Billy left Hawkins in the dust over a year ago. He was happy without it. But he had also left Max and Steve behind.
He didn't expect to miss Steve as much as he did. They had only been together for a few months before he left.
Max he talked to once a week when she slept over at Hopper's cabin with El. She told him about everything, except Steve. It's like she knew it would hurt him. He never told her about their relationship, but he had always suspected she knew.
Every time he got drunk he found himself dialing the number to the Harrington house, even though he knew Steve didn't live there anymore because Max had once let it slip that the kids had regular monthly sleepovers at Steve and Robin's apartment.
During his weekly call with his sister, exactly one year after he had left he finally got up the courage to ask, "How is he? Steve?"
She paused trying to ignore the desperation in her brothers voice and thought about the best way to answer. "He's okay. He's been mopey since you left, but I think he's doing okay."
Billy nodded and swallowed the lump in his throat. "That's good."
Thankfully she kept the conversation going by telling him about the reason she had dumped Lucas again this week. He listened and laughed along, letting himself truly miss seeing her dumb facial expressions as she bitched.
They talked for 10 minutes. Then Billy heard yelling in the background and Max said, "Hop is back with dinner. Talk later, dickhead."
Billy grinned, "Next week Shitbird."
"Bye, Billy!" El yelled near the receiver. Billy laughed, "Bye, El."
He hung the phone up and sighed. His hand hovered over the receiver. He had gotten a hold of an Indiana phone book, and he had bookmarked the page with every S. Harrington on it.
For the past month he had called a number on the list every time he hung up with Max. He had no idea what he would say if he did get Steve, but he had to try.
He slid the book into his lap and flipped it open. The first four names were marked out in black ink. The odds that he would hear Steve's voice grew with every scribble.
He picked up the phone and held it to his ear. The dial tone gave him pause. "What the fuck am I doing?"
He put the phone down and let the book fall onto the floor as he stood. He paced for a minute, hands in his hair. "Get it together Hargrove."
He stomped to the kitchen and grabbed the first bottle with brown liquid he saw. He took two gulps, eyes glued to the phone.
The bottle slammed to the counter as he said, "Fuck it." He grabbed the phone and the discarded book. He paced as he dialled.
It rang four times before the machine picked up.
"Hey, you've reached Robin and Steve."
Billy's breath caught in his throat as he heard the name, but he didn't recognize the voice.
"We aren't home right now."
"If this is Mrs. Henderson, I took Dustin to the movies, I tried calling but you weren't in." Steve's voice sounded the same and it made Billy smile. Always Mr. Mom.
"If this is Will, I will bring whatever movie you want me to to the next game night, as long as your mom knows this time. If this is Billy, I miss you." Then it beeped indicating it was ready to record.
Billy nearly threw the phone in his haste to hang up. His breathing was becoming labored as the lump in his chest grew. His eyes filled with tears. For the first time since had left Indiana, he cried.
The next week Max couldn't talk for long because she wasn't allowed to stay the night but she managed to get a visit. "Mom says she is not comfortable with it just being Mr. Hopper here."
Billy scoffed, "Bull shit. If that was the reason you wouldn't have been having weekly sleepovers for the past year."
"I know!" Her voice grew more irritated. "I think Neil found out."
Billy bristled at the name, "What do you mean?"
He could practically hear the shrug or her shoulders. "He didn't know El was Hopper's kid. I think mom told him she was one of the Byer's."
Billy scoffed and flexed his free hand. The mention of his father made him tense. "And what is he gonna do? It's not like he ever touched you and I'm over 18 so it doesn't matter anymore."
"I don't know. But Steve said if I can't come here anymore I can talk to you at his place."
"Oh." The tension fell away at that. "He knows about our talks?"
She was chewing on something now, "Yeah. I mean, He didn't at first, but he does now."
"Is that okay?"
He shook his head and smiled, "Yeah. I don't care. I just don't want to whole town thinking I actually like you."
She snorted, "Bye, Dickhead."
"Talk soon, Shitbird."
He was still smiling as he hit the button on the phone to hang up but didn't lay the receiver down.
He had memorized the number by now because he had stared at it every night since he last called it. Again, it rang four times and the machine picked up.
This time it was all Steve's voice. "You've reached Robin and Steve. Mrs. Hargrove, Max is welcome here anytime just like the rest of the kids. Dustin, I have to work a double tomorrow, if you need me call the video store."
There was a pause before the girls voice took over. "I still really miss you, pretty boy."
Billy's heart was full as he heard the message. Steve must have made her say it this time to keep Susan from hearing, but throwing his nickname in was a nice touch. He slowly put the phone down, again not leaving any words on the machine.
"I'm at Steve's, Neil doesn't want me around Hopper."
Billy grit his teeth. "Asshole. Can you at least still see El?"
"Hi Billy!" The voice took him a second to place.
"Hi Lucas. You haven't dumped him today?" He knew his voice was fond, but it was better than mad.
He heard her eye roll. "He hasn't done anything dumb yet."
He chuckled. "Who all is there?"
"Lucas, obviously, Mike, Will, El, and Robin. Steve and Dustin will be back in a few with the pizza and snacks."
They talked for a while longer, he could hear the others having fun in the background. Normal kid fun. It was nice to hear.
He heard someone say something about a car. "Oh, food is here. I'll call you later Billy."
"Yeah. Hey, Max?" He heard her pause when he used her real name.
"I miss you" His voice cracked as he asked.
Her voice got soft. "Hey Billy?"
"Yeah?" He wiped a tear off of his cheek.
"I love you." Her voice was smaller than he had ever heard.
He smiled, another tear escaping his eye. "You too, shitbird."
She chuckled and hung up.
He took a deep breath and laid his head back on the couch where he was sitting.
He called the number as soon as he got home from work the next day.
For the third time, it rang four times then beeped. It was the girl's voice again, Robin.
"This is Robin and Steve's. Kids, give us a chance to clean up from your last visit before we think about another. Keith, find someone else to cover for you, you're killing Stevie. Oh yeah. Billy, I Love you. I know I never said it, but I do."
He sucked imagine sharp breath, but didn't hang up this time. He left his number, "I get off at 6." Then he set the phone down.
At 6:25 on the dot, his phone rang. He threw back the whiskey he had just poured and snagged the phone. "Hello?"
His heart was pounding. "Steve."
Steve took a shuddering breath. "Still a wordsmith I see."
Billy smiled, "Always."
Billy laid back in the chair and let Steve's voice wash over him as he talked. When Steve finally took a breath, Billy spoke. "Hey, pretty boy."
"I love you too."