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Nick shut the door to his bedroom and perched on the edge of his bed, for a moment taking everything in. He could hear his parents downstairs moving around clearing up the dinner dishes. It was Angela’s turn to do them, but Angela had left already to go trick-or-treating, and Paul Michael had only hung around long enough to give Nick a signed copy of his latest book. Nick would have gladly done the dishes--it wasn’t like he had anything else to do--but his parents had excused him, realizing that it was a holiday and Nick felt bad enough already. He would probably go back downstairs and join them later, though, because all of the movie channels were having Halloween movie-thons and he was sure he’d be able to get his parents to watch at least one Freddy movie with him, considering that they felt bad for him even though he didn’t want them to.
He could always go out if he wanted; they made that abundantly clear every year. Well, every year for the past three years. He hadn’t started staying in on Halloween until he was twelve, because when he was eleven the Major Tic has happened and going out started feeling too uncomfortable because he felt like--knew--all the neighbors’ eyes were sure to be on him, watching the weird kid, waiting for him to spazz again.
He didn’t really miss trick-or-treating, not as much as his parents probably believed he did; it was almost nice, staying home, because aside from the awkwardness and fear that suffused him he had managed to settle into a comfortable routine.
Laughter floated up through Nick’s bedroom window, and a few moments later the doorbell rang. Nick heard the door open and his mother’s voice, though what she was saying he couldn’t tell. He stood and crossed to his window, staring out at the autumn scene framed by his screen. The trees up and down the block were ablaze with color, and the grass was turning brittle and pale under mats of fallen leaves.
There was no house in the yard behind Nick’s, only an empty lot, and so he could see straight across to the other end of the block. It was a parade of kids and Nick’s fellow teenagers in various costumes, most with plastic sacks that were already bulging with candy even though it wasn’t dark out yet. This year would be a good harvest compared with the past few years, when Nick had seen kids dragging bags home at ten at night and the bags had been skinny as rails.
Angela would come home at nine-thirty, like she did whenever Halloween fell on a school night, and her bag would always be twice as full as the bags of the neighbors’ kids. It had nothing to do with favoritism or anything like that, even though Nick wished that was it. Nick knew exactly what Angela was doing right now: traipsing up and down the block, like Lucy in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, begging extra treats for her own Linus. All the neighbors knew, of course, and gave her candy for Nick, like he was some charity case. Nick liked the Snickers, but he could do without the sympathetic glances. He wasn’t nearly as abnormal as some people on the block thought he was. It was only his abnormality that made him seem that way.

Angela was sixteen, a year older than Nick, and she had vowed to go out trick-or-treating every year she could. She looked younger than she was, so Nick felt that wouldn’t be a problem. This year she had gone out as some sort of aqua fairy-butterfly-vampire thing that Nick didn’t quite understand; he looked back out the window but didn’t see her.

He did see Heather, though, Heather from his algebra class who was a redheaded cheerleader but still nice enough to help him out when he didn’t understand a problem and had even once walked with him to the nurse’s office when his tic has flared up so badly he couldn’t stay in class anymore. She hadn’t even acted afraid or ashamed if she was, and she hadn’t shuddered when she’d touched his paw, as he liked to put it to himself. Now Heather was walking with a group of her friends and she was a scarlet and orange autumn fairy of some sort that Nick did understand.

More doorbells, more candy changing hands--happily and in the open, unlike the back-room senate deals Nick’s dad was always mumbling about. Nick pictured himself out on the sidewalks, ringing the doorbells and lugging his own pumpkin bag of candy. It was nice for a moment to picture himself being normal, not having to worry about jerking in a tic at exactly the wrong moment....

Nick felt the hitching in his throat, the familiar tightening in his chest and shoulder blades. His mind snapped back and he began to panic, not wanting this, not at all...

The sensations passed in a second and he wondered if they had ever been there at all or if he had imagined them, brought them on with his own fears. He flopped back on his bed and stared up at the ceiling, breathing in deep and smelling the cool autumn breeze.

Maybe one day he would take his parents’ advice and go trick-or-treating again. The thought of this made him smile. He would wear a costume at the same time he didn’t wear one. He would wear a great mask, the best mask of all: his own face. He would be himself. For a costume, he would wear his own skin--his own skin. He would be normal.
It was possible, of course, that he would grow out of his tics, maybe even completely; after all, he wasn’t nearly as bad now as he had been even a few years ago. But he wanted to outgrow them now.
Nick rolled onto his side and breathed deep, shutting his eyes. It wasn’t too late; he could always go out with a bag, an old costume from the back of his closet, maybe one of Paul Michael’s; they would probably fit him.
No, he couldn’t. What if he tried to smile and started screaming, cursing, stuttering, sputtering? What if he got that feeling, that stupid, empty, alienating feeling and started tic-ing like a complete freak? No, his instincts were right, had been for the past three years. It was better, safer, more comfortable for Nick to stay inside, in his room or with his family, where at least they understood when he was different.
Maybe one day he would outgrow himself, the problem in his brain that caused all the problems in his life. Then he would go out again, gathering his own candy instead of watching Angela Van Pelt it up year after year. Maybe one year he would experience Halloween for himself again instead of watching it from his bedroom window or living room couch. Maybe one day he would look back as he headed out and see his mom and dad smiling at him from the doorway, smiling proudly like they used to before, like parents did, and not look into the kitchen and hear his parents stage-whisper with true concern over their son’s self-inflicted trick-or-treat isolation. Maybe one year. But not this year.
Nick got up and shut his bedroom window.




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