Warning: There are hints of child abuse in this chapter, but there is not actual abuse
When Saturday rolled around Jessica spent the day with Steve since she couldn't go to Hopper's until after he got home from work around five. She went to Steve's house around noon and they ordered pizza for lunch.
His mom wasn't there because she was still organizing the fundraiser. She'd gotten some of the local businesses to donate money, but she'd also organized a bake sale, as Jessica had suggested, and she was going to be using the high school gym a couple of days during the week to do that. The moms of Hawkins would actually be making fresh cookies, cakes, and pies, so others could buy them. The proceeds would go to the local farmers who had been hit with the rotting from the Upside Down that they obviously didn't know about.
Jessica went over Steve's debate points with him, mostly because she knew Carol wouldn't and he needed to practice his delivery. His topic had to do with morality too, only his was about the morality of Dr. Frankenstein and not the creature he'd created.
Steve basically thought the guy had good intentions at first, but he'd quickly become obsessed and hadn't really thought about what he was doing until after he'd done it. He supported his stand by talking about how horrified the doctor had been when he'd realized what he'd done and by how ashamed he'd been to admit it.
Considering Carol probably wouldn't have much to say, he would be fine.
It was all smooth sailings until about three o'clock when Steve almost had a conniption fit when someone called. They'd been in the middle of going through his note cards when the phone rang so he had to go to the kitchen to answer.
"Why the hell do you have my number?" she heard him ask and wondered who it was.
She got up to go in the kitchen to see what was up, because there was a hostility in Steve's voice that wasn't usually there.
"Steve?" she asked softly.
His shoulders were tense and he didn't relax when he saw her or when she touched his back when she reached him. In fact, he basically shoved the phone into her hands and just walked back into the living room, movements stiff, leaving her wondering what had happened.
She dubiously looked at the phone before slowly bringing it to her ear.
Was that . . . Billy Hargrove? Yes. The voice was deep and had that teasing lilt he usually used with her when he was flirting.
"I – how do you have this number?"
No wonder Steve was upset. He had Billy Hargrove calling him to ask for her.
"Relax. I called your house and your mom gave it to me. I think she likes me."
"Hm. Uh . . . what did you want?"
"We still need to practice our debate out loud, princess."
"Don't call me that. And, right. Well, I'm busy today. Is tomorrow okay?"
"Sure. What time?"
"See you then."
"Will Max be coming?"
"Her mom will be home, so I won't have to watch her."
Steve was sitting on the couch, his body still stiff with anger when Jessica came into the living room.
"Steve?" Her voice was soft and questioning, as it had been when she'd come into the kitchen to see what was wrong a few minutes before.
"You have boys calling your boyfriend to look for you? That's kind of messed up."
She crossed her arms over her chest and remained standing. He could see hurt and anger mix together as her expression turned sour.
"If it was any other guy, you wouldn't care, and you know it."
That was probably true. Other guys were interested in Jessica; Steve knew that. She was an amazing person, so of course other guys liked her. But other guys weren't so open about it and definitely would not have called Steve looking for her.
"How'd he even know you were here?"
"He called my house and Mom gave him your number," she said. "She doesn't know what he did, Steve. Of course she gave him your number."
That . . . made a lot of sense, actually. And there was the phone book, of course. Hargrove could have looked in there as well. It wasn't like there were that many Harrington's in Hawkins.
"You didn't think I gave him your number . . . Did you? I mean, if I was looking to fool around on you, that's the stupidest thing I could do."
"I don't think you're wanting to fool around on me. I just don't like him calling me looking for you."
"Steve. All he wanted was to see if we could meet up to practice our debate since we couldn't do it Thursday. Honestly, that's it. That was the conversation. He's coming over tomorrow, by the way."
Jessica's voice sounded a little off and he realized her eyes were shining, and not because she was happy.
He began to stand up, some of the anger leaving his body. He wasn't really angry at her anyway.
"No," she interrupted, putting a hand up to ward him off. "Look, I don't know how many more times I can say this without sounding like a broken record. I don't care that Billy likes me, and you shouldn't either."
"Well, excuse me for thinking he has less than honorable intentions towards you. Princess."
Jessica's breath punched out of her lungs and her hand flew to her mouth. Steve watched the first tear fall and he suddenly felt like a jerk, much like he had when he'd allowed Tommy to spray paint those horrible words about Nancy on the marquee at the theater, like he had when he'd seen Nancy's reaction to it.
He wasn't that person anymore. He didn't want to be.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."
He moved towards her slowly and opened his arms, letting her decide if she wanted his embrace or not. His heart stopped when she hesitated to move, but she eventually came to him and let him hug her.
"Worried?" she asked, sniffling.
"Sorry," he said. "And jealous."
"It's stupid. I know."
"I understand why you're upset he called here, though," she said, her voice low and tight. "I do understand that, but –"
"I shouldn't have taken it out on you. And I trust you. I know you wouldn't do that to me. You've never shown interest in anyone while you've been with me. I'm not worried about that. But . . . I still don't trust him."
"I understand that too, Steve. Given what happened, you have every right to feel that way."
She moved her face against him, wiping her tears on his shirt, and wrapped her arms around him too.
"I'm sorry," he said again still feeling like a jerk for making her cry. He'd never wanted to do that.
"I love you, Steve, but you have to stop reacting to Billy like that. He probably got the number and called just to get a rise out of you. It worked."
He held her more tightly against him. "I'm sorry I snapped at you. You didn't do anything wrong."
They still had a couple of hours before she had to leave to go to Hopper's, so he hoped he could salvage the rest of their time together.
"Do you want to watch a movie or something?" he asked.
"I mean, if we're good, sure. But if we need to talk this out, we should do it now. I don't want to have to keep having this conversation with you, and I don't want this to actually become a problem."
"It's not really a problem. I was surprised he called here and overreacted. I wasn't even really mad at you."
"Okay. And I'll tell him not to call here again when I see him tomorrow. Okay?"
He nodded and kissed the top of her head, glad that the tears were gone even if her eyes were still shining a bit.
"I love you," he said. "I didn't mean to be a jerk."
Later that day Jessica followed the directions Hopper had given her and pulled up outside a small cabin that was definitely off the beaten path. No one would be able to find it unless they knew it was there.
She pulled up behind Hopper's police truck and put her car in park before turning it off. She sat there for a minute waiting for Hopper to come get her like he'd asked her to when they had talked on the phone.
Hopper and El both came out onto the porch, but only Hopper came down the steps to meet her at her car. She grabbed the small make-up bag she'd decided to bring, got out and followed him back, taking in where the tripwire was set up.
"So . . . what happens if –"
"It's set up to make a loud noise so we know someone's here. If I could guarantee it wouldn't hurt someone innocent, I would have set it up to cause a gun to go off or something. But this has worked so far. Only animals have set it off."
She could imagine Hopper hearing the sound go off and then rushing around looking for his gun or something – or maybe even having El get ready to use her powers or something to ensure their safety.
The first thing Jessica did when she made it to the porch was wrap El in a hug. The girl returned it and they just stood there for a few seconds.
They went in and Jessica took in her surroundings. There was a living room area, with a couch and a TV, a few small square tables. Off to the side was a small kitchen area, which really only consisted of a stove, a microwave, a fridge, and a small dining table – big enough for Hopper and El and no one else.
There were a few rooms off to the right. One of them had a door that was closed; one of them had a door that was open – that was the bathroom -; the other one didn't have a door at all, but there was a curtain hanging from the top of the doorway.
"Okay, so where is this dress?" Jessica asked.
"Oh, uh, in El's room," Hopper answered.
Jessica looked at El, who was standing beside Hopper. Her hair had grown out a bit more since the last time she'd seen her, thick and curly. She was wearing oversized jeans, beat up Converse shoes, and a flannel shirt, also oversized. They were probably from a thrift store or something. They were too big to have belonged to Hopper.
"Lead the way," she told El.
El smiled and walked toward the room with the closed door. Jessica followed her, saluting Hopper as she went.
El's room was small, but Jessica could tell that a young person had been living in it, unlike the rest of the cabin that she had seen. The rest of it appeared to be the home of just a middle-aged man. El's room, however, had recently been painted a sun-yellow color, and there was a flower-patterned bedspread. El had a radio on top of a dresser, clothes piled up on it rather than being inside it.
There were a few books, smaller ones, placed on her bedside table.
Almost as if El knew what she was thinking, she said, "Hopper is teaching me how to read."
El's speech was still slow, as if she had to think of the words before saying them, but Jessica was sure that would go away with time. Once she was able to actually socialize regularly, she would get the hang of it.
"Do you like it?"
"Yes." El shrugged. "Something to do. I read these to . . . practice. He reads bigger ones to me before bed."
Jessica grinned at the thought of Hopper reading El bedtime stories. That was a very parental thing to do.
El opened her closet and pulled out a plastic dress cover and Jessica helped her take it off of the dress.
The dress was a blueish gray color and it was long with short sleeves. Jessica already knew what color eyeshadow and lip gloss would work with this dress, but she wanted El to be able to go through different things and decide for herself.
Jessica dumped her make-up bag on the bed and spread everything out. They both sat down and El looked at each thing separately but didn't pick anything up.
"You can touch," Jessica said softly. "Pick the colors you like and we'll see what they look like."
"What do you like?"
Jessica picked up a few different shades of brown eye-shadow and a nude-glow lip gloss.
"These are my favorites. They blend well with my skin tone and are the more natural colors. You have to take in the color of your dress, though, so colors that will go good with that are the ones you should be looking at."
El just looked confused, so Jessica limited her choices for her.
"Okay, so you could always try a shade of blue. Certain shades of purple would work as well. I would stay away from reds or oranges – no bright colors. Oh, also silver would work too. And there's sparkle we can add."
"Sparkles are very pretty."
Jessica and El spent some time going through the colors El chose, putting the eyeshadow on and then rubbing it off. El liked the blue and purple the best, but she also liked the sparkle added on.
"How is Dustin?" El asked.
"He's doing okay. He had a few nightmares right after the tunnel incident, but he's been doing better."
"I . . . have nightmares."
"I'm sorry. I do too, sometimes."
It wasn't surprising that El had nightmares. She'd been through so much and she was still so young. She'd been taken from her mother at birth and had been tested and experimented on since then.
"Lucas?" El asked.
"He's fine too. He's been hanging around Max more. I think they like each other a lot."
El's expression turned sour. "Max likes Mike."
"She likes Mike."
"I don't think so."
"I saw them. In the school. Together."
"When? And why were you at the school?"
"November. Looking for Mike."
"Max had just moved here in November, El. I don't think she liked Mike and I know he didn't really like her. He didn't even want her as part of the group."
Jessica nodded, tilting her head to the side. "Yeah, really. Is that why you were so rude to Max when you met her?"
"Yeah, you kind of were."
Jessica took a deep breath, knowing El didn't really know much about liking someone or anything that went along with it. She had already had this conversation with Steve that day, but she didn't mind having it again for El.
"You think Mike is a good guy, right?"
"Yes," El said almost instantly.
"Okay, so that means that other people are going to end up liking him, and that's okay."
"Sure. As long as he doesn't like them back, everything is good. And even if he does end up liking someone else, you're a good person too. Once we are able to get you out there around people, I'm sure other boys are gonna want to get to know you as well."
"I don't want other boys to get to know me. I like Mike."
"So if other guys liked you, it wouldn't matter, right? You'd still like Mike best."
"See. That's the same with Mike. Other girls might like him, but he likes you best. And Max does not like Mike. She likes Lucas."
"And Max is . . . good?"
"Max is great. I think you guys will be good friends once you get to know each other."
Jessica stayed long enough to watch a movie with El – some old romance that Hopper seemed grateful to not have to watch. Jessica wasn't that much into it either, but she watched it because El seemed to like it. The young girl copied some of the words and phrases being said, so Jessica guessed that was one of her forms of learning.
She assumed El had seen it before, though, because when Jessica and Hopper began talking, she didn't seem annoyed at the interruption.
"So the military is coming by this week, officially shutting down the lab."
Nancy had said something about that when she'd told Jessica about Murray and how they'd had to water down what had happened so that people would believe it.
"Yeah. They probably wanted to keep it quiet, but Hawkins Post got wind of it, so . . ."
"So . . . no more lab?" That was probably the best news Jessica had ever received. However . . . "What's to stop them from opening up shop somewhere else?"
"Nothing. But at least it won't be here."
When Jessica woke up the next morning her room seemed too bright to be normal. She found out why when she looked outside. There were a couple inches of snow on the ground. Nothing major, just enough to make things bright enough to hurt her eyes.
She made her way downstairs and to the kitchen, where she found her mom eating toast and Dustin eating cereal.
"Hey, guys," she said, heading straight for the fridge to grab the orange juice. "Billy is coming by later since he couldn't on Thursday."
Dustin groaned and their mom smiled at his antics even as she got after him for them.
"I know," he said. "He already called. I answered and he called me Curly."
"Yeah, he has a thing with nicknames." Jessica got a glass from one of the cabinets, thinking Curly was actually pretty mild a nickname considering Billy probably didn't like Dustin all that much. "Do you want to be here while he is? Or did you want me to take you somewhere?"
"The roads are pretty clear. I was going to head to Mike's."
"Be back before dark," their mom said. "Or if the road starts to ice over."
"I know," Dustin said, fond but exasperated. Then to Jessica, "Billy left his phone number. He said to call him back when you wake up."
Jessica groaned a little. "If he's cancelling on me because of the two inches of snow on the ground . . ."
"He's probably not used to snow, Jess," her mom said. "Or driving in it."
She took a few sips of her juice before heading to the phone. There was a small sticky note pressed onto the receiver that had a number and Billy's name written on it.
She dialed the number and waited through a set of three rings before someone answered. The voice was male, deep and authoritative, but it wasn't Billy's voice.
"Um . . . Hi. This is Jessica Henderson. Billy called earlier, but I was asleep. He asked for me to call him back."
"Jessica Henderson? Are you the girl Billy's working with in English?"
"Yes," she said, "he was supposed to come over today so we can finish it up."
"Just a minute." She assumed the guy had moved the phone away from his mouth because when he called for Billy the sound was slightly muffled. "Billy, come get the phone!"
It only took a few seconds for Billy to get there.
"You wanted me to call?"
"Yeah. I – my dad doesn't want me driving with snow on the ground."
"What? The roads are pretty clear. It should be fine as long as you don't drive like a maniac."
"There's nothing wrong with my driving," he said. "He said I don't have the proper tires for this type of weather."
Crap. That was probably true.
"Well, we have to do this project, Billy. We don't know what day we have to present."
"I know, I –"
"Well, what if – what if I just come over there?"
"What?" Dustin said from the kitchen table. "No, you can't go over there."
"Hush, Dustin," their mom said.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea. The place is a mess. We weren't expecting anyone over," Billy said.
"I mean, as long as the kitchen or living room are open, we should be fine. I want to meet your dad and Max's mom, anyway. That way I can invite her to movie nights and things like that."
"I – fine. Let me ask my dad."
She could hear some of the conversation between Billy and his dad. Most of it was just Billy explaining that Jessica was willing to come over instead, since he wasn't able to go to her place. Jessica didn't know why Billy had been so worried. All his dad said was that since Billy seemed to be spending a lot of time with her that he obviously wanted to meet her.
"Okay," Billy said, coming back on the line. "Give us about an hour to tidy a bit, but other than that, you're good."
"Good. And Billy? Please don't ever call Steve looking for me again. I know the conversation was about school, but he didn't like you calling him. I hope you can understand why."
A knock came from outside Billy's door. It was his dad, so he didn't wait for Billy to respond before opening up and stepping in. Neil apparently didn't believe in privacy.
Billy was pretty calm – just getting his things together - until his dad closed the door behind him. It clicked to let them know it had latched properly.
"Who is this Henderson girl?
"Just someone I sit beside in English. The teacher put me beside her in case I needed help the first day. We were paired off alphabetically, so that's why I'm working with her."
"Is she like the other girls you hang around?"
"I – no. I've never actually hung around her before now. We talk in class, but that's it. She works at the theater during the week and she's always taking care of her brother and his little friends."
"You know a lot about her for someone you don't hang around much."
"Like I said, we talk in class." Billy shrugged, not knowing what else to say, what his dad wanted him to say. "She's not the type to cause trouble, if that's what you're asking."
Neil nodded. "It was. Anyway, if she's coming over, we need to clear out the driveway so she will have a place to park."
"What was that?"
"I mean, yes, sir."
Billy let out a breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding when his dad left, again closing the door behind him. He got up, grabbed his leather jacket, and slipped it on. His dad was right about one thing, at least. He did need to have the driveway clean for Jessica to park.
Billy should've known when his dad had said 'they' needed to clear the driveway that he'd really meant Billy needed to do it. Neil had one shovel out and was waiting for him right outside the front door.
Neil walked with him to the end of the driveway before starting in on him.
"You know, I noticed something strange when you were on the phone with this Jessica."
Billy paused and looked at him, question in his eyes. He had been careful, had asked his dad if she could come over, hadn't just assumed she could. He'd given his dad enough details to show that Jessica really wasn't like the other girls Billy hung around.
"I noticed you didn't give her directions to get here. Now how is she supposed to get here if she doesn't know where you live, Billy."
"It's a small town, Dad. She knows which road I live on."
"And the exact address?
"My car. She'll recognize it."
Neil squinted at him. Billy knew he was just looking for a reason to let loose on him.
"She's never been here before?"
That at least was the truth. Jessica had never actually been to his house.
"Are you lying to me? You know what happens when you lie."
He broke things. Most of the time it was his cassettes. Billy had to save up to buy his own music because Neil didn't exactly appreciate the type of music Billy listened to. In fact, his dad despised it, called it noise pollution.
Sometimes his dad took away driving privileges, too. He was only allowed to drive to and from school. If he hadn't had to taxi Max around, he probably wouldn't have even been able to do that because his dad had no problem confiscating his keys. That usually only happened if Billy had been partying too hard or coming home too late.
"I'm not lying."
"A'right, get started."
Neil shoved the shovel against his chest and turned to head back inside.
"This girl better not be a bad influence on Max," he called over his shoulder.
"They call her The Golden Girl at school," Billy said. "I think Max will be fine."
"Maybe she can show Max how to act like a girl, then."
Jessica pulled up outside the Hargrove household about an hour after she'd gotten off the phone with Billy, like he'd asked her to. She pulled up behind Billy's Camaro, saw that his car was parked beside a truck, and assumed it belonged to his dad.
She grabbed her bag from the passenger seat and got out to head to the front porch. On the screened in portion of it she noticed a weightlifting bench along with the bar and weights that went with it. They were probably Billy's.
She knocked on the door and didn't have to wait long before Billy was opening it. She gave him a small smile even though he was giving her that put-on, unimpressed look. He never looked at her that way. That was the only reason she noticed it, and she wasn't really sure how she felt about it.
"Hi," she said, moving inside as he stepped out of the way. "I hope I didn't cause too much trouble having to come over here and all."
"Don't be silly." The voice came from a man who had been sitting down in front of the TV until just then. "It's for school, right?"
The man had on a red T-shirt, jeans, and boots. He had brown hair, short, military cut – and he appeared to actually have been in the military at some point if the way he stood was anything to go by. He had blue eyes, a couple shades darker than Billy's, but they were colder despite that.
"Uh, yes, Mr. Hargrove, it is." She stepped forward and held out her hand. "Nice to meet you officially. Jessica Henderson."
Neil shook her hand briefly and looked at Billy. "At least this one has manners."
It looked as if Billy were trying hard not to roll his eyes. He grabbed Jessica's bag and began leading her . . . somewhere that wasn't the living room couch or the kitchen.
"Dad's using the living room and Susan is using the kitchen. We can go to my room."
"That – that wasn't –"
"We'll leave the door open," he said. "Obviously."
She took a deep breath, exhaled, actually did roll her eyes, but followed him anyway. "Obviously."
Billy's room was probably what a typical teenage boy's room would look like. There was even the stereotypical poster of a blond girl in a bikini hanging on his wall. She rolled her eyes at it and Billy smirked at her.
He had a medium sized mirror placed on top a couple of plastic crates, hair products and cologne on top of them as well. There was the bed, a chair and a desk, a small lamp placed there along with a boombox, and a closet that was halfway open.
"Where do you want this?" he asked, shaking her bag a bit to let her know what he meant.
"Desk. I don't know what you do on your bed, so there's no way I'm sitting on it."
Billy placed her bag on the floor beside the desk before going to sit on the bed.
"Okay, so . . . what do we really have left to do? Just practicing, right?"
Billy pulled a box of something out from under his bed. He began going through it and Jessica realized they were cassette tapes for the boombox.
"Yeah, that's –
She became distracted when he stood back up only to place a tape in the boombox and some major riffs came through the speaker. It had been loud and right in her ear, causing her to jump, so Billy quickly turned it down to a more tolerable level.
"Bet you don't know anything about this, Princess."
She sighed. "Don't call me that. And it's Metallica. I'd recognize the guitar playing anywhere."
Billy looked at her then, hand over his heart playfully. "Are you a closet rocker?"
She scoffed. "I like music. I prefer that Scorpion tape you play in the car, but I can appreciate Metallica every now and then. And this isn't getting our work done."
"Background music, doll."
"That's a new one," she said and screwed up her face. "I like that even less than Princess."
The sound of a door opening came from the hallway and suddenly Max was in the doorway looking in like she couldn't believe what she was seeing.
"Hey, Max," Jessica said. "What's wrong?"
"You're in Billy's room."
"Uh, yeah. I am. The project."
"Oh. Okay. Uh, I'll let you get back to work then."
Max walked away and Jessica fondly shook her head at the red-head's confusion.
"So is she not used to you having female company or you having the door open when you have female company?"
Billy's eyes became even more hooded than they normally were and his expression softened minutely. "What do you think?"
"I think I made a good decision not to sit on the bed."
Billy barked out a laugh. "Whatever you say, Princess."