Fiction Teens & Young Adult Friendship

Everyone knows about trick-or-treating. Everyone has an embarrassing photo of themselves as a child wearing some preposterous outfit. Except me, that is. I grew up without Halloween. I'm a sixteen-year-old girl, and my name is Amber Roux. Where I used to live, it was far too cold by October to go outside. By then, snowdrifts had shut our door.

But, due to unforeseeable circumstances, I am taking my little cousin, Emmy, trick-or-treating in humid Florida. Mosquitoes stick to my skin, managing to bite me through the thin fabric of the cheap angel costume my aunt bought for me. It seems impossibly hot for October, the temperature in the upper 70's despite the sun having set.

Emmy's tiny hand wriggles into mine, and my grim expression relaxes. The seven-year-old girl has never gone trick-or-treating without her mom before, but this year Aunt Hazel had to work. I feel a pang of sympathy for Emmy as I take notice of her imploring frown, and I know she's still hoping her mother might be able to make it.

I crouch down to meet her gaze, my fake wings wobbling, and smile encouragingly at her. "So, which house are we robbing first?"         My voice is soft and sweet.

She stares at her ballet shoes, but I can see her lips quirk upward. "We aren't robbing any houses, silly. We're going to take candy!"

I crease my brow in mock confusion. "I thought that was stealing?"

"Not if we say ‘Trick-or-Treat!’ or ‘Thank you!’" Emmy kicks a pebble across the pavement, skipping past me to chase it down.

I smile adoringly at her back, pleased to see her happiness. She's dressed up in the pink ballerina costume from her last dance recital, and her mousy brown hair is pulled into a tight bun, but little wisps curl rebelliously behind her ears.

Emmy's family lives in a nice neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, so I'm not particularly concerned about her knocking on a stranger's door. Also, every house either has small children at home or is a grandmother.

But I still firmly hold her hand as we go from house to house. I'm not worried, but I can't let her go. I'm an only child, so it's not like I have a frightful experience with losing a sibling.

I'm shaken from my thoughts when Emmy tugs on my arm. "Am-ber!" She drags out my name. "Can I go talk to Aster and Paisley?"

"Hmm?" I catch sight of the twin eight-year-olds that live next door. "Oh, yeah. Go ahead."

Emmy releases my hand and bounds over to her friends. I follow at a respectful distance, not wanting to intrude. I rub my palms against my long white skirt, wondering why I would wear this much clothing in the Florida heat.

I nibble my lower lip. Am I too far away? I run through my memories of Emmy's previous playdates, trying to gauge how far away her mom was while they played.

I'm beginning to consider joining in their game of tag to avoid the issue when a boy my age appears beside me. He has curly blond hair and fair skin sprinkled with freckles. The boy watches me mischievously down his hooked nose, his faint smile crooked. "Hey. I'm Griffin. I'm Aster and Paisley's older brother."

I get the feeling that this is the moment when two adults would shake hands, but we don't. "Hi, I'm Amber, Emmy's-"

"Older sister," Griffin finishes with that lopsided grin.

My ears turn warm, and I suck in my lip. "Actually, we're cousins. I'm visiting from Alaska." I decide he's dressed up as some sort of pirate or sailor, but he mostly looks normal.

He chuckles. "Well, how long are you staying?"

I glance up at him dubiously, wondering if this was some sort of joke. "Um, I'm not sure."

Griffin gives me a funny look but didn't press the subject. "Where in Alaska do you live? It's awful cold up there."

“I lived in Fairbanks. It’s probably in the well below freezing there.” My tone was wistful, but he shuddered comically.

“Coldest it ever gets here is the lower forties. And that’s in January!” I wrinkle my nose, and Griffin laughs at my disgust.

I sigh, exasperated. “Can we at least agree to never move to one another’s states?”

His smile was so ardently asymmetrical that I almost forgive him for laughing at me. “It looks like you’ve already broken your only rule.” My expression sours again, and Griffin laughs even harder. “Look, angel, you’re too easy to make fun of.”

I fold my arms across my chest and shift my weight back, muttering, “It- It’s Amber.”

For a moment he looks like he’s about to apologize, but I’m a terrible person, so I brush past him instead. I’m being irrational, and I know it, but the memory of home has me feeling all icky and homesick. I’ve never done Halloween before, I’ve never had a younger sibling or neighbor to babysit, and I’ve never felt so out of place.

The thought makes the barrier within me crumble. Funny how I didn’t even know it was there, but now I sense how vulnerable I am without it. My lips quiver, and I press my hands to my sides to hide their trembling. I squeeze my eyes shut and count to ten, taking a deep breath.

Everything is fine. I probably should go check on Emmy, though. Emmy! My eyes flutter open again, and a tight ball of panic expands into existence as I scan the empty yard before me. She isn’t playing in Aster and Paisley’s yard anymore, and the twins also are MIA.

I spin on my heel, going to the only other person who might have a clue where the trio went: Griffin. I desperately search for a solution where I don’t have to talk to him, but he deserves to know that his siblings are missing.

I’m startled to see that he was watching me. By his expression, I think he’s equally surprised. But before I can inform him of the situation, Griffin seems to realize that I have no younger children in tow. He rushes forward to meet me, grabbing my forearms to keep me from walking away. “Where are Aster and Paisley?”’

I shrug helplessly. “I haven’t seen Emmy either.” Griffin releases me, running his fingers through his wavy hair. “Do you know where they might be?” I can hear the desperation in my voice.

“I don’t know, Amber...but...maybe? Follow me.” He starts to walk down the street, and I stumble after him.

“Where are we going?”

Griffin doesn’t say anything at first, as if unsure of how to describe it. “Well...there’s this old pecan grove. Really nice climbing trees. Aster, Paisley, and Emmy like to go there together, but they aren’t supposed to be there by themselves. It’s private property, and not very close to the house. It takes a few minutes to walk there.”

“Minutes?” I echo. “Why exactly aren’t they supposed to be there?”

He glances back at me from over his shoulder. “It takes a few minutes for little kids to walk there. We should reach the grove in a moment.”

I stare at his back, knowing he hasn’t answered my question. “Is it dangerous?”

Griffin doesn’t meet my eyes. “There was a small accident a couple years back, nothing serious.” He grips his forearm subconsciously as if remembering an old injury.

I shiver, not at all liking the undertone to his words. We turn at the corner, and bam, the street ends. I’m startled by how abruptly the pavement stops and a dirt road begins. A wide grassy expanse is dotted with pecan trees, still clinging to vibrant green leaves.

The sun has set, and shadows coat the branches in the twilight. It’s eerily quiet, and I notice that I can’t hear crickets chirping or the melancholic tune of the cicadas in the background. I used to find their endless cacophony annoying, but I miss their familiar presence.

“Listen,” Griffin implores in a hushed tone, and I do. Soft whispers creep out of the dark orchard, and we both step forward in sync.

It’s so dark out here.”

“Don’t be such a baby. Here, lemme go higher.”

“You’re in my way!”

“Ouch, that’s my hand!”

“Did y’all hear something?”

“It’s your imagination. Scooch!”

“I want to go back.”

“We just got here! I’m not leaving.”

“Paisley? Do you want to leave?”

“Sorry, but I only just got up here. Aster usually hogs the high branch.”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

“I don’t want to leave by myself!”

“Did you hear that?”

“I told you-”

“Hush. What’s that-”

“I want to go back. It’s dark out here.”

“I said-”

“Can we go?”

“Yeah, Aster-”

“I said be quiet!”

The chorus of voices falls silent, and Griffin and I duck behind a tree. He signals me to be quiet.

I shake my head, calling out, “Em-”

He shoves his hand over my mouth, shaking his head rapidly, but I swat him away and step away from the cover of the pecan tree. “Emmy! Paisley? Aster? It’s me, Amber. Hello?”

“Amber?” Emmy’s voice is small and distant.

“I’m coming!” Old pecan shells crunch underneath my shoes as I run towards her voice. I catch sight of her shimming down a tree put on a burst of speed. “Emmy!” I crush her in a hug. “Never, ever do that to me again!”

“I’m-I’m sorry, Am-ber.” Her sweet voice is muffled through my dress. “I’m really, really, sorry.” We are both shaking, and I realize we’re crying.

“I was so scared. Are you all right?”


I look up, seeing Griffin standing awkwardly behind us. Impulsively, I tackle him in a  brief hug before pulling away. “Thank you. I never would have found Emmy without you.”

“Uh, no problem.” He appears thoroughly bewildered. Griffin shakes his head as if trying to throw off a disconcerting thought. “Aster, Paisley, I know y’all are in that tree. I would really appreciate it if y’all don’t make me stand here all night.”

Two embarrassed kids wearing pirate costumes climb down from the pecan tree, mumbling, “Sorry.”

Griffin folds his arms across his chest sternly.

Paisley takes the hint. “Sorry we ran off without permission. We won’t do it again.”

Aster doesn’t say anything, and Paisley nudges him with one boot. Sighing, he echoes her apology.

A small grin quirks the edges of Griffin’s lips. “That’s better. Now, let’s go trick-or-treating. Because of y’all’s shenanigans, all the good candy is gone, but we can try to get some goodies.”

Tearstained Emmy nods remorsefully, and so does Paisley. Together, we leave the dark pecan grove behind and reenter the neighborhood of bright streetlamps and welcoming doorsteps. We all cry out, “Trick-or-treat!” and listen to the satisfying crackle of candy rustling in our bags.

Things didn’t go very smoothly for my first Halloween, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. With Emmy’s hand in mine and a smile on her face, I think I’ll always be content.

October 30, 2020 17:43

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