By the time Steve's birthday came around, Jessica had been able to get in touch with everyone she thought Steve would've wanted there. Steve's mother had a charity event in town the same week of his birthday, so even she was able to be there for a little while.
Since it was Steve's birthday, Jessica let him decide the order of which he wanted to do things, so they ended up getting the gift-giving out of the way first. His parents had gotten him more CDs to go with the CD player he'd gotten the year before.
The boys from the baseball team had come together to get him a sports equipment bag – it was pretty expensive because it had his initials on it and it was leather. It was actually really nice. Of course it was green and white, the school colors.
The boys from the basketball team didn't get him a gift, per se, but they were paying for the food and drinks for the party, so that was their contribution.
Jessica had noticed Steve eyeing a blue-gray Members Only jacket recently, so that was what she'd gotten him. To be fair, she liked it too. The material was smooth and cool; it wouldn't make Steve overheat, which was good because he ran hot most of the time. The jacket had cost her almost a full paycheck, but she knew he wanted it, so it was worth it.
Once all the gifts had been given, the basketball team brought out the food. They were in charge of the grill for the rest of the party.
It was the middle of June and it was pretty hot, so most of the people had congregated by the pool or in the pool. Steve and Jessica were seated side-by-side on a lawn chair. Steve had taken his shirt off and was only in his shorts now; Jessica had on a black one-piece bathing suit, her shorts still on.
Most of the people were in their bathing suits even if they weren't in the pool. Only a few were actually swimming – most were just seated around the pool with their feet in the water. Everyone was waiting for food at the moment.
Steve had brought a radio outside and some Bryan Adams song was playing at the moment. Steve was a big fan of Bryan Adams and Jessica liked music in general, so she would've been good with anything, and nobody was complaining about the music choice.
Jessica noticed that Steve kept eyeing the pool every now and then. When she asked if he wanted to get in, however, he quickly shook his head.
"Yeah, I'm good here." Steve gave her a not quite convincing grin. "Food will be done soon anyway."
"Okay, as long as you're sure."
About ten minutes later everyone was spread out around the yard with plates of food in their hands. The food was simple, just hamburgers, hotdogs, and chips, but everyone was enjoying it.
The party had been going on for a good two-and-a-half hours now and Steve hadn't gotten any closer to the pool than the lawn chair he'd decided to claim as his own.
The last time he'd used his pool had been the night he'd invited Nancy over. She'd brought Barb with her. He'd been able to tell the girl hadn't been into the party at all – drinking, fooling around – and she'd really only come to keep an eye on her friend. He and Nancy had ended up in the pool and then in his room after that.
He'd been sure that Nancy had sent her friend home, but she'd stayed even after he and Nancy had gone to his room. She'd gone outside and waited. The last known place she'd been before being taken by the demogorgan was by his pool, her feet hanging over the side and into the water.
It wasn't that he was scared of the pool, he just didn't want to get in. He was fine with it. No one needed to know that when his parents were home and he had to stay in his room alone at night that he would sometimes stare at the pool through his window. No one needed to know that when he was done staring that he would close his curtains because he didn't want to see the reflection of water on his bedroom walls.
Steve was still enjoying the party even if it was being held in his backyard near the pool. His friends were there and he was engaging in conversation and still messing around with the guys. He just didn't want to get in the pool.
Jessica had gone for a swim but had only stayed in for about fifteen minutes; she'd said she needed to cool off. It was in the low nineties, and her skin had begun to turn pink. After getting back out, she'd picked a lawn chair near a group of girls and had planted herself onto it.
Nancy was a part of that group. Steve was surprised she'd even come, not because of any bad blood between them, but because of what had happened to Barb there. She had talked to Steve and Jessica for a bit and had mingled with everyone else as well, but she hadn't gotten in the pool either. In fact, Nancy hadn't even brought a bathing suit.
It was around the three-hour mark when most of the people started to leave. Jessica lingered, still seated on the lawn chair. Steve thought she was just letting herself get dry before getting up to go in the house to change.
Steve made sure all the flammable stuff was safe and put away before he went to sit by Jessica. She was just in her bathing suit now, the shorts long forgotten.
Jessica's skin was a darker shade of pink than it had been an hour ago, but she tanned easily. The burn would be gone by the time she woke up the next day.
Once everyone else was gone, Jessica leaned against him and placed her head on his shoulder.
"So . . . good birthday?" she asked softly.
"Really? 'Cause you seemed kind of distracted the whole time."
"What? No, I wasn't."
"You refused to get in the pool."
"No, I didn't. I just didn't feel like getting in."
"You almost panicked when I asked if you wanted to get in."
"I didn't panic. The food was almost done."
Steve did not like this line of questioning. He had enjoyed the party even if he hadn't gone swimming. Really, it wasn't a big deal.
"Look, I was just . . . I was just wondering if everything was okay."
"Okay. It's just . . . it's the middle of June and . . . you haven't used the pool and –"
"Jess, it's fine," he said, and pulled away from her a little. "I just don't feel like swimming, okay? Let it go."
Hurt flashed quickly over Jessica's face before she looked away and stood up.
"I'm gonna go change."
"I'm gonna go put some dry clothes on."
Steve watched her walk towards the back door of his house and he sighed heavily as he saw her go inside. That hadn't gone as he'd wanted it to and he hadn't meant to get impatient with her. He knew she was just worried about him, but he didn't want her to worry about him. The fact that he didn't want to use his pool anymore wasn't a big deal to him.
He decided he'd give her time to get into some dry clothes and then he'd go try again.
Jessica had passed Mrs. Harrington as she'd made her way up the stairs to Steve's bedroom. Steve's mom had joined the party for only a short while before she'd gone back inside, and she hadn't tried to stop Jessica from going upstairs.
She had put her clothes in his room, and she had every intention of just grabbing them and going to the bathroom for a shower, but she pretty much just sank onto the bed when she reached it.
She knew something was wrong with Steve. He didn't get impatient with her, or not with her directly. He might get impatient and show it around her, but it was never because of her. Maybe she shouldn't have pushed after he'd told her he was okay, but she knew that something was bothering him. It hurt her that he wouldn't tell her what it was.
She shook her head and then did what she'd planned to do to begin with. She grabbed her clothes and then went to fetch a new towel. She really needed a shower to get the stiffness of chlorine out of her hair and off of her skin.
She crossed paths with Steve right as she was getting ready to go into the bathroom. He caught her gaze with his and she paused to give him a chance to speak.
"Look, I didn't mean to snap at you," he said.
"I know that. I also know that you only snap when you're bothered by something. So despite you telling me that you're fine, you obviously aren't."
"What if I just don't want to talk about it?"
"Then just say that. But don't – don't just blow me off if I ask if you're okay when I know you're not. Okay? I mean, we're together and we're supposed to be there for each other, and you're there for me when I'm having a problem with something, and it just – it hurts that you won't let me be there for you. It makes me feel like you don't trust me enough to talk to me about stuff."
"I talk to you," Steve said. "You're there for me all the time."
"Only about stuff I already know about, like the stuff with your dad. You never told me about the bat you keep in the trunk of your car. I had to find out on my own and that was by accident, and you didn't really want to talk about that either. You said you were fine then too."
"I was fine then too. The bat was just a precaution."
"Is it still there?"
Steve looked away then and when he spoke his voice was softer and a little hesitant. "Yes."
"See! That's what I'm talking about. You've . . . never really talked about what happened last November, and I get it, trust me, but I talked to you about it when it was bothering me. And the fact that you kept the bat and you're still keeping it means you're still hung up about it. And now you're avoiding talking about whatever is bothering you, so –"
"Barb disappeared from my backyard," Steve said, his voice tight and controlled. "She was last seen sitting at the edge of my pool. Is it any wonder I don't want to get in?"
Whatever fight had been in Jessica quickly left when he said those words and she suddenly felt less intelligent than she'd always assumed she was. Of course that was bothering him. Why hadn't she thought of it before? It was the same reason Nancy hadn't gone swimming that day.
"Why didn't you say anything? We could've had the party somewhere else, somewhere you wouldn't have had to be reminded of that all day."
"Because it's not a big deal. I mean, it is because – because she's dead, but it's not something I think about all the time is what I mean. I just don't like my pool anymore."
Jessica reached forward to touch his arm. "Steve, is that why you don't tell me these things? You don't think they're a big deal?"
"Well, I mean, this time it's stupid. Okay? I know that the pool had nothing to do with what happened to Barbara, it was that thing, -"
"Hey, if something bothers you, it's not stupid, no matter how small you think the problem is."
Jessica gestured for Steve to follow her into the bathroom and, when they were both inside, she closed the door so they could talk louder and more freely – she hadn't been thinking about it, but his mom could've come upstairs at any moment and heard what they were talking about.
"Please tell me that the reason you haven't said anything isn't because you think you can't talk to me about it."
"Of course not," he said, and she believed him. He sounded too sincere for him not to be telling the truth.
"Well, then . . . what is it?"
She placed her towel and dry clothes on the counter of the sink.
"It's –" Steve stopped as she began to lower the straps of her bathing suit. "Uh, Jess?"
"I'm going to take a shower. You're going to stay in here and talk to me."
"But – I, uh, you expect us to have a conversation while you're standing there naked?"
"The shower curtain will hide me. You'll be fine."
Once her suit was off, she tossed it in the sink so as not to get the floor wet and then she really was standing there naked. Steve was not naked, but he was rooted to the spot and he couldn't stop looking at her. She shook her head fondly and then turned around to turn the water on and get the temperature right for her shower. Once it was, she turned the knob so the water would start coming out of the shower head, and then she gave it a few seconds to warm up.
Before she was able to step inside the tub, Steve said, "You're really gonna make me stay out here so we can talk?"
"Well, I don't see you talking so much if you got in with me."
"I can behave." Steve stepped forward. "Besides, something tells me my advances would not be welcome right now."
"You would be right." She stepped in the tub then and pulled the curtain. "Answer my question and then maybe you can get in."
Steve was seated on the toilet lid waiting for Jessica to start talking again. She had asked him to stay, so he had. She had been right in that the shower curtain hid her, so at least he was able to focus when she did speak again.
"So . . . what is it?"
"What is what?"
"That keeps you from talking to me about certain stuff."
"I don't know," he said, and he found it was true. "I don't know why. It's not – it's not easy for me, Jess. I'm just used to dealing with stuff on my own. It's a hard habit to break."
Even when he'd been a kid, he hadn't really felt he'd had anyone to talk to about anything. That had changed a little when Jessica had moved to Hawkins in the sixth grade, but holding things in had already become a part of him by that time, and it was hard to get out of that.
Jessica stuck her head out from curtain, her hair wet and dripping a little.
"You can get in now."
"Really?" He'd only said a few sentences. "Well, that was easier than expected."
Jessica smiled softly. "Talking to me should be easy."
Steve was aware that his mom was still downstairs, so he knew they couldn't really do anything and they couldn't take too long in the shower – not that his mom seemed to care anyway – but he was grateful Jessica had decided to let him in.
"I'm sorry I kept pushing earlier," she said, reaching up to wrap her arms around him. "I'll try to remember that you're just not used to talking about stuff like that. But you have to try and remember that you can talk about stuff like that with me. I'm your girlfriend and your best friend."
Steve did know that, but putting it into practice was still going to be difficult.
He placed his hands on her waist. "I'm sorry I made you feel like I didn't trust you. That's not true at all. I trust you more than I've ever trusted anyone."
She pressed her mouth to his neck then and bit down gently. He pulled her closer as a shiver went down his spine, and he felt her smile against his skin. She had done that on purpose.
He assumed that meant that he could misbehave a little as well.
The rest of June passed by rather quickly. Jessica and her mom had received two more letters from Dustin – one describing the volcano he'd had to build and the eruption that came from it, and one just talking about camp in general – and they had sent off one more care package, this one full of candy.
Steve and Jessica went to two movies during the time Dustin was away. It would have been three, but one of the movies, Ghostbusters, was something she knew Dustin wanted to see with his friends, so Jessica decided to hold off and rent it when it came out so they could all watch it together.
She went to see Gremlins with Steve – he only went because it was something she wanted to see – but they both ended up enjoying it because it wasn't that scary. Besides, Gizmo was cute even if those nasty green things ended up coming from him.
The day Dustin was meant to come back from camp, Jessica had to work. Since it was summer, she was able to work the early shift rather than the late shift after school, so she wasn't able to go get him with their mom, but she was able to go to the welcome home dinner their mother had planned.
It wasn't anything huge, just his favorite meal, which was actually just Jessica's homemade spaghetti. That was easy enough.
Dustin planned on going to see his friends the next day, but he wanted to spend his first day back with his family.
The first thing Dustin did when Jessica got home from work the day he got back was show her the galaxy jar he'd made her. It really was made out of a glass milk jug. She didn't know how he'd made it, but it was really pretty. It had a mix of blues, pinks, and purples, and it was sparkly.
He'd also made a lava lamp. That was for the house in general, but it was impressive as well. He'd chosen red for the color, and their mom decided to put it in the living room.
During dinner, Dustin went on and on about the things he'd learned and the people he'd met, and Jessica was glad he'd decided to go. She'd never seen him so happy.
She was still happy to have him home.
The next day Dustin made all the arrangements he needed to spend time with his friends at the arcade. Jessica was going to take him and pick up Lucas on the way; Nancy was going to bring Mike, and Jonathan was going to bring Will. Steve was going to meet them there.
The kids were going to be playing the games, of course, but the others were going to get lunch across the street from the arcade.
Once they all had their food in front of them, Nancy brought up the research she had been doing. Jessica was helping when she could, but she did have a job and other things going on, so she probably wasn't helping as much as Nancy wanted her to.
So far, Nancy had only found more information out about the MKUltra project, but nothing recent. Hopper had said that all known experiments had been halted in the 70s, but it seemed to frustrate Nancy that she couldn't find anything more recent.
She couldn't find anything about Dr. Brenner at all, and the only information she had about Will's new doctor was what Jonathan was able to tell her, which was that he did think the guy could help him. Jessica didn't know when Nancy had brought Jonathan into it, but since he didn't seem surprised by the topic of conversation, he must've already known about what Nancy was up to.
If Jessica was being honest with herself, she was glad Nancy hadn't found much. She couldn't be tempted to go public with anything if she didn't have anything to go public with.
I took out the part about going to see The Goonies. It came to my attention that it didn't come out until 1985, and at the moment we are still in 1984. I could've left it, but it was bugging me.