“Oh, hey guys, come on in,” Grant peeks his head from behind Yagher’s and waves us inside. Yagher holds the door open and we pass into the apartment, still holding each other’s hands.
Brie lets go once we pass Yagher and hurries over to Grant, opening her eyes wide and tilting her head in the direction of the clearly uninvited cop. Grant shrugs and herds her into an adjacent room, leaving us alone.
“The invitation said you have to wear a costume,” I say. I cross my arms and stare him up and down, noting his plain grey dress shirt and black slacks. I refuse to show an ounce of the nervousness that is quickly expanding in the pit of my stomach.
“Can’t stay,” he says, “But I heard you were coming and I wanted to see you.”
“You’re not taking me back there, Yagher,” I shake my head and take a step away from him. He puts his hands up, as if I’m the cop and he’s the one surrendering.
“No, I’m not. Look Selene I’m…” he hesitates, running his hand nervously through his hair. His sleeve drifts up his arm and I see twisted pink skin underneath. I soften a little, remembering that right and wrong have never played a factor in this conflict. That we have all had something taken from us.
“I’m sorry,” he finally manages.
“You’re apologizing?” My arms drop in surprise.
“A lot of things have happened. I don’t know how clearly I was thinking that day. You were right when you said I was being blinded by my own personal vendetta,” the words come reluctantly, slowly, but their weight lends them sincerity.
“You’re… you’re willing to hear Hunter out?” I see his face tighten when I say Hunter’s name.
“Don’t get me wrong Selene, I still intend to arrest him,” he is stern, but his eyes remain warm, “He’s committed a crime. But I’ll see that he is heard. I’ve been talking to my father and… I want to change our justice system. We need more voices, more families involved. We’ve been judge, jury, and executioner for too long.”
“Thank you.” I realize that he has not agreed to pardon Hunter, but I can empathize with the courage it must take to face Marle. And I appreciate that he listened to me, really listened.
“I’m also working on something else. I don’t even know if it’s possible, but when I find out I’d like to talk to you about it. You… you’ve got a knack for seeing things from all angles.”
“As long as you promise not to arrest me or anything,” I’m only half-joking, but I can feel us slipping into our familiar banter. It comes with a hint of confusion and guilt, like breaking a promise.
“I swear I won’t arrest you,” a pause, and then a slow grin, “Unless you ask me to.”
I consider telling him there’s no chance in hell, but just shake my head and laugh; he may be charming, but his sense of timing is atrocious. I hear Brie call me from the other room. It seems she has an apter sense of timing.
“I have to go anyway,” Yagher says, opening the door. He holds it ajar with his broad back and reaches out one of his large, rough hands to me, “Take care of yourself, okay?”
I hesitate for a moment, but reach out and shake his hand. He holds it for a second too long before turning and walking away down the hall.
I inhale deeply, turning around to find Brie standing behind me. I roll my eyes up to the ceiling when I see her grin. “You know,” she says slyly, “there may be hope for that boy yet.”
“Fuck off, Brie.”
There’s a knock at the door and Brie looks through the peep hole before opening it. I almost don’t recognize Wynn with heavy black makeup, dressed in white, and wearing an ancient Greek head dress. A short woman I’ve never seen before — handsomely dressed as a film-noir detective — walks in behind her.
“Wynn?” I exclaim, putting my arms out to hug her. She grabs me violently and almost lifts me from the floor.
“I have missed you so much, you have no idea!” she says, her spindly arms wrapped around my shoulders.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” I tell her.
“Brie’s idea,” she laughs, trying to carefully wipe away a stray tear without smudging her thick makeup.
“Would you like to apologize for prior comments?” Brie asks, raising an eyebrow.
I put a hand to my chest and say, as solemnly as possible: “You are the most amazing person in the world and I swear to never speak poorly of you again. Even if your taste in men is questionable.”
“Ooh, this sounds interesting,” Wynn pries.
“First, I think you have introductions to make,” I gesture to the woman I’ve guessed, correctly, to be Natalia.
Wynn doesn’t ask me where I’ve been for the past month, and I’m forever grateful that she’s spared me the burden of lying to her. I wonder if Brie has fed her the stalker story, or if she’s perceptive enough to see that it isn’t something I can talk about. Either way, we pick up right where we left off and in minutes I’m engrossed in conversation with both of them.
Music is blaring and the spacious living room is becoming crowded when Grant calls my name, leaning in from the hallway. His face is painted skeletally, with a dia de los Meurtos twist. He’s wearing a black dress shirt, open at the collar with the face paint extending down to his chest. His left arm is a custom prosthesis that looks frighteningly like a skeleton’s forearm and hand. I’m pretty sure that if someone turned off the lights both the makeup and prosthesis would glow in the dark.
“You really went all out, didn’t you?”
He smiles and shrugs, “I met a guy at a physio session who makes stuff like this. Come on, I had to find an excuse to get something this cool.”
He puts his arm out, opening and closing the skeletal hand. We both laugh. He gestures for me to follow him, stopping in front of a closed door on the right side of the short hallway.
“I know things have been a bit crazy for you,” he puts his head next to mine and whispers into my ear so I can hear him over the music. Someone squeezes by us to get to the washroom. He puts an arm around my back and points at the door. “There’s something for you in there.”
He opens the door onto a dimly lit office. Sitting on a small couch against the right hand wall, surrounded by bookcases, is a masked figure. The mask looks ceramic and is well made – a red fox. Otherwise, the figure is dressed simply in a black jacket with the hood draped over his head, and dark blue jeans. I vaguely remember him arriving and walking through the crowd maybe half an hour ago. He stands as I enter the room and Grant closes the door behind me.
The music is muffled by the door but the heavy bass still beats loudly, competing with my pounding heart. Up close the disguise is incredibly obvious, barely even concealing his red hair; it’s not so different than I had imagined.
“I’ve missed you,” I whisper, and I wonder if he hears me. He pulls off the hood and lifts the mask up to sit on his head.
“I’ve missed you too.”
“Isn’t it dangerous for you to be here? Yagher only left an hour ago.” The music outside slows, but my heart is racing still.
Hunter takes a few steps forward. “It’s fine. We knew he was coming. Yagher still thinks Grant is keeping a close eye on you.”
I bridge the final gap between us and wrap my shaking hands tightly into the front of his sweater, pulling him towards me, “I’ve been so worried about you.”
He leans down and kisses me, gently until I pull him in closer. His hand rushes up into my hair and I wrap my arms around his neck. I feel the roughness of his scar against my lip, a feeling I didn’t realize I was longing for.
This is our first kiss, I decide. The moment from a couple of months ago — the one filled with desperation and even manipulation — that was something else. This is mutual. This is real.
When he finally pulls away from me, leaning his forehead against mine, I can hardly breathe. “There’s someone I have to meet tonight. Will you come with me?”
I nod. He pushes his mask back down and puts his hood up before taking my hand and leading me out of the dark room. I wave as we pass by a confused looking Wynn. Brie is busy mingling in the kitchen and doesn’t notice us as we pass. It’s probably for the best.
Grant is waiting next to the front closet; he hands me my jacket and basket before opening the door to the hallway. Hunter moves to lead me out but I stop and turn to Grant.
“Costumes required — you set this up, didn’t you?” I ask, and he answers with a devious grin, “You’re getting as bad as Brie.”
“Yeah, well, just don’t let her know I’m rooting for the other team,” he says, throwing a quick glance towards the kitchen.
I make a twisting gesture over my lips, reassuring him that they will remain sealed, then follow Hunter to the elevator.
The night is cold but clear and the stars seem to shine impossibly bright, competing with the city lights. The moon is a thin crescent hanging low on the horizon and I pause outside the lobby doors to stare at it. A burst of laughter startles me and I realize that the streets are still teeming with trick or treaters and trouble makers, walking from door to door. Hunter squeezes my hand.
“It’s not too far from here, we can walk it if you’re alright,” his voice is muffled by his mask. I nod my head and he pulls me onto the sidewalk where we blend in with the other masks and costumes.
“Where are we going anyway? Are you sure no one will notice you?”
“It’ll be okay. You’ll see when we get there.” Although I can’t see his face, his voice belies his smile.
We walk in silence for about ten minutes until we reach a small, single floor home just off of the main strip. The siding is an ugly shade of green but otherwise it’s entirely unremarkable, though neatly kept. I look up at Hunter in confusion and he lets go of my hand to open the screen door and knock on the wooden one behind it.
I hear a shuffling noise and the door opens to reveal a squat old man holding a large bowl of candy.