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     “Can I ask you something Nick?”

     “You just did,” Nick said and looked over at his passenger, his best friend Megan. She responded with her bitchy resting face, aka her BRF.

     Nick cringed and said, “Not as amusing when someone else does it to you?”

     Megan didn’t answer.

     “What’s your question?” He asked.

     “Why do you always let people cut ahead of you?”

     “I do?”

     “Yes. Like just now, you could have gone but you let that person turn first.”

     Nick shrugged as he turned into the parking lot. He drove straight and parked at the end, his car facing the field ahead.

     “If I let them go, then they’re not really cutting right?”

     “Technically not.”

     “Just me being nice I guess. I’m usually not in a rush, so what’s the big deal of a few extra seconds?”

     “If I were to add up and calculate all those ‘extra few seconds’,” Megan said while using air quotes, “You’d be shocked at how much time you’ve lost.”

     “Time that I could use to play online video games?”

     Megan stared at him, still not amused.

     “It’s my method of relaxation,” she finally said.

     “Pretending to be an elf?”

     “Oh ye of limited knowledge,” Megan mumbled.

     “Clarissa said something about finding a genie?”

     Megan turned to look at him, about ready to smile, when he said, “Is it like the genie from the movie ‘Miracle Beach’, cause that is my kind of genie.”

     “I think you’re hanging out with Wade too much,” she replied and got out of the car.

     “That was mean,” Nick said and shut off the car and got out.

     He was about to say something else when a loud clap of thunder filled the air.

     “That was a good one.”

     “Yes, yes. Can we please just hurry this ‘snack run’ along. I’d like to get settled in before it starts pouring.”

     “Scared of a little thunder?” Nick teased.

     “Don’t be ridiculous. Thunder can’t harm you. But lightning, that’s a different matter entirely,” Megan said and narrowed her eyes at him.

     “Ha-ha, very funny. So where to first, Carl’s or Golden Harvest?”

     “We always go to Carl’s first,” Megan replied.

     “So we should do Golden Harvest then, change it up a bit.”

     Megan looked at him like he’d grown a second head.

     “Or… We could get the sandwich meat first.”

     Megan nodded at him and walked to her right. Nick held the door open for her and they both stepped into Carl’s Meat Market. Next to it was Golden Harvest, a produce shop. Megan and Nick had been shopping there for over twenty years but the stores had been opened for decades before they discovered them.

     “Lovely,” Megan mumbled.

     The place was packed with people placing orders. Nick smiled as he could sense the ‘let’s get home before a big storm hits’ vibe about the place. It didn’t matter if it was rainstorm, thunderstorm, or snowstorm. He loved them all. Well, when he got to stay at home that is.

     Like tonight.

     “Remember when we were kids and use to ride our bikes here. And we’d put the stuff in the basket on your Dorothy bike?” Nick said with a grin.

     “Remember the time we came here and you didn’t tell that story?” Megan replied.

     “As a matter of fact I do. It was right around the time we went into Golden Harvest first and then Carl’s,” Nick countered quickly and smiled at her as they got in line.

     Megan gave him a look then stuck out her tongue. “Just for that you’re adding liverwurst to the list.”

     Nick’s face twitched.

     “Really? Don’t be gross.”

     “Yes really. Next time don’t make fun of me.”

     “You started it.”

     “Can I help who’s next!” A guy bellowed from behind the meat counter.

     Nick held up his hand.

     “What can I get for you?”

     “Three pounds of everything on this list,” Nick said and handed it over to the guy.

     “You got it.”

     He walked over to the deli meat counter on the right-hand side of the store. Nick and Megan followed him.

     “Oh, I want a box of Goods chips too,” Megan added when they walked past the chip display rack.

     “Yeah, yeah. You do realize I could just tell him what we want instead of bringing a list every time, right?”

     “Yes, but a list is more efficient. He now knows exactly what we want without having to ask ‘anything else’ after everything. He also knows the proper order to go in now, he can do meats then cheeses or vice versa instead of piecemeal, thus saving himself and by extension, us, time.”

     “You and your time. Go get us some of the pickles in a bag before people nab them all,” he said and shooed her away.

     “I got the last three they had, happy?” She said a minute later while holding them up as proof.”

     “It’s a start. But you know what would really make me happy?”

     “What?” Megan said with some bass.

     “You trying to act like you’re going to have a good time tonight.”

     Megan rolled her eyes. Last year around this time, Nick revised an old ‘October Tradition’ of his and Megan’s from their teenage days. Nick would make them all super sandwiches while she, Clarissa, Bobbi, and Carol watched the original Halloween 1 and Halloween 2 in the big living room. Then they watched a horror movie no one had seen yet. The night would end with Nick telling a scary story. The next day they were driving over an hour away to go pick pumpkins and wander through a huge corn maze. Once they got back home they would carve their pumpkins while Nick started cooking them a dinner comprising of New England Corn Chowder, clam chowder with bacon, fresh cornbread and his beef stew in homemade bread bowls. Nick also broke out several bottles of very expensive wine, which is why they did the pumpkin carving beforehand. Bobbi hacking a pumpkin with a knife was bad enough but a tipsy Bobbi with a knife was just asking for trouble.

     Nick had invited the guys but they were already flying out to join Brandon for a football game. Megan sent Julie with them on business for the club since they would be in Las Vegas anyway. Julie wasn’t happy that she was missing out on this, especially since she enjoyed it a little too much last year with Bobbi and Nick, but it saved a lot of time not having to go later this year.

     Megan sighed and said, “I don’t think you understand how much work I have to do, especially with all the guys in Vegas for the weekend, and how much of a waste of time this really is.”

     “It’s not a waste of time, it’s us having some fun. You don’t like leaf peeping?”

     Megan paused, wondering if peeping should be in consideration as one of her ‘No Words’.

     “I don’t see the point of driving an hour tomorrow for a pumpkin when we could just buy one next door if you really have the urge to stab one with a knife.”

     Nick stared at her.

     “Anything else guys?” The guy behind the counter asked.

     “Yes. One pound of liverwurst please. And that’ll do it.”

     “Sure thing.”

     “Thanks,” Megan mumbled.

     “You’re welcome. There’s always going to be work and things to do Megan. There won’t however, always be time for fun.”

     “Fun doesn’t pay the bills.”

     “Nope, you do. Except for when you get a bad case of the mumbles,” Nick said and poked her in the ribs.

     “You guys all set?” The guy asked.

     He was now behind one of the two registers ringing up all the deli meat and cheese. Megan put the three pickles down on the counter and Nick the box of Goods chips. Nick also grabbed several packages of potato rolls before paying in cash and told the guy to keep the change.

     “Thank you. You guys have a great night.”

     “You too,” Nick said and carried the brown paper bag and box of Goods chips. Megan held the door for him.

     “Did you just tip the guy for cutting the meat?”

     “Yeah, so?”

     “You are aware that that’s his job, right?”

     “I am,” Nick replied as he put the stuff in the back of the car, cause he couldn’t just walk into Golden Harvest carrying it. That’s just not how these trips worked.

     “Wait, is this about me tipping the girls at the Dairy Queen during the summer?”

     “All they’re doing is getting the ice cream. That’s what they’re supposed to do!” Megan said and threw her hands up in the air.

     It was at that moment when it started to sprinkle.

     “Yes but they do it with a smile,” Nick teased. “Why do you hate college girls?”

     Megan rolled her eyes.

     “I think you’ve been hanging out with Carol too much,” Nick said and walked the two dozen or so steps over to Golden Harvest.

     “What’s that supposed to mean?”

     “Nothing.”

     “Speaking of college girls. What’s this I hear about you giving this ‘Pixie’ girl a ride home, twice this week, I might add.”

     “Her car was in the shop and I was just being nice. That’s still allowed right?”

     “Not if they’re only twenty-one-years old.”

     “You worry too much.”

     “And you not enough.”

     “Well I guess that’s why we make such a good team,” Nick said and poked her in the ribs again. He held the door open for her.

     “What’s got you in such a good mood?” Megan asked while glancing back. The sky was getting dark. She walked in and Nick followed behind her.

     “Why wouldn’t I be? I’m picking up some yummy snacks and then get to spend the night camping out in the living room with my friends while I tell a scary story,” Nick said as he took a basket.

     “Wait, what? Who said anything about sleeping in the living room?”

     “Me.”

     “When?”

     “Just now.”

     “I don’t-”

     “What do you think Clarissa is going to wear tonight?” Nick whispered into Megan’s ear, as he grabbed a bag to put tomatoes in.

     “Oh I strongly advise you to disengage from this line of conversation.”

     “Fine. I’ll just wait for tonight.”

     “I believe I have made myself perfectly clear on my wishes when it comes to this matter and you two.”

     “So, should I not mention that I helped her pick out her Halloween costume for the party later this month?”

     “Excuse me?” She said sharply.

     Last year, without telling her, Nick had rented this old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and threw a big Halloween party for the team and all the guys and girls that trained at their dojo. People were to park in the long dirt driveway and found a note on the decrepit wrap around porch, along with a flashlight. They were to follow the trail behind the farmhouse out into the woods. A few turned and went home right then, which Megan couldn’t blame them once you saw what the woods looked like. Those that did take the walk were then faced with something even Megan thought unfair. Kat Takayama and Koori Ino, two legit, real life kunoichi, dressed up as those creepy Japanese undead girls and weaving in and out of wooded trail. Those deemed unworthy were unknowingly led back to the farm house by Koori, though she did let three drunken douches stumble along a separate dirt road. They were found by the local sheriff a few hours later, cold, but unharmed. Koori had certainly earned her nickname ‘Ice’

     Those that were deemed worthy were led by Kat to several warm fires, two of which had a roasted pig over it. Portable showers with hot water and a change of clothes were also available for those that may have soiled themselves. Few did not partake in them. Using Kat and Koori was just cruel Megan thought. Everyone raved about the party for weeks after though, especially the pigs that Nick had cooked, using a recipe he had learned while in Japan for all those years.

     This year, Nick had rented a brand new barn to throw a costume party in. The scares wouldn’t be there, mainly because Kat and Koori had gone back to Japan already, but the pigs would be again. People at the dojo were already amped about it.      

     “We went with Elektra. Figured Vampirella might be a little too much for her brother.”

     “Or anyone.”

     “We thought about Ms. Marvel but she didn’t want to wear a blonde wig.”

     “I’m feeling very inclined to tell her the evening for her is canceled. In fact, I know of something she can do instead,” Megan replied and tapped her Bluetooth.

     “You can’t do that.”

     “Watch me.”

     “No. This is her first time. Are you really going make her wait another year for me to pop her-”

     “You need to stop talking right this minute.” Megan said and hit him with her BRF again.

     “Geez. That’s twice now. Sorry. I misspoke.”

     “Hey chica. You guys almost done?” Clarissa said in her ear.

     “If you spoil her night then I’ll have to spoil my best friend’s surprise.”

     Megan narrowed her eyes at him.

     “Almost. Keep the gate open for us please,” Megan said.

     “You bet. That it?”

     She stared at Nick who stared right back.

     “Correct.”

     “Okay. Bye.”

     Clarissa hung up and Megan switch off her Bluetooth.

     “Your statement would imply that you have a surprise for me.”

     “Correct,” Nick said with a wink as he filled a bag with cucumbers.

     “And just what do you have that will surprise me?”

     “You know Megan you could help gather stuff while we talk. It would expedite our task here and get us home before the storm hits. And save us time.”

     Megan walked over to the cooler and took out a carton of Shain’s of Maine ice cream. She placed it carefully in the basket Nick carried.

     “Black Raspberry? Since when do you like that?”

     “I don’t. Bobbi asked me to pick some up for tonight. I was being nice.”

     “That’s the spirit. Remember our final year of trick or treating in the village and that little girl had her candy stolen by those older kids and you gave her all of yours?”

     “I had enough pimples to worry about without eating all that chocolate. Besides, she was dressed as a scientist.”

     Nick smiled and Megan could tell he was thinking back to that night. Nick may or may not have followed those older kids back to Dan’s Path and relieved them of not just their candy but also their flashlights when they paused to drink some beer. The two of them spent the rest of night leaving candy on the sidewalks, like they were Hansel and Gretel, for little kids to find. They ended their last trick or treating just like they did every other one, eating hot dogs at the Kittery Fire Station.

     Megan shook her head.

     “So how goes it with Michelle?” She asked, changing the subject.

     “It’s going,” Nick replied and turned away from her. He bagged several red onions.

     “Meaning what?”

     “Meaning, it’s going,” he said, still not looking at her.

     Megan brushed her long brown hair out of her face. She wore her glasses today cause she knew she’d be up late and didn’t want the bother of taking her contacts out later. She had also opted not to do a pony tail today and was regretting that decision. She cleaned off her glasses before starring at Nick as he continued to gather things. Michelle Trilling could be useful, but she wasn’t critical. Unfortunately, Megan didn’t have any other leads right now, so she didn’t see the harm in letting Nick linger with Michelle for a while. So long as Morgan didn’t find out anytime soon.

     Nick had just finished getting the last of the stuff he needed when the lights flickered and the loudest clap of thunder yet sounded outside.

     “Can we head home now?” She asked.

     “Yep.”

     Nick took his basket to the counter and unloaded it all. He paid in cash and Megan quickly followed him out.

     “Oh look, pumpkins. Imagine that, we could buy some right now.”

     “Not happening. Hurry, the rain is about to hit.”

     Megan looked up at the dark sky and flinched when she saw a bolt of lightning in the distance.

     Nick had just started up the car when the sky opened up and it started pouring.”

     “So what’s this surprise?”

     “I got Cristina Diaz to say yes.”

     Megan’s eyes widen in shock.

     “Are you serious?” She exclaimed.

     “Yep.”

     “So that means you can now take care of both things for me?”

     “Yep.”

     Megan rubbed her hands together in excitement. She was downright giddy now. She should have brought her tablet.

     “This is great. You know how much-”

     “Time I’ve saved you,” Nick interrupted. “More than enough for you to enjoy tonight and pumpkin picking tomorrow.”

     Megan stopped rubbing her hands but continued to smile.

     “Ha-ha. Well played. You win.”

     “I don’t want to win Megan. I want us to have some fun together. Like we used to,” Nick said and looked at her.

     Megan brushed her hair away again and fixed her glasses. Those days were gone and not coming back. How could they when she was such a different person now.

     “Okay,” she said and touched his hand.

     Nick smiled and pulled out of the parking lot. The windshield wipers working frantically to combat the rain.

     “I am curious as to how you got her to say yes.”

     “Well, first I’ll be keeping a closer eye on her sister Joyce for the rest of winter. And second, even though Cristina Diaz is like one of the top pop stars in the country right now-”

     “I heard she may be in the running to get the half-time show at the Super Bowl.”

     Nick glanced at her.

     “Sorry, go ahead.”

     “She’s a bit of a kinky girl. She loves when I insert my whole-”

     “Really! Do I look like Bobbi? Stop right now. TMI much.”

     “But you asked.”

     “And I’m regretting that right this moment. Plus, you said a No Word. Don’t think you’re not still on thin ice with me, Nicholas.”

     Nick grimaced and focused his attention on the road. They were almost back to the Walker Compound.

     “You know what will make you feel better?” He said after several moments of complete silence.

     “What?”

     “Four hours of watching Michael Myers in the dark, with me.”

     “Yeah and three other girls. One of which will no doubt be screaming every other minute.”

     Nick laughed. “Bobbi is so easy.”

     Megan looked sideways at him.

     “To scare. Really?”

     “You’re the one saying it.”

     Nick shook his head.

     “It’ll be fun. You’ll see,” he said and squeezed her hand.

     Megan couldn’t help but to smile. She looked out the window and remembered back to riding her bike with Nick all those years ago. It was still hard to imagine they use to do this ‘October Tradition’ with two future billionaires. Back then, Nick’s mom, Lisa, would do all the cooking for them, while Nick prepped for her. Lisa made the most delicious food and as such Megan had eaten more meals at the Walker’s house growing up than at her own home.

     Megan glanced at Nick before letting out a sigh. She missed Lisa.

     She missed her dad.

     Fuck October.

   



THE OCTOBER TRADITION

​A Merc Series Short Story

The Merc Series