I know that this chapter is unconscionably late. I can only say that my muse and I took a long time to come to a negotiated settlement. I beg your indulgence and pardon.
"Do you think we have enough?"
It was mid-afternoon, and Associate Professor of Comparative Religion Tomás Aquino stood in the kitchen, examining the large wooden bowl on the counter before him. It was piled high with wrapped candies, mini-chocolate bars, and other treats, in anticipation of the evening's visitors. This quantitative matter was not the sort of question he usually dealt with.
"I really don't know," his shorter, slighter boyfriend admitted. He stroked his neatly cropped beard with his thumb. Fletcher Jones might have been a highly qualified ornithologist, but this sort of science wasn't his forte, either.
"I could go back to the store, maybe get some more of those Tootsie Roll things?" Tomás' voice trailed off uncertainly.
Fletcher shook his head. "I don't think we need to. I mean, there's a spare couple of bags in the pantry."
Tomás slipped a long arm around Fletcher's waist. It felt good. Very good. In fact, the few weeks since they'd recognized their relationship for what it was – love – had been the happiest of in either of their lives.
"It's been years since I've been at home for Halloween," Fletcher reflected. "I think I handed out candy at Halloween the first or second year after bought the house. That was, what, maybe twelve years ago?" He shook his head.
"I've never handed out candy and stuff at all," Tomás said, somewhat ruefully. "I've had apartments since I left home, and we never made a big deal out of it in our family when I was growing up. Mom made sure we did things the Filipino way."
Fletcher turned his head to look at his boyfriend. "What way is that?"
"In the Philippines, the holiday is more like what happens in Mexico and Central America," Tomás explained. "Like the Day of the Dead, you know? The real purpose of the time is to remember those who passed. You connect with your relatives, friends, people like that. All Saints' Day is November first, and All Souls' is the day after." He chuckled a little. "Even growing up in the wilds of Plainfield, New Jersey, Mom made sure we trekked out to an old cemetery to hang out with the dead. Even if they weren't strictly our dead."
Fletcher made a face. "Wasn't it cold?"
"Cold and miserable, some years," Tomás agreed with a wry grin, "But the fact that it was kind of illegal made it exciting."
"Technically. Cemeteries are either privately or municipally owned; there are posted hours and regulations everywhere – an All Souls' visitation might be all right, but not the picnic and celebration."
"You ever get arrested?"
Tomás shook his head with a smile. "No, but we got harassed a couple of times. I get it; the local police would have been on high alert around for vandalism around that time of year. And they didn't know us, not at first. I mean, they thought we were homeless or something, setting up camp in the cemetery. I pitied the poor cops who had to tangle with my mother. They got an earful."
"If I'd had to do something like that with my parents, I think I would have died of embarrassment," Fletcher chuckled.
"I know I did, the first time it happened," Tomás agreed, "but even spending an hour or two with the dead on All Saints' Day was expected. It was a family thing, as much as anything. Besides, we weren't exactly going to hop on a flight to Manila for a few days in the middle of school."
"So what about Halloween?"
Tomás shrugged. "It's not like we were forbidden to participate or go out or anything. It just wasn't our focus, I guess. That, and we had to spend the day getting ready."
Fletcher looked dubious. "For a hike in the cemetery?"
"No, no, more like a kind of picnic. You bring candles and food and blankets and lawn chairs, and you have a kind of party, I guess. We usually made sure to pack a lot of hot chocolate. I'm sure it made things easier on Mom when we were kids. Anyway, you spend time with the ones you loved, remembering them. Celebrating them."
They stood there, still gazing at the big antique bowl on the counter.
"It sounds kind of cool," said Fletcher, perhaps a little wistful. He snuggled into Tomás' side.
"Yeah, maybe it was," Tomás assented. "It helped that there were a lot of people there."
"All eight of you went?" Fletcher knew Tomás had a large family; by listening patiently, he'd even learned most of his siblings' names.
"No, there were more of us than that," Tomás said, smiling inwardly. "There were two or three other Filipino families around that Mom knew. We all went together."
Fletcher stared at the bowl, considering. There was probably plenty of candy in the bowl. Fletcher had picked up the old wooden bowl at a yard sale. He'd oiled it and polished it to a mellow shine, bringing out the dark honey color of the wood. Normally, it sat as an accent piece on the table in the living room. But even handsome and overflowing as it was, their Halloween offering seemed skimpy, somehow.
"I bet we could do something more, if you wanted to," Fletcher said tentatively.
Tomás cocked an eye at the shorter man.
"I'm not sure about the whole cemetery thing, but I bet I could make up some hot chocolate easily enough. Maybe some hot cider," Fletcher added.
"You want everyone here in the kitchen?" Tomás asked.
"No, I thought maybe I could get out the tarp and blankets. I have some lawn chairs," Fletcher said.
"That sounds like fun," Tomás said, warming to the idea, "and maybe we could get some kind of snacks, too, not just candy."
"We could get some sausages or bratwurst, maybe, for the grill," mused Fletcher.
"And maybe potato salad at the deli?" Tomás piled on, getting enthusiastic.
"Is there supposed to be music? What kind are we supposed to play?"
"And candles. We're going to need a lot of candles," Tomás continued, hardly listening to Fletcher's question. "We'll need to make a last minute expedition."
Fletcher loved watching Tomás becoming animated. When they'd first met, he'd been reserved, almost play acting the role of the stuffy academic. But when they'd begun working together on a research problem in one of Tomás' papers, the taller man became more relaxed, more eager. It was like being allowed a privileged peek into a secret world. This was the man he'd fallen for. He grinned. "Sounds like we're throwing a block party."
"Is that a bad thing?" Tomás asked, suddenly realizing his excitement. "I mean, I wasn't trying to blow tonight up into some giant event, or anything."
"No, it's not bad at all…" Fletcher began.
"But here I am, just barging in, making plans about how to host a party at your house. In less than, what? Four hours?" Tomás said, looking down. "I'm sorry, I was just getting carried away."
Fletcher turned to Tomás. He took his boyfriend's face in his hands, forcing Tomás to look into his eyes.
"I want to do this," he said, smiling and pulling Tomás down for a kiss. "It'll be a blast."
Tomás' eyes took a moment to focus after he was released. The taller man took a deep breath. "Let me grab my jacket."
They headed out to the shopper's club store on the outskirts of town. Each one realized this couldn't be a real Halloween party; they hadn't enough time for that. Nor could it be a real celebration of with the dead: Fletcher's backyard was no cemetery. But that was all right; perhaps this was a going to be a celebration of something else this year – a celebration of new lives for both of them.
Fletcher parked in the huge lot, and together, they dashed into the enormous temple of commerce.
Ironically, they skipped all the Halloween decorations festooning every corner of the cavernous space. The paper pumpkins and skeletons held no interest for them. Instead, Fletcher made a beeline for the freezer section.
"I had to give a reception for a visiting scholar a couple of years ago," the shorter man explained, pushing the cart. "I got stuck with it at the last minute. This place has a ton of frozen hors d'oeuvres and nibbles."
From there, it was on to the meat section – Tomás insisted on the spiciest grilling sausages still available.
And there had to be beverages – wine and soft drinks – Fletcher watched as Tomás added a couple of big red jugs to the cart.
Neither man bothered to count the expense or discuss how it was to be divided, at least not until Tomás insisted on paying at the checkout.
"Come on, let me at least pay half," Fletcher argued.
"No way, I'm taking over your house, so this is the least I can do," Tomás said, using his superior reach to hand his credit card to the cashier first.
Honestly, Fletcher was somewhat surprised that everything fit into the Jeep.
Just a few manically busy hours later, as the sunlight faded away into darkness, troops of diminutive ghosts, goblins, and otherworldly creatures began roving the neighborhood. When they arrived at the Jones bungalow, a blaze of lights led them up the driveway to the backyard.
There was candy for the impetuous child, but the scent of sizzling meat on the grill tempted their adult chaperones to stop a moment. There was hot cider and chocolate, and lawn chairs and blankets to help the weary footsore zombie to rest a moment.
The lantern-lit yard was littered with a shifting crowd of pleasantly surprised neighbors.
Fletcher grinned from his place at the side of the grill, handing off a sausage treat to a grateful dad.
"I should have brought a beer with me," the man smiled, half- kidding. "Thanks."
"Didn't know there was a party this year," he went on, taking a bite.
"It was kind of spur of the moment."
"Great idea, man. Really like your rest stop."
Fletcher was even happier to see Tomás making the rounds about the yard, helping everyone to feel welcome. At one moment, he'd be squatted down in front of a little princess, listening quite seriously to every word, another he'd be laughing with one of his neighbors. Something about the scene made Fletcher feel enormously free, delighted with the world. In that instant, he understood he'd been living, but not truly alive. Until Tomás.
When Tomás came near, he took the opportunity to snare his boyfriend around the waist and bring him close.
Out beyond the front lawn, out in the real world, he'd never think of doing something so forward, so public; but here, in his own yard, his own home, at this moment, he didn’t care. Tomás was his.
And the answering squeeze from Tomás told him that his boyfriend, his lover, felt the same way.
A female voice startled both of them. But neither let go of the other.
"Miss Halley?" Tomás addressed a willowy blond sprite, who appeared to have several costumed children in tow.
"Oh my gosh, Professor, I didn't expect to see you out on Halloween."
"Well, you’re a Religion professor, and you’re so…"
Tomás made a face. "Yes, well, sometimes. But school's out, isn't it? Professors have real lives, too." He finally disengaged himself from Fletcher. "Do you know Dr. Jones from the Biology Department?"
"No, sorry." The girl held her hand out. "Sarah Halley. So. Is this your party? It's cool."
"Thanks. What brings you here?"
"I'm taking my nieces and nephews around trick or treating. But the smell brought us over here."
"Sorry, let me get you something," Fletcher said, getting the girl something to eat from the grill.
"Oh, that's so nice of you. I guess this is just as bad for me as candy, but it smells incredible."
Fletcher smiled to hear his grilling skills were still up to par.
"I didn't know you lived here," the girl said to Tomás, enthused.
"I don't –"
"Dr. Aquino is moving in very soon," Fletcher interrupted, putting his arm around Tomás again.
The girl went wide-eyed for a moment, then grinned. "That's so awesome." At that moment, one of her little charges ran up and tugged on her skirt. "I'm sorry, I have to go. Thanks again!"
Tomás looked down at Fletcher, who smiled back up. "You realize what just happened?"
"I sure do. I just asked you to move in with me."
"And we just came out to the College. Students will talk." But Tomás was smiling, too. He didn’t seem terribly worried.
Fletcher pulled Tomás down for a quick kiss. "Yeah. I think that's enough."
Please leave a review, if you feel so inclined. Anything you say is encouraging and helpful. And I want to thank Craftingmom, my kind and long-suffering editor, who took this piece in at an inconvenient hour, and helped it shine.