The next morning, Steve and Jessica woke up around ten, but stayed in bed for a good extra hour, just cuddling and sharing lazy kisses.
When they finally got out of bed, it was late enough that they could just pack a lunch and go ahead out to the pier.
It was warm enough that they only needed a light jacket, even with the slight breeze drifting over them from the lake. The sun beamed down on them and Jessica couldn't help soaking it up.
Their lunch consisted of deli sandwiches and chips with pickles on the side, and after they ate, they just laid there and relaxed back against the wood of the pier.
"It really is beautiful out here," Jessica said. "I wasn't sure how I was going to be with the woods and all, but it's nice."
Steve looked at her. She hadn't mentioned the fact that she had been worried about being in the woods for a whole week, but he guessed he should've figured that out himself; he knew that ever since the whole thing back in November that she didn't like going into the woods at all.
"It is. I've always liked it here." He nudged her a little with his elbow and grinned. "I like it even better since you're with me."
The lake house wasn't completely isolated; there were others within walking distance placed strategically around the path near the lake, but they weren't close enough that any of the neighbors could see each other.
"I like that it's so open," she said. "Like, we're near the woods, not completely submerged in them."
She was quiet for a moment, but then continued talking again.
"I don't know if I ever told you, but we found El in the woods. It was when the kids were looking for Will. We found her instead. I had gone to the Byers' house to see if there was anything I could do for them, you know, help pass out missing person's flyers or something, and it started raining really hard on my way back home. It started storming. I remember because El would jump just about every time it thundered."
Steve looked at her and listened. She had never really talked in detail about El, so he didn't know much about her aside from the fact that she was from the lab in Hawkins and that she had powers. She had also apparently sacrificed herself to save the boys.
"I saw the kids bikes on the side of the road where the crime scene tape was, so I pulled off so I could go find them. It didn't take long because Dustin was yelling at them. We heard . . . growling, so I told them we had to leave, and then there she was, right there, when we turned around. She was in a huge shirt from Benny's, and that was it. She was freezing and scared."
Jessica moved closer to Steve and leaned her head against his arm.
"I didn't know her for long, but I think we could've been friends."
"I'm sure you could have," he said. "You're pretty great with the kids."
"Well, so are you," she said. "Or, well, you made Dustin like you. You haven't really had to be around the other ones. They don't think you're a jerk anymore though."
They sat in silence for a while and then Steve said, "I wish it was warmer. We could go swimming."
"Yeah, but not today. We have to take that walk and then get ready for dinner tonight."
Before they started on their walk, they both went in and changed into more appropriate shoes. The path was mostly flat and smooth, and the only wildlife they came across were squirrels, chipmunks, and birds.
They walked hand in hand, just enjoying the presence of each other as they took in the greenery and the beams of sunshine flowing through the trees on one side and the lake on the other.
"You never really talked about El before."
"She never really comes up. I wasn't there when, well . . . you know, because I was with you at the Byers' house. I only know what Dustin has told me. She saved them and all that was left was ashes. She must have literally burned herself out."
It only took them about an hour to complete the path around the lake, and they still had a few hours to kill before having to leave for the dinner, so they hung around outside for a while before going inside.
Steve's parents were nowhere in sight, but they heard footsteps from upstairs, so that was where they had to be.
It was barely three o'clock, but they decided they should start to get ready anyway. They both had to shower and everything before dressing, so it made sense. Jessica's hair took longer to dry than Steve's did, so she took her shower first. She'd brought her own shampoo and soap, just because she was picky about what she used – mostly because of the smell of what she used – so she grabbed that and then two towels, one for her hair and one for her body, and made her way to the bathroom.
The bathroom was decent sized, and the tub was big enough that if she'd wanted to take a bath her whole body would've fit without having to bend her knees. She would probably make use of it at least once before they had to go back home, but she didn't have the time at the moment.
She took about twenty minutes in the shower, and by the time she got out the room was foggy with steam. She couldn't see her reflection in the mirror above the sink, it was so covered in condensation.
Jessica dried herself off a little before wrapping her body in the towel and then did the same with her hair. When she was sure the towel was securely around her, she made her way out of the bathroom and back to the room she was sharing with Steve.
She squeaked a little when she realized that he was actually still in the room. He was on the bed with a notebook in front of him. The book they were reading for English was also in front of him, so she knew he must be trying to work on the essay they had for the break. He looked up, however, once she had made that embarrassing noise, and he began to grin when he realized she was only in a towel.
"Well . . ." he began and looked her over in appreciation.
"Steve! You're not supposed to be in here."
"Really? I was under the impression that this is our room."
"Well, yeah, but . . . I have to get dressed."
"I'm not stopping you."
Jessica knew Steve was just messing with her because he was already closing his notebook and marking his place in the book he'd been reading. He wasn't going to stay in there while she got dressed if she didn't want him to.
"I should probably go take my shower now, anyway," he said.
"Yup. You take longer on your hair than anyone else I know," she teased.
"Do not. Most of the time it falls this way. I just reinforce it with hair product."
He stopped in front of her on his way out, just to give her a quick kiss and a brief hug. If she hadn't been wrapped in a towel, she probably would've wrapped her arms around him, but she was scared the towel would decide to unravel.
As it was, Steve did tease her by pulling at her towel gently, not enough for it to come off, before laughing when she almost squeaked again.
"Okay, okay, I'm goin'."
Once he was gone, Jessica closed the door and threw the towel from her body on the floor. She would hang it up in the bathroom once Steve was out again.
She gave her hair a good pat down to dry it before throwing that towel down as well. She pulled her dress out of the closet, looked it over to make sure it wasn't wrinkly, and then put it on. Once the dress was smoothed out to her liking, she stood in front of the full-length mirror and began brushing her hair.
The only thing she really had to put in her hair was something to tame it a bit and give it a healthy shine.
Steve was out of the shower by the time she was done with her hair. He had a towel wrapped around his waist and another slipped over his shoulders to catch any drops of water that wanted to stray downwards.
Jessica was much like Steve had been when she had come in earlier – on the bed, notebook and book open in front of her. She was reading over his essay, or what he'd completed of it; it was mostly a bunch of ideas piled into one big paragraph.
They were reading The Great Gatsby and all the students had to pick a topic and write about it. Jessica had chosen the decline of the American dream in the 1920s; Steve had chosen the hollowness of the upper class
She quickly got off of the bed and went towards the door.
"Let me know when you're done," she said and stepped out.
Jessica made her way downstairs. Mr. and Mrs. Harrington were seated on the couch in the living room once again and there was still space between them.
Mrs. Harrington looked up as Jessica walked in and gave her a smile.
"You look nice."
Mr. Harrington looked her way as well. The fact that he didn't say anything about what she was wearing meant he could find nothing wrong with it.
Jessica didn't know how long it was going to take Steve to do his hair routine, so she made herself comfortable on the couch. She talked to Steve's mom for a while. Jessica knew the only reason Steve's mom didn't stay home with Steve was because she was afraid of what her husband would do if she left him to his own devices. She didn't agree with it, but she wasn't going to hold it against the woman either. At least Mrs. Harrington didn't try to alienate her son by belittling him all the time.
"I'm glad you decided to come with us this year," Mrs. Harrington said. "I know this is supposed to be a vacation, but Robert brought along some of the work that he's been behind on. He won't be able to spend much time outside of his office."
"Yes. Maybe you can keep him occupied," Mr. Harrington said, as if Steve weren't fully capable of keeping himself occupied.
"I'm sure that won't be a problem. We already have a few things we've planned on doing."
"As long as those plans don't involve getting my son in trouble, I hope everything goes well."
Jessica stiffened where she was on the sofa. She knew what Mr. Harrington was talking about and she didn't appreciate what he was implying.
"What? They are young. We both know what that means. We have very definite plans for Steve. We don't need any hiccups along the way."
"I can assure you there won't be," Jessica said, her tone cold. "And if there was . . . a hiccup . . . at least Steve would be better at dealing with it than you are."
To be fair, Jessica only said that to get at Mr. Harrington. If his reddening face was anything to go by, her plan had definitely worked.
"Just so we're clear, if there was a hiccup, we would take care of it. He doesn't need the responsibility of a . . . hiccup."
"That's enough, Robert. Jessica is an adult, and Steve will be in June. They both know what can happen and I'm sure have taken every precaution to make sure it doesn't happen."
Jessica shot up off the couch and stormed toward the stairs. She didn't care that Steve may not be done with everything. She couldn't stand being in the same room as Mr. Harrington anymore. She didn't know how Steve put up with him when he was home.
Steve was just putting the finishing touches on his hair when Jessica popped into the room. She was flushed and trembling and she just about plopped onto the bed.
She shook her head. "Your dad's a jerk."
Steve tensed. "What'd he say?"
"It doesn't matter. Let's just stay up here until we have to leave and then get through dinner so we can come back here."
"Jess, come on, if he said something to you, I wanna know. He's not allowed to treat you the way he treats me."
"It – it wasn't like that. It wasn't like he was putting me down or anything. He was just being a jerk. I don't really wanna talk about it, not right now. I just wanna get through the night."
"As long as you're sure."
"I'm more mad and offended than anything else. Honestly, I don't know how you live with him when he's home."
"Hm. Careful avoidance, usually."
Jessica, Steve, and his parents arrived at the country club at quarter-to-seven. The place wasn't huge, but it was pristine white, and fancy cars filled the parking lot.
Once they were all inside the building, they were ushered towards the dining area where other people were already there, seated around a medium-length table. Jessica recognized a few people, one of which she was surprised to see there at all. Larry Kline, the mayor of Hawkins. Why was he there? She hadn't even known the Harrington's knew the mayor enough to have dinner with him.
Jessica and Steve sat across from each other, while Steve's parents sat close by but not right beside them.
The first half-hour or so was filled with small talk, most of it having nothing to do with Jessica or Steve at all, and they were able to carry on a conversation of their own.
Once dinner started, however, the conversation came around to what the dinner was really about – business. Mayor Kline was there for a reason. He had a piece of land he was interested in buying. There was nothing being done to the land at the moment; it was mostly just a wooded area. He was suggesting building a mall - a big deal for a small town.
"Won't that hurt the people, though?" Jessica asked. "I mean, most of the stores in Hawkins are owned and run by the people of Hawkins. They're not brand name stores."
Mr. and Mrs. Harrington looked her way. Mr. Harrington seemed annoyed that she'd even said anything, but Mrs. Harrington didn't seem to have an opinion one way or the other.
Mayor Kline had heard her as well, and he was the one who answered her. He had a smile that would've been charming if it hadn't been fake.
"Building a mall will actually help the town bring in more money. People from the surrounding towns will come to shop, and having the mall open will provide more jobs than the stores that are open now."
"But it will put them out of business, so while you're helping some, you're also hurting others."
"Well, you can't please everyone."
Jessica and Steve went back to talking amongst themselves until the mayor and Mr. Harrington started talking particulars of the land the mayor wanted – cost and how long it would take to get the land cleared so they could start building.
It turned out they could clear it out pretty quickly and start building almost immediately after that. The mall could possibly be up by the next summer.
"You'll be starting to work with me around then," Mr. Harrington said to Steve. "It'll be the perfect time for you to learn what you need to know."
"You know how I feel about that, I've told you so many times. I don't know if I even want to work with you. I have other things I want to do, things I actually like to do."
"And how are you going to do that without my help?"
Steve didn't say anything else about it. Jessica watched as he just shook his head and tried to take himself out of the conversation. Careful avoidance.
"If you were around more, you'd know that his grades are a lot better than they used to be," Jessica said. "And he's always got basketball and baseball in his corner."
She noticed that almost everyone at the table was looking at her, and for once she didn't care that she was drawing attention to herself. She'd had enough of Mr. Harrington's attitude about, well, everything really, and she wouldn't just sit pretty while he made Steve think he'd never be able to do anything without the help of his dad.
She might have held her tongue if she hadn't already been upset with him to begin with, but she was so she hadn't been able to. Now that she'd said her piece, though, she really didn't want to sit around with Mr. Harrington and all his business associates; they'd had enough of a show already.
Steve watched as Jessica got to her feet and pushed away from the table. Her food was only half-finished, but he understood why she needed to get away. His father had a way of making people feel that way.
Steve sighed, shook his head at his parents, and then got up to follow her. She made it all the way outside and then plopped down on the front steps of the building.
"Jess . . ."
Her hands were shaking as she brought them up to wipe across her face. He knew there would be tears there on her cheeks before she even turned to look at him.
"I'm sorry," she said, voice barely above a whisper. "I didn't mean – he's just –"
"I know," he said and sat beside her.
She immediately leaned her head against him and he put an arm around her. He knew she wasn't going to start crying hard and that the tears that had already fallen were those of frustration. They wouldn't last long.
"I was already on edge after what he said earlier, and I just couldn't take him anymore."
"You still don't wanna tell me what he said?"
"I – I don't really want to, but I guess I should. It doesn't just involve me."
She took a deep breath and pulled away slightly.
"He basically said that he already has plans for you and he doesn't want me distracting you from that. Only it was more . . ."
"More . . . ?"
She looked him in the eye then. "He told me if I got pregnant, he'd make me have an abortion. He called it a –"
Steve couldn't believe it. Actually, he could, and that was worse.
"Jess, why didn't you say something earlier. I meant what I said. He's not allowed to talk to you that way. And you shouldn't have that floating around in your head all the time."
"Well, I didn't want it floating around in yours either." She leaned against him again and pressed her lips to his shoulder before settling against him more firmly. "What if I did? I mean, I know we wouldn't aim for it, but if something happened and I did at some point get pregnant . . . what would you want to do?"
"Well, definitely not make you have an abortion," he said.
The person he had been before November, the one before Nancy and all the Upside Down monster type stuff, the one before finally getting with Jessica and learning to open himself up to her, he may have opted for an abortion if he'd gotten a girl pregnant. Steve wasn't going to deny that. But now, he wouldn't even dream of it.
"Look, if it happened, we would deal with it. It's not going to happen because, well . . . Jess, we haven't had sex yet, which, you know, I've heard is actually a really big step in actually making a baby." She snorted and Steve grinned. "And we still don't have to if this is going to be a problem, like if you're going to be thinking about this the whole time. I want you to enjoy yourself and you won't if you're worried about this.
"Just know that when we do decide to that we are going to be careful and we're going to make sure it doesn't happen until we're both ready. Which . . . will not be any time soon. And . . . if something were to happen, some unforeseen reason why our precautions didn't work, then you'd make a great mom even now, and I could probably learn how to be a good dad if I was with you."
"Easy, just don't do what your dad does."
Steve and Jessica stayed outside for the remainder of the dinner. There was a small manmade pond with a path around it and that was where they spent most of the time. They made it around the pond a few times before they saw Steve's parents coming out of the country club. They all came together at the car.
The ride to the lake house was a quiet one, not so much because it was awkward but because neither Jessica nor Steve really wanted to talk to his parents. Well, actually, Steve did want to talk to his dad, but not while Jessica was around.
When they arrived at the house Mr. and Mrs. Harrington went in first but Steve and Jessica followed very shortly after.
Steve walked Jessica to the stairs but stopped at the bottom of them.
"You go on up. I'll be there in a minute."
They would probably end up doing what they had done the night before, which was a little bit of homework while his parents were still up and downstairs and then come back down to watch a movie or something after they went to bed.
Steve nodded. "It will be."
He watched her go up the stairs and then when she'd made it to their room, he turned back to face the living room. His mom was on the couch, but his dad wasn't.
"Where did he go?" he asked.
His mom nodded toward the hallway that would lead to his dad's study room, so he made his was down the hall, determination in every step. He had to talk to his dad.
Steve had been taught manners at a young age, so he still knocked before entering, but he didn't give his dad time to decide whether or not he could come in.
There was a folder out in front of his. dad It looked like it contained contracts of some kind.
"I have something I need to say."
His dad didn't even look up, but he did give him a nod to go ahead and speak.
"Jessica told me what you said to her earlier . . . about what would happen if she somehow became pregnant. I don't want you talking to her like that. It wouldn't be just on her if that happened, and it wouldn't be your decision what she decided to do about it."
"No. I know she'd never decide to murder a baby. I wouldn't want her to decide to. And I would help her take care of it if it came to that. That would be our decision."
"You are still in school."
"Yes, I know. That's why you don't have to worry about that happening. We're not stupid. We know to take precautions, Dad, and it wasn't cool of you to say what you said at all. I don't care about whatever plans you have for me and how you feel Jess might get in the way of them. She's my girlfriend. I love her and you will respect her."
Steve's stomach was giving him a fit right then. He sounded confident, but he really was just going with it. He'd never really confronted his dad before; he'd never really cared enough to. He was used to his dad being a jerk to him, but he wouldn't sit by and let him be a jerk to Jessica too.
When he was sure his dad wasn't going to respond he took that as his cue to leave.