The first time El hears Fleetwood Mac, she barely makes a sound. She’s sitting on the ground of Billy’s room listening to his radio. He’s doing his hair in the mirror in the corner, getting ready for a date with Steve, humming quietly to the song as the chords float their way through his room and swirl around in the warm air. Billy has a window open, the warm breeze of the summer night pushing in every now and again and the notes that Steve Nicks is practically crooning are mixed with the faint sounds of the bugs of Indiana making themselves known.
Billy hardly ever plays this music, and definitely not in his car. He’s always playing music that vibrates everything around her when they’re in his car. She likes it most of the time; it’s fun when they get to “rock out” together. Plus yelling at the top of her lungs about shouting at the devil while the world goes by in a blur helps calm her more than most things sometimes. It’s like a release of pressure.
At home, it’s easier to get him to play softer music like this. Sometimes she feels soft. She likes all kinds of music; the hard vibrating music that Billy plays, the lower and grittier music that Jonathan plays, the happier and brighter music that both Steve and Max play (sometimes), and the slower and sweeter music that Mike plays. She even likes the weird “psychedelic” music Joyce plays and the rough-but-smooth music Jim plays. All of it is so nice. She didn’t get any of this stuff growing up. She likes getting all of it now. Plus, she gets to learn new words from music (although Jim isn’t too happy about that, sometimes).
But this stuff… “Fleetwood Mac with the gorgeous Stevie Nicks”, as the guy on the radio said… this is something she hasn’t heard before.
She likes this radio station. They play soft songs like this. The music here sounds… spiritual. El isn’t super sure about all of the definitions of that word, but she feels like that’s the right word for this song. She asked Billy if they could listen to this station, looking up at him in the sweetest way she could, until he said go ahead. It didn’t take too long to get the okay. And as Billy hums along in the corner, El knows that he likes this music just as much as she does. Sometimes she wonders why he doesn’t just listen to it more. As nice as yelling about devils and hell can be, this stuff is just as nice. Sometimes, on nights like this where the warmth feels like it’s developing on her skin like a polaroid picture, or a loving hug, like it’s blooming on her cheeks like the flowers that Mike’s mom grows in their front yard, these songs are better than the vibrating ones.
~She is like a cat in the dark… and then she is the darkness…~
This song touches El in a different way than any other song. She feels it in different places than other songs. This song gets her down at the soles of her feet, and somewhere deeper inside of her chest that she wouldn’t be able to name.
When she heard the name “Stevie” she thought “Steve” and was prepared for a deep, masculine voice. When this woman started singing… El’s brain went a bit fuzzy. It gets her thinking something, every part of her curious.
~All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind…~
It isn’t until the song becomes just music with the singers repeating a word El doesn’t know that she feels like her voice is within her again. Suddenly she’s back in the room with Billy, who is swaying his hips lightly as he sprays his hair with that stuff that makes El cough. Then, completely unprompted, she asks: “Can girls marry girls?”
Billy drops his hairspray.
“Wha-?” He sputters, looking back to her while bending down to pick the can up off the ground.
“Can girls marry girls?”
He seems nervous. She looks up at him with wide eyes, expectant as anything, and he looks about as helpless as Will trying to wade in the shallow part of the local pool.
It’s then that a loud and persistent knock at the front door cuts through the space of the house and right to Billy’s room.
“Hargrove!” Comes a voice from the door. “You better hear me over your damn music this time!”
“Buckley! Let’s ask her.” Billy says with perhaps more excited relief than El has ever heard in him.
Robin is here because it’s what Will calls “date night”. Jonathan has a date with Nancy, Jim has a date with Joyce, and Billy has a date with Steve. Jim’s and Joyce’s date was set before Steve’s and Billy’s was, but Joyce still got concerned about the idea of leaving her home alone once the two boys set up theirs. She suggested Jim and her cancel so that they could all go out to get some ice cream or something.
They don’t like to leave El alone, and El appreciates it, because she doesn’t like to be left alone, either. The house is scary when it’s empty, even though she knows things are safe now. She had asked Max if she could come hang out, but her parents wanted her home for dinner, so she couldn’t. She apologized a lot about it.
When Steve suggested he ask Robin to come over, Joyce felt bad even at the idea of “bothering” her, but Steve swore it wouldn’t be a bother, saying “she doesn’t do much on Saturdays anyway other than hang out with me. Parties aren’t her scene. Plus she keeps saying she wants to get to know the Squirt more.”
El resents the name Squirt.
But she likes Robin. She’s met her multiple times now because Steve is over a lot to see Billy, so Robin is over a lot to find Steve. Billy and Robin like to pick on Steve and make him blush.
But right now Billy is rushing over to the door. El watches him swing it open after she walks into the hall.
El pads up to the door in her socked feel and peeks over Billy’s shoulder, waving a small hand. “Hi Robin.”
Robin looks confused -and maybe a little freaked out- as she waves to El but still eyes Billy.
“Hi El. Uh… what is it, Hargrove?” Robin asks. She looks like she doesn’t trust Billy.
Billy just pushes himself past Robin and turns around once he gets past.
“El has a question.” He says. It’s rushed. He looks over to El and gives a bright smile. “See ya later, kiddo!”
And then he rushes over to his car. It looks to El like he’s gonna start jogging.
El waves goodbye, but Robin is yelling.
“Hargrove! You bitch! I don’t have little siblings and I don’t plan on giving any kids ‘the talk’ any time soon!”
El is confused at the words. Billy just waves sweetly to both of them before opening the door to his car and sliding in.
“This isn’t what I signed up for when I said I’d come hang out and watch soap operas and eat freezer waffles!”
But Robin is yelling to nothing now, because Billy is playing a song El can hear from here and driving away from the house.
She turns to El. El just tilts her head, her widening her eyes a bit in interested confusion.
“Let’s head on inside.” Robin says on a sigh. El just nods and hops in, the question still on her mind. It intensifies when she hears more Stevie Nicks floating through the air.
“Huh…” Robin says as she closes the door. “Was Billy listening to Stevie Nicks?”
Robin laughs and crosses her arms.
“Well. Didn’t take Billy for being a fan. But then again, the only one I know who’s crazy enough to not like Fleetwood Mac is Steve.”
She’s laughing, and El giggles a bit too, even though her mind is a little clouded and she’s not entirely sure what Robin is implying.
Robin shakes her head and regards El in a way she can’t describe.
“Now, what was your question, kid?”
And suddenly, El is a little nervous.
“Billy looked like he wanted to run away.” El says in favor of asking her question, her heart beating a little too fast.
Robin laughs with that same weird expression on her face.
“Yeah, he’s… kind of a spaz.”
El giggles for read at that one. Robin’s smile disarms her completely.
“Seriously, go ahead and ask your question.” Her smile is so warm and comforting. “We can sit down or something, too.” she adds quickly, gesturing to the couch. El takes the offer. Robin joins her, sitting on the couch with one knee pulled up and facing El. El mirrors the position, but with both of her knees up. The “gorgeous Stevie Nicks” is still filtering through the warm air.
~Break the silence… damn the dark, damn the light…~
El wrings her hands a bit, playing with the hair-tie around her wrist that Hopper gave her when he took her in.
She was fine, she really was, but when Billy ran, she freaked out. And now she’s scared.
She doesn’t want Robin running away, too. She likes Robin. Robin is soft and nice and sassy. She reminds El of Max. She pokes fun at Steve like Max will poke fun at Lucas. She’s always making El laugh when she’s around.
She has pretty eyes like Max, and pretty hair like Max, and pretty clothes like Max. Her mouth is even pretty like Max’s is. Like Mike’s is. It looks soft.
El’s mind is swimming.
“Hey… El?” Robin’s voice is soft as she reaches a hand out to touch El’s knee. El looks up with wide eyes. Her hand is so soft.
“You can go ahead and ask that question.” That weird expression is still on her face. “I know I… yelled. I uh, didn’t mean it. You can ask me whatever you need to.”
Robin is nodding weirdly. El nods back.
It takes her a second. The song ends before she can say:
“Can girls marry girls?”
The weird expression on Robin’s face is gone, suddenly. Now her eyes are wide and she almost laughs- if that weird bubble in her throat that looks like it just popped is anything to go bye.
“Oh.” She smiles. El is confused, but she smiles back at Robin because it’s infectious.
Just like Max.
“Oh?” El questions.
Robin nods, smile getting smaller as her eyebrows get closer together.
“Uhm…” Robin starts, moving her knee down to sit criss cross. “Girls… can’t… marry girls. Not yet.”
El is confused. She wasn’t expecting that answer. She knows she’s never heard of girls marrying girls… she’s never even heard of girls kissing girls like El kisses Mike. And she isn’t really allowed to kiss Mike, either, but she knows boys kiss girls in public. She sees it at the mall and at the ice cream parlor and at the grocery store. She doesn’t see boys kiss boys in public, but she knows they’re allowed because Steve kisses Billy all the time. The way Billy kisses is gross, but he smiles inbetween and that makes El happy, so she’s okay with it.
But she’s never seen a girl kiss a girl.
And she’s not very sure about marriage. She knows Joyce and Jim are going to get married soon. But they’re a boy and a girl. They’re allowed to kiss in public. At first she wondered if it was just young people who can’t kiss in public, but Murray and Alexei will give each other kisses on the cheek and stuff sometimes, and they only do that inside the house.
“Boys and girls get married.” El states. She doesn’t know what other questions to ask, so she opts for that. Robin seems to understand.
“Yeah. It’s just… not allowed yet. Boys and boys can’t get married either.” Robin says. It makes El kind of sad. Billy and Steve are just as happy as Joyce and Jim are sometimes. Most times. If they can get married, why can’t Billy and Steve? Why can’t Alexei and Murray?
“These are weird rules.” El says.
“Yeah, they’re not great.” Robin says on a sigh, but she looks back at El with soft and determined eyes. “But that doesn’t mean girls can’t like girls.”
That excites El. She sits criss cross like Robin is. “Really?”
Robin smiles and nods.
“Yeah. I mean, if Steve and Billy can… like each other and they’re two boys, then why can’t two girls? Right?”
“Right!” El says, bubbles rising in her chest and up to her throat. She giggles them out and Robin giggles with her.
When their giggles calm down, Robin still has that bright smile.
“Girls are real pretty, aren’t they?”
El nods. She thinks of the first time she saw Nancy’s picture in Mike’s house. Her long, soft hair and her big, blue eyes. The shape of her jaw and her mouth. El thought she wanted to be her. She thought she wanted to be Nancy. Then when she saw Nancy she realized the picture didn’t show how actually pretty she was. How pretty and smart and strong. Then she wondered if she wanted to be her or if she wanted something else.
And El really likes Mike. He’s pretty too, but in a different kind of way most of the time. His mouth reminds El of Max’s. His shoulders are hard and he has a lot of sharp angles to him, but it’s nice. He’s nice. A lot of the time. Right now they’re broken up because he was being mean to her while she was trying to learn how to play D&D. And he said she likes looking at clothes too much and argued with her about it instead of “talking” like Joyce said he should have.
But she still really likes him. Might love him. His eyes sparkle in a nice way.
“Yeah…” El agrees with Robin. “Really pretty…”
Robin is smiling softer. Sweeter. Like how Joyce smiles at her sometimes when she learns something she didn’t know before or when she learns to do something she couldn’t do before. Like when she learned to ride Will’s bike.
“I mean… if girls are pretty, what’s wrong with liking them, right?” Robin shrugs. “You know, I like girls.”
El’s eyes are wide.
Robin giggles a little and smiles. “Yeah. Like… the same way that Billy likes boys.”
“You mean you’d… kiss a girl?”
“Yeah, if any of them wanted to kiss me back.” She speaks quieter towards the end of her sentence.
“And that’s okay?”
Robin makes a face like she just got a papercut.
“Well… okay in the same way it’s okay for Billy and Steve. You know what I mean?”
El nods. “Not in public.”
“Right.” Robin says. She sounds sad as she plays with the end of the band-aid on her knee. But then she’s looking at El with bright eyes. She reaches out and nudges El’s shoulder. “But hey, maybe one day, right?”
El nods with a smile.
They laugh together.
When it dies down, El is thinking again.
“Have you ever kissed a girl?”
Robin’s mouth drops open a bit before she closes it and nods.
“Yeah. A couple times. A couple of years ago.”
“What… was it like? Is it… different? Than kissing boys?”
Robin laughs loudly. It makes El’s heart feel bright.
“That I wouldn’t know.” She says on a chuckle. “I uh… don’t do the whole guy thing.”
El tilts her head at the words.
“Uhm, I only like girls.” Robin explains, playing with a strand of hair that’s hanging in her face. “Guys are cool to be friends with, but… I don’t wanna be kissing them.”
El nods. She can understand someone not doing something if they don’t want to.
“Was it nice though?” El asks.
Robin’s face colors like Steve’s does when Robin pokes fun at him. It’s pretty. She’s pretty.
“Yeah. Uhm, it was nice. A bit… confused. We both hadn’t kissed anyone before.”
“But she was… soft. So it was nice and soft.” Robin looks like she’s remembering something. “I liked how soft she was.”
El understands. She likes the softness too. Even Max, who is all hard words and tones and presence, is still soft. Her hair is soft and her hand is soft. Mike’s hand is soft too, most of them time, when El holds it.
El sits there and thinks everything through, listening closely as she realizes there’s a different band playing now.
Robin claps her hands on her knees.
“Alrighty then! I heard that you like soap operas. I hope it’s not Days of Our Lives because I swear that is all my mom watches at home.”
Robin swings her legs around and walks herself over to the kitchen, grabbing a couple of glasses and filling them up with cold apple juice.
“Go ahead and put something on. I’ll make us something to eat.”
El smiles and reaches for the remote.
It’s the following Wednesday and Max has been given permission to stay the night with El. The night is cooler than it was on Saturday, but El leaves the window open anyway because Max likes when it’s a little cold. She says it’s because then they can use more blankets to cuddle themselves up tighter. El agrees. She likes being buried in blankets. Hopper has lots of extras for some reason.
So they’ve swiped lots of blankets from the closet and El is laying them out on the bed for prime cuddle time. Max is singing along to the radio. She has a beautiful voice. It’s nicer to listen to her sing than it is to hear Mike.
Mike is silly when he sings. It makes El’s face burn and her heart beat in a funny way, but it’s kind of embarrassing -even though no one but El can hear him- and that kind of overrides the fluffy feelings sometimes.
Max though… Max sings so beautifully. Her voice is so pretty, just like her red hair as she bounces around and shakes her head to the beat. She’s dancing back and forth, shaking her shoulders around and shaking her head along with them.
“Some boys take a beautiful girl and hide her away from the rest of the world~”
She locks eyes with El then, pointing at her and singing along.
“I wanna be the one to walk in the sun!” She sings, closing her eyes as she sings loudly. It makes El laugh. She’s sitting on her feet, bouncing along to the music as she watches Max run around her room and play with the blankets and drapes the clothes on El’s hangers around her shoulders.
El can’t stop watching her. She’s not even paying attention to the magazines that Max has brought, which is new for her. She loves when Max brings her magazines. But as the song fades, El’s voice rises up in her throat.
“Yeah?” Max asks, coming up to the edge of the bed and leaning on it with both of her hands.
“Uhm…” El begins, her voice bubbling flat when the light piano of the next song comes up. El recognizes it as… Madonna? Max likes Madonna. “I… had a question.”
Max shakes her head around a bit as the beat picks up.
El feels her face get red. She hasn’t found anything this difficult in a long time. She bounces a bit to the beat as Max hops along too. She smiles a bit, humming to the music but not singing the words even though El knows she knows them. She figures she’s doing it for El. She doesn’t want to interrupt her. El likes that about her.
Max’s eyes get a little wider in welcome as she waits for El to speak.
~If you want me let me know, baby let it show…~
“Do you… think girls are pretty?” El asks quietly. Max’s eyes get a little wider but this time El thinks it’s because she’s surprised.
Her mouth moves, but no words come out. El is… panicked. It goes on for a few seconds before she shakes her head a bit. El thinks it means no for a second, but Max is looking at her again, this time with less-wide eyes.
“Uhm… yeah. Girls are really pretty.”
“But like, in the way…” El falters. And tries again. “In the way Billy thinks Steve is pretty.”
Max’s face is getting red. It’s cute. And pretty. Max is so so pretty.
Her hair is pretty and her eyes are pretty and her little sun spots (she calls them ‘freckles’) are pretty and wow. El can’t stop looking.
“Right.” Max says, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. “Yeah. Yes, I mean- yes. I mean… have you seen Madonna?”
She laughs. It sounds different. Nervous.
El shakes her head. She hasn’t seen Madonna. For as much as they listen to her, Max never shows her.
Max climbs onto the bed next to El and goes through the magazines until she finds one with Madonna on one of the pages.
“There. Look at her.” El leans in a little closer, leaning her cheek on Max’s shoulder like she’s done countless times before, but this time her cheek feels like it’s sparking like Billy’s lighter when it doesn’t work right away.
El agrees. She’s really pretty. Her hair is curly, like her own and a bit like Max’s. It’s short in the picture, even shorter than El’s. She thinks maybe her hair is tied up. The shape of her face reminds El of Nancy, but the look in her eyes doesn’t remind El of anything. It’s completely new and it makes El’s chest feel warm and cold all at once. Her mind feels a little dizzy.
“Yeah.” El says softly, nodding. “Pretty.”
They look at the picture silently for a few seconds more. El doesn’t know what to say. This is so much harder than she thought it would be.
“Do you find other girls pretty? Other than Madonna?”
Max closes the magazine quickly.
“Yeah, I mean… girls are just… pretty. You know? Their hair is nice... And they smell nicer than boys. And they’re smarter than boys.”
El doesn’t know when they started talking about boys, but this isn’t really what she wanted.
Max is currently broken up with Lucas. He mentioned her zits the other day and said it might be because she eats so much chocolate. He also asked if she was on her “cycle”. El didn’t understand. But she does understand that Max wasn’t happy.
“Huh?” Max asks, moving her head a bit to look down at where El is still leaning on her shoulder. El looks up at her.
~Feels like I’m going to lose my mind…~
“Girls are soft.”
Max takes a quiet breath in. El notices when she’s this close.
“Yeah. That’s nice too.” Max is speaking quieter than El has ever heard her.
They look at each other for a second. Max hasn’t sung a single word of this song, even though El knows she loves it. It makes El feel a little excited, but she doesn’t even know what she’s excited about.
“Have you ever wanted to kiss a girl?”
Max’s eyes go even wider, her breath coming out quicker as she kind of moves away. El is worried. Max is gonna run. Just like her brother, Max is gonna run away and El doesn’t even know what she’s done.
“I’m sorry!” El says quickly. She’s scared. Her heart isn’t excited anymore, it’s frightened. Max looks scared too.
“No, don’t-I-uhm… yeah.” Max says, nodding her head and letting her hair flop around.
“Really?” El asks, like she didn’t hear right.
“Yeah. Girls are pretty… why wouldn’t I wanna kiss them?”
They laugh. El is nervous. She thinks Max might be too.
They look at each other again. Another song starts playing and El isn’t sure if she knows it, but the voice begins pretty quickly.
~Many times I’ve tried to tell you…~
“Do you… wanna kiss?”
Max’s face is completely red. It reaches all the way down to her neck. It’s pretty.
Max takes a big breath and nods.
El feels all those bubbles in her chest again. They start at the soles of her feet and go all the way up to her throat. It feels like her lips are sparking with the thought of kissing Max.
El is still sitting on her feet and Max is sitting with one leg folded underneath her and the other dangling off the bed.
They just kind of stare for a couple of seconds, mouths moving inbetween smiles and beyond. Max places both of her hands on the bed and leans forward a bit as El pushes her weight off of her feet so she can lean forward and closer to Max.
They stop close, almost kissing but not quite, as the song plays.
~To the doubts that complicate your mind…~
And El can’t wait. She leans forward right as the chorus hits.
~We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder…~
Their lips press together for a couple of seconds and El was wrong. El was very, very wrong. Max’s lips are almost nothing like Mike’s. They’re a million times softer and gentler.
They end their kiss with a shared giggle against each other’s mouths. El can’t contain it and it seems like Max can’t either. They’re giggling like crazy, El hitting the tops of her feet against the bed because her whole body is overcome with giddiness. This is so different. She’ll have to tell Robin.
She wants more. She leans in again, a smile still on her lips and she can feel the smile on Max’s too.
It’s too much. Too much happiness. They giggle out of the kiss again, quicker this time. The song is still playing loudly in the background and it’s playing in El’s heart and right across her lips and across her cheeks and down her neck and into her heart. They both topple onto the bed on their backs, an absolute fit of giggles.
The feeling is light. Freeing. Max helps her become herself and their friendship is so bright to El that this is so bright, too.
And yes, she likes kissing Mike. She could kiss Mike for hours. She would, if she didn’t have to keep her door open. But she can’t even think about Mike for too long because she feels so bright right now.
This is so different. So so different. It’s the prettiest, most beautiful kind of different.
And they don’t even have to keep the door open.
Her insides are made up of marshmallow fluff. She’s as fluffy and warm as the extra blankets Hopper keeps in the cabinet. The ones that El took and placed on the bed.
Max’s smile is brighter than the hallway light as she turns her head to look at El. El is smiling back. She thinks she’s going to keep smiling for the rest of the night. Maybe even through her sleep and into the next morning. Can you sleep while smiling? El figures if you can, she’ll be able to tonight.
El could lay here forever. She moves her hand so her knuckles lightly touch with Max’s. Max takes her fingers and wraps them around a couple of El’s. Even where they touch feels bright.
A loud thundercrack breaks them out of their giddiness.
Suddenly they shriek, reaching for the blankets and each other as they bundle up tight.
They’re shaking a bit, the song fading away. In a couple of minutes, someone is knocking on the door.
“Yeah?” El asks, voice small.
The door opens to find Billy.
“You punks okay in here?” He asks. El wants to smile at his face. It’s the face he puts on when he wants to pretend like he doesn’t care.
El and Max nod at the same time.
“Alright. This damn storm is probably going to go all night or some shit so if you need anything, say something before I fall asleep, alright?” He asks. El and Max nod to him. El gives him a wave as he leaves.
The two girls hold each other tighter and listen to the new song that the radio is crooning through the room.
~Oh thunder only happens when it’s raining...~
El listens to what she recognizes is Stevie Nicks with as much peace and calm as she did in Billy’s room. They hold each other a little tighter with every thundercrack until they both fall asleep, the thunderstorm forgotten in their calm and shared presence mingled with the soothing sound of the rain.
And when Billy walks into their room to turn off the radio, he looks at the girls and smiles, but he’d be damned to tell anyone.