It's Friday afternoon and instead of hanging out at the arcade, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Will are trapped inside what has to be the dingiest classroom at Hawkins High. The lights flicker, half of the desks creak, and the ones that don't are covered in pencil-etched profanity and old gum. Even though the windows are cracked open, the late September heat still suffocates the stuffy classroom.
The boys are seated at the better-kept desks near the front of the classroom. It's their first time getting detention and no one's adjusting to it well.
"This place is disgusting," Lucas groans, slumping back in his seat.
"At least you didn't find radioactive waste in your desk!" Dustin complains.
Lucas eyes him. "A moldy tuna sandwich is not 'radioactive waste'."
"It smells like it!"
"No, it doesn't!"
"Guys, stop fighting," Will pleads. He holds his sketchbook in his lap, but can't seem to find the motivation to draw anything yet. He looks to Mike for help, motioning to Dustin and Lucas in exasperation.
"Seriously, guys, stop it," Mike says. According to what the principal had told them earlier, their hour-and-a-half of detention time was supposed to be supervised by one of the math teachers, Mr. Mortensen, but he hadn't arrived yet. Consequently, Lucas and Dustin had spent most of the time complaining about how miserable they were.
"I'm just stating the facts!" Lucas says in his own defense.
"So am I!" Dustin insists.
"You guys are being overdramatic," Will states. "We've only got an hour left."
The other boys groan and slump back in their seats. "I wanted to go to the arcade," Dustin mumbles, "I was so close to getting the high score on Missile Command last week."
"Well, technically, we could just leave right now," Mike reminds them. "There's not even a teacher here!"
"Oh, right," Lucas scoffs, "Let's all take advice from the guy who got us here in the first place!"
"How did I get us here?"
"It was your idea to start selling our test answers to people!"
"Like you didn't want to! Selling your answers got you a new Atari!"
"It doesn't matter! I didn't even really want to in the first place, and now we're totally screwed! We're lucky we didn't get expelled!"
Mike opens his mouth to reply but is cut off by the sound of the creaky classroom door swinging open. The boys quickly fall silent and straighten up in their seats as Mr. Mortensen trudges in with two other students in his wake.
The boys' eyes fall on the two students walking in, but quickly move to glance at each other in shock once they realize who those students are.
"That's Max Mayfield and El Hopper!" Dustin hisses as the boys lean their heads in.
Max's long red hair hangs flat against her back, looking disheveled from the way she keeps combing her fingers through it. In contrast, El's hair is slicked back, though a few pesky strands curl around her face. Both are sporting well-worn jeans, smudged kohl around their eyes, and expressions that scream how much they don't care about whatever speech Mr. Mortensen is giving them (said speech involves a lot of how-dare-you-try-to-skip-out-on-detention's and you-two-young-ladies-should-be-ashamed-of-yourselves's).
"Aren't they supposed to be really bad?" Will whispers nervously.
"Yeah, from what I've heard, Max is always getting in trouble," Dustin explains, "Like, she's always in the principal's office."
"Isn't El the police chief's daughter?" Lucas asks.
"I'm pretty sure. So, basically, she can do whatever she wants. She probably even knows how to get away with murdering someone!"
"Don't be stupid!" Mike replies with an eye roll, "Do you actually think that they're murderers?"
"I'm not saying they're murderers!" Dustin says indignantly, "I'm just saying that they totally could murder someone, if they really wanted to."
The boys pull away from each other as Mr. Mortensen takes his seat at the front of the classroom. While the other guys keep their heads low, Mike eyes Max and El as they walk past and take their seats in the back of the room. While he's definitely heard the kinds of rumors his friends have, he has to admit that Max and El don't look totally terrifying. Mike's pretty sure that El's in his sixth-period biology class, but she doesn't ever cause any problems there. She, like Mike, mostly keeps to herself.
The next few minutes are painfully quiet. Mortensen sits at the front of the room, doing the crossword puzzle in the Hawkins Post. Time drags by, and in the sweltering, quiet classroom, every minute feels more like a millennium. Throughout it all, the boys can feel the girls' eyes on their backs, sizing them up, scrutinizing them.
Will's distractedly scribbling away in his sketchbook, Dustin is not-so-sneakily reading a comic behind his science textbook, Lucas is staring at the clock, and Mike is absentmindedly fidgeting with the Rubik's cube he carries around when there's a knock on the door.
The kids look up as the door opens to reveal the school secretary. "Harold?" She says to Mr. Mortensen, who looks up at her perplexedly, "There's a phone call from your wife in the office for you."
"I can't leave right now," he grumbles in reply, making a sweeping gesture towards the kids, "Tell her I'll get back to her."
"She sounded really upset," the secretary hesitates, "Something about an accident with the baby and your baseball card collection?"
"Shit," Mortensen mutters. He gets up from his chair and moves towards the door before turning back to point at the kids. "Don't even think about leaving this classroom," he orders, "I'm gonna be — don't roll your eyes at me, Mayfield — I'm gonna be right back."
He turns to leave with the secretary, closing the door shut behind him.
And then they're alone.
"Shit," Dustin mutters, glancing at his friends nervously.
Mike motions for him to shut up, to which Dustin not-so-subtly motions at the girls, themselves, and makes a throat-slitting gesture.
"What are you doing?" Max asks suddenly.
The boys flinch and slowly turn back to face the girls. Max and El are eyeing them, expressions unreadable.
The guys glance at one another, each daring someone else to speak, before Mike finally offers, "Nothing!"
"You're lying," El says simply.
Mike meets her gaze and El suddenly falters in her tough demeanor. She glances away from him quickly, tucking one of her stray curls behind her ear.
"It was nothing," Will says, "They were just being dumb."
Max snorts in response before slumping back in her seat, looking bored again. "So, what are you guys in for?" She asks next, putting her legs up on her desk.
While Lucas looked anxious when the girls had first walked in, Mike now notices that his entire demeanor has changed. He keeps glancing at Max, then away again, looking almost shy. "We sold our test answers," he answers quickly. "To students. For money. We were really good at it."
"You just said you didn't even want to do it!" Mike exclaims in disbelief.
"No, I didn't!" Lucas says through his teeth, giving Mike a warning look.
"You kinda did," Will mutters, trying not to smile.
"You guys realize that that's like, the nerdiest way to get detention?" Max teases.
"So?" Dustin rolls his eyes. "It's not a competition. What are you guys even in here for?"
"We torched Mr. Coleman's car," Max smirks.
"You SET the principal's car on FIRE!?" Dustin exclaims, looking horrified.
"No!" Max scoffs. "We just spray-painted some flames on the side."
"It'll wash off," El mumbles, looking at her nails.
"You guys are literally insane," Dustin replies, shaking his head. "Like, full-on demented."
"And you guys are literal losers," Max snaps back, "Like, full-on geeks!"
El nudges her, and Max throws her an apologetic glance before shrugging. "Well, it's true! Everyone knows that the A.V. Club is for nerds!"
"The A.V. Club isn't for nerds!" Mike says defensively.
"Says the president nerd," Max comments.
"How'd you know I'm the president?" Mike asks suspiciously.
"I don't," Max replies, rolling her eyes towards El.
Mike and El's eyes both widen, and El quickly gives Max another nudge.
"Max," she hisses, cheeks bright pink.
"I didn't say anything!" Max hisses back.
"At least we're not literal criminals," Dustin remarks, still grumpy over the 'nerds' comment.
"They're not criminals," Lucas says, throwing Max a glance, "It's not illegal to paint a car."
"Uh, it's called 'vandalism,' Lucas," Dustin scorns.
"Uh, it's called, it's not that big of a deal," Max cuts in.
As they all continue to bicker back and forth, Mike notices El get up and move to over to the window at the back of the classroom. She sits on the wide ledge that runs along the back wall, her expression downcast.
Mike, meanwhile, is still reeling from finding out that El knows he's president of the A.V. Club. It's not that it's secret information or anything, but it's not exactly well-known either. Mike had to fight with the yearbook committee to get their photo featured last year (apparently a group comprised of four freshmen didn't 'count' as a club, by their ridiculous standards).
El knew some things about him. So, what did that mean?
She's still sitting by the window, looking upset, and Mike's curiosity is definitely heightened. So, hoping that Dustin really wasn't right about the whole murderers thing (because he didn't want to like, get shoved out a window, or anything), Mike gets up from his desk and casually goes to sit beside her, making sure two leave a good foot or two of space between them.
The guys and Max are still arguing (well, Dustin and Lucas are, Will is just looking back and forth between them and trying to keep everyone under control) and thus are oblivious to Mike's change of seat.
El, obviously, notices right away. Her eyes widen again before narrowing distrustfully, but Mike only glances at her before returning to fiddle with his Rubik's cube.
"Hey," he says nonchalantly.
"Hey," El replies stiffly.
They're silent for a moment, and as awkwardness sets in, Mike starts to regret his decision to come over here. What was his plan, anyway? What was he supposed to say? Hey, so, I saw you looking kinda lonely over here, and I thought I'd come sit by you, for no apparent reason. Yeah, I know, it's weird. Yeah, I'm kinda a total wasteoid.
"So, uh, are you ok?" Mike asks, trying to make some form of conversation.
El's brow furrows. "What do you mean?"
"You just seem kinda…"
El stares him down.
"Down," Mike says quickly, "Like, sad."
El continues to look at him for a moment, then she leans forward and grabs the Rubik's cube from his hands. Mike's surprised but doesn't protest as she begins to fiddle with it.
"It's just…my dad's gonna kill me," she mutters, not looking up at him, "When he finds out I got detention."
"Don't you get detention a lot?" Mike asks, before quickly adding, "No offense."
El continues to work the Rubik's cube. "No, just Max. She takes the blame most of the time."
"But today you both got caught?"
They fall silent again, and Mike takes the time to examine El a bit more closely. She's wearing scuffed-up sneakers, a braided blue bracelet, and an oversized flannel shirt over an old band tee. Her nails are painted black, though he can see freckles of orange paint splattered across them. As she plays with the Rubik's cube, her brow is furrowed with determination.
"I'm sure your dad will understand," Mike says, "I mean, he deals with actual criminals all the time, so it's not like a paint job is the worst thing he's ever seen."
"No, he's gonna be so mad," El laments, "I shouldn't have done it."
"Then why did you?"
She glances at him. "It was fun." Mike snorts in laughter, and the two exchange brief smiles before she counters, "Why'd you sell your tests?"
Mike shrugs. "I needed the money."
El eyes him. "For what?"
Mike feels his cheeks warm slightly. "Uh, you know. Like...comics and video games and stuff."
He waits for El to mock him, something that he's grown accustomed to when it comes to discussing his passions. But surprisingly, she doesn't make any comments about the comics. "You could get a job," El instead points out, "If you want money."
"I guess," Mike admits. A beat passes before he adds, "You could find other things to do for fun."
El smiles again, and it's a sight that Mike quickly finds himself growing accustomed to. Her shy gaze meets his, and he suddenly feels like his stomach is doing flips and his heart is skipping in his chest.
Before they can say anything more, Mr. Mortensen returns. Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Will stop talking just as Mike and El jump up and quickly return to their seats.
Mike tries to not look too disappointed as he returns to his lopsided desk. Regardless, He can feel the blush spreading on his cheeks, and he makes a point of ignoring the incredulous looks from Dustin and the questioning stares from Will (Lucas, still glancing back at Max, has yet to notice that Mike and El were ever alone together in the first place).
"Sorry about that," Mortensen announces, sitting back at the front desk. "Family emergency."
"About baseball cards?" Max mutters, to which all the kids snicker.
Mortensen evidentially doesn't hear this and returns to his crossword puzzle. "You guys still have another thirty minutes," he reminds them, face obscured by the newspaper.
Even though they only have to stay for another thirty minutes, it once again feels like hours. Mike tries to pass the time by planning out D&D campaigns in his notebook, but his mind keeps going back to his conversation with El.
She's definitely different from what he'd thought she'd be, based on her reputation. She seemed…friendly. And she was pretty easy to talk to. From time to time, Mike looks over his shoulder to glance back at El, but she never returns his gaze. She instead keeps her head low, focused on something in her lap.
When the thirty minutes is up, Mortensen glances up at the clock. "Alright, you guys are free to go."
The kids dart up from their desks, excited to finally be free from the confines of detention. "Finally!" Will whispers, while Dustin grins and adds, "We still have time to go to the arcade, right?"
Max grabs her backpack and walks past them as she heads out. "See ya' around, nerds," she says, lightly punching Lucas in the arm.
Lucas' cheeks flush. "Okay!" He replies excitedly (instantly earning himself a mocking, mimicked "Okay!" from Dustin).
Mike gets up out of his seat. He's tossing his things into his backpack when, without warning, someone grabs his wrist and presses something into his palm.
It's his Rubik's cube, perfectly completed.
Mike's eyes widen in disbelief, but when he looks up, El is already following Max out the door. She turns to glance back at him one last time, smiling shyly, and Mike's gut feels like he's suddenly taken a deep plunge, like the swell of excitement someone gets before a rollercoaster drop.
"Can you believe those girls?" Dustin remarks as the boys head out. They walk down the hallways of Hawkins High, deserted albeit the distant hum of a janitor's vacuum or the echoing screeches of sneakers against tiled floors.
"They're not so bad," Will replies, "They seemed kinda cool."
"Max called us nerds!"
"We are nerds!" Lucas reminds him.
"Doesn't mean she has to say it! Besides, you're only defending her because you have a weird crush on her."
"I do not have a crush on Max," Lucas says a little too defensively.
"Sure," Dustin replies sarcastically. "And Mike totally wasn't drooling over El, either."
"I was not!" Mike says, also a little too defensively.
"You have to admit, they're pretty awesome," Lucas states.
"I guess," Dustin shrugs, "If by 'awesome,' you mean 'crazy.'"
"Whatever, let's just head to the arcade," Mike directs, "It's only 5, we still have time before sundown."
That gets their attention. The conversation quickly switches from girls and crushes to Dragon's Lair and Dig Dug. As the guys debate who amongst them is going to get the highest score, Mike re-examines the Rubik's cube in his hands.
He feels…different, but in a good way. In a weird way. In a way that, even as he heads to the arcade to play video games with his friends, bikes home after dark, wards off his worried parents' frustrations, gets ready for bed, and carefully places the Rubik's cube on his nightstand, he can't help but hope that maybe, just maybe, he'll get another chance to speak with her again.
[A/N]: This was originally written to be a one-shot, but I still have tons of more ideas for it! If you guys like this, feel free to leave comments or shoot me message over tumblr, and let me know!