“Are you sure you want to go?” I ask for the millionth time.
Oliver nods as he adjusts the satchel hanging over his shoulder. I smile, tucking my worry away into a small corner of my heart. It’ll grow there, but at least it’ll be quiet. Jack would roll his eyes at my nonsense.
Something catches in my throat and I swallow hard, pushing the memories down.
Oliver grabs my hand and pulls me through the door. I laugh, a sound so rare in the household I stop halfway through. I shake my head and take a deep breath. This night needs to be perfect. It’s been four months since the accident and Oliver deserves this.
Maybe I deserve this, too.
Perhaps it’s because of the flyers I hung up all week or the emails I sent to every neighbor, but the neighborhood doesn’t disappoint. Oranges, purples, and greens sparkle in Oliver’s eyes. I watch his mouth fall open at the thirty styrofoam gravestones in Mr. Atkinson’s yard and the extravagant light show against the Jeffersons' walls next door.
I crouch and put my hands on his cheeks, warming them. “You ready, kiddo?”
He nods and wraps his arms around my neck. The worry in my heart almost disappears.
I stand and take his small hand in mine. We visit Mr. Atkinson’s house first, passing one of my small flyers on the lamp post at the corner of his yard. Oliver’s first Halloween, it reads. Please help us make this night special!
I debated using “us” or “me” in the flyer for a long time. But in the end, I decided with the former. Jack and I had debated this for a year. Oliver’s first big holiday. Oliver’s first Halloween.
Besides, Halloween was Jack’s favorite holiday, anyway.
I hang back on the porch steps as Oliver approaches Mr. Atkinson’s door and rings the doorbell. A man with silvery hair and a mustache opens the door.
“Oliver! I’ve been waiting for you!” Mr. Atkinson reaches behind the door and presents Oliver with a huge chocolate bar, easily the size of Oliver’s head. He winks at me as he sets it in Oliver’s bag.
“What do you say, Oliver?”
“Thanks,” he whispers.
I sigh. If it takes a chocolate bar that big to make him utter a single word tonight, we’re in trouble.
“You’re welcome, young man!” says Mr. Atkinson with an enthusiastic grin.
Oliver stares at Mr. Atkinson, who gives me a questioning glance.
“He wants you to guess his costume,” I say. “I think he’ll give you something from his satchel if you do.”
Mr. Atkinson puts his hands on his hips and raises his eyebrow as he looks Oliver up and down. It's not much--just the satchel and a dark blue cloak lined with gold. “Hm. Tricky. Are you...an elf, perhaps?”
Oliver shakes his head and turns around to me. I take his hand and nod at Mr. Atkinson. “Good try, Mr. Atkinson.”
He laughs. “Better luck next time, eh? What is he?”
I shrug. “I’m not actually sure. He won’t tell me. Hopefully someone gets it right.” I smile at Oliver and he nods firmly.
Oliver wouldn’t give me any hints. He just looked over my shoulder as I scrolled through costumes online, then finally typed in what he wanted.
“Interesting.” I raised my eyebrows.
“Please, Mom,” he murmured. That did it. Two words. That was almost a record nowadays.
Oliver pulls my arm toward the next house.
“Thank you,” I mouth to Mr. Atkinson. He winks again before waving and closing the door.
We visit eleven more houses and my heart quickens with every word of thanks Oliver whispers. He hasn’t talked this much in a long time, even before Jack’s accident.
His candy bag bulges, but his smile wanes with every house.
“What’s wrong, kiddo?” I finally ask.
He sniffs and points to his cloak.
“Oh.” I squeeze his shoulders. “The night’s still young, Oliver. Someone’ll guess your costume soon. Let’s go visit Peggy’.” I nod toward the next house and Oliver sighs before walking up the sidewalk and ringing the doorbell.
A woman wearing brightly colored leggings, leg warmers, and a headband answers. “Ah!” Peggy’s face brightens. “A wandering trader, I see!”
Oliver gasps and I turn to him, worried, but he just smiles--big enough to show all of his teeth.
I look back at Peggy. “Um...what’s a wandering trader?”
Peggy laughs. “Only one of the best things about Minecraft!”
My heart stops and suddenly I’m wiping tears from my eyes.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Meg--did I say something?” Peggy leans forward as Oliver clutches my hand.
“No, no. It’s just…that was their favorite video game to play. Minecraft. Jack played it with Oliver every Sunday.”
Peggy’s face softens. “It’s our favorite, too. In fact...hold on right there.” Peggy disappears into the house.
I take a deep breath, kneel, and look Oliver in the eye. “Do you still play, honey?” I ask.
“Every Sunday,” he whispers.
I wrap my arms around him and close my eyes. “I’m sorry. I miss your dad more than anything, kiddo.”
He buries his face in my shoulder.
“Um, hi,” says a voice at Peggy’s doorway.
Oliver lets go and I straighten. There’s a young boy around Oliver’s age standing next to Peggy. He wears a costume made of tiny green squares.
“A creeper!” yells Oliver. I jump; I don’t think I’ve ever heard his voice that loud.
I glance questioningly at Peggy and she smiles. “Another Minecraft thing,” she whispers.
The boy at her side giggles. “I’m Max. You’re a wandering trader, right?”
Oliver nods and the boy grins. “I think you’re missing something. I hope you like this as much as candy.” He holds up a stuffed animal and Oliver gasps.
“A wandering trader’s llama!” he says. He stares at Max. “For me? Are you sure?”
I might be having a heart attack. Sentences. He’s speaking full sentences.
Max nods. “I have a lot of this stuff already. And...and maybe we can play sometime. Together.” He smiles.
Oliver blinks, then nods. “I’d like that.”
He squeezes the stuffed llama to his chest and I choke back a sob.
Peggy leans forward. “We’re all here for you guys, Meg. I hope you know that. We’ll always be here for you.”
As I think about Mr. Atkinson’s giant chocolate bar, and the thousands of twinkling lights from the houses, and the stuffed animal in Oliver’s arms, the worry disappears entirely from my heart.
An ode to my favorite video game.