Jeff’s 14th birthday is on Halloween.
As usual he will have a combination birthday and Halloween party.
This year it’s on Saturday, October 31st, 2015.
Slam dunk. Surely nothing could go wrong.
Jeff sat staring at the passing scenery. Nothing but green along the highway, green trees, green bushes, green direction signs. He was pissed. At the last minute his folks decided they had to visit his mom’s great-aunt in Yakima, Washington. It was a four-hour drive from Astoria, Oregon, not including rest stops. Why the trip to Yakima? His mom’s great-aunt Lydia was in the hospital again, and this time her condition was considered critical. It was important to Jeff’s mom to see her before she passed away. But what it meant was Jeff had to cancel his fourteenth birthday party on October thirty-first. And like every year it would have been a combination of Jeff’s birthday party and a Halloween party. His friends had been excited because they always looked forward to the party and everyone always had a lot of fun. But, no party and no fun this year, and a lot of disappointed friends. And not to mention a very disappointed Jeff.
Jeff’s folks had told him about the trip to Yakima on Thursday night after dinner. If it was so important that they had to leave on Saturday instead of on Sunday, why weren’t they leaving on Friday? His dad said he had to work on Friday because they couldn’t get anyone to teach his classes until Monday. Besides, Jeff had to go to school on Friday.
Jeff was furious with his folks. Wasn’t his birthday important too? He pleaded with them to leave on Sunday morning after his party Saturday night. He actually got on his knees and begged them. He tried to reason with them. He argued with them. He shouted at them. Nothing worked so he ran upstairs to his room, slammed the door shut, and flopped on his bed, his eyes brimming with tears. His dad came into his room and yelled at him for slamming the door and told him to never, ever do that again or he’d be sorry etcetera, etcetera, yada, yada, yada. Jeff ignored him when his dad asked if he understood. That’s when he decided to adopt the “I’m never going to talk to you again” approach. He'd read about it somewhere. It was called shunning. Jeff tuned out his dad’s rants which obviously made his dad even madder, and he finally turned and left Jeff’s room, stopping at the door saying, “If this is the way you’re going to be, you just keep this door open at all times from now on. Do you understand me?” He turned and went back downstairs. Jeff got up and closed his bedroom door, quietly this time, and sat down with his cellphone and called his best friend, Tommy.
His mom had promised they’d have the party when they got home. How was that supposed to work when they wouldn’t be home until a week after Halloween? Halloween was on Saturday. Why couldn’t they leave Sunday morning?
He phoned Tommy and told him what was happening. Tommy got his mom on the phone and she suggested that he could stay with them and she’d be glad to host the party. That way Jeff wouldn’t miss any school. Jeff got his mom on the phone and she heard Tommy’s mom’s suggestion. But no, they had to leave Saturday morning. Halloween day. Jeff had to go with his folks so he and his great-great-aunt could see each other. For the first time since he was about five years old. He’d heard his folks talking about how her memory had slipped away because of Alzheimer’s. Jeff didn’t understand why it was so important they had to see each other. He didn’t remember her and with Alzheimer’s she sure as heck wouldn’t remember him. Jeff and Tommy’s mom tried to get his mom to change her mind. The answer was no.
So Jeff decided to sulk. He stopped talking to his folks. The only words he’d say were yes or no. His mom told him how sad that made her feel. Yeah, pull out the guilt trip, make him try to feel like he wasn’t cooperating. His dad, as usual, just got pissed and yelled at him. Jeff ignored that just as he ignored everything else they said to him. So his dad said if he was going to act that way he could forget about any fourteenth birthday party when they got back. Jeff ignored him. He told himself that he didn’t care about a birthday party. He did care, but he’d never let them know that.
Friday was a terrible day because when he went to school he had to tell everyone he’d invited to the party that he was being forced to go to Yakima and there wouldn’t be a party. Everyone agreed with Jeff that there was no reason for his folks to leave on Saturday. But hey, they were kids, what did they know?
Besides having to tell his friends that there wouldn’t be a party, he had to go to the office with a note his mom had written telling them that he’d miss the entire week of school. Then he had to talk to each of his teachers and get his assignments for the week so he could keep up with his homework. He would miss tests in all of his classes except PE, and most of his teachers said he could take them when he returned on November ninth. Two of his teachers said he could skip the tests he’d miss and they’d give him the average of his test scores. That was really nice, since his average test scores were A’s in both classes.
Friday night he refused to come down to dinner. He’d planned for that by going to Giant George’s Burgers on the way home. He’d eaten two bacon cheeseburgers, a large cheese fries, and a chocolate shake, so he wasn’t hungry. His dad said, “Let him go hungry,” but his mom fixed a sandwich and left it on his desk with a glass of milk. He didn’t touch either. When she came upstairs later the only things she said were he would make himself sick if he didn’t eat, and he needed to pack enough clothes to last a week. He didn’t pack anything. As far as he was concerned he would go the whole week wearing what he put on in the morning. So he got undressed and went to bed.
When his mom returned to his room later she saw he had turned off his light, hadn’t eaten, hadn’t packed, and had gone to bed and was asleep. Actually, he’d been waiting for her and pretended to be asleep, even snoring softly. He heard her whisper, in a sad tone of voice, “Oh, Jeff!” Then she turned on his desk lamp instead of the much brighter ceiling light, got his gym bag out of his closet, and packed clothes for him. She took the uneaten sandwich and glass of milk and left his room. Jeff teared up. He hated to make his mom sad, but this was all her fault.
Saturday morning, Jeff didn’t get up until his dad came upstairs and threatened to pull him out of bed.
“I’ve had about enough of your attitude, do you understand?”
Jeff just looked at him and didn’t say anything.
“Okay, if you’re going to be this way, give me your cellphone. You’re not taking it with you.”
Jeff just looked at him and didn’t say or do anything.
After a few minutes his father, obviously frustrated and getting madder, said, “Okay, be that way. Keep your cellphone. Instead I’m going to terminate your cellphone account, and your phone will be as useful as a brick. Maybe if you improve your attitude I’ll think about reinstating the account. And if you don’t get dressed you’re going to arrive in Yakima in what you’re wearing right now.” He turned and saw Jeff’s mom standing in the doorway and they stepped into the hall. Jeff could hear their conversation, even though they spoke softly.
“Rob, I think you’re overreacting. Jeff has a right to be upset with us, and what you’re doing is pushing him away. He can bring his cellphone with him, and you’re not going to terminate his account.”
“Then he can leave his laptop here.”
“He needs his laptop to do the assignments for the classes we’re causing him to miss. He’ll need an internet connection so he can submit them online as he finishes them.”
“It really upsets me that he’s being so uncooperative. He needs to realize that family always comes first.”
Their conversation faded as they went downstairs.
Jeff showered, brushed his teeth, and got dressed. Then he checked the clothes his mom had packed for him and made some substitutions and additions, including his toothbrush. To his backpack he added his laptop and its power adapter, his mouse, his Kindle, his cellphone, his iPod, the charging cables for his portable devices, and his Marley over-ear headphones. It already had all of his textbooks and two spiral binders. Altogether it felt like it weighed a ton.
He lay on his bed until his mom came up and said it was time to leave. He noticed that she didn’t comment about his failure to eat anything for breakfast. He grabbed his gym bag and backpack and went downstairs. He put his gym bag in the trunk and got in to the backseat on the passenger side and put his backpack on the floor next to him. So far he hadn’t said one word since the night before. They left at nine o’clock, which meant with stops they’d arrive in Yakima at around one-thirty in the afternoon.
As they approached Yakima, Jeff’s dad had his mom key her stepsister’s address, 1143 Flintrock Court, into the GPS. It took about twenty minutes to get to the house from the exit off Highway 12. Jeff’s mom called to say when they’d arrive, and the family was sitting on the front porch waiting for them. Jeff slid across the seat to the other side and recognized his uncle Travis, his aunt Margaret, and his cousin Ryan. As soon as Ryan saw them pull into the driveway he jumped up and ran to the car, grinning. Jeff saw him coming and he opened the door and jumped out. Ryan grabbed him in a big hug, and whispered, “Happy birthday, Jeff. Sucks that you had to miss your birthday party.”
Jeff pulled back, holding Ryan’s shoulders and looking at him. “How did you know about me missing my birthday party?”
“Mom told me. I’m gonna make it up to you, guy. Anyway, let me look at you. Damn, you’re a lot taller than you were when we visited you this summer.”
“You’re taller too, Ryan. God, it’s good to see you. You’re my favorite cousin, you know? I got lots to tell you. Since Thursday night when my folks told me we were coming here, things have been real tense between me and them.”
“Jeff, come and get your bag! Now!” his dad shouted.
“See what I mean?”
He walked back to the car and pulled out his backpack from the back seat and his gym bag from the trunk. There wasn’t anything else in the trunk so he shut it. “Follow me,” Ryan said.
Their folks had already gone inside so Jeff said hi to his aunt and uncle and heard the requisite, “Jeff, you’ve grown a lot since the last time we saw you,” comment from his aunt to which he responded with a typical noncommittal teenager, “Yeah, I guess,” comment. Finally, they were able to break away and Ryan led Jeff to his bedroom.
“Man, you’ve got a nice house, Ryan, and a really big bedroom,” Jeff said.
“Yeah. This house has two master bedrooms. This one is mine and my folks have the other one. It’s a nice house, but it’s gonna be nicer when my dad agrees to build a pool out back.”
“A pool? We’d never have one of those at our house in Astoria. It never gets hot enough. Except for one or two days in the summer it’s too freakin’ cold to swim outside.”
“It’s hot here in the summer. Mom’s bugging Dad about a pool. She was on the swim team in high school, and since we have a big back yard she says we should have a pool. A big one. I agree with her.” Ryan grinned. “Okay, you have a choice. You can use one of our sleeping bags and we’ll put it in the extra bedroom, or you can share my bed.” He pointed to the bed.
“Wow, that looks like a king size bed.”
“No, it’s a queen size.” Ryan saw Jeff’s grin. “And don’t you freakin’ dare say anything about the kind of bed I have or you’ll be outside sleeping in the dog house.”
“You have a dog?”
“Nah. That was just an empty threat to make sure you don’t make any smarmy remarks about the kind of bed I have.”
Jeff laughed. “Why would I? It looks great. Mind if I give it a lie-on?”
“Go ahead and give it a try. It’s got one of those foam mattresses and I think it’s really comfortable. Just take your shoes off first. If my mom sees you on my bed with your shoes on she’ll yell at you and then at me.”
Jeff toed off his sneakers and flopped on the bed. “Oh, man, this is really comfortable.”
Ryan walked around to the other side of the bed, took off his shoes, and lay next to Jeff. “Yeah. I’m sleeping better, and I’m not sore or sleepy in the mornings any more.
“The other bedroom doesn’t have any furniture. We’d have to get a sleeping bag from the garage and you could use that. It would be on the floor with an air mattress. I’d bet it wouldn’t be very comfortable. Also, my bedroom has its own bathroom, so getting ready in the morning will be more private than having to share a bathroom with your folks.”
Jeff turned and looked at Ryan. “What you just said is the convincer for me. The last thing I want to do is share a bathroom with my folks. So, it’s really okay with you if we share your bedroom and your bed?”
“Sure, I’m willing to share with you. There aren’t many neighbors out here so none of my friends live close. That means at home most of the time I’m by myself. And I’ve never had a sleepover since we moved here. You’ll be the first. Having someone here means we can talk and play video games. You being here for a week is going to be fantastic, kinda like getting a huge dish of ice cream. And Jeff, because it’s you it puts the whipped cream and cherry on top of the ice cream.”
Jeff grinned. “Thanks, cuz. There’s no one I’d rather spend a week with than you. There’s just one little problem.”
Now Ryan looked worried. “A problem? What problem?”
“On Monday you’re going to go to school. I’ll have to stay here, all by myself, reading my textbooks, studying for exams I’ll have to take when I get back, and doing the homework assignments I’d have to do if I was at home going to school each day. You’ll be with your friends at school and I won’t have anyone to be with. Not even my folks, because they’ll probably be at the hospital to see our great-great-aunt Lydia every day. Then you’ll come home from school and have to do your homework. After you’re done with homework and we’ve finished dinner and cleaned up the kitchen we’ll finally be able to talk and play video games. And then we’ll have to go to bed. Tuesday it will all repeat. And the same on Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday. The best thing would be that you wouldn’t have to go to school this week. But I know there’s no way that will happen.”
Jeff watched Ryan smile, a smile that changed to a laugh, and then he doubled over laughing. It took him a long time before he finally stopped laughing. Jeff had stared directly at Ryan the entire time he had his laughing fit. “What was so funny about what I said?” he demanded.
“You don’t have a clue! So lemme explain.” Ryan chuckled. “I’m taking you to school with me every day Monday through Friday of this week. My dad set it up when your dad told him how you’d have to do your work for school and be on your own all week. My dad arranged for you to sit in on the same classes here at West Valley High that you’re taking at Astoria High. West Valley’s the high school I go to. It’s about a ten-minute bike ride from here. It’d be about a half-hour if I walked. I don’t walk. Anyway, you’ll be in the same classes that I have unless it’s something I’m not taking. And don’t worry about PE. I have extra shorts and t-shirts you can use. They’re even the approved colors.”
“Come on, you’re pulling my leg. There’s no way your high school is going to let me go to classes for one week while I’m here in Yakima.”
“No, it is true. Your dad’s a teacher at the high school in Astoria, right?”
“My dad works at West Valley High.”
“Oooookay… so what?”
“So what is that he’s the principal there. He and your dad set it up a couple days before you got here.”
“You’re kidding. No, you’re not kidding. They really set this up?”
“Obviously your dad didn’t tell you.”
“Well, maybe he would have. But I’m not talking to my folks. As you know, my birthday’s on Halloween and I’ve had my party on Halloween ever since elementary school. I could have had the party today, then we could have left on Sunday instead of Saturday. But my folks wouldn’t even consider it. They wouldn’t let me stay with my best friend Tommy and his family for the week like they offered and I wanted so I could have my party at Tommy wouldn’t miss any school. But no, I had to come with them. We had to leave today. Period. No questions. No discussion. No argument. No explanation. The worst day of my life was yesterday when I had to tell all of my friends who were planning to come to my party that there wasn’t going to be a party this year. Talk about letting everyone down by telling them at the last second! So, that’s why I’m really pissed at my folks. Sorry for the rant, but I’m still pissed big-time.”
“You said you could have stayed with a friend?”
“Yeah, my best friend, Tommy Gevin. His mom said I could move in with them for the week and she’d put on my party. That way I’d get my party and I wouldn’t lose a week at school.”
“Man, I can see why you’re pissed,” Ryan said.
Jeff shook his head. “You know, if our dads set it up so I’ll go to my classes at your school, how come no one at Astoria High knew anything about it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s more of a deal that’s set up here and Astoria High is out of the loop because they aren’t part of it. You’re sitting in on classes here for a week so you can keep up with your subjects. Nothing more than that.”
“What good would it do if a class here is behind or ahead of my class at Astoria High? You probably don’t even use the same textbooks that we use.”
“I guess if a class is behind you’d get to review material you’ve already covered. If it’s ahead, you’d get to learn some new material which’ll help when you get to that part in your class. The textbooks might be different, but the material is probably about the same. There are always extra textbooks in the classrooms because kids are always forgetting them at home when they need them for something in class.”
“Maybe you’re right. Now I feel sort of bad about the way I’ve been acting at home the last couple days.”
“Except that your folks should have told you that you’d be going to classes here. My dad told me on Tuesday that he’d set it up. So why didn’t they tell you sooner? Unless they wanted it to be a surprise.”
“Okay, but I’m still pissed that my birthday and Halloween party was ruined.”
“I have another surprise for you. Well, a partial surprise. We’re going to go trick-or-treating. The candy we collect goes to Children’s Village. It’s part of the hospital here and it’s for kids who have health problems that are real serious. Then we’re going to a Halloween party that my friend Myra Choi is having at her house. There’s going to be snacks and drinks, and prizes for the most candy collected and the best costumes.”
“You know, since I don’t live here it wouldn’t be fair if I won a prize,” Jeff said.
“No problema. They are joke prizes, not anything valuable. Well, last year one guy got a Canadian silver dollar. It’s called a loonie and has a loon on one side. That’s a bird, sort of like a duck but with a skinny neck and a long pointy beak that they have a lot of in Canada. I think that was a cool prize, and it was worth a buck. But most of it is silly stuff, like a book on how to do tricks with a yo-yo but it didn’t include the yo-yo, and a roll of toilet paper that had a joke or cartoon printed on each sheet. Almost everyone wins a prize because they have all these silly categories like the costume that looks the most like the person wearing it, the tallest costume, stuff like that.”
“Where do we do our trick-or-treating? I didn’t see many houses around here.”
“My dad’ll drive us to Myra’s house at six-thirty and we’ll go trick-or-treating from there. There’s a lot more houses in the neighborhood where she lives. She’ll give us a map showing where we’re to go. Each group of kids gets their own area so we’re not competing for candy. The areas are based on the number in your group. More kids, larger area. When I learned you were coming here today I told her my group was two. We tell the people at each house that we’re collecting candy for Children’s Village. That way we get more candy than if we were just asking for ourselves. It’s always a lot of fun and it’s for a good cause.”
Jeff realized there was a flaw in Ryan’s plan. “I don’t have a costume!” he said.
Ryan grinned. “Yes you do. We’re close enough in size that a costume that fits me should fit you. You’re going to go as the tall Minion. That’s the one with two eyes and glasses from the Minion’s movie. I tried it on at the costume rental store. It even has a fan inside to keep you cool, and no one can peek in and see who you are. When we get to Myra’s party you can take off the top part of the costume so you can eat and drink and talk.”
Jeff grinned. “Cool! Thanks, Ryan. You’re the best. What’s your costume?”
“I’m going as the Green Guardian. He’s a superhero I read about in a story online by a guy named Bruin Fisher.”
We heard Ryan’s mom clear her throat and we looked up to see her at his bedroom door. “I hate to disturb you guys, but it’s time for you to come out and socialize with us old people in the family room.” She grinned.
“Okay, Mom. All we have to do is put on our shoes and we’ll be right there.”
“Alright,” she said, and she walked away.
“You ready to face the inquisition?” Ryan asked.
“I suppose,” Jeff replied as he pulled on his sneakers.
“Are you going to talk to your folks or is it still gonna be all yes and no?”
“I’m going to see what they say to me. In other words, I’m gonna play it by ear.”
The boys walked into the family room and stopped. All four adults were staring at them.
“What!?” Ryan asked. “Did I forget to zip my pants or something?” He grinned and looked down at his fly. That made Jeff laugh, and since laughter is contagious Ryan and then the adults joined in.
Ryan grabbed Jeff’s arm and led him to a two-seater couch opposite where their folks were sitting.
“Hi,” Jeff said. “Did we miss anything?”
“I don’t think so,” Ryan’s mom said.
“Well, we had a very interesting conversation,” Ryan announced. “I commented that Jeff would be going to school with me this week. He didn’t know anything about it. That surprised me. I would have thought he would have been told before he got here. So we were both wondering, why not?”
Jeff noticed that his folks both looked embarrassed.
“I guess we could say that there was a serious breakdown in communication between Jeff and both me and his mom,” Jeff’s dad said. “We didn’t realize that Ryan would know about it. We’d planned to tell Jeff tomorrow as a surprise.”
Jeff looked at Ryan. “It would have been nice if I’d known before Friday so I could plan on what classes I’d be taking at… uh… West Valley High?”
“Yup, that’s it. We’re in the new part, it’s called the Freshman Campus.”
“Another thing, knowing in advance I would have brought my bike with us. Now I’m going to have to have someone drive me to school and pick me up after school every day. Hey, that’ll save you the bike ride, Ryan!”
“Yeah! That’s cool. I almost never get a ride to and from school.”
“And exactly where would we have put your bike?” Jeff’s dad asked.
“If we’d taken the SUV it would have had lots of room for our suitcases and my bike,” Jeff replied.
“Well, that’s water under the bridge,” Jeff’s dad said. “Ryan, what time do you have to be at school?”
“First period starts at seven-forty-five, so I’m always there by seven-fifteen. Sixth period ends at two-twenty, and we’ll have to go to my locker and then to the pickup area. It’s best to plan to pick us up at two-thirty-five.”
“Travis, how long does it take to drive from here to the high school?” Jeff’s dad asked.
“Maybe fifteen minutes. You know I drive to West Valley High every day, so I can take them with me. They’ll have to walk from the faculty parking lot to the Freshmen Campus, but they’ll be there in plenty of time. I leave the house at seven on the dot. Someone will have to pick them up after school. I don’t leave school until four-thirty or five o’clock, and sometimes it’s later than that.”
“I’ll pick them up,” Jeff’s mom said.
“Cool,” Jeff said, then shoulder-bumped Ryan who grinned.
“What about tonight?” Ryan’s mom asked. “Are you two going trick-and-treating and the Halloween party?”
“Absolutely,” Ryan replied.
“Jeff doesn’t have a costume,” his mom said.
“He does, he’s going as the tall Minion from the movie. We rented it for him,” Ryan’s mom said.
“We didn’t see that movie,” Jeff’s mom said.
“It’s an animation, mostly for younger kids,” Ryan’s mom replied. “It’s being advertised a lot on TV. It’s those weird little rounded yellow characters.”
Jeff’s mom was suspicious. “Do you know the family where the party is being held? Will the parents be there? What time is this party?”
“We’re good friends with the Choi’s.” Ryans mom explained. “They will definitely be at the party and making sure nothing untoward happens. It starts at around eight o’clock when the kids finish their trick-or-treating and will be over at ten. I vouch for the Choi’s. Ryan has been to parties at their house before.”
“Well, I guess it’s okay then. It’s just that we aren’t anywhere near home and Jeff will be going to a party where we don’t know the parents.”
“Barbara,” Jeff’s dad said, “I think you’re overreacting. Jeff’s gone to parties when he was in middle school and twice so far this year and never made any bad decisions. He always thinks of the consequences before he does something.”
Jeff was surprised, and he looked at his dad. “Thanks, Dad,” he said. His dad smiled and nodded.
“Okay… I’ve got a question,” Ryan said. “What’s for lunch?”
His dad shook his head and laughed. “I’m going to grill boneless rib-eye steaks and we’ll have grilled veggies and baked potatoes and a salad. Now, what I need to know is who wants their steak cooked other than medium-rare?”
“That’s the way I like my steaks,” Jeff said.
“Rob and I both like ours medium rare, too,” Jeff’s mom said.
“Okay, all the steaks will be medium-rare so that makes it easy. Next, is there anyone who wants to supervise? To assist? No? Then everyone grab something to drink from the kitchen, age-appropriate, of course, and let’s head out to the patio. I’m going to fire up the grill right now.”
The steak, the baked potato with sour cream and chives and crumbled real bacon, the grilled zucchini, and the salad were all delicious. Jeff ate everything on his plate. After eating he wasn’t full, he was stuffed. He and Ryan helped with the cleanup, then they went to Ryan’s room.
“I’m tired,” Jeff said. “The drive here wore me out. Is it okay if I take a nap before we leave for the party?”
“Sure. Just lay down and go to sleep. I’ll wake you around six o’clock so we can put on our costumes. While you nap I’m going to read.” Ryan sat next to Jeff, shoved his pillow behind him, and leaned against the headboard. He grabbed his Kindle from the bedside table and started to read. Jeff watched him for a couple minutes before falling asleep.
Jeff woke up and saw that Ryan had fallen asleep, his Kindle lying on the bed between them. He got up and took a leak and checked the time. It was almost quarter to six.
When he got back he saw that Ryan was drooling onto his t-shirt. He almost laughed out loud but held it back. Instead he decided to wake him. He gently placed his hand on Ryan’s left shoulder. Ryan didn’t wake. Instead he sighed and bent his head to the left onto Jeff’s hand. Then he smiled and sighed again. It appeared Ryan was dreaming. Jeff wasn’t sure whether he should wake him or not, so he didn’t try to move his hand away. Ryan sort of shrugged his left shoulder then kissed the back of Jeff’s wrist. Jeff’s eyes bugged out and he let out a gasp. That made Ryan start to wake and bring his right hand up and put it on top of Jeff’s hand and rubbed them together. He mumbled, “Hi, Sean. When did you…” He finally saw Jeff standing there with a shocked expression. “Oh, fuck!” He pulled his hand away. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, oh, fuck.” Then he just stared at Jeff, waiting for him to say something.
What Jeff said surprised Ryan even more. Jeff grinned. “I guess I should be jealous of Sean, whoever he is.”
“Oh! Did I say his name… yeah, I guess I did.”
Jeff saw tears brimming in Ryan’s eyes, so he sat on the edge of the bed and reached down and hugged his cousin. Then he kissed him, a chaste kiss but on his lips. “It’s okay, Ryan. Can I assume Sean is your boyfriend?”
Now Ryan’s tears started. “Yes. Please, please don’t tell my folks!”
“Dufus! I’d never do that. I’m gay too.”
“What? You’re… what?” For just a second Ryan worried that he’d misunderstood what Jeff had said, but then he realized it couldn’t have been clearer.
But then Jeff did make it clearer. “I said, ‘I’m gay, too.’ And I’m jealous of this Sean guy because he’s your boyfriend and I don’t have a boyfriend. Is he cute?”
Now Ryan smiled. “Yeah, he is. Not as cute as you, but cute.”
“Not as cute as me!? I know you’re pulling my leg, but thanks anyway. So tell me all about Sean.”
“You know we moved here at the beginning of August. Before that we’d lived on the east side of Yakima. When my dad got the principal’s job here he had to commute, and hated it. So my folks bought this house. Anyway, before we moved I went to East Valley Middle School and so did Sean Chambers. Sean and I met in the sixth grade. He had this yellow-orange hair — almost a gold color — and I thought it was the sexiest thing ever.”
“Excuse me!” Jeff said, “I have yellow-orange hair. Did you ever think my hair was the sexiest thing ever?”
“Don’t interrupt! You’re getting ahead of my story and I want to tell you the whole thing. So, I thought Sean’s yellow-orange hair was the sexiest thing ever. The reason I thought that was because my favorite cousin has yellow-orange hair,” Ryan reached out and touched Jeff’s hair, “and I’d lusted over his hot bod since the first time we met when we were like eight or nine years old.”
Jeff blushed. “My hot bod? Whoa!” Ryan scouled at him. “Oh. Sorry for interrupting.”
Ryan grinned. “You can stop being sorry if you stop interrupting! Anyway, sixth grade and about half of seventh grade were tough for me because I was freaked that Sean would figure out that I was gay and hot for him. You don’t want to be called gay in middle school! Turns out he was freaked that I would figure out that he was gay and hot for me, too.
“We had a sleepover one Friday night in April and my folks came in and said that my great-great-aunt Lydia was in the hospital and they were going to leave us home by ourselves and we could play video games — we were playing video games whan they came in — and to go to bed no later than ten o’clock. After they left Sean surprised me by saying he was tired and could we go to bed immediately. I said okay, not realizing that he was going to make some moves on me while my folks were at the hospital. I won’t go into any details but that night we both came out to each other and became boyfriends and… I guess you’d say we consummated our relationship.” Ryan laughed.
“Here, let me show you his picture.” Ryan reached into the drawer in his bedside table and pulled out a stack of pictures and handed the one on the top to Jeff.
“Why are you showing me an old picture of you and me?” Jeff asked, setting the picture down.
“Pick it up and look at it closer. Especially the building in the background. What’s it say on the front?”
Jeff held the picture under the lamp. “East Valley Middle School… wait a minute!” He looked more closely at the picture. “That’s not me!”
“Nope, it’s not. It’s Sean Chambers. He did sort of look like you did back in the day, around seventh grade, didn’t he!”
“He did.” Jeff looked at a grinning Ryan. “Don’t tell me that you were hot for him because he sort of looked like me!”
“Okay, I won’t tell you. But that is why I was hot for his bod.”
“Anyway, when we moved here during the summer, Sean’s folks moved to Wenatchee. That’s a couple hours north of here. So we’re friendly and we email and text at least once a week. He doesn’t have a boyfriend there yet, and he said the high school he’s going to isn’t very gay-friendly so he’s tight in the closet. We tell each other that we’re boyfriends but I think it’s just until one or the other of us finds another boyfriend.”
“Let’s get back to you and me,” Jeff said. “So you’re hot for my bod?”
“What do you think?”
“That you are.”
“Would that be a bad thing?” Ryan asked.
“No. Abso-fucking-lutely not a bad thing!”
“Does the two of us being not really related sort-of relatives bother you?”
“No. We’re actually not related since your mom is my mom’s step-sister and vice-versa,” Jeff replied.
“So to make sure you understand: yes, I’m hot for your bod, Jeff.”
“You want to mess around?” Jeff grinned and wiggled his eyebrows seductively. At least he thought it would look seductive.
Jeff was stunned and his grin changed to a frown. He’d thought they were about to start something that he really, really wanted to start.
“Don’t get upset!” Ryan shouted. “I said no because we have to get into our costumes and get a ride to Myra’s house and go trick-or-treating and then to her Halloween party. After we get home we can mess around. Tonight and tomorrow night and Monday night and Tuesday night and etcetera. Is that acceptable?”
“Oh, yeah! Very acceptable.”
Ryan got up and went to his closet. He pulled out a hanging clothes bag and handed it to Jeff. “This is your Minions costume.”
He pulled out another bag, opened it, and showed Jeff his Green Guardian costume.
“That’s… really green,” Jeff said, and giggled.
“Show me yours,” Ryan said.
“I love it when you talk dirty,” Jeff whispered, then he started to laugh as he pulled the very yellow Tall Minion costume out of its bag.
“That’s… really yellow,” Ryan said, then he burst into laughter.
“Your school colors don’t happen to be green and yellow, do they?” Jeff asked.
“No. But it would be funny if they were.”
“Let’s put these on. I might need your help getting this Minion costume on. It’s sort of… bulbous. Tall and bulbous.”
“Nah.” Ryan shook his head. “Bulbous means round like a lightbulb or a turnip. This is more like a huge yellow pill. If anyone makes a smarmy comment about your costume, I’m going to tell them that it’s a suppository and I’m gonna shove it up their butt.”
Jeff laughed and he put the Minion costume parts on. It turned out that it wasn’t very hard to put on, but he wondered what he’d do if he had to pee. Well, he’d just peed so he was good to go.
They walked into the family room and showed off their costumes to the ‘old people,’ a.k.a. their parents. Jeff’s mom approved of his costume, which made him wonder what her big deal about the costume had been. Since Ryan’s mom had bought him the Green Guardian costume it came pre-approved. Both mothers wanted to take pictures, which embarrassed and frustrated their sons who were eager to leave.
After the picture-taking session was over, Ryan’s dad drove them to Myra Choi’s house. Ryan introduced Jeff and Myra and she welcomed him, then handed them the map of their trick-or-treat area. It was three blocks from her house.
Just as Ryan had said, as soon as they told the people at each house that it was for the Children’s Village either they got a lot more candy, or cash, or both.
When everyone had returned to Myra’s house the loot each group had collected was counted and averaged by the number of kids in each group. Jeff and Ryan didn’t win the prize for the most candy, but they did for the most cash. And Jeff won for the best costume. His prize was a USB jump drive. At first he thought it was 128 GB — that’s 128 million bytes. But it turned out to be 128 KB — 128 thousand bytes. The kind Fry’s had in the ninety-nine cents bins at the front of their store in Wilsonville, Oregon. A very funny yet marginally useful joke gift.
Jeff met a lot of Ryan’s friends, and he liked them all. They sat around talking, and asked Jeff a lot about Astoria, Oregon and what it was like living on the ocean (cold and wet, which made them laugh, but he explained that their house was about two miles from the water so it was just cold), did he ever go deep-sea fishing (yes, once when he was twelve and he caught one fish, a sea bass), did he swim in the ocean (no, it’s too cold), does it get foggy (yes), had he ever seen a shark (yes), how big is Astoria High (547 kids in ninth through twelfth grades, which turned out to be a little less than half the size of West Valley High), is Astoria High’s football team any good (“no comment,” which made everyone laugh). Myra and her mom had fixed a lot of fun snacks that they made to look like things from a horror movie. They had eyeballs, ‘fingers’ with raspberry ‘blood’ oozing from the ‘cut’ end; ‘spiders’ made out of licorice; and sloppy joe’s that had beets and carrots and corn mixed in with the ground meat and sauce.
The best of all was a Halloween-themed birthday cake with fourteen candles for Jeff. When they brought out the cake Jeff was stunned. He didn’t know what to say, other than, “Thank you,” over and over. Then he hugged Myra and her mom because they’d made and decorated the cake. Then he hugged Ryan for a long time because it had been his idea, and that hug got the kids all hooting and hollering and saying things like, “Get a room!” and, “Cool it guys, there are children here!” But Jeff didn’t care and it seemed that Ryan didn’t either.
When they got back to Ryan’s house, and after they took off their costumes, they told their parents all about their evening trick-or-treating, the prizes they’d won, and the food they’d eaten — and they distributed some of the fingers and eyeballs and spiders to their folks — but best of all was when Jeff told them about the birthday cake. Myra and her mom had made a smaller cake for Jeff to take home to share with their parents, and to provide third helpings for him and Ryan. Jeff left out the part about how he’d hugged Ryan for almost thirty seconds.
“Well, we’re both tired,” Ryan said. “At least I know that I am. All I want to do now is shower and brush my teeth and go to bed and go to sleep.” He punctuated what he said with a long, open-mouthed yawn which, since yawns are contagious, Jeff then duplicated.
So that’s what they did. Of course, there was a lot of supplementary communal activity during the ‘shower’ part and between the ‘go to bed’ and ‘go to sleep’ parts. Let’s just say there were a whole bagful of tricks and treats that ensued, resulting in a very happy end to Halloween Eve for two gay teenage boys.
As Ryan said, “Kinda like getting a huge dish of ice cream. And Jeff, because it’s you it puts the whipped cream and cherry on top of the ice cream.” To which Jeff added, with a smirk, “And this time, we’ve included nuts.”
A big Thank You to Cole Parker for editing ‘A Totally Messed Up Halloween.’
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