There were times when Tulip O'Brien thought she actually liked Halloween more than Christmas. It was the one night of the year when Tulie thought everybody used their imaginations.
Usually Tulie's imagination was all she ever needed to dress herself up in all sorts of outfits. But for Halloween, she needed a real costume. Some years it had taken her weeks, even longer, to decide what her costume would be. Not this year. She knew exactly. And she wanted it to be a surprise so she didn't enlist help from Mom or Gran. But after working on it for a week, Tulie knew she needed an assistant, somebody who could keep a secret. That ruled out Brenda.
“But Tulie, I don't know how to sew. How can I help you?” asked Freddie.
“Silly! I'm not going to sew anything,” Tulie explained. “I tried that already using an old bedsheet for the material I thought I could dye in the washer. I guess sewing is harder than it looks. I think you need a pattern or something. Not very creative, if you ask me. So, anyway, I've got a much better idea. I'm going to make my costume out of crepe paper, pale blue crepe paper, just the right color. I just need you to hold parts of it together while I use the stapler. I'll do all the work.”
“You can't staple together a dress!”
“Honestly, Freddie! Do you think I'm stupid or something? I know that. Besides, I already tried. It didn't work out. I've got a better idea. I'm just going to staple the crepe paper to an old sundress of mine and just make the skirt real long and add some puff sleeves. That shouldn't be too hard.”
“I don't know. Well, I guess that could work. But I think tape would be better. Staples might tear the crepe paper.”
“See! You're already a big help! I knew you would be. All I need is an assistant.”
“Yeah, I guess you were right as usual, Tulie.”
The two friends worked on Tulie's costume every evening after school for a week. Freddie figured out how to make ruffles by stretching the edge of the crepe paper into ripples. Tulie was sure she would have thought of that herself if she wasn't so rushed. Then they started to lick and stick silver paper stars all over the full, flounced skirt of the crepe paper creation.
Suddenly Freddie stopped sticking and licking. “I think I got to go home. The taste of the glue is making my stomach feel kind of funny.”
“You do look sort of strange, a little bit green,” said Tulie. “Go ahead home, I'll finish the stars myself. I didn't think you were sticking them in the right places, anyway.”
When Freddie returned after school the next day, Tulie announced, “Now I need a white fur stole.”
“Where do you suppose you are you going to get white fur? I'm sure your mom and your gran don't have any furs around anywhere.”
“Who said it has to be real fur? Didn't you ever hear of fake fur? Remember how we learned to make those carnation flowers out of Kleenex? We'll make lots and lots of them, a hundred maybe, so they completely cover a long piece of crepe paper. It will look just like fuzzy white fur.”
“You think so?” asked Freddie, sounding a little dubious.
The tiara was much easier. Freddie cut it out of cardboard and Tulie spread glue all over it and dipped it into a dish of silver glitter. Tulie could just imagine how wonderful she was going to look trick or treating. She was happy when the costume was finished because the days before Halloween were going to be very busy.
* * *
Early Saturday morning, Tulie and Gran picked the twelve biggest pumpkins from the patch in the frost-covered garden, one for each window in the house.
Brenda, Freddie and Winsome arrived at noon and the fun began. They sat around the kitchen table that Gran had covered with newspaper and began by cutting lids in the pumpkins and scraping out the gooey, seedy insides. Then they drew faces on the pumpkins and started to carefully carve. All the while they worked, they tried to guess what each other's costumes were going to be on Halloween night.
“Brenda, I bet you're going as an ugly old witch,” Tulie teased, knowing full well that Brenda would be dressed-up just like she did every Halloween. She would be wearing some beautiful dress borrowed from her older sister, lots of jewelry and high-heeled shoes with the toes stuffed with tissue so they wouldn't fall off. Her mom's second-best church hat would top off the outfit. No surprise there, for sure.
“Freddie, I know you'll be coming as Count Dracula again because Halloween is the only time you get to wear that long black cape your mom made for the school play two years ago when we were all Pilgrims,” Tulie announced with confidence.
“Well then, you're going to have a big surprise, Miss Smarty O'Brien, because I'm not coming as Count Dracula!” Freddie said, but refused to say more.
Winsome had been very secret about her costume, but Tulie suspected she was dying to tell them. Halloween just had to be Winsome's favorite holiday, didn't it? Nobody liked dressing-up more than she did.
“Come on, Winsome, just give us a clue,” Tulie begged. She hated secrets unless they were her own, of course.
Winsome put down her carving knife and smiled. “Okay. I'll tell.”
Tulie tried to look surprised.
“I'm coming as my great grandmother in the red silk outfit she had when she was a bride in China!” Winsome said proudly.
Tulie was surprised. “Your own great grandmother? What kind of a Halloween costume is that?”
“I'm wearing it to honor my Asian heritage and I think it's a great costume.”
“So do I!” piped up Brenda so vehemently that Tulie was surprised at that, too.
Brenda and Winsome tried their hardest to guess Tulie's costume but they didn't even come close.
“I bet you're coming as somebody in a book,” guessed Brenda. “Maybe Jo from ÔLittle Women.'” You're always saying how much you're just like her.
“No, I think she would want to be somebody from history. Emily Earhart, that lady pilot she likes,” Winsome guessed.
“Amelia, not Emily.” Tulie corrected Winsome who just shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
Freddie pretended to guess, too. “Martha Washington! Daniel Boone! Bam-Bam Flintstone!” He had been sworn to secrecy and Tulie thought he was overdoing it with so many silly guesses.
Tulie just kept shaking her head. She wouldn't give any clues, and they ran out of guesses long before they finished their jack-o-lanterns. They each had tried to make their pumpkin the scariest. Tulie was the judge, of course, even through there was no prize.
“Freddie is the winner!” Tulie decreed after carefully examining each jack-o-lantern and offering her opinion.
“Brenda, I know that your jack-o-lantern is supposed to be a self-portrait, but it doesn't look anything like you,” Tulie said, shaking her head.
“I know. I'm not fat-faced like that,” Brenda replied, smugly.
“Winsome, I think you're too careful, too neat. Your jack-o-lantern needs more personality,” Tulie advised.
“I like it that way.”
Tulie sighed and rolled her eyes. Some people just insist on doing things their own way, even when it is so wrong. But it certainly wasn't her job to change them.
Freddie's victory was no big surprise because everybody knew he was the most artistic of them all. The face he carved out looked just like an alien creature from outer space with one mean eye and a mouth with teeth like a crocodile.
After her friends went home for lunch Tulie helped Gran make seventy-five candied apples. Her job was to wash and dry each apple and put the wooden stick into it. Then she would line the apples up in rows so Gran could dip them carefully into the bubbling hot red syrup and swizzle them around just so as she placed them one by one on wax paper covered trays. By the end of the afternoon every flat surface in the house was covered with trays of glistening red apples. The smell of cinnamon and cloves was everywhere and made Tulie's mouth water.
Before she went to bed that night, Tulie got to eat one of the apples in her capacity as the official taster. It was a Halloween tradition. Gran's apples had never, ever failed to pass the test, but Gran always pretended to be worried.
“Not too hard to bite, is it?” asked Gran.
Tulie shook her head.
“Crunchy enough, though?”
“Not too much cinnamon? Last year you said there was almost too much cinnamon, remember?”
Tulie just shook her head again in answer to Gran's question. She couldn't talk because her mouth was full of the wonderful sweet crackling candy coating and the deliciously tart juice of the apple. She swallowed and decreed, “Perfect! As usual, Gran.”
* * *
Tulip O'Brien was the town's biggest twelve-year-old worry wart and every year she worried about what the weather would be like on Halloween night. It might rain and spoil everything. Even worse, it could possibly snow! She knew that once, a long time ago when Mom was a little girl, there had been a blizzard on Halloween. So Tulie was happy when Halloween arrived and was not only dry, but warmer than usual, too. There was a wild wind blowing all day, but that was okay. It would make the night even more exciting. Leaves would whirl through the air like little twisters. Bare branches would wave and cast frightening shadows that anybody, not just Tulie, could imagine were horrible monsters reaching out to grab unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. Once night fell and clouds scuttled across the big yellow moon, it would be easy to forget they were on good old Butternut Street and imagine they were someplace scary like Transylvania.
Kids from all over town came to the O'Brien house trick-or-treating, not only because Gran made the best candy apples in Garfield, but also because they liked to be scared. Tulie and Gran had fun making their big old house look haunted. The fact that it needed painting helped a little, and so did the old torn white bed sheets hanging from the trees that could easily be mistaken for ghosts when it got dark. To make it look even spookier, Gran put a red bulb in the porch light and hung paper bats from strings all around. Tulie used black poster paint to draw spider webs on the windows and on them she pasted big spiders she made out of shiny paper and pipe cleaners.
This Halloween they had an especially scary trick up their sleeves. One day last summer Tulie had been riding her bike around town and saw an old store dummy in the dumpster behind Bannister's Department Store which was being gutted. She raced away and returned with her red wagon to transport the dummy back home. It stayed in the basement, waiting for Halloween. Gran sawed off its head even though she didn't like the job. Tulie liked her job of adding drops of red paint to look just like blood where the head used to be. Dressed in old black rags, the headless body stood next to the front door. The head, also spattered with plenty of red paint, was in an old cooking pot along with a rubber snake. On the lid of the pot was painted a warning. “Danger! Don't peek!” Of course every kid would do just that.
Tulie felt sorry for her Mom because she had to work the late shift at Wal-Mart, getting rid of the Halloween stuff and stocking the shelves for Christmas. But Mom never dressed-up anyway. Gran always did. The same costume, every Halloween. She wore a long black skirt, a big black sweater and a pointy witches' hat. She mussed-up her white hair and put green make-up all over her face. She would have scared the neighborhood kids if they didn't know it was Gran and if she didn't greet them all with a great big smile when she pretended to be frightened or surprised by the costumes they were wearing.
Gran had been handing out candy apples to the youngest neighborhood kids since twilight fell and Tulie went up to her room to get dressed. Looking at herself in the bedroom mirror, Tulie smiled. Her costume had turned out perfectly. Yes, she did look almost exactly like the beautiful fashion doll she had fallen in love with that night of Katherine Bannister's slumber party. Her gown may have been crepe paper, her fur was really Kleenex and her tiara cardboard, but the lipstick she wore was real and so was the blue eyeshadow she'd borrowed from Mom. She had tried to blow-dry her unruly curls into smooth waves and she had almost succeeded.
Tulie was making a final adjustment to Gran's not-quite-real pearl necklace when she heard familiar voices outside. Then a high-pitched scream. That had to be Freddie looking in the cooking pot. The fun was beginning!
The doorbell rang and Tulie could hear Gran's exclamations and her three friends chanting, “Trick or treat! Trick or treat!”
Gran shouted above the din. “Tulie, your friends are here! Come on down!”
From the top of stairs where she had paused for full effect, Tulie could see Brenda, Freddie and Winsome staring up at her. She looked down at the three of them, all in their costumes.
Winsome looked lovely in her great-grandmother's red outfit. She had two huge pink artificial peony flowers in her fancy braided hair-do. Her face was painted white with tiny red lips and golden eyeshadow.
Freddie wasn't Count Dracula after all, but he was wearing the long black cape. His face was half covered by a white mask that he had cut in two. “See, I'm the Phantom of the Opera!” he yelled out, twirling and flinging one side of his cape over his shoulder with a very theatrical flourish.
It was Brenda's outfit that was the big surprise. She was wrapped and draped in yards of material printed in bright yellow, red and green. Her head balanced a sky-high turban of the same material and she wore big hoop earrings and lots and lots of necklaces. Tulie had seen pictures in ÔNational Geographics' magazines of African women dressed the same way.
Brenda smiled at Tulie's surprised expression. “I thought that if Winsome was honoring her heritage, that I'd honor mine, too. My sister helped me with the turban,” she explained.
Tulie descended the stairs. She had to walk very carefully. Crepe paper wasn't cloth, after all and despite the fact that she and Freddie had used up four whole roles of Scotch Tape, she was a little worried.
“Who are you supposed to be?” asked Brenda. “A princess or a movie star, maybe?”
As Tulie reached the bottom of the stairs, Winsome exclaimed, clapping her hands together with delight. “I like, know who you are! You're totally Katherine Bannister's fashion doll, that's who you are!”
“Yes, Winsome's right. Don't you remember, Brenda? I told you about the beautiful doll in the pale blue gown. That's who I am.”
“I knew all along,” said Freddie. “I helped Tulie make it.”
“Yes, Freddie was my assistant, but I did most of it myself, of course.”
“And my, oh my, you look just gorgeous, Tulie dear,” said Gran as she handed out candy apples to Tulie's three friends. “Oh look, here come some more trick-or-treaters.”
Out of the darkness into the glow of the red porch light and the flickering candlelight from the jack-o-lanterns came a group of kids. Gran held the front door open and they all stepped out onto the porch to greet them. A witch, a skeleton, a clown and a hobo mounted the front steps, chanting, “Trick or treat!” They were followed by someone else and when Tulie saw the costume step into the porch light, she gasped.
So did Brenda.
So did Freddie.
So did Gran.
Only Winsome didn't. She just said. “Hi, Katherine.” And then she looked at Tulie. They all looked at Tulie.
Tulie didn't know what to do. She just stared, speechless. Katherine Bannister's costume was exactly like hers. Well, not exactly. Instead of pale blue crepe paper, her gown was pale blue velvet. Instead of silver paper stars, her gown was trimmed with sparkling sequins and her tiara twinkled with real rhinestones. She even had a white fur stole that was real too. Worst of all, her blonde hair was hidden by a wig of long, smooth red hair. Tulie and Katherine stood looking at each other. Nobody said a word. Not Brenda. Not Freddie. Not Winsome. Not even Gran.
Looking down at her crepe paper gown, Tulie's heart sank. Katherine looked like a real doll and she sure didn't. She felt that she looked like a stupid kid in a dumb, home-made paper dress. She could feel tears begin to burn at the back of her eyes and she certainly didn't want to cry in front of everybody. So she did the only other thing she could. She laughed. It wasn't a real laugh and she knew nobody was fooled. But everybody tried to laugh too.
“Oh Tulie, I think your costume is so much better than mine. It's so much moreÉmore creative,” Katherine said. “Crepe paper, isn't it? What a clever idea. And so much cheaper than velvet, isn't it? And I bet you made it all yourself, too, didn't you?”
Gran shoved a candy apple into Katherine's hand and said, “You'd better run along dear, your little friends are already next door and you don't want to lose them, do you?” Then Gran went into the house to get another tray of candy apples.
“Yeah, let's go,” said Freddie, taking Tulie's hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze as if to say he understood. Brenda, Freddie, Winsome, Katherine and the others started down the steps. Tulie stayed on the porch.
“Come on, Tulie,” said Brenda.
“No, you all go ahead. I'll catch up later. I've...I've got to stay a while and help Gran give out candy apples.”
“Well, I'll stay with you then,” said Freddie.
“Me, too!” said Brenda.
“And me!” added Winsome
“No, you go. Really,” said Tulie and waved them off. Without giving them a chance to say another word, she turned, went back into the house and closed the front door. Gran held out her arms and Tulie began to cry as she walked into a comforting hug. “This is the most horrible Halloween of my life,” she whispered.
“There, there,” was all Gran said as she patted Tulie on the back.
* * *
When Mom came home from work that night Tulie knew she was surprised. She also knew Mom would guess something bad had to have happened to keep Tulie at home on her favorite night of the fall.
“Why aren't you out trick-or-treating with your friends?”
“I wanted to help Gran instead,” Tulie fibbed. “There were so many kids this year,” she added.
“Well, why aren't you wearing the costume you made?”
“Oh, I decided it was too uncomfortable, so I took it off.”
“But I haven't even seen it. You said you were going to surprise us. You were keeping it such a big secret. I've been waiting to see it.”
“I threw it away already.”
“You threw it away?” Mom asked, looking concerned. Tulie looked to Gran for help and Gran came to her rescue as she always did.
“Come in to the kitchen, Rose dear, your dinner's in the microwave,” she said to Mom. She turned to Tulie and with a sly wink, said “Tulie, it's late. You better run along to bed. Don't forget to brush your teeth especially well tonight. Those candy apples are the dentist's delight! You must have eaten at least three.”
Tulie flashed Gran a grateful look and raced upstairs. She thought she wouldn't have to explain herself to her mom. But she was wrong.
A half-hour later, she was tucked in bed, but she was still wide awake, re-reading “The Railway Children.” Whenever she was feeling sorry for herself it was the book she always chose because no matter how bad things were for her, things were worse for the three kids in the story.
“Are you still awake, honey?” Her mother's voice came with a knock on the bedroom door.
“Yes, Mom. Come on in,” replied Tulie who knew she in for one of those mother-daughter talks that always made her feel like a very foolish, very little girl. There was no getting out of it.
Mom sat down on the edge of the bed and picked up the book that Tulie had closed and tried unsuccessfully to tuck under the covers. “Feeling sorry for ourselves, are we?” she asked. It wasn't really a question. Tulie just nodded. Mom took Tulie's hands in hers. “Gran told me what happened and I know you must have felt bad. You worked so hard on your costume. I'm sure it was wonderful. I'm sorry I wasn't home to see you come down the stairs all dressed-up. Gran said you looked beautiful.”
“She just said that to be nice because she's my grandmother. Katherine's gown was beautiful. Mine was awful!” Tulie said, and she could feel her chin start to tremble. “I tore mine into a million pieces and I'm glad I did. I hate it! I hate it! I'm never going to dress-up for Halloween again as long as I live. Never!”
“Now, now, Tulie. This is nothing to get so upset about. Why, I'm sure two kids have often turned up in the same Halloween costume. It's not the end of the world.”
“You don't understand. It's not just the costumes.”
“What is it then, Tulie?”
“Katherine Bannister has everything andÉand, andÉit's just not fair!” Tulie could feel her face crumple as the tears ran and so did her nose. Mom reached out and held her tight, stroking Tulie's hair just the way she always did when Tulie needed calming down.
“Katherine may be privileged but from what you've told me, she doesn't seem to be the nicest girl around. You'll learn that when people aren't nice, it's usually because they aren't happy. Having things doesn't make you happy.”
“I'd be happy if I had just one of the things Katherine has.”
“Here now, wipe your eyes and blow your nose.” Mom handed Tulie a Kleenex. “A pony isn't going to make you happy, Tulie,” she said, slowly shaking her head.
“Who wants a stinky old pony? Or a stupid flat screen TV. She can keep those, I don't want them. All I want is that fashion doll, the one in the blue dress with the silver stars!”
“Oh, so that's what this whole costume fuss is really about, is it?” Mom asked as she raised her eyebrows and smiled a little.
Tulie just nodded. She looked down at the covers, ashamed of herself for sounding so selfish.
“I thought you said you were too old for dolls and that's why you gave all yours away to the church rummage sale last year.”
“This doll isn't to play with! She's to look at and dress-up in all kinds of beautiful clothes and tiny hats and gloves and little shoes, too. She's like a real grown-up lady, not a doll for little girls.”
“Well, she sounds wonderful, dear, but expensive, too.”
“I looked her up on the Internet on the library computer and for a hundred dollars you get the doll and the blue velvet gown and all the accessories.”
“A hundred dollars. For a toy?”
“I know that's a lot, Mom. But I've got the money I've saved from my allowance and Daddy will be sending me some money for Christmas like he did last year and if I don't ask for anything elseÉ”
“Now Tulie, you know your Dad's been out of work for a while so I don't think you should count on much from him this Christmas.”
“But Mom, Christmas is coming and the doll is all I want!” Tulie blurted out her wish and immediately wished she hadn't. She had intended to wait for the right moment to tell Mom and she knew this wasn't it.
“Tulie, you know we don't have that kind of money to squander on foolishness,” Mom said firmly.
“No buts about it. And besides, I thought you wanted a computer. Now that's a really expensive gift too, but one that's useful. I'm not making any promises mind you, but Gran and I have been talking about it. Seriously talking. Mrs. Mosher, your nice librarian lady, called me herself a few weeks ago to tell me that the school is getting new computers after Christmas and she thought I might be able to buy one of the old ones for you, second-hand. Now that would be a really wonderful present, wouldn't it?
“Sure Mom,” Tulie said and tried to sound like she meant it.
Her mom kissed Tulie on the cheek and pulled the quilt up to her chin. She put the book on the bedside table and turned out the light. “Sleep tight, darling,” she whispered.
Tulie closed her eyes but she clearly saw the doll in the pale blue gown waving good-bye to her, good-bye forever.