Steve and Jessica ended up at a diner that was known more for its milkshakes than its food. Still Steve ordered a large plate of fries for them to share, and they both ordered a shake – Steve a strawberry one, Jessica a chocolate one. She liked to dip the fries in the shake, to which Steve turned up his nose.
"What? It's great!"
"It's delicious. What're you talkin' about?"
Steve shook his head, his perfect brown hair moving with the motion. He was glad Jessica had decided to come out with him that night. There had been tension between them for the past few days and he didn't like it. He understood that she was worried about the Byers' kid – not the perverted one, but the missing one – but he didn't want that to hurt their friendship.
He didn't want any of the stuff that had happened to hurt their friendship. She had learned to ignore Tommy and Carol over the years, but he knew she had never learned to accept their behavior. And Steve had never even realized how much he had become like them; it had been a gradual process, so smooth it hadn't felt like a real change at all.
"You really think I'm a bully?"
Jessica looked down at the table before shrugging and looking back at him.
"I stand by what I said earlier. You can be when you're with Tommy and Carol."
"Hm. But me and you, we're good, though, right?"
Jessica grinned slyly. "I've been going back and forth."
He threw a fry at her, no ketchup – which was good because it landed in her wavy hair. She looked shocked for about two seconds, and then she began laughing.
"I can't believe you did that! What, are you twelve?"
"It made you laugh."
Steve would never admit it out loud, but he lived for moments when Jessica laughed. She was always so serious that when she really let go and had fun it was beautiful. She was beautiful.
He maybe liked his best friend a little and had for a while, but she'd never acted as if she was interested in being anything other than friends, and there was no way he was going to mess it up by asking her if she'd like to give it a try.
No. It was better to have her as a friend than not to have her at all. And he did like Nancy. It wasn't like he was playing her. She was nice and beautiful. She needed to learn to loosen up a little, but Steve did care about her. And he couldn't stay stuck on a girl who didn't want him the way he wanted her.
Jessica and Steve left the diner around ten, Jessica feeling better than she had when she'd gotten off work.
"Thanks, Steve. I think I really needed this."
"Like I said, you're my best friend."
They had driven their own cars. Jessica stopped Steve before he got into his.
"Steve, I . . . This probably sounds stupid, but . . . I don't have to worry about Nancy, right?"
"Nancy. You . . . really like her. I mean, you like hanging out with her outside of the bedroom. The other girls . . . they wanted to have fun and you wanted to have fun, and that's all it was, but you care about Nancy, right?"
"Yeah," he said hesitantly. "What's this about?"
"Well, now that you actually have a girlfriend, you're not gonna forget about me. Right?"
"What?" Steve asked again, only this time he seemed incredulous.
He wrapped her in a hug again, only this time he rocked her back and forth playfully, and she had to lean from side-to-side to go with it.
"How many times do you have to hear me call you my best friend?"
"One more time," she said, her voice muffled against his chest.
He held her slightly away from him and held her gaze with his. His eyes were a pretty doe brown – and he had killer puppy dog eyes, which wasn't fair – and they were one of the things she loved about him.
"You, Jessica Henderson, are my best friend."
He was being sincere, and it made her hug him again, this one brief but heartfelt.
"Thanks again, Steve. I'll see you tomorrow in school."
"Yeah. Parking lot like always."
Jessica drove home thinking about Steve's hugs. They were always nice. Soft, sweet, and short when she needed them to be, or tight and comforting when she felt she needed to be held together. And she had definitely not been holding it together well.
Aside from the affection she shared with Dustin from time to time, she didn't really receive touches from anyone other than Steve. Her mother was verbally affectionate, but physically was another story altogether. She rarely hugged either of her children, so to say Jessica craved human contact wouldn't have been wrong. Steve craved affection too, from spending so much time alone.
As soon as she walked into her house that night she knew something was off. Dustin was still up and in the living room – and he was crying. He almost never cried; he tried to stay positive. Something had to have happened.
Dustin ran to her the moment he saw her and threw his arms around her. She returned the gesture, holding on tightly because she had no clue what to do or what was wrong. She looked at their mom, who also had tears in her eyes.
"They found Will earlier tonight," she said. "In the quarry."
Dustin held on tighter. It made Jessica's chest tighten. She could tell that wasn't the whole story. Dustin wouldn't have been crying if they had found Will . . . alive.
"Mom . . ."
"It was on the news. They think the ground gave way and he fell in."
He had crashed his bike that night. Maybe Will had been wounded or disoriented and . . . Maybe Hopper had been wrong about the signs of Will arriving home that night before disappearing.
"Dustin . . . I'm sorry."
She ran her hand through his hair and squeezed tighter with the arm that was still around him.
"I told him he didn't have to go to school tomorrow if he didn't want to."
"Good idea," Jessica said. "Come on, Dustin."
She led her brother upstairs and to his room. He sat on his bed, tears falling silently. Jessica sat beside him, placed an arm over his shoulders.
"What happened?" she asked him, to which he shrugged. "Were you here when you found out?"
He shook his head. "We were at the quarry."
"What? What on earth were you doing there?"
"El led you there?"
"No. I . . . After school we picked El up, and she led us to Will's house. I don't know how she knew it was his house, but she did."
"Super powers," she reminded him, earning a very tiny quirk of his lips.
"Right. Anyway, a bunch of cop cars flew by, sirens blaring, and we followed them. They ended up at the quarry."
Dustin must've seen Will's body being dragged out. He'd probably fought tears all the way back home, and it was quite a ways away from their house to the quarry.
"I wish I could have been there with you guys. You shouldn't have been out there anyway, but I get why you were, so I wish I could have been there for you."
After a few seconds Dustin admitted that he would have liked her to have been there too.
Jessica stayed with Dustin until he fell asleep – a little after midnight – and then she went back down to the living room. Her mother had already gone to bed. Jessica assumed her mother had figured Jessica would take care of it, take care of Dustin.
Well, she had done the best she knew how to, and now she wanted to relax. She put The Outsiders in the VCR and laid on the couch. She had no intention of falling asleep, not for a while. If Dustin wasn't going to school in the morning, she wasn't either. There was no way she was leaving him alone with their mom. She'd have no clue how to deal with an emotional Dustin.
So, no, she had no intention of going to school or going to sleep. She passed out, however, right before Pony Boy and Johnny decided to be heroes for the kids in the burning church. She woke up to sunshine glaring in her face, and to Dustin shaking her awake.
"Oh, what? What?"
She smacked his hand away and grunted when she realized how stiff her body was. Where was she? In what God-awful position had she gone to sleep in? And why was her neck hurting so badly?
"Jess! Lucas is waiting outside."
"So we have to go."
Jessica's dark blue eyes snapped open and she sprang up fast enough to almost collide foreheads with her brother, but he was quick enough to back away. She realized then that she was on the couch – that was why her body was hurting so badly.
"What about Will?"
"I don't know. Mike told Lucas to come over and get me. We're heading over there. Do you wanna come?"
She assumed that meant neither Mike nor Lucas were going to school that day either – maybe they were skipping without permission.
"Yeah. Tell Lucas he doesn't have to wait outside. I'm gonna go change right quick."
"I . . . if it's okay, I'm gonna head over on my bike. That way you don't have to stick around all day if you don't want to."
Jessica noticed that her brother didn't seem as sad and withdrawn as he had the night before. He'd had time to process and, even though she could tell he was still more than sad, he wasn't close to tears anymore.
"Hey, leave Mom a note before you leave."
Dustin agreed, and Jessica forced herself off of the couch. Once upstairs, she checked herself in the mirror. She was still in her work clothes from the night before. That hadn't helped the comfort levels while she'd been sleeping either.
Wow, she looked a mess. Her usually beautiful vanilla caramel skin was a shade lighter than normal. It didn't make her appear unhealthy, it was just unusual for her. Her hair was all kinky curls like Dustin's. The usual waves had tangled overnight, but since she didn't have to go to school she wasn't going to worry about fixing it. She brushed it and put it up into a messy bun. She decided on a deep red sweater and blue jeans with sneakers.
She took an old beaten up leather jacket with her for later. Who knew when she would get back?
If this was about Will, she had no idea what she would be needed for other than emotional support. Mike probably wouldn't have much support in the way of his parents or Nancy – she'd never really appeared close to Mike, and she now had her own friend to worry about.
Mike probably just didn't want to be alone, and she didn't blame him. His parents' lives couldn't stop because Will had died. His mom still had to be a mom to Mike's sisters – Holly was Mike's younger sister; she barely knew how to talk yet – or if she did, she played it close to the vest.
Lucas had pretty okay parents from what Jessica knew of them. He also had a pretty awesome but annoying little sister, who probably wouldn't be much help because of her age.
The point was Jessica would be there for them because they had lost a friend. They had lost a friend that Jessica had cared about too.
While Jessica was getting ready to go meet Dustin at the Wheeler's house, Steve was outside the school near the exit of the gym talking to Nancy. Apparently, while Nancy was supposed to have been doing something with her mom during the game the day before, she'd actually been sneaking around his yard and the woods around it looking for Barb. He didn't know why she just hadn't come to him. He would've searched with her.
She'd seen some creature . . . thing. It was probably just some guy in a mask, but, according to Nancy, it was definitely not a human.
"But he had no face?"
"I don't know! I don't know. I just have a terrible feeling about this."
Steve was sure Nancy was blowing everything out of proportion. She was probably overly worried because of the news about Will. This was different, though, because Barb wasn't twelve years old. She was probably – and then it hit him. Nancy was going to tell the police about Barb disappearing. She had found Barb's car parked where it had been the night of the party, so he understood why, but still . . .
"Oh, this is bad. This is really bad."
Steve leaned against the brick wall as his mind started going crazy on him. Little known fact: Steve Harrington felt anxiety too, and the fact that Barb had disappeared from a party he'd held at his house was going to drive him insane. His parents hadn't known he was going to throw it, but they wouldn't have cared. They didn't much care about anything as long as Steve didn't get in trouble.
"The cops. They're gonna wanna talk to all of us now."
"My parents are gonna murder me!"
Nancy crossed her arms over the pink shirt she had on and glared at him.
"Are you serious right now?"
"You don't understand. My dad is a grade-A asshole."
It was true enough that Steve's dad had never left a bruise on him, but that didn't mean his dad had never laid a hand on him in anger.
"Barb is missing, and you're worried about your dad?"
That was right. Nancy didn't know because she'd never met his parents. She didn't understand what would happen if the Harrington name ended up involved in a missing person's case.
"Okay . . . Just, when you talk to the cops . . . just," he pushed off the wall – "don't mention the beer."
Nancy's glare intensified. It reminded Steve of the day before when Jessica had been scolding him for breaking the pervert's camera.
"It's just gonna get us both into trouble and Barbara's got nothing to do with it, okay?"
"I can't believe you right now." She shook her head and began to walk away. "I can't believe you."
She kept walking.
He didn't follow her when she didn't stop going forward. What was the point? It wouldn't change anything. He still thought they were all going to get in trouble, and he still wasn't going to be able to change her mind.
And he was still disappointing the people he cared most about.
When Jessica arrived at the Wheeler's her suspicious were confirmed: Neither of Mike's parents were home. Holly was probably either with her mom or at a babysitter's, and Nancy was probably at school.
The guys were in the basement, seated in front of the little fort El had used as a bed the night they had found her. She was inside the fort, playing with the walkie talkie, or radio communicator, whatever it was called. All she knew was that they each had one, and they were long-range, and it helped when they wanted to communicate when they were apart.
El was going through the channels, and every now and then the sound of a scared little boy came through – though it was more whimpering than anything else. Mike was sure it was Will. He'd first heard it the night before after getting home from the quarry.
"We keep losing the signal, but you heard it, right?"
"Yeah, I heard a baby," Lucas said. "Mike, you probably tapped into a baby monitor. It's probably the Blackburn's next door."
"Uh, did that sound like a baby to you? That was Will."
"Lucas, you don't understand. He spoke last night. Words. He was singing that weird song he loves. Even El heard him."
"Oh, well, if the weirdo heard him, then I guess –"
"Are you sure you're on the right channel?" Dustin interrupted before an argument could break out.
"I don't think it's about that. I think, somehow, she's channeling him," Mike said.
"Like . . . like Professor X."
"Are you actually believing this crap?" Lucas asked.
"I don't know," Dustin said. "Do you remember when Will fell off his bike and broke his finger? He sounded a lot like that."
Jessica saw the hope in Dustin's eyes and wanted so badly to feel it too. She didn't want Will to be dead – of course she didn't – but . . . there was no way Will could be communicating with them if he was dead. What was happening was that Mike wanted it to be Will so badly that he was making himself believe he was hearing him through the walkie talkie. They were hearing someone, but it wasn't Will. It couldn't be.
"Did you guys not see what I saw?" Lucas asked. "They pulled Will's body out of the water. He's dead!"
The last part was yelled, and Dustin looked down, hope dying in his eyes.
"Well, maybe it's his ghost. Maybe he's haunting us."
"It's not his ghost," Mike countered.
"How do you know that?"
"I just do!"
"Then what was in that water?"
"I don't know. All I know is that Will is alive. Will is alive!" Mike calmed down slightly. "He's out there somewhere. All we have to do is find him."
The whole time Mike and Lucas had been yelling at each other, El had continued messing with the dial of the walkie talkie. Her eyes widened a few times when their voices had gotten louder, but other than that she'd shown no sign of distress. It reminded Jessica that they had no idea of what had happened to El before them finding her, but it had not been good.
"This isn't gonna work," Mike said. "We need to get El to a stronger radio."
"Mr. Clark's Heathkit ham shack."
"The Heathkit's at school. There's no way we're getting the weirdo in there without anyone noticing," Lucas said.
"You know, she has a name," Jessica said. "Wouldn't kill you to use it."
Though El definitely wouldn't fit in at all. Girls had longer hair and didn't wear sweats to school. Plus, El didn't relate well to people. It wasn't her fault, none of it, but to pull this off she couldn't be allowed to stand out.
"We can borrow some of Nancy's clothes. Put on some makeup . . ." Mike suggested and looked at Jessica. "Help anytime, right?"
"Right." Jessica grinned. "I'm beginning to regret those words."
Her tone was light so Mike would know she was teasing, and he grinned back.
Mike led them up to Nancy's room, and Jessica told the guys to wait outside the door. She was going to find out what drawer held Nancy's underwear and she was going to guard it with her life. She felt bad enough she was going to steal some of Nancy's clothes, the least she could do was keep Nancy's dignity intact.
"Okay, guys. You can come in."
Mike seemed to at least know where Nancy kept her makeup.
El sat on the bed Indian-style, and Mike sat in front of her, a container of blush in one hand and the brush in the other. El moved away from him as soon as the brush touched her face. Mike shrugged and grinned as if he didn't understand why girls bothered with makeup either.
Mike applied the blush, just a very light amount. They didn't want El looking like a clown.
Jessica picked a nude glow type of lip gloss because Mike had gone for the ruby red kind. El was twelve, not sixteen.
Lucas found a pink dress that Jessica thought was hideous, but it had the frills most girls seemed to want to wear and the skirt was twirly. Dustin found a blond wig - this had been in a box of old things that had been lying around in the basement. That was going to be the hardest part because El had no hair to clip it to.
Once it came to El having to actually change, the guys left the room and Jessica closed the door so they couldn't peek – not that she thought they would; they were good kids.
She noticed that El couldn't take her eyes away from the door. Jessica remembered El didn't like enclosed spaces.
"It's okay," Jessica said. "It's not locked, and there's a window."
Jessica laid the pink dress out flat on Nancy's bed and looked at El.
"I think you're very brave to do all this," Jessica said. "And you're strong too, because you survived."
El looked at her and slowly walked to her. Years of mistreatment had taught her to be cautious in her movements. Jessica hoped she would learn not to be afraid around them.
When El was in front of her, she touched Jessica's hair and said, "Pretty."
Jessica's throat suddenly felt tight and clogged. She knew then that El probably thought she was ugly for all the same reasons Jessica had thought El wouldn't fit in.
Jessica tipped El's chin up so she could catch her gaze – her eyes were such a pretty light brown.
"You're pretty too. You don't need the gunk on your face or the blond hair. Okay?"
Jessica helped El into the dress, which probably would've fit Nancy perfectly with the skirt ending above the knee but came down to about mid-calf on El. She wondered what they were going to do for shoes for El.
El had a watch around her wrist, which Jessica knew belonged to Mike, so she left it there even though it clashed with the dress. Mike had given it to El for a reason.
"Okay. Let's try the wig now. This may be tricky."
The wig was tricky, and in the end all Jessica could do was make sure the wig stayed in place as long as El didn't move too fast.
When the guys saw her, Lucas seemed appeased that El would at least fit in, and Dustin's jaw dropped open.
"Wow, she looks –"
"Pretty," Mike said. Then realizing what he'd said, he added, "Good. Pretty good."
Jessica grinned but hid it by ducking her head. It seemed Mike Wheeler was definitely sweet on El. She was sure this was his first crush. Mike was a nice kid, though. El would be fine. Mike cared about her already, and there was some weird connection between them that Jessica didn't really understand but approved of anyway.
El made her way down the hallway and stopped in front of a mirror and looked at herself for a few seconds. A small smile graced her lips and she looked at Mike.
It almost sounded as if El were going to cry, but she kept her composure well enough. Jessica just hoped El would remember that she didn't need the getup to be pretty.
"A'right, so . . . This is where I get off, I think," Jessica said. "I can't go to school with you."
The guys nodded. They'd already known that.
"I'll try to fix Nancy's room to how it was so she won't know we were in there."
"Good idea," Mike said. "Thanks."
"Help anytime, right?" she said.
"Right." Mike smiled – a genuine full one, the kind that could sometimes lead to laughter.
As the four kids made their way downstairs Jessica heard Mike say, "Your sister is kinda cool."
"Yeah, she can be," Dustin said.
Jessica shook her head and grinned. She knew she wasn't supposed to have heard that, but she had and she appreciated the words anyway.
It wasn't long after the kids left that Mrs. Wheeler and Nancy pulled up outside their house. Jessica's cherry red Chevelle was parked on the road there. Nancy wondered why she was there.
Nancy and her mother had been silent during the drive home from the school. It was barely eleven yet, but her mom had been called to the school so the police could talk to Nancy. A parent had needed to be present for some stupid reason, and now her mom knew everything. It didn't matter, really, but she'd wanted her private life to stay private.
"You lied to the police," her mother said.
"I didn't lie."
"Nancy, how naïve do you think I am?" her mom shouted. "You and Steve just talked?"
That was what her mom was worried about? Barb was missing and the only thing her mom could focus on was her relationship with Steve.
"We slept together!" Nancy screamed back. "Is that what you wanna hear? But it doesn't matter. None of that matters!"
"No. Barb is missing! None of that has anything to do with her. Something terrible has happened. I know it. I . . . know it, and nobody is listening to me!"
She'd explained about going to Steve's house the day before. She'd explained what she'd seen – the creature or whatever it had been – and that after that she'd found Barb's car abandoned on the side of the road, parked where Nancy had wanted to the night of the party.
The cops hadn't found anything where the car should've been, and they hadn't found anything in the woods behind Steve's house either.
Maybe she hadn't seen anything in Steve's yard – maybe she had scared herself into seeing that creature, but she had not hallucinated the car. No way. Someone had to have moved it, stolen it maybe.
The cops thought maybe Barb had come back, taken the car, and run away, but Barb wasn't like that, and Barb had been happy at home. She would have had no reason to leave.
Nancy got out of the car and slammed the door shut. If her mom wasn't going to believe a word she said, then she just wanted to be left alone.
Jessica didn't know anyone was in the house until Nancy came stomping up the stairs. Luckily Jessica had put everything back where she thought everything had been and was now in Mike's bedroom. She'd rushed in there when she'd realized Nancy was home.
She'd hoped – had thought – she'd be able to get out before anyone got back. By all rights, she should've been able to have been gone, but something must have happened.
Nancy stopped at the doorway of Mike's room. She seemed upset and confused.
"Why are you here when no one else is – and in my brother's room?"
Nancy had every right to ask her that.
"Uh, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin were here and they were all upset about Will. Dustin wanted me here and Mike said it was okay, so . . ."
"Hm. Where are they now? Mike was supposed to have –"
"He changed his mind. They all left for school about twenty minutes ago."
Nancy's eyebrows rose, questioning, and she just stared. It made Jessica feel a little uncomfortable. Nancy didn't have to say anything. Her point had been made: Jessica had no reason to be there. No one had been home; she should have left once Mike had.
"I, uh . . . I don't know why I stayed. I just . . . didn't wanna go home and have to ignore what happened to Will just to please my mom."
No matter what Mike had said about hearing Will the night before, Jessica couldn't let herself believe that. Things like that didn't happen. She had gone along with it because she'd been able to tell Mike had believed it, and Dustin too, a little. She wouldn't have been able to convince them of anything else. They needed to find out that Will was really gone on their own.
"You can . . . you can stay. I don't want to be alone with my mom either."
The offer had been unexpected, seeing as to how the two girls weren't really friends, but Jessica accepted anyway. Even though she had only used it as an excuse, she really didn't want to go home to be with her mother.
Nancy turned and began walking to her bedroom. Jessica followed. Nancy tossed her bookbag on the bed and sat down.
"So . . . did school let out early or something?"
"No, I . . . the cops came to the school. They had questions about Barb."
She assumed that meant the police knew about the party Steve had held at his house.
"Something happened to her. I know it. She wouldn't just leave."
"I believe you." At Nancy's shocked gaze, Jessica continued. "I didn't know Barb personally, but I do know she cared about school and doing the right thing. So, you're right. She wouldn't just leave."
Nancy's eyes misted over and she busied herself with unpacking her bag. The first thing that came out was a stack of ripped up pieces of paper; the shredded picture from the day before.
"You can sit down," Nancy said.
Jessica sat beside Nancy and was able to see part of the picture that showed Barb at the edge of the swimming pool in Steve's backyard. Nancy laid that piece down and the next one. The one after that, however, was of the woods, and . . . there was something standing at the edge of them. It looked like an alien, and its head was shaped like a – well, Jessica didn't know what it was shaped like, but it definitely wasn't human. The best way to describe it was that it looked like a larger-than-life rose bud had been placed on the top of a human-shaped body.
It looked like it should've been a monster from one of Dustin's horror movies that he loved so much.
"Nancy . . ."
"I see it." She stood up. "Hold on. I'm gonna go get some tape."
Nancy headed out of the room. Her footsteps reached the stairs and Jessica heard her go down. There was a brief conversation between Nancy and Mrs. Wheeler. Jessica couldn't hear all of it, but she did hear when Nancy explained that Mike had decided to go to school after all.
Mrs. Wheeler had probably thought Jessica had been there because Mike and the others were there. Now that she knew otherwise, she would probably have questions . . . Questions that Jessica couldn't truthfully answer.
Jessica distracted herself by putting the pieces of the picture together just so Nancy wouldn't have to worry about it. She could just tape them and be done with it.
That's what Nancy did. Once the picture was put together, it was pretty obvious that, whatever the creature, was it had been going after Barb.
"I knew it," Nancy whispered. "That's the thing that I saw."
"Wait, you've seen this?"
"At Steve's. I – I went back yesterday to –"
"I get it," Jessica interrupted. "Barb's your friend."
A comfortable silence fell between them until Jessica thought of someone who might be able to help them.
"Hey, uh . . . Jonathan took this picture. Maybe he saw something."
Nancy seemed to hesitate, and Jessica realized Nancy might not want to talk to Jonathan. He had taken pictures of her that he never should have.
"I'll talk to him if –"
"No, I . . . it bothered Steve more than it bothered me. I was just thinking about Will. Jonathan probably doesn't want to be bothered."
"True. But Will was missing and now . . ." Jessica sighed. "I think he'd help if he could. He might have seen something and didn't say anything because he thought it was too weird or that he just imagined it."
If she had seen whatever that thing was in real life, she wouldn't have told anyone. She wouldn't have believed her own eyes, so why would anyone else?
"Does . . . Steve know about this? I mean, if it's been in his yard, he could be in danger."
"I told him. He didn't believe me. I mean, he believed I saw something, but he thought I'd freaked myself out. And then he freaked out when I mentioned talking to the cops."
"His parents?" Nancy nodded. "His dad's a jerk. The only time he pays attention to Steve is when he does something his dad doesn't approve of.
"Anyway, let's go find Jonathan."
Nancy hadn't seen Jonathan at school, so both girls thought it was a good idea to head to his house. Maybe they would be lucky and catch him there. They had tried calling, but the call hadn't gone though. Supposedly the number was out of service.
Now Jessica and Nancy were in Jessica's car on the way to the Byers' residence. They weren't talking, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. There was no pressure to fill the silence around Nancy. Jessica didn't know if that was because she didn't know Nancy very well or if it was just because Nancy was a calming presence in general, but it was nice.
Once they reached Jonathan's house they both got out of the car and went up the porch steps to the front door. Jessica had noticed that Jonathan's car wasn't in the driveway, so he probably wasn't home, but maybe his mom could tell them where to find him.
They knocked and Joyce Byers opened the door almost immediately. She seemed confused as to why they were there. She also didn't seem as upset as she should have been seeing as to how one of her children had been found dead the night before.
"Hi, Ms. Byers," Jessica said. "Uh . . . we were hoping to talk to Jonathan."
Jessica saw the living room and had to refrain from reacting. The room – meaning the walls and ceiling – were covered with Christmas lights, and the alphabet had been painted on the wall opposite the door.
What exactly had Joyce been doing?
"He's – he's not here. He's probably at the funeral home."
Then why wasn't she with him? She was Will's mother, so why was Jonathan taking care of this? It wasn't his job.
"Thank you, Ms. Byers," Nancy said politely. "We'll, uh, catch up with him later."
And catch up with him they did. He ended up being at the funeral home like Joyce had said he would be, and they interrupted him in the middle of picking out a coffin.
Will, Jessica thought.
They shouldn't have been there, they shouldn't have been bothering Jonathan with this, not today of all days. But he talked to them without hesitation. He seemed to welcome the distraction.
Nancy showed him the picture and he actually listened to her without judging or treating her as if she were crazy.
"It looks like it could be an image distortion, but I didn't use the wide angle." His voice was soft and low, almost as if he were being respectful of the place they were in. "I don't know. It's weird."
He handed the picture back to Nancy.
"And you're sure you didn't see anyone else out there?"
"No. She was there one second and then . . . gone. I figured she bolted."
"The cops think that she ran away." Nancy shook her head. "But they don't know Barb. I went back to Steve's, and I . . . thought I saw something. Some weird man or –" Nancy sighed. "I don't know what it was."
"What'd he look like?" Jonathan asked. "This man you saw in the woods. What'd he look like?"
"I – I dunno. It was almost like he – he didn't have –"
"Didn't have a face?" Jonathan interrupted.
Nancy stared. "How did you know that?"
Jonathan didn't seem to want to answer, which Jessica found weird because he'd seemed so accepting about things.
"Jonathan . . . have you seen it?" Jessica asked.
"No . . . but my mom said she saw something like this. A man with no face."
Jonathan shrugged. "I might be able to focus the picture for you, but I'd have to use the dark room at the school."
"Well, I have nothing else to do," Jessica said. "Sad to say."
Nancy huffed one brief laugh. "Same."
"I have to finish ups here, but . . . after?"
They all agreed to meet at the high school. Jessica didn't know what was going on, but, apparently, talking to dead people and trying to discover monsters was a thing in her life now.
Nothing good could come from this.
Because Jessica hadn't eaten breakfast, she stopped at the diner she and Steve had gone to the night before and ordered a hamburger and soda to go. She offered to get Nancy something, but she said no.
She waited until she parked in the school parking lot before eating her food. The burger was a little greasy for her tastes, but she was actually hungry so she wasn't going to complain.
She sat in silence with Nancy, music in the background, while she ate. It occurred to Jessica that despite her brother being friends with Mike she knew next to nothing about the girl, and Nancy knew next to nothing about her. The only reason they were having anything to do with each other was because some very weird stuff was going on.
By the time Jessica was done with her food, Jonathan had arrived. Jessica tossed the bag her burger had come in – and the wrapper that had been around it – on the floorboard in the back. She'd find a place to throw it away later.
On the way inside the school Nancy asked Jonathan if his mom had seen anything else, like maybe where the thing with no face had gone, but Jonathan said no.
"She said it came out of the wall."
Jessica almost stopped walking. Things were coming out of walls now? Naturally. Why not? Mike thought he was talking to his dead friend using radio waves; a girl named Eleven could move things with her mind; Nancy was seeing this creature with no face, so . . . Why couldn't things come through walls?
"What are we going to do?" Jessica asked. "With the picture?"
"Brighten and enlarge it," Jonathan answered. "It's why we need the dark room."
"How long does it take?" Nancy asked.
"Have you been . . . doing this a while?"
"Yeah. Well, I mean . . . I guess I'd rather observe people than, you know . . ."
"Talk to them?" Nancy finished for him.
"I know it's weird."
"No," she said quickly, sounding sincere and obviously not wanting to offend him.
"No, it is. It's just sometimes people don't say what they're really thinking, but you capture the right moment . . . it says more."
"What was I saying?" Nancy teased. "When you took my picture."
Jonathan dipped his head, not in embarrassment but in guilt.
"I shouldn't have taken that." He looked at Nancy. "I'm, uh . . . I'm sorry."
Nancy accepted his apology. She had never really seemed as bothered about it as Steve had been, and if she was able to tease him about it, she'd obviously gotten past it already. Plus, Jonathan was helping them.
Once in the dark room, lit with a deep red light on the wall to the left, Jonathan was true to his word. It didn't take long. He did some technical stuff for a few minutes and then the developing picture was put in some kind of clear chemical liquid, where it floated for a few seconds before an image began to appear.
"That's it. That's what I saw," Nancy said, pointing to the picture.
What was there on this picture was a bigger version of the alien-looking rosebud-human hybrid thing they had seen in the picture of Barb with her feet in the pool in Steve's backyard. Jonathan switched the focus of the picture from Barb to the creature.
"My mom," he said. "I thought she was crazy. She said, that the body they found wasn't Will's and that he's still alive. If this thing exists and it took Will, and he's still alive . . ."
Jessica shook her head. "Are we thinking this . . . thing took Barbara and Will, and that it came from the walls?"
"Maybe not the walls," Jonathan admitted. "But this thing came from somewhere."
"Nobody will believe us," Nancy said. "Which means we have to do something about it."
Jessica didn't know if she liked that plan, but if the adults weren't going to do anything, she guessed Nancy was right and they would have to.
"Well, Will's funeral is at noon tomorrow," Jonathan said. "Maybe we could meet up after and make a plan – or at least think of ways to keep this from happening again."
Nancy agreed, and Jessica did too, reluctantly.
"I'll see if I can switch shifts with somebody at work so I can have tomorrow off."
Everyone knew that Dustin was friends with Will and that, through that friendship, Jessica had grown to care for Will. Hopefully that would be enough to make her boss generous enough to switch her shift.
Okay, so I know in the show Mike says that the radio communicators only work if you're within a short-range distance, but they worked fine when they were in the bus and Hopper and the others were at the Byer's house, so they can't be but so short-range. That's why I changed it in here.