Halloween night, we approached Rene’s neighborhood slowly and carefully due to the many groups of children out on the streets. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were decorated, some simply with a jack o’ lantern or two on their front porch, some elaborately with entire nightmare scenes in their small front yards — molded plastic skeletons hung from trees like puppets, mock headstones planted in the grass, or in one inventive scene, a woman dressed as a witch who stirred an enormous pot that billowed smoke made by dry ice. The children were dressed as ghosts and witches, with a fairy princess here or a horned demon there. Driving slowly as we were, with the roof of the Jaguar down, we could hear their cheerful cries of “Trick or treat!” when the homeowner answered the doorbell.
Wedged between Noel and I in the front seat of the Jaguar, Caleb watched the children with wide eyes. His hand crept into mine and I gave it a squeeze. “There will be other children at the party,” I said, which I had told him before but it never hurt to say it again. “They’re Mr. Rene’s nieces and nephews, and his friends’ children, and they’re very nice. And Uncle Noel and I will always be where you can easily find us, if you need to. Okay?”
He squeezed my hand back and nodded. Okay.
Noel found a place to park the Jaguar around the corner from the Gaspard house. We walked down the block, Caleb between us and holding both our hands as Noel carried Caleb’s sword and hobby horse, and I carried his shield and our masks. We could hear the music from the party from three houses away, and the house itself was ablaze with light. The front walk was lined with jack o’lanterns, their eyes and toothy mouths flickering with candle light.
A sign pinned to the front door bade us to COME ON IN!!! but we paused first, to get Caleb’s sword belted around his waist and for Noel and I to put on our dragon masks. As I tied Noel’s mask around his head, he said quietly to me, “And if I need you, shall I come find you too?”
“Always,” I said, and we entered the house.
Despite our masks and the sheer number of people inside — neighbors, friends, Gaspards by the score — Rene spotted us as we lingered uncertainly by the door. “Sarge!” he cried and came to shake my hand with both of his. “Welcome, welcome. Happy Halloween.” He beamed down at Caleb, and Caleb gave him a cautious smile in return as he clung to Noel’s trouser leg.
I said, “Rene, this is Noel Thibodeaux and Caleb Thibodeaux,” and he shook hands with Noel, too.
“Welcome, Mr. Thibodeaux, young Master Thibodeaux. Come on in. Do you want to eat first or socialize a bit first?”
“Socialize, I would think,” I said, and looked at Noel for confirmation.
“Caleb may need something to eat soon,” Noel said. “It’s about our usual suppertime.”
“Of course,” said Rene and called over his shoulder, “Angelique!” As she came out of the party to join us, dressed in the brightly-colored skirts and scarves of a fortune teller, he explained, “We have a meal arranged for the children and buffet for the adults. Everyone should get fed before much longer.”
Angelique joined us, slipping her arm through Rene’s, and I was glad to see she didn’t react with the usual start when she saw me. Rene said to her, “Noel and Caleb Thibodeaux, ma belle. I think Caleb would like to play some games before we get out supper, don’t you?”
“I think he would,” she said and held out her hand. “Will you come with me, Caleb?”
He looked at Noel, and Noel said, “We’ll come get you when it’s time to go home, peanut. Or you can always ask Miss Angelique to find us if you need us, like Mr. Malcolm said.”
Caleb hitched his shield on his arm and put his hand in Angelique’s, and she took him into a hallway off the main set of rooms. “Drinks now,” Rene said to us. “Come on. The beer is cold and the music’s hot.” He guided us into the party too, stopping often to say to other guests, “You remember Malcolm Carmichael, oui? This is Noel Thibodeaux,” so we could shake hands and say hello.
In the courtyard behind the house, the party was in full swing. People danced to a zydeco band, or ate from paper plates piled high with food from a long buffet table. The air was rich with the scent of barbecue on the grill, and at both ends of the table were washtubs filled with ice and bottles of beer. It was still warm despite it being the end of October, so different from the chilly autumns I remembered in San Francisco. Many of the adults around us were in costume — southern belles and dandies, witches, scarecrows, cats — but I was glad to see that Noel and I were not the only ones who had opted to costume ourselves as simply as possible, if not wear street clothes outright.