One Halloween someone gave Norm a card with a special message,
and then things got very… interesting.
When he was in middle school Norm hated Halloween. Instead of being fun with all the kids exchanging cards the way it had been in elementary school, it turned into a contest to see how many cards each kid got. In Social Studies on Halloween morning kids handed out Halloween cards. Norm never got as many as he gave. It was embarrassing. He had to participate; the school principal had decided that this would be a wonderful way for the kids to socialize. As if!
His mother always bought him one of those big packages of Halloween cards, with fifty cards he’d have to sign then put in envelopes. He’d have to write a kid’s name on each envelope, leaving a few envelopes blank in case he got a card from someone he hadn’t included. Then he’d have to hand them out at school. The blank envelopes would still be blank at the end of the day. He’d give out forty-something cards and get ten cards.
He had quite a few friends, even a few that he felt were close friends, but he didn’t have a best friend. That’s what he wanted more than anything, a best friend. Someone he could talk with, count on to be there when he needed him, someone he could talk to about things. Private, personal things, that he knew would stay private. But that didn’t seem to be in the cards.
His dad said that — “It doesn’t seem to be in the cards” — when Norm would ask for something important, like a new bike or a laptop computer. Norm learned that it meant not now but maybe in the future. While a best friend didn’t seem to be in the cards now, maybe it would happen sometime. Norm hoped it might be soon.
Richard Wong, Travis’s father, was transferred to his company’s office in Oakland to take over the position of district manager. He’d been promoted and told to move and be on the job immediately. Alison Wong, Travis’s mother, had relatives in Walnut Creek, a town about sixteen miles east of Oakland. That made the decision about where to live very easy. They moved into a hotel while they looked for a house.
Travis was uprooted from the eighth grade at Fairhaven Middle School in Bellingham, Washington on Friday, the 24th of October. He met with his friends during lunch, and with Rick, his best friend, that afternoon. That evening he packed two suitcases with enough clothes for two weeks, along with his laptop, phone, tablet, and iPod in his backpack. Almost all his music and books were digital so he didn’t have any CDs or books to pack. He had more than enough room for his toothbrush and comb, his allergy pills, his ID from Fairhaven, all of his report cards from first through seventh grades, a bunch of pens and pencils, the tests, reports, and writing he’d done, the homework he’d gotten back, and the notes he’d taken in each of his eighth grade classes.
They spent Saturday morning packing the shipping boxes the moving company had left. Travis packed most of his clothes, those he didn’t need to carry with them on the trip to California. And everything else in his room that wasn’t furniture or nailed down, and the stuff he hadn’t packed from the bathroom. He wondered why they didn’t throw some of it away, like a tube of toothpaste with only about a quarter left. But his mom said it was always better to be frugal, so it got packed for the move. When he’d finished all that he helped his mom pack the kitchen stuff. That was a lot more work than packing his clothes.
Saturday afternoon they took a taxi to Bellingham airport. The flight to Oakland took about two hours. His father had rented a car and they drove to Walnut Creek where they checked into the hotel. What pleased Travis was that they had separate rooms, a pool, and a gym. They had dinner in the hotel restaurant, which Travis thought was very good. They were all tired and went to bed early.
Sunday morning after breakfast his folks asked Travis if he’d like to go house hunting with them. He said he wanted to stick around the hotel, maybe use the pool or the gym. His folks were reluctant to leave their twelve-year-old son on his own, but finally he convinced them that he’d be okay. And besides, he’d be thirteen, and a teenager, in three weeks.
Travis sat by the pool wondering what had happened to him. The last minute move made his head feel like his brain was spinning around on the inside. He decided he needed to take a walk. Maybe he could work off the sluggishness he felt. He returned to his room, changed to jeans, a T, and a light jacket, grabbed his key, wallet, and phone, and took the elevator down to the lobby. He stopped at the registration desk and asked how far it was if he walked to downtown Walnut Creek. The girl behind the counter smiled.
“It’s close, about a mile, maybe twenty minutes or so, depending on how fast you walk and where you want to go once you get to the downtown. We’re on Main Street. If you go down Main you’ll end up in the center of town. There’s an Apple Store, an Amazon Store, lots of places to shop including clothing stores and department stores, lots of places to eat. If you want a ride part way back to the hotel, there’s a free shuttle bus from downtown to the BART station. Then it’s about a ten minute walk back to the hotel. Here’s a map showing where we are and the BART station on California Street. You’ll see the bus pickup area when you get close to the station.”
She opened a map of Walnut Creek and pointed to the locations she’d described, then handed him the map. He took it and grinned.
“Thanks. I think it’ll be good for me to walk downtown. I need the exercise.”
“Well, you have fun.”
“I will,” he replied.
He was surprised that the downtown had so many stores, and was so busy. He wandered around, grabbed a burger for lunch, did some window shopping, and noticed a lot of kids who looked to be about his age. Then he walked back to the hotel. He was sitting in the lobby with his tablet reading a book when his folks returned. They said they saw several houses, but they were very expensive.
On Monday, his mother took him to Walnut Creek Intermediate School and took care of the details of his registration. Travis learned that ‘Intermediate School’ and ‘Middle School’ were different names for the same thing: a public school with grades six thru eight.
By the time they finished the registration process second period was about to start. He followed the school map to his Social Studies class. It was half over, he discovered, because Social Studies was a two-period class that included English, History, and Geography. He was introduced to the class, and said a few words about moving to Walnut Creek from Bellingham, Washington. Mrs. Clayton, the teacher, used this as a teaching moment. She had Travis use the map pointer and pick out Bellingham on a large U.S. map she rolled down. After answering her questions about the Seattle area, Travis sat down. The start of his first day at the new school seemed to be okay.
Halloween is always on the 31st of October. This year the 31st fell on a Friday, and it was a short-schedule day at WCI which meant for Norm he’d have his periods one and two classes, Social Studies; period four, Computer Programming; and period six, Science. The classes normally held during periods three, five, and seven were skipped. That shortened the day with an early lunch (which the menu called ‘brunch’) between periods two and four.
Norm had signed the fifty Halloween cards his mother had bought for him. Then on the front of the envelopes he wrote the names of each of the kids in his Social Studies, Computer Programming, and Science classes, and on the back ‘From’ and his name which was required. There was some overlap, so the total came to forty-eight names with two blank cards left over. One of the names was someone new at WCI, Travis Wong. Travis was in all three of Norm’s classes that Friday. In fact, he was the only other kid who was in all three. As a result, Norm had noticed this newbie, and thought he was cute though he seemed quiet and shy. Probably to be expected of someone starting at a new school in the middle of the semester, Norm thought.
At the end of the day, after distributing the cards in his Science class, Norm surreptitiously counted the cards he’d received. He was surprised to find that there were twenty-one this Halloween. He grinned. That was a lot better than the ten cards he got last year. When he got home he’d have to see who’d given him cards. That would be interesting.
Travis got seven Halloween cards. That had been a little disappointing, but he was a newbie and hadn’t gone out of his way to get to know more than a couple of the kids in each of his classes.
One of the cards was from Norm Murphy. In addition to Norm’s name in the card he’d written, ‘Welcome to Walnut Creek and WCI. I hope you like it here.’ Travis took a deep breath. He’d noticed Norm because he was in three of his classes. He thought Norm was cute. He had freckles across his cheeks and nose, but what made Travis notice him was his light reddish-brown hair and eyes that were a brilliant green color. Travis had never seen hair or eyes those colors on anyone else, ever. He decided that he wanted to be friends with Norm. But he couldn’t just walk up and start talking to him; he was too shy.
So, he’d added something when he signed the Halloween card for Norm. He couldn’t decide if he’d made a mistake or if it would work out okay. Maybe okay, since Norm had gone out of his way to write something extra when he signed the card for Travis.
When he got home Norm went through the Halloween cards he’d received. Twelve were from girls in his classes, including Linea Parker and Bonnie Greenfield — the prettiest girls in the eighth grade. That made him kind of tingle, and that made him grin and giggle. He checked the cards from the nine boys. Eight were from friends. The other was from Travis Wong. The envelope had been sealed; that was unusual. Most kids just tucked the flap into the envelope. He looked for and found the letter opener his mom had bought for him and that he seldom used because he seldom got any mail. He used it to slice open the top of the envelope, then he removed the card. It was signed ‘Travis Wong’ and there was more. He read what Travis had written.
‘I’m new here and don’t know many people. I thought maybe we could become friends. If so, could you phone or text me tonight?’
That was followed by ‘My cell is’ and his phone number.
Norm closed his eyes and pictured Travis. There weren’t a lot of Asians at WCI, about eighty or so out of over 1,200 students. He liked the way Asian boys looked. In particular, he thought Travis was especially cute. He liked the way his hair had soft spikes, and wondered how he did that so it would stay spiked all day. He liked his almond-shaped eyes, and his light tan colored complexion. He especially liked that when Travis grinned his eyes would sort of scrunch up.
He reread the note. He did want to be friends with Travis. It wouldn’t take a lot of planning because the tough part had been done for him. It surprised him that Travis took that first step by writing that he’d like to be friends and leaving his cell number. What confused Norm was the ‘phone or text me tonight’ part. Did he mean after school, after dinner, or after he got back from going trick-or-treating? Would Travis be going trick-or-treating? Maybe not; he was new in the area. Norm didn’t even know where he lived. He made up his mind. He’d call Travis right then.
It startled Travis when his cellphone’s ringtone, Passenger’s “Let Her Go,” began playing. He didn’t know anyone at school to be friendly enough to share phone numbers. Then he remembered what he’d written in the Halloween card he’d given to Norm.
“Hi,” he said when he answered the call.
“Uh, hi. Travis. I’m Norm Murphy. I’m calling you like you asked me to do. Uh, in the Halloween card you gave me. I wasn’t sure when you’d want me to call, so I decided to do it now. Is this an okay time? If you’re busy I can call later, or you can call me.”
Travis giggled. “Hi, Norm. Nice to actually be talking to you. This is a great time. I don’t have anything else to do until we go out to eat. And I couldn’t call you ‘cause I don’t know your number. Uh, why don’t you give it to me now? I’ll probably forget to ask you later.”
Now it was Norm’s turn to giggle. “Good idea. My cell is 925-555-2094.”
“Okay, hang on a second and I’ll get some paper and a pen.” He got off the bed and went to the desk to get a pad and pen. “Okay, that was 925-555-2094, right?”
“Yeah. Hey, you’ve got a good memory. If it’d been me I would’ve had to ask you two or three more times. I have no memory for thing like phone numbers or street addresses. I guess I’m more a visual sort of person.”
“That’s cool. Are you into art? I saw you working on a drawing using Photoshop the other day in Computer class.”
“Not really. I can Photoshop stuff I find on the web, but I’m not a good drawer. My visual thing is once I see something, like a house or a photo or a person, I hardly ever forget it. Or them, if it’s a person. Since I’ve seen you in three of my classes, I’ll remember who you are whenever I see you.
“Anyway, I think it would be great if we became friends. I’m sort of shy, and most of the kids I know are the ones I’ve known since elementary school. You seemed kind of quiet in class, but I thought it might be because you’re a newbie.”
“I’m more than quiet, I’m terminally shy. In Bellingham, where we lived, my best friend Ryan would call me that and I’d always say I’m not, but really I am.” He took a deep breath and let it out with a ‘whoosh’ sound. “You seem like a nice guy, and you smile all the time, so that’s why I thought we could become friends.”
“I’d like that. A lot. I like the way you seem to smile a lot in class. You seem to be smart, too. Do you like school?”
“Yeah, I do. I love learning new things. What are your favorite classes?”
“My favorite is Computer Programming. I like Science, Algebra, and English next. How about you?”
“I’d say the same as you. I like History too, and PE.”
“Yeah, PE. Really.” Travis laughed. “I take it that PE isn’t on your favorites list.”
“I’m not into the organized sort of stuff we do, everyone doing the same thing. I like to run and I like swimming. Baseball and football are okay, too. I don’t like soccer or basketball.”
“I’m surprised that you don’t like soccer since you like to run and you like football. It’s sort of like some of football with lots of running.”
“I think it’s more like some of basketball with lots of running. Anyway, it’s maybe the regimentation that I don’t like. I don’t know the rules very well either.”
“Do you play tennis?”
“Yeah, I do. I forgot about tennis. Sometimes a friend of mine, Jason, and I go to Las Lomas on the weekend and play a few matches.”
“Where’s Las Lomas?”
“It’s what’s Las Lomas. It’s the high school nearest to where I live. Uh, where do you live?”
Travis laughed. “You’re not gonna believe this, but we’re living at the Marriott Hotel. My folks have been looking for a house. They wanted me to go with them on Sunday, but I said I was too tired. I ended up walking from the hotel to downtown Walnut Creek. It’s a cool town.”
“That’s pretty far. Did you have any problems finding your way around?”
“My cell’s got a GPS and maps and a hiking app that measures how many miles you’ve walked. So I just followed the map and didn’t have any problem finding my way around. When I got back to the hotel the result said I’d walked 4.9 miles.”
“Wow, that is far. What kind of cell do you have, Android or Apple?”
“Android. Is that what you have?”
“Uh huh. When I see you I’ll have to find out what that hiking app is and I’ll download it for my phone. Was it free?”
“Yeah, but I bought the pay version to get rid of the ads at the bottom. The pay version has more features too, like storing a series of hikes then giving you the totals. It cost $2.99. I got my dad to okay my charging it to our plan.”
“Hey, I just had a thought about when I’ll see you. Are you going trick-or-treating tonight?”
Travis laughed. “Gee, bringing my costumes with me just wasn’t on my radar, and they’re in a box that the movers picked up this week and put in storage until my folks find a house. So no, I’m not going trick-or-treating tonight.”
“That’s a shame. Eighth grade is about the last time we can do that. Once we get into high school it’s good-bye to trick-or-treating and hello to par-tays! So, I have an idea. I have a couple costumes that oughta fit you. Come on over to my house and we’ll try them out on you and see which one you like the best. In fact, why don’t you come for dinner?”
“I think you’d better ask your mom about inviting me to dinner, Norm.”
“Okay. I’m on my way to the kitchen right now. Hold on.”
Travis heard Norm talking to his mother.
“Mom, I’m talking to my friend Travis Wong. I invited him to come over and we’ll pick out one of my costumes and we’ll go trick-or-treating tonight. Is it okay if he stays for dinner? Oh, and he and his folks are staying at the Marriott Hotel because they just moved here this week from… uh….”
Travis, listening to the conversation, yelled, “Bellingham, Washington!” loud, not realizing that Norm had turned on his phone’s speaker.
“What Travis just said,” Norm added.
“It’s fine with me,” Travis heard Norm’s mom say, “but I’ll need to talk to his mother.”
Norm turned off the speaker and talked to Travis. “Is your mom there? Can you give her your phone?”
“Yes and no. Yes, she’s here. No, I won’t give her my phone. If I do she’ll be talking to your mom for two hours and I’ll be without my cell. So what’s your home phone number and I’ll have her call you from the phone in their room.”
With his mother’s okay, Norm gave Travis their home number. Norm heard Travis tell his mom the number, and after a few seconds their home phone rang and Joanne Murphy picked up the call from Alison Wong.
“Hey, Travis, our moms are talking to each other and I heard my mom say it’s okay for you to come over. Why don’t you walk to my house now? You’re just a few blocks from where I live.”
“Nope. Walk straight out of the hotel and you’re standing on Parkside Drive. Turn right and follow Parkside under the freeway. Take the first right, San Juan Avenue. Keep going past Buena Vista Elementary School to where it dead ends at Alvarado Avenue. Turn left. Take the first right, Elder Court. We’re at 32 Elder Court, the green house at the end of the street. If you just walk up the middle of the street you’ll end up walking right up our driveway. I’d guess it’s about a half mile from the hotel.”
Travis arrived at Norm’s house about a half hour after they finished talking. Norm opened the front door and grinned.
“Hey, Travis. I’m glad you were able to come over. Pretty easy, right?”
“Hi, Norm. Yeah, it’s an easy walk. Thanks for inviting me.”
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to my mom.”
They walked back to the kitchen, and Norm made the introductions. “Mom, this is Travis Wong. Travis, this is my mom, Joanne Murphy.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Murphy.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Travis. I had a nice chat with your mom, and she and your father are going to join us for dinner tonight.”
Travis seemed surprised. “Oh. Uh, that’s great. Did she say when they’d be here?”
“After your father gets back to the hotel from work, around five fifteen.”
“Okay, thanks Mrs. Murphy.”
“What’s for dinner,” Norm asked, just like he asked every night.
Joanne laughed. “Since I couldn’t find any dead pigeons out in the street, we’re going to have roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and some vegetables though I haven’t decided what kind yet. Travis, are there any vegetables that you don’t like?”
“I love all kinds of veggies. That includes Brussels sprouts, eggplant, parsnips, turnips, every kind and any kind is good.” Travis looked at Norm and grinned.
Norm just shrugged his shoulders. “Same as me, except for eggplant — it’s yucky,” he said. Then he grinned. “Come on, Travis. Let’s go pick out our costumes for tonight.”
“Good idea,” Travis agreed.
“My dad keeps our old costumes in the garage. Follow me.”
Norm turned on the light when they entered the garage. He pulled down one of the boxes and opened it. “These plastic storage boxes on that shelf with labels that have ‘Norm’ and dates on them are all of my old costumes. And the ones that are labeled ‘Donna’ are my sister’s. I don’t think you’d want to wear any of hers.”
“Oh, you have a sister? Will I meet her at dinner?” Travis asked.
“Donna’s going to college at Cal State Long Beach and lives there in a dorm. She’s a sophomore and she’s majoring in creative writing. She’s planning on getting an MFA.”
“What’s an MFA?”
“A Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. That includes when you’re studying writing, not just art or music.”
“Oh. I’ve never heard of that.”
“Neither had I. Donna’s always liked to write. She even won some awards in high school, and had some of her short stories published in one of the teen magazines.”
“What high school did she go to?”
“Las Lomas. That’s the same high school where we’ll go.”
“Oh. Is it close to here, to your house?”
“No. Of course, neither is WCI. I take a bus to WCI, and I’ll have to take a bus to Las Lomas. Do you know where you’re going to live, like in Walnut Creek or somewhere else?”
“It’s going to be Walnut Creek. Mom wants to live here because my aunt, Mom’s sister, and her family live here. Aunt Cindi and Uncle Jack have three kids, all a little older than me. Garret and Gavin are twins, they’re fourteen, and Patricia is sixteen. They all go to high school, but I don’t know which one.”
“There are two public high schools in Walnut Creek, Las Lomas and Northgate. There’s also Berean Christian. And two Catholic high schools, Carondolet for girls and De La Salle for boys. You’ve probably heard of De La Salle, they’re famous for their football teams. Did you ever come to Walnut Creek to visit your relatives?”
“No, they came to visit us in Bellingham this summer. I’ve never been to Walnut Creek before. I’ve never been to California before. Other than going to Vancouver in British Columbia a couple times I’ve never been anywhere outside of the state of Washington before.”
“When your folks are picking a house, make sure it’s in the Las Lomas attendance area. That way we’ll go to high school together.”
“I think they’re planning that. That’s one of the reasons I’m going to Walnut Creek Intermediate.”
“We call it WCI. That way it’s a lot shorter. Look, here’s the zombie costume I wore last year.”
“Is that real blood?”
“Nah. It’s fake blood, the kind that you can buy at the costume shop.”
“This isn’t bad, Norm. Is if okay if I wear this?”
“Sure. That baggie has all the makeup and fake cuts and a dangling eye. That eye’s the best part of the costume.” Norm held up the eyeball and dangled it in front of his face. He laughed when he saw Travis’s expression. “Hey, it’s all part of being a zombie,” he said.
“No fake brains? I mean, if I’m a zombie what am I supposed to eat?” Travis grinned.
“Nope, no brains. There’s something a lot worse to eat. All the Halloween candy you’ll get tonight.”
“What I do every year since I started going trick-or-treating is take most of the candy I collect to the County Shelter for Homeless Kids. A bunch of us from school do it. We wear our costumes and do a reverse trick-or-treat. They get candy they wouldn’t get otherwise, and our dentists are a lot happier.”
“That’s really cool. I’d like to do that with you guys this year. Is that okay? When do you do it?”
“Of course it’s okay. We do it on the first Saturday after Halloween. That’s tomorrow.”
“Okay, now I have my costume. Where’s yours?” Travis asked.
Norm wiggled his eyebrows. “Ah, that’s for me to show you and you to be amazed. It’s in my room. Come on, let’s go in and I’ll put it on and show you.”
Norm led Travis to his room. “Okay, this is my room,” Norm said, standing at the foot of his bed with his arms held out as he circled around.
“You’re into a lot of rock groups,” Travis said as he looked at the posters covering almost every available spot on every wall. “Green Day, Passenger, Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Kiss? Man, you’re really into the ancients.” Travis couldn’t keep a straight face, and he started laughing.
“The ancients? The ANCIENTS?” Norm shouted. “I’ll show you ancients! You just wait here!” With that, he pulled a garment bag from his closet and started to leave the room. Then he turned around and looked at Travis. “Just wait here. I’ll be back in a few.”
After a few minutes Travis heard Norm clear his throat. He’d snuck back into the bedroom when Travis’s back had been turned. He turned around. What he saw caused his eyes to open wide.
“Oh my god! You’re Kiss!”
Norm stood there in a Kiss outfit, with a Kiss skull facemask complete with the tongue sticking out that looked so real that Travis did a double-take.
“What. A. Fantastic. Costume!” he said as he did a walk around Norm. “You look just like the guy in your poster.”
“Thanks,” Norm responded.
“Why Kiss? Most kids aren’t going to recognize that costume.”
“Who gives out the candy when you go trick-or-treating?”
Travis thought for a couple seconds. “I guess the adults, ‘cause their kids are out doing their own trick-or-treating.”
“Right! You got it. Lots of those adults were or are Kiss fans. I think they’ll love this costume. Even if they weren’t Kiss fans they’d recognize this costume. Then maybe they’ll give me more candy than they would otherwise.”
Travis laughed. “You’re even smarter than how fantastic you look in that costume.”
Norm grinned. “Thanks.”
“Uh… aren’t you going to take it off? Or are you going to wear it while we have dinner?”
“I guess I’d better change. I don’t want to freak out your folks.”
Norm pulled off the mask. “This might get a little hot. I’m glad we had some rain this morning and it’s cool now.”
“Do you think it’ll rain tonight?” Travis asked. “I know if we were in the Seattle area there’d be no question about it, it would rain for sure.”
“I watched the news last night to see what the weatherman said. He said there’s a chance of showers. So I’m gonna carry a lightweight poncho. I assume you didn’t pack one of those, or if you did you don’t have it with you. I have another you can carry.”
“Hey, thanks, Norm.”
Travis sat on the bed and watched Norm strip off the rest of his costume, right down to his boxer briefs. “Woo woo! Hotcha, hotcha!” he said, then flopped back on the bed and started laughing.
Norm jumped on Travis and sat on his groin, pinning his arms with his legs.
Travis continued laughing, and with some difficulty was able to finally say, “Oof! Get offa me, Norm!”
Norm, who was also laughing, said, “Nope. This is very comfortable. I think I’ll sit here until we get called for dinner.”
“You keep sitting here and your bed and your boxer briefs are going to be wet. You’ll have to change the blanket and sheets and your boxer briefs.”
“No, I wouldn’t right now. But, stay like this very long and I’ll have to go.”
“Okay, I’ll get off.”
As soon as Norm’s legs started to pull away Travis freed his arms and hands and grabbed Norm around the waist and then started tickling him. Norm retaliated by ticking Travis. Pretty soon Norm was stretched out on top of Travis and they were tickling each other and laughing. Finally Travis stopped.
“Truce?” he asked.
“Truce.” Norm replied. He rolled off Travis and laid next to him.
Travis turned onto his side and looked at Norm. “You’re cute.”
“What?” Norm asked, surprised by what Travis said.
“Oh, shit! Did I really say that out loud?”
“Yes. And it’s okay. I liked that you said it because I think the same thing about you. You’re cute, Travis Wong.”
“And you’re cute, Norm Murphy. Does that make us friends?”
“I think it makes us something beyond just being friends.”
“I think so, too.” Travis looked at the front of Norm’s boxer briefs and grinned. “You’re obviously happy that we’re going to be very, very good friends.”
Norm covered the lump in his groin with one hand. “Perv!”
“Every chance I get,” Travis responded.
“Does that mean what I think it means?” Norm asked.
“You’re covering up my answer.”
“Since we’re beyond just being friends, let’s start by being best friends and see how it goes for both of us for a while. Okay?”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Travis replied.
Norm got up off the bed and rearranged the contents of his boxer briefs. “Now I better get dressed.”
While he dressed Norm asked, “What do you want to do until dinner?”
“Should we be helping your mom with dinner? Like setting the table or peeling potatoes or something?”
“I set the table, but it’s too early to do that. Maybe around five thirty. We could work on our homework while we wait.” Norm grinned.
“Eww!” was Travis’s retort.
“Or we could play a video game or listen to some music and talk.”
“Let’s do your music and talk suggestion.”
“Okay. Let’s sit on my bed, leaning against the headboard. I do that when I’m reading. It’s padded so it feels good.”
They talked about their home towns, what it was like to live there, their school, their friends, and Travis talked about his best friend Ryan and how he missed him. They talked about relatives, sports, music, books, movies, TV, and what they were interested in like hobbies. They got to know each other over the hour they had to talk. They never brought up the question that was in the back of each boy’s mind: ‘Is he really gay? I hope so!’
At five thirty they went to the kitchen and Norm asked Joanne if it was okay to set the table.
“Sure,” she said. “We’re going to use the dining room, so move the flowers to the coffee table in the living room. Remember there are six of us.”
At dinner their parents seemed to get along great. Travis complimented Joanne for the meal, which he thought was as good as his mom’s cooking.
After dinner they put the dishes into the dishwasher. Norm washed and Travis dried the pots and pans, then Norm put them away.
Then they rushed to Norm’s room and put on their costumes. Norm pulled two paper bags out of his closet and handed one to Travis. They were printed, ‘Candy will be donated to the kids at the County Shelter for Homeless Children’ in black on an orange background on both sides.
“When people see that, they give us more candy. Some ask questions about the shelter. When that happens, at first I’ll tell them about the shelter, and you can pick up some of the things to say then you can answer questions yourself.”
Norm saw that Travis didn’t seem that confident about answering questions about the shelter.
“I’ll tell you some of the major talking points on our way out. Okay?”
Travis smiled. “Okay.”
“Now, the way I do trick-or-treating is to walk so the houses are on my right, and keep turning right when we get to major streets. Then I turn right into each of the side streets. These are mostly short dead-end streets, my mom calls them cul de sacs. She says that’s the French name for them. Anyway, I work my way around a cul de sac and back out to the main street, turn right, and keep doing that. Eventually I get to Encinal. It’s not a cul de sac, so I go to the houses on my right. When I get at the next intersection, which is Alvarado, I cross the street and turn left on Encinal and work my way back to San Luis, turn right, turn right at Casa which isn’t a cul de sac either, and work my way back to Alvarado. By then I have more than enough candy so I turn right and walk to the first cul de sac. That’s Elder Court, and I’m home.”
“How many houses is that?”
“I counted last year. There are one hundred and eighteen.”
“Jeez! How long does it take you?”
“About two hours.” Norm saw Travis’s expression. “Hey, I move fast. No dawdling. It’s trick-or-treat and on to the next house.”
“I don’t know. That only gives you one minute for each house.”
“Actually, I don’t go to every house. Only the ones that have their front porch light turned on which means they are expecting trick-or-treaters. That’s about two-thirds of the houses. The other houses where the porch light isn’t on means either they aren’t home, or they don’t want trick-or-treaters, or they’ve run out of candy to give out. So that’s about eighty houses so it’s…” Norm did the calculation in his head, “…about a minute and a half for each house. Most of the houses are close together, and unless there’s a bunch of kids ahead of me or the people want to talk about the shelter, it takes less than thirty seconds for each house.”
“Do you usually go trick-or-treating by yourself?”
“The last two years I went with Rick Devers. He lives a block from here. He’s a friend I’ve known since kindergarten. His mom called me Wednesday night and said he’d come down with the flu and couldn’t go this year. But now I have you to go around with me. That makes it a lot more fun. If I did it by myself it would seem like a chore, or something like that.”
“What time do you want to leave?”
Norm looked at his clock. “It’s almost six thirty. Let’s finish putting on our costumes, I’ll apply the fake blood and stuff to your head, and we’ll show our folks. Expect my folks to take pictures. Then we’ll leave and get started. Oh, one thing I bring is a water bottle. We have extras. You can use it. Just don’t drink too much. There aren’t any places to pee out there.”
“I’ll make sure to go before we leave,” Travis said.
“Yeah, me too,” Norm added.
Their bags were full when they got back to Norm’s house.
“See, I told you that we’d get a lot more candy than if we weren’t giving it to the kids at the shelter.”
“A lot more and a lot heavier to carry,” Travis groaned.
“Yeah, but just think about those homeless kids at the shelter and how happy they’re going to be when they see us and the rest of the guys tomorrow.
“Now, you and I can pick out and keep up to ten percent of the candy for ourselves. That’s how we get paid for what we do with the rest.”
“How do you figure what ten percent is?”
“By weight. We weigh each bag, then take candy out until it weighs ten percent less. My folk’s have a digital scale we can use. It’s real accurate.”
“Let’s go show our folks our haul,” Travis said.
They went to the family room, and they said, ‘Trick or treat!’ at the same time.
“Well, you two look like you had a productive evening,” Travis’s dad said.
Travis handed his dad his bag. “Feel how heavy it is.”
“Wow, that is heavy. I’m amazed. And I see from the bag that you’re giving it to the County Children’s Shelter for Homeless Kids, right?”
“All except ten percent that we get to keep, and we’ll take it to the shelter tomorrow,” Travis replied.
“Have you weighed the bags?” Norm’s dad asked.
“Not yet, dad. I was going to use the scale you have in your bedroom.”
“I’ll go get it while you two get out of your costumes and clean up a bit,” Norm’s mom told them.
They went to Norm’s room and took off their costumes, down their boxer briefs, then walked across the hall to the bathroom.
“I want to take a shower,” Norm said.
“Me, too,” Travis said.
“It’ll be a lot faster if we shower at the same time. That way we can wash each other’s back.”
“You mean we’ll be in the shower together?” Travis asked, hoping he hadn’t misunderstood.
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Norm replied. “Shouldn’t be a problem. We shower with a bunch of guys every day after PE.”
“But… this is different. It’s only the two of us and the shower is small and we’ll be pushed against each other.”
Norm wiggled his eyebrows. “And that’s a problem because…?” He smiled, and waited for Travis’s reply.
The reply was accompanied by a big smile. “Some problem might pop up, don’cha think?”
“I sure hope so,” Norm replied.
So they pulled off their boxer briefs and got into the shower stall. It was a large shower, with plenty of room for both of them.
“Wait, I forgot something,” Norm said. He got out of the shower, locked the bathroom door, and got two washcloths and two bath towels. Then he got back in the shower.
It took longer, much longer, than if each had taken a shower by himself. But that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. And showering together was definitely much more fun. When they finished they had notched their friendship up another level, beyond being just best friends. Each thought the same thing, ‘I think I’ve found my boyfriend.’
After dressing they went back to the family room.
“Well, that certainly took a long time,” Joanne said.
“We really had a hard time,” Norm said. That made Travis start to laugh, but he covered it by coughing. Norm continued, “We probably put more zombie makeup on Travis’s face than we should have and it was real hard to wash off. You can still see a little of it on his forehead.” That ‘little of it’ had been carefully rubbed in to provide cover for the amount of time they took. Norm and Travis were very clever for two almost thirteen year old kids.
They each weighed their bag. Norm was amazed that they each weighed about twenty five pounds. They transferred about two pounds from each trick-or-treat bag to plastic baggies, one each for their own personal consumption.
“Tell you what, Norm. I’ll give you half of my two pounds so you can give it to your friend Rick. That way he won’t feel cheated by not going out to trick-or-treat tonight.”
“That’s really nice of you, Travis. I’ll do the same. If he’s feeling better and not contagious maybe we can take it to him tomorrow after we’re finished at the shelter.”
They played video games until Travis’s mom called out that they were leaving.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Norm,” he said. “Two o’clock, right?”
“Right.” Norm grabbed Travis is a hug, and Travis held on too.
“Okay, I’d better go before my folks come to rescue me,” Travis said. They pulled apart, both smiling.
“I think we’re close to something beyond best friends,” Norm said. “Do you agree?”
“I think we’re closer than close,” Travis said. “It’s going to be fun, don’cha think?”
“You got it!”
After they’d left, Norm’s mom said, “Join your dad and me in the family room and tell us about their trick-or-treating adventure.”
Norm laughed. “I wouldn’t call it an adventure, but it was fun. Travis really got into telling about giving candy to the kids at the shelter. In every case, after people had given us our candy he’d go into his advertisement and they’d give us more. Three people gave us money to donate to the shelter.” Norm pulled forty dollars out of his pocket. “He’s excited about playing reverse trick-or-treat tomorrow. So am I. Then after we’re going to Rick’s house. Travis said we should give Rick half of our ten percent, and I agree. I know he’s gotta be bummed about not being able to go trick or treating tonight. We think giving him part of our candy will make him happy.”
“You seem to have found Travis to be a very good friend,” Joanne said.
“Yeah, he is. We are very good friends. We think maybe best friends.”
“Or more?” she asked.
Norm freaked. “Uh… more?”
“Come on, Norm,” his dad said. “We see how the two of you look at each other. So if you want to be best friends, or something more, it’s fine with your mom and me. We don’t want you to think we’re pressuring or objecting to what you want to do. It’s entirely up to you and Travis. What we want you to know is that whatever results is fine with us. And you can talk to us at any time about anything. We’ll never be judgmental or criticize you about your decisions. What we’ll do is let you talk and ask us questions and we’ll tell you what we think, and give you guidance, but it’s going to be your decision. That’s appropriate because you’re just a few weeks away from a major milestone, becoming a teenager.”
“We’re proud of you, Norm,” his mom said. “You’re a good student, you never get into trouble, you have some good friends, and now perhaps a best friend. As your dad told you, we’re here for you. We love you, unconditionally.”
Norm jumped up and his parents stood, and they hugged for a long time. Finally they stepped back.
“How do you feel?” Joanne asked him.
“Great. Wonderful. Fantastic. I love you guys so much. Nobody I know has better parents. Nobody I don’t know has better parents.”
When Norm went to bed he lay thinking about his day. Halloween. It turned out to be the best Halloween ever because he met Travis and they became friends. Then they went trick-or-treating and they became best friends. And more than best friends when they showered together. The day couldn’t have been better. But it got totally amazing when his folks told him they knew how he and Travis felt about each other and it was fine with them.
He heard his cell’s ringtone and jumped out of bed and grabbed it off his desk.
“Hi, Norm. What’re you doing?”
Norm climbed back in bed. “Thinking about you.”
Norm giggled. “Sexy thoughts. What’re you doing?”
“Talking to you on the phone.”
“Really? Wow, I’d never have guessed that.”
“Tell me about the sexy thoughts.”
“It’s when we were in the shower. It makes me feel tingly all over.”
“Ooo… that makes me feel tingly in my dingly.”
Norm tried to stifle his laughter to keep his folks from coming in to see why he wasn’t sleeping. “Shhh! We don’t want our folks to hear us,” he said.
“My folks can’t hear me. I have a private room and it’s across the hall from theirs.”
“Oh, that’s lucky.”
“Yeah, it is. You want to know what I’m doing right now?”
“No! I think it’s probably something nasty and fun.”
“Yup, very nasty and very fun. Since I have this nice private room, and my folks are going out house hunting tomorrow morning around nine, and I’m not going with them, why don’t you walk to the hotel and come see me?”
“So you’re inviting me into your lair?” Norm asked.
“Yeah, I am.”
“I’m game. How’s nine thirty sound?”
“Sounds good. Bring your swimsuit. We’ll use the pool and the gym.”
“Sounds even better. What’s your room number?”
“Two seventy four. Knock four times twice, like: knock-knock knock-knock, pause, knock-knock knock-knock. That way I’ll know it’s you and I can greet you in an appropriate manner.”
“Why do I think your ‘appropriate manner’ would be inappropriate if our folks were around?”
“You think that because you’re a really smart kid.”
“Tomorrow morning I’ll have to tell my folks that I’m going to the hotel to see you and get their okay. My mom will want to talk to your mom.”
“I don’t see a problem with that. Since your mom wants to talk to my mom, tell her so she can call here before like eight forty-five. That way they won’t have left yet.”
“Even better, why don’t you tell your folks you want me to come over to go swimming and ask your mom to call my mom and make sure it’s okay with both of them. That way you’ll get your folk’s okay and your mom will call mine and I’ll get her okay.”
“You really are a really smart kid. I’ll do it. See you tomorrow, Norm.”
“See you tomorrow, Travis. Good night.”
“Good night, lover boy!” With that Travis started laughing and ended the call so Norm couldn’t respond.
So he laughed, put his cell in sleep mode, and stretched out. He pictured Travis standing at the door to his room. ‘What a great way to go to sleep,’ he thought. And it was, and he fell asleep with visions in his mind of his boyfriend doing a striptease.
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This story and the included images are Copyright © 2014 by Colin Kelly (colinian). The original image is Copyright © 2014 by Carolyn Franks | Dollar Photo Club. They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted.
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