The big day has been circled in the calendar for months, a blood red ring around October 31. The fake cobwebs and oversized plastic spiders have been hauled out of the garage, scattered haphazardly on fences and window frames. You drape a plastic skull in a black chiffon sheet and hang it from the porch; you hollow out pumpkins in ever more elaborate forms, their faces a ghoulish sneer, their innards cast into the compost.
It’s Halloween, and you are super fucking amped about it. The final piece of the puzzle: your costume.
Every year you’re stumped by this key component, and every year you get it wrong in slightly different ways. There was the year you went to that party in an old Phonak kit, dressed as Floyd Landis, the ghost of GC raids past. There was the time you tracked down a Saunier Duval kit and told everyone you were Ricardo Riccò, only for everyone to say “what is that?” Humiliations, one and all.
But this year you feel good about your choices. You put the final finishing touches on your ensemble, put on a generous spray of Lynx Africa, and spring down your steps for the short walk to the frat house.
You can hear the party before you get there. The pounding bass of LMFAO or Imagine Dragons or whatever bullshit music the kids listen to these days drifts down the cul de sac. It’s only 7pm, but Chad’s already spewing next to the SpOoKy grotto across the street; he ignores your wave. The most glamorous couple in college glide in ahead of you: she’s Taylor Swift, he’s Travis Kelce, and they are unspeakably gorgeous. Everyone gives him complicated handshakes, and everyone tells her that she looks, like, so hot. You take a deep breath, and follow them through the flyscreen door.
The air curdles. It feels like the music drops out mid-song; maybe it’s just the pounding heartbeat in your ears. A couple of the guys on the football team turn to each other, whispering behind their hands. You catch a fragment of the question: “who is he supposed to be?” Everywhere you turn, you are met with sideways glances and looks of confusion. You make a bee-line for the kitchen for a brewski, probably, or a glass of punch that smells like nail-polish remover if you knew what nail-polish remover smelt like, which you don’t, because you like to imagine yourself as One Of The Boys. Your friend Cody is there, and you give each other a shit sideways hug because of toxic masculinity.
“Sick costume, bro. Best Steve Jobs here,” Cody says encouragingly. Your heart sinks.
“I’m not Steve Jobs,” you say, dejected. Cody’s face falls. He’s been in this situation before, like that time a few years back that you came dressed as Golden Greg Van Avermaet and he thought you were an Oscar statue. “My bad, my bad,” he says. “Unspecified Bond Villain?”
You feel the blush rising in your face like a hot crimson tide as a girl in cat ears boogies past. You pull at the collar of your turtleneck, its itchy fibres irritating your bobbing Adam’s apple as you take a swig of your Bud Light. It tastes goddamn delicious because you have shit taste in beer, but even that small comfort is not enough. You have gone too niche again.
You try explaining to Cody that you are Jonas Vingegaard at the 2024 Tour de France Route Presentation; that you’ve carefully assembled this outfit of finest merino and boring suit jacket and somewhat fitted trousers and the crispest white shoes you’ve got in your wardrobe. You try to tell him of the hours you’ve spent in front of the mirror perfecting his haughty demeanour and sickly pallor, and how infuriating it is to have everyone assume that you’re launching a new iPod Nano.
You have, as you always do, wildly overestimated the cut-through of professional cycling in the college zeitgeist. Cody nods along encouragingly, but you can tell he’s zoned out, eyes glazed and scanning the crowd for someone else to talk to.
You walk through the living room. Bodies gyrate around you to the chorus of Ke$ha’s ‘TiK ToK’ or whatever is playing. The floor is sticky. A stray glowstick hits you on the lapel. A quarterback shoulders you as you walk past; the cheerleader on his arm cruelly asks if you’ve moved the charging point on the Magic Mouse yet. Humiliated tears sting your eyes.
Then you see an ethereal white glow move through the room. It’s like Gandalf at Helm’s Deep in the movies if you’d seen the movies, but you haven’t, because you are younger than that and you’re not a goddamn nerd. A white clad figure appears, his face barely visible from the heavenly aura his turtleneck projects. You make out the dark shape of a goatee as he approaches you, moving with catlike elegance. He reaches out a hand: “Jonas Vingegaard, right?”
You don’t know why you do what you do next. Maybe it’s the years of Halloween indignities that you have accumulated. Maybe it’s because you see someone more vulnerable than yourself in front of you. In the years to come, you’ll think back on this moment as one of the cruellest things you’ve ever done.
With a sneer at the edges of your lips you accept the extended hand, shake it firmly, and tell Mathieu Burgaudeau how much you love his Julian Alaphilippe costume, bro.
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