"Are you sure about this?"
So many things she did lately started out with someone asking her that. But this wasn't the start, this was the end. The last night on a six week run that included an advertising campaign, a lot of negotiating, four hours of sleep a night on some nights, and the longest run of tolerantly amused looks from Jason that she'd ever put up with.
He'd given up asking if she was sure. Darren asked this time, which she guessed had something to do with the Halloween costume she'd asked him to wear.
"I mean, I'm up for a Halloween party and I get that you don't want the costumes to be too scary but... the wolfman?"
She counted cups and plates one more time. They were estimating between seventy five and a hundred kids, so she'd gotten packs adding up to two-fifty. Just in case anyone used two plates or more. "Look, it's a classic movie monsters theme, someone had to be the wolfman." That someone just had to be the leader of the local Hellhounds. The parents who weren't nervous about their kids partying with non-human kids would find it amusing at least.
Darren sighed. "Your boyfriend got to be the Mummy."
"My boyfriend has access to a truly astounding supply of gauze rolls. You could have picked Dracula. Your girlfriend's the bride of Dracula."
"His girlfriend is a vampire queen in her own right and not here with any Dracula, count or no. We got enough stuff?"
Randi nodded, grinning and stealing a kiss from her Mummy as he passed. That must have gone twice over for the fact that Dracula was one of her biker friends. While the kids were around, it was safe to have Hellhounds and bikers, whatever they were, and humans and, hell, even some of the fae she'd treated were coming, if they lived in the area. It was a block party. At a pool hall, but better that than out in the streets. Everyone was safe.
It wouldn't have been true a year ago. Even the adults in this kind of mixed company wouldn't have been safe. Randi, Jason, Darren, half a dozen others they hadn't known until they'd started, all of them had worked to bring everyone together. Community dinners in smaller groups, fund-raisers for one cause or another. They'd consulted with a handful of business owners who were fae, Hellhound, or magic users to figure out what their client base needed, how they could get in touch with them. After the explosions and the engineered turf war Randi didn't want to take chances.
"Turning into a real community leader, you are," Syd grinned at her as he passed under a tray of black-frosted cupcakes.
"Shut up," she laughed, aiming a swat at him and then a kick at his backside. "Put those on the food tables and stop giving me shit."
"Yes, no, and don't kick the messenger." Syd wasn't in costume yet. She wasn't sure he was staying and needed to be in costume.
By now there were enough people milling around the pool hall that she needed a bird's eye view, went to steal the ladder from the Mummy so she could climb up and see what the hell was going on.
"You sure you're all right up there?" he teased, holding the base and taking five to lean against the wall.
Randi waved at him. "I'm fine. Okay..." two fingers pointing to count. There were six kids come early so far, and about twelve adults. One of whom was a biker she knew with two of the early kids in tow. She'd talked with them some already, they could use a community banding around them. "That's not so bad then."
"Mm?" She'd been counting in her head.
"Six early kids and a bunch of adults helping set up, that's not so bad."
Jason steadied the ladder for her to climb down and held up a hand so she could descend like a queen. Like a proper queen of the undead, no less. "Not too bad, what, you were expecting you, me, Darren, maybe one or two other people?"
"I honestly wasn't sure what to expect, this is the biggest thing we've done like this so far." Chaos. Both the kind that came with a lot of young children and the kind that came with adults and their prejudices. "It doesn't look like anyone's getting into any fights."
Frank and Darren, in fact, were bonding over raising teenagers with awkward fatherly relationships. "They might be getting into a my kids are cooler than your kids fight," Jason observed. Neither of them said anything about Darren's kids, who were considerably older and had a more strained relationship with their father. "I think we've got everything covered. You can sit down if you want, or would that make you too jittery?"
The question was teasing but also showed how much he knew her. She didn't sit still easily when Things were happening around her, medical events or social events she'd put in motion. Anything she felt passionately about.
"I'll..." She couldn't think of anything to do that would keep her attention so she wouldn't try to fix everything else. "Um."
The doors opened. The shrieking increased exponentially.
"I'll direct traffic." Randi pointed in the direction of the impending children.
Jason laughed as she headed over to deal with the parents, the children. The teachers, in one case. Anna had invited her friend who homeschooled eight Hellhound children. While she went to direct people to hang up their their coats on the racks someone had brought he went around and told everyone to get their game faces on.
"Game face." Jason clapped Darren on the shoulder and grinned. Stopped just short of tugging the mask over his face.
"I hate you. Both of you."
Randi's mask was much gauzier and involved a tiara. Not for the bride of anyone but because she was the Woman in White, undead sometime wife and sometime mother, boogeycreature of windowsills and rivers everywhere. She'd pulled from the older movies where the Woman was a disgraced princess, to make it extra glamorous instead of extra zombie. A couple of the kids recognized her but the parents were the ones congratulating her on her costume. Saying she'd scared them away from their bedroom windows for all three movies when they were kids.
"Coats off? Okay, nametags on, let's all know who we are. I want your school name on top and your Halloween name on the bottom." That had been Anna's idea, after she'd heard it was going to be a costume party. The adults not immediately with kids got masks, the kids got name tags with special Halloween names they could make up. That was the first activity at the first table, and it took a whole ten minutes for the markers to get scattered and the name tag box to explode.
The second activity was mask making. "Oh my god I am glad I only had to introduce that," Randi said, ducking behind the food table again as Uncle Frank and a woman called Mama Calaveras took charge of the mask making. Mama Calaveras spoke excellent English, despite her thick accent and her insistence on playing the part of Hispanic grandmother figure to the hilt. Randi had asked around. She also ran a bodega and was an active member in a community center organizational committee in her area, an area that wasn't only Spanish speakers. Not to mention speaking to the city administration. If the thick accent was real, the constant 'how you say'ing was a total lie.
"You don't have to do anything right now, babe. You organized this. You got Syd in charge of the food, your friends over there in charge of the masks, you've got people organized for party games by age. You're fine. Relax. Shoot some pool?" He grinned at her. She squinted at him and tugged on some of his bandages.
"You're only offering that because you're going to take all my money." But she did let him go tug her over to the pool tables where they could keep an eye on the kids as they swarmed each table in turn.
"This wasn't a bad idea you had, but goddamn." Frank came and leaned against the table after she'd gotten down to three balls and was trying not so much to sink any as to keep the eight where it was a pain for Jason to sink it. He'd cleared his side of the table, of course. "You planning on doing many more of these?"
"Depends, how's Christmas look for you?" Jason and Frank both gave her dirty looks. "Point it elsewhere, you guys, I'm not planning a Christmas party, everyone and their grandmother's doing that. Literally, I'm guessing." Eyeing Senora Calaveras.
"How'd you find her, anyway?" Frank was squinting at her like there was something not right about the old woman.
A few years of hanging out with Hellhounds had made her sensitive to how people's eyes and bodies looked in different light and different moods. He was tired already and strained, but also having a good time and not feeling threatened. So the truth didn't need to be varnished. "A friend of mine who runs sort of a clinic for magic users in her neighborhood says she helps out every now and then. And she's sort of the community grandmother."
"Huh." He frowned, shrugged. "Makes sense, I guess. You having this little summit of the tykes, you want the community involved."
"Preferably members of the community who are the grandmotherly types and who have experience with children." Two fights over masks had broke out already, and there were kids eyeing the treats. At least as far as her untrained eyes could tell.
"You thinking of..."
All the maneuvering and half-assed applications of physics Randi could pull together hadn't made Jason choke. One comment from Frank made him scratch the surface and knock the 8 ball onto the lip of the table. She caught it before it rolled off without looking, something she figured she'd never be able to do again. "That's way too complicated for the two of us, and we haven't had time to stop and think about it yet."
Which was true, at least as a couple. Talk would have been a better word. She had some thoughts off and on, and she knew Jason would be good with kids. Whether or not he wanted them was much less clear.
Thankfully they didn't have to deal either with the topic or a clean transition to the next. There was a fight brewing.
Not a big one, it turned out. She came in and scolded both parents for letting their tempers get the better of them, and some words were said about Hellhounds and humans. But Randi noticed that the kids weren't fighting. The kids were now uncomfortable that their parents had gotten involved in the disagreement, and she pointed it out with a few sharp words and some politely-framed insults. Darren snorted and turned the Hellhound mother towards Anna, who took her away for some alcohol. The human father looked bemused that he didn't have anyone to fight with anymore.
"Bit of advice?" Randi came and leaned against the table next to him. Lightly; they'd already had one table go perilously close to crashing down after Jason leaned a hand too hard on it. "Assume everyone in this room is as worried as you are of what these weirdos are going to do to you and your family. 'cause with a few exceptions, that's the case."
"Then why do it?" He turned on her, confused and scared by the new things and willing to make her suffer for it. She'd set the whole thing up.
"Because once you get passed all the weird sh-sh-stuff." It took her a second to clean up her language just in case by some miracle the kid came from a clean-mouthed household. "These people will be some of the best friends you ever had. And I say that as someone who was forced into the weird stuff, didn't agree to come to a party. But it turned out they were just as confused and scared as I was. Some of them helped me figure out what was happening. I'll tell you about it sometime, it's not a good story." For little ones, she added with a glance at the kid. Though the kid was less interested in listening and more interested in tugging her boring father over to the costume station. Turned out her princess costume needed something more like combat boots and an ammo belt.
"Children," she shook her head and went and found herself some Halloween dinner, two cupcakes and a tall glass of water. Cupcakes was bad enough for dinner, she didn't want to add soda on top of it. "I will never understand them."
"No one does," Darren said, still fussing with his mask. He seemed resigned to the Wolfman guise though. She thought about telling him she'd caught him enjoying it earlier. "If you have children, you and Jason, you can hope you'll understand them. Children as a whole? Hell if anyone knows."
"You're so encouraging," she told him, flicking a balled up cupcake wrapper at him. Then she decided that she wasn't doing any more events involving children if all the conversations somehow turned back around to whether or not Jason and her were going to have any. Adopt any, as that would be the only way.
Nobody would let them adopt, anyway. They'd have to get legally married, which wasn't a problem. They'd have to disclose a whole lot of their backgrounds, which was. No one would turn over a human child to a Hellhound father. And as far as she could tell there were no Hellhound kids in the adoption system. Even if there were, they'd stay in the system or in juvie until they aged out. By human legal terms, not by Hellhound. She'd be in her fifties by the time her Hellhound kid, if they adopted young, was grown up.
Why was she thinking about this? She shook her head and looked for a quiet corner to wait until the kids cleared out for supervised trick-or-treating, waving Jason off. She'd be fine. Too many conversations with too many small children's parents.
"Oh thank god I can hear myself think." Anna rubbed her temples, pale face-paint smearing off. "That didn't go off too badly..."
"Just loud. I know, I was there."
She and Anna saluted each other with mugs of cider from the special barrel and drank in unison with near-identical weary smirks. Mama Calaveras was helping to clean, but Randi waved her off. "Come on and have a drink with us, you can take a few minutes at least."
It was early to start cleaning up anyway. They'd discreetly done the masks and activities tables after the kids were through with them, and the food would get slowly devoured by the adults now that the kids had had their share. "Are you sure? I can..."
Mama Calaveras might be a grandmother, but Anna was at a guess around as old as her even if she didn't look it. When she spoke, even far too clever community grandmothers sat.
The boys came around a few minutes later, cupcakes and jugs in hand. "Not a bad idea," Tiny admitted, taking the job of packing up the leftovers and consolidating them in one area. "Weren't any fights that weren't about who got what toy, and you and the other lady managed to defuse that one thing." He nodded at Anna, who saluted him old-style with her cup.
Mama took a seat with the rest of them and a grunting sigh that sounded like she wouldn't want to get up again after. Randi sympathized. "Didn't know if I could pull it off. I'm still not sure I have..."
"No, I think you did." Mama reached over and patted her hand. "It might take a few months. Christmas will have new, more parties now. With different guests. More guests."
"More guests," Anna nodded, smiling slowly. "The homeschool christmas party will have to make some changes to have kids who aren't Hellhounds there, but we'll manage."
Randi jumped, but it was only Jason's hands on her shoulders. "Well. Nixon had panda diplomacy, what was this. Candy diplomacy?"
"Nixon was a secret Hellhound, you know," Tiny said, bringing up old but persistent rumors. "If we're going to move on to ghost stories."
"We know," several voices chorused in the middle of that, with various degrees of groaning. Not so much a ghost story as a repeated urban legend, conspiracy theory. But close enough to a ghost story to get everyone started on their favorite conspiracies, even the politically incorrect ones. Just so long as they were implausible enough to be clearly silly and not meant to hurt.
Jason's hands worked the knots out of her shoulders with familiar care. She passed up a glass of cider to him and let herself lean back and listen. Victory tasted like apples and buttercream frosting, and she'd regret some of it in the morning. For now, she'd take the win and push it as far as she could.