But rather than go into those, I've chosen to share a short story with you instead. I've titled it Trick or Treat. I hope you like it.
Trick or Treat
Talia fished a flashlight out of the junk drawer in the kitchen and replaced the batteries. Testing the beam against the dark foyer wall, she called for her son, impatient with him again. “Eli! Come on. Let’s go. Do you have your shoes on yet?”
Her little Transformer traipsed into the kitchen as she turned out the ceiling light, leaving only the recessed fixture above the sink glowing.
He looked up at her, a woeful expression on his face. “I can’t find my bag.”
She frowned. “When did you see it last?”
“I don’t know.” He was whiny. Not good. At least he was wearing his shoes.
“Bet it’s still in the car.”
His face lit up at the idea. “Yes! I know where it is.” He raced around her and threw open the door to the garage. Right behind him, Talia flipped on the switch, knowing it was a big reach for him. Eli yanked open the back door of her Nissan and ducked out of sight for a second. They were both grinning when he came up holding the canvas bag high in the air, the spooky jack-o-lantern printed on the front collapsing on itself.
“Good. Now we can get home before eight tonight.”
“Aww,” he grumbled as he walked back through the kitchen, leaving his mom to close the garage door once more. “But that’s too early. Can’t we make it nine? Just for tonight, please, please, please?”
Looking at his hopeful face, she felt torn, even if she knew what her answer had to be. Sometimes a mom has to be uncompromising. “I’m sorry, but…no. You’re a bear to wake up in the morning as it is. I’m not going to let you stay up late just because it’s Halloween. Forget it. You have school in the morning.”
Brooding, he scuffed his feet on his way out the front door, too cranky to wait for her. She grabbed her house key from the dish and hurried after him.
Dusk had fallen when they joined the early trick-or-treaters circulating the neighborhood. These were the youngest kids, with their parents in tow. There were tigers and fairies, witches and firemen, superheroes and wizards. Adorable. Remembering how cute Eli was when he was that small, so full of excitement and wonder, made her chest ache with sadness. He was only seven, but seven was a far cry from three or four, when she could still pick him up. He used to run to her and enjoy sitting on her lap to listen to stories. They’d snuggled in front of the television together, once upon a time. No more. Watching her kid grow up and away from her was hard. It hurt.
They wandered to the neighbor’s house and Talia stood back while Eli rang the bell. Betty opened the door and squealed at the sight of him.
“Trick or treat!” he shouted.
“Eli. Now what are you, a robot?”
“I’m a Transformer,” he corrected her as she leaned out the top of her storm door—the upper window had been removed for the evening—and placed the first piece of candy in his bag.
Talia held her breath, waiting, hoping her son would remember his manners without being reminded. She expelled a sigh of relief when he said, “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, Eli. Have fun.”
Betty glanced over his head and winked at Talia as the boy spun around and shot down the path to get to the next house. Talia laughed and gave their neighbor a parting wave.
Trailing her son down the next narrow sidewalk, she wondered if it was loneliness that had her feeling more down in the dumps lately. After all, it had been eighteen months since she’d been kissed by a man, the last time at the airport. Hardly a romantic setting for what turned out to be a momentous farewell. How could she possibly know her husband was going to deviate from the plan? He was supposed to come back to the U.S. after six months or, if his job developed into something long-term, she would join him. He wasn’t supposed to meet someone else.
With seven time zones between them, it made more sense to handle the divorce through the mail.
She wasn’t happy with how her marriage dissolved, but she was even more stunned at how easily Gavin had given up custody of their son. That was the gravest of his sins.
Still, she wasn’t going to write off all men simply because her ex turned out to be a disappointment. At heart, she was an optimist and chose to believe, regardless of her marital hiccup, that there were decent men out there, equally unsure of how to meet their right mate. It was time to face facts. She was tired of being alone. She missed the company and companionship that came with being in a relationship.
Perhaps she should reconsider signing up for one of those on-line match sites. She’d shied from those before. It felt like she would be throwing in the towel, admitting she couldn’t do it on her own. Now that she’d had time to reflect, she knew she couldn’t. There were obstacles to factor in, the biggest being she worked from home so even an ill-conceived office romance was out of the question. She was doing the mommy thing in the evenings and on weekends. Eli’s lone parent. Letting her friend, Joanne fix her up with that guy who worked in their shop was starting to sound reasonable. What was his name again? Ugh, a blind date. Talia shivered. Just the thought of putting herself out there again was petrifying.
* * * *
Oliver knew before they ever left the house he’d end up carrying Bee’s crook. It was a cute prop for her Bo Peep costume while they took pictures, but now it was a nuisance. Yet he followed along, as any good father would, and didn’t grumble. His little girl was having a ball—or looked like she was on her way to one. He wasn’t going to ruin that for anything. His Bebe had suffered enough in her short life.
Heading up another sidewalk, they met a boy and his mom. He looked about Bee’s age. Oliver grinned at the kid and said, “Look Bo, it’s Buzz Lightyear! Maybe we should join forces.”
“I’m a Transformer,” came the irritated retort.
“Eli!” His mother looked…aghast, embarrassed, and startlingly cute.
Bee stopped short and visually raked the kid up and down, censure in her posture. “Watch it, Eli,” she warned, “My dad has handcuffs and knows how to use ‘em.”
The pretty mom’s head shot up and she stared at him. Oh shit. Sweating like mad at his sweet pea’s unfortunate phrasing, Oliver fumbled to free the plastic handcuffs hanging from the back of his belt.
His daughter went on, “He’s Sheriff Woody. I’m Bo Peep.” She showed off her bell-like skirt, her pride unmistakable. “You know, from Toy Story?”
Catching on, the woman clapped her hand over her mouth, giggling away. Oliver gave her a sheepish grin and flicked the brim of his cowboy hat, dipping his head. “Howdy.”
Clearly amused, she gave him an abbreviated curtsy. “Sheriff.”
Great smile. He returned it, in spades then realized his little shepherdess had left without him. Giving the woman another quick tip of his hat, he scrambled after his daughter.
Since Bee was already mounting the concrete steps to the next front door, he snuck a last, quick backwards peek at Eli’s pretty mom and tripped over a raised seam in the concrete. It sent him crashing into an old carriage lamppost next to the sidewalk and rattled the panes of glass. Shit. Suddenly paranoid Eli’s mom may have witnessed his graceless move he whipped around and heaved a relieved sigh when she turned the corner, unaware of his shame.
“Smooth,” he muttered, disgusted with himself.
Resettling Bee’s crook on the crook of his arm, he pulled the mini flashlight out of his gun holster and clicked it on. No sense stumbling again.
He smiled at his daughter’s happy face when she bounded down the steps and returned to him.
“Look, Daddy. I got Milk Duds.”
“Awesome. You love those.”
The sky was already darker and the air chillier than when they set out. How many more houses did they have to hit? Would he be able to coax Bee home after they’d hit the next block? Doubtful.
They met up with Eli and his mother again two doors down. That’s when the kids decided to partner up. Oliver shrugged at the boy’s mom, officially acknowledging he wasn’t in charge tonight.
She laughed softly and admitted defeat as well. “I’m Talia.”
Side by side, they trailed behind their kids, the familiar cloud of unease that comes with meeting new people hanging in the air between them. Bee was doing most of the talking. Her dad smiled at the back of her bonneted head as she asked Eli, “What’s your favorite candy?”
Disinterested in the boy’s answer, Oliver dared another quick peek at Talia instead. He liked what he saw. Very much. Just above average height, her slim yet shapely figure gave her easy stride an appealing wiggle. The low heels of her stylish boots clicked on the concrete sidewalk in perfect unison with the drum of his cowboy boots.
Bee was still at it. “Jelly or jam?”
“Jelly,” was Eli’s firm answer. “It doesn’t have all those bits.”
Bee’s head whipped around at the kid. Oliver knew the incredulous, staring expression on his daughter’s face without having to see it.
“But the bits are the best part!” she insisted.
His girl loved fruit. All fruit. She was crazy about most vegetables too. Overhearing her impassioned argument with the boy, his mind slid back to their first tentative day together. She’d been so alarmingly thin and pale, he’d set her at the kitchen table as soon as they got home and pulled a container of fresh strawberries out of the fridge. He still remembered her distrust of him, her wariness of his offer.
“Try it,” he’d coaxed.
She snatched it up, turned slightly away from him to examine it carefully, her finger gently tracing over the tiny seeds. When she glanced back over her shoulder at him, he picked up a strawberry and calmly demonstrated how to eat it. After a pause, she furtively slipped the fruit into her mouth and bit. Her eyes widened and so did his smile.
The silent child nodded. He slid the container toward her and she cautiously snatched another. That one disappeared faster than the first. Then she did something that still amazed him. She climbed down from her chair and came over to his, holding up her arms. He slid his chair back from the table, picked her up, and set her on his lap. Bee’s head dropped heavy against his chest and he continued to prod strawberries her way until they were all gone.
Having learned of what she’d endured her first few years living with her mother—the squalid conditions, malnourished, and her general state of neglect—it was unlikely she’d ever enjoyed fresh fruit before coming to him. No one could say for certain if she’d ever been outdoors!
Had he known about Bee sooner, ah, but that was a pointless thought. She was in good hands now.
* * * *
Talia didn’t quite know what to make of this man strolling beside her with his bovine-patterned vest, red bandana hanging around his neck, and plastic belt and holster. Then there was his shiny Sheriff’s badge giving her a friendly wink every time they passed beneath a streetlight. It was difficult not to warm to a guy who’d purposely dress like this just to coordinate with his daughter. It said a lot about him. Eli’s father couldn’t even be bothered to make an occasional phone call to his son. Comparisons between the two men were impossible to avoid, the stark differences unflattering to her ex.
Sneaking a quick, sideways glance at Oliver, she had to admit, he was awfully sweet…and incredibly cute in that get-up. She found those deep dimples around his smile sexier than six-pack abs.
The little girl’s voice rose with excitement as the kids started to debate the merits of peanut butter next— their brand preferences first, then on to creamy versus chunky.
“She’s a little chatterbox,” Talia observed, completely charmed.
There was no mistaking the pride in his voice. “I love it. She used to be so quiet. She’s blossomed.”
Talia felt there was far more behind that statement than she could possibly ask on such short acquaintance. She chose a less invasive question instead. “Bea. I assume that’s short for Beatrice?”
Her quiet companion smiled as they strolled up the next walkway and waited in the shadows for their children. “No. Her name is Bebe.”
“I have no idea,” he admitted. “Her mother named her.”
The awkward silence between them returned as they trailed the kids to the next house. She could see he was uncomfortable as they stood in the dark shadows of naked trees. He rocked back and forth on his heels and fiddled with the change in his front pockets. She slipped her finger through the key ring in her own coat pocket, feeling the comforting weight of home. The keys gave her an idea and she made another attempt at conversation.
“Do you live on Belmont too?”
He looked down at her, as if startled to hear her voice again. “No, um, we’re over on Maple Circle.”
“Nice over there.”
“Yeah.” There was a pause before he said, “So you’re on Belmont?”
Talia turned and pointed toward the other end. “One block over.”
“I suppose your husband got stuck handing out the candy at your house tonight?”
Odd question. Was he fishing? She hunched her shoulders, shook her head, and dug deeper into her coat pockets. “Um, no. Actually, I’m divorced so there’s no one manning our door. You?”
She laughed softly. “Sorry, I meant, is anyone handing out candy at your house?”
He chuckled along, shaking his head. “Ohh…my father. He lives with us now.”
His dad? “That’s nice.” A few more paces and she couldn’t stop herself from double checking. “Never married?”
Oliver shuffled his feet, his shoulder doing a little hop. “Nope.”
“Not that I’m opposed to marriage,” he rushed to clarify.
“You don’t have to explain. It’s none of my business. We don’t even know each other.”
He stopped walking and faced her. “So let’s get to know one another. Ask me a question. Anything.”
She considered him carefully, from cowboy hat to shiny brown boots and had to smile as her eyebrows went cautiously up. “Partner?”
He broke into a hearty laugh. “Are you asking if I’m gay?”
Embarrassed, she flushed. “Well, um, in a roundabout way. Maybe?” Oh god, this was painful.
His grin spread wider, deepening those dimples. “I’m straight. And because we don’t have all night, why don’t I save us some time and answer your next question?”
“How could you possibly know my next question?”
“Instinct. I’m guessing you’re wondering if I’m available, but you don’t know how to ask so you probably won’t—at least not directly.” He cocked his head at her. “Am I right?”
Dumbfounded, Talia’s jaw dropped and she stared at him for a second before turning on her heel and walking on, forcing him to keep up. And here she thought the gay question was the embarrassing one.
“I’m rusty at this, okay?” she mumbled, avoiding eye contact.
“I work in a lab. I don’t get a hell of a lot of practice with this kind of thing either.”
She slowed, chancing another look at him. “No kidding?”
They both broke into tentative smiles.
“Clearly you’ve had some success with women,” she teased, nodding toward his daughter ahead of them.
His smile turned pained. “That situation was a mixed blessing.”
She frowned, surprised to hear such a thing, especially from him.
Still keeping the kids in his sights, Oliver reached for her arm and eased her back a little, clearly weighing something. “I should explain.” He took a deep breath then pressed on in a hushed voice. “I dated Bee’s mother for a short time eight years ago. It was great at first, but it didn’t take me long to realize she was a temperamental, erratic, and reckless mess of a woman. Apparently, she’d been struggling off and on with addiction too. She was clean when we met, but that didn’t last. I only learned about Bee four years ago, when social services contacted me. I agreed to a paternity test and voila, I was suddenly a single father to a little girl who’d been neglected, half-starved, and living in a filthy hovel with her blitzed out mother and her dealer boyfriend.”
“Whoa,” Talia whispered, stunned and appalled. He started walking again and she hurried along.
“No kidding. But I love Bebe. I loved her the second I saw her hiding behind the social worker, her big hazel eyes staring back at me. She had my eyes.” His hand went up to his head, as if he habitually ran his fingers through his hair in times of stress. Then he remembered he was wearing a hat and dropped his arm. “Crazy.”
“Can I say something?”
“What’s that?” They stopped at the edge of the next lawn instead of following the kids to the door where several other costumed children were already being served.
“You’re doing a great job with her. I can tell you’re a good dad.”
He glanced down at his cowboy boots and made a soft, dismissive little sound, though he was smiling when he brought his gaze up to hers. “Thank you. I don’t know if I could have done it without my dad’s help. He’s been fantastic.”
“Dads are important.” Without meaning to give herself away, her voice had dropped off into sadness.
Perceptive man, Oliver picked up on it. “Where’s Eli’s father?”
“No idea. Could be Holland for all I know. He’s out of the picture entirely. Didn’t even acknowledge Eli’s last birthday or send a simple card at Christmas.” Her voice shook with anger. “He’s never called him. What am I supposed to say to my son? Your dad doesn’t care if he ever sees you again? I can’t. It breaks my heart. So I lie to him and make excuses for his worthless father.”
She flashed him a grim smile. “Tell me about it.”
“How do you manage?”
“I’m a web designer. I work from home so that’s not an issue. I’m always there for him.”
“Lucky.” Oliver quietly studied her for a moment and she braced herself, sensing the question before he spoke it. “Talia, who’s there for you?”
She could feel her face heat, her heart flutter wildly in her chest. “What does it matter?” she asked in a whisper.
Eli and Bee came bounding back to them and Bee grinned up at her father, holding out her pail so he could take a peek.
“Daddy, look at all the candy!”
“Wow. You made out like a banshee. Are you warm enough?”
“I’m great. Having too much fun to get cold. What’s a banshee?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
Eli grabbed Bee’s hand and yanked her down the sidewalk. “Come on. Come on, before my mom says it’s time to go in.”
Oliver shot a humorous looked her way, one eyebrow raised and they both laughed.
“Yes,” Talia admitted. “I would have started pressuring him to go home soon if you two weren’t out here tonight.”
“Don’t feel too bad. I was already wondering how much longer I’d have to drag this stupid crook around when we bumped into you.”
“I think I can stick it out a while longer. For his sake,” she added, glancing at Eli as he ran up another walk with Bee on his heels.
“Yeah, I can tough it out for Bee’s sake,” Oliver agreed. “Don’t want to disappoint the kids.”
She grinned. “Never.”
Chuckling, the adults fell silent as they watched their kids collect more candy. Standing beside Oliver, something seemed to click into place between them—a sense that everything was extraordinarily right all of a sudden.
As they resumed their easy stroll, she gave his plastic holster a little flick. “Where’d you get this outfit anyway? I love it.” She eased back to get a look at the plastic handcuffs swinging from his belt and grinned.
“It’s a rental. So is Bee’s. I can’t sew.”
She loved his honesty. “You two are adorable.”
“Why aren’t you wearing a costume?”
“Fresh out,” she informed him breezily.
He gave her a playful nudge. “Maybe I should send you to my tailor next year.”
“Is that right?”
Oliver appeared poised to say something when he swiftly moved her aside instead. Her heels sank into the damp grass as three young teen zombies came out of nowhere, lurching and jerking past them. One was doing a commendable job of moaning—a future drama student in the making.
“They look seriously creepy.” Shuddering, yet still impressed, she turned back and found Oliver watching her instead. “Yes?” she asked cautiously.
“I can cook.”
Okay, he’d confused her. “What?” Great, now she sounded stupid.
Smiling, he raised his right arm, the crook still swinging from it, and smoothed out the befuddled lines on her forehead with his thumb. “I can’t sew, but I can cook. How about coming over for dinner tomorrow night? Eli can play with Bee and you can hang out with me while I mess up the kitchen and show off my skills. It’s perfect because my dad will be gone. It’s his bowling night.”
“You’re asking us over?”
“No, I’m asking you out. Badly, I admit that. Without much notice, this is the best I can do. But I promise I’ll make it up to you this weekend, if you’re game. We can leave the kids with my dad and make it a proper date, just the two of us.”
She was leery of the weekend suggestion. “Your dad won’t mind an extra kid?”
“Hardly. He’s been hounding me to go out more.” Oliver ducked down to peer directly into her eyes. He was so close the brim of his hat grazed her hair. “What do you say?”
Maybe meeting a great guy wasn’t so hard after all. She gave him a slow smile and asked, “What time?”
When he beamed back at her, she made a decision. Oliver was going to be the next man she kissed.
* * * *
There are more great Halloween related posts to read. Author choice. Who knows, maybe you'll see something about memories, costumes, crafts, or recipes? Exciting, huh?
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