The Golden Girl @creativewoman88
Chapter 48

Chapter Forty-Eight

As she'd said she would, Jessica got everyone to the Byers' place the next day. The boys had done what she'd asked and made their parents think they were just going to the arcade and then out for dinner.

When they arrived at Joyce's Hopper wasn't there yet, so they were able to relax for a bit, and get some of their homework done. They helped get Will up to speed on everything he had missed while Jessica and Steve spent some time with Joyce.

Joyce fussed over Steve's face for a few minutes before she even let them focus on her, and if Steve's face had been the normal color, they would've probably have seen it turn a tad bit pink at the maternal attention.

She was holding herself together pretty well, and it was easy to forget she'd lost Bob just over a week ago. She couldn't let herself fall apart, though, because she had Will to take care of. Jonathan was older and able to take care of himself, pretty much, but Will had been possessed and needed as much comfort and attention as possible.

Nancy got there about thirty minutes after Jessica had and it hit her then that Nancy could've brought Mike – she was his sister, after all – but Mike would've probably opted to come with his friends anyway.

Hopper didn't arrive until after five. Jessica smiled softly when she saw El get out of the passenger side door. She was all bundled up in a boy's jacket and a snow cap, but Hopper had at least decided to bring her along.

Mike pretty much ran out the front door to greet her. They were hugging before she and Hopper could even get to the porch, but the chief hurried them along good-naturedly.

Once everyone was inside, some of the children on the floor rather than the chairs and sofa. El and Mike were sitting together, holding hands with her head on his shoulder, and the other boys were close by but still giving them space. Hopper and Joyce were seated together, as were Jonathan and Nancy. Jessica was seated on a cushioned chair and Steve was on the floor in front her, leaning back against her legs.

"So . . . who wants to start?" Jonathan asked.

Hopper decided he and El would go first since they had more to say. They had almost a year's worth of a story to tell.

El said she'd come out at the school near the place where she'd disappeared. She'd made her way to Mike's house, but people were there talking to him and his family. She knew she couldn't reveal herself to him then; it would put him danger and maybe get him in trouble. She ended up wandering the woods for a while until Hopper somehow figured out she wasn't as gone as she was supposed to have been.

Once he'd gotten suspicious enough, he'd begun to leave food out for her at a specific place. When the food was actually taken each time he left it, he stayed one night and saw her. That was around Christmas of the year before.

Hopper had been working with her since then, reading to her, helping her learn new words and numbers. El still talked slowly, but she did know more than she had the first time they'd met her. Hopper had been doing all he knew to do, it seemed.

He'd been hiding her for almost a year, though, so there was probably a lot more to the story, more than they could get into in one night.

El talked about the time she spent away from Hopper and what had happened during that time. She'd gotten passage on a bus, which considering her age had been dangerous, and had found her mother and her aunt. Her mother, who El called "Mama," had been hurt by the lab people, by Dr. Brenner, because she'd looked for El.

The more El talked about her, the more Jessica realized El's mother was Theresa Ives, the woman they had found out about when she'd been researching with Nancy.

El had been able to connect with her mentally, though, and had found another escapee from the lab. Number 008. El had come to know her as Kali, but she didn't know if that was her real name or one the girl had made for herself. She could alter reality, make you see things that weren't there.

She had created a gang of outcasts and misfits, and they had started going after people from the lab. Being outcasts, they really didn't have a place to go and made do squatting wherever they could find. They stole what they needed and didn't mind hurting the people they were after, though they tried not to hurt innocent people.

After they'd gone after one of the people who had hurt El's mom, El had decided she didn't want to hurt anyone – or at least not kill them – and had come back home.

Jessica didn't say it out loud, but she thought that if the lab people were to all drop dead at once, it wouldn't be any great loss to humanity.

"I tried to find Mike . . . in the dark place," El said. "I saw that everyone was in trouble. I knew I could help."

It was a lot to take in, but they knew they had a lot more to go through so they decided to take a break before continuing.

Hopper and Joyce went in the kitchen while Jonathan and Nancy took up the couch. The boys and El went outside, just to the porch, and Jessica slid off her chair and onto the floor with Steve.

"How're you doing?" she asked softly.

"I'm okay. Headache's not as bad as it has been."

Joyce's house wasn't super bright and the kids hadn't been having a yelling fest, which was a miracle, so Jessica wasn't surprised.

Steve had done what she'd suggested the day before and brought the headache medicine to school with him. He'd taken some in her car that morning as a preemptive strike against a headache he knew would hit him as soon as the fluorescent lights did when he walked into the school building. He hadn't been wrong.

Now, though, his headache was barely there and it only hurt if he moved his eyes. He hadn't had any vision problems that day, but he hadn't had any annoyances by way of Tommy either. In fact, his whole day had been smooth sailings. He was still feeling sore about not being able to do certain things for himself – like driving – but he had also taken Jessica seriously when she'd told him that it wouldn't last forever.

He should enjoy his mom being home – even if he didn't really know what to do with that because she usually wasn't – and he should appreciate everyone being concerned about him rather than get annoyed by it.

As it was, he was definitely not annoyed by the fact that Jessica was playing with his hair and gently scraping her fingers over his scalp. He was actually enjoying that very much, and it was easing the small ache in his head.

Maybe he should stop taking his medicine and just have her do that from now on. It seemed to work better, anyway.

By the time everyone got back together Joyce had made coffee and all the older ones were enjoying it. Dustin had wanted some, but Jessica had said no. He was hyper enough as it was. Lucas had tried to sneak some as well, claiming that he had worked over the summer so it made him mature enough to have coffee.

"Nice try. I'm not sending you home caffeinated," Joyce said.

Over coffee Nancy and Jonathan explained what they had done, how they had gone to Illinois to see Murray and give him the story about what had happened the year before. They hadn't mentioned El, but she did say he'd talked about a little girl that was thought to be a Russian spy. But Nancy had mostly wanted justice for Barbara anyway, so that was what she had focused on. Murray was fairly certain the lab would be shut down within a month.

Everyone knew what had happened with Hopper and El when they had gone to close the gate because she had succeeded in doing it, saving their lives. Everyone also knew what had happened with Jessica and Steve and the others with Billy and the tunnels and the demodogs.

Then came the part where Nancy and Jonathan had gone with Joyce and Will to get the Mind Flayer out of him. Jessica had known it had been a difficult thing to do, but after they all talked about it, she was glad she hadn't had to be there.

There was nothing more she hated than seeing people she cared about suffering and they had all been suffering that night. Will because he had been possessed, Joyce because her son was possessed, and Jonathan because his brother was possessed. Will had ended up forgetting all of them and had even attacked Joyce. The only reason he'd stopped was because Nancy had poked him with a fire poker and had broken his concentration. It had worked in the end, though, so she guessed it was all worth it.

Around seven Hopper went to go get pizza for supper and Jessica stopped him on his way out.


They stopped at the bottom of the porch.

"Yeah, kid?"

"Why didn't you tell me you found El? I mean, I'm not, you know, upset or anything, I just . . . you trusted me with watching over Nancy and all that other stuff, so . . ."

Hopper gave her a sad smile before reaching out to pat her shoulder.

"I didn't want to put you in the position to have to lie to your friends, Jess. Or to Steve. You're too young for that crap. It had nothing to do with me not trusting you. You never would've put her in danger."

"Oh. Good."

Jessica hadn't even realized she'd been worried about him not trusting her until that moment, but she was relieved when she found out he did.

"She asked about you. All of you. But she wanted to grow her hair out like yours and do make-up like yours. I, uh, didn't let her do make-up."

"Well, she is young," Jessica said and grinned before turning to go back in. "They are probably hungry."

Once back inside Jessica found El at the kitchen table with the boys, their textbooks in front of them. El seemed overwhelmed by all the knowledge laid out in front of her and Jessica was reminded of how little El really knew and how little she would continue to know as long as she had to stay in hiding.

Maybe Hopper could look into getting El some books to learn from.

Everyone stayed at Joyce's until Jessica had to take them home. Mike did leave with Nancy, though, so all Jessica had to worry about was getting Lucas and Steve home.

She hadn't said anything to Steve about it yet, but she wished she could stay with him or that he could come home with her. Since his mom was home, though, that probably wasn't going to happen.

She wasn't having as many nightmares as she had the first time she'd gotten involved with the Upside Down business, but she was having nightmares. Sometimes she and Steve got stuck down in the tunnels and the demodogs didn't just pass them by. Sometimes it was one of the kids who got stuck down there. Sometimes it wasn't even a demodog that got any of them; sometimes it was Billy coming at them and this time Max wasn't able to stop him.

The ones with Billy were the worst because she had to deal with him every time she had class with him, and she wasn't exactly afraid of him but he definitely made her uneasy. Who knew when he'd get fed up enough to go off like he had, and who knew who he would go off on?

She wondered if Steve was having trouble sleeping – that was how the trauma had affected him last year; he didn't have nightmares, he just wasn't able to sleep a lot.

Then again, he was on pain medicine, so he might not be having trouble sleeping at all.

It was that night that Jessica found out that she wasn't the only one who was suffering from nightmares, and she wasn't talking about Steve. Dustin woke her up in the middle of the night from having one of his own.

He hadn't screamed her awake or anything like that. He'd just come into her room and woken her up. His face was pale and his eyes were wet and he was wiping at them.


He ended up telling her that he pretty much had the same version of the tunnel dream that she did. She and Steve would get stuck down there and demodogs wouldn't just go by them. They would tear her apart and there would be nothing he could do about it.

She felt terrible about not knowing about his dreams. She knew it had only been a week ago, but he'd been suffering. Why hadn't he come to her about it sooner?

"Steve needed you more," he said. "It's just – it's just a stupid dream."

"A stupid dream where I die and you watch," she said. "You could've told me. I mean, there's not really anything I can do, but I could be there to prove I'm not dead."

She really didn't know what she was saying. It was late and she'd just woken up, so sue her. She hoped he knew what she meant. She could be there for him and Steve both. He didn't have to face anything alone.

"We should – we should do something together. Just us." He allowed her to pull him into a hug. "I have to work tomorrow, but Thursday maybe?"

"There aren't any movies out. The arcade?"

"So you can beat me?"

She felt him shrug but she also heard him laugh a little, so it was worth it.

"I owe you for covering with mom anyway, so if you wanna kick my butt at video games, I guess I'll let you kick my butt at video games."

The next day Jessica went through her whole routine again of getting up, getting ready, and going to get Steve to go to school.

He seemed to know automatically that she hadn't gotten much sleep the next day because he asked if she was okay. Once he found out it was because Dustin had had a nightmare and what exactly that nightmare had been he seemed concerned because Dustin hadn't had nightmares the last time.

"Yeah. Well, he didn't see me almost die last time either."


"I'm having dreams too, just not as bad as last time."

"Medicine makes me sleep, so . . ."

"Hm. I miss sleeping next to you," she said. "And waking up with you. And morning kisses."

At that admission Steve leaned over to actually give her a good morning kiss, which caused her to smile a little, but it still wasn't the same as waking up with him and immediately pressing her lips to his to softly greet the day.

"I wonder if the others are having nightmares too," she said, starting the car and beginning the short drive to the school.

"Ms. Byers probably is if she – if she really did see Bob die in front of her. I know they weren't together that long, but he cared enough about her and everyone else to die for them."

Like she and Steve were willing to die for the kids that night.

"I don't know if Lucas or Mike would tell us if anything was bothering them. I've wondered about Lucas because of the whole Billy thing," Steve admitted, "but then again, he had no problem kneeing the guy between the legs, so –"

"He and Max are gonna make a great team."

In first period Jessica learned they would be starting a new book that day. It wasn't a long book at all and they needed to have it done by Sunday so they could discuss it Monday and then they would have to write an essay on it. They could pick whatever topic they wanted to as long as they could pull proof from the book and incorporate it into the paper.

The book was The Turn of The Screw by Henry James.

"This is a messed up book," Billy said, turning to her.

"Oh, well, you should really like it, then, because you're a messed up individual."

Instead of taking offense Billy's eyes began to glint in amusement

"Ooh, tough words from The Golden Girl."

Jessica wanted to get mad at him, she really did, but she could tell he hadn't used the name to make fun of her at all.

"So you had to read this in California?"

"Yeah, Messed up, like I said. You'll see. I'm surprised they're letting you read it here. There's some sensitive material in it."

Jessica looked at the back of the book and the summary.

"Says it's a ghost story."

"Sort of, but that's not the main story. You kind of have to read between the lines."

"So a mystery then. Okay."

"A mystery like . . . why were the walls filled with drawings of whatever-those-lines-were that night?"

Jessica froze and then just said, "No." She thought about it and then added, "I told you to forget whatever you thought was happening that night."

"I forgot what I thought was happening. It's obvious that Harrington wasn't going to hurt them. I kind of figured that out when I saw you were there. I was just too riled up to stop."

"Uh-huh. I'm still not going to talk about it."

"Yeah, Max won't either."

"She said you weren't talking to her."

"Aw, are you keeping tabs on me?"

"Yes, because you left a bruise on her and I don't want it happening again. I'm done talking to you now."

With that she turned to face the front of the room and ignored him as much as she could. Billy didn't like being ignored so he kept trying to get her attention back even after the teacher started talking.

Where was a fruit cup when you needed one?

It almost made her laugh out loud, the thought of her tossing a cup of fruit at Billy's head. She could also imagine it bursting open and getting the sweet syrup all in his carefully coiffed curls. He was so vain, he might just have a heart attack.

At lunch Jessica sat at her usual table with Steve. It was good Nancy and Jonathan were there because she had to tell them what had happened in first period.

"Billy is asking questions about that night," she said. "He asked about the drawings on the walls. I basically told him that I wasn't going to talk about it and then he said that Max won't talk to him about it either."

"Why would she? It's not like they're close," Nancy said.

"Right?" She sighed. "What – what do I do if he keeps asking?"

"Maybe tell Hopper," Jonathan suggested.

Jessica didn't know how she felt about that. If she were in Billy's shoes, she'd have questions too.

"I don't want to get someone in trouble for being curious."

"It's better than someone getting killed for being curious."

"You could just not talk to him," Steve said.

"He's in my first period and the teacher sat him right next to me. It's either talk to him or have him bug me the whole time."

Jessica changed the subject to her spending the day with Dustin on Thursday, which meant she would have to spend Saturday with Steve helping him read the new book. He could read it himself, of course, but it was something they usually did together anyway, and he seemed to get it better if they talked about it while reading it.

The rest of the day went by smoothly since she didn't share any other classes with Billy and she didn't have to ignore him or outright lie to him.

She really didn't know what she was going to do if he kept asking, though. Maybe she really should let Hopper know Billy was asking about that night. She didn't know if Hopper could do anything other than talk to him, though. And Billy didn't respond well to being told what to do. Hopper was an adult, though. Maybe that could make a difference.

If he started harassing Max about it, she would definitely take it to Hopper. Right now he was just asking questions. She hoped it stopped there.

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