Leaves fell, and the ghosts came out.
I was sitting on the porch of my friend Marsha’s house. Her parents were away for the Halloween weekend, and she was throwing a party.
Some zombies roamed up, carrying beer. As they passed, I could already smell alcohol reeking from them.
I turned my head away in disgust. A gust of wind soared by, making the fallen leaves dance. The air was dry and brisk. Stale.
I shivered involuntarily and wished for something warm to drink. Something that most definitely wasn’t a pumpkin spice latte.
“There you are, Liv!” Marsha was suddenly beside me, dressed as a she-devil. “You’re missing out. Come inside.”
“I’m okay out here.”
“You’re not having any fun. And you look cold. Come on!” She hauled me inside.
It was much louder and party-like indoors. We passed a group of goblins guzzling alcohol from funnels. Vodka assaulted my nostrils.
We squeezed by a group of people dancing. I smelled sweat. Disgusting. I already wanted to be back outside.
Then we neared a group of witches who were drinking various warm drinks. Ciders, teas… lattes.
A hint of a certain latte grazed my nose, and my stomach turned.
Marsha steered me away from the girls.
Then I could breathe normally again. The smell had dissipated, but the memory associated with it had not.
“Sorry,” Marsha said as we entered her lilac-smelling room. She closed the door behind us, muffling the party. “I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t know they’d make…” She didn’t have to say more.
Since that fall night two years ago, I couldn’t be near a pumpkin spice latte without wanting to retch.
“Are you okay? Just wanted to check on you.”
I nodded numbly. We both knew I didn’t want to be there. But my parents had pushed me to get out of the house and socialize. I hadn’t been very social since the night of the car accident.
An image of my old best friend, Ben, flashed through my mind. I saw glass breaking. His body crashing through the windshield.
I pushed the image away, clutching my pink dress tightly. Then I realized Marsha had been talking. “What?”
“I said I know you’re uncomfortable, and you can chill in here until your Mom picks you up.”
I nodded again. Since the car accident, my parents hadn’t let me drive anywhere.
Not that I’d wanted to.
“You okay alone? You can read my new magazines.” She gathered a stack and handed them to me.
“I’ll check back in a bit, okay?” She left.
I riffled through the magazines. Fashion. Lifestyle. Food and drink. I tossed them aside when that latte was featured. Just the thought of the smell alone made me nauseous.
The door swung inward, and a knight tromped in. He saw me and was startled. “Oh — sorry. Thought this room was empty. Needed to clear my head.”
“Party too much for you too?”
“I’m not really a party person.” Not since Ben died.
“Mind if I mope with you?”
I waved a hand at the floor. “Be my guest.”
The knight sat nearby and took off his helmet. Stark black hair fell across his green eyes. He brushed it back. “That thing is like an oven, I swear. Do you have the same issue?” He gestured at my long Rapunzel wig.
“You’ve no idea.” I pulled the wig off. My head felt cool again.
“Where you from?”
“Grant. You?” I hadn’t seen him before.
“Ah, a rival,” I teased. Our schools had been big rivals at sports for years.
“I think a knight is allowed to rescue a pretty maiden, even if she’s a rival.”
“Who says maidens need rescuing?” I was still teasing, but I felt like I needed to be rescued.
We talked for the next few hours about everything and yet nothing. I hadn’t smiled or laughed so much since Ben…
And there it was again. That night that haunted me. I saw the deer dart in front of the car and Ben hit the brakes. His seatbelt had broken. Mine had held. But my pumpkin spice latte flew everywhere, coating everything with its hot, sticky stench.
Marsha appeared in the doorway. “Liv, your mom’s here… but I want to talk to you for a sec.”
I knew that look. She wanted to talk to me about the knight. Phillip.
“It was nice meeting you.” Phillip stood, grabbing his helmet. “Um, I’m going to leave something for you on the counter downstairs. You won’t miss it.”
“Okay, thanks?” I was curious.
Marsha shut the door behind him. “Tell me everything! What’s his name?”
“That sounds like a knight’s name!”
Marsha smiled at the sound.
I briefed her on Phillip, and we headed downstairs. Marsha said goodbye and hurried off to say some other goodbyes. Most people had already left. I wished for a last glance of Phillip, but didn’t see him.
I smelled it before I saw it.
And there it sat. A pumpkin spice latte. Taunting me. Mocking me.
I moved closer and saw Phillip’s name and phone number scribbled on it.
He doesn’t know, I reminded myself. But it still stung.
I hesitated, staring long and hard at the cup. Could I just memorize his phone number?
But then I heard Mom’s distinct car horn honking and knew my time was up. I had to make a choice.
I quickly grabbed it and walked out the door.
I climbed into Mom’s car.
“Hey, sweetie, did you have fun? Oh — I thought you didn’t drink those anymore.”
“I don’t.” But maybe someday I could again. Just holding it and getting accustomed to the smell was a first, albeit small, step to take. I couldn’t let Ben’s death consume me. I couldn’t let a mere scent ruin my life.
Sometimes the maiden had to make a choice to save herself.
T.K. James has been writing stories since she was a child and knew she wanted to be an author by second grade. She graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Writing. Most of her free time is spent at home, writing and reading. She also devotes time to playing video games, which influences her writing. This is her first published work.