I. June 1994
After graduation, Mike moves to Chicago, living with Lucas and doing grad work at the University of Chicago. Will moves out to New York and Dustin stays in California. Eleven remains in Hawkins, working at the library, reading everything in sight, starting to feel a bit constrained in the small town. She goes up to Chicago sometimes; she likes it there - the bustle of the city but less claustrophobic than New York, the lake providing space and air and light.
On this June day, Mike is visiting home, and El spends every spare minute with him. Ted and Karen have left to take Holly to summer camp, and the two take refuge from the oppressive heat in his basement. They’re feeling lazy and silly and after El makes a comment about the old blanket fort, they decide to make a new one. It’s a little bigger than the original, but not by much. They lie there side by side, Popsicles in their mouths, relaying stories of the library and the university and things they’ve heard from their friends. After a while they quiet down, almost dozing, content to hear each other’s breathing.
El stares at the blanket above her, thinking of the first time she slept under it. Scared and cold and confused, but this boy gave her clothes and a name and spoke so kindly that she felt comfortable enough to fall asleep. She’s never forgotten that night, that week, every feeling she had as her world took on color and music and life. Sometimes she’s amazed that it wasn’t a dream, that it still isn’t, that she won’t wake up in that little bed with the lion in her arms and Papa just outside the door.
She’s thought about it a lot lately, over the past few months, and there’s a question dancing on her tongue but she hasn’t been able to ask it yet. Until now. Now seems perfect.