Our pillowcases are already heavy with candy by the time we reach the stucco house on the corner. Candace and I exchange glances beneath our cat masks – this is a house we need to skip.
We try to be subtle, continuing past the house’s inflatable jack-o’-lantern and plastic headstones as if no one was home.
Of course, Dad notices. “Honey? You missed one.”
We stop, my heart sinking.
“We don’t want to go to that one.”
“Why not? Look at all the decorations they have!”
“We just don’t.”
Candace’s dad studies the house. “Who lives there?” He uses a lower pitch, the tone that tells me that just because I can hear him, it doesn’t mean he was asking me. He leans toward my dad. “Are they…weird?”
My dad rolls his eyes. “A dentist lives there.”
“Ah. Sugar-free gum?”
Dad raises an eyebrow at me. I’ve been trying to get my eyebrow to do that so I can make that face back at him sometimes, but it doesn’t work yet. It wouldn’t matter, anyway – he wouldn’t be able to see it under my mask.
“Every house, Bella. Unless you’re ready to go home?”
I sigh. Now I’m glad he can’t see the face I’m making, or he would definitely take me home. “No…”
“Then go do your thing.”
I nod my cat-eared head in agreement and walk with Candace up the cracked concrete steps to the dentist’s house. The only other kids are at least three houses away. Everyone knows to skip Dr. Ferris’ house. Either their parents don’t let them trick-or-treat here, or they don’t care if their kids skip it.
I wish my dad didn’t care.
The door opens and there’s Dr. Ferris, wearing his scrubs like it’s a costume, smiling widely. His teeth are weirdly white.
“Well, hello, girls.” He picks up the neon green plastic bowl full of gum and holds it out to us.
“Trick-or-treat,” we say obediently.
“Your costumes look great.” He curls the fingers of his free hand into claws and meows at us.
Candace snatches a piece of gum and backs away. There’s only room for one of us at a time, so I can’t leave yet, I have to be polite and reach in and grab some gum, but when I do Dr. Ferris grabs my hand.
“You don’t want that flavor,” he says quietly. “There’s some bubblegum in there. You just gotta dig for it.”
I pull my hand away. “This is fine.”
And we run down the walkway. We usually run – trick-or-treating takes way too long if you don’t – but I’m running faster than Candace now, and the back of my neck feels prickly, like I’m an actual cat with my fur standing up.
“What did you get?” Dad knows we only get gum here, and I’m mad at him for not letting us skip it, for Dr. Ferris’ weird smile, for not coming up the walkway with us, for not seeing.
My face is hot under my mask. I fish the gum out of my pillowcase and shove it at him.
“Bubblegum? I thought you liked bubblegum.”
“I don’t want it.”