Ethan leaned against one of the bigger cushions on Henrietta's bed as he watched her gathering supplies. His legs were crossed as he scanned the back of a Dorothy Parker anthology he'd found on her nightstand.
"We're too old for this," he mumbled, glancing at Henrietta stuffing the ouija board into her bag.
"It's a tradition," she said, grabbing another jar candle from her dresser, stopping momentarily to run her thumb under her eye where her eyeliner had smudged. It was a tradition he'd created, so he felt he should have the power to end it. He wouldn't have been here at all if she hadn't insisted on picking him up to get coffee before school today. He hadn't had the foresight to see that it would mean she'd drive him home, or, as it was—back to her house. Like a prison work bus. If he had his way he'd be locked in his bedroom with his headphones tight over his ears, a fact, he was sure, Henrietta was well aware of.
They both looked up at the familiar double knock on the door. Henrietta's mom poked her head into the room, smiling and holding candy in front of her like a white flag.
"Hun, I got the king-sized bars for you and your friends." She set four plastic bags with mini ghosts printed on them on the dresser.
"None of us want your high-fructose corn-syrup trash Mom."
Henrietta sneered at the bags as her Mom continued to stand in the doorway and then sighed. "What else do you want?"
"Well, sweetie, I made an extra one if..." She trailed off meaningfully and raised her eyebrows as she smiled.
Henrietta flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Yes, Mom, Damien is coming too. So now that you've successfully pried into my life in your own special way, you can fuck off."
Her mom set another baggie onto the dresser and smiled again as she shut the door behind her. Ethan imagined her sitting at a book club later that week with 50 Shades of Gray tucked into her bag as she told all of the other South Park housewives about Henrietta growing up so fast and going out with her little boyfriend and wasn't it so fun being her age? It made Ethan want to blow smoke in their faces and read them his poetry about what an absolute hell being in high school really was.
"Shouldn't Damien be here by now?" he asked, frowning at the thought of the stocky teen joining them at all. Typically when they all hung out Damien slung an arm around Henrietta's shoulders and complained quietly to her until she agreed to leave so they could be alone. The worst part for Ethan was keeping up the illusion that he didn't have to grit his teeth every time Damien showed up at the diner and called them all fags for only ordering coffee. Afterwards he'd make the waitress bring him a coke and hamburger and refuse to tip. Ethan would make some excuse about forgetting a pen in the booth as they left to put an extra three dollars on the table so they wouldn't start being denied service entirely.
"He'll be here when he wants to be here," Henrietta said, typically defensive in a way that made Ethan hate Damien more. "Anyway, grab those candles."
"Don't we have enough?" Ethan looked at the half-burnt pillar candle on her dresser. They'd gotten it at the flea market in Denver two weeks ago after Dylan had finally gotten his license. He pretended not to see it and grabbed two tea lights and one of the bags of candy sitting next to it.
"Stop fucking complaining. As if I don't know why you really don't want to go." Henrietta slung her messenger bag over her shoulder and left the room; Ethan followed.
He glared at the back of her neck as they walked down the hallway. "Because it's thirty degrees outside, and having a séance in the graveyard on Halloween is a tradition that should have died after middle school? Did I need another reason?"
Henrietta just laughed haughtily, "Sure. Whatever."
Trick-or-treaters scattered as they walked past them on the way to Henrietta's car. Damien was leaning against it, a black coat buttoned under his chin. His hair was sticking out in unbrushed angles that Henrietta smoothed down.
"You could have come inside," she said.
"Your mom's a bitch," he nodded towards the house. They glanced back towards at the door where Henrietta's mom stood with a bowl of candy. She waved at them and they all turned back around.
"You're a bitch," Henrietta said, leaning up to kiss him, slapping his hand away as it traveled down her back. Ethan slid his fingers over the candy in his pocket, feeling stupid for grabbing it.
On the drive over, he tried not to notice them holding hands over the cup holder and instead focused on the costumes the kids were wearing outside his window. When they were kids they didn't dress up. His mom never bothered buying him a costume. He could still remember denouncing the whole concept of trick-or-treat in Henrietta's bedroom the night before Halloween. Saying it was for conformists and a capitalist scheme. Because he was fourth grader and Henrietta and Dylan were a year below him they accepted what he said at face value. A trait they'd shake in middle school. He was the one that suggested that real goths would go to the cemetery and hold a séance, trying to invoke the recently deceased. It was a tradition that stuck, in spite of the fact that on the rare occasion the board ever moved, it typically hovered over a letter that made no sense, and they'd spend the rest of the night disagreeing over the significance.
Henrietta parked the car on the street outside the cemetery gates. Ethan stuffed his fingers in his pockets and buried his chin under the edge of the black scarf wrapped around his neck.
They walked to the back of the cemetery that wasn't visible from the road. Georgie, Ike, and Dylan were already propped against tombstones on the ground. Ike's hand was stuffed in Georgie's pocket and the other was pulling the edge of a beanie further over his forehead. Dylan looked at Henrietta over a copy of The Missing Times, a book about UFOs that Ethan had noticed him slipping in his bag the last time they were at Barnes and Noble. His fingers were gripping the spine through fraying striped fingerless gloves. Dylan barely glanced at Ethan before looking back at his book again.
Ethan's stomach twisted and he felt the full weight of the guilt he'd been living with for a week now. He turned back to see Damien begrudgingly holding Henrietta's bag of candles as she placed the board on the ground. She tossed a pack of matches into Dylan's lap, "help set up," she ordered. He sighed and closed the book but used the matches to light his cigarette before sitting them on Georgie's knee.
"Do we actually need all these candles, or do you make this shit up to fuck with us?" Dylan asked. Ethan smiled, but didn't look at Dylan as he helped place the candles in a circle around the tombstones. Georgie trailed before him, lighting them, until they were all lit by the eerie yellow glow.
"We have to create the protective circle, do I have to explain this every year?" Henrietta said indignantly, ripping herself away from Damien's lips to answer. She pulled Damien with her to the center of the circle where she'd placed the ouija board. Ike and Georgie followed, their knees bumping unnecessarily together as Ike leaned over the board.
"It's not real," Georgie whispered reassuringly in his ear. Ethan wanted to spell out RIP IKE and watch him piss his pants.
"It absolutely is," Henrietta said, glaring at Dylan until he sat on the other side of her, leaving Ethan to fill in between him and Ike. "It's a tool of witchcraft that dates back hundreds of years."
"Then why is it glowing in the dark like those plastic stars kids glue to their ceilings?" Georgie asked.
"Because my mom threw out the wooden on we got at the flea market, and I had to buy the Parker Bros version, just shut up about it." She sighed and dug around in her bag behind her, "hold on I have to find the summoning spell, I wrote it in my biology notebook."
"We should have let my mom give us that hot chocolate," Ethan heard Ike whisper to Georgie as Henrietta paged through her notebook. He was watching Dylan's lips curl around his cigarette. He wondered if he was smoking because he was cold. It was something Ethan noticed Dylan do on various occasions, and he didn't understand why he didn't just buy a warmer coat. The peacoat he had on wasn't even properly buttoned, and Ethan had to resist the urge to reach over and do it himself. Dylan flicked his hair off his cheeks and watched the ashes drop past his fingers onto the frozen ground.
"Well?" Henrietta was saying to Ethan.
"What?" he asked.
"I said who are we invoking. You were supposed to cut out the obituaries."
He dug through his back pocket for the crumpled newspaper. He pointed to a person at random and Henrietta nodded and set the clipping on the ouija board. The printed black and white face of an 80-year-old lady stared up at the sky through her thick glasses.
Ike already looked scared, and whenever Georgie looked at him, he grinned unconvincingly. Henrietta closed her eyes and held up hands palm up. Damien and Dylan grabbed her hands, and Georgie and Ike followed along. Ethan watched Dylan stub his cigarette out in the dirt before closing his eyes tight for a second waiting with his hand held in the air for Dylan's fingers to clamp around it. They finally did after what felt like hours, and Ethan could feel his frozen fingertips against his knuckles. He wanted to wiggle his fingers until Dylan's warmed up, but instead just let his fingers hang like worms, uselessly aimed for the ground.
Henrietta sighed, and opened an eye to glance down at her notebook, "I call the guardians of the Spirit World to hear my plea, guide me in this hour to bring who I want to me. Those I do not call are not welcome in this place. Only the soul I call may enter this sacred space." She repeated it three times, each rendition a bit more apathetic than the last.
Ethan glanced over at Dylan. His eyes were still shut, as the wind whipped his long red bangs against his cheeks. Ethan thought he looked tired and was glad they'd convinced Henrietta to move this back from midnight. Across the ouija board, Ike was looking around, like he was expecting to see a dead old lady zombie crawl towards them in a tattered white nightgown.
"Okay," Henrietta said finally stopping the chant. "Now we'll all place our fingers on the planchette."
Dylan pulled his fingers away from Ethan's and lit another cigarette, sucking it between his lips as he placed one finger on the edge of the planchette by Georgie's.
"You mean the triangular piece of plastic," Damien mumbled, shifting his fingers away from everyone else's.
"Christ! Can you just do this one thing for me?" Henrietta hissed, stabbing his stubby finger with her black acrylic nail.
Damien drew his hand back and folded his arms over his chest. Behind them the wind blew and the gate of the cemetery squealed before clanking against the concrete it was attached to.
"Shit, it's moving." Henrietta said, and they all twisted their heads back towards the board. Ethan had succeeded in shifting the planchette to R, and tried not to look guilty.
Ike pulled away from the board. "I just want to watch," he said quietly to Georgie. Georgie turned away from the board too and wrapped an arm around him as he whispered something against Ike's black hair.
"We're going to go for a walk," Georgie said, pulling Ike off the ground with him. They all watched them go, Georgie grabbing Ike's hand again as they walked along the path that lead to the streetlights.
"And this is why you shouldn't be friends with fucking children," Damien mumbled to Henrietta.
"And this is why I shouldn't date assholes," she said, standing up and adjusting her long skirt before walking away from the circle. Damien watched her go, and Ethan stared at him, knowing better than to get involved in their flighty relationship. But Damien looked sorry as he sat there, or as sorry as his expressionless face would allow him to get.
"Henri, come back," he yelled finally, twisting around to where they could barely make out Henrietta anymore, "you're going to get lost," he said, picking up the gloves she'd taken off to page through her notebook. Ethan watched them both disappear towards the other end of the graveyard. They'd probably argue for a fevered minute before fumbling together to the car.
"We're too old for this shit," Ethan said, wishing he could think of something new to say, feeling awkward for sitting so close next to Dylan now that there was no reason to. He stood after a minute and lit a cigarette. He took a drag as he leaned on the gravestone that towered over his head. Dylan also leaned back against a tombstone as he dipped his finger in the melting wax of a candle.
"I don't know, I like it," he said, blowing on his fingertip until the wax dried. The wax was red looked misleadingly gory from where the drips were drying against Dylan's skin. Ethan had to look away.
"What part?" he asked, sincerely interested, but realizing too late that it came out sarcastic and dismissive.
Dylan shrugged and pulled a box of Milkduds from his pocket. Ethan thought they'd both be better off walking the five blocks it'd take them to Benny's. If it were any other week in their lives, he'd suggest it. But this was the first time he'd been alone with Dylan in days and he wasn't sure what ideas might be immediately shot down.
"Oh yeah," he tried to say nonchalantly, "Henrietta's mom got you this." He reached into his pocket and tossed Dylan the bag of candy. Dylan caught the bag and glanced up at Ethan before stuffing it into his pocket. He sucked another milkdud between his lips and reached for the book he put down earlier.
Ethan watched his smoke disappear into the wind for a few drags, before turning back to Dylan with a frown.
"So, does skipping lunch get you some goth points I'm unaware of?" he asked. It was the only period they'd actually managed to have together this year. And even though Ethan was too used to empty seats next to him to be bothered by it anymore, he hated to think that Dylan refused to enter the cafeteria to buy his usual slice of pizza and iced green tea because of him.
"I'm behind on my photography project. Mrs. Little lets me eat in her room." The words sounded rehearsed, and Ethan felt slightly sick.
"Oh, I thought you'd turned that in last week," he said flatly, but knowing better than to ask Dylan straight out where he'd really been going. At least he was here now. With Henrietta with Damien and Georgie with Ike, it'd been a quiet week of feeling invisible.
"Whatever," he said, not looking up from the page he was glaring at, "then why are you asking. You know why."
"Well can we just fucking talk about it?"
Dylan was picking the wax from his skin now so that splotches of red wax were falling onto the pages of his book. "Look, I kissed you. You shoved me away. What's left to discuss."
"It's more complex than that," Ethan said through a mouthful of smoke before smashing his cigarette into the grave.
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Dylan asked, standing now.
"What would?" He hated himself for fishing for an invitation for a second try.
Dylan dug his foot against the ground for a second, his fingers gripping the book too hard. "A lobotomy?"
Ethan watched the wind blowing the collar of Dylan's coat, the fabric hitting against his neck, and wanted to take him inside, where there was heat and light. Dylan was staring at him, the yellow of the candles, making his eyes particularly green and big. And Ethan couldn't help but feel like they were in the same spot they were last week in his bedroom when Dylan had expected so much more from him.
"You couldn't have expected me to react like a normal fucking person. I'm strange, and self-conscious, and what I want doesn't always align with how I act or what I say." He paused, each of his own words digging under his ribs. Dylan was looking at him like this was some sort of appeal. But it wasn't, it was just the truth, and when that didn't have the desired effect he took a breath and added, "And I'm fucking sorry that you want to kiss me!"
"Yeah! Me too!" Dylan yelled, kicking one of the jar candles out of his way as he stalked away from Ethan. The glass shattered against the tombstone, and the fire immediately smoldered out. The glass crunched under Ethan's boots as he followed after him.
But Dylan didn't get far before spinning around. "Why do you get to have so many excuses?" he yelled at Ethan. "It still hurt!"
Ethan stopped and shifted his weight onto his other foot. "I don't know," he said, feeling like he'd been punched in the guts from the way Dylan had pinned him with his gaze. It seemed like an unfair tradeoff that he could write whole stanzas poignantly describing Dylan's eyes in his notebook—but in real life he couldn't even look at him.
"God, Ethan," Dylan said, still sounding harsh but taking a step towards him, "it's just me." Ethan was looking at the ground, so when Dylan grabbed his hand, he watched as the shorter teen's fingers slipped between his own.
He looked up and leaned in to kiss Dylan, who didn't need more incentive to push him back against the tombstone and run his fingers through his curls, while deepening the kiss, like this might be the last chance he'd get to convince Ethan that this was something good.
He pulled back looking unsure, and Ethan hated himself for ever letting doubt accrue in his friend's thoughts.
"This isn't as terrifying as it seemed in my mind," Ethan said, surprised that the words slipped out so easily.
Dylan stared up at him, no longer looking angry or hurt, "Yes it is," he said softly. Ethan shook his head, cupping Dylan's cold cheeks under his palms as he fit their lips together again. The frozen marble statue he was pressed against was a blunt contrast to Dylan's lips, warm and tasting vaguely like caramel. Ethan smiled into the kiss, surprised there was something in the world that could feel sweet.