“C’mon dad! We need to get going!” Eric said, checking his cloak and his Darth Vader helmet in the mirror. James sighed and put down his book. Of all the ways to spend a Thursday night, this was not the first thing that came to mind. After a whole day of running around the city, handling one crisis after another, the idea of spending the next two hours on his feet going door to door sounded about as appealing as getting up for work the next morning.
“You better go before your son uses the Force on you.” Barbara said to him with a teasing smile on her face. James frowned at her. “He’s your son too.”
“I have to wait for the kids who come to our door.” Barbara replied, her tone matching her smile. James sighed, knowing there was no way out of it. He grabbed the keys to his car and found Eric marching around, red toy lightsaber in hand, quoting Star Wars.
“Are you ready, Darth?”
“Aren’t you going to wear a costume?” Eric asked him, lifting the helmet off his head, revealing his little cherub face and jet black hair.
“I’m sorry kemosabe. My costume’s at the dry-cleaners.” James lied.
Eric pulled his helmet back down over his head, “I find your lack of faith disturbing!” The timing, coupled with Eric’s 9 year old voice forced a laugh out of James.
“Let’s get some candy, you goof.”
The car ride to Eric’s friend, David’s house was a short one. James wheeled through the lanes of identical houses to the end of the block. There were throngs of other children and parents wandering through the neighborhood under the yellow glazed streetlamps. All of them in costume and with pillowcases sagging to a certain extent. James sighed again, remembering how many houses there were in this neighborhood. Jesus Christ, I’ll be out here all night, he thought to himself.
Eric had the car door open a millisecond after James turned the car off. As James stepped out of his car, he looked at the lawn of David’s house. It was sparsely decorated, with only two pumpkins sitting by the front door. Both of the neighboring houses had gone all out with fake cobwebs draped over everything, carved pumpkins and even a plastic skeleton.
Walking behind his son, James struggled to remember the last time he had done anything festive for Halloween. He then stumbled on the memory of his junior year of college. He went as John Wayne, complete with cavalry shirt, boots and hat. James smiled to himself as he thought of the party he went to that night and of the drunken impression he insisted on doing the whole time. He was brought back to the present by his little sith lord ringing the doorbell.
The door opened to reveal Carly, David’s mother, no costume visible. “Hi Mrs. Alexander. Is David ready?” Eric said as he and James stepped into the foyer.
“Well aren’t you something. Hello James!” She said in that overly sweet voice she was so prone to using. James feigned enthusiasm and returned her hug.
When James saw David emerge from the basement with no costume, he knew something was about to take a turn for the worse.
“Hey Eric.” David said in a casual disinterested voice.
“H-hey David.” Eric replied pulling his helmet off. James could hear the embarrassment and hurt in his son’s voice. These two had been going trick-or-treating since David’s family first moved out here.
“So you’re goin around the neighborhood?” David asked, sounding as disinterested as before. Eric shifted in place, trying feebly to hide his helmet and pillowcase behind his back. “That’s cool.”
James shot his focus back on Carly, who seemed completely oblivious to what was going on. “David’s just not feeling going out this year.” She said in a quieter tone while the two boys talked. James was furious at her. She stood there with that fake sugary smile on her face, acting like nothing had happened.
“So would you like to stay a while? Jerry’s in the den. I can fix you a drink if you’d like.” She made the offer to him, back to being loud.
“No, we’re leaving.” James said, making no effort to hide his contempt. “C’mon pal.” He patted Eric on the back.
“Bye.” Eric managed to get out, his voice struggling to hold back tears.
“See ya” David said, as oblivious as his mother.
Even in the dim light on the walk to the car, James could see the sheer hurt in Eric’s tear-filled green eyes. It ate at his heart and James wished more than anything he could take the embarrassment for his son, that he could rewind time or anything just to dry his boy’s eyes. Eric climbed into the car, no longer able to contain himself. He cried softly, using the pillowcase to try and hide his face.
“Hey now. It’s OK.” James said in as soothing a voice as he could muster through the anger that was sitting on his chest like a weight. “We’ll dry those tears and get you a pillowcase full of candy.” He said, rubbing Eric’s hair.
“I just want to go home.” Eric said, finally getting enough breath to form sentences. It broke James’s heart to even listen to his son, much less look at him. The image of his little boy caught completely off-guard and left hanging out to dry by his “friend” was torture. God, he’d give anything to erase that memory. “Are you sure? We can go to as many houses as you want.” James offered again, trying to cheer Eric up even a little.
“Can we please just go home?” Eric asked, looking up at his dad. The little tear-stained face punched James right in the chest, adding sadness to the range of hatred he was feeling.
The car ride home was a quiet one. Just the occasional whimper of Eric or the muffled whizz of a passing car. When they got back to the house, Eric set to getting himself out of his costume as fast as he could.
“That was quick. Did you even let him out of the car?” Barbara asked James as he came into the den. James hadn’t even finished explaining before Barbara was on her feet, searching for her son. She gave him a big hug and helped him out of the cape he had tangled himself in with all the gentle and compassionate grace that seemed to come naturally to mothers.
James picked up the empty pillowcase, now damp with tears and snot. He took it to the laundry room when Barbara came in.
“I just put him to bed. Do you want to go in and turn the light off?” She said, the anger in her voice bleeding out.
“Nope.” James said with a smile as an idea came to life in his head.
Eric was lying with the covers pulled over his head. James sat down on the bed next to him.
“Eric? Can you come out?”
The boy shuffled but still remained under the covers. James couldn’t help but smile at the stubbornness of his kid.
“I’ve got a surprise for you.” Eric shuffled again, poking his head out from underneath the covers just so that his eyes could see.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Your bedtime’s been extended so you can help me catch the rebels!” James said, with a smile.
“What do you mean?” Eric asked.
“I can’t watch Star Wars without my Darth Vader.” James said, revealing the Vader helmet. Eric’s face slowly lit up, as James’s enthusiasm washed over.
“Whaddya say, Chief? I’ll even steal the candy we got for the other kids if you promise not to tell Mom.” James said, knowing full well how strict Barbara had been about Eric not eating the designated trick-or-treater candy.
Eric smiled, hugged his dad as tight as he could then took the helmet and pulled it over his head. “There will be no one to stop us this time!”