It was a sunny Saturday in April, 1984, and after spending most of the winter cooped up inside playing Dungeons and Dragons, Will, Lucas, Dustin, Mike, and Eleven were all enjoying the beginnings of spring weather at the old Hawkins Park Playground. Lucas and Will were challenging each other to feats of strength on the jungle-gym, and Mike, Dustin, and El were playing on the swing-set. Mike was standing behind El, helping push her as she swung, and Dustin was sitting beside them, showing El how to pump her legs in the air so the swing would go higher.
In the distance, they spotted a group of girls from Hawkins Middle who settled down at a picnic table and started playing clapping games. Dustin immediately stopped swinging and turned around, his face in his hands. "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god," he mumbled to himself, sounding terrified. "Is she looking at me? Mike, is she looking at me?"
Mike rolled his eyes. "Why would she be looking at you? She's all the way on the other side of the playground."
El stopped swinging as well, and looked from one boy to the other, hopelessly confused. "Who are you talking about?"
"That girl over there," Mike pointed, causing Dustin to panic and swat at Mike's arm, afraid someone would see, "Sylvia Davis, the one in the yellow dress."
"Is she wearing that dress again?" asked Dustin, turning around to peek. His eyes went wide. "I'm going to die," he groaned, "it's too much."
"What's wrong with Dustin?" El whispered to Mike. The boy was always a bit dramatic, but this was a new level.
"He has a crush on her," Mike whispered back, grinning.
El gasped. "Crush?" She and Mike had talked about the concept of crushes a few months ago, finally (after much awkwardness and embarrassment) admitting their feelings for each other, but she hadn't realized it could happen to the other boys.
"WRONG!" Dustin exclaimed. "I don't just have a crush, Wheeler. This is love. I know it."
El looked puzzled, and Mike guffawed. "You've barely spoken to each other. And it's only been a few weeks since you started liking her. Don't be an idiot, Henderson."
Dustin sighed dramatically. "You just don't understand. She's perfect." His eyes were glazed over as he spoke. "She's nice to everyone, she loves making jokes, she has a Star Wars lunch box, and she's the prettiest girl in Hawkins."
Mike shrugged. "That's debatable," he murmured, gazing down at the back of El's head.
El didn't hear him. "Prettier than Nancy?" she asked Dustin, shocked. She squinted her eyes, trying to get a better look at his dream girl. Sylvia had curly black hair and stood several inches taller than her friends. She was talking excitedly, swinging her gangly tan arms back and forth, and every few minutes she would explode in peals of laughter. El smiled. She still didn't have much experience with girls her age, but this Sylvia seemed like someone she might like to know.
Mike gave his friend a little shove. "You should go talk to her!"
Dustin looked like he was about to throw up. "Absolutely not. Not happening. No way, Jose."
"Why no?" asked El. She loved talking to Mike, so why wouldn't Dustin want to talk to his crush?
"Because," Dustin explained, rolling his eyes, "what if I make a fool of myself and she laughs in my face?" He shook his head. "Too risky. Better to just stay here until I can figure out if she likes me back."
"Well, you're not going to figure that out by just sitting here and staring at her, man," Mike pointed out.
Dustin sighed and spun around slowly on the swing, dragging his sneakers through the mulch. "I know… it's hopeless," he muttered.
Mike felt sorry for his friend, but he also thought he was being a little ridiculous. He was mostly enjoying the chance to have some payback for all the times Dustin had teased him over his crush on El. Suddenly, Mike had an idea, causing an evil grin to appear on his face. He whispered in El's ear and she nodded.
The gauzy purple scarf draped over Sylvia's neck seemed to take on a life of its own, apparently caught in the wind. It fluttered up into the air and then settled on the ground right next to the swing set.
With a squeal of surprise, Sylvia came hurrying after it – headed straight towards them. Mike chuckled and nudged Dustin, who still had his back turned. "Hey, Dustin."
"What?" he asked, morosely.
"Sylvia's coming over here."
Dustin nearly fell backwards off the swing. He looked around and saw his crush on her way towards them. He seemed about as frightened as he had when Troy had pulled a knife on him back in November. "Shit, shit, shit, shit," he muttered. "El, please make me disappear, can you do that?"
Eleven shook her head, confused, but Mike reassured her. "Don't listen to him, he's just being a baby."
Dustin stood up and leaned against the pole of the swing set, his arms crossed, his head down, trying to look as cool as possible. Then he immediately sat back down, having apparently decided looking cool was never going to work for him. Mike was having trouble keeping a straight face. El was looking straight at Sylvia, curious to learn more about her.
Sylvia grabbed her scarf up off the ground. "Gotcha!" She looked over at El and smiled. "This thing is always getting away from me."
Eleven nodded, not sure what to say.
Sylvia studied El with some interest. "I love your hair!" she enthused. "I wish my mom would let me get a pixie cut like that. You're so lucky."
El was completely shocked. "You want hair – like mine?" She ran her hand over her head self-consciously. "But yours is… so pretty…"
Sylvia grinned. "Aww, thank you!" She stuck out her hand. "I'm Sylvia, by the way."
El took her hand and shook it awkwardly – she hadn't had much practice with handshakes. "I'm El," she said, a beat later than normal. It was still hard for her to remember all the rules of social interaction.
Sylvia either didn't notice El's shyness or pretended not to. "Nice to meet you, El!"
Suddenly Dustin blurted out, "You shouldn't cut your hair!" Sylvia, El, and Mike turned to stare at him.
"Huh?" said Sylvia.
"I mean… that is… um…" Dustin said, turning tomato-red, "Your hair looks, um, nice, um, the way it is, so…" he trailed off, mortified.
"Ookaay," Sylvia chuckled, "That was random. It's my hair."
Dustin shuffled his feet. "I know," he mumbled.
"How would you like it if I came over and just –" she walked behind Dustin and grabbed a fistful of his curly hair, making a scissor motion with her other hand, "chopped all this off." She grinned at El. "How would he look with a Mohawk?
"What's a Mohawk?" asked El. Mike smiled. He was proud of her for asking the question in front of someone she had never met before. Usually she seemed to keep a list of questions stored up in her head and then pepper him with them as soon as they were alone.
Sylvia shrugged. "It's that silly hairstyle where the guy shaves off all his hair except a strip at the top and then makes that part poof straight up." She demonstrated on Dustin, who looked like he was choking or maybe on the verge of cardiac arrest.
Oh my god, she's touching me.
"Dustin's hair is too curly for that to work, though," she said, thoughtfully biting her lip as she combed through his curls with her fingers.
Oh my god, she knows my name.
From the other side of the playground, a cry went up. "Sylvia! Are you coming with us or what?"
Sylvia took her hands out of Dustin's hair, a light blush on her cheeks. She shook her head slightly, as if to clear it. "Coming!" she shouted. She ran halfway to her friends, then paused and ran back. "Actually," she said, smiling at Eleven, "We're going to the drugstore to buy makeup and magazines and stuff. Do you want to come, too?"
Looking like a deer in the headlights, El turned to catch Mike's eye. She used her abilities to project her words into his head without anyone else hearing. "Is it okay? Should I go?"
He grinned and nodded slightly, trying to give her the confidence she needed.
El turned back to Sylvia and smiled. "Um, okay."
"Yay!" Sylvia exclaimed. She clapped her hands and linked arms with the shy girl, pulling her along. "Let's go!"