Chapter 60

                Vince ambled through the aisles of costumes, plastic and fabric of countless colorful designs meant to mimic characters from a pop-culture that Vince had hardly any exposure to. Beside him, Hershel scanned a rack of what looked like outfits meant to resemble giant turtles, though why they would come with a mask Vince couldn’t fathom. Alex and Chad were already in the store’s dressing rooms, makeshift though the facilities were. Chad had grabbed the first costume that seemed like it would fit, and Alex had come in with a game plan, which was a surprise to no one. Nick, Vince’s usual guide into the world of playing dress-up had texted that he was running late, which left Vince and Hershel to walk the racks until something jumped out at them.

                “This might work.” Hershel had yanked an outfit free from the jumble of clothes, one with orange colors and a pale piece of plastic perched near the top. “I could go as a monk, wear the robe for my part of the night, then Roy could ditch it when we did the hand-off.”

                “You’re supposed to have a mask,” Vince reminded him. He stepped forward, inadvertently activating a spring-loaded spider that jumped out from the shelves. Only constant training and discipline kept Vince from roasting it on the spot, though the area around his hand did grow warm as he nearly-summoned a fireball.

                “Roy hates masks. Covers up the goods, as he’d no doubt say.” Hershel’s expression seemed to pinch for a second as he tucked the monk costume back into the racks. Vince had been noticing that look on his friend’s face more and more over the recent months. It didn’t seem quite like worry, more as if Hershel was feeling unsettled by something. It also wasn’t the sort of thing Vince felt was his business to push, though, and certainly not in a Halloween store filled with other shoppers. There was a reason Hershel used terms like “hand-off” instead of “shift” after all.

                “He might have to make peace with it, at least for one night,” Vince said. “Maybe we should start from there, can you think of any masks Roy would be okay with wearing?”

                “Nothing that jumps to mind,” Hershel replied. “Let’s focus on you, though. We both know if you don’t have some sort of game plan by the time Nick gets here, you’ll be entirely at the mercy of whatever half-cocked ideas he has. Do you know what Camille is going as? A couple’s costume is probably safe grounds.”

                Vince shook his head. “She got roped into Alice’s outing this weekend. Apparently it’s going to be a full-day event.”

                “Oh, I’m aware. Mary hasn’t stopped trying to scheme a way out of it since Alice roped her in,” Hershel said. “She did her best to resist, but then Alice started in about how it’s our last Halloween in college together, and who knows when we’ll all be together like this again, and… well the girl knows how to guilt.”

                “At least Violet and Jill are going as well, that should make things a little easier on them.” Vince glanced down at his footing to make sure there weren’t any other spider-traps lying in wait. As it turned out, there were not, though there was a pad with wires running to a nearby skeleton. Rather than discover what happened if he tread on it, Vince merely stepped to the side, smacking into a hanging rack of the most garish outfits in the entire store.

                “Careful!” Hershel darted forward, snagging the top of the metal stand with speed and reflexes that would have been impossible for him freshman year. Endless training and sparring were having a noticeable effect though, with every passing month he grew stronger. The Hershel perusing costumes with Vince was almost unrecognizable from the one who’d first stepped foot into Lander all those years ago. In fact, nowadays he and Roy actually did look something like brothers, albeit with some serious differences in height and mass.

                “Hey… this might not be a bad idea.” While Vince had been dwelling on Hershel’s improvement, Hershel had actually taken a hard look at the costumes he’d saved from falling to the floor. To Vince’s eyes, they look like little more than brightly colored outfits with no discernable theme or pattern, but Hershel was staring at them with an unusual sense of nostalgia and interest. There were masks on some of them, Vince noticed, though he couldn’t fathom why these would be different than any other type.

                “Does Roy prefer the full-head covering models?” Vince asked, trying to suss out what had grabbed Hershel’s attention.

                “It’s not the style, it’s the context.” Carefully, Hershel pulled one of the costumes out to study it, taking in the details with a discerning eye. “Do you know what these are?”

                “Um… truthfully? They look a bit like what some people were wearing at that gay pride parade on the news a few weeks ago.”

                Hershel snorted as he tried to keep his laughter in check, causing a sound that made it seem like he was about to blow his nose into the open air. “I guess I can’t entirely disagree with you there, but no, that’s not what these are. This, Vince, is a wrestling costume. Actually, a luchadores’ with the mask and all. Going to take a wild shot and say that’s something you haven’t had time to learn about.”

                “It’s the one that’s fake, right?” Vince was actually a bit proud of himself for knowing this much, though in truth it was only because Thomas had used wrestling as a touchstone when explaining MMA fights several years prior. Still, he knew something, and for Vince and pop-culture that was considered a victory.

                “Whoa now, the outcomes might be pre-determined, but what those people can do is anything but fake.” Hershel was barely even looking at Vince, or the costume, anymore. He seemed to be staring past it all, into a chunk of time that only existed in his eyes. “When Roy and I were kids, we’d watch the matches alongside our dad, and of course try out the moves and hurt ourselves. Well, I’d hurt myself anyway. Point is, we used to love wrestling. I bet Roy would be okay wearing a mask for this costume. And it comes with a vest for me that he can ditch when it’s his turn.”

                “Really? I mean… you just said it was something you did with your dad.” Roy and Hershel had managed to keep things civil with Titan during their summer training, though there was never much personal interaction between any of them. Vince was led to believe this was progress, but he was still surprised at the idea that Roy would take joy in such a memory.

                Hershel’s face pinched again, just for an instant, before he replied. “I’m sure it’s fine. Roy and I have been holding onto that grudge for so long, we’re both exhausted. This is something that brought us a lot of joy; I don’t think Owen should get to ruin it for us. And there’s a bonus to choosing this idea.”

                “What’s that?” Vince asked.

                Digging through the rack, Hershel yanked out another costume that was similar, though not quite identical, to the one he’d already selected for himself. “Tag teams! Now you’ve got a costume option too.”

                Though he put a large smile on his face, Vince covertly fumbled in his pocket for his phone, hoping to see a text about Nick’s impending arrival. Suddenly, getting railroaded by Nick’s taste in costumes didn’t seem quite so bad.