I sit up in my new bedroom, unable to lie down, unable to think straight or stop worrying. My sister, Kali, actually wanted me to kill someone, someone with a family, and it didn’t mean anything to her at all. She said I still should have killed the guy for everything he did to her. I mean, I’ve killed before, but it was for the protection of my friends. My close friends who took care of me when I was being hunted down. Maybe having what’s called a family doesn’t mean anything to Kali. Maybe she’s in a terrible place with these people and she’s never been properly taken care of, like I was.
Nearly killing that guy with the family makes me think though. I can’t stop worrying about Hopper. I was terrible to him, and he was nothing but protective over me. I can’t believe I didn’t realize he was just trying to keep me safe, because he cares. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t want me around, and he’s glad to have his space back. He’s lived on his own for a long time, and I have to wonder if he's enjoying the cabin all to himself and doesn’t miss having to nag me all the time. I really hope that isn’t true. I never really realized how much I missed Hopper until now. I miss him so much. I almost feel cold without him. He's like a real father, and I was lucky that I found him after returning to the upside down. There’s no man I would have rather run into. Now I barely know how to feel without him.
Even if Hopper is still angry with me, which he has every right to be, I still want to check on him. See if I can talk to him. Sighing heavily, I collapse backwards into my bed, and close my eyes, focusing on where he is. The only thought on my mind is Hopper. Where he is. His location in this world.
The world goes dark, and I find myself standing in the middle of it. For a few moments, I look around for a presence, and eventually, I find it. The bed in Hopper’s room back in the cabin. And I can tell that Hopper himself is buried under the covers. He must be asleep.
Very quietly, I pace over to the bed, and peer over. I was right; Hop’s fast asleep, lying down on his stomach. Dressed in the black sweatpants and gym socks, chest bare. But he doesn’t look anything like the tough, assertive Hopper everyone knows. His hair isn’t combed at all; it’s frizzy and spiked and sticking out in all directions. His face is pale, almost as pale as I am naturally, but it makes him look sickly. Dark circles shadow his eyes, and his nose is swollen and bright red. One arm clutches onto his pillow, and the other rested limply in front him and bent at the elbow.
Concentrating even harder, I picture myself inside of his head, and I find that I’m standing in his bedroom, right beside his bed. He’s beginning to dream, I can tell; that’s the only way I got here. It feels so real for me... So I must be able to interact with him, even though I’m not physically there.
Very gently, as not to wake up his real body, I lean down and whisper into his ear. “Hopper?”
He moves slightly, pulling his pillow in a little closer, still asleep.
I give him a light shake. “H... Hop?”
He gives me an answer this time... I know he can hear me now and nothing in the conscious world can wake him up. “Mmhm?”
Desperate to see him, I grab both of his shoulders, and shake him wildly, letting his neck go. “Hopper, wake up.”
Hopper makes a sleepy noise, and slowly pushes himself off of his stomach and into a sitting position with his hands. He squeezes his eyes shut, then gives them a careful rub, blinking a few times to clear out his vision. When he looks up at me, his eyes radiate that of hope. “Oh my God...” he whispers, voice sounding like it hurts him to talk. He shakes his head in disbelief, mouth opening and closing with shock, like he can’t think of anything to say. His eyes begin to water and his lip puckers as he whispers again, “My God...” He’s going to cry... Hopper’s gonna cry. I’ve never seen him cry before and I know that if he cries, I’m going to cry too.
“No,” I tell him, shaking my head and trying to give him that reassuring look he used to give me all the time. “Don’t be sad.”
Hopper quickly wipes the tears from his eyes. “No, no, don’t worry, kid, I’m not sad,” he says. “Just real happy to see you is all. I was real worried.”
For some reason, I can’t stop looking at his nose. It’s so red... There must be something wrong with him. He must have been wiping it a lot or something. Very softly, afraid to hurt him, I reach out, and touch it, hoping that’ll make it feel better. “You don’t... Look good,” I mutter. Of course, I don’t mean not pretty. He’s pretty. He just isn’t himself, and it’s kind of concerning.
Hopper sighs heavily. “I’m really sick, kid. Made myself sick worrying over you,” he tells me. “My stomach always hurts... I got a migraine. Fever. I’ve been vomiting every day.”
Vomiting. I don’t know if Mike, Dustin or Lucas ever taught me that word. I think hard for a minute for a definition, but I can’t think of one. That one’s new to me. “What’s vomiting?” I ask Hopper.
He grins, always happy to teach me new words. “It’s when all the food in my stomach goes back up my throat and out my mouth. Upchuck, or puke, some might call it.”
Ew. That doesn’t sound like he’s having a good time. I’ve never vomited before, but it doesn’t sounds like it feels good. “Sounds gross,” I say.
Hopper laughs softly. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty gross. Feels pretty gross too,” he says.
I hope that if Hopper is vomiting a lot, it doesn’t mean he’s going to die from it or anything. Maybe it’s something he can heal from. “Will you be better?” I ask nervously, afraid of what the answer might be. “Did anyone try to fix you?”
Hopper nods, biting his lip. “Yeah, I’m alright. I tried to get help. Went to the doctor last week. They did some tests on me. I had to have my belly ultrasounded,” he explains. He purses his lips just then, looking into my scared eyes, knowing that I’m not really that fond of hospitals, considering everything I’ve been through. “But they didn’t do anything to hurt me. I want you to keep that in mind.” He takes a deep breath. “I think all I really needed was to know that you were okay, kid. I’m starting to feel better already.”
I nod. “Yeah. I’m okay,” I confirm, hoping that knowing I’ll survive where I am currently will give him some closure to feel all better.
Hopper just stares up at me from his bed, leaning against his pillow. As he does, I notice his ice blue eyes welling over in tears all over again. Unexpectedly, he pulls me in close to his chest. His body feels warm, almost too warm. His chest is pulsating against mine, and I can tell that he’s crying. “Goddamn it, I’m so sorry,” he says finally, breaking out in sobs. “I’m a fucking moron. I can’t believe I said those things to you. I was so scared that I lost you because of all the shit I spewed that day. I didn’t mean a word of it, and I hope you know that. I can’t afford to lose another daughter...” Daughter. I know that’s a family word. Hopper considers me his family...
Wanting to calm Hopper down before I get sad too, I place my hand over the back of his head, and lightly rub, hoping it’ll relax him. I know I liked that when Mike did it to me. “Shh. Stop,” I say soothingly. “I am sorry too. Didn’t mean to be a brat. Please. Don’t cry.” I know this isn’t all Hopper’s fault. We both did something wrong, and it’s clear that we’re both sorry about it. It’s nothing he needs to get upset over.
Finally, Hopper stops crying, resting his head against my shoulder and breathing heavily. When he looks back up at me, he shakes his head again. “I’m really glad you’re back,” he tells me.
A warm, happy feeling coming to my heart, I grin gently, leaning down and kissing his wet cheek, reaching down and holding his hand. “I am too. I don’t like when you’re sad,” I tell him. Reaching out, I try to wipe the tears away from his eyes with soft fingertips, but they just overflow as soon as they’re gone. Feeling tears sting my own eyes, I lean down, and try to kiss them, hoping it’ll make him feel better.
Chuckling, Hop squeezes my hand gently and leans in to kiss my cheek in return. “Sorry, kid. Can’t remember the last time I cried this much,” he says.
Stroking my hand over the facial hair on his cheek at an attempt to dry it, I ask him, “How come you cry so much?”
Hopper’s lip trembles like he’s going to cry again, but he’s smiling at the same time. “They’re happy tears. Don’t worry kid,” he says, voice cracked. “I’m happy to see you. Can’t even begin to explain how happy I am.”
A smile comes over my face, and a brightness lights me up from the inside out. “You are?” I whisper, elated that my fear of him wanting to live on his own again isn’t true.
“You bet, kid,” Hopper says, wiping his eyes once again.
I feel myself becoming so happy that I can barely handle myself. My smile becomes so big that tears find themselves slipping out and down my cheeks, just like Hopper. “I didn’t think you would miss me,” I say, voice shaking. “I thought you would be happier without me.”
Hopper’s eyes display a certain sadness, but he gives me that reassuring look I know so well. “I was ruined without you,” he says. “In fact, I was scared of the same thing. That you were in a better place, and you didn’t need me anymore. I hoped it wasn’t true... I missed you with every part of my soul.”
Sobbing happily under my breath, I lift Hopper’s hand to my lips and give him a kiss on the back of the hand, placing its warmth against my face, where it feels good. “I need you, Hop.”
“Good,” he says, placing his palm against my face and holding it there under mine. “Because I need you too.” And that means the world to me. We can’t live without one another. Nothing could ever separate us emotionally, and that makes me feel safe. Hop protects me, and I take care of him in return.
Hoping it’ll help us both stop crying a little, I sit down beside the bed and tell Hopper where I am right now, and everything I just did with Kali and her friends. How I almost killed that man with the family, and how simply thinking of Hopper made me stopped. “I almost did it, Hop,” I tell him, voice barely coming out. “I almost choked him to death, and I know I can’t take it back.”
He shakes his head gently. “The important thing is that you stopped,” he tells me. “And I’m glad you did. Even more glad that you were thinkin’ of me. Shows that you’re a smart girl and you remember everything I taught you.”
I nod, looking down with a gentle smile, though, it fades seconds later. “I’m still in so much danger, Hopper,” I tell him. “I could still get caught, we were being hunted. I-I’m scared, Hopper.”
Something about that makes Hopper all sad inside again, because he bursts into tears all over again, and holds me against his shoulder. “No... No, you’re safe now. You’re safe with me. I won’t let them hurt you, okay? Everything’s going to be okay.” He tells me over and over, making both himself and me feel better. In my mind, I tell myself that I have to get back to Hopper... As soon as I leave here, I need to go back to Hawkins to be with Hopper. We need each other more than anything.
Upset inside that we’re not physically together, I begin to cry tears of sadness, just wanting to be back with my real family: the family I made for myself. With Mike and Hopper and all the others. Petting Hopper’s hair again and giving his cheek another kiss, I think of something funny. Something that would make us both stop crying. I remember one time when we were walking through the woods and trying to find the Upside Down, Dustin leaned over, and slapped Lucas on the arm, just because.
“Ow!” Lucas cried out. “What the Hell was that for, Dustin?”
“What?” Dustin responded. “That didn’t hurt.”
Lucas rubbed his shoulder. “Dude, yes it did. That was a dick move,” he said.
Dustin snorted. “Don’t be such a crybaby.”
I remember turning to Mike and asking him, “What is crybaby?”
Mike smiled. “It’s someone who cries a lot because they’re really sensitive. Or complains often.” He turned to give Lucas a dirty look.
Smiling to myself through my tears, I say to Hopper, “Crybaby.”
Just as I had hoped, it gets Hopper to smile, even laugh a little. “Heh. Yeah, I can be a pretty big crybaby sometimes,” he says. Looking back up, I return the smile to him, glad we’ve both got our minds off of being sad for now.
I find myself interested in what was going on with Hopper. Since he was vomiting, Will’s mom made Hop go to the doctor, where they took care of him, and tried to figure out what was going on with him. I’ve never heard of an ultrasound before, but Hopper tells me it didn’t hurt him. He was lying down on his back across that bed they have at hospitals, and the doctor used some gel on his stomach that let him see into his stomach on a computer. But it didn’t hurt... And that’s the important part.
I touch his stomach, afraid that it’s still hurting. Just in case, I make sure to keep my touch light. “Is it okay?”
“It’s okay,” Hop reassures me. “The doctor didn’t find anything that was making it upset.”
I rest my head down on Hopper’s bare chest, where I can give my neck a rest. Mike used to let me put my head on his shoulder when we were sitting on his couch in the basement. “Good,” I say. When I quiet down, I hear something inside of Hopper’s chest. A gentle, rhythmic tapping. It’s a really soothing sound. Somehow, it reminds me of life. It really is a beautiful sound, and it makes me a little sleepy.
“I like that sound,” I tell Hopper.
He grins down at me rested against his chest gently. “What? My heart?” he asks.
His heart. I’ve always known that the heart exists, and it beats to keep living things alive. But I’ve never heard it beat before. This is the first time, and it’s such a soothing noise. Very steady, very quiet. “Yeah,” I respond.
Hopper places a hand on my back reassuringly. “The sound of someone’s heart is pretty relaxing.”
For a long while, as I just lie across his chest and listen to his heart, Hopper pets my curly hair, as I pet his beard in return, knowing that he kind of liked it earlier. I don’t know about Hopper, but being taken care of so well is making me a bit sleepy. We’re both in a happy place, there for each other. And soon enough, we’ll be together in person, and I’ll be even happier, at home, where I belong. I’ll be back in the cabin with Hopper, and later on, I can see Mike, and...
In the midst of my thoughts, there’s a gunshot, and I know it’s from my end of reality. The police have caught up to us. Much to my horror, it pulls me out of Hopper’s dream, and back into the dark world. At the same time, it wakes up Hopper, and I see him. And just like that, the police breaking in has become the least of my concerns.
I watch as Hopper sits up sharply, and looks around the room with a fear I’ve never seen before in his eyes. He looks terrified. “No... No, that couldn’t have been a dream,” he breathes, voice shaking. “It wasn’t a dream, it couldn’t have been! El can’t still be gone!”
I feel as tears of panic and upset fill my eyes, and my breathing speeds up as I watch Hopper. I shake my head, needing to get back to him. I need him to go back to sleep so I can talk to him again.
Desperate, I pace back over to the bed. “Hop... Hopper, I’m here. I’m not gone,” I tell him, voice shaking just as much as his is. “It wasn’t just a dream, I’m here. I’m really here, you weren’t just dreaming.”
But he can’t hear me, just like no one else can when I’m in the dark world. He curls himself into a ball, and he starts to scream out for me. “El!! I need you, El!” His body starts to shake and he’s breathing faster than I thought anyone could. “I couldn’t have been dreaming! It wasn’t a dream! It was real!!”
“Hopper!!” I scream out, trying to hold his face so he’ll look at me. But as soon as I make contact, he fades away, and I’m all alone... And so is Hopper.
Opening my eyes to find Kali yelling at me that we need to move because the cops are here, I obey her and follow. But getting away from the cops isn’t what I care about. I just want to get back to Hawkins and go home. This isn’t the life I want to live, not with these people.
~ ~ ~