A Halloween Story
by Cynthia Gagen
“Hey, can you hold the elevator?”
A hand reached out to stop it from closing.
Amy Madden hurried inside the elevator and smiled to thank the person who had stopped it. He seemed to be close to her age and was cute. Almost a foot taller than her, he had light brown hair and hazel eyes. She mouthed thank you and returned to her phone call. ”I don't know, Leann. I’ve got a costume, but I haven’t decided yet. I’m getting in the elevator to leave. I’ll call you when I’m in my car, on my way home.” She turned off the phone and turned to him. “Thank you.”
Noah Tanner smiled. “No problem. Trying to get to a Halloween party?”
She let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “Yes. How did you know?”
“You said something about having a costume.”
She smiled and nodded. “I did. My best friend Leann wants me to go to this party a friend of ours is having. So I got a costume when she did, but I kind of had other plans.”
“Let me guess … you wanted to sit up all night to wait for the Great Pumpkin.”
She laughed. “Exactly.”
The elevator moaned and then suddenly jerked as it stopped moving.
“Is it my imagination, or did we stop moving?”
Noah shook his head. It wasn’t her imagination. And he had a party he wanted to go to. His girlfriend would be waiting for him. “There is a reason they are building a new hospital.” He hit the call button.
“Have you been stuck in one of these before?”
He nodded. “A few months ago. It shouldn’t take too long for them to get it moving again.”
Amy took a deep breath and let it out. “I hope you’re right.”
Noah turned to introduce himself. “I’m Noah Tanner. I’m a PA student.”
“Amy Madden. Nursing student. I’m a junior.”
“I’m in the 2nd year of my masters.” He sat down. “We might as well get comfortable while we wait.”
“I thought you said it shouldn’t take too long.”
“But it will be at least a half hour.”
“That’s too long.” She looked nervously at the door. “Are we safe in here?”
He laughed and noticed the look on her face. “Sorry. Yes, we’re safe. It’s not my first time stuck in an elevator. And I’m willing to bet even after the new hospital is built, it won’t be my last.”
Amy pulled at her long ponytail, nervous. She’d rather be at that stupid Halloween party than stuck in an elevator.
“So, where are you from Amy? Are you from St. Louis?”
She shook her head and reluctantly lowered herself to sit down. “Chicago. My aunt came here for school and so did my best friend’s mom. So when Leann was looking to come here, I decided to, too.”
He moved closer to her and noticed she had brown eyes. “Is she the same friend who wants you to go to the Halloween party?”
She nodded. “But she doesn’t dictate my life, if that’s what you’re thinking. I have a mind of my own. I chose to come here. I didn’t want to be too far from home and they have a good nursing program.”
“I didn’t say that she was. I was curious if she was the same person.”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head and played with her ponytail again. “I’m a little nervous being stuck in this thing.”
That was why he was trying to keep her talking. He could tell she was nervous before he sat down. She kept playing with her blonde ponytail and straightening her scrub top. She’d pull at her left earlobe and bite her lip. They were all nervous habits.
“So, when did you decide you wanted to be a nurse?”
“My mom is a doctor. An OB/GYN. I thought about being pre-med and being a doctor, like her. But when I got sick and my appendix had to come out, it was the nurses who took care of me in the hospital. That was when I knew I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to be like them.” She bit her lip. “How did you decide you wanted to be a PA?”
“I also once thought about being pre-med. But I changed my mind when my sister started studying to be a physician assistant. Julia is three years older than me, so I could see what she was studying. And she’d talk about her classes. And after a while, I could see myself following in her footsteps.” He paused to smile again. It wasn’t always the case, but his sister was his best friend. “Do you have any siblings back home?”
Amy sighed. “My brother John is in med school at Northwestern. But my sisters all went away to school.”
“How many sisters do you have?”
“Four. Jackie was John’s twin. And then my parents decided they wanted one more and ended up with identical quadruplets.”
“What are the odds of that?”
“About one in 11 to 13 million, or something like that. I think they should’ve bought a few lottery tickets.”
Noah laughed. “I’d agree. So are they all in Chicago?”
Amy shook her head. “Addie and Alex are at Yale. Amber is attending Western Illinois University. And my sister Jackie is in Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA this year, but she’s still out there playing beach volleyball.” Thinking of her family, she missed being around them. She hated the fact they were so spread out.
The elevator groaned and then started moving again.
Amy jumped to her feet. “Oh thank goodness that didn’t take a half hour.”
Noah glanced at his watch as he stood. It had been almost an hour. “If you needed an excuse, I’m sure getting stuck in an elevator would be a great one to skip your party.”
“Thank you. What are your plans?” She considered inviting him to the party.
“I’m meeting my girlfriend Sierra at a party. I’m going as Santa and she’s supposed to be either Mrs. Claus or Santa’s Helper. She wouldn’t tell me which one.”
“Well, have fun at your party! I hope that the next time we cross paths, it’s not in a hospital elevator.” She started to leave, disappointed to learn he had a girlfriend. But with his beautiful smile, it wasn’t a surprise. She briefly turned back to note him heading the other way. Sighing, she glanced at her watch and realized how much time had passed.
Noah headed in the direction of his car before stopping briefly to see if Amy was following him. She was heading the opposite direction.
As he quickened his pace, he tried to figure out how much time it would take him to get to the party and how late he would be.
The party was supposed to start in an hour. It would take him about 20 minutes to get home, about half an hour to shower and dress, and another 20 minutes to get to the party.
When he had plans near campus, he always regretted that he still lived at home. It was cheaper and allowed him to save money, like his sister had. It was the smarter move while he was still in school, even if it was always a bit inconvenient to head to South County to get ready before driving back to campus.
About an hour after he had left the hospital, he scratched his face under the white beard that went with his costume and adjusted it. He was finally ready to leave. The secret of what Sierra had picked as her costume would soon be revealed.
Noah locked up and stepped out to where his car was left in the driveway and discovered another delay. Now he had a flat tire. Dressed in his costume, he didn’t feel like dealing with it. His parents were out for the night to avoid the few trick-or-treaters who came through the neighborhood. It certainly felt like the universe was trying to keep him from the party. He was home alone with no ride.
He pulled his phone out and decided to follow his sister’s suggestion for parties - rideshare. At least he’d be able to drink. But did Julia recommend Uber or Lyft?
An hour later, Noah finally arrived at his party. Ariel Gibson, one of his girlfriend’s friends, greeted him at the door.
“Noah?” She was wearing another The Little Mermaid costume. Named for the main character, she'd worn similar costumes every year he’d known her.
“Happy Halloween, Ariel. I hear congratulations are in order.”
She smiled. “Thank you. Brady asked me Friday night.”
Noah saw her boyfriend in the kitchen area, opening a bag of chips and dressed as Prince Eric. Waving to him, he entered the apartment. “I know I’m a little late. I got stuck in an elevator, which held me up from getting home. And then, when I was finally ready to leave the house, I had a flat tire.”
“It sounds like you’ve had a bad day.”
“I have. But now it’s time to party and forget about it. Is Sierra here…?” He saw her across the room. She was talking to her friends. The first thing he noticed was that she was dressed as a pirate, not Mrs. Claus or Santa’s Helper. Then, he noticed the pirate standing next to her, with his arm around her. And then Noah noticed…
She turned in his direction, surprised, pulling her hand back from her friends. “Noah. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”
“Were you planning to change into a different costume when I arrived?”
Sierra Johnson pulled away from her friends to approach him. “Noah, we need to talk.”
He took a deep breath and let it out. “I can guess about what. I thought we were going to wear matching outfits. But I can see that I’m not the one you’re matched to.”
“I’m sorry. Jesse and I reconnected when we were both back home in Memphis over the summer.”
She reached toward him and he grabbed her hand. “And now you’re engaged to him? Refresh my memory … when did we break up? Because I don’t remember.”
“Noah, we’ve been living different lives for a while. You’re down on the med campus all the time. I’m in the business school. It was never going to work.”
He shook his head, at a loss for words. Her excuses were lousy. Not once had he thought their relationship wouldn’t work. In fact, he had been thinking about proposing at Christmas. At least he hadn’t bought the ring yet. “I paid for a ride to get here just for you to publicly break up with me?” Dropping her hand, he moved toward the door.
Hunter Jacobsmeier moved to cut him off. “Noah, where are you going?”
“Home. I can get out of this costume. The beard is itchy.”
“Are you sure you want to leave? I’m here.”
Noah shook his head, laughing at his friend. “Hunter, it’s all couples here. I thought I was part of one, but I guess I was wrong.”
He noted his friend was dressed as Iron Man and his girlfriend was Pepper Potts.
“If you wait, I can give you a ride home. You won’t have to pay for one.”
It was tempting. But Noah took another look at his ex-girlfriend and then shook his head. Nope. He couldn’t think of a good reason to stay.
And then the door opened as another guest arrived. Ariel greeted a snowman as she entered the party.
Pepper Potts ran to the snowman and threw her arms around her. “I’m so glad you came. How are you feeling? How long were you stuck in that elevator?”
“Leann, I’m okay. It wasn’t so bad.” The snowman turned toward him. “Noah?”
Noah nodded and approached her. “I like your costume.”
Amy scanned the room, not seeing Mrs. Claus or Santa’s Helper. “Is your girlfriend not here yet?”
“It turns out I no longer have one.”
“Oh.” She bit her lip, trying not to smile.
“Amy? Do you know Noah?”
Amy nodded as her hair fell out of a loose bun and down her back. Smiling, she pulled off her carrot nose. “We met in that elevator.”
Noah turned to Hunter. “Okay, maybe I will stay.”