It’s not every day that Nancy Wheeler strolls into the Family Video store in sharp business attire, looking like a million bucks. Lips and cheeks rosy red, hair curled and glowing in the sun. But then again it’s not every day that Robin helps Dingus and Wingus decode secret Russian transmissions, either, so.
It made Robin grip the counter at the register counter tight, and her stomach rolled at the thought of one of those fucking... things , showing up again after a month of relative peace and quiet. Steve still had his bat in the trunk of his car. She wondered if Erica kept a hold of that taser or not. She kind of doubted it- it was probably still down in the labs somewhere or confiscated by the police. Or her parents. Robin had started to carry around a pocket knife but it probably wouldn’t do jack shit if it came down to an actual fight.
But, Will and Mike are at her side, devoid of severity and looking more like normal dorky kids and she relaxed a bit. It also kind of explained Nancy’s appearance in the first place- she hadn’t really seen much of Nancy before everything went down. They had never interacted all that much at school, and she had spent the vast majority of high school thinking of her as a priss, or a goody two shoes. She was learning that yet again, her assumptions weren’t always correct.
Of course she had stopped at Scoops a few times, usually with a gaggle of assorted teens at her heels, but she seemed to leave not long after deeming them safe under the (semi) adult supervision of Harrington. It made sense. She was busy and on the go, actually trying to do something with her life instead of slinging frozen treats or renting out VHSs to shitty hyperactive kids. Brats currently present notwithstanding of course.
“Ahoy, mateys!” She declared when they approached, something of a joke between them all now. And unlike at the parlor, it’s said with a complete lack of the usual disdain. The Party seemed to have that effect on her, unfortunately. She wondered if that was how it started out for Steve too. Begrudging acceptance at getting wrapped up in them and their schemes.
Nancy smiled and tipped her head in greeting, and the two boys busied themselves by looking over the selection of candy at the counter.
“Hey.” It was more than a response she usually got from Mike, so maybe he was finally warming up to her. That, or he had cleared a space in his teenage angst calendar long enough to remember some basic communication skills.
“Hi Robin.” Will said, all smiles. She smiled back. Out of all the little munchkins that had started to gather around their store, she’d be lying if she said she didn’t have a soft spot for him. For multiple reasons.
“What’s up pipsqueaks, gonna re-watch the Star Wars trilogy again?”
“We’re probably gonna get a horror movie this time.” Mike supplied. She glanced to Nancy, waiting for the obligatory speech about nightmares or not telling their parents but it never came. She realized with a jolt, that it was probably because the nightmares existed already without the movies. She’d wager that every single one of them had some sort of terrors to face when they went to bed. She did. Steve did. Dustin, while not going into too much detail, couldn’t seem to get junkyards and labs out of his nights.
They all went through something fucked up, the rest of them slightly more than her late arrival, but they were all trying to push through it somehow. Together.
Mike turned to his sister. “Can I get a KitKat?” She sent him a severe look and he grinned saccharine and sweet, “please? And thank you?”
Nancy rolled her eyes, no heat to the gesture. “Sure, Mike. You can get something if you want too Will.”
“That’s okay, thank you though.” Will said. Obviously in that position where you don’t want your friend’s parents or sibling to spend money on you. Regardless Mike grabbed a bag of peanut M&Ms for him, his favorite, and plopped it in his hands, ignoring his polite protests.
The two of them took off for the horror section to pick something out, leaving the girls alone. Nancy huffed and leaned against the counter as they watched.
“Kids, am I right?” Robin said.
“Yeah, kids.” Nancy shook her head.
“They’re all a cute bunch though, I’ll give them that.”
“They are.” Nancy smiled softly. “I’m glad they all have each other, despite the circumstances.” She looked down then, expression changing into something of a frown. Robin kinda missed her smile.
“Robin, I want to apologize for that night at the mall.”
Robin blinked. “Night at the mall?” She parroted, confused. She remembered the night in question, that was for damn sure, but she struggled to think of anything Nancy had done. They hadn’t even interacted all that much, with Billy and the teams splitting up. And the Mind Flayer.
“I was pretty rude to you, remember?” Nancy said, grimacing at the admission.
“What, that?” She made a dismissive noise. “Don’t even worry about it, I thought nothing of it. We were all emotionally charged that night, one way or another.” And it was true, she hadn’t taken it personally. Perhaps she would have, if the incident had happened before she knew anything about her maybe, when she still had preconceived notions about her (and Steve) but she understood. Largely she had been an outsider to a group of people who had already lived through that kind of shit, and no doubt fiercely loved and protected each other. From their perspectives, unaware of her time underground with the Scoops Troop as they were now called, who knew if she could be trusted? Especially in a situation bigger than just monsters and other dimensions.
“Still, it wasn’t fair to you.” Nancy continued. “I thought maybe we could start over.” She held out her hand, and Robin noted that her nails were adorned with a similar rosy shade to her lips. “Friends?”
Robin’s stomach swooped at the question. Nancy was just full of surprises, wasn't she? She gently took the proffered hand, feeling the bumps of calluses on her fingers. Particularly her index finger. No doubt from writing so much in school studying and at the Hawkins Post. And possibly from wielding guns like she was made for it.
She could recall Steve flooring the car, trying to save his friends from Billy. How she gripped the seat and door tightly, not even able to scream as they came closer and closer to collision. And Nancy had stood steadfast in front of her family, aiming down Billy and unloading bullet after bullet into his windshield with pinpoint accuracy. Robin would’ve been impressed had she not been so terrified.
“Friends.” She liked the thought of that. Having another friend her actual age, who was also a girl. It sounded great, even.
I’m not like Nancy Wheeler .
Would things change, if she found out, a part of her thought. She hoped not. She’d like to think not, when Nancy evidently knew about Steve and was fine with it. But there was a difference when it was another girl. When there was a chance that she could be looking at you.
“Great.” Nancy smiled, red lips parting to show bright teeth. She paused, seemingly thinking something over. “I also should thank you. For helping us all, for one. But also for looking after Steve. And being his friend.” She looked down once more, biting at her bottom lip. It’d probably smudge and get on her teeth but she didn’t seem to care.
“I know that he’s been lonely. I should’ve realized it sooner, even before we dated. And I should’ve been a better friend. Jonathan, too. So we’re trying, but- thanks.” She looked strained, the crinkles of her face giving away just how tired she looked under that beautiful facade.
Robin had heard bits and pieces of their relationship and the break up from Steve, but it was usually under the haze of self deprecation so he typically came out as the villain. She didn’t think there could be a villain in the scenario. And obviously she didn’t think that the blame landed solely on him. She just didn’t have the full story to have any judgments on them, not that she would anyways. It was over and done with and they both seemed to be healing in their own ways. She was looking forward to seeing how Nancy would keep her word.
“He’s a good guy. Which sounds so strange when we’re talking about Steve Harrington of all people, but. It’s true. He’s trying, too. I think we can all get a bit lonely sometimes, I know I was. So I think the relationship has been good for the both of us.” She fidgeted with the register’s stack of membership sheets, feeling awkward. Who knew one of the most utterly bizarre things she’d go through would be pouring out her feelings to Nancy Wheeler at precisely 4:37 PM during her shift at the local Family Video store.
Nancy nodded, something soft in her expression. Robin wondered if she was wondering the obvious question about their relationship, but she didn’t say anything.
“He’s on break now actually, I could go get him if you want to say hi?” She pointed vaguely towards the staff room, itching to break the silence that had begun to build between them. Nancy seemed to come out of her musings at the words and shook her head.
“I thought that was his car was parked outside. I would, but we should probably get going actually. Mom’s expecting us back home soon. Something about bonding more as a family.” She didn’t sound as bothered by it as her tone suggested, and it made her smile. She was glad she seemed to have a good relationship with her mom.
“C’mon guys, pick a movie and lets go before mom gets mad.”
“ Okay! ” Mike shot back, the definition of annoyed and put-upon younger brother. To their credit though, they hustled and eventually settled on a movie. Five or so dollars later the three of them began to depart with waves of goodbyes, and Robin felt the need to say something before they left.
“We should hang out sometime!” She eventually blurted out at Nancy’s retreating back. The flush that colored her cheeks probably brought out her freckles even more than usual. Nancy turned back to her, a smile playing on her lips as she adjusted her bag.
“I’d like that.”
“Yeah, great. So would I.” The floor beckoned to swallow her whole. She found she’d gladly answer the call.
“See you later.” Nancy said, and turned away. Mike rolled his eyes skyward and tromped after his sister, Will at his side.
“Yeah, see you!” She trailed off; they were already gone as quickly as they had come, bell tingling as the door settled shut once more. She wondered if it was the remnants of Nancy’s sweet perfume that left her reeling.
“Oof. That was brutal.” The gods truly must be enjoying their machinations, because Steve chose that exact moment to appear behind her. Robin grumbled to herself and flipped him the bird as he passed.
Interestingly enough, he detoured to the white board and added a tally mark to Robin’s ‘you rule’ side. She arched a brow.
“Why does that go on the board? That doesn’t count- I wasn’t flirting with Nancy.” Floundering, now that was more like it. Not flirting, no. Not when she was in a loving, monogamous relationship with Jonathan Byers and 100% straight. No sir.
“Uh really, ‘cause that isn’t how it looked to me.” He sing-songed. “Poorly, most assuredly, but it was definitely flirting.”
She spluttered, indignant.
“Uh no, it wasn’t. And even if it was so bad then why’d you put it on the wrong side Dingus?”
Steve grinned at that, eternally smug. Almost like he had been waiting for her to ask that very question.
“I’ve known Nancy for almost four years now. Not to brag, but I’m pretty damn good at reading her smiles. And that smile she gave you? The one where the corners of her eyes crinkle and her nose scrunches up just a tad?” He capped the dry erase marker, looking pleased. “That means she likes you.”
Robin laughed sharply. “Yeah, no, I’m calling bullshit on that.”
“Too bad. As a wise man once said: you can’t put the truth back in the box."
It seemed like shifts always ran so slow, unless they got a really popular movie or something. Unfortunately that often gave her a lot of time to think to herself. And lately, her thoughts were specifically about the words Steve had said regarding a certain curly-haired beauty.
And she was beautiful. Even in high school, when Steve didn’t know she existed and was hopelessly pinned after Tommy H. Even then, Robin had been aware of Nancy’s presence.
Hard not to be, when she whizzed through her classes. Practically floated down the hallways. And hung out with Steve, there at the end, despite his now renounced dick-ishness.
She could even remember Barb, too. At least a little. Sharp witted and smart, relentlessly teased because of her weight and clothes and fiery red hair. But it had never phased her; she just let it roll off her back. She let Robin borrow a pencil once. She remembered being at least passively sad when she went missing (Felt even more so, now that she knew the truth. How she had died alone.)
She could also recall how much it had devastated Nancy. How it must still, to this day. Even when Robin had thought she was a straight A priss it was obvious how much she had cared for her friend. It was more than she could say about the rest of the school (herself included in that group). Everyone else had just...moved on, within a day almost. Who cared that a girl was missing presumed dead- or a small boy, for that matter, when there was dances and boys and games to worry about.
It was a similar mentality the entire town had seemed to adapt a month after the mall. Who cars that hundreds had died? (In an explosion brought on by faulty wiring and cut corners, according to ‘officials’). Small business were back open, and Halloween was just two months away!
Getting wrapped up in the Party’s business was both a blessing and a curse: now, she knew the full story.
But now she had to live with that through the aftermath.
She felt like she could relate to Nancy now, at least a little bit.
“Why the hell would anyone willingly pay the fine, like seriously?” Steve rumbled, perched as he was up on the counter. He was in the process of going through the returns and hand rewinding any that hadn’t been sent in the correct way. Taking precious intervals to complain about the store’s broken VHS re-winder, naturally.
“It’s Mrs. Bently, isn’t it?” Robin asked. “Swear to god she leaves them like that on purpose. How much is she up to now? Three dollars?”
Steve picked up the next tape and waggled it, laughing derisively.
“Three fifty, who even does that? How can anyone forget be kind rewind when we drill it into their heads at every opportunity?”
Robin shook her head. “Old people, man.”
They were both started out of their conversation when the front doors slammed open abruptly, bell almost tingling to the floor. Nancy Wheeler strode into the store, absolutely red in the face.
“Je-SUS, Nancy. Scared the shit outta me. Now I know how Jonathan feels.” Steve said, struggling to keep hold of his tools. She paid him little to no mind and stomped up to the counter, hands on her hips as she began to pace aimlessly in front of them. They shared a look.
Robin would almost be worried that one of them had done something to anger her, but they were still alive, so that ruled out that. “Bad day I take it?” She asked. She had heard in passing at least some of her troubles from Steve and it made her blood boil.
Treating somebody like they were just a joke and nothing more than the coffee maid was a dick move. They were nothing but pompous bullies, and she hated bullies.
“I thought the worst had passed now that most of them were gone, but no, they keep popping up like- like an awful disease!” Nancy fumed. Robin nodded along.
“They’re crazy not to listen to you. You have real ideas for stories; what do they have?” She walked over to the newspaper display that they had. Hardly anybody picked any up, and they usually needed to throw most of them out at the end of the week anyways. She picked up one off the tip and read one of the first articles her eyes landed on.
“An information piece of the best fertilizer to use on golf courses.” She snorted. “Boring. Let’s see- oh, the bowling league’s made it to nationals. How exciting.”
“Half of that shit’s just the bare bones of what they think is talented writing. In reality they all just sit around and pull shit out of their asses when they’re bored. I have no idea how my dad stomachs them.” Steve said, shaking his head. “At least their photos have gotten better- but I think that has something to do with a certain intern.” He said, almost an afterthought.
“I’ll let him know you said that.” Nancy said, pausing her tirade. She fumbled to catch the paper Robin threw at her and looked at it curiously.
“Rip it up.” Robin said simply. Doing something like that always helped calm her nerves when she felt on the brink. That, and screaming into pillows.
Nancy hesitated, and looked to Steve.
“Hey, as long as I don’t have to clean it up, I don’t give a shit.”
Another pause, and then a loud tearing noise filled the area as Nancy split the paper down the center. There was something incredibly satisfying about watching a grown woman rip at the news like wrapping paper. She looked triumphant as Robin and Steve egged and cheered her on, and she kept at it, ripping the paper to literal shreds until it was nothing but confetti. Cheap shreds to line a hamster cage with. Satisfied, she marched over to the trash can and chucked the remnants into it. Then, she ducked into a grandiose bow in front of her audience.
“Atta girl Nance.” Steve said, giving her a high five. It was interesting to observe their relationship from the outside. Steve had loved her deeply, and was devastated when they split up. He said he didn’t love her anymore, and Robin believed him. At least not in the romantic sense of love. It was clear that they still cared for each other; they were comfortable together and didn’t shy away from affections anymore.
Steve was also friendly with Jonathan, despite the latter having “taken” Nancy away from him. They weren’t always as close as they were now, Steve had told her, but the fact remained that the three of them treated each other in kind no matter what tangled webs of drama had woven its way between them. Clearly the month after Starcourt had been beneficial for closing the gap between them. They were a fascinating trio to be sure.
“Feeling any better?” Robin asked.
“Yeah- I think a little bit.” Nancy said, hands on her hips, breathing deeply due to all the ventings and frustrations.
“Not good enough,” she quipped, “Steve man the counter.”
Steve grumbled in response, and she beckoned Nancy to follow her.
“Where are we going?”
“And then he says: “why does it matter what you think? You’re just the intern; your job is to sit around and look pretty.” Nancy continued, stabbing at her macaroni salad as if trying to spear a fish. Robin wondered what would break first: the bowl or the fork. Likewise, the waiter that would occasionally pass by looked rather worried about it as well.
That, or he was worried she’d stab him with it.
Robin shook her head. “What a low life, seriously.” She leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table top. “You know I’ve seen him in the Video before? He tends to go for the more uh, risque titles we have.” She waggled her eyebrows and Nancy’s face scrunched up in disgust. “Yeah. And not even the fun, full adult entertainment either. He gets the kind of movie where they don’t even show the whole thing and the guy and girl just grunt together for a minute, like how weird is that? If you’re gonna be a creep and go into a Family Video all by yourself you might as well go full creep am I right?” She munched on her burger, with a significant less amount of hostility than Nancy had. Nancy shook her head.
“God, I can’t believe that asshole has a wife and a kid. And another one on the way? I feel bad for her.”
“I’ll never understand how women can get into these kinds of relationships. Their husbands just walk all over them.”
“It’s the fear, I guess. That or the naive belief that the man they married is still there, under all that hate and beer.” Nancy said. She had a far away look to her eye, like she was in deep contemplation. “That or they just don’t see anything wrong with their behavior. It’s sad. Things shouldn’t be like that.”
“Times are changing. We can be anything we want to be.” Robin added.
Robin held up her glass of root beer, and brought it forward.
“You don’t deserve the shit you have to put up with, and one day you won’t have to. You keep fighting the good fight Nancy Wheeler. One day we’ll have a female president.”
Nancy grinned, and Robin’s stomach swooped. She clinked their glasses together. “I like the way you think Robin.”
Robin wondered if Steve had managed to burn down the building while she and Nancy were away at lunch. She entered the building just in time to see him, in an attempt to nonchalantly flirt with a guy, lean up against one of the display shelves and nearly take it and him down in one fell swoop.
So more of the same, really.
She made a mental reminder to add another tally mark to his “you suck” side of the board.
Having a bike as your main mode of transportation also gave one time to think.
And of course, because she had no self control to her name, she thought of Nancy.
How Nancy had been in the periphery of her life throughout high school, only to come into a sharp, focused clarity now. Suddenly just there. Coming into the store to talk to her and Steve, or to drop off kids or pick up a film of her own. How she had driven to the store after work just to see her, to vent to her, because she could understand her struggles. How she had drug her to lunch, a slightly awkward affair because Nancy had to drive but Robin paid for both of their meals. Granted, it wasn’t Ponderosa or anything, but that didn’t stop her brain from screaming at her that it was a date the entire time. Even though it wasn’t. It totally wasn’t. Because Nancy was completely straight.
Unbidden, she thought to Tammy Thompson. She had been down this road of heartbreak before, and she didn’t want to go through it a second time. She had vowed to herself she wouldn’t fall for a straight girl again. Her heart couldn’t take it. Frustrated with her thoughts, she thrust her bike into the rack with a little more force than was strictly necessary. She felt like screaming into her pillow again.
“What do you mean they’re not dating anymore?” She said, or at least she made a valiant effort to say. It was a bit of a difficult task when one’s mouth was filled with biscuits and gravy. Steve lazily glanced up from where he was dousing a stack of pancakes with maple syrup. Completely blase, as if he hadn’t just dropped a huge information bomb on her.
They had just gotten off a long night shift, leaving them both tired, for sure, but also starving. So Steve had helped her cram her bike into his backseat and drove them to the nearest 24 hour diner to have a midnight snack. Or morning snack- take your pick.
“I mean they’ve ceased their romantic relationship.” He elaborated unnecessarily. Robin finally swallowed down her bite of food and stared at him. Hard.
“Since when?” She bit her lip. It wasn’t her business, really, but she had that curiosity itching at her, the buzzing need to know not only everything about the events she had missed but the people involved in it as well. Nancy in particular, it seemed.
“It was uuh, last October I believe. So they’ve been apart for a while now.” He said. “At least that’s what Jon told me.”
She hesitated for a moment and gnawed at her lower lip. “Are you okay?” He looked fine, but that… that was a lot.
“Who me? Oh yeah, totally. I’m fine. I just-” He put down his fork and placed his arms on the table. Deliberated his next words. “I’m sad that they didn’t work out together of course but, things happen. People change. Situations- have a way of making or breaking a relationship. Make you realize that you don’t love them anymore, or never did.” He smiled ruefully, and she linked their hands together.
“I think that they realized that they were better suited as friends is all. So yeah, I’m fine. We’re all fine. Or at least, we’re going to be. But thanks for worrying about me.” He patted her hand, and moved on to cover his drowned pancakes in whipped cream.
She absentmindedly stirred her gravy, taking in and processing his words. Nancy and Jonathan had seemed like such a steady thing, or at least in the ways she had seen them together and how Steve had made it sound. The connection that they had unbreakable, impenetrable.
But things did change. She had, she was fairly certain they all had really. And Steve did look okay. She knew that he wouldn’t lie to her, about no longer being in love with Nancy, and not about this. She wasn’t sure why she was so hung up on it.
It wasn’t like it changed anything with her.
They could see Wingus scramble out of Nancy’s car from the expanse of windows, and Steve and Robin had a split second to make eye contact before the door banged open. Likewise, Dustin seemed to notice something was afoot as he slowed to a stop, squinting at them upon the threshold. Then-
Look at what you see~
In her face
A neverending dream”
Their harmonizing left something to be desired, but at least they sounded better than Tammy. Dustin groaned loudly.
“Jesus shit, seriously? You guys are all assholes. I’m never gonna live it down, am I?” He sounded so dejected, the poor thing.
“Nope” Steve said while he shimmied in place. Dustin sighed deeply and began looking through the halls of tapes.
“You guys are just jealous of our passionate love!”
“Sure, whatever you say kid.”
Robin looked back when she heard the bells once again and Nancy stepped through, elegant as always.
“Ms. Henderson asked if I could take Dustin to El’s.” She said in lieu of an explanation. A hint of a smile twitched at her cheek even as she acted put upon. “He insisted that I stop here so he could rent a good movie for her to see.”
Robin cooed, “that’s so sweet.”
“Yeah, they have their moments.”
They fell silent and watched as Dustin tried to goad Steve into giving him a discount. So far he wouldn’t budge.
“So, are you ready for this Saturday?” Nancy asked, turning back to her with that same smile.
She hadn’t given much thought to what she would be doing that day. Probably playing her clarinet, or renting a movie, or something equally as pitiful and boring.
As if sensing her confusion she turned suddenly.
Startled out of their argument he looked over to her, expression a dead ringer of a deer caught in headlights. Clearly he recognized the tone very well.
“You told Robin about this Saturday didn’t you?” She implored, completely innocent. Even so Dustin gave his companion a wide berth, eyes wide as he scurried away to the sanctuary of the VHS displays. Steve looked from her to Robin, expression still owlish.
“Uh, I think it might’ve slipped my mind?” It came out as more of a question and Nancy sighed. Robin watched on with confusion, not sure who to feel more sorry for in this equation: Steve or Nancy.
“Sorry,” she turned back to face her and shook her head, “it’s just that Steve, Jonathan, and I planned to take the kids to Indiana Beach this Saturday and we had hoped -” she cast another glance to Steve- “that you might want to come with us?” Her expression turned hopeful, like she genuinely wanted her to come along. Like they all did. It was adorable.
It was moments like this that she understood how Steve had managed to fall so hard for her honestly.
Moving right along.
She was also once again taken aback by this group, this wonderful group of people she had stumbled into. She knew at least a quarter, if not half of the Party liked her, but she wouldn't have guessed the same about the adults of the group, other than Steve.
“Oh! I’ll have to check with my parents first, but I think that’d be okay.” She didn’t mention that her parents would probably be overjoyed that she had friends to begin with. Nancy didn’t need to know that she had that little of a social life. (Like it wasn’t already tattooed to her forehead to begin with I mean come on, she was in band).
Nancy grinned even wider, eyes almost sparkling under the fluorescent lights.
“Great! I’m looking forward to it.”
“Me too.” She said faintly, mind still reeling at this turn of events.
“Did you find a movie?” Nancy asked, wholly unaware of her effect on Robin or the spiraling inner crisis she had just subjected her to. Or hell maybe she was, it was too hard to tell.
“Yes ma’am!” Dustin tittered, flapping The Black Cauldron . He paid the rental fee with his own allowance, despite Nancy telling him that she was happy to cover it for him. God, he’s too sweet for this world.
They bid their goodbyes and expressions of excitement for Saturday, Wingus at the helm with his rental clutched protectively in his hands. Before she left completely Nancy turned to face them, hand holding the door open.
“Oh! Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit.” And then she was gone.
Robin let out a few choice expletives as the door wooshed shut firmly behind her.
Her parents were fine with it. Over the moon, one might say, with the prospect that their daughter would be leaving the house on a Saturday for something non-work related. And with friends to boot, why, stop the presses!
Maybe she can blame them for the current situation she’s found herself in.
“Steve I swear to god.”
“Oh come on Ro, I’m sure you look fantastic in it. Just get out here so I can see.”
The trouble with going tomorrow is the fact that she hadn’t been swimming for about half a decade, pool or beach for that matter, and her final growth spurt ensured that her old swimsuit was firmly out of the question. Her mom had always said she grew up like a beanpole.
Which meant she had to buy one.
Naturally, Satan Himself had risen from the most fiery depths of hell to bestow upon her a suit that looked strikingly similar to her Scoops uniform. Red straps and blue stripes and all. It frilled at the bottom for christ's sake. They hadn’t even been in the store for five minutes before Steve had turned sharply between racks, a man on a mission as he procured the offending garment with a gleam in his eye and a grin on his face.
She groaned softly and exited the comfortable safe haven of the dressing rooms. Steve sat on one of the cushy waiting sofas, a pair of new trunks draped over his arm. He immediately lit up at the sight of her.
“It’s perfect, oh my god. I wish they would’ve let us keep those damn hats.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling somewhat exposed and out in the open of the department store.
“I look so stupid, I’m picking something else.” She turned, ready to retreat back and take the damn thing off when Steve all but rocketed off the plush sofa with, quite frankly, an alarming speed.
“Nonononononono don’t do that! Seriously Robin, you look good. Damn good, if I may be so bold.” She looked to him, squinting, lips pursed.
“I’ll allow it.”
He stepped closer still, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Look if you really want to pick another suit I won’t stop you, but I think that this is the perfect one for you. You don’t look stupid at all. I think we both know that you managed to pull off our uniform better than I did.” She raised a single brow; it wasn’t everyday that Steve admitted to being anything other than a dreamboat . “But anyways, the point is you look nice, and now we don’t have to give a shit about what people think of us right? If you enjoy something- then just fucking go for it.”
A mother passing by with her baby in the cart sent him a disgruntled look but he paid her no mind.
“Besides, I think the kids are gonna love it .” She frowned, but it was a begrudging one. She hated it when he made sense, god.
“You really know how to charm the ladies, don’t you Harrington?” She deadpanned. The grin was back again in full force.
“Damn straight.” He winked, their shared little secret, and went back to lounging on the display couch. She slid the curtain closed. Gave herself a once over in the mirror. She supposed she did look good, if not gangly. Long limbed and freckled face and bright hair aside.
“I think Nancy is gonna love it.” Steve said from his side, in that tone of voice of his. She pulled the curtain open.
“You keep saying things like that.” She stated, as if he didn’t know. Steve looked down from where he was reclined and staring up at the department store lights.
She rolled her eyes. “About Nancy. You keep saying things about her.”
He shrugged, overtly innocent.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
A scoff, and she rattled the curtain close one last time.
The trip up to Monticello would take roughly forty five minutes by car, maybe forty if they got lucky with traffic. It only took a whopping five for her to regret ever agreeing to come along.
“Why didn’t you just switch with her?” Mike asked, and she could almost feel his pout from the front where she was sitting.
Her eyes flicked up to the rearview, and she watched as Max threw up her hands with exasperation.
“What did you want me to do- Steve was driving, so Jonathan’s obviously going to ride with him. Of course Dustin would, too-”
“So that left one empty seat.” Mike replied petulantly, arms crossed. Max rolled her eyes hard, Lucas heaved a sigh, and Will stared resolutely out the window, a frown in his reflection. She knew how much he hated when the group argued.
“Duh, I can count loser. And so whatever, right? I wanted to sit with her too, but she chose to sit with them. She has other friends Mike, she’s allowed to have her-”
“I know she’s allowed to have other friends!”
“Yeah? Well you sure don’t act like it half the time. Being all jealous over friends talking to her, as if you think they’re trying to steal her from you or something.”
“I do not!”
“At least it’s only for the ride over Mike. You’re gonna have tons of opportunities to sit with her on rides. And besides, maybe we’ll mix up the seating order on the way home?” Lucas interjected. Cautiously. Ever the mediary. Clearly trying to stay in the neutral middle ground between his friend and girlfriend.
“That’s not the point!”
Maybe she should’ve turned down the invite like Erica had. (Something about parties to go and friends to see, with a helping dash of disgust at the prospect of hanging out with ‘you nerds’ for an entire day. My how she envied her.)
“I swear to god you guys.” Nancy began, but Will interrupted her ‘I’ll turn this car around’ schtick before it could even begin.
“Can we just not fight for a while? Please? This trip is supposed to be fun.” He asked, so quietly from the back it was almost impossible to make out his words.
Everyone quieted down almost instantly, like a flip had been switched.
“Sorry.” Mike said, and he sounded it. Whether it was directed to Max or Will or both, she didn’t know.
Perhaps it was due to how the events a month prior was still ingrained into everyone’s minds. The separation, the needless fighting.
“Me too.” Max said. After a while the kids fell into a rather difficult game of Uno, balanced on their laps in the back seats, and Robin slumped into hers, the faint traces of a headache pulsing at her temples. Thank god for Will Byers. Maybe El wasn’t the only one with superpowers in the Party after all.
Nancy looked over and caught her eye.
“Still glad you decided to become one of us?” She asked wryly, and it made her tingle pleasantly.
“Not like I had much of a say in it really. Dingus and Wingus just kind of pulled me in. The rest spiraled from there.”
“Doesn’t it always?”
“I kind’ve like it, though. It sure beats slinging ice cream with some random schmuck.”
What happened at Starcourt had changed her completely. And she’d never get over it. It was awful. Truly awful.
Would she change some things if she could? Yes, most definitely. But she would do it again if she had to. The experience had changed her for the worse, true, but she also liked to think it was for the better, too. She had friends now. She had gone through terrible shit but she hadn’t been alone it in. How easy would it have been, to suffer the same fate that Hannah and so many others had, simply if not for the fact that Dustin and Steve had stomped into the Scoops break room with a recorder in their hands? She could shudder at the thought alone.
“Well I’m glad they managed to pull you in.” Nancy said. She turned her head fully, if only for a second, and gave her a brilliant smile. Robin’s breath hitched. She was pretty sure that the butterflies in her stomach were dancing in a conga line.
“I am, too.”
“Always stick together, you hear me? At least have a buddy or go in groups if you’re bound and determined to wander off where we can’t see you. If one of you little shits goes missing your ass is grass alright?” Steve said, passing out a paper bracelet for each kid and adult to slap on their wrist. Robin grinned at the display; he reminded her of a camp counselor. Now that would be a hilarious sight.
“We should probably head to the beach first.” Jonathan said, and though she knew him the least she could tell that he was excited. Steve threw an arm around his shoulders.
“Fingers itching to take photos already Jon?” He said, and Jonathan ducked his head down to hide a smile.
“It’s pretty out today.”
Robin had to agree with them. They had arrived right around noon, about an hour after the park opened. It gave them a close parking spot and almost an entire day of fun, should they so choose.
“That sounds nice. It also gives us something to do while they get more of the rides going.” Nancy said. She hitched a bag over her shoulder, and Robin realized that the kids were too busy ogling the sights instead of helping.
“Oh, let me.” She stepped up to grab one of the bags still in the trunk. Thankfully most of it was tote bags with towels and spare clothes, among other junk they’d slip back into the car once they were done with the water. Also a cooler too, filled with deli meat sandwiches and chips they’d enjoy for lunch.
“Thank you. It’s nice to see that someone is helping me.” Nancy prodded, and Steve and Jonathan finally got the hint and pitched in.
They all clambered through the park front, no doubt accumulating some weird looks from the other early risers as they passed a few food stands. They walked by a cardboard cutout of a crow in a men’s one piece; the park’s iconic mascot, along with his token catch phrase:
There’s more than corn in Indiana!
Robin and Steve caught each other’s eyes and both snorted.
“I mean they’re not wrong.” He muttered.
The Party set up shop in a nice spot of the small “beach” underneath their umbrellas, a safe distance away from the waterfront, which would probably get the most amount of foot traffic. There were already a handful of other guests enjoying the water slides and wave machines. Obviously the kids were itching to go, and it took some effort and prodding to get them to stay behind and put sunscreen on instead of ripping off to get in the water as soon as they could.
Steve was right, of course. The suit was a hit- Dustin practically blew a gasket when she walked out of the locker room. She got ribbed with several requests for U.S.S Butterscotches while Steve looked on and snickered. She bore through it all, knowing that it was the fun, teasing barbs as opposed to the actual mean-ness that kids these days seemed to be armed with. And, the double take she got from Nancy was worth it all tenfold.
“Hey Robin?” She asked, and Robin looked up from where she was laying out their blankets.
“Can you help me put some on my back?”
She stared, and then her brain finally clicked and she registered the bottle of Coppertone in her outstretched hand. She glanced around, rather helplessly, to where the kids were splashing each other, then to where Steve and Jonathan had just been sitting a few feet away but were now mysteriously gone. Then back to the bottle.
“Sure.” She croaked, and if Nancy noticed the crack in her voice she was doing a very good job at not mentioning it.
Nancy’s suit was equally just as gorgeous as the woman wearing it of course, and it fit her perfectly- both physically and aesthetically. It was black towards the bottom of the one piece and then transitioned to a pearl pink around the waist and up. The racer T-straps gave her a good view of her back. Not that she was looking that close, nope, not a bit.
Nancy collapsed onto the blankets, holding up her curls patiently. All thought processes promptly left the building as she applied the sun screen to Nancy’s shoulder blades, watching the contours twitch and move under the sudden application of cold cream.
“So isn’t it weird that it’s called Indiana Beach when it isn’t even an actual beach? I mean I guess Indiana Lake Shafer didn’t have the same ring to it.” She had fully commenced Babble Mode, absolutely doing her best to avoid the thoughts of how so many movies had that scene where someone applied sunscreen to their love interest.
“Huh. I’ve never really thought about it before, to be honest, but it is kind of odd. I wonder if they brought the sand from another beach or if the lake already had some to begin with.” Nancy said. She ran a hand through the sand, dry and untouched by frequent foot traffic.
“Mmm, sounds like an article the Post would make you write.”
“Ugh, god it does. At least that’s kind of a fascinating subject, as opposed to some of the other stuff they make me write or proofread.”
“Nah, I’m sure you can polish any story into something amazing Nancy.”
“They would disagree, but thank you.” She turned to face her, when Robin had deemed her sufficiently covered. “Do you want me to do you?”
Fucking hell , she was going to have heart palpitations.
Truth be told her back was pretty covered already by the suit, but Nancy helped coat the back of her neck, arms, and legs. Robin spent the entire time with her face down in the towel, screaming internally.
The four of them leisurely relaxed under their umbrellas, enjoying the blessed stress-free moments where they didn’t have to think of anything work or monster related. Robin didn’t know how much she had needed this until now.
She looked to Steve, who had grabbed Jonathan’s camera and was now taking his picture. Jonathan seemed weary, almost shy to be on the other end of his own device. Nancy was lounging and reading a book of some sort, looking up to the kids every once and awhile to make sure they weren’t killing each other. Luckily the part of the lake that the park owned was roped off and for the most part impeded anyone from wandering. The various lifeguards on duty watching over the slides and water helped too.
She took a peak at the cover of her book and discovered that instead of a typical novel or something it was a self defense book. Because of course it was. She was going to be extremely surprised if they made it through the whole day without getting kicked out of the park for being too weird.
She peered out into the water, watching as a gaggle of children and adults splashed around in the water. She zeroed in on their group of gremlins when she caught a glimpse of Dustin with a hand over his eyes, his other waving frantically in front of him in an obvious game of Marco Polo. Mike and Will looked to be his targets as the bobbed and hopped out of his reach. Will seemed distracted though.
He looked off to the side, brows furrowed and looking worried. Robin mimicked his expression and followed his line of sight. Max sat at the edge of the water, staring off as El and Lucas crouched beside her. They were obviously trying to talk to her about something, but she didn’t respond.
“Hey guys? What’s up with Max?” She asked, rising into a sitting position.
“What?” Steve was the first to glance up, lowering the camera in his hands;. He focused to where Robin was pointing and cursed.
“Oh god, we didn’t think this through.”
“What’s going on?” Nancy asked, snapping herself out of her reading. Steve shared a pained glance with them all.
“We took her to the beach. All she can probably think about is Billy. Oh god, we’re like the worst chaperones ever .”
“Oh, oh no.” Nancy bit her lip. Robin winced with a similar realization. She was still fuzzy on some of the more intricate details regarding the last two years, bits and pieces missing like gaps in her memory. She could glean some things with context clues, but Billy had been one of those blind spots, a memory nobody seemed keen to bring up; least of all Steve.
Billy had used to surf, a nugget of info she had heard off hand. Billy used to be a lifeguard, that much she definitely knew. Max, though she hadn’t been showing it, was probably seeing him wherever she went. God, they really were the worst.
“We didn’t even notice.” Robin said, a tug of sympathy at her heart.
“I’m gonna go talk to her.” Jonathan spoke up from where he’d been watching, silent and thinking. He seemed to be the type that saved his words for when he, or someone else, really needed them.
“Oh, okay yeah.”
It didn’t take him long to ask El and Lucas for a moment alone, even though they both seemed hesitant to leave her side. He sat next to Max on the sand and spoke to her quietly, but they were too far away to glean what they were saying.
“I hope she’ll be okay.” She said with a frown.
“I’m sure that in time the pain will start to fade.” Steve said, an obvious sign that he had been spending way too much time with Jonathan. And speaking of…
“Jonathan might be able to help her out. He knows a thing or two about asshole family members. I think we all do at this point.” Robin and Nancy both hummed knowingly, and god if that isn't depressing. Thank god for Joyce and Hopper. And Karen, come to think of it.
Max eventually regrouped with her friends, and maybe it was wishful thinking, but Robin thought she looked a tad lighter. There were times when she would still and glance off into the horizon with a faraway look, but then El or Dustin, or even Mike would pull her back into herself.
Jonathan returned, looking a tad awkward at all the attention he was garnering, but pleased nonetheless.
“I think that eventually she’ll be okay, but it will take some time.” He said. Yup. She was right. “She was trying to put on a face for her friends, to show that she was strong. But it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to let your friends see what you’re going through so that they can help you. I think we all need to look after each other, because we can all relate to our struggles, at least to some degree.”
He was talking to all collectively, but every now and again his gaze would flicker to Steve, who was doing his best to ignore said stare by fiddling with the camera. Yeah that certainly sounded like Steve. She hoped that he didn’t still have the selfless need to hide when something was wrong, or else she’d have to bug the shit out of him about it later.
“That’s very beautiful, Jonathan. And very true.” Nancy said. She stepped forwards and pulled him into a hug. Steve soon joined in, naturally, but before Robin could start to feel like a fourth wheel Nancy tugged into it, too.
“Oh, is this what we’re doing? Alright. You guys sure like your affections, huh?” Really, she didn’t mind in the slightest.
Soon they joined in with the kid’s fun, splashing around in the water. Robin got a kick out of watching Nancy and Jonathan joining in their game of Marco Polo, while Steve chased after Dustin and tried to pick him up and dunk him into the water. She couldn’t recall the last time she had had this much fun at the beach.
After the kids flocked back to their setup for their promised sandwiches, everyone eventually tired of the water and packed their suits and towels back into the van. Now it was time for the attractions.
They stayed together for the most part, waiting in line long enough so that the entire group could enjoy the ride when they could. It sure beat waiting on the next one. They would change up who they sat with for each ride when they could, to make sure that everything was fair. Mike and Max didn’t even bicker once.
As destiny would have it or whatever, whadya know, Robin often sat with Nancy.
“Who is getting squished?” She asked, a grin on her face as they all stepped into the queue for the Music Express.
“Squished?” Robin echoed loudly, trying valiantly to hear over the loud music playing through the ride’s speaker system. Nancy ducked closer to her ear, and she could still smell the Coppertone on her skin.
“Whoever sits on the outside is going to get squished. I don’t mind either way.”
“Oh.” She caught Steve’s eye in front of them and he snickered, the little shit. She was even pretty sure she saw Jonathan crack a smile. The world was working against her, and she hated everything.
“I can get squished.” She said. Nancy Nodded.
“I’ll try not to elbow you too much.”
It wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Robin spent the next few rides against the door due to centrifugal force, laughing wildly as her hair whipped behind her. Nancy had an arm around her, in an effort not to dig her in the side. She was laughing and whooping just like the rest of them. It was quite the thing, to see someone usually so busy and stressed truly care free, even if only for a moment. A smile wide on her face, eyes bright.
She was beautiful. God help her
Eventually they broke off into various smaller groups, and Dustin and Will clambered off to the arcade the moment they landed eyes on it.
“Stay together!” Robin called off after them, shaking her head.
Behind her, Nancy let out a fascinating noise, and when she turned around she saw Nancy standing next to one of several set up carnival games. It was the kind with the airsoft gun and moving targets you shot at to win points.
“Oh, my god.”
“Pretty cool, right?” The attendant asked with a perfectly charming customer service grin. Robin knew it all too well. “Knock a few criminals down and you get a prize. Manage to hit them all and avoid the civilians you get yourself one of the big ones.” The tenant gestured to where various animals and mascot characters hung from the ceiling on clips. “Would one of you ladies like to step up and give it a shot?”
Robin paused, and smile curled to her face. This was going to be amazing. “Nah, too rigged for my taste. No offense. Nance?”
Nancy looked over the moving targets, gaze focused and calculating. She ran a hand over the gun- it looked to be about the same size as the shotgun she had wielded not one month ago.
“Only a dollar to play ma’am.” He negged.
“Alright.” Coming to a decision, Nancy slapped a bill onto the counter and picked up the gun. The tenant stepped off to the side and then returned to place a tin of ammo in front of her. He talked her through the process of how to use it and Nancy allowed it, ever patient. Their eyes met over his shoulder and they shared an amused look.
In the end it took her about three or so minutes to knock down all the bad guys. The civilians stood without harm, cycling on the track, and Nancy put the gun back down with a pleased sort of huff. The crowd that had gathered around watched on with stunned silence and then broke into applause once they had snapped out of their stupor.
“That was amazing!” Robin said, and pulled her into a wobbling hug.
The tenant was flabbergasted, to say the least. She’d wager that that display was one of the few clean wins he had seen in weeks. No doubt he had expected to take the two of them for granted and get a few bucks out of them. Once the cacophony had died down he blinked once, twice, and pointed up to the hanging animals.
“Uh, which one would you like?”
Nancy smiled and turned to look at her. “Which one do you want?”
“Uh?” She could feel a slight flush rise to her cheeks. “You won it, you don’t have to do that for me.”
“I want to.”
She guessed she should know better by now then to balk against Nancy’s stubbornness. She looked to the various colored toys and paused in thought.
“That rabbit one kinda reminds me of a similar one I had as a kid?”
“My good sir, I’ll take that fuzzy pink bunny.”
She held the bunny in her lap on the way home. Stomach full to bursting from pizza and elephant ears and other sweet treats. She laid her head against the cool window and watched as the scenery passed by. Cars and various trees, bathed in the setting sun. She felt tired, but happy and full. In more ways than one.
The kids were all mercifully quiet in the back, tuckered out from a day full of fun.
“Did you have fun?” Nancy asked after a while, quietly as to not disturb their cargo.
“I did, I really did.” She said. She turned to look at her. “Did you?”
“Yeah, I did too. I think I needed this; I think we all did really. Some time away. It felt good.”
“I agree. Maybe next time we can get Hopper and Joyce to come, too.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“Oh. Thanks for inviting me along by the way. I’m glad I came.”
“I’m glad you did, too.”
As she looked back to the window she felt a pat at her thigh. And it could've been her imagination, but it felt like her touch lingered for a moment, too.
She wasn’t dumb. She knew what Steve was inferring when they talked about Nancy. The words he didn’t say.
Nancy liked girls, was the general insinuation.
One wouldn’t think it of her. She wasn’t one gossiped about in the halls at school, or amongst crude graffiti within the stalls of the bathrooms. She was far too normal to the naked eye, to those outside their group.
The thought was elating, that she’d have another close friend that was like her. That would understand her struggles and fears.
But it was also something of a double-edged sword.
She had a crush on Nancy. There was no doubt about it any longer. The more time they spent together the more she felt the keen sense of yearning. The want to hug her, to kiss her. To hold her hand under the table, or in the dark safety of the local cinema.
Straight Nancy, she could deal with. She could chalk it up to another crush on an unavailable girl like the ones that came before her and call it a day. Nancy would politely turn her down and insinuate that if things were different, she would feel the same. They might even be able to salvage their friendship. Maybe eventually, with the help of shitty movies and Ben and Jerry’s, she could even move on.
This was a different story though. Robin knew that deep in her soul she’d blurt it out eventually, or she would catch wind of her situation, if she didn’t know already, and everything would be ruined. And Steve would like to say that Nancy felt the same about her, but it wasn’t a guarantee. She’d hate to ruin this fine balance that they had, would hate to create a fracture in this wonderful group she had only just begun to feel at ease with. Nancy turning her down would crush her more than Tammy ever could. She didn’t know if she wanted to tempt that.
“When did Steve come out to you?” She finally asked, the question buzzing at the back of her mind ever since Steve had brought it up at one time or another. Perhaps it would be a nice segue for Robin to drop the fact that she was a Lesbian. Then maybe Nancy would feel inclined to talk about herself? Even if Steve alluded to the fact that she wasn't straight by not telling her, but also telling her, she herself had a bit of an inkling the longer she hung out with her. But, she wanted to hear it straight from the source's mouth. If anything it also served to fill the silence that was slowly starting to suffocate her. She held completely still, not wanting to move a single muscle.
Nancy glanced up from her spot, nail polish brush still poised over Robin’s ring finger. She had her unoccupied hand wrapped around Robin’s palm to keep her hand still so she could apply the color without smudging anything too much. It was the same cherry red that she had worn when she showed up at the store. Robin found she wasn’t adverse to wearing the color, too.
“You- oh, I guess that makes sense that he told you, you are his best friend.” It was said without bitterment or malice, a simple fact given at face value, and honestly she felt a bit of relief that Nancy didn’t seem to think that she had stolen away her best friend slot from her. Perhaps it was a hard title to hold, after such a tumultuous relationship.
Nancy finished up the first coat and screwed the cap back on. Robin placed her hand gently on the carpeted floor of Nancy’s bedroom. It was an adorable space, and very much screamed her. It was also a bit funny- the room was something she could’ve imagined back when she thought that she was a priss, even though it was clearly far from the truth. She had ragged on her Tom Cruise poster the moment she had walked in. She wondered how much she would keep of it when she inevitably moved into her own space.
“I guess it was sometime in his Junior year. Before the Demogorgan and everything else that came with it. We were still together at that point.” She had moved on to her own set of nails, waiting for the base to dry and then adding a dark blue over top. The kind of shade that reminded her of the blue in her Scoops uniform, actually.
“I don’t really remember where we were going or what we were doing, but Tommy H. and Carol were with us, and we piled into Steve’s car.” Robin wrinkled her nose at the mention of their names. She had definitely been the butt end of a few of their uncreative “jokes” a time or two.
“I know. Anyways I was in the back with Carol, and Steve n Tommy were up front. I can’t remember how the subject came up.” She paused for a moment as if mentally re-tracing the steps of that night.
“I think Steve mentioned an actor or something, and complimented his looks. Said how he was a chick magnet. Tommy obviously took the opportunity to be an asshole of course. He said “I didn’t know King Steve was a queer” or something equally stupid like that. Carol cackled like a hyena."
Robin rolled her eyes, and she could feel the acute sensation of anger welling up within her. Sometimes she wished they’d been friends sooner, if only so she could’ve punched those idiots in the face. And knocked some sense into him. But he did come around in the end, so, c'est la ve.
“Those two sure are made for each other.” She said dryly. She took a moment to imagine the two of them getting swallowed whole by the Mind Flayer. It was very therapeutic. Nancy hummed softly in agreement and gently tapped the pad of her pointer finger atop Robin’s nail, testing the tacky-ness. Deeming it dry enough she reached for the bottle again, and Robin instinctively raised her hand. She kind’ve wished she had thought about this scenario sooner- she liked having her hand held, real or not.
“I knew that I glanced up at him from the rearview and he looked tense. Panicked, even if only for a minute. He played it off of course, but I could tell that Tommy’s words had worked their way under his skin. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that terrified look on his face.”
She bit her lip. “Did Tommy and Carol ever find out?” It was probably a resounding ‘no’- after all, they hadn’t blasted it all over the school, even when Billy had taken the reigns as king asshole. But there was always the possibility of leverage, or something. She wanted to cover her bases. Nancy shook her head.
“No, thank god. That would’ve ended very poorly.”
“After awhile I didn’t really forget about it of course but, the night was just in the back of my mind for a bit. And then a week later he came by my house for a date but asked to speak with me in private.”
“In a very Steve move, it was a bit all over the place.” She said, a wry smile on her lips. Robin snorted. Yeah, that checked out.
“He was...scared that Tommy had somehow knew that night, and could possibly spread the info around.” She bit her lip then, looking pained. “He was worried about his parents finding out the most. Specifically his dad.”
Oof, yeah. Knowing what she knew of him, she really doubted that conversation would work out in his favor.
“He wanted to tell me first, in case it did get out, so I would hear it from him instead of someone else. He also told me that I could break up with him if I wanted.” She let go of her hand and ducked her head down to study her own nails, a convenient way to avoid eye contact.
“I didn’t of course. He had a few...ugly things to say about himself, so I just tried to find the right words to say. To tell him otherwise- that he wasn’t a freak or ‘wrong’ or anything. Things he should’ve heard long before. It was a little hard. Especially when you’ve had those same thoughts, but I did my best.”
And there it was, the other shoe had dropped. Her heart sped up and thumped in her chest, so loudly to herself that it was a wonder it wasn’t audible over Nancy’s stereo. She had thought it, had waited for it to come up for a while, but to actually hear it aloud was another thing entirely.
“Wait what?” She asked- she had to. Had to make sure that they were indeed on the same page and she wasn’t reading too much into anything.
“Hmm?” Nancy looked up at her and blinked, before it seemingly clicked. “Oh, I guess I just assumed that Steve had told you. I’m like him: bisexual. I like girls too.”
Holy shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, it was actually happening.
“No he uh. Well I guess he kind’ve did, but anyways. That’s cool. I’m a lesbian, so.” Blunt, to the point. Perhaps the bluntest she’d ever said it even. And probably unnecessary, judging with how nonplussed she was. Either Steve told her, which she didn’t mind, or she had pinged her gaydar. Robin herself had given up on her own after Steve blindsided her, so. Even more evident in the way she had spent the last few weeks agonizing the question about Nancy. So far zero to two.
“Cool.” Nancy mimicked with a smile. “It’s good to know that I’m not the only girl who likes girls around here.”
“Yeah, it is.” Robin said faintly, mind reeling as she watched Nancy apply a top coat in a daze.
“So what are you going to do about it?” Steve asked bluntly. He drew a card from the Doctor pile and squinted at the small print. “Funny bone.” He murmured quietly and picked up the small pair of tweezers.
“What do you mean “what am I gonna do”? Nothing, obviously.” She parroted stubbornly. Steve broke his bout of heavy concentration to send her a withering look.
“Her liking girls doesn’t mean anything changed, Dingus.”
“Uh, yeah it does?”
“Does not .” She pushed his arm, enjoying the look of utter betrayal he had on his face as the tweezers connected with the metal edge of the hole and triggered the buzzer.
“Congratulations, you just murdered Cavity Sam.” He mumbled about her being a cheat and a lousy doctor and tried again. As it stood, they were about thirty minutes into a waiting for the edibles they had eaten to kick in so they could watch shitty movies and have the time of their lives doing it. Determined to occupy their time Steve had dug his way through the hall closet until he produced his old copy of Operation.
“He died peacefully.”
“Yeah well, I’m not going to jail because you broke the Hippocratic Oath, okay.”
“You’ve been watching waaaaay too much General Hospital.”
He ignored the jab. “And you’ve been avoiding my questions.” Damn him, damn him and his resilience.
“So what am I supposed to do Steve? Just go up to her and ask her on a date?” She asked, tone a few notches into the hysterical zone, and he stared at her like yeah, that’s exactly what she was supposed to do.
“That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.”
“Now hang on, shut up for a minute. You’re past the hardest part right? Even on the off chance- which I don’t think will happen fyi- that she says no?” He shrugged. “That’s it. That’s all that will happen. Sure it’ll hurt like hell, but you don’t have to worry about being accosted and burning at the stake or some shit.”
“I can’t.” She admitted softly, chest pained. “I don’t think I’m brave enough to.”
He scoffed, like the thought was impossible.
“You kidding me right now? I think it’s quite the opposite.” To accentuate just how serious he was being, he abandoned their game and scooted his chair until he could reach her hand and grasp it tightly.
“Robin Buckley, you are one of, if not the, bravest person that I know. Like, you spit at Russians, okay? I don’t wanna hear it.” She laughed softly. He continued. “Like you’re just incredible, and I’m so lucky to be your friend.”
“Damn straight.” She croaked, but she had a bit of trouble delivering the joke confidently when her eyes were stinging the way they were.
“And you can’t let your fears stop you from being happy. I know I sound like a dumb pamphlet or something but it’s true. Sometimes you have to take risks and it’s scary, I know it is, but it’s worth it.”
She frowned. “I hate it when you make good arguments.” He snorted.
“Yeah, well, then you don’t have to worry too much ‘cause it doesn’t happen often. Anyways, Nancy is a wonderful woman and so are you and you’d make a fucking adorable couple. The only thing stopping you is you, man. I think you’re just psyching up for rejection so much that you haven’t considered the possibility that she likes you back.”
He...had a point, she hated to admit. As much as Steve would declare that he’s stupid or good for nothing, it’s so obviously not the fact. He’s calculative when he wants to be and knows the exact right words to say to someone, almost to a fault. He knows her better than anyone else, even her own parents. Knows what it’s like to hurt, to be swept up in the tidal wave that is Nancy Wheeler. Knows how to be a good friend; a good babysitter. Above all else that’s happened, she the happiest that the situation has led her to him.
“Which is stupid, because it’s so damn obvious. Like see from space levels of obvious honestly. What I’m trying to say is that you should shut up and kiss her already-” A yelp, as he almost fell off the kitchen chair at her shove, her cheeks warm to the touch.
“You are an absolute menace Steve Harrington.”
“And yet you love me for it.” He countered smugly.
God did she, was the unfortunate thing.
“So.” She drawled, probably not for the first time that night. It had taken her one week and four failed attempts to get to this moment. It’d be far more embarrassing than it was if not for Steve cheering her on as much as he did.
“So?” Nancy inquired back, somewhat muffled by the hair tie held in place between her lips. This was by far one of the oddest situations she had been in, and that was saying something.
Robin separated her soft, straight ironed hair into segments playing off the moment as silent concentration as opposed to what it actually was: her screaming internally.
“Do you want to catch a movie this weekend?” She finally bit out. She liked to imagine that somewhere distantly, Steve was fist pumping at her efforts.
“Oh like all of us? Sure, that sounds like fun.” Nancy said, breaking through her small victories.
“Oh. I was just thinking it would be you and me.” Robin peeked around Nancy’s back to look at the girls. “Sorry guys.”
Max seemed nonplussed from her perch directly in front of Nancy.
“It’s okay. El and I already have plans.”
“Already have plans.” El affirmed. She, like Robin, had shorter hair, so there wasn’t much for Max to braid, but she was meticulously brushing it and pulled it into a purple scrunchie. Robin felt like she was at a sleepover, despite half of their current gang being younger. She hadn’t been to one of those in years.
“That’s fine with me too, I don’t mind. I think I’m off on Sunday, if that works for you?”
“It sure does.” She had a day shift but would be free for the night, which was arguably the best time to catch a flick. Together. In a darkened theater side by side.
Hell’s bells, what was she thinking? Even if she made it sound as if it was just a friendly outing she hadn’t really banked on Nancy actually saying yes to it. At least it gave her a few days to pick out an outfit.
And by pick out an outfit, she really meant stare vacantly and desperately into her closet for several minutes and wait for something to jump out at her. So far, no such luck. Even Steve was too busy to help her out, the traitor.
In the end she went with a simple pair of rolled jean shorts and a striped Jersey T-shirt, probably the softest she had. She debated for a while if she was under dressed, before remembering that it was a movie theater, not the Golden Globes. Nancy had a way of tripping her up just enough where she felt like she didn’t know what to do. Nancy always seemed so sure of herself, certain and steadfast in a way that Robin rarely was.
I’m not like Nancy Wheeler. No she certainly was not. But she was okay with that, too.
She was nearly vibrating out of her own skin by the time Sunday came around. She was positive that she spent most if not all of her shift in a nervous haze, but Steve didn’t seem to fault her for this. He had looked over to her as she finished up her shift, expression far too smug for her liking.
“Good luck tonight Robin. Knock ‘em dead!”
“I’m not listening.” She trilled, retrieving her helmet from her locker.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He continued on regardless. She made sure to flip him the bird as she left.
“We both know you’d do anything Harrington.”
“Can’t argue with you there!”
During her shift and the hours leading up to the movie Robin spent half of that time wondering if she should’ve gotten some candy at work or at a CVS so they could sneak it into the theater. Or if Nancy had eaten, or if they were gonna grab something afterwards. Jesus this was so much easier when she was just hanging out with friends. When she knew they were straight, or a guy. When she never had to analyse everything they said. Thinking that there might be something more between them.
And Nancy was her friend, no doubts about it, but there were moments. Times she allowed herself to hope. That some of those looks she sent her mean something else than simple friendships.
Perhaps it was just wishful thinking- she had been burned before after all. But a bit of optimism here and there never hurt, right?
Her mom jolted her out of the internal spiral into madness that she had put herself in by announcing that Nancy was there. So in actuality it only sped up the process.
She looked good, as always. Robin was pretty sure that she was actually incapable of looking bad no matter what she wore, be it a dress stained with murk and blood, or the blouse and jeans she wore now.
"This car has certainly seen some shit.” Robin remarked as she slid into the passenger seat. Nancy chuckled and pulled out of the driveway once she was sure she had buckled in properly.
“It really has. I’m beyond lucky it didn’t sustain any awful damage that night. Mom would’ve killed me, after worrying her to death. I’m also realizing how much I took Jonathan’s carpool service for granted. I’ll be so grateful when I have my own car.”
“Whaat? Noo, the wagon’s great. Especially for out-pacing giant shadow creatures.” She stroked the dash, grinning when she saw the booster seat in the back for Holly. “It sure is homely. And at least you have a car to drive in the first place, right?”
Robin hesitated. “Sorry about that by the way.” It felt kinda stupid, inviting someone to go somewhere, and then them having to drive you to said thing. “I don’t think you would’ve been all that comfortable in the basket.” It was certainly a fun image though.
“Oh, this is fine, don’t even worry about it.” Nancy said. “Honestly. I’m fine with driving. It’s just fun that we get to hang out together.”
The lightest, gentlest touch to her thigh, a pat that lasted longer than it tends to. Just like that day at Indiana Beach. Despite the air conditioner cranking out cool air into the car Robin felt like she could melt. Her boobs were sweating for christ’s sake.
“I am too.”
Robin at least got to pay for both of their tickets after a slight battle to out-stubborn each other. She also picked their seats.
“I have a foolproof seating system.” She said while goading Nancy to the middle row. “Dead center in the middle is obviously the best vantage point.” Nancy watched on with amusement.
“I don’t think I’ve ever given it much thought before.”
“Well clearly you’ve been watching movies entirely wrong, then.” She swept into a grandiose bow. “After you madam.”
“Why thank you ma’am.”
Once they were situated properly, Nancy grabbed her purse and ducked her head in towards her conspiringly.
“I brought us some treats.” She said, as if sharing top secret information rather than saving a bit of money by smuggling in candy. Robin snorted.
“How very bold of you.”
“I know. I’m just full of surprised aren’t I?” They both shared a smile, a small secret between them. Nancy handed her a Twix bar, and she blinked, surprised that she even remembered the tiny detail that it was her favorite.
The movie was good, a bit of a dark comedy to break up the actual horrors they had lived through. And though she didn’t mind gushy romances, even if they were all the same and she couldn’t relate to the protagonist, this flick seemed to suit them just as well.
“Hel- lo Yvette.” She found herself murmuring to her, as the film introduced the boobsy French maid. A little on the nose and cliche but she could dig it. She felt rather than heard the laughter Nancy let out, and grinned.
Spurred on, she continued. “I’d let her polish my silverware.” Another snort, this time audible, and Nancy smacked her arm lightly.
“Do they offer a turndown service?” Nancy asked quietly after a pause, before they both dissolved into more laughter. The two of them had their fun as they got comfortable and shared the occasional laugh or bit of commentary together.
Robin found, though, that she could barely focus on the film at all, not when she could hear Nancy breathing. She could smell her perfume; an intoxicating fragrance of vanilla. Even though the movie progressed so too did her nerves. And if she wasn’t mistaken, her counterpart seemed to be too. She could see it when she gnawed on her lower lip, a nervous habit she had noticed before. The way her leg bounced like she had just as much keyd up energy thrumming through her as she did.
She felt the need to do something, anything. When they were almost alone, comforted in the darkness together. A scenario she had played through her mind many times, first with Tammy and now with Nancy. She dug her fingers into the fabric of her shorts, hands itching to move even though her brain protested. Her heart thumped against her rib cage.
She almost wished that she had a dose of that truth serum again. So she could spill everything that boiled beneath the surface of her, threatening to flow over every time a word passed by her lips. At least then she wouldn’t have to deal with the thrum of panic. Or the nausea for that matter.
“ What now? ” Wadsworth asks desperately on screen, turning to face the others.
“ We should’ve told him .” Mr. Green says grimly, before the conversation devolves into another argument. Above all others, she hoped that he lived through the night. Maybe she was biased because he was gay.
She turned her head, almost as if to say something even if she didn’t know what, until she noticed that Nancy was watching her. Or looking, more like. The lights on screen splayed over her features, revealing soft eyes and a hint of a smile.
“Thanks for inviting me.” She whispered, seemingly unperturbed that she had been caught.
Robin found that her throat was dry. Sticky with chocolate residue and butter and soda. She swallowed hard and licked her lips. And for the briefest of moments, Nancy’s eyes followed the movements.
“Thanks for coming.” She finally murmured. They remained like that, simply looking at each other. A tense feeling in the very air. She wondered if the sparse scattering of other patrons could feel it, too.
That sexual energy, her brain supplied for her in a voice very similar to Steve’s. Lord, she was in deep.
A crack of thunder suddenly broke the moment, popping it like a balloon. They both turned to face the screen once more. She flickered a cursory glance around them, but nobody had seemed to notice anything at all.
What now indeed.
She wished that she was as brave as Steve thought her to be; at least brave around gorgeous women that made her pulse race and head spin the way that Nancy did.
She felt like this had been culminating ever since Nancy had walked into the Family Video that day. A feeling that had built over time with every look, with every touch. Even now their arms would brush ever so slightly. Nancy’s was placed on the arm rest between them, palm upturned almost like she was waiting for her to take it.
It felt like Nancy had been carefully building this, the groundwork between them, and maybe now she was waiting. Waiting for Robin to meet her halfway.
She just wished the prospect wasn’t so terrifying.
After a small bit of internal pep talks and a few deep breaths she passed the barrier between them. She grasped her hand, and hoped that she didn’t mind her sweaty palms. She exhaled after a pregnant pause. Nothing happened, the world didn’t implode. Everything moved on as it should.
“Is this okay?” She whispered softly. She could see the illuminated smile in her peripherals, but it never hurt to be cautious.
“Yeah, it is. More than okay.” Nancy replied, slotting their fingers together. Finally . A palpable warmth spread through her entire body, from her head all the way down to her toes, appendages tingling with something akin to euphoria.
If this was a dream, she didn’t want to wake up.
She could barely focus on the movie after that. If she had to take a surprise quiz on the contents of the movie she was watching she would straight up fail in a heartbeat. They slurped some soup. That was pretty much the extent of it.
Every now and then she had to remove her hand from her grasp just so she could wipe it on her shorts. A bit of sweat had started to gather between her fingers; she had a penchant for clammy palms at the worst of times and this was certainly no different. Thankfully Nancy didn’t seem to mind her excessive glands, and huffed out the occasional laughter when their fingers intertwine once more.
And even though all was well, a bit of that leftover nervousness within her remained, and had her glancing around at the others. She hadn’t forgotten who they were, or where they were. As luck would have it they had the row to themselves; a few rows around them as it happened. Everyone seemed near enraptured with the murder mystery playing out before them, therefore wonderfully oblivious to the fact Robin was near bursting at the seams with joy.
She also felt that women had it a bit easier compared to men in this instance. Girls linked arms or held hands all the time. Could bend their heads low and intimate and whisper amongst themselves. One wouldn’t automatically assume that something ‘untoward’ was happening right under their noses. It was as amusing as it was frustrating. That they had to hide anything at all; masquerade as only friends in the presence of others.
Friends didn’t typically kiss their friends, though. And she really wanted to kiss Nancy Wheeler.
Nancy parked outside of Robin’s quaint house, but she was reluctant to go.
“Thank you for the evening, it was a lot of fun. The funnest.” Robin said. She had a smile affixed to her face that didn’t want to leave, either. All she could think about was Nancy’s soft, yet calloused fingers fitting perfectly with hers.
“I had a lot of fun, too. Thanks for letting me come.” A silence filled the car, caught somewhere between awkward and tense. Outside crickets sang and wind chimes chimed softly in the breeze.
“I have to admit I barely paid attention to any of the movie though.” She said, feeling the need to break whatever spell that lay between them. Nancy laughed, loud and bright.
“Thank god I’m not the only one.”
“Right? Like, I can’t even remember whodunit you know?”
“Me either, oh man. We’ll just have to go back and watch it again sometime I guess.” Nancy said. Robin’s chest was absolutely aflutter.
“I would like that.” If her smile got any bigger it felt like it’d break her face. Her cheeks were gonna be sore in the morning. She didn’t care.
Instead she glanced around at their surroundings. A sprinkler system or two was on in various lawns. Due to it being as late as it was she saw no signs of anyone anywhere. Even at her own house it was still, the porch light on and awaiting for her safe trip home. Likewise she could see her parent’s bedroom lamp glowing through the upstairs curtain. No doubt they were already snuggled in bed, watching Jeopardy together while dad tackled a crossword. They likely had no idea she was home yet. She looked back to Nancy, beautiful in the yellowed lights of the car roof. She too was taking in the scenery, fingers thrumming against the steering wheel in a simple beat. A tick she had picked up from Steve; or vice versa she guessed.
She looked like she didn’t know what to say next. Robin beat her to it.
“Can I kiss you?” She finally blurted, the words flowing out from deep within. Nancy had worked hard to get things where they were now- it was only fair that she picked up the slack. Even though her hands were all but trembling at her sides.
Nancy exhaled, deflating like all of the energy and tension in the car had been in her very being.
Robin hesitated. She had a very limited experience in this department. Really though, how hard could a kiss be? And she knew that where she lacked and faltered Nancy made up for, and like with everything else in her life, would lead the way for her.
It was a bit awkward, stretched out over the middle console as she was. They bumped noses a few times and had to re-adjust the angle but they made it work. Nancy’s lips were soft and warm; pretty much just as she had imagined. She braced a hand against the chair behind her to keep her balance. As interesting as falling in her lap sounded, it probably wasn’t the best thing to do during a first kiss.
She sighed happily into the kiss, all but tingling when she felt Nancy place her hand on the back of her neck. Robin’s hip hurt and her breath smelled like popcorn and candy, but if she died right now she’d die happily and fulfilled.
They parted when oxygen became something of an issue and she glanced around. Nothing had changed. Not that she would’ve noticed anyway; it was like time outside of the car had slowed to a halt once their lips had touched.
“I- wow.” She said. Or tried to. She had to physically stop herself from reaching up to touch her lips. Nancy had a lack of lipstick on today, and part of her had to wonder if it was a calculated move or sheer coincidence.
“Yeah, wow.” Nancy herself looked pleased, relaxed against the headrest, adorable smile still prevalent on her lips.
“We should do this again sometime.” She lamely continued. She tumbled over to the vague area of her front porch. “ I should uh, get going before they call a search party.”
“Of course. I’ll see you later.” Nancy reached out and cupped her cheek for a moment. God in heaven, she was utterly and completely smitten.
“Yeah, definitely. Call me.” She didn’t even know if she had her number. She blindly fumbled for the door handle twice, a third time, before she finally glanced away and correctly opening it, Nancy laughing behind her.
She watched as Nancy left with a wave and somehow made it to the porch and through the front door after nearly tripping over a lawn ornament, a bush, and a porch stair consecutively. She felt as if she was moving through a thick haze, where the only thing she could think of was Nancy and her lips and soft skin.
Her parent’s door was open ajar as she passed.
“Hey kiddo, you’re home!” Her dad said, and she came to a stop with a small sigh.
“Yep. Kinda tuckered out, but I’m here.” She leaned against the door frame. She wondered if she looked different. She felt different.
Her mom grinned. “I’m glad you had a good time. How was it?”
In her muddled state she straightened up.
“The movie, silly. How was it?”
“Oh, duh, that.” She had no genuine clue. “Great. Loved it. Funny and uh, intense.” She had probably read that in a review at some point.
“Well we’re happy that you had fun with your friend.” And they looked it, just like that last time she had a social outing with other human beings.
“I did. We’re gonna do it again sometime I think.”
“Good, that’s good.”
A minute clicked by and she bounced on the balls of her socked feet. “Well I’m going to get ready for bed, I have work in the morning, so.”
She and her parents bid each other goodnight and she went about her nightly routine. She climbed into bed, knowing full well that she wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night. She’d probably be dead on her feet come tomorrow morning but it’d be worth it. Every part of her felt like it was electrified, like if she didn’t have a good hold on the headboard she’d float right up to the ceiling.
She swore she could still feel Nancy. Everywhere they had touched: their lips, her neck, her hip. The puff of her breath fanning her face once they had parted and stared at each other. A part of her still felt like it had been an elaborate dream, and that she’d wake up tomorrow and nothing had happened. Even so, the look on Nancy’s face once they parted could not be replicated.
A thought occurred to her, one that sent her nerves alight once more.
She had a girlfriend. She was dating Nancy Wheeler.
Giddy, she turned over until she was face down in her pillow and let loose a loud scream, muffled by the stuffing encompassing her head. And for once in her life, it was a happy scream.
Steve was already slumped against the register when she strolled into work the next morning, but he jumped to full alertness once he fully looked her way.
“Ro! How did last night go?” He asked, nay demanded really, and rounded the counter. He looked about five seconds away from shaking the information out of her.
“Hmm? What do you mean, how did what go?” She asked, feigning perfect innocence as she put a finger to her chin and pretended to think deeply.
“Oooh c’mon, I’m dying over here, don’t hang me out to dry.” He pleaded, puppy dog eyes and pout and all.
She had checked that morning and sure enough the movie ticket was still nestled within her jean pocket. Even after a change of clothes she still thought she smelt the faintest traces of vanilla on her skin.
“I’m sorry Harrington, I don’t kiss and tell.” She said coyly. That was all he needed, though, as he cheered and enveloped her in a tight hug. She was about to speak but could only form a yelp as he picked her up and spun them around in a circle in the middle of the store. She clutched on and thwapped at his back until he finally came to a stop and put her down again.
“Amazing, oh my god this is incredible. I’m so happy.”
“Yeah I can see that.” Or kinda could, her vision was a bit spin-y.
“After work I’m taking you out for ice cream and you’re gonna tell me everything. Oh my god.”
“Only if you tell me what’s going on between you n Jonathan.” She said. Two could play at that game, and being he was so gung-ho to talk about her relationships it was only fair that she pay him back in kind.
“Deal. Holy shit.” She had to laugh- he was almost acting like he was happier than her that it had happened, and she was the one that had experienced it.
With a few confident paces he trotted back behind the counter once more and, surprisingly, stopped at the white board. The thing that had started it all, really. He swiped another tally mark across the previous four on her ‘you rule’ side and underlined it several times. All current tally marks were moments spent with Nancy as he meticulously tracked them. Added all together, it made a perfect ten.