Eleven, smoothing the borrowed pastel pink dress with the pin tuck bodice, graced Mike, Lucas, and Dustin with a puzzled frown.
“Cos-tumes?” She tugged at the Peter Pan collar and swallowed anxiously. She cared very much for her friends and wanted them to be happy, but, like with so many other things, she just didn’t understand.
“Jeez, El!” Lucas rolled his eyes dramatically and stomped to the other side of the basement, slapping his hands against his thighs. Spinning around, he held Eleven motionless with his incredulous glare. “Don’t you know anything?”
Mike, ever the peacemaker, came to the poor girl’s defense. “No, she doesn’t know about Halloween, or Christmas, or Easter, or anything else. They had her locked up in that—”
“Lab’ratory torture prison,” Dustin butted in. “Where they did evil scientist experiments on her mind.” He loomed over Lucas, eyes bugging out and waggling his head. He shoved the slimmer boy with his elbow.
“Shh! Cool it, you guys!” Mike hissed, trying to stop the two before they were in a full-out wrestling match on the floor. He grimaced and glanced up at the ceiling. “Mom and Dad might hear us, and they can’t know she’s here.” He let out a deep sigh and awkwardly patted the confused girl on the shoulder. Lowering his voice, he tilted his head toward her. “Halloween started back when—”
“No, no, no.” Dustin removed his ball cap, ran his fingers though his collar-length curly brown hair, and replaced the hat. “She doesn’t need an ancient history lesson right now, Mike. Halloween is just fun, Eleven.”
Lucas scrunched his nose at Dustin. “Uh, yeah. People carve faces into pumpkins and put candles inside. They might have some cobwebs all over their porches. Maybe some rubber bats hanging around.” He shrugged. He didn’t really care about the bats, but the big, plastic, hairy spiders were another story. “Costumes are clothes and stuff you dress up in to make you look like somebody or something else. You can even wear a mask to hide your face so nobody knows who you are.”
Still baffled, Eleven looked down at the pink dress. “This dress.” She held out the skirt, released it and pointed toward the wig of long blonde hair on the card table in the center of the room. “Wig?”
Exasperated, Lucas huffed loudly. “That’s different. You looked like a boy since the evil scientists cut off all your hair, and girls wear dresses.”
Chuckling, Dustin gave them a wide toothless grin. “Except for those guys in Scotland who wear skirts, and the mages and wizards in Dungeons and Dragons with their long gowns.”
“You are so not funny, Dustin.” Lucas punched him in the arm. “Those skirts are kilts and the mages wear robes. They’re not gowns.”
“Well, she’s kind of right,” Mike conceded. “My sister’s old dress and the wig changed her looks.”
“Better than runnin’ around almost bald in a hospital gown,” Dustin added snidely. “Anyway, that dress and the sweat pants Mike gave you are like regular clothes. Like what we wear. Costumes are things people don’t usually wear. You could dress up like Batman or the Lone Ranger. They have masks, too, so nobody can make out your identity.”
“But those are for guys. She’s a girl.” Lucas gestured emphatically at her. “She could be a fairy princess and wear a sparkly mask, or be a cat and draw whiskers on her cheeks. Maybe even paint her face green and be a witch. She’s kinda like a witch already with all the magic powers. Whatever she wears she needs to cover up that number tattoo on her arm.”
“Whatever,” Dustin grumbled. Lucas always had some kind of argument. “She can wear whatever she wants. She can stick a band-aid over the tattoo. The important thing is going to the houses and getting all the candy!”
“Right!” Mike agreed. “You wear the costume—whatever you want—” he assured her, giving Lucas a quelling look. “Then you go from house to house with your friends, knock on the door, and when they answer it, you say Trick or Treat, and they give you candy.”
“Yeah!” Dustin’s eyes were bright. He rubbed his hands together. “I get some of my favorites that way. And lots of it! Bags full!” He threw his arms wide. “And you can trade the junk you don’t want to other people who do. Like I give Lucas the Smarties because he loves ‘em, and he gives me the Milk Duds.”
“Favorite things?” Eleven’s voice was tentative. She still didn’t understand it all, but she could clearly see the boys enjoyed it and wanted to share it with her. Waffles happened to be her favorite thing. Maybe if she participated in the Halloween she could get bags full of them.
“Yeah! All kinds of good stuff. Down the street, old Mrs. Pemberly hands out candy apples. I can’t eat ’em because I don’t have any front teeth, so I give mine to Mike and he gives me the popcorn balls that Mrs. Stevens makes.”
“Old Mr. Martin always hands out those bubble gum cigars.” Mike grinned broadly at the thought of the huge wad of gum crammed in his mouth. “If you don’t like them, El, I’ll take them. I’m sure I’ll get something you like.” When she returned his smile with a little one of her own, he didn’t even care if Dustin and Lucas teased him about liking her.
Having come to a decision, she nodded sharply and gave them all a determined look. “We do this Hal-o-ween.” She placed her hand over the darkly inked 011 on the underside of her forearm. “A costume to cover.”
Straightening her spine and squaring her slight shoulders, she pointed at the three boys. “Eggos you give to me.” She nodded at them again, spun around, and marched away to her little blanket fort where she slept hidden in the back of the room.
All three boys’ mouths dropped open at her proclamation.
“Wha …? You don’t get Eggos—” Lucas groaned and smacked his own forehead. “Doesn’t she know anything?”
~o the end o~