Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
Chapter I: Eddie
It was a mattress, propped up on four cinder blocks that all had hairline cracks in them. The corner of one was starting to crumble. He had tried to make the tiny space a little bit more homey, just for her. Spread beneath them, held down by the blocks was a hand-crocheted rug in the shape of a circle, made up of baby blue yarn and held together by the smallest and most delicate stitches he had ever seen.
When he had gone to go and pick it up from Mrs. Wheeler’s house the other day, she had boasted that she had learned to crochet from her mother, who learned to crochet from her mother, and so on and so forth. It was hard to pay attention, though, because they were in her kitchen, sitting at her oval-shaped Formica table, smoking Camels from a fresh package. He usually didn’t smoke, but he wouldn’t refuse a cigarette if offered. She was sitting across from him, legs crossed over one another. Her leotard was fit tight to her frame, accentuating the hills and dips of her body that were goddess-like.
Her bottle-blonde curls bounced about her shoulders with a sort of vivaciousness that could only be achieved through countless Jazzercise classes. The rug sat in between them both, folded into eighths. Beside it was a smaller bundle, a little pink square that was crocheted with the same little tight stitches.
“I thought it might be a nice little surprise for Winnie.” Mrs. Wheeler pursed her plum red lips and blew three little rings of smoke in the air, one after another. “It must be hard on her these days.” The rings dissipated into the air, turning into nothing. “How far along is she?”
“Six-no, seven months.” He choked out the words with a ragged cough. “Seven.”
Mrs. Wheeler’s cerulean eyes went wide. She reached across the polished wood that separated them and took his clammy, grease stained hand in hers. She softened after a moment. A soft, yet pinched smile formed on her lips. Her perfectly polished fingertips dug into his knuckles.
Winnie’s eyes fluttered open, and he felt his heart throw itself up against his rib cage, thumping wildly. It stopped when he looked right into her hazel irises, which were flecked with specks of amber and gold when you looked closely. Her round, soft-edged face was framed by a few locks of her long, chestnut brown hair - the rest was spread out across the yellowed case of her pillow. He reached out and cupped one of her pale, freckled cheeks in his palms. Her nose, perfectly sloped and rounded at the tip, wrinkled. Her lips split open and she let out a soft, tinkly laugh.
“Mornin’, Winn.” His fingers trailed down her neck, down her arm, and to her delicate hand. He interlaced his fingers with hers and squeezed gently. “You sleep good?”
She pursed her soft, pink lips.”Well. I slept well.”
“Good, well, they’re both basically the same. Why complicate things?” Eddie wasn’t much of a wordsmith, not when it came to morning greetings, that was. Winnie’s frown grew deeper for a flicker of a second, but the corners of her lips turned up again.
“Sorry. You know I’m used to correcting people.” She let go of his hand and placed a hand on her round, wide stomach, which was veiled under a thin, red cotton quilt that was coming apart at the seams.
A wry smile formed on Eddy’s lips. He playfully scoffed at her. He folded his arms over his bare chest and turned over onto his side.
“Well, you had better get rid of that little habit. I can’t have you houndin’ our kid about the difference between this word and that one and whatever else.”
He was met with the sight of the nearest wall’s paneling, which was hastily painted over in a putrid yellow color Winnie had picked out, and was chipped in certain places. He would have to do it over again in a month or so. His back just ached thinking about the hours he would have to spend, making sure every inch of their tiny room was perfect for the nursery. Ugh. That word just made the ache worse.
But it stopped when he felt Winnie’s lips brush up against the back of his neck. He felt a shudder creep its way down his spine, the good kind that spread warmth through every inch of his body.
“That little habit is what’s gonna make our girl the most well-spoken person in Hawkins.” She whispered.
“Well-spoken? Baby, she’s gonna be a Munson. I dunno if you get what that means. People aren’t gonna care if she’s well-spoken or not with that name..you know, hanging off of her.”
He turned to face her once again, and saw the look of worry, the one he saw far too often these days, creep its way into the details of her face.
Lines formed in her forehead and around her lips. They made her look tired, tired way beyond their eighteen years.
“That’s not true.” She sat up, smoothed out the front of her nightshirt, a pale green, oversized tee with the blue Care-Bear printed on it. The creature was accompanied by a rainbow in the background. “You know it isn’t. People can change.”
His mouth suddenly filled with bitter, poisonous words. He kept his jaw clenched shut. It was the only way to keep them from spilling out and brandishing her untouched, unblemished skin. He swallowed them down instead. They burned the pinkened inside of his throat and laid to rest in the pit of his stomach. She didn’t deserve to hear them, especially not this early in the morning.
He gave Winnie a tight smile, and only that. His gaze flicked over to the grandfather clock that was bolted to the wall, beside the door. The hands were poised at twelve and eight.
“We’re gonna be late. Come on, I’ll drive you.” He kicked off the quilt and swing his legs over the side of the mattress. It was so low to the ground that his knees were practically digging into his chest.
He reached down and searched around until he felt scratchy velvet fabric bristle up against his fingertips. His fingers curled around it, and he pulled it up so that he could see the damage. 'it' was the itchy velvet coat that came with his Scoops Ahoy uniform. The more he looked at it, the more obvious it became that it was faux. Of course. What ice cream shop's got money saved up for the real thing?
The sleeves were sticky and dried in some places where he had been in what he and Robin called ‘Steve’s Splash Zone’ - he wasn’t the best at scooping ice cream, but he got them the most tips, which were mostly from girls that took pity on him and his quarter life crisis.
The hem of the collar was starting to fray, too. He sighed, got to his feet, and shuffled off to the bathroom.
As he got dressed, he noticed that a few more floor tiles had either cracked, or had completely broken into jagged pieces.
The mirror was tinged with spots of rust that wouldn’t come out, no matter how much WD-40 he used on them. He couldn’t even look at himself as he buttoned up the ruffled shirt he was supposed to wear underneath that scratchy, sticky velvet coat. He buttoned it up deliberately and slowly, hoping that the minutes would crawl by slower and slower with each button he pushed into place. He pulled on his pants, just barely clung onto his hips.
The last person that had worn them was at least forty years older and fifty pounds heavier than he was.
Once that was done he finally slipped on that stupid, scratchy, sticky velvet coat and lifted his head so that he could look at himself.
Staring back at him was a kid, really. A kid with milky pale skin covering a face, shrouding the sharp lines that formed his jaw. He had dark circles ringed around his eyes, which had faded to a lackluster shade of brown. He hadn’t noticed the shape of his nose. It was thin at the bridge but got wider and rounded at the tip.
His forehead was larger than he had thought it was. He reached a hand up to his hair and threaded his fingers through what was left of his curls. Uncle Wayne had cut it for him, and while the aging man was pleased with his handiwork, it was uneven on the top and shaved completely on the sides and back.
Eddie likened his appearance to a hacksawed, used Brillo pad. Winnie thought it looked respectable, and clean. He pursed his lips, fixed his collar and reached for the doorknob. The longer he looked at himself, the more he wanted to punch that mirror so that he didn’t have to look at the stranger that stared back at him.
He stepped out into the narrow hallway, and was greeted with the wafting smell of eggs frying in canola oil. It was joined by the sickly sweet smell of Heinz’s tomato ketchup, which he knew Winnie had slathered her eggs in. She blamed her cravings, but she could only hide behind that excuse for a little while longer. He stepped into the kitchen, and sitting right in the middle, at the little fold out they called a dining room table was Winnie. Spread out across it was a little plastic tablecloth, plain white. Sitting in between their two plates was a paper Dixie cup, filled with a bundle of daisies that she had carefully picked from the field behind their trailer. Winnie looked at him expectantly, a soft smile on her lips.
“Ahoy, captain.” She offered him a little salute in greeting, eyes sparkling with a glint of mischief. “You’re looking mighty fine today.”
“Only today?” Eddie shot back. His straightened his back, squared his shoulders, and lumbered over to his seat with a newfound sense of gusto. Winnie’s face lit up with unfiltered joy. She ran a hand down her loosely woven braid, smoothing out the hairs that had freed themselves from their hold. She peered up at him through her curled lashes. Her smile grew coy. “Fishing for compliments, huh? Real smooth, Munson.”
He actually laughed, genuinely, for the first time in a long time. He plopped down into his seat, and looked down at the plate before him. Runny eggs on one side, browned toast on the other. Drizzled on the eggs was bright, fiery red Tabasco sauce. They ate quickly, and in silence, except for a few quick glances up at one another. She looked at him through her lashes, he winked at her, she winked right back.
How in the freakin' world had he managed to score someone like her?
Her, she, Winnie Carter, was the girl-next-door, if one had to slap a label on her. It wasn’t exactly the right label, but it fit her just enough.
She wasn’t popular, by any means, but she was nice, and the only person who really saw him.
She would pass by him in the halls and always wave hello, and ask him how his day was if she had the time.
He would always scoff and tell her the same thing: “It’s no better than the last.” It had become his mantra after years of false promises and broken bonds, and pockets that were always more empty than full most of the time.
She would always laugh, never in a mean way, never in a pitiful way, but in a way that made him feel noticed for something beyond being the Freak. And then she would say, in that same way she laughed, that there was always tomorrow.
A gasp and a clatter brought him back to reality. Winnie pushed back her seat from the table. She was rubbing her stomach lightly, fingertips only grazing the fabric of her dress. “She’s kicking again.” She said with a little huff. “Always at the most inconvenient times.” She glanced down at her wristwatch, and her eyes widened.
“Shit. It’s half past eight. Tom is gonna kill me if I’m not in the office by nine.” She got up from her seat with a start, and wobbled backwards. She would have lost her footing if Eddie didn’t reach out and grab her sleeve.
“I’ll drive you. Don’t worry. Just relax.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “I need to have the photo set-up for the paper, so that Jonathan can take a look, ‘cause it takes a little while for him to find the right set-up, and Nancy always pulls him aside for God knows what reason, and they always end up in the supply closet together!” The more she spoke, the more animated she became, waving her hands in the air, as if she was doing magic.
After a moment, she realized that she was bending herself out of shape, and tried her best to recompose herself. Her face went flat. She straightened out her back, whilst pressing one of her palms against a sore spot that had flared up. She inhaled, and exhaled through the rounded ‘O’ she made with her lips.
“Sorry. I don’t know what the hell got into me.” She straightened out the collar of her cardigan, and cleared her throat. That was when Eddie started laughing again. It started out as a snicker but grew into something more. He didn’t even try to hide it behind his hands, because, really, what was the point?
“Look at you, getting all worked up over freakin’ Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers.” He remarked. “I didn’t know gettin’ pregnant turned girls into prudes.”
Winnie’s mouth fell open. Eddie stopped grinning. “I..I didn’t mean it, like i-it’s a bad thing. Winn, I wasn’t try’na..” Winnie closed her mouth, and her face grew tight.
“Come on, Winn. Let me have a little fun, for chrissakes.”
Winnie simply smoothed out the front of her floral-patterned dress, one of the few that she hadn’t bought off a neighbor or gotten from a cousin who had outgrown it. She grabbed her purse from where it hung from the back of her chair, and slung it over her shoulder, “I’ll see you tonight, at the mall. I wanna check out Melvald's for some baby stuff.”
“Please.” The feet of his own chair screeched against the kitchen floor as he got up from his seat. “Winn, I was just kidding around.”
She turned on the worn heels of her Keds, and started for the trailer door. “I know.” She said, sounding exhausted. “I’ll see you tonight. At Melvald's.”
The door opened with a squeal, and clicked shut behind her. Eddie was left alone, only accompanied by a hollow emptiness in his stomach, a sink full of dirty dishes, and to top it all off, he was dressed as a pirate whose job was to stand outside an ice cream shop in an overcrowded mall and hand out coupons to sugar-high kids with grubby, pudgy hands.
This was his new normal, no matter how he looked at it. He looked at his own watch, with the cracked screen that blinked at least fifteen times a minute.
It was eight-fifty. Shit. Harrington was gonna chew him up and spit him out, no mercy given. He didn’t give a shit, not anymore.