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         Liv has always loved autumn. The leaves are falling, the air is growing colder, and she gets to wear cute sweaters as often as she likes. The world is changing color, and for the first time in a long time, she gets to be outside to enjoy it.

“You sure you’re okay out here, cuz?” Tammi asks, concern in her voice, and Liv knows what she wants to hear. She swallows, mouth dry, looking down at the wooden slats of the front porch.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Go have fun, don’t keep Maria waiting!” Liv smiles, meeting her cousin’s eye and hoping she sounds braver than she feels.

“Okay, I guess. But we can stop the movie whenever you need us to, I promise. Just let me know. This looks beautiful so far, Liv, thanks for decorating for us,” Tammi says, squeezing Liv’s hand reassuringly, before turning to disappear inside.

          Liv picks up a string of orange lights. She’s assigned herself decorating duty, mostly because Tammi and her girlfriend are inside, cuddling and watching horror movies, and she’d rather not be around for those. Liv’s hands begin to shake at the very thought. She tries not to listen for screams and ominous music emanating from the house as she strings the lights along the banisters.

She’s making a point of decorating to make the house as warm and welcoming as possible. Indian corn hangs from the support beams attaching the front steps to the roof, and a handful of pumpkins smile harmlessly on the steps stare into the yard, their faces drawn on in thick black Sharpie. A wreath decorated in orange, red and brown felt leaves hangs on the front door. There are no monsters in sight. Liv is safe here.

         She’s also, however, completely creeped out by Tammi’s favorite decoration: the life-size scarecrow with the leering, snarling face.

Liv kind of hates Halloween. It makes her nervous, all those jumpscares and strange people in masks. She spends enough time being afraid of irrational things; a whole holiday dedicated to fear is the last thing she needs. But Tammi is insistent that it doesn’t feel like fall without the scarecrow. It’s a compromise.

Liv carries it gingerly out into the yard, almost dropping it twice because she’s still feeling shaky and unsteady on her feet. She leans the scarecrow against its usual tree and ties its arms to a low-hanging branch.

“There,” she murmurs. “Stay put, you.”

The scarecrow just looks at her with its dead button eyes. Liv turns away to head back to the house, her heart in her mouth.

           “Hey!” says a voice, a hand on her arm, and Liv shrieks, running blindly for the porch, her hair in her face, gasping for breath.

“Liv! Hey, it’s okay, it’s just me!”

Liv freezes, hardly daring to believe it. “…Vi?

“Yeah,” says Viola, clearly trying not to laugh. “Oh my God, Liv, I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m so sorry.”

“Viola!” Liv is torn between elation and a little hurt at Viola’s laughter, but she throws herself into Viola’s arms anyway, sagging against her firm, athletic frame. Liv still feels every point of contact between them, hot and bright as the orange fairy lights.

“Surprise?” says Viola weakly, holding Liv close, fingers carding gently through her hair. “I’m home for fall break!”

           “That was so mean,” Liv says petulantly, but she can’t help but lean into her girlfriend’s touch. Or, her demigirlfriend, that is. Liv came up with the word, because while Viola is still most at ease with she/her pronouns, she isn’t fully comfortable thinking of herself as a girl. Demigirl is what she’s settled on for now. Gender is weird, basically, and Viola is still figuring it out, which is just fine by Liv.

 “I’m sorry,” Viola says again. “I should’ve told you I was coming, I know.”

 “Yeah… I’m not the best with surprises,” Liv admits. “But I’m so happy you’re here! I’ve missed you.”

“Missed you too, Liv,” Viola says, pulling back to grin that huge silly grin at her. Liv has butterflies in her stomach from that grin, every time. “Nice decorations!”

“The scarecrow is Tammi’s,” Liv says. “It’s silly, but… I don’t know. For a second there, I almost thought you were him, come to life.”

“Aw, don’t worry about him,” Viola says, casting a dark look back at the straw-stuffed overalls. “I’ll protect you.”

“I feel so much safer now,” Liv giggles at her tiny demigirlfriend. She takes in Viola’s short hair and beautiful eyes and soft purple hoodie. It’s Vi’s favorite, the one with ‘She/They’ in big white letters across the front. It really is so good to see her.

“I’m small, but I’m powerful,” Viola says, making a fist. “Mess with me, scarecrow!”

Liv closes her hand over Viola’s. “Actually, I have a better idea.”

                Which is how Liv and Viola end up curled together under a blanket on the front porch loveseat, talking softly over mugs of hot chocolate and a bowl of candy corn. The chill October wind is much nicer when they have each other to keep them warm.

“I think that scarecrow looks pretty good with the makeover we gave him, don’t you?” says Viola, letting Liv kiss her on the cheek, and they both laugh.

Liv has to admit, it is pretty difficult to be afraid of a scarecrow that has such an impressive Sharpied-on handlebar mustache.