Author's note: First of all, I want to apologize for not having updated this story in a long time. It has been a complicated year, both because of the pandemic and because of work. I thank you for your patience and I hope that this ending doesn't disappoint you. For this final chapter, I have not been able to have a beta reader so I apologize for the possible grammatical errors that you may find. Again. Thank you very much to all.
Chapter 39: Arthur
The boys quickly shoved their walkie talkies into their backpacks and began rushing out onto the porch. El and Will seemed overly excited. Jonathan, on the other hand, was quite concerned. Perhaps he was more aware of what tonight meant to everyone.
"Where are you going ?!" Hopper asked, somewhat doubtful. In a way, he had felt a bit low for deciding to go out to dinner with Joyce on such a special night and leave them alone at home. What kind of family do that? Oh, family, that strange word again, he thought. However, instead of looking sad, the boys were preparing some madness? As if he didn't have enough of his problems already!
"We have decided that if you go out to dinner, we too. A sibling dinner thing." Jonathan replied, trying to excuse them. El smiled, nodding with satisfaction. At last, she felt integrated into the Byers family.
Hop arched an eyebrow. Bullshit. "So, are you going to have dinner with those things... the walkies?"
Jonathan and Will looked at each other guiltily as El pushed his way between them. "The radio is to be able to speak tonight with my friends. They won't be able to be with us because they have to stay home." She tried to explain.
"Yes. Like you?" Hopper pointed out. How many times had they already had that argument? Hopper still didn't understand why the kids had to be in permanent contact. It was sick. Especially the Wheeler boy. He never thought that when he took care of a lost girl in the woods, he would have a swarm of teenagers behind her. Ok. That didn't even sound good in his head.
"For heaven's sake, Hop. Let them go, or they'll get bored here alone." Joyce pointed out after him, as the boys took advantage of the distraction to sneak away. Wherever they went, they were in quite a hurry.
"Teens," The man spluttered in annoyance as he turned to look at Joyce.
"Take it easy. Nothing is going to happen to them. Also, if they get into trouble, maybe the new chief of police can… turn a blind eye." She stated, mischievously, as she advanced towards a plaster Hopper. "What's wrong? Your face is all eyes." Joyce stated, worried. She knew she shouldn't have chosen a green dress! Had she overdone her makeup? No. It sure was the hairstyle. Damn Nancy and her obsession with hairspray! Or had it been Steve with the hairspray? Hop, for God's sake, say something!
"You're, uh, gorgeous," Hop finally stumbled with words, when he regained the ability to speak. He had never seen Joyce dressed up. Ok, yeah, once at the prom but, it had been so long ago that he didn't even remember it. "Very pretty," He added, more confidently this time.
She smiled, turning red. It was funny, and at the same time extremely cute. She never groomed herself, true, and still hadn't needed it. Hopper was one of the few men at Hawkins who could see her through her baggy shirts and her bare face. It had taken almost twenty years and an interdimensional invasion to realize it. Maybe that's why she decided to get ready that night. It had to be special.
She cleared her throat, trying to stop thinking about the past. It was time to be in the present and perhaps, if all went well, to project her future. "You are..." Her face was twisted. Had he shaved? Really? "Different too." She ended up saying.
Hopper smirked. "Don't worry. You don't have to pretend. El has already made it very clear to me that she doesn't like it." He stated, touching his cheek.
"Why did you do it?" Joyce laughed, still incredulous. Since he had returned from New York, he was scruffy so much that she didn't remember having seen him well shave in years.
"Well, I suppose for the same reason that you have worn this outfit. To impress you." He murmured taking her by the waist. "I admit it. You have impressed me, but you know that all this was not necessary, right? For me, you are beautiful even with rheum in your eyes when you just woke up."
She laughed again. "Hop, I hope your repertoire of romantic phrases is better than that."
"I'm afraid you've got the wrong guy. I'm not especially romantic." He confessed, offering her his arm.
"I'm sure of it." She took his arm, as they walked to the car.
El couldn't be more nervous and excited. It was all so surreal that she couldn't help but feel weird.
"Are you sure about what we're going to do?" Will asked for the last time.
Jonathan was about to reply when the waiter appeared to serve them.
"Can I help you with something?" Asked the man with a prim accent.
The girl was about to laugh. Hopper had complained that Enzo's was a posh place, but didn't believe him until then.
"We want to dine here," Jonathan stated, as the attendant looked at them as if they were green. "We're celebrating." The boy continued, putting on his best smile. The man finally agreed, pointing to a table.
"No!" Will exclaimed right away, if they put themselves at that table her mother would see them as soon as they entered! "Better that one in the corner. We like… intimacy."
The man rolled his eyes. As soon as they sat down, El took the intercom out of her backpack. "We are already at Enzo's." She informed, totally excited.
"Seriously? Have you gone there? That is called harassment! I think… " Said Robin's voice, sounding through the device. "Hey, give me that!" Steve continued. "Just ignore her. Do you carry all the equipment? Binoculars? A Polaroid camera to immortalize the moment?"
"For heaven's sake, how are they going to spy on the next table with binoculars?" Max replied, half laughing.
"Easy," Steve resumed. "Through some circles cut out of a newspaper. I saw that in a movie!" He defended himself proudly.
"Ignore detective Colombo." That was Mike. "The important thing is that you have a good angle of vision to be able to see them. So you will know how things are going." Nancy's sigh of annoyance was audible in the background. "This is crazy." She started. "Why have you insisted on spying on your parents? It's... weird!"
"Because I want it to go well. Maybe they need help." El answered, although knowing that Nancy was right. What were they going to do if the date turned out badly and they argued? Interrupt them?
"Nancy, don't be a killjoy." Dustin stated. "The broadcast of the carebear date is going to be more fun than my dinner tonight."
"Besides, if it goes wrong, Hopper will be in a bad mood," Mike assured. "Well, in even worse humor than usual, and I'm sure I'll pay for the broken dishes!"
Suddenly there was a buzz on the radio and a new voice came in. "Hi, guys. Anyone there? Erica don't let me skip dinner. Did I miss something?"
"Steve? Is it you?" Lucas asked confused. "Are you eating?"
"I have prepared popcorn."
"Steve!" Several voices exclaimed at once.
Hopper stopped at a red light. His eyes couldn't help but glance at Joyce, who had been silent since they had gotten into the car. As they got closer to the restaurant, her nervousness grew. She had been hiding it by looking out the window, but it was too obvious.
"Joyce," Hop started casually. "We don't have to go to Enzo's. We can turn around and grab something on the way. " He pointed out.
She smiled restlessly but shook her head. "We must go to Enzo's"
"We must?" Hopper asked laughing. "Joyce ... it is not an obligation, nor is it written in stone as a divine design." He tried to be dramatic to try to get a smile out of her but to no avail. "What is it?" There was a tone of alarm to his question.
"Hopper, we must go to Enzo's because I want a special place for tonight." Her eyes weren't even looking at him.
His fingers pressed the steering wheel, his mind lost in thoughts.
The intercom rang again for the umpteenth time. "Isn't the bear in the forest yet?" Dustin asked, annoyed.
"Well, they better hurry, I have almost no popcorn left," Steve complained.
El took the last breadstick from the basket the waiter had put for them. "They are delicious." She told to the stunning looks from the Byers.
"How can you be so calm?" Will snapped uneasily. "They should have arrived more than ten minutes ago!"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Hop is always late."
Joyce got out of the car, somewhat confused. "Where are we supposed to be?" In the distance, she observed the old Hawkins school, but they were not there but in a nearby park. Suddenly her face was as pale as milk. They couldn't be there. Why the hell were they there. Was he crazy?
"Why are we here?" She asked, facing him. Hopper looked at the nearby trees, making sure they were alone. "Well, you said you wanted to go somewhere special tonight."
Joyce's face couldn't hide her discomfort. "And you haven't come up with a damn place other than this?!" She spoke with such hatred that Hopper didn't know if she was about to yell at him or cry.
Joyce shook her head in disbelief. How could he have brought her there? The place where more than two decades ago they had said horrible things to each other, where their paths had parted, and from where he marched into Vietnam, escaping from her.
"Well, you told me that you would have liked to change this..."
She raised an accusing finger. "I've never told you that."
"Ok," He conceded. "You thought it out loud."
Joyce widened her eyes like an owl. "Did you hear it ?!"
"I was recovering, but not deaf."
She sat on the bench, defeated and exhausted. She didn't want to argue, by God, not tonight! "Hop ..." she started to say, not knowing how to continue.
He squatted in front of her. "Joyce, these weeks you have been very strange, and I don't know why, but, if it is something that I have done, well... I'm sorry," He exhaled frustrated, "That's why I've brought you here, because… maybe we can fix what we did wrong twenty years ago. I think this time, we are not empty-headed teenagers anymore."
Her eyes looked at him with empathy, feeling sad. It was true that she hadn't been fair to him by keeping him in the shadows. "Hop..."
"Have I forgotten a date?" He suddenly asked.
Joyce snorted, about to laugh. "Hell, no!"
"Are you sick?" This time he did have a worried face.
"Do you know that you're starting to be just as cheeky as Mike?"
Hopper narrowed his eyes in annoyance. Just hearing that name riled him up, and she knew it.
"Ok, here we go." She started, taking a deep breath. "In a few months… the family will grow. A baby is coming." She finished point-blank, feeling relief to have already said it. He was looking at her, but he didn't see her. It was a hollow look. After a few stunned seconds, his eyes flickered, and his brows grew angry.
"I knew it!" He exploded in anger.
Joyce couldn't help but hesitate. "Oh, yeah?"
"This very morning, I caught them in our same house, Joyce. Look, I get it. I did that too but never at my father's house! I think you're going to have to tell him a thing or two! Oh my god, Jonathan, what have you done! Damn irresponsible!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Joyce asked, surprised and angry at the same time. "What has Jonathan done?"
Hopper went pale. "You ... weren't you talking about Jonathan?"
"Of course not. Hop, you're going to be a father."
He set his jaw, and without a word, sat down on the bench. He was completely white as if he had seen a ghost.
Jonathan started biting his nails nervously. "How can you eat the bread?" He asked, annoyed, as he saw Will take the entree from the table. "I'm hungry," the little boy confessed, shrugging.
"I see them!" Exclaimed El, who was blindfolded. Focusing on her mind to see a clear view. "They are in a park." Suddenly she was heartbroken. "Hopper looks sick."
"Oh my god," Jonathan exclaimed worriedly. Perhaps the news had already arrived for the big bear.
Hopper was still crestfallen, staring at the ground.
"Please Hop, say something. Scream, cry, or get angry. But for God's sake, say something! " Joyce exclaimed anxiously.
"I... I... don't know what to say." He murmured, at last, turning to her. Her eyes tried to seek mutual understanding in his, but Hopper immediately avoided her gaze.
"Since when?" He asked, fitting the pieces of the puzzle together. That's why Joyce had been so weird, why she had insisted on looking for a job, why she shied away from him in the last few weeks. Ok. Joyce didn't want to left him. It was just.. fear. His stomach turned over. Did she think that he would do the same to her as that bastard Lonnie?
"Are you angry?" Her voice cracked.
"No…. No!" He responded right away, turning to her. "Actually, yes. I'm angry, " He nodded, thinking it was ridiculous to hide it. "Because I haven't noticed! Joyce! I haven't noticed! I don't deserve you if I am not able to realize what is happening to you!"
"Hop. It's ok. You were busy solving a crime and saving Hawkins." She explained, hiding her part of the blame in the matter. After all, she had been the one who had kept the secret from him for weeks.
He shook his head stubbornly. "There is nothing more important than my family... .FAMILY."
His eyes reflected a fierceness when he spoke of them that she knew that Hopper not only loved the baby but would do anything to protect them. She grinned, and without a word, hugged him. "I think those are the exact words that I wanted to hear. Thanks." She whispered against his neck.
His lips kissed her hair tenderly. "I would do anything for you, Joyce."
"I know." The woman nodded, gripping him tightly, fearing that the happiness she felt at that moment could escape.
"Even for Arthur." He breathed gently, touching her belly.
It was then that she broke away in surprise. "Arthur?"
He shrugged. "Sounds like a good name to me."
"You don't even know if he's a boy."
"For sure, yes." He replied proudly.
Her brow rose, but she quickly smiled again. "So... Do you like my special gift?"
His hands took hers. "You know," he started to say. "If this was your special gift. You have outdone yourself. I can't compete in this league." He spoke, at last, laughing weirdly like a teen.
She nodded, smiling back at him. "Don't be stupid. Whatever you bought me will be fine, except for that discounted vacuum cleaner that you kept saying last week. I hope it's not that!" She exclaimed, trying to sound annoyed.
His blue eyes searched her intensely. God, she was beaming. Ok, Hopper, It's now or never. Damn it, twenty years had passed, an interdimensional invasion in which he almost died, twice, and now a baby was on the way. What else had to happen between them?
He got up from the bench, exhaling hard, his mind crystal clear, and put his hand in his pocket. "Joyce Byers ..." He began, solemnly.
"What are you doing?" Her smile vanished when she saw him kneel on the ground and take out the precious little red box that hours before El had given him.
"Do you want to put up with me for the rest of your life?"
It was her time to be astonished. Did he really want all of that? For real? She knew Hopper didn't mind gossip. Besides, it was clear that he had prepared it before he even knew there was a baby involved.
"I... I... think that isn't the proper question."
Hopper smiled. "It's not a wedding ring." He explained.
"I know you might not want to get married, and really, I understand if you don't want to... so ... let's say it's a ring to make a promise." He explained to her firmly.
"According to El, promises cannot be broken." She pointed out.
"Exactly." Hopper agreed. "If you decide ... that you want to spend your life with me," He started, "Every time I say something stupid, or do something even more stupid ... that I'm sure I will ..." He admitted as he took the jewel out of its box. "I want you to look at this ring because, whatever happens, I will always be by your side. It's a promise, and it can not be broken. This ring represents it."
She looked at his outstretched hand, holding the jewel.
"I don't need a ring to remember that," Joyce told.
Hopper beamed. "Well, I couldn't show up at Christmas without a gift, right?"
"Actually," her head twitched. "I was thinking that... if you had asked the right question, I would have said yes."
Hopper's face cheered by moments. "Yes?"
"Let's marry, damn it!"
The radio was whistling and screaming euphoric. "So, Joyce said yes?" Nancy spoke almost hysterically.
"Friends! Prepare your suits. We're going to a wedding!" Dustin yelled.
El took off the blindfold. On the one hand, the girl seemed happy, but on the other, she could not hide some confusion. She thought about what her life would be like now. Did it mean that she could now live forever with the Byers? Did she have a whole family? And the most important thing…
"Who is Arthur?" El asked, shocked, and a bit jealous.
Nancy was about to answer on the radio when Jonathan switched it off right away.
"Let's celebrate this today. Tomorrow, you can ask Hopper. Is that ok?" The boy stated, squeezing her shoulder affectionately. He didn't want to spoil such a special moment. Hopper must be the one to tell her the big news.
She nodded. After all, they did have a lot to celebrate. At last, she had a complete family.