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#im so excited for chanukah honestly
stephenkingatone · 4 years ago
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A Prompt™: Dream by Bishop Briggs OR snow, schnapps, hesitation
sdjhfskjd ok .. ok . im gonna combine both for a Byeler Christmas Drabble™!!! thank u for Blessing me w/ this prompt (also on ao3 bc it got So Long)
It was December 23rd — or, as Dustin called it, Christmas Eve Eve — also known as the day of the Party’s longstanding Christmas/Chanukah/solstice celebration. Originating all the way back to Mike and Will’s kindergarten friendship, it had become an annual tradition, a blowout event in the Wheeler basement (or, as blowout as any party with only six attendees could be), with gift-giving and music and, as they’d gotten older, illicit alcohol courtesy of the Wheelers’ liquor cabinet. For their last year of high school — and their last year all together in Hawkins, before they were tossed to the four corners of the world for college — the drink of choice was a grown-up hot chocolate for not-quite grown-ups, spiked with peppermint schnapps (courtesy of Mike’s nimble fingers and Dustin’s superb distraction capacities.)
Will was uncomfortable. Everyone was uncomfortable, but he was fairly certain he was the most uncomfortable of all of them — he was observational, and he could read it on their faces. The circumstances surrounding the night felt more like a farewell than anything, despite them having at least another month before they even got their college acceptances, much less set off for these far-off destinations. Still, every time he looked at his friends, he saw their dream schools hanging over their heads, and in his mind’s eye, he saw the calculations of the many, many miles that would separate them underneath. When he thought about it too hard, it brought tears to his eyes, so he tried not to. Instead, he sipped his overly-sweet drink, braced himself through the aftertaste, and tried to let the fraught kind of tension alleviate.
Still, he was through two drinks, and he rarely drank, so he was a real lightweight, and he didn’t feel any better. If anything, he was more nauseous than ever, mug warming his palm, leaned against the arm of the couch. He hadn’t really spoken to anyone to any significant degree all night, and couldn’t help but think that it was his fault. Will knew he was giving off an off-putting vibe, and, over the past couple years, people had… stopped trying. Not altogether — he was there, after all, but was he? Jane and Max were on the couch, only a foot away from him but in a whole other world, talking about God-knows-what with a kind of closeness that made him ache. Lucas had drifted from his girlfriend to Dustin, arguing about nothing in the same way he used to. And Mike, on his fourth drink, standing across the room — he looked alone.
A bitter, mean part of Will thought: good. Be alone. Be lonely.
The softer part of him, the side that had consumed him and he had to spackle over just to survive thought: I’m sorry. I wish I could help. I’m lonely too.
He wasn’t sure when this alienation had begun. He remembered when he and Mike were best friends — when he would’ve been standing by his side, hips bumping as they laughed over the same kind of nothings Lucas and Dustin argued about, that locked Max and Jane into serious-not-serious conversation. He wasn’t sure when they’d become islands upon themselves.
He was sure, however, that it was slow. It was a creeping kind of thing. It started, maybe, when Jane ‘broke up’ with Mike — Will almost felt bad about putting it in air quotes, but they were thirteen. Jane didn’t know anything about the world. She wasn’t able to conceptualize what a relationship meant. It was better for all of them, honestly. Cut it off early, before anyone was broken by it. It meant Mike would always be in her corner, and that was great for them. Somehow, some way, it was bad for Mike and Will, in ways he was only able to make guesses about, but would never really be sure.
He took comfort in this: it was not on him. When Will stopped trying with everyone else, when he withdrew into the nightmares and into stacks of sketchbooks and watercolours and comics, if only to barricade himself into a place where no one would see him break, there was always a hand out for Mike. He had spent his whole life, maybe, with his hand out to Mike, waiting for him to take it, and it was on him when he stopped. It wasn’t Will.
He had read stories about it, before. Books he got when he visited Jo in the city, when she took him to the gay-lesbian bookstores and let him loose. There were more books about gay boys than he thought there were enough people to write, and the first time he’d ever gone, he’d been not quite elated but excited in a taboo, secret kind of way. He hadn’t wanted to go back, though, after he read those paperbacks and realized that those stories weren’t happy — that stories about boys like him never were. And in some of them — in a lot of them — boys fell in love with their best friends. And in some of them — in too many of them — those best friends didn’t love them back. They hated them. When Will read these books, his first thought was: I’m not going to let that happen to me and Mike. His second thought was: Oh. It already did.
But it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t do anything. He had loved Mike, but he wasn’t in love with Mike. Mike was his best friend, and he never wanted to do anything to jeopardize that. He did, he supposed, by existing. But it wasn’t his fault, and he didn’t do anything wrong.
That’s what Steve had told him, when he was thirteen and fell head over heels into a ridiculous crush that could never be. That’s what Steve had told him, when Mike stopped sitting next to him, stopped walking home with him, stopped talking to him at the arcade and stopped hosting campaigns (or just stopped inviting Will, maybe.)
Will’s queerness has become an unspoken kind of reality within the Party — he’d never said it to anyone at all, other than Steve and Jo. Everyone knew. They always knew — and they just never talked about it, and frankly, Will preferred it that way. They didn’t ask him about girls, didn’t say anything when they went to the rare party and Will disappeared into a bedroom with a pretty boy from another school after sharing almost-imperceptible nods, coming back mouth bruised, hair tousled. They didn’t question it when he begged out from every school dance after that Snow Ball years ago, or turned down the few girls who still bothered to ask him out. They didn’t talk about it, and he liked it like that, because somehow, telling the people who loved him most in the world that he was gay was more real than kissing a boy, being pinned to a wall with a leg between his thighs and hands in his hair.
It wasn’t that he thought they’d reject him — he’d been a fairy in the eyes of the rest of their town long before he actually was, and if that was a major problem for them, they would’ve dropped him a long time ago (like Mike did.) No, it would’ve been a cruel, violent move, not this slow disentanglement that Will himself had brought on. And anyways, he saw the way that Jane looked at Max sometimes, and knew that there was no way they’d abandon her for loving a girl like he loved boys. For the rest of them, it wasn’t Will’s sexuality. It was just… Will.
He went outside, mug still in hand. The Wheeler parents were absent — holiday party, too, maybe. He didn’t know what they were doing anymore, and he honestly couldn’t bring himself to care. Taking out a cigarette, he placed it between his teeth, searching for his lighter. He liked the smell of unlit smokes more than he liked lit ones — it reminded him of his mother, of home. Savouring the tobacco smell for a just a moment, he lit the cigarette — struggling with the lighter, taking three tries to get it properly. It was a terrible habit and honestly, he wasn’t very good at it; he’d been smoking for well over a year, stealing a pack out of his mother’s purse on a particularly stressful night, but he still couldn’t get through a smoke without coughing at least once, and could barely handle a lighter. Will took a deep drag, the smoke resting in his mouth for a moment before he breathed in. It was a bad habit, but he didn’t want to quit, either. Smoking stopped his fingers from shaking.
The door opened, and he dropped his arm down, cigarette half-hidden beside him.
“I didn’t know you smoked.” It was Mike, because of course it was — way back when, Mike was the first one to realize when he’d splintered off. Back when Mike still met his outstretched hand, he would chase Will down whenever he’d gone missing. That had stopped a long time ago, and Will learned how to slip away unseen, but Mike finding him now was only half-surprising — Mike would always find him when he looked. He just had stopped looking.
Will shrugged, and breathed out. “Mm.” There were a lot of things he wanted to say: There are a lot of things you don’t know about me now. Why would you even know I smoked? Why would you even care? He didn’t say any of these things, because there was a bitter little devil inside him, but he wouldn’t be ruined by it. There was a balance to cruelty and softness, and his strength lay there.
“Everyone was looking for you. We’re doing gifts now. I, uh, brought mine to give to you now, though.” Will couldn’t help the smile on his face, small and hesitant, still not quite meeting Mike’s eyes. He took the package offered, and turned it over his hands. A messily-wrapped box, snowman wrapping paper, visible tape. It was very Mike — worlds away from the carefully-decorated presents in a neat little pile under the Charlie-Brown basement tree, tagged with a neat “From: Will”. He had to stop himself from tearing up.
He peeled the wrapping back, fingers shaking around his cigarette.
In a little box: a comic book, a book of watercolour paper, and a little patch, neatly stitched: “Will the Wise: Cleric”. He couldn’t stop the tears, this time.
Brushing them away before they hit his cheek, he smiled; a real smile this time — still hesitant, still wary, but transparently genuine. “Thanks, Mike. This is really great. I’ll sew the patch onto my backpack.” Through the darkness, he saw Mike shrugging, a faint tinge of pink across his cheeks. For a moment, his smile faltered.
They both tried speaking at the same time.
“We should be going back—”
“I don’t know what happened to us—” and Will spluttered for a second, choking out half a laugh without even really knowing why.
“You don’t?” he asked, incredulous. “You decided you didn’t want to be my friend anymore, Mike. And that just happens sometimes, I guess.” From the light off the tip of his cigarette, Mike looked a little pained, and Will bit his lip guiltily, immediately feeling bad for the words he let spill. He didn’t want to be mean — he never wanted to be mean. But he hurt too.
“I— I guess that would be it, yeah.” Will took another drag of his cigarette. He was almost finished it, burned down to about an inch. It would start burning his fingers soon, if he didn’t butt it out. “I feel like… I owe you an apology. And an explanation.”
Will barked out a nervous little laugh, and choked on the smoke, coughing for a moment. Still trying to clear his throat, he glanced up at Mike, meeting his eyes again — a little act of defiance, maybe. “Whatever you want, Mike.”
It took Will a minute to realize that Mike had been preparing for this — gearing up for it all night, probably, with those drinks he was chugging, looking so angst-ridden in the corner. “I really am sorry, Will. I shouldn’t have… done what I did. I shouldn’t have ditched you.” He shrugged, and sighed again. “I guess I was scared. After El and I broke up… it left a question, I guess. One that I didn’t want the answer to.”
“What question, Mike?”
“The question of you, I guess. I just — didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know how I felt, and you being the way you were, and me not dating a girl anymore — it scared me.”
He’d been listening to Mike quietly, nodding along, but this made him take pause, narrowing his eyes. “I’m gay, Mike. You can say it. You can say that I’m gay.” Mike looked at him, eyes round and bright in the moonlight, looking adequately shamed. “And — I understand that you were scared, but… don’t you think I was too? If I was your question, don’t you think it must’ve been scary, already having an answer? An answer you aren’t looking for? I was terrified, and all I wanted was my best friend, and you weren’t there. Nobody was. And I figured it out on my own, you know. I’m fine with it now. Being gay.” He wasn’t. Not entirely, but every time he said it — he was a little bolder, and a little closer to okay. “I’m okay with being gay, but I’m… not okay with not being treated like I should be. I’m going to leave this town, and I’m not going to be treated like garbage for being gay anymore, and I think I have a real shot at being happy.” He paused again, taking a deep breath of the cold, winter air. “Do you?”
Mike didn’t respond, and they both dropped their gazes. Will focused in on his shoes — Jo’s old work boots, worn and scraped up and just a little too big. When he glanced up for just a moment, Mike was staring into the street — out into the road away from his house.
It had started snowing.
“I don’t know,” Mike said, maybe not to Will — maybe not to anyone at all. “I’m scared I don’t. I really fucked things up, and I thought I could fix them, but I don’t think I know how.”
“I don’t think I do either, Mike.” When Will looked up, he pretended not to see too-familiar tear tracks trailing down Mike’s cheeks, shining in the moonlight. “I’d like to, though. I miss you. I miss you a lot.”
“I miss you, too. More than you think.” And then, hesitantly, slowly — Mike shrugged his arm over Will’s shoulders, like he did when they were kids. Will had half a mind to shrug out of Mike’s reach, to go home — but he didn’t. He took one last drag, stomped out his cigarette, and threaded his fingers through Mike’s on his shoulder, sad smile playing on his lips.
“We should go back inside. They’re probably wondering where we are.”
“Probably.” Will dropped his hand, jamming cool fingers into his pocket. Mike didn’t move his arm. They went back inside, to the sound of raucous laughter and the smell of spiked hot chocolate, and opened presents. They sat across the room from one another, sneaking glances.
Mike still looked alone, and Will felt pretty alone, too.
But a little less lonely, maybe. Just a little bit.
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