Autumn arrives slowly but surely. The humidity sticks around while the temperature steadily falls and the days grow shorter. The leaves begin to drop and litter the ground with shades of brown and orange.
Yang assists Ghira and Sun as they use the tractor to cut trails into the cornfield, prepping it for the well anticipated maze that will bring families aplenty to get lost in its depths. Ghira flies a small drone overhead while Sun and Yang await his instructions on where exactly to drive the tractor in order to cut the design into the field. It’s a tedious job that requires strict attention to detail, but the end result is something that Yang is proud of. They crowd around Ghira’s phone screen while he pilots the buzzing drone over the maze. By the view from the sky, she can clearly see the words “Menagerie Farms” cut into the corn, accompanied by a large jack-o-lantern that Kali designed with winding paths all throughout it.
“I think we did a mighty fine job!” Sun remarks enthusiastically.
“Damn right we did,” Ghira confirms with a smile. “Now, we’re gonna need all hands on deck when we open up the corn maze next week. We get a lot of people comin’ through our gates this time of year, so we need to put our best faces on.”
Yang and Sun nod in agreement. She feels a giddy excitement in her chest that she hasn’t felt about autumn since she was a kid carving pumpkins with her dad and Ruby.
The thrum of her truck cuts off as she parks in the lot that Ghira had Sun mark off for the corn maze. Yang had a short amount of time after her day shift to run to her house and get changed into a costume before she needed to be back to help work the corn maze.
Yang is dressed as a scarecrow this year. Her father’s old straw hat sits atop her head and a healthy layer of face paint coats her cheeks and nose. She spots Sun at the admissions table, he’s dressed in an old karate uniform. The front is open to show off his abs; Yang shakes her head at him.
“You really must be allergic to being fully clothed,” she remarks with a smile as she rolls her flannel sleeves up to the elbow.
He smirks and takes a swig from his apple cider that’s been dripping a ring of condensation onto the table. “What station are you working tonight?”
“I’m pretty sure Ghira wants me at the apple shoot,” she replies.
Sun gasps in envy, “Aw man, I wanted to do the apple shoot. That’s way more fun than passing out some fuckin’ tickets.”
Yang raises her eyebrows at him and nods her head at a mother and her two small children that had just walked up to buy tickets. Sun smiles sheepishly and apologetically to the young mother. She scowls at him and hands him a ten dollar bill. He fumbles to rip a couple of tickets off of the big red roll.
“Alright, y’all make sure to hold onto these, now! We’ll have a few raffles tonight, and you could win some special prizes!” He leans down and hands each child their ticket, which they grip onto excitedly. His choice of words has clearly gone over their heads.
Their mother shepherds them towards the pumpkin painting table. Yang looks up and sees Blake crouched next to a group of children painting their pumpkins. There’s laughter coming from the kids and beaming smiles on their faces. Yang’s heart flutters at the sight of Blake in her element, working with children.
“Keep that mouth clean, Wukong. We got kids here. Don’t make me get Kali to wash your mouth out with soap,” Yang laughs at him and steals a sip of his cider before finding her way over to Blake.
Upon getting closer, she can see that Blake is dressed as a vampire. She has two white fangs poking out from under her lip, and a bit of fake blood smeared on the corner of her mouth. Yang bumps Blake’s hip with her own when she sidles up next to her.
“Looking very scary,” she says with only a hint of sarcasm.
Blake looks up from her work in surprise. She gives Yang a soft smile, her fangs becoming clearly visible. “Well, you’re looking absolutely adorable,” she replies, giving Yang a light boop on her red-painted nose
“Ah,” she bats Blake’s hand away, “don’t mess up my face paint!”
Blake giggles and Yang’s heart grows warm at the sound. “Don’t worry, you’re fine. You’re so dramatic.”
Yang grins cheekily at her, then she looks down to see a small redheaded girl tugging on Blake’s pant leg, trying to get her attention. The girl raises her pumpkin high above her head to get Blake’s approval
“I’ll let you get back to it, I gotta get the apple shoot set up,” Yang places a hand to the small of Blake’s back as she moves to leave.
“Come find me later!” Blake calls after her. Yang turns and gives her a wink, but sees that Blake has already turned to congratulate the little girl on her beautifully painted pumpkin. Yang thinks it’s funny that Blake would even have to ask her to come see her later, as if it wasn’t already implied.
Yang begins to set up the apple-shoot at the start of the treeline, not too far away from the main events, but far enough away that a stray apple won’t clock someone in the head. There’s a large metal ladder lying in the grass. Ghira must have set it out for her. Yang maneuvers the ladder over the low wooden fence, then hops it herself.
She climbs the ladder and ties tin pie pans to the lower hanging branches of the pine trees. The goal of the apple shoot is to fling an apple using the large slingshot (of Ghira’s own design) and aim to hit one of the pie pans. It’s not exactly a science, but there are some fun prizes for anyone who is lucky enough to hit a pan. Yang takes a few steps back, her boots crunching the dead leaves that litter the ground. She admires her handy work and hops back over the fence.
There’s lots of excitement throughout the evening, but the raffle is the highlight of the night. Many small prizes are given away, like Menagerie Farms t-shirts and cups, as well as a date-night bundle for the local theater. A thought pops into Yang’s head about taking Blake to the theater at some point, but she squashes it quickly. The grand prize of the night is the brand new dirt bike that Ghira picked out himself. It’s flashy and a bright cherry red. There’s no doubt in her mind that it’s fast . The winner of the dirt bike turns out to be a five-year-old whose eyes are close to popping out of his skull when his ticket number is called. He runs up to the stage to claim his prize, an extremely worried mother in tow. Even though Yang is a little ways away from raffle, she can still hear the wave of laughter from the crowd as he tries to hop onto it right away, and is quickly grabbed by his mother.
Many challengers try to take on the apple shoot, with only a handful actually able to hit any of the pans. At the price of five dollars for three shots, Yang makes a good bit of money. The fanny pack that Ghira gave her is close to bursting by closing time.
The faint purple light left in the sky fades to black as all the customers funnel out towards the exit. The first night of the corn maze was a big success as far as Yang can tell. She moseys on over to where she sees Blake putting the last bit of painting supplies away.
Yang grabs the last two bottles of acrylic paint and hands them to her. “I was told to come find you, so here I am.”
Blake’s eyes glint with something mischievous, “Wanna go check out the maze?”
“Are we allowed to do that after closing?”
“When else would we? Also, it’s way more fun in the dark,” Blake squeezes her arm and Yang thinks she knows where this is going.
Yang lowers her voice, looking over her shoulder briefly, “Blake. I’m not fucking you in the corn maze.”
“God, you have such a dirty mind, that is not what I’m implying. I don’t understand why that would even be a stretch, considering we’ve done it in the barn. Come on, It’ll be fun!” She interlinks her fingers with Yang’s and drags her towards the entrance of the maze.
Yang is going to protest, but her brain short-circuits the second Blake holds her hand. Her hand is chilly, and it feels pleasant in Yang’s warm one. Blake pulls out her phone with her free hand and turns the flashlight on.
“I hope you don’t have anywhere to be tonight. It’s possible we’re going to get very lost,” Blake states with a squeeze to Yang’s hand.
“Nowhere else I’d rather be,” she says a little too honestly.
They find their way through the corn, hands clasped together the entire time. Blake leads them, but Yang quickly comes to the conclusion that she has no method for getting them out of the maze. The longer they go, the farther away the lights from the house get
“So you’re really just getting us thoroughly lost, huh?” Yang asks eventually.
“Where’s the fun in getting out right away?”
Yang hums in agreement and rubs her thumb along Blake’s hand. An act a bit too intimate for two people who are not in a relationship. If Blake thinks anything of it, she doesn’t say anything.
They come to an intersection in the corn, and Blake pauses. Yang watches her consider which path to take. Her ear flicks as she concentrates. Yang glances up at the moonless night sky, the stars are shining as bright as she’s ever seen them. She reaches for Blake’s other hand, gently grabbing her phone and turning off the light. Blake’s eyes float upwards as Yang points to the sky. They sit in silence and watch a shooting star streak across the inky expanse.
“I suppose there is one thing I missed about living here. You never have night skies like this in the city,” Blake says wistfully.
“Yeah,” Yang says slowly. “You think you’ll miss it when you leave?” She chances a glance at Blake, trying to read her expression, but it’s too dark to see anything.
There’s a pause. “I think there are a couple of things I’ll miss,” she answers finally. Yang doesn’t have to ask, her meaning is clear.
A cool hand finds its way to Yang’s cheek, and Blake’s soft lips touch hers. The kiss doesn’t last very long before Blake’s vampire fangs get in the way, making it awkward to continue. Yang chuckles and moves to kiss Blake on the cheek. Blake laughs too and goes to flick her phone flashlight back on. From the glow of it Yang can see that a good bit of her facepaint is now smudged around her friend’s face, but she elects not to say anything. They’ll deal with it later.
Right now, all Yang wants to do is walk hand-in-hand with this girl that she can’t quite figure out, and get even more lost in the depths of the corn maze. And that’s exactly what they do.
The next evening Yang is slumped over Sun’s kitchen counter while he stirs a pot of pumpkin soup. They had decided to have a bros’ night, and he had some leftover pumpkin in his fridge ready to go. However, Yang’s sulking is really bringing down the vibe. She groans and juts out her bottom lip pathetically.
“Come on, Xiao Long. Your whining isn’t gonna do anything to fix the situation,” Sun calls back over his shoulder.
“Yeah, maybe not. But it’s all I can do.” She grabs a pinch of the fancy shredded smoked cheese that Sun had bought to put on top of the soup, and throws it in her mouth.
Sun gasps and snatches the package out of her reach, “Hey! I paid a lot for this!”
Yang sighs and thunks her forehead back down onto the counter.
“Are you absolutely sure she only wants to be casual? From what it sounds like, y’all don’t have a casual thing going on,” Sun asks carefully, not wanting to upset her any more.
“I don’t know, I thought it was only supposed to be casual, but I don’t think I can keep my feelings in-check any longer.”
“Tell me exactly what she said when y’all talked about this little arrangement. Did you ever set up boundaries?” Sun sets a bowl of delicious-smelling pumpkin soup in front of her, and sprinkles the expensive white cheese on top.
“I mean, we never actually explicitly laid things out...I guess I just kind of assumed this is what she wanted based on how she talked about it,” Yang replies, taking a large spoonful of soup and shoveling it into her mouth.
Sun punches her in the arm, hard , which causes her to jump and almost drop her spoon. “Ouch? What the fuck, dude?” Yang winds her arm up, ready to hit him back.
“You’re a goddamn idiot, man. Talk to her, tell her how you feel!” Sun dodges her punch and moves to grab a bowl for himself.
“But what if that ruins everything?”
“What if it doesn’t?” Sun fires back.
She likes what she has with Blake, but it’s becoming painful not knowing exactly what’s going on between them. If Blake leaves for school in the spring and they never talk again, Yang’s not sure if she could handle it. As dumb as he can be, Sun might have a point. Better to rip the bandage off now, instead of being left in the dark forever.