“Hop, I still don’t understand why you’re so upset. Just try and take a deep breath, okay?” Joyce rests her hand on his, letting out a sigh. “It’s not like it’s an engagement ring.”
Hopper’s nostrils flare at the mention of it. “This still crosses a line, Joyce, and she needs to know it. I’m going to talk her-”
“Oh, you’re not going to make her take it off, are you?” Joyce grabs his arm and pulls him back to the kitchen table. “It’s a harmless piece of jewelry. Besides, I haven’t seen her this happy in a really long time. Well, up until you decided to yell at her.”
“I- I shouldn’t of yelled, I was wrong to do that, okay?”
“Oh?” Joyce face perks up in a smile, “are you admitting you have faults now ,Jim?”
“Maybe. But I still don’t see why we’re gonna let them get away with this. Neither of them are ready for it, they’re just too young.”
“Hopper,” Joyce sighs again, “It’s a promise ring. They’ve been dating for over a year now, he gets her jewelry all the time.”
“Yeah the necklaces and bracelets, that’s all fine, but it’s a ring, Joyce! And she came in wearing it on her left hand! A promise ring, doesn’t that mean they commit to the relationship forever?”
Shaking her head, Joyce rubs the back of Hopper’s neck. “No, no. I mean, usually, I think it’s something like that, Will told me the word promise has some special meaning to the two of them. I’m not really sure what it is, but it isn’t what you’re thinking.” As for walking into the house wearing the small silver band on her left hand, that made Joyce raise her eyebrow. El brushed it off as a mistake, that she simply didn’t know that was the tradition for engagement rings. Joyce knew that Mike and El were smarter than committing to a marriage while they were still in high school, but she had a clear memory of explaining the tradition to El when she married Hopper a year later.
“She’s only sixteen, Joyce. She shouldn’t be committing to anything! Especially not a boy!” Hopper was clenching his fists now, his head turned from Joyce. She tries to touch him, but he just distances himself further from her.
“I thought you liked Mike.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hopper shrugged it off. “Wheeler’s a good kid, I just didn’t think he was this dumb. You don’t think he’s pressuring her into anything or-”
“No, Hop-” Joyce attempts to stop him, but he was already so upset and on a roll. She just had to let him work through it.
“I trusted that kid that he wouldn’t do anything to her or do something as dumb as misleading her and this counts as something Joyce, and if he tries to pull anything else I can personally arrange his funeral because Sarah is not going to-” He stops mid sentence, face flushed red and out of breath. The air between them was humid, the silence hanging in the heat. Joyce heard Hop swallow. Quickly he turned his face from her, wiping a tear she’d already seen.
“I-I” he stutters, eyes wide in shock, “I haven’t had slip like that in years.”
“Oh, Jim,” Joyce’s voice cracks and she swallows, blinking away hot tears of her own. “Is that what this is really about?”
Silence, then-“Watching her grow up is so hard, Joyce. It’s like the older she gets the closer I am to losing her. She only has two years left for school, and then she’ll move out for college, and you and I both know that promise ring isn’t going to stay a promise ring.” Tears were flowing down his red cheeks and slowly he let his head fall into his hands. “I just don’t know if I can lose another daughter.”
Something in Joyce broke. El hadn’t been Sarah’s replacement, but to Hopper she was a second chance. A chance to be better, to be there more often, to be the father El never had. But deep down his heart still ached at the remembrance of Sarah, at what he couldn’t do and what he couldn’t stop. Joyce wraps Hopper up in a hug, which was awkward as she was so much smaller than him. But Hopper’s sobs quiet, and Joyce lays her head gently on his shoulder.
“Jim,” she whispers, “Jim, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Yes she’s growing up but, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to lose her. No, no, please, please don’t think that.”
“I guess I’ve been preparing myself for this day, I just didn’t expect it’d be so soon.” sighs Hopper.
Joyce flat out whacks his shoulder for that. “Now listen to me, Hop, El looks up to you more than you know and loves you more than you think, and no ring from Mike is gonna change the fact that we’ll always be there for her if she needs us. And when she leaves us, she’ll always come back. It’s what she’s good at.”
Hop sniffs, but Joyce catches a glimpse of him smiling, if not laughing just a little. “You know you’re a lot better at this than me, Joyce.” With a real smile, he bumps her on the shoulder. “I got a second chance to be a parent and I almost blow it over something stupid.”
“Nonsense,” Joyce whacks his shoulder again. “You’re doing fine as a parent. What’s that thing that Lucas says when he’s trying to compliment someone? Oh, I just had it-”
“You’re the shit,” Hopper laughs, “He says you’re the shit.”
Joyce snorts, bringing an even bigger smile to Hopper’s face. “That’s right, that’s what he says. Well then, that’s what you are at parenting.”
“I’m the shit?”
“You’re the shit” Joyce nods, poking him in the shoulder.
Hopper lets out another sigh. “I should probably go talk to the kid. Tell her I didn’t mean it and that she can wear the ring, but on her right hand.” Standing up, he ruffles Joyce’s hair and begins to make his way back to El’s room.
“Hey Joyce,” he looks around the corner back at his wife. “You’re the shit, too.”