Once Leo was a block away, he finally let out the breath he was holding, shoulders slumping forward in defeat.
He glanced behind him. He couldn’t even see his house anymore. His parents and those girls had vanished.
Around him, costumed strangers walked from house to house in duos and trios and larger groups. The autumn evening was peppered with laughs and candy wrappers crinkling and creepy laughter from motion-activated, fancy halloween decorations.
And here was Leo, all alone.
All alone and looking stupid.
It made him angry, eyes burning. He made a bee-line for a park bench nestled in some bushes next to a playground. Shivering and breathing heavily, crouching behind the bench like some kind of creepy weirdo, Leo ripped the pink tule from his princess costume. He bunched it up in his hands and threw it into the trash can, minus a long strand of it that he fashioned into a kind of belt.
He ripped the front and back of the skirt portion of the dress, vertically down the middle. He folded the pieces of the fabric together and stuffed them into his socks.
He broke the sparkly pink spines off of the tiara until it was a jagged, crappy circlet. He pushed it down onto his forehead, his black hair puffing out around it.
He looked down at himself.
A princess had transformed into a prince. It was a dubiously Arabian costume, with wide pant legs and a cinched waistline. It could pass for a legitimate costume.
But it was good enough.
Alright. He felt a little more like himself again, the tightness in his chest fading away with each inhale and exhale.
He hopped out of the bush, glancing left and right to make sure no one had seen him. Once he was satisfied, he started walking farther into the neighborhood–and farther away from his parents.
He got lost pathetically easily, but he didn’t even care. The point was to be away from home long enough to fool his parents into thinking he was having fun. Getting lost was just a side perk.
The neighborhood streets curved pleasantly, lined with orange and red-leafed trees. But everything was so… identical, so uniform. The houses all had the same fake brick veneer and exhausted beige siding. The same two car garage with a cost-effective sedan out front.
Back home, Leo’s parents had lived in an apartment complex right next to the campus Leo’s mom worked at. Their neighbors had been from all over the world and all had crazy stories to tell about love and school and cities and war. Everyone’s difference brought them together.
Looking at all the other kids, Leo had never felt more distant from anyone else.