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Steve cries at the end of Terms of Endearment. The breath catches in his throat; he presses his palms against his eyes until he sees stars. He hadn't steeled himself for this. One moment, Jack Nicholson's an astronaut. The next moment, Debra Winger's in a hospital bed. The credits roll, and the thought of her eyes closing makes him well up all over again.

Robin sits on the other corner of the sectional, her body angled toward the television but her eyes firmly on him. He wants to give her shit, for watching him and for making him watch, but she's crying too. The day's mascara has smudged dark rings around her eyes, and her hair's all mussed from the way she kept pulling at it during each and every argument. She's also grinning.

"See what I mean?" she says, and hits rewind on the VCR.

"That was horrible," Steve says, but his voice is muffled by his stuffed up nose. "I mean, they were horrible to each other."

"Mothers and daughters. It's a dynamic more complex than any other found in nature. Much too difficult for the simple male brain to understand."

Steve thinks he could get it if he tried. They're at Robin's house this week; she'd been shy about letting him in, after weeks of Friday nights at his big, empty house. The glass in the coffee table has a crack in it. He can hear her mom on the phone in the next room over. The throw pillows have all but lost their stuffing, but he sinks into the couch and all the tension has left his body.

"Let's watch a happy movie next time." He picks up a piece of popcorn from where it's fallen on his shirt, and puts it into his mouth without a pause. It makes him think of crumbs in his hair. "I can't take any more of this tearjerker shit. You're dehydrating me."

She narrows her eyes, then laughs, full-throated where Steve's still constricts. "You love it," she says, and he does.

 

 

Robin calls it "cultural enrichment." Steve calls it "job training."

The thing about working at a video store is that people expect you to know shit. Steve wants to tell them that he wouldn't be working at a video store if he knew shit; if he knew shit, he'd probably be in college, or doing something approximating skilled labor. Robin says it's skilled labor of a different kind. People keep coming to the counter and asking him things, and she says he can't just point people in the direction of whichever VHS cover looks the best.

"Hey," he says. "People love my idiosyncratic recommendations. They're a win for the common person. We can't all be tremendous snobs."

She starts him off at baseline, with best picture winners, even though Steve's never watched an Academy Award ceremony in his life. Amadeus is pretty good; it makes him laugh, thinking of Mozart all zany in a pink wig. "I'm Salieri," Robin declares. "Just too damn good at being jealous." He's not sure if he's allowed to laugh along; she shoves him, gently, and giggles until he does.

Ordinary People makes him uncomfortable, makes him antsy in a way that doesn't hit the hurts-so-good sweet spot. He keeps imagining himself as Timothy Hutton, staring at his hands while everyone laughs around him in a burger joint. Gandhi is a fucking bore. They both fall asleep during that one, one night in Steve's empty house, Robin stretched out on the couch and Steve leaning up against it from the floor, his head near her head, the wispy ends of his hair sticking up and comingling with the jagged edges of hers, their breath in syncopated deep sleep. They wake up the next morning bleary eyed and late for their shift. Robin drives them to work; they spend the whole morning laughing, processing returns, making up endings for the hour and a half of movie they'd clean slept through. "We can keep it another day and try again," Robin says slyly, and Steve thinks for a second that she's serious, lets the horror blossom over his face.

After awhile it's really just Robin's choice. Steve calls her captain of the ship; Robin says she never wants to hear any kind of sailing metaphor as long as either of them live. She's a good captain, though Steve will respect her wishes and not voice this out loud. She's trying to work out something he'll like. Dog Day Afternoon, All that Jazz, Nashville—he likes these well enough, likes them all the better because she picks them out specially for him.

"I can't figure out your movie taste," Robin says.

"I see where you're going wrong," Steve says. "I don't have any taste."

He watches The Apartment on his own. It's the only title he remembers as her favorite, and he rents it one surreptitious night when she's off at class, studying history or statistics or classical literature or some other enigmatic ticket that's going to get her the hell out of Hawkins, Indiana while Steve's still sitting here with his thumb up his ass. It takes him a moment, but he realizes he knows the main girl—Shirley MacLaine, lightyears away from the nightmare she was in Terms. He doesn't know if he "gets" The Apartment, but Steve's sure he doesn't get most things.

It doesn't really matter, anyway. He likes the way it looks in black and white, and the way they talk to each other. He likes the way they feel about things matter-of-fact. He tells her this, casually, bringing the tape back the next day when their shifts only overlap for an hour.

She looks at him, silent, and Steve feels embarrassment blossom up to his hairline. Don't fuck this up, he's told himself a hundred times. He thinks of the way he'd spoken to her, the way he'd forced her to bare her soul just to get him to back off. It makes his skin crawl. He wonders how lonely she has to be, to keep putting up with someone who doesn't deserve her.

He steels himself for her to laugh at him, but it never comes. She smiles instead, a happy smile, unsure as he feels. "It's wonderful, isn't it?" she says, and Steve has to agree.

 

 

Dustin gives him a look that makes Steve feel like his soul's leaking out of his body.

"Dude," he says. "You cannot tell me that you and Robin are not a thing."

"I can and I will," Steve says. "And I have. Want to hear it again?"

He's playing it cool because that's what Steve is good at. He may have barely graduated high school, but he can laugh shit off. He's got to be able to do that if he wants to keep going on a day to day basis. The thought of that conversation with Robin, the one where they were high out of their minds until they weren't, would be too much to handle otherwise. Steve's at about capacity with things to handle.

Dustin remains unconvinced. He stares at Steve critically over his Coke and chili cheese fries. Somewhere in the background, a jukebox is playing The Psychedelic Furs. Steve is willing himself not to break eye contact.

"I don't get it," Dustin sighs. "I mean, you hang out literally every single weekend. Every Friday night. I think that makes you, like, common law married or something like that."

The kid's getting tall. His voice is deeper now. Steve's voice is exactly the same. He stopped growing two years ago, and he's been wearing his hair the same way for longer than that. Dustin will almost certainly get into college. He'll probably get into fucking MIT, or Oxford, or some other school that Steve's never even heard of that's better than the two of those combined.

"You have much to learn," Steve says. He thinks of Robin on the floor of that bathroom with tears in her eyes. "Take it from me."

 

 

It's a bad choice to watch Alien. Steve could have told them both that, but Steve is stupid, and Robin said it was a classic, and who is he to argue?

But it's a bad choice. It's already dark outside when they turn the TV on. "It's not that long," Robin says, like that matters. Every movie is long in Steve's mind. Even the ones he likes struggle to hold his attention for more than twenty minutes.

The worst choice is that they're at Steve's house. His father is out of town. He doesn't know where his mother is. The gauzy curtains float over the sliding glass doors, but they don't stop the light from the pool from floating in. Steve likes to pretend he can't remember the last time he got into that pool.

They are very quiet. The movie is very quiet until it isn't. Steve knows the premise. He's not that stupid; he can read a title and make inferences from common nouns. And he knows it's not the same thing, of course. Demagorgons don't come from outer space. They don't need for you to be in a spaceship. They can make themselves known at malls or underground labs or the woods beside your house where you used to love to climb trees.

He does not realize that his eyes are squeezed shut until Robin calls his name. He had been looking at something, but it hasn't been the screen. His breath is ragged and uneven and his nails have pushed so far into his palms that they've formed dark red semi-circles against his skin.

"I'm sorry," Steve says.

"What are you talking about?" She's looking at him and through him in about equal measure. Her skin is ghastly pale beneath her freckles. "It was my idea. I was being stupid."

"That's my job," Steve says. The television is off now, and the only light in the room is the light filtering in through the window. That makes things a hundred times worse. Steve's chest constricts. "Should've warned you, anyway. Not like this is the first time this has happened."

Always the expert, Steve Harrington, at least in matters of misery.

"I'm sorry," Robin insists.

"Let's drop it," Steve says, and they do.

 

 

For the next three weeks it's like they can't make eye contact. Steve always seems to look at her when she's looking away. He's working days and she's been working nights. Makes sense, when he thinks about it. She has school to go to, after all, and studying, and friends from school who have probably seen The Last Picture Show and Out of Africa and Taxi Driver without requiring her prodding.

He's organizing the Red Vines in the corner near the new releases when she appears in the corner of his vision. He briefly considers pretending that he doesn't know she's there, but as always, Robin is quicker than he is. She moves directly into his field of vision.

"Are you mad at me?" Robin says.

Steve gapes like a fish and takes even longer than usual to find his words. "Why would I be mad at you?" he says.

Robin shifts from foot to foot. "I kept on making you watch movies," she says. "Until I made you watch one that gave you a panic attack."

"I had a panic attack over a movie," Steve says. "I thought you were mad at me." He lets for being an unparalleled loser hang in the air unsaid.

"It scared me, too!" Robin's voice is too loud, but there's nobody in the store. It's 11am on a Tuesday. People have better things to do. Steve is grateful for that. "Like, really scared me. And I haven't even seen half the shit you have, I know."

She's speaking matter of fact, but she's uncomfortable. Steve, if anything, feels even worse. "You've seen the worst shit I have," he says. "I'm sorry. I thought—I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."

"I'm not uncomfortable," she says. "Steve. Seriously. It's not—I mean, I'm just not. You're the only person I do feel comfortable with."

She's as pink as Steve feels. "Now you're uncomfortable," he says, and allows himself to smile.

"I'll make you uncomfortable, dipshit."

 

 

They're not at his house or her house. There aren't any parents around, at least not that he knows of. The theater is less than halfway full, but that's to be expected. It's early afternoon on a Tuesday. People have better things to do than this.

Not Steve. Not Robin. They've got good seats, this time. The older theater's got a bigger screen than the one that blew up at the mall, and they're dead center, three-quarters of the way back. "Best seat in the house," Robin declares. "This is where all the filmmakers sit when they want to watch their own shit and feel all smug about themselves."

He'll take her word for it. On screen, Jeff Goldblum screams. His body twists and contorts and the skin and flesh peels off of his face, because that's what you do, apparently, when a person melds with a fly. He tries not to think about the Mind Flayer, or the bits and pieces that went into it. That had been flesh and skin, too. It hadn't been that far off.

Robin's breath catches in her throat and Steve hears it. He looks at her this time, and she's looking at the screen instead of him. Her gaze has gone unfocused. He reaches out to touch her, pulls his hand back at the last minute. She doesn't need that, he tells himself. Don't overstep your bounds.

He nudges her instead, gently, shoulder to shoulder, and she gasps like she's been pulled out of a reverie. Maybe she was. Steve wouldn't consider that out of the realm of possibility. She looks away from the screen; she looks at him, and gives him a tiny smile, and nudges him back. She kicks her feet up on the seat in front of her, and slouches down to get comfortable. Steve slouches down with her.