Emma Wheeler’s favorite thing to do while visiting her grandparents in Hawkins, is spending hours in her dads childhood bedroom. Although some things have been moved around over the years, or different things added; like Karen’s sewing machine which now sits on what used to be Mikes school desk; most of the room still belongs in the 1980’s. Emma’s favorite thing by far, is her dads vast book collection. Hundreds of books, hard and paper back, take up one bookcase and three different shelves. Emma gets on her tippy toes and blindly grabs a book from the second top shelf. She pulls it down and skims her way through, thumbs gliding along the slightly warped pages. She comes across page 11 and notices that little hearts are drawn over the whole border of the page. Giggling at her dad’s teenage antics, she puts the book back and grabs another one with a cover that actually peeks her interest this time. She lays down on the floor and begins reading. 10 pages in and Emma is already hooked. As she turns the page, she notices that, like the other book, there are little hearts drawn all over this page too.
Emma being the ever curious thinker, decides to pull out another book to see if by some weird chance, there are hearts drawn in that book as well. Sure enough as she gets to page 11 her eyes land on 20 or so messy graphite hearts.
Okay now something’s up. Why page 11? Why hearts?
Soon, Emma is grabbing book after book, flipping to page 11, and rubbing her fingers over hundreds of penciled in hearts. After 15 minutes, and over 30 books sprawled out across her dads floor, Emma is interrupted by a knock.
“Come on down for lunch Kitten” Mike says peeking his head in, eyeing the mess his daughter had made. “Couldn’t decide on just one?”
She looks up at him, eyebrows knitted tightly together. ”Eleven”
Mike cocks his head, confused.
"Page eleven, of every single one of these books, and I’m sure every single book in the bookcase as well, have hearts written all over it. Why?”
Emma swears she can see her dad’s eyes go glossy for a second, almost like his brain was rapidly replaying hundreds of memories in that single moment. Whatever it was, it left him just as fast as it came.
“Oh sweetie, I couldn’t tell you. It’s been years since i’ve picked up one of those books. That was a lifetime ago. I can barely remember what we ate for dinner last night. Now go wash up, Nana is waiting. I’ll handle all of this” Mike finishes, gesturing towards the haphazard pile of books.
He waits until he can hear the bathroom door shut before turning on his heel to face the large pile of books. He picks one up, and with shaky hands flips to page 11. He slowly glides his fingers over the hearts, taking a sharp inhale through the nose.
“Oh El, I hope you’re safe, wherever you are"
A single tear manages to escape his eye, landing over a heart, turning it into nothing but an unrecognizable black blob.