"Are we doing this street first then?" I called to Toby, who was waiting at the end of the drive. And by waiting I meant looking like he was about to spontaneously combust, jiggling around on the spot.
As soon as we caught up with him, Toby made to dart away, but Taylor reached out with his free arm and caught Toby's arm. "Not so fast kiddo, we're sticking together, yeah?"
"Can I link my arm too?"
"How about you go in between?" Taylor suggested, glancing across at me. It was hard to see his real features beneath the make-up, but I think I knew what he was thinking.
"Sure," I slipped my arm out of Taylor's and outstretched the hand to Toby, whilst Taylor took his right hand.
"You ready to be swung?" I asked, our arms slowly swinging higher, "One, two, three!"
On the final number, Taylor and I propelled Toby forward. His feet barely left the ground though, soon hitting the pavement again as they were only carried a few millimetres.
"I think you might be getting a bit too big for that," Taylor sighed, flexing his shoulder. "Is your arm okay Lily?"
"A little strained, but it'll be fine," I gave my arm another swing, with less force this time. "Let's just stick to swinging arms for now."
Reaching the bottom of their neighbour's drive, Toby raced ahead, dragging us behind him as he went up to the door. An oldish woman answered, handing us each a packet of Haribos with a pleasant enough smile, but as soon as Toby tugged off his mask, she relaxed altogether. Cooing over his skeleton costume, and adding another two packets into his pumpkin, she cast a glance up at Taylor and I.
"You look rather scary Taylor, some sort of zombie ghoul? And who's this ghostly lady with you?"
"Something like that, yeah, Mrs. Jenkins," Taylor gestured to me, "And this is Lily-she's a friend."
"Ah, a friend," A fuzzy eyebrow raised at that, eyes shining despite the wrinkles that surrounded them
"It's nice to meet you, Mrs Jenkins," I said, concious of the sound of a TV playing somewhere in the background. "But we won't keep you."
"Yeah, we've got a lot of houses to cover, isn't that right Toby?" Taylor agreed, rolling his eyes as he caught his brother already devouring a pack of sweets with sugar coated lips.
Toby gave an innocent nod, and both Mrs Jenkins and I found ourselves giving a soft sigh of affection; Taylor seemed unperturbed.
Once the door had been closed, after a reminder that we could always come back and get more sweets if necessary, Toby immediately set his sights on the next house.
The air pierced my lungs like icicles, denser with heat when exhaled. Although Toby kept a quick pace of small footsteps, one stride of mine kept us level, whilst Taylor, with the longest legs of us, walked slightly slower than usual.
A constant flurry of conversation accompanied us from one house to the next, mostly anecdotes of previous Halloween escapades. There was something about Halloween that seemed to being out the child in Taylor-the impish grin that he wore whilst recounting the tales revealed the excitement he had initially tried to conceal.
Despite the air piercing my lungs like icicles, I couldn't help but laugh at the outrageous stories. It was a bell toll of a laugh, it's warmth dissolving the pent-up rigidness inside of me. My focus was on savouring every minute beneath the bruised sky, lips tingling from the sweets, our voices a cacophony in the still night.
Over the years it seemed that the pair had developed a concise route of the nearby streets containing the most homes that offered sweets. As promised, we skipped the houses with signs up requesting no visitors, and the majority of people who opened up their doors were clearly used to Taylor and Toby's annual visits, chatting away once they realised who was behind the masks and make-up.
Even so, Taylor knew when the half hour was drawing to a close, ushering Toby and I back to their street. (Toby was rather mournful at having to return home, despite managing to completely fill his pumpkin.)
When we got back, Amanda and Matt were sat waiting in the living room. A cheery air greeted us, flickers from the fire dancing along the walls and several bowls of misshapen popcorn pieces.
There was a flash of black, and Gizmo appeared, winding his way in between our legs.
"So, which film are we watching?" Matt asked, tilting his head back into the sunken top of the sofa as we traipsed in.
"Nightmare before Christmas!" Toby said, rushing towards the driftwood coffee table and exchanging his pumpkin container for the top DVD.
"Actually, the vote was two all, We need a tie-breaker," Taylor's voice dipped into a sigh as he flopped onto the same sofa that Matt was on. Nudged towards the sofa by Gizmo, I lowered myself far more tentatively than Taylor had. His and Toby's eyes were locked on me as I realised who was to be their tie-breaker. "What do you think Lily: Corpse Bride or Nightmare before Christmas?"
"Nightmare before Christmas!"
"Toby," Amanda said, tone firm despite her gentle pronunciation, "It'd be unfair to try and sway Lily's decision."
"Sorry Toby, but I have to go with Taylor on this one. I've never actually seen Corpse Bride before, so can we see that?" I said, feeling myself be comfortably absorbed into the sofa, Gizmo nestling down between our feet.
Whilst Matt set up the film, Amanda passed us the larger bowl of popcorn, gathering up the fallen blankets and folding them over the sofa's arm.
"Fancy a fort of cushions and blankets?" Taylor asked, and I nodded, tugging the knitted blanket over my legs and along to Taylor, who tucked the other edge into the sofa. Arranging the cushions my back rested upon, I found that in being enveloped by the sofa, the gap between Taylor and I had vanished.
The opening credits began to roll onscreen, and for a moment I wondered what I'd be doing right now if this had been the usual Halloween. I could taste the acrid scent of beer and aftershave at the thought of Dan with his tongue down my throat.
Instead I was here, cuddled up on a sofa, eating homemade popcorn with a family that weren't even my own.
"You okay?" Taylor's whisper crashed into my mind, and I was suddenly conscious of how tense I'd grown, shoulder rigid against his own relaxed shoulder.
I glanced across at him, studying the gaze that mellowed my knotted chest. Behind his whitewashed face, there was a compassion that made him seem so delicate, outstretching a fragile lifeline of care.
"Yeah," I murmured, tenderly resting back against him, "I am."
A/N: For anyone who hasn't seen Nightmare Before Christmas and/or Edward Scissorhands (both of which are highly recommended) the picture is of Barrel, who Toby dresses up as whilst the YouTube video is a clip of my favourite moment from Edward Scissorhands featuring Kim and Edward :)
YOU ARE READING
"If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it is a duck." Taylor Adams and Lily Baker: complete opposites in almost every sense. Taylor Adams: completely themselves when appearing and acting as androgynously as their name suggests, even if i...