Each year since 2004 I've had a story to share for Halloween, because it's a significant date for me. By the skin of my teeth, this year's it's another Tawnholme story, for a little Halloween sweetness...



On days like this, Tank didn't mind his job. The winter sun was bright and clear, though it was shining in his eyes now he was getting to the end of his shift. There was no one to stop hum from listening to his music as he swept and shovelled the dry leaves and discarded crisp packets out of the gutters, and the small square of ragged grass at the end of the cul-de-sac he was working his way towards was both practically the end of his route, and one of his favourite places for people watching.

Typically, working as a street cleaner didn't give him the best opportunities for people watching: when he was assigned the park route, he had to keep his head down and work quickly, and however much the sound of small children shrieking was like nails on a chalkboard for him, there was a strict rule against wearing headphones around the play areas, after an incident long before he started working for the council when someone had run their cleaning trolley into some baby's pram while "driving distracted". They did have a certain amount of unwieldy momentum, once you got them moving. Most of the other street-beats were equally busy, but more likely to bring him into contact with people sleeping rough - who he tried not to disturb, but he still felt guilty about intruding on them - or drinking in the street, which he was obliged to log and report at the end of his shift, but this quieter route, looping through two housing estates, was different.

The estates were laid out in a series of interlocking dead-end roads, with pedestrian cut throughs, and pockets of green space where the older kids still played out, during half term and holidays. The number of cans and bottles Tank would pick up on his weekly rounds suggested that the street drinkers did also make use of the battered benches, but he'd never once, in just over a year, run in to any of them there, and the greens were largely free of popper vials and the like, with as many pop bottles as beer cans.

The greens gave him a chance to park his trolley, and wander around, picking into a pair of black and orange waste bags, which helped with the ache between his shoulder blades, and also meant he could get away with looking at the houses and maisonettes that surrounded the green. Some of it was genuinely just that Tank was pretty nosy - one of the few saving graces to being out over winter was that people often had their lights on but the curtains open, giving him a glimpse into their kitchen, or the living room. His favourite, though, was because of a certain resident, who seemed to have spent much of the summer sitting out on the fire escape that led from the back of his flat to the yard below.

Tank tried not to be a creeper, but with a really fit guy sunbathing in the skimpiest of shorts on a rainbow throw, right where people can see him, it was hard not to even look, so even if it made him feel a bit guilty, Tank looked. And then, back when the summer had been stupid-hot and he'd been sweating his way around his route, mentally cursing whoever had decided - no doubt while sitting in an air-conditioned office - that operatives couldn't go sleeveless, let along shirtless, under their hi-vis, this guy had been like something out a diet coke ad, only in reverse, where the ridiculously good-looking ripped person was the one handing out the cold drinks, not the one drinking them. Three weeks in a row, through the heatwave, he'd called over to Tank while Tank was litter-picking, asked if he'd like a drink, and then thrown down a fridge-cold bottle of water. That's when Tank realised he was really sunk - his nameless crush was not only hot like fire, he was thoughtful and generous as well.

They hadn't spoken since then, but Tank always looked for him. Not that the guy was there every week. Maybe he'd been on holiday over the summer, or he worked in a school or something. He'd been there every week for a while. and then not for a couple of weeks, but occasionally he'd be there, sometimes drinking a mug of something he'd raise to Tank as a wordless hello,, and other times there would be signs he was around - laundry hanging out, or the door open and music playing when Tank took his headphones out. The guy seemed to like the oldies station, and a couple of weeks ago, Tank had heard him singing along to "Hungry Like the Wolf". He had a decent voice. .

Tank rolled his cart up against the wall of the block that formed the near edge of the green space, and straightened up, rolling his shoulders and looking around. The air was still cold, but the sun was strong enough to feel it warming his face. The place didn't look too shabby, but the wind had collected mounds of leaves and light-weight litter in the corners, and around the base of the benches. Tank looked over to the all-important fire escape balcony, and his smile faltered. The door was shut, and there was no sign there was anyone home.

Tank sighed, and made himself start getting his bags attached to their hoops. He knew it was dumb to get so invested in some random guy, but that didn't change the fact that he was. He wasn't the most social of guys - he had mates, but between their weekly night down the pub, he could go all day without talking to anyone except the depot crew or his Dad - and of those mates, most of them were straight, which means there was some stuff they just didn't get, and the ones who weren't were so stupidly, smuggly partnered, hanging out with them just made Tank feel lonelier.

Tank turned the volume up on his phone, and grabber in hand, walked over to the benches, and started picking up the large stuff - a squashed two-litre bottle of coke with the last third or so sloshing around in it, a clutch of supermarket own-brand beer cans, an abandoned scarf still sodden from last-night’s rain.

When he looked up, the guy was standing by his cleaning cart, hands full of shopping bags, but standing hip-shot, like he’d been there a while, watching.

Tank clumsily pawed one of his earbuds out. “Hey! I didn’t hear you.” he said.

The guy smiled at him. “You looked pretty deep in thought - didn’t want to startle you.”

“Sorry. Am I in your way?”

The guy shook his head. “Far from it. I was just about to start decorating, and you’re here doing all the hard work for me.”
“Decorating?” Tank asked. He felt awkward, and off-balance.

“For Halloween,” the guy said, with an upward inflection that made it sound like a question. “I love Halloween, and there are so many kids around here. I figured I could turn this green into trick-or-treat central, and no one would …” he trailed off, his smile fading a little “You’re not going to tell me that the council would need me to get a permit or something, are you?”

Tank was already shaking his head before he even started to think through the answer. “No way - that sounds really cool.” and then, once his brain started working. “Well, not unless you’re planning on holding a market or charging for parking anyway, and unless one of your neighbours complains, how would they even know?”

His smile was back. “So, you’re not going to tell on me, then?”

Tank risked a smile back, and mimed zipping his lips. “Nothing to report here,” he said with a wink.

“Only ‘cos I haven’t started yet. Come back in an hour or so and it will be a different story.”

“Oh, yeah?”

The guy stooped and put down his collection of bulging bags. “I think I have enough spooky shizle in here to make a dent, yes, and I’ve already got the playlist set up. There’s a smoke machine back in my flat, and a literal cauldron of sugar and e-numbers to go with it. This is going to be the place to be for the five-to-twelve age bracket once it gets dark.”

Tank couldn’t help from smiling as the guy counted off the elements of his preparations on long, elegant fingers. He couldn’t help but notice that the guy had his nails painted a glossy black.

“Sounds like it,” he said. “You going to have time to get it all set up, though? It’s going to be dusk pretty soon.”

The guy made an exaggerated wince. “Yeah - I got a bit carried away, looking for the last few things, but - it’ll be fine.”

“If you want, I could help for a bit?”

“Dude, seriously? Because that would be awesome. I can’t ask you to do that, though.”

“Dude,” Tank echoed. “You didn’t. I offered. I can do whatever you need for the next little bit - no one’s going to care ten minutes either way when I take the cart back to the drop spot. You could even say it’s part of my job - making the streets a nicer place to be.”

“That is so awesome of you. Thank you!. I’m James, by the way.” He stepped out of his pile of bags, and offered Tank his hand. His handshake was firm, his hand warm and dry against Tank’s. “I never asked your name before - is that weird?”

“I go by Tank.” Tank waved away the idea of anything being weird because if he stopped now for introspection he would no doubt say or do something embarrassing. “What can I start with?”

For the next twenty minutes, Tank and James worked side by side, hanging ghost and bat bunting around the sides of the green, and stretching scratch fake spider- web fluff over the fire escape. Tank tried not to get too nosy when James opened his back door, and started ferrying out three flat boxes of pre-carved pumpkins, which he instructed Tank to arrange down both sides of the stairs and around the benches, while James set up the dry-ice machine he’d borrowed. All the while, James kept up a steady stream of easy conversation, and Tank mostly managed to forget that this was his unobtainable crush he was working alongside. Mostly - it was pretty hard to ignore his ass in those perfectly tight jeans when he was crouched down right in Tank’s eyeline like that.

“Hey, man. I’m gonna have to head out,” Tank said eventually, a good ten minutes later than he should have done if he was going to finish his route anything like on time. “I need to get back to work.”

“Oh, shoot,” James didn’t swear, and that, too, made Tank smile. “I didn’t make you late, did I? I don’t want you to get in trouble with your boss or anything.”

“You didn’t make me anything. I’m happy to lend a hand. You’re doing a good thing, here.”

James’ smile was worth whatever ribbing he was going to get when he clocked out late.

“You should come back later - see your hard work in action,” James said, and then put his hand over his mouth. “Sorry. That was being pushy, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know. Was that an invitation, or an order?” Cos if you’re inviting me to come back and watch you hand out sweets to kids, I might actually say yes. I’ve got nothing else planned for tonight. “

“For real? ‘Cos - yeah. That’s kind of what I meant. I feel like I owe you a couple of beers or something for helping out, and, yeah. Um. You’re invited?”

James’ flustered sentence finally wound down, and Tank wanted to reach out and touch, but went for the safer option of keeping his reassurance purely verbal.

“In that case, I’ll see you in about an hour - I’ll need to nip home and get out of my work gear.”

“Any time’s good. I plan on sitting out here for a while.”

“”Okay then.”

“Okay.”

Tank made himself actually start moving then, however tempting it was to stand there and just stare into James’ eyes, the thought that James was inviting him to come back and hang out ringing round and round in his mind.

*****

The next time Tank found himself walking down that stretch of pavement, it was cold, and crisp and dark, and he could hear the Adams Family theme song playing faintly behind the chatter of kids voices. There were four or five clusters of them working their way up and down the street, with pumpkin lanterns glowing in many windows, and when he turned the corner onto the greens, there was a trio of tiny witches clambering up the fire escape, loot buckets in hand, trying not to trip over their trailing cobwebby skirts. Tank was momentarily glad that James had chosen to light his pumpkins with LEDs and not real candles.

“Trick or treat,” they chorused, once they were all on the top step.

“Boo!” James boomed, whirling around with a black cape swirling around him, and lunged towards the girls, making them squeak, and then break out in giggles when, instead of grabbing for one of them, they realised he was offering them a cauldron of chocolate bars and other treats. His face was made up undead-white, with blood red lips, and dark eyes.

The three witches rummaged and took their choices, and then started back down the staircase.

“Girls…” came a warning voice from the shadows at the bottom of the stairs, and Tank realised that there was a teenage witch waiting for them there, and he’d been so focused on watching James he hadn’t even noticed.

Their grown up didn’t need to say anything more - all three witches turned and scampered back to the top to say “thank you” and “Happy Halloween”, and then trotted back down to join her.

“Happy Halloween, wierd sisters,” James replied. “And no hexes, please!”

The littlest witch turned round to wave once more, and Tank could hear one of the others ask their grown up “what’s a hex, Anna?”, as they walked towards the next house.

“Happy Halloween, yourself!” Tank called up, and was gratified to see James smile down at him.

“Come up!” James invited, although Tank already had his foot on the first step. “You came back!”

Tank had had butterflies since he’d made himself push his cart away, but something about the way James was just so openly and transparently glad to see him soothed them away.

“You did invite me,” Tank said, and realised he was probably grinning like a loon. “I think you said something about beer? Although I distinctly don’t remember anything about costumes.”

He’d reached the top of the stairs, and with James standing on the to step, and him one down, he had to look up to meet James’ eye. He wasn’t used to looking up at people.

“It’s Halloween - of course I have a costume.” James pushed the cauldron of sweets towards Tank. “You take these, I’ll be right back. Beer, right?”

“Please.” Tank readjusted his grip on the cauldron - just below half empty, he noticed - and stepped up onto the deck area. James had pulled two kitchen chairs out, and covered them both with black fabric, so they just looked like lumps under the streetlights and lanterns, and there was a life-size skeleton propped up against the window behind them.

James had also vanished further into the house than just the small galley kitchen by the back door, and after a few seconds of hovering, Tank decided to turn around, and look out over the cul-de-sac below, so he wasn’t staring after him like a dog tied up outside a shop looking for it’s human. There didn’t seem to be any immediate risk of more trick-or-treaters, so he settled the sweets on the floor, and just took a moment to breathe.

“Hey.” James reappeared, right behind him. He had a can of beer in one hand, and a wide-brimmed hat in the other. “So, um, instant costume?” James twisted the hat over, and Tank spotted the bandana tucked inside it. “You’ve got a kind of Firefly vibe going already with the long coat…”

“We just met, and you want me to play dress up with you?” Tank found himself teasing. “Which is a hell, yeah, by the way. Hand it over.”

It was easy. Easy to stand, and talk about geeky TV shows, and super-heroes, and people’s awesome or awful costumes. Easy to pull up the chairs, when the gaps between groups of costumed kids grew longer, to kill another beer, grab a handful of snacks from the cauldron, and keep talking. Easy to smile as James told stories, his hands working overtime as his gestures got bigger and more fluid, the more into his stories he got. This one time, when he was roadying for a band. This one time, when he was on some farm in the middle of nowhere for Halloween and would have sworn he’d seen a real, actual ghost. This one time when he was in Greece, and his then-boyfriend had totally believed some scam artist’s tall tales about a haunted hotel and they ended up sleeping on the floor in the airport. This one time, when his sister had let him watch Steven King films when he was nine, and he hadn’t been able to sleep alone for a week. This one time …

Tank lifted his hand to cover his mouth, and yawned so wide his jaw cracked.

“Dude, what time is it?” He yawned again. “I’m so sorry.” He realised that he’d just interrupted James’ story. “I’m not - it’s just...” he waved his hand, trying to generally cover everything, while yawning for a third time. This time it made his eyes water.

“Shoot!” James had pulled out his phone. “It’s, like, ten to midnight! I had no idea. It was, like, six o’clock five minutes ago.”

Tank shifted in his chair, and realised that he was stiff, and cold, although the bandana was keeping his neck warm.

“I have got to be at work in eight and half hours.” Tank just said the first thing that came into his mind. “But I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than right here,” he added, before James could get the wrong idea. “I’ve - thank you for inviting me to come and hang out.”

James waved him off. “Other way - thank you for coming over. I’ve wanted to had the chance to chat with you for a while. Which makes me sound like a crazy stalker, which I’m not, but - shutting up now. “

Tank smiled. Over the past few hours Tank had come to realise that James was not only hot like fire, he was thoughtful and generous and a massive, awkward dork with not much going on in the way of filter between brain and mouth somehow, and yet still, somehow, three hundred percent cooler than he was.

James made a show of zipping his mouth, and standing up, rolling his muscled shoulders.

Tank stood up, too. Much as he didn’t want too, now he’d realised the time, he could feel the tiredness of a long day weighing over him like a stone blanket, and he really did have to be at work tomorrow - soon to be today.

Before he could step away, though, and start saying goodbye, James reached out, and brushed his fingers over the back of Tank’s hand. Tank froze.

“So, um, while it’s still Halloween,…” James took a deep breath. “Trick or treat?

“Treat?” Tank said, in a whisper, hardly daring to hope.

The cold night air had a charge to it, and then James was moving, leaning in to him, and his fingers hooked around Tank’s, and their lips met, quietly, like a question, and then again, more firmly, when Tank tilted his head into the kiss.

“Mmmm - the best kind of treat,” Tank whispered into the space between them when James pulled back, not letting go of his hand. “Can I have another?”

~ fin ~

No beta readers to thank for this one, as life conspired to have me writing to the wire - even more so than last year looking at the posting stamp, but - here we are. Another year, another story, and a promise kept. My apologies for any mistakes.


If you're interested in reading the previous stories I've posted as Halloween gifts they are:

1) Dream Come True (2004)
2) Thirteen Kisses (2005)
3) All Souls (2006)
4) Favour ($0.99) & two free snippets Soar and Raining Cats (2007)
5) Tradition (2008)
6) Everything changes (2009)
7) It’s not the dead that haunt graveyards (2010)
8) Here Comes The Rain (2011)
9) Mellow Mists (2012)
10) Sunset Starts (2013)
11) Unexpected Callers (2014)
12) Energy (2015)
13) According to Plan (2016)
14) Tricky treats (2017)

You'll find these and other seasonally appropriate snippets under 'seasonal : autumn' in the tags list

(If I was doing this as a promotional thing, I would have picked a less popular date, because there's an awful lot of fabulous fiction being released for Halloween - more of it every year - but I'm doing this because it's a significant date for me, so, thank you, everyone who reads this, and twice thanks to those of you who let me know that you did.)
konsectatrix: (Default)

From: [personal profile] konsectatrix


<3 This one is very sweet. I like how observant and conscientious Tank is, and how clear the setting.
brandywine28: (hunx)

From: [personal profile] brandywine28


I enjoyed this! It's lovely and sweet and I like that it really evokes the feel of Halloween without being terrifying. (I've had enough scary for one year.)

The tentative flirting is awesome -- just awkward enough to feel real. :)
pensnest: bright-eyed baby me (Default)

From: [personal profile] pensnest


Lovely and atmospheric, a nice gentle romantic story, which is just the kind I like.

You've missed turning off the italics after the place to be for the five-to-twelve age bracket once it gets dark.”
.

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