July 4th, 1985
It’s a day filled with Karen Wheeler’s famous lemonade, served ice cold to counter the sweltering heat. The smoky scent of barbecue lingers in the faint breeze that just barely moves the red, white, and blue balloons tied to the fence posts.
It’s a day filled with carefree laughter, rapidly melting popsicles, and slightly drunken retellings of embarrassing stories. For Steve, it’s also a day filled with plenty of piggyback rides for an enthusiastic Holly and one just for El, grinning ear to ear.
Late in the afternoon, just as the party winds down and the adults retreat inside to refresh their drinks, Steve grabs the hose and sneaks up behind Max.
From her spot on the patio, El twists the hose so that its nozzle is facing Steve, entirely out of his control. The stream of cold water catches him in his face before he can react and a loud burst of raucous laughter fills his ears.
“You never mess with a girl who has a superhero for a best friend,” Max says matter-of-factly as the kids—though, they’re not quite kids anymore—head inside for a game of Dungeons and Dragons that everyone knows Mike has been planning for weeks.
Dripping wet, Steve follows them and sheepishly pops his head in through the back door, asking Karen for a towel. He dries his hair until it’s sticking up at odd angles and pulls off his sopping t-shirt, hanging it over a chair. Thankfully, his shorts were spared.
Steve grabs a half-empty bottle of wine from the outside table and the box of sparklers from his backpack, propped up against the bricks of the house. In the orange glow of a slowly fading sun, Steve makes his way to the very edge of the lawn where Nancy and Jonathan are seated, legs sprawled across oversized blue blanket, their fingers intertwined. They glance up at him and Steve makes a quiet joke about their appreciation of his bare chest.
Laughing, he sinks into his place on Jonathan’s other side and takes a quick swig of the wine before passing it on. He and Jonathan each make a witty comment when Nancy drinks as much as both of them combined.
“Fireworks?” Steve grins once the bottle is empty, waving the box of sparklers towards the other two. Jonathan pulls a lighter out of his pocket in response and in no time, a delicate crackling sound fills their ears, soft yellow embers dancing in front of their eyes.
First, Steve writes Nancy’s name through the dusky air, then Jonathan’s. Then he looks over at them and sees Nancy drawing hearts and stars and Jonathan making mismatched patterns, golden trails cutting through the darkened sky.
Steve looks at them, and for a moment he can almost see the rest of his life in the brightest colours imaginable.