Thirteen is an awkward age, stranded somewhere between ‘just a kid’ and ‘old enough to know better’. At thirteen Halloween costumes are the peak of uncool; trick or treating is something for babies, and high school parties are a long way away. But that wouldn’t stop Grayson from making the most of the holiday.
He was six years old when he asked to be a fairy princess. His Mom reeled. Grayson could remember the look on her face. She blinked and asked him questions, not in a mean way, but very confused. His choice in costume was ‘different’, she told him, but eventually she agreed.
Since then it became tradition. For one night of every year Grayson left his boyhood behind. On the morning of October thirty-first time would stop, his smile shone, and he danced through the halls of the school. In the evening he walked his brother around the block, ate candy, and joked about the swishiness of his gown.
Parents and teachers thought he was weird. Kids thought he was funny. At thirteen a lot of boys thought he was less funny, but whatever. They left him alone, just like every other day, and the world kept turning.
That morning Grayson didn’t wait for his Mom to wake him. He flew out of bed, out of his PJs, and to the corner of the closet where his new persona hung. It was a preppy school girl outfit; pale blue blouse and a three-quarter sleeve knit sweater, coupled with a green tartan skirt that came to his knees. Some might call it ‘ordinary’, but Nancy Drew never had a set look.
He tried to be careful as he dressed. On his first attempt Grayson failed to line up the buttons. He fixed them soon after, and slowed his breath. Even if it was just a costume, it meant the world to him. If he had his way it would be Halloween every day.
Grayson paused before entering the hallway. The outfit was fine, mostly, but he still looked like a boy in a dress. Was he too old? He shook his head and smiled. Dressing up as a girl was Halloween tradition - it was too much fun to give up! And even if he didn’t feel like laughing, he’d do it anyway.
Sans wig and footwear he trudged down the stairs and rounded into the kitchen. A bowl of Fruit Loops and a plate of toast sat in front of his usual chair. Mom smirked and tapped on the seat.
“Remember to smooth your skirt,” she said. Every year she reminded him, and every year he forgot.
Grayson blushed. His Mom was pretty great… most of the time. She didn’t even flinch when he asked for a training bra ‘to complete the outfit’. He expected her to laugh or to call him silly, but she didn’t. Halloween was serious business in their house, and she knew it.
Deacon barreled out of the downstairs bedroom, larger than his pint sized life in a Mr. Incredible costume. He climbed the seat opposite his brother, and before saying a word tore into his cereal. Like all six year olds he was a garbage chute who talked back. In the pause between bites, and with milk dribbling down his chin, he finally noticed Grayson.
“Are you going out with boy hair?” he asked.
The older sibling forced a smile and combed his short fringe back. He tried to laugh it off, but the words caught in his throat.
Mom came to the rescue. “We’re going to put on a wig before leaving for school, aren’t we.”
Grayson nodded and took refuge in his food.
Deacon smiled. “And then he’ll look like a normal girl?”
The words gave him pause. Up to that point Grayson could look like a normal girl with a costume and a few bits, but then thirteen happened. Every day saw a new change from which he made a tactical retreat. Soon not even Halloween could save him.
Mom cupped his shoulder and gave a squeeze. “Nancy Drew is a normal girl,” she said, “just as you’re incredible, Mr. Incredible!”
As much as Deacon loved the attention, Grayson retreated into his shoulders. His Mom was pretty great, except when she said embarrassing things. Maybe the costume was a bad idea, and thirteen was too old.
After the meal were the final touches. Grayson was old enough that he could do it himself, but Mom helping was tradition. They always laughed, and most of the time he meant it. This year…
He bent over for her to roll the wig over his scalp. Then he threw the hair back and waited for her to fix the loose strands. With the straight auburn hair, eyeliner and lip gloss he looked every part the teen detective cover girl, and couldn’t bring himself to look away.
“How’s that?” Mom asked.
Grayson caught his breath. “Perfect,” he said, trying to sound bouncy. The girl in the mirror really was perfect. He clutched one hand to his shoulder, and the other across his stomach. His smile flinched, but he continued to stare. His eyes couldn’t be anywhere else.
Mom stopped existing for a moment. Her hand brought him back. “Sweetheart…”
She brought herself behind him, and stared into the mirror over his shoulder. “Is this what you want?” Her voice was barely a whisper. She smiled with no judgement, no anger, only curiosity.
Grayson closed his eyes and pushed himself to smile. “Yeah. Why not? I mean, it’s tradition.”
She wrapped her arms around him. They burned. His Mom was pretty great, except when she saw him for who he was. Grayson shrugged her away and held tighter to his body. There were tears. Where were tears coming from?
“You know you don’t have to stop being Nancy,” she said. “Or if you like we can pick you out another name. Whichever you like best.”
Grayson froze. Did she know? He pried his eyes open and turned to face her.
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“It means,” she said, “that I know why you love Halloween so much. It doesn’t have to be the only time of year where you get to be happy.”
Of all the years he tried to hide, it was only on Halloween he let the walls down. It was the perfect excuse; the perfect escape. People did the unexpected, and laughed. Costumes were a special kind of game, except when they weren’t.
Grayson stared at his feet. “I… I thought you’d be angry…”
She held him to keep him from falling apart. Her voice was warm as honey. “You know, I think I’ve always known. I didn’t think you were serious until you asked for a training bra. Either you were crazy serious about your costume, or there was something else behind it.”
This time Grayson’s laugh was real. The walls came down, and he fell into sobs. All the while his Mom stood there and held for dear life. His Mom was pretty great, period - or maybe ‘her’ Mom.
Thirteen is an awkward age where who we are comes into view. Grayson was glad he wasn’t the only one to see.
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