Elizabeth held her camera out in front of her, adjusting its position slightly before capturing the perfect shot of her sister and her new husband, toasting their marriage with glasses of champagne sparkling with black glitter. Two fat pumpkins sat in front of the couple, the words ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ carved into the flesh, one either side of the cobwebby candelabra that was creating a gothic centrepiece. Caroline and Robert’s Halloween-themed wedding wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it suited the pair down to the ground and even the groom’s grandmother, who’d been vehemently against the idea since its conception, was enjoying herself. It seemed she’d put aside her misgivings as soon as she’d changed into her witch’s costume that morning. She’d spent the day cackling dramatically (though thankfully not through the vows) and she’d nearly put her back out dancing to the ‘Monster Mash’.
Halloween was already a special date in the Caroline/Robert calendar; they’d known each other all through high school but they were just friends, until five years ago when they met up again at a Halloween party at the local pub. So what better way to mark the occasion? All the guests were decked out in ghoulish costumes: Elizabeth and Caroline’s parents were being Morticia and Gomez for the day, while Robert’s parents, thinking outside the box, had dressed as a Colonel Sanders and chicken combo. The bride had transformed herself into Dr Frankenstein, complete with white lab coat and long, black rubbery gloves, while the groom was her gruesome creation. The prize for scariest costume, however, went to Elizabeth’s Uncle Ernest, who had put aside his usual beer-swilling, brick-laying persona to become Rocky Horror’s Frank-N-Furter, and had somehow stretched his corset over his hairy beer belly. Elizabeth feared she would never be able to unsee that.
‘I'd just like to say a few words,’ Caroline said as she stood, readjusting her bedraggled grey wig. ‘First of all, thank you all for celebrating this special day with us. You’ve all really got in the spirit of our Halloween theme – especially you, Uncle Ernest.’ There was a titter as Ernest attempted to take a bow in the restrictive corset. ‘I’d like to say an extra-big thank you to our parents, who have helped to organise this crazy day. And to my little sister.’ Caroline raised her glass in Elizabeth’s direction. ‘You’re the best sister a girl could ask for and you’re a frightfully brilliant bridesmaid.’ Caroline raised her glass again and addressed the whole room. ‘To friends and family!’
‘To friends and family!’ the room chorused, and Elizabeth grabbed her drink so she could join in the toast.
‘So, you’re Caroline’s little sister.’ A witch (there were several attending the wedding) leaned across the table as Elizabeth slipped her camera into the red and black clutch bag she’d managed to find to match her vampire gown. ‘We’ve heard a lot about you.’
But evidently not my name, Elizabeth thought crossly, but she pushed down the resentment and smiled at the witch. It seemed Elizabeth was forever to be known as ‘Caroline’s little sister’. Everybody knew Caroline, and they couldn’t help being smitten with her exuberance, her sense of humour, her ability to talk to anybody and put them instantly at ease. The teachers loved the studious, arty, sporty Caroline, the perfect all-rounder, and the joy at having the pleasure of teaching her younger sister was always clear on their faces (though Elizabeth was sure that soon waned when they discovered she wasn’t as clever or athletic as Caroline and had little artistic flair). Elizabeth found she was off-limits for boys at school; they either feared being pummelled into the ground by the overprotective Caroline, or they fancied the more mature, more polished sister.
Elizabeth adored Caroline (how could she not?) but she couldn’t help wanting to break free from under her shadow, because even now, all these years later, she was still ‘Caroline’s little sister’. Even when she was wearing a fitted gown, with its black lace and red satin corset, with a tantalising slit to mid-thigh, she was still the baby sister instead of Elizabeth, a woman in her own right.
‘It was lovely to meet you,’ Elizabeth said after the witch had chewed her ear off for a good twenty minutes. It turned out the witch was Robert’s aunt and she had many, many tales to tell about her nephew. Elizabeth couldn’t wait to tease her new brother-in-law about his childhood Barbie collection, but first she needed a champagne top-up.
‘There you are.’ Caroline grasped hold of Elizabeth’s hand en route to the bar. ‘There’s someone I’d like you to meet. Do you remember me telling you about that guy from work?’
William, the tall, extremely handsome IT manager? Yes, Elizabeth could recall that conversation, and she’d been looking forward to meeting him. One of the best parts of being a wedding guest when you were in your mid-twenties and very much single was the potential to meet new people. And William was even more gorgeous than her sister had described.
‘William, I’d like you to meet Elizabeth.’ Caroline pushed Elizabeth, who was rather agog at the Adonis in front of her, forward slightly. Who knew a zombie could be so damn hot?
‘Hi.’ William’s smile was faltering as his eyes flicked from Caroline to Elizabeth and back again. He quite clearly didn’t have a clue who she was.
‘Elizabeth is my little sister.’
‘Ah! Yes!’ William’s smile was full and genuine now he was up to speed. ‘Hello, Caroline’s little sister.’
Oh, for goodness sake.
Elizabeth held back a sigh and plastered on a smile. ‘Hi, William. Lovely to meet you. I was actually just on my way to the bar, but maybe we could chat later?’
Caroline was frowning as Elizabeth backed away, but she wasn’t about to waste her time on a bloke who either couldn’t remember her name five seconds after they were introduced or, worse, couldn’t be bothered to use it. No chance. She’d been ‘Caroline’s little sister’ for too long. It was time to spread her vampire wings and remind people she had her own unique identity. She’d grab a drink and then she’d –
‘Whoa!’ Her arms flailed as she was met by a solid mass. A couple of hands reached out to steady her and she laughed away her embarrassment.
‘I am so sorry,’ she said to the werewolf she’d reversed into. ‘Wasn’t looking where I was going.’
‘No worries.’ He gave a little shrug before his head tilted to one side, his eyes narrowing as he observed Elizabeth. ‘You’re Caroline’s little sister, aren’t you?’
Elizabeth fought to keep her smile in place. Here we go again. ‘Yes, I am.’
He nodded, looking pretty pleased with himself. ‘I went to school with Caroline and Robert. I thought I recognised you.’
But you didn’t, Elizabeth thought. Not quite.
‘Come and dance with us!’ Caroline called as she whizzed by, pointing frantically at William, who was just ahead of her.
‘I should…’ Elizabeth indicated the dance floor, which was filling up at Caroline’s insistence. There was no party quite like a Caroline party.
The werewolf nodded. ‘I’ll maybe see you later? It’s Elizabeth, right?’
She paused, the smile slipping from her face, but it was due to shock rather than annoyance this time, and her jaw started to drop.
‘You were a year below us,’ he said, and Elizabeth nodded, her jaw still somewhere near the floor. She peered at the werewolf but it was hard to tell who he was under the grey face paint and fake fur.
‘Don’t worry,’ the werewolf said as Elizabeth continued to peer at him. ‘You probably wouldn’t recognise me even without the costume.’ He scratched behind his ear (his real ear, not the furry ones on top of his head). ‘I was too shy to talk to girls at school. Especially the prettiest ones.’
Elizabeth laughed when he winked at her. She couldn’t help it, it bubbled up out of nowhere. ‘You seem to have grown out of it.’
The werewolf gave a slow nod, as though musing the statement. ‘I guess I have.’ His eyes wandered down the vampire costume to the flash of thigh. ‘And I see you’ve grown out of pigtails and fluffy backpacks.’
She pressed a hand to her mouth to stop another giggle in its tracks. She’d loved that fluffy backpack and had thought she was the epitome of cool whenever she used it.
‘You really do remember me.’ Elizabeth felt the corners of her lips pull up into a smile. He remembered her. Elizabeth, the girl with the pink, fluffy backpack. The girl in her own right. Right now, to the werewolf at least, she wasn’t just the bridesmaid of Frankenstein.
‘Just how sharp are those claws?’ She indicated the rubbery tips at the end of the werewolf’s furry gloves. He held them up, a bemused smile on his face.
‘Not very. Why?’
She took him by the paw and led him towards the dance floor just as the intro to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ started.
‘Because I’d like to dance with you, and I don’t want you to snag my dress.’