Halloween, by far my favorite holiday, had finally arrived, and with it, a beautiful, blessed day off. Kimmy and I had both scored on that count, as had our friend Katherine (Kat, for short) from down the hall, and we were planning to go out on the town and straight up slaughter in our costumes. Not in the literal murder sense, but in the fashionable sense.
While Kat had a particular knack for finding costumes from a store, I had dragged my old award winner out of the depths of my closet. Though it had been nearly two years since I’d worn it, putting on each piece felt like putting a piece of myself back into place. It was almost a ritual at this point. Black lace swirled over my skin as a base; red and black stripes decorated my legs, under a black silk skirt that tiered in the back and bustled upward in the front. Three black belts clasped my hips and waist, buckles resting on my left side. A black, long sleeved blouse, form fitting. Then came the corset. Lacing it up, squeezing myself into shape, had the same effect of kissing Dakota until we were both gasping. It squeezed my ribs and waist delightfully, the back slightly gapped and laced with bright red, the front completely pressed together and laced with black. Red satin gloves coated my lower arms, the tips of the fingers split open to reveal my black nails. Since we planned to walk around town for a good chunk of time, I wore black combat boots– a fancy pair with lace designs, for fun and comfort. In these clothes, I looked, and felt, like a solid ten.
The costume was a skirted version of Rabbit from Steam Powered Giraffe, a particular favorite of mine. Rabbit, the genius behind my favorite song, Honeybee, and therefore my favorite band member, had copper automaton makeup that I had carefully painted onto myself before getting dressed. The effect was like putting on a new personna, a confident one, a happy one.
Kimmy and Kat came in when I was bent over the bathroom counter, my face inches from the mirror and bent at a weird angle, pinning a long black wig over my hair.
“Jesus Christ,” Kat said, putting a hand on her velvet clad chest. She made a striking, albeit blonde, Carmen Sandiego. I glanced over and smiled, then went back to sliding hairpins into the wig to secure it. “When you said you were going all out, man, you were not fucking around.”
“Thank you very much,” I said, finally securing the last of the pins. “I try.”
“You succeed,” Kimmy said, coming to brush at a stray hair from the wig. She looked downright stellar in a burgundy pirate dress, ivory lace decorating her wrists, her cleavage, and the hem of the dress. Black leggings kept her modesty, but the thigh high lace up boots did not. She draped an arm over my shoulders and rested her head on top of mine, smiling proudly at me. “People are going to be tripping over themselves to get a picture of you.”
“Good,” I said, snatching my top hat up from the bathroom counter. A pair of silver and brass goggles sat on the brim of the hat, giving it a steampunk vibe. “I didn’t spend an hour and a half on myself to be ignored.”
“She’s the poster child for modesty,” Kimmy told Kat dryly, turning away from me to head back into the living room..
“You bet your ass.” I perched the hat atop my head and spun around as stiffly as possible, my movements reminiscent of a mime doing the robot, but slightly softer. I had trouble connecting to all of my muscles mentally, which more often than not resulted in me smacking people due to misjudging the effort I put into my movements, and made pantomime a right bitch to pull off. Still, the outfit helped with the illusion of inhumanity.
I followed the other ladies out into the living room and lowered myself onto the arm of the couch, watching Kimmy do her routine bag check to ensure she had everything she might need or want during the night. My corset was also my purse, containing my phone, my tickets to the back to back Halloween shows at Chance tonight, and my inhaler. Kat had the advantage of large coat pockets, which she had graciously offered to share, should I need them.
“So what’s our game plan?” Kat asked.
“Well,” Kimmy started, and I smiled. She had a certain tone she used when she was in charge, an all business voice, and even that had a sweetness to it that suggested adaptability. She could be firm with some things, but in the end, making sure everyone got to do something they enjoyed was how she ran outings. With a little herding and corralling here and there, of course. “It’s noon now, and we have tickets to the Halloween party at Chance that starts at five. The party will have food, but we can get ourselves something now, then go to some of the Halloween events they’re having in town until the party starts.” She double checked her bag, pulling everything out and putting things back in one at a time. “There’s a sort of block party going on near the theatre, there’s a costume contest that Piper’s probably going to win, I know there’s karaoke and games, and I think some of the buildings are turned into haunted houses. Not to mention there’s going to be enough candy to kill us.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Kat said, “but can we please have like… Saladworks or something for lunch?”
“Seconded,” I said, contemplating the amount of sugar in store for tonight and feeling my stomach pitch slightly.
“We all think so alike,” Kimmy said, closing her back and turning to us with a dark lipped smile. The smokey eyes and burgundy lips were a good look for her, though I was fairly certain I’d never see this look on her again. It just wasn’t her style. “So Saladworks, block party, walking around to some haunted houses, then the Chance party?” Kat and I both nodded our agreement, and Kimmy clapped her hands together. “Perfect! Away we go!”
Kimmy, as usual, was damn good at keeping a schedule.
After our salads, we wandered the town of Harper Cove, taking in the Halloween festivities. People around here didn’t play around with banners or window stickers. No, this town was something right out of Trick r Treat, pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns everywhere, the autumn leaves decorating the ground, ghosts hanging in trees, cobwebs hung from every available place. We could barely pass a yard that didn’t have a gravestone or danger sign, creepy ambient music or fun Halloween playlists blasted in and around every building. Every person we passed had either a sensible Halloween themed outfit– corny tee-shirts or facepaint, mostly for parents of toddlers and college kids carting bulging backpacks– or full blown costumes.
“The face paint will win the costume contest for you,” Kimmy insisted when we reached the block party, held in Town Square in the heart of Harper Cove. Despite my protesting, she shoved me toward the stage when they called for adults, and I found myself in line with dozens of others dressed in everything from sexy nurses to full blown movie monsters. In the end, I placed second, losing to an exquisitely executed, book-accurate version of Phantom of the Opera.
“Worth it,” I muttered to Kimmy as I rejoined her and Kat, tucking my winnings– a fifteen dollar gift card to Starbucks– into my corset. “The judges have damn good taste, knowing he was book-accurate.”
“The two of you absolutely need to sing together in Karaoke,” Kat insisted, but I shook my head.
“Poor soul said he can’t carry a tune in a bucket duct taped to his hand and sealed shut,” I explained. “I can go sing something and dedicate it to him, maybe, but that duet is not in the cards.”
“Damn.” Kat snapped in disappointment.
In the end I managed to sing a few songs. Jack’s Lament from Nightmare Before Christmas, which sent people into fits, and inspired Kat to come up and sing Sally’s Song. Then we managed to get Kimmy on stage and sing Oogie Boogie’s Song at her, switching off who sang as Oogie Boogie and eventually just singing together. The crowd loved us, but we wandered away to play some of the dorky kids games. About an hour later, Kat and Kimmy managed to convince me to get on stage and sing I’ll Rust With You by Steam Powered Giraffe, having hunted down a karaoke track (or, I suspected, making one themselves and waiting for the perfect time to convince me to sing it).
It was some of the most fun I’d ever had on Halloween. We wandered through several haunted houses, some cute and fun and clearly more directed at kids, some just this side of traumatizing with jump scares and props and atmosphere. I had a particular fondness for the Five Nights at Freddy’s house, so much so that whoever was dressed as Purple actively picked me up and carried me toward the exit, the three of us roaring with laughter as he tried to threaten to stuff me into a fursuit without laughing himself.
The sun was barely peeking over the horizon by the time we made our way to Chance. I hadn’t seen the front in weeks, usually going in the back since the bus stop was on the street beside the building. So it was with a great deal of delighted shock that I saw how Steph and EJ had gone all out with their buildings. Kat made a noise that might have been considered inappropriate, but I was right there with her. There was something nearly sexual about this kind of satisfaction.
The face of Chance was, at its base, two sets of stairs leading down from either side of a platform that stood in front of the massive front doors. The platform was hidden by an enormous sign that usually boasted the names and times of her shows, or advertised the up and coming show openings, or the like. Tonight, in bold, glittering purple, the sign read Happy Halloween! Cobwebs had been draped over and in every corner, bats and ghosts hanging from the awning above the double doors. Expertly cut Jack-o-lanterns (and that was probably EJ’s doing) sat in little clusters on the stairs, their flickering faces scowling or smiling at those who walked the stairs. Lights had been set up to add to the atmosphere, as had a stormy soundtrack. A scarecrow fit for Halloween Town guarded one side of the stairs, and on the other side, Death Himself– oh, no, that was EJ in all black with a scythe and some seriously impressive skeleton makeup. And EJ wasn’t a small man, in height or girth.
I watched him for a moment, standing mannequin-still, as a couple of teenagers began to make their way toward the stairs. They didn’t notice him, couldn’t have, as they didn’t even spare him a glance– until he jolted forward and startled them. The shorter one screamed, and the taller one swung their fist, directly opposite of where EJ had moved to. His dark, villainous laugh echoed down the street as the kids tried to identify their attacker. I burst out laughing, then took my girls’ hands and dragged them over to say hi.
EJ was the kind of person who would make a good brother, I decided, after receiving a bone crushing bear hug and several compliments on my costume and makeup. He laughed, warmly rather than darkly, and sent us on our way. “Food’s mine,” he called after us in his deep, rumbling voice.
“Thank god,” I responded, “real, decent food and not just candy.”
“That’s ‘thank Satan,’ excuse you,” EJ called after us, not managing to keep from chuckling as he did so.
If the outside of the building had been impressive, it was barren compared to the all out transformation that had taken place inside– it looked, amazingly, like something directly out of Nightmare Before Christmas. A mock curly-topped hill stood proudly in the center of the fairly large lobby, surrounded by pumpkins of all sizes, with a “Jack Skellington” standing by it, chatting with everyone who approached him. “Sally” waited beside him, speaking softly with everyone, playing off of Jack when she had the opportunity. A “Mayor of Halloween Town” manned the ticket station; food tables had been set up by a fountain like the one in the opening sequence. On the opposite side of the lobby was a sitting area doused in blacklight, set up to look like Oogie Boogie’s lair, with the Boogie Man himself, flirting with a group of ladies who happened to fall into his grasp. The three kids, “Lock” “Shock” and “Barrel”, stayed by their claw-foot tub just outside of where the blacklight could reach, being mischievous.
“It’s like they read our minds and decorated while we sang Karaoke,” Kat said.
“Steph and I have a lot in common,” I decided. “I need to get to know her better.”
“I heard my name!”
Turning, I linked arms with Kimmy and Kat and faced my boss– only to have my jaw hit the floor. She was… holy shit she was gorgeous. I had never seen a more aesthetically pleasing version of Belle’s yellow– no, this was gold, definitely gold– ball gown from Beauty and the Beast. Steph obviously favored the original animated version, the sleeves falling delicately from her shoulders, the skirt layered so many times it managed to look full even as it swirled around her legs. With her long hair pulled off of her face and curled, her makeup sparkling but soft, she was radiant. Glowing and happy and downright radiant.
Maybe that was the pregnancy. Either way, she pulled it off, and I definitely had a gay moment for my boss for a split second.
“Piper, hi!” Steph’s sparkling grin melted me a little. “I’m so glad you’re here, I was disappointed you weren’t on the Brigadoon team today. I’m sure you’d have had fun at our little cast and crew shindig. But you’re here now, so all’s well!”
I laughed. “So you saw the pictures on Facebook, then?”
“It’s a phenomenal costume!” She reached out and touched the wig with a delicate touch. “You look good with long hair. And that makeup!” Excited, she bounced a little, her skirt making a soft swishing sound. “You need to join the team next time I do Cats!”
“I’d love to,” I let her take my hand and squeeze it. “Steph, this is my roommate Kimmy and our friend Kat.”
“Both looking quite lovely,” Steph said. “Nice to meet you, ladies.”
“Your theatre is giving me feelings,” Kat announced. “I won’t say what kind.”
Steph’s laugh was musical. “Thank you so much, I’m glad it’s such a hit!” She glanced around with the ghost of a frown. “My husband would absolutely lose his mind to hear that. He’s… somewhere, probably out terrorizing kids with his Beast costume. Whatever.”
“You look phenomenal, by the way,” Kimmy told her. “I’m in awe.”
“I made it!” Steph was beaming, glowing like a spotlight. “It took weeks, but it won me several costume contests at conventions. I’m so proud of it. And this is the last time I’ll get to wear it for awhile, since I’m having a baby in like, seven months.” She put a hand to her belly and looked down. “God, seven months. It seems so far away, but it’s so close, too.”
“Your baby’s very lucky,” I found myself saying from nowhere. “They’re going to have the best mama on the planet.”
Steph began to laugh, then whipped a delicate yellow cloth from her chest and began to dab at her eyes. “Shoot, baby hormones. I had no idea it was this extreme when the doctor warned me, but I cry at everything nowadays.” Sniffling, she waved us away. “Go, have fun, eat things I can’t have for me, drink a little, kiss a stranger. There’s mistletoe hiding in the Christmas Town section in the bathroom hallway. Go on, go on, enjoy yourselves.” As we waved and headed toward food, she called, “And enjoy the shows!”
Enjoy the shows, indeed. The first one, at seven, I knew already– the same show I’d seen with Val and Bowie in September. It seemed so long ago, but it had only been a little over a month. I hadn’t even kissed Dakota yet.
God, so much had happened.
As though sensing my thoughts, Kimmy gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Is your boy here?”
“He’s not my boy,” I corrected her, though it gave me a bitter taste in my mouth. I remedied that by grabbing a s’more from the treat table and shoving it in my mouth. “He’s in the show,” I mumbled around the food, and was grateful that Kimmy let it drop.
Things had been a little… weird since meeting Alexis. If you could call it meeting her, anyway. Dakota was distant again, not like the time he’d outright ignored me for four days, but not as flirtatious or talkative. I’d had so many questions to ask him, but my fear had gotten in the way of me getting any real information out of him about his relationship. Besides, ignoring it made my life easier. It was hard to be the town slut when I was feeling guilty over someone I barely knew and already didn’t particularly like.
Oh well, I decided, throwing myself into the throng to mingle. This wasn’t the time or the place. Tonight was about having fun.
We filed in for the first show, the kid friendly one, and by either a stroke of luck or Kimmy trying to torture me, I ended up in the aisle seat. When the first song started, I tried not to look for Dakota– and by tried not to, I meant I found him in less than two seconds and then actively tried not to be noticed by him. I wanted to be slightly… apart tonite. Just observing.
He was all power as he danced, putting his shoulders into it, his face in that strangely erotic glare the makeup caused. I swallowed as he passed me, only relaxing after he passed, without seeing me as far as I could tell. Beside me, Kimmy put her hand on my arm and squeezed.
The rest of that show was a delightful, fun tribute to Halloween, ending with the cast giving out candy to the audience. Liza found me and the girls and delightedly tossed candy our way.
We all filed back out, grazing on snacks as the theatre mostly emptied before the not-so-kid-friendly show began.
“Dakota’s damn good,” Kat was saying as I nerve-binged on a plate of brownies and cookies. “No wonder you boned him.”
I choked. “Kat!”
“Discretion isn’t your forte,” Kimmy informed Kat dryly.
“Shit, sorry,” Kat said. I took a sip of my drink, cranberry juice with vodka, and tried not to imagine throttling her. “Me and my big mouth. And my alcohol.”
Snorting, I said, “It’s all good. You’re not wrong.”
“And the next one’s gonna be worse isn’t it,” Kimmy said. “This is where we get to see more of people than we probably want to.”
“Joy,” I muttered, and downed the rest of my drink.
Kimmy wasn’t wrong, exactly. It was, by far, worse than she’d insinuated. Once the audience had filed in, the show had opened with a shockingly touchy-feely, audience participation version of the Time Warp, and from there things just got more ridiculous. As much fun as I had dancing with Liza after she snagged me from my seat, it meant other cast members knew where I was, which meant they began to single me– and the other theatre employees they found–out. By the middle of the first act, I’d had my lap filled by a cute boy in partial drag, had lipstick marks from an over enthusiastic dancing vampire, and had been dragged onstage to sit in Bowie’s lap as one of the dance teams did a techno version of Halloween (I got killed, it was great). There was a Five Nights at Freddy’s section with a song dedicated to each game in the series, getting more twisted and dark as it went, to my utter delight. I found Dakota in that one as Bonnie in four of the first five sections– one for each of the first four games, and one specifically for the Halloween content that had been added, set to Marilyn Manson’s This Is Halloween; Dakota hadn’t been in the dance for FNAF 3— before he disappeared again.
And then the first real shock of the night happened.
I recognized the intro to Oogie Boogie’s Song, and having sung it earlier that day, looked over at the other girls, bouncing in my seat. I expected a dance, maybe a solo, but I was wrong. I was so wrong.
An unfortunate dancer laid in a Santa suit on a fake roulette table center stage, most of the stage in blacklight. When the shadow behind “Santa” began to move, I leaned forward in my seat– only to launch back into the chair when Steph, her voice lower than usual and sultry as sin, unfolded herself from a sort of throne. She had on a weird sort of ballgown made of burlap, corseted up top, reminiscent of Scarecrow from the Batman series. As she sang “I might just split a seam now,” she ripped the skirt of the dress and threw it backwards into the waiting hands of techs hidden in the blacklight, revealing what could only be described as a burlesque Oogie Boogie– top all burlap, a corset, a lace-edged, sheer mini skirt with two layers, spiderweb tights, and burlap spats over her character heels.
No lies, I sized up my boss. Not because I wanted her in a sexual way, but because, god damn, I wanted to be her. So much that I felt the familiar ache in my chest I got whenever I thought about performing, but almost excruciatingly concentrated.
Definitely not kid friendly, I realized, when Steph dropped the F bomb in place of the word “fella”, danced with more burlesque style girls, and then pole danced– POLE DANCED– on stage. It was over too soon and not soon enough, with Steph straddling her “Santa” in by far the most compromising angle she could have blocked it. I immediately determined that “Santa” was in fact her husband, just from a split second smile she gave him before the lights went out. No one smiled at a colleague that way– especially not a happily married pregnant woman.
“You okay, Piper?”
I looked over at Kimmy and snorted slightly. “I’m a little gay for my boss but otherwise yeah.”
The gay streak only got worse in act two. The music for Bathing Beauty from Love Never Dies began, revealing Steph in a short, nineteen-tens inspired gown, twirling a parasol. She sang, stripped to a plain black bathing dress– also nineteen-tens inspired, though it was missing the knee-length bloomers– and then did a fun little dance with the other girls and a couple of guys. Who, eventually, started ripping her clothes off to reveal increasingly skimpy dresses. First black and white checks, then stripes, and then polka dots, the crowd getting rowdier after each reveal, applauding and hooting and catcalling– and then, suddenly, Steph went to twirl the parasol and do a spin or something, only she didn’t get the chance– one of the guys went behind her, for reasons I couldn’t decipher in the choreography, and snagged her dress. It dropped to the floor, exposing Steph in a pair of frilled shorts (ah, the modern definition of bloomers) and a strapless white bra that could have passed as a bikini top.
The audience gasped. My hands clapped over my mouth. I couldn’t imagine– god, was she okay?
Steph looked down, and without missing a beat, snapped her parasol in front of her and said, in a cutesy voice, “Oops!”
Despite myself, I grinned. That line had been removed from the song, but it was in the original cast recording. Steph had either planned this, or was expertly rolling with it.
She finished the number, coming up to what would initially have been a big reveal, probably her baring the outfit she was in now. I held my breath, waiting for that last line: “Bathing Beauty, say…”
Steph outright shouted “HELLO!” And with that, she ripped her bra off, exposing her breasts for a split second, before the girls surrounding her swung their parasols up to cover her with overly girly cries of “Oh!” The lights snapped off without a second to spare.
The audience erupted. The next three songs could have happened and no one would have heard or registered them past the screams of delight and excitement.
“And now Piper’s even gayer for her boss,” Kat announced, and I flushed and began to giggle.
We had a brief reprieve of sexually charged drama, until Dakota’s next number– coincidentally, also Steph’s next number. Pink Elephants on Parade, the V is for Villains cover, filled the room, accompanied by swinging spotlights, one of which landed on Steph, in a scarlet and sequinned ring leader’s jacket and top hat over dangerously short black shorts, cackling. As the others entered, Dakota was among the girls, only where they all wore bright pink tutus and corsets accented with black, he wore only black pants and carried in a small girl in a straight jacket over his shoulder.
Watching him dance compared to Steph was a strange combination, but not necessarily a bad one. Where he showed obvious training and technique, Steph had a white hot passion that radiated out of her with every move she made. She could have been completely bombing the choreography, and everyone would think she was a (rightfully) featured dancer. She even got a lift from Dakota– he hoisted her directly over his head and she bowed her body, arching her back and pointing her toes, bending her knees to bring her feet in slightly toward Dakota’s face, her arms spread out to her sides. She mimicked the laughter in the song as Dakota carried her over to the front right corner of the stage. They ended the dance with the girl in the straight jacket being carried off by pink clad dancers led by Dakota,, while Steph laughed in a corner before exiting herself.
It was… a weird night, so far. I couldn’t stop the brief flash of envy at seeing someone else get to dance with Dakota, but I smothered that as fast as it arose. It wasn’t my place to feel envy regarding him.
Other fan favorites showed up– Spooky Scary Skeletons, Ghostbusters, Steph apparently knew the band I was currently representing because Suspender Man and Ghost Grinder showed up, and a few villain songs.
Dakota even got to sing, which I didn’t know he could, at least at the lead singer/solo level. He showed up practically gift wrapped, in all black dress clothes, his hair gelled back from his face– not the combover from the opening of the last show, but straight backwards. He sang the most seductive version of Tim Curry’s Toxic Love that I was melting into my chair, stifling squeaks of excitement behind my hands, despite the actually disgusting lyrics. Kat and Kimmy looked at me, said nothing as they watched me struggle to keep myself together, and returned to watching the show.
The last number was definitely a tribute to Disney, considering it was probably an older recording of Hallowishes. It was awe inspiring, watching Steph manage to turn what was meant to be a fireworks show into something suitable for a stage. How she did it, I had no idea, but damn, she was good.
Kat and Kimmy had to practically drag me from the theatre once the whole thing was over, fanning me with a program. “Breathe, Piper,” Kimmy soothed, “inhale, exhale.”
“Do not stain my carseat,” Kat said. “I can’t afford to get it deep cleaned.”
I laughed and fended them off. “No, I’m good, I’m tipsy but not slammed, I’m turned on but not about to jump anyone, and also please get me the actual hell out of here before I see Dakota., or that last one will be a lie”
They both laughed, linking arms with me as we made our way out of the theatre toward where we’d parked several streets down.
“Did you ladies have a good Halloween?” Kimmy asked us.
“Two hundred out of ten,” I told her. “Kat?”
“It was fantastic,” she confirmed.
“Great!” Kimmy looked like we’d just handed her a puppy. “I had fun too. I’m glad I got to spend today and tonite with you.”
“Me too,” I said, and Kat echoed me. “Now let’s get home so I can shower Rabbit off of me.”
“And here I thought you wanted Rabbit all over you.” I saw Kimmy’s sly grin and burst out laughing.
“Too true. Happy Halloween.”