Junior High

To celebrate Halloween, here’s a little short story I wrote a few years ago for the writers’ group I was in, inspired by an All Hallows’ incident from my childhood. Hope you like it!

Mom said I had to wear a winter coat and long johns with my costume.

It wasn’t the first time. I’d spent many Halloweens this way. We’d return home with bluish fingers, dripping noses, and sleet-soaked pillowcases full of soggy candy. But it never stopped us. No matter the weather, my sister and I anticipated Halloween more than anyone else we knew.

We began planning our costumes in late August, when the first catalogs arrived. After school, we’d race home, vying for that first grab at the mailbox, eager for inspiration. Then we’d splay ourselves on the living room floor, eating pizza rolls and folding down page corners to mark our favorites. We’d present the ideas to Mom, and she would tell us which ones she could reasonably make in two months’ time.

Not this year. This year Lexie wasn’t even dressing up. Junior highers were much too cool for that. And now, staring into the mirror, I sniffed back the tears. I had to go alone, and my pale pink ballerina costume looked stupid with a parka over it.

“It’s only thirty-six degrees outside,” Mom said from the kitchen. “No coat, no candy.”

I took a deep breath, tucking a few escaped strands of glittered brown hair back into the bun on my head. The neighborhood still waited, and I had chosen a king-size pillowcase.

“Ready, Lauren?” Lexie’s impatient voice floated to the bathroom. I stepped out and saw her waiting by the side door, coat on but unzipped, picking at her fingernails. She rolled a piece of gum around in her mouth, chewing, blowing, popping, supremely disinterested, basking in her junior high glory. Mom had given her the job of escorting me around the neighborhood while I trick-or-treated alone.

Our birthdays were only fifteen months apart, but that might as well have been the Grand Canyon now that Lexie had moved on to junior high. Instead of costume catalogs, she was reading Twist magazine and putting up pictures of One Direction in her locker, because that’s what everyone in junior high did.

“It’s my own locker. I don’t even have to share it,” she’d told me on the first day of school.

It particularly hurt because we share a bedroom.

“I’m ready,” I said. I resigned myself to looking stupid and feeling stupid all night. At least the long johns were mostly disguised by my pink tights.

“Let’s get this over with.” Lexie opened the door of our two-bedroom bungalow. Darkness had fallen, and a few families peppered the sidewalks. The first beggars stepped up on our front porch and called out, “Trick or treat!” They stood next to our two big orange pumpkins: one carved into a jack-o-lantern, and one plain. Junior-high plain.

At the end of the driveway, Lexie turned right and hustled down the sidewalk, leaving me alone and disoriented. She was almost to the next house before I called to her.

“Lexie! Wait!” I took off running, the giant pillowcase billowing behind me, the sharp, cold air already stinging my face. I caught up with her, my mouth open for a confrontation, but she spoke first.

“It’s Alex. You’re supposed to call me Alex now.”

Maybe I’d forgotten. Maybe I’d chosen to forget. Her given name was Alexandra, but I was never, EVER going to call her Alex.

It wasn’t the same, running up to each house by myself while my junior high sister stood and waited. I was dragging my feet by the time I’d been to a dozen houses, sad and mad and jealous all at the same time when we passed by giggling groups of girls. I had purposely not invited any of my friends to trick-or-treat together, hoping that by Halloween night, Lexie would change her mind and put on a costume and run around with me. She hadn’t, and now I regretted my decision.

Candy made me feel no better. My fingers and toes got colder, my pillowcase got heavier, and I resolved not to share a single piece with her. Even the ones I didn’t like. I could only hope that next year, when I had boy band pictures in my own personal locker, maybe we’d become friends again.

We looped around the entire perimeter of our neighborhood in silence, completing our annual route. I was tired of lugging several pounds of candy, and even my insides felt chilled. Lexie looked bored as ever, probably mad at Mom for not letting her get a Smartphone yet. I sighed as pathetically as I could, and she looked up at me with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. She thought her responsibility for the night was done.

But I had other plans.

“I want to do the inside streets. The ones that cross the circle.”

Lexie rolled her eyes so hard her head moved. “We never do the inside streets. Aren’t you tired?” she asked, as if she were an adult trying to convince a child that it was bedtime.

“Not even a little,” I said, throwing the sack of loot over my shoulder like Santa Claus. “Come on. Mom said I’m your responsibility.”

My sister exhaled the mother of all junior high sighs and followed me.

The inside streets were darker and had much less foot traffic, and a lot fewer porch lights were on. I wouldn’t get much more candy, but I was going to milk Lexie for all she was worth. Either she deserved it or she owed it to me.

And then, as I pranced down the sidewalk between the third and fourth houses, passing by an overgrown evergreen tree, a dark figure wearing a mask jumped from the shadows and roared at me. I screamed. My heart jumped into my throat. I felt a warm wetness between my legs that I wouldn’t admit until years later.

I took off running, but the masked figure followed me, still roaring. I couldn’t tell if it was a grown-up, or a child, or a junior higher. I just ran, and he chased me. Tears stung my eyes, then froze on my cheeks. I didn’t see the curb, and when I tumbled into the street, a sharp pain tore into my ankle. Through my sobs, I heard more screaming.

“Stop it! Get out of here! Go back to your damn tree. You just scared the SHIT out of my sister!”

Such junior high language.

The roaring behind the mask stopped. A cracking male voice mumbled, “Sorry,” and through my frosty tears, I saw him hold his hands up and back away, tripping where the grassy yard met the sidewalk. Then he disappeared.

“Are you okay?”

Lexie knelt beside me. The streetlight above us flickered, as only seemed appropriate for Halloween, and I couldn’t see much between the darkness and my tears. Lexie reached out and put her hand on my shoulder.

“My ankle,” I said, struggling to speak around the sob still lodged in my throat.

“Can you move it?”

I shifted. My tutu was dirty and ripped. The hurt ankle was still tucked beneath me, but I managed to get it out and turn it in a slow, painful circle. I nodded, sniffing.

“Good. It’s probably not broken.” She held out her hands to me; I stood and took a few tentative steps. My pillowcase was on the grass between the sidewalk and the street, candy strewn everywhere, the colorful wrappers glistening in the weak light. Once I was steady on my feet, Lexie began to gather it up.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I’ll never eat it all. Mom will just throw it out at Christmas.” I just wanted to go home, take off the stupid costume, take off the stupid parka, and put on some dry underwear. But Lexie continued to pick up the candy.

“You have to take two pieces in your lunch every day until then,” she said, dropping the last tiny package into the pillowcase. “And maybe I’ll help you eat it.” She grinned mischievously.

I snorted. “If I let you! Besides, then won’t your junior high friends think you went trick-or-treating?”

Lexie hoisted the bag over her shoulder and offered me her free arm. “I did go trick-or-treating. With my sister.” Together we walked home, arm in arm, blissfully ignorant of the cold, and by the time we arrived, my limp had disappeared.

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