"Oh. My. God.”
“I know. I couldn’t believe it either.”
"So, did you, like, say yes? Please tell me you said yes. Because if you didn’t, then you’re, like, crazy, or something.”
“I told him I’d think about it.”
She groaned and I laughed.
"What is wrong with you?”
“Well, apparently, I’m crazy.”
"Yes! You are! I mean, who says no to Todd Martin? That’s gotta be...I don’t know—a sin.”
“Oh, please,” I said, rolling my eyes, even though she couldn’t see. “First of all, I never said no. I said I’d think about it. And, second, I’m allowed to say no if I want to. I don’t owe any man anything.”
"Okay, babe, seriously, I love you and everything, but cut the feminist bullcrap for a second and listen to me. I’m not expecting you to marry the guy or anything, but it would be really nice to see you get back out there again. Ever since your thing with Matt—”
“Vee,” I warned.
"Look, I know you don’t want to talk about it, but dude, it’s been a little over a year now and you still haven’t talked to anyone aside from me and Avery.”
“That’s not true,” I grumbled. “I talk to Chip all the time.”
"Okay, well, Chip is a cat. And I’m not psychic or anything, but I’m pretty sure he thinks you need a life.”
I bit my lip as I glanced down at the feline on my lap. He lifted his head, ears like radars pointing toward sounds my human ears could not hear. Chip was my emotional support when Vee wasn’t there to be on the receiving end. For the past year, I’ve felt a little out of touch with society because, as I inferred, my cat had become the only man in my life, aside from my dad. He was the best cuddle buddy a girl could ask for. What more could a boy offer?
“Hey, Vee, I have to go. Mom’s calling for me.”
“Alright, Wynny. Call me later.”
I scooped Chip up into the cradle of my arms after I set my phone down beside me. As I stood from my bed, a cool breeze flew through the window, fluttering the translucent drapes and crinkling loose papers on my desk. Padding down the hallway to the mezzanine that looked out over the foyer, I called out, “What’s up?”
“Honey?” Her voice was still far away. I could only assume she was in her office. “I need you to run down to Taylor Drug real quick and pick up some candy for trick or treat tonight.”
“What happened to the bag of Hershey kisses Dad bought the other day?”
“I may or may not have eaten a few.”
I smiled to myself. “Okay, but if I go get more, will you be able to restrain yourself until tonight?”
“Might want to get something I don’t like.”
“Got it.” I bent over to set Chip on the floor. He meowed in protest. “Sorry, bud. I’ll be back soon.”
Knowing the trip wouldn’t take long, I swept my hair up into a ponytail and slipped on a pair of flats before walking out the door. The stale, pungent smell of decaying leaves drifted through the frigid air, a whiff of cinnamon from my pea coat shooting my veins up with the essence of nostalgia. There weren’t many cars out on the streets at this time of day, especially since the local police blocked off sections of the village so that it would be safer for kids to wander off wherever they please. For one, brief moment, I wondered what everyone on campus was doing tonight. Then I reminded myself that it didn’t matter because they would all be coming to my party in a couple of days. Well, Vee’s party. I, of course, am making all the arrangements as far as tables, decorations, and snacks go. After suggesting we add CocoRosie to the Halloween playlist, I was immediately booted off the DJ committee. That meant leaving all music choice to Vee, who insisted I do literally everything else if it meant keeping me from killing everyone’s “vibe”. Not that I mind. I wanted our party to be successful, and if that meant listening to club music all night long, so be it.
Shopkeepers were closing early to prepare for trick or treat, but, thankfully, Taylor Drug was still open for business. On the outside, it looked like every other shop on the block with an old storefront, vintage lettering, and a pair of heavy, wooden doors between two wide display windows. The only difference was the interior. While other places along the street were adorned with faux vintage furniture, and cheap knickknacks manufactured in China, everything in Taylor Drug was authentic, originating from eras long past. The moment I pushed my way through the doors, the silver bell above my head rang out in the open air. Light from the sun spilled onto the floors and brightened the yellow walls, reflecting off the Mylar coating of plainly-packaged chips. A boy my age, whom I immediately recognized from school, appeared from the backroom with an awkward smile on his face. He called out a quiet “hello” and I returned the greeting with pursed lips and a slight nod.
Before he could ask if I needed help with anything, I shifted my eyes away from his and shuffled into a nearby aisle, gradually making my way towards the candy section. My fingers reached out to touch the smooth surfaces of greeting cards that haven’t changed since my family and I first moved here. At the end of the aisle, I picked up the same pair of sunglasses I had tried on yesterday and examined them in the mirror. Suddenly, the weight of the ten-dollar bill I had pocketed before I left grew twenty pounds heavier. After spending a minute of contemplating whether I would have enough to buy them, I eventually decided against it and continued with my mission.
In the next aisle over, I browsed the wide selection of hard candies and local-brand chocolate bars. It took no time at all for my eyes to fall upon a variety pack of Smarties, SweeTarts, and Laffy Taffy, my mom’s least favorite kind of candy.This’ll keep her away, I thought to myself. As soon as I picked it up to examine the labels, the bell at the front entrance rang. Out of habit, I glanced up. A guy, who looked a couple years older than me, stood by the entrance, his eyes hidden behind darkly shaded sunglasses, which, notably, were cooler than the pair I had just tried on. His hair was dark and tastefully windswept, just barely long enough to cover his ears. At first, I didn’t think much of him until an unsettling grin spread across his face. Even though I couldn’t see his eyes, I knew he was looking at me. As he took one step in my direction, a chill slithered down my spine. His boots scuffed along the floor slowly, but with purpose. I looked down at the bag of candy in my hands and tried my best to ignore him, but he stopped right beside me. Eventually, I lost the battle of attrition, peeking up at him to meet his gaze. I couldn’t help but feel claustrophobic as he slouched over me like the canopy in a rainforest. My reflection in the lens of his shades looked petrified. I glanced over my shoulder, hoping that the boy from school would come by to check up on me. When it became clear he would be keeping his presence scarce, I turned to face the guy once more.
“Uh, sorry. Do I know you from somewhere?” I asked.
“No, but I know you.”
My brows furrowed.Okay, I thought.Who the hell is he?But I couldn’t force my mouth open to say the words.
“No response?” he asked quietly with a sparkle in his eye.
Without even thinking, I shook my head.
“Hm. Okay.” He turned on his heel and went up to the counter.
I flinched at his untimely farewell, which had come as quickly as when he first appeared. Having never been in a situation like this before, I followed after him, stopping to stand several feet away as I watched, in disbelief, as he asked for a pack of Camel Lights. The boy behind the counter handed it to him and asked, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Yeah,” the guy said, throwing down a ten. “Keep the change.”
He didn’t even look back at me before walking out the door.
Without hesitation, I checked out and ran for the door. My breath caught in my throat as I came to a halt just outside the store. On the other side of the street, he was leaning up against his motorcycle with his arms crossed over his chest. He had taken off his sunglasses, revealing what must have been the bluest eyes I have ever seen in my life. All traces of that devilish mischief were now masked by something much darker, more serious. Even from here, I saw him look me up and down slowly. Logic told me to turn and walk the other way. Curiosity, however, prevailed, and I found myself looking both ways before crossing the main road. The tension in my stomach became almost unbearable. About halfway, I thought of going back, but it was too late. I was coming to a stop in front of him. For a while, neither one of us gave into the silence until I finally decided to take the initiative.
“You wanna tell me what that was all about?”
“Okay, well, could you at least talk so I know you’re not going to kidnap me or kill me or...something?”
The corners of his mouth twitched up.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
He raised a brow at me and I struggled to keep my infamous eye roll at bay.
His smile grew. Almost tactfully, he pulled a cigarette out with his lips, tucking the rest into the inside pocket of his leather jacket.
“Evan,” he said, lighting his cancer stick. “Evan Hayes.”
“Okay, so, what, are you new here?”
“Depends. Have you seen me around?”
“Uh, no,” I replied hesitantly.
It was my turn to cross my arms and arch a brow.
“Oh yeah? When?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Did someone send you to do this?”
“Do what, miss? I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed you, but I just so happened to notice you from across the street. Such a pretty thing like you, I couldn’t help but introduce myself.”
I glared at him. The playful look in his eye was back, and this time, instead of intimidation, I felt rage. What could I do? How should I respond? A million other things would have been more appropriate for a situation like this, but the response that came out of my mouth was:
“Well, pardon my language, but go fuck yourself.”
With that, I stormed off.
“Jesus, I’m sorry, alright? Hey!”
I should have kept walking, but my feet planted themselves to the ground. It took no time at all for him to catch up with me, his face surprisingly apologetic.
“What do you want?” I snapped. “You’re really starting to freak me out.”
“I know, I know, but look, I wasn’t joking when I said I was new here.”
“So,” he continued. “I was hoping you could show me around.”
“Well, I’m kinda busy right now, so you’ll have to catch me later, I guess. Or not at all. Ever.”
His words stuck to me like strands of adhesive, pulling me right back to him.
“My mom’s waiting for me.”
“No, she’s waiting for the candy, which the store ran out of, so you had to walk all the way to the market to get it. It would take you roughly two hours to get there and back, so boom. There’s your alibi.”
Wow. He sounded a lot like me trying to talk myself out of eating dessert after dinner. Technically, I couldn’t argue with him, but if he had caught me earlier, I wouldn’t have even given him an excuse. A simple glare is all I would have given him and that would have been the end of that. But if I had to be honest with myself, Vee’s comment on the feminist remark I made about not owing men anything was really getting to me. Sure, I respected myself enough to recognize I was at liberty to say no to anything that made me uncomfortable, but I almost always used it as an excuse to not be sociable. The truth was, Evan seemed harmless, despite his rather aggressive introduction. I’d be lying to myself if I said I wasn’t more than a little intrigued by his outlandish personality. His eyes were hopeful, like a puppy waiting to be given a treat. I bit my lip to keep from smiling. In the (rather short) list of bizarre things that have happened to me, this topped them all.
“Two hours. That’s it.”
He grinned. “Way to go, Anderson.”
“It’s Kethwyn. Don’t push your luck.”
We had been walking for a good while now. The sun was starting to set, but we still had a good bit of daylight left. I continued with the tour, pointing across the street.
“That’s the library over there. Apparently, it’s the new hotspot for all the kids to hang out after school. The librarian doesn’t seem to mind, but I’m sure that’ll change once he realizes they drive people away. Right next to it is the pharmacy. That was the original hangout place.”
“Why not now?” Evan asked. He had been quiet up until this moment. “Seems pretty cool.”
I let the eye roll slip this time. “Yeah, if you’re twelve.”
“Ouch. That’s probably the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me, Anderson.”
“Stop acting like we’ve known each other for years. And quit calling me by my last name.”
He smirked. “Where to next?”
His two hours were coming to an end, but I didn’t tell him that. I was afraid he’d look for ways to buy himself another hour, if given enough time to think about it. So, I had come up with my own plan to bring this tour to a swift end.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said, stopping mid-stride. “We only just met and you’re already asking me out on a date? I’m sorry, kid, but I think this is going way too fast for me.”
“Fine. I guess I’ll go home then.”
“So, it is a date?”
“What? No!” I groaned. “Do you want food or not?”
“Yeah, sure. I’m down.”
Joe’s was just down the street from Taylor Drug, which meant I would be bringing the tour full circle. Like every other building, the best, and only, pizza parlor in Haydenville was ancient, and made of multi-colored bricks that would make your eyes cross if you stared at it for too long. The only thing modern about it was the cash register by the front counter. Even that had to have been installed in the early 80s, which meant it was loud, clunky, and had no way of processing credit cards. Normally, I would use the twenty in my wallet for emergencies only, but since this was my way of escaping a situation I no longer wanted to be in, I made an exception.
We sat by the window so that, instead of talking to each other, we could watch the sunset. However, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him watching me. After careful consideration, I eventually met his gaze. I immediately cursed the sun. The way the light casted shadows over his face, defining the sharp angles of his features, almost made my heart melt. He wasn’t bad looking. In fact, I’d even go as far as admitting he was more attractive than Todd Martin. But, all things considered, Todd and Evan weren’t exactly similar. While Todd had clearly been raised up to be the school’s rich, preppy genius, Evan seemed to lack all ambition. His left arm was covered in tattoos, a small, silver ring protruding from his lip, and he rocked a wardrobe only goth kids could admire. Maybe this was the “tall, dark, and handsome” BuzzFeed was trying to warn me about.
“Your eyes,” he said, pulling me out of my own head. “They’re like honey.”
I frowned at him. “Thank you?”
Before I could think of something clever to respond with, our waitress came up and asked for our order.
“Yeah, can we get a large pepperoni pizza, special oven baked, with Joe’s braided garlic crust, and a large order of mozzarella sticks?”
“I’ll have a Coke.”
“Alright. And for you?”
“Uh—” I looked at Evan in bewilderment before I faced her. “Yeah, I’ll have the same.”
“Alright. I’ll have those ready for you in just a minute.”
As soon as she was out of earshot, I said, “Dude, I don’t have enough money for all of that.”
“Don’t worry about it. I got it.”
“Yeah, okay, Daddy Warbucks, throwing down a ten for cigarettes that only cost five or six bucks a pack. I still can’t believe you told him to keep the change. Where the hell do you get all this money?”
“Yo. Anderson. Last time I checked, it’s not polite to ask people about their finances. It’s personal.”
“Yeah, well, last time I checked, I’m not a football player.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Only football players call each other by their last names.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not really the athletic type.”
“You’re right. You definitely do not look like you were the cool kid in school.”
“Wow. That one hurt. Wanna try that again?”
I laughed. “Not really.”
His face split into a wide grin. “You know, you’re not as uptight as I thought you would be.”
I made a face at him. “What the hell does that mean?”
“What do you mean ‘what does that mean’? It means I expected you to have already slapped me in the face by now.”
“You know, as tempting as that may be, you don’t seem so bad yourself.”
“Careful, kid. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to give me a compliment.”
We didn’t say much after that, and to my surprise, the silence wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be. Even when our food came around, we ate quietly, both stuck in our own thoughts. It wasn’t until Evan had taken his fifth slice of pizza when he spoke again.
“Don’t think I didn’t forget, Miss Anderson,” he said with his mouth full.
“You still haven’t shown me the cemetery.”
I stopped chewing.
“The cemetery. We never got around to it.”
On the outside, I was calm. But on the inside, a million thoughts raced through my head. Maybe my earlier assumption of his intention to kidnap and murder me was true. I couldn’t be sure. Not unless I asked him. As if a criminal would ever tell the truth about anything, but still. It couldn’t hurt to point out the bizarre nature of his request.
“Usually after a date, one person invites the other back to their house. Not the cemetery.”
“Thought you said this wasn’t a date.”
“It’s not. I’m just saying.”
“Well, I’m just saying I want to see the cemetery.”
I stared at him. “Are you serious?”
He leaned forward, refusing to let go of my gaze. For one, fleeting moment, I was struck with fear.
“Why wouldn’t I be serious?”
Christ, I thought. Did someone turn the thermostat down fifty degrees? At that moment, some higher power in the sky decided to have mercy on me. I jumped when my phone vibrated in my back pocket, causing the bench beneath me to hum. I answered it with trembling fingers.
“Where are you? Do you know what time it is?”
I looked out the window. Shit. It was almost dark and kids were already on the prowl.
“Oh, god. Okay. I’m sorry. I’m on my way back now.”
I quickly hung up and stood from the booth, daring to look back at him once more.
“I have to go. Maybe I’ll see you around?”
“It’s Kethwyn, Hayes.”
I put the emergency twenty down on the table and walked away before he could reply with another snide remark. To my surprise, he didn’t come running after me. I kept a brisk pace, weaving through small Deadpools, Wonder Women, and Disney princesses as best I could. In all my nineteen years of life, I have never received an angry call from my mother. That’s not to say I’ve never been in trouble before, but it was rare that I ever caused any problems as a kid. My parents have social anxiety to thank for that. On the rare occasions that I did get in trouble, my body would suffer the most violent symptoms of apprehension. One time, when I got caught throwing Silly Putty at the ceiling, I threw up because I was so scared my mom was going to give me a whoopin’. Even now, as a student in college, I could feel my palms start to sweat and my heart begin to race as I took a short cut through Paterson Inn’s courtyard. The second I walked through the door of my house, I felt like I was going to faint.
I ventured into the house where I found my mom still sitting at her desk. She didn’t look too upset, but her lips were pressed together in a thin, tight line as she gave me the you-better-explain-yourself look.
“Sorry,” I said. “Taylor Drug didn’t have any candy, so I had to go all the way down to the market to get some.”
I was shocked to find that Evan’s alibi had slipped off my tongue so easily.
“Oh, really? Did you get hungry on the way back?”
“What—?” I stopped myself short. The candy. It wasn’t in my hand. I must have left it at Joe’s when I was rushing to get home. “Oh. Yeah, I…might have gotten distracted on the way there. Ran into a guy from school and lost track of time.”
Her response was a classic telltale sign that meant she wasn’t convinced of the lie I was feeding to her. I’ve heard her use it on Dad before when he lied about dropping a stink bomb in the living room some years ago. It made me laugh as a kid, but now, I found myself fumbling for ways to explain myself. After all, I wasn’t trying to blame someone else for the fart I had dealt. Eventually, I decided to drop the subject altogether.
“Okay, well, I’m gonna go call Vee. Sorry about the candy.”
“Alright, then.” On my way out, she said, “You’re responsible for answering the door tonight.”
Fair enough. At the top of the staircase, Chip was perched on the ledge, blinking slowly at me with his big, round, green eyes. I smiled at him.
He meowed at me, then turned and hightailed it to my room before I could even reach out to pat him on the head. I ran up and plopped down on the bed beside him, dialing Vee’s number. She picked up on the second ring.
“Sweet baby Jesus, Kethwyn, I’ve been waiting for you to call me for, like, ever!” she yelled.
I put her on speaker phone. “Sorry. Had to do a few things first. What’s up?”
“Okay, so I came up with this great idea.” Oh, boy. “What if we put gummy eyeballs in the sherbert punch? Ya know—’cause it’s Halloween and it would be really creepy and perfect?”
“Yeah, that sounds awesome, actually. Hold on, let me get my list.”
I went over and started rummaging through my desk.
“You know, I think we should invite Todd.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled. “I’m surprised you haven’t invited him already. You’re obsessed.”
“Yeah. Obsessed with the fact that he’s crazy about you. Seriously, I catch him looking at you all the time.”
“I know, and it’s kinda creepy, to be honest.”
“What? Really? I think it’s kinda cute.”
“Of course you do.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Forget about it.” I paused, pencil poised over the paper.
Should I tell her about Evan? No, I answered myself almost immediately. It was bad enough that I had to hear about Todd every waking moment of my life. I didn’t need her pestering me about some stranger I had just met. Although, I had to admit, after two hours of sarcastic banter, Evan didn’t really feel like a stranger anymore. I wouldn’t call him a friend necessarily, but it felt wrong to call him an acquaintance. But that’s all that he was. I didn’t know anything about his family or his home life, whether he still had both sets of grandparents or if he had any siblings. Even though I could probably guess his favorite color, I couldn’t even be sure of that.
“Alright, I got the list. What was it again? Eyeballs in the punch?”
“Gummy eyeballs. Can you imagine putting real ones in there?”
“Uh, yeah, let’s not do that.” Before she could reply, the doorbell rang.
"Was that you?” she asked.
“Yeah, it’s the door. I’ll be right back.”
I ran downstairs and pulled the door wide open, expecting to find starry-eyed pirates and cute little witches with their parents close behind them. Instead, a bag of candy lay there on the porch with a folded piece of paper on top of it. I picked it up, putting the bag in the crook of my arm as I unfolded what looked like a note. A twenty-dollar bill slipped out.
You left this at Joe’s. Also, here’s your money. I told you I’d cover the bill.
P.S. You don’t like that Todd guy back, do you?