Something caught his eye as he walked along, feeling sorry for himself, not even trick-or-treating.
One of the houses up ahead had the coolest Halloween decorations Leo had ever seen.
There was a big, inflatable ghost out front, and several tombstones with skeletal hands climbing out of them. The bushes and trees were laden with cottony cobwebs and giant spiders with glowing red eyes. Dry ice cauldrons filled the yard with eerie fog. There were purple and orange lights strung up everywhere, including a big, orange arrow affixed to the side of the house, pointing toward the back of the house.
Mesmerized, Leo forgot himself, following the flashing orange arrow with a mouth hung open in wonder.
He walked down a little brick path to a wooden deck attached to the back of the house. The deck was strung up with lights, too, and party music blasted from speakers. There were more kids here, mingling with one another and eating snacks and drinking pop.
Leo steeled himself, taking a breath.
He could do this.
If only for the snacks, he could do this.
Leo climbed up the deck stairs. He filled a red solo cup with Coke and walked over to a group of boys leaning against the railing and talking and eating.
Alright. Here we go.
“Hey,” Leo said, deepening his voice. He coughed.
The boys looked up. One of them nodded his head at him. Leo guessed this was the highly-studied “bro nod.” “Hey.”
Leo nodded back. “So.” He fished his awkward, stupid brain for something to say. “What’s up?”
“The costume contest is in like fifteen minutes,” one of the other boys offered.
“Oh!” Leo perked up. Then he schooled his expression, matching the passivity of the other boys. “Uh, cool.”
“Yeah, for kids,” a third boy piped up. “Look at that girl’s costume. Is she a ladybug or a pimple?”
That got some laughs. Leo laughed nervously along.
“What’s your costume?” one of the boys asked him.
“Oh, my mom made me wear it,” Leo said, and the annoyance in his voice was genuine. “I think it’s supposed to be, like, Aladdin, or something.”
“Bro, that sucks,” the first boy said. “My mom made me go as Batman but I ditched that shit the moment I left.”
Leo thought Batman was cool as hell, but he nodded anyway. “Yeah.”
“That’s the only good costume I’ve seen all night,” a dark-haired boy said, pointing to a kid swinging on the playground swingset. Leo leaned over the railing, peering at it. It was a jersey of some kind, with a number on the front.
“Yo! Drew Brees! That’s my GOAT,” one boy said.
“Nuh-uh. Matthew Stafford, he’s so underrated,” another one said.
“If he’s underrated, why is he benched all the time?” the first boy countered.
“Why are we stuck on quarterbacks? The game hinges on the wide receiver.”
For Leo, the boys had switched tongues, speaking gibberish instead of English.
He tried to contribute at all, to ask a question, but they just spoke over him, over the music.
Completely unnoticed, Leo backed away and left the deck.