Monday, August 26, 1985
Mom drops Erica off at the middle school first, then me next. The ride feels like it takes forever, but soon, the fa- miliar parking lot of Hawkins High School comes into view. I’ve never really thought about how flat it looks, compared with the middle school, which is shaped like a massive barn. This also means everyone can see everything, including freshmen getting dropped off by their parents on the first day.
I slouch in my seat and hang my head, trying to get below the window level. Mom shoots me a look and I sit back up straight.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Lucas,” she says. “Plenty of high schoolers get dropped off by their moms. Mrs. Miller from two streets down drops off her daughter. Also, Mrs. Harris down the same corner. Drops off her son and two of his friends. They seem fine with it.”
“I’m sure they’d rather take the bus.” I look out the window. “At least pull over here, lemme meet up with Dustin and Mike before I walk in. You want me to go in alone on my first day of high school?”
Mom shakes her head but agrees and pulls over. She tries to kiss me on the forehead before I leave. Nope.
The parking lot teems with people, drowns me in sounds. Unlike middle school, where it was either bus or bike if you weren’t dropped off, now there’s students arriving in their own cars—loud, abrupt, some almost doing wheelies as they park. It’s the most people I’ve seen in one place since that ill-fated Fourth of July carnival. A flashback to that day hits me: the screaming, the sound of shaking trees, the pound of the Spider Monster’s feet, blood—so much blood. So many people gone, so easily.
I stop in my tracks and shake it off, bring myself back to the present. But even in the present, I’m lost at sea, unsure of where I’m supposed to go next. Then I realize there’s only one set of front doors anyway, and just follow the mill of students heading that way.
I find Dustin just where I’d predicted—at the bike rack on the veranda. It takes a while for me to recognize him at first, because, while I thought I’d had a whole makeover, Dustin had a whole makeover. Now he’s peering into the mirror of his bike and adjusting his hair.
“What the hell is that?”
Dustin’s hair, which was already big, is now even big- ger. Maybe because he isn’t wearing a hat to cover his curls this time. Without it, what he’s done to his hair is very clear. He’s blown up everything, trying to go for a mullet. It looks like a bad perm.
“Good hair,” Dustin says. “The kind that gets you noticed for all the right reasons.”
“Lemme guess. You’re taking advice from Steve Harrington again.”
“Who says it’s Steve?” Dustin pats at the hair, as if that’ll make it shorter or less curly. “And so what if it’s him?”
“That’ll explain why you look like a discount Jennifer Beals.”
“Hey! I did everything like before. Wash and condition with Fabergé Organics and—”
“Four puffs of Farrah Fawcett hair spray, yes, you have explained this multiple times. It didn’t work out for you at the Snow Ball, and ten bucks says it’s not going to work out for you now.” I shake my head. “Man, you’re seriously tripping. How can you not see that you’re missing the most vital ingredient?”
“You have to be born with the right hair in the first place, Dustin!”
Dustin scoffs. “Bullshit. Anyone can get good hair, born with it or not. I just need more time.”
“Yeah, maybe your definition of good hair is the problem, man.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” “Never mind,” I say.
“Well, you’ve made some changes too,” he says, pointing to my bandana-less head. “Face it. We both know high school is brutal, and we’re both trying to make sure we start on the right foot.”
“Fair,” I say. “I’m just trying out a few changes, though, not a whole makeover.”
“A few indeed,” says Dustin. “This is as close to a make- over as you get, Lucas.” He leans forward and pats at his hair again. “Maybe it’ll work out this time and girls won’t sneer at us.” He stops. “Not like we’re looking for girlfriends, of course. I’ve got Suzie, Mike’s got El, you’ve got Max.”
As soon as Dustin says her name, I realize I never spoke to Max about hanging out on the first day. It’s been a while since we talked, anyway. One more part of my life that needs fixing.
“Yeah, right, that,” I say. “Not sure Max and I are in the same lovey-dovey place you guys are, though. It’s been weird with us since Starcourt. She’s been weird.”
Weird is an understatement, really. The summer of the Flayed did a number on the whole party, even on the whole town. We’re all still crawling our way back to normal. Not Max.
“Well, that sucks,” says Dustin. “I wish I could say I can relate, but I can’t.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “Because, you know, I’ve got—”
“A genius girlfriend, yes, Dustin, we know.”
Nancy drops Mike off. She waves to us from afar before shuffling off to rendezvous with her partner at the school paper, some guy named Fred Benson. Dustin and I wave back. Like most of us, Nancy’s been MIA since Starcourt, everyone dealing with the tragedy in their own way. Mike says she’s buried herself in college applications and is making plans for her impending long-distance relationship with Jonathan. Mike also says she’s been irritable, but none of us wants to tell him that he’s the irritable one.
Mike already wears his ready-made scowl as he comes toward us. Unlike us, and expectedly, he has made no changes to his appearance. Not even to his general moping, which began from the second we learned that Will and El will not be joining us for the school year because the Byerses are moving permanently to California. El’s going with them. Right after the Starcourt debacle, they left with Dr. Owens to go make arrangements for their new living situation. We haven’t seen or heard anything about them for a while—for safety reasons or whatever. That and the general gloom of the mall disaster has turned Mike into the worst person to be around.
“Hey,” Mike says.
“Really?” says Dustin. “Hey? On today of all days?” “Not in the mood, Dustin.”
“You know they’re still going to return and pack up the house, right?” says Dustin. “You’re still going to see her. At least try to exist as a human being before then?”
“Yeah, whatever.” Mike turns to me. “Want to go to school or what?”
“Cool,” says Mike. “See you at homeroom or some- thing.” He goes through the doors.
“Happy first day of high school to you, too, Mike,” Dustin calls after him. “What an asshole.” He leans for- ward, taps some more at his hair, then gives up. “Fine, fine. I guess this will have to do.”