Steve woke slowly. He reveled in the feeling of half sleep clinging to him. He felt really good, no headache or pounding in some of his more mistreated joints. These days were becoming increasingly rare and Steve took them as the blessing that they were.
He sat bolt upright in his bed. That had been his mother calling him. His parents weren’t home. They were spending most of their time at their house up at Lake Geneva these days.
“Mom?” he called confused as he got up and went down the carpeted stairs to find his mother standing in the entryway surrounded by suitcases.
“Steve, I thought you wanted to get up in time to say goodbye before I leave for Italy?”
His parents had only gone to Italy once, the summer before his junior year.
“When did you go to bed?” she scolded. “You’re barely awake..” she tutted and then chuckled. “Come here, let me give you a hug.”
Steve went down the last steps in a trance and hugged his mother.
She was rattling off a list about grocery money and cleaning schedules, but Steve wasn’t listening. He was smaller than his mother.
His mother was a tall woman, Steve definitely got his height from her rather than his father. But he hadn’t been smaller than his mother since the growth spurt he had undergone a couple years ago.
“Anyway. I’m meeting your father at the airport.”
Steve, for lack of something better to do, only nodded in confusion.
“Oh Stevie, try to keep to better sleeping times while we’re gone, ok?”
“Ok mom..” He felt like he was going crazy.
“Be a good boy now” she said and kissed his hair. “I’ll see you soon!”
And with that she was gone out of the door, carrying her two suitcases to the taxi waiting in the driveway.
“What the fuuuuuck…” he said as he was waving back to his mother once she was sitting in the car and driving off.
Italy? There was something wrong.
‘Duh’ said his inner Robin.
Then he caught a glimpse of himself in the entryway mirror. He stumbled forward a little and caught himself against the cool glass.
He was young. Too young.
Steve wondered if he was dreaming, but dismissed it after pinching himself in the face so hard it actually hurt. Then he looked around in a panic. There were no grandfather clocks, no subliminal ticking or chiming either. He relaxed minimally. This didn’t feel threatening in the way the others had described their Vecna-induced visions.
He tried to think back to the last thing he remembered, but could only vaguely recall cleaning up in Hopper’s cabin after the confrontation with Vecna in the upside down. Beyond that, it felt like mentally hitting a wall. He tried to push against it, struggled to progress past cleaning up in the messy, dilapidated living room.
He let out a frustrated groan, but it was simply no use. However, the clues were gaining in numbers and Steve didn’t like the thing they were implying.
How to find out more? They didn’t receive any newspapers at the house, his parents got them at their office. But a different idea hit Steve.
Steve hurried over to the kitchen and turned on the radio that was always set to the local news station.
Some man was reporting on a school fundraiser a couple of towns over. Steve fidgeted and searched for any other clues to what might have been going on.
Before he can find something like mail the news speaker on the radio cheerily announces “There you have it for the 9 am news on Saturday the 4th of June 1983. Keep on listening while my colleague…..”
Steve didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. He felt like he might faint. Slowly, he slid with his back down the kitchen cabinets and sat on the linoleum floor for a while.
No aches. Because he hadn’t been beaten six ways from Sunday yet. His parents in Italy, because they went during his summer holidays in 1983.
The horrible thing about this was that he could believe it. Once he accepted portals to alternate dimension, gruesomely violent monsters from said dimensions, superpowered teenagers and state conspiracies to match it all, time travel wasn’t that difficult to believe in. He had even heard Dustin go on about it a couple of times. Now, he wished that he had paid better attention at the time.
But the thought of Dustin made him wonder something else: were there others that were also here from the future? He hoped so, but was unsure about how to find out. In the future, he was a fixture in Robin’s and Dustin’s life, but not in ‘83. And if only Tommy H had travelled with him, he preferred not knowing.
In a spur of the moment decision he got up and went to the telephone. He knew Robin’s number by heart and dialed it absentmindedly.
Her mother answered the phone. “This is Melissa Buckley speaking, hello?”
“Hello Mrs. Buckley, this is Steve Harrington. Is Robin home?”
“One moment, I’ll get her..”
He could hear Robin being called over the phone and waited impatiently until he could hear the receiver on the other end being picked up again.
“Hello?” Robin said in a confused tone. Her voice was higher, she must have only been around 15 years old. Maybe 14.
“This is Steve,” he said urgently.
That answered his question, then.
“Oh sorry, I think I called the wrong number.” Steve said and hung up in a hurry.
Shit. He had really hoped that Robin would be here with him. His Robin.
He didn’t dare calling Dustin’s house after this. Not without a plan in case he also could not remember Steve from the future.
A plan. Steve had to laugh. It came out strangled, a pathetic, hysteric little thing. There was a reason why he was never involved in the actual coming up with plans.
The reality of the situation dawned on him. He was probably alone in the past. This was scary enough, but he thought about everything he could potentially change and Steve felt like the pressure was crushing him.
He had to at least try to change things for better, but he didn’t have the foggiest clue about how to set out. He felt his breaths coming faster until the air he inhaled felt cold and all wrong. There was static at the edge of his vision.
‘You’re having a panic attack’ some detached part of himself observed.
He shut his eyes and forced himself to hold his breath – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi. He exhaled violently and took an urgent and shuddering next breath.
Not his first rodeo.
He focused on the chatter emanating from the radio that was still on in the kitchen.
He stayed like that for a while.
Once he had gotten himself under control again, he went to the powder room and washed the sticky tears from his face. The cool water helped him feel normal again. It was half past 10.
Steve decided to actually go ahead and just have a shower.
While he was standing under the stream, he tried to map out the events that were to come.
Steve had spent this summer swimming a lot and otherwise just lazing around. Tommy H had a fake ID and together they had blown a small fortune on booze.
Then the new school year had started and Steve had become obsessed with Nancy Wheeler.
On the 8th of November her best friend died in his pool. He knew that Eleven had opened the gate to the upside down and escaped the lab only a couple of days earlier.
He thought about Eleven trapped in that facility, while he had had the summer of his life. Thought about how to break her out now instead of waiting until November. But he couldn’t even think of a way to approach his friends, let alone break into a secret, high security government facility and break out the human equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
He did have a place to start, though. He had nearly half a year to prepare before things would escalate.
He got out a large drawing pad that he still had from art classes from the back of his closet and drew out a timeline for the next three years. He wrote down all the deaths carefully and had to consciously regulate his breathing with each one. Some of them stood out, the personal losses and tragedies. There was Barbara Holland, right here where Steve could have seen it from his bedroom window. Billy Hargrove. He felt uneasy when that one hurt decidedly less than some others. Then Eddie Munson, so fresh in his mind. Steve had to get up and leave the room at that one. He put on his sneakers, grabbed his wallet and keys and just left the house. He drove into Hawkins’ town centre and parked in front of the small general store on autopilot.
He walked in and stood rooted for a moment. Joyce Byers was standing down the aisle, packing away shampoo.
She turned when she heard the little bell above the door chime.
“Hello,” she greeted him cheerfully. The store was empty and the radio was turned off for once. The deep hum from the refrigerators and the occasional clatter from Mrs. Byers one aisle over were the only noises.
Steve must have come between the morning rush but early enough for the low of the work day to not have set in yet.
“Hello Mrs. Byers,” he greeted her back, feeling unsure and. Yes, shy. Steve back then would have also known her name, but he would not really have cared enough to be courteous.
She smiled at him and went back to stacking the shelves.
Steve hadn’t come in with a certain goal in mind and just slowly walked through the small store. He picked up a carton of cornflakes and a gallon of milk. Normal groceries for a normal day.
He went on to stand in front of the notice board for a while. He read the little ads and lost and found flyers.
Then one flyer suddenly grabbed his attention violently. He recognized that telephone number. That was Dustin’s number on an ad searching for a babysitter.
He tore off one of the strips at the bottom with the telephone number on it down with shaking hands before thinking better of it and looking around to see if Mrs. Byers was watching him. Then he unpinned the entire ad and carefully folded it and put it in his pocket. There had been no other strips torn off yet. Mrs. Henderson had probably been here this morning.
Steve couldn’t believe his luck. He knew that he had always complained about his role as a babysitter for Dustin and his ragtag band of friends, but he did enjoy their company and Dustin’s most of all. And who knew, if everything worked out, he might even be paid this time around.
He paid for his groceries and tried to avoid making eye contact with Mrs. Byers, as if she could somehow divine his time travelling from his face.
Once outside, he put his purchases on the back seat and jogged over to a telephone booth. He dialed Dustin’s number and after a couple of rings Mrs. Henderson answered.
“Claudia Henderson speaking?”
Right. This was his time to shine. He knew how to charm parents. It used to be useful in different context, but the rules still applied.
“Hello Mrs. Henderson, this is Steve Harrington. I’m calling about your add for a babysitter.”
“Oh, how wonderful! I didn’t expect anybody to call so soon..”
Steve chatted to Mrs. Henderson for a couple of minutes and agreed to come over to the Henderson’s house that afternoon.
Steve went back home after that and quietly ate a bowl of his randomly purchased cornflakes while sitting by the pool.
It felt right to sit there, to see the reminder of what was yet to come. Steve hated that pool even more than he hated his house. It symbolized everything wrong with him and his life. Rich boy, rich family. A status symbol rather than something useful, Steve used to go to the community pool for training because the lanes were much longer there. The site of ill-advised parties and also the murder of his ex-girlfriend’s best friend.
When he finished his bowl, he got up and cleaned it before going up to his room again. The drawing pad with the timeline he had scrawled down this morning was still lying on his desk, but he ignored it in favor of changing his clothes.
He would continue the timeline later. For now, he needed to get hired as Dustin’s babysitter.
So he changed into the polo shirt his mother used to made him wear when they went to visit his grandparents. He looked at himself in the mirror again. He used to wear his hear differently, not having come into a routine yet. But it made him look more like a respectable boy, instead of a teenage heartthrob. Which was obviously the entire reason he had changed his style up in the first place, but his current looks suited his needs at the moment.
It was also weird to see himself be so small. He knew that he would grow this summer, really grow out of his gangly form. He was gangly. He had pimples. Steve realized that this was all very, very minor background nuisances, but he really didn’t like being 16 again.
He headed out again, and it didn’t take long until Steve parked his car in front of the Henderson’s house and went up to the front door. Shortly after he rang the doorbell, Mrs. Henderson opened and greeted him warmly. She ushered him to the kitchen and made him sit down with a glass of lemonade.
She sat down opposite of him and asked “So how is Sharon?”
“Good, good. My parents left for Italy this morning.”
“Oh, Italy – how nice,” she answered. “And you didn’t go with them?”
“Ah, no. To be honest, holidays with my parents are a bit boring, and all my friends are here for the summer anyway…”
This was all technically true while also being a big lie in spirit. Holidays with his parents had always been boring, but they hadn’t wanted to take Steve with them since he was 10 years old. And while both his friends from his first time at high school and his future friends were all here in Hawkins at that moment, Steve felt that the truth was that he currently had no friends at all.
“Plus,” he continued “I am trying to make captain of the swim team in fall, so I wanted to be able to go and practice at the pool every day.”
Steve didn’t want to give her the impression that he was looking to be lazy all summer, even though that was exactly what he did the first time around.
“I see. And have you taken care of children before?”
Before he could think it through, he answered honestly “I spend basically all my time doing just that,” he said exasperatedly.
Then he heard himself. “Well, I used to. I have a lot of cousins,” (a lie, his mother was an only child and his father had a younger brother with no children) “and they’re all a couple of years younger than me. But this summer I probably won’t be seeing them.”
He continued to spin the lie to what he hoped would be his advantage, “Honestly, I will miss it,” he said sheepishly. Maybe this was a return to the truth after all.
He looked up at Mrs. Henderson and knew that he had won. She had always liked him, but there was rather more riding on that being replicable this time around.
But she looked at him with soft eyes and a happy smile and Steve knew that she would hire him.
He would be paid 2$ per hour and watch over ‘little Dusty-buns’ 5 times a week for a couple of hours. The pay was rather middling, but Steve didn’t care. He wasn’t doing this for money, this was before the fall out with his dad after all. He had a tidy allowance transferred to his bank account each month before he failed to get into college and had been sent off to work first at scoops and then family video.
Still, 40$ per week for something very much like what he had previously done for free was nothing to sneeze at.
Mrs. Henderson explained to him, that her usual baby sitter had forgotten to tell her, that she would go to camp for the summer, and that left her looking for someone to take care of her son over the summer holidays.
Steve knew that Dustin’s parents had gone through a messy divorce a bit less than a year ago at this point. Mrs. Henderson worked and had raised Dustin alone from that point on. And while Dustin had never gone into much detail, Steve got the sense that they both didn’t have stellar father figures.
After he chatted a little with Mrs. Henderson, Dustin rushed in greeting his mother and talking about something that happened at Mike Wheeler’s house.
Steve was staring, taken aback by how small Dustin was. Just a small child, just eleven. Basically just out of primary school. Steve knew that it should not continue to surprise him to see everybody back to their younger selves. With the children it was a particularly stark contrast however, just on the cusp of puberty. Dustin back in ’86 was a young adult. This Dustin was a child.
It made Steve want to cradle him, hide him away from the world’s cruelties.
He snapped out of his musings when he heard his name, “This is Steve, he will help look after you,” Mrs. Henderson said with a big smile.
Steve raised his hand in a casual greeting – it wouldn’t do to seem overeager.
Dustin looked at Steve as if he had grown a second head.
“You look way too cool to be a babysitter.”
So much for feeling uncool for being 16.