Thank you guys for your patience! I know it takes me a minute to put out these chapters but I'm so grateful that you guys understand!
This chapter is a little more on the comedic side which was definitely a bit of a stretch for me given I'm much better at writing dramas.
So let me know what you think, good bad, or whatever. I'm always open to your ideas! - salavibes
She pulled her trembling hand away right before she could pick up the phone and now she was back at square one
This had been her fifth attempt of the day but even as close as she was, she just couldn't.
She would gather up the courage to call but before she could pick up the phone she'd retreat, and then just sit there staring down at the ragged sticky note in her hand with the number that was forever burned in her memory.
It was crazy to think she had waited desperately for this exact moment for years. She would often dream about this opportunity for the longest, knowing she would've given anything in the world just to hear the sound of his voice again.
And here it was finally in reach. It was no longer an unanswered prayed or some far fetched notion but it was real, it was tangible and it was staring her right in the face but for some reason she couldn't seem to shake the crippling anxiety that left her paralyzed.
Elle's attention snapped to the front door when she heard the sound of keys rattling, opening the lock.
She sprung away from the phone and scooted onto the couch, where she quickly grabbed the remote and began flipping through the channels.
"Hey." She casually played off, hearing as Max walked through the door.
"Hey." Max huffed back, carelessly throwing her bag and keys onto the table before heading straight towards the kitchen.
El raised a brow, turning to see the redhead frantically rummaging through their refrigerator.
"Shit, how are we out of beer?" Max slammed the fridge door shut.
"Beats me, you're the only one who drinks it." Elle replied unbothered, turning back towards the TV.
Elle shot around puzzled to see Max pulling out a bottle from the very back of one of the cabinets.
"No vodka, no jack, but we have Chardonnay?" Max groaned in disgust. "I can't believe the only damn alcohol we have in this place is Chardonnay! like why do we even have this?" She began to butt her head against the cabinets out of frustration.
Elle only answered her with a simple shrug and Max heaved a defeated sigh and popped off the bottle's top before she went and plopped on the couch right beside her, kicking off her shoes in the process.
"Bad day, huh?" El eyed her over, taking in her friend's disheveled appearance.
Max's hair was terribly messy having loosened from her tight bun she sported just this morning and her navy blue scrubs were soiled with unidentifiable stains.
"That would be an understatement." Max took a large swig of wine and closed her eyes momentarily, relishing the alcohol.
"Today was an absolute shit show. It was like all the kids conspired against me and decided to scream bloody murder and throw tantrums my whole shift. Like I literally almost had to pin down this ten year old asshole just for his chicken pox shot and I swear if his mom wasn't in the room. I would've body slammed him to the table."
Elle winced sympathetically then offered her a small smile. "Well look at it this way, it won't be long before you'll become an official registered nurse then soon you'll be able to venture away from the pediatric side of things."
"Wow, I received optimistic encouragement in a little under a minute." Max sarcastically snorted, glancing at her pretend watch. "I didn't even get to vent as long this time. I'm impressed Elle, I think you might've broken a new record." she said, a slow smirk crossing her face as she brought the bottle to her lips once more.
"Oh, shut up." Elle rolled her eyes, gently slapping her friend on the arm.
Max chuckled under her breath but her face brightened as she recalled how pivotal today was for her friend. She sat straight up and turned so eagerly towards Elle you'd hardly believe she'd suffered a tough day. "So, tell me, how did it go?"
Elle didn't bother looking her way, purposely avoiding her gaze by keeping her focus on the soap opera she hadn't had any interest in until now. "You know.." she trailed, sinking back into the couch.
She could feel Max's expectant stare linger and she knew she couldn't try to hide even if she wanted to. "..It didn't."
"What do you mean it didn't?" Max practically shouted in disbelief. "Did he not answer?"
"Well, um.." Elle shrunk back, nervously picking at the loose threads in their couch.
Max's expression fell upon realization. You never called him.. did you?" she asked flatly.
"What the hell? Max asked incredulous nearly dropping the bottle from her hand from her frantic gestures. "Why not?" She stopped herself before she could proceed any further noticing how disheartened Elle appeared. "I don't understand.." She looked in her eyes, softening her tone. "You've wanted this for as long as I've known you. What's wrong?"
"I know.." Elle swallowed, concern growing prevalent in her face. "It's just.. when I left him all those years ago, I know it crushed him." Her voice began to tremble slightly. "And I'm scared that if I suddenly show up out of nowhere it'll just bring up the pain of the past. Like what if he wanted to forget it? Or what if he's moved on and happy and I just come along out of the blue and ruin everything?"
"Elle." Max placed a comforting hand on her arm. "You're overthinking this."
"But he could be in a serious relationship for all I know." Elle suddenly began to spill her pressing worries. "Or.. Or married?" She stuttered, her voice growing more panic stricken by the second. "
"Ooh.. damn, she's a homewrecker."
Elle shot her a grave stare. "Max, I'm serious." She then let out a defeated groan, groveling her face into her hands. "I don't know what to do."
Max sat up straight and cleared her throat. "Look at me."
Elle raised her head slightly from her hands and glanced her way, eyebrows furrowed.
"No, you're not looking at me." She raised her voice this time, her expression turning serious. "Actually look at me."
Elle sighed and reluctantly turned to face Max.
"From what I've gathered about this Mike guy given I haven't met him. I know two things. He really loved you and you really loved him. Well love.. You still love him." Max clarified. "It's been six years now and you're still in love with a guy you met during high school which I honestly can't even begin to wrap my mind around."
She shook her head to get herself back on topic. "But anyways, if what you said was true than I know he's been waiting to hear your voice just as long as you've been waiting to hear his." Max briefly smiled, her gaze not wandering in the slightest. "And if worst case scenario does happen and he's married or whatever than at least he got to have that closure you know, instead of carrying the burden of never knowing what happened to you for the rest of his life."
El slowly nodded, as she took everything in.
A knot of guilt was forming in the pit of her stomach making her feel nauseous. She couldn't even begin to imagine the weight that Mike must've carried with him over the years, the uncertainty of never actually knowing what happened to her or where she was.
Of course this hadn't been the first time Elle dwelled on this but that was definitely before she had the freedom she had now.
What was her excuse this time? That she couldn't bring herself to at least call him because the idea that he'd possibly moved on was just too much to bear?
He deserved to know.
"Now repeat after me."
Max bore into her with her gaze. "Stop with the questions and just do it."
"I, Elle Ives." .
"I.. Elle Ives.." Elle repeated less enthused.
"Am a strong, smart, and kick ass woman!"
"Really?" Elle slightly cringed but Max's stare only hardened and she knew she shouldn't have even asked.
Elle sighed. "Am a strong, smart and kick" she whispered the swear. "ass.. woman."
"Who is going to pick up the phone and call Mike right now."'
"Wait, right now?"
Max crossed her arms. "Yes, now."
"Who is going to pick up the phone and call Mike right now." Elle rushed, knowing now that she spoke it, it was a done deal.
"Because not only does he deserve closure, but I deserve it too."
Max offered a pleased smile as she listened to Elle repeat the last line with a little more confidence. "Good, you're ready. Now take this." she said handing over the champagne bottle to the muddled brunette. "You're gonna need it more than me."
Elle's heartbeat quickened knowing she was about to actually go through with this call. She wasn't much of a drinker but regardless she took a sip from the bottle anyways hoping it would help ease her nerves.
She sat there twisting the cord anxiously, holding the phone in her hand while Max just sat beside her and watched her expectantly.
After having turned off the T.V she held her breath and rapidly dialed the number she already knew by heart.
She closed her eyes tightly while anticipating the ominous ring but slowly opened them when she realized it never came.
Max and Elle shared the same confused glances.
"Did you put in the right number?"
"I'm pretty sure." Elle showed Max the scribbled note. "But I'll try again." She then punched in the exact same sequence of numbers much slower this time but there was still not so much as even a ring only the sound of a heavy hum.
Max grabbed the phone as she tried herself. "Damn it, he must've changed his number." she muttered, after her attempt failed.
"It's been years." Elle threw her hands up in frustration. "What was I thinking? of course he wouldn't have the same number."
"Wait what about your other friends from Hawkins? Don't you have any of their numbers?"
"No." Elle frowned. "I used to have Will's, but I lost it during my last move."
The only thing she could literally do at this point now was write Mike a letter and only hope to God that he hadn't changed his address.
Elle no longer could keep the dark thoughts at bay as they suddenly filled her mind, drowning out the advice Max had just recently given her.
Maybe it just wasn't meant to be and he was much better off now without her.
She should just finally accept what the universe was clearly handing her.
She had loved and she had lost, but at least she had the opportunity to love.
A real love too, something far greater than anyone could conjure up in some old fairy tale story or song..
Something true, wholesome, and pure.
"It's over Max." Elle slumped all the way onto the couch until she was lying down. "I guess I just need to let it go."
Max simply ignored her as she left the living room, leaving her to just stare at the ceiling alone.
Wow, even her best friend was done with her.
Elle wasn't surprised really, if she were in Max's place she would've probably been long gone too.
She hadn't been with anyone since Mike. She just couldn't bare to put another person through the torment she had put him through and also if she was being honest, she hadn't any interest in other men apart from him.
Max had never said it, but then again she didn't have to. Elle knew she didn't understand why she wasn't more like other women their age who could move on and start dating again without giving it a second thought.
She knew, because whenever Max would head over to a man's house with her overnight bag, the redhead would never fail to give Elle the same peculiar look as if to say "How haven't you been with anyone in years?"
Elle also knew, because after she'd denied every single double date outing or blind date Max would often try to get her to go on she eventually gave up, not once mentioning setting her up again.
Max has always been so patient with her.
And even though Elle has only ever told her bits and pieces of her and Mike's story, Max had been there to encourage her through it all even despite her lack of understanding.
But now she guessed it was more than Max could even handle.
"So." Max cleared her throat loudly as to make her presence known causing El to startle as she swiftly sprung up right on the couch.
The redhead appeared to have just gotten out of the shower. Her hair was damp and she was now changed from her dirty scrubs into a long shirt and pajama pants.
Had she really been sulking that long?
Elle watched curiously as her friend approached her tapping an envelope to the open palm of her hand.
"I had this whole thing mapped out for weeks and I was hoping to give this to you after you had the chance to talk to Mike but…" she rolled her eyes, with a grunt. "Guess not."
Max's irritated expression shifted into a smile at her friend's confusion. "But.. surprise." she handed Elle the envelope.
Elle hesitantly took the envelope from her hand. She then opened it slightly to find two tickets laying inside. "Max, I appreciate the gesture." she said closing it back up. "But I thought I told you. No more rock concerts, especially not since the last one we went to was such a disaster." she shuddered at the memory. "This is nice and all, but it's just not really my thing."
"Yeah, Yeah, I know." Max huffed, rolling her eyes. "But in my defense, how was I supposed to know that the first Pearl Jam concert I took you to you'd get drenched in flying beer and accidentally puked on by some drunk guy the same night?"
Elle shook her head, extending her hand to give her friend back the envelope.
"Which is also why.." A confident smirk began to play on Max's face. "I didn't buy us concert tickets." she proudly stated, pushing it back in her hand.
Elle didn't even want to think about what crazy event Max was trying to drag her to this time.
She was never one for parties, clubs, or rock concerts preferring to stay home and listen to classical while snuggled up with a good book to read and a warm cup of coffee.
But Max was again her total opposite and even though Elle tried to appease her for the most part, knowing that she was just trying to cheer her up. But there were just some things she wouldn't go to, even if Max paid her.
Elle sighed while she opened the envelope again, fully this time.
She gently took out the two white tickets and angled them towards the light so she could get a better view.
After Elle read them, she put them down and her jaw dropped. "You didn't." she gasped, looking back at Max as if to confirm what she just saw was real.
"Oh, but I did."
These weren't sporadic event tickets to another dumb concert like she had initially thought, no.
Instead there were two airplane tickets scheduled for a round-trip to Hawkins, Indiana for this weekend until the following Monday.
Elle nearly leapt from the couch and wrapped Max into a huge bear hug. "Max This is crazy! Oh my god!" she squealed. "is this for real?"
"It's for real." Max proudly smiled to herself as she hugged her back, certain that she hadn't seen her friend that happy about anything since she's known her. "We're going to Hawkins baby!"
Elle pulled away as a question tugged at the back of her mind. "Wait, but I have work." she cringed, her previous excitement stilling.
"Actually… you don't." Max answered, sitting back on the couch with a devilish grin.
"What do you mean?"
"I called your manager yesterday and told them that you had a family emergency. He said to take as much time as you need." Max replied not fazed, as she casually flipped through the channels until she landed on "The Terminator."
"Wait, what!" Elle grabbed the remote from her hand and muted the T.V. earning her an annoyed look. "You lied?"
"A little white lie never hurt anybody." Max waved off, snatching the remote back and turning up the volume. "Plus, you've been loyal to that shitty coffee shop for years, they owe you one anyways."
"Although I don't condone the lying." Elle allowed her frown to turn into a gentle smile. "Thank you Max, this really is the best gift ever."
Inwardly Elle was screaming for joy. She was excited, nervous, happy, and scared all at the same time and she did her best to mask her wide range of emotions as much as she could.
"You know what you should actually be thanking me for?" Max snorted, her eyes still glued to the television."You should be thanking me for not trading in those tickets for a flight to New York or something."
The redhead pulled out a crumbled State of Indiana brochure from her pocket. "Because I did my research and you know what fun shit they have to do in Hawkins? Absolutely nothing." she groaned in exaggeration while waving the brochure in Elle's face.
Elle rolled her eyes, giggling at her friend's antics. "No offense, but why did you buy yourself a ticket?" she settled, glancing at her curiously.
"Because." Max gave her a huge shit eating grin. "I have to finally meet this Mike dude that my best friend has been so head over heels in love with since high school." she teasingly replied in a mocking tone. "You know, to see if he's really all that like you say. Or to see if you were just blinded by teenage angst and hormones with impossible ideals of a hopeless romance."
Elle clicked her tongue. "Geez, you make me sound like some cheesy soap opera."
"But I just have to know one thing." Max asked suddenly intrigued as she lifted her index finger.
Max glanced at her with a glint of mischief in her eyes. "How good was he in the sack?"
"Like seriously he must've been mind blowing right?"
"Oh my god, stop." Elle pushed at her before grabbing the remote and turning up the TV to purposely drown out her laughing friend before she could make any more crude remarks.
The sun peeked from behind the endless row of trees that blended together into a warm teal.
The soft sound of the cascading brook and bird calls along with the familiar fragrance of pine sifted through the car's vents and filled its interior.
Her senses began to pluck memories from the back of her mind. Those that were once faint, now heightening, as if they'd managed to finally break free and escape.
She closed her eyes, savoring the scent as the nostalgia of it all washed over her.
It had been awhile since she smelled fresh forest, having been so long used to the smell of sand and sea.
"Hmm, I like this." She contentedly sighed, leaning against Mike's chest while she sat between his legs on their shared blanket.
He smiled at her, gently tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ears. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Elle closed her eyes. "It's so peaceful here."
"More peaceful than the greenhouse?"
"Now I didn't say that." Elle gently swat at his knee. "But I wouldn't mind living here." she said, taking delight in the sights around them.
They were not too far from her favorite greenhouse but far enough to where they couldn't hear the bustling town.
Pine trees were scattered around them and the only noises heard were the chirps of crickets and songs of cardinals, along with the sound of the babbling brook filling the open air.
"Maybe one day I'll even build a little house here beside this brook." She couldn't contain the excitement in her voice and she turned to look him in the eye. "It would make for the perfect reading spot, don't you think?"
"So a piano prodigy, gardener, philanthropist, and now.. architect?" Mike glanced up thoughtfully as he listed the roles on his fingers. "Are there any more hidden talents that I'm unaware of?" he asked, and she could feel the rise and fall of his chest as he chuckled.
"You're funny, I'd hire someone." Elle playfully rolled her eyes at him. "But it would be incredible."
"So tell me." Mike nudged her gently with his leg. "What would your house look like?"
"It would be small brick house, nothing too fancy, but it would have this wrap around porch with a swing so I could sit and listen to the river, while I read my books." Elle's smile only grew as she allowed herself to dream. "It would also have a garden with beautiful giant sunflowers just like the ones my mom used to grow with a stone cobble path that leads right to it."
Mike nodded along, but he couldn't help but smile himself, her excitement becoming infectious.
"And it would have also have.." Elle stopped and turned to face him, her face drawing closer to his. "You." she whispered under her breath before she broke into a huge grin. "You'd be there to keep me sane, so I wont end up like those people on the news who lose their minds from too much seclusion."
Mike gently laughed, meeting her gaze. "Alright." he answered, bringing a hand to cup her face, his thumb softly brushing across her cheek. "Maybe one day."
Elle broke from her reverie, looking away from the window and meeting the cab driver's gaze as he peered back at her from the rear-view mirror.
"We've made it to the town but it'll be about ten more minutes until we reach your destination."
"Thank you." She replied her eyes wandering back towards the window.
The once sunny scenery now was now growing dark, heavy clouds moving in and threatening the sky, but even they couldn't mask her favorite place on earth.
It pleased her to know it hadn't changed much, if at all over the years.
Aside from a few new stores and subdivisions, Hawkins looked relatively the same as she remembered, still characterized as a small and simple town.
She thought how much Max would probably hate it and laughed to herself.
It was nothing like California at all and Elle could almost hear the griping and complaining she knew would be inevitable.
Lucky enough, she wouldn't have to worry about any complaints until sometime tomorrow. Although Max had helped Elle dodge work she couldn't manage to escape it herself, which ended up forcing her to take a later flight.
They'd passed her old high-school and Elle felt another wave of memories flood over her.
The only thing that changed about it was an added parking lot and the green color the building was now painted.
She would never forget Hawkins High for as long as she lived.
For it was in the school during senior year that her life changed forever.
Elle hadn't even known how terribly homesick she was, until right now.
Even though Hawkins wasn't the town she was born in or even raised in for that matter. She would always consider it home.
Because Michael Wheeler was home.
Elle tipped the driver as she left the cab. She had stopped at the hotel earlier so she could drop off her belongings, now feeling grateful for that decision because she didn't have to lug around a heavy duffel.
As she walked down the street she tugged her jacket closer to her body, forgetting how cool it was here during this time of year.
It was a lot more quiet in this neighborhood than she had remembered.
The rustling of leaves and occasional car passing by replacing the once lively atmosphere where kids would jump in giant piles of leaves and teens would race their bikes while the neighboring ladies would sit outside their porch to drink tea and gossip.
But she stopped dead in her tracks when she came upon the white two story house.
Her heart began to thump so fast she could hear it audibly pound inside her head and it took everything in her to ward off the whispers in her mind, reminding her that she could potentially make a mess of things.
But before her thoughts could convince her otherwise she started her trek towards the front door.
She tightly shut her eyes and held her breath as excitement and anxiety coursed through her veins.
She then pressed the doorbell.
She heard the door slowly unlock and her eyes darted first upwards and then down.
Out of everything she had mentally prepared herself for, a small boy with dirty blonde hair wasn't one of them and she suddenly was at a loss for words.
"My dad says we don't we don't wanna buy anything." The kid casually spoke, like he'd done this a hundred times before. "He also says we don't want any religious mumbo jumbo either."
"No, uh.. that's not what I'm here for." Elle shook her head, confused on this entire situation. "Is your father home?"
"Hey dad!" The boy yelled behind him. "Some lady at the door wants to talk to you!"
She could barely make out the muffled hold on a second response that came from somewhere inside the home.
Elle's mind began to race a mile a minute as she waited.
Who was this kid? Did Mike have a son? Was he married? Maybe she should just turn away now while she still had the chance?
No, no, no.
"Can I help you with something?" a low voice rung out interrupting her string of thoughts.
This definitely wasn't Mike.
He was an older man with a blonde crew cut and bushy mustache who looked like he just left the military.
"Does Michael Wheeler live here?" She pushed herself to ask even though the answer was obvious.
"Wheeler?" The gentleman scratched his chin. "Um, no.. I think you've got the wrong house."
"Honey, who's at the door?" A slender woman with a bob hairstyle appeared, snaking her arms around the man in front of her.
"Some lady, says she's looking for a Michael Wheeler."
The woman's face lit up. "Oh the Wheelers!" she gently shoved her husband. "Hank, you remember the Wheelers don't you?"
"Nah, doesn't ring a bell."
"Come on now, they were this cute little family. The mom had three kids, she'd been divorced and-
"Wait, you know them?" Elle cut them off, hope rising in her voice.
The woman patted her husband on the back. "I'll take care of this hon, You go check on Kyle." the man simply grunted in response as he walked away from the door.
"Oh dear, where are my manners." The woman quickly smoothed down her hair before she stuck out her hand. "My name's Cheryl, and that moody husband of mine is Rick." she rolled her eyes. "Sorry about him."
"Elle." she politely replied, shaking the woman's hand. "No worries, but I'm guessing the Wheeler's don't live here anymore, do they?" she inquired.
"You guessed right. Karen was the one who actually sold us this house four years ago, said she needed something smaller for her and the youngest."
"Do you happen to know where they went?"
Cheryl shook her head as she leaned against the door frame. "Afraid not, I'm sorry."
Elle had to bite back the scream that was currently manifesting inside of her lungs.
What was she supposed to do now?
The last option she had was to walk all the way to Will's house and maybe if the universe was done punishing her, he'd still live there.
And maybe then if she was somehow fortunate enough he'd even have contact with Mike.
But that was it.
She swore right then and there to herself that if it didn't work out than she'd give up on this altogether.
She was done trying to alter a destiny that was working so hard against her.
"Thank you anyways." She deeply sighed. "It was really nice to meet you, but I better get going."
"Nice meeting you too, Elle." Cheryl waved, watching her walk off the front porch."Good luck in your search! but hey be careful out there." she warned, glancing up at the sky. "Looks like a huge storm's rolling in."
Elle looked up and noticed the clouds had gotten a lot darker since the last time she saw them.
Ironically enough, they matched her current state of mind.