“Are you ready to go?” Tim’s dad asked. He pulled a light jacket on over his orange shirt with big black letters that read, “This is my costume.” His dad thought it was funny, but Tim thought it was just weird.
“Can I just go by myself?” he asked.
“We’ve been over this,” Tim’s mom said, walking over from the kitchen. She was wearing a poofy orange dress and a green hat: her idea of a pumpkin costume. “If you were going out with some other kids, it might be okay. But we don’t want you wandering around alone in the dark.”
Tim scowled. “I’m nine years old. I’m not going to get lost or anything!”
His dad patted him on the shoulder. “I promise I’ll stay in the streets. You can go from house to house all on your own. Just pretend I’m not even there.”
Tim huffed and pulled on his astronaut helmet. His mom and dad didn’t get it. It wasn’t about pretending that he was by himself. Being by himself was the whole problem.
His family just moved to the neighborhood last summer. So far, Tim had made a grand total of zero friends. All the kids in school still treated him like an outsider. Having his dad following him around for trick-or-treating was just going to make him feel a hundred times worse about it.
“Got your bag?” his dad asked.
Tim held up his empty plastic bag. “Yeah, I got it.”
“All right then, let’s go.”
“Love you, sweetie,” his mom said, kissing the top of his helmet. “See you when you get back!”
Tim shrugged and grumped out the door with his frown hidden under his helmet.
Under the light of the street-lamps, lots of kids were already walking from house to house. The younger ones, trailed by their parents, were all dressed as cute things like bumblebees, cats, or princesses. Most of the older kids were wearing cool and scary costumes like creepy clowns, grim reapers, and zombies. Tim felt like he stood out in his totally-not-scary spacesuit. Was it too late to turn around and smear white paint and fake blood on his face?
“Why don’t we make our way to the bottom of the hill first, then we can come back through this way?” his dad asked, pointing toward the corner convenience store.
“Yeah, sure.” Tim gripped the handles of his candy bag in his fist and started walking toward the first house.
His dad stayed in the middle of the street, keeping his distance as promised. Tim saw him pull out his phone, aim it at him, and snap a few pictures. Super embarrassing.
Tim knocked on the doors of the houses on their way down the hill and scored a few nice treats, including a full-sized candy bar and a can of soda.
When they reached the houses near the convenience store, Tim was just about ready to head back up the hill when a group of older boys walked out of the store carrying cans of energy drinks. One was dressed as a wolf-man, one was wearing shredded bloodied clothes and a ski mask, and one was a grim reaper. They were laughing and joking together and carrying pillowcases full of candy.
Tim decided it was time to get out of there before the cool kids noticed him and started teasing.
“I’m ready to go up the hill now,” he told his dad.
His dad looked up from his phone. “Yeah? Okay, let’s go.”
As they started walking away, one of the boys shouted after them,
“Hey! Nice spaceman costume!”