Halloween sucks when you're fifteen. I mean, you're too old to go door to door in costume getting a pillowcase full of candy, though some kids my age still do. My parents wouldn't let me though, and most of my friends' parents wouldn't let them either. So, you're too old for getting massive amounts of free candy, but you're too young to go to the really cool Halloween parties. Again, my parents, and the parents of most of my friends, wouldn't let us go.
So, what to do? Sure, I could stay home and hand out candy, oohing and ahhing at all the cute costumes of the kids that came to the door, but, sorry, I think I'll leave that to my mom for now. Most of the community Halloween events were aimed at kids younger than us, or at adults. Nobody seems to want to deal with large, rowdy groups of fifteen to seventeen year olds. Really, knowing me and my friends, I can't say that I blame them. Noise and messes are our specialty, and we take pride in our work.
Our school had a dance last Friday. For some reason it was held a full week before Halloween. A lot of the kids at my school went to that, all dressed up as rock stars, sports heroes, or whatever. I heard that Jimmy Henderson went as a giant condom. Apparently with a reservoir tip and everything, with shaving cream or something in it. The teachers wouldn't let him in. That's what I heard anyway. I didn't go.
It's not that I'm anti-social or anything. I like parties, and dances, and hanging out with my friends. But, the last few years I've been avoiding the kind of events where we might be expected to bring a date. In fact, I thought I had done a pretty good job of finding excuses that my friends would buy. It was getting harder and harder to do that though. I wonder if my friends were starting to catch on that I was avoiding these kinds of events.
“Val,” my friend Stan was saying, “we're getting tired of you avoiding all the dances and parties and those kind of events. My parents said I could have a small party at our house on Saturday for Halloween, and you're coming. Even if we have to drag you there. With or without a date.”
We were sitting at our usual table in our school lunch room on Thursday. Just a few days before Halloween. 'We' meaning me, Stan, Liz, David, Annie, and Des. Our table wasn't one of the ones in the center of the room, where the Beautiful People sat, nor was it one of the ones in the dark, dingy corners of the room, where the misfits and woe-begones sat. It wasn't near the teachers' table, where the nerds and geeks sat, and it wasn't in the very back, where the goths and emos sat. It was firmly in the middle. Just like us. Just average.
Val is me. My parents, obviously never, ever, having set foot in a junior high school in their entire lives, named me, of all things, Valentine. Yes, I'm a boy. You get one guess for when my birthday is. It was a bit better now in high school, but boy oh boy did I get sick of hearing the teasing about my name the past few years. Especially the fag comments. Especially since they were true. I only really completely admitted that to myself a year or so ago. Though nobody, absolutely nobody, on this earth has or ever will find out about that. Ever. Period. End of discussion.
“You know Val,” said David, the most athletic one of us, “why don't you ask James? He might like to go, and he seems nice enough.”
Annie reached over and placed her fingers underneath my chin, and pushed my mouth closed. She was laughing at my expression. If my eyes were any wider people would've been able to see the back of them. The rest of my friends looked equally amused. I felt my cheeks burning.
James Karlin is the school's most out and most effeminate gay guy by far. I mean, he minced. He pranced. He swooned. He lisped. He dressed more fashionably than Samantha Crowley, and her mom owned the big women's clothing shop downtown. And he most definitely was not my type. At all. Even if anyone ever did find out I'm gay.
Oh wait. Shit.
My mouth opened, and then closed again, obviously disgusted realizing it couldn't do anything useful without my brain having some semblance of a thought in it. I looked around at my friends' amused expressions.
“Oh, come on Val, give it a rest,” said Des. “It's not like we haven't all known about you for more than a year. Don't play dumb.”
More than a year? More than a year!? I only figured it out for sure myself less than a year ago! What the hell?!
“I, uh...,” I said. Well, that was an impressive coming out speech.
“Dude, it's not like it matters or anything. Duh.” That was Des again. He had a way with words. All that pot I think, though he was the nicest guy you could ever want to meet. Just don't ask him to help with anything remotely close to physical work.
Liz, she was David's girlfriend, and the smartest one of us, said, “It's kind of obvious you know.” She must've seen my stricken expression, because she backpedaled quickly. “No, no, not obvious to everyone. Obvious to us, the people that know you. Or at least to me anyway.”
“Yeah,” said Des, “Liz figured it out and we talked about it a long time ago. Then we all started watching and noticed what she noticed. It's cool.”
Not much help there. To Des, almost everything was either 'cool' or 'raunchy.' Not much in between really. At least I wasn't raunchy. I looked around at everyone else, mostly Stan. He was probably the closest friend out of all of them. He saw me looking at him.
“Des is right ,Val, it's cool,” Stan said with a smile. The smile was genuine. I could tell he was sincere. My shoulders relaxed. I let out a loud breath.
“I, uh...,” I said. I guess I figured my articulate and emotional coming out speech was worth a repeat. I'm sure I wowed them again.
“Don't bother trying to argue Val,” said Annie, laughing. She was always laughing. Like the whole world was a funny, funny joke and she was the audience. Nobody could ever not like Annie. Even the school's meanest and and most barbaric bullies left her alone. “Unless we're all wrong about you?” She raised her eyebrows, a smile still on her face. Come to think of it, I don't think I'd recognize her if a smile wasn't on her face.
I looked at my friends' expectant faces. My brain settled down and started its neurons firing in a kind of normal pattern again. I sighed. “No, you're not wrong.” Well, it was better than my previous speech, even if I still hadn't said the 'gay' word.
Des smacked his hands palm down on the table, as if now that the matter was settled we could move on to more important things. “Ok, guys, who's dressing up as what for Stan's party? And who's sneaking in the rum to spike the punch?”
Supper time was usually a good time to ask my parents for things. They had time to listen, and if what I wanted required an explanation or an argument, they had time to consider what I was asking. We had sat down, and I was well into my second piece of fried chicken when I asked them.
“Mom, Dad, can I go to Stan's on Saturday night? Until about one, or maybe two?”
Dad just looked at me, his eyebrows raised. He wasn't a fool. “How many kids are going to be at the party, will Linda and Bill be home, and who's sneaking in the booze?”
I had long ago learned straight and direct answers would work better to get me what I wanted from Dad. “Uh, a dozen or less, and yes they'll be home and will want to talk to you before then, if you say yes, and, uh, well, I think David will probably try and bring something, maybe. But I'll keep away from all that!”
Dad grunted. I smiled. That was a yes. Cool.
Mom of course had a few more questions. “Well, maybe until 11, or midnight. I'll see what Linda says. Maybe I'll call her after supper. Will you need a Halloween costume, or are you going to try and make something?”
“I was thinking of making something, Mom. I'm thinking of going as a zombie. Just some torn clothes, make-up and fake blood should do it.” I smiled. I was getting into it now.
“Ok, now I don't want you walking home that late, so you'll have to phone for a ride. No riding with someone from the party. No arguments. I'm sure there will be drinking, and it's not worth the risk. If you're not staying the night, you phone us, and Dad or I will pick you up. Is that clear?”
“No problem mom.” I smiled wider. This was going to be fun.
Her expression changed. “Now, dear, who are you taking with you? Do you have some nice boy in mind?” Mom was smiling at me, her eyes gentle. Dad was looking at me too. I knew that look. The one that said something like, 'This is a test. Are you going to be honest? Will you make me proud?'
I wasn't smiling anymore. Once again, my mouth was hanging open. It seemed to be the day for that. And once again, my mouth gave up in defeat at my brain's inability to send it words, and it closed. I just looked back and forth between them.
“Honey, if we're right, and I think we are, it's ok. We've known that it might be true since you were eleven. When you had that mad crush on your cousin Joshie,” said Mom.
Joshie?! What mad crush? When I was eleven!? What? What the hell? I didn't even remember having a crush on him when I was eleven.
I looked at them both again. I felt a tear slide down my cheek. Just one cheek, strangely enough. “Mom, Dad,” I said, “I'm...uh...like...I think I'm gay.”
My tears were wetting both cheeks now. They weren't sad tears though. I knew, just knew from my parents' expressions, that it was all going to be ok.
Dad looked at me, and smiled that smile. The one that only people that knew him well knew was a smile. He grunted. The grunt that meant he was proud at my honesty. I grinned. Mom got up and came to my chair and hugged me. I laughed.
What a weird day.
I was sulking, or at least pretending to sulk. My friends were ignoring this though, and they continued to gleefully point out prospective dates for me and compare their attributes or lack thereof. It was lunchtime on Friday.
“Dude, what about Lee over there? He's cute, right?” said Des.
I looked over to where he was pointing. A hulking senior with bad acne and greasy hair was glowering into his french fries. It was hard to figure out what the rest of him looked like through the voluminous black robes billowing around him. I groaned and covered my face with my hands.
Liz swatted Des's head. “You doofus. Now, Rick over there is a fine specimen of manhood for our Val.”
My eyes widened. She couldn't mean...I looked. She did. Rick, who I did have to admit was a very fine looking specimen indeed, also happened to be about the most outspoken bigot in the school. If it was different, he hated it by default.
“Liz, gimme a break! You gotta be kidding me!” I said, with clear disdain.
Liz looked at me for a second, then frowned. “Well, ok, I suppose he's a wee bit judgmental. Ok, David, who do you think we should ask?”
“Umm, hello!? Nobody's going to be doing any asking anything of anybody. Joke's over guys, c'mon. If I ask anyone, which I won't be by the way, but if I were to, I would do it myself, and then desensitize him gradually to you guys before formal introductions.” There, I thought. That ought to shut 'em up.
“Hmm,” David said, ignoring me completely, “I think maybe Mike would be a great date. Des, go on over there and see what he says.”
Des actually half stood up. I didn't even wait to find out which of the half dozen Mike's in our school he was talking about. I grabbed Des's wrist.
“Dude. Don't. Just don't.”
Des just chuckled and sat down again. “Ok guys, joke's over. I think he's had enough.” He turned to me. “Wow, dude, chill. We're just cranking you up. You oughta know that. It's just us.”
I sighed. They were right of course, I participated in this kind of ganging up and teasing myself on countless occasions. I don't know why I was taking it so seriously this time. Well, actually I did know. But I didn't want to admit that.
“Sorry guys, I don't mean to over react. Look, I'll be coming alone tomorrow. Just me. Alone. Don't worry about it. If I ever find a date, maybe, if I'm lucky, by third year university, it'll happen on my terms,” I said. “What about you guys? Who're you all going with?” Of course, David was going with Liz, and I suspected Annie was going to show up with Robert Calley, but I didn't know about Stan or Des. I hoped the subject change would be enough to distract them.
I lucked out. It was.
My phone woke me up at 9:30 on Saturday morning. I dug around behind my bed where it had fallen during the night and managed to grab it and hit answer before it went to voicemail. The caller ID said it was Stan.
“Geez, it's still the middle of the night! What did you wake me up for?”
I heard Stan laughing at me through the phone. “Meet me at the mall in half an hour, in front of the food court. I need you to help me find a couple of things for my costume, and I'll bet you need stuff too.”
“Fine, whatever.” I hit end and shook out the cobwebs before making my way to the shower.
It wasn't much of a mall really, but it was close enough that we could get there by riding a bike, walking, or begging a ride from a family member, so it was the one we usually went to. I got to the food court about thirty five minutes after Stan's call, and sat down to wait. I knew he'd be at least another five minutes.
Sure enough, six minutes later, he found me and plopped down across the table from me, grinning. “Hey Val. You gotta help me. I asked Karen Hennity to come with me tonight and we need stuff for costumes. Fast. I told her I already have it all worked out.”
I laughed. “Always good to hear you're starting off a relationship with honesty Stan. Ok, whatever. What do you need?”
He had some weird idea for making some kind of uniforms from his favorite sci fi TV show, Battlestar Galactica. He could've picked something a bit easier. We spent the next hour and a half trying to find the things he needed, finally stopping in the weird little shop that sold all kinds of novelty items. I knew they'd have the make-up and stuff I needed for my costume. Of course, with Halloween around the corner it was the busiest store in the mall. I finally found the area I was looking for and picked out some white and black make-up, fake blood, and a couple of other things. I stepped back and turned around and ran right into someone, who dropped what they were holding.
“Oh, geez, sorry,” I said. “Let me grab that for you.” I bent down and picked up what he had dropped. Mostly similar stuff to what I was buying. I stood up and reached out to hand it to him and finally looked at who it was. “Oh, hey Danny. Looks like you're here for about the same reason as me.”
Danny was in a couple of my classes. I didn't know him very well. He always seemed to be one of those kids that exists on the periphery of everything at school. Watching, but not really completely participating. He always seemed nice enough though, and he was easy to look at.
He smiled back, though his smile, as usual, seemed a bit tentative, “Oh, hi Val.” He looked at his purchases, then at the things in my hands, “Yeah, looks like. I'm going with my parents this afternoon to the children's hospital to hand out candy, since they can't go trick-or-treating. We've done that a few years now. We always go in costume.”
I had just learned more about Danny in those few seconds than I knew the whole year up until now. It sounded like a fun way to spend the day too. I'll bet the looks on those kids' faces at the hospital would be awfully cool.
“Wow, sounds cool Danny.” I smiled to show him I meant it. He looked for a second like he thought I was teasing him, then he seemed to relax. “I'd like to do something like that too, but I can't today. We're going to a little party thing at Stan's tonight, so me and him are trying to sort out our costumes.”
He looked at me like he was trying to figure out what to say next. Finally, he just said, “Ok, well, have fun. I gotta go. Bye.”
He turned and walked off towards the cashier. I shrugged and hunted down Stan, who was looking at some Star Wars stuff. Oh god, I'll bet he just got an idea and changed his mind and we're going to have to start over.
“Hey, Val, come here. I just got an idea...”
My costume wasn't hard. I found an old t-shirt and pair of jeans, tore them strategically, dirtied them and covered them with hopefully realistic smudges and spatters of fake blood. I used the rest of the blood and the other make-up to zombify my face, arms, and hands. Looking in the mirror, I thought it turned out pretty well. I looked at my phone and figured I had time to sit down and play a game or two before I needed to leave. Then I remembered I was supposed to bring some snacks and soft drinks. Shit.
I grabbed my wallet and phone and walked the two blocks to the convenience store on the corner. I was crossing the parking lot when a car pulled in and three people in costume got out. Two adults from the front seat and a boy about my age from the back seat. Cool, another zombie. I think his costume was a bit better than mine actually. He saw me and smiled. It was then that I realized who it was. It was Danny, the same Danny who was probably just getting back from the children's hospital.
I hammed it up. I held out my arms in front of me and lurched towards him. “Brains! I need brains!!” I said.
Danny held his own arms up and began lurching in my direction. “Feed me! Feed me!! Aaarrrrgghh!” he moaned.
Danny's dad smiled at the two of us, and turned to his wife. “C'mon honey, let's leave them out here and get away before we get infected.” They strolled into the store.
Danny stopped in front of me, his smile was a bit less hesitant than usual. “Hey Val.”
I dropped my own arms and grinned back. “Hiya Danny. How was the hospital?”
“Oh man, it was so cool. You should have seen the kids' faces! We had toys too, because a lot of the kids aren't allowed candy, and it was a blast watching them get all excited when we came into their rooms.”
“Sounds great. How many kids did you manage to see?” I asked.
“I think it was probably at least thirty.” He laughed, “I scared the crap out of one little guy though. He was about five I think, and when I lurched into his room all zombie like he started crying. I felt awful. I'm glad he stopped crying when I pulled out some candy and toys.”
I laughed too. “So now what? Are you guys going to a Halloween party or something?”
“No, just heading home.” His face lost its shine. “There's a movie I've been looking forward to watching, I think I might have a chance to see it tonight.”
I wish I could invite him to Stan's party. But I knew I couldn't. It would be too weird. I didn't really know Danny at all. He was a lot nicer and more caring than I had realized though. And he made for an awfully cute zombie. I just smiled at him, staring a bit. My brain kinda froze up again, thinking these thoughts. I knew I could never ask him though.
“Hey Danny, do you want to come with me to Stan's party tonight? It'll be fun,” I heard my mouth say. It was obviously tired of not getting clear direction from my brain these days and decided to take matters into its own hands. Or lips. Or whatever.
Shit. Now what was I going to do? He'll think I'm gay or something.
Danny just looked at me for a few seconds. I could just see his mind working, trying to figure out the dynamics.
“Umm, are you, like, asking me on, like, a date? Or something?” he asked. I couldn't figure out his tone at all, though it didn't sound angry or anything.
I thought fast. “Uh, I'm not sure zombies date actually. I think they just eat brains.” Hey, it was the best I could think of on short notice.
Danny was studying my face. “Well, uh, I guess. I mean, sure, I'd love to go. I'll have to ask my parents though.”
Just as if it had been planned that way, they walked out of the store at that moment.
Danny waited until they walked over to us. “Mom, Dad, this is Val. From school. Anyway, he's going to a friend's place tonight for a while, and I was wondering if it would be ok if I went with him.”
Danny's mom smiled. Danny's dad looked at me calculatingly. He spoke to Danny. “Who's place, how many people will be at the party, will their parents be home, until what time, and who's sneaking in the booze?” he asked. Geez, did dads all read the same manual or something?
Danny looked at me. I said, “Stan Hiller's place, sir. His parents are Linda and Bill Hiller, and yes, they'll be home. I can give you their number, I think they want to talk to all the parents of the kids that are coming anyway. And, umm, I don't know if anyone will be bringing any booz...” Danny's dad's expression hardened a bit. I continued, “...well, probably someone will. But I won't touch it and I can make sure Danny doesn't either.” I hoped I saved the day.
Danny's mom was looking back and forth between the two of us with the exact same knowing smile that my mom used when she thinks she's on to something. She said, “I'll call Linda. I don't need her number though, I know her from work. I think it would be great if you went out with some friends, Danny. Go. Have fun. I'll call Linda when your dad and I get home. If there's any problem, I'll call you, Danny. Ok?”
Danny was grinning now. Wow, it sure made his face look amazing. “Thanks Dad, thanks Mom. What time do I need to be home?”
“Hmm. Let me talk to Linda first, then I'll text you, ok? You can phone or text us for a ride home afterwards. No riding with anybody from the party. There might be drinking.”
I swear, parents all read the exact same manual.
I looked at Danny, “Why don't you come with me now, I just have to buy some snacks and then I'm headed there.”
We walked into the store and I was standing looking over the snack selection when it hit me. Oh shit. I was bringing a date. Well, kind of. I needed to find a way to make sure everyone knew it was just a friend, not a date, and to keep their mouths shut. Or this could get real embarrassing. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and made a few quick texts while looking over the potato chips.
The party was fun. True to his word, David managed to sneak in some rum and some vodka and spiked the punch. Stan's parents came downstairs to check up on us a few minutes later. Stan's dad made a show of tasting the punch. He then took the punch bowl, dumped it in the toilet, flushed, and Stan's mom brought down another fresh batch of punch. Neither of them said a word, but Stan's dad's look as he stared at each of us in turn was more than enough. Then they went upstairs again.
“Oh man, I didn't even get a cup of that,” whined Des.
David then pulled out another bottle of something, held it high in triumph, and, once again, spiked the punch. Des grinned. At least we were predictable.
My friends were actually being friends for a change. They didn't react when I showed up with Danny, and just treated him like a friend. Nobody hinted at dates or anyone being gay or anything like that. I relaxed and was able to enjoy myself. Danny and I stuck pretty close together though, partly because I don't think he really knew anyone there very well.
We spent much of the time between conversations and jokes pretending to work together to eat people's brains. As any good zombie should.
I was glad there wasn't anybody dancing. I'm not sure what I would've done. I suppose just ignore the whole thing probably.
I was sitting on an old couch in Stan's family room, listening to Liz argue with somebody about global warming of all things. Those of us sitting or standing around listening were interjecting stupid jokes when we could. There were four of us crowded onto the three person couch, so Danny was sitting up close next to me. Thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder. I could feel the heat from his leg and arm. It was very, uh, well, nice. Another word might fit better, but it's a bit embarrassing. Danny's hands were on his lap as he listened to the conversation. He hadn't really joined in much, but was volunteering a few comments now on this latest subject. He seemed to be siding with Liz for the most part, whatever side that was.
Just as he made some particularly emphatic comment and several people around us were nodding thoughtfully I felt the back of his hand slide to the edge of his lap and touch my own.
I had to excuse myself very fast or my old torn zombie jeans would have shown something I wasn't sure zombies were capable of. “Bathroom,” I said to Danny's confused look. As I closed the bathroom door, I wondered about that look. Was it just confused, or was it slightly hurt too? Or was my imagination running away with me?
When I returned somebody had stolen my seat on the couch so I stood behind the couch, right behind Danny. I put my hands on the back of the couch and leaned forward a bit to hear what Liz was saying over the music. And to make sure my hands touched Danny's shoulders.
Danny jumped slightly and turned his head to see who it was. Seeing me, he smiled and turned back to Liz. Then, wonder of wonders, he leaned back against my hands. I let one of them move onto a shoulder, just sitting there lightly. Danny leaned back even more.
I wasn't even following the conversation anymore. Besides, they had moved on to the merits versus cost of space exploration or something and I couldn't follow about half of it. The only thing I was really aware of was Danny's shoulder, Danny's back, the smell of his shampoo coming from his hair, and the warmth and tingling feeling coming through into my hands.
I wondered if it was the same for Danny. He seemed to have lost all interest in joining in the conversation.
An hour or two later a few of us had finished two or three glasses of punch, and were acting a bit silly. Nothing over the top or anything, but the jokes became a little cruder, the actions a bit less inhibited, that kind of thing. I was pretending to chase Annie, who was dressed, of course, as a clown. “Mmm, clown brains!” I moaned as I lurched after her. She was laughing, of course, and running away. She ended up moving towards Danny, who was sitting chatting with Liz. He looked up, saw what was going on, and jumped up himself. I didn't think he had it in him, he was always so quiet and reserved at school. But he started coming towards Annie from the opposite direction, moaning the same thing I was.
We were only a few feet apart when Annie cut sideways and ran behind Des and David, leaving me and Danny standing there facing each other.
“Now what, zombies?” laughed Annie, “You'll have to eat each other.”
I looked at Danny. He looked back. I grinned a bit, and saw him do the same.
I raised my arms and took a lurching step towards him. “Aaarggh! Mmm! Zombie brains!” I moaned.
Danny was trying to stay in character, but the laughing didn't quite work for a zombie, “Mmm, must eat teen zombie. I need zombie brains...” he said.
We ended up lurching into each other, our arms stretched out behind each other. I think neither of us really knew what we wanted to do next. I moved my head forward and pretended to be trying to gnaw brains out of Danny's head. He did the same.
Really, I can't blame Adam for thinking what he did when he walked into the room at that moment. “Ewww, that's disgusting!” he yelled. “What the hell?! You fucking pervs!”
Danny and I sprang apart like we were jet propelled and stood there looking at each other. I think his face mirrored my own. Fear and embarrassment. His posture was stiff and any fun and relaxation he had gained in the past few hours looked like it was gone. I have no doubt I looked pretty much the same.
Somebody yelled to Adam, “What's the matter Adam? You a zombophobe? Can't handle a little zombie love?”
Somebody else joined in, “Hey Adam, what's your problem? They can't help being undead. It's not like they had a choice to get infected with the zombie plague.”
Stan's voice this time, “They deserve brains as much as the rest of us you know, Adam! Geez, what's your problem? If they're eating each others' brains then they sure don't care about your own, provided you even have one!”
Adam didn't know what to think. He looked around at everyone, shook his head, and actually walked out the door. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing when it's on your side.
Danny and I were still standing there looking at each other. Somebody else, I think it was Liz, started chanting, “Zombie Rights! Zombie Rights! Zombie Rights!”
Pretty soon most of the room joined in. “Zombie Rights! Zombie Rights! Zombie Rights!”
Danny and I were still standing there. I was looking in his eyes and he was looking in mine. We moved a bit closer to each other. I tried to stay in character, I wailed about brains again. Still closer. We were in each other's arms again. I moved my head forward to pretend to eat his brains, and he did the same. Only we missed. Or something. Our lips touched, our mouths connected, our tongues meshed.
As the kiss continued I heard the cheers and the hoots and hollers. My friends' voices were noticeably louder than anybody else's.
We pulled apart slightly and stood there looking at each other. Danny's smile was back, along with something else in his eyes. He must've seen something in mine too, because we both leaned forward for another kiss, much to our audience's glee and amusement.
It was a good day to be undead.