Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers & Charlie's Broken Dream
Charlotte Henderson didn’t consider herself particularly pretty or smart – hell, she was pretty sure her damn 12 year old brother was smarter than her – she wasn’t really athletic, couldn’t draw to save her life, and she struggled writing more than 700 hundred words at a time.
But what she could do was sing a goddamned good tune.
“Thank you for having us, Hideaway, C.H.E.R.R.Y. will be back next week.” She said into the microphone, punctuating her distorted voice with a few strums of her most prized possession. Her Yamaha SE 200 was a blood-red dream machine!
The crowd that had gathered to watch them clapped excitedly, as she and her band stepped off the raised stage. C.H.E.R.R.Y. consisted of her; Charlotte Henderson, C.H., Edward Rivera, E.R., and Richard Young, R.Y.
She played lead guitar and sang – Edward played bass and sometimes keyboard, and Richard was their drummer.
The three of them were going to make it big. She just knew it.
Charlotte stayed for a little longer, talking to a few people from school she knew. She wasn’t unpopular – her band’s status in Hawkins being the reason for that – but she also preferred not to hang out with the jocks and their little bitchy girlfriends. She usually just hung out with her band. There was a reason they were good, and that was because they practised all the time.
“Hey, Charlie!” she turned to see Edward, a little blonde hanging off his arm. “You want a lift, cariño?” she shook her head at her Spanish friend.
“Nah, you look a little busy! I’ll walk home.”
He shrugged, and tucked the girl closer to him, making her giggle. Richard clapped her on the shoulder, and waved goodbye to the people still sitting around in the bar. Whenever C.H.E.R.R.Y. played, the Hideaway lowered the age limit so that their classmates could come and see them. A spot of entertainment in the quiet town.
She slung her guitar case over her shoulder, avoided a pair of drunk boys that were bound to get kicked out, and left the bar.
The cool night air filled her lungs, and she hummed to herself as she made her way home, jumping over fences and running across other people’s lawns to get back home quickly. She made it out onto the road that would lead to home, and started crossing.
Charlie turned, just in time to see what looked like Will Byers shoot past her frozen body on his bike.
“WATCH IT, WILL!” she yelled after him, smiling slightly.
“SORRY, CHARLIE!” he called back.
Panting drew her attention to her brother, who had just pulled up beside her. “Hey… Charlie… how was… the… gig?” he said breathlessly. She laughed at his state, and shoved his hat over his eyes.
“It was great! Come on, let’s get home.”
They chatted the whole way home, Charlie with one hand on his bike because they were going so slow, and Dustin had decided to use both of his hands as he talking animatedly about the game. When she fell asleep that night – Charlie considered herself happy. She closed her eyes, and as always, she dreamed about music.
“Charlie, get up.”
Charlie fell out of bed in her scrambles state. Dustin stood over her, laughing at her. “Come on, we’re gonna be late!”
Charlie growled and stood, eyeing him dangerously. Dustin took one look at her – before turning and running; “Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!...”
“Language!” She yelled after him. Grumbling, she started getting ready. Mondays always sucked.
She pulled on her oversized, ripped-up jeans, pulling a belt tight around her waist, and her cropped black sweater, and then Richard’s oversized denim jacket. She threw on a scarf too – the bright colour matching her hair.
She ruffled her cropped and dyed hair fondly. It was fading to pink now – and if she wanted to keep matching her guitar she’d have to re-dye it soon.
She pottered around the kitchen, making sure her mother’s food and medication was out and in easy access.
A familiar car honked outside, and she raced from the house, calling goodbye over her shoulder at her mother. Edward’s blue ford was idling in her driveway, and she fought a smirk at the sight of the blonde that Ed had taken home sitting in the back. She looked distinctly ruffled.
Charlie swung herself in the front seat, and accepted Ed’s peck on the cheek. “Morning, Amigo.” She said, and turned around to look at the girl staring out of the window. “Sleep well?” she teased.
The girl blushed, and coughed awkwardly. Edward rolled his eyes, and gunned the engine. “Let’s just get to class, chica.”
Charlie left Ed trying to talk the blonde into ditching first two with him, and jogged into school as the bell rang. She caught sight of the only two nice girls in the school. She couldn’t include herself in those calculations - Charlie knew that she could be prickly at the best of times.
“So, ladies. What are we talking about?” she inserted herself in-between Nancy and Barb, giving them a smile, and leaning against the lockers.
Barb answered immediately. “Nancy and Steve.” She rolled her eyes.
“Barb!” Nancy protested. Charlie chuckled.
“I don’t blame you – he may be an idiot-”
“Thank you!” Barb sighed. Nancy stuck her tongue out, and Charlie continued.
“But he has hair I would kill for.” Richard walked by then, and shook his jacket’s sleeves.
“Why are you wearing my clothes?” He asked. Charlie shrugged, and stepped away slightly to talk to him, shooting the girls a smile.
“We just… made out a couple times.” Barb imitated Nancy dramatically. “Nance, seriously. You’re gonna be so cool now, it’s ridiculous. You’ll be as cool as Charlie!” the two of them turned to look at the girl with bright hair. She looked like she was supposed to be on the cover of a punk-pop magazine for teens. “Well, maybe not as cool as Charlie…” she trailed off. “You’ll have to join a band to be as cool as Charlie.”
Nancy shook her head, laughing. “Stop, Barb!”
“You better still hang out with me, that’s all I’m saying. If you become friends with Tommy H. or Carol-”
“Oh, that’s gross! Okay, I’m telling you. It was a one-time… two-time thing.”
Charlie re-joined them. Just as Nancy went to close her locker, her hand shot out and snagged a folded piece of paper that looked out of place in Nancy’s tidy locker. She un-folded it, gagged, and handed it to Nancy.
Barb’s eyebrows shot up. “You were saying?”
“Ewwww!” Charlie shook her head, eyes screwed up. “Is he always so cliché? That’s just disturbing. I never want to go to the bathroom again. Ever.” Barb put an arm around the rocker’s shoulders and steered her off, shooting Nancy another knowing look.
Charlie put her head down on the table, one hand still doodling idly. On the desk next to her, Jonathan Byers was looking like he was a minute away from screaming. It was the last period of the day, and she usually sat in the back – which he also did, and so she knew that something must be wrong, because he usually stayed back a little after school to work on his photography.
She balled up a piece of paper, and threw it at the side of his head. It hit him solidly, and he flinched, looking at her. She scrawled a note and held it up.
He shook his head, and turned round to the front, tapping his pencil against his desk furiously.
Another paper ball hit him, and he whipped his head around to glare at the girl who always seemed to end up sitting in the back.
Charlie Henderson held up another note. He sighed.
Seriously dude. You look like you’re about to shoot up the school.
Knowing she wouldn’t stop annoying him, he scribbled his own note and passed it to her quickly.
She unfolded it, and read it, normally smirking face stilling and then creasing into a worried frown. She pushed her fading cherry-red hair out of her eyes as she scribbled something and handed it back to him.
Under his own handwriting, her loopy words were written in capitals.
My brother is missing. He hasn’t come home and hes not at school.
I WILL HELP YOU LOOK AFTER SCHOOL
He shot Charlie a weak smile of thanks. He wasn’t going to turn down help from anybody. Even if that someone was one of the most popular girls in school.
But she was different – he knew she was. And not just because she was a rocker, but in the way she spoke to people. Everybody. That’s what made her different. She knew everybody’s name, and tried to keep up to date with things. And it wasn’t a matter of knowing things, it was noticing things – she was observant and kinder than she gave herself credit for. She was more like her brother than she gave herself credit for.
Jonathan knew she called herself a gossiping bitch, but knew it was far from the truth.
She gave him a small thumbs up, and turned to face the clock as he had been doing, her fingers beginning to tap in a rhythmic pattern.
Charlie trudged after Jonathan and his mother, kicking through leaves. She felt uncomfortable. Whilst Jonathan had been grateful to have her – Joyce Byers seemed less enthused, and she’d seen the flash of wariness in the woman’s face before they had started their journey to Castle Byers.
Maybe she shouldn’t have come.
But as Joyce made a choked sobbing sound, suddenly taking flight towards what looked like a pile of sticks – she felt her heart pang.
No. She needed to be here. She needed to help.
From what Charlie had known of Will Byers, he had been a sweet kid. Once when she’d been making dinner for the boys, he’d offered to help her. Sweet kid. Genuine.
Jonathan’s yell from beside her made her jump. After Joyce joined her oldest son, she swallowed – before letting out a cry of her own;
“WILL BYERS, WHERE ARE YOU?”
They yelled like that for what felt like hours – until Charlie’ voice threatened to give. Joyce’s voice had faded to whimpers. Jonathan was nowhere to be seen, he’d gone over the ridge, but she could still hear him.
“Will… Come home…” Joyce was crying now. Charlie stepped nervously over to her. But before she could say or do anything – the sobbing woman latched herself onto Charlie. “Will… Will…”
“We’ll find him – Joyce, I promise – we’ll find him…” Charlie murmured, bringing her arms up around the woman’s shoulders, making eye-contact with Jonathan as he crested the hill.
Charlie knew she should have gone home – but there had been something about the way Joyce had trembled against her – and the relief in Jonathan’s eyes when she offered to stay that had kept her at the Byer’s house.
She was half-listening to Joyce on the phone as she copied Jonathan’s poster in red lettering. For all its old appearance, their couch was ridiculously comfortable, and she was slowly sinking into it as the afternoon wore on. “Bitch!” Joyce swore loudly, making her jump upright, and scrawl across a letter accidentally.
“Mom!” Jonathan said reproachfully, shooting Charlie an apologetic look.
“What?” The woman snapped. Charlie fought a smirk.
“You have to stay calm.” Jonathan said softly, shooting an apologetic look at Charlie.
Joyce laughed to herself, fumbling with a cigarette as she picked up the phone again. “Lonnie…”
From what she remembered from some of Dustin’s rambling about his friends, Lonnie was the name of his absent father. Maybe this wasn’t a conversation she should hear. Charlie stood up, and walked to the window – squinting out at an approaching car. Her eyes widened. “Joyce, J - cops.”
Jonathan couldn’t ignore the nickname – but didn’t say anything, getting up to run after his mom, Joyce taking flight towards the door - and throwing it open. It resounded off the wall with a thud. Charlie stayed where she was for a second, not wanting to intrude even further – but couldn’t ignore the curiosity. Slowly she made her way to the front, and leant against the doorframe, crossing her arms against the chill in the air. When she saw the bike dropped on the ground by the Chief, she felt bile rise in the back of her throat. Those bikes were like damn Ferraris to those kids. They don’t just leave them lying around.
“Oh. Charlotte.” She looked up at the chief saying her name. “What are you doing here?”
“She’s been helping us look, make posters – been a great help-” Joyce began, and Charlie smiled awkwardly at Hopper. This was probably the first time she’d seen the man in day-light. He’d often caught her wandering around after gigs. He’d even driven her home a few times. He looked older in the light.
“I should probably get going now.” She said.
“You need a lift?” Hopper asked, already turning to gesture at one of the policemen behind him.
“No! No thank you- my car’s… just around the corner.” It was a lie, but only Jonathan knew that. She needed some time alone. She sped off quickly, waving a goodbye to Jonathan and Joyce, and avoiding Hopper’s gaze.
Hopper was one of the few adults who knew about her and Dustin’s mother – or about the lack thereof. She didn’t know if the heavy handed, gruff concern was out of loyalty to Claudia Henderson – a long time resident of Hawkins – or because he felt sorry for the two Henderson kids, who raised themselves, who had to play pretend at-
Charlie shook her head at herself, and hefted her school bag higher on her shoulder.
“Hey, Dusty!” Charlie called from the kitchen. “Get ready for dinner, spud!” She wiped her sweaty forehead on her shirt, heated from leaning over the steaming pots on the stove.
Seconds later, heavy footsteps sounded down the passage as Dustin rounded the corner. He skidded to a halt in front of her. “Sergeant Dusty reporting for duty, ma’am.” He raised his hand in a salute.
“Has Sergeant Dusty washed his hands?” She responded, keeping the laughter out of her voice as best as she could.
“Your mission, should you accept it, is to eat everything on this plate – before the rendezvous with ice-cream.” She handed him a plate of the spaghetti she had made, and he looked down at it, practically salivating.
“Mom?” Charlie walked hesitantly into the living room, holding another plate. “Dinner’s…” her words died on her lips. Her mother was asleep. She shot a quick look at the sleeping pills next to her, and sighed, placing the plate beside her, and picking up the dishes from lunch. At least she’d gotten up to get lunch today.
From the other room, she heard Dustin’s radio crackled loudly – before Mike’s voice broke through. “Dustin, come in. Dustin.”
There was a scramble as Dustin left the table – and Charlie shook her head in exasperation as she heard her brother’s bedroom door slam. She made her way into the kitchen, and half-smiled at the empty pasta dish. At least he finished his dinner. Charlie puttered around, giving everything a quick once-over before she cleaned up properly. She could feel a migraine growing; she still had to check the budget for this week, and she had homework due from three of her classes, and she was supposed to have finished the bridge to the song she had started writing with Richard the other day-
“Hey, Charlie.” Dustin’s voice was overly casual from behind her, and she turned to see him dressed to go out, a back pack on his back. Her eyes narrowed. “Could I-” he tried to move towards the door, but she took a quick step sideways and blocked him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” She planted her feet, and put her hands on her hips. “Hmmm?”
“We wanted to help look for Will.” He batted his eyelashes. “Please? He’s my friend.”
Charlie pretended to deliberate for another second. If someone who meant that much to her had gone missing she’d still be looking. Of course she wasn’t going to stop Dustin. She sighed, and stepped back aside.
“Go.” Dustin gave a yelp of joy and raced past her – but Charlie’ hand shot out and grabbed him quickly. “Hey! Just be careful, okay? Please.”
Dustin regarded her for a moment, before wrapping his arms around her and giving her a hug. “I promise.” He said, muffled against her sweater. He bounced out the front door. “Love ya, Charlie!” the door slammed behind him loudly.
“Yeah… love you too, Dusty.” She said to no-one, smiling slightly.
From the other room she heard her mother wake up and the tv turn on. “Mews! Come here my darling!”
Charlie’ mind ticked over as she started the washing up.
“We're running with the shadows of the night
So baby take my hand, you'll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They'll come true in the end…”
Chapter 2: The Weirdo At The Pool Party (part 1)
By some miracle, Charlie wasn’t late, and managed to catch up with Barb and Nancy as they headed to class. “Hey there, pretty ladies.” She chirped, and took a look at the cue-cards in Barb’s hand. “What are those?”
Barb and Nancy shot her incredulous looks. “Charlie… Don’t you remember?”
“Remember…?” Charlie looked between the two of them.
“We have a chemistry test today.” Nancy said. It was almost comical how quickly Charlie paled, and how big her eyes got. She blinked like a gold-fish for a few seconds. “Do you want me to…?”
“Yeah.” Charlie said, and Nancy cleared her throat, and began reciting the basics. As the three rounded the corner, a hand snatched the cards from Barb, and a body knocked against Charlie harshly.
She swung her head around, and met Carol’s challenging glare. Charlie just rolled her eyes at the pathetic ‘it’ girl. Charlie tended to avoid Carol as much as possible – but due to her own misguided jealousy, Carol had decided that Charlie was out to get her and steal Tommy. Like she’d ever want that useless thing.
“I think you’ve studied enough, Nance.” Steve said, and Charlie wasn’t at all surprised to see Tommy H. beside him. Tommy shot her a leering glance, and a head nod of recognition. Charlie gave him a cold smile in return. Charlie liked to think of herself as open-minded. She didn’t give a shit what anyone did, as long as they didn’t harm themselves, or others. But Carol and Tommy H. were among some of the most moronic, basic, and cruel people she knew. Charlie considered herself snarky and at times – bitchy, but Carol King made her look like a damn angel.
“I’m telling you, you know, you got this.” Steve said, and gave Nancy a cocky smile, “Don’t worry. Now, on to more important matters; my dad has left town on a conference, and my mom’s gone with him, cause, ya know, she doesn’t trust him,”
“Good call.” Tommy sniggered and Charlie resisted the urge to punch him. She tried to avoid the pity that settled in her stomach, because though Steve tried to pass it off as a joke, cheating caused rifts in families that affected all members, no matter how blasé they appeared. She would know.
“So are you in?” Steve finished, looking at Nancy expectantly.
“In for what?” Nancy asked confusedly.
“No parents? Big house?” Carol said condescendingly, trying to lean casually against the wall.
“A party?” Nancy finally reached the big conclusion. Charlie felt sorry for her. Nancy was making steps into the popular group – and if she wasn’t too careful, she might end up too deep. Charlie had avoided being too associated with them. She kept connections to stay afloat – it would be very easy for her and her band to be labelled as ‘music geeks’, rather than ‘rockers’. She didn’t particularly like many of the ‘it’ crowd, but because she had refrained from knowing them, she had tried to keep her judgements refrained as well.
“Ding, ding, ding!” Carol’s bitchy little voice cut in again, and Charlie fought an almost overwhelming, body-consuming urge to eye roll.
“It’s Tuesday.” Nancy said uncertainly. Charlie tried not to wince at the innocence in her voice.
“It’s Tuesday!” Tommy mocked, making Carol and him laugh obnoxiously. “Oh my god-”
“Fuck off, Thomas.” Charlie snapped, and Steve’s eyes slid to her, something unreadable in his expression. Barb shifted behind her, and she felt suddenly like a momma bear, protecting her cubs.
“It’ll be low key. It’ll just be us – you and Ed too, Charlie.” Steve directed at her. She tilted her head.
“I’ll think about it, Harrington.” She said coolly, and he laughed like she had said something funny. She frowned. She didn’t get Steve Harrington. He was too… carefully constructed. What makes you tick, Harrington?
“What do you say, Nance? Are you in, or are you out?”
Charlie was only going to go if Nancy went. She wasn’t going to let her go alone.
“Oh god. Look.” Carol interrupted them, turning to look with faint disgust at something behind them.
“Oh god, that’s depressing.” Steve said. Charlie’ lip curled at their attitudes, as her eyes landed on Jonathan Byers pinning up the missing posters she had helped make last night. So still nothing.
“Should we say something?” Nancy said, and Charlie found herself liking the timid girl more and more.
“I don’t think he speaks.” Carol said.
“How much do you wanna bet he killed him?”
“Shut up.” Charlie didn’t have to say it this time; Steve shoved Tommy lightly.
“I’m going to go see if he’s alright.” Charlie said, not even trying to hide the ice in her voice, and shot the three ‘it’ kids cold glares as she walked away.
Hurried footsteps after her made her realise she was being followed, and she was pleasantly surprised to see Nancy right by her. A surge of affection for the girl made her reach out and link their arms together, careful of the folder she was carrying. Nancy gave her a softly surprised look, but Charlie ignored it in favour of getting Jonathan’s attention.
He startled slightly, turning with a jerk towards them. At first, his eyes were open, tired and tinged with anxiety – but then he focussed on Nancy standing next to her, and he closed up. “Uh, hey.” He said shortly, shifting in place.
Nancy seemed to realise his discomfort, and cleared her throat. “I just… I wanted to say, um,” She looked at Charlie for help – but the shorter girl just smiled slightly. “I’m sorry about everything.” Jonathan’s eyes slid past them, to the four other teens waiting behind them. “Everyone’s thinking about you.” Nancy added eagerly, noticing his gaze again. “It sucks.”
“Yeah.” Jonathan shrugged slightly, and Nancy bit her lip.
“I’m sure he’s fine. He’s a smart kid-” the bell rang, cutting off her soft voice. “Oh! I’ve gotta go – chemistry test.” Nancy said, chucking nervously, Charlie released her grip.
“Yeah, good luck…” Jonathan offered. Charlie stayed where she was as Nancy headed off to the test she hadn’t studied for. She deliberated for another minute as the speaker crackled overhead.
“Attention faculty and students, at 8:00pm tonight there will be an assembly on the football field-”
“Hey. You wanna get out of here?” Charlie said loudly, and Jonathan jerked again, apparently he hadn’t realised she was still standing there. He looked at her strangely and she softened her smirk. “Come on, J. Let’s go.”
“In support of Will Byers and his family.”
Jonathan’s face crumpled slightly. “Yeah. Yeah let’s get out of here.” He turned and hurried towards the exit, Charlie running to keep up with his long legged strides.
Jonathan slowed as they reached the parking lot, and she was finally able to catch up with him. He was paler than ever, eyes shiny with what she suspected were tears.
“So. Where do you wanna go, J?” Charlie asked carefully, leaning against his car. He closed his eyes briefly, and she nudged him with her foot. “J?”
“Why are you being so nice!?” he exploded suddenly, making her flinch back. “I know you’re friends with Harrington and Tommy and all of you assholes are so-” he cut himself off angrily.
Charlie watched emotions flit across his face; anger to guilt, to sadness. She wouldn’t deny that the words stung a little, but she couldn’t hold it against him. Instead, she let him stew a moment longer as she fished around in her pocket for her lighter and her cigarettes. As she pondered over what she was going to say, she lit one – noting Jonathan’s quirk of his lips and eyebrow.
She expelled the smoke slowly, letting the smoke curl lazily up around her before she responded. “Despite being an asshole – I don’t consider myself friends with those… people. I am associated with them simply to avoid sinking into mediocrity – unfortunately, this is a small town, and I am still in high school. Until I can get out of here and start doing music professionally – I am stuck trying to get people to come see us perform, and if that means I have to occasionally hang out with other assholes…” she took another drag.
Jonathan was watching her, and she could practically see his thoughts ticking over behind his clever eyes. “Not friends.” He said finally.
“Not if I can help it.” She pondered for a second. “I do like Barb and Nancy though – Nancy’s sweet, isn’t she?”
Jonathan coloured. “I guess. I haven’t noticed.”
“Sure, Byers. Now come on. Let’s go do something.”
“I didn’t realise your idea of doing something fun was going to see your dad.” Charlie said, lolling carelessly in the passenger seat of Jonathan’s car. The windows were down, and she felt light – despite the looming anxiety she felt as every minute ticked by and Will was still gone.
“Will might be there, He’s been ignoring my mom’s calls.” Jonathan kept his eyes on the road, but his hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Trust me. It is not my idea of fun.”
Charlie pursed her lips. As someone with terrific daddy issues herself, she knew the helpless anger Jonathan must have been feeling.
Her dad had inspired her love for music. And when he had left, it had taken her a while to continue doing what she loved. Dustin didn’t really remember him – and what he did were only snippets of sensory memory; his cologne, the feel of his favourite sweater, how it felt to be held by him. Charlotte remembered all that and more. She looked more like him than Dustin did, and it hurt more to look in the mirror and see his green eyes in her face. After he had left, she had taken over – her mother had retreated so far into herself for the first year, that eight-year-old Charlotte had found herself doing the shopping, the cooking and the cleaning.
Starting music had been a rebellion and catharsis.
If she was honest with herself, she still hadn’t forgiven her mother for the months she had abandoned them, and the way she still hadn’t fully returned to them. Charlie didn’t even think she would notice if she or Dustin went missing like Will.
The thought of her brother missing caused her chest to tighten, and she reached for her cigarettes with slightly shaking fingers, and put her head out of the window – closing her eyes and willing the feeling to go away.
Charlie jolted out of her doze, so violently that she hit her head on the roof. Jonathan looked close to smiling, and she glared at him playfully, rubbing her head as she stared out at the house they were parked in front of. It looked as gloomy as the weather, and she bit her lip, feeling foreboding in her stomach. “Do you want me to come in with you…?”
Jonathan looked at her with an unreadable expression. “No. It’s okay. Just wait here, I’ll be back.”
“Okay. Cool, cool.” She couldn’t deny the relief she felt.
As Jonathan jogged up the steps, hurrying to avoid the rain, she reached into her bag and pulled out her well worn notebook, and opened it to a blank page. The remnants of her last lot of lyrics were half scribbled out, but out of habit – she scanned them quickly, just to see if there was anything worth saving.
They were some emocore shit about being lost in the dark, and wanting to see the light. The messy quality of her handwriting let her know that she had been drunk when she wrote it, probably outside, because there was faint discolouration in the pattern of rain on the words. The more she looked at it, the more one line she had for some reason underlined – the heavy handed ink still legible under her scribbles on top of it – stood out.
I've been along this lonely road
Looks like I'm not coming home
But I don't mind
Please don't cry
She frowned at it, trying to remember what she had been writing about. She made a note on top of the page for herself; ‘start writing dates, times, inspiration u disorganized fuck.’
She flicked ruefully through the pages – there were gaps and some pages were older than others – no rhyme or reason. Just like her.
She had no inspiration anymore – nothing to really write about.
She drew from emotion to write; the lyrics would usually come first – a line or a phrase, and then a tune, and then she’d start composing for the others. Out of the three of them, it was obvious and uncontested that she was the most serious, she put the most work in – and she was the face of the group. Charlotte knew that in an alternate universe, she, Richard and Edward wouldn’t be friends.
It was a sad thought – but it also said something about the power of passion and music. Against all odds, the girl who raised her brother and spent her time with her head in the clouds had become friends with the Spanish boy who had only started learning English in middle school, and they had found the quiet boy who didn’t have any friends and had became the people they were. Charlotte and Richard had signed up for the optional music group – and against his will, but because his mother had wanted it, Edward had found himself in there.
And they had clicked, clearly better than any of the others there who had wanted a free period in middle school, and then when Charlotte suggested they actually do more than jam away in music class or in her shed, they had.
And somehow they were accepted.
Edward was suave and had just enough ‘exotic’ about him to keep the girls interested, and Richard had blossomed into a six-foot-something giant with arms that were the envy or desire of anyone. And Charlotte…
Well she figured she couldn’t be completely hideous – she’d had her share of encounters with boys. But she didn’t really look like Nancy or Carol. She wasn’t skinny like they were, her hips were wider, her thighs touched, and she had more butt and tit than was really fashionable. She’d always had a tendency towards chubbiness when she was a kid, just like Dustin did now. She’d grown into it now, but there were still days when she looked in the mirror and wished there was just a bit less of her. She supposed the whole rocker thing worked out in her favour; she was pretty sure she was the only chick in Hawkins who owned a leather jacket and actually wore it. She was definitely sure she was the only one with red hair. It was how people knew her: “That red haired girl in that band.”
A loud bang made her sit up straight, musings forgotten as she watched Jonathan pound down the stairs towards the car – practically vibrating with rage. He swung himself in, and sat silently, breathing heavily.
“Are you okay?” Charlotte asked softly.
She could see his jaw clenching and unclenching, as he tried to find something to say. “I need to find Will.” He muttered finally, and kicked the car into gear, and speeding them back towards Hawkins. Back towards Hell.
Chapter 3: The Weirdo At The Pool Party (part 2)
Charlotte managed to convince him to stop in at a diner on the way back, and now they were sitting opposite each other in awkward silence.
“What’s Will’s favourite band?” She asked, and Jonathan startled – almost as if he had forgotten she was there.
“W-what?” she raised an eyebrow at him, and took a fry from the basket in-between them. “Um, I think maybe The Clash.”
“Oh yeah? How’d he get into that?” Charlotte prompted him. Jonathan smiled slightly, a faraway look crossing his face.
“Me, actually.” He chuckled ruefully, “I’m guilty for most of his music tastes actually – I always gave him the mixtapes he liked; I would tell him that I wasn’t using them, but… he liked them, so I’d let him have it.”
“He’s a good kid – real polite. The one time he stayed for dinner I think he said please and thank you more than Dustin ever has in his whole life.” Charlotte said, grinning at the memory.
“He told me about that dinner actually. He told me you played for them – you made up some song on the spot. It impressed him.” Jonathan sat up slightly.
“Oh my god – yeah! I remember…”
They talked for the rest of the afternoon, and Charlotte got to know more about the Byers, got to know the missing boy and his older brother better than she would have thought. Jonathan was surprisingly funny underneath his awkward shyness – a dry humour that made her choke on her milkshake unattractively. And for a little while, they could both ignore the darkness outside, the looming worry they both felt.
“I’ll see you later, J!” She waved goodbye to Jonathan as he pulled away from the curb.
Dustin was still at Mike’s – she’d called from the diner to check up on him, and then she’d called her mother – who had apparently already eaten so tonight she only had to worry about feeding herself. Moving sluggishly, she stripped down to her undershirt and underwear and sat on the kitchen counter as she waited for her left-overs to heat up.
The phone rang next to her ear, and she reached over to pick it up. “Henderson residence.”
“Ay, I’m coming to pick you up now, chica.” Edward’s voice came down the line, and she could hear music in the background. She frowned.
“Why? It’s late – and we don’t have a gig do we?”
Edward snorted unattractively down the line. “Steve’s get-together is tonight, you goose.”
“Late as always, Charlie.”
“You’re lucky I even showed up, Harrington.” Charlotte sneered at their host as she filed in after Edward, who slapped Steve a bro-hug high five hello. “Where’s your alcohol, man?” She asked him loudly, heading for where she remembered the kitchen was from his last house party.
“Uh, we got some drinks outside, but there’s whiskey in the kitchen. I know you like that, um-” Steve hurried after her, and she turned, raising an eyebrow at his hand that had found its way to her shoulder. He chuckled weakly, and lifted it off. “Listen, Charlie, we’ve been besties for a long time-” Charlie didn’t think her eyebrows could lift any higher. “Friends.” He winced at her unchanging expression. There was a cheer from the yard, as Edward presumably entered the backyard. “Acquaintances?” he tried and Charlie finally nodded, “Okay… long-time acquaintances. Whatever. Anyway, I just wanted to ask a friendly favour.”
“Would you get to the point, Harrington?” Charlie started going through his cupboards, and pulled out a glass, and then some ice from his freezer.
“I need you to get me in with Nancy.” He said bluntly. Charlie whirled, eyes narrowed now, whiskey in one hand, and the cup with ice in the other. He threw up his hands in surrender, brown eyes going wide, his stupid hair twitching slightly with the movement. She gave it a funny look – she’d always considered his hair was a living thing, and from the love and care he showed it, he probably thought it was too. “Listen! Hear me out! You know I’m not a bad guy-”
“Debateable.” Charlie snorted, filling up half the cup with the alcohol.
Steve put a hand on his heart, “um, okay, ouch. But anyway. I’m not the worst, but I just need Nancy to see that, you know, ‘coz at the moment – not that I’m complaining! – but at the moment things are moving… slowly.” He waggled his eyebrows at her. Charlie just shook her head and sighed loudly, pulling out a bottle of coke from his fridge and topping up her drink. “Chaaaarlieeee! Please! Come on, I know she thinks you’re cool – and I know that you’ve done it before, so you could give her some pointers-”
“What exactly are you implying, Harrington?” Charlie asked coolly, mild amusement tempering very quickly into irritation. Steve balked slightly, but he quickly scrambled to recover, and tried to hit her with a filthy, greasy smirk.
“Ah, come on, Charlie, we both know that-”
Charlotte tipped up the cup and drained it fully, and slammed it back down on the table, the bang cutting him off. “Only my friends call me Charlie.” She glared at him, and left him in the kitchen alone, throwing open the sliding doors to cheers from Tommy, and a wildly drunk Carol who would have cheered if their math teacher had entered the scene. She tried to ignore the sting of his words and implication.
Charlie rolled her eyes as Steve shot-gunned a beer, very obviously angling his body towards Nancy. She ignored the faint banter between them, and turned back Edward, trying to ignore the pair of horny teenagers behind her. Edward caught her expression and laughed, offering her a cigarette.
“You could at least try and look like you’re having a good time.” He said lightly, lighting the cigarette for her. She blew the first puff into his face in retaliation, making him laugh harder. He toasted her with his beer, and drank deeply as she looked away from him as well, eyes falling on Barb down the other end of the pool.
“You have a good time by yourself, loser. I’m going to talk to Barb.”
“Oh! I want to come.” Edward stood quickly, and Charlie squinted at him. “What?”
“Since when do you want to speak to Barb?” She asked him. It wasn’t an unfound question. If any of C.H.E.R.R.Y. took advantage of their popularity, it was Edward, who usually stuck with the popular crowd when he wasn’t with Charlie or Richard, and had – not as far as she knew – even looked twice at Barb.
“Since I saw her in her new jeans on Monday.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I like me a curvaceous, bodacious-”
“You are disgusting.” Charlie told him mildly, but let him pull her up anyway. “A genuine predator.”
He leant towards her, squeezing his eyes shut and thrusting his tongue at her, pretending to kiss her. She shrieked and ran from him, grabbing a beer as she went. She could feel the warm beginnings of drunkenness creeping up on her from her strong drink.
“Barb – you wanna try?”
Charlie halted beside Nancy, Richard’s arm winding its way around her waist. The eyes of the others fell upon the anxious looking red-head.
“Uh – no, I don’t wanna-”
“Come on! Just give it a shot!” Nancy pressed a can and the knife into Barb’s hands, the red-head weakly protesting against her friend. Steve joined in and Charlie moved to intervene.
“Leave it.” Richard hissed in her ear, arm tightening. Charlie shot him a furious look, as Barb stood, looking decidedly uncomfortable. “It’s not our party.” He murmured, giving her a warning squeeze, as Barb angled the knife into the can. It took a second, a fumble, and then Barb gasped, dropping the can and the knife. Charlie realised immediately what happened, and stepped forwards.
“Gnarly.” Tommy said, and she shot him a killing look.
“Are you okay?” Nancy asked anxiously, hurrying forwards. Barb straightened, and gave her a slightly betrayed look.
“Yeah.” She said shortly, trying to turn away from the other girl.
“Barb, you’re bleeding-”
“I’m fine.” Barb said coldly, and held up her bloody hand to halt Nancy’s approach. “Where’s your bathroom?” she asked Steve, who stood up unsteadily.
“Oh – it’s um, past the kitchen, first left-”
“I’ll take you.” Charlie said abruptly, and stepped forwards, sending Barb a smile.
“Oh it’s okay-”
“No. I’ll take you.” Charlie linked her arm through Barb’s uninjured one, and began leading her away from the others who were still staring. “I’m sorry.” She said quietly as she closed the sliding door behind them as splashes came from outside.
“What are you sorry for?” Barb muttered, voice low and softly hurt. “You’ve always been nice.”
Charlie snorted. “Clearly not nice enough to stop you from getting hurt. I should have told Nancy not to come or something. I should have known Harrington would do shit like this.”
Barb half-smiled as Charlie ushered her into Steve’s bathroom. “I don’t think warning Nancy would have done anything. She’s pretty crazy about him. I think she wants to be popular.” She said the last part as if it was a dirty secret and Charlie smiled tightly.
“Well, its kind of shit, to be honest. People like to make assumptions – and sometimes you have to hang out with the worst of the lot.” Charlie scanned the mustard yellow bathroom, zeroing in on the medicine cabinet behind the mirror and opening it as she continued to rant. “Popularity is… such a wild concept, honestly. Like how do a group of kids decide that they’re all that – and how does everyone else just accept it?”
“You’re really not friends with them, are you?” Barb said in a slightly awed voice as Charlie wet a cotton pad with antiseptic. “I mean, I knew you weren’t really like them, but I don’t know…”
Charlie whispered an apology as Barb winced at the sting of the cotton. “You figured pack mentality right? ‘Coz I run with ‘em I like ‘em?” Barb nodded, head tilting slightly, considering. She had intelligent eyes, Charlie thought distractedly. “Nah.” Charlie smiled to break the tension. “I’m way too cool for them. I’m gonna be famous one day.” she said jokingly.
“You will be.” Barb said seriously. Charlie’s heart panged at the earnestness in her voice, and with the whiskey and beer making her bold – she leant forwards and embraced the girl. Barb made a soft ‘oh’ sound, but gingerly hugged her back. “Um. I don’t want to sound rude, or anything, but Charlie… are you happy?”
Charlie leant back. Barb’s eyes were deadly serious. Charlie’s head was kind of fuzzy – so she tried laughing, but when Barb didn’t react she stopped, and thought about it. At least as best as she could think in her intoxicated state.
Was she happy?
She had a good life – she had… friends? Edward and Richard were good guys, and though she wasn’t super close with Nancy or Barb, she did count them as friends. And Jonathan. An unexpected friendship she was hoping would develop. She had her brother – Dustin was the light of her life, as cheesy as it sounded. She would even give up music for him if it meant his happiness; but she knew that he loved that she loved it. Of course, she had the band, her guitar, a dream.
But she was sad sometimes – and angry. Sometimes she felt an unreasonable rage at the things she had to do, to give up in order to give Dustin as easy a childhood as possible. She remembered her father, and she remembered him leaving, and she remembered the love lost between her parents. That was probably what made it worse… that she remembered how it had been, how good it was. And now she felt like she spent so much of her life pretending for other people, for outwards appearances. And she was tired. So tired. Her father’s child support cheques only went so far, and sometimes she had to pick up graveyard shifts at the diner just outside town, hitching a ride or borrowing Edward’s car – just to make ends meet. And though she loved performing like she did, she knew her grades were slipping because of it – and if she ever wanted to get out of this town and pursue her dream, she had to get a scholarship to somewhere. But then she had to think about Dustin – she couldn’t just leave him alone after high school-
Barb was still waiting for her reply, and Charlie tried to open her mouth to reply, when the sound of feet on stairs made them start. Barb swore, and started for the door, leaving Charlie alone in the bathroom.
Charlie reached out and steadied herself on the bathroom sink.
Was she happy?
“-Just go ahead and go home, okay?”
Charlie sighed at Nancy’s voice, and pushed herself upright, propping herself up so her wobbly legs would walk her out of the bathroom. She stuck her head into the hallway, as Barb moved to leave. “Barb, are you okay?”
“You should lie down, Charlie, you’ve had a lot to drink.” Barb dismissed her, her voice making it clear she wanted to be alone. As Charlie took another step towards her, Barb rounded on her. “Seriously, Charlie. Take the hint.” Charlie recoiled – that was the closest she’d ever heard Barb to yelling. Barb turned and headed back outside. Edward stepped out of the kitchen as she stormed past, holding up his hands as she pushed past him without a word.
“Oo. Someone’s cranky.” He smirked at her retreating figure, before turning back to Charlie. He was holding her bag, his hair dripping wet. “Ready to go home, Charlie-girl?”
“You’ve been drinking…” Charlie accused faintly, vision starting to blur.
“Not as much as you.” He retorted, and scooped her up, half-dragging her towards the front door, and rattling his car keys. “Come on, school tomorrow, chica.”
“But – Barb-”
“Will be fine. She’s the smartest one here. Now let’s go!”
Charlie took one last look over her should, just catching a glimpse of Barb’s slumped form, sitting over the pool on the diving board. It was a morose sight.
Chapter 4: Holly Not So Jolly
Charlie gave herself one last look in the mirror.
There was no way anyone wouldn’t think she was horribly hungover. She sighed at her reflection, buried in Richard’s sweatshirt, with huge sunglasses covering most of her face, and her hair tangled and unwashed. She groaned at the mess in the mirror, and hastily pulled half of her short into two little pigtails on top of her head, getting rid of the worse of it – before giving up on the rest and pulling the hood on. Edward’s horn sounded, and she startled, almost dropping her bag as she paused to pick up the steaming mug of coffee on the table that Dustin had thoughtfully left out for her before he had gone to school. After ducking her head in on her mother – still sleeping fitfully thanks to the heavy dose of sleeping pills she took – she hurried out the door. The sunlight, coupled with the second sound of the horn made her growl angrily, wincing at all the stimuli that just irritated her headache even worse.
Edward and Richard took one look at her as she slid into the back seat and started laughing.
“Fuck off!” She whispered angrily, careful not to irritate her head more.
“You look like death.” Richard said cheerily, and passed her back a white paper bag. “Have a bagel, Charles.”
“Thanks.” She muttered huffily, biting into the cream-cheese filled bagel. She bit back an orgasmic groan at the taste. Her number one hangover cure. “I’m never drinking beer and spirits again. It’s the devil.” She announced, suddenly feeling better as Edward turned on the radio, and Billie Jean started playing – adding to her uplifted mood.
“Whatever you say, Cherry.” Edward grinned at Richard beside him as their bandmate started singing in the backseat, mouth full of bagel.
Charlie watched as Nancy sat down in her usual spot, and saw in the exact moment as Charlie herself noticed – that Barb wasn’t there. Nancy turned around, eyes widening at what she assumed was her sunglasses indoors, before blinking the surprise away. “Hey, Charlotte, you don’t know where Barb is, do you?”
Charlie shrugged, “I thought she gave you a lift home last night… you don’t know where she is?”
Nancy bit her lip slightly, and shook her head. “She’s probably just sick, or something – she’s not usually out that late.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself. The bell rang, and Charlie was distracted, putting her head into her hands and groaning at the sharp sound.
“Hey, guys-” Charlie reached out and grabbed Richard’s arm, stopping him from hurrying past her with Edward beside him, as the bell went for lunch. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Sorry, Charlie – we forgot to tell you this morning-” Richard looked genuinely apologetic, but Edward was bouncing on the balls of his feet, and interrupted him;
“Richard’s brother got us tickets to the Scorpions’ gig in the city – if we leave now we can make it!”
“But-” Charlie’s mouth fell open. Though she wasn’t a massive fan of the Scorpions – any excuse to get out of Hawkins would be appreciated.
“Sorry, loser! We’ll catch ya tomorrow, or the day after!” Edward began steering Richard away.
“Sorry, Charlie! We’ll make it up to you-” they disappeared out the door, leaving Charlie alone at the lockers, mouth still open.
“Those motherfuckers.” She said disbelievingly. They would strand her in Hawkins without a way to get around for the next two days. Shit. Maybe she should invest in a bike like Dustin…
Still fuming, she shoved her stuff deep into her locker, and looked for her purse. And of course, she had forgotten it – and hadn’t packed anything for lunch. “FUCK!” she yelled, and slammed the locker shut. Breathing in deeply, and closing her eyes – she leant her forehead against the cool metal of the door, willing herself to calm down.
Just chill out, and go to lunch… just go and sit with those assholes you have to be friendly with-
She groaned at the thought of facing Carol and Tommy and Steve. Hopefully Nancy would be there…
“Oh Steve! Oh Steve! Oh!”
Charlie halted in her approach to the lunch table at the sound of Carol’s moans. “Um, what the fuck?” She asked loudly, making Tommy cackle at her expression and Carol stop to send her a scathing look, pointedly grabbing onto Tommy as she laughed.
“Listen, I’m sure she’s fine. She’s probably just… just skipping or something.” Steve said as she took a seat on Tommy’s other side. “Right, Charlotte?” he asked, and Charlie rolled her eyes.
“I don’t know, Harrington, you tell me.” She responded sharply, trying not to look longingly at his untouched apple and bread roll on his tray. Nancy bit her lip looking the same kind of worried as she had this morning, and Charlie realised they were talking about Barb.
“Yeah.” Nancy looked down, “Yeah, probably.”
That was a load of bullshit, if ever Charlie had heard it. She shot another look at Steve’s tray – and her stomach rumbled embarrassingly loud. “Oh my god, just take it woman!” He said loudly, laughing as he shoved the tray towards her. “You look like you haven’t eaten in years.”
“Does mommy not feed you anymore?” Carol asked, in a cooing baby voice, eyes sharp and malicious. Charlie bristled, hand just outstretched for the apple. A low blow, and the bitch knew it. Back when she had been young, and naïve and thought that Carol was actually her friend, she had told the group once about her dad leaving, and how her mother didn’t cook anymore. “Is there even any food in your house to eat?”
“Carol-” Steve began, sending Charlie a worried look that she missed.
“Why don’t you go and fuck yourself, Carol? Clearly your boyfriend isn’t doing it well enough if you’re still this fucking bitchy.” Charlie spat, and stood up abruptly, suddenly not hungry as shame and rage warred in her stomach, making it roil uneasily.
“What is up with you lately, Henderson?” Tommy asked laughingly, “You’re becoming a real brown-nose.”
Charlie seethed, “Oh, why don’t you and Harrington go suck each other off?” she said coldly
“Hey!” Steve said indignantly, “Why am I getting dragged into this?”
“Because you’re just as idiotic as those two. See you around, assholes.” With that she turned on her heel, and stalked out, flipping them off as she went, listening as they started laughing uneasily. They were trying to cover the discord of her exit that would have threatened their appearance of social cohesion to the rest of the student body. She’d be lying if she said this hadn’t happened before. She’d had blow-ups at them before, but as they were doing now – they treated it as temporary, a side effect of her ‘rock and roll’ personality.
If only she was brave enough to walk away and not come back.
Maybe that was her fucking problem. If she really looked, deep-down, maybe she was just afraid of being an outcast. She could bluster and blow all she wanted about needing popularity to promote her music – but surely they were established enough to not need to hang out with those people.
She didn’t really know where she was going, but as she pushed open the doors to the parking lot, where kids were sitting on their cars eating and talking and smoking – her hunger returned as her anger faded away. She headed towards a group of art kids she semi-knew, and grinned loudly as she changed her approach to a casual saunter, sitting with them and immersing herself into their conversation.
“Freedom! You've gotta give for what you take! Freedom!” Charlie sang Wham!, obnoxiously loud enough to make a few of her classmates laugh as the bell rang.
“I’ll see ya round, Charlie!”
“Hey, I’ll catch ya gig on Saturday!”
Charlie waved at the people wishing her goodbye as she left. She’d been in a better mood, and because she hated Math with a passion, she hadn’t been able to resist distracting the class and the teacher from doing any real work. She trudged to her locker slowly, trying to think of who she could ask for a ride home – because otherwise she wouldn’t get back till it was nearly dark, and she had a bunch of homework to do, as well as re-do the monthly budget she’d been putting off doing.
She could ask Steve; but after lunch – her mood soured at the memory of the incident – she would rather cut off her own foot and eat it. But who else had a car, and would be willing to drop her home?
Charlie perked up, and she started hurrying towards the parking lot, praying that Jonathan was still there. She pushed open the doors, eyes scanning for the hunched form of the boy she was looking for. Her eyes fell upon the top of the parking lot, instantly recognizing Nicole from media by her violently red hair, and the coiffed ridiculous spring of Steve’s locks, and the easily identified Carol and Tommy, hanging near their ‘King’ as usual. They were all half-surrounding the very person she was looking for. Charlie felt her stomach drop as there was sudden movement, and Jonathan was relieved of his bag, Tommy throwing it to Steve.
“Oh, shit.” Charlie hastened her footsteps, watching as another familiar person entered the scene. Nancy. Hopefully she would calm the situation- Charlie groaned as she watched Nancy fall into line behind Steve next to Carol and Tommy. She hurried the last couple of feet as Steve tapped Jonathan on the shoulder with something. “What’s going on guys?” she asked warily.
They all ignored her, Steve suddenly jerking the thing in his hands, and tearing it. It was a photograph. “So. We’ll just have to take away his toy.”
“Steve-” Nancy tried, and Charlie moved towards the group more.
“No, please – not the camera!” Jonathan looked panicked as he started towards his bag, where the camera sat on top, exposed. Tommy shoved him back roughly, and Charlie took another step forwards.
“Tommy!” she said sharply, pushing his arm slightly. The freckled boy looked at her incredulously. “Harrington?” she asked, pleading for him to control his minion.
“Henderson’s right. Tommy, come on.” Steve turned back around, camera clutched in his grasp. “It’s okay.” He said, and held out the camera. “Here you go, man.” He said innocuously. Jonathan’s face went slack in relief, and he reached out for it – and Steve dropped it.
Charlie closed her eyes as she heard the tinkling shatter of the lens and the body of the camera, as Tommy started laughing. She half-turned away from the scene, eyes opening briefly. Steve was looking at Jonathan with cold apathy – and she thought that disturbed her more than the open maliciousness in the other’s faces. “Come on let’s go. The games about to start.” Steve said abruptly, and turned to leave.
“Boo.” Tommy muttered, leaning in close to Jonathan’s face. He was frozen, staring at the remnants of the camera. He didn’t even flinch as Carol tossed ripped up pieces of photograph over him, before sashaying away. Then he squatted down, hurriedly and shakily picking up the pieces. Charlie felt something like sorrow in the pit of her stomach, and crouched beside him. To her surprise, Nancy squatted too, and started picking up the ripped photographs.
“Hey, Nance! Henderson – Come on!” Steve’s voice reached them, and Jonathan shot them both a fearful look. Charlie’s heart ached to see it. Nancy gathered some of the pieces, but instead of returning them, she stood, tucking them in her bag as she ran towards Steve. The boy looped his arm around her waist, but stood for a second, as if waiting for Charlie. She turned her head away from him.
The wind whistled around them, and Jonathan ducked his head. Charlie reached out gently, and touched his hands, which were white knuckled around the broken camera. He flinched. “I’m sorry.” She whispered.
He just shook his head, and stood up hastily. “You wanna go somewhere?” he asked, voice slightly choked, and face still turned away from her.
“Yeah. Sure J. Let’s go do something.” She said gently, déjà vu making her feel slightly dizzy as she lit up a cigarette and took a long drag as Jonathan peeled out of the parking look with screeching tires.
“What do you mean?!” Charlie laughed, in near tears over her milkshake. They’d gotten takeaway, and were sitting in the little park beside the library. Jonathan was telling her a story about having to take Will to school and getting lost along the way. “How do you get lost in Hawkins? There’s like one street!”
“I don’t know how!” Jonathan threw his hands up, “Will said to take a short cut – so I did-”
“And got your ass lost in the woods.” Charlie shook her head, tilting her head back to try to soak up the last of the sun’s rays, and sucking up the last of the strawberry flavoured drink noisily. “You are one of a kind, J.”
“Good. I don’t think anyone could handle two of me.” Jonathan said dryly, and Charlie started laughing again. “What are you doing for dinner tonight?” he asked, almost shyly. Charlie opened her eyes, and regarded him.
“What. You asking me on a date, J?” she winked at him. “I’m flattered, but I’m a taken woman.”
He shook his head at her, cheeks colouring, but still managing to grin at her. “You wish. Who would be crazy enough to tie you down?”
“Hey, fuck you – I’m a catch.” Charlie sniped back half-heartedly. She stretched languidly, squinting at the streetlights as they turned on around them. “I am married to the music, baby.” She grinned saucily, winking at him over her sunglasses. “Shit. I should get home for Dustin soon – he’ll be hungry.”
“I can give you a lift to yours if you want.” Jonathan offered, standing and picking up their rubbish.
“Isn’t your house in the other direction?” Charlie asked. He shrugged.
“I don’t mind.”
Charlie smiled, and linked her arm with his as they started down the street towards his car. The drive back was quiet, Bowie’s album playing softly in the background. The taste of strawberry was warring with the hot smoke of the cigarette she was smoking – and the night air on her face smelt like rain and the forest around them. It was the closest thing to peace she’d felt in a long time. She waved him goodbye at her front door, waiting until his headlights faded away, before she entered the house.
“Charlotte! Come here!” her mother’s voice was the first thing she heard, and she took a second to try and keep the feeling of that peace before she went into the sitting room. The TV was on, which was normal – but the abnormality of the scene before her, was the unusual and avid alertness in the way her mother was watching the TV. Claudia Henderson’s eyes were affixed to the TV, and her mouth was slightly open. “Wasn’t Dusty friends with that Byer’s boy?”
“Still is, mom. Why?” Charlie took a step towards her mother’s prone form, turning to face the TV as well.
“They found his body. In the quarry.”
Charlie’s world fell out from under her. She watched the scrolling headline on the bottom of the screen blankly, the interview of Chief Hopper fading into white noise, as she slowly turned and left the room. Her mouth tasted like ash, her stomach roiling with nausea as she reached for the home phone. She felt like she was drowning. What was she even doing?
Her brother. Her baby brother. His best friend’s body had just been found – where was he? With Mike? With Lucas? And Jonathan, Joyce- her vision was swimming and it took her a second to realise she was crying.
The door opened behind her and she turned, still underwater. She could see her brother, and reached for him. Dustin fell into her arms, body shaking with sobs. The phone slipped from her grip, banging against the wall, but she didn’t care. She cradled her brother to her, and they sank together, curled up against the hard wood of the kitchen cupboards, holding each other on the linoleum floor.
Chapter 5: The Ripple Effect
Charlie slept in her brother’s bed that night.
Slept was the wrong word.
She lay awake, arms still tight around Dustin, who had mercifully fell into a restless sleep, tears still drying on his round cheeks. Jesus. He was so young…
Her mind ticked over to the Byers. What they must be feeling now… Jonathan. A single tear trickled down her cheek, falling into Dustin’s curls. She sniffled slightly. She didn’t know what she would do with herself if Dustin… died.
Every gust of wind, every creak of the house stopped her from sleeping, eyes fixed on the faint glow of her brother’s infrared light that kept his tortoise warm across the room. She held her brother through the night, too afraid to let him go.
Dustin stirred, blinking open his eyes blearily. He awakened further when he realised he couldn’t move, arms around him middle immovable. His radio was crackling, Lucas’ voice coming from the corner. He turned his head and saw his sister’s face. Charlotte looked different asleep. She looked younger somehow. Maybe it was because he couldn’t see her eyes, her eyes which were usually so guarded, only warming for him.
He felt a pang of guilt as Lucas’ crackling voice told him to come to Mike’s house, it warred with the numb sadness as his thoughts immediately ticked over to Will.
He should tell his sister about Eleven. She could help. But Mike would kill him.
Lucas’ sudden shout woke Charlotte, her eyes flying open. Dustin smiled widely at her as she rolled away from him, standing up and bouncing across the room to grab the radio and switch it off. “Sleep well?”
“I fell asleep when the sun started rising, so no. Not well.” She said grumpily, and Dustin’s smile faded. Charlie pressed her lips together, and sat up. “I’m sorry. How are you?”
“I’m…” Dustin swallowed thickly. “I don’t know. I think I should go see Mike.”
“Do you want me to come-?”
“NO!” Dustin cried, and Charlotte raised her eyebrows at his sharp tone. “I mean… no, thanks. I’m okay. I think I just want to be alone with him.”
Charlotte’s smile turned sad, and she stood up, and wrapped him in another hug. “Okay. Be careful okay? I just… I worry about you.” She mumbled against his hair.
“You should worry about yourself too, Lottie.” Dustin said, squeezing her tightly. She didn’t know that he knew how hard she worked to keep them working as a semi-functional family unit. She tried so hard to keep it from him, to hide her exhaustion, her stress, her anger – but he saw it, he saw it sometimes and it made him feel so helpless. She did so much for him, more than he could fathom. She’d had to fill in for an absent father, and a mother that did nothing. Dustin couldn’t help but resent his parents – not just because of the messy divorce, which he didn’t remember – but for the way it had, and was affecting his sister. In a dream world, Charlotte would be able to go to university or the city, and make it big with her band – and he knew that’s all she wanted to do. But he also knew that she felt tied to the town, tied to him. That’s why he tried so hard in school. He never wanted to disappoint her, he wanted to do well so she didn’t have to worry more.
“Are you sure you're okay?” she asked him suspiciously, and realising he’d been silent too long, he hastily stepped back, pushing her away from him like he’d been burned.
“Yeah. I’m fine. I should get going… you know get dressed, get ready to face the day…” Dustin said, slowly pushing her towards the door as he rambled. She shook her head at him, smiling slightly, but let herself be pushed out, and let the door slam behind her.
Charlie’s smile fell when she was alone in the hallway. She didn’t want to go to school, but she didn’t want to hang around in the house with her mother, who was excreting a sick sort of fascination and glee about the whole drama of the case. She headed for the kitchen, and set up a chopping board to make some sandwiches for her mother to eat so she wouldn’t complain later. She could already hear the TV was on in the living room. She didn’t even know if her mother had bothered to get up to go to bed. She’d hear about it later either way, she’d either complain about her bad back from the bed, or her stiff neck from the armchair – and demand some of her heavy duty painkillers.
“I’m going! I’ll see you later!” Dustin rushed in and out of the kitchen, darting around her to grab half of one of the sandwiches, ignoring her indignant cry and ran out of the house, mouth stuffed with it. She sighed, and packed up, leaving the one and a half sandwiches on a plate and headed out the door, pulling on her leather jacket and sunglasses as she left, ignoring the rumbling in her stomach, and fishing out a cigarette instead.
Charlotte wandered down main-street, mind empty, lungs filled with the fresh air. It felt almost nice, but the quiet whispers and the sombre eyes of the other Hawkins residents kept reminding her of… the incident. As she passed a pair of mothers murmuring together, she caught the end of their conversation; “…you know I hear Joyce was never really all there. It makes sense he ran away. I would too…”
Charlie’s stomach turned, and she bit back the poisonous words on the tip of her tongue, settling for lingering upwind of them and lighting her last cigarette and deliberately blowing smoke back on them. One of them coughed slightly, and sent her a killing look, to which she just raised an eyebrow over her black frames. They got the hint and scattered. “Bitches.” She said lowly, taking a long drag.
A sudden commotion from across the street made her look up, eyes widening to see Joyce hurrying down the street, looking murderous. What looked like Jonathan was driving beside her, yelling something at her. She watched worriedly as Jonathan got out of the car and sprinted after Joyce. A crowd was already gathering by the time she made her way across the road. She paused by his car, not sure if she should intrude.
“Will is… is calling to me! And he’s out there, and he’s alone, and he’s scared, and… and I don’t care if anyone believes me! I am not gonna stop looking for him until I find him and bring him home.” Joyce sucked in a huge breath, visibly shaking. Charlie could see tears on Jonathan’s face. “I am going to bring him home!” she shouted, before turning in place and half-running away.
“Yeah, well while you're talking to the lights – the rest of us are having a funeral for Will!” Jonathan bellowed after her. “I’m not letting him sit in that freezer another day!” he was panting, and turned. “Show’s over.” He spat at the crowd of people, and they looked away guiltily as the emotional boy turned on his heel and stalked towards her, unseeing.
Jonathan wiped his eyes furiously as he hurried back over to his car, trying to get off the street before he started crying properly. He’d had enough of crying. He was just so fucking exhausted – and he didn’t understand what was wrong with his mother. He just needed someone to be strong for once – he couldn’t do this by himself-
“You alright, J?”
Jonathan looked up, startled out of his thought pattern by the unexpected, but familiar voice. Leaning against the passenger door of his car was Charlotte Henderson, smoking the last of a cigarette and looking far too composed in a pair of dark sunglasses and a leather jacket. “You saw that, huh?” he muttered, unlocking his car, not even questioning it as the red-haired girl swung herself in.
“Yeah, me and half the assholes in this town.” She said, taking a last drag before throwing the butt out the open window. “What’s going on, J?”
Jonathan sighed, and bent over, resting his head on the steering wheel. “My mom… she thinks Will is still alive – and that he’s…he’s…communicating through the lights in our house. She’s convinced there’s a monster in the wall, and that the body isn’t Will, and that he’s out there somewhere – and I just don’t-” Her small hand over his made him realise that frustrated tears had started to roll down his cheeks. “I’m sorry.” He managed, clenching his jaw in an effort to stop crying.
“Don’t be sorry.” Her fingers squeezed his briefly before she pulled away, almost as if she could sense his discomfort. “What do you need to do?”
“I need…” Jonathan pressed his lips together trying to make sense of the tangled mess of his mind. “I need to go pick out a casket.”
“Okay. Do you want me to go?” Her hand was on its way to the doorhandle, and Jonathan felt panic rise in him at the prospect of being alone again.
“No! Stay!” he said hurriedly. “Please.” He said softly, staring determinedly out the windshield. He was pretty much an adult now. He needed to get himself together, needed to be the man of the house, needed to look after his mom – but right now he couldn’t face the day alone.
“Of course, Jonathan. Always.” She said equally as softly, but twice as easily – and he saw her settle back in her seat out of the corner of his eye. He started the engine to break the silence, and let her fiddle through his tapes before deciding on some Simon and Garfunkel as he started the drive over to the funeral home.
Charlie lurked just outside the room as the funeral home director gave Jonathan a tour of the available caskets. She hadn’t felt entirely comfortable being right next to him, but he seemed to appreciate her presence anyway, shooting her a furtive, wild-eyed look.
“Um. Charlotte?” a soft voice made her turn around, and she spotted Nancy, walking towards her with a confused expression on her face. “What are you doing here?” genuine confusion on her features.
Charlotte jerked her head back into the room and both girls turned to see Jonathan already looking at them, trepidation clear on his face. “Could you just, give me a second?” he asked tiredly, and started towards them. “hey.” He said to Nancy, giving Charlotte a questioning look, to which she just shrugged and leant against the doorframe, unwilling to give them privacy in case Steve or Tommy had sent Nancy in as some sort of honey-trap.
“Hey.” Nancy said, just as softly. “Your mom, she said you’d be here.” Jonathan shifted uneasily. “I just… can we talk for a second?” she sent Charlie a short look of discomfort, making Charlotte ease herself into standing alone.
“Sure. Let’s go talk.” She said, and ignoring Jonathan’s slightly exasperated look, she led the pair of them to the benches just inside the main exit, and positioned herself right in the middle, making herself a barrier between them. Nancy cleared her throat uncertainly, but sat anyway after Jonathan did. “What’s up?”
“I just… could you tell me what this is?” Nancy shoved her hand into her handbag and produced a messily assembled photograph, which Charlie immediately recognised as one of Jonathan’s. She pointed to the corner of the photograph, and both Charlie and Jonathan leaned in – Charlie’s jaw tightening at the slightly blurry image of Barb alone. But she squinted further at the strange shape in the corner, trying to make sense of the looming, creepy shape.
“It looks like it could be some kind of perspective distortion.” Jonathan tried to reason as Charlie hummed thoughtfully. “But I wasn’t using the wide angle. I don’t know.”
Charlie passed it back to Nancy. “Could it be dirt on the filter or something?” she asked, and Jonathan shook his head. “It’s weird.” She cocked her head at the image again. But Nancy looked a few shades from terrified.
“And you’re sure you didn’t see anyone else out there.” She asked again.
“No.” Jonathan said patiently. “And she was there one second, and then, um, gone. I figure she bolted.”
“The cops think she ran away, right?” Charlie asked Nancy, brows furrowing as she ran a hand through her messy hair, pushing the pink locks away from her face.
“They don’t know Barb.” Nancy shook her head, looking pained. “And I went back Steve’s… and I thought I saw…” Nancy struggled, and Charlie knew then that whatever this was, it was serious. There was no mistaking the fear in the other girl’s blue eyes. “Something. Some weird man, or… I don’t know what it was.” She sighed, and ducked her head slightly. Both Charlie and Jonathan stared at her, and she flinched under their gazes. “I’m sorry.” She said abruptly, shaking her head and standing up hurriedly. “I-I shouldn’t have come here today, I’m so sorry.”
“What’d he look like?” Jonathan asked, a sudden fervour in his eyes and voice. Charlie frowned, she was missing something here.
“What?” Nancy asked, suspicion and curiosity warring in her eyes.
“This man you saw in the woods.” Jonathan clarified. “What’d he look like?”
“I-I don’t know…” Nancy stammered, “It was almost like he-he didn’t-”
“Didn’t have a face?” Jonathan finished for her, and Charlie’s eyebrows jumped up.
“She’s convinced there’s a monster in the wall…” Jonathan’s earlier words came back to her as Nancy’s eyes widened.
“How did you know that?”
Charlie watched eagerly over Jonathan’s shoulder, everything red in the violent light of the dark room. “And you’re…?” Nancy questioned as Jonathan fiddled with equipment.
“Brightening. Enlarging.” He said absently, fiddling with the dials on the machine.
Charlie raised her eyebrows. “Hmm.” She said noncommittally. “Did your mom say anything else?” she asked, leaning against the wall as Nancy shifted beside the boy. “Like, uh, I don’t know – why it comes out of the wall, or where it goes after coming out of the wall?”
“No. She just said it came out.” He said, missing the slight sarcasm in her voice. The machine dinged and he moved quickly, taking the developing photograph and moving it quickly to the bath. She watched him with interest, moving slowly after Nancy.
“How long does this take?” Nancy asked quietly, folding her arms and leaning on the table next to him.
“Not long.” he said, eyes firmly focussed on the photograph.
“Have you been, uh,” Nancy cleared her throat, “doing this a while?” she asked, a little awkwardly. Charlie wanted to roll her eyes at the pair of them, semi-affectionately. Cute little socially awkward puppies.
“What?” Jonathan asked her, looking at Nancy strangely.
“Photography.” Charlie said, actually rolling her eyes this time.
Jonathan shrugged slightly, “Yeah. I mean I guess I’d rather observe people, then, you know…”
“Talk to them.” Nancy finished with a little smile. They held each others gaze for a minute, making Charlie raise an eyebrow.
“I know. Its weird.” He ducked away from her direct eye-contact.
“No!” Nancy assured, and Jonathan chuckled. He was self-aware.
“No – it is. Its just, sometimes… people don’t really say what they’re really thinking. But you capture the right moment… it says more.” He explained shyly.
“What was I saying?” Nancy asked quietly.
“What?” Jonathan asked again, and Charlie resisted the urge to bang her head into the table. It was one-thing to be a bit moon-eyed over a crush – and Charlie would have to be blind and deaf to not see that Jonathan had a sweet spot for Nancy about a mile wide – and another entirely to be this dumb.
“When you took my picture.” Nancy clarified.
Jonathan might have coloured but in the red light it was hard to tell. His mortified face was enough to tell he regretted it. “I shouldn’t have taken that.” He rubbed his face, uncomfortable. “I’m, uh, I’m sorry.” He said, looking Nancy in the eyes again. Charlie was surprised to see no animosity or reproach in Nancy’s gaze. “It’s just-” he began, and Charlie’s eyes wandered to the photograph. She twitched in surprise.
“Is that it?” She asked, surprise making her voice loud in the quiet room. The other two jumped slightly, before peering into the liquid as well.
“That’s what I saw.” Nancy whispered, voice tight with fear.
“My mom… I thought she was crazy- cause she said that’s not Will’s body, that he’s still alive.”
“And if he’s alive-”
“Then Barbara.” Charlie finished, unable to take her eyes off the hulking thing in the picture. It was terrifying, and it was making her skin crawl, her hair stand on end.
There was nothing good about this. Nothing at all.
Chapter 6: The Flea And The Acrobat And The Gun
Charlie looked at herself in the mirror, trying to determine if the conflict and confusion in her head was visible in her face. No. She just looked tired – a by-product of her sleepless night – drawn and pale, rather than her usual more-tanned appearance. She picked her blush up, wondering if it would help at all – and decided against it in the next second.
Her brother’s voice made her turn around. He was standing in her doorway looking entirely uncomfortable in the dress-shirt she’d made him put on. She didn’t even know how to comfort him anymore – not when Will might not even really be dead. She didn’t know what to think.
Rationally – Will was gone, and he was never coming back, and his body was about to be lowered into the earth.
Yet somehow, there was… crazy impossibility that not everything was as it seems. That there were monsters in Hawkins – not just of the human variety – and that Will was still alive, and Barb might be too.
“Time to go?” she asked softly, and he nodded, face contorting slightly. She swallowed thickly, and grabbed her long coat, pulling it on over the black dress she wore. It used to be her mother’s back when her mother was her size. She still had to take in the middle with a thick belt, and she stepped into her Doc Martens – thankful for the small piece of familiarity.
She followed Dustin out of the door, locking it behind her.
It would only be her and Dustin at the funeral. Her mother hadn’t asked about it – and Charlie hadn’t wanted to tell her. She didn’t know Will, barely knew of him – and she hadn’t been an active part of Dustin’s life in years. She could just go to hell.
Charlie balked at her own violent thought.
Clearly she was more emotional than she thought.
She stood silently behind Dustin as the priest read out the last rites, eyes darting between the graves surrounding them, and the Byers family. It hadn’t escaped her notice that Lonnie was back in town – and felt a distinct sense of unease from Jonathan. Dustin’s voice distracted her, and she hissed at him, nudging him with her knee from behind. He quieted, and sent her a look she didn’t understand. The rest of the funeral passed quickly, Charlie just letting it wash over her, still trying to understand what was happening.
She threw her yellow rose on to the casket as she passed, avoiding Lonnie’s handshake and bypassing him to Joyce. The woman was staring absently at nothing, eyes full of memory, wet with tears. She paused, unsure what to say. Finally, she just leant in, and pressed a kiss to Joyce’s cheek, before turning and leaving the graveyard.
A hand on her wrist stopped her – and she turned quickly, to see Jonathan. His eyes were clear – no trace of tears on his face. “Come with me.” He murmured, looking around surreptitiously. Charlie’s eyes strayed to Dustin, waiting patiently for her just ahead.
“I can get a ride from the Wheelers.” He said, smiling slightly. “I wanna talk to Mike anyway.”
“Are you sure?” She asked. Her brother nodded, smile a little too bright considering the events. She ignored it, reasoning that people dealt with grief in different ways. “Okay, I’ll see you later, Dusty.” He waved her goodbye and jogged after the Wheelers – excepting Nancy – Charlie noticed immediately she was missing. “Where’s Nancy-”
With a sharp tug, Jonathan pulled her after him, effectively cutting her off mid-sentence.
“This is where we know it’s been for sure.” Jonathan pointed at the map for Charlie, guiding her gaze to the different points.
Charlotte squinted at the map, “So that’s…”
“Steve’s house.” Nancy supplied, and Charlotte made an ‘oh’ of understanding.
She could follow the rest of it herself. “And then, that’s the woods – that’s where they found the bike, right?” she could still remember Hopper’s grim expression as he dumped the bike on the Byer’s lawn. It was an expression that spoke of the worst. “And then, that’s your house, J.”
“It’s all so close.” Nancy said, sounding faintly worried.
“Yeah. Exactly. I mean its all within a mile or something.” Jonathan had a strange desperation in his face, and Nancy had a look of determination in her eyes that made Charlie’s heart sink. Oh no. She knew where they were going with this… “Whatever this thing is, its not travelling far.”
“You want to go out there.” Charlie said accusingly. “You both do.” She hissed, at the look on Nancy’s face. “You might not find anything.” She said warningly.
“I found something.” Nancy reminded her primly, and Jonathan nodded beside her, both of them looking at her strangely beseechingly.
“Yeah okay, great. And if you do see it – then what? From what I could make out in that picture, it doesn’t exactly look friendly.” Charlie said, rolling her eyes.
They exchanged a look. “We kill it.” Jonathan told her resolutely.
Charlotte smirked. “Yeah, with what? A machine gun?” she asked sarcastically.
Jonathan’s face grew thoughtful.
“Oh my god, don’t tell me-”
Nancy bounced nervously on the balls of her feet as Charlotte watched Jonathan break into his father’s glovebox.
“J, hurry up. You and Nancy Drew aren’t exactly subtle.” Charlotte grumbled at him.
“Yeah, yeah. Just give me a second.” He snapped back. And pulled out a gun. Charlotte recoiled, as did Nancy, a small gasp coming from her.
“Are you serious?” Nancy asked, startled face morphing into a frown.
“What? You want me to find this thing and take another photo? Yell at it?” Jonathan asked sarcastically and Charlotte shook her head. Clearly she was having too much of an influence on him.
“This is a terrible idea. You guys are gonna get yourselves killed.” Charlotte said, almost laughingly. They were both looking at her funny. “What?”
“You’re coming too.” Jonathan said, in a voice that brokered no room for argument.
“Um. No. That is also the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” Charlotte said immediately. No way was she going to be running around the woods with Jonathan, Nancy and a loaded gun – and what may or may not be a fucking monster.
“Yeah, well, it’s the best idea we’ve got. Strength in numbers, remember?” At Charlotte’s face, he raised his eyebrows. “What? You can tell someone, but they’re not going to believe you. You know that, Charlie.”
“Your mom would.” She fired back, crossing her arms defensively. She couldn’t help but feel a bit embarrassed at her reaction. Nancy and Jonathan were the last people she’d expect to band together and go after this thing. Yet here she was, already feeling scared at the thought of it.
“She’s been through enough.” Jonathan said, dismissing the idea.
“She deserves to know!” Charlotte cried, thinking of Joyce’s broken eyes.
“Yeah – and I’ll tell her.” Jonathan didn’t raise his voice, but his tone was like steel. “When this thing is dead.” She didn’t say anything, just hugged herself a little tighter, resolve wavering. “What if it was Dustin out there? What if Dustin was the one taken?”
Charlotte’s head snapped up, meeting his gaze full on. “Then I’d burn the forest down to find it.” She said evenly, and Jonathan nodded in satisfaction.
Charlie wandered about her house, thinking.
Finally, she made her way out into the garden shed, and ran her eyes over the tools. Leaning against one of the walls was a wooden handled steel pitchfork. In her head she imagined the height of the thing – and picked up the pitchfork, jabbing it once, considering.
“I am crazy. I have actually gone fucking mental.” She said aloud into the dingy silence of the shed. But she picked it up again, and put on it’s leather sheath and balanced it jauntily over her shoulder as she left the shed, and headed for where Jonathan had told her to meet him and Nancy.
It was the gunshots that let her know she was close. She came round the bend and hopped over the low fence into the field in time to see Jonathan completely miss another shot at the cans standing a few feet ahead of him, Nancy by his side holding a baseball bat. She wasn’t the only one with weapons.
“Are you aiming for the cans or the space between them?” She yelled, announcing her arrival. The pair of them exchanged a look before they started laughing. “What?” she asked, coming to a halt beside them. They waved her off, and Charlotte rolled her eyes.
They stood side-by-side for a minute before Jonathan turned to her. “You want a go?” he asked. Charlotte squinted at him.
Nancy bumped her shoulder playfully. “Go on, Charlie! I had a go before. It’s fun!” Charlotte sighed, but held out her hand, crooking her fingers at Jonathan, who placed the warm gun in her hand. It felt… familiar – in a scary kind of way. And she was almost unsurprised – when she raised the weapon, sighted down the barrel and took a shot – hitting the target in one shot. Her eyes widened as the other two whooped. “See if you can beat me!” Nancy said, “I hit three for six.”
Charlotte felt an old competitiveness rise in her as she cracked her neck, raising the gun. “I’ll get three for three.” She muttered, and Jonathan ‘ooohed’ almost mockingly. She turned her head and snapped her teeth at the pair of them playfully, making them laugh. She took a deep breath, and squared herself off, planting her feet solidly, and feeling her core engage with every breath. She edged her aim to the side, trying to keep it level, but angling it so it would simply hit the next target over. With another breath, she pulled the trigger again, absorbing the kickback that had jarred her arms slightly the first time.
There was a satisfying ping as the second target dropped. There was a hush now, and Charlie quieted her breathing reflexively as she turned to the final target. She felt certainty rise in her and she pulled the trigger again – and missed by an inch. Jonathan and Nancy broke the silence, cackling in harmony. Charlotte scowled, and adjusted her aim slightly, and pulled the trigger quickly. The ping made them shut up – and she turned, handing Jonathan back the gun. “Three for four.” She said primly, fluttering her eyelashes flirtatiously at both of them.
Jonathan ended up carrying the bat, much to his chagrin, but Charlie had surrendered the gun to Nancy, sticking with her first choice of weapon; her pitchfork.
“What was I saying?”
Charlie kept her eyes on her surroundings. She wasn’t exactly trying to ignore them, but her heart had been beating faster than it had at her first gig ever since they had entered the woods. Charlie honestly hadn’t thought she was a scaredy cat, but a quick glance at her twitchy fingers made her re-evaluate. Maybe she was a little coward. Jonathan and Nancy weren’t afraid.
“-trying to be someone else.” Charlie inwardly shook her head at Jonathan’s wording. This wouldn’t end well. “But for that moment, it was like you were alone – at least you thought you were. And, you know, you could just be yourself.”
Charlie winced at the uncomfortable pause.
“That is such bullshit.” Nancy said, voice defensive.
“W-what?” Jonathan’s voice was equally as defensive, and she heard him stop behind her. She could just imagine his face.
“I am not trying to be someone else!” Nancy said angrily, but Charlie knew that she knew that Jonathan was right. “Just because I’m dating Steve, and you don’t like him-” Ooft. That would have hurt. Charlie waited anxiously a few paces ahead as the two snapped at each other behind her.
“You know what? Forget it – I just thought it was a good picture.” Jonathan caught up to her, giving her a small nudge to get her moving at his rapid pace. Charlie shot him a questioning look, and he rolled his eyes, before facing resolutely forwards – Nancy scrambling after them.
“He’s actually a good guy.”
“Okay.” Jonathan replied, and Charlie stifled a smile at his deliberately nonchalant reply.
Nancy continued to defend her precious Steve, making Charlie roll her eyes this time. Steve Harrington and her had been close in grade school. Had – being the keyword. When they got to middle school, about half-way through, he’d decided he wanted to be popular – and at that time, Charlie was still a chubby music nerd, trying to struggle through her parent’s divorce. So he’d dropped her. It was only when C.H.E.R.R.Y. began to pick up steam, and people starting liking her again did she get ‘reintegrated’ back into his little circle of assholes. And that was just as high school started – now they were juniors, and Charlie wondered if he’d ever grow up.
“Listen! Don’t take it so personally, okay?” Jonathan and Nancy had stopped again, and were facing each other. “I don’t like a lot of people – he’s in the vast majority.” Charlie rounded on the pair of them exasperatedly.
“You like Charlotte! She’s friends with him!” Nancy jabbed the gun at her, and Charlie recoiled, hands flying up. Jonathan shot her a cursory glance, already shaking his head – and Charlie only had a second to feel a stab of hurt before he was turning back to Nancy, sneering.
“And you’re just as dumb as them if you think she is.” Jonathan whirled around, and started stalking off again. Charlie knew she had a dumb little smile on her face but managed to hide it as Nancy’s outraged eyes fell upon her.
“You know – I was actually starting to think you were okay.” She said coldly. Charlie bit her lip. Maybe Nancy was actually like them.
“Yeah?” Jonathan got ready for another round – and Charlie stepped forwards.
“Okay guys – enough, seriously-” she began.
“Yeah, you know I was thinking; ‘Jonathan Byers, maybe he’s not the pretentious creep everyone says he is.’” Nancy stepped forwards slowly, bulldozing through Charlie’s attempt at pacifying the situation. Jonathan shrugged off her hand, and started forwards as well.
“Well, I was just starting to think you were okay. I was thinking; ‘Oh, Nancy Wheeler! She’s not just another suburban girl who thinks she’s rebelling by doing exactly what every other suburban girl does – until that phase passes, and they marry some boring one-time jock, who now works sales, and they live out a perfectly boring life at the end of a cul-de-sac. Exactly like their parents, who they thought were so depressing, but now hey! They get it.’” He scoffed, and walked past her. Charlie had a second to see a flash of some deep fear and pain in Nancy’s eyes before it was gone, and pressed her lips together tightly as the other girl turned away wordlessly, and followed Jonathan furiously.
“Well. That went awesome.” Charlie said aloud, before she started after the other angry teens.
The last of the sun’s light was still fading, but it was well and truly dark under the cover of the trees. Charlie kept humming nervously, trying to fill the uncomfortable silence between her two companions. She’d given up on actual chatter – neither Jonathan or Nancy had given her more than the occasional one word response with a nasty glance at the other. They trudged just in front of her, pointedly not looking at each other.
Charlie sighed, looking up at the tiny patch of sky she could see in the tree-tops. The stars were out – and Dustin was probably wondering where she was. She had forgotten to leave a note, but she’d made up dinner for him and her mother – so it was just a matter of praying he used his brain and fed them both. She stopped humming for a second, and opened her mouth to talk to the others – about to ask when they could go – when a faint noise made her head twitch. She stopped walking, angling her head in the direction of the sound, wondering if it was her overactive imagination.
Jonathan and Nancy turned at the sound of her feet stopping. Jonathan swung down the bat from his shoulder and gave her a faint smile. “What – are you tired, Charlie?”
“Shut up.” she said – straining her ears again.
Jonathan raised his eyebrows. “I get you didn’t want to be here – but don’t take it out on me; if anything it’s her-” Charlie raised a hand abruptly – stopping Nancy and Jonathan from another round of arguing.
“No, idiot. I heard something.” Charlie knew that what she heard was something in pain. It was a whimper – maybe not human, but she’d accidentally stepped on her cat’s tail enough to know what an animal in pain sounded like. It came again, louder this time – and Nancy and Jonathan’s heads swivelled in the direction of the sound as well. Charlie frowned, and started heading towards the noise, Jonathan and Nancy falling in to flank her. Most of Charlie’s fear had subsided as they had spent their hours trekking through – encountering nothing but leaves, and having to worry about the chill between Jonathan and Nancy.
She squinted at a dark shape lying prone on the ground and hurried forwards. Nancy let out a soft “oh god,” behind her as they all made out the sight of a bleeding deer on the ground.
“Shit.” Charlie said, biting at her bottom lip worriedly. “It’s been hit by a car.” She crouched next to it, gently touching the deer’s shivering neck. She looked to Nancy, who looked to Jonathan.
“We can’t just leave it.” She said quietly. All three of them looked to the gun in Nancy’s hand. She pressed her lips together, but raised the gun determinedly. Charlie looked away.
“I’ll do it.” Jonathan said, and Charlie looked back to see him holding his hand out to Nancy.
“I thought you said-”
“I’m not nine anymore.” Jonathan said, voice firm – and Charlie knew she was hearing part of a past conversation. His hands didn’t shake when they closed around the gun. She stood up, Nancy and Jonathan following her. He cocked the gun, and Charlie turned into Nancy slightly, hands tightening around the pitchfork in her grip.
Then the deer went flying backwards, snatched by an unseen force. All three of the teens startled, jumping backwards at the sudden action. “What was that?” Nancy asked breathlessly, and Charlie felt her fear return in full force, heart pounding in her chest, and breath sawing in her throat as adrenaline pumped through her veins. “Come on…” Nancy muttered and flashed her torch down onto the blood splatter. Jonathan followed her, and Charlie gave a whimper of her own, hurrying after the pair and clinging to Jonathan’s jacket with one hand and lofting the pitchfork with another.
They came out onto a clearing, and they all looked around nervously. “Where’d it go?” Charlie asked, squinting at the trail of blood that ended.
“I don’t know.” Jonathan answered her, before turning to Nancy, who was further in. “Do you see any more blood?”
“No.” Nancy said, faint frustration in her voice. They circled each other, fanning out slightly. Charlie gulped, eyes going from Nancy to Jonathan as they moved apart. Her eyes zeroed in on Jonathan’s gun, and she hurried after him, leaving Nancy to look more around the clearing.
Chapter 7: The Monster And The Nightmare
Charlie whirled in place, hearing Nancy’s disembodied voice again. “NANCY! WHERE ARE YOU?” she screamed back at the dark forest.
“NANCY!” Jonathan’s voice joined her own, and they spared each other a wide-eyed, terrified look. “Come on. Come on.” Jonathan’s voice was desperate as he turned, flashlight hopelessly aloft, trying to pierce the darkness.
Charlie felt close to tears. First Will, then Barb and now…
It was like she was at the end of a long tunnel – then put through a modulator. Her voice was strange and echoic and haunting, and she was screaming for them, “I’m right here!” but she wasn’t – and Charlie’s heart was pounding, desperation making her eyes well up with tears.
“JONATHAN? CHARLOTTE?” Charlie keened lowly, trying to find the other girl. She closed her eyes and tried to locate her voice, tried to head to where it was strongest, stumbling through the forest like a blind-man, arms outstretched. Then Nancy’s voice cut off – and she ran straight into a tree, resounding off the trunk with a thud, face stinging as she landed on her ass. Jonathan was beside her in a second, and he was about to speak – when his eyes widened. She followed his gaze to the tree-trunk. There was something in the wood, a sticky oozing hole, glowing faintly, membrane stretched across it. She recoiled, scrambling to her feet as all of her instincts screamed at her to back away, back away, back away!
“Nancy?” Jonathan asked tentatively, dropping to a crouch in front of the hole – “Nancy! Follow my voice!”
Charlotte got down with him, “Nancy?” she asked tentatively. Then a hand shot out at her, and she screamed, loudly, scuttling away again, before she realised it was a human limb.
“Jonathan!” Nancy’s voice came loud, and almost clear – and Jonathan latched on to her hand, and pulled viciously. With a struggle, and then a final heave – came sliding out of the tree, whimpering and covered in the membrane. Jonathan held her tight.
“I’ve got you. I’ve got you…” he murmured, and Charlotte moved forwards, grabbing the dropped gun and pointing it at the hole, pressing her body against the pair of teens – all three of them panting heavily. She didn’t dare look away from it – watching in mute horror as it squelched closed, the bark closing over it as if it had never been there.
Charlotte was silent as Nancy tearily and hysterically repeated what she had seen, alone in the back seat – and watching the forest to their left with unblinking eyes. Her hands were locked around the gun in a death grip, unshaking but white knuckled. Nancy had stopped her hysterical babbling and was sobbing quietly.
“Ch-Charlie?” Jonathan asked tentatively. She looked up, and met his gaze in the rear-view mirror. His eyes were bloodshot and as wide as hers. “Am I dropping you home?”
Charlie opened her mouth with a click as her jaw unclenched itself. “Yes.” She said shortly, unable to say more. At least she wouldn’t be alone…
The car was silent, apart from Nancy’s heaving breaths. Charlie could still hear her heart in her ears, and she closed her eyes as they entered the suburbs, getting further away from the woods. “We’re here.” Jonathan’s voice made her startle and she looked up to see that they were idling right in front of her house – nearly at the front door. She was thankful for it – even though it ran the risk of waking her brother and mother. It meant she wouldn’t have to spend long in the dark.
She leant forwards, and pressed a quick kiss to both of their cheeks before sliding out of the car. She didn’t let go of the gun.
Charlie squeezed her eyes shut under the hot shower, willing away the fear still in her system. The water was stinging the cut above her eyebrow, but she didn’t care, just kept her face upturned stubbornly.
She was just trying to come to terms with everything.
She had gone from the same everyday shit to… running from monsters in the dark, looking for a missing boy who wasn’t really missing, and one of her new friends.
“It was like… so empty… the same, like a mirror image in the dark…”
A bleeding deer, and Nancy’s screams from the Other Place.
Dread in her heart and fear making her throat tight, and all around, the forest watching her – holding terrors she’d never comprehended.
“Its face opened up and it ran at me… chased me down…”
Charlie thumped her head against the wall, chasing the memory away with pain. She hadn’t even been the one to go into the Other Place, but here she was – still close to tears in the safety of her own home.
Though it might not be safe… Jonathan had said that it had come out of the walls of his house.
Her eyes flew open, and darted around the bathroom fearfully, pushing back the shower curtain so she could see the gun resting on the kitchen sink. Was anywhere safe? Her thoughts immediately flew to Dustin – who was linked to Will. What if it came after him too?
She shut off the water quickly, and got dressed hurriedly, grabbing the gun and hurrying out of the bathroom and down the hall. Silently, she slipped into her bedroom, and gathered up her pillow and duvet, before padding down the hall and into Dustin’s room. He was sleeping soundly, faint snores easing her anxiety slightly. She leant over him, and reached out, gently touching his cheek. It was just as soft as when he had been a baby.
He had been such a pretty baby, all big blue doe eyes and curly hair. He was cute now – still chubby-cheeked with his baby-fat, and with his missing teeth. She still remembered the first time he had smiled at her – properly smiled and laughed. He hadn’t been a smiley baby, but she remembered she had been playing with him as their parents fought downstairs – and she had been putting on a show with her Barbie Dolls, and lo and behold, he had grinned and gurgled at her. He still had the same gummy smile, and it never failed to make her smile back. Charlotte loved her brother with everything she had. It was an unconditional love she didn’t think she’d ever feel again; and all her old friends had never gotten why she had let Dustin tag along to everything, why she was so fiercely proud and protective.
Charlie’s face tightened as she remembered why she had been so worried, and she turned away from her sleeping brother, and lay down on the floor next to his bed, clutching the gun with one hand, facing the wall and door.
She guarded her brother till dawn – when she saw the first light and was able to let sleep take her over.
“-Hey. Wake up! Why are you on my floor?”
Charlie groaned, and raised a hand to block the light streaming in through the window. “W-what? Dustin?”
“Is that a gun?!” Dustin’s eyes went huge as he spotted the pistol held in her lax grip. Charlie panicked and shoved it hurriedly under the pillow.
“What? No!” she said, standing as she spoke – clutching the pillow and gun close to her body.
“Yes it was – I literally just saw it.” Dustin deadpanned. “Why are you in my room with a gun? And why is your face messed up?” he demanded, blocking her exit with his hands on his hips.
Charlie looked down at him – noticing with a pang that the height difference between them was getting smaller. He raised an eyebrow, and she scrambled to think of an answer. “Um. I got lost? I was at a fancy dress party?” she tried.
“You don’t look like you’re in costume.” Dustin said pointedly.
Charlie laughed loudly and fakely. “Ah, Dustin! You’re funny. Can’t you see I'm dressed as a murderer? That’s why I have the gun.”
“Riiiiight…” Dustin nodded slowly, squinting at her. “You’re so full of bullshit.”
“Dustin! Language!” Charlie gasped. “Go put a dollar in the swear jar!”
“Nice try. We don’t have a swear jar. I’m not moving until you tell me why you have a gun.” Dustin planted his feet, and Charlie sighed.
“Fine.” She sagged under his gaze, and at seeing her resigned expression, he relaxed too – losing his planted stance. Charlie saw her opportunity and took it, suddenly darting past him, and ignoring his yell of outrage. She slammed her bedroom door behind her, sliding down and holding it shut with her body, and waited until Dustin had given up banging on her door.
She’d rather he be angry than in danger.
Her thoughts went to the night before – and she went and laid on her bed, fishing in her school bag for her notebook. Inside the cover was the blown-up photograph of the thing – and with that as her guide as well as Nancy’s description, she lightly sketched out the thing.
Beside the drawing she made dot-points.
- Hunts at night
- Alone (or so it seems)
- Other Place?
- Alternate reality/realm (ask Dustin about nerd lore… subtly.)
- Frenzy mindset
- Animal-like (doesn’t seem to have human intelligence)
- Able to hide from
- Can we run?
- Travels in between Hawkins and Other Place?
Charlie tapped the pencil on her lips thoughtfully. She just didn’t know why it hunted – what attracted it. The deer had nearly been dead, bleeding all over the place, so maybe it liked weak victims – but Barb was a fully functioning human, healthy and strong, apart from her hand injury, but there would be no way that it knew-
Unless it did know.
Charlie swallowed thickly, and added a new dot point;
- Attracted to blood
She had to tell Nancy and Jonathan.
“Dustin! I’m just going out to band practice!” she yelled, picking up her guitar case and swinging it over her shoulder before she made a run for the door.
“I thought they were out of state-”
She didn’t wait to hear him finish debunking her obvious lie.
Charlie scowled at the rusty bike sitting innocently against the shed.
She would be stranded without a car. Damn those assholes and their love for death-metal.
Where were all the drivers when you needed them?
Sighed dramatically, and muttering to herself, Charlie wheeled the old bike out from the shed, wincing at the dust and cobwebs getting on her jeans and jacket. Why did she think it would be a good idea to wear her good leather jacket?
She turned to shut the door, but her eyes fell on the empty spot where the pitchfork had been. She’d dropped it last night in her frantic search for Nancy. Her face hardened and she slammed the door shut.
She straddled the bike, and fished out her cigarettes.
A throat clearing made her turn, and she made eye contact with her next-door neighbour who was making a disapproving face. Charlie raised an eyebrow, and deliberately slowly, raised the smoke to her lips and lit it, taking a long drag and blowing the smoke in a ring towards her. Her neighbour made a ‘humph’ sound and turned prissily – no doubt heading to gossip about the ‘rude Henderson harlot.’ Charlie grinned widely despite herself, and slid on her sunglasses, and rang the bike bell loudly – and flipping the neighbour off as she turned back around, coasting down her driveway and down onto the street.
It was harder than it looked, riding and smoking, whilst balancing a guitar case on your back – but Charlie didn’t want to completely erase her image by appearing on a bike she’d long outgrown – so the cigarette was necessary for integrity. Nancy had told her in a hushed voice to meet them at the General Store in town – apparently Jonathan had spent the night and Nancy couldn’t let her mom know.
Charlie pulled up with a screech of gears next to Jonathan’s car – now a familiar sight, and let the bike fall noisily to the ground, attracting more disgruntled looks from a couple of passers-by, and opened the back door of Jonathan’s car, laying her guitar down along the back seat. She snubbed her second cigarette underfoot before she stepped into the store, pushing her sunglasses up into her hair.
Jonathan saw her first, he was waiting for her to notice him – head hovering above one of the aisles. He was wearing a faint smirk. “Were you on a bike?” he asked mockingly.
Charlie flipped him off, “Fuck off, Byers. I have something to show you.”
Nancy’s head came up beside his, and she smiled at Charlotte. “Hey, Charlie. Did you sleep okay?”
“I should ask you that.” Charlotte said, feeling a stab of pity as she noticed Nancy’s undereye bags. She must have been terrified. “I’ve got some stuff on the Thing.”
Nancy perked up and made grabby hands as Charlotte approached, pulling out her notebook, and handing it to them to look at. She watched eagerly as they scanned the page – but they both grimaced and Nancy looked up, slightly apologetically. “We sort of… already came up with this stuff – I mean the portal stuff is new, but-”
Charlotte sighed, and shook her head. “Should have known. I am talking to Nancy Drew afterall.” They shared a grin. Jonathan was still bent over the notebook, tracing her drawing with a finger. “You alright there, J?”
Jonathan’s head snapped up – but he had the remnants of a far-away look on his face. “What? Yes. Yeah, sorry.” His eyes followed the notebook as she put it away, a bittersweet smile on his face. “Will loved drawing.” He said wistfully, and Charlie’s heart panged, and she reached out for him.
“We’ll get him back, J.” she looked at Nancy, and took her hand. “We’ll get them back.”
They stood for a minute silently, linked together. Finally, Jonathan tugged himself loose – and Charlie noticed belatedly that he had been holding hands with Nancy as well. “We just have to catch the thing first. You still got my gun, Charlotte?” he asked pointedly.
Charlotte smiled at him brightly. “Sure do, Jonathan.” She patted her waistband, where she’d shoved the pistol on her way over. “Why?”
“We’re gonna need supplies.” Nancy said darkly, and Charlie’s eyes widened slightly at the grim looks on their faces.
“Did you see the look on his face?” Charlie laughed as they left the store, arms full of their purchases. Jonathan and Nancy were grinning, and Charlie was about to give a wonderful impression of Nancy telling the cashier they were “Monster hunting,” when a car honked, and one of the guys off the basketball team – Reed drove up.
“Hey, Nance! Can’t wait to see your movie.” He cackled loudly with the guy in his passenger seat as he drove off – and Charlie felt her heart sink.
“What the hell was that?” Jonathan asked, and Nancy started to move towards the theatre.
“Listen, forget about it, Nancy. We have stuff to do anyway – remember?” Charlie attempted to distract them.
She would never forget the stunt pulled by a group of seniors two years ago – and she was just praying it wasn’t what she thought it was. When Stacey McEvans broke up with her boyfriend, because he had cheated on her, her ex had thought it would be a good idea to graffiti all over the cinema – lying and saying she was pregnant with someone else’s kid. At the time, Harrington and Tommy and Carol and all those other assholes had laughed at her mortified state at school the next day – and Charlie was ashamed to say that she had gone along with it, humiliating the senior. Stacey had left Hawkins not long afterwards – right before graduation. If Steve had really done what she thought he had, then he was the lowest of the low.
“No – I want to know.” Nancy said stubbornly, and pushed past Charlie, heading in a half-run towards the cinema.
“Fuck.” Charlie swore, and hurried after her – Jonathan close on her heels.
She felt something like bile rise in the back of her throat as she stopped beside Nancy on the sidewalk – looking up at the cinema.
ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
STARRING NANCY THE SLUT WHEELER
The words were spray painted red, and Charlie felt anger the same colour rise in her as she heard laughter from the alley. Those motherfuckers.
It was years of pent up rage that sent Charlie into the alley. It was years of frustration and rebuke and reproach and disgust that made her stalk right up to the four teens she used to have to call her friends. It was years of regret, that made her walk right up to Steve fucking Harrington and shove him, hard.
“Hey! What-? Charlotte-!?”
Tommy, Carol and Nicole turned as one entity, and saw her. Steve had a stupidly confused look on his face, as Charlie got up in it – inches away from him. “You think that was funny, Harrington? You think that’s fucking clever?”
“What’s up with you, Henderson?” Carol asked laughingly, right behind her, and Charlie whirled so quickly that it made the red-head jump back slightly, the smile falling from her face.
“What’s up with me? You really wanna know, Carol?” Charlie growled, voice dropping low. Tommy loomed over his girlfriend suddenly – but Charlie didn’t back down. She liked to think she was an easy-going person, she didn’t anger easily – but there was something about this group of people that made her furious, and when she was mad, she was livid.
“Listen, Henderson – this has nothing to do with you – just go home, alright?” Steve’s voice was pacifying, condescending.
“Fuck you, Harrington!” she turned on him again, but Carol’s sing-song voice made her freeze.
“Aw, hey there, Princess!”
“Uh-oh, she looks upset.” Tommy said derisively, and Charlie turned to stop Nancy from lashing out at Steve. But with a hand that moved faster than Charlie could stop it, Nancy slapped him around the face, a solid connection that made his little minions ‘oo’ and ‘oh.’ Charlie shot them a quelling look.
“What is wrong with you?” Nancy asked Steve furiously, and Charlie fell to her side, keeping her body between Nancy and the three of Steve’s minions.
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?” Steve snapped, “I was worried about you.” Charlie could honestly say she’d never seen Steve truly angry – yell like he meant it. But this was close, something like betrayal in his eyes – which she didn’t understand – and angry veins popping on his neck. “I can’t believe I was actually worried about you.” He scoffed, and just as quickly – he closed off again, cold ‘King Steve’ mask falling into place.
“What are you talking about?” Charlie barked. Steve gave her a dismissive glance, which made her blood boil again.
“Why don’t you ask little Princess?” Carol said, sauntering closer. “And I wouldn’t lie if I were you, Wheeler. Wouldn’t want to be known as the lying slut, now do you?” Charlie hissed, low in her throat, and Carol looked startled again.
“Speak of the devil.” Tommy said, slouching down from his position against the wall, “Hi.” He lifted a cigarette to his mouth and Charlie turned to see Jonathan behind them. Realisation and exasperation dawned on Nancy’s face, and she turned back to Steve.
“You came by last night.” It was an accusation, not a question.
“Ding! Ding! Ding!” Carol said sarcastically, “Does she get a prize?”
“Carol, keep your fucking mouth shut.” Charlie spat, and Carol threw her hands up mordantly, sneering at her.
“Look I don’t know what you think you saw – but it wasn’t like that.” Nancy said furiously.
“What? You just let him into your room… to study?” Steve said coldly, staring her down.
“Or for another pervy photo session?” Tommy cackled. Carol made a teasing hum beside him and Charlie grit her teeth.
“We were just-” Nancy tried, almost spitting in her rage,
“You were just what?” Steve took a step closer, imposing on her, face darkening. “Finish that sentence.” He loomed over her, and even though Nancy was taller than Charlotte, she was still half a head shorter than Steve. “Finish the sentence.” He said darkly. Nancy was breathing heavily, eyes cast away from him nervously. Charlie felt disbelief now – Steve Harrington, physically intimidating a girl? Jesus. What could Nancy say? That she’d just been monster hunting? That she’d been to another world? Steve scoffed at her silence. “Go to hell, Nancy.”
“Come on, Nancy, let’s just leave.” Jonathan stepped forwards then, and grabbed her arm – before Charlie could stop him. It would only make things worse – but it was too late.
Steve turned back around, “You know what, Byers? I’m actually kind of impressed.” He shoved Jonathan, backing him up. “I always took you for a queer, but I guess you’re just a little screw up like your father.” Steve shoved him again, sending him stumbling into Charlie, who steadied him. Her heart hurt. She knew what a low blow it was, bringing up Jonathan’s dad. “Oh yeah, that house is full of screw ups.” Charlie closed her eyes, linking arms with both of them and trying to hurry them away. Steve was just looking for a fight. “You know, Henderson, it makes sense you’re friends with him now, actually. Both of you drop-kick losers with nowhere to go, with dads that fucked off because they couldn’t stand your pointless fucking existence-” Charlie had enough, and let go of Jonathan’s arm, both of them freezing in place.
“Guys, leave it.” Nancy said, tugging on them both.
“I mean your mom?” Steve called to Jonathan, “I’m not even surprised what happened to your brother – and Henderson, if you’re not careful, you and your brother might just end up on the streets, end up like Little Byers. I mean, I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you this, but the Byers – their family, it’s a disgrace to the entire-” Nancy was shouting, but Charlie knew that Jonathan had had enough and it was all she could do to stop herself from flying at Steve as well. In one sharp movement, Jonathan turned and punched Steve, sending him flying into the wall of the alley. He staggered upright, holding his face in an expression of disbelief. Then he flew at Jonathan, tackling him to the ground. Tommy and Carol cheered loudly, as Nancy tried fruitlessly to stop the tumbling boys.
Charlie was clenching her fists, vision blurring with angry tears. Jonathan and Steve got to their feet, and as Jonathan landed another solid punch, Tommy stepped forwards – as did Charlie, and she lashed out with her foot, kicking Tommy squarely in the knee-cap. He howled, buckling slightly and turned to her, fury in his eyes. “Get out of here!” Steve grabbed Tommy and threw him back, giving Charlie a wordless look she didn’t understand. There was something like regret in his eyes but she didn’t have time to process it as Jonathan came at him again, landing hit after hit solidly onto Steve’s face and sending him to the ground.
Charlie could hear sirens.
“Jonathan, get off of him!”
She bent slightly, numbly, trying to get Jonathan off Steve. Tommy was beside her, tugging at him. “Hey, he’s had enough man!” Jonathan shook him off, “I said he’s had enough!”
Then a policeman was upon them, and in his struggle, Jonathan reared back – accidentally striking the cop, and sending him into the car. Charlie stepped away, helping Tommy prop Steve up. Tommy looked at her wild-eyed as she shoved at him. “Get the fuck away!” she hissed, and he nodded once. Steve wasn’t moving quick enough, his face bloody and Charlie felt a stab of worry for him as Tommy began to limp quickly away from the scene. Feigning a trip, she fell into the path of the officer starting after them, who had to steady her, and she could hear them make it out of the alley. Jonathan was being pressed to the hood of the car, and handcuffs clicked tight around his wrist – a snap of finality.
Nancy was in tears, and Charlie was panting.
Chapter 8: The Bathtub and The Believers
Charlie watched silently from the doorway as Nancy sat next to Jonathan, and held up an ice-pack to his head. There was something… something about them. Something that just fit right, that clicked. Not in the way her and Jonathan had clicked – platonically, and over the shared fear for a sibling. But it was a bond none-the-less.
The two voices, female and male, made her spin in place. Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper were staring at her incredulously, and Charlie watched Joyce’s eyes go to the scrape on her forehead. “What happened?” Hopper started to ask, but Joyce caught sight of Jonathan in the chair, still handcuffed to the table, and gave a wordless cry, hurrying towards him. Hopper gave her a meaningful look and moved to follow her. Charlie obediently fell into step behind them.
“Jonathan? Jesus, what…? What happened?” She gestured at the handcuffs and icepack, looking horrified. One of the officers stood up and started placating;
“I’m fine…” Jonathan tried, ducking his head.
Joyce wasn’t having it. “Why is he wearing handcuffs?” she demanded, and Charlie felt a stab of jealousy at the fierceness in her eyes. Her mother wouldn’t even get up to answer the phone if the police called…
“Well, your boy assaulted a police officer, that’s why.” The officer said, slightly condescendingly. Joyce noticed his tone and drew herself up.
“Take them off.” She said firmly.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“TAKE THEM OFF!” she shouted, and Hopper sighed beside Charlie, looking tired. Though he always looked tired, so she wasn’t sure if there was an actual difference in his expression.
“You heard her, take them off.”
“Chief, I get everyone’s emotional here, but there’s something you need to see.” Charlie’s heart sank at the reminder of the ‘supplies’ they had bought. As Hopper went with the other officers outside, she sank back into her chair, rolling her eyes at Nancy. Joyce was fussing over Jonathan, who looked slightly more embarrassed now. They came back in with one of the boxes, dumping it in front of them, and then dropping it on the ground with just as little care.
“Hey! Watch it with that!” Charlotte snapped, and crouched quickly beside the case, unzipping it just enough so that she could gently touch her beloved guitar gently, running a finger over the glossy red finish. Scowling at the officers, she sat back down, cradling it to her torso like it was a baby.
“What is this?” Joyce pawed through the stuff, looking mostly confused, but slightly concerned.
“Why don’t you ask your son. We found it in his car.” Hopper said lowly.
“Why are you going through his car?” Charlie demanded, “That’s illegal-”
“I know what is legal. That’s not the point.” Hopper snapped at her, and leant over the desk towards Jonathan. “I wanna see you all in my office.” He growled, and Charlie withdrew slightly. The Chief was a frightening man, even though she knew he liked doughnuts with pink icing over any other flavour. She had to remind herself that this wasn’t the man who would occasionally drive her home after gigs, this was Hawkins’ Chief of police.
“You won’t believe me.” Jonathan said mutinously.
“Why don’t you give me a try.” Hopper said quietly, but no less threateningly.
Charlie watched their faces intently, as both adults regarded the blown up picture of the monster, and her sketches of it, and her notes. Hopper raised his eyebrows at her rendering, and looked at them. “You say blood draws this thing?”
“We don’t know…” Jonathan said, and Nancy shook her head.
“Its just a theory.” Charlie supplied. Jonathan and Joyce exchanged a look.
“I want to talk to my son.” Joyce announced, and Hopper nodded. The two Byers got up and went outside. Charlie could just hear them through the wall she was leaning on, and moved to the edge of her seat uncomfortably.
Hopper was eyeing her with a mixture of weariness and amusement. “What did you say you went into the woods with, Henderson?” he asked her, raising an eyebrow.
Charlie sighed heavily. “A pitchfork.” She muttered, and Hopper gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. Nancy ducked her head smiling, and Charlie jabbed her, fighting a grin of her own.
“You’ve got guts, kid, I’ll give you that.”
Charlie shook her head. “Nah, you shoulda’ seen me, Chief. I was trembling like a leaf out there.”
“It’s true. You should have heard her scream when I came out of the tree.” Nancy said laughingly. Hopper shook his head slightly, looking thoughtful.
“It doesn’t matter how scared you are, it just matters that you face it in the end. That’s bravery. Without fear, it’s just stupidity.” Hopper said. Charlie bit her lip, hiding a pleased smile. Then – raised voices caught their attention, and Hopper sighed, running a hand over his face. “I’ll be back. Stay here.”
Hopper came back to them quickly, face grave. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Nancy and Charlie exchanged a look. “Uh, where?” Charlie asked tentatively.
Hopper sighed. “Just come with me, alright? We’ll explain on the way.”
Charlie and Nancy stood up quickly as Hopper hurried out of his office, Joyce and Jonathan nowhere to be seen, but as they came out the front – they saw them already sitting in Joyce’s car. Jonathan slid over so Charlie could sit in between him and Nancy, and the three teens exchanged worried looks as Hopper muttered under his breath, pulling out of the carpark with screeching tires.
Hopper and Joyce explained what they had found – what they suspected, and Charlie felt her eyes widening with every minute. Dustin was so mixed up in this, with the government, and she hadn’t even known… some sister she was.
They pulled up to a hill overlooking the Wheeler’s house and Hopper and Nancy got out of the car, Hopper wielding binoculars. Joyce looked over at Charlie. “How are you doing, sweetie?” she asked kindly, big brown eyes full of warmth, and genuine concern.
Charlie blinked, floored. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had asked her that. She struggled with her words for a second, not knowing how to respond. Does one tell the truth? Or do you lie?
“Um…” she began, but at that moment, Hopper and Nancy got back in the car, and the moment passed. She felt Jonathan’s hand briefly on her wrist, squeezing once, and she shot a look at him. He wasn’t looking at her, just staring worriedly out of the window. Hopper turned in place, “Look, we need to find them before they do. Do you have any ideas where they might have gone?” He directed at Nancy and Charlie. The two girls exchanged a look, Charlie looking away crestfallen. Dustin and her trusted each other. She didn’t expect a play-by-play of his plans, and in exchange, he would be home by a reasonable time, or by whenever she said. She felt shame light up her cheeks as she realised she had no idea where he might have gone. She shook her head slowly.
“No, I don’t-” Nancy said angrily, face red with emotion.
“I need you to think.” Hopper said seriously.
Nancy shook her head violently. “I don’t know. We haven’t talked a lot. I mean, lately.” She sighed, sinking down into her seat.
“Is there any place that your parents don’t know about that he might go?” Joyce tried, and Nancy stammered, again,
“I don’t know…”
“I might.” Charlie said suddenly, an idea formulating, from hours of missed sleep because of the loud noise those damn radios made. Many a night she had been kept up by Dustin’s attempts of having a secret conversation over the radios – but alas for her and for him, the crackling static of the channel was loud enough to be heard from her room. “I don’t know where they are, but I think I know how to ask them.” She said, biting at her lip.
They pulled up outside the Byer’s house, all of them rushing through towards Will’s empty bedroom. Charlie didn’t even flinch at the lights, having already heard about them from Jonathan, and had to stop the grab Nancy – who had paused to gawk.
They hurried into the bedroom, and clustered around the radio – handing it to Nancy, who hesitantly switched it on, and raised it to her mouth. “Mike? Are you there? Mike?” she said. There was no answer, just a crackling of static. “Mike, its me, Nancy.” Still no response. “Mike, are you there?” she looked at Charlie who frowned.
“They always carry them with them – I don’t know why he isn’t responding…” she said uncertainly, trying not to think about it.
Nancy pursed her lips together. “Answer. Mike, we need you to answer.” Nancy tried again. “This an emergency, Mike. Do you copy?” Nancy was growing desperate, cradling the radio like it would suddenly turn into her brother. “Mike, do you copy? I need you to answer.”
Charlie’s eyes widened as she remembered something, and she snatched at the radio. “Dustin, if you’re there, this is a code 5. Okay, code 5! Please. We’re here with the Chief, and if you’re there, you need to pick up. We know about the girl, and we know you’re in trouble. This is a code 5. Over.”
“What’s a code 5?” Jonathan asked from his position across the room. Charlie let Hopper take the radio and talk into it, turning slightly to answer him.
“There’s five levels of emergency. We use it for everything. Code 1 is like I’m gonna be late – and Code 5 is Armageddon level emergency.” She smiled slightly. “There’s never been a code 5 before.”
Hopper sighed, and Charlie lowered her gaze, as he put the radio down on the dresser with a definitive thump. If they had already gotten to them…
“Anybody got any other ideas?” Hopper asked the room, and Charlie pressed her lips together. Then, a burst of static from the radio made them all look up hopefully, and then – Mike’s voice;
“Yeah. I copy.” Charlie let a breath of relief. “It’s Mike. I’m here. We’re here.”
Dustin paced the length of the bus, eyes not fixed on anything in particular, heaving great sighs. He was sweating like a bitch. This bus was so airless. What if they died before they got helped? What is help wasn’t even coming? What if Charlotte had betrayed them? What if-?
“Will you stop pacing?” Mike snapped, and Dustin felt irritation rise in him like a bubble in his throat. He rounded on Mike.
“It’s been way too long. You know what? Maybe you're right. Maybe this is all a trap, and the bad men are coming to get us right now!” He couldn’t help his volume, panic making him feel slightly lightheaded.
“It’s not a trap!” Lucas yelled back, throwing up his hands. “Why would the Chief set us up?” he demanded. “Nancy, maybe, but the Chief? Charlotte? Never.” Mike threw up his hands in exasperation.
“Lando Calrissian.” Dustin jabbed at Lucas, eyes wide and wild.
“Would you shut up about Lando?”
“I don’t feel good about this. I don’t feel good about this!” Dustin yelled at Lucas, getting in his face.
“When do you feel good about anything?” Lucas roared back and Dustin just rolled his eyes in Charlie-fashion and went back to pacing, stopping dead at the sound of vehicles approaching. He rushed to the front of the bus, sitting down behind the wheel of the bus, and staring fearfully at the approaching cars.
“Shit!” he swore, panic giving him speed as he turned with the others and rushed down the back of the bus. “Lando.” He spat at Lucas breathlessly, pressing himself against the seat in front of him.
“You think they saw us?” Lucas asked worriedly instead, and Mike growled.
“Both of you, shut up.”
Dustin snapped his mouth shut, trying to quiet his breathing. He put a hand over his chest too – trying to quiet his pounding heart. They all waited in silence, breathing steadily, but heavily, as adrenaline made their limbs shake. Fight or flight, fight or flight, fight or-
The bus door creaked open, but then there was a thud and a cry of pain. Dustin looked around wildly, not daring to move, but wanting to know what was happening. Then, the door creaked again, and Chief Hopper appeared, toting a gun and panting. “All right, let’s go. Let’s go!” He said, and Dustin scrambled towards him.
They pounded down the steps, and came face to face with Charlie, eyes fierce, face set and holding a plank of wood. A man was lying behind her, bleeding from a cut on his head. Dustin’s eyes widened at her. She was like… a superhero or something. Like an action hero. She dropped the plank and the expression, and immediately embraced him, and he threw his arms around her.
“Oh thank god!” she smelled a little like sweat, and lot like home – her favourite perfume and their laundry detergent, and the faint scent of cigarette smoke. Dustin felt all the emotion and fear he’d been trying to supress rise in his throat as she hugged him tight. He fought with his burning tear ducts determinedly. He was a man! Men didn’t cry!
“Come on. We don’t have time.” Hopper said, and Charlie let him go immediately, but put her arm around his shoulders as she hurried them towards the cars.
Charlie got out of the back of the truck, shivering. She hadn’t factored in the freezing cold when she had forced Hopper to let her come along, but she didn’t regret it. She had needed to see with her own eyes that Dustin was okay. And hitting that asshole over the head had felt pretty good too. Joyce beckoned her inside, and directed her to a chair, and left the room, quickly returning with a blanket that she draped over her. Charlie stared at her. “Um. Thanks.” She said quietly, and Joyce smiled at her as the others entered the room.
Mike was muttering to the boys, and she watched avidly as he sketched something on a piece of lined paper. He looked up, and seeing he had the attention of the room, cleared his throat. He held up the piece of paper, and Charlie squinted at the line down the middle of the page, the small stick figure, and the dot on the other side of the line.
“Okay. So, in this example;” he indicated his little drawing. “We’re the acrobat. Will and Barbara, and that monster, they’re this flea. And this is the Upside Down, where Will is hiding. Mr Clarke said the only way to get there is through a rip in time and space.”
“A gate.” Dustin chimed in.
“That we tracked to Hawkins Lab.” Lucas said.
“With our compasses.” Dustin added. Charlie blinked rapidly, trying to process all the information, and Dustin sighed at her. “Okay, so the gate has a really strong electromagnetic field, and that can change the direction of a compass needle.” Dustin shot her a ‘no-duh’ look, and she narrowed her eyes at him.
“Is this gate underground?” Hopper asked warily, and the boys looked at him nonplussed. Then Eleven looked up, eyes unreadable.
“Near a large water tank?” Hopper questioned lowly.
The girl nodded, “yes.”
“H-how do you know all that?” Dustin asked, semi-suspiciously.
“He’s seen it.” Mike said with dawning understanding all over his freckled face.
Joyce leant forwards slightly, craning her body towards the small girl across from them. Charlie wondered how old she was. She looked skinny, and with her head shaved like that, she reminded Charlie of a cancer patient. It was sad and equal parts scary. “Is there any way you could that you could reach Will? That you could talk to him, in this-”
“The Upside Down?” Eleven finished for her, and nodded slightly as Joyce asked her quietly.
“And our friend Barbara? Can you find her too?” Nancy asked, leaning forwards, and gently brushing against Charlie, who also turned her gaze back onto Eleven. Something like a smile grew on her face, and she inclined her head.
They stood clustered around the kitchen table, the hair on Charlie’s arms standing on end as she watched the small girl with her eyes closed – a feeling of something in the air making her unsettled. It was unnatural to say the least. A palpable sensation flowing in the room, as static crackled out of the small radio sat in front of Eleven next to the picture of Barb. Then, as the sensation grew, the light flickered out, and she jumped slightly – backing into Hopper, who steadied her with an automatic hand on her shoulder.
Eleven blinked open her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She whispered, and Joyce swallowed thickly.
“Wh-what’s wrong? What happened?”
Eleven broke eye contact as if ashamed. “I cant find them.” Her voice cracked, and she sounded close to tears. Charlie felt the urge to go and hug the girl, but stayed where she was – Hopper’s heavy hand still on her shoulder, keeping her in place. Jonathan turned away from the table – and Charlie caught a second of his broken expression before he left the room. Eleven excused herself quietly, almost running in her haste to escape the crowd in the kitchen, tears forming in her eyes. Charlie bit her lip – and stepped out of Hopper’s lose grip.
“I’m going for a smoke.” She announced, and left the house.
The cold air was bracing, making her shiver as she leant against the supporting pillar of the veranda. Mechanically she pulled out a cigarette, lighting it and inhaling – watching the grey cloud blow away from her on the wind. It was a comforting piece of familiarity, the inhale and exhale, feeling her muscles relax and her heart slow slightly. She had been on edge all night – and whatever Eleven had been doing in there had creeped her out even further. Not that she’d ever tell the girl that, she looked traumatised enough as it was…
Charlie turned her attention to the slight betrayal she was feeling. Dustin hadn’t trusted her with any of this – and whilst she hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with her Friday nigctly been forthcoming with her friday t betrayal she was feeling. Dustin hadnt shed ever tell the girl that, she looked trauht plans, it was one thing to protect your younger sibling from monsters, and another to keep a whole ass child from your older sister. She could have done something – and maybe they would have realised all of this earlier if he had only trusted her. She scowled at nothing, and stubbed out her cigarette underfoot. There was no sense dwelling on it. What’s done is done, and there was no point trying to change it. She knew now.
She re-entered the house, and frowned. Everyone was looking down the hall, and she started at her brother’s sudden shout. “Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?!” her eyes fell upon Dustin holding the phone, looking determined.
“Umm?” she hummed questioningly, and Jonathan turned to her, serious, but with a small smirk at her brother’s antics.
“We’re building a sensory deprivation tank so that Eleven can use her mind powers to find Will and Barb.” He explained shortly.
Charlie raised her eyebrows. “Oh. Right. Of course. I should have known.”
Dustin turned to them, and clicked his fingers, waggling his eyebrows comically as he mimed a pen. Lucas rushed towards him with a notepad and pencil, and Dustin began writing rapidly, humming into the phone. “Uh huh. Uh huh. How much?” he nodded to himself. “Uh huh.” He rolled his eyes. “Yep alright. Yeah, we’ll be careful. Definitely. All right, Mr. Clarke. Yeah I’ll see you on Monday. I’ll see you on Monday, Mr Clarke, bye.” He unceremoniously hung up, and threw the phone down. “Do you still have that kiddy pool we bobbed for apples in?” he asked Joyce, pointing the pencil at her. Charlie tsked and gently pushed his hand down.
“I think so, yeah.” Joyce said bemusedly.
“Good, then we just need salt. Lots of it.” Dustin said enthusiastically.
“How much is lots?” Hopper asked, and Dustin took a quick look at his notes.
Charlie sighed. “Where exactly, were you planning to get this much salt?” she asked, and Dustin shrugged at her. They all looked at each other, faces all reflecting the predicament. But then Hopper looked up slowly, something like hope in his eyes.
“I think I know where we can get some.”
Charlie sighed as Dustin complained about the pool’s weight again. “Alright, alright. Step aside, weaklings.” She nudged Lucas and Dustin out of the way, and stooped, locking her arms around it, and lifting. She had built a surprising amount of strength up in her arms. Lugging amps and speakers and music equipment around as much as she had, meant she had unexpected muscle. She grimaced and stood back, letting the boys bustle around and unroll it. It was heavy.
“Son of a bitch!” Dustin swore at the floppy sides of the pool. Charlie clicked her tongue.
“You know – maybe I should start a swear jar.” She said musingly.
Dustin gasped, and whipped his head around to stare at her. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Try me.” She growled playfully.
“Hey, Charlie!” Nancy called her over, and she hurried over to walk the hoses down with her, keeping pace to the taps. Nancy sent her a look as they attatched them. “Um. If we find Barb-”
“When.” Charlie said brusquely, jamming the hose into the tap with a little more force than necessary. Nancy looked at her, startled, but nodded – mouth setting into a tight line.
“Yeah. When we find her – I just wanted to thank you. I wanted to see if you wanted to be… friends. Like. Us three. Not… them.”
Charlie sent her a surprised look. “Are we not friends?” she asked, genuinely confused.
Nancy coloured. “Oh – yeah – I mean… I didn’t know.” She bit her lip, fighting a smile. “You’re kind of… intimindating.”
“What?” Charlie’s eyebrows rose.
Nancy smiled at her properly. “You know, with your hair, and your jacket, and your glasses and music. You aren’t… expected. I don’t know. I always thought you were like them.” Charlie just watched her, waiting for her next words. “I was wrong. And I don’t want to be like them either.”
Charlie smiled, a little sadly. “I'm afraid I'm more like them than you think. I used popularity like a shield, Nance – I’m not the nicest kid on the block. I used my music as my excuse, you know? I said, ‘oh, I have to hang out with them, I have to be like them to keep my music afloat.’ And I think you and J – and Barb – you’ve shown me that I was being a hypocrite. Saying I was above them, as I hung out on their level.”
Nancy reached out and tugged on her jacket lapel, bringing her closer abruptly. Charlie’s eyes widened as Nancy’s arms went around her, and hugged her tight. It was weird, being hugged by someone taller than her. It made her feel weirdly safe. Hugging Dustin was a comfort, but being held by someone else was… nice. She closed her eyes, and revelled in the embrace, holding Nancy as tight as the girl was holding her.
“Are you guys ready!?”
They broke apart hastily at Mike’s yell.
“Yeah!” Nancy called back, and readied herself by the cold water tap, Charlie taking a place beside her at the hot one. They counted down from three, and turned them on.
It felt like hours until it was ready – going back and forth between hot and cold, adjusting and maintaining the temperature. Until finally; “Stop!”
Together they hurried out of the storeroom, and knelt by the makeshift pool. Nancy and Jonathan moved in closer to her, huddling with her. She linked her arms with theirs as Eleven stepped into the pool, Nancy’s old dress billowing out around her like a pink cloud in the water. As she floated perfectly on the surface of the water, Charlie’s hair stood on end again, goosebumps forming on her skin. Electricity surged, and above them, the gym’s lights flickered, before going out. Charlie shot the ceiling a nervous look. She didn’t want to be coated in glass if they exploded. There was silence, apart from the faint crackle of static from the radio.
Then Eleven started to breath heavily, her chest rising and falling rapidly, causing the pool to slosh slightly with her twitches. The lights pulsated again.
“What’s going on?” Nancy asked.
Mike shook his head. “I don’t know.” Nancy’s brow creased.
“Is Barb okay? Is she okay?” Nancy asked loudly, leaning over to the floating girl.
“…Gone…” Charlie didn’t understand it at first, but as she too leant over, Eleven repeated herself. “…gone...gone…gone!” Charlie felt her stomach lurch, and she recoiled away, head turning to distance herself from the words. Joyce was muttering to her, hands on her shoulders – but Eleven was shouting now, thrashing in the pool. Barb was… “GONE! GONE!”
Eleven was whimpering, and Charlie didn’t realise she had gotten to her feet until Jonathan was tugging on her hand, holding Nancy with the other. Unsteadily, she sat back down, nausea roiling in her stomach, eyes burning. But she stared determinedly at Eleven’s form, not blinking, unwilling to let the tears fall.
“Castle Byers.” Eleven mumbled, and she felt Jonathan still beside her, form tensing up. There was silence, and then; “Will?”
Joyce and Jonathan gasped. “You… you tell him that I'm coming for him. Tell him mom is coming.” Joyce stuttered, hands tightening on Eleven’s shoulders.
The radio crackled into life. “…hurry…” Will’s voice filtered weakly out of the speaker.
Joyce nodded, voice becoming frantic. “Okay. Listen, you tell him to… to stay where he is!” she said, “We’re coming. We’re coming, okay? We’re coming, honey!”
Then Eleven’s whimpering came out of the radio, and she sat up abruptly, the radio falling silent again. Joyce’s arms closed around her, and held her tight, as Eleven sobbed unevenly, the only sound in the silent gym. Eventually, they got her out and up, the boys wrapping her in a towel, and taking her to sit on the bleachers. Charlie stayed where she was, staring into the water.
Barb was… gone. Dead.
Her own reflection was staring up at her, her eyes visibly wet. She blinked furiously – only suceeding in making the tears fall. They spilled, hot and wet down her cheeks. She turned away from her reflection, standing and leaving the gym. She stumbled through the side doors and out into the coridoor, just in time to see Nancy and Jonathan about to slip out the back exit of the building.
“Where are you going?” she asked, voice hoarse. She cleared her throat self-consciously, and dashed at her cheeks, wiping away any evidence of the tears.
Nancy and Jonathan exchanged a look. “We’re going to finish what we started. You don’t have to come, Charlie – we know that you were frightened, and its not your fight, so if you want to stay and look after your brother-” Jonathan began, smiling gently.
Charlie growled. “The hell it isn’t. I may be fucking scared but there’s no way I’m letting you guys go after that thing alone. The best way to protect my brother is to kill that thing.”
“Demogorgon.” Nancy supplied lowly, but she was smiling, a cold, hard smile. “Let’s go monster hunting.”
Chapter 9: Monster Hunting
They crept silently into the station, Charlie pausing behind the distracted officer, watching him carefully as the other two ducked into Hopper’s office, collecting their things. They were quick and quiet, and it was only when Jonathan shoved something hard into her side that she realised they were done. Automatically she closed her arms around the object and realised in the next second that he had grabbed her guitar. She felt a wash of warm relief, and tucked the case close to her as they half-ran towards the car.
The drive back was tense, Charlie mentally running through the layout of Jonathan’s house and trying to plan their set-up. When they pulled up, she didn’t wait to help them unload – just headed up for the house, catching the keys Jonathan tossed her as she passed him getting out.
She headed inside the dark house, pushing in chairs, sweeping things of tables – clearing the hallway, and met back up with them in the living room as they dumped the gasoline, box of supplies and fire extinguisher on the ground. She let them exchange a look before she dumped the box of light bulbs at their feet. “Let’s get to work.” She said.
They moved methodically through the rooms of the house, Nancy and Jonathan – being taller – responsible for screwing the light bulbs back in as she ran between them, handing them more as they needed. Then she began setting up Will’s room, clearing the lamps and hooking up their yoyo trap, and running it out the door. As she did, she could hear Nancy shaking out the gasoline onto the carpet, and Jonathan beginning to hammer in the nails for the bear trap.
They were done quickly, Charlotte anxiously setting the trap, Jonathan and Nancy with feet either side of it. Charlie prided herself on her steady hand. Then they seperated, collecting their own weapons.
The banging of the hammer told her that Jonathan had started modifying the bat, and she pursed her lips. She’d surrendered the gun to Nancy and Jonathan had kept a hold of the bat. She didn’t know what to use. She should have brought her own bat – she’d knocked out that guy at the junk yard when they’d collected Dustin and the other kids, so she knew at least she could swing a bit of wood accurately.
She puttered around the kitchen, and selected the largest of Joyce’s knives – and swung it half-heartedly. It was still too short – she’d prefer a bit of distance between her and a monster – and she pouted, remembering her poor pitchfork she’d left in the woods. Maybe Joyce had one…
Charlie ducked out the back door, hurrying towards the shed as the night closed in around her. Alone, with the woods eerily surrounding her, with no sound but the faint whistle of the wind – she felt fear grip at her again, and she fumbled for the shed light as she entered, eager to banish the racing of her heart and the shakiness in her hands. It clicked on easily, and the warm yellow light illuminated the small space fully – and she felt her breathing slow as she scanned the row of tools. Her eyes fell upon a pitchfork, standing innocently in the corner – but as she moved towards them, the light reflected over something metal beside her. She turned, and saw a long pair of pruning shears, lying on a table. She approached them, running a finger over the longer blade.
Jonathan started as the back door banged open. He swung around, raising the bat at the intruder – relaxing as he saw Charlotte framed in the door way. She was smoking, and a thin curl of smoke preceded her entrance into the living room. He raised an eyebrow at her; she was carrying one half of his pruning shears – somehow having seperated the two blades until she had one long blade with a long handle. She followed his gaze and shrugged.
“Better than nothing.” She said, and breezed past him to the living room. He closed his eyes briefly as she passed him, the smell of the nicotine infused smoke making him suddenly anxious and needy for his mother. His heart clenched at the thought of her in that dark place Nancy had gone.
He followed her into the living room after a beat, just in time to watch her pour vodka over the knives that Nancy was holding out. “Ready?” he asked, and they nodded, Nancy handing them both one of the three knives. “Remember,” he began, looking them over. Nancy’s pupils were huge and her face was pale, belaying her fear. Charlie’s breathing was audible, and she swallowed thickly as he watched, green eyes wide in dread.
“Straight into Will’s room-” Nancy continued, nodding quickly,
“And don’t step on the trap, and-” Charlie said quietly, eyes affixed on the blade in her hand.
“Wait for the yoyo to move,” Jonathan continued, and raised the lighter. The two girls eyes’ followed it avidly as he clicked on and off once. “Then…” he said expressively, pocketing it again. They nodded in unison, and he felt a wave of protectiveness surge in him. “All right. You ready?”
“R-ready.” Nancy stuttered slightly, and they all huddled a little closer instinctively, raising their free hands into the middle.
“On three.” Jonathan said, “One, two,” before looking up and seeing Nancy’s already crumpled face and Charlie’s closed eyes. “You don’t have to do this-”
“Jonathan, stop talking.” Nancy said, shaking her head as panicked irritation flashed. But he couldn’t help it,
“I’m just saying you don’t have to-”
“Three.” Charlie bit out, and moved the blade across her palm before he could react – Nancy following her count a second later, and Jonathan moved with her – all of them emitting a sharp gasp of pain. Nancy bit her lip hard, holding her hand away from herself and moving out the huddle towards the medical supplies they’d brought. Charlie just gave a soft sigh, and pressed her bleeding hand to her chest, smearing blood over the white shirt she was wearing. Jonathan resisted the urge to make a sound as he followed Nancy’s beckoning.
Charlie picked up the bandage and one of the disinfectants and moved away from them, settling herself in the arm chair and began to wrap her own hand up. Jonathan sat down next to Nancy, and watched her bind her own wound.
Charlotte lit another cigarette, ignoring the faint tremor of her hands as she did so, the bandage she’d wrapped around her left unwieldy. Through the cloud of smoke she was creating she could see the warm look in Jonathan’s eyes as he watched Nancy.
A creak made them all start, and Charlotte reached for her makeshift weapon, bringing the half-shear over her lap, and resting her bandaged hand over it. “What was that?”
“It’s just the wind.” Jonathan said after a beat, and Charlotte almost rolled her eyes as they turned back to each other, the soft looks falling over both of them this time. “Don’t worry.” Charlotte knew he wasn’t talking to her anymore. “My mom… she says the lights speak when it comes.”
“Speak?” Nancy asked, a crease in her brow at his strange phrasing.
“Blink.” He reaffirmed, looking embarrassed. “Think of them as alarms.”
Unable to help herself, Charlotte shot an anxious look at the lights above her, as Jonathan shifted slightly closer to Nancy.
She was feeling on edge – and even though Jonathan claimed the lights would let them know, she couldn’t help the feeling of foreboding that was beginning to cling to her, making her palms sweat. It was stinging the cut on her hand under the bandage, and she resisted the urge to scratch at it.
A loud banging from the door made her yelp – and she jumped in place, clapping a hand over her mouth and dropping her cigarette on her lap. She felt the searing burn as the lit end ate through a spot in her jeans and cursed, brushing it off hurriedly as more pounding came from the door.
“What the fuck?” she swore softly, as she recognized Steve’s voice.
“ARE YOU THERE MAN? IT’S… IT’S STEVE.” All three of them exchanged confused glances, as Steve continued to yell. “Listen I just want to talk!”
Charlotte flapped her arms wildly at Nancy. “Get rid of him!” she hissed across the room and Nancy gawked at her, making Charlotte gesture violently between her and the door. Nancy got up and hurried across the room, and opened the door a crack.
“Hey. Nancy. What-?” Charlotte sighed lowly at the blatant confusion in Steve’s voice.
“You need to leave.” Nancy’s voice was firm, but even Charlotte could sense the slight anxiousness about her tone.
“I’m not trying to start anything, okay?” Steve hastened to assure her, and Nancy shot a look over her shoulder, giving Charlotte panicked eyes. Charlotte made another flapping gesture and Nancy turned back to face him.
“I don’t care about that. You need to leave.”
“No, no, no. Listen – I messed up, okay-” Unbidden, Charlotte felt a pang of pity for the sudden desperation and regret colouring his tone, as he stammered, hammering the door with his hand. She squashed the notion quickly. Steve and her were not friends. He was an asshole. “Really, please. I just want to make things right.” Charlotte closed her eyes briefly, standing from her chair and moving closer to Jonathan across the room, just barely catching a glance of a poof of Steve’s ridiculous coif. “Okay? Please. Pl-” his voice cut off abruptly, and Charlotte frowned, turning away from Jonathan’s wide eyed apprehension towards the door. “Hey, what happened to your hand?”
“Oh shit.” Charlotte swore, and started heading towards the door.
“Is that blood?” She could hear his rising emotional state.
“No it’s nothing – it was an accident.”
“Yeah, what’s going on?” Steve asked, and Charlotte paused just behind Nancy, out of sight of the crack in the door, praying Nancy could come up with some explanation, but as she stuttered, Steve kicked into gear.
“Wait a sec, did he do this to you?” he was already trying to force himself through the door, and Charlotte was just a split second too late, as he barged his way in.
Nancy’s cries were too late, and Charlotte found herself suddenly chest to chest with a fired up Steve Harrington, and watched as his eyes widened in shock and confusion at her sudden appearance. He looked terrible, scabbing on his face, and with one eye blackened. “Harrington-” she began warningly, raising her hands to push lightly at his chest, trying to get him moving again.
“Charlotte? What the-” his eyes fell upon her own bandaged hand, and grabbed at it, eyes moving over the room – falling on Jonathan, the spiked bat, the lights and her makeshift knife. “What is… what the-”
Jonathan surged forwards, shoving at Steve roughly. “You need to get out of here.” He said lowly.
“Whoa! Wait – no – what is-” Steve tried to protest, moving his body so that he was between her and Jonathan, standing firm, with a grip still around the wrist of her injured hand.
“I’m not asking, I’m telling you, get out of here.” Jonathan continued, as if Steve hadn’t spoken. Charlotte tugged fruitlessly at Steve’s grip, half-trying to get him to release her, and half-trying to get him moving out of the house.
“What is that smell?” Steve sniffed, eyes blown wide as he shoved at Jonathan. “IS that gasoline?” he cried, and then Nancy’s voice rose above all of them, and a click of a gun made them all turn.
“Steve! Get out!” she said, voice high and anxious.
Steve dropped her as if burned, and she stepped from him, eyeing him warily. “Wait? What? What is going on?” he bellowed, raising his hands and looking between them all.
Nancy jabbed the gun at him. “You have five seconds to get out of here.”
“Okay – is this a joke? Stop – put the gun down,” Steve tried fruitlessly.
“I’m doing this for you.” Nancy said, ignoring his bluster. Charlotte’s eyes darted to the lights as something flickered. She felt her throat run dry, as they flickered again. She gave out a frightened squeak, drawing Jonathan’s attention.
“Nancy-” he tried.
“No! NO! NO!”
“NANCY!” Charlotte screamed, and Nancy’s startled eyes fell upon her. “The lights!” she cried, and watched as Nancy’s determination morphed into terror.
“It’s here.” Jonathan said, sprinting for the bat.
“Wait what’s here?” Steve cried out, but they all ignored him, Charlotte scooping up her weapon and backing up to press against Jonathan and Nancy.
“Where is it?” Charlie cried, eyes darting around the room, focusing on every cluster of lights.
“Where is what? Whoa! Easy with that!” Steve was still yelling at them, as they spun in place, keeping their backs pressed together. “Hello?! Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going-”
The lights surged into a greater frenzy and then something cracked and they whirled as a gaping maw began to open up in the ceiling, and then it clawed itself through, greying head emerging first. Charlotte’s went wide and panic made her stumble back, dropping the shear as Nancy raised the gun, and fired off shots at it. Jonathan grabbed her, and dragged her backwards. “NO! Go! Go! Run!” he bellowed, and they all turned, following his instructions. Charlotte grabbed a stunned Steve by the wrist as she moved past him, jerking him after her.
“Steve – jump!” Charlotte cried as they hurtled down the corridor. Steve gave a little scream as he hopped over the bear trap in the floor, swearing wildly.
She slammed the door shut after them, backing up and hovering behind the chair.
“Jesus! Jesus!” Steve was panting, “What the hell was that? What the hell was that?” Charlotte span in place, along with the other two.
“Shut up!” they yelled in unison, making Steve recoil, and shut his mouth with an audible snap. Charlotte turned quickly back to the door as they heard the wet gurgling growls of the Demogorgon approach.
“What’s it doing?” Nancy asked, and Charlotte shook her head wordlessly, eyes fixed on the yoyo. The lights were still flickering around them.
“I don’t know.” Jonathan said shortly, the lighter raised and ready. They clustered together, Nancy and Jonathan flanking her on both sides.
Then – it went quiet, and the lights steadied with an audible hum and zap. “Do- do you hear anything?” Charlotte whispered tentatively, looking up at Jonathan and Nancy on either sides of her. Jonathan considered, and then snapped his lighter shut.
He stepped forwards, and swung open the door, Nancy hovering behind him. Charlotte tiptoed after them, feeling Steve nearly on top of her as she moved. She didn’t tell him to move back, privately drawing comfort from the warmth of him at her back.
The hallway was dark – but empty.
After ascertaining the living room was clear, Charlotte’s eyes fell upon her guitar case, which had been tipped over from where it had been laying near where the monster had come out. She swore, and hurried over to it, noting a deep grove in the fabric where a claw must have rent.
She unzipped it hurriedly, and took out her guitar, cradling the bright red instrument to herself. It was thankfully unharmed. She closed her eyes and fingered at the strings lightly, playing a quiet tune, as Steve began muttering to himself, slowly upping the volume.
“-This is crazy. This is crazy. This is crazy! This is crazy!” He darted for the phone, and lifted it to his ear – but before Charlotte had to move, Nancy was there, snatching it from him and throwing it across the room. “What are you do- what are doing? Are you insane?” Steve yelled at her, but this time Nancy didn’t shy away.
“It’s going to come back!” she yelled back. “So you need to leave.” Her voice dropped low with warning. “Right. Now.”
Charlotte looked up to see Steve staring right at her, face contorted in fear. She didn’t speak, just held his gaze until he turned away, and hurried for the door, slamming it behind him. She dropped her head slightly – unsurprised, but still slightly disappointed.
She knew she had no right to expect him to stay – hell, she barely wanted to look at his stupid face – but it was a familiar face nonetheless, and the more security she had, the better. She was fucking terrified, and Steve was…
Then the lights flickered and she lost her train of thought.
“Charlie…” Jonathan said, and she stood, taking the guitar with her as she kept her eyes on the ceiling, letting Jonathan reach out and tug her to his side, setting her snug between her and Nancy as they circled again.
“Where is it?” Nancy cried.
“Come on. Come on, you son of a bitch.” Jonathan muttered, raising the bat. “You see it?”
“No.” Charlotte snapped, raising the guitar like a club. She didn’t dare try and go for her shears – not when the lights kept flickering on and off, and she didn’t know where the thing was… “COME ON!” she screamed, adrenaline starting to pump through her again.
“Where are you? Come on!” Jonathan yelled beside her. She could feel his body trembling, though she couldn’t tell if it was from anger or fear. Her heart was racing, breath sawing in her throat-
Then the lights went out, and the back of her neck prickled. A dank, musty damp smell came from behind her – and then a low rumble.
She screamed, whirling in place to see it looming over her and Jonathan. She swung wildly, guitar resounding off its shoulder with a squelching sound. It screeched at her, and she didn’t have any time to move before it swung out at her, clawed hand catching her shoulder and sending her flying backwards, rolling until she hit Nancy’s legs. It pounced on Jonathan and she screamed again, clawing at Nancy as she stood again. Nancy opened fire. “GO TO HELL YOU SON OF A BITCH!” she shouted, but the thing didn’t even seem to notice the bullets. Twitching it stood, and Charlotte felt her stomach drop at the sight of its face, opened in a sick flower petal shape, rows upon rows of sharp teeth lining the flaps, drool dangling from every orifice.
“Nancy…” Charlotte said lowly as it began to advance on them, “Nancy! Shoot it! Fuck!” Nancy fired again and again and then with a clicking sound that made her blood run cold, ran out of bullets. Her back hit the wall and she panicked, swinging out with the guitar again.
Her first swing snapped its head to the side and it let out a wet roar of rage. She screamed back, eyes half shut as she lashed out again, making it back up a few steps. Blood pounding in her ears, she stepped forwards to cover Nancy, raising the guitar again. She swung one more time, but before it hit, it turned its head, catching the bulk of her guitar in its horrifying mouth. Charlotte gaped, frozen in place as she watched in rip through the guitar as if it was paper. Then, with a jerk of its head like a dog with a bone, it hauled her forwards, lashing out with one of its hands as it did so.
Charlotte let out a keening wail as white-hot pain exploded up her arm. She stumbled back, the sudden release of the pulling force on her guitar making her lose balance – and could do nothing as it raised its hand again, ready to slash her down.
But then a figure was between her and the monster, whipping something around with a force and speed she didn’t expect.
“Steve!” Nancy’s cry from behind her made her squint against the flickering lights.
Steve was there, pounding on the Demogorgon with Jonathan’s bat. His face was set – and Charlotte had the oddest flash of déjà vu to one of his basketball matches, when he got the same fierce expression. She was dragged upright by Nancy’s hands underneath her armpits, and she swayed, eyes tearing up unbidden from the lancing pain in her arm.
With a squeal, it stepped into the trap, and Jonathan shouted unnecessarily, “He’s in the trap!” absurdly, Charlotte grinned – she didn’t even know if Demogorgons had genders.
“JONATHAN NOW!” Nancy shrieked, and Charlotte was shoved into Steve as Jonathan skidded to a halt, hand already in motion as he threw the lighter towards the creature.
With a crackle, the hall went up in flames – the monster emitting squeals of pain as it thrashed in the blaze. Charlotte’s eyes went dry with the heat but she made no move to shield her eyes. Jonathan moved again, the fire extinguisher suddenly in his hands and he pulled the pin. “Get back!”
Charlotte coughed as she inhaled some of the white extinguisher foam, the house plunging into darkness. Coughing, she fumbled for the wall, her arm feeling slick and hot. Her head felt strangely heavy, though she pushed herself upright as the lights came back on. Slowly, they approached the burnt trap. Charlotte’s eyes widening as the vapour cleared, revealing…
“Where the fuck did it go?” She asked roughly.
“No… it has to be dead.” Jonathan said, voice was as hoarse. They were all panting. “It has to be.”
They watched the scorched patch of floor cautiously, the smell of the flesh still sizzling in the trap turning the air foul.
Charlotte’s vision blurred momentarily, and she blinked rapidly, trying to clear it. Then a zap from above her made her heart kick into gear again, as one by one, the fairy lights began to turn on, lighting a path towards them. She moved backwards hastily, bumping into Nancy – who steadied her, keeping a hand splayed between her shoulder blades as they all crept backwards warily.
Steve gently nudged her behind him, raising the bat as it paused above the trap. Slowly it began moving again, and they followed the trail. Charlotte felt her shoulders relax slightly – there was something about the calm glow of the trail that eased her. There was still a presence, but it wasn’t malicious...
“Mom?” Jonathan had stepped forwards, unfallen tears reflecting the glow in his eyes. Charlotte shivered. “Is that you?”
They followed, dumbstruck – as the lights exited the house, and one by one, stumbled out onto the veranda. Charlotte’s eyes watched as a streetlight lit up briefly.
“Where’s it going?” Nancy asked quietly, and Charlotte shook her head.
“I don’t think that’s the monster.” Charlotte said softly, reaching out and gently taking Jonathan’s hand in her cut one, their bandages brushing together.
Chapter 10: A Merry Little Christmas
They traipsed back inside, no less wary – Steve still with his bat raised. But there was no change in the lights, and Charlie slackened where she stood. What was left of her guitar dangled limply from her bloody hand, the wounds on her forearm still bleeding, and trickling down her arm. She could hear the wet drip of it onto the carpet. The house was faintly illuminated by the fairy lights, shining multi-coloured light down upon her. Her skin looked blue under the cluster she was under. She had never felt so tired in her life, hair sticking to her neck and face with sweat, body aching, and arm throbbing where the Demogorgon had slashed at her.
Nancy and Jonathan were panting behind her; Nancy already flopped onto the couch. Steve was leaning heavily against the doorframe beside her, eyes half-closed and head tilted back as if he was asleep. But the bat was still held at the ready.
“Is it over?” Jonathan asked weakly. They all regarded the lights warily. But there was no change in the soft glow. And that faint dark presence that had been looming over the house was gone.
“I think- I think so.” Charlie managed, voice raw and hoarse from the smoke and from yelling, and from her general exhaustion. She tried to turn towards Nancy and Jonathan, but staggered instead – a sudden dizziness making her head spin and her vision fill with grey fuzz. She dimly heard someone swear as she tipped forwards. But the impact with the floor never came. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to get her head to stop swimming and breathing under control, drawing strength from whoever was holding her up. The arm around her middle tightened and moved her upright after a moment, and she got a definite whiff of something strangely sweet and flowery, mixed with that expensive Ralph Lauren cologne, and something distinctively boy underneath it all. “You can let me go, Harrington.” She muttered.
Steve laughed weakly. “Yeah, sure, Henderson. Let you fall into a pool of your own blood.” Nancy appeared in her vision, with a dishtowel, that she tied tightly above the wounds – and Charlie chanced a look at them.
“Oh fuck.” She said with faint surprise. It had done a number on her, that was for sure. She looked around blearily at the others, quipping with a smirk. “Well we know for sure it’s over – there’s no way it would turn down this bloody morsel.” And fainted.
Charlie woke up to Joyce Byer’s hands on her face. She blinked, trying to clear away the second blurry Joyce. It took her brain a second to catch up – so just stared at Joyce and the bright white lights above her. “How are you feeling, honey?”
“Huh?” Charlie grunted eloquently. “Wh-where the fuck am I?” she tried to sit up, irritated, but only succeeded in lifting her body half-way before she slumped right back down into the pillows.
“Easy, Charlotte – you lost a lot of blood, and you got a bit bruised up.” Joyce sat back against the chair, and as she did so – Charlie realised she wasn’t alone in the room. Across the room from her, dwarfed by the bed – Will’s pale form lay prone.
“Will.” Charlie breathed. Joyce followed her gaze, and a huge smile broke out on her face, happy tears building in her eyes. “Is he-?” Charlie looked back to Joyce, panic building in her again.
“He’s going to be fine. His body is just very tired. The doctors say he’ll wake soon.” Joyce took her good hand. “We’re all going to be okay.” Joyce moved a hand to her hair, and started stroking it gently. “You were so brave, you can sleep.”
Charlie blinked rapidly, trying to stay awake. “But what if he wakes up – and my brother! What if-”
“It’s okay. It’s okay baby.” Joyce hummed, “You can sleep. You’ve done so well.” Charlie’s eyes started to close against her will.
The second time Charlie woke, it was to a rumble in her stomach, and a small body tucked in tight against her. She blinked open her eyes to a silent room. Joyce was asleep in the same chair, but she’d moved it closer to Will – half-slumped onto his bed. Jonathan was on his other side holding his hand. Behind him, Nancy and Mike were sleeping in the chairs along the wall, Mike’s head pillowed on Nancy’s shoulder. She looked down at the form tucked against her, and smiled involuntarily at Dustin’s wide mouthed sleeping face. There was a snuffle behind her and her heart sprung into life, and she whipped her neck around so quickly that it cricked painfully.
Steve was sleeping on the chair against the wall.
Charlie felt her heart slow as she watched him carefully. His eye was still swollen and black, but at least his nose had been set with a small line of tape across the bridge. His hands, folded in his lap were scabbing across the knuckles – and his hair was finally falling from its perfect coif – falling over his forehead. He looked… vulnerable. It was hard for her to match this image of him with the ‘King Steve’ he was at school, and the fearless defender that had stormed back into the Byer’s house and saved their asses. She felt something warm in her stomach, an emotion she couldn’t understand.
“Charlotte?” A weak voice made her turn away from Steve and look towards the other bed. Will was awake, and looking at her wonderingly. His dark eyes were huge in his pale face.
“Will. You are a sight for sore eyes, buddy.” Charlie said quietly, smiling at him with all her might, but careful not to wake Dustin. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired.” He muttered, looking down at his sleeping mother. “What happened?” he asked, nodding towards her bandaged arm.
“I fought a monster and lived.” Charlie wiggled her eyebrows at him, and he grinned in response. He yawned, and she pursed her lips. “You should go back to sleep. We want to get out of here in the morning right?”
“Right.” He said determinedly, and shut his eyes obediently. After a second, he opened them again, and looked at her sheepishly. “I-I’m scared to close my eyes. What if… what if I open them and I’m there again?”
Charlie swallowed thickly, and closed her own eyes, searching for a response. It came to her in a rush, lyrics and a melody that was simple but effective. She hummed quietly, as she tried to find the right way to sing the words, “Yeah, I've got the lines, I've got the lines. Oh it's brighter this time, this type of mine. This disguise. Oh you talk, oh to me.” She opened her eyes as she continued with her whisper singing, to see Will’s eyes shut again. “Nothing's gonna hurt me with my eyes shut. I can see through them, I can see through them. I am drawing pictures, I'm evading, I will not use them, I will not use them. Again.”
Will’s breathing had evened out, and Dustin had curled closer to her. She gently tucked her arm around him, and she looked over at Steve again. He was watching her, eyes half-shut, and she had a sudden flash of a memory of him under the fairy-lights, red and yellow, with a bloody nose, head tilted back, long lines of his throat exposed. And his arms around her, holding her safe…
They stared at each other a moment longer.
“Thank you.” Charlie whispered finally. His eyes opened more, affixing her with a slightly surprised look.
“For what?” he asked, just as quietly.
“For saving us.” She lowered her gaze. “For saving me.”
“We would have died.” Charlotte murmured with finality. “So, thank you. Steve.”
He twitched at her words, expression shifting from something soft, to surprise, than settling on a pained guilt. “It’s the least I could do.” Charlotte’s eyelids fluttered as she suppressed a wave of exhaustion. He smiled slightly, wincing as his split lip tugged painfully. “You should sleep, Lottie.”
She didn’t even have the strength to tell him that only her brother could call her that – his words working like a spell. She closed her eyes almost involuntarily, sleep hitting her again.
It was Christmas Eve – the most joyful night of the year, and the brightest; the streets, the houses and shops adorned with glowing lights. But Charlotte couldn’t look at them right – not when the colours reminded her of the terror at the Byers house.
She only realised she had frozen still in the middle of the footpath when somebody bumped past her, making her stumble forwards. The woman who had ran into her merely shot her an irritated look, and turned her nose up, hurrying away through the snow that was falling lightly. Charlotte blinked as a snowflake alighted on her eyelashes, brushing it away with her hand. As she lowered it, she caught sight of the raised red line of scarring tissue across her palm. She closed her fist, face tightening.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the shop window she had stopped in front of. She looked like a ghost, eyes smudged with mascara she hadn’t washed off properly in the shower before she had stumbled out of the house to walk the frozen streets, hair still damp, regrowth shockingly dark against the faded coral colour of her hair. She had bid Dustin good night, and had shoved the gun she had taken from Jonathan in her waistband. Her leather jacket had been ruined by the Demogorgon, so she was stuck wearing a winter coat she had taken from her mother’s closet. Not that it would fit her mother anymore…
She fingered the concealed weapon, taking comfort from the familiar shape at her hip.
Then she realised what shop she was in front of. She felt a lump form in her throat as she took in the familiar lines of the guitars displayed through the window.
She turned abruptly, heart pounding, and her healing arm throbbing. She marched towards the chemists, praying that it would be still open.
She needed to get some things.
“-Wake up! Wake up!”
She did, with a start, hands almost flying for the weapon under her pillow before she realised that the warm weight on her chest was her brother bouncing excitedly.
“C’mon Lottie! It’s Christmas morning!”
“Okay! Okay!” She laughed, shoving at him weakly, “Get off me, you lump!” He rolled off her, but she caught him before he could fully fall off the bed, and squeezed him tightly to her, until he began squirming uncomfortably. “I love you, Dusty.” She murmured.
He stilled in her grip, and patted her on the head. “I love you too.” They rocked back and forth for a minute until a loud call of Charlotte’s name made them both tense. “Mom’s up.” Dustin muttered unnecessarily.
Charlotte groaned, and they pulled apart, Dustin brushing himself off with an overly disgusted face. Charlotte put her hands on her hips. “Well, let’s see if we can’t fix that. Luckily store bought pudding makes her sleepy. With any luck, we’ll have the house to ourselves by 12.”
Dustin bounced slightly. “What do I do?”
Charlotte’s heart panged slightly as she considered the Christmas Day that Dustin was accustomed to. Barely able to leave the house by herself anymore – half due to lack of motivation and half due to being unfit and addicted to the prescription medications and sleeping pills – it seemed that their mother liked to make Christmas particularly painful just for the spite of it. After five years of the torturous guilt-trips and gruelling days where both of them waited on her hand and foot – because “Christmas is about family, Charlotte. Don’t you dare forget who gave you all this!” – Dustin and Charlotte had devised a plan which began in them exchanging the small gifts they had gotten for their mother, before giving her ‘special Christmas pudding,’ a store-bought one that she as particularly partial to, which tended to make her drowsy, and when mixed with her morning medications, usually knocked her out until after dinner. That gave the siblings the day to themselves.
“Go heat up the pudding. I’ll get the presents and the medicine.” Charlotte said, smiling slightly. Dustin saluted her solemnly, and then dashed from her room. Charlotte padded to the bathroom, pulling on one of her awful Christmas sweaters that her mother had knitted her as a gift last year. For all her faults, Claudia Henderson knitted good sweaters, and gloves, and scarves, and hats, and- Well, you got the picture.
Charlotte knew her relationship with her mother was fractured – broken and disfigured with no hope of repair. She knew that the bitter resentment she felt towards her mother, the hatred that sometimes distorted her world, the cold pity she felt, was by no means a teenager’s dramatics. But there was a small part of her that craved her mom. A tiny hidden part, a little girl who just wanted her mom to tuck her in and kiss her goodnight, to tell her that she loved her, to tell her that she was proud. So she wore the sweaters, year after year – just on Christmas – just when she felt herself weaken a little, when for a few seconds when she ripped off the wrapping paper, and pretended to be surprised by the knitted gift, she could pretend her mother cared. She envied Dustin that a little, that he hadn’t known Claudia as she was, couldn’t remember the mom she had been. He couldn’t miss it then. Couldn’t ache for it like she did sometimes, a phantom part of her just needing to be taken care of for once.
“Hey, slow-poke! Come on! We’re waiting in here!”
Dustin’s cry from the living room made her jump, eyes flying to meet her own gaze in the bathroom mirror. She jumped into action, opening the cabinet and pulling out the pills, as well as the presents she had hidden under the sink, where Dustin wouldn’t think to look, and where her mother couldn’t bend. “COMING!” she yelled back, eyes landing on the boxes she had bought the night before, and smiling slightly.
Claudia began snoring softly at 11:30 on the dot, and Dustin high-fived her as they began packing away the mess from their rushed breakfast. Dustin was wearing his new sweater, a blue and white woolly explosion of snowflakes, which had inexplicably long sleeves, which he had pushed up impatiently. Charlotte stilled him for a second, and quickly rolled them up so they wouldn’t slip down again. Her own sweater was turtle-necked this year, red and white with two reindeer in the centre of her chest, snowflakes around all the hems.
“Okay, what do you want to do now?” Charlotte asked him, hands on her hips in their kitchen. Dustin shrugged. Charlotte tilted her head, and gave him a cheeky smile. “You wanna help dye my hair?”
Dustin’s eyebrows rose a fraction. “What, more red? Do you wanna look like a walking Christmas advert?” he asked sassily, mirroring her pose. Charlotte gasped, a hand flying to her heart dramatically.
“I always knew you hated my hair!” she accused him, and he jumped in place, eyes flying open wide in defensive panic.
“NO! no! you know I like it! I never said that-”
Charlotte laughed, “Chill, Dusty. I’m kidding. I know you're totally jealous of my vibe.” Dustin rolled his eyes and made a gagging sound. “Come on, just come see.”
Charlotte nodded dumbly, both of them staring at her reflection. As Dustin’s hand reached up again, she slapped it down, not knowing if her abused scalp could take any more tugging. She turned her head slightly, considering.
The blonde was…
“Did we leave it in too long?” Dustin asked worriedly. “It’s pretty light. We can dye it back to brown right? Or… red?”
Charlotte pushed back some of the platinum blonde hair behind her ears. She hadn’t even gone this light when she had first dyed her hair red, but – “I kinda like it.” She said, a smile growing on her face. Admittedly, she was shocked at first, but she liked it now – now that she’d gotten over the shock of it. It was a… change. A light one. “Should we give me bangs?” her eyes wandered to the scissors sitting on the bathroom sink.
Dustin snatched them up and held them to his chest protectively. “No! Calm down, woman!” Charlotte laughed, and hugged him.
“We don’t even look related anymore.” She sighed jokingly. “Thank god!”
They both knew it was a lie. They both had the same wide eyes – his blue, hers green like their father, same tendency to tan dark in summer, same smile that bunched up their cheeks and made their eyes scrunched. Where Dustin’s hair coiled in perfect ringlets, her slightly longer, and more damaged hair fell in more of a wavy tangle. He had their father’s nose though, slightly wider and downturned – where she had their mother’s; slightly upturned and button like.
“Yeah, you should be so proud to be my sister.” Dustin said, sweeping his hair out of his face dramatically.
“Ew. Now I’m definitely not giving you your other present.”
Dustin’s eyes went wide in horror. “Please – forgive me, Most Wonderful and Amazing Sister In The World!”
Charlotte grinned, and ducked under the sink to get his other present. She had given him a new heat light for his tortoise cage in front of their mother – but she thought he’d like this one the best, so she saved it for last. “Hope you like it.”
Charlotte had saved every penny she could, every tip she made at her odd diner shift, every bit she could spare from their mother’s welfare check and the irregular child-support that got dumped into their account. So she had to skimp on a few meals, so she had to forgo replacing school equipment, so she had to patch up her guitar herself – it was worth it. It was worth it, because when Dustin saw the newest D&D expansion pack, his joyful squeal was enough to deafen her, and his excited hug and subsequent babble was making her forget any discomfort. Even her arm wasn’t hurting.
In the harsh florescent glare of their bathroom, with her brother’s arms around her, and her new hair shining brightly – Charlotte’s heart felt lighter.
For a moment, she forgot about the bills due next week, she forgot about her schoolwork, she forgot about the throbbing healing pain of her arm, she forgot about the gun stashed under her pillow – and she let herself be happy.
“Merry Christmas, Dustin.” She mumbled.
“Merry Christmas, Lottie. This will be a good year, I just know it!”