All things considered, there were few aspects of her new life that Eleven didn't enjoy. School was not nearly as exciting as she'd built it up in her mind, though she delighted in the normalcy of it all nevertheless. But the best time, she'd discovered, were the hours after the final bell rang at school but before Hopper expected her to come to the police station for a sign of life and possibly a ride home. The benign neglect that was the domain of the latchkey child was rife with possibilities and, most importantly, freedom.
The primary threat to these sweet unsupervised hours was the school weapon of choice: detention. Eleven wasn't entirely sure what she thought detention would be like, but she'd been careful to avoid getting into trouble at school because she didn't trust most adults to be fair (or even, frankly, not downright cruel) and she feared the unknown. The potential loss of the premium after school hours weren't worth misbehaving for her own sake, but when it came to defending her friends, priorities shifted.
Science was Mike's favorite subject and Eleven's least favorite. English was harder given her lagging vocabulary and fluency, but at least it didn't involve white coats and experiments. Mr. Smith, the science teacher was an older man who looked like he wanted to be just about anywhere but Hawkins High School. According to Jonathan and Nancy, he simply copied the same notes he'd been using for the last decade onto the chalkboard at the front of the room and you might as well just read the text book as go to class. That made it easier Mike to help Eleven study for the class in advance to prevent her from making embarrassing mistakes, but it made the class itself even less tolerable.
After a particularly confusing and mind numbing lecture on recessive and dominant genes that would have gone directly over Eleven's head but for the study hall spent previewing the chapter, Mr. Smith passed out worksheets meant to occupy the remainder of the class period with minimal effort from him.
"You'll need to record the following traits for yourselves, your siblings if you have them and your parents, then complete the grid for each trait showing the possible permutations for dominant and recessive genes that have been passed to you and which traits you personally exhibit. Do what you can now, complete the rest for homework."
The classroom was organized into two person tables facing the front of the room and assigned seating meant to minimize talking. Eleven was lucky enough to be seated with Dustin at a rear table immediately behind Will who was stuck sitting with Melissa Johnson who seemed offended by his mere existence.
"Don't forget to include the crazy gene on yours, Zombie Boy," the fact that she was whispering did nothing to hide the contempt from her voice.
Eleven watched Will shrink and heard the words leaving her mouth before she even realized she was speaking them, "And don't forget the bitch gene on yours, Melissa."
Dustin nearly suffered an aneurysm in his attempt to swallow his laughter and ultimately tried to pass it all off as a coughing fit. Their teacher had tucked himself behind his own desk and was paying no attention whatsoever to the class.
"Whatever," the girl shot back at Eleven, "From what I hear, there are plenty of crazy genes in your family, too."
It took Eleven a moment to register that this beastly little girl was actually insulting Mama. Mama who was not crazy, but was a damned hero for risking her own life to try to rescue El only to tragically be trapped in the never ending dream circle for her efforts.
Eleven's eyes narrowed and she could feel he electricity build in her brain even though she could hear Mike whispering sharply, "Don't do it! She's not worth it!"
"I don't have a crazy gene," Eleven ground out, her words laced with venom. "But I do have a murder you in your sleep gene so you'd better watch. Your. Back." Melissa flinched at El's emphasis on the last three words and Eleven turned back only to find the previously oblivious teacher staring right at her. Evidently, she'd not been as quiet as she'd intended.
"Since you would rather spend your time threatening classmates," he drawled in a nasally condescending tone that made her want to explode the florescent lights hanging over his head, "you can remain after class in detention and work on your assignment then."
And that was how Eleven found herself sitting in the library after the final bell along with the class skippers and the back talkers instead of hanging out with friends. It certainly wasn't her first choice for how to spend an hour of the afternoon, but having now actually experienced detention, Eleven decided that she was completely unimpressed. Sitting in silence working on homework assignments for an hour hardly qualified as a punishment in her mind and she couldn't understand why the other detainees felt it was such a hardship. Lightweights, she thought unsympathetically.
"Alright ladies and gentlemen," the school guidance counselor announced, "You've done your time, detention is over. Come to the front of the room to collect your detention slips. Have your parents sign them and turn them into the office before first period or plan on staying after school again tomorrow afternoon."
That was a wrinkle Eleven hadn't counted on. She'd figured out that Hopper wouldn't be expecting her to check in until well after detention was over so she just planned on not telling Hopper anything unusual had happened at school. She still remained unimpressed with detention as far as punishments went, but was now somewhat disappointed that she would no doubt have to explain what she'd done to get herself into trouble begin with and put up with the inevitable lecture. Still, she thought, it was worth it.
She slid her books into her backpack, collected the slip of paper with her name on it from the desk at the front of the room and made her way into the nearly empty hallways. Her friends, unsurprisingly, were waiting for her release.
"We didn't want to leave you behind," Mike explained.
"And I felt kind of guilty since you only said it because you were standing up for me," Will added.
"Which, by the way, was fantastic," Dustin told her grinning. "Bitch gene."
"We still have time to do something," Mike pointed out.
"Arcade?" Max suggested.
"I could go for unseating you at Ghosts and Goblins," Lucas taunted.
"In your dreams, Stalker," she snorted.
El merely listened to the banter as they walked out of the building toward the bike rack, appreciating the contrast of warm afternoon sun and crisp autumn breeze. And then she noticed the familiar vehicle waiting for her at the curb.
"You do know that they call the parents whenever kids get held after school, right?" Hopper asked Eleven rhetorically, he leaned on his elbow through the open window.
"I do now," she told him grudgingly.
"It was my fault," Will announced looking like he'd just volunteered to martyr himself.
"It wasn't your fault," Mike corrected him.
"Yeah," Dustin said, "Melissa Johnson needs to learn to keep her mouth shut."
"It really was the perfect burn," Max told Hopper as though this was an accomplishment he might actually be proud of.
"Alright, alright," Hopper barked, growing tired of the chorus that he appeared to have inherited along with Eleven. "Just tell me what happened."
"Another girl was making fun of Will," Mike spoke up, figuring he could downplay the whole thing with the proper summary, "So El told her off and got in trouble for talking while we were supposed to be working."
"Is that it?" the unspoken question of whether or not she'd used any sort of powers hung in the air.
"Yes," El confirmed noting that Mike's version was technically accurate while simultaneously lacking in any detail. This was a skill she needed to master.
"Alright kid," he told her, "I'm gonna be late tonight, so I need you to go home with Will and eat dinner there. I'll come get you from the Byers', got it?"
Eleven nodded, pleased that the entire incident passed without lecture.
Once she was no longer in hiding, Hopper at least attempted to make arrangements for Eleven to spend evenings at the Byers' whenever he knew he was going to be lates instead of leaving her home alone. She suspected it had little to do with her benefit and everything to do with his, but she kept that observation to herself. Mrs. Byers was sweet and doting in a way that Hopper wasn't and she and Will would forever share a special kinship so she was happy to make the Byers' house a second home. Eleven and Will sat at the kitchen table after dinner had been cleared away, working on homework while Mrs. Byers washed the dinner dishes.
"What color are dad's eyes?"
"Brown. I think," She paused a moment before stating more confidently, "yes, they're brown."
Another several minutes passed before Will asked, "Does he have a widow's peak?"
"You know, where your hair comes to a little point on your forehead?"
"What is this for?" she asked instead of answering.
"We need to fill out the chart on inherited traits for biology," Will explained.
The significance of the fact that Will no longer had a particularly detailed mental image of his own father was not lost on anyone.
"Just make it up," Jonathan suggested. "It doesn't matter if it's accurate, the point is to learn how genetics work."
Eleven watched the scene play out and realized that her own worksheet was bound to be equally inaccurate. She could fill it out correctly for Mama and even though it made no sense for the assignment, she based her answers on Hopper because that was her story and the only rule as important as "don't use your powers in public" was "stick to your story."
It was just a stupid homework assignment for a class she cared about almost as little as the teacher did. But still. There were right answers she could be writing and that was hard not to think about.
"You ok?" Jonathan asked El softly, not wanting to startle her. Hopper had not yet come to collect her, his mother was busy with household chores and Will was taking his nightly shower. Eleven sat in the living room, ignoring the book on her lap and staring into space.
"Yes," she answered reflexively and then after a pause added, "Can I ask you a question?"
Eleven and Jonathan rarely spoke. Aside from the fact that they were both fairly quiet people, whenever Eleven was around, she gravitated to Will or Mrs. Byers and she'd just never really been alone with Jonathan much.
"Lonnie. He's your father. You and Will."
"Well, yeah. I mean, technically."
"Technically?" she asked. The word was not entirely familiar, but it didn't make sense to her in this context.
"Yes, he's our father," Jonathan clarified, "no, he's never acted like it. Does that answer your question?"
"How was he supposed to act?"
"There's not really one right answer to that," Jonathan thought a moment before continuing to answer the question. It wasn't something he'd really attempted to articulate before, though he had a clear picture in his mind of what he would have wanted from a father. "Giving a shit would be a good start. When Will was missing, Lonnie wouldn't even call my mom back. He acted sad at the funeral when he thought Will was dead, but when we found him alive, he didn't even come to the hospital. He doesn't really want anything to do with us unless there's something in it for him. Sometimes it's attention, sometimes it's because he wants us to make him feel good. But it's always for him, never for us. There are lots of ways to act like a father, but that's not it. He may be our father because of biology, but there's more to being a real father."
Eleven didn't say anything in response, but just took in what Jonathan had said.
"I'm sorry," he told her, not quite sure how to read her expression, "that was kind of a rant. He just makes me so angry, you know?"
"Papa makes me angry too," El told him sympathetically.
"Yeah, I can only imagine. But you've got Hopper," Jonathan added optimistically.
"But we don't have biology," Eleven explained, incorporating her new vocabulary word.
Jonathan had the sinking sensation that he'd just opened Pandora's box and he tried his best to close it.
"Some family you're born with, some family you choose," he explained plainly, hoping she'd just take it at face value. "It's still family."
"But it's not the same," she pointed out.
"Says who? If someone gets married, their wife or husband is their family, right?"
"So see?" Jonathan concluded with more confidence than he actually felt, "Some family you choose. Still family."
"Yes, but you can un-choose that kind of family," Eleven countered having clearly thought this through.
"And I un-chose Lonnie," Jonathan countered back, undeterred. "The family you're born with isn't necessarily any better or worse than the family you choose."
Eleven stewed on this for a moment and then weighed whether or not to disclose her additional information to Jonathan. She had not told anyone so far, but Will often said that he could go to Jonathan with anything so she decided to take the chance.
"I have a father," she announced, "One with biology."
"Well sure you do, you'd have to," Jonathan responded without thinking and then it occurred to him that there was more to that statement than he'd first thought. "Wait a minute, do you know who he is?"
Eleven nodded slowly. "Aunt Becky showed me a picture."
"Does Hopper know?"
She shook her head, eyes as wide as saucers.
"Doesn't matter," Eleven shrugged as though it didn't matter even though it mattered a lot. "He's gone anyway."
The front window lit up with approaching headlights effectively ending the conversation.