life, “ – and I was in 'Nam!” Hank'd said; he was eating a sandwich in the garage and giving Billy a wide berth.

“HAHAHA!” Billy'd said. This had been last week. He'd turned the flame down on his gun and tried to compose himself. “I didn't know you was in the service.”

“Uh-yuh, I was in the army for about eight years. I was in the shit, it was a lot of shit,” Hank had told him.

“I didn't know that.”

“Thought I told you.”

Billy'd kind of felt like a piece of shit and he felt like a piece of shit now thinking about it still. Hank talked his goddamn ear off all the time; Billy maybe half-listened about thirty-percent of the time. Probably Hank'd told him. Apparently even Maxine knew more about Hank than he did; he remembered her yapping on about how Hank didn't celebrate Christmas and some other shit before about how his wife'd died.

Anyway that didn't matter. Billy already knew he was a piece of shit. He and Hank had finally fixed the hood of the Honda; Billy was working at putting on one of the doors. His fucking necklace kept on hitting at the metal of the car; the chain Max'd gotten him was even longer than his old one. Every clink from the pendant seemed to be pissing him off; he shouldn't have worn it tonight. He always wore it but maybe he shouldn't. He'd just lose it again. He always lost everything important to him: the necklace, Tracey. Harrington. Even Maxine had barely talked to him for a goddamn year. Not that she and Harrington were important. God they were annoying fucks, getting into his head. Fuck.

He went and turned the radio on to distract himself; as usual Hank'd left POWER 99 on and right away a fuckin' Blondie song came on to kill him. He tuned it to 102.5; it was static-y as shit here in the shop but he left it playing. The Police came on singing 'So Lonely' which Billy figured was about the truth. He went on back to the Civic.

He worked on the car for a couple of hours while the radio kept him company. He loved working on cars; he didn't have to think, he just did it. He was probably thinking anyway. He thought about Max's stupid disappointed face; he coulda done this shit tomorrow. Or Saturday. Or whenever. He coulda stayed in with her and Susan.

It felt wrong to do that though. It was stupid to feel that way and it'd been years but it felt wrong. Susan wasn't his goddamn mom. Sometimes Max was his sister though, even when she was for shit.

After a while he started feeling real weird; his back was prickling up for no reason. He ignored it for a couple of minutes but it kept on feeling that way, like someone was looking at him. Billy knew that was total bullshit but he stopped leaning over the hood for a second and put his wrench down. He turned around to look and little Elijane was standing in the door of the garage looking at him.

“JESUS FUCK,” Billy said and almost had a goddamn heart attack. He was glad he'd put the wrench down because otherwise he'd have dropped it. He somehow managed not to clutch at his chest like a huge girl. “Jesus, kid. How'd you get in here?”

Elijane just looked at him and didn't answer; of course he knew how she'd gotten in. She could do anything with her mind he guessed. “Sorry,” she said.

“Jesus,” Billy said again; he was trying not to swear. He kind of felt like a stupid asshole; he wondered how long she'd been there looking at him while he'd been scowling away and listening to Bon Jovi on the speakers. “What're you doing here, kid?”

“I was out,” Elijane told him. She was wearing her puffy pink dress again and an oversized grey jacket; she had some kinda little backpack on. “And I … saw you.”

“What you mean, you saw me?” You couldn't see into the garage from out on the street and the front was all dark; he'd left the lights off. Maybe she'd seen his car or some shit but he was pretty sure Elijane didn't know he worked at the shop. She couldn't have seen him.

El wasn't answering him, just looking at him. Billy tried again, “Okay, what were you doing out? You have another – “ he didn't know what to call it – “ah, episode or something?”

No,” said Elijane. “I wanted to see Mama. But I saw you first.”

“Shit, kid, you have a mom?”

Elijane looked at him like he was a huge bozo. “Everyone has a mom,” she told him. “Even you.”

Billy stared at her and felt frozen; he didn't know why the fuck she'd said that. “Okay,” he said. “Sorry, kid. Didn't think your moms was in the picture.” He knew Hopper wasn't her real dad.

El kept looking at him like she was deciding something. She crossed the garage floor and stood real close to him looking at him. She was still deciding. “The bad men got her,” she said finally.

“Uh, right.” He wracked his brain and tried to remember all the crazy bullshit Henderson and Wheeler Jr and Sinclair had been squawkin’ to him about. “The lab people?”

“Yes,” Elijane said. She reached up and poked his head; she could barely reach him. “Fried. They hurt her brain.”

Jesus fucking Christ. “Sorry,” Billy said again. “Okay, you trooping off to see her? Where's she at?”

“Stays with my aunt.”

Billy sighed. El was his bride and all but she was still a goddamn woman; talking to her was like talking in circles. “Kid, I dunno about your aunt. I meant how far.”

“Oh.” El thought about it. “Four hours by truck.”

Billy stared. “Do you have a truck?” He asked her. Elijane looked at him like he was a huge bozo; the poor kid didn't understand sarcasm. “Look, does the Chief know you're out wandering around?” He was probably on his way to instinctively kill Billy right now.

Elijane looked sulky. “No,” she said. “He keeps saying he'll take me to see her. He promises and promises. But he never does. So I left.” She looked at him. “But I saw you first.”

“Okay, what does that mean, you saw me?” El didn't answer him. “You saw me in your mind or some shit?” El didn't answer him again; Billy made a face. “Thought you wasn't supposed to do that stuff.”

“I didn't mean to ,” said Elijane. “I just – saw you. Feeling bad. And – alone.” She thought about it. “And I'm alone. So I thought maybe I shouldn't go find another truck.”

Feeling bad and alone. Jesus Christ. “Yeah kid, you shouldn't find another truck,” Billy told her. “Look, lemme finish up here, I can take you back home when I'm – “

No. I don't want to go home.”

“Uh, okay,” Billy said. He had no clue how to deal with her; he barely had any clue how to deal with Maxine, who was usually about halfway normal. “Look, kid, the Chief is gonna skin my ass if he finds out you're hangin' out here at ten at night – “

“He's not home. He had a state meeting. He won't be back until tomorrow at eight one five.”

Billy stared some more. “Uh, right. Hopper leaves you by yourself?”

Elijane stared back at him like he was a huge bozo; he guessed he was a huge bozo. He'd already seen the kid throw a grown man into a dumpster (well, sort of seen it, at any rate; he'd felt it) and he'd seen all those papers the chief had on her. Heard all the shit Henderson'd told him. He guessed she could take care of herself.

“Okay okay,” he said. “Look, you don't wanna hang out with me, kid. Why don't you go over to your boyfriend's house?”

Once again El looked at him like he was a huge bozo. Jesus she was something else. “Mike's not my boyfriend,” she told him. Billy wondered if Wheeler Jr knew that. She hesitated. “And I'm … I'm not supposed to go there by myself. His parents can't see me. They might – remember me.”

Oh. Right. She was supposed to be some kinda Russian spy or some shit, Henderson'd been yapping away about it too. “Thought that was over, those people looking for you.”

El shook her head. “Too many bad men. I can't be stupid.”

“Okay,” Billy said again. He looked up at the clock on the wall behind her. “So … right, little kid in a pink dress wanderin' around at nine-forty at night, that ain't stupid?”

Elijane scowled at him; she had a glare on her too that rivaled Maxine's. They could get together and fuckin' kill him; probably they was planning it already. “I wanted. To see. Mama.”

“Okay,” Billy said for a third time. “Look, that ain't happenin' tonight, that wasn't happening as soon as you came in here, I don't need another reason for the chief to want to kill me.”

“I wanted to see you,” Elijane said; truly he felt touched. Then she said, “You're all alone,” and he felt slightly less touched.

“I ain't alone,” he said which was stupid. “What, you wanna talk about feelings or some shit?”

Elijane was giving him some kinda look; she was a piece of work tonight. “You feel bad,” she told him. “I thought I could come see you. I thought you'd understand.

Jesus God she was a true member of the Creepy Kid Club; he had no clue what the fuck she was talking about. “Kid, what do you think I understand?” he said and she just stared at him. “Okay, look, show me the shit.”

Elijane stared at him. “The … shit,” she said slowly; he sensed the wrath of Hopper coming down on him from where the fuck he was.

“Yeah, can't you do that?” Billy said. “I dunno what you're talking about, you're all worked up. Show me the shit, go in my head and show me.” Suddenly he heard Wheeler Jr screaming his head off over the summer, SHE SHOWED ME WHERE SHE WAS . He didn't understand it.

“I'm … not supposed to do that.”

“Look, just hit me with a little shot, show me what you can do,” Billy said. “You think I feel bad, okay, 'pparently you're already in my head, show me what you got.” Couldn't make him feel worse than he already did.

“I didn't mean to look,” El said, whatever the fuck that meant.

“Okay, well,” Billy said because he had no clue what the fuck to say. “Show me what you got. Show me the shit.”

Elijane stared at him and stared at him. “Okay,” she said.

She hit him with the shit. It was like a wave going over him; he saw everything at once. It almost knocked him off his feet.

He saw Wheeler Jr screaming and Henderson screaming and Sinclair screaming; he felt a little mark being burned onto his arm. He saw 011 011 011. She was in a little cell that was made up to look like a kid's room; she was so cold. A man with silver hair touched her face and said 'extraordinary;' he didn't mean it in any good way. He saw the first soda can she'd ever crushed.

It was memories coursing through him; they slammed into his head and coursed out through his fingertips. She was screaming and being injected with some shit and she was real small. She was BAD BAD BAD. She was so cold. She was 011 011 011. She was out in the rain; Wheeler Jr and Henderson and Sinclair were looking at her. Jesus she was so scared of them. He saw the Chief making her waffles; he saw Little Byers freezing out in a tent somewhere. He saw the monster; she was the monster. He saw the people she'd killed. Jesus it was a lot of people. He felt the snap go out of her head and into their necks. He saw Mike going over a ledge. He saw Max on her ratty skateboard. He saw the monsters. He saw everything. She was alone. She was bad bad bad. She was the monster.

Then it went away.

It didn't really go away; it went away enough that he was Billy again. He was still seeing the shit; it was coming in waves off her like she couldn't pull it all back into herself. There was so much power; she was too much. He saw flickering lights; he saw her mom strapped down on a table and screaming for her, screaming for Jane. It was that fuckin' blonde lady he'd been dreaming about.

“Jesus Christ,” he said; his voice came out shakey. Wheeler Jr was screaming for her in the woods. Wow she really liked waffles. “Jesus, kid. Okay, don't – uh, don't, don't do that again.”

Elijane almost smiled at him. He looked at her and felt scared; she was the monster. That was her feeling that; after a second it leeched away too.

“Jesus,” Billy said again. He'd gotten all sweaty in two seconds and now he just felt cold. Felt like he was in a big goddamn cell too. “Okay, we can't be in here right now.” Jesus God she'd made him feel jittery; it was too dark in the garage.

“Sorry,” said Elijane. Billy grabbed her up and dragged her to the front before he could have a great old panic attack in the garage. He turned on all the lights in the front of the shop. El hopped up on the counter and sat there looking at him.

“Kid,” he said. “Why the fuck'm I dreaming about your mom?”

El stared at him blankly for a second; her face twisted up. “I didn't mean to.”

“Jesus, you sending out some kind of signal or some shit?”

“I don't know,” said Elijane. “I can't control it.”

“Jesus. Shit.”

“I'm sorry, ” Elijane said in total misery. Her nose was bleeding a little bit and she looked about ready to cry in two seconds; Billy could not handle that.

“No no no,” he said. “You're all right. Christ, you fucking feel like that all the time?”

El didn't answer him for a couple seconds. “Bad,” she said finally. Shit and she thought he felt bad.

“Okay,” Billy said. “Look, kid, you're not bad.”

“You saw.”

“Yeah, I saw the shit.” Billy thought about it. “You see my stuff?”

“I didn't mean to.” Jesus he hoped she hadn't seen Harrington. Or his mom. Or his dad. Tracey. Tracey screaming. His mom screaming. Max screaming. God shit fuck. What had she seen.

“Okay,” Billy said again. Like usual he had no clue what was going on; actually he still had some of her memories floating around in him and it made him feel weird as fuck. Henderson had no front teeth and Jesus God she thought Wheeler Jr was cute! “Okay. Look, kid. You can't go around feeling like that all the time. You don't just have that shit in you, you have good shit too.”

El just stared at him; she looked like she expected him to say something more. Some elderly wisdom or some shit; Billy didn't have a lick of that in him. He wished to God he had a fucking mom or a normal dad so's he could be a normal person who'd know what to say to her. “Look, you've had a real rough time of it, I get it.” He felt like a fucking moron; it was beyond anything he could fucking say.

“I thought you would understand. The bad feeling.”

Billy licked his lips. He wasn't the same as her; he didn't know why the fuck she'd think he'd understand. She thought she was bad but he was actually bad. She should know; she'd seen the shit apparently. “Look kid,” he said for the eightieth time; he was real poetic tonight.

He felt stupid. He didn't know what to call her out loud; he had all those nicknames for her in his head. He wasn't going to fucking call her Eleven. “Okay, listen. Jane,” he said. That was her fucking name after all; that was the name her mom had given her, the name she'd been screaming. “You can't go around feelin' like that all the time, okay kid? You can't go around with a fuckin' – fuckin' hole in your heart because of the shit people did to you. You gotta push that shit down. ” He jabbed her a little in the stomach; he guessed it was okay to do that since she'd fucking been in his head and all. “Down in here, okay?”

El stared at him. “Okay,” she said.

“You got other people now. You got the Chief; you got Wheeler. You got, uh, me to drive you around. You don't need to go around feelin' that way, okay?”

“Okay.”

“You ain't bad or nothin'. You gotta put that shit away.”

Elijane was just sitting on the counter and looking at him. “Okay, I'll try,” she said. She sat there looking at him. “What about you?”

“What about me?” Billy said. “I got all my shit under control.”

El just looked at him. I don't know, she said in his head; it freaked him the fuck out. “Can I stay here?” she asked him.

“What?” Billy said in slight hysteria. Like, to live?!

“Until you're finished,” El said patiently; Billy sighed out in relief. “I don't want to go – home. No one's there. I wanted to go see Mama . I don't want to be alone.”

“Look, kid, I'll take you to see your fuckin' mom, it just can't be tonight,” Billy told her desperately, then he wished he hadn't said it.

“Promise?”

Shit if she didn't look just like Maxine excited out of her damn mind to hang out with him or something. “Yeah, sure. Just not tonight, you can't be walkin' all over town.” He thought about that black car back in August. It could have just been a car.

“But can I stay here?”

Billy didn't know what to do with her. “It's like ten at night, ain't you supposed to be in bed? What are you, like twelve?”

El glared at him; she actually did look twelve. “I'll be thirteen in May.”

JESUS GOD SHE WAS ACTUALLY TWELVE! WHEELER JR WAS GONNA DIE! Billy tried to compose himself. “Okay, okay,” he said. He thought about it; he wasn't going back into the garage for shit tonight. “Look, you wanna get a milkshake or something?” The diner was open til midnight.

El stared at him; she was thinking about it. She stared at him for a while. “Fries and a soda too.”

“Oh my god, you're killing me, kid.” He had a strong sense of foreboding that Elijane was gonna suck up all his money just like Max. Women'd kill you if you let them.

Billy locked up the front and turned the lights out; Elijane followed him out to his car. He finally saw her little backpack; it had a little cat face on it that was gonna kill him being too cute. Now she was just a normal weird girl again. He took her to the diner and she ate all her food like a crazed rat again. He wondered if she'd gotten any dinner. Even though she was still definitely his goddamn bride he felt pretty weird being alone with her in the diner; she was such a little kid and she wasn't his sister like Max was.

Finally she finished eating and allowed him to take her home. She'd said about all of eight words to him in the diner; she was a goddamn miracle. When they got back into the car 102.5 was all static-y like usual. El stared at the radio and put her hand out; the Violent Femmes came on playing clear as day.

“HAHA!” Billy said even though he didn't feel like laughing; he couldn't help himself.

“Thought you'd like that,” Elijane said. She looked all pleased with herself.

Billy drove her out to the chief's; it was all dark like usual. El stared at him from the passenger seat. “Will you really take me to see Mama?”

“Look, I dunno if the chief's gonna let me take you out – “

“You promised. ” She was giving him the awful look again.

“Okay okay okay, Jesus, yeah, I'll take you, I'll figure it out.”

El thought about it. “Mike too,” she told him.

“Je-sus,” Billy said; not Wheeler! She just looked at him. “Okay okay, Mike too.”

“Okay.” Elijane climbed out of the car; she leaned in the window and looked at him in her serious way. “Thank you.”

“Keep your shit locked up, okay?” Billy told her. “I don't want no bad dreams tonight.”

“Okay. I'll try.”

“Okay.”

Elijane went off up towards the house; once again she used her goddamn mind to turn all the lights on before she'd reached the door. She went inside without looking back at him. Billy stared after her; he put the Camaro back in drive.

The whole drive home he tried not to freak the fuck out; he had to push the shit down like he'd told her. All the memories she'd shown him now felt like a dream he'd had. She'd still shown him though. Now he knew what the monsters were that Harrington dreamed about. Goddamn they were ugly fuckers.

By the time he'd gotten back across town and back to his house he felt mostly calm again. Almost normal, not that he ever felt normal. He sat in the car and counted to ten twice; he was all right. If Jane was all right he could be all right.

He got up and went inside; Max and her mom were still in the living room watching the TV. It was past midnight and there was school tomorrow but Susan probably didn't care about that; she was usually good with letting them do what they wanted as long as they weren't out killing anybody.

“Hey, you're back!” Max said; she looked all happy. Felt like he'd been gone about twelve goddamn years. “Do you want to watch the movie with us?”

Billy thought about it. He remembered wishing he'd stayed earlier. “Okay,” he said.

“I want you to see this total douchebag Mom thinks is cute.”

Max! ” said Susan.

Billy sat down next to them on the couch. Max pointed at the screen. “That guy with the bowtie.”

“Oh Jesus, what a douchebag.”

Billy! ” said Susan.

“Sorry, Sue, that's a grade-A douchebag, probably got a stamp and everything.”

“Oh my god,” Susan said; her eyes were wide and she was shaking her head like a mom. “Honestly, I don't know which of you is worse.”

“Him,” said Max.

“Her,” said Billy. They watched the TV.


 

 The next night he got dragged out to the diner by Max and the rest of the Creepy Kid Club. It was Friday night; he didn't have to work for once. Billy had a grand old time telling the boys how El'd came to his work; Wheeler Jr had apparently heard most of it already and was scowling up a storm. Billy got such a kick out of him. Truly he didn't even know why the kid ever fuckin' came out with them when he knew Billy'd be around.

The creepy kids were acting weird tonight; they all jumped and tensed up every time someone'd walk into the diner. Billy wondered if they were expecting a monster to come shambling in or some shit.

“I can't even believe she'd want to hang out with you for five minutes,” Wheeler Jr was sneering at him over Elijane. Billy stole a couple of his fries; Wheeler made a face like a demon. “Hey!”

“Stopped her from running off to find her mom,” Billy pointed out to him. Now that the night was over with he mostly felt okay again and he was back to wondering about the age of consent in Indiana. Truly he didn't know how the kids did this shit; did the creepy shit and then just went out to eat and did their normal shit.

“I guess. Are you really gonna take her?”

Sinclair was leaned up all nicey nice against Max across from him; Billy was trying to ignore the show. “You know, I guess El would be weird enough to like your caveman personality,” he said like some kinda philosopher. “I mean, she's been so isolated. She probably thinks you're normal.

“Watch it,” Billy told him. “Screw off, I am so nice to that girl. Gonna take her to see her moms. Got her an ice cream.” Wheeler Jr made another terrible face; Billy grinned at it. “HAHA!” he said. “Fries and a soda too.”

Max was making a face at him too; she looked all sulky for some reason even with Sinclair wrapped around her like a boa constrictor. “I guess you guys had so much fun together,” she said like a jealous girlfriend. Billy'd never understand her.

“Thought you wanted me to be friends with your friends.”

“We're not your friends!” yapped Wheeler Jr. Billy stole some more of his fries. “STOP EATING MY FOOD!”

“We're kind of his friends,” said Little Byers in his loyal way; honestly Billy thought the kid was such a prize, not that he'd ever say it.

Sinclair made a face. He was definitely not a prize. “Yeah, that's debatable.”

The door to the diner dinged again and all the creepy kids sat up; Maxine leaned across the table and grabbed Billy's arm for some reason as if to keep him from bolting. She was totally weird – for a split second Billy wondered if his old man had wandered in or something.

He turned around to look and it was just Henderson coming through the door with a new hideous baseball cap on. Behind him trailed Steve with his hands in his jacket pockets; his hair was falling into his face. He stopped walking when he noticed the creepy kids looking at him. He stopped walking when he saw Billy looking at him. He had a huge pair of fucking glasses on his face; Billy stared at him.

Steve got a huge scowl on his face; he turned a little and shoved Dustin. “YOU TOTAL ASSHOLE!” he said. “I am not doing this shit!” He turned and stalked out of the diner.

Henderson yelped his head off and reached out with a hand to grab at the door before it closed. “OH MY GOD, STEVE, STOP BEING DRAMATIC!” he yelled. “JESUS CHRIST! I'LL BE RIGHT BACK, GUYS!” He dashed off out of the diner and after Harrington.

Max and Sinclair and Byers and Wheeler Jr were all making great faces. “You fuckin' assholes,” Billy said. Max finally let go of his arm; the creepy kids all pressed their faces up against the window at the booth to peer out into the parking lot.

Steve and Dustin were out on the sidewalk and Steve was going off; Henderson was yapping right back at him. Steve yelled a lot and clapped his hands in Henderson's face four times. With his glasses on he looked like some kinda professor yelling at his student; holy God it was amazing and Billy was going to remember it later when he was alone.

Henderson batted Steve's hands away and started waving his own arms around like a crazy person. They shouted at each other for a while and then Henderson grabbed the sleeve of Steve's jacket and tried to drag him back towards the diner; Max pressed her nose against the glass of the window like a freakshow. Steve yelled his head off some more. Finally he shoved Dustin off him and stormed off to his car. Billy and the creepy kids watched the lights of the BMW go on and watched Steve drive off.

Henderson came back into the diner all out of breath; he collapsed down next to Billy, shoving him into Little Byers. He sighed heavily. “Whew, sorry you guys had to see that,” he said.

“Why was he wearin' glasses?” Billy asked him.

“Really? That's the first thing you ask about?” said Maxine.

“Did you know he had glasses?”

Dustin smiled his Wookie smile. “You've never seen Steve's glasses? He always wears contacts, this is the first time I think I've gotten him out of the house with them on. As you can tell, he was really happy to see you.”

“Guess, ah, he didn't think I'd be here?”

“Ha ha,” Dustin said. “Surprise!” He handed Billy a candy bar.

“Did you assholes plan this shit?”

No!” lied five out of five creepy kids. Billy didn't say anything and stole even more of Wheeler Jr's fries.

“Son of a bitch, I really thought it'd work, he was my ride home!” Henderson yapped. He gave out a big Wookie sigh. “Maybe if he wasn't wearing the glasses, son of a bitch. It's gonna take me like a half hour to walk!”

“Chill the fuck out, I'll give you a ride,” Billy told him.

“I deserve like forty rides from you, Steve has been impossible lately,” Henderson told him: he sounded like the weary mother of an evil toddler. “Look, I don't know what you did, but can you please make up with him? I seriously can't handle him anymore, I think yesterday I had a stress muscle spasm.”

Max was making a weird face. “Is that even a thing?”

“Um, yes, it is when you have to deal with Steve!” Henderson yapped. “Billy! You have to take him back!”

Jesus he made it sound like a soap opera. “Look, he doesn't wanna talk to me.”

“Yes he does, he literally complains about you all the time and you guys haven't talked for two weeks and five days!”

“That's so sweet, that's really affecting me.”

“It's affecting us!” Wheeler Jr said. “Can you just make up with him? He's been, like, the biggest jerk ever lately, I don't know how not talking to you can make someone the biggest asshole, but that's what's been happening!”

Billy looked around; all the creepy kids were looking back at him with huge bug eyes. “What, it's really that bad?”

“Oh my god!”

“He's impossible – “

“ – last week at my house he literally ripped my Temple of Environmental Evil in half – “

“ – uh, Wheeler, I dunno what the fuck that is – “

“ – it's a 200 page book, Billy! How did he do it!”

“He flips out, like, all the time – “

“He yelled at me in the arcade!”

“Last week he made me sit in his room and listen to The Smiths for two hours! WHY'D YOU GIVE HIM THAT!”

And he dumped a soda on my head!”

“He called me a motherfucker!”

“He called me a motherfucker!”

“He called me a motherfucker!”

Billy stared. “He called you a motherfucker?” he asked Little Byers. Byers nodded his head emphatically. “Okay. Okay that's pretty bad.”

“PLEASE TAKE HIM BACK BILLY!” yelled the creepy kids. “TAKE HIM BACK! HE'S SO ANNOYING!”

“Okay okay okay,” Billy said. “Chill the fuck out.”

“What are you even fighting about?”

“We ain't fighting. I just said some shit to him.”

“What did you say?” yapped Sinclair and Wheeler Jr.

“Guys!” Henderson said, coming to Billy's rescue somehow. “Listen, Steve says this is a private matter. And actually I don't care, I could care less, I am getting a rash. PLEASE TAKE HIM BACK!” he yelled in Billy's face.

Billy wiped some of Henderson's spittle off his face. “Kid, this ain't Love Boat, he's not gonna go sailing into my arms. I really pissed him off, okay?”

“Oh my god, Billy, friends have fights all the time,” Henderson yapped. “Just get over your mental trauma and go apologize to him, tell him you miss him!”

“I don't fucking miss him,” Billy said like a sulky bitch.

“Shut up, yes you do!” Max said. Billy gave her a warning glare which she ignored.

“Okay, okay,” said Wheeler. “Who drew first blood?”

“The fuck? We didn't fucking punch each other.” This time.

“Oh my god, he means who started the argument!”

Billy felt like an even bigger sulky bitch. “I guess I did.”

“Big surprise,” sneered Wheeler Jr. Billy ate even more of his fries; they were cold now. “OH! MY! GOD! STOP EATING!”

“Okay, so you're in the wrong, you have to go apologize,” Henderson said. “You have to shake his hand!”

“I ain't shaking his hand.”

“He'd probably prefer a hug,” Maxine said like a shitheel. Billy took her fries too. “BILLY! STOP EATING!”

“What? M'fucking hungry.”

Four out of five creepy kids looked annoyed. Henderson looked deeply disappointed in him. “I really thought you cared about Steve, you came to the movies with us!” he yapped. Billy didn't answer him. “YOU PICKED HIM UP FROM THE DENTIST!” Henderson screamed; Jesus God Billy hoped he didn't scream at little Tracey-Rebecca like this. “Billy, you're endangering the party! Don't you miss him?”

“Oh my god, I'm not in your fuckin' party.”

“You could be! I thought you were friends with Steve!”

Billy wanted them all to stop talking. “Yeah we were.”

“Well, why'd you screw it up?” Sinclair asked him. “Just go tell him you were wrong, we all have to do that sometimes.”

Lucas Sinclair and his infinite black wisdom; Billy rolled his eyes. He did miss Harrington, though. He missed him a lot. He kinda wanted to go and let Steve beat him the fuck up; at least he'd get to look at Steve while he was doing it. He could keep his cute fuckin' glasses on while he punched Billy the fuck out.

For some reason he thought about little Elijane, sitting on the shop counter last night and looking and looking at him. Okay, I'll try. What about you?

He sat thinking about it. He didn't need to feel this way. He had his shit together. The creepy kids all stared at him; they were lookin' more and more irritating with their big bug eyes as the seconds ticked by.

Billy scowled. “OKAY I'LL TRY,” he said finally in great annoyance.

“REALLY?!” yelled five out of five creepy kids.

“Oh my god, if it gets you kids to shut the fuck up, yeah I'll go say sorry. Won't do shit anyway.”

“Yes it will!” said Henderson. “Okay, great, this is great!”

All the creepy kids stared at him some more. Billy stared back. “What, you want me to go right now?”

“Uh, no, you're my ride home!” Henderson yapped. Wheeler Jr said, “And you have to buy me more food, you ate everything, you troglodyte.”

“I want a milkshake!” Max said.

“Jesus,” Billy said.

 

Billy bought the brats the goddamn food they wanted and then he drove Henderson back out to his house. He and Max finally managed to shove Dustin out of the car after about six minutes of talking, then he drove Max back home too.

“Are you going to go and get Steve back?” she asked him.

Billy scowled. Why'd she have to make everything sound like a goddamn romance movie. “I guess so.

Max wished him good luck and got out of the car. Billy drove to Harrington's real slow; he wasn't thinking about it. Really at this point he barely even remembered what he'd said; he didn't know what he had to apologize for anymore. Okay he knew.

Billy parked out on the street. Like usual Harrington's car was the only one there; Billy wondered yet again if his parents ever came home. Steve didn't like to talk about it.

He got out of the car and stared up at the house for a couple minutes. He smoked a cigarette to prepare himself. He went up the walkway and knocked on the door; he had to knock a couple times. Finally the porch light came on and Steve opened up the door. He was still wearing the amazing glasses. He stared at Billy. Then:

“OH HELL NO!” Steve said like a dramatic bitch. He slammed the door shut in Billy's face.

Billy stared at the door. He knocked again. “FUCK OFF!” Steve said through the door.

Billy knocked again. “Harrington, lemme talk to you.”

“FUCK OFF!” Steve said again; he was starting his broken record shit already.

“Stevie, come on.” Billy knocked again. Steve turned the porch light off on him. “Oh my god, are you serious!”

“I'M GIVING YOU WANT YOU WANTED, I'M LEAVING YOU ALONE! GET THE FUCK OFF MY PROPERTY!” Harrington yelled like a den dad and a hysterical bitch. Jesus that was Billy's hysterical bitch; Billy grinned at the door. The light in the living room went off too.

Fuckin' Christ. Billy stood and glared at the door; he knocked for a couple more minutes. He could feel Steve's sulky silence washing over him like a river. Even though Steve was pissed as hell at him Billy was still kind of getting a kick out of him; that probably made him a bad person.

He went and stood back out in the yard. There was just a light on in Steve's room and the rest of the house was dark. He guessed that was that if Harrington didn't want to talk to him.

He lit up a cigarette and stood looking. Then he tossed it to the ground and stamped it out. He knew he was an asshole and he was a piece of shit, but he guessed he needed to get over himself. He thought about all the shit Elijane had shown him and thought it was small beans compared to the bullshit he'd yelled at Steve. Anyway he wanted to see Steve and he wanted to talk to him. He wanted Steve.

He went around to the side of the house where the garage was and stood looking up at the light on in Steve's room. He was pretty sure the window was open a little. He remembered Harrington making him open it for him when he'd been all looped up from the dentist. Billy stood looking at the window for a while. Then he went and dragged one of the metal trash cans over to the side of the garage. He turned it over and hopped up on it, then he started climbing up the gutter; looked easy enough in the movies. Harrington's house was even bigger than most of the houses in the movies though.

The gutter rattled away as Billy shimmied up it; Jesus he really did need to stop eating fucking french fries all the time. He reached the roof of the garage and dangled off it for a couple seconds, then he pulled himself up. The metal rafters of the gutter clattered loudly as he dragged himself up over them. He was making a lot of noise.

Harrington threw his window open and stared down at him laying on the garage roof. “OH MY GOD, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!”

Billy rolled over and sat up. He stood up and started making his way across the sloped rise of the roof; he almost fell backwards. “I wanna talk to you.”

“YOU ARE SUCH A PIECE OF SHIT!” Steve yelled at him. “YOU'RE GOING TO FALL AND CRACK YOUR SKULL OPEN ON MY DRIVEWAY!”

Billy reached the edge of the garage and looked up; he had about eight feet of gutter to climb before he got to Steve's window. “Shoulda thought about that before you slammed the fuckin' door in my face.”

“I FUCKING HATE YOU!” Steve screamed like a dramatic bitch; hell yeah that was Billy's dramatic bitch. He jumped up and grabbed the gutter. “OH, MY FUCKING GOD.”

Steve screamed his goddamn head off the whole time Billy dragged himself up the gutter pipe; it was way harder than they made it seem in the movies. In the backyard Luke and Leia were barking their heads off. At about five feet up the gutter started fuckin' groaning in its bearing and Billy was pretty sure he was about to die. He scrabbled the rest of the way up and then Harrington grabbed his arm and dragged him through the window.

“YOU ARE SUCH AN ASSHOLE!” Steve told him. “I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU DID THAT, ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE?”

Billy fixed his jacket and looked around. Steve's room looked the same. “Wanted to talk to you.”

Steve glared at him. He still had the amazing glasses on and his red sweater; he looked like a super den dad. “Why, why do you wanna talk to me. What do you want?”

Billy ignored him; he was inspecting his arm. “Scraped my fuckin' wrist getting up here, Harrington.”

“OHHHH MY GOD!” Steve moaned like he was in pain. “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?”

“Jesus, stop fuckin' screaming at me,” Billy said; he didn't want to do this part. “Look, I … wanted to say sorry.”

Steve crossed his arms like a den dad; he still looked pissed as hell. “Okay, so?”

“So … “ Billy stared at him. “Uh, sorry.”

“Jesus Christ,” Steve snapped in total annoyance. “What, what are you fucking sorry for?”

“Oh my fuckin' god,” Billy said; he didn't want to do this shit. He didn't know how to do this shit. He'd said sorry about six times in his goddamn life now; half of it had been this year. He didn't know how to say sorry and mean it. He hadn't even said sorry for punching Steve the fuck out last year, not really. “Look, I'm … uh, sorry about all the shit I said to you. I didn't mean it.”

Steve stared at him; he still had his arms crossed like a dramatic bitch. He was leaned up against his desk as far away as possible from Billy. “You didn't mean it,” he repeated blankly. “Okay, cool. Why'd you say it?”

“I … “ Billy said. He didn't thinking screaming NEWS FLASH, I'M GAY! in Steve's face would go over very well at this particular moment. “I don't know. Look, I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean it. I was just mad. Not at you.”

“Uh, right.” Harrington still looked majorly unimpressed with him. “Look, you fuckin' told me we were cool – “

“We are cool.”

“So why'd you say all that shit to me?” Harrington looked all hurt again; Billy felt about two inches tall. “Did your dad do something to you?”

Billy felt like a piece of shit too; his dad was always doing something to him but he didn't feel like lying to Steve about it right now. It wasn't about his dad this time. “No he didn't do shit to me.”

“Okay, look, if I piss you off so bad all the time – ”

“You don't piss me off,” Billy told him. “Look, I didn't mean any of it, okay? I'm fuckin' sorry. I told you I'm a fucking asshole, you know this shit.”

“Uh, okay.” Steve was frowning. “See, the thing is – uh, you're not? Uh, not lately. So tell me what I did to you.”

Jesus he was going to kill Billy, making him say shit. “You didn't do nothing.” He said again, “I was just mad. Not at you.” Steve just stared at him. “Look, I can't – fucking explain it, okay? I was just mad. I didn't mean it, I was just – I'm sorry, okay? You're the only – “ He stopped, tried again. “You're like my best friend, okay, man? I'm fuckin' sorry.”

Steve stared at him. And stared at him and stared at him. Billy wondered if Steve was about to push him out the window. Finally he said, “Okay.”

Billy stared back. “Okay?” It couldn't be that easy.

“Yeah, okay. Whatever.” Steve looked real tired and sad. “Look, we don't have to – hang out all the time or whatever. I thought you wanted to. Didn't think I fuckin' bothered you all the time – “

“You don't bother me,” Billy said. Okay Harrington bothered him all the time but it was fucking great. “I didn't mean it. I missed you, okay?” he said like a huge girl.

Steve made a face at him. “Do you really think I feel sorry for you and Max or some shit?”

“I dunno,” Billy said; he felt like a Garbage Pail Kid in about two seconds.

“I don't feel sorry for you, you asshole. You're too big of fuckface.” Steve made a terrible face. “You're like – okay you're like my best friend too, okay?” He added, “You shithead.”

Jesus he was so sweet. Billy felt uncomfortable as hell. “So are we done fighting or what?”

“I guess so.” Steve glared at him. He stopped leaning on his desk and walked over. Then he slugged Billy in the shoulder, really hard. “You're such an asshole, ” he said.

“Come on, man, that's my fucking bad arm!”

“Oh, shit. Sorry!” Steve made a face.

“S'fine.”

“Look, we don't have to – hang out every day or something. Uh, I'll stop coming in through your window.”

“You can come in my window,” Billy said like a sulky bitch. Somehow he stopped himself from saying You can come in my bed too! Hahahahaha. “Sorry, okay?” He wasn't looking at him.

“You're such a piece of shit,” Steve told him. “Stop saying sorry, okay? Feels like I broke you or something.”

Steve had broken him; he'd done that a while ago. “Okay.”

Steve stared at him. They were just standing around his bedroom. “So … “

Billy thought about it. “Hey. How long you been wearing glasses?”

“Oh, my god,” said Steve. He pulled them off his face. “I knew you'd be a fucking asshole about this.”

“I'm not being an asshole!” Billy said. “I dig them, man.”

“Oh, my god,” Steve said again; he was rolling his eyes. He had his 'Billy is amusing' face on though; Billy didn't know how he hadn't realized Steve had that face for him before. “Should show you my yearbook from ninth grade, you can cream your pants looking at my retainer and braces.”

“Oh, my god,” Billy said too in total thrall. “Shut the fuck up, are you serious.” Steve laughed. Billy said, “What the fuck was Henderson writing about me for two weeks?”

“I don't know, he's annoying as shit,” Steve said. “You know I had to take him and Rebecca out like six times because he said I was fuckin' lonely? One night they sat at the library and talked about, like, Indonesian tree frogs for two hours. I wanted to kill myself.”

“Sorry, man,” Billy said. He thought about it. He said, “Steve, what the hell is a cheesedick?”

“Oh, I was real mad at you, I get really creative. Dustin wouldn't even write down half the shit.”

“That's great, that makes me feel so good.”

Steve was grinning at him and it felt like normal. Billy felt okay. “Do you wanna watch a movie or something?” He paused. “Or you can go home. I don't care.”

“We can watch a movie.” Billy followed him downstairs.

 

The weekend went by. Billy's dad was home again so he and Max had to be on their best behavior all Saturday. Sunday Neil drove Susan out to Indianapolis; he was acting real nicey nice again like he could be sometimes. Billy knew better but it was probably good for Susan to get out of the goddamn house for once.

So it was Tuesday night and Maxine was annoying the shit out of him; he and Harrington were going to meet at the diner. It was the first time they were really gonna hang out since their fight. Maxine was treating it like some huge fucking deal; she'd had him trapped in his room for about an hour now and was making him fucking late.

Max sat him down on his bed and fucked with his hair; he batted her hands away. Max sprayed him with his hair spray. “Oh my fuckin' god!”

Max ignored him. “Are you going to be okay without me there?” she asked him like a huge mom. Oh my fuckin' god, Billy said again in his head.

“Gee, actually I dunno,” he said in such a serious voice that Max looked all touched for a second, then she scowled and slugged his shoulder. “Max, it ain't a fuckin' date, chill out.”

Max ignored him. “Okay, what are you wearing?”

“What you mean what am I wearing?” Billy looked down at himself; he was wearing his usual Garbage Pail Kid jeans and his Metallica shirt.

“Oh, my god,” said Max in total despair of him. She went over to his little dresser and started rifling through it. “Where are the clothes my mom bought you at Christmastime!” Then she screamed in horror and threw a pair of boxers at his head.

Billy laughed his ass off at her. “Chill out, all the shit's clean.”

“You are so disorganized!” Max yapped. “Where's your red sweater?”

“Oh my god, I ain't wearing the red sweater, you shithead, it's fuckin' warm out.” They'd been having some kind of warm spell this week; Henderson'd been annoying the fuck out of everyone screaming that it must be the gate.

Max ignored him; she stamped over to the closet and starting going through that shit too. She started throwing shirts at him. “Don't you want to look nice for Steve?”

“I always look nice,” Billy told her. He could sense her rolling her eyes. Max scurried back across the room and kept holding shirts up to him and assaulting him; he kept smacking at her. Truly he didn't know when the fuck she'd started thinking it was okay to come into his room. Finally Maxine decided on some kinda blue t-shirt; Billy put it on to humor her.

“Okay, I guess that's okay.” Max looked critical and sprayed him with his cologne.

Billy smacked her on the head again. “Max! Quit spraying me with shit!”

Max sprayed him again. “Put your leather jacket on!”

“The fuck, it ain't cold out.”

“Uh, Steve likes the leather jacket,” Max told him like he was a huge bozo. She held his cologne threateningly; Billy put the jacket on to avoid her wrath.

Max followed him to the front door like he was her dorky son going off to prom. “Have fun, don't stay out too late!” she said, making fun of him like a shithead. “Make good eye contact!” she yapped. “If he compliments you, it's totally a date!”

“Oh my fuckin' god, it's not a date, you asshole!”

Max leaned against the doorframe and gave him a smug look. “Oh my god, I can't believe this! I just realized that I know more about boys than you,” she said; Billy lamented his life.

“Look, don't just eat candy for dinner, okay?”

“Oh my god, can you just go?!” Max said like she hadn't been bothering him for an hour; she was shoving him out the door. She was totally waiting to eat candy for dinner.

Billy got into his car and started driving off towards the diner. His radio was still coming in real clear since El'd done her magic trick on it and he felt happy. “Happy Tuesday night, rockers!” said the shithead radio announcer. “It's time to get the Led out!” They started playing a block of Led Zeppelin; 'Whole Lotta Love' started playing since Billy was going to meet Steve.

Harrington was already at the diner at their usual spot when Billy walked him; he was eating about eighty things like usual. He was wearing his white work shirt and some kinda tie. No glasses though; Billy tried not to feel disappointed. “Hey, sorry I'm late.”

“That's okay, I just got here,” Steve said. Billy sat down. “I ordered for you since you always get the same damn thing.”

“Did you get – “

Steve was rolling his eyes. “Yeah I got you your double fries, don't freakin' worry.” He was stuffing a whole dinner roll in his mouth and he looked up at Billy. “Is that a new shirt? Looks nice.”

Hahahahahahaha, Billy said in his head.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seven

You know that sometimes, it feels like
It's all moving way too fast
Use every alibi and words to deny
That love ain't meant to last
You can cry tough, baby, it's all right
You can let me down easy, but not tonight
We're running with the shadows of the night
So baby take my hand, it'll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They'll come true in the end

- 'Shadows of the Night,' Pat Benatar

February 1987

Billy still had basketball on Wednesday and Monday; Max'd been actually going to his practices for some reason so that meant she couldn't keep Henderson and Byers out of the gym anymore. After the last week in January they'd managed to scare away the group of girls that always talked to Billy though so they were at least useful for something.

It was Wednesday now, the second day into the month, and he had Max and Lucas and Henderson on the bleachers to annoy him. Henderson had his girl Rebecca there with him; he had his arm slung around her as he yelled his dumb shit. “YEAH!!! THAT'S MY FRIEND!!!” Henderson screamed as Billy sent a junior sprawling across the gym.

“SHUT UP, DUSTIN!” said Max and Sinclair.

“HARGROVE, THAT IS ANOTHER FOUL!” said the coach. He blew his whistle; Billy made the shot anyway.

“NOTHING BUT NET!” screamed Henderson happily; Rebecca covered his mouth with her hand.

Practice ran til past five today and after he met the creepy kids out in the hallway. “You're really sweaty, you should have showered,” Max informed him. She was chomping away on her last jawbreaker and her mouth was all blue. Billy ignored her.

“Billy, do you think you can keep your shirt on next time, certain people get too distracted by you running around,” Henderson lisped.

Rebecca smacked his baseball cap and gasped. “No they don't! ” Henderson grinned like a Wookie.

Half the Creepy Kid Club plus Rebecca followed him down the hall. Max and Sinclair were babbling away to each other as Billy opened up his locker to get his jacket; the temperature had gotten back down to freezing again and there was an inch of snow on the ground. Henderson had been bitching and moaning away again two nights ago in the diner that it must be the gate, definitely was the gate, do you guys think it’s the gate? Billy was learning that just about everything was the gate, according to Dustin. He didn’t know how Harrington hadn’t lost his goddamn mind yet.

“OH MAN! I DON'T FEEL GOOD ABOUT THIS!” Dustin'd yelled his head off in the diner.

Billy'd flicked a sugar packet at his face and Sinclair had rolled his goddamn eyes out of his head. “Oh my god, what do you feel good about?!” he'd yelled back. “It's February, you idiot!”

Now Henderson leaned over Billy's shoulder like a creeper creepy kid. “Hey, do you have anything cool in your locker?” he asked. He started grinning. “Aww! Hey!” he said in true delight. “Is that that picture of you and Max at Christmastime?”

“REALLY?” Max yapped. “DID YOU PUT MY PICTURE UP?”

Billy shoved Dustin away from him; truly Henderson was the worst ever. He'd thought it was Wheeler Jr but Henderson was showing his true colors more and more. “No I didn't put your fuckin' picture up!” he lied. One goddamn thing he put up in his locker to get himself through the day, now he was going to have to burn it on account of Dustin seeing. He put his leather jacket on and scowled. “What's going on, why's there a gathering happening here? Am I taking you kids out or something?” He couldn't believe 1987 was the year he'd turned into a goddamn charity cab service.

“You said we would go to the movies with Steve on Wednesday,” Max reminded him. She slurped her jawbreaker like a disgusting troll; Sinclair looked enamored with her.

“Uh, no, said I was going to the movies with Steve on Wednesday.” Billy laughed at her face. “Oh my god, you shit, you already know I'm gonna fuckin' take you. Dunno how you're all gonna fit in my car.”

Rebecca looked uncomfortable; she bit her lip. “Oh, I don't have to go. It's fine.”

“What? You aren't coming?” yapped Henderson.

Billy slid Max's horrible picture into his English book in what he felt was a sly movement; he slammed his locker shut. “Kid, I don't care if you come, you're just gonna be cramped in the backseat.”

“Um … “ She was still hesitating. “It's okay, I don't have any money anyway.”

“Why would you need money, I am going to pay for you,” Henderson said right away; Billy felt proud for a moment. Then Henderson said, “I bet we'll just see one of the dollar movies anyway, Billy probably wants to see The Sound of Music for the eightieth time,” and Billy felt significantly less proud. He hit Henderson on the top of his baseball cap and shook him around for a minute. Take a kid to see Grease one fuckin' time.

“Why do you tell these fuckin' lies about me, Henderson? So lucky your girl's here.” Dustin grinned at him for some reason like his life wasn’t in peril. Whatever.

Billy walked out to his car; Max and Lucas and Dustin and Rebecca followed behind him in two little pairs. The Creepy Couples, Billy thought, cracking his shit up. Sinclair and Henderson squished into the back with Rebecca and Max took her spot as Princess Shithead up front with Billy.

The Creepy Couples talked and talked as Billy drove them out of the school. Maxine was hoping to see The Mosquito Coast and the boys were clamoring for Evil Dead II; Billy was hoping that one'd win out. Normally Max was deep into that horror shit too like him but apparently the call of River Phoenix was too great for her tonight.

Billy glared into his rearview mirror. “Henderson, you fucking pervert, I see your hand on that girl's leg one more time, I'm kicking you to the goddamn curb.”

Henderson removed his hand from Rebecca's knee. She was making a great face. Good lord help them all; Henderson might be getting ass. “What are you talking about, there is absolutely no space back here!” he yapped; Billy rolled his eyes. Once again he asked the Lord for help but as usual the Lord did jack shit.

Steve was already parked in the lot behind the movie theater when they got there. He was leaning against the door of his car yapping away to someone in the backseat; Billy pulled up real close to him to be an asshole. He and Max got out of the car and Max pulled her seat up to let the brat pack out. They looked like a gaggle of clowns or something squeezing out of Billy's car.

“Hey,” he said to Steve.

“Hey shithead,” Steve said back and shoved his arm; like usual he stole Billy's whole heart in two seconds. “Okay, I was hoping you'd bring along two or three kids.”

Billy tried not to start laughing. “Say that again in your head, Harrington, you fuckin' pedophile.”

Steve did laugh; there was a time when he wouldn't have laughed. “Shut the hell up, I brought a surprise for you.” Wheeler Jr was climbing out of the backseat and already making a terrible face. Billy made one back.

“I don't want that thing, take it back!” he told Steve.

“Oh my god. Not him!” Steve said. He was rolling his eyes. “Mike, can ya hurry a little?” Wheeler Jr was still making a terrible face (actually Billy thought that that was just what his face looked like: terrible); he turned around and helped Elijane out of the car.

“OH SHIT!” said Billy. “Hey kid!”

“Hi Billy,” Elijane said. Wheeler Jr had a grip on her hand and a scowl on his face; he was such a treasure. She asked Billy like she'd been rehearsin' her words, “How are you?”

Billy leaned on his car in a great joy. “I am fan-freaking-tastic, kid,” he said; for some reason Steve and Wheeler Jr rolled their eyes at him. “What you been up to, was you on lockdown?”

El nodded. “Super lockdown,” she said all serious. Billy got such a kick out of her.

“El went and told Hopper that she ran off to see you like a dummy,” Wheeler Jr told him.

“Mike! I can't lie!” yelped Elijane.

Wheeler Jr was making another one of his shit-faces at Billy. “I think he wants to talk to you again.”

“Okay, he knows where to find me.” Once again Billy thought his favorite thing was talking to high-ranking officials, especially scary crazy adoptive bear-dad ones like Hopper.

At the ticket window the Creepy Couples hemmed and hawed and squawked. The only one missing was Little Byers on account of Joyce being so protective and crazy; there was worse things she could be, Billy figured. Wheeler Jr held Elijane's hand the whole time and Billy wondered again if the kid knew that apparently he wasn't her boyfriend.

Evil Dead II wasn't playing yet even though they had the poster up. Finally the kids decided on Youngblood which was some kinda hockey movie starring yet another guy who Susan always blabbered on that Billy looked like; the other week Maxine'd pretended to choke and die into her breakfast at the audacity of someone saying Billy looked like Rob Lowe. She was a treasure too.

“This is going to be way better than Grease, ” Wheeler Jr told Elijane; Billy made a face and a gesture at his back that made Steve start laughing again.

The kids spent about eighty years picking out snacks; all the creepy guys had to buy candy for their creepy girls. “Do you want something?” Steve asked him.

Billy was definitely not a creepy girl even if he did want Skittles and also Steve. “No I'm good,” he said.

The movie was okay. Billy wasn't really paying attention to it on account of he had Harrington on one side of him and Elijane on the other; he felt real jazzed up for the first time all day.

He hadn't been hanging out with Steve as much the last two weeks: he’d only seen him one other time since Max'd sent them off to the diner towards the end of last month. He was glad Steve’d called him up. Steve had told him they were cool but they weren't really cool; Billy knew Harrington didn't trust him now after the shit he'd pulled.

Billy didn't blame him. He'd said a lot of shit. He was trying to make up for it, not that he knew how. Harrington was all sensitive and shit; Billy didn’t know how to be that way. Half the time even now he couldn't figure if he wanted to kiss Steve or punch him still.

After the movie ended they all went back out to the parking lot. The Creepy Couples stood around under a streetlamp together yapping away about their creepy shit and Steve and Billy went and leaned against Steve's car.

Billy asked Steve about his work and Steve started bitching his head off. Even if he didn't trust Billy anymore, nothing could stop Steve from talking his ear off, it seemed. Billy didn't mind; he liked hearing Harrington talk and talk. Maybe it was his favorite thing, even more than hockey or pissing off Maxine. Tuesday was the day Steve was supposed to bring in coffee for the office; Wednesday this chick named Deborah brought it in and she brought Steve the wrong thing every time.

“Fuckin' bitch, you should get her fired,” Billy said in support. He had one cigarette left; he and Harrington were sharing it leaned up against the door of his car. Billy handed the cigarette over.

“She is a bitch, she has never liked me,” Steve went on like a sulky office drone; hell yeah that was Billy's sulky office drone. 401k and shit – Billy could dig it. Steve took a drag off the cigarette. “She is about thirty-two and acts twelve. She never liked me, she thinks I get special treatment because of my dad. Don't even see him all goddamn day.”

“I know, man,” Billy said in support.

“Do you know who got the most fuckin' sales calls today?” Steve asked him.

“Bet it was you, Harrington.”

“Hell yes it was me,” Steve said like a dramatic bitch; hell yeah that was Billy's dramatic bitch. Okay he really needed to stop thinking shit like that in his head. “I’m not even on that shit, mostly I do paperwork. I pull my weight around there, you know? Every fuckin' Wednesday night Linda stays late and breaks the goddamn copy machine, I can actually feel it breaking right now. I am gonna spend my whole lunch hour tomorrow making copies with her down in the basement.”

“Thought you liked that old lady.” Apparently she was some old bat who ate lunch with him every day; Henderson laughed his ass off about it but Billy thought it was kinda sweet. Mind you it wouldn't be sweet if some old bitch tried to eat lunch with him every day but for Steve it was sweet.

“No, she's all right, but she still breaks the goddamn copy machine every fuckin' Wednesday.” Steve looked up; Elijane had materialized next to them in two seconds. “Uh, freakin' Wednesday,” he amended.

“Gosh darn Wednesday,” Billy said like a moron; Steve laughed. Billy was looking at him and looking at him. He couldn't help himself. He was Billy that liked Steve tonight; he usually was.

Elijane slipped her little hand into his; Billy tried not to be startled out of his goddamn mind. Nobody really touched him anymore, aside from Harrington sometimes and Max getting all up in his personal space all the time. “Hey Jane, you need something?”

El nodded. She looked up at him in her serious way. Billy also tried not to feel scared out of his goddamn mind; he hoped she wasn't going to ask him about going to see her moms again. He was still trying to figure out what to say about it to Hopper that wasn't 'I promised' like a stupid fourth-grader. Elijane just looked up at him. She was still holding his hand. She said, “I need the next book soon.”

“Oh okay,” Billy said in great relief. She was just talking about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe . “You almost done, kid? What you think about it?”

Elijane looked real serious. She thought about it. “Edmund is a mouth-breather.”

“HAHAHA,” said Billy; he was seeing their wedding. He'd always thought the same thing. He got himself under control. “Yeah, totally is, he gets a little better though. All right, I'll get ya the next book.”

El looked up at him. “Next week, okay?”

“Yeah yeah, okay, next week.” He was well aware that the kid was workin' him over but he didn't really care; there was worse people who could work him over.

Wheeler Jr came over about a minute later like a slave owner to snatch her up; El clung to Billy's hand for a second more then let herself be led off. “Bye Billy.”

“Ah, later kid.”

Steve was looking at him and smiling like a goddamn goofball. He raised his eyebrows high up on his forehead and looked cute as shit. He had his arms folded across his chest; he leaned over on the car and nudged Billy's shoulder with his own. “Holy crap, man, she touched your hand,” he said, making fun of Billy. “You gonna be okay?”

Billy was grinning at him; he couldn't help himself. It was a real good night. “Think so,” he said.

 

Friday after basketball drills Billy went to work. Hank was closing up shop and his gay brother was fucking around in the front office being a terror and listening to some Madonna record; it was the same one Billy'd had to buy Max on tape.

Billy let Hank talk his ear off for a while. He tried to actually listen for once even though it was just the same goddamn story about Hank's sister screwing him over for World Series tickets six years ago. Hank told that story about every two goddamn weeks; Miles leaned out of the office and laughed at Billy's face.

Hank paid him for the week and then he started going on and on complaining to Miles too as he slowly put his jacket on. Billy abandoned all hope and went into the back. Even with the garage door closed he could still hear fuckin' Madonna singing about the borderline mixed with Hank gabbing away; in his head he sighed for a thousand years.

He changed the tire on an old truck for a Monday pick-up, then rearranged the wrenches for the thirteenth time this month already. He wasn't doing anything with the Civic tonight; they were waiting for the last of the parts to come in. There wasn't too much to do which was about usual for a Friday.

It was a little past six when he went back out to the front. Hank had finally left and Miles was torturing him listening to 'Higher Love' yet again in the office now. Billy rolled his eyes; he gathered up the hundred and ten car manuals Hank had left all over the counter like a fuckin' slob. Hank'd left him a note on the counter before too he'd left – 'Bill, your lady's bringing her Chevy in on Tuesday! Wear a nice shirt!' with a fucking' smiley face; Hank thought he was too hilarious. Billy made a mental note to dress nice for Ms. Ellenburg on Tuesday.

He tossed the note into the trash and put his jacket on. He was getting himself geared up to leave and say bye to Miles without scowling when the phone rang. Billy eyed it for a moment; he had shit to do. Finally he decided to pick it up. “Hawkins Auto,” he said into the phone like a good little employee.

“Uh, hey. Bill?” It was Harrington.

“Hey, what you callin' here for?” Steve hadn't been calling him too much lately, and he definitely never called him at work. Probably he hadn't even been doing any of his creepy drivebys lately; Billy wondered what was up.

“Uh, hi, nothing.” Steve sounded weird and far away. “Uh, I mean, actually my car broke down.”

“Shit, you serious?” Billy leaned on the counter. “Where you at?”

“I was comin' home from work, I'm like out by that payphone off of Route 22.”

That was still pretty far out of town. “You get your car off the road?”

“Yeah, uh, it was just smoking pretty bad.” Steve hesitated; a couple seconds of silence ticked by. Billy was still leaning on the counter. He was thinking about Harrington standing in some phone booth, out alone in the dark against the highway. It made his stomach clench; he kinda felt like a den dad or something. Or something. It was real cold out, anyway. “I don't – want to bother you or anything,” Steve said. “Uh, usually we go out to this mechanic out by the office. I wasn't even gonna call – “

“No, man, you don't gotta go all the way back over there.”

“ – didn't know if you'd be working but I just – “

“Look, lemme call the tow for you,” Billy interrupted. “He'll know where you're at.”

“Uh – “ Steve still sounded awkward and far away – “okay. Okay I guess. Sorry, I just – ”

“You been there long?”

“Not really, like twenty minutes.”

“He can come and get you in like a half hour, I can look at your car and take ya home.”

“You don’t have to do that – ”

“Ain’t a problem.”

Another couple seconds went by. Finally Steve said, “Okay. Uh, thanks.”

Billy felt weird; he was pretty sure Harrington didn't want to be calling him. Either way he'd called him so Billy'd got him. “Yeah, I got you. Just hang tight, okay?”

“Yeah. Sure. Thanks, man.”

“No problem.” Once again he felt fuckin' weird. Apparently he didn't even know how to end a phone call with Steve anymore; he hung up after another second. Then he got out their phone book and looked up the number for the guy Hank used to do tows, some lazy fuck named Alan who lived out past Loch Nora.

Billy called him up; he had to heckle him for about five minutes to get him off his ass and to agree to go get Harrington. “Man, it's like six-thirty, I got a beer in my hand,” Alan whined his bitch-ass off. “Why you calling me at home?”

People from out past Loch Nora were definitely for shit; six-thirty wasn't late anywhere in the world. “What you usually do when someone needs a tow after six?”

“They gotta go out to Eastgate.”

Billy leaned on the counter again; he was trying real hard not to start hollering through the phone. Weird thing, people didn't usually like it when you did that. “Jesus. Listen, man, just do this one thing for me.”

“Hockey's on at seven,” Alan reminded him; Billy rolled his eyes. “I been out all goddamn day. I had to go out to fuckin' Bloomington two times!”

Billy didn't care how many times he'd had to go out to Bloomington. “Fixed your fuckin’ truck like three times.”

“Okay, okay, okay. Look, Hank's gotta pay me double for this shit, it’s Friday.”

Apparently cars weren’t supposed to break down on a Friday in Indiana; Billy actually got dizzy from rolling his eyes all around the shop. “Yeah, whatever, okay. He can take it out of my pay, I don't give a shit.” Miles was leaning out the office and looking at him; Alan kept on bitching about how hard it was to be the only tow truck in town.

Billy was losing the battle with himself not to holler. “Jesus fuck, can you fuckin’ go?! It’s like four degrees out.”

“Je-sus Christ,” Alan whined his head off. Billy ddn't know how the fuck he was gonna drive with no head but that wasn't his problem.

“It's the fancy Beamer out on 22.”

Alan bitched for about four more minutes and Billy finally got off the phone with him. Miles came out with the radio to kill him; they were playing that faggy Eddie Money song now. “Who needs a tow?”

“My friend's car broke down,” Billy told him.

“Bill! I didn't know you had friends!” Miles said in fairy delight, teasing him like a shitheel. With great restraint Billy managed not to roll his eyes out of his own goddamn head.

It took about forty minutes for the tow to get back with Harrington and Billy was forced to hang around the front and make conversation with Miles. He actually watched hockey which was surprising; he also supported the Penguins too which was a goddamn tragedy.

“Pittsburgh ain't done shit for like four years.”

“Gotta support the home team,” Miles said. He was sitting on the counter with his bandana and he did not look cute as shit like Elijane had a couple weeks ago; he looked like a fairy. Billy thought back to Hank telling him not to bring any girls to the shop and wanted to laugh. He probably hadn't meant twelve-year-olds with fuckin' mind powers.

“What the fuck you move out here for?”

Miles made a stupid face. “Don't you know, I followed a man.”

“Jesus Christ,” Billy said. “Why you gotta say that shit to me?”

Miles laughed at him. “I followed my brother, you little asshole. His wife was from Indianapolis.”

“Oh yeah.” Billy didn't feel like talking about Hank when he wasn't here to interject with a smartass comment. Not like he'd make a smartass comment about his own wife. “She died, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, she had cancer, about twelve years ago. It was real bad.”

Billy definitely didn't feel like talking about that. “Usually is.”

The tow truck came rumbling along with Harrington and his car; Miles glittered back on into the office and Billy went out on the street to go yell his head off. “The fuck you pulling out front for, go around the back, shithead.”

Steve got out of the truck cab; Alan put the truck back into gear and blew some cigar smoke at them. He looked like a fuckin' cartoon villain; he even had a handlebar mustache. “Pleasure talking to you as always, Hargrove.”

Billy ignored him. “Don't fucking dent that car, you asshole, costs more than your life.” Alan put his middle finger up and started driving down the alleyway. Billy grabbed Steve's shoulder and led him into the shop. “You okay, man?”

“Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks.” Harrington didn't look okay; he looked pretty tired and miserable, about what you'd expect someone to look like when their car broke down on a Friday night. He also looked about half frozen; Billy reached out and rubbed his shoulders for a couple seconds before he realized he was definitely being way too queer.

“Yeah. Lemme go look at your car.”

“Okay.” Steve was just looking at him with his hands in his pockets.

Billy took Steve back into the garage with him; he hollered at Alan until he went away and then he took Steve's car keys and opened up the hood. He'd already known what was wrong with it before he'd even got the keys really. “Yeah, you blew out your head gasket.”

“Oh, okay,” Steve said; he was trying hard to look like he knew what that was and Billy tried not to grin at him. “Is that bad?”

“Nah, happens a lot. Easy fix.”

“How do you fix it?”

“Buy another one, put it in,” Billy told him.

Steve was smiling; he had his 'Billy-is-amusing' face on again now. “Oh, okay, right. I guess you can do that?”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Billy told him. “Ain't you notice it was overheatin'?”

Steve looked like a guilty puppy. “Um, yeah, it does that sometimes, usually I ignore it til it goes away.”

“Jesus Christ, Harrington!” Billy exploded. “You don't deserve this fucking car.” Steve laughed at him because he was an asshole. Billy growled; he leaned over stretched with his hands on the hood and looked down at the engine. Usually I ignore it til it goes away, Jesus God. He tried to calm himself down. “Oh, my god, okay,” he said. “Don't worry, Daddy’s gonna take care of you, baby,” he whispered down lovingly to the Beamer.

Steve made a sound like he was choking and Billy scowled. “Fucking what?”

“Uh, nothing,” Steve said in a weird voice. Billy looked over at him; Steve was staring back with a weird expression too. He smiled and bit his lip; fucking Christ Billy'd take care of him too. “Do you want me to leave you guys alone?” Steve asked, teasing him.

Billy rolled his eyes and took his hands off the hood. Harrington was still staring at him; Billy started checking out the rest of the car to avoid his gaze. Everything else seemed okay. He checked the oil and the strip came out bone dry; Billy once again battled with himself to not yell his head off. Mostly he lost. “STEVE!” he roared. His pendant clinked against the engine in a very insulted way. “When the fuck's the last time you changed your oil?”

Steve looked like a guilty puppy once again. “Um,” he said and made a great face. “Well I had a tune-up last year.” He thought about it. “Uh. No I didn't, I had a swim meet.”

Billy’d have liked to have been at that swim meet. Also: “Oh my fucking god,” he said. “You total asshole, you're going to ruin your goddamn engine!” Truly Steve could hurt him like no other. “What kinda oil she take?”

Steve made another great face. “Does that matter?”

“HAHA!” Billy said in agony. “NOT ANYMORE!” He went off towards the front and came back with a couple half-gallons. “Oh my god, don't have to change your fuckin' oil because there's none in it,” he lamented. “Okay, from now on you put 20 in it.” Steve stared at him. “Okay, actually, nevermind, you just let me do it.”

Steve laughed at him; he stood and watched while Billy grumbled over his car. “Jesus Christ,” Billy said again in great pain. “You know, your car isn't Christine or some shit, it don't fix itself.”

Steve laughed at him being a total nerd which truly Billy felt was a rude way to treat your mechanic; after another couple minutes he finished and closed the hood. They went back out to the front of the shop. Miles was still glittering away and closing up the little office. “You leaving?” Billy asked him before he could start up his queer shit.

Miles started up his queer shit anyway; he was grinning again as he put on his jean jacket with all the patches on it. “I'm going, I’m going. I wanted to see this mystery boyfriend you spent half your paycheck on getting a tow for,” he said like a total shithead.

Steve looked startled; Billy lamented his life. “What, are you serious?”

“He's exaggeratin'.”

Miles laughed at him in fairy delight. “Hank's not really gonna charge you,” he said.

Billy thought about it. “You think he can come in and order a part for me tomorrow?”

“My brother? Coming in on a Saturday?” Miles was walking to the door.

Billy'd figured. “Yeah. Okay.”

Steve had a weird look on his face as Miles left the shop. “Um … is he … ?”

Billy'd thought that just about the whole state of Indiana knew that Miles was gay; Hank'd told him the story about how it'd been some big deal when they'd opened up the shop together in the seventies. You didn't even need to look at Miles to figure he was queer, just had to follow the trail of glitter.

“Yeah, he's fuckin' gay,” Billy said shortly. “Why, that bother you?”

“Uh, no. I just was curious.”

“He's okay,” Billy said. “Likes terrible music like you, you guys should talk.”

Steve rolled his eyes; he was smiling. “Yeah, uh, my dad would really love that.”

Billy didn't say anything for a couple seconds. He wondered if that was the reason why their usual mechanic was all the way out in Columbus. “You ready to go or what?”

“Oh. Yeah, sure.”

“Okay.” Billy got all his keys together and they went out to the Camaro. Once again he felt weird with Steve there; he didn't know what to say around him now and that usually didn't happen. He sat in the driver's seat. “Sorry, you ain't gonna have her back for most of the week, can't order the part til Monday.”

“Shit,” Steve said. “I mean, no, yeah, I knew that.”

“Probably take like two or three days to get here, I can put it in for you right away.” Steve was staring at him again; Billy didn't know why. He thought about it. “How you gonna get to work?”

“Shit,” Steve said again. He was playing with his seat belt; he hadn't clicked it in yet. “Um, I dunno. I guess my dad will actually have to come home, I can get a ride with him I guess.”

“He ever home or what?”

Steve made a face even though he'd just said it. “Yeah, of course he's home. I mean, he usually comes in in the morning and shit, he has to get ready.”

“Where's he usually at?” Billy said.

“He has this second office out in Columbus, he usually – he's been – he stays there a lot. Most nights.”

“Oh. The fuck's he do there?”

“I don't know.” Steve looked really annoyed; Billy didn't know if it was at him. “I don't know, cheats on my mom?”

Billy stared. “What, you serious?”

“I don't know,” Steve snapped again. He still looked annoyed; he ran one hand through his crazy hair and crossed his arms around his stomach. “I mean – I mean he has. Like when I was, like, I don't know, twelve or thirteen I guess.”

“Your mom just cool with that?”

“Uh, we don't really sit around the fuckin' table and talk about it,” Steve said. “I think he – I mean, I think they have, like.” His lip curled. “An arrangement.

Billy made a face. “Christ.”

“Yeah. Yeah it's great. It's really great. Pretty sure 'working late' is code for 'banging your secretary,' I don't know how people – “ He stopped talking.

“That sucks, man,” Billy told him. “What about your mom, can you take her car?”

“I dunno.” Steve was chewing on his lower lip; Billy watched him do it. “Look, I don't want you to think – my mom's okay and all.”

“Ain't say nothing about your mom.”

“She is real big into charities these days, she is out running like four organizations. And she's – uh, she goes to see her family a lot, a couple years ago her sister had – “ He stopped for a moment. “She had … uh, she had … “ He said it all slow: “She had … cancer … so – “

“Oh my god, you can fuckin' say the word, I ain't gonna start crying,” Billy told him. A lot of people had cancer; he'd been knowing that.

Steve rolled his eyes. “I know that, asshole, I'm just saying.”

“She okay and all?”

“My aunt? Yeah, she's fine, it was like a tumor on her kidney, she had surgery. My mom is usually with her, I don't wanna, like, take her car. Um, I'll figure something out. I can take the train or something.”

“Train's like two miles from your house.”

“I'll figure it out.”

Billy thought about it. “Can pick you up if you want.”

Instantly Steve looked weird as shit. He was still playing with his seatbelt like he was considering bolting from the car. “Uh, no. That's okay.”

“Can't take you in, I gotta take Max to school, I can come get you if you want.”

“Uh, you don't have to do that.”

“It ain't a problem.”

Steve was still hesitating.“No ... no, that's okay. Don't you have work?”

“Can go in late for like three days, it don't matter.”

“Yeah, I don't, uh, want to bother you. I'll figure it out.”

Jesus Christ Harrington was a difficult bitch; Billy sighed in his head. “Look, we ain't even been hanging out, lemme fuckin' get you.”

“Umm.” Steve was still biting his lip and playing with his pretty hair; Billy was gonna kill himself in two seconds. “You don't mind?”

“I'm doing shit else, just let me get you.” Steve stared at him; he had the frown-wrinkle now so Billy said, “I wanna get you.” It was the only way he'd ever say it.

Steve finally clicked his seatbelt into place. “I – yeah, okay,” he said.

“Jesus Christ.” Billy put the Camaro in drive; he felt relieved. “Makin' me fucking beg to drive you around, man, I don't like that shit. Next time I tell you I'm gonna do something just let me fuckin' do it.”

Steve had his Billy-is-amusing face back on in two seconds; he was such an inconsiderate bitch as well. “I thought you just did what you wanted anyway.”

“That's debatable,” Billy said like Sinclair or Wheeler Jr. He scowled at himself. He never got to do what he really wanted anyway.

They drove on down the main drag; the radio was real quiet but they were playing the Steve Miller Band so Billy felt okay. Steve ran his hands through his hair; Billy wasn't noticing it. Steve asked before they turned down the street for his house, “Uh, so are you – doing anything? Do you wanna do something?”

Billy lamented his life; of course he wanted to do something. “Told Max I'd watch a bunch of movies with her.” It was a pretty embarrassing plan for a Friday night; he almost didn't want to say it. Susan had been working til past midnight all this week and Billy'd been in charge of supervising Max (“NOT BABYSITTING,” Max had yelled her head off on Monday morning like a huge baby). Billy hadn't pointed out that he'd been fucking supervising Max for way over four years now. He looked at the clock on his dashboard. “Actually was supposed to be back like an hour ago.”

“Oh, okay,” Steve said. “Sorry. I, uh – that's nice that you guys do that.”

“Yeah, it's a great way to spend a Friday night, watching movies with my kid sister.” There wasn't even any fucking beer in the house.

“Huh, thought she wasn't your sister.” Steve sounded like he was smiling.

“Whatever, you know what I mean,” Billy snapped. He was thinking. Steve at home by himself on a Friday night made him feel even worse than himself being stuck at home watching movies with his little sister. Stepsister . “S'a bunch of horror movies, you should come watch 'em with us,” he said.

“Uh, that's okay. I don't want to – “

Billy interrupted him before he could start with his 'I don't want to bother you' shit; Jesus he must have done a fucking number on Harrington. He hadn't thought he was important enough to do a fucking number on Steve and he felt like a piece of shit again. “Come fucking watch them with us, I'll hold your hand.” He said, “We miss ya.”

“You're an asshole,” Steve told him. He paused for a second. “Okay, I'll come over.”

“You need something from your house?”

Steve looked at him for a minute. “Uh, I guess I need my glasses.” Billy started grinning. “My fucking eyes hurt, you're an asshole,” Steve told him again.

“Didn't say a goddamn word.”

Steve stretched out in the passenger seat. “At this point you don't even have to.”

Billy drove Steve to his house; he sat in the car and watched him run in. Steve was inside for a long time, long enough for Billy to start thinking he'd ditched him. Finally Steve came back out; he was wearing jeans now and the amazing glasses and Billy rejoiced.

“Sorry, my mom was actually home, she was talkin' to me,” Steve told him, getting back into the car. “She remembered you and Max from the diner, she thought you were about twenty-three goddamn years old.”

“That's great.”

“My mom's cool, you'd like my mom,” Steve told him. “You both like to make fun of me til I fuckin' die, you'd get along great. She said you and Max have to come over for dinner one night.”

“Me'n Max don't do too well in the general public,” Billy told him; Steve grinned.

It was getting pretty late but they stopped at Mike's to get a pizza to try and subdue Maxine's wrath; it was nearing nine o'clock by the time they finally pulled up in front of Billy's shithole house. All the lights were off inside aside from the flickering screen of the TV in the living room and it looked real ominous. Steve and Billy sat looking at the flickering light in true slight terror.

“Jesus Christ, I can fuckin' feel her bein' pissed off,” Billy said. “Can you feel it?”

“Yeah, I can hear it too, it's this low hum in the air. Like – ah, start of a horror movie soundtrack,” Steve said; Billy grinned at him. They got out of the car and went to meet their fate.

They went up the driveway and Billy opened up the door; it was unlocked like usual when Max was home. “Ass-face, what I tell you about this fuckin' door?”

The TV flickered ominously. Max whipped her head around from the couch like she was in The Exorcist; she was scowling like Billy'd expected. “YOU SAID SEVEN-THIRTY, YOU DOUCHEBAG.” Then she took pause. “Oh. Hi Steve.”

“Hey, Max. We brought you a pizza.” Steve came around the couch in slight true terror to sit next to her. “Sorry, it's my fault. My car broke down.”

Billy sat down on the other side of her; he guessed it was safer that way. “Harrington didn't have a lick of oil in his fuckin' car,” he told her.

Max whipped her head around like The Exorcist again. “STEVE! You total asshole, you're going to ruin your engine!” Steve started laughing for some reason.

“What movies you get me?” Billy asked her.

Max bounced up off the couch and bounded into the kitchen. “Okay, so 1985 was not a good year for me and you, it was a good year for horror though.” She showed him the tapes all proud; she'd gotten Day of the Dead, Reanimator, and Return of the Living Dead.

“Oh Jesus,” Steve said, looking at the covers.

“Told you I'd hold your hand,” Billy told him; Steve laughed and Max made her fish face at him. She put Reanimator on, then took about half the pizza and went to her spot on the smaller couch. She was still giving Billy a big look which he ignored. They watched Reanimator for a couple minutes.

“Steve, are you going to Billy's basketball game tomorrow?” Max yapped even though she'd just screamed at Harrington twice to stop talking. “It's his first game!”

Steve looked up from the dead cat on the screen. “Oh, yeah. Sure, I'm going.”

“You should just stay here tonight, it's already late,” Max informed him; Jesus she was a piece of work.

“Um,” said Steve.

“Okay, he don't have to stay over,” Billy told her.

“Billy's girlfriend used to stay over all the time, she'd sleep in my room!” Max declared.

“Oh my god, that was my old room anyway, you shithead!” Billy reminded her. Tracey'd slept over like four times when Billy's old man hadn't been there; that didn't count as all the time. Anyway Steve was definitely not his girlfriend.

“I didn't even want your room!” Max shot back; she was such a liar. She'd loved his big closet. Hahahaha, he thought now.

“Why did she get your room?” Steve asked him.

“Was bigger.”

“Neil made me take it when we moved in!” Max continued yapping. “The spare bedroom smelled weird, and the window was creepy!”

“Yeah, it smelled weird 'cause my mom was fucking dying in in,” Billy snapped. Steve had been smiling but he stopped smiling; Maxine also looked similarly stricken.

“What?”

“What?” Billy said; fucking Christ the two of them made him say too much shit. “She fuckin', she stayed in there. Smelled like her medication.” Some of the stuff they'd gave her had smelled like that cherry cough syrup; he still couldn't take that shit. The room had also just fucking smelled like her after she'd gotten sick, maybe from her chemo. It radiated off of her like a battery or something, was terrible. He didn't want to talk about that or think about that. He looked at Max. “Anyway Steve ain't staying in your room, you shithead.”

Max had been lookin' all sad and shit but now she instantly just looked like the biggest gremlin in the world even though it wasn't yet midnight. “No, he can stay in yours,” she said sweetly.

Steve looked kind of amused again with them going on at each other. “I don't have to stay over,” he said to Max.

“Why not? You don't have a car, we'll just have to get you in the morning anyway.”

“Oh, well I – “ Steve looked perplexed.

“You can stay over if you want, my dad ain't here,” Billy told him.

“Oh, okay. Sure,” Steve said. Over the loveseat Max looked like a true demon; Billy could tell she was seein' George Michael again.

Steve yelled his head off at the end of Reanimator ; he remained traumatized all throughout the credits. Max and Billy kept laughing at him.

“You really don't like this stuff, you know it's not real right?” Max asked him.

“Yeah I know it's not real,” Steve said like a sulky bitch (hell yeah that was Billy's sulky bitch). “There's enough horrible shit out there, why you wanna watch this stuff?”

Max looked at him like he was dumb. “It's more fun when it's not real.”

“That's debatable,” Steve said like Sinclair or Wheeler Jr; Billy laughed at him. It was a little easier not to want him so bad when Max was around to be a shithead. Not completely gone but it was manageable; Billy wasn't popping a boner or anything. Anyway he'd eaten too much pizza to think about sex with Steve. Did it count as sex when you just wanted your friend's prick in your mouth? Haha. Steve Steve Steve. Billy shifted on the couch and stared at the TV screen.

They put on Day of the Dead next; Steve made fun of the soundtrack for a while and then passed out at eleven-thirty anyway. When the movie ended Maxine got up and starting poking at him. Steve snorted and batted her arm without opening his eyes.

“Jesus, he's worse than Pop-Pop!” Max exclaimed; Billy laughed his head off.

“Leave 'im alone, he don't sleep good.”

Max made a face. “All he does is sleep here, are you going to tuck him in again?”

“Fuckin' hate you,” Billy reminded her. Max just looked at him and went and got the last slice of pizza.

 

Max stuffed her face full of pizza like a troll and went to bed; Billy went into the bathroom and took a shower (he thought about Harrington making fun of him and didn't put any socks on after). When he came back out Steve was still sleeping away; Billy went into his room and got him a pillow and a blanket. He shook Steve's shoulder. “Hey.”

Steve sat up and looked all surprised. He took his glasses off his face. “Oh. Thanks.” He took the pillow and jammed it behind his head; he looked like a little kid with his hair all crazy. “Did you finish the movie?”

“Yeah, everybody died. S'pretty late, you okay out here?”

“Yep. Thanks.” Steve settled down in his blanket.

Billy went back into his room and went to bed; he felt weird as fuck with Harrington out on his couch. It was too close or something. Anyway he was real tired; holy shit he'd had to talk to a lot of annoying people today. He woke up way too early in the morning to Steve shaking his shoulder and asking him if he could borrow a T-shirt; “Mmmmyeah?” Billy said and wrapped his arms back around his pillow.

He finally woke up again and rolled out of bed around ten; his basketball game was at one and it was an hour away. Out in the kitchen Susan was drinking coffee and Max was eating a shit-ton of food like usual; Steve was sitting on their counter lookin' like a magazine ad. His hair was wet like he'd taken a shower and was sticking up all crazy like Nick Cave's hair. He was wearing the amazing glasses and Billy's Dead Kennedys t-shirt; Billy stared at him.

Susan was drinking her coffee. “You're up before eleven on a Saturday? I don't believe it.”

Billy rubbed his face. “Okay, all right, that's cute.”

“Mom came home at two in the morning and threw her coat on Steve, she didn't even notice him!” Max yapped.

Billy sat down at the table and eyed Max's plate of eggs skeptically; they had a weird orange tint to them and looked like Susan's handiwork. “Yeah, Harrington's the resident coat rack around here,” he said; Steve laughed and Max gave them a weird look. “Susie Q, did you make these eggs?” Max made a face like always at Billy calling her mom Susie Q like it wasn't the best goddamn song ever written.

“I don't need any comments,” Susan told him.

“Didn't say a goddamn thing yet.”

“Billy!” said Susan at him swearing. Max said, “They're not that bad today.”

Billy choked down the eggs; Max kept laughing at him so he made a big production out of it. Steve gave him some toast so he choked on that too.

“I cannot deal with you two this morning, it's only been fifteen minutes,” Susan said; she wasn't really mad. She swept off to the living room to kill them and watch Little House on the Prairie and Max and Steve and Billy fucked around in the kitchen for a while. Max was washing dishes and handing them to Steve to dry.

“Did you sleep okay, Steve, Billy was really concerned about you,” Max said; Billy thought up eight ways to kill her on the spot.

Steve had his Max-is-amusing face on; he looked so goddamn good sitting on the counter. “Yeah, I was okay.”

They got ready and said goodbye to Susan; she had to go back into work at three. On the drive there Max sweetly informed Billy that Henderson and Sinclair were coming and taking the school bus, something to look forward to. “The fuck, where's my boy Byers at?” Billy said. At least Wheeler Jr wasn't coming.

“I think he said he's going to a concert with Joooonathan,” Max said like a shithead; Steve made a face.

The basketball game was out at Bloomington High School. Billy parted with Harrington and Max and went to get changed; he let the coach yell at him for a while not to be an asshole. Once again he felt pretty jazzed up: he was playing basketball and Steve was wearing his t-shirt and it was going to be a good weekend. Since he had Harrington and his little cheerleaders on the bleachers he tried his hardest not to be an asshole. He scored about ten points and only knocked over two people. Henderson screamed his dumb shit like usual; even over all the commotion he could hear Sinclair bitching his head off. Henderson said, “Steve, what the hell are you wearing?”

After the game they went and got food with the creepy kids at a diner in town. Max declared that Billy played a good game and so he should get double fries; like usual she was too supportive.

“I'm gonna get fucking fat eating all this shit,” Billy said and ordered double fries anyway.

“You look great, man,” Steve said.

Maxine made a huge fish face and leaned with her elbows on the table. “Yeah, you look great, man,” she echoed like a shithead. Billy rolled his eyes and kicked her hard under the table.

“Ow!” said Lucas; Max grinned.

Henderson annoyed the fuck out of everybody taste-testing all the food; he had some kinda crazy ratings system. Lucas kept rolling his eyes and telling him what an idiot he was. Sinclair was such a goddamn sourpuss and Billy got a big kick out of him honestly. Billy drove them home and dropped the kids off at Henderson's; he knew that Max and Lucas were planning to sneak off somewhere but he ignored this fact.

He drove Harrington home finally; it was past seven and dark out now. He kinda didn't want to let him go and that was stupid. He'd got a lot of hours with Steve this weekend already and he was gonna get more on Monday and the rest of the week.

Steve fiddled with his seatbelt and unclicked it. “Thanks for hangin' out with me,” he said like always. “Uh, thanks for takin' me around and all.”

Billy looked over at him and wanted to kiss him; he really wanted to. He'd thought about kissing Steve plenty of times and in a couple different ways but this was the first time he actually had to stop himself from doing it, he tried real hard. He could see himself doing it, clearer than a memory Elijane'd send through him. He could just lean over and do it. He saw himself doing it. Wouldn't even shove Steve around, he'd do it real nice. Put his hand on Steve's shoulder; he was wearing Billy's t-shirt after all. Maybe he'd get in a good two or three seconds before Harrington knocked him the fuck out.

Of course he couldn't really do it. God he couldn't really do it. Billy leaned back and laid his head against his seat. “Whatever,” he said.

Steve's eyebrows went down; Billy realized he was being a grade-A douchebag in two seconds. “What you doin' tomorrow, you wanna do something?” he asked to try and save it.

“Uh, that's okay, man.”

“Can bring Max over, we ain't doin' shit,” Billy told him. “She's been waiting to eat all your goddamn food again.”

“I'm not doing anything.” Steve was chewing on his lip. “Uh, you guys can come over if you want.”

“Can bring you over some more tapes that don't fuckin' suck.”

“Okay.”

“Hockey game’s on at two, I want to watch it on your big TV,” Billy told him.

“Okay,” Steve said again. He had his Billy-is-amusing face on; Billly didn't mind it. “Yeah, if you want. Sounds good.”

Billy wanted. “I'll call you.”


 

School took about a thousand years to go by like it did every Monday. Billy left basketball practice a little early and drove Max home. He'd already called Hank from the school payphone and told him he'd be a little late; apparently Miles had gone and told Hank all about the BMW already anyway.

“Bill, is that Steve Harrington's fancy Beamer?” Hank asked him; everyone in town knew who the Harringtons were. “I didn't know yous were friends. He a nice guy?”

“He's okay,” Billy said.

When he and Max got in Susan was home from her job already, eating ice cream out of the carton on the couch. She looked a little guilty as they came in through the living room. “You guys are home early, do you have work?” she asked Billy.

Max answered for him because she was a shithead. “Billy has to go pick his boyfriend up from out in Columbus,” she said.

Maxine! ” Susan said; she flicked her ice cream spoon at Max. “Don't talk that way. Steve seems like such a nice boy.”

“How'd you know it was Steve?” Max asked like a gremlin. Then she scowled and turned her hysteria up to about a three. “Wait, okay, so if he was queer, he wouldn't be nice anymore?”

“I didn't say that. Don't say that word!”

“Uh, Neil says it. Are you homophobic, Mom?!” Max demanded at a level five.

Billy ignored them; he didn't know what the hell was up with everyone thinking they were so funny this month calling Harrington his boyfriend. Fucking boyfriend. It's not like Billy got any kisses or a finger up his ass or anything. Jesus God. He choked on the bottle of water he was drinking; Max and Susan stopped arguing about whether Max should be allowed to say 'queer' or not and stared at him from the couch.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yup,” Billy croaked. He got himself under control. “Okay, I'm goin'.”

“Don't have too much fun,” Max said; Billy thought up eight more ways to kill her on the spot.

He drove himself out to Columbus. It was about a half hour way – 'More like twenty minutes the way you drive,” Harrington'd said like a fucking grandpa yesterday when he'd given Billy directions eight times. Columbus was supposed to be some kinda little city but it still all looked like Little House on the Prairie shit out here to Billy. Steve worked in a huge office building in an industrial complex; Billy got there a couple minutes before five-thirty just in case Harrington got out early and lost his fucking mind thinkin' Billy'd forgot him or some shit.

He got out of the Camaro and leaned against the door smoking for a while; Steve came out a few minutes later. He was pulling his tie off and talking to an older lady with a bunch of blonde hair piled on top of her head and he smiled when he saw Billy.

“Hey, you look cool as shit out here smoking and waitin' for me,” Steve told him once he'd came over; he was still smiling. Billy had no clue whether Harrington was making fun of him or not so he didn't answer right away. He was usually smoking and waiting for Steve it felt like.

“That your old lady with the copy machine?”

Steve was getting into the car. “Yeah, that's Linda, did you hear the stupid shit she was saying to me?”

“Thought she'd be older.”

“I think she is about fifty, she's got this kid who's twenty-five and ignores her,” Steve told him. “I think I am like her surrogate office son, where'd you think I got all those amazing Christmas sweaters?”

“Oh my god, man,” Billy said in true delight.

Steve was messing around with his radio; he looked happy even though he'd just shared incriminating information about himself. “Thought you'd like that. Did you get new speakers or something? Sounds really good.”

“Jane did one of her magic tricks on it,” Billy told him; he was pulling the car out of the parking lot.

Steve stared at him blankly for a second; Billy remembered he definitely hadn't told him about that. “What, really? When'd she do that?”

“Came in to see me at work one night when I was in the back, talking 'bout she saw me.”

Steve made a great face. “Uh, okay, that's not weird, what do you mean she saw you? Like in her – “ he made a crazy hand gesture – “in her mind?

“Guess so.”

“Jesus. Sorry, yeah, that's kinda creepy.”

“Yeah it was,” Billy admitted. “Kinda scared the shit out of me, she just blew the door open with her fuckin' powers. Came in at like ten at night saying she seen me. Freaky stuff.” He didn't feel like telling Steve all the other shit, that was just for him. I thought you'd understand. The bad feeling.

“I can imagine, God. You think she's got like – a, a radar or something?” Steve made another face and looked out the window. “Jesus, I really hope she can't freakin' see what I'm doing at ten at night.”

“What you usually doing at ten at night, Harrington?” Billy asked and then wished he hadn't; it felt too much like flirting.

Steve didn't miss a beat. He was still looking out the window. “On a regular night? Usually eating string cheese out of the fridge in my underwear. Friday nights, you know, I slide into the room with my socks on like I'm in, uh, Risky Business.

Billy laughed. “Oh my god, stop, you're turning me on.”

Steve started laughing too and he looked over at Billy. He was smiling and it made Billy realize that Steve hadn't been looking at him too much lately, not like he'd used to or whatever. He didn't know how he hadn't realized that Steve looked at him too. “You ain't do that at my house on Friday.”

“I didn't want to embarrass Max or anything,” Steve said. He was still looking at him. Billy was starting to feel weird again; it still felt too much like flirting. Steve just leaned over like nothing and started messing around with the radio, dialing through the channels.

“HA!” he said all loud when he found a song he liked; Billy sighed internally because he knew what was coming. Steve got a serious expression on his face and he started singing. He told Billy, “ I don't mind you coming here and wasting all my time.

“Okay, that what we're doing now?”

When you're standing oh so near, I kinda lose my mind, ” Steve informed him. He was grinning like a shithead.

“All right, yeah.” Billy drove on; Steve sang him the song. He did some impressive air guitar too, at one point he hit Billy in the face and almost made him drive off the goddamn road. “Fuckin' shit, Steve!”

I GUESS YOU'RE JUST WHAT I NEEDED, ” Steve told him. Then he looked sulky. “You know, Dustin usually backs me up on drums,” he said pointedly.

“I'm driving,” Billy reminded him.

It's not the perfume that you wear. It's not the ribbons in your haaaair. ” Steve flicked his earring; Billy smacked his arm away.

“I'M DRIVING,” he said again; Steve laughed at him. He looked pleased with himself when the song ended, then he looked slightly less pleased. He said, “Sorry, I'm just being stupid. I can stop if you want. I used to, I annoyed the crap out of Nancy doing this shit. I can stop.”

Billy didn't know why the hell he was being compared to Nancy Wheeler. “You annoy the crap out of me all the goddamn time,” he informed Steve. “And here I still am, the fuck.”

Steve grinned at him; Billy reminded himself that he needed to be looking at the road. Steve messed around with the radio again until he found a station he liked. He was still grinning. “Hey Bills, did you know that some people call me a space cowboy?

“Okay, you can't actually annoy me with this one, I like this song.”

Some people call me Maurice,” Steve informed him. “'Cause I speak of the pompitous of love. Is that a real word?”

“Think he made it up for the song.”

“Huh. I guess you can do that.”

“Can do anything if you're Steve Miller,” Billy said. Steve Steve Steve. Steve sang his song.

 

Tuesday he went to work and picked Steve up and then went back to work; Wednesday he had off and he and Steve went out to the mall at Eastgate so's Billy could buy the next Narnia book for El. Steve looked around at all the little kid books; he looked pretty tired again and didn't even make fun of Billy for reading the back cover of The Neverending Story . He still sang a couple of faggy songs on the way home though. Apparently Harrington had a thing for Genesis; Billy was still trying to figure out what to do with this sensitive information.

They went on back to Billy's house; Max had her friend Beverly over and they were being terrible girls watching Dynasty so he and Steve went into his room. Steve sat on his bed and Billy tried not to think about pinning him down on it. He started looking through his tapes. He bet Steve'd like that one song by the Germs; everyone did. He found a shoebox he'd forgotten under his bed; it was from a pair of his Converse and he and Tracey'd covered the box with stickers like fuckin' kids one year. “Oh shit!” he said. He was laying on his floor and Steve was looking down at him.

“What's that, secret Billy stuff?” Steve asked him like a weirdo. “Is it your pornos?”

Steve was a total asshole; it didn't matter if Billy wanted to lick his face. “I don't have any porn, you shithead,” Billy told him. It was the truth after all. Back in Riverside his old man'd used to go through his room about once a month. He'd had to keep his weed and smokes and any important books at Tracey's house; once Maxine'd carried a pack of cigarettes around for him in her backpack for three days acting like the littlest CIA agent.

He opened up his shoebox; he guessed it was some secret Billy stuff anyway. It was mostly a lot of old pictures from when he'd been a kid. He'd have to transfer his and Max's horrible Christmas photo into it – it couldn't stay in his English book forever. A keychain someone'd given him; he didn't know why he had that. Some old theater stubs from movies he and Max'd seen and their Def Leppard tickets. Folded up cover of a Cheap Trick tape that he'd wrote some dirty romantic shit to Tracey on; he didn't know why he had that either. The letter she'd wrote him when she was eleven and his mom had died. Her big sloping handwriting made him smile. It was so faded now; you almost couldn't see the ink. Tracey’d always wanted him; she was the only person who’d ever really wanted him. She’d wanted him even though there was so much wrong with him.

“Oh my god, is that a love letter?” Steve asked. He sounded all excited like a girl.

“Yeah, you wanna see it?”

“Okay.”

Billy stared at him. He handed him the letter. It wasn't really a love letter; it was okay if Steve looked at it he guessed. Steve looked at it. “Oh, Jesus.”

“S'about five or six years old.”

“Shit, I'm sorry. Why'd you show me this?” Steve said. He was still looking at it anyway. He said, a lot quieter: “Man, this girl really liked you.”

Billy didn't say anything for a couple seconds; he didn't know why he'd thought he should show Steve the letter. Being around Harrington and feeling the way he did made him forget about how he'd felt about Tracey. They'd been kids anyway. He knew he was fucking queer now anyway – he knew that now – but he'd really liked her too. That was his girl; she'd been his best friend he guessed. “You wanna see a picture of her?”

“Yeah, you got one?”

Billy looked through his box of secret stuff. “Oh, here's my mom!” he said. He always got jazzed up seeing his mom. He handed Steve the picture; it was an old Polaroid, probably from when Billy'd been about four or five. His mom sitting on the couch in a fancy dress. Must've been some kinda holiday.

“Oh, wow, man,” Steve said. He was looking at the picture; he shifted around and slid off the bed. He sat down on the floor next to Billy. “Hey, she was really pretty. She looks like you.”

“She was pro'lly like twenty-two or some shit there.” Billy was still looking through the box of secret Billy stuff. He pulled out another photo. “Me 'n Max's first Christmas.” Billy and Max were sitting together on the same couch from the last picture and were both glaring up a storm; Max looked small as shit and was wearing some hideous pink sweater Susan'd just bought her. Her little eyes were so big, even all squinty-scowly. Susan really did buy always Max pink stuff.

Steve took that picture too and smiled. “Holy shit! How old were you?”

Billy made a face. “Uh – yeah, year after my mom died, guess I was like fourteen?”

“Cool, that's what you looked like at fourteen?” Steve said loudly. “Okay I'm not showing you my yearbook after all, you're like supernaturally good-looking.”

That made him feel good even though Steve didn't mean it the way Billy wanted him to. “Stop flirting with me, it ain't gonna get you nowhere.”

Steve rolled his eyes. He just looked at the pictures for a moment. He said, “Uh, so your mom died you were thirteen and then you – I mean, in this picture, Max and her mom lived with you guys already?”

“They wasn't hitched yet or nothing,” Billy told him.

Steve didn't answer him for a couple minutes. “That's – yeah, that's kind of fast still. I mean.”

Wasn't much else to say to that; it was just what had happened. “Max's okay sometimes though,” Billy said, even though it was dangerous to say and a threat to his whole existence since she was right out there in the living room.

“Yeah, she is.”

“Used to think I was real cool before I fucked all this shit up.”

Steve sounded like he was smiling. “She still thinks you're cool,” he said. Then he added, “Don't know why. ” Billy smacked him really hard in the leg; Steve laughed and kicked him in the shoulder.

“OW!” Billy smacked him again. “That's my bad arm, you shit!” Steve leaned over and punched him in his other arm. “DON'T FUCK UP MY PHOTOS!” Billy yelled like a kid; Steve laughed at him some more but he stopped hitting him.

Billy finally found the photo he wanted. He handed it over to Harrington even though Steve was being a piece of shit. In the picture he and Tracey were standing around outside of the high school; she looked happy as shit in the stupid preppy school sweatshirt Billy'd saved for a month to buy her. He was pulling her ponytail. Trace's hair and eyes were so dark; her eyes were so big. Maybe he had some kinda type after all, just not like he'd thought. “After some football game.”

“Ho-ly shit,” Steve said; he was grinning at the picture. “Oh my god, you dated Riverside's version of Nancy Wheeler, I can't believe this.”

Truly Billy felt assaulted; was probably the worst thing anyone'd said to him in his life. “Don't say that shit to me, she wasn't some rich bitch.” He thought about it. “Had a fuckin' mouth on her.” Steve opened his mouth to make a comment; Billy interrupted him before he could be a fucking asshole: “Not like that , you shitbag.” Okay kinda like that too. Steve didn't need to know about that private shit though.

“I didn't say a goddamn word,” Steve said, imitating him; Billy grinned. “Okay, okay, I apologize, I take it back. She's real pretty too.” Really pretty , Jane'd say if she was here. “She the only girl you slept with? Aside from your hoards of fangirls here, I mean.”

Billy rolled his eyes at him; Harrington must think he was some kinda loser. “No she wasn't the only girl I slept with, you dumbass. I guess it's at – okay, you count the four minutes with Rachel – “ Steve laughed – “yeah, there was two before her, I got four.”

“Okay, I don't feel so bad, I'm at three,” Steve told him; Billy didn't know why Steve was telling him this shit. “I mean, Nancy was the only person I slept with a lot, though.” He made a face. “Does like twice a month and a lot of bitching before and after count as a lot?”

Jesus God, Billy really didn't feel like discussing Harrington's sad sex life with him. Nancy Wheeler was a piece of work; Billy'd bet on his life she'd never even gave Steve the kinda real good real sloppy blowjob he deserved. “Man, I don't know, Tracey was like a fuckin' nympho.”

“Yeah, the way you look, I don't blame her.”

Billy stared at him.

“Oh my god, what?” Steve said, too loud. “You know you look good.”

“Do I?” Billy said. Steve laughed; he looked kind of uncomfortable. Billy couldn't stop looking at him. He was pretty sure he was gonna launch himself at Steve in another five seconds. He was gonna do it; he was so close. Steve was –

Max chose that moment to burst into his room like a shithead. “BILLY, CAN YOU TAKE ME TO DUSTIN'S?” She looked around. “Oh, sorry. What are you guys doing?”

“Nothing,” Steve said right away; he was standing up. “What do you need at Dustin's?”

“He's had my Walkman for like a week!” Max caterwauled; Billy was lamenting his life. “He already half-broke it!” She looked over at the shoebox of secret stuff. “Oh my god, are those your pictures?” She looked happy. “Did you show Steve the winter formal?”

“He don't need to see the winter formal,” Billy growled; Steve looked way too intrigued anyway. Billy sat up. Now that he knew he was queer at least a woman could never make him wear a fuckin' bowtie again. Anyway, he guessed he wasn't going to get to find out about how good Steve thought he looked. “Okay, take ya to get your shit.”

Max yapped her head off while Steve gave him the photos back and Billy secured his shoebox back under his bed; Beverly was still in the living room and they all headed out to the Camaro. “SHOTGUN!” Max yelled like a shithead. Harrington just had his Max-is-amusing face on and he squished himself into the backseat.

They dropped Beverly off first; her mom's apartment was just off of Dearborn near the main drag. Steve stretched out as best he could in the backseat while Billy and Max argued about the fastest way to Henderson's place. Dustin lived out by the woods on the opposite side of town; there was no fastest way to his house.

By the time they'd gotten to Henderson's it was a little before nine; Harrington was conked out in the backseat like a huge baby. Max was looking into the backseat and grinning. “Pop-Pop's here again,” she informed Billy; he tried not to laugh.

Maxine looked like she was gearing up to go and yell her head off; she closed the car door in a real serious way and stomped on into Dustin's house. Billy sat in the car and listened to Steve mutter in his sleep; it must be pretty bad if he was passing out in the back of Billy's car. Finally Max came out looking triumphant and pissed off and holding her Walkman. “Dustin said it ate his tape and that I owe him a new Human League, he's such a LIAR!” she went off. In the backseat, Steve twitched in his sleep in true slight terror. “I wish I had a stupid CD player, no one could borrow it then!”

“The fuck's he listening to that shit for?”

Max made a terrible face. “I don't know , God I hope that stupid tape got ruined!” Billy laughed and Max looked all pleased with herself. “Did you eat yet? Should we wake up Pop-Pop?”

Billy was still laughing. “Oh my god, stop calling him that.” He thought about it; for some reason really he didn't want to wake up Harrington. “I want a milkshake, you wanna go to Dairy Queen?”

Max stared at him. “That's all the way out in Eastgate.”

“I know, you wanna go?”

“REALLY?” Max yapped all excited. “Okay! I have six dollars!”

“Jesus, don't need your six dollars,” Billy told her. He put the car in gear; Max fucked around with the magic radio and found the classic rock station. They played 'House of the Rising Sun' by The Animals and 'Time of the Season' by The Zombies; Billy felt pretty good.

Max laid her head against the window; she looked happy too. “I'm glad you like me again,” she told him.

“Who said I liked you?” Billy asked her. Max made a slight gremlin face at him. “Don't start on me with your fuckin' emotional crap, okay?”

“I'm not emotional, you are!” Max yapped.

The drive out to Eastgate took about forty minutes ('Half an hour the way you drive,” Billy could hear Steve going on in his head). They had to drive around for a while before they found the Dairy Queen; Billy saw a cool-looking bookstore and made a note of it. Once they finally got to their destination Billy parked and gave Max a few extra bucks. She went in to get their food and Billy looked at Steve in the rearview mirror; his knees were bent weird and his mouth was open. What a vision, Billy thought, cracking himself up.

Max came running back to the car and almost spilled her fucking milkshake everywhere; the Camaro shook as she got back in. Steve snorted in a very sexy way; Billy made a great face.

Billy and Max ate their fries and shot the shit; Cream was playing 'Sunshine of Your Love' on the radio and the neon light from the Dairy Queen sign was shining into the car. Max started asking him about boys; they had some kinda code now. Wasn't really a code, Max'd just say the name and Billy'd say some approximation of yes or no. If anyone asked they could just say they were talking 'bout the movies.

Max was pitching her voice a little low even still since Steve was snoring away in the backseat like some kinda sexual buffalo. “James Spader?”

Billy made a face.

“Yeah, I feel the same way. Johnny Depp?”

“Uh, you kiddin'?” They'd seen Nightmare on Elm Street together.

“I knew it!” said Max. She thought about it. “Okay, big one, he was just in that hockey movie: Keanu?”

“Shit, yeah.”

Max laughed her head off as quietly as possible. “Tom Cruise?”

Billy made a face again. Even so: “I guess.”

“This is so great, you totally have a type,” Max said.

“The fuck I do.” Billy stole a couple of her fries; Max gave him the carton.

“There is this guy named Denzel Washington that was in a couple of Mom's TV movies, he is so hot,” Max yapped. She looked moony. “Really I think he and Lucas have the same brow line.” Max was an insane person.

Steve was snorting and sitting up in the backseat; Max and Billy tried hard to look like they hadn't just been talking about guys. Steve looked around. “Uh, okay, why are we at Dairy Queen?”

Max shoved a milkshake in his face. “We got you food!”

“Oh, thanks. God, are we really out in Eastgate?”

“No, they built one next to the general store while you were sleeping,” Max said like a smartass. “We didn't want to wake you up.”

“Okay, thanks. I feel like this is my second home back here, you ever gonna get my blood off your door?” Steve asked Billy. He rubbed his eyebrow. “Uh, were you guys talking about Tom Cruise?”

“No,” lied Billy and Max.

“You know, some people say I look like him.”

Maxine looked deeply skeptical. “What people?”

“Uh, okay. Firstly, my mom,” Steve said, grinning; Max and Billy started laughing at him. They gave Steve some fries.

 

Thursday night Billy took Steve to the shop with him; it was past seven but Hank hadn't told him not to bring any guys around. Anyway Billy was pretty sure Steve wasn't going to seduce him and steal the amazing wrenches. Steve sat around and watched Billy try to change out a couple of rotors on a Hyundai Pony; it'd sat all winter and they were rusted on worse than anything Billy'd ever seen.

“Sorry, get the part in for your car tomorrow, you're gonna have it back for the weekend though,” Billy said. He gave up on the rotor; he'd already broke off the fuckin' screw that held everything together.

“Yeah, that's okay,” Steve said. “Really if you don't – “ a square of light fell over him; they looked up and Elijane was standing in the doorway again like goddamn Carrie White at prom. Without all the blood that is. Actually she did have a little blood coming out her nose. “JESUS CHRIST,” said Steve.

El looked around. “Sorry,” she said. She looked at Billy. “Can I have my book?”

Billy tried hard not to act like she'd about given him a goddamn heart attack. Goddamn he needed to rig up some kinda bell for when she came in or something he guessed. “Kid, you gotta stop doing this shit to me. Why you bleedin'?”

“Did you walk here?” Steve demanded like a den dad. Elijane didn't answer either question, just kept standing in the doorway. She wiped her nose.

“Why you think I have your book?” Billy asked her.

El gave him a look. “It's in your car.”

“Jesus,” said Steve.

“Jane, you really come here for your book?” Billy asked her; she didn’t answer. “Or, uh, was you doing an escape route again?” El just gave him another look and didn't answer him again. Billy gave up. “Okay.”

He went and got her her book from the car; when he came back Steve was grilling the kid about where Hopper was and she was giving him a bunch of her non-answers. Billy gave her the book.

“Thank you,” she said. She sat down on the big tool box and started reading it; Billy guessed she was hangin' out here. Steve looked at him and Billy shrugged. He went on back to the Hyundai. He thought about it.

“Hey kid, can ya fix the radio in here for me?”

“I can try,” Elijane said. She looked up at the stereo that was sitting leaned against a folding chair; it started coming in a little clearer but not real good like it had with the car. “Sorry. I can't – I'm not that strong anymore.”

“Uh, okay, what does that mean? El?” Steve said. El didn't answer him; she was reading her book. Steve sighed with a creepy kid ignoring him like usual.

Billy finished all he could do with the Hyundai; he moved on to Steve's car. He played around under the hood some more, checked all the fluid levels. He rotated the tires; you had to do that every couple months and he was sure as shit Steve hadn't gotten that done when he was supposed to either. He went out to the front of the shop for brake pads and changed the ones on the front. 'Dream On' by Aerosmith was playing on the significantly-less-static-y radio and Billy felt happy, was about his favorite song.

“Doesn't Bills look real cool workin' on my car?” Steve asked Elijane.

Kid was still reading her book; she didn't look away from the page. One little eyebrow went up though. “He is cool,” she said.

HAHA, said Billy inside his head. Jesus she jazzed him up. Finally around ten he stopped messing with Steve's car; he figured he should take Jane home before Hopper put out some kinda hit on him. “You guys wanna go?”

“Bill, can we still get Chinese food?” Steve asked him like a kid.

El was still reading her book; she turned a page. “BilLY,” she said without looking up.

“Uh, what?”

“It’s BilLY,” she told Steve without looking up. Kid really liked her 'y's; she sounded all imperious-like. Billy smiled at her without meaning too.

Steve looked amused. “Okay, Billy , can we get Chinese food?” he said.

Elijane closed up her book finally. “I … had an egg roll once,” she said.

Billy thought that was a goddamn travesty; he guessed Hopper could put out the hit. “Yeah let's go,” he said.

 

Friday the part for Harrington's car finally came in. Billy skipped practice for once and went to the shop; Hank'd already put it in when he got there. “Charge me for the brake pads,” Billy told him. Somewhere out in fairyland he could hear Miles makin' a comment. Billy went and checked the car again anyway; Hank followed him into the garage shaking his head.

“You're killin' me, Bill,” he said.

“I'm just checkin' out your work.”

“You gonna go get your boy? Can leave at five if ya want.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Billy called Steve up at work to tell him his car was finally done; he felt like a flustered girl. “Steve, lemme uh, lemme ask you something.”

“Uh, yeah go ahead.”

Billy twisted the phone cord around his wrist; he felt more nervous than a fifth-grader askin' someone out for the first time. “When I come get you tonight,” he said slowly. “Can I … uh ...”

“... Yeah?” Steve waited; he sounded amused.

“Can I ... can I drive the Beamer to come get you? Can I drive her?”

Steve didn't say anything for a minute and Billy felt scared. Then Steve laughed. “Are you serious? Yeah, you can drive my car.”

“REALLY?” He felt real jazzed up in two seconds.

“Uh, yeah man.”

“OKAY COOL!” said Billy.

“You can drive it whenever you want.”

Steve Harrington was a gift from God; Billy felt it in his soul and in his cock. “OKAY SEE YA AT FIVE-THIRTY!” Billy said. He hung up. He was gonna drive the BMW!!!!

Max called the shop right before he was leaving; Hank picked up the line. “Bill, it's your kid sis,” he said. He gabbed away to Max for eighty years. Billy abandoned all hope and leaned on the counter. “Okay, lemme give you to Bill,” Hank said. He gabbed away for eighty more years; Billy felt his bones turning to dust. Finally he managed to wrestle the phone away from Hank.

“Hey, your dad's home, I'm just warning you,” Max told him all glum; Billy felt slightly less jazzed up.

“You want me to come get you? Can get food or something.”

Max lowered her voice. “Don't you want to be with Stephanie?”

Billy blinked. “Who's that?”

“It's a code name, dumbass!” Max yapped.

“Je-sus Christ,” Billy said. “Can come get you,” he told her. Fuckin' Stephanie. Max thought she was too hilarious. Anyway he did want to be with Steve, but he didn't mind being with Max and Steve. “Max,” he said. “Max, I'm gonna drive the Beamer.”

“REALLY?” said Max all excited for him. “Okay, yeah, come get me!”

He went and got Max; he was being real careful driving Steve's amazing car that cost more than his life. It took Max a couple of minutes to come on out; when he rolled the window down he could hear her hollering even through the walls of the house. She stormed out a couple seconds later and flung herself into the car.

“They didn't really want me to go out, it's Friday night!” she told Billy all angry. “Oh my god, my mom just does whatever he wants all the time! She's such a slug!”

“S'easier that way.”

Max scowled up a storm like a sulky slug. “Sorry, I am probably getting you in trouble somehow right now. Just by existing!”

Billy didn't care about that currently; he was driving the Beamer and they were going to get Steve. Seemed like he was always in trouble anyway, with his old man at least. “Kid, you're fine, chill out.”

“I AM CHILLED OUT!” Max yelled her head off, the least chilled out person ever. “I thought they wanted us to hang out anyway!” She scowled up a hurricane and angrily pressed the buttons on Steve's fancy radio. She found herself a Madonna song; Billy let her keep it on to calm herself down.

They got to Steve's work and Billy made Max get into the backseat. “Do you wanna drive, man?” he asked Steve sadly when he came out of the office.

Steve was going around to the passenger side; he had his Billy-is-amusing face on for some reason. He hadn't taken his tie off yet and he looked cute as shit. “You can keep drivin' me around if you want,” he said.

Billy felt happy. Steve got into the car and they started driving; Steve and Max started chatting on about some bullshit Henderson was pulling in two seconds. Billy ignored them. He didn't care about Dustin; he was driving the Beamer!

Finally Steve stopped gabbing away with Max and turned his head to look at Billy. Billy looked back at him for a second and felt struck. “What do I owe you for my car?” Steve asked.

Billy took a moment to collect himself. “Got your invoice in the glove box, you can come in and pay Hank next week.”

“Oh, okay, thanks.” Steve took out the paper and looked at it. He looked at it for a while. Billy relished the silence for a couple seconds; really Steve never shut the fuck up. Then Steve said, “Uh, this is wrong.”

“What you mean it's wrong?”

“Uh, yeah, this is, this is way too cheap.”

“I just charged you for the part, I ain't charge you to put it in.”

Steve frowned at the paper; Billy was driving so he couldn't really look over at him like he wanted to but he looked real confused. “Oh, okay, but, uh – what about all the other stuff you did to it?”

“Don't matter.”

“Uh, yeah, I saw you working on it for like three hours,” Steve said. “What about the tires, what about, uh, the brakes you put on it?”

“Brakes're like fifteen bucks, it don't matter.”

“Yeah, but – “

“Why you wanna start your shit with me?” Billy asked him; it was a serious question. “I told you I got you. You wanna make me write up another fuckin' invoice? I hate that shit.”

“Okay, okay.” Billy looked over at him; somehow Steve had the frown-wrinkle and his Billy-is-amusing face on at the same time. He had a big face so he had a lot of expressions Billy guessed. “Okay, uh, thanks. I guess I owe you again.”

“No, we're good,” Billy told him. Maxine was being suspiciously quiet in the backseat; Billy didn't dare glance in the rearview mirror to see what kinda big look she was giving him.

They decided to go to the diner to meet up with whatever creepy kids would be there. It was a Friday night so it was guaranteed at least two of 'em would be around; they were like cockroaches.

Byers and Sinclair and Henderson were all at Hathaway's yapping it up and spilling sodas everywhere. Max and Lucas ran off to sit up at the counter together all nicey-nicey holding hands; Billy was trying to ignore the show.

Billy sat down at the table. “Byers! Why ain't you come to my fuckin' game last week?”

“I'm sorry!” Byers said; he looked like a little Corgi puppy or some shit shakin' at the table. “I'll be at the next one!”

Byers had a big bruise going down the side of his face; it took a couple minutes to get the kid to admit he'd got hit earlier at school. Billy felt bad. Then he wondered why he felt bad for one of Maxine's little friends; he remembered the kid saying We're kind of his friends! about him though.

Billy counted to ten to calm himself down; he spent a while eating Byers' fries and detailing some aggressive fighting tactics to the kid. Steve was sitting next to him like a den dad negating every fuckin' thing he said and Henderson was moping about waiting for his food.

“Look, kid, you remember when I knocked Harrington out last year?” Billy said; Steve made a face at him.

“I wasn't there, I was possessed,” Will reminded him.

“Oh right.” Still that was such a normal sentence. “Okay, look, you wanna punch someone in the face, you probably wanna go right for their nose – “ he grabbed Steve's face and pulled him closer – “example A, this one here's got a huge fuckin' target – “

Steve let his face be smushed. “Yep, thank you – “

“ – sometimes's good to get as many punches in as you can, though, I like to do a little trio 'round the cheekbones, pow pow pow – “ he feigned demonstrating on Steve's face –

“ – okay, yep, this is great, could ya – “

“ – but really you should go for the bridge of the nose, you gotta hit 'em right between the fuckin' eyes, it scrambles their brain and knocks 'em out real quick – “ Billy let Steve's face go and leaned across the table to pantomime cracking his fist against Byers' head; Byers laughed –

“No, nope, absolutely don't do that,” said Steve; he was the least fun person at the table.

“I don't think I could do that,” Byers said.

“You totally could,” Billy told him. “Look, you get in one good punch on these fucks, they'll leave you alone.”

“Did I leave you alone?” Steve asked him.

“Ah, for a while.” Steve smiled. Billy told Byers, “See? Brain trauma.”

Steve rolled his eyes; he was still smiling though. “You're such an asshole.”

Billy ignored Steve saying his romantic shit. “Anyway, I got you, kid. Otherwise if I'm not there, you gotta punch 'em in the face.”

Will nodded real serious. “Okay.”

“You gonna do it?”

Byers laughed a little. “I, I don't know.”

“You can do it,” Billy told him.

“No, don't do that,” Steve said. Truly Byers looked torn.

Billy looked away from the pain of Steve spoiling his night, then he did a double take. “Henderson. Why the fuck you eating a salad?”

“No, no, don't start him up,” said Steve.

Henderson started up. “Rebecca gets her driver's license in SIX DAYS, she told me we are going to go to second base in her dad's car, OR MAYBE MORE,” he told Billy.

“Goddamn, that’s forward,” Billy said; really he felt delighted for Henderson. Billy'd knew she was a junior Tracey!

“WATCH YOUR MOUTH!” Henderson yelled his head off and Billy felt less delighted; truly Henderson didn’t fear for his life anymore. “I don't have any fries for you tonight, I have got to look my best.”

Billy ate more of Will's fries. “Kid, dunno what you're gonna do about it in six days.”

“Bill!” said Steve like a den dad. He turned to Henderson. “Dustin, you look fine.”

“That's debatable,” Billy murmured; Byers snorted into his soda.

Steve gave him a look and then went on. “Look, it doesn't matter what you look like, okay? If somebody likes you for who you are, they're gonna, you know, they're gonna like what you look like no matter what.”

Dustin stared at him. “Steve! That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!” He turned to Billy. “Billy, how many arm reps do you do in a day?”

“What?” Billy said; he was still eating Byers' fries. “Uh, I ain't even worked out in like two months or some shit.”

Dustin stared at him too. “GREAT, SO YOU JUST LOOK LIKE THAT ALL THE TIME?” he said.

“He's got, ah, a great metabolism,” Steve said dryly; Billy grinned at him.

“Son of a bitch,” Dustin said. He put his head in his hands. “I can't deal with this kind of pressure, I can only hold her off talking about physics for so long! Women have needs, Steve, do you know that!”

“Ohhh my god,” Billy said. He was so happy. “Steve, do you know that?”

“Calm the hell down,” Steve said to the kid. “Look, it's gonna happen when it's gonna happen. Just, uh, relax. You know. Be yourself.”

“BE MYSELF?” screamed Henderson incredulously. “OH, BE MYSELF! WHAT KIND OF GARBAGE ADVICE IS THAT?”

“Oh my god, I'm so done talking to you,” Steve told him. “Eat your fuckin' salad, you little asshole.”

“You should, um, go easy on the dressing,” Byers said like a true shithead; Billy laughed his ass off for a long time.

 

Another week went by; Saturday the 14 th was Valentine's Day and Friday night Billy was once again forced to be tortured driving Max to the high school in another one of her fancy dresses. Neil was at home until the morning so's she couldn't meet Sinclair at the house. Billy figured it was okay if she just met him at the school.

Saturday Billy's old man left to go on his sales calls and the house felt normal again. Susan made them horrible breakfast and went to work; Max fucked off on her busted skateboard to go to the arcade and Billy fucked off to go into the shop since he hadn't been there yesterday. Miles was in the front office but he didn't bother Billy too much. It was tax season and he had about a million messy receipts in front of him and a hopeless look on his face.

Billy lovingly tidied up the wrenches again; for some reason Hank'd pulled out the whole engine of a Ford truck and Billy messed around with it for a while, trying to figure out what was wrong with it. About everything it seemed. He was embarrassing himself singing along to some Heart song when Miles wandered into the back.

Billy stopped singing the Heart song. “You want something?”

“Yeah, your boyfriend's out on the street waiting for you with his puppies,” Miles informed him; Billy rolled his eyes.

“He's not my fuckin' boyfriend,” he told Miles. “He ain't queer.” He didn't know why he hadn't said 'we.'

Miles arched a fairy eyebrow. “Does he know that?”

“Man, leave me alone,” Billy begged him.

“Okaaaay.” Miles floated off back towards the office. “It's Valentine's Daaaay.” He was the most annoying person on the planet.

Billy put his stuff away and went outside; Harrington was indeed out there with his puppies. “ARE YOU A PUPPY?” Billy asked Leia; like usual she got all jazzed up. “What's up, man? You miss me?”

“I just saw Max and Lucas being gross at the arcade, she told me you were here. How late you workin'?”

“Uh, I'm done now. You wanna do something?” They decided to watch a movie at Billy's house; he and Max still had Return of the Living Dead rented out. Steve said he'd walk the dogs back home and drive over. Billy went home and took a shower; it was Valentine's Day after all even if Susan was at home watching TV in her room.

Max came in around seven with her board and stood looking at them. She made a delightedly evil face at them watching the movie which Billy didn't feel was necessary. “Happy Valentine's Day, Max,” Steve said.

“Oh, you too!” Max said like syrup; Billy sighed for a thousand years. She fucked around in her room for a while and then went past them into the kitchen with her huge old stereo. “I have to work on my science project!” she announced.

“Okay,” Billy said. Steve was sitting Indian-style next to him on the couch and his knee was pressing into Billy's thigh so he wasn't thinking about too much. Max went into the kitchen and started blaring her music. She played 'Hurts So Good' by John Mellancamp. She played 'Any Way You Want It' by Journey. When she started playing 'Like a Virgin' by Madonna Billy said 'You want a soda?” to Steve and got up off the couch.

He went into the kitchen; Max was just sitting at the table with her boom box. “Turn your shit down,” he told her, opening up the fridge.

Max gave him a look. “Uh, I'm setting the mood for you.”

Billy got the drinks and stepped back from the fridge. “'Scuse me?”

“What?” Max yapped. “It's Valentine's Day!”

“Yeah, 'm aware of that.”

Max stared at him. “ Okay , so ...” She made her fish face.

“Fucking what?”

“Oh my god, dummy! Make a move.”

“Oh, my god,” said Billy too. “No, nope, that ain't happening. Why you got all these shitty songs?”

“I made a tape for you guys,” Max told him.

“Oh, my god,” Billy said again; she was unbelievable. “Can't believe you actually listened to a fuckin' John Cougar song, I'm so disappointed in you.”

Max looked slightly hurt as she should. “I thought it was appropriate for your situation.”

“I'm glad this is funny for ya.” Billy leaned on the counter with his sodas. “Your mom's right in her bedroom,” he pointed out.

“She taped General Hospital all week, she's not coming out until like midnight. Did Steve ask you to hang out or did you?”

Billy rolled his eyes; he wasn't doing this with her. “Turn your shit down,” he told her again. He went back out and gave Steve his soda.

“Hey, thanks,” Steve said; he didn't look away from the screen. “You missed a lot of boobs.” Billy sat down a little further away from him.

Max started up her bullshit again. She played 'Can't Fight This Feeling' by REO Speedwagon then she played 'Call Me' by Blondie. She played Patti Smith singing 'Because the Night;' truly she nearly had Billy feeling those real emotions. She popped her head out of the kitchen and then practically scowled it off at them not passionately kissing or something. Billy rolled his eyes again. She was such a piece of work; she'd probably scream her head off if she ever saw that. She played 'Why Can't This Be Love' by Van Halen. She pulled out the big guns and played 'I Want To Know What Love Is' by Foreigner.

“MAX!” Billy yelled his head off. “COME ON, MAN!”

Steve started laughing. “What is she doing? She is hitting all my jams tonight,” he said. Somehow he was real close to Billy on the couch again; Billy lamented his life.

Finally Max came out in a big sulk; the movie ended and they all watched MTV for a while. Steve got up to leave around eleven. “Don't you want to stay over?” Max yapped.

Steve had his Max-is-amusing face on. “No, I'm all right,” he said; he was putting his jacket on. “Later, guys. Thanks for hangin' out with me.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. Steve left. Max scowled her head off some more; Billy didn't know how she regenerated so many fuckin' heads.

“You're such a baby!” Max told him. “You could get a boyfriend if you wanted to!”

“Don't want a fucking boyfriend,” Billy said. Max scowled off her seventh head and turned the TV up.

Billy slept til past noon on Sunday; he got up and helped Susan wash all the dishes they'd been ignoring all week. Max's dad called for her at around two; Max glared suspiciously at Billy and dragged the phone off to her room and closed the door.

Billy wandered over to the door and eavedropped on her like a shithead. Personally he thought Max's dad was for shit; he'd only been out here one time to come visit her and hadn't even assed himself to fuckin' call her on Christmas or New Year's. She'd been in a big sulk about it for three days when they'd been hanging out at Harrington's.

Even with her door closed and the TV on Billy could hear about everything; you could always hear everything that was going on in their little house. “I know, that's okay!” Max was yapping to her dad. “Yeah, I know, I miss you too! Mom's okay.” She was quiet for a couple minutes. “No, she hasn't said anything about you!” She said, “That's okay, I know you're busy!”

Billy rolled his eyes. Max said, “Well, what about for my birthday?” She was quiet again for a couple minutes. “Oh, okay,” she said in a subdued tone. “Yeah, I know. Yeah, I know . Okay. Okay, what about in the summer?” she asked. “Maybe Billy and I can come out there, we are going to take our friend Steve to the beach anyway.”

Max was quiet for a few minutes. “Ew, no!” she said. “Ew, no, he's older. He's Billy's friend! I told you who I like!” She listened for a couple minutes. “Yeah, Billy's okay,” she said. “Yeah, he's okay again. He's been really cool. He is basically my best friend here anyway. Yeah. No, Lucas is just my boyfriend.” She laughed. “Shut up, Dad!” Max yapped on for a while; Billy returned to the couch. After a couple minutes Max finished up gabbing and came back out. She glared at him as she put the phone away.

“Were you listening to me talking?” she asked suspiciously.

“I'm watchin' the TV,” Billy told her.

“Okay.” Max flopped down on the couch and looked at him. Then she said, “Can we go and get food? I want to watch Dustin eat another salad. Do you think he touched a boob yet?”

Billy tried not to laugh. “Yeah we can go get food,” he said.


Wednesday the 18 th was Billy's birthday and it was just another day; his birthday hadn't been any type of big deal since he'd been about ten. Susan'd left for work early and Billy was pretty sure that his Dad wasn't gonna fucking call him from Indianapolis to dole out any birthday wishes. Actually just his dad not being home was fuckin' present enough, he figured.

Max didn't wish him happy birthday either and she stole the last Eggo from him out of the freezer; Billy bitched at her for a couple minutes and then went back to his room to get ready for school. He never celebrated his birthday but even so he kinda felt like Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles or some shit. Usually Max said happy birthday to him.

Billy looked at himself in his mirror; he got a fucking kick out of feeling like Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. He was pretty sure Steve wasn't gonna sit him up on a counter and feed him any birthday cake, though. He put on his blue t-shirt that Susan'd got him for Christmas and put his mom's bracelet on to make himself feel better.

Adding insult to injury he had a big math test second period; Steve'd still been helping him a little so he figured he might get at least a B on it. He finished his test early and sat around looking at the guys in class; no one looked as good as Harrington.

He didn't know why no one looked as good as Harrington. He thought about Max saying Steve's not THAT good-looking; he was anyway but it didn't matter. He thought about her saying too You could get a boyfriend if you wanted to! and he didn't think he wanted to. No one else was interesting here. How were you supposed to go fuck around with somebody you didn't care about? Other people did it all the time. He'd done that before and it was for shit and it always turned into a total mess; he didn't think it'd matter if he moved on to guys. Jesus. Alone on your birthday and you couldn't even get a guy.

Third period was History and he'd only been sitting in class for about ten minutes when they called his name over the loudspeaker. Billy gathered up his books and wandered off to the main office trying to figure out what all he'd done so far since Monday. Hadn't hit anybody for Byers yet; the week was still young though. Skipped shop class yesterday to go and smoke in the bathroom with two guys from basketball; they definitely didn't look as good as Harrington. Like usual no one had any weed in this town and definitely not any coke.

When he got to the office Maxine was sitting in the principal's crying her head off; it made him feel real scared. She had her knees drawn up in her chair and everything.“What's going on, what happened?” Billy said.

The principal looked overwhelmed and was trying to comfort Max; he was bent over with his ugly tie hitting her shoulder. He looked like he'd never seen a kid crying before. He glanced up from badly comforting Max. “Your stepmother got into an accident going to work,” he told Billy. “She had, ah, she had a little fender-bender. She's getting checked out at Hawkins General.”

Billy stared. “The fuck you mean, she ain't even got a car – “

Max cried her head off even louder; Principal Green looked more and more overwhelmed. You'd think he'd be used to this shit. “Now, now,” he said to Max. He said to Billy, “Don't worry, she's going to be fine. She's just called us from the hospital. You're over eighteen, I'm going to let you two go early and go to see her.” Max wept her head off onto his shoulder. “There, there,” said Principal Green.

Max went on crying her head off as Billy got his stuff together; he'd just tossed his bookbag on the floor when he'd seen Max going off. The principal wrote them out a dismissal slip; Max wiped her snotty nose off on her sweatshirt sleeve and then started off on a fresh bout of weeping as she took the slip. She went out the door ahead of him and started turned down the hall.

Billy followed after her with his hands in his jacket pocket; he didn't really know what to say or what to think. “Max,” he said to her back. “You okay?”

Max turned around and started walking backwards looking at him; she wasn't crying anymore. A big grin split her face. “Oh my god, did you really believe all that crap? Mom's fine, she's at work!”

Billy stopped walking and stared at her. “WHAT THE FUCK, MAX!”

Max threw her head back and laughed at him; she grabbed the hem of his jacket. “Come on, it's your birthday!”

“Oh my fucking god, you little shit, how long you been able to cry like that? Makin' me fuckin' worry about you – “ Billy bitched his head off at her as she dragged him out of the school; Max kept laughing at him.

“Holy crap, were you actually upset about Mom?”

“Don't got a problem with your mom,” Billy said gruffly.

Max dragged him out to the parking lot laughing her head off; she was the worst ever. Harrington was idling in his car with Byers and Sinclair in the backseat. Rebecca was behind him in a little Honda that looked like it was ready to fall apart at any second; Billy guessed she'd got her permit. Henderson was next to her in the passenger seat, yapping away as he usually was. Billy said, “What the hell's going on?”

Little Byers leaned out the window. “Happy birthday!” he said. Steve said, “Hey, you wanna go?”

“Uh.” Billy did wanna go. “What you doing here?”

“Yeah, we're kidnapping you for your birthday,” Steve informed him.

“Wait, you guys planned this?” Billy said. He kinda felt like he was watching a movie or something; it wasn't the Sixteen Candles shit after all.

“A little slow on the uptake this morning, Bills,” Max said like a little shithead.

Billy ignored her being a shithead. “Are you serious? So who, who called up actin' like your moms?”

Rebecca leaned out her window too; she had Henderson's baseball cap on her head and looked like a goddamn idiot. “Uh, uh, hello, this is Ms. Mayfield?” she said in a wavering voice. Max laughed her third head of the day off; Henderson was grinning at them.

Steve honked the horn. “Come on, I have trauma, let's go before that janitor comes after me again,” he said; Max dragged Billy over to the car and then squished in with Byers and Sinclair. “Happy birthday, man,” Steve said as Billy got into the car.

“Yeah, thanks,” Billy said. He was feeling weird; nobody ever did nothing for his birthday. Maybe he was dreamin' or something. Then again if he was having a dream about Steve why would Sinclair and Byers be in the backseat. Billy shuddered slightly.

Max saved him from feeling weird or thinking about the Steve-dreams. She leaned up into the front; some of her hair hit against Billy's arm. “Steve, drive slow so Rebecca can follow you!” she yapped.

“I know, I know!” Steve said all annoyed in two seconds. He put the Beamer in drive. “Put your seatbelt on, shithead.”

They drove out to the diner; their usual exhausted waitress was there and she gave them all a big look as they came in playing hooky but didn't make any comments. “It's your birthday so I'm going to buy you breakfast!” Max told Billy. Then she made a face. “Uh, just don't go over four dollars, okay?” She was too fuckin' sweet.

Steve made the kids sit at a table next to them so they wouldn't annoy Billy too much on his birthday (”You guys look like our dads or something sitting together,” Henderson said; Steve and Billy ignored him). Billy ate his four dollar breakfast and Steve annoyed him on his birthday.

Steve drank his coffee in two seconds; he was going to be so annoying in about eighteen minutes. “Rangers got a good lineup for Saturday,” he said.

“Why you wanna start with me today?” Billy asked him; everyone knew Philadelphia was gonna kick the Rangers' asses.

Steve was smiling. Billy was pretty sure that he just rooted for the opposite team every time on principal just to piss Billy off. It was okay though because Billy never had nobody to talk about sports; he ripped into the Rangers' lineup for a while. Steve kept interjecting with really deep thoughtful comments like, “Okay, but you're wrong.”

Once the kids finished their food they ran over to Steve like a gaggle of ducks; Maxine was inspecting Billy's plate to make sure he'd ate everything and wasn't wasting her money. They all walked back out to the cars. “Where we goin' now?” Billy asked.

“Don't get excited, it's nothing too great,” Sinclair told him. “Better than being at school, I guess.”

“Anything's better than bein' at school.” Sinclair smiled at him for some reason.

Steve drove them out to the big quarry outside of town; in over a year of being in Hawkins Billy'd never been out here. It was real pretty; something about being out there up high made the sky look huge. He didn't say it though. The kids got out of the car and Steve fucked around in the backseat for a couple minutes. “Happy birthday, I got you beer,” he said.

Billy laughed. He thought about it, then felt horror-struck. He grabbed Steve's shoulder for a second. “Holy shit, man, I been sober for almost a month.”

“I know, don't worry, I got you.” Steve had his Billy-is-amusing face on; there was nothing amusing about being sober for so long in a town like Hawkins.

Henderson was coming over to them from Rebecca's car with his hands behind his back. “Did I say happy birthday yet?” he asked. He whipped his hands out from being his back and shoved a huge wrapped square in Billy's face. “I want a Christmas present next year, okay?”

Billy felt weird as fuck. “Uh, you got me a present?”

“Yeah, of course I did! Max made me!”

“No I didn't!” Max yapped; she was doing her Love Boat shit with Sinclair and leaning against the trunk of Steve's car. “He asked me!”

Henderson waved the square in his face. “It's from me and Rebecca.”

All the creepy kids had got him shit; Billy wondered if he'd gone through some kinda portal again. He leaned on the hood of the car and opened up the shit. Henderson'd got him the new Metallica record; Sinclair gave him Dio's Holy Diver . Max got him 5150 by Van Halen and Kicking Against the Pricks by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Little Byers gave him a Misfits poster and a Clive Barker book wrapped all fancy: “Max said you like him,” he said all shy.

Billy did like him; he was feelin' all kinds of those real emotions. “Shit, thanks kid,” he said. “Take ya to see Hellraiser when it comes out.” Byers beamed like a little Christmas elf again.

Goddamn but Billy felt weird; he wasn't used to people getting him anything or having to say thanks for it. He couldn't believe they'd all got him anything, even if it was mostly stuff he couldn't use. “Uh, thanks guys,” he said. “I mean, thanks. Dunno why you assholes got me records, you know I don't got a player anymore.”

“That's really sad, if only someone got you a record player,” Henderson said; he was grinning like a Wookie.

“Okay, all right,” Steve said. The kids all squawked on for a couple minutes and then dispersed; they ran off down towards the rocks and the water and Steve and Billy stayed up near his car. “Hey, sorry, I know this is kinda lame,” Steve told him. “We don't, uh, got any beaches around here or anything. I was gonna take you out to the lake or something but it's still cold as fuck, you know. Figured I'd take you out here and then all the kids wanted to come.”

“I'm good out here,” Billy said. He didn't know what he felt weirder about: Steve wanting to take him out for his birthday, or the kids wanting to come. Must've been they wanted to play hooky or something. “Ain't they find Byers' fake body around here?”

“Uh, yup, yeah, that happened,” Steve said. “I mean, actually it didn't really happen, Will said he's fine being out here. His mom will totally kill me if she finds out though. Like, in so, so many ways.”

Billy figured that was about right; by the look on Steve's face he was thinkin' about all the ways.

They could hear the creepy kids shouting and laughing down by the shore line. Even way up here you could hear Sinclair begging Dustin to shut the fuck up. Steve and Billy sat around on the ground and Billy drank his beer; he was looking up at the sky. Sometimes he was looking at Steve. Steve talked his head off about nothing in particular like usual.

Billy felt okay. He felt pretty good and he wasn't used to feeling good on his birthday. He and Steve got into a big discussion about Star Wars (Steve was pro-Ewok; Billy thought they were fucking terrifying).

“So okay, but what if you got to keep 'em like as pets or something?” Steve said. “They'd have to do whatever you say. They're kind of cute and all.”

Billy was drinking his beers. He was getting a little drunk; he didn't have to be in to work until six so he figured he'd be okay. “Why you gotta say this shit to me, Steve? Look, they ain't cute, all right? The fuck. Give me fuckin' nightmares. They tie me down like, uh, Gulliver's Travels or some shit.”

Steve started laughing at him. “Yeah, I think that says more about you as a person than it does about the Ewoks.”

“Uh, no, they was going to eat Han Solo,” Billy pointed out; Steve laughed at him some more.

It was a little past three when Wheeler Jr came shambling up the gravel road towards them; he had his hair in his eyes and a scowl on his face like usual.

“Hey Mike,” Steve said.

“Hey,” Wheeler Jr said. He made one of his shit-faces at Billy. “Happy birthday, I guess. Here.” He shoved yet another wrapped square at Billy; it was another record. “This is not from me, by the way, it's from El, sorry she couldn't come.”

“My girl got me somethin'?” Wheeler Jr made the most horrible shit-face at Billy callin' Jane his girl; Steve laughed at that too. Billy made a big production of tearing the paper off the record. It was the first Aerosmith album from the seventies; it had the song 'Dream On' on it. “Shit, tell her thanks for me, kid.”

“Tell her yourself!” Wheeler Jr said like a huge baby brat.

Billy grinned at him. “Oh! Think I will!” he said all nicey-nicey.

“AUGH!” Wheeler Jr said like Charlie Brown. “You're so annoying.” He jammed his hands in his pockets and shuffled off down to the shore where the rest of the creepy kids were. Dustin and Max were pulling Rebecca around on Max's busted-up board and she was laughing her head off.

“Wheeler is such an angel, I feel touched by God right now,” Billy said.

“Yeah, he's going through a phase I guess.” Billy thought the phase was called 'being a giant shitheel.' “He treated me like that too for a while.” Steve thought about it. “Guess he still does.”

A while later Henderson came huffing and puffing back up the trail; he sat with them and annoyed Billy for a while. “Hey kid, did ya get to touch a boob?” Billy asked him.

Henderson made a huge face. “That's CLASSIFIED,” he said; that meant no.

Steve started laughing again. He was doing that a lot today. “Oh my god, tell him what happened.”

“Son of a bitch, Steve, I'm glad you think my life is so funny,” Henderson said. He was hunched down on his knees between Steve and Billy. “Okay, listen, first of all you need to understand that I'm about forty percent deaf in my left ear – “

“Uh-huh,” Billy said; he was already too happy.

“I WAS VERY ILL AS A CHILD,” Henderson said. “I had fevers, I had nosebleeds!”

“Dustin,” Steve said.

Henderson sighed like a Wookie. “Anyway, okay, so I thought Rebecca told me that she wanted to take me to second base as soon as she got her license, turns out she said Second Street. I started to take my shirt off and she parked in front of the wildlife museum!”

“HAHAHAHA OH MY GOD YOU TOTAL ASSHOLE!” Billy said; his voice echoed over the quarry.

“Yeah, still don't understand why you thought you needed to take your shirt off to go to second base,” Harrington was saying. “I mean, that's usually the girl, Dust.”

“It's called equality, Steve, men shouldn't be ashamed of having their bodies touched,” Henderson yapped.

“Oh, my god, okay, that is way too much info for me.”

Billy was still laughing; okay maybe he was more than a little buzzed. “Steve, Steve!” he said. “Go to Third Street with me!”

“Oh, my god,” Steve said again; he had his Billy-is-amusing face on and something else.

Dustin waited until Billy finished laughing. It took a while. “It's like four o'clock, are you going to be okay to go to work, you lightweight?” he said. “Steve, you better give him his present soon. I have to be home at five-twenty, my mom's making a souffle.”

Billy lolled his head back against the ground and looked up at Harrington. “What you get me, Stevie? You gonna give it to me?”

“Okay, you're really being too much right now,” Steve said. “Come on, asshole.” He gave Billy a hand up and they walked back to his car. They stood looking at his trunk. “Uh, right, I didn't wrap it or nothin'.” Steve looked at the trunk some more.

“Oh my god, what's wrong with you?” Henderson asked him. He started patting Steve down; Billy'd never thought he'd feel jealous of Henderson. “Where's your keys? Come on, you are making us all look totally stupid.”

“Man! Get off me, okay? Jesus.” Steve shoved him away and started to open up his trunk. “Look, you don't have to keep it or anything.”

Billy looked in the trunk; it was a big Kenwood turntable. He stared at it for a while. “You got me a record player?”

Steve was biting his lip and he looked uncomfortable. He was looking down at the player too and his hair was falling in his eyes; he swept it back with a hand and it fell right back across his forehead. “Uh, I know it's not your mom's or anything – “

“That's okay,” Billy said right away; he didn't want to talk about his mom. He was still looking at the record player. “The hell, man, this shit's really expensive.”

“It wasn't that bad,” Steve said. Sometimes Billy forgot what a rich bitch Harrington was; a model like this Billy'd have to save for about a year and then steal some of Maxine's milk money.

“When'd you get this for me?”

“Uh,” Steve said.

“Practically like right after yours broke!” Henderson lisped helpfully.

“Thank you Dustin,” Steve said in a very annoyed tone; Henderson grinned up at him. “Uh, yeah, I didn't think I should give it to you at Christmastime, I thought it might be weird.”

“I had to stop him from breaking it three times when you guys were fighting,” Henderson said.

“Okay, I wasn't really going to break it.”

“He was totally going to break it,” Henderson said.

Billy was just looking at the turntable in its box; Dustin and Steve stared at him. “Are you okay?” Henderson asked. He was grinning again.

“Uh, yeah,” Billy managed to say. “Yeah, this is … uh, too much, man.”

“Guy at the store said it was like the best one, I thought you'd have fun pushing all the buttons,” Steve said, teasing him. He always got a huge kick out of Max and Billy arguing at his house over who got to push the button to start the dishwasher; they'd never had one before.

“Yeah I will,” Billy said; he felt too weird and overwhelmed to come back with a smart comment. Steve Steve Steve. Steve bought him a record player. “Thanks,” he said. “Holy shit.”

Steve still had his hands in his pocket and he smiled. “You like it?”

“Yeah, man.”

Henderson butt in: “He was supposed to give it to you first, then we were going to do all the vinyls and laugh at you having a stroke and getting emotional.”

“I ain't emotional,” Billy said; Steve said, “Okay, shithead, when was I supposed to give it to him, when you were eating all his cupcakes in Becca's car or when you kids were stuffing your faces in the dinner?”

“Wait, there was more food?”

Henderson looked guilty. “Look, Rebecca ate like six, I am still on my diet!”

“Thought you ain't touch a boob yet.”

“YEAH, BUT I'M GOING TO,” yelled Henderson. “It's called consent, Billy.”

The rest of the creepy kids were coming over; Rebecca was holding Max's board now and she had a big scrape on one knee. “Did you like our big present of leaving you alone?” she asked him; Sinclair was laughing at him.

Really all the kids had him feeling all those real emotions. “Yeah, thanks,” Billy said. It was getting dark soon; Max pointed out that it was past five-thirty. Henderson screamed his head off: “OH MY GOD, MY SOUFFLE.” He screamed at Steve until Steve said they could go. Max and Billy transported the turntable into his car.

“Thanks again, man,” Billy said to Steve.

“Yeah, sure. See ya later.” Steve was just standing there looking at Max and Billy by his car. Henderson and Rebecca were getting into her little Honda and Henderson was still screaming his head off; Rebecca was telling him to settle down.

Max and Billy got into his car and he drove her down to the arcade. “Come get you at ten,” Billy told her.

Max unclicked her seatbelt. “Okay!” she said. “Did you have fun today?”

“Yeah I did,” Billy said. “Thanks, Max.” Max beamed all pleased with herself; he'd been thinking Harrington planned the shit but it was probably Max.

Billy drove down the street to the car garage; it was a quarter past six but Hank was still fucking around in the front. Usually he'd be home already. “Sorry I'm late,” Billy said.

“That's okay, kid,” Hank said. “I was waitin' for you. Got you a present.” He reached under the counter and pulled out a huge set of the glorious wrenches that Billy was always messing with.

Once again Billy was feelin' all those real emotions. “Man, are you serious? You didn't have to get me nothin'.” It was a real nice set; cost almost eighty dollars, about worth a quarter of Billy's life.

“I ain't got no kids anymore to spend my money on,” Hank told him. “You don't even steal nothin' from me yet. You have a good birthday?”

“Yeah, how'd you know it was my birthday?”

“I been talkin' to your kid sister, Jesus she can talk Bill,” Hank said; Billy nearly managed not to laugh his ass off.

“Thanks a lot. You didn't need to do this for me.”

“Oh, it ain't nothin'. You need a set for you car. I just got you the same kind I got since you're always lookin' at 'em. I ever tell you about the guy I bought 'em off?”

Hank'd told him that shit about eight times; Billy leaned on the counter. “Uh, don't think so.”

Hank talked his ear off for a while; Billy let him do it. Once Hank left he fucked around at the shop some more, then he put his new wrenches in his truck along with the record player and went to go get Max. “Can we get McDonald's?” she asked him.

“You ain't eat enough shit at the arcade?”

“I don't have any money, I spent all it on you!” Max yapped.

“Yeah we can get McDonald's.”

“I want to listen to the Nick Cave album when we get home, there's a cover of a Velvet Underground song on there, I will help you set it up,” Max informed him like a slave driver.

“Okay.” Billy got her her McDonald's and they went home and set up the record player; Max was eating her fries all over his room. They listened to Nick Cave singin' 'All Tomorrow's Parties;' it was pretty good. Max yapped her head off for a while and then finally she left him alone.

Billy laid in bed thinking his thoughts. He'd had a real good day; usually that didn't happen on his birthday. He fell asleep thinkin' about the Ewoks.


 

Two days after Billy's birthday was a Friday and everything went to shit; it'd been a great month so far so he didn't know how he hadn't expected things to go to shit. Friday was the day Billy's dad found out about Max and Lucas.

Once school ended Billy went to basketball practice like usual; Max and Sinclair weren't there but Byers and Henderson were. He didn't really have concrete plans to meet up with Steve but he figured he probably would anyway. He'd seen Harrington just about every day this week aside from last night when Hank had stayed late at the shop again, killing him and talking about 'Nam. Apparently Hank didn't sleep too good either. Since Hank'd got him the wrenches Billy was trying not to be an asshole; he hadn't booked it out of there early like he'd wanted it.

Anyway it was Friday now; like usual Billy'd been waiting for the weekend. He smoked a cigarette outside after practice, talking to a couple of the guys for a few minutes. Still no one looked as good as Steve, Billy thought as he drove himself down Dearborn Street. He was all sweaty and in his old cut-up Metallica shirt; he'd left his jacket at the shop yesterday fucking running out after Hank'd finally shut up. He wanted to take a shower at home and get all nicey-nicey looking for Harrington. He was mostly thinking about Steve, Steve Steve Steve like usual. He should have been thinking about what the fuck Maxine was up to.

Neil's sedan was parked in the driveway. Billy made a face; thought he was supposed to be out in Indianapolis all weekend.

He put the Camaro on the street and got out of the car. He could hear Max and his old man going at it before he saw them, for some reason it sounded like they were yelling out in the backyard. It made him stop walking for a moment; he felt like he already knew. He looked around the yard. Then he saw Sinclair's red bike leaned up next to the steps and he definitely knew.

Billy said about eight million swears in his head; he got so creative with it. He started walking again. He knew it. Goddamnit how many times had he told her. Fucking told her.

He walked around to the side of the house still saying the elaborate curse words in his head; he had his hands in his pockets. Maxine let out a scream like a fuckin' banshee so Billy walked a little faster.

He saw Sinclair before he saw Max and his old man. Lucas was sprawled out on his back in the gravel of the backyard like he'd just taken a fall, propped up on his bloody elbows. The knees of his jeans were blown out and bloodied too and Billy knew his old man had been pushing the kid around. Didn't get scrapes like that just from falling.

Maxine and Neil were over by her window yelling their heads off. Window was open; they must've gone through there getting out. Billy said eight million more curse words in his head. Max didn't look too scared of Neil like she had been over the summer or the last couple months; Billy guessed her love of Sinclair was just too great for rationality or some shit. It must be his Denzel Washington brow. Jesus fuck she was a piece of work.

Max was at about a level nine in her womanly hysteria; unlike Billy though his old man was not leaning back in slight actual terror. He was getting right back in her face. “YOU CAN'T DO THIS!” Max was screaming like a broken record. “YOU CAN'T DO THIS!”

Sinclair saw Billy coming before the other two did; he was picking himself up off the ground. He looked up at Billy.

“The fuck's going on here?” Billy said.

Max whipped her head around. “BILLY! HE CAN'T DO THIS!” she yelled like a broken record. Her red hair was so long now, falling halfway down her back, and her hands were clenched into fists at her sides. She looked like Billy's mom again; she also just looked like Max.

“Do not tell me what I can and can't do,” Neil told her. He reached out and grabbed at Max's wrist; he wasn't allowed to do that. Billy started walking again.

“LET ME GO!” Max yelled. She was struggling away from him and that was gonna make him madder.

Sinclair got there first; he put himself between Neil and Max and pushed at their interlocked arms. “Don't touch her!” he said all dramatic like a hero.

Neil grabbed him too; now he had ahold of two creepy kids. “You wanna grab me, you fuckin' spade?” he said. “Do you want to try and grab me? We can go back inside, looks like you like it inside my house.”

“Okay, we're not doing this,” Billy said. He really didn't want to do this. Why'd he have to do this.

“Yeah, I'm gonna deal with you later.” Neil wasn't looking at him; he was trying to drag Max and Sinclair past Billy towards the front of the house.

“Uh, no, you're gonna deal with me now,” Billy said. He wasn't even feeling scared like he should be; he was pretty sure six months ago he'd have been scared. Mostly he was tired. He'd wanted to go to Steve's. Sinclair was closer to him; he grabbed Lucas by the hood of his jacket and wrenched him away from his father. “Fuckin' go, okay?” Lucas went.

Neil stared at him; he dropped Maxine's arm and she scampered around behind Billy like a scared puppy. She had a big red mark on her wrist. “Oh, I didn't know you and the nigger were friends,” Neil said in a real nicey-nice voice. Then it changed. He was walking towards Billy; he was real close. “You were supposed to watch your sister.”

“I been watching her, I don't got a leash this fuckin' long,” Billy said.

“You knew about this. He was in my house.”

“Go to my car,” Billy told Max.

“Don't you dare,” Neil told her. “Get inside, now.

“YOU'RE NOT MY DAD!” Max yelled her head off.

Je-sus Christ, she was still starting her shit. “MAX, ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?” Billy said.

“Maxine, get inside,” Neil said again; he stepped to the side like he was gonna come for her again. Billy grabbed his arm.

“Yeah, don't look at her.”

Neil reached out and shoved him hard. Billy hadn't been bracing himself and he flew backwards and skidded on his back on the gravel and concrete too. It burned like holy hell and he let out a hiss; Max was skittering away from them. Neil stood over him. “You knew about this,” he said. “You let that kid into my house.”

“I ain't let nobody into the house.” Billy was getting up before his dad could hit him; Neil hit him anyway. Billy shoved him away. “The fuck you gonna do, you gonna lynch him in the yard?” Neil hit him again; Billy shoved him away. “Yelling your goddamn heads off out here, bet half the neighbors already called the cops.” He shoved his father away from him again. Jesus fuck his whole back was burning; he was trying not to make a face like a huge baby.

He started walking to his car; Neil grabbed his upper arm which burned too. Billy shook him off. Max and Lucas were on the sidewalk getting into the Camaro and Billy walked over to them. His dad kept grabbing him and Billy kept shoving him. Neil grabbed him all the way to the sidewalk. Billy shoved him pretty hard to get him away from him; truly he saw his whole life flash before his eyes. Even still he didn't feel scared. He was waiting to feel scared. Mostly he was mad; he didn't want to do this shit today. He got into the driver's side and Max leaned up and pressed down on the door-lock button.

Neil stood looking over them; his face was a black cloud of rage. “Swear to god, Billy,” he said. “Get your sister and come out of the car.”

“She ain't my sister!” Billy said through the window like a total dumbass.

Billy's dad hit the glass of the window hard with an opened palm; all three of them flinched. “It is going to be so much worse for you if you don't get out of the car,” Neil told him. Billy put the Camaro in drive. “Disrespectful shit, don't you fucking dare drive away.”

Billy drove away. Neil stood out on the sidewalk looking at them; he didn't even scream or anything and that meant it was real bad. Max and Sinclair turned around in the backseat to stare back at him until Billy rounded the corner, then they turned back in their seats. Nobody said anything for a while. Billy was counting to ten in his head a million times and also saying eight million swear words. He was getting real creative again; he was also getting blood all over his fucking seat.

He got to Sinclair's house; he was really proud of himself for not exploding. He wasn't sure how he felt right now. He still didn't feel scared. It was almost worse than being scared; he was just thinking about the total shitstorm that might've happened if he'd gotten there a couple minutes later. If his dad had got Max and Sinclair back into the house.

He said, “You kids know you just fucked us, right?”

Max and Lucas didn't answer for a couple seconds. Then they said, “Yeah.”

Billy didn't say anything. He was thinking of his dad's face out on the sidewalk and how bad his and Max's lives were gonna be for the foreseeable future. If they even had futures at this point. God he'd been right out in the yard knocking Sinclair around, a goddamn kid. What else would he'd do if he got them in the house.

Billy adjusted his rearview mirror and looked back at Max and Lucas; they stared at him too. Billy looked at Max wearing her grubby yellow sweater like usual. He narrowed his eyes. He looked at her some more. “Max,” he said slowly.

“Yeah?”

Billy stared at her in the mirror. “The fuck's your sweater on backwards for?”

Max and Sinclair stared up at him like twin raccoons; their eyes were getting bigger and bigger, Lucas's in particular. “I,” he said. “She – I NEVER TOUCHED HER!” He slammed the passenger seat forward and bolted from the car.

Billy let him go. He threw his head back against his seat. “MAX, YOU FUCKIN' DOUCHEBAG!” he yelled.

“Oh my god! I didn't do anything!”

“OH MY FUCKING GOD! THE FUCK YOU DOING!”

“I didn't do anything!” yelped Max again.

“You fucking asshole!” Billy said to her. “Jesus Christ, did my dad walk in on you guys?” Max made a great face; Billy exploded again. “OH MY GOD, MAN! What the FUCK you thinkin'?” This was a whole new bag of shit; this was so bad.

“I didn't think he'd come home! He was supposed to be in the city all weekend!”

“You fuckin' moron, the fuck you thinking?” Billy demanded again like a den dad; he couldn't help himself. Max was supposed to be smarter than him and shit. “I swear to god, Max, if you're fucking around with Sinclair – “

“Oh my god, we weren't doing anything!”

“ – it ain't Valentine's Day anymore, you shithead!”

“This is the first time we even did anything!” Max yelled. “It’s not like it was even sexy, I had a SPORTS BRA on!”

“JESUS, DON'T FUCKING TELL ME ABOUT IT!” Billy screamed in horror; he was going deaf and dumb and blind again. “Oh my god, you total asshole, I am not equipped to deal with this shit!

“I'm sorry!” yapped Max. “No one was supposed to be home! Mom's at her sister's! I thought you were going to Steve's!”

“You are such a shithead,” Billy told her. “Oh my god, what are you doing, you're fucking fourteen.

“I'LL BE FIFTEEN IN TWO MONTHS!” Max yelled her head off. “We've been going out for like a year! What about you and Tracey boning after five minutes?”

Jesus God she better not be using him as any kinda example; also he was deaf dumb and blind all over again, having to hear her say boning . “Don't start that shit with me!”

“We didn't even do anything! I mean barely!

“Jesus, I don't care! Stop talkin' about it!” Billy begged her.

You stop talking about it!”

“Oh my god,” Billy said again. “You're such a shithead, you totally fucked us. You know you fucked us, right?”

“HE WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE HOME!”

“Why you wanna do that shit? You wanna get fuckin' pregnant?”

“OH MY GOD, WE WEREN'T GOING TO HAVE SEX! ” Max yelled; Billy went even deafer dumber and blinder at the horror of her saying sex too.

“Stop fuckin' screaming at me!”

“I'M NOT SCREAMING, YOU'RE SCREAMING!”

“I'M NOT SCREAMING!” screamed Billy. He reminded her, “Fuckin' hate you.”

Max folded her arms across her chest like a sulky bitch and flopped back against the backseat; she looked like a total asshole with her stupid sweater on backwards. Jesus God he couldn't believe her. “So what are we going to do? What are you gonna do?”

Billy rubbed his face. “I don't fucking know. Get outta my car, I can't deal with your shit right now.”

Max got out of the car. She came around to the driver's side door and looked at him through the window all critical. “You look like total shit,” she told him.

“Yeah, thanks so much.”

“Your arms are all messed up, you're bleeding everywhere!” Max yapped.

“No shit,” Billy said. He thought about it. “Look, don't go home this weekend, okay? Your mom ain't coming back til Sunday.”

“Uh, God, she's probably on her way back right now.”

“Yeah, I don't care,” Billy told her. He thought about how his old man had looked standing on the sidewalk as they'd left; really Susan shouldn't fucking come home either. “Look, I'm serious, okay?”

“Mom won't let him do anything to me,” Max told him; she still didn't understand. He thought about his dad saying you wanna grab me, you fuckin' spade. Thought about his dad grabbing Max's face over the summer; that'd been before he'd even caught her screwing around.

Billy reached out the window and grabbed Max's wrist; he didn't do it too rough but she looked startled anyway. “I'm fucking serious, Max,” he said. “Don't go home, okay? Think I don't fuckin' know him? I don't care if your mom calls you all nice and shit saying he ain't mad, he's fucking mad. Don't fuckin' go back there til I tell you.”

Max stared at him. “Yeah, but if Mom says I have – “

“I don't care,” Billy told her again. “I'll figure something out. Stay at your girl Beverly's or somethin', okay? Don't go back home, you understand me?”

“I just – “

“Max. This is serious shit.”

“I know that, I'm not stupid – "

“Say you understand.”

Max looked weird; her brows were drawn down and she had a little frown on her face. He was still holding her wrist. “Okay, okay. Okay, I understand.”

“Okay.” He let go of her wrist.

Max put her hands in her jeans pockets and stood looking at him. “What are you going to do? Are you gonna go back home?”

“Fuck no I ain't going home.”

“Are you gonna go to Steve's?”

“I dunno now.”

Max chewed on her lip. “Sorry,” she said softly.

Billy put his car back in drive. “Yeah. Well.” He looked up at her. “Keep your fuckin' clothes on, okay?”

Max rolled her eyes; she didn't even flip him off like he'd expected her to. “Bye.” She still had her hands in her pockets; she hunched her little shoulders. “Thanks,” she said.

Billy didn't answer her. He drove off; he was tired of her.

He wasn't sure what he was going to do now. He didn't know where he was supposed to go. Couldn't go home. Couldn't go to the shop looking like this and shouldn't go to Harrington's looking like this. He didn't want to dump his problems on Hank or on Steve.

Fuckin' Max, his biggest problem. He'd thought it was Harrington but as usual Max came through for him after all.

He drove around for a while; he drove out to Lover's Lake and smoked the rest of his cigarettes. He pushed his seat back as far as it could go and sat forward to try and peel his t-shirt off his back a little; it was all tacky with blood and was stickin' to him. The material was in shreds and he was pretty sure most of his fuckin' back was as well. Jesus he hoped he hadn't fucked up Harrington like this last month pushing him out the window. He looked at himself in his mirror; he had a split lip too but that wasn't too bad or nothing. Just was about usual. He was still okay.

It was way past dark out when he put his car back in drive. He still didn't know where to go; like he'd told Max he definitely wasn't going to go home and catch the shitstorm yet. He still didn't feel scared; he was trying not to think about it. It was a kind of resigned feeling, something low in his stomach. He always knew when he was in deep shit.

Somehow he wound up at Steve's house anyway. He still didn't want to bother him with the shit. He sat in the Camaro looking up at the house for a couple minutes; Steve's car was the only one there like almost always but there were a lot of lights on.

Billy got out of the car and went up the front walkway; after all it was a shame for his boy to be alone on a Friday night. He felt weird knocking even though he didn't know why. Maybe Steve had Henderson over or something. He still didn't know why Steve didn't just find a new girlfriend; he didn't need to hang out with Billy all the time. He knocked on the door.

“UH, HANG ON,” Steve said from somewhere inside the house. “SWEAR TO GOD, DUSTIN, IF THIS IS YOU AGAIN WITH YOUR PASTA SALAD BULLSHIT – “

Billy coughed. “Uh, it's me,” he said awkwardly into the door.

“Oh, hang on!” Steve said. He threw the door open. “Hey, I was about to call you – holy shit, ” he said. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Uh,” Billy said, still awkwardly. He kinda had the shakey feeling now but it wasn't too bad yet. Asides from that though it was cold as shit out here now without his jacket. He just stood there. “Uh, c'n I come in?”

“Shit, sorry,” said Steve. “Yeah, yeah, of course.” He went to grab Billy's arm and then stopped himself; he was making a face. Billy crossed the doorway and came inside. “Man, what happened to you?” he asked again.

“Fell in my backyard.”

“Uh, Jesus.” Steve was inspecting him like a den dad now. “You should really clean that, you got like rocks and shit in your arm.”

“Can't really go home,” Billy mumbled.

“Yeah, I figured.” Steve dragged him out into the kitchen. “What happened? Take your shirt off.”

Billy peeled his shirt off; it fucking hurt. “My old man caught Max'n Sinclair in her fuckin' room.”

“Oh my god, are you serious?” Steve was rifling through one of the kitchen drawers for a dishtowel or something; he stopped and looked up.

“Wish I wasn't.”

Steve was making a terrible face; he took Billy's bloody t-shirt from him and switched it for a rag. “Oh Jesus, man, please tell me they weren't doing stuff.”

“Had her fucking sweater on backwards yelling her head off outside.”

“Oh my god, no,” Steve said in true horror; really no one understood him better than Harrington Billy thought.

“Yeah, said he wasn't s'posed to be home.”

Steve made an even more terrible face. “What you think they'd've done if you came home and found 'em?”

“Listen, I'm fucked up enough already,” Billy begged him; he was getting horrible images of Maxine in her sports bra and he could feel himself losing his sight again. Steve laughed like a horrible person. He was back to inspecting Billy like a den dad; it made him feel really weird.

“Yeah, your back is totally messed up, I think we have a first aid kit or something around here.” Steve trooped off like Mr. Mom and Billy wandered over to the sink to try and wash his arms off a little.

Steve came back chattering his head off after a couple minutes. “My mom'd be so proud of me, it only took me about eight minutes to find the peroxide.” He stood staring at Billy by the sink.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Steve said. He came back over and continued his critical inspection. “Uh, yeah, you're not even getting it all. Do you want me to do your back?”

Billy didn't answer him for a minute; he was thinking about it. He wondered what kinda Friday night this was gonna turn into. “Okay,” he said. Steve snatched the towel back from him; he made Billy go and sit in a chair while he rinsed it off.

Billy sat leaned over the kitchen table and let Steve clean his back off. He didn't feel too sexy or anything; he felt like a damn little kid with a skinned knee. Anyway it didn't hurt too much; the peroxide felt good. “Haven't even worked out two months, you're such an asshole,” Steve mutterered. “Your shoulder looks real ugly,” he told Billy in support.

“Thanks.”

Steve stopped cleaning his back and touched him with two fingers up on his shoulderblade near his neck, about an inch apart. “Uh, what's this from?”

Billy already knew what he was touching. “What?”

“Are these fucking cigarette burns?” Steve was still touching him.

Billy didn't want to talk about that. “I dunno, can you stop feeling me up?”

“Sorry.” He could tell Harrington was rolling his eyes; at this point he could fucking feel it. Steve resumed his Mr. Mom shit for a couple minutes. He didn't need to get so close; Billy could feel his breath on his shoulder. He heckled Billy for a couple minutes until Billy told him the rest of what'd happened. “Jesus,” said Steve. “I mean, okay, I almost kinda get it, I guess I wouldn't wanna walk in on my daughter with some guy either.”

“She ain't his daughter,” Billy reminded him. He chewed on his lip for a second; it started bleeding a little. Goddamn his old man had good aim with his wedding ring. “That ain't why he was shaking Sinclair all around the yard.”

Steve didn't say anything for a minute. “Yeah, I know that.”

“Called him a fuckin' nigger and a spade.”

“Uh, Jesus.” Steve sounded really uncomfortable. “So where's Max, you leave her there?”

“No I didn't fuckin' leave her there!” Billy said. “You think I'm stupid? She went to one of her girl's houses. We ain't coming home this weekend.”

“You can stay here if you want,” Steve told him. Right away Billy felt weird again.

“Uh, s’not what I meant – “

“Yeah, whatever, I'm just saying.”

Billy chewed his lip again; he tasted blood in his mouth. “Yeah, thanks.”

 

They were in the kitchen for a while until Steve declared his back good to go. He gave Billy back his Dead Kennedys shirt to wear; Billy spent a while mourning the loss of his Metallica tee. He'd looked damn good in that shirt, no matter what dumb shit Maxine said.

Out in the living room they laid around and watched MTV for a while. Steve let Luke and Leia inside and laughed at Billy talking to them for a while like usual.

“Can we get Chinese food?” Billy asked him. He was sprawled out on the floor. Luke was laying his huge self on Billy's stomach and Leia was snuffling at his hair; he felt so happy.

“Uh, you never have to ask me that,” Steve said. “You wanna order it or you wanna go and get it? You can drive my car if you want.”

“REALLY?” Billy said; Steve laughed at him again.

They didn't stay up too late; Harrington was tired from work and Billy was tired from dealing with Maxine's special brand of bullshit. He ended up sleeping on Steve's floor; Steve gave him about three pillows and asked if he was okay eighty times. Billy fell asleep to Harrington still bitching his head off about work.

They got up kind of late; Steve sat on the couch and Billy laid on the floor again playing with Luke and Leia some more. Steve stared at Billy watching the Saturday morning cartoons; he laughed at Billy laughing his ass off at the Paw Paw Bears and Johnny Quest. They went and met Henderson at the diner (Billy drove the Beamer again) and everyone got breakfast even though it was past noon. Billy laughed his ass off again at Dustin mournfully eating a single poached egg.

Back at Steve's house they watched more TV; Harrington was a real layabout like him. The phone rang at about four; Steve picked it up from the end-table by the couch. “Harrington's,” he said all proper. “Hey, Max. Yeah, yeah I know. Yeah, he's right here.”

He handed the phone to Billy. “Hey shithead,” Billy said.

“I knew you'd be at Steve's!” Max said.

“Where you at?”

“I'm still hiding at Bev's,” Max told him.

Steve was standing up; he wandered off into the kitchen. Billy guessed he was giving him privacy or some shit; it didn't matter. He played around with the phone cord. “Sinclair okay?” he said.

“Yeah, he's fine. Neil pushed you way harder.” Was great to know that his old man still hated him more than Midnight. Billy told himself again to stop calling Sinclair that in his head.

“He tell his parents?”

No,” said Max. “I don't know why.” She went on: “I talked to Mom already, she is really mad about everything. She's gonna come home tomorrow and we're gonna talk about everything.”

“Said I don't want you going back to that house til I said,” Billy told her.

“I know, I said that, Mom said you're being stupid.”

“I ain't being stupid.”

“Her train comes in at four, we're gonna go to the mall and stuff first.”

“Okay,” Billy said. He thought about it. “I'm gonna go back before you guys and do damage control.”

“What? Why?” Max yapped right away. “No, don't do that, Neil will kick your ass!”

“He's gonna kick my ass anyway, might as well get it out of the way.”

“No, don't go home!” Max said all dramatic. “Just wait for me and Mom, okay?”

“S'gonna be worse if yous are there.”

“No it won't be!” Max yapped; she still didn't understand. He thought she had; the other month she'd been cryin' in the diner. Billy'd said he wouldn't let her get hit. He didn't know if she was gonna get hit but he wasn't gonna let it happen.

“Look, I don't want you guys there.”

“Uh, you don't have to do this, Billy!”

“What? I ain't doing nothing,” Billy said.

Max yapped on for a couple more minutes and finally Billy managed to get her off the line. Hockey was on at seven; they ordered pizza and drank more of Harrington's dad's thirty-two year-old whiskey. Like usual Steve laughed at Billy getting all jazzed up about the game.

Billy didn't mind Steve laughing at him. He felt good in Harrington's house even though he knew he had to go eventually. He felt good around Steve even though he knew he had to go eventually. He couldn't believe he'd spent more than a day around him; maybe Steve did want him a little even if it wasn't really the way Billy wanted him to. Sometimes he was thinking maybe, maybe. He was always setting himself up. Maybe it didn't have to be like this, could be a little different. Maybe he could, maybe he would. Anyway it didn't matter.

Steve went to bed to a little past midnight; he was kind of hinting to Billy that he should take a shower (he said, “Man, you're starting to reek, go take a fucking shower”).

Jesus he was too sweet. Billy went and took a shower; Steve gave him an old Hawkins High shirt and a pair of sweatpants to wear. Billy lamented his life; he was never going to wear a Hawkins High shirt. The water from the shower spray felt like little needles cutting into his back but he stayed in there for a while.

Steve rolled his eyes at Billy coming out of his bathroom shirtless and shaking his hair like a wet dog. He told Billy that he should sleep in one of the spare rooms in an actual bed tonight but Billy ended up on his floor again anyway.

Steve was talking and talking; Billy wondered if he was still a little drunk. He kept saying stupid shit that wasn't funny and Steve'd laugh at it. He told Billy a story about how he and Carol and Tommy H had taken Carol's mom's car for a joyride when they'd been twelve or thirteen. Carol'd ran into a fucking fire hydrant and cried so much that Steve and Tommy had taken the fall for her. They'd gotten grounded all summer. “My dad took my fuckin' bike, too,” Steve told Billy; apparently that was the ultimate salt in the wound.

Billy stretched out and raised his arms over his head; it hurt his shoulders. He kept forgetting he was all cut up. “Sounds like you guys were actually pretty good friends.”

“I, yeah, I guess.” Up on his bed Steve sounded thoughtful. “I mean, they were okay. I don't know when they stopped being okay. Maybe it's me.”

“Nah, they're stupid as shit,” Billy told him.

“They were like my best friends, I kinda just did whatever they wanted though,” Steve said. “They weren't like you.” Billy didn't know what that meant. “You know, Tommy still has so much of my shit, you know he still has half my Aquaman comics?”

“Aquaman's gay, man,” Billy told him gently.

“Uh, no, he is married!” Steve said pointedly; instantly he sounded all kinds of impassioned. Billy started laughing. “She's got a twin sister, you asshole!”

“Oh, my god,” Billy said, still laughing.

“I'm not, you know what, I'm not talking about this with you, I'm not letting you insult me about this like everything else.” Steve went on and on about how horrible Billy was, this wound back around to Tommy somehow. “Anyway Tommy has like a bunch of my records too, he's got my copy of Star Wars, he has like half my old tapes. I'm never getting that shit back. Actually Nancy has my fuckin' favorite record, I bet she listens to it with Jonathan all the time.”

“'m sure they listen to it and think about how unique they both are. What's your favorite record?” Billy asked him; he already knew. Steve sat up on the bed and glared down at him. He had the amazing glasses on and he looked cute as shit; Billy told himself not to get a hard-on.

Steve glared at him some more. He flopped back down on his bed and grabbed his pillow and jammed it under his stomach. Finally he muttered, “Springsteen.”

“HAHA!” Billy said. “Knew it.”

“Oh, fuck you, go listen to Kill 'Em All for the millionth time and think about how hard you are.”

“That ain't my favorite record,” Billy told him. “My favorite record's by Fleetwood Mac.”

“Wow, you just come out and say that, you can't say shit to me,” Steve said.

“I can and I will, why you think I call you Stevie?”

“Wow, that's really beautiful,” Steve told him.

Billy laughed. “What? She's pretty like you.”

Steve leaned over the edge of the bed and stared at him again; Billy was still telling himself not to get a boner. “You're so weird,” Steve said. He reached down and touched Billy's wrist; he was still wearing his mom's bracelet from his birthday. Steve started playing with the bracelet. Billy didn't know why he was doing that. “You get all fancy for me?” Steve said; he was being sarcastic but it almost made Billy shiver.

“Yeah, you like my Boy George shit?”

Steve laughed. “Uh, I guess so.” He was just looking at Billy. “You know, I never really met anybody like you before.”

“What, that bad or something?”

“No, it's uh, it's not bad,” said Steve. He stared down at him; Billy suddenly really wished he had the horrible Hawkins High shirt on. They looked at each other. Then Steve moved his hand away and sat up a little. Billy realized he'd been holding his breath. He let it out. “Okay, I'm sleeping,” Steve said.

“Yep,” Billy said. Steve flopped over on his side; Billy heard the mattress squeak. Billy closed his eyes.

 

He woke up twice to Steve stepping on his fucking face getting out of bed like a weird person; the first time he fell back asleep right away and the second time he didn't. Billy laid there on the floor and looked at the light in the hall that Steve'd left on. He was gone a real long time. Eventually Billy sat up and looked around, then he got up too. He wrapped his blanket that Steve'd given him around himself and felt like a shaman. It was almost 4am so he was allowing himself to be stupid.

He actually had to look for Steve for a couple minutes; the goddamn house was so big. He wasn't upstairs or in the living room or the kitchen. Kitchen was too goddamn bright; Billy rubbed his eyes like a kid. He wondered if maybe Harrington was having bathroom issues or something and Billy was just being weird, then he noticed that the kitchen was way too bright because the overhead lights at the back of the house were on. He looked out of the back door; Steve was sitting outside with Luke and Leia by the pool. His back was to Billy and his shoulders were hunched. His white t-shirt was real thin.

Billy went outside too. Steve didn't look up as Billy came over. He had his pajama bottoms rolled up and was sitting with his feet in the pool; steam was rolling off it and it looked real romantic.

Billy sat down next to him. Luke wagged his tail at him so Billy said, “Baby, baby!” Luke licked his face. Billy was real tired so he didn't laugh too much. “What you doing out here, man?”

“Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up.”

“You have a bad dream or something?”

Steve breathed out a laugh. “Uh, I guess so,” he said. “Sorry. Actually I don't usually have any dreams when I'm around you, you're like my good luck charm or something.”

That made Billy feel weird. He thought about it. “Hey, you ever dream about some blonde lady?”

Steve made a little face and looked over at him. “Uh, no?”

“Oh okay,” Billy said; he was definitely not gonna tell him about it then.

“What, like some actress?”

“No, nevermind.” He looked out at the pool and the yard. “How come we never use your fancy fuckin' pool?”

“Oh.” Steve looked surprised. “Uh, you can use it if you want. I don't really go in anymore.”

“Max's been crying about your pool for like three months,” Billy told him.

“You guys can use it, Dustin just came over Thursday and did his swim laps for Rebecca.”

Billy shuddered. “Don't make me sick, okay?” he begged; Steve laughed.

He didn't say anything for a while. He said, “I think this is where Barb died.”

Billy stared. “Uh, in your pool?”

“I guess.”

“She drown?”

“No, she – that, that thing, the monster got her.”

I'm the monster. Billy looked at his knees. “Ain't no monsters anymore.”

“Yeah, I know that.”

“You dreamin' about her or something?”

Steve made another little face. “No, I never dream about her. You'd think I would.”

“What you dream about?”

“Uh, I don't know. It's stupid.”

Billy was still looking at his knees; he reached over and started petting Luke again. “Can tell me if you want. What you dream about, the monster?” Steve didn't answer him. Billy told him, “I saw it, you know?”

Steve stared at him. “ What? ” he said.

“Uh,” Billy said; Steve stared at him like a crazy person. “No, no, don't freak out, okay? Jane showed me.”

Steve stared more. “She showed you,” he said blankly.

“Uh, yeah. Told you she came by my work before. She went in my head and shit.”

“Oh my god, okay,” Steve said. “That's not weird. Why'd she do that?”

“Asked her to.”

“Okay, great, uh, why?

Billy really didn't feel like detailing that whole night to him. “Look, I dunno. We was havin' a moment. I told her to show me the shit.”

Steve was still staring at him blankly. “You asked her to show you the monsters?”

“No, I – not really. Look, I dunno. Told her to show me why she was feelin' bad. She showed me a lot of shit, I saw those fuckin' things too.”

“Okay, great, so you probably know way more about whatever went on than me,” Steve said; actually he sounded kinda amused.

“Uh, not really. Was all jumbled up. She really likes waffles,” Billy told him; Steve laughed for some reason. “That what you dream about? That, uh – the Mind Flayer?” He didn't know why he knew they called it that.

“No, that's something different, apparently that hasn't got here yet,” Steve said.

“Great, that's great.”

“Yeah, apparently it controls all the others.”

Billy stared. “Okay. That's some Outer Limits shit.”

“Uh, yeah.” Steve looked like he wanted to laugh. “Like – okay, when the whole thing with Barb happened, we thought there was just one. Caught it in a fuckin' bear trap. I mean, Jonathan and Nancy did. I was there. Screaming in the background, as I do.”

Billy laughed.

“Then, uh, you know last year, Dustin's favorite thing, there were all those – fuckin' – wow I hate calling them this, those demodogs running around.” He looked thoughtful. “You know, the kids probably really shouldn't have put you outside.”

“Yeah, I already know they're fucking assholes.”

“Dustin told me Mike wanted to leave me out there too, we coulda woke up together.”

Hahahaha, Billy said in his head. “Mike's for shit,” he said.

“Yeah, I'm pretty sure he'd still leave me if he had to make a choice,” Steve said, he was laughing again. He fell silent again. He looked at his legs in the pool. “There was, man, there was hundreds of those things.”

“That what your nightmare about?”

“Uh, it's not really a nightmare.” Steve didn't say anything for a while. “I just, like – look, the kids dragged me down into some fuckin' tunnel, I guess we kinda told you about that.”

“Yeah, the portal.”

“Wasn't really a portal, it was like a channel of caves,” Steve told him. “It was like, uh, the fuckin' universes were bleeding together. Felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.

“I did concuss ya,” Billy pointed out.

“Okay, you didn't actually do that, Dustin made me go to the doctor like a day later. I didn't know what the fuck was going on. They were like – there were so many of those things. We burned a lot of them.”

“Shit, man.” He still couldn't believe Harrington'd done all that; Max just talked about it like a TV show.

“Yeah, so I guess I – dream about it. It's not like – it's not a nightmare. Just feels like it's happening.”

“Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's a nightmare,” Billy told him; Steve rolled his eyes.

“I just – yeah, when I'm dreaming it, I can never help anybody. They pick off all the kids. Now they kill you too, which is so fun,” Steve said. “There was – uh, when we were leaving, they all came at us. There was like fifty of them coming at us. It was just me and Dustin left down there. I thought I was dead, man. Saw my whole life flash before my eyes, I haven't done shit.”

“Yeah, I know that feeling.”

“I thought I was dead,” Steve said again. “I always dream about it. I never save anybody. They pick 'em off, like, one by one, like a horror movie. Dustin. My parents. Uh, you and Max. Even that janitor that hit me with the rake.”

Billy was starting to understand why Steve didn't like horror movies. “Okay, but that ain't gonna happen.”

“Yeah, tell that to me when I'm dreaming it,” Steve said. “I just – I don't know. Sorry. It doesn't matter.”

“Uh, you ain't gotta be sorry.”

“I just, uh. Just feels like I never sleep anymore. And I'm always – I mean, when I'm by myself, it gets real bad. I mean. I'm always by myself. I got Dustin, which is cool. Really fuckin' sucked when you weren't talking to me for three weeks.”

Billy put his hand on Steve's shoulder; he guessed it was okay to do that. “I'm sorry, man.”

“No, I – uh, that's okay,” Steve said.

Billy looked at Steve; he looked at the pool. “I'm really sorry,” he said again.

“You don't have to be sorry.”

“No, no, you don't understand,” Billy told him. He moved his hand to the center of Steve's back. “I'm really sorry.

Steve stared at him; they were real close. “Uh, what are you – “

Billy pushed him into the pool.

“YOU FUCKING – “ Steve said and then he hit the water. He came up sputtering; he was laughing. He threw his head back and flipped his hair out of his eyes. “YOU PIECE OF SHIT,” he said.

Billy laughed his ass off. “Sorry, you set yourself up.”

Steve floated over to him. “You're such an asshole,” he said. “I thought we were having a moment.”

“We were havin' a moment,” Billy said; he was still grinning.

Steve was in the pool up to about his waist; he waded over and stood between Billy's legs and stared up at him. “Funny you should say that,” he said. He grabbed Billy's leg.

Billy kicked him in the chest. “No, no, think about what you're doing here.”

Steve started laughing.

“Swear to god, man – “

Steve pulled him into the pool; he was still laughing. Billy got about eight liters of water up his nose. He came up and couldn't see anything; he had all his hair in his eyes. “YOU'RE DEAD, HARRINGTON,” he said.

Steve just laughed his ass off like a little kid; he splashed Billy and then moved away. Billy pushed his hair out of his face and went after him. He got Steve trapped in the corner of the pool and came at him like a shark.

“Oh my god, stop,” Steve said; he was still laughing. “What are you gonna do to me?”

Billy could think up a couple things. “Don't tell me to stop, you started this shit.”

“You pushed me in!”

“Those are details, that's debatable,” Billy told him. He grabbed Steve by the shoulder; Steve laughed and hit him in the chest. “OH WOW, YOU WANT TO ACTUALLY DIE!”

He dunked Steve a couple times, just twice so he wouldn't actually drown. Steve just laughed his ass off; he spit water in Billy's face. “You're such an asshole,” he said; he floated away towards the shallow end.

Billy followed him; he was always following Harrington it seemed. “Gotta tire you out so you can sleep.”

“Yeah, that's really sweet, I'm sure that's what you want to do.” Steve was smiling at him; he looked so good with all the steam rising around him. You could see everything through his t-shirt. He looked like he was in a magazine again. Then he stopped smiling and grabbed Billy's arm. “Oh shit , I didn't think about your fuckin' back. Are you okay?”

Billy was just looking at him. “Yeah, m'fine,” he said. “Feels good.”

“You're so weird,” Steve said again. He was still holding Billy's arm in the water. “Shit, I dunno if you're supposed to go in the water with cuts like that. Uh, I mean, I guess the pool's clean. Just, uh, don't touch the sides.” He frowned. “Maybe?”

“I'm fine,” Billy said again.

“Yeah,” Steve said. He was still holding Billy's wrist; he looked down at his hand on Billy's arm. He looked back up at Billy's face. He was just looking at him. He still wasn't letting go. “Uh, I … “

Billy just stared back at him. There was only about a foot of distance between them; he could clear that real easy. He couldn't move though. His whole body felt like it was on fire; it wasn't because of his back. He didn't know how you could be frozen and on fire and also in a pool at the same time but here he was. Steve was just staring at him. His hair was so dark around his face; he looked so good. He said, “You know, I uh, I never … “ He stopped. He was just looking at him.

Billy licked his lips. “What?” he said.

“Uh, I … “ Steve said. He was still just looking at him. Billy swallowed hard; Steve stared down at his throat. Billy saw his eyes go down and back up to his face. Jesus Steve was just looking at him. Billy was still frozen; he didn't think he'd ever felt this way in his life. For a second he was almost sure Maxine was going to win her bet; his mind went totally blank. Steve said, “I just never … “

Then there was a huge splash as Princess Leia jumped into the pool. Steve dropped Billy's wrist finally. “OH MY FUCKING GOD, YOU STUPID SHITHEAD!” Steve yelled his head off. He went and swam after his dog. “ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

Princess Leia swam away to the shallow end; Steve was still yelling. Billy tried to get himself under control.

It took about ten minutes for them to coax Leia out of the pool, then Luke jumped in too to be an asshole. “Oh my god, motherfuckers, they always do this,” Steve told him. “Reason number two why I never go in the pool.” Billy couldn't believe his precious dogs were fucking cockblocking him; he lamented his life.

By the time they got the dogs settled and dried off and banished to their fancy little shed it was way past five in the morning; they went on back into the house about half-frozen and Steve gave Billy some more clothes. Steve collapsed on his bed in his wet pajama pants and fell asleep in two seconds – at some point outside he'd just thrown his t-shirt at Princess Leia in some kinda Hulk-like rage; Billy was still laughing about it. Billy got changed right there in Steve's room and then passed the fuck out on the floor too.

 

Steve got up around ten and he didn't step on Billy's face this time; Billy woke up anyway. “Hey, don't look at me,” Steve said like a dramatic bitch as he put a shirt on.

Billy wondered if he was insecure. He thought Steve looked all right. He put his hands behind his head and looked up at him from the floor. “Can't help it,” he said. Steve rolled his eyes and said, “Jesus.”

They went downstairs; Steve's mom was in the kitchen and Billy felt like a Garbage Pail Kid in two seconds with his ripped up jeans and another one of Steve's shirts that was too small on him. “Ma, can you make me coffee?” Steve asked; he was already looking into the fridge with a kind of hopeless look on his face. “When'd you get home? I didn't know you were home.”

“I've been home,” Mrs. Harrington said. She was wearing a robe and slippers and somehow looked like she'd just gone and gotten her hair done. She was real pretty even with no makeup on; she had huge brown eyes like Steve and she looked young. “I came in late last night and heard you laughing with someone, I figured I'd wait until the morning to come embarrass you.”

“That's really sweet, thank you,” Steve said. He was still looking in the fridge.

“Who were you calling a stupid shithead at four in the morning?” his mom asked. She was real dry like Steve'd said.

Steve looked guilty. “Uh, Leia jumped in the pool,” he said. “Do you remember Billy?”

“Oh yes, I remember Billy,” Mrs. Harrington said in a voice that made Steve roll his eyes.

“Hi,” Billy said like a Garbage Pail Kid.

Steve's mom was going over to the coffee machine and setting it up. She was still looking at both of them. “And what happened to Billy?” she asked. Billy stared back at her before he remembered his split lip; it wasn't that bad.

Steve was going past him to the pantry and he shoved Billy a little so's he'd sit at the table. Billy sat at the table. “I got in a fight,” he said.

“He likes doing that, I told you,” Steve said; he'd found some pancake mix. “He fought those guys at the arcade before and he fought Tommy before too.”

“I never liked Tommy,” Steve's mom said. Steve sighed and his mom ignored him. She was still looking at Billy. “I'm glad you took Steve away from Tommy,” she told him.

“Yep, not what happened, you're like a year behind, that was Nancy,” Steve said.

“Hm, I don't see Nancy here.” Steve's mom looked around; Steve sighed again. “You two always fought and made back up. Tommy is a bully,” she told Billy; he managed not to make a face. “Steven, do you remember when you were in sixth grade and you were so sad because – ”

“NO, DON'T TELL HIM THAT,” said Steve from in the pantry.

“What happened in sixth grade?” Billy asked.

“NOTHING,” Steve said. He looked real sulky with his pancake mix and he went back to the fridge. “Do we have any eggs?”

“Did you buy any eggs?” Mrs. Harrington asked him.

“Yes, did you eat them all?”

“No I did not,” his mom said. She had a pretty low voice; sounded like a movie star or something. “Did you look behind the milk?”

“Uh, no, they're not there.”

Steve's mom rolled her eyes; she went and found the eggs in two seconds as moms do. She went back to scrutinizing Billy. Billy sat and let himself be scrutinized. He felt weird as shit; he definitely wasn't going to flirt with Steve's mom and so he didn't know what to do with her. Steve gave him a cup of coffee. His mom said, “Oh. I remember now. Max. Max is your sister. I couldn't remember the name, I knew it was an M.”

“Yeah, that's my sister,” Billy said.

“You're not related, are you? You look alike. Same eyes.”

“Uh. Yeah, s'weird, right?”

“I think you two will have dinner with us next week,” Steve's mom said; she wasn't asking him.

“Okay.”

“Billy eats a lot,” Steve said like he wasn't a human garbage disposal.

“Steven can cook for us,” his mom decided. “He might go off to college next year, I'm trying to tell him he needs to learn to make something more than macaroni noodles.”

“Why?” Steve said. “I'm making pancakes right now.”

Billy didn't really want to think about Steve going off to college. He wondered if Steve'd made his mom read his terrible Huntington essay and what she'd thought of it.

Steve made his pancakes; his mom leaned against the counter and watched him. She stood by his shoulder and played with his long hair for a minute; it was such a mom thing to do. Seeing them like that hurt Billy for a second. He wasn't really jealous or anything, just hurt for a second. Then it went away.

“Honey, your pancake-flipping skills have greatly improved over the last year,” Mrs. Harrington said.

“Thank you,” Steve said.

His mom went upstairs after another couple minutes; they heard her out in the living room. “Steven, don't think that I don't see this dog hair all over the couch,” she called out.

“What?” Steve said. “That's from Billy.”

“Hm, I want you to imagine my skeptical silence for the next twenty seconds,” Mrs. Harrington said. They listened to her going up the stairs in skeptical silence.

“I like your mom,” Billy said.

“Yeah, she's okay.” Steve was eating a pancake with his hands like a goddamn savage. “Do you want any syrup?”

“What do you think I want, Steven?” Billy asked him.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Uh, I think you – probably want to not tease the guy makin' you breakfast,” he said. Billy didn't see how he was teasing him. Steve gave him the syrup though.

They ate their food and drank all the coffee; Steve let Billy turn the dishwasher on. Then Billy sat around and watched while Steve made even more coffee. He was gonna be so annoying in about fourteen minutes. He wasn't talkin' too much yet but it was coming. Billy sat and looked around. He thought he should probably leave soon; it was almost noon.

He and Steve went into the living room and watched a movie; Steve talked his head off but Billy wasn't paying attention to him. He kept thinking about Maxine even though he didn't want to think about Maxine. Steve's mom had brought her up and got her in his head he guessed. Not really because she'd been in the back of his mind all weekend; she was such a shithead.

He thought about her stuffing popcorn into her mouth on the couch and laughing about her mom's horrible breakfast; thought about her gasping when he'd found stupid George the haunted bear. Thought about her bouncing alongside him walking down Main Street to the arcade or the general store yapping her head off and thought about her waiting at his locker for her lunch money like she couldn't fuckin' count it herself. He thought about eavesdropping on her and her dad and how she'd said He is basically my best friend here about him; he didn't know why she'd say that about him.

He thought about Max in a big sulk at him all last year and how she'd yelled her head off at him back in October saying I DON'T KNOW WHY I THOUGHT YOU COULD BE FRIENDS WITH MY FRIENDS; turned out he guessed he could be. He thought about Max tagging along to the movies with him and Tracey, thought about her tagging along to the movies with him and Harrington. He remembered how she'd cried in the diner the other month and then stole his orange juice. He thought about telling her what he'd told her and how she'd said Okay, Billy, that's okay! in two seconds. He thought about her laughing her head off as quietly as possible in his car asking him about Keanu Reeves; he remembered her saying Make a move! and telling him he could get a boyfriend if he wanted. He knew she wanted to see George Michael but maybe she actually wanted him to get what he wanted too. He guessed she really was his sister, even if she was for shit sometimes. She was such a dummy but he guessed he didn't want anything to happen to her; he didn't want her to catch the shit.

He was thinking about Sinclair too even though he didn't want to. Billy never liked to think about Sinclair and now he had to ask himself why. He knew why. If Maxine'd been going out with any other guy – Byers or Henderson or even fuckin' Wheeler Jr – Billy'd have been all right with it. He'd have the most fun in the world teasing her, even if it was some older guy and not someone in the Creepy Kid Club. He almost never teased her about Lucas; he didn't like talking about him. He knew why. He remembered thinking before he'd never said the word nigger but he'd thought it; he didn't want to be that way. He wished he wasn't that way. He didn't want to be like his old man.

The movie ended and Billy stood up. It was getting near three o'clock. “You leavin'?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, time for me to let my old man kick the shit out of me.”

Steve stared at him. “Wait, what, are you serious?”

“Wanna get there before Max comes back home.”

Steve kept staring at him. “Uh, why?”

“Don't want her to catch the shit.”

“Okay, right. Do you think he'd hit her or something?”

Billy didn't want to talk about this. “Dunno.”

Steve sat up and stared at him some more; Billy wished he wasn't looking at him. “Uh, okay, you don't have to do that.”

“Okay,” Billy said.

“Why do you even stay there?” Steve asked him; Billy stared at him.

“You know why I stay there.”

Steve frowned. “Okay, but there's people who can help you guys.”

Jesus Steve was too cute; he should come over and watch some Lifetime movies with Susan. “I'm fuckin' nineteen, nobody's gonna do shit for me.”

“Okay, but Max – why don't you guys – you know, you could tell somebody how he is. Your dad, I mean.”

“Oh yeah? Who we gonna tell?”

“I don't know!” Steve said. “You could – talk to Hopper or something. I bet he'd – “

“Hopper can't do shit, he ain't child services.”

“Yeah, but – “

Billy cut him off; he didn't want to talk about this. He felt so annoyed in two seconds. He didn't want to feel annoyed at Steve. “Look, man,” he said. “Don't start your bullshit with me, okay? I didn't grow up like you. Government doesn't give a shit about you when you don't got money.“

Steve looked all hurt in two seconds. “Uh, I didn't say that you grew up like me – ”

“You think nobody ever tried to help me before? People down the street, my uncle? You think my neighbors never called the – cops or some shit when my mom was screamin' her fucking head off getting dangled out a fuckin' window?”

Steve stared at him; he was holding one of the pillows from the couch in front of him like it was protecting him from something. Billy didn't know what. “I – “

“Lemme tell you what happens,” Billy told him. “Nothing fuckin' happens. My dad ain't a drunk, he don't shoot up in front of nobody. Kept the same job for fifteen years. Lemme tell you what's gonna happen. They ain't gonna do shit except make it worse.”

“You don't know that.”

“Yeah, I do know that,” Billy said. “Okay, best case scenerio, maybe they take Max away from her mom, you like that? Maybe she gets to go into foster care with a bunch of, uh, fucked up old fucks watchin' her. Better yet, probably goes off to that big group home up in Indianapolis; you'n me can go up and visit her on the weekends.”

Steve stared at him; he looked like he didn't know what to say. Finally he said, “So what's going to happen to you?”

“Nothin', I'll be okay.”

“Yeah, you're always okay, aren't you?”

Billy didn't know what he meant by that. He wished he had a jacket to put on. “Look, I'm just gonna go, my dad can throw me around for a while. Calm him down before Max'n her mom get home.”

“Yeah, I really don't want you to do that,” Steve said.

“What you want me to do?” Steve didn't answer him; he had the big wrinkle-frown between his eyebrows again. “I'll be fine, man.” He tried to sound like he meant it.

“Uh, okay.” Steve was just frowning at him. “Look, will you call me later and let me know you're okay?”

Billy stared at him for a moment; goddamn if he didn't sound just like Tracey worrying over him when she knew he was gonna catch the shit. He went to the door. “Yeah, whatever.”

“I'm serious,” Steve said. “Call me, okay?”

Billy put his hand on the doorknob; he wasn't looking at Steve. “Yeah, I'll call you,” he said. He went out the door and out to his car.



Billy's dad was waiting for him when he came home; it was about what he'd expected. Neil was sitting on the couch with the TV off and he stood up when Billy came in the door. “About time someone living in this goddamn house came home,” his dad said. In two seconds he was real close to him.

Billy closed the door. “Why you think nobody wants to come home to your shit?” he said; Neil cracked him across the face.

“I saw your car parked at Steve Harrington's house,” his dad told him. “That who you been queering around with all weekend with while your sister runs around doing God knows what?”

Billy rolled his tongue around his mouth; he was tastin' blood already. He thought it was pretty fucking scary that his dad had been driving around looking for him while he'd been at Harrington's. He was pretty sure his old man was smart enough not to come for Steve, though. If he knew who Steve was he probably knew Steve's dad about owned the whole town. Anyway just like with Max Billy was pretty sure he'd kill his old man before he let him touch Harrington. “Looks that way, don't it?” he said.

“That who bought you that fancy turntable and all those records? What'd you have to do for those?”

“All my friends got me those,” Billy said; it was the truth after all.

“Max's friends,” Neil said.

Billy spit some blood on the carpet. “Uh, my friends too,” he said.

“You don't have any friends,” Neil told him; he'd been telling him that his whole life. He pushed Billy into the wall and started smiling. Billy let him do it. “I guess you do have one friend,” he said. “How long you been hangin' around with the little nigger?”

“Oh, Sinclair?” Billy said; he watched his dad's lip curl at him saying the name. It almost amused him. “Me'n Lucas are thick as thieves, Dad!” That wasn't the truth; that definitely wasn't any kinda truth but it was worth it to see the rage and revolt split across his old man's face. Billy told him, “I been lettin' him and Max run around all year.”

“I'm glad this is a joke to you,” Billy's dad said. “I'm glad you've paid so much attention to what I've taught you.”

“Man, you ain't taught me shit,” Billy said; Neil hit him in the face again. Billy put his hands up to stop him and then put them down; he didn't know why he put them down. “What's your problem, what's your deal?” Billy asked him. “He's a fuckin' kid, he don't do nothing to nobody.” That one was the truth too.

“He had her in her room – in my house – “

“Oh my god, she's a fuckin' teenager, that's what they do – ”

“Yeah, I guess you know about that, don't you?”

“Guess so,” Billy said; he wasn't going to let his dad make him feel bad about Tracey anymore.

Neil started off on his bullshit. “I'm not going to stand for people like that coming into my house, my house that I work for, that I pay for. You're supposed to watch your sister, I told you you're supposed to – “

“She ain't my sister,” Billy said on autopilot. “What, what – tell me what kinda people you mean,” Billy said. “Lemme understand you, you're always askin' me if I understand you. Why you hate him so much? You hate him for being a nigger, or you hate him because his nigger parents make more money than you?”

That really pissed his old man off; he hit Billy for a while. It made Billy start laughing. “His daddy went to college, the fuck you do?” Neil choked him to shut him up and Billy saw stars. He spit some blood in his dad's face. “I been takin' her around with that kid all year,” he said. “Dropped her off at his house on Friday. Took 'em to the fuckin' Christmas dance.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Neil said.

“You know they let 'em vote now?” Billy said; he was still laughing. “It ain't the sixties anymore, they're allowed in restaurants and everything!”

“Shut the fuck up,” Neil said again. “You think I'm a goddamn idiot?”

“Do you know what I think?” Billy asked him; his dad punched him in the stomach. His dad hit him for a while. Billy laughed a little more, then he stopped laughing. Probably he could stop him; after a while he couldn't stop him.

Neil left him in a heap on the floor near the hall; he gave Billy a last hard kick in the ribs and wandered off.

Billy laid there for a while. Sometimes he'd come back and it was worse if you'd got up when he came back. When his dad did come back he had his coat on and his car keys. He stood by the door and looked at Billy. “I'm not done with you,” he said. Billy knew.

He opened the door and left. A few minutes later Billy heard his old car start up. He wasn't really in a rage anymore so he probably wasn't going out looking for Max and her mom. Probably he was going to the bar; back in Cali Billy's old man liked to cool down and have a couple of drinks after he'd beat the shit out of him real good.

Billy laid on the floor for a while, then he sat up and leaned against the wall for a while. Felt like the floor was gonna swallow him up and send him into the basement; he put his head in his hands and tried to get himself under control. He thought about the quarry a couple days ago and the sky so big until he felt okay again. He never really had shit to think about to make himself feel better when he felt this way, was weird to come up with somethin' right away. He thought about that for a while until he felt okay again.

Even after the weird shakey feeling went away he just sat there. He sat there for a long time. He felt real low; he almost wanted to cry or something and he never cried. He felt real tired. He hadn't got beaten on real bad in a long time, probably since the summer, and he was tired of it. He was so tired. His neck hurt a lot where his dad had choked him and he could feel his eye swelling shut. It hurt real bad when he breathed in deep and he was pretty sure he'd cracked or bruised a rib; he'd done that once back in Riverside and it had sucked major ass.

Finally he stood up and looked at the clock over the couch; he felt like a little kid shaking in his ratty sneakers. It was past seven. He almost couldn't believe his dad had been beating on him for so long or that he'd been sitting so long; he wasn't sure which one it had been. He still kinda felt like crying a little.

He got the corded phone from off the end table and took it into his room. The cord wasn't long enough to reach his bed so Billy laid on the floor with his pillow. He cradled the phone against his ear and called Steve's number because Steve'd said to call him. He felt real low and he wanted Steve; he felt like a baby or a girlfriend or something. Wished he'd never had to leave his house; he could be eating dinner with Steve and his weird cool mom right now in a different universe.

Usually it took Harrington a couple minutes to pick up the line; he answered right away this time though and it caught Billy off guard. “HELLO?” Steve said like a crazy person.

Billy cleared his throat; it hurt like fuck. “Hey,” he said.

“Jesus Christ, I thought you were Dustin, I fucking hung up on him like four times,” Steve told him. “What happened, are you okay?”

“Yeah, m'fine.”

“What happened?”

Billy cleared his throat again. It still hurt. “What you think happened?”

“Are you okay?

“Asked me that already.”

“Uh, yeah, because you don't sound okay. He hit you again?”

Billy laughed; it felt like falling in the gravel had. “Yeah, I got hit.”

“Okay, is it bad? Do you need me to take you to the hospital or something?” Steve asked like a den dad.

Jesus. “It ain't that bad.”

“Uh, okay, yeah, I don't really know what that means. Is he still there?”

“No, went out.”

“Okay, is Max there? Do you want me to come over?”

Definitely not, that was a bad idea. “She ain't back yet.”

“Uh, okay,” Steve said again. Billy closed his eyes for a minute; he was so tired. “Uh, BILLY?” Steve yelled his head off like a crazy person again.

“Jesus, don't scream at me.”

“Sorry, I thought you passed out or somethin'. I don't know, are you okay, man?”

“Yeah, I'm always okay,” Billy said. “Look, you wanted me to call you so I called you.”

“Okay,” Steve said. He sounded unsure of himself. “So … uh, do you want me to go or something?”

“No,” Billy said. He didn't really know what he wanted. He was so tired; he felt like cryin'. He laid his head on his pillow.

Steve sounded all worked up like when all the creepy kids were yapping at him. “Okay, sorry, I just, uh, I don't know what you want me to do.”

Billy cleared his throat again; he wondered if he was going to have a bruise tomorrow. Maybe he already had some. Jesus he felt so fucked up, he felt like a little kid. “Uh … c'n you just … talk to me for a while?”

“Uh, talk to you?” Steve said like Billy was speaking Chinese.

“Yeah, just talk to me til I feel okay.”

“Okay,” said Steve. Then he didn't say anything for about eight seconds. “Um … what do you want me to talk about?”

“I don't know, what d'you always talk about?” Steve didn't say anything again. “Come on man, you never shut the fuck up.”

“Sorry, I am a LITTLE OVERWHELMED,” Steve yelled his head off. “Usually I don't get phone calls from my friends after their dads BEAT THE SHIT out of them on a Sunday night, I don't know what to say!”

“Stop screamin' at me,” Billy told him. “Thought you wanted me to call you.”

“Okay, sorry, sorry, I did. Umm. I, yeah, sorry, I just – uh, I don't know – “

“Come on, Harrington.”

“Okay. Yeah, I, uh – okay – “

Billy rubbed his eye; it was the one that was swelling shut so's it was okay if a couple of tears were leaking out. “Jesus, you always got some shit to say, man,” he mumbled. “Uh – look, tell me how you feel 'bout me in my basketball uniform, I know you got some thoughts about that.”

Steve breathed out a laugh; it sounded like broken glass. “Uh, okay,” he said. “Bills, did I ever tell you how I feel about you in your basketball uniform? I think about it a lot, you look really good.”

“Yeah, I know I do.”

Steve laughed again. “Jesus,” he said; he sounded kinda hopeless and Billy didn't like him soundin' that way. “Man, are you okay?

“Yeah, m'fine. Just fuckin' talk to me, okay?”

“Okay, okay,” Steve said; he still had that desperate quality to his voice. He was quiet for a couple seconds. “Okay, so, uh – when we weren't talking last month I basically just ate a lotta chips and watched like every episode Murder She Wrote, I have been waitin' to discuss with someone.”

Billy'd laugh if his throat didn't hurt so bad. “Yeah, tell me.”

“Okay,” Steve said. “First off, why's that old lady have so many hats? I get that it's wardrobe but okay. Anyway. Okay, so Karen Black was in one of the last episodes I watched, isn't that your girl?”

Karen Black'd been in a lot of horror movies; she was hot as shit. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Right, so her husband dies in this one episode, Jessica's like, oh, not in my town! Hey, they're in Maine, right?”

“Think so. Everything's in Maine.”

Steve talked for a while; he had a lot of feelings about Murder She Wrote apparently. He talked for a long time. Every now and then he'd ask Billy if he was okay. Billy said yeah each time and then eventually he did feel okay. Steve was still talkin' at past nine when Max burst into his room with her eyes all big like a crazy person. She stared at him on his floor.

“OH MY GOD, ARE YOU DEAD?” she yelled her head off.

Billy raised his head up from his pillow. “No, 'm on the fuckin' phone.”

Maxine gasped looking at him. “Oh my god, your face!” she yelped. She raised her voice. “MOM, COME LOOK AT BILLY!” she yelled in her womanly hysteria.

“Uh, what's going on?” Steve said; Billy was trying to sit up before Susan came into his room and had a total meltdown with him laying on the floor.

“Gimme a minute, Max n'her mom came home starting their shit.” He put the phone down on the floor.

Susan came into his room and gasped her head off too. “OH MY GOD,” she said too. “WHAT HAPPENED?”

“What do you think happened?” Max snapped for him.

“M'fine,” Billy said. Susan was fluttering around and touching his face; Billy smacked her hands away, not that hard. “Don't touch me, I'm fine.”

Susan glared her head off at him. Even in his injured state Billy leaned back in slight true terror; he could see where Max got her Exorcist stare from. “You are not fine,” she said like a mom. “Oh my god, did he really – I think we should take you to the emergency room.”

“Oh my god, don't need to go to the fuckin' hospital,” Billy said; Susan didn't say Billy! at him swearing. “It ain't that bad.”

“I don't know,” Max said. “Mom, Billy has so much brain trauma, I don't know if he can take any more!”

“You're so fuckin' funny.”

“I'm not kidding!” Max yapped.

“Max, be quiet,” snapped her mom. “Can you do that for two minutes?”

Max scowled. “No.

“I can't believe this,” Susan said; she was getting all worked up in her womanly hysteria and Billy lamented his life. “I can't believe – okay, this is ending tonight. I can't believe this, Billy, I am so sorry. I cannot – “

“Look, it ain't your fault.” Really he wanted her to stop talking.

“No, it is my fault. I'm supposed to be your – I am so sorry. I turned a blind eye for too long, I am so sorry. I knew about this before. I know everything now. I am so sorry.” She was going on and on; Max started yapping away too. Billy put his head in his hands.

After about eighty years he managed to convince Susan that he didn't need to go to the hospital; it took eighty more years to get her the hell out of his room. She was real worked up. After Susan left Max stood there staring at him. “Why'd you come home early, I told you not to!” she said.

Billy dragged himself up onto his bed. “Why you think you can tell me what to do?” he asked her. His dad wasn't home anymore and that was the important thing.

Max gazed at him with a steady level four of womenly hysteria; then she looked down at the ground. “Are you talking to someone on the phone?”

“Yeah, Harrington.” Billy didn't know if he was still on the line; he was too tired to say that to Max though.

Max picked up the phone. “Steve?” she yapped. “Are you still there?” She looked up at Billy. “He's still there,” she said. She said into the phone, “Did he tell you what happened? I know! I know, I told him not to! I know. I know he does! Uh, I know! Oh my god, don't lecture me!”

“Max,” Billy begged her.

“Okay, okay!” Max said into the phone, “Okay, me and my mom are home now, it's fine. Yes! I know! No, he's okay! Oh my gosh, do you want a picture?” Billy almost laughed. “Do you want to say goodnight to Steve?” Max asked him like a shithead.

“M'okay.”

“Okay,” said Max. She said into the phone, “No, he said no! We can probably see you tomrrow, Billy can at least, I am getting grounded until I'm seventeen.” She scowled into the phone. “SHUT UP, STEVE! Okay, okay. I knooooow. Oh my god.” She got a weird look on her face. “Uh, right, I'll tell him. Okay! Okaaaay. Okay. Goodnight!”

She hung up the phone; she still had her weird look on her face. “Uh, Steve says he'll be thinking about your basketball shorts, WHAT'S THAT MEAN?” Billy laughed; it hurt to do so. Max jumped on his bed; just it bouncing actually hurt too. “Did you guys hook up?” she demanded.

“Oh my god, no,” Billy said; he felt annoyed in two seconds.

“Okay, okay!” Max stared at him with her bug eyes. “Are you okay, Billy?”

Jesus God no one was ever gonna shut the fuck up ever and let him go to sleep. “Yeah I'm fine.”

“You didn't have to do that,” Max told him. Billy didn't answer her. “Are you okay, do you wanna take a shower?”

Really he didn't think he could move. Most of what hurt was down to a dull throbbing ache now but he didn't want to move. “Yeah, tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Max stared at him some more. “Can I sleep in here?”

Billy stared back at her. “Max, that's fuckin' weird,” he told her.

“No it's not!” Max scowled her head off at him. “Ew, not in your gross bed! Oh god, I should not be sitting on this.” She jumped up in two seconds; Billy wanted to laugh again. “Uh, what if Neil comes home again?”

“At this point I really can't do shit.” Max kept staring at him. “Je-sus Christ, I don't care,” Billy said.

“Okay!” Max dashed off and got her hideous Care Bears blanket and her pillow.

“What time's it?”

“Almost eleven,” Max told him.

“Jesus, your moms talked for that long?” Billy was pretty sure he was one with his mattress at this point; he felt like a dead fish on the shore somewhere.

“Yeah, she usually does.” Once more Max stared at him. “Do you want me to put a record on for you?”

“Okay.”

“You're lucky your dad didn't break this.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Max put on Rumors for him. She laid on his floor with her stupid blanket; Billy fell asleep in about two seconds.

 

They woke up the next morning to Neil and Susan screaming their heads off at each other; Susan was locking Neil out of the house and making a big production of it. Max and Billy leaned out his door and listened to them going on.

“HE'S YOUR SON!” Susan screamed.

“YOU'RE MY WIFE!” Neil screamed. Max and Billy rolled their eyes; Susan made a big production out of slamming the deadbolt lock shut. Neil hammered away at the door for a couple minutes yelling and then he left. They heard the sound of his car starting up; Max looked up at Billy.

“You think he's going to work?”

“Hope so,” Billy said.

Max stared at him critically. “God, you look so much worse now,” she told him.

“Yeah, thanks.”

Billy went and showered; he did look like total shit. Felt like shit too but it was better than last night; he was okay. He'd liked Harrington's fancy bathroom but it felt good to shower in his own house. Finally he dragged himself into the kitchen where Susan was making breakfast in her womanly hysteria and Max was sitting at the table.

Susan looked at him and her eyes welled up in two seconds; she looked about ready to go off. “Oh my god, you look so much worse now,” she said.

“I already told him that,” Maxine said helpfully.

Susan slammed down a plate of pancakes in her womanly hysteria. “I cannot believe this, this is not going to happen anymore.” She went on and on in her womanly hysteria.

“What are you going to do, Mom?” Max asked her. She was choking down her second pancake and Billy was on his third; Harrington'd made them better but food was food.

“I don't know, I don't know. I'm going to think of something.”

“Yeah, we're gonna be late,” Billy said; he was tired of her talking. He jingled his car keys at Max. “Go start my car.”

“Okay.” Max took the keys and went off.

Billy stood up kind of slow; his ribs still hurt. He gathered up his and Max's empty plates and brought them over to Susan; she looked at him and looked like she was gonna start fuckin' crying again.

Billy put their plates in the sink. “Susie Q, you ain't gotta worry about me.”

“Yes I do,” Susan said. “I'm so sorry, Billy. Max told me everything, I shouldn't have let this happen. Your father shouldn't have done what he did to Lucas Sinclair. He shouldn't have done what he did to you.”

“Yeah, I'm fine,” Billy said. “You don't gotta make trouble for yourself over this shit.”

Susan was shaking her head at him like a mom. “You don't have to worry about me either,” she said; Billy rolled his eyes. Like hell he didn't. Anyway he wasn't worried about her; she wasn't his damn mom.

Max saved him by beeping the horn eighty times; Billy looked away. “Gotta go.”

At school Maxine followed him to his locker like a little kid; by the end of the day the whole fuckin' hoard was there looking at him. Billy opened his locker; the creepy kids stared at him. Truly they were creeping even him out and at this point that took a lot. Even Henderson wasn't talking. “Oh my god, what?”

“Nothing!” yapped the Muppet Babies; they all kept staring at him. Byers looked about ready to cry. Sinclair looked uncomfortable and even Wheeler Jr wasn't making his usual shit-face.

Billy sighed. “Jesus, the fuck you tell them?” he asked Max.

“Nothing, I didn't say anything!” Max yapped. She made a face. “Okay, I told Dustin two things.”

“Oh my god, that's worse than talkin' to a fucking newscaster.”

Henderson grinned. “Yeah, he's right, you should have known better,” he said; Max scowled and crossed her arms. “Did your dad really do this to you? You guys can come live in my basement, my mom needs help fixing it up.”

“Okay, we ain't talking about this,” Billy said. He closed his locker and started off down the hall; the creepy kids all skittered after him. “OH MY GOD, the fuck you doing?”

“What, aren't we hanging out?” Max yapped. “You can't go to basketball practice like this, can you?”

Billy felt like a grumpy bitch. “Guess not.”

Sinclair was looking up at him skeptically. “You look like total shit,” he said with his infinite black wisdom; Billy felt emotional.

“Yeah, thanks.”

Sinclair stared at him. “Do you want me to buy you some fries or something?”

Billy thought about it. He'd already told his dad what great pals he and Sinclair were and got his ass kicked for it; he might as well let the kid buy him some food. He was still real tired. “Okay,” he said.

 

A couple days went by, then most of the week. Billy's face was feeling better and he could open his left eye again; he still had a ring of bruises around his neck which was kinda embarassing. Everybody'd know what that was from.

Steve met them at the arcade on Monday and somehow with their combined powers the creepy kids managed to keep him from yelling his head off.

“DON'T tell Billy he looks like total shit, he knows it already,” Henderson yapped wisely. Billy wasn't talking and he was eating the fries Sinclair'd got him.

“Shut the fuck up, Dustin, he looks okay,” Steve said in a big hysterical sulk over him; truly Billy felt touched.

Susan was still keeping Neil out of the house; she made them double-lock the door when they left in the morning and she wasn't picking the phone up when it rang every fuckin' hour. Apparently Neil was staying at some motel outside of town and he was not happy about it. Max seemed optimistic but Billy wasn't really letting himself get jazzed up; his old man knew how to work people over. Susan had to go to her job a lot but on Wednesday night she was home early and she went into her bedroom and talked to Billy's old man for an hour; Maxine was making a terrible face.

“It ain't gonna last,” Billy told her. “Get your kicks while you can, you're lucky she ain't said shit to you about Sinclair yet.”

“Uh, my mom's not racist!” Max yapped.

“I ain't talking about her being racist, I'm talkin' about my dad catchin' you without your goddamn shirt on.”

“I HAD A SPORTS BRA ON!”

“STOP TELLING ME ABOUT IT!”

“STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!” Jesus three days in and she was already screaming her head off at him again.

Thursday night he and Max went over to Harrington's for dinner; Max talked her goddamn head off the whole ride over there and she was carting around the Nick Cave album she'd got him so's Steve could listen to it.

Steve answered the door before they'd rung the bell. He had a dishtowel hanging over his shoulder and Max laughed her head off. She plucked it off his shoulder and tossed it back at Billy's face as she walked through the doorway. “Found mom's good dishtowel!” she said; Billy also laughed his head off.

“What?” said Steve. “Hey, man, you look a lot better.”

“Thanks,” Billy said.

Steve's mom was in the kitchen drinking a huge glass of wine; from the state of the kitchen it looked like she needed it.

“Hi Mrs. Harrington!” Maxine said like a big charmer. She looked around the kitchen. “Steve, did you use every pot and pan that you own?”

“Yes he did,” said Mrs. Harrington.

“Oh my god, this was a really bad idea,” Steve said.

Steve's mom stared at Billy and she almost made a facial expression; Billy felt startled. “What happened to you?” she asked. “Another fight?”

Billy sat down at the table. “Uh, yeah,” he said. Steve's mom stared at him.

Max put her hand on his shoulder. “He really doesn't talk much, it's all the trauma,” she said like a shithead.

“Okay, Max,” Steve said.

Steve had made a roast chicken because his mom said it was easiest; apparently she'd supervised him the whole time, hence the wine. Max looked at everything skeptically. “Steve, these potatoes look weird,” she said with her usual amount of tact.

Steve looked like a slight crazy person; he had his dishtowel back on his shoulder. “Why, what's wrong with them?”

“You can over-mash them, sweetheart,” his mom said.

Steve ignored Billy and Max grinning at his mom calling him sweetheart. “What, really? Why didn't you tell me when I was doing it?”

“I was handling three small fires that you didn't notice.”

“Oh my god, can you please not do this to me in front of them?” Steve begged her; his mom was smiling.

“I think they look okay, man,” Billy said in support.

“Yeah, sweetheart,” said Max; Billy laughed his head off (in support).

Steve got all the shit together as Max sat at the table and yapped her head off to his mom. Somehow she was telling her about school and science class and California and also going to see Def Leppard all at once; Steve's mom was smiling at her.

“And my mom still doesn't know Billy took me!” Max finished up; she took the bowl of mashed potatoes from Steve without saying thanks. “Uh, don't tell her, please.”

Steve was leaning over the table in agitation and chewing on his nails like a gross person; if his mom and Max weren't sitting there Billy'd reach out and grab his arm. “Can you stop talking for two seconds and try my food, is it okay?”

“The chicken looks better than my mom's,” Max said in support even though it wasn't saying much. “Billy's eating everything anyway.” Everyone looked at Billy.

“What?” he said with his mouth full. “Oh, do you guys say a prayer first or somethin'? Sorry.”

“No, you're fine,” Steve's mom said; she had some kinda Billy-is-amusing face on too which was okay.

“Okay, what's the verdict?” Steve asked him.

“Yeah, it's okay,” Billy said. “Gimme a leg?”

“Oh my god, Billy.” Maxine was rolling her eyes.

“What? Please gimme a leg.”

Steve gave him a leg. “You're gonna be such a good wife to someone someday, Steven,” Billy told him; Max spit her soda out looking at Steve's face. Mrs. Harrington poured herself more wine.

 

Saturday Billy went to work all day to finish up the Civic; he hadn't been able to do shit all week after Hank'd seen him on Tuesday walking in and looking like he was in a horror movie. Hank'd yelled his head off about Billy's old man and then called Miles into the shop and then they'd both yelled their heads off; Billy hadn't said shit and he didn't even know why Hank thought his old man'd done shit to him.

“I told you I can tell everything about a person by lookin' at him,” Hank'd told him. “You get into a fight at school, you'd be braggin' about it, wouldn't ya?”

“No,” Billy had lied.

“Why you let your old man knock you around?” Hank asked him. “I seen him before, you're bigger than him. Looks like a goddamn sewer rat with a mustache.” Billy hadn't answer him; he'd been organizing the brake pads in the front of the shop for no reason. “Kid sis okay?”

“Yeah, got caught with some boy in the house.”

“Uh-yuh, I see,” Hank had said. “I seen her palling around with Mike Wheeler.”

Billy'd tried not to make a face; he didn't quite manage it. “Don't make me sick. No, that ain't her guy.”

Anyway it was Saturday night and he finally had some peace and quiet. Maxine came boarding up around nine and knocked at the front til Billy let her in. Max told him that as of seven-thirty the home was still Neil-free. Billy didn't answer her; he was still waiting.

“Wanna start the Honda up?” he asked instead.

“Hell yeah!” Max said. “Did you finish it?”

“Yeah, just now.” He'd started it up before of course but this'd be the first time since all the consmetic shit was done. Max started the Honda up; she revved the engine for a couple minutes until Billy told her to stop.

“Did you see the new Jeeps?” Max asked him. “I think that's what I want when I start driving next year.”

“They ain't safe,” Billy told her; Max rolled her eyes and handed him the keys back.

“Mom said I can sleep at Bev's tonight, do you want to go to the diner? Everyone's gonna be there, I think even El is gonna be out til ten o'clock,” Max told him. It was a quarter to nine; they'd better hurry.

The diner was only about five or ten minutes away walking; Billy closed up the shop and they headed over. “El asked me if I wanted her to squeeze Neil's brains out, why does she know about it?” Max asked him. She'd wanted to walk so's she could show him a new trick on her board but all she'd done was fuck it up four times.

Billy felt true slight terror; he really hoped Jane didn't have some kinda radar. “Maybe Wheeler told her.”

“Oh, probably.”

The creepy kids were all at the diner like Max'd said. It was a Saturday night, the last night of the month. Max got a milkshake and made a big display of herself slurping it down in front of Dustin; she was waiting to meet Beverly. Henderson looked like a sulky Wookie at the table and Steve and Byers and Wheeler were over by the jukebox with Elijane. They had some faggy song playing and Steve was spinning Jane around with one arm and laughing. Billy watched him spin her for a while; he was trying not to want him again. They were in a family establishment after all.

Max leaned over into his personal space. “You're doing the tongue thing again,” she whispered to him.

“The fuck I am,” Billy said. He put his tongue back in his mouth where it belonged. He was still looking at Steve though.

The creepy kids came back to the table after a couple minutes. El stared at him for a while but couldn't really get a word in edgewise; Billy hoped again she wasn't sending him any messages or reading his goddamn mind. Right now it'd just say Steve Steve Steve anyway. He looked real good tonight; always did.

Henderson was having a crisis. “Okay, what time is the right time to touch a girl's boob?” he asked.

“DUSTIN!” said three out of five other creepy kids; Steve just rolled his eyes.

“You ain't gone to Second Street yet?” Billy said.

“IT IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN,” Henderson said; he had a one-track mind.

“Are you gonna go for the left or right?” Billy asked him; Henderson looked thoughtful.

“Oh, my god,” said Maxine in disgust. “I can't believe we're talking about this again.”

“Look, you don't have to think about it, just do it,” Sinclair said. “You'll just know.”

Billy stared at him. “Will you know?”

“Um,” said Sinclair. “Not me, of course.”

“Uh-huh,” Billy said; Maxine was laughing like a little asshole.

Henderson yapped about boobs for a while as he was wont to do; at a quarter after ten Hopper drove into the parking lot in his truck and beeped the horn twice. Like usual he was smoking about six cigarettes at a time. El said by to everyone and walked out in her calm way. Henderson talked on for a million more years; he said he'd exercised a lot today and probably deserved an ice cream. “It's been a long, long month,” he said.

Steve was making a face. “How exactly do you figure biking from my house counts as a lot of exercise?”

“Uh, it's more than you do!” Henderson yapped; Steve rolled his eyes.

“Did you ride your bike here with him?” Little Byers asked.

“No, I walked,” Steve said. “I wanted to ride next to him all slow in my car shouting encouraging shit, why didn't you like that idea, Dustin?”

“Oh my god, Steve, no one thinks you're funny!” Steve was cracking his shit up anyway.

Max's girl Beverly finally came into the diner round ten-thirty; she slid into the booth next to Billy and she and Max talked their heads off to each other over him for about ten thousand years. Okay it was about five minutes. All the creepy guys shut the fuck up in the presence of a new girl; Steve was grinning at Billy in amusement.

After minute six Billy couldn't bear the girl talk anymore; he'd finished his food and most of Byers' too. “Bev, why're you fuckin' coating me in spit right now?” he asked; she'd been yapping in his ear.

“Oh, sorry!” Bev spit on him some more. “I have to wear my retainer after ten.” She pushed it out of her mouth at him and Billy started laughing. According to Max most guys thought Bev was hot shit; she was just a little dork like everyone else.

It was a little after eleven and their waitress was starting to get her usual world-weary look. Lucas paid for Billy's food and Harrington paid for everyone else's like usual. Max and Beverly took off thick as theives down towards Bev's apartment and the three creepy guys got on their bikes to go to Wheeler's.

“See you later,” Wheeler said to Billy with a minimal shit-face; Billy tried not to feel touched.

“You want a ride home?” he asked Steve.

“No, I can walk,” Steve said. “I'll walk you to your car.”

“Okay,” Billy said. “I can give ya a ride if you want.”

“It's okay, I like walking sometimes. I gotta remind myself there's no fuckin' monsters outside.”

Steve was pretty weird; Billy guessed he could dig it. They went off together down Main Street and Steve started bitching his head off like usual. Tomorrow was Sunday but he had to go into the office with his dad for some reason.

“Your old lady break the copy machine or something?”

“Yeah, she totally did, but it's not about that. Everyone's getting their tax money so we got all these extra orders to do.”

Steve talked for a while; they were the only ones on the street. Billy was looking and him and looking at him. Tommy Hall drove by them in his car drinking a beer; Billy wouldn't have even noticed him but Steve said “Oh great,” so's he looked up. Tommy stared at them as he drove by. He had two or three other people in the car with him.

“I guess that was my weekly Tommy sighting, that wasn't too bad,” Steve said.

“I ain't seen him for a minute.”

“Really? I see him about once a goddamn week, he's always got some shit to say to me.”

“Probably misses ya.”

Steve laughed. “Yeah, I don't think so.”

“He workin' or what?”

“I don't give a shit what he's doing,” Steve said.

Tommy Hall drove by them in his car again like a total creep. He slowed down and leaned out the window. “Hey assholes,” he said. He threw his beer can at them; it hit Steve in the head like a fucking cartoon.

“OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK!” Steve yelled his head off.

Tommy laughed his head off; he was parking his car down the street. “The fuck, you okay?” Billy said.

Steve leaned against a streetlamp with his head in his hands. The beer can was fizzing off into the sidewalk. “Uh, yeah, it was half-empty,” he mumbled. He moved his hands away; he had a big cut on his eyebrow. “What the FUCK,” he said. “WHY does this SHIT always happen to me?”

Billy was pretty sure it had something to do with the price of being in the Creepy Kid Club; he didn't know how but it was probably connected. “Okay, I'm gonna go kick his ass.” He was very jazzed up at the prospect of kicking Tommy's ass, especially for Harrington.

“What? No, nope, don't do that, he's got like half his cousins with him,” Steve said. He was still leaning on the streetlight.

“I love punchin' cousins,” Billy said; Steve sighed at him like he was being cute. Billy turned around. “TOMMY, LEMME TALK TO YOU.”

“No, no, no,” Steve said; Billy felt that he could hear a deep resignation in his voice.

Billy didn't have to go for Tommy; he and his cousins were already getting out of the car. “Hargrove, I hear you been messing with my brother,” he said.

“Okay, yeah, we're not not doing this,” Steve said.

“Shut the fuck up!” Tommy told him; he was laughing and walking up real close to them. “I cannot believe I hit you with that thing, your face is still the biggest fucking target in this town.” Billy managed not to make a face; he wasn't exactly wrong. “Hargrove, what did I tell you about watching your sister? Skateboard's still not as fast as a car.”

“What the fuck you say about my sister?” Billy asked; in two seconds he got pissed the fuck off. Okay he was already pissed the fuck off but Maxine'd caused him too much trouble lately to end the month getting shit-talked by Tommy Hall.

“Oh god, okay, I guess we're doing this,” Steve said from somewhere behind him in deep resignation.

Tommy Hall shoved Billy in the chest; Billy barely moved and felt like laughing at him. “I said to keep your eye on that little bitch – “

“Okay, yeah, we're doing this,” Billy said; he hauled off and punched Tommy in the face. It felt so great and familiar.

“MOTHERFUCKER!” Tommy said like he hadn't expected Billy to punch him in the face. Instantly two cousins were on him and they slammed him into the window of the general store; Billy started laughing his head off.

“Jesus Christ, WHY are you laughing right now!” Steve yelled his head off.

Billy punched a cousin in the face; Tommy was coming for Steve. “Harrington, you miss me?”

“Why the FUCK were you drinking a Miller Lite, you stupid shithead?” Steve asked him. “You could have fucking killed me!” Clearly the Miller Lite was the biggest offense of the night; Billy started laughing at at the thought of someone's cause of death being a can of Miller Lite. Steve tackled Tommy and Billy was still laughing his head off. He fought the guys all over the street; at one point he knocked Cousin #2 into Steve and Tommy and everyone fucking fell over like they was in Looney Toons.

“You fucking asshole – “ Tommy punched Steve in the face so Billy hit him in the back of the neck; Tommy went down like a bowling pin. Cousin #2 punched Billy in the face so he threw him up against the streetlamp and started punching him. He was still laughing. He hadn't gotten to wail on anyone in a while. The kids at school were different; they was just kids so mostly Bill just threw them around.

It was a pretty good fight, only lasted about five minutes. Harrington actually got a few good punches in and Billy felt real proud. Someone up over the general store turned the light on in their apartment and flung the window open. “TOMMY HALL, IS THAT YOU?” they yelled.

“Shit, okay, we gotta go now,” Steve said; Tommy was leaning against the window of the general store bleeding and Billy was still punching out cousin #2 on the ground. Steve yanked Billy off him. “Jesus Christ, don't fuckin' kill him!”

“HAHAHA!” Billy said; he spit some blood on cousin #2. “SUCK MY FAT ONE, YOU FUCKIN' PRICK!” He was being Wil Wheaton in Stand By Me without the gun. Actually he didn't think that was the line anyway. Actually he should be River Phoenix.

“Oh my god, okay, you fuckin' moron!” Steve was dragging him down the street; already Billy could hear some sirens blaring in the distance. Cops never had shit to do in this town after ten but drive around lookin' for fights. He hoped Hopper hadn't gotten called out of bed. That made him laugh even more; Steve dragged him down the street and they ran across the block. “Oh my god! I'm glad this is fucking funny for you!” Steve said; his eyebrow and lip were bleeding like crazy.

“Hahahaha!” Billy said. “Hopper said if I gotta fight Tommy Hall I gotta do it after dark!”

“What the fuck?” Steve said. A police car turned down Main Street; Steve said, “OH SHIT!” and dragged Billy into the alleyway by the comic book shop. The big clock across the street was reading twelve o'five; it was officially March 1st. The cop car passed them and went on blaring down the street; they could hear people yelling way down near Dearborn.

Steve had the hem of Billy's t-shirt twisted up in his fist. “Stop fuckin' laughing, you total retard,” he said. “Oh my god, you are actually insane, I can't believe you did that. Haven't you been in enough fights this month?”

“What, I ain't do shit,” Billy said. He felt real jazzed up; he hadn't been in a real fight in a long time. “I never do anything to anyone, Steve.”

“Right, yeah, you're a total angel.”

“He fuckin' started it!” Steve was way too close to him.

“You sound like a little kid,” Steve told him. He was still holding onto Billy's shirt and Billy was gonna lose his goddamn mind in about another second. “Hey, do you think we won the fight?”

Billy was staring at him. “Yeah, we won the fight.”

“I never actually won a fight before,” Steve said; he finally let Billy's t-shirt go.

“You got in some good punches, man.”

“Thanks, I been practicing on Leia.”

“Don't say that about my girl,” Billy said; Steve laughed at him. Billy was still looking at him. His heart was jackhammering in his chest and he didn't know why.

Steve leaned up and pushed his shoulder against Billy's. He was looking out into the street. “Do you think the cops saw us? I cannot get into any more bullshit, my dad'll kick me out of the company.” He started laughing. “I can't believe you said that stupid line from the movie, you know you got it wrong.”

“Yeah, I know,” Billy said. He was just staring at Steve; Steve was grinning at him. Across the street the neon lettering from the pharmacy sign was flickering like crazy and he looked so good. His hair was crazy and his lip was bleeding and he looked so good. He was making Billy crazy.

“You fuckin' retard, I can't believe you really – “ he said and Billy couldn't take it anymore. He grabbed Steve by the collar of his shirt with both hands and slammed him backwards against the brick wall of the comic book store.

Steve's eyes popped wide open and his head rocked back against the wall. The shadows back here fell across his face. “Ow, what the – fuck, what the fuck!” he said. He licked his lips; he kind of looked scared like Billy was about to punch him. “Uh, okay, what, what? What the hell are you doing?”

Billy just stared at him.

“What'd I do?” Steve said; he didn't seem to realize that Billy had gone off the deep end. Billy's heart was hammering so loud in his chest. In about another minute it was gonna come up through his throat and out his mouth. “Okay, look, I didn't actually mean you were retarded – “

“Shut up,” Billy told him.

“What?” Steve said; he was looking at him all crazy. “What'd I do?” They were real close. “What are you doing?”

“Fucking shut the fuck up for once in your life,” Billy begged him. He slammed Steve up against the wall again and leaned in and kissed him.

It was a real bad kiss; it was probably the worst kiss Billy'd ever given anyone in his life. He'd leaned in too hard and Harrington still had his mouth open because he never shut the fuck up; their teeth clicked together and Billy was pretty sure he'd just fucking licked Steve's whole tongue.

Steve made a crazy sound into his mouth so Billy slammed him up against the wall again. Steve's head rocked back against the concrete; Billy was probably giving him more brain trauma. Anyway he wasn't think about giving him brain trauma; he wasn't thinking about anything. Billy kept kissing him. He put his hand in Steve's hair and yanked his head back a little. He could taste the blood from Steve's split lip in his mouth.

After a couple seconds the rushing in his head went away and he realized he'd lost his goddamn mind. He took his hands off of Steve's shirt collar and out of his hair and pulled away. The whole world tilted up; for a fucking second he was sure he was going to fall over.

Steve was just staring at him. His eyes were huge and shell-shocked and his mouth was still open. He had some blood on his chin now too; he wiped it away with the back of his hand. He was still staring at him.

Billy felt fucking terrified; he felt rooted to the spot. He'd never felt that way before. Maybe Harrington'd made him feel like that before, not like this. He stood there frozen like a statue and waited for Steve to start yelling his head off or start punching him in the face. He felt totally fucked up and he barely even remembered the kiss already; he hadn't got to do it all nicey-nicey like he'd wanted.

Steve just stared at him. His eyes were flickering like crazy all around Billy's face; Billy couldn't move. “You … “ he said. “What the fuck, you … “ He stared some more.

“Uh. Sorry,” Billy said. He was still waiting for Steve to knock him the fuck out.

“Why did you … “ Steve stared at him some more; he looked like Billy was giving him post traumatic stress disorder. “You just … “ He started laughing.

Billy stared at him; he licked his lips. “What?” he said stupidly.

Steve kept laughing at him; he was laughing his ass off. Billy was going to have to kill him in two seconds. It was a goddamn tragedy.

“I can't believe you did that,” Steve said.

“Uh, what?” Billy said. He was still frozen and still waiting to get punched in the face. He'd never felt like this before.

Steve kept laughing. He leaned back against the concrete wall and ran his hands through his crazy hair. “Oh shit,” he said. “I guess you really like my cooking, huh?”

Billy said, “What?”

“That was really fucking bad, man,” Steve said. He was still staring at him; Billy felt so scared. He said, “I think you can do better than that.” He grabbed Billy by both arms of his jacket and yanked him hard; Billy almost fucking fell on him. Steve said, “You stupid shithead.” Then he started kissing him back.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

I made it through the wilderness, somehow I made it through
Didn't know how lost I was until I found you
I was beat, incomplete
I'd been had, I was sad and blue
But you made me feel
Yeah, you made me feel shiny and new
Like a virgin touched for the very first time
Like a virgin when your heart beats next to mine
Gonna give you all my love, boy
My fear is fading fast
Been saving it all for you
'Cause only love can last
– ‘Like a Virgin,’ Madonna

 

March 1987

The clock on the pharmacy across the street had read 12:08 when Steve started kissing him. It read 12:15 by the time they stopped. Seven minutes was a really long time; seven minutes wasn’t shit.

He still had Steve up against the wall; Steve’d dragged him there. Steve Steve Steve – Billy coudn’t think anything but the name. Nothing in his brain seemed to be working properly. He was pretty sure he was kissing back.

Steve had him by his elbows, pulled tight against him. He let go after a moment and somehow found the collar of Billy’s jacket. He yanked Billy forward even closer and then this time Billy did fall on him – “Shit,” Billy said. Steve grinned into his mouth. Holy shit. Steve.

It was different than kissing a girl which was a stupid thing to think; he definitely wasn’t kissing a girl. Wasn’t bad – was about what he’d thought about, and he’d thought about kissing Steve a lot.

Steve’s mouth was wider than some girl’s but just as soft. His whole body was bigger too and Billy didn’t feel scared that he was gonna fuckin’ break him or something. Steve really was a goddamn inch taller than him; Billy lamented his life. Then he stopped lamenting his life because Steve’s tongue was in his mouth. Holy shit.

Somehow Billy managed not to have a seizure. He couldn’t believe Steve’s tongue was in his mouth; it didn’t make any sense.

He felt real scared but after about eight seconds he stopped feelin’ scared. If there was one thing he knew how to do it was fix a car; yep that was his brain fucking spiraling out. If there was another thing he knew how to do it was kiss someone so he did that. If Steve wanted to punch him later Billy guessed they’d get to that. He rolled his tongue in Steve’s mouth and Steve made a sound low in the back of his throat; it made Billy go crazy and kiss him even more.

He was pretty sure he owed Tommy Hall a huge thank-you letter somehow. Clearly Tommy’d given some Harrington super brain damage throwing him around. Steve said, “Fuck,” and put his hand in Billy’s hair; Billy’s mind brain short-circuited again. Pretty soon it was gonna start melting out his fuckin’ ears.

Everything was spinning and Steve was too close to him. He put his hands on Steve’s waist and shoved him back into the wall; he didn’t want Steve to feel his huge fuckin’ hard-on. He held him there for a while and they stayed like that, with him holding Steve’s hips against the wall and Steve with his hand in Billy’s hair. Holy shit. Steve.

Billy was pretty sure Steve was feelin’ his prick anyway. They were too close; Billy wasn’t gonna back up and let him go for shit. Steve kept pushing himself up off the wall and into Billy; Billy’d slam him back into the wall. Steve apparently thought this was hilarious. He kept making sounds and laughing into Billy’s mouth and Billy wasn’t going to stop him or shut him up either. Holy shit you could have your tongue in Steve Harrington’s mouth and he still wouldn’t shut the fuck up; was about as much as Billy’d figured. It was amazing.

He moved his hands up; he was moving too slow and too fast, didn’t know what was going on. Steve’s skin felt warm though his t-shirt. His jeans were slung low on his hips and Jesus Billy wanted to touch him. His blood burned with it; it was rushing through his veins like fire. God he wanted him, he wanted him. Could think up like a million things to do if his fuckin’ brain would ever start working again. He pressed his thumbs into the points of Steve’s hipbones and Steve shifted against him again; his mouth was so hot.

Steve kinda smelled like a Miller Lite which Billy didn’t mind; he kinda tasted like blood still which Billy also didn’t mind. He bit Steve’s bottom lip and Steve made another one of his crazy sounds; Billy was gonna lose his mind. He kept waiting for Steve to push him away or for his own fuckin’ body to just shatter apart but neither of those things were happening. He kissed Steve and kissed him; felt like all the air was being sucked out of his lungs. Probably wouldn’t get to do this again.

A light fell upon them; someone was turning onto Main and they jerked apart. The car drove past them and roared down onto Clearfield. Billy saw the red of the brake-lights as it passed, could hear the bits of gravel spitting out under the tires. It was real quiet again; you could even hear the neon light buzzing across the street.

They were frozen together like statues for a moment; Steve finally pushed him away with two fingers and Billy backed up.

“Oh, shit, okay,” Steve said. He was still leaning against the wall of the comic book store and his eyes were wide; he had his shell-shocked look back on. His chest heaved up and down. “Okay,” he said again. “Maybe, maybe not the best place to, ah, do this, here.” He pushed himself up off from the concrete and put his amazing hands in his pockets. “Do you think they saw us?”

“Uh,” Billy said. He couldn’t really talk; his brain hadn’t yet caught up to his heart and his dick. “Dunno. Pro’lly thought you was a really tall girl or something.”

Steve huffed out a laugh like a crazy person. “That’s great, that’s, I’m glad you’re still – I’m glad you think this, this is funny.”

“Don’t think it’s funny,” Billy said. Now that he wasn’t kissing Steve he was starting to feel real scared again. He didn’t know what to do now. Steve could still take it back; probably he was gonna take it back.

That was okay. Billy put his hands in his pockets too.

“Okay,” Steve said. They stared at each other. Billy looked across the street; it was twelve-sixteen. They were just standing in the alleyway. “Okay,” Steve said again. “Yeah. Yeah. I don’t – so I don’t – uh, what just happened?”

Billy stared at him: he’d been there for it. “You kissed me.”

“OH, RIGHT!” Steve said like a crazy person. “THAT’S RIGHT, THANKS, I FORGOT. Okay, uh, and that, that’s not what – you did it first.”

“Uh. M’aware of that.”

“OKAY,” Steve said again like a crazy person. ”Why – why – why did you do that?”

Billy chewed on his bottom lip. He thought about it. He was so scared again, was worse than his dad beating on him. “Wanted to.”

“O-okay.” Steve looked really overwhelmed. “Uh, yeah, okay. Well, I – uh, you probably – probably shouldn’t do that in, in the middle of fuckin’ Main Street.”

“Right.” Billy stared at him. His brain still wasn’t working; most of his blood was in other areas currently. He thought about it some more. He had a couple questions. “Do you wanna go somewhere?”

“Oh, my god,” Steve said loudly; he still looked overwhelmed. “I, I, uh, yeah, I don’t, I don’t think that’s a good idea right now.”

“Okay,” Billy said. He was still waiting to get knocked the fuck out; might as well put all the cards on the table.

“We should – uh, yeah, I don’t.” Steve kinda looked like a robot short-circuiting now. “I. We should probably – go – “

“Yeah,” Billy said. They walked back out onto the sidewalk; streetlamp was too bright.

“Okay,” Steve was still saying. “Okay, okay. Yeah, I gotta – uh, yeah, I gotta think. I gotta think about this.”

“Okay,” Billy said too; it was the word of the night.

“I have to be at work in six fuckin’ hours,” Steve said inanely. “I have to, yeah, I, I have to go home.”

“Okay,” Billy said again. He was sure he knew other words than that; once in his life he’d known whole sentences. “You want me to give you a ride?”

Steve laughed a little and it died in his throat. He still looked overwhelmed; Billy didn’t blame him. “Uh, yeah, no, that’s – I definitely need to walk right now.”

“Okay,” Billy said. He still didn’t know what to do. “Um … are we cool, man?”

Steve stared at him for a moment and then he smiled, a corner of his mouth going up, and Billy hadn’t been expecting that. “I, uh. Yeah, yeah, we’re cool.”

“Okay,” Billy said.

“Yeah. Okay. Uh, I just need to think for a while.”

“Okay,” Billy said again.

”Yeah. Uh, I’m gonna stop, stop talking now.”

“Can you do that?” Billy asked him.

“Fuck you.” Steve started walking; he turned around and started walking backwards and looking at Billy. He was biting his lip and he had his hands jammed in his jacket pockets; Jesus Christ he was the cutest guy in Hawkins. Billy didn’t know how he wasn’t crashing into stuff. “I gotta work til five, call me tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Billy said.

“I’m serious,” Steve told him.

“Yeah, I’ll call you.”

“Okay,” Steve said. “Okay. Fucking call me, asshole. I’m serious.” He stared at Billy some more; he rounded the corner and disappeared.

Billy kept standing there for a couple seconds more. Holy shit. He counted to ten and got himself under control. Steve Steve Steve. Okay. He was gonna call him. He hadn’t even gotten punched. Jesus Christ.

He walked the two blocks down to his car; he just about walked into the fuckin’ parking meter. He tossed his keys a couple times and caught them. Okay he dropped them once, and walked into a second parking meter.

Seven minutes in heaven, he thought like a total fag; he started grinning. He had a huge hard-on the whole drive home.

The door was locked at the house but the TV was on and when he came in Max was asleep on the couch. Billy stared at her; thought she was supposed to be at Bev’s. Then he almost fuckin’ stepped on Bev on the floor right away. Seeing the Muppet Babies killed his erection; he guessed he wasn’t whackin’ off tonight. That was a lie because he was definitely going to go jerk off.

He picked George the haunted bear up off the floor and put him next to Max on the couch; he got the blanket off from the loveseat and covered her with it. Max’s eyes popped open and Billy froze getting caught doing something nice. “What you doin’ here?” he asked her.

“Bev’s mom was drunk, we just came here,” Max told him in a whisper. She sat up and looked at him all critical; her hair was stickin' up on one side like a cartoon. “Why do you look more screwed up?” she asked. “And … why do you look happy about it?”

Billy stared at her. He didn’t really want to tell her about Harrington just yet; she’d scream her fuckin’ head off and all the neighbors would know in two seconds. Steve might still take it back or change his mind. ”Got in a fight with Tommy Hall,” he told her.

“Oh. We saw all these cop lights in front of Joyce’s work, I guess that was you.”

“Yeah, was me.”

“Looked like Hopper was booking him. Tommy said something and Hop threw him against his Jeep!”

Billy felt like laughing; he guessed he’d got the chief out of bed anyway. ”I’m goin’ to bed.”

“Please wear a shirt in the morning,” Max advised him like a shitheel; Billy ignored her.

He went into his room and locked the door, then he jerked himself off thinkin’ about Steve’s tongue in his mouth and Steve’s hand in his hair. Holy shit. He thought about those things for a long time after, too. He didn’t fall asleep for a while.

A huge voice in his head was screaming like a siren. It was screaming that he’d kissed a guy, what that meant and what it was going to mean, that was something he couldn’t take back. A bigger voice was piping up, too, going on and on. It was a whisper but it was somehow so much louder than the first. It was saying, but he kissed you back.

 


 

He woke up way too early the next morning; he laid around in his bed for a long time trying to fall back asleep. That wasn’t happening so eventually he got up. It was a little after eleven and Max and Susan were sitting around at the kitchen table reading the newspaper.

Billy went to the fridge and drank some orange juice out of the carton; Max looked at him like he was a troll. “Where’s Bev at?” he asked her.

“She had work at ten.” Beverly worked out at the supermarket; not the main one but the little convenience store out by the woods near Henderson’s house.

“Oh.” Billy looked around at them; he felt so restless and it was only the mornin’. Jesus what the fuck was he gonna do til five o’clock. “What you guys tryin’a do today? Susie Q, you gotta work?”

The girls stared at him. “No, I have off,” Susan told him.

“Okay.” Billy didn’t know why they were lookin’ at him; it’s not like he never fuckin’ talked to them. “You guys want me to take you out for breakfast or somethin’?”

Still they stared at him. Susan looked kind of amused which frankly Billy didn’t feel was necessary. “Can you handle being seen with me in public?” she asked him.

“Oh my god, all right,” Billy said. He closed the fridge. “You’re funny, I’m going to take a fuckin’ shower.”

Susan turned a page in her newspaper. “Billy! Please.”

“Freakin’ shower,” Billy amended.

“Thank you.”

Billy took his freakin’ shower and tried not to think about Steve; he didn’t need to get hard again. When he finished the girls were dressed too and still giving him weird looks. They went out to his car; Max squished happily into the backseat.

Susan stared at the dried blood on the driver’s seat; just her looking at it made the scabs on Billy’s back fucking itch. ”What, what is that?” she asked in a weird voice. “Is that blood? What is this from?”

Billy started the Camaro up; Max popped her head up between them. “Uh, that’s from when YOUR HUSBAND threw Billy all around the yard last week,” she said all snitty.

“Okay, Max,” Billy said.

“Oh, my god,” Susan said still in her weird voice. “Are you being serious?”

“He tried to throw me!” Max yapped.

“He didn’t fuckin’ throw you,” Billy said.

“Mom, you know this!” Max said. “He tried to! He hit Billy like four times!”

Billy didn’t say anything; it’d been more than four times. Susan was still staring at the blood on the seat. “I just didn’t realize he did all this,” she said in a subdued tone.

“It’s not that bad,” Billy said.

Max leaned over even further. “That is probably the least incriminating stain in this car anyway,” she said like a shitheel.

Maxine,” Susan said in horror; Billy laughed his ass off.

They went to Hathaway’s and Billy felt blessed and surprised that no creepy kids were around for once; he didn’t think he could handle that right now, even if it was just Will or somethin’. They sat at the counter and Max yapped her head off to her mom.

Billy was drinking a whole pot of coffee to try and calm himself down; Susan told them that she was meeting Neil for dinner out in Eastgate on Thursday and Max scowled her head off.

“So Billy’s dad beats the crap out of him and you go out on a date with him?” she demanded at a level five in her womanly hysteria. “That’s really great, Mom.”

“It’s not a date,” Susan said. “He wants to talk to me, I owe him that. We locked him out of his own house.”

Billy didn’t say anything; Max regenerated a second head and then scowled that one off too. “Why can’t you just divorce him? We can go and stay with Aunt Cindy.”

Billy gave Max a look; he certainly wasn’t going to stay with Aunt Cindy. He didn’t have an Aunt Cindy. He still wasn’t saying anything though. Susan said, “It’s not that simple, Max.”

“Uh, yes it is.” Angrily Max ate her fries.

Back at home Billy still felt too restless; it was only one o’clock. How was he supposed to live until five, he asked himself again. He didn’t even know why Steve wanted him to call him. Jesus he probably wanted to talk; Billy lamented his life.

He organized his records; he went down to the basement and brought the rest of them up. He cleaned his room. He did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. He washed his clothes. He worked out til he thought he’d die; he still felt like jumping out of his skin. He came out of his room and went to get his clothes from the basement; the girls were sitting on the couch now watching TV. It was only four-thirty.

Billy sighed heavily; Max and Susan stared at him. “What?” Billy said.

He went and got his clothes. It was only four forty. Jesus God. Actually he probably shouldn’t call Harrington right at five; he’d only said he was leaving work then. Billy should probably wait til six. Six-thirty. Seven. Seven-thirty. No that was too late; what if he wanted to do something. God. Okay seven. Six forty-five. Seven was okay.

He was still standing there holding his clothes. Max and Susan stared at him; Max had her eyebrows all drawn down and Fleetwood Mac was blaring away in his room. “What’s up with you today?” Max asked. “Are you having a nervous breakdown?”

“Screw off,” Billy said. He went and put his clothes away; it was four forty-five. Jesus fucking Christ, he was worse than a damn girl.

He thought about it. He put his Misfits hoodie on and went outside. He went out to their little garage at the back of the yard and started messing around with Susan’s car; she had an old Ford Explorer and it hadn’t been running for about six months.

He looked under the hood for a while. He was pretty sure the engine was okay; everything looked clean. Battery cable might be fucked. One of the connectors had a big crack in it; of course it was the one with all the wires that went down under the engine. He pulled himself under the car and messed around with the starter for a couple minutes.

The gravel was crunching away as someone walked up to him; he could tell it was Max. “What are you doing?”

“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Billy wriggled out from under the car and shook some gravel out of his hair. He looked at the engine again.

“Neil says the car’s dead.”

“It ain’t dead.” Billy rolled his eyes. Really he should have looked at this shit months ago. He’d been meaning to; could never keep his mind on one thing for more than a damn minute. “Get me my shit outta my car, okay?”

Max looked at him for a moment. “Okay,” she said. She went off and came back lugging his tool kit; she gave him her mom’s keys too.

Billy gave them back to her. “Try and start it.”

“It doesn’t start.” Max climbed into the Explorer anyway and tried to crank the engine; it didn’t even turn over. “See?” she called out the window.

“Okay.” Billy thought about it. “Go get me a rag or somethin’.”

“Okay,” Max said again; Billy wished she’d take this kinda direction all the time. She went into the house and came back out. She tossed Susan’s third-best dishtowel at him. Billy got a wrench clamped around the battery connector and held it down.

“Try and start her again.”

Max stared at him, then she went on back into the driver’s side and turned the key again; Billy held down on the battery. The car sputtered and roared to life. “HAHAHA!” Billy said; that was easy shit. The car started making a weird clicking sound two seconds later. “Okay, yeah, that’s the tranny.”

Max stuck her head out the window. “The what?

“The TRANSMISSION, shithead,” Billy said; Max grinned at him. “Okay, turn her off.”

Max turned the car off. “Hahahaha,” Billy said again.

“What’s wrong with it?” Now she was leaning over the engine too.

“Pro’lly bout a quarter-million things. Yeah, if we can get it started again, it’ll run off the accelerator. Battery’s fried, needs a new cable too. Starter’s okay I guess.”

“I don’t know what any of that means.”

“Starter was part of what died on my car,” Billy told her. “This one’s way easier to get to.” Max nodded real serious even though her face was sayin’ she’d rather be inside watching General Hospital with her moms. Billy was thinking about it. ”Can take it to the garage, Hank’ll fix all the shit I can’t.”

“We don’t have money for that.”

“Yeah, m’aware of that,” Billy told her. He lit up a cigarette.

Max thought about it too. “Do you think we can owe Hank?”

“Maybe, figure somethin’ out.” Billy was pretty sure he owed Hank already, just for giving him a fuckin’ job way back last year. Goddamn he’d been a surly asshole the first time he’d walked into the autobody shop.

“Why are you helping Mom?” Max asked him; she was giving him a big weird look.

“I’m not helping her, I‘m fucking bored,” Billy said. Anyway: “Don’t got a problem with your mom.”

“Uh, you will when she moves Neil right back in here next week!” Max yapped her head off.

“S’easier that way,” Billy told her again.

Max rolled her eyes; she’d never understand. She wandered back inside and Billy stood around smoking for a few minutes. He looked at his wristwatch; it was only five-fifteen. Jesus Christ.

He went on back inside; once more the girls stared at him.

“Did you start my car?” Susan asked him in a weird voice.

“Yeah, for like a minute.”

“Billy says Hank can fix it for us,” Max told her mom.

“We don’t have money for that,” Susan said.

“Uh, we’re aware of that!” Max yapped; Billy rolled his eyes.

“Can take it in and get a price on it,” he said. “I’ll do that before Thursday.”

Susan stared at him; she knew what Thursday was. “You don’t have to do that.”

Billy didn’t answer her. He knew he didn’t have to do that. Susan needed a car; he thought again how he’d meant to look at hers before. The train was like a mile from their house still and she walked there every time she needed to go into work. Wasn’t like out in the city where the bus ran on every block.

Max was still staring at him too. “Do you want to watch Unsolved Mysteries with us?” she asked him.

“The hell’s that?”

“It is this new crime show, it’s like Dateline but they do a bunch of stuff,” Max told him. “Last month there were ghosts!”

Susan had three episodes taped; they watched one and then she got up to go and make dinner. Billy took her spot on the couch. He got kind of into Unsolved Mysteries, the music was pretty cool. He and Max were laughing at a shitty reenactment of a shooting when Susan came back out and said that dinner was done.

Billy looked at his watch; somehow it was seven-forty. He said eight million creative swears in his head and got off the couch. “I gotta make a phone call.”

Max gave him a weird look. Billy ignored it and dragged the phone off into his room. He was feelin’ real scared again; Steve could still take it back. Anyway Billy said he’d call him so he called him. He dialed the number.

“Hello?” Steve said two seconds after the phone started ringing. Billy felt surprised again.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” Billy said again like a goddamn moron.

“Yeah, hi,” Steve said. Billy wondered if they were gonna do this all night. “Uh, what’re you up to?”

“Nothin’,” Billy said. “Said you wanted me to call you.”

“Uh. Yeah, I did.”

Billy was wrapping the phone cord around his wrist; he didn’t know what to say now. Goddamn he was supposed to be cooler than this. “So did you do your thinkin’?” he mumbled into the phone.

“Uh, yeah, I did.” Steve said again; he sounded amused. “Did you?”

“I don’t need to think about it,” Billy told him and then felt like a huge dumb asshole.

“Okay.” Steve still sounded amused. “So do you want to hang out or something?”

Okay okay okay cool cool cool. Jesus fucking Christ. Billy took about four seconds to compose himself so’s he wouldn’t yelp like a huge girl. Steve might still change his mind.

Maybe that’s why he wanted Billy to come over; maybe Steve wanted to laugh at him when he saw his face. He didn’t really think that was somethin’ Steve would do but he also knew you could never really trust nobody, not for real. He’d been shown that a lot of times and he’d shown people that, too. Tracey crying her eyes out, Max’s surprised little face when he’d twisted her wrist last Halloween. Every time Susan’d thought Billy was cool with her back in Cali and then he’d scream in her fuckin’ face; he was just like his dad. The way Steve’d looked when Billy had shoved him out the window last month.

Even so there was this little part of him whispering maybe, maybe. Maybe just once. He pushed all those faces out of his head. He hadn’t been that bad lately, was trying to be better. He said, “Yeah, we can do somethin’.”

“Uh, okay,” Steve said. “I actually – yeah, my dad’s, my dad’s here right now, this never happens. He’s got like five of his friends here all drinkin’, is there anyone over at your place?”

Billy lamented his life. “I got Max and Susan on the couch watching Unsolved Mysteries.”

“No shit, that’s what my dad’s watching,” Steve said. “My mom is walking around makin’ a million comments. I thought your stepmom’d be at work.”

“Usually is.”

“Okay, cool, they are never home,” Steve said; Billy was pretty sure it was the curse of Hawkins again. “Uh, so I don’t – okay, it doesn’t have to be tonight. What are you doin’ tomorrow?”

“Uh, I gotta work at five.”

“Oh, right.” Steve sounded bummed. “Okay, well I – “

“I can call out.”

“No, you don’t have to do that,” Steve said. “I can — yeah, I can leave early.”

“I can go in late.”

“Okay.” Steve sounded amused again; Billy wondered what kinda face he was making. “I got a lot of time, I can leave at like three. You wanna come over at four?”

“Okay,” Billy said too. He hesitated. “You wanna – you wanna talk or somethin’?” He was dreading it.

“Um, if that’s what you want to do.”

“Think you know what I wanna do,” Billy said; he thought up eight ways to kill himself in two seconds.

“Oh my god, okay,” Steve said faintly. “So I – “

“See you tomorrow,” Billy interrupted in a panic.

“Yeah, okay. See you at four.”

They hung up. Billy stared at the phone for a couple seconds. Steve still hadn’t taken it back, but now he had to wait til tomorrow. Jesus Christ.

He took the phone back out to the living room and flung himself onto the couch in a big sulk; Max was staring at him.

“Who were you talking to?”

“No one,” Billy said in a big sulk.

Max rolled her eyes. “Mom burned dinner,” she informed him.

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Now she is trying to blame the stove, she says it cooks uneven,” Max said.

Billy laughed; he tossed the remote at her. “Start the show.”

“Okay.” Max took the remote. They watched the last Unsolved Mysteries together.

 


 

Somehow the rest of the night and the morning passed; Billy spent a lot of time picking at himself before school started and internally freaking the fuck out. He didn’t know why he was being like this. Jesus he really was worse than a goddamn girl.

To feel like less of a girl he put on his Def Leppard shirt; Steve’d seen all his goddamn clothes already anyway. It’s not like he was trying to get a fuckin’ boyfriend.

Max came in and stared at him messing with his hair in the mirror. “Are you okay?” she said slowly; it was six fifty-six on Monday morning. Usually on Monday morning he’d be in bed til seven-fifteen and Max’d be screaming her head off that he was gonna get them detention.

Billy gave up on his hair; he wondered again why he’d cut it. He looked like fuckin’ Molly Ringwald with a perm or some shit. “Leave me alone,” he begged Max.

He made a face in his mirror; he had a new bruise on his cheekbone from Tommy’s cousin punching him and his left eye and his neck were a fading gray-yellow from his old man last week. Would be nice if he could look good for one fuckin’ day, just one.

He turned and checked his ass out in the mirror; at least he still had that.

Maxine would never leave him alone. She leaned against the doorframe into his room and made a horrible face at him checking himself out. She looked at him critically. “In class we learned male schizophrenia can start right around your age, you might wanna talk to someone,” she said.

“You’re such a piece of shit, Max,” Billy told her. He grabbed up his jacket in a big sulk and stomped out to his car. Max followed him with a big ol’ Billy-is-amusing face on; he definitely wasn’t going to tell her shit about Harrington. Max looked amused at him the whole ride to school; at his locker she bitched her head off about her lunch money for eighty years until he gave her an extra two bucks and sent her off to class with Little Byers.

The day dragged on and on; in study hall Henderson tossed his backpack on the tabletop and stared down at him. Billy’s eye twitched with Dustin looking at him. It took all his might not to knock the whole fuckin’ tabletop over.

Dustin stared at him and looked amused. “Are you having another stroke?” he lisped.

Billy’s eye twitched again. “Henderson, I cannot deal with your fucking shit today, okay?” he gritted out. “Go and sit with your girl.”

Dustin was taking his backpack. “Billy, I appreciate you using your words!” he yapped. “Do you want a candy bar?”

Billy’s eye twitched and somehow he managed not to scream again. “Okay what you got,” he said.

Henderson gave him a Three Musketeers very carefully. “Good boy!” he said like Billy was a fuckin’ dog.

Billy took the candy bar. “Go the fuck away,” he told Henderson.

Henderson went the fuck away.

Billy ate his candy bar; he threw Tommy Hall’s brother into a trash can for Will as was the Monday tradition. He suffered through shop class and he glared at Nancy Wheeler passing back all their assignments in English. Usually he didn’t care enough about Nancy to glare at her but today he was glaring at her. Anyway he should probably be thankin’ her for being a huge fucking idiot and dumping Harrington last year.

Finally school ended after a thousand million years; Will was waitin' at his locker and he told him that Max'd gotten detention mouthing off in Earth Science.

Somehow Billy managed not to yell his head off once more; wasn't Byers' fault. God he should just fuckin' leave her. He had a little time to kill, though. Not a lot but a little.

He and Will went and leaned against the lockers by Max's science classroom. Byers was talkin' and talkin' for once and that was okay; he was Billy's goddamn favorite after all. He was a good distraction. Billy started listing records he thought the kid would like; Wills looked like he wanted to pull a pen out and start takin' notes.

Finally Max came bursting out of the classroom with her books held against her chest and a scowl on her face; Billy bitched her out for a couple minutes and then drove her and Will down to the arcade.

The kids spent fucking forever mooching around in his car; Billy was trying not to scream again. Max was putting on three different lip glosses and yapping her goddamn head off. Billy gritted his teeth; it was five after four.

“Do you want to come and hang out with us?” Max asked him; she smacked her lips together in his rearview mirror like a gross gremlin child.

Billy struggled not to gag. “I got shit to do.”

“Okay, how late are you going to be at work?” Max went on and on. Jesus God she was truly killing him. “Do you want to get food after? Mom’s working late, she left us a casserole and I can already tell how good that’s going to be so I thought – “

“Maxine! Outta my fucking car!” Billy begged her.

“Okay okay! God!” Max took eighty years to open up her door and climb out, then she took eighty more years pushing her seat up so Will could get out. “I’m just going to take my board home, see you later!”

“Yeah, later.” Max took eighty more years getting her skateboard and shutting the door. She and Will stood on the sidewalk looking at him as he put the Camaro in gear and drove off.

Steve’s house was less than a five minute drive from Main Street; Billy freaked himself the fuck out twice and calmed himself down twice getting there. Felt like he really was having a goddamn nervous breakdown, did that shit really happen?

Probably nothing was gonna happen. There was no way. Maybe Harrington’d just gotten caught up in the moment on Saturday night or something. It’d been right after the first fight he’d ever won after all. Maybe he’d just been horny; you could kiss just about anyone if you were hard-up enough. Billy certainly knew that.

He didn’t know why he was doing this to himself. Nothing was gonna happen.

He got himself to Steve’s in one piece and parked his car on the street. He got out and just went right up the walkway; he wasn’t gonna give himself time to freak out. He wasn’t gonna do it to himself. He knocked on the door.

Steve answered in two seconds like he’d been waiting for the door; probably he’d been walking by or something. He was still in his blue shirt from work and tan pants and he had the amazing glasses on. Billy thought he looked fucking incredible.

“Hey,” Steve said all surprised like it wasn’t four-fuckin'-fifteen and he hadn’t told Billy yesterday see you at four.

“Hey,” Billy said.

“Hey,” Steve said again; Billy was about to start lamenting his life again. Steve was just hangin’ onto the door with one hand and Billy wondered if he was gonna slam it shut on him.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Uh, that’s okay. You wanna come in?”

“Okay,” Billy said.

Steve let him in. He stared at him. “You want something to drink?”

“Okay,” Billy said.

“Uh, okay,” Steve said too. He led Billy into the kitchen and started going through the fridge. Billy stood behind Steve and admired his ass; nothing was gonna stop him from doing that. “You want a root beer?” Steve asked him; he knew what Billy liked.

Billy stopped looking at his ass. “Okay,” he said.

Steve gave him the root beer, then he stood looking at Billy for a couple seconds. He went and slid onto the counter; it was his standard spot whenever they were in the kitchen and it drove Billy crazy.

Billy stood there with his soda and tried not to go crazy. Steve was still looking at him; he had the big wrinkle-frown between his eyebrows for no reason that Billy could tell. It’s not like Billy’d even gone fuckin’ nuts yet and molested him up on the counter or something. He could hear Henderson in his head lisping away, it’s called consent, Billy!; in his head he told Henderson to shut the fuck up.

Steve stared at him from the countertop; he had his legs spread out and his hands in his lap and like usual he looked cute as shit. “Uh, are you okay?” he asked.

Jesus Christ he was supposed to be cooler than this. Billy put his soda down on the counter. “I think so,” he said.

“Okay,” Steve said. He still had the wrinkle-frown on but he kinda had his Billy-is-amusing face on now too; Billy didn’t know how he was being amusing. He was being a huge fucking dumbass. Steve said, “Uh, why don’t you come over here?”

Holy shit. Billy went over there. He got right between Steve’s legs and then thought maybe that wasn’t what he’d meant. He looked at Steve; he was pretty sure that was what he’d meant.

Steve was smiling at him. Holy shit. “Right here?” Billy said.

“Uh, yeah, that’s good,” Steve said. One eyebrow was going up; Jesus God he was so hot. He was sitting hunched over a little and he was still a couple inches taller what with bein' the counter. He was looking right at Billy. “So I don’t smell like a beer anymore,” he said.

“Doesn’t bother me any,” Billy said; Steve laughed. He looked Billy up and down. Holy shit.

Steve said, “So, uh, what you tryin’ to do here?”

“What you want?” Billy asked right away; Steve laughed again even though Billy hadn't been kidding.

Steve was just looking at him. Billy felt a little helpless; he’d never felt like this before. He was also pretty sure they were about to kiss. He could feel the fuckin’ air charging up around them. He tried to get ready for it.

He was still trying to tell himself to calm the fuck down and that nothing was gonna happen when he leaned in and went for it. He was losing his mind again. Steve was apparently losing his mind as well because he leaned in too; their teeth didn’t click together this time. Steve grabbed the lapels of his jacket so Billy went crazy. He grabbed Steve and slammed him into the cabinet; they broke apart for a moment.

Steve’s head rocked against the door of the cabinet with a thud!; a couple plates shook inside. “Fuck – ow!” he said.

“Shit, sorry,” Billy said. He leaned up and put his hand in Steve’s amazing hair and kissed the side of his mouth; he’d been wantin’ to do that. “Sorry.”

“Shut up,” Steve told him; he was laughing. “You’re so fuckin’ short.” He grabbed Billy by the collar of his shirt and pulled him in before Billy could manage to make a comment.

“The fuck I —“ Billy said anyway; Steve leaned in and kissed him again with his mouth open. Billy stopped talkin’ and closed his eyes. Steve's mouth was so hot and he didn’t taste like blood anymore either. Billy slammed him into the cabinet again. His mind was gibbering out oh god oh god oh god.

Steve was still laughing. He had his hands twisted in Billy’s jacket and his shirt. “Oh my god, can you be nice to me for two fuckin’ minutes?” he asked. He could barely get the words out because Billy kept kissing him.

“Yeah, sorry,” Billy said. He could be so nice; probably he could be nice for at least five.

He slid his hand out of Steve’s hair and touched the collar of his shirt. He leaned in and kissed Steve again; he was trying not to go too fast even though his head was spinning like crazy again. He traced Steve’s bottom lip with his tongue and then flicked it into his mouth; Steve fuckin’ groaned and yanked Billy closer by the collar of his shirt. Jesus fuck. Billy slammed his hand down on the counter so he wouldn’t fall over; he knocked his soda over and everything.

Steve started laughing at him again; he was still kissing him though. Holy shit his mouth was so hot. Steve’s glasses pressed against the side of his face; Billy didn’t mind. He kissed Steve and kissed him; felt like he was gonna die.

He twisted his hands in Steve’s work shirt. He wondered what kinda tie Harrington’d been wearing earlier; Jesus he was gonna get hard in two seconds thinking about him in the tie and the amazing glasses. Yep that was happening now.

Steve put his hand on the back of Billy’s neck. He kept trying to pull him closer; Billy couldn’t get any closer without climbing up on the fucking counter too. He could feel Steve’s breath hitching in his throat. He was so much broader than a girl and their chests knocked together; it was so much better.

Billy tried to calm himself down; he didn't know if he'd get to do this again. He didn’t think he was ever gonna be calm with Steve’s tongue in his mouth but he could try. He’d said he’d be nice.

He put his hand on Steve’s shirt collar again; somehow a couple of the top buttons on his shirt had come undone. He moved his hand onto Steve’s neck and trailed it down his collar bone. Jesus his skin was so soft and Billy wanted to touch him. He stroked his thumb down the three amazing freckles on the side of Steve’s neck. He could feel his pulsepoint; it was fluttering away like a bird’s wings. Steve was breathing and sighing and biting Billy’s lip; Billy was gonna rip all those buttons off in another minute.

He dropped his hands and grabbed at Steve’s belt; he dragged him forward on the counter towards himself. Jesus there was really nowhere to drag him. They were so close.

There was still too much stuff in the way; Billy wondered why he’d worn his jacket. Why'd anyone wear any clothes ever really. Steve had his hands on Billy’s shoulders and then he grabbed his back and then he put both hands in Billy’s hair. Billy was kissing him like he was gonna die. He couldn’t stop; would like to die like this.

He was still gripping Steve’s belt; he let go of it and ran his hands up Steve’s stomach. Then he ran his hands down over Steve’s legs. He ran his hand over Steve’s left thigh and over his huge fucking hard-on.

Billy thanked God for khaki pants; you could fucking feel everything through them. He was dimly aware that he was feelin’ Steve’s prick and he had no idea if it was okay to do that; Steve wasn’t pushing him away though. In fact he was trying to pull him closer and now he was making his crazy sounds in Billy’s mouth again. Holy fucking shit.

Billy put his hand back in Steve’s hair; his other hand was still on Steve’s pants and on his huge amazing dick. He couldn't believe he’d got him hard. He pressed his palm down against him; he could feel Steve’s cock twitch against his hand and he about lost his fucking mind. Steve said, “Oh fuck,” in a choked voice so Billy kept touching him. Holy shit. He kept Steve held against the counter with his hand in Steve’s hair and his palm against his prick. It was so good; he couldn’t stop kissing him.

He wondered if he could get Steve off this way. If he could just touch him a little more. Fuck he couldn't stop touching him, really. He’d be so nice; he was thinkin' about it, all the things he could do. He traced over the thick line of Steve's cock with two fingers; holy shit he was so hard. Billy couldn't believe he'd got him so hard. It didn't seem possible. He bit at Steve's bottom lip a little too roughly; he couldn't stop himself. He ran his thumb over the head of Steve's cock real slow.

Steve was sighing and groaning into his mouth; he was makin' all kinds of sounds. Billy couldn't really believe this was happening and he wasn't sure of what to do. Never been with a guy before, never really thought he would be with a guy. Then again he was a guy; he knew what felt good and what felt fucking amazing. He kept his hands on Steve's cock; Steve fucking shuddered when Billy pressed his thumb against the tip of it again.

Steve had one hand curled under Billy's jaw. He had his other hand on the back of Billy's neck, fingers threaded tight in his hair; it kinda hurt a little but Billy didn't mind that. Sometimes shit was better that way. Steve was so close to him on the counter; he was practically straddling him. Each time Billy'd touch his dick a certain way Steve's whole body would fuckin’ shake and he'd roll his hips toward Billy. They'd gotten so close and Steve reached out and hooked one of his legs around Billy's waist. He pressed his ankle into the small of Billy's back and fucking thrust up against him.

“Ah, god,” Billy managed. His mind was spiraling somewhere around the kitchen; he kept tryin' to touch Steve in the way that'd make him push against him again. Steve was a little taller than him on the counter; the only fucking thing Billy's cock was rubbing against was the goddamn silverware drawer.

He wondered if he could pick Steve up and throw him on the table. Wondered if they could make it to the table; Steve was pretty fuckin' heavy.

Steve was kissing the side of Billy's mouth real sloppy; he trailed his lips over Billy's jawline and then he just fucking bit at his neck, right under his pulsepoint. “FUCK,” Billy said. He tightened his hand in Steve's hair too and yanked his head back a little; somehow he found Steve's mouth again. “You're so fuckin' hot, man,” he mumbled into his mouth; he drew Steve's bottom lip in between his teeth.

“Uhhhh,” Steve said because he was the fucking sexiest and most articulate person Billy'd ever met. Fuck he was so hot. He breathed out a kinda laugh like Billy being funny; Billy wasn’t bein’ funny. He thrust his hips against Billy again when Billy touched his cock in that way he liked; oh god Billy was gonna lose his last two brain cells in about two seconds. Steve said, “Uhhh, god I – “

“Yeah?” Billy said. He moved his hand up and hooked two fingers under Steve's belt buckle. He could do it, could take it out. Wanted to touch him, fuckin' wanted to see him, too. He'd seen Steve naked before; they'd had gym class together for about half a year. Jesus Christ Billy didn't know how he hadn't realized he'd been fuckin' looking at Harrington the whole time; okay probably he'd realized. He knew what Steve's cock looked like already.

He hadn't seen him hard yet though. Wanted to touch him so bad; his own cock was fuckin’ aching at the thought of it.

He didn't know if he should touch him. He didn't know what the fuck he was doing; he didn't know if he should touch him. Should probably just feel fuckin' grateful he'd gotten some kisses and a bite on the neck or somethin'. There was still that voice in the back of his head going oh god oh god oh god; he didn't know what kinda voice Steve had in his head or what it was fuckin' saying.

God he didn't want to ruin this. He was thinking about Steve in his pool again; he was thinking of Steve with his big eyes and Steve holdin’ onto his arm saying I just never. Wondered what he was gonna say.

He kept his hand on the belt; he just kissed Steve for another couple seconds. He tried to kiss him real nice. He tightened his hand on the belt buckle; he was losing his mind. Steve didn't push him away though. He just fucking moaned and thrust his hips up against him again.

Billy lost track of the voice in his head. He took his other hand out of Steve's hair and started undoing the belt.

“Uhhh fuck,” Steve said against his mouth.

“Yeah?” Billy said again. He didn't know what he'd do if Steve didn't say yeah.

“Yeah, I,” Steve said; he sounded a little breathless. “Oh fuck.”

Oh fuck. Okay. Billy got the belt undone. He leaned in and kissed Steve again; this time Steve was the one biting his lip. Billy ran his hands back over Steve's thighs again; he put his hand back on his prick. Oh fuck. He slid one hand back up a little and touched the button on Steve's pants. He pushed the belt out of the way. Steve's whole body shuddered again; he said, “Bill.” He wasn’t stopping him.

Billy kept kissing him. He put his hand under Harrington’s shirt and stroked his way down his stomach. He started workin’ at the button on his khakis; he was just gonna do it. Steve went crazy kissing him; Billy moaned into his mouth. He was –

Someone was knocking on the front door; it took a couple minutes to notice it from way up where Billy was on cloud nine. The knocking got louder and then someone was yelling “STEVE? STEVE?”

Billy’s eyes popped open; Steve’s tongue froze in his mouth. With great regret Billy pulled back about an inch. “Who the fuck is that?” His hand was still on Steve’s cock; his hand was still holding the end of his belt.

Steve’s face was totally blank; he tilted his head to the side a little and looked over Billy’s shoulder like a crazed owl. “Oh my fucking god,” he whispered. Billy’s hand was still on his cock; it twitched against his palm again. “No, this isn’t happening right now.”

“STEVE ARE YOU HOME?” yelled the person out front; sounded like a creepy kid which Billy figured was about right.

“Oh, my god,” Steve said again.

“Uh. S’that Henderson?” Billy asked. His own hard-on was rapidly dying at even the mere thought of Dustin. He finally moved his hand away from Steve’s prick.

“Oh, my god,” Steve said a third time. “Oh my god, what the fuck. I – I – why – okay, no, no, maybe he’ll go away.” He grabbed Billy again.

Billy started laughing; he wasn’t going to not kiss Steve if Steve wanted him though. He put his hand back in Steve’s hair and leaned in again. Jesus fuck Harrington was an amazing kisser; Billy was pretty sure he was making some sounds of his own. He'd been getting so worked up he almost didn't realize how good it was. He put his other hand up against Steve's hip and kissed him and kissed him. Mouth was actually getting kinda sore but that didn't matter.

The kitchen window about ten feet away started rattling; Billy was pretty sure it was only by the grace of God that Harrington was the only fuckin’ person he knew who actually had curtains up in his kitchen. “STEVE, I KNOW YOU’RE IN HERE!” Henderson yapped. “I SEE YOUR CAR OUT FRONT, ARE YOU AVOIDING ME? YOU SAID I COULD USE YOUR POOL, IS BILLY HERE WITH YOU?”

“Oooooh my god,” Steve said; he grabbed Billy’s wrist and finally slid off of the counter. “What the fuck, why is this happening right now?”

“Did you tell him he could use your pool?” Billy asked. He watched Steve do up his belt and adjust his dick in his pants; holy god he was gonna remember that later.

Steve stared at Billy staring at him; he seemed at a loss for words for a moment. “No I, I didn’t fucking tell him – “

Henderson’s huge grinning moon-face appeared at the back door; he waved at them. “STEVE!” he said. “DIDN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKING?”

“Oh my fucking god!” Steve yelped like a crazed chihuahua; Billy was about to start laughing even though Henderson was ruining his fucking life.

Steve stalked across the room and threw the back door open. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Henderson pushed his way right past Steve and into the house; Steve made another angry animal sound. “You said I could use your pool last week, I am here to do my swimming laps. Hi Billy!” He stared at the root beer exploded on the kitchen floor, then he stared at Steve. “Uh, what happened to you guys? What’s wrong with your shirt?”

Steve’s eyes almost bugged out of his head; he looked down at himself. His work shirt was all wrinkled and the top two buttons were undone. Billy bit his lip; he’d gotten Harrington all fucked up. “Uh, I … ”

“Wow, you both look really screwed up, are you guys fighting again?” Henderson crossed his arms like the littlest den dad. “Billy, did you start something with him again?”

“Uh, he always starts something with me,” Steve said. It was so typical of Harrington to throw him under the fuckin’ bus.

“What did he do?” Henderson demanded like Billy wasn’t even in the goddamn room. “Steve! Did Billy call you bullshit again, he does not understand the meaning behind that phrase! You need to calm down, you seriously need to stop comparing him to Nancy, it’s getting really weird.”

“Yeah, it’s getting really weird, man,” Billy said. He was leaning on the counter now.

“Oh, my god,” Steve said in a hopeless way. “Why, why, why are you here?”

“You said I could come over last week!” Henderson yapped. “Why’d you hang up on me last night, I called you like three times.”

“What? I never said that!” Steve said like a crazy person.

“Yes you did, you said I could come over Monday night, it’s Monday night!”

“Okay, well, it’s not fucking night time yet!”

“Uh, yes it is, it’s after five!”

“What?” Billy and Steve both said; that wasn’t possible.

Henderson looked really amused. “I guess you guys were really going at it,” he said.

“Hahahahahaha,” Billy said. Steve said, “Oh, my god.”

“What are you fighting about?”

“We’re not fighting,” Steve said; he sounded really annoyed.

“I was just pissin’ him off,” Billy said. He pushed himself up off the counter. His head was still spinning; he didn’t want to go but Henderson was really fucking up the mood and all. “I gotta go to work.”

He started past Steve and Henderson; he pushed against Steve’s shoulder as he went out the door. “Stop fighting with me, asshole,” he said.

“Uh, I,” Steve said. “Okay, call me later.”

“Yeah, I’ll call you.”

“Guys, should we talk this out?” Henderson said.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP, DUSTIN!” Steve said.

Billy went to work.

 


 

Billy went to work; it was about the longest night of his life. Hank was there late working too much like usual and he was gabbing away too much like usual too. He told Billy he could bring in Susan's Explorer any time. He laughed at Billy dropping eighty tools all over the counter.

“You thinkin' about some girl, Bill?” Hank asked him; he looked real amused. He was huffing and puffing over the engine of the Ford truck. “Was you out on a date? Hair's all messed up.”

“Yeah, I wasn't out with some girl,” Billy said. He kept thinking about Steve's amazing dick in his fuckin’ work pants. God he’d kissed Steve and gotten him fucking turned on and had touched his cock; he dropped the wrench he’d been holding again. His fucking balls hurt; he’d been so hard earlier and he needed to go home and jack off like three times until he finally fuckin’ died.

Hank still looked real amused like Billy was being funny; he didn't ask him any more about girls though. “Your old man still outta the house?”

That was another thing Billy didn't feel like talking about, especially when he was busy thinking about Steve's prick. “He'll be back.” Felt like he was talkin' about the fucking Terminator or some shit.

“Uh-yuh, they always come back,” Hank said. He was struggling to his feet; it took him a while. “You gotta keep him away from kid sis,” Hank said.

Billy wondered what all he knew about it. Max and her fuckin' mouth. “He's not that bad all the time,” he said; it was only three-quarters of a lie. He didn't know why everyone thought Maxine was his goddamn responsibility.

Turns out apparently Maxine was his goddamn responsibility. He got through another day of school and he dragged himself to basketball practice. Actually he was feeling pretty good; he wasn’t draggin’ nothing. He was still out there on cloud nine: was pretty nice up there. Steve Harrington sat on his countertop and fuckin' made out with you when you was on cloud nine.

Billy got so happy thinking about it that he knocked over five guys at practice; the coach was screaming and threatening to bench him at this weekend's game. Billy wished the coach'd bench him. They’d lose the damn game and he'd go right the fuck to Steve's and kiss him and touch his dick some more. HAHA. He loved it here in Hawkins, was the best place in the world.

He got home a little before five o'clock. He didn't have work and he was already thinking about Steve; really he'd been thinkin' about him all day. Maybe he'd want to do something again; he probably knew what Billy wanted to do. God Billy was gonna go crazy thinking about Steve’s amazing dick and if he was gonna get to see it.

He figured Steve'd be home around six. Maybe he could call him up; maybe he should just go over there. He was wonderin' what kinda work shirt Steve would be wearing as he unlocked the door and went into his house.

Max was sitting alone on the couch with the TV on mute. Her face was all splotchy and her arms were folded across her chest; Billy stopped thinking about the work shirt and the amazing dick that maybe awaited him.

He stared at her as he took his jacket off. “Hey, what’s wrong with your face?”

Max ignored him. She glared the TV.

“What you doin' here?” he tried again; he had no clue why he did that. Usually she’d be at practice waitin’ for him.

Max glared her head off at him. “WHAT DO YOU CARE?” she hollered.

Billy felt true slight terror looking at her; Jesus Christ he already fuckin' knew the night wasn't gonna go like he wanted. “I don't care,” he told her.

Max burst into tears; Billy leaned against the doorway and stared at her in more and more mounting fear. “Why – why you doin' that?” he asked her in true slight terror.

“LEAVE ME ALONE,” Max yelled.

“What happened?” Jesus he had no fucking clue why he'd asked that. He should have booked it for the shower. He should have known better: in over four fuckin' years he and Maxine'd never left each other alone.

Max sniffed and hiccuped; she sure was makin' a real production. “MOM FINALLY CALLED LUCAS'S PARENTS TO APOLOGIZE TODAY AND IT TURNED INTO THIS HUGE THING,” she yelled her fuckin' head off. “THEY DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT NEIL, AND MOM SAID THEY YELLED AT EACH OTHER FOR TEN MINUTES! THEN MOM TOLD THEM WE WERE KISSING IN MY ROOM AND NOW I'M ON PUNISHMENT AND I'M NOT ALLOWED TO SEE LUCAS AT ALL.

Billy knew Susan'd get around to getting at Max for screwing around with Sinclair, it'd just take her some time. She didn't like not letting Max and him do what they wanted.

“Okay, calm down,” he told her.

“I AM CALM, YOU STUPID DIRTBAG!” screamed Max, the least calm person ever. Jesus she didn't need to fuckin' go at him. “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

If only. Billy tried his hardest to ignore the dirtbag comment. “So how long you grounded for?”

“I'M NOT GROUNDED, I JUST CAN'T SEE LUCAS!” Max said; her volume button was broken at ten. “MOM PULLED ME OUT OF SEVENTH PERIOD TO YELL AT ME, SHE IS SO MAD! THE SINCLAIRS SAID I'M A BAD INFLUENCE!”

“You are a bad influence,” Billy told her; Max scowled her head off and regenerated a new one.

“I KNEW YOU'D BE A HUGE ASSHOLE ABOUT THIS, YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT ANYTHING!” Billy counted to ten so's he wouldn't go off on her; Max started yelling some more before he even got to six. “I can't do ANYTHING if I CAN'T SEE LUCAS, he is like MY ONLY FRIEND HERE!”

“Okay, you have other friends.”

“NO, I DON'T!” Max yelled. Truly she was at a fuckin’ level nine in her womanly hysteria; Billy could hear sirens going off in his own head. “HOW CAN I HANG OUT WITH ANYONE IF I CAN'T BE WITH LUCAS, I BET MIKE IS SO HAPPY!”

Probably he was; Wheeler Jr was a piece of work and Billy'd never understand him, not that he wanted to. “Okay, look,” he said. Max was still cryin' and it was making him feel real scared. He wondered for a second if she was fuckin' playing him like she had been on his birthday. He said, “Okay, look,” again and then realized he had no goddamn clue what to say to her.

“I DON'T HAVE ANYONE, I'M NOT ALLOWED TO SEE HIM AT ALL!” Max yelled her head off. “HIS PARENTS ARE PROBABLY PUTTING OUT A RESTRAINING ORDER ON ME RIGHT NOW! THE ONLY OTHER FRIEND I HAVE HERE IS BEVERLY, AND ALL SHE EVER TALKS ABOUT IS HOW SHE TOUCHED RYAN PEARSON'S DICK FOR TWO MINUTES LAST MONTH!”

“Je-sus Christ, Max,” Billy said; he was going deaf and dumb and blind again.

“THIS IS WHAT NEIL WANTED! THIS IS WHAT YOU WANTED, TOO, NOW YOU DON'T HAVE TO WATCH ME ANYMORE!”

Billy still didn't know why the fuck she was coming for him. “Okay, I don't gotta problem with Sinclair – “

Yes, you do!” Max yelled at him. Her womanly hysteria had somehow wound down to about a seven; probably she was gettin’ tired. “Just leave me here TO DIE, you can go hang out with Steve and El all the time like you want now! You like them so much better than me!”

That was debatable, Billy didn't say. He scrubbed a hand through his hair. “No I don't, the fuck you talkin' about?”

“YES YOU DO!” Max hollered. The hysteria cranked back up to a nine. Billy guessed she was getting her second wind; he lamented his life. “YES YOU DO, ALL YOU CARE ABOUT IS STEVE, ALL YOU CARE ABOUT IS EL! YOU LIKE HER SO MUCH MORE THAN ME!”

“The fuck I do,” Billy said. Jesus he'd never understand any goddamn woman; he didn't know why the hell she was talkin' about Jane right now.

“Yes you do!” Max said again. She was sniffling and snotting all over herself like she'd gotten beat on or something. “You met her like six times and you like her WAY BETTER than me! It's not fair! Everyone thinks she's SO AMAZING! You treat her so different than me!”

“Uh, yeah, because she's different than you,” Billy said. El wasn't his annoying goddamn sister; also she could move shit with her mind and fix radios. “You sound like a fuckin' eight-year-old right now.”

“You've known me for four years and you like her so much better, it's not fair!” Max went on sobbing in her womanly hysteria. “YOU BOUGHT HER A BOOK, ALL YOU DO IS SCREAM AT ME!”

“I'VE NEVER SCREAMED AT YOU IN MY LIFE!” Billy screamed at her.

“You let her hang out at your work!” Max yapped like she hadn't hung around the shop all December and January tellin' Hank Billy's whole goddamn life story four times. “YOU BOUGHT HER FRENCH FRIES! EVERYONE LIKES HER MORE THAN ME AND SHE DOESN'T EVEN TALK!

Jesus God. “Yeah, why you think we like her more?” Billy asked. It was definitely the wrong thing to say; Max burst into fresh tears. “Oh my fuckin' GOD, I'M JOKING!”

“NO YOU'RE NOT! YOU LIKE HER MORE THAN ME!”

“Oh my god, you sound like my fuckin' girlfriend!” Billy said; she was really starting to piss him off. “I don't like her more than you, Jesus Christ.”

“YES YOU DO!”

“She's fuckin' different than you!” Billy told her; he didn't really wanna talk about El. He went over to the couch and glared down at her crying. “The fuck you talkin' about I don't like you?”

“YOU DON'T LIKE ME, YOU JUST USE ME TO HANG OUT WITH STEVE!” Max yelled. “YOU NEVER CARED ABOUT ME, YOU JUST WATCH ME SO NEIL WON'T BEAT YOUR ASS!”

“NEWS FLASH, HE DID BEAT MY ASS!” Billy yelled down at her. “Beat my ass bout a fuckin’ week and a half ago over you, you forget that shit already?” Max just cried and hiccuped at him. “STOP CRYIN'!” he told her; Jesus she was going off. “Talkin' bout I bought some girl french fries, you ain't my fuckin' girlfriend!”

“STOP SCREAMING AT ME!”

“I'M NOT SCREAMING!” Billy told her. “Bought you your fuckin' camera, didn't I?” Max just cried more. “STOP CRYING! I TOOK YOU TO SEE DEF LEPPARD!” Billy yelled like a crazy person.

“BECAUSE TRACEY TOLD YOU TO!”

“NO SHE DIDN'T!”

“YES SHE DID!”

“Oh my fucking god.” Billy collapsed down onto the couch beside her; he put his head in his hands. “Stop crying!” he told her again. “I still bought the fuckin' tickets, didn't I?”

“That doesn't mean anything!”

“Yeah it does, you think I had any fuckin' money?” Billy asked her.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!”

“NO! When I ever leave you alone?” Billy demanded; he was so pissed off. “Jesus, kid, you're gonna give yourself a fuckin' heart attack carrying on like this, stop fuckin' crying!”

“GOOD, JUST LEAVE ME HERE TO DIE! MOM CAN COME HOME AND FIND MY CORPSE! YOU CAN GO HANG OUT WITH EL LIKE YOU WANT!”

“OH MY FUCKIN' GOD!” Billy said. He turned his head and stared at her; Max glared back. “Are you serious, you shithead?”

What?” Max scowled her head off.

“You really think I like her better?” Max made another face and didn't answer him; Jesus she was still fuckin' crying too. “I don't like her better, asshole. Look, you're my sister, I can't like nobody more than you.”

“Yeah, just because our stupid parents got married!” Max said. “You just – “

“No, you're my fuckin' sister, okay?” Billy interrupted her. Max stared at him. “Jesus. Don't just hang out with you when I wanna see Steve.”

“I guess,” Max said like a sulky gremlin.

“I don't ask you to bring him over here,” Billy told her. “Didn't ask you to make a fuckin' tape for us.”

“Uh, you need my help!” Max yapped.

“Okay, whatever,” Billy said; he was not gonna get into that with her right now. “What about all that shit I told you? Nobody else knows that shit about me, you think I tell people bout it? Think me'n Henderson talk about fuckin' Tom Cruise?”

“God, I hope not,” Max said; Billy almost laughed.

“Can you stop fuckin' crying?”

“I'm not crying!” Max yapped. She scrubbed at her face with her hands like a snotty princess.

Billy waited a couple minutes til she'd calmed herself down. He told her, “Look, you know the shit with Sinclair ain't gonna stick, okay?”

“Yes it is, Mom is really mad and Lucas's parents are going to skin him like a raccoon!” Max said. “I'm not even allowed to hang out with him at school now. Not that he'll be at school because he'll be skinned and dead.

Billy was raising his eyebrows and trying not to make a comment; if he said that shit about Sinclair Max'd yell her head off that he was bein' a racist. “They ain't gonna know if you seen him at school.”

“YES THEY WILL, MOM KNOWS EVERYTHING!” Max said. Billy shuddered; he sure as hell hoped Susan didn't know everything. “How am I supposed to do anything now? I really can't hang out with the guys if Lucas is there too, I'LL JUST DIE HERE!”

She looked like she was getting ready to go off again; Billy put his hand on her shoulder in true slight terror. “Look, don't fuckin' cry – “

“I'M NOT CRYING, I'M JUST SAYING!”

“Okay, okay, stop screamin' at me,” Billy begged her.

“I'M NOT SCR – I'm not screaming!” Max said.

“Look, it's gonna blow over, if you really wanna see the kid you'll find a way to see 'im,” Billy told her. “Ain't you done that already?”

Max gave him a kinda guilty look; she knew what he was talking about. “I, I guess.” She wiped her face again and huffed away for a couple minutes more. Then: “Thanks Billy,” she said.

“What?” Billy said; he wasn't looking at her.

Max wiped her eyes again and sniffled some more. “So what – so what are you doing now?” she asked in a small voice.

Billy rolled his head back on the couch to look at the clock behind them. Jesus Christ it was after six; somehow she'd been screaming an