A/N: THIS IS THE FINAL CHAPTER GUYS! FINALLY.
Chapter 10: First day of my life
Wednesday 9th, May 2018
If there was something El Ives put her mind to, she was sure to accomplish it. Always.
Well, most of the times.
As a matter of fact, today was one of those times in which she had made up her mind about something. And she was really hoping everything went well enough.
Max and Will were currently sprawled on the spare bed in her dorm room with their shoes off, comfortable enough around each other after so much time spent together that they didn't seem to mind laying almost on top of one another (because of the small surface of the mattress). Meanwhile, Eleven sat cross-legged on her soft beige carpet, trying to paint her finger nails without smudging the polish around her fingers too much.
At the same time, Will was glancing amused between his phone screen and the two girls in the room who were talking nonstop about whatever. Max was frowning down at her hands in concentration, also trying to paint her nails (in a pitch black shade) – though she managed to do it with slightly better results than Eleven. For the brunette girl, doing such a thing was an almost impossible task: this since her hand kept trembling due to both her nervousness and her lack of practice at these sort of things.
Both of her friends were currently in El's room mainly for moral support. And she had desperately needed it, since merely two hours ago she'd been dangerously tumbling on the verge of an anxiety attack.
And this was probably the worst day and time ever to get one of those.
Today was important.
Maybe because it was, Eleven hadn't been able to prevent herself from thinking nonstop about all the ways in which she could ruin this for herself. And she just could not afford to mess this up and self-sabotage herself like she had so many times before. However, and despite her efforts to be and stay positive, the anxiety had been building slowly since everything started two weeks ago.
Fourteen days ago, El had gotten an email from her Research Methods professor, congratulating her on her final project – which she had thrown herself completely into for almost the entire semester – and informing her that it had been one of the two chosen ones to be presented before the faculty.
It was kind of a big deal: she would have to do a presentation about the most important work she'd ever done in her entire life (so far).
Despite her trying to keep a calm attitude about it, Eleven had been high key freaking out for over ten days now. After all, this was a chance that definitely could make or break her dreams of being a psychologist and helping people one day.
Max and Will – aka Eleven's fairy godparents – had spent most of the weekend with her, shopping for something cute and classy she could wear on her special event (happening tonight!). Plus, already knowing (and dreading) how nervous she could get, both of them had shown up unexpectedly earlier that day to offer much needed advice, chocolates, and support – well, actually, both of them had pretty much thrown themselves in the unoccupied bed and talked about old 80s bands while munching on the semi-bitter chocolates they'd brought for their friend.
El was not complaining.
In fact, today (The Day Of) she'd woken up feeling anxious as hell. A situation that hadn't been helped at all by the fact that the two classes she had that day had been cancelled, therefore giving her nothing else to focus on until the afternoon. Actually, if it hadn't been for Will and Max's prompt and voluntary help, she'd probably be a ball of nerves right now… well, more of a ball of nerves than she currently was.
For that, she was immensely grateful.
On the other hand, Eleven felt more reassured now that Will and Max were here because she wouldn't have to make all the important decisions on her own – for instance: hairstyle, shoes, and so on. Plus, she wanted them to give their opinions about the speech she had planned for tonight.
Once the soft pink polish on her fingernails had dried, El sighed in relief as she patiently started cleaning the mess around them. The loud voice of her red head friend and the amused one of her best friend were filling the room and Eleven couldn't help a big smile. She still had time to spare until the event.
After heading for an early lunch after a whole morning together, Will had to leave since he had an essay to turn in. On the other hand, since Max had decided to skip class for a day anyway ("when you do something, do it well"), the two girls were left on their own. Soon enough, the lively redhead had managed to take Eleven's mind off tonight once again – by making El crack up as she recounted all the times she had pranked and successfully managed to "scare the shit out of Billy".
At around six, they headed back to El's dorm.
Not long after, Max was loudly singing an Adele song obnoxiously out of tune while attempting to do El's makeup. At that moment, surprisingly enough, Eleven realized she was actually feeling a lot calmer despite being less than two hours away from having to face the entire faculty. After all, and especially today, she had to admit that her friends constantly having her back probably, definitely had to do a lot with it.
Eleven could feel her eyes start to water at the thought of having such amazing people in her life (what did I do to deserve them?! Why am I getting so emotional all of a sudden?!). Her feelings were in a freaking turmoil.
"Ellie, quit blinking so much or I'll smudge this weird stuff all over your eyes and make you look like a fucking raccoon," Max complained teasingly as she tried to make El's almond eyes look even prettier.
She couldn't help the smile appearing on her face at her friend's comment and tried to refrain from moving or thinking at all.
In what felt like a couple of hours later, El was finally allowed to look at her reflection on the medium sized mirror on the wall of her dorm room. Max was standing behind her, looking immensely proud at the results of her friend's makeup and hair. And she had every reason to. Simply put: Eleven looked great.
The soft pink and dark makeup around her eyes and outlining them made them look bigger. The simple coat of gloss on her bowed lips gave her face a cute and natural look. Eleven's brown waves had been brushed back and into a half ponytail so they wouldn't frizz up and annoyingly cover her face like they usually did; now, instead, her medium sized waves fell around her face and back prettily.
El touched the soft material of her dress, smoothing down imaginary wrinkles. The soft pastel pink tone of her knee-long dress was elegant and appropriate for a formal event such as this one. However, the flare of the skirt was juvenile and sweet. As a little girl living in the orphanage, she remembered dreaming about beautiful dresses such as this one, never quite believing she would ever have the chance to wear one. Later on, while living with Brenner, she had come to believe that she was so worthless she didn't deserve anything at all. Now, as she glanced at her reflection in her mirror she wanted to believe that this was it.
This was the beginning of the rest of her life.
"You ready to impress all of those old, boring faculty teachers?" Max asked teasingly while elbowing her softly on the side.
Eleven quickly broke out of her reverie.
She could only manage a small smile at that.
I hope so.
As she slipped her short heels on, El suddenly felt the waves of anxiety come crashing down on her once again.
Oh hell no, El braced herself and stood up straighter. She wouldn't allow her insecurities to make this even harder for her.
"It'll go great," guaranteed Max confidently, somehow sensing her friend's nervousness and voicing the reassurance she desperately needed.
Eleven was sipping on a glass of the fancy champagne they were serving at the venue, trying not to think too much about the speech she had especially prepared for tonight. Despite Will and Max's encouragements and positive opinions about it, Eleven knew that if she were to read it and go over it again, she would find new faults and would probably want to write it all over again.
She was anxious like that.
It suddenly occurred to her that she was in the middle of a group of strangers.
Naturally, that thought did absolutely nothing to calm her nerves as it only allowed another wave (of a different kind of nervousness and anxiety) to crash against her already stumbling serene façade.
Older students mingled around her, smiling at everyone and acting confidently. She wished she had the courage and self-assurance to act like that. El scanned the room for a familiar face (introductions had never been her forte) and felt an immense relief wash over her when she spotted the familiar face of her Developmental Psychology professor among a group of other teachers and older students. Luckily, the nice middle-aged woman saw her too and called her over.
"Jane, it's good to see you," the professor said kindly, giving her a sincere smile, "I must say I'm not surprised to see you here."
Soon enough, introductions were made and El found herself falling into the routine of smiling prettily, listening intently, and answering questions when asked. She had done plenty of that as a child, after all. The longer she was a part of the conversation, the more she was convinced that the professors and older students were nice enough. However, Eleven couldn't bring herself to get rid of the paralyzing tension she felt accumulating deep within her.
You can't mess this up. You can't mess this up. You can't mess this up. You can't mess this up. You can't mess this up. You can't mess this up.
In the span of about eighty minutes, she felt as if she'd talked to more people than she had met during her first semester in college. Smiling faces seemed to stare at her from anywhere she turned and she could feel her own smile faltering.
How could she feel so lonely in such a crowded place?
Eleven knew that all of her feelings were probably exaggerations, but the drain she nevertheless felt was still very present.
She could feel the pressure of wanting so hard for everyone to like her. She could feel the pressure of trying to accommodate her personality to appear as the confident young woman she craved to be.
She could feel the drain of trying too hard to make everything go perfectly.
Everyone was prompted to sit down.
El could feel her hands shaking slightly.
She placed one on top of the other as an attempt to disguise her nervousness and to help keep herself together.
Soft instrumental music played on the background. She instantly recognized the soft tunes of the song that was playing: the girl from Ipanema. How could she not recognize it when he used to like listening to that song every afternoon when he came home from work and poured himself a glass of liquor? How could she not recognize the tune when it was the last beautiful sound she heard before being verbally abused by her adoptive father every single afternoon and every night?
Nothing was helping her.
The small, ruthless voice that hadn't made an appearance for months now reared its ugly head, content with her discomfort.
An introductory speech was made by the dean. Then, a couple of professors spoke about how their career changed and touched lives and how important the work of each and every person on the faculty was. A toast was made and everything seemed to be happening in fast motion. El suddenly found herself clapping for the important academic achievements that were being recognized at that moment.
All of a sudden, her Research Methods professor was on the stage and she talking about the amazing projects she'd had the pleasure to oversee that year. Then, the professor was introducing someone and calling them over to the stage.
It wasn't her.
Soon, Eleven knew she'd have to stand up in front of all of the people in the room. She'd have to stand up and deliver the best speech anyone could ever give and prove that she deserved to be there.
A girl she vaguely recognized from her Research Methods class made her way to the front of the room, where the stage was. Her pretty navy skirt made her look mature and elegant and as she unfolded the paper where her speech was written and began to read it. She looked just the right amount of nervous. Eleven looked down at her jiggling knee and soft pink dress and felt childish in comparison.
She felt insecure and scared, like a nervous little girl.
Everyone was clapping and her blushing classmate made her way back to her place.
El watched as everything around her seemed to slow down. The professor was once again talking, not talking but saying someone's name.
You stupid fool, you'll ruin it like you always ruin everything.
Eleven sat dumbfounded for a few eternal seconds.
Just leave already.
She refused to allow her insecurities to torture her any longer. How did she expect to help others the way she wanted when she hadn't even been strong enough to control her own demons? How did she expect to belong when she was still a coward?
Hadn't she been learning how to acknowledge her own feelings and emotions in order to avoid an emotional turmoil from taking over later? Hadn't she been learning and becoming more confident and stronger? Why did she have the sick need to keep comparing herself to others when she knew deep down that there was no other way than accepting herself? If she hadn't experienced all the shit she had, she probably wouldn't have made the choice to help the people she wanted to help. She wouldn't know any better.
The ruthless voice went down to a barely audible whisper. Nonetheless, it was still very much there.
Any other time she would have been frozen by the words spewed at her. She'd freeze and flee. She'd effectively self-sabotage her dreams. But this time, this was about her and, at the same time, went beyond her.
The voice of her insecurities went from muffled to nonexistent.
Everyone's eyes were on her as she stood up from her seat at the middle of the room and walked up to the stage. As she concentrated in taking a step at time, for the first time, El did not think about what everyone was probably thinking about her. Suddenly, she was glancing down at all the faces in the room and, for the first time, she didn't see enemies… but just simple people sitting down.
Eleven's voice filled the room and she was surprised to notice that it sounded a lot more confident than she actually felt, it didn't falter or break. The words she had practiced flowed easily out of her mouth without her needing to glance down at the sheet of paper on the stand and she felt almost as if she was on her own, in the solitude of her bedroom. She continued on, not even noticing the time passing, and finished her speech without a single glitch. Just as she was about to let out a relieved breath, her professor, sitting on a chair in the first row, gave her a thumbs up and a smile.
Everyone started clapping.
El made her careful way down the few steps of the stage and tried to find her seat. The smiling faces of the people in the room no longer felt menacing, but welcoming and she felt a bubble of pure joy swelling up in her chest. Her feet felt a lot lighter, as if she was walking in a dream. Nothing was truly registering on her fuzzy brain and, all of a sudden, she found herself sitting down comfortably.
She saw her professor standing up again to introduce something else, but she was so thoroughly relieved the only thing she could do at the moment was smile.
The lights dimmed and a soft song started playing. Colorful pictures filled the screens in the room. It wasn't until she heard the voices that she finally focused on what was going on in the video.
Familiar faces looked down at her from the big screens.
What in the world?
A tall, pale boy smiled as he took in the emotions reflecting on Jane Ives' blushing face as the video progressed.
He was sitting on a strategic spot, expectantly waiting for this moment to come and to be able to watch her reaction.
Mike had been planning the surprise ever since Eleven had fleetingly mentioned the ceremony and Max confirmed to him just how important it was and how nervous El was about it. One of the things that worried him the most had been the possibilities of her recognizing him amongst the crowd.
Ever since they had grown back together, one of the main topics of conversation had been her project for the semester. It was focused on doing on a small scale what she wanted to dedicate herself to doing once she graduated: Eleven had been counseling orphan children from the small town's children's home. From the beginning, El had enthusiastically thrown herself into the project, to the point that she begun helping out at the orphanage even on days that weren't scheduled in her research.
Her hypothesis for the project had been pretty simple: developing techniques to help children from difficult backgrounds will help them improve their academic performance. However, the longer El went on with the project, the better she realized just how much caring and attention could influence these children's lives. She saw herself in them, scared and sad and tiny and alone.
Even from the outside, it was obvious to Mike just how passionately she felt about this project and the children involved.
Because of that, and because he knew how much all of it meant to her, Mike had gone to the children's home a few days ago with an idea in mind. The original plan had been to take a picture of the children and make them sign it for her. Nevertheless, he hadn't counted on how strongly these kids felt about El – they insisted that each of them should have the chance to say something nice to her and, since some of them didn't even know how to write, Mike had decided to prepare a short video.
The other original plan had been for him to display the edited video on the surprise celebratory barbecue Max was organizing for her friend. However, seeing how pale and stressed El had become as the days passed, and considering that Max's party was going to be three days after the ceremony (Saturday afternoon), Mike had decided to change it. She deserved this day to be the best of her life, she deserved recognition for all her hard and passionate work.
Therefore, the tall boy had gone out of his way to make the projection of the five minute video possible during the ceremony. Actually, he had gotten lucky because achieving that was easier than he thought it would be – Eleven's Research Methods professor (who had been thrilled at the idea) had helped a lot, probably because she had noticed how much effort El had put into the project.
As the short video came to an end, Mike noticed the bleariness on El's eyes and realized she was barely holding back tears. For a moment, he wondered if he had made a very big mistake (again). The soft smile on her lips, however, soon made him understand that she was very happy. And realizing that was enough to make up for all those hours editing the video. Hell, it was all so worth it he wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again.
The video ended and the room filled with the roaring sound of clapping, he saw people turn around and congratulate El.
Amidst all the noise and confusion, nobody noticed a pale, lanky boy slipping away from the event.
Simply put: it had been the best night of her life.
El floated back to her dorm in a daze, replaying the beautiful and simple words the children had said about her.
It had been unexpected and amazing, though mysterious in a way. When she had the chance to talk to her professor, she had profusely thanked her for the video, thinking that she'd definitely had something to do with it.
"It's not me you've got to thank," the middle aged woman said, "I only approved it being shown tonight."
Will, El immediately thought, feeling only fondness for her oldest friend, that's why he left early today.
Despite it being past eleven o'clock, the dorm building was buzzing with people. For Eleven, however, this made no difference. The only thing she could think about at the moment was what a nice time she'd had.
With a smile, El entered her darkened bedroom and closed the door.
Saturday 12th, May 2018 (Morning)
Ruego al tiempo aquel momento (I beg the time for that moment)
En que mi mundo se paraba (in which my world stopped)
Entre tus labios (between your lips)
Solo para revivir (Only to relive)
Derretirme una vez más (and melt once again)
Mirando tus ojos negros (gazing at your dark eyes)
Sunrays were gently warming her face, foreshadowing the beginning of a pleasant spring. Eleven was currently sitting cross-legged on the floor of a dorm building's rooftop, munching on a huge oatmeal cookie and with her mind lost elsewhere (no surprise there, really). Max had somehow managed to guarantee they could use the rooftop of her building for the day and not be bothered by the other residents.
A soft foreign ballad sounded softly in the background (where did Max get this music from?). About fifteen people were sitting or standing around, eating and talking lazily. The feeling of relax the end of the semester brought could be felt as palpably as the milder weather.
Mother's Day was just a day away and El was thinking about how happy Joyce would be to see Will and her tomorrow.
She'd actually wanted to travel on Friday, so they could spend the weekend together. Max insistence, nevertheless, weighted more at the end ("You forced me to confess my surprise for you Eleven! The least you could do is stay for a day and enjoy it") and El decided to stay a bit longer and take the night bus home.
"WILL!" Max shrieked suddenly, startling everyone, as the door to the rooftop opened and the small boy's head peeked at them, a shy smile on his face.
Will had been MIA since Wednesday. El had texted him first thing on Thursday to thank him for the video and for being so nice, but he hadn't replied. She had just figured that maybe her best friend was busy with finals and last minute assignments or something.
The small boy however stood behind the door, making no move to join them. El frowned, his nervous expression was a telling sign that maybe something was very wrong. Dread began pooling in her lower stomach as her brain went over the last few times they had talked and hanged together, desperately trying to spot a sign that could explain his awkwardness now. She looked around, wondering if everyone felt as lost and worried as she was currently feeling at the moment.
As she glanced around the group of people in the rooftop, El' gaze accidentally locked with a pair of dark, confused eyes. Before she had the chance to register everything and blush, Will spoke up.
"I, um, want you guys to meet someone," the small boy said nervously, his awkward shuffling evident even though most of his body was blocked by the heavy door.
The door was opened wider and Will walked in, a bespectacled, olive-skinned boy following him closely. Both of them sat down on the improvised mat on the floor as everyone awaited expectantly.
"This is Bill, my boyfriend," Will said with a blush, "we've been together for three months now and I thought that maybe it was time you guys met him too."
"Nice to meet you Bill!" Max said with a big smile, almost interrupting Will in her excitement.
"Is that a Star Wars shirt?" Dustin asked rhetorically, "Oh we're going to get along just fine."
Introductions were made and soon enough everyone was talking loudly again.
"I'm starving," Dustin complained after a while, "do you have any more of these cookies? We're almost done with them."
"This was supposed to be a barbecue, the question is: are we having that for lun-" Lucas began asking loudly, looking pointedly at Max.
" –the real question is: when are we having lunch?" Mike interrupted teasingly, rolling his eyes at the fuming redhead.
The redhead gave them both withering glares. Everyone knew she hated cooking (plus, it was just not her forte).
"The grill is over there," Max said, pointing at it.
"It's waiting for you to unleash your culinary magic on it," El said with a smile, earning a giggle from Max.
"Lucas is actually a good cook," the redhead commented to the group, earning some skeptic glances from a few people.
"He is!" Max defended herself.
"Why are you talking about me as if I'm not here?" said Lucas loudly to his girlfriend as he gave her a fake scowl.
The couple's fun banter continued as some people stood up and volunteered to help out with the barbecue.
El was watching them with a smile as Mike suddenly plopped down on the floor next to her.
Afternoon was drawing closer and, despite feeling excited to see Joyce again, El found herself wishing she could have more time to hang out with her friends before vacation began. If there was a way to somehow freeze time while still living in it she would be happy, she thought dreamily.
It was just dawning on her how long three months truly was – if a lot could happen in the span of a few hours, anything seemed possible in ninety days!
She noticed that most of the people with her on the roof seemed sleepy – probably due to the last few academically stressful weeks and them gorging themselves on food all day long. Four of her friends were dozing off on the few beanbags Max had brought. Lucas' head was resting on Max's lap, while she distractedly played with his short hair.
Will was the only one standing, looking out at campus. Bill had left after lunch since he had a plane to catch. El walked over to her best friend and stood next to him.
"I never got a chance to thank you," the brunette girl said with a sincere smile, "it was so thoughtful."
The thin boy looked confused for a second.
"What do you mean Ellie?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.
"The video?" she said but, if Will's expression was any indication, it didn't seem to ring a bell, "the one during the faculty's event?"
"Someone made a video for you and projected it during your ceremony thingy?"
El nodded, feeling confused herself.
"That's something sweet to do, especially during finals week," Will said with a smile, "it wasn't me El."
"Then wh-" she began but cut herself short as she followed Will's hazel eyes to the group of people sitting lazily.
They fell into a comfortable silence for a moment.
"I don't know," the small boy said, turning his kind gaze towards her, "but if you never ask you'll never know."
El rolled her eyes at him.
"Love has got you all cheesy Byers."
Tengo ganas de ser aire (I want to be air)
Y me respires para siempre (so you could breathe me forever)
Pues no tengo nada que perder (because I've got nothing to lose)
Todo el tiempo estoy pensando en ti (I'm thinking about you all the time)
En el brillo del sol en un rincón del cielo (about the sun shining in a corner of the sky)
Todo el tiempo estoy pensando en ti (I'm thinking about you all the time)
En el eco del mar que retumba en tus ojos, soñé (about the echo of the sea rumbling in your eyes, I dreamt)
Will had already left and it was already a bit late. El had to get going or she wouldn't have enough time to pack up. She hugged everyone goodbye, she would miss them.
"Have a good trip home!" someone shouted as she stepped out and closed the door to the rooftop.
Eleven made super quick work of her clothes, not even folding them as she piled them up into her large suitcase. Soon enough and surprising even herself, she was almost done packing up. Her room looking so bare made something twist inside of her. For some reason, she couldn't muster any excitement.
Who knew she would feel so nostalgic about leaving this after less than a year?
It's not the place, it's the people, a tiny voice inside her whispered.
She sat on her empty mattress, feeling her gut clenching and wondering why she felt something was missing.
And, oh, she knew perfectly what was missing. But she was good – too good – at lying to herself.
El knew perfectly well that she had been expecting Mike to say something, anything, to her. She couldn't have been too naïve again to confuse things again and believe that her feelings were once again one-sided. Right?
But it was her last day on campus and she had patiently waited, feeling the disappointment hampering with the happiness she'd been feeling those months – which had been great and had only seemed to get better.
Will's words jumped to her mind "if you never ask, you'll never know". Hadn't she decided to be brave and stand up to her thoughts and feelings?
Why should I wait for him to say something?
El glanced at the numbers on her phone screen, she still had an hour and a half before her bus left. She didn't think it twice before jumping to the door and sprinting out of her dorm room and into the stairs. Eleven frantically descended the flights of stairs and made it to the front door on record time, not even noticing the funny looks the other students and staff gave her on her haste.
Just as she hurriedly exited the building, someone materialized in front of her, causing El to smash face first into their body.
The person steadied her and, unsurprisingly, Eleven glanced up to meet Mike's amused dark gaze.
"Why are we always bumping into each other outside of buildings?!" El blurted out the first thought on her mind.
Mike chuckled at her.
"Why are you running?" he wondered.
Because I'm tired of waiting around and decided to finally tell you about my undying love…nah, it wouldn't do.
El blushed feeling a bit embarrassed at her own thoughts.
And I thought Will was the cheesy one.
"Why are you here?" she asked, trying to dodge his question.
"I thought that someone should come, you know, to help with all those suitcases you'll have to drag down seven flights of stairs," he said.
Of course, he was right and Eleven hadn't even thought about the odyssey that would have been for her. Her chest warmed up with a familiar feeling. He was still so close.
Without overthinking (a first) she stood on the balls of her feet and kissed him.
At first, he froze at the unexpected contact, just as surprised as she felt. She didn't let go, however, and instead pressed her lips against his a bit more insistently, desperately hoping that it would work out. Soon, Mike eased into the kiss as he cupped El's face in his hands and lowered his face.
And she melted.
Eleven could no longer feel anything but the parts of her in contact with him, like points of heat that radiated warmth and tickly tingles all the way throughout her body. Her fingers also reached up and cupped his structured face, drawing patterns with her fingers, imagining she was creating images with the smattering of adorable freckles on his cheeks.
A/N: It was great coming this far, thank you all for your continued support (especially EmiliaHG, AliKatt, iAmCC and everyone else who took the time to write something and make me happy)! I'll definitely be back with more as soon as law school lets me have some time to myself.