Lucas woke when two kids hopped on his bed and crawled over to stare down at him. The alarm hadn’t gone off yet, and Hercules whined. The dog liked his beauty sleep. Without opening his eyes, Lucas growled, “What time is it?” “Five forty-five,” Jordy read from the clock on the nightstand. Lucas sighed. He hadn’t realized Halloween was such a big deal, but he could feel the energy emanating from his niece and nephew. How could they get this excited about candy? He opened his eyes. “You’re not going to go away, are you?” Beth flung herself on top of him and hugged his neck. “Get up, Uncle Lucas! We have to get ready.” “Okay, okay.” He lifted her into the air and she giggled before he rolled to his feet. Everything was ready, but the kids were wide awake. They wore their regular clothes to school and changed into their costumes before the Halloween parties started. He’d already put the costumes in their book bags. “Hurry!” Jordy bounced on the vacant bed. “Let’s go.” Go where? “Mae doesn’t want to see you this early. No one does. But we have time to make you a decent breakfast.” He doubted they’d eat much the rest of the day. They were too excited. He pulled a T-shirt over his pajama bottoms and went to the kitchen, the kids running ahead of him. “I’m not hungry,” Jordy complained. “Tough. You’re going to eat something healthy this morning, or we’ll sit here until you do.” The kids wrinkled their noses, but he set them to work. “Beth, you get the whisk.” He added milk, eggs, and vanilla to an empty pie plate. “Jordy, you sprinkle in a little bit of cinnamon and sugar. Just a sprinkle.” He let Jordy toss bread slices into the mix while he melted butter in a skillet. “We need plates and silverware,” he told them. They dug in when he put the French toast on their plates. He knew that was one of their favorites. He’d bought fruit cups for them, too, and they ate those. Satisfied they’d eaten something decent for the day, he set them loose to get dressed and ready for school while he cleaned up. When they bundled into his truck, he drove them to Mae’s house, and her little girl was waiting for them at the door. She looked ready to pop, too. Who knew? Free candy must taste better than candy your parents bought. Lucas watched Jordy and Beth run to the house, then drove to his job site. The contractor was already there. He shook his head when he saw Lucas. “I had to get out of the house. My kids were bouncing off the walls. My little boy gets to be a storm trooper this year, and he can hardly wait to put his costume on.” “My nephew’s Spider Man, and you’d think he really can swing from webs. I never knew Halloween was such a big deal.” “Hey, it’s one time a year that you can be anyone or anything you can find a costume for,” the contractor said. They both got to work, and by the end of the day, Lucas had most of the wiring done. He hadn’t reached the third floor yet, but he didn’t think that would take too long. He’d probably finish this job on Monday. When the crew walked out of the house at the end of the day, the contractor looked at Lucas and called, “Hang in there tonight! You’re in for a new experience.” “Good luck to you, too!” Lucas had to admit, he was a little worried. If the kids were helter-skelter this morning, what would they be like tonight? Would he have to stuff one of them under each arm and bungee cord them to a pole to settle them down? He tried to shift gears on his drive to Mae’s house. He hadn’t put the truck in park at the curb before Beth, in her princess outfit, flew out the door and scrambled onto the passenger seat. “Slow down,” Lucas told her. “And fasten your seatbelt. I thought we’d pick up your brother and then grab chicken fingers for supper before we start trick-or-treating.” Chicken fingers were her favorite. She might eat a couple before he took them back to Dulcey’s neighborhood to trick-or-treat. They were only allowed to go door to door from five to seven, and then they’d go to the school for the festival. When he pulled in line to pick up Jordy, his nephew flew to the truck dressed as Spider Man. He hadn’t thought about that, but what did it matter if the kids went inside to eat fast food in their costumes? He drove to their favorite restaurant, and it was packed full of parents with kids dressed as all sorts of things. “Look.” Jordy pointed to a Grim Reaper. “Isn’t he cool?” “Super cool. How were your parties?” Jordy and Beth talked about their costume parades and all of the treats they’d had while they ate. Lucas had never realized how important cupcakes were. They featured a lot in the list of must-have items on the kids’ lists. “Next year, I’m going to be something scary,” Jordy told him. “A monster.” “I’m going to be a ghost.” Beth finished her second chicken tender. Good. Lucas had snuck a little more real food into her. Dulcey had given him a lecture about not feeding the kids junk. “Three kids in my class were ghosts.” “Are we talking sheets draped over them?” Lucas asked. Beth blinked. She looked adorable in her pink princess dress. “They looked like ghosts.” Lucas nodded and let that drop. The kids ate while they talked, so by the time they’d finished telling him all about their days and the treats they’d had at school, they’d eaten every chicken tender and French fry. The sun was low enough that it was a little gloomy when they drove back to Dulcey’s neighborhood, but it wasn’t dark. Lucas pulled into his sister’s driveway to park, and they set off from there. “No running ahead of me,” he told them. “If I lose you and have to find you, we go home—to my place—and the night’s over.” He spent the next two hours walking and waiting while they ran to ring a doorbell, walking and waiting, over and over again. He thought it would be miserable, but the kids were having so much fun, he got into the spirit and enjoyed himself. About fifteen minutes before seven, he said, “Should we go back to the truck and get to your school? The festival will start soon.” The kids had more candy than anyone should ever eat, so they were ready to go. Lucas looked at their bulging bags and asked, “Do you guys really eat all this candy? What does your mom do with it all?” “She freezes it,” Jordy said, “and we get some out every Saturday for movie night.” Smart woman. He didn’t have the kids on Saturdays, though. “Maybe we’ll do that on Fridays,” he said. Jordy squirmed. “Spit it out,” Lucas told him. “We’re at our house, and you have a key. Mom likes the candy so much, maybe we should put it in our freezer for her to find when she comes home.” His heart lurched. Could he love his nephew more? The kid had a bag full of candy and was thinking about his mom. “Mom’s going to be sad when she comes home,” Beth said. “Grandpa will be dead. She’ll need something to make her happy.” “You’re such neat kids! That’s a great idea. Then you’ll still have treats for Saturdays,” Lucas said. “Do you want to save five or six pieces for the weekend?” They dug out five of their favorites, and Lucas led them into their home. They hid their candy stash in Dulcey’s freezer. On the drive to the school, Lucas thought he might burst with pride. Dulcey’s kids were pretty damned wonderful. The school’s parking lot was already full, so Lucas had to park on the street a block away. Signs read that the party started in the gym and then spilled into four rooms down the hallway. Someone had decorated the gym with dozens of orange and black helium balloons that clung to the ceiling. Tables were set up around the perimeter. A duck pond where you had to draw the plastic duck with the right number. Corn hole. Bowling. A bouncing arena squeezed into a corner, and a cake walk where you won cupcakes. They circled the room, and the kids tried each thing. When they exited into the hallway, Jordy’s door room was open and light spilled out of it. They stepped inside, and Jordy gasped a deep breath. Miss Doore stood beside a ring toss game, and she was dressed like Raggedy Ann. Her copper hair was pulled into two long ponytails and a white cap perched on her head. She wore a blue dress with a white apron and red and white striped stockings. She’d sprinkled big, brown freckles on her cheeks. Damn if she didn’t look cute. She turned and saw Jordy and winked at him. Lucas thought his nephew might faint from happiness. They took their place in line to take their turn. The line moved fast, and Lucas was watching Jordy and Beth strike out at ring toss when a man pushed into the room and strode straight to the front of the line. He pointed an accusing finger at Miss Doore. He got right in her face. “My son’s in the fifth grade. He’s a pitcher in Little League. He wouldn’t miss in a game like this, but he spent all of his tickets trying to win a prize. You’ve rigged the game somehow.” Miss Doore stared at him. “This is a school festival. We don’t rig games.” “Look, lady, you must not have heard me. My son’s a pitcher. He’s accurate.” The man was pumping up, ready to do battle. Lucas had heard enough. He went to stand beside Jordy’s teacher. “Look, buddy, this is a Halloween party. It’s for fun. You’re lucky the school put it on, so give it a rest.” “My son’s upset.” Lucas took out his wallet and handed the man a five-dollar bill. “Buy him more tickets on me, but get over it.” The dad looked at him, scanned his height and muscles. “It bothered my son. I probably over-reacted.” Just then, Beth squealed with happiness when a hoop landed over a peg. Lucas raised an eyebrow. “This game isn’t about skill. It’s about luck.” The dad grimaced, embarrassed. He turned to Miss Doore. “Forget I bothered you.” She nodded and watched him stalk out the door. She glared at the man’s back. It must be true what they said about redheads. She had a bit of a temper. She turned to Lucas, “Thanks. I mean, it’s a ring toss. What’s the big deal?” He grinned. “You haven’t met Little League dads. Some relive their glory days through their kids. It’s not just a game. They take it seriously.” She snorted. “That’s sad.” She turned to Beth. “Great job! You won. What do you want for your prize?” Beth chose a pencil with a mouse perched on the eraser. Big stakes. Then Lucas led the kids to the next room and the two after that. By the time they walked out of the building to his truck, they were dragging. It had been a big day. On the drive across town to Lucas’s house, the kids talked nonstop. By the time they walked inside, though, they were yawning. He didn’t make them go upstairs for baths. Instead, the kids plopped on the sofa and he relaxed in his recliner with Hercules smashed beside him, and they watched Spiderwick. Lucas thought it was pretty scary for a kids’ movie, but he didn’t have to worry. The kids were asleep halfway through it. He carried each of them up to bed, removed their costumes, and pulled the blankets over them. They could sleep in tomorrow, and they’d watch Saturday cartoons and eat Pop Tarts for breakfast. It would be a slow start in the morning. And then his mom would come for them. He couldn’t believe it, but it would be nice to have Saturday to relax after today’s frenzy. He’d never realized how much time and energy kids took up. He’d always respected his sister, but he’d admire her even more from now on.