‘You look fabulous, I promise.’ Molly’s best friend joined her at the mirror, leaning towards the pane and attacking a smudge of green lipstick with a damp fingertip.
‘You know I haven’t trusted a word you’ve said since the Carl Brown incident.’ Molly pulled at the high neckline of her costume but there wasn’t much give in the fabric. So not only did she look like a complete knobhead, she had the added of bonus of being slowly strangled at the same time.
‘That was years ago.’ Rose pouted at herself in the mirror, shifting her head from left to right in search of any more imperfections. ‘We were ten!’
‘Still.’ Molly elbowed Rose out of the way so she could take another unobstructed look at herself in the mirror. A whimper escaped her lips when she caught sight of the full horror before her again. ‘I can’t go to the party like this! I can’t!’
‘Will you relax?’ Taking Molly by the elbow, Rose guided her friend to the bed and sat her down. ‘It’s a party. It’s supposed to be fun.’
‘That’s easy for you to say. Look at you.’ Molly waved a hand in the general direction of Rose, unable to look directly at her friend in her sexy witch costume. Rose was clad in a tight, black dress that barely reached her thighs, black and green striped stockings and cute, heeled ankle boots. Her shoulders were covered by a black cape adorned with twinkling green sequins while a matching hat perched on her head at a jaunty angle.
‘And look at me!’ Molly jumped to her feet and jabbed an accusing finger at the mirror. ‘I’m a sodding lobster!’
Rose pressed her green lips together and dropped her gaze to the toes of her boots, examining a non-existent scuff. ‘You look fine. Honestly.’ She coughed to disguise a giggle. ‘Besides, it’s your own fault for leaving your costume until the last minute. Was there really nothing better?’
See, this was why Molly didn’t a trust a word that came out of her best friend’s mouth. It had started when Rose had assured Molly that Carl Brown absolutely fancied her but was too shy to ask her to be his girlfriend and it had continued right up until Rose had claimed Molly looked fabulous in her lobster costume. Because she didn’t look fabulous. She didn’t even look fine. She looked like a lobster, pure and simple.
‘Do you think I’d have dressed up like this.’ Molly thrust another finger towards the mirror. ‘If I’d had a choice? This was it.’
There was only one fancy dress shop in Woodgate, which had turned out to be a popular choice for the hordes of local students attending Halloween parties that evening. Molly had dashed to the shop far too late after work and was left with the choice of the lobster costume or a carrier bag.
Molly would have opted for carrier bag if it had fit.
‘It really does look ok.’ Rose had changed her tune from fabulous, which she’d claimed only minutes earlier. By the time the party started, Molly would be passable at best. ‘It’s cute.’
Molly observed her image in the mirror. It was not cute. The lobster costume consisted of a red, heavily padded onesie with an oversized hood that fell over Molly’s eyebrows, almost blocking her view. Huge, padded eyes had been stitched onto the hood while two long red tentacle-like strips dangled to her chin.
‘The red face paint may be overkill though,’ Rose mused.
‘You think?’ Molly flopped back down onto the bed. She couldn’t go to the party, not like this.
‘If you hurry up, you’ll have time to wash it off.’
‘That won’t solve the problem of the ridiculous costume,’ Molly said but she took herself off to the bathroom anyway. She returned ten minutes later, her face not only red from vigorous scrubbing but from the stubborn face paint that refused to budge more than a couple of shades. Now Molly’s face was a patchwork of red and pink.
‘It won’t come off.’
‘I gathered that.’ Rose didn’t even bother to hide her smirk. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘Nothing.’ Molly struggled to reach the costume’s zip at the back. ‘I’m going to take this damn thing off and I’m going to get into my pyjamas and forget all about the stupid party.’
‘You can’t miss the party.’ Rose grabbed Molly’s scrabbling hands and hitched the zip back up. ‘It’s your party. And your guests will be arriving any minute now.’
Yet another reason not to trust a word that wafted out of her best friend’s mouth. A Halloween party was a fantastic idea, she’d claimed when Molly suggested it. Why not make it a fancy dress party?
Rose somehow coaxed Molly out of her bedroom. They’d tried to salvage Molly’s face by applying more red face paint (Molly had to concede that it had looked better all one colour) but there hadn’t been enough left over for full coverage and they’d merely ended up adding another shade of red to the rosy palette. But, as Rose continued to point out, it was too late to cancel the party. Molly would just have to suck it up and get out there.
Molly’s flat had been transformed into a ghoulish wonderland with flickering black candles lining the mantelpiece and giving off an eerie glow. Cobwebs – of the shop-bought variety and not through lack of cleaning – adorned every surface while rubbery spiders and snakes peeked out of crevices. A cauldron in the kitchen contained green punch and the table was full of macabre treats; sandwiches and wraps shaped like witches fingers, mummified mini rolls and pumpkin-themed cupcakes. Molly had put a lot of time, thought and effort into the Halloween party – if only a tiny fraction had been spent on her costume.
‘Shall I put the music on?’ Rose slotted her iphone into the docking station. Rose’s contribution to the party – apart from adding some glamour and further enhancing Molly’s humiliation – had been to put together a playlist of haunting tunes and party hits.
‘I suppose we have to have music,’ Molly mumbled. Despite the weeks of planning, she’d lost all enthusiasm for the party. ‘Do you think we need the lamps? It’ll look spookier with just the candles.’
‘It’ll look almost pitch black with just the candles.’ Rose turned to Molly and raised an eyebrow, knowing exactly what was going through her friend’s mind. ‘Creating atmosphere is one thing. Causing your guests to fall over and injure themselves is another.’
‘Fine.’ Molly snatched her hand away from the lamp’s switch. Dread swirled in her stomach beneath the padding as the sound of the doorbell – now a witch’s cackle thanks to the Halloween-themed one she’d bought – filled the room. This was it.
‘Oh, by the way,’ Rose called as Molly dragged herself to the door. ‘Sam’s moved back so I invited him to the party. I hope that’s ok?’
Sam was coming to the party? While she looked like a deformed Tellytubby? Could this party get any worse?
Yes, yes it could, as Molly discovered when she opened the door and her boss waltzed into the room.
‘Molly! Look at you!’ Molly’s boss jabbed a finger into the padding on the lobster’s torso. ‘I almost didn’t recognise you in there.’ Molly hadn’t actually invited him to the party (why would she?) but he’d taken it upon himself to turn up after hearing her discussing her plans with the colleagues she had invited. ‘Let me take your photo. It’ll look great on our website. Make us look like the fun firm we are!’
‘No, no thank you.’ Molly pushed her boss’s phone away as he attempted to take a snap. ‘Oh, look. There goes the doorbell again.’ Pushing her boss in the direction of Rose, Molly went to answer the door, hoping it wouldn’t be Sam this time. The last time Molly had seen Rose’s brother had been over a decade ago and she didn’t want their reunion to take place while she looked like an imbecile.
The guests started to pile into the flat, each one – thankfully – not Sam. Molly busied herself, making sure her guests’ glasses were full and the food on the table was replenished. As she chatted away to her friends, family and workmates, she started to forget about the lobster costume and her patchy face. Besides, she wasn’t the only one sporting a bad costume; someone had come as wheelie bin by removing the wheels and the bottom and climbing inside it.
Molly was in the kitchen, adding more vodka to the green punch, when she heard the voice behind her. She turned to see a ghost leaning against the fridge. Not an actual ghost, obviously. And not a particularly imaginative one either. Whoever was in the costume had simply cut two eye-holes out of a bed sheet and draped it over themselves.
‘Thanks. I was going for total moron.’ Molly struck a pose. ‘Do you think I achieved it?’
The ghost lifted his hands up and shook his head beneath the sheet. ‘Hey, don’t talk to me about bad costumes. At least you haven’t wrecked your bedding.’
Molly knew that voice. It made her face redden further beneath the face paint. ‘Sam?’
The ghost nodded. ‘Afraid so.’
Molly resisted the urge to throw herself into Sam’s ghostly arms and demand to know where he’d been for the past ten years. Because she knew where he’d been, thanks to Rose’s regular updates.
‘Long time no see,’ she said as casually as she could. ‘When did you get back?’
Yesterday? He’d been here all that time and she hadn’t known? ‘How long are you back for?’
‘To quote a Take That song,’ Sam said and Molly could hear the amusement in his voice. ‘I’m back for good.’
Molly and Rose had been huge fans of Take That. In fact, they’d cried when they’d split up back in the nineties. And Sam had witnessed their tears, which he’d found hilarious.
‘Oh.’ What else could Molly say? She’d been madly in love with her best friend’s brother throughout her teenage years – secretly, due to Rose’s inability to keep her gob shut and because there are rules to be followed with regards to this sort of thing. Of course Molly had flouted these rules when she’d kissed Sam during his farewell party before he left for Canada for a year. A year had passed, then two and three until a decade later saw no return of Sam Jenson.
‘Are you back on your own or…’ Or have you got a girlfriend stashed under that sheet? Perhaps a wife and a couple of kids? Although surely Rose would have mentioned those.
‘I’m on my own.’ Again, there was a hint of amusement in Sam’s voice. ‘Rose tells me you’re single.’
‘Did she?’ Of course she did. The Carl Brown incident was proof of Rose’s indiscretion. ‘I haven’t always been single. Only for a year.’ It was actually closer to two, but Sam didn’t need to know that. As long as he knew she hadn’t been pining for him all these years.
Sam laughed, the sound muffled by the sheet. ‘I didn’t think you’d been saving yourself for me all these years.’
But she had saved herself for Sam. At least for the first couple of years and angry tears sprang to her eyes as she thought about her poor, battered eighteen-year-old heart as it waited for him to return.
‘Hey.’ Sam whipped off the sheet and dashed across the kitchen, stooping to look directly into her eyes. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.’
‘It’s ok.’ Molly sidestepped Sam, adding another drop of vodka to the punch – why not? – before screwing the lid back on. ‘It’s just that kiss meant a lot to me. Back then.’
‘It meant a lot to me too.’
‘Did it?’ Because it hadn’t felt that way. ‘Why did you leave then?’
Sam took the bottle out of her hand and placed it on the counter before taking her hands in his. ‘I had no idea you liked me until that night and by then it was too late. I’d been offered the job and signed the contract. I had an apartment waiting for me. And let’s not forget I was a nineteen-year-old lad. We all know teenage lads are stupid.’
‘But ten years.’ Molly snatched her hands away from Sam’s and attempted to fold her arms across her chest. Which was a difficult task with all the padding of her costume.
‘I know. I’m an idiot. But I thought you’d have forgotten about me within a couple of weeks. I had no idea that…’
‘That I was in love with you?’ Molly filled in when Sam seemed unable to finish his sentence.
‘That you felt the same way that I did.’
Sam reached for hands again and this time she didn’t snatch them away. When he kissed her, she forgot all about the flat full of people enjoying her Halloween party just a few steps away. She even managed to forget about the hideous lobster costume and the shocking face paint.
‘What are we going to say to Rose?’ Molly asked, trying not to giggle when she saw the pink tinge around Sam’s mouth.
‘You’re going to say thank you,’ Rose announced from the kitchen doorway.
‘You’re welcome.’ Rose stepped fully into the kitchen and grabbed a cupcake from the table.
‘No, I mean thank you for what?’
Rose scooped a chunk of frosting from the cupcake and popped it into her mouth. ‘For playing Cupid and bringing you two – finally – together.’
‘You knew I liked Sam?’
Rose rolled her eyes. ‘Duh. Of course. It was so obvious.’
‘So why wait all this time?’
Rose scooped another helping of frosting. ‘Because you told me to never ever interfere in your love life ever again after the Carl Brown thing.’
Molly had said words to that effect after the humiliating Carl Brown incident.
‘Then why did you tell me to get my butt back home and tell Molly how I feel?’ Sam asked. Molly was shocked. He’d come back to England for her?
‘Because it’s been ten bloody years, guys!’ Rose threw her hands up in the air. A blob of orange frosting flew across the room and plopped into the green punch. ‘I’ve followed the rules for long enough. Some rules are made for breaking.’
Yes, Molly thought. Some rules were made for breaking. Like hooking up with your best friend’s brother.
‘Thank you, Rose.’
‘You’re welcome. The two of you are clearly made for each other.’ Rose scooped up Sam’s abandoned sheet and tossed it towards her brother. ‘You both have completely crap taste in Halloween costumes.’
If you enjoyed The Ghost of Halloween Past, you can find more of my short stories here