The rest of the week was spent finishing the book for English along with whatever other homework the other teachers decided to give them. That Friday they were told what their project was going to be. Basically, the teacher was going to assign them a topic and a partner and they would have to debate whatever topic they were given.
As their English teacher pretty much went in alphabetical order Jessica knew before she was even told that she was going to be partnered with Billy. It was going to be an issue.
They had talked since their argument, but they'd kept the conversation in the classroom – well, that was mostly her doing. The fact that Steve didn't have to miss anymore school helped a lot. She wasn't caught off on her own anymore.
At least she knew Billy would actually know what he was talking about. He'd already supplied her with fun facts about the book that she hadn't known – such as they were reading the revised version and in the original version, Elizabeth had actually been Victor's cousin and not just a girl the family had taken in as their own.
"Looks like you're stuck with me," he said. "At least for a couple of weeks."
Their topic ended up being the morality of the creature Victor had created. They had to debate whether or not he should be held accountable for the things he ended up doing. It wasn't very surprising when Billy took the stance of no and Jessica took the stance of yes.
"Come on, crazy scientist guy creates him and then abandons him. He's left to figure everything out for himself. There's no way it's his fault when he gets things wrong."
"Okay, maybe not at first, but he learns. It's not like he's stupid. He learns that fire can warm him or burn him depending on how close he gets to it. He learns he can cook with it. When he finds Victor, he quotes Paradise Lost to him. He's able to learn things on his own."
"Being able to learn books doesn't mean he's able to learn right from wrong."
"He feels guilty for eating that poor family's food. He knows it was his fault that they were missing food. He stops taking it after realizing it was causing them to have a harder time. He even leaves firewood for them at night so they don't have to get it themselves. He starts to care about them."
"You can care about people and still have trouble doing the right thing. Anyway, that's before he's even learned what he is. He was surprised by what he looked like when he saw himself in a mirror. That shows he's not self-aware. He didn't even know how to talk at that point. Plus, you can't really use the Paradise Lost idea, because the guy thought it was historically accurate, not a work of fiction. He's not aware of reality or his own situation until he learns from the family how it's actually supposed to be."
Jessica grinned. "You just admitted he learned how it was supposed to be. My case is closed."
Billy was about to respond, but the teacher interrupted with further instruction of the assignment.
"You have next week to get your arguments together. The week after that, we will be presenting them as an actual debate. You can use note cards, but you cannot just read from them. This will not be something you can just wing at the last minute."
At that, everyone groaned and started grumbling about how the assignment wasn't fair. Couldn't they just do an essay?
"Looks like we're going to have to meet somewhere other than first period," Billy said.
"Yeah, looks like."
Steve was going to love that.
"A'right, well you have basketball practice today and I have to be at work at five, so it can't be today. But tomorrow? You can come to my place, we can work on it there? I'd say the library, but they close early on Saturdays and are closed on Sundays."
Billy seemed surprised that she wasn't putting up more of a fight about having to meet him outside of school, but it was for an assignment and they had to do it, so what was the point of complaining?
Jessica pulled a piece of paper free from her notebook and jotted her phone number down, along with her address.
"Here. Call after twelve and we'll set up a time for you to come over."
Billy folded it and put it in his jacket pocket.
"I knew I'd get your number someday."
"Don't make me regret it."
Jessica met Steve at the entrance to the cafeteria before lunch like she normally did and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Hey, so . . . I have something to tell you and you're not going to like it."
"Billy has to come to my house tomorrow."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I know, okay? But we have to do a project together for English. The debate thing, we got paired together."
"My mom will be there," she said. "I wouldn't have invited him over if she wasn't. I just . . . I don't want you there when he's there. Okay? I don't want to risk you guys fighting again."
"Jess – "
"Don't Jess me. I don't trust him with you. He's jealous because he thinks you're a spoiled, rich kid."
Steve looked at her knowingly. "That's not what he's jealous of – or not everything, anyway."
She groaned. "Not that again."
"He likes you and he can't have you. That's enough to drive someone crazy." They walked into the cafeteria and got in line. "You don't trust him with me and I don't trust him with you. That's all we have to say about it."
"Fine." She was not going to argue about Billy Hargrove. "Anyway, it shouldn't be more than a few hours. He'll have to come over a few times this week and maybe next week because we have to practice our debate points. I'll call you after he's gone and then you can come over or I can come to your house. I'll let you know I'm still alive."
He poked her playfully in her side, causing her to grin and grab onto his hand.
"Just be careful," he said. "That's all I meant."
She began playing with his fingers as they slowly made their way through the line. It was mostly for Steve's sake, but it brought her comfort as well.
It wasn't that she was that worried about Billy coming over because, as she'd said, her mother would be there. But she didn't want it to cause any tension between her and Steve either. So far all he'd expressed was concern for her wellbeing.
She hoped it stayed that way.
Jessica told her mom about Billy having to come over the next day for a school project and her mom was perfectly fine with it. Jessica had never told her who had hurt Steve so badly in the beginning of November, so her mom had no reason to object.
"Do I know this boy? I've never heard you talk about him."
"Um, I don't think so. He's only been here a month. His sister is friends with Dustin."
"Oh, that's nice. Is his last name Hargrove? I've met a new teller at the bank and that's her last name."
"Uh, yeah, it is." Jessica didn't know anything about Billy's parents, aside from the fact that Billy and Max were step-siblings, so the woman was his step-mom. "Anyway, I told him to call after twelve tomorrow, so he shouldn't be here too early. I'll probably have to give him directions."
She suddenly wondered how Dustin was going to react when he found out. He wasn't there to have heard anything, so she would have to tell him later unless she wanted an earful when Billy showed up in their driveway.
If they hadn't had such a bad history with Billy, she probably would've just let him be surprised. The look on his face would be worth it.
Billy and Max got home before Neil and Susan that day. Max had been waiting at the car for him after he'd come out of the gym from practice. He had to admit, she'd been pretty good about being on time lately and so he hadn't gotten in trouble for coming home later than Neil and Susan.
Billy brought his workout equipment into the living room so he could use it for the half hour he had before his dad got home.
"Go to your room," he said. "Do your homework."
Max sighed and rolled her eyes.
"You act like I wouldn't do it without you telling me."
"So drop the attitude and do it." He grabbed two of his free weights and started lifting them. "Don't cause me any problems and maybe I'll drop you off at the arcade or something tomorrow."
Max was automatically curious and suspicious.
"None of your business."
"Billy, you never do anything for me without having to, so why?"
"No reason. I have to meet someone for a project tomorrow and I don't need you getting in the way."
"You hate group projects."
"Well, good thing I'm not in a group then. I'm working with one other person. I can't bring her here, so I'm going to her place."
"Who is she?"
"No one. Stop being so nosy."
"It wouldn't happen to be Jessica Henderson, would it?"
Billy didn't say anything, just continued lifting the weights.
"You're never quiet about which girl you're hanging around, so it's gotta be her." She shook her head. "She has a boyfriend, Billy."
"I'm well aware. It's only a project, Maxine. Now go do your homework." Then as an afterthought, "If you tell dad about her, I'm gonna murder you in your sleep."
That was an empty threat, of course. They had been getting along a little better since Max had threatened the family jewels with a nail-bat - where had that thing come from, anyway? – and she'd proven he couldn't shove her around. He still didn't like that he was responsible for her the majority of the time, but they weren't at each other's throats as much even if they did still argue a lot. It was more sibling-like arguing now, though, not him fuming at her for something that wasn't really her fault type of arguing.
"I wasn't gonna say anything."
Billy would still need to let his dad know where he was going, and since he had Jessica's number he would probably want to call and talk to her mom to make sure Billy's story checked out.
Billy could never invite Jessica over for the project. His dad had no problem letting Billy know what he thought about the girls Billy hung around, had no problem calling them whores, and he didn't want Jessica hearing that, didn't want to risk his dad calling her one right in front of her.
"It's . . . it's good that you like someone," Max said, proceeding with caution. "It's even okay that you like her. As long as you remember that she's off limits."
"Why are you her protector all of a sudden?"
"I'm not. I just – I've seen her and Steve together a lot, and they are great. I think . . . I think they're the way love is supposed to be and I hadn't seen that before hanging with them."
"No one said anything about love, pipsqueak. Now seriously, go do your work before I change my mind about the arcade."
True to Max's word, she didn't say anything about Jessica to Billy's dad. Billy had to, though, so he brought it up over dinner. Neil wanted them to have dinner like a family whenever they were all home for supper, so they were seated around the kitchen table now and Billy thought this was probably his best chance to ask his dad. If he asked him on his own, Neil might cause a scene.
"I'm supposed to go to a friend's house tomorrow for an English assignment."
"Yeah. Or someone I'm friendly with. It should be pretty early and it won't take too long, but I might have to go a couple times this week. We're not really given time in class to do it."
"Is this friend a girl?"
"Yes. Her mom will be there the whole time. I have her number if you want to check."
"You will call me when you get there and I'll talk to her then."
"And Billy? Don't forget your representing me when you're over there, so you be on your best behavior."
Jessica was surprised when Billy actually waited until after twelve to call the next day. It wasn't that she'd thought she was going to sleep until noon, but she didn't want to have to get up early on a Saturday just to have to do work. She could be lazy until then.
When the phone rang just past twelve, she figured it was going to be Billy, so she was the one who answered the phone.
"Hey, so I have to drop Max off at the arcade before I come to your house. How do I get there from the arcade?"
"Uh, actually, give me a second." She covered the mouth piece with her hand and called out to her brother. "Dustin? You wanna go to the arcade for a bit?"
"You taking me?" he yelled down the stairs.
"I wouldn't be asking if I wasn't."
"Give me five minutes."
She spoke into the phone again. "Okay, I'm gonna meet you there and you can follow me home. I'm dropping Dustin off."
"You tryin' to get us alone, sweetheart?"
"Ew. No. And don't call me that. It's just as bad as princess."
She heard Billy huff out a laugh. "Fine. I'll meet you there."
She hung up and went to the living room to wait for Dustin to come down. Her mom was already there seated in front of the TV.
"What does this Billy like to eat?"
"What does he like to eat?"
"I'm – I don't know. We're not really friends. I only really talk to him at school. Sandwiches should be fine . . ."
She should have known her mom would want to feed Billy since he was coming over so close to lunch time.
About a minute later Dustin came running down the steps, dressed and ready to go.
Once in the car Jessica started the engine and they were off.
"So . . . you trying to get rid of me for the day or something?" Dustin asked. "You and Steve meeting up somewhere?"
"No," she said. "And no, I'm not trying to get rid of you, but . . . Billy is coming over."
Dustin seemed to choke on his own spit at her admission.
"I'm sorry, what? You're letting that lunatic in our house? You actually invited him over?"
"He's my partner for an English assignment. I didn't really have a choice. I knew you would react like this, so . . . arcade time."
"You are trying to get rid of me."
"Billy is dropping Max off at the arcade. Maybe you guys could hang out while Billy and I do our project."
Dustin went quiet for a few seconds before sighing. "Fine. Is that okay, though? I mean, Lucas . . ."
"Max can have a crush on Lucas and still be friends with other guys. Besides, it's you. Lucas won't care. You guys are friends."
The Camaro was already in the parking lot in front of the arcade when Jessica pulled up. Max was already inside, apparently, because Billy was the only one in the car. Some Metallica song was playing, blaring out of the open window on the driver's side.
"He's gonna be deaf by the time he's thirty," Dustin muttered.
"Probably." She reached into her purse, pulled out a five- dollar bill and handed it to him. "For food, if you get hungry. I'm not sure how long I'll be with Billy, so . . . Anyway, this should cover you and Max both. Just tell her it's from me, so she doesn't think you're trying to buy her food."
Dustin got out of the car, gave Billy a glare, which Billy returned with a bored and unimpressed look, and then hurried into the arcade.
Jessica looked at Billy, who no longer looked bored or unimpressed, and shook her head. She rolled her own window down so she could talk to him.
"There's no smoking in my house, so get that out of your system before we get there."
"A'right. You ready?"
Billy didn't answer verbally. He just started the Camaro up and waited for her to lead the way.
"You drive like a grandma," Billy said once he'd parked behind Jessica and gotten out of his car.
"No, I just don't believe you should drive seventy-miles-an-hour on the main road."
Billy had been so tempted to rev his engine when he'd been behind her to show his impatience at her speed, but he hadn't. She might have been the type to go slower just to spite him.
As it was, they still hadn't taken too long to get to her house, and he would have no problem finding it in the future.
Billy began walking up the driveway, stopped by Jessica, who hadn't moved from beside her car.
"Is there a problem?"
"No. My mom is fixing you food, so just eat whatever she gives you or you'll hurt her feelings."
"She's fixing me food?"
"You're a guest. It's what she does." Jessica shrugged. "Just eat it, like I said."
"Eat food. Check."
Billy looked toward the two-story house, hoping it was warm enough in there that the chill he was beginning to feel would go away.
"Would it be too much to ask you to button your shirt so she doesn't think you're trying to catch your death?"
"My shirt is fine," he said, even though he'd just been thinking about how cold he was.
Jessica still stood there, not moving. Why weren't they moving?
"Are we goin' in or what?"
"Yes. Chill." She sighed. "Mom doesn't know you're the one that hurt Steve. She doesn't know anything about that night, so . . . As far as she knows you're just a new student in my English class."
"So don't mention you stealing my car. Got it."
Jessica scoffed and rolled her eyes, but Billy saw the grin she tried to hide by ducking her head. Billy felt an answering tug from his own lips and followed her when she turned to head to the house. Finally.
Billy could smell bacon frying before Jessica even opened the front door. He would have been able to find the kitchen even if Jessica hadn't led him there.
"Mom? You didn't say you were fixing breakfast."
"I'm not. It's just bacon for sandwiches."
The woman standing over the stove had short blondish-red hair. She was a little on the heavy side, but not unhealthily so, and she appeared a few years older than the other mom's he had come into contact with recently. Ms. Henderson had obviously not married as young as the other ones had.
"There's lettuce and tomato, cheese and mayo if you want it. Don't think I didn't notice you didn't eat this morning."
She turned to Billy then.
Billy was not good with parents. He knew what most parents thought about when they saw him. He was not the type that should be hanging with their teenage daughters.
"Jessica tells me you're new to Hawkins."
"Yes. We've been here for a little over a month now."
"Oh. Jessica wasn't sure what you liked to eat, so I hope you like BLTs."
"BLTs are great."
Billy could tell right away that Jessica's mom would not fall for his charm as Mrs. Wheeler had. He wouldn't even try. He wouldn't disrespect Jessica like that. Her mom wasn't like Mrs. Sinclair either. She had been a no-nonsense type of woman. Jessica's mom seemed warm and welcoming.
Probably because she had no clue who he was.
"I'm gonna go get my things. I'll be back. Just make yourself at home."
Jessica left the kitchen and he listened as she went upstairs.
"I'm supposed to call my dad to let him know I got here. He may want to talk to you."
She pointed to the phone and he wasted no time going to it to call home. His dad was probably waiting by the phone for Billy to call – and if the fact that he'd picked up within three rings was anything to go by, he had been.
As he'd suspected, his dad wanted to talk to Ms. Henderson, so he handed her the phone. He hoped his dad didn't say anything offensive to the woman.
Jessica came back down while her mom was still on the phone and stopped at the kitchen entrance.
"Did you want to sit in here or the living room? The couch is probably more comfortable."
"Whatever you want."
She gestured to the living room then, so Billy followed her out and sat beside her when she took a seat.
"So . . . how do you want to do this?" she asked him.
"The way we were doing it in class seemed to work. We just need to write it out, I guess. Make sure we hit on certain points. Have some sort of organization to our . . . argument."
A few minutes later they both had a couple sandwiches in front of them. Billy had been surprised that Ms. Henderson had made them herself – she'd just asked what he'd wanted on his and that had been that.
"Your mama always wait on you?"
Jessica scoffed. "No. Trust me, I'm not a spoiled princess. I cook a lot on my days off and I have chores and stuff. She's being extra nice because you're a guest. Like I said, it's what she does."
Jessica and Billy took turns making their points, which meant they basically just reiterated what they'd said in class already, and writing them down on index cards. They would have to fine-tune them later, but it was a good start.
Okay, so I know there was a lot of Billy and not much Steve, but I still like this chapter a lot.