As Jessica had promised, she and Dustin did hang out on Thursday and she did let him kick her butt at video games. Technically she didn't have to let him because she wasn't great at them anyway. They had played Pac-Man, which was the one she was best at but still wasn't great at. They also tried a new arcade game that had been installed, some shooting game she definitely wasn't great at because her aim was terrible.
She even drove him to the nearest bookstore a town over so he could get a few comic books – payback for him being an awesome brother – and then took him out to dinner.
Now it was Saturday and she was with Steve. They were reading the book for English – The Turn of The Screw. Steve understood this one more than he had Shakespeare but he was still confused – or he thought he was, but Jessica thought he was understanding more than he thought he was.
"Wait. I'm confused. Is this really happening or not?"
"I don't think we're supposed to know. She's not really a reliable narrator. I mean, she fell in love with the uncle because of the interview she had with him. She thinks Flora is an angel just because of how she looks, and she thinks Miles couldn't have gotten in trouble also because of his looks. Then she thinks he's too good for that school anyway."
"So . . . she's not seeing ghosts?"
"I don't know. She saw Peter Quint before she knew who he was and was able to describe him, so . . . I don't know."
Steve smiled. "I feel a lot better knowing you're confused too."
"Ha ha. I just know Mrs. Grose isn't concerned about the relationships between Miles and Peter or Ms. Jessel and Flora. I think the governess thinks that Peter, uh . . . you know, hurt Miles, but all Mrs. Grose said was that Peter was too free with him. That could mean anything. It could just be that she didn't want Miles hanging around with the servants or it could mean something sexual. Given that he got in trouble at school, there probably was something not right there. Not to mention, the uncle seems to not care at all. I mean, he gets these kids and then he's not even going to live there with them?"
"Right? All this stuff happens when he's supposed to be the one taking care of them. Miles never should've been able to hang around that guy anyway, once they found out how he was with him."
"And the governess is refusing to write to the uncle because she wants to be able to save the children on her own, probably to impress him. But he obviously doesn't care that much for them anyway. He told the governess not to bother him once he hired her."
They took a break when they ate lunch and Steve brought up Thanksgiving, which was the next week. He wanted to know what she was planning aside from dinner.
"Well, I still have to work Friday, but since we don't have school I'm probably going to ask if I can work the day shift so I can have the night off. Why?"
"Maybe you could stay here since my mom's gonna be here? Or I can stay with you Friday night? I know you said you miss sleeping next to me and I miss it too."
"Oh." She smiled. "That would be nice. And you know my mom wouldn't care. Just, ya know, if your mom's okay with it . . ."
Jessica and Steve finished the book on Saturday and by the time Monday came they were both ready to discuss it in class. She and Steve had talked about it a lot because she knew he would remember it more that way, and he was actually confident in his understanding of it.
When Jessica walked into class that Monday morning she went straight to her seat and got out everything that she might need and placed it on her desk.
Billy came in late that day and class was halfway over. She couldn't say she missed him messing with her, but she had definitely noticed that he hadn't been there. She heard him inhale sharply as if he were in pain when he sat down, and it made her look at him. His bottom lip was split and there was a red mark on his cheek.
"What happened to you?" she whispered.
All she got was a shrug and a sarcastic, "What's it look like? Got in a fight."
Another shrug. She looked him over and noticed that his knuckles didn't have any scratches or bruises on them. He obviously hadn't fought back with whoever had marked up his face.
"You didn't mess with Max again, did you?"
His jaw tightened. "No, I didn't mess with Max. Leave it alone."
She did for a few minutes, facing forward again and paying attention to what the teacher was saying – something about choosing a topic from the book they'd just read and writing an essay on it; nothing huge, just a well thought out five-paragraph essay – but then she turned to him again.
"Are you okay, though?"
She honestly didn't know why she was asking. She shouldn't care. He'd sounded like he'd been in pain, though, and she didn't like anyone being in pain.
Billy looked at her, apparently just as surprised as she was that she'd asked about him.
"Didn't know you cared, Jessica. I'm fine. I've had worse." Very obviously changing the subject, Billy said, "So, what did you think of the book?"
"Definitely messed up. There were so many cases of child neglect and abuse in it, and I don't know if the governess lady was crazy or not, but she was definitely seeing something. Whether or not what she saw was actually there is another story altogether. And the boy died at the end. I don't know if it was from fright or if the woman smothered him because she was holding onto him too hard."
"I told you I didn't think they'd actually let you guys read it here in this backwoods place."
Jessica hadn't thought about it until then, but it had to be hard to move from sunny California to the almost constant grayness of Hawkins, Indiana.
"I didn't always live here either. We moved from Chicago, which was probably even worse weather-wise this time of year, but I . . . I get what you're saying about it being a backwoods place. There was definitely more to do in Chicago."
"Do you miss it?"
"Chicago? I did at first. But I kind of grew to like the quietness of it all."
Until she'd found out about the lab and all that the year before – that had thrown her for a loop. She definitely hadn't thought something like that would happen in small-town America.
They continued talking back and forth, Billy being open or closed depending on what they talked about, as they got started on their work.
She decided to do her topic on the two children of the story and the neglect they went through in the form of the uncle never even being around even though he was supposed to be their guardian. Almost everything that had happened to the children could've been prevented if they had had the proper supervision.
Billy was actually going to do his paper on the unreliableness of the governess as a narrator due to her emotional instability.
"You would know a lot about that," she said, half-teasing, half-serious, "being emotionally unstable yourself."
"Hey, I just have a little recurring issue with my temper."
"It's quite a big issue."
"I've never actually knocked someone unconscious before, until . . ." He broke off. "How is Harrington, anyway?"
"He can't practice again until after the break. He's still getting headaches and he sometimes feels sick when he eats. Concussions will do that."
Billy didn't say anything, and he remained silent for the rest of the class period.
The rest of the school day went by relatively quickly and uneventfully. Jessica and Steve ate with Nancy and Jonathan again, she complained about having gym, and she walked the whole time with Steve.
At the end of the day, she and Steve walked over to the middle school so they could wait for their group of kids to come out. She'd told Steve about Billy and that she just wanted to make sure the Max was okay. Just because Billy had said he hadn't bothered her didn't mean anything.
To be honest, Steve hadn't seemed too thrilled when she'd told him about her noticing Billy's wounds. He'd basically said the same thing Billy had, which was that he'd probably gotten into a fight. He hadn't really had an excuse for the undamaged knuckles, though, because Billy wouldn't have just walked away if someone hit him. He would definitely fight back.
They were waiting at the bottom of the front steps of the school when the kids came out. The group stopped when they noticed Jessica and Steve. She noticed when worry flashed over their faces. She was quick to assure them that nothing was wrong.
"I was actually wanting to talk to Max," she said, and the red head stepped forward.
"Just making sure Billy's still leaving you alone. He had some marks on his face. Thought maybe you had to, you know, hit him or something because it didn't look like he fought back."
"No, he's been leaving me alone. He's asked me about that night a few times, kind of gets angry when I won't answer, but he hasn't done anything about it. Even if he wasn't a raging jerk, he wouldn't believe me even if I did say something, so . . ."
"Yeah, he asked me about it too. I told him I wasn't going to talk about it."
"Wait, what did he ask about?" Mike asked.
"The drawings on the wall. He wanted to know what they were. What we were all doing, because he admitted he knew Steve wasn't actually the bad guy in the situation."
"I don't like that he's talking to you so much," Dustin said.
"You and me both, buddy," Steve said, clapping Dustin on the back.
"I told you, he sits right by me in English."
"That's kind of his M.O," Max said. "If he messes up, he's usually nicer for a while after. His way of apologizing or something. After he thinks he's made up for it, he usually goes back to being a jerk."
Before they could talk anymore, they all heard someone shout, "Max, come on!"
It was Billy, of course. Who else was going to shout at Max from across the parking lot?
"I swear you're skating home if you don't come on!"
Jessica noticed that Max did have her skateboard with her. She wondered if Max brought it because Billy would actually leave her if she didn't get out on time or if she brought it because she liked to use it during a free gym day.
"Okay!" Max shouted back. "Hold on a second!"
The whole group began walking with her, but Dustin, Mike, and Lucas stopped at the bike rack since they had biked to school. Jessica and Steve continued walking with the red head towards Billy's Camaro.
"I thought he had basketball practice today," Max said.
"There is practice today," Steve said. "Maybe he's skipping."
"I don't know," Jessica said. "He did seem to be in pain this morning."
Jessica couldn't blame Steve for feeling that way after what Billy had done to him, but she didn't want them fighting again, so she hoped Steve didn't start anything in the parking lot.
They dropped Max off at the Camaro and Jessica said, "It wouldn't physically kill you to be a little nicer, you know?"
"I was being super nice just now. I could've just left."
Billy, who had been leaning against the passenger side door, stood up straight, moved so Max could get in, and began to go around to the driver's side. He didn't even acknowledge that Steve was there, which was probably for the best.
"See you tomorrow, Jessica."
Once Steve and Jessica were in her car, Steve turned to her and said, "Dude likes you."
"We weren't talking to anyone else," he said, his tone sort of snappish.
"What are you getting angry at me for? I can't help what he feels, but I doubt he likes me. Or not in any serious way. And even if he does, so what? I don't like him, and I'm with you."
"You didn't notice how he perked up when he saw you coming? His eyes kind of sparkled at you."
"Okay, if you're noticing his eyes sparkling, maybe I should be the one who's worried. I didn't notice anything."
Jessica started the car but didn't put in drive. She was looking intently at him. Steve held her gaze.
"Is this gonna be a problem? Because I can't control what he does or if he likes me or not."
"No, I'm –" He realized he shouldn't have snapped earlier. "I'm sorry for, ya know, almost yelling, but I just don't trust him. At all. His fuse is so short, he barely has one. I don't want you around him if he snaps again."
"Oh." She reached for his hand. She squeezed once she had it. "I . . . I can't say I haven't thought about that too. And then add in what Max just told us about him being nice if he's messed up – at least until he's made up for it – and it makes me even more suspicious because that's classic abuser behavior, but I'm not alone with him, Steve. I literally only talk to him at school in class."
"I know," Steve said. "I know that. I just – I worry."
She smiled at him. "I know you do."
She leaned toward him and he moved to meet her. She let go of his hand so she could reach up and run her hand through the hair near the back of his neck.
Their lips finally met. His hand moved to her hair as well, and they got lost in each other for a minute, but only for a minute.
Jessica pulled away, causing Steve to pout a bit.
"I still have to get you home. I have to work tonight."
Steve knew something was wrong as soon as he saw his mom on the couch, a glass of red wine on the table in front of her. She was quiet and tense and he could tell she'd been crying.
"Your father is not coming home for Thanksgiving."
Steve knew what that meant. The main reason his mom went everywhere with his dad was because he strayed very easily if she wasn't there. She obviously thought this meant he was cheating again.
He sat beside his mom but didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say. He knew that the last two weeks she'd been staying with him were the longest she'd been away from her husband in a long time.
"That's what he says."
"Oh. If you – if you want to be with him –"
"I do want to be with him, but I want him here. We're always here for holidays." She picked up her glass and took a sip from it. "Besides, you still have a doctor's appointment coming up. And you're still having headaches. Jessica can't be here with you all the time."
"Well, then forget him."
"No. Really. We can still have Thanksgiving without him. You know, we can have Jess and her family over. We can have a good Thanksgiving even if Dad can't be here."
"Are you sure she doesn't already have plans?"
"I can always ask, but they don't usually go anywhere for Thanksgiving."
"It won't feel weird not having your dad here?"
"Dinners with dad aren't really a favorite past time of mine, Mom."
She quirked an eyebrow in acknowledgment. She knew how his dad treated him when they were together.
"I'll have to get with Claudia and make some arrangements," she said, "But I guess we can work something out."
Work was slow that night aside from the fact that one of the custodians had called out sick, so Jessica had to cover the shift. She wasn't used to that part of the job seeing as she usually worked the ticket booth or behind the concession counter.
She now had to clean up between showings of the new movie "Nightmare on Elm Street" and also check once or twice to make sure none of the people were doing anything they shouldn't have been while the film was on.
One of the times she checked in on the movie-goers she happened to notice there was a guy in the movie talking on the phone with his girlfriend. They lived across the street from each other and were also looking out their windows so they could see one another. He had on a crop-top and sweatpants. The outfit showed of his midriff very well. It was a nice look for the guy.
She didn't really know what the movie was about. She knew it was a horror movie, and the main girl was trying to bring the guy out of her dream or something, and then she dragged her boyfriend into it talking about him being a jock so he could think of something to help fight the dream-guy.
She walked out after checking the people, who weren't doing anything to get in trouble for, and she heard the guy on the screen say, "Midnight. Baseball bats and boogeymen," and shook her head. She had her own guy that could fight boogeymen with baseball bats. Granted, they were studded with nails, but still – the sentiment was the same.
Thankfully most of the people were respectful and didn't usually leave much of a mess behind, so her job was fairly easy between showings. All she really had to do was sweep between the aisles for a stray piece of popcorn or two.
It was during the last showing of her shift that she started to have a bad time of it. To start it all off Tommy and a group of his basketball buddies came in to watch the movie. Billy was part of that group. There were a few girls in the mix, but she wasn't really worried about them. She was just wondering how much of a mess Tommy and his group was going to leave for her to clean up.
Tommy gave her a look, obviously still upset about the fruit-to-the-back-of-the-head incident, as he passed by her, but he didn't say anything. Neither did Billy, but he did smirk at her, which she rolled her eyes at.
About fifteen minutes into the movie she went to check in just because she didn't trust that particular group of people, but she got distracted by the scene playing out on the screen.
There was a girl asleep in bed – the same girl that had been talking to the guy on the phone earlier – and there was something coming out of the wall above her head.
She hadn't had an episode in a long time, but she also hadn't been reminded of the demogorgan either. Maybe it was due to the recent fight against the demodogs, but the scene was really upsetting to her and it was reminding her of the first time they'd had to deal with the Upside Down.
For the short amount of time that the movie had her attention she was back in the Byers' house with that thing coming out of the ceiling. Jonathan and Nancy had been with her that night, and then Steve had been there later, but he was there when the thing came at them through whatever opening it had created to get there.
She backed up, just wanting to get out of that theater. She backed into one of the seats and almost lost her balance but caught herself in time. Her heart was hammering in her chest and her breathing was faster than normal.
She took off into the hallway of the building. When she realized no one was in the hallway with her she leaned back against the wall and slid down it. She probably should've gone to the employee bathroom, but she just needed a second to breath. She would be okay. She knew she wasn't actually back in the Byer's place with that thing coming out of the wall. The movie had just freaked her out.
She wasn't sure how long she stayed there on the floor, but eventually Jonathan came along, probably going towards the customer bathrooms, because cleaning those was his job most of the time. He did have a mop and the yellow bucket that went with the job.
"Jess? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just part of the movie freaked me out."
She told him exactly what had freaked her out, and Jonathan ended up patting her shoulder a few times – even though they were friends, he was still kind of awkward with physical affection.
"Do you want me to take over your shift?"
She grimaced and shook her head. "I'll live with the movie. There's no way I'm doing the bathrooms."
Jonathan grinned. "I think you're fine then, if you're not going to take my generous offer."
She smiled too. "Yeah, I think I'm okay."
She had to check the people watching the movie again, but she didn't have any problems this time around. She wasn't reminded of anything that would make her freak out again.
The group Billy was with, however, was making a huge mess, popcorn on the floor in front of them. She noticed that Billy's spot was relatively clean, though, so at least that was one of the people not making her job harder. Tommy and the others seemed to be making a mess on purpose it honestly wouldn't surprise her if that was the case.
"Seriously?" she whispered, mostly directing it at Tommy. "I know you don't do this anywhere else."
"Well, good thing this isn't anywhere else then."
"I'm the one that has to clean this mess up, so chill out," she said.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Tommy said, completely unapologetic and dropping more popcorn on the ground.
The girls in the group giggled, but Billy rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"Grow up, Tommy," he said. "Stop acting like a spoiled, rich kid."
"It's not an act," Jessica said. "He is a spoiled, rich kid."
To Tommy she said, "If you keep doing that, I'm going to kick you out."
Jessica walked away not thinking her words would affect Tommy's behavior at all. Maybe Billy could keep him in check. Tommy seemed to care about what Billy thought at least. Either way, she would still have a bit to do after the movie was over because of the mess Tommy had already made.
Sometimes she hated her job.