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New Fic: Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple

Fandom: Stranger Things
Rated: G
Category: Gen. Vignette. Family, Friendship. Entire Party.
Time Frame: Shortly after Season Two.
Spoilers: Stranger Things, Season Two.
Summary: Some things in life are complicated. Others are really quite simple.
Word Count: 1184
Note: this one is for lemonpiefirefly, who distilled something for me the other day.

----

Eleven had been looking forward to this for ages. But now that it was actually happening, she gave Mike a dubious look.

The trip to Indianapolis had been long. Well, longer than she'd have liked, anyway, and the payoff didn't seem like it was worth it.

"Come on," said Mike. "It'll be fun. Honest."

El sighed. She wasn't very confident of that, but she gamely followed as Mike, Dustin, and Lucas jumped out of Hopper's blazer. Hopper himself joined them a second later.

Behind them, Nancy, Will, Max, Jonathan, and Joyce emerged from Jonathan's car.

Once they were all accounted for, they turned as one and started walking to their destination: the mall.

It wasn't much of a mall, really. Not by big city standards. But it was bigger than anything they had in Hawkins, and to the kids, it was more than enough to get excited about - especially at Christmas. Besides, it was the closest place that had a full Sears store, which was how they convinced Hopper to take them on what they kept calling a family outing.

As they walked, their reactions were varied.

Lucas, Mike, Will, and Dustin chatted excitedly about what they wanted to look at.

Jonathan looked bored.

Nancy was a bit giddy at the thought of clothes shopping.

Hopper and Max looked like they'd rather be anywhere else.

Joyce smiled at the boys fondly.

And Eleven looked nervous.

Nancy snuck up behind her as she lagged a little behind the others.

"Just stay close to me."

El looked at her like she was crazy.

"Do you really trust them," she said, pointing at the boys, "to help you pick out clothes?"

El made a disgusted face.

"Exactly."

Eleven seemed a little more relaxed, but she was still anxious. It seemed like Hopper was wearing off on her.

"What if we see people we know?"

"We won't," assured Nancy.

And they didn't. They managed to spend four hours at the mall, complete with several new outfits for El, lunch for everyone, video game time for the boys (and Max, who beat everyone soundly except on Galaga), some clandestine holiday shopping, and a power saw for Hopper, with minimal drama.

That is, until they left the mall and were walking back to their cars.

As they crossed the parking lot, a shout rang out.

"Jim Hopper, is that you?"

Hopper turned to find Loretta Price, Hawkins very own town gossip, walking toward the group.

He tried to hurry the party along and away from Loretta, but it was too late. She caught up with them and opened her arms wide to indicate the whole group.

"And who's this? Joyce Byers and her boys! Plus the Wheelers. And young Misters Sinclair and Henderson! How lovely to see you all!"

She turned to Max then. "And you must be Miss Mayfield. That red hair gives you away, you know."

Max rolled her eyes. Yes, she did know. And she hated how people always said things like that. Honestly, people acted like they'd never seen a redhead before. And what was with the last names with this lady, anyway?

No one managed to get a word in before Loretta continued.

"But who are you, my dear?" she asked, peering at Eleven.

Hopper and El both opened their mouths to launch into their cover story, but they made it no farther than that, because suddenly Max was talking.

"Oh, never mind her. She's just my cousin. But did you hear that Old Man Murphy's got a girlfriend?"

She waggled her eyes at Loretta and grinned conspiratorially. Loretta instantly forgot about El.

"Really?"

Max nodded. "Rumor is she's staying over, even."

Loretta put a hand to her chest. "No!"

Max nodded again. "Nobody knows who it is, either. Just that she's from out of town."

Loretta's eyes gleamed, and Max kept going.

"Mrs. Johnson said it might be a relative, but I don't believe it for a minute."

While Max kept Loretta enthralled, Hopper slowly eased away from the pair and motioned for everyone else to follow him.

A moment later, everyone was packed back up into the cars, and he leaned out the window of the blazer and shouted out to Max.

"Hey! Kid! You better move it or we'll leave you here!"

Max apologized to Loretta, then hopped into the truck. Dustin had swapped to Jonathan's car to make room for her with Hopper.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Max let out a big breath.

"Thank you," she said, catching Hopper's eye in the mirror after she settled into the back seat.

"Back at ya," grumbled Hopper. "Nice job."

Max grinned, then shrugged.

"Somebody had to do it. And besides, I know her type. Got an aunt like that."

"Not your first rodeo, huh?" asked Hopper.

Max scoffed. "Hardly."

Hopper nodded appreciatively.

"Well, you did a good job. Poor Murph, though."

Max shared a grin with Lucas and Mike, but she carefully hid that from Hopper. To him, she only shrugged.

She didn't catch Hopper's slight smirk.

But the way she saw it was that if Old Man Murphy didn't want her to throw him under the gossip bus, he shouldn't have yelled at the group when they cut across his pasture on their bikes.

----

The rest of the drive home was filled with the general chatter that only adolescents can make and exasperated sighs from Hopper.

When they got back to Hawkins, he dropped each kid off before heading home with Eleven.

As they walked through the woods to the cabin after parking the truck, El suddenly broke their usual quiet with a question.

"Why did Max do that?"

"Do what?" asked Hopper, distracted by carrying his packages and watching his step.

"Help me."

"Help you?"

"With the lady."

Hopper chuckled. "Loretta? Well, because Max is your friend."

"Friend?"

"Yeah, kid. She's a friend. What's up with you? You know what friends are."

They reached the cabin, and Hopper shouldered open the door.

As they went inside, El spoke again.

"But..."

"But what?" asked Hopper. "Max saved our butts. Better than our story of you being my niece would have, by the way. Loretta won't even remember you now. And Max did that because she's your friend and friends help each other out."

Hopper leveled a stare at Eleven. He didn't know exactly why El had issues with Max, but he had a pretty good guess. And he wasn't having it.

"It's really pretty simple, kiddo."

Eleven blinked at him, then smiled shyly.

"It really is, isn't it?"

Hopper nodded. "Yep," he said, popping the "p" a bit. "Now, you want popcorn?"

He brandished a Jiffy Pop container at her and she nodded enthusiastically.

Ten minutes later, they were seated on the couch in time for their favorite show, munching happily.

And the next time Eleven saw Max, things were different. They'd already come a long way since their beginning, courtesy of Dustin explaining a few things, but from then on, they were friends.

Because Max had helped. Many times.

And it really was that simple. This entry was originally posted at https://jackwabbit.dreamwidth.org/844414.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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