“Are you sure we should be doing this, Bry?” Rosie asks him as she stands on the front porch, her red Converse bright against the brown needles of the welcome mat. The tan jumpsuits hang on their bodies, looking even more awkward and clumsy. Since they’re not the size of middle-aged men, Bryan knew the fit wasn’t going to be the best. But they borrowed them from his dad’s maintenance company anyway. The costume from their favorite movie just wouldn’t work without them.
“Yeah, why not?”
“Because we’re 16 and everyone else is, like, not a teenager.” Rosie throws her hand forward, extending the grocery bag she’s holding. “Look,” she says, her other hand holding tight to the black backpack strap on his shoulder.
He does, and he sees what she means. Kids at least a head shorter than them walk down the street as dinosaurs, witches, and superheroes. But, across the road, he zeroes in on a group of guys from the grade above them “dressed up” in t-shirts and jeans with a dribble of blood coming out of their mouths, like they took lipstick and drew a lazy line down their faces.
“Those guys are, and we actually put effort into it. If they’re getting candy, people aren’t going to judge us,” Bryan says, but she doesn’t move. Her eyes just follow the trick-or-treaters trotting down the sidewalk. “Come on, you were excited for this all week. We should go have fun.”
After all, that’s the point of tonight: to get Rosie to have fun again. “Besides, it’s Halloween. One Ghostbuster can’t handle this alone.”
She chuckles and moves off the mat and over to him, the ghost-sucker attached to her backpack banging against her side. “Fine.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
Joining in the candy-craving crowd, their first stop is two houses down—one known for giving out huge helpings. Her neighbor lives up to the reputation, holding out a cauldron teeming with candy bars and boxes.
As the neighbor sees Rosie, Bryan sees a flash of a sad smile before she puts on a false grin. He’s noticed a lot of people do that to her now, if they even bother trying to hide the sadness. “Rosie, look at you!” Her eyes flick to Bryan. “Did someone put in a call to you two? Do I need to be worried about a haunting?”
“No, we’re off-duty tonight,” Rosie says.
“Decide to track down M&M’S instead of ghosts,” Bryan adds.
“Well, you’re doing a good job of it to end up here,” her neighbor says, lifting up her shovel-like scoop. As she doles out the treats, Bryan notices an extra-large heap goes into Rosie’s bag. Rosie does, too, because she looks inside of it, and the edges of her lips only pull up a centimeter before she thanks the neighbor, and turns back down the walk.
Rosie hates special treatment, and Bryan’s afraid it might sour the rest of the night. But at the terrace, she doesn’t ask to turn back home, only: “Should we cross here? Or keeping going to the full-size candy bars?”
“Do you even need to ask?” he replies, and she gives him a lopsided smile.
“No, probably not.”
They continue down a couple more blocks, and don’t cross until they have their giant Hershey’s chocolate bars safely in their bags.
Unlike the first house, for the most part, the rest of the candy giving is pretty even, and she begins to lighten, trading mostly straight faces for full-blown smiles. When he pretends like he’s going to suck up a kid dressed a ghost into his backpack, she laughs so hard tears leak out of her eyes. To him, the laughter is a victory, and he decides he’d give everything to make it the only reason she cries anymore.
Once they finish their journey around the neighborhood, Rosie and Bryan sit on her porch steps, downing mini candy bars without a worry for the gut rot to come. In years before, her parents stood out there with them, keeping the bowl full until the last stragglers made their way home. Now, the porch is dark, not even one bulb sending out its glow.
“Do you think ghosts are real?” she asks as he shakes Skittles into his hand. He looks up and she’s staring across the street where the kid he’d talked about chasing walks.
“I’m not sure.” She rips apart a 3 Musketeers wrapper. The plastic makes a crinkling sound as it goes to shreds. “If they are, I kind of hope not if they’re the way people describe them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, how people become ghosts if they’re either evil, or if they die suddenly and they’re not ready to go. And if they’re just not ready to die, they’re just… trapped,” she says. “I think that sounds terrible.”
He knows why she’s talking about this: because the artery in her mom’s brain ballooning to an aneurysm and bursting is the definition of sudden. And Rosie was the one to find her mom in their La-Z-Boy the next morning, making it even more tragic. If Rosie’s mom is stuck here, suffering in a ghostly limbo, it’s all the worse.
“I don’t think it would be that way,” he says. “I’d like to think they’d only be here because they want to maybe see what’s going on.” For Rosie, he prays its true.
“Me too,” she whispers. For her mother, she prays its true.
No more words pass between them on the steps. Instead, they watch the kids skip home, the beacons around turning off one by one to join in the darkness.