Author's Note Jan 11th, 2017: If you would like to read this story in Spanish, Ivonette is currently working on a translation. I'll post a link on my Profile Page. Esta historia ha sido traducida al español por Ivonnette. El enlace está en mi Profile Page. Thanks/Gracias! :D
At first there were hospital visits to make, reporters to hide from, parents to explain things to, practicalities to figure out.
There were lots of new things for Eleven to learn, like bedtime and alarm clock and close the fridge door when you're done using it and PB&J. Joyce's house smelled strange, like smoke, and all the food was different than she was used to. She was scared of Jonathan at first because he was so tall and quiet, almost as tall as Papa and the scientists, but he made her pancakes and showed her how to play air-guitar and called her "Sis." Will was quiet in his own way, and still screamed awake at night sometimes, and didn't know her the way the others did, but he let her borrow his crayons and didn't laugh at her drawings even when his were so much better. Nancy came to visit and brought her clothes to wear and let her braid her hair sometimes. Dustin always brought her snacks even though Joyce told him they'd spoil her appetite. Lucas always acted extra nice to her – she could tell he still felt bad about yelling at her, back when Will was missing – and even showed her how to climb a tree.
Mike was… still Mike, but different somehow. He was still just as kind, just as warm towards her as before, always speaking so gently and always somehow understanding her way of communicating, even when she just tilted her head or shrugged her shoulders. But he seemed to have more trouble talking around her, getting tripped over his words and pausing in odd moments. Sometimes he even looked frightened of her. He was staring at her more and more and talking to her less and less.
She hated it.
They were supposed to be friends. He was supposed to be the one who always knew what to say, who always told her what he was thinking and helped her understand the rest of the world. She couldn't help worrying that it was her fault, that she had done something wrong and now he couldn't trust her anymore.
Maybe it all started with that time they were alone in the school, waiting for Dustin and Lucas to bring food back from the kitchen, when Mike got all nervous and confused trying to explain something, and then he touched her mouth with his mouth.
It felt nice, when he did that, better than nice, but she wasn't sure what it meant, exactly.
Mike's parents bought her a Super-Comm for Christmas and she carried it everywhere. Joyce even sewed a special pocket in all her dresses so she never had to leave it at home. Somehow, even though the boys could only hear each other when they were less than a mile apart, Eleven could use hers to hear radio signals from all over town.
One night, when she in her room fiddling with the dials, she heard Mike's voice coming through. "I don't know, Dustin, can we please stop talking about this? Over."
He sounded annoyed.
"Just tell me why you've been acting weird around her! Even Will has noticed. Over."
"Why are you talking about this with Will?" Mike asked.
"Because. She is our friend. She helped save his life, you idiot. We deserve to know what's going on. Over."
"No, you really don't. Over."
"Ah-ha! So you admit there is something going on between you and Eleven! Over."
Eleven wanted to interrupt and let them know she was listening, but when she heard Dustin mention her name she suddenly felt curious. Maybe she would finally be able to figure out what was wrong with Mike.
Mike paused. He seemed to be considering something. "Fine. You win. I like her, okay? I like her a lot. But it doesn't matter."
Eleven remembered Mike's words from before. You go to the Snow Ball with somebody that you like. But what was so special about liking someone that it made you not talk to them? Was there more than one kind of liking, like how there were more than one flavor of Eggos?
"I knew it!" crowed Dustin. "Wait till I tell Lucas!"
Mike choked. "You aren't telling anyone! If you tell anyone about this I swear… I'll tell everyone how you wet the bed at camp!"
Dustin gasped. "That was two years ago! And you promised you wouldn't tell."
"I don't care, man. If Lucas finds out I have a crush on a girl he'll never let me live it down."
Crush? What an odd word to use. They told her to crush things in the lab, Coke cans mostly, and it never felt anything like "liking."
"Fine, fine, I promise I won't tell. But anyway, what's the big deal? El obviously has a crush on you, too."
El closed her eyes. Did she have a crush like Dustin said? She liked all her new friends, and her new mom, and Nancy and Jonathan, but Mike was special. No one else made her smile just by saying her name, or made her feel safe just by holding her hand. When he said goodbye she always wanted to follow him. His words mattered more to her than anyone else's and sometimes when she pictured his face it made her heart pound like she was running up a hill. Was that crush?
Mike's voice got quiet. "You don't know what you're talking about, so don't act like you do. Over." He sounded sad.
"Um, I definitely know that whenever we visit Eleven without you, she asks where you are, and it makes her really sad when you don't come to see her."
"She's just being nice," said Mike.
"Sometimes your total obliviousness just blows my mind."
"Listen, Dustin," said Mike, getting upset again, "She doesn't like me. I kissed her in the cafeteria like a total knucklehead, and now everything is ruined."
"…You WHAT?" Dustin's voice cracked in shock.
Mike sighed. "I kissed her, ok, and she just stared at me, and she didn't say anything, and she probably was totally grossed out, and…"
Dustin sighed. "MIKE! This is El we're talking about."
"Soooo, she isn't exactly the type to talk your ear off. That doesn't mean…"
Suddenly El heard Mike's mom in the background. "Mike! It's time for bed, come upstairs now!"
"I have to go," Mike told Dustin. "And this conversation never happened. Over and out."
Eleven stayed up late that night replaying the conversation between Mike and Dustin over in her head. She had a feeling that she shouldn't have listened without telling them, that it was maybe like telling a lie, but she hadn't really meant to – it had just sort of happened.
She still wasn't sure if she completely understood what was going on with Mike, but at least she knew that it did have something to do with what happened that night – when they kissed, that was the word he used. She whispered the word out loud to herself. Kiss. It was a pretty word, she decided.
Mike had said, "She doesn't like me." How could he think that? It didn't make any sense. She liked him more than just about any other person or thing she could imagine. Didn't he know that?
Well, she decided, maybe I need to show him that he's wrong. If he knows I like him maybe he'll stop acting so weird and things will go back to normal. Relieved to have finally found a solution to her problem, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.