It had been such a peaceful day, too: Autumn felt like she would almost be able to do her job @ work. But then Dawn had to ask the question, & Autumn felt her blood pressure rise 10 millimeters o’ mercury.
Don’t be ridiculous, Autumn snapped.
I’m being 100% serious, Dawn said as she held her infernal documents in front o’ Autumn.
Look, you know what a great self-esteem I have, ¿right?.
Since I don’t have mind-reading powers, I wouldn’t know. Furthermo’, I don’t see the relevance: I thought you were already accepted.
I was, for graduate school, too; & you can trust me when I say I know that super computer you call a mind is stronger than e’en mine, Dawn said as she tapped her forehead.
Autumn resumed typing on her laptop, tho she knew focusing was futile now.
You have a simplistic conception o’ intelligence — including the inane assumption that universities base their judgments on pure intelligence. They care much mo’ ’bout other criteria — namely, not being a criminal.
They don’t know ’bout that. & since I’ve helped you on a few o’ your heists, I’m just as much a criminal.
‘Just as much’ is giving yourself too much credit. I have a record: I’ve gone to jail.
So have I, you may remember, said Dawn.
Autumn twisted her brows @ Dawn for a moment, & then turned back to her laptop.
It doesn’t count if it’s nullified by parliament judging you innocent. I was outright caught stealing & went to jail for that — & I was ne’er found innocent.
That was eons ago; I doubt they’ll care.
Your doubts aren’t reality, said Autumn.
Dawn leaned o’er Autumn’s shoulder.
¿What’s the harm o’ trying?.
My time — which is precious, thanks to this job.
Well, ¿how do you think you’ll ’ventually leave that boring job, then?.
You’re not seriously telling me that you’ve ne’er been interested in going to college @ all, ¿are you? Edgar told me you were brilliant in 2ndary school. You don’t think you’ll be bullied in college, ¿do you?. It took all o’ Autumn’s willpower not to aim a glare in Edgar’s direction.
I ne’er said I did, said Autumn, her voice grinding deeper.
¿Why must you bug me ’bout it?.
Dawn’s pitch rose, but her tone remained.
’Cause you won’t tell me why you’re so intent on throwing your life ’way, that’s why. I know you hate whate’er low-level menial tasks that are far below you they have you doing @ your job & you haven’t gone on any heists or treasure-hunting ventures for god knows how long.
Autumn mumbled, hoping to be too quiet to hear,
It sounds like we have our reason ’hind my intent: ¿what’s the rational thing to do with rubbish?. Softening her expression, she glanced @ Edgar in the kitchen, fixated on a pot on the stove, his face pretending to be unaware o’ what they were saying — tho she could tell by his less-steady motions that this was an act.
Unfortunately, Dawn had heard Autumn, for she replied,
Well, since throwing things in the garbage is wasteful, I’d say you recycle it.
I don’t care what you do with my body, said Autumn;
just so long as I’m not cognizant ’nough to hear your whinging.
You’re just trying to argue now, said Dawn.
No: I was perfectly content with neither o’ us talking to each other @ all, said Autumn.
You just want to yank me round like a chain to fulfill some self-centered fetish.
Dawn was silent for the next few seconds. Tho part o’ Autumn’s mind told her ’twas better to leave it that way, the other part needed to look back & check Dawn’s expression. She was relieved a bit to see just surprise & not authentic hurt. Despite this, she still felt her bitterness rise as she saw Dawn continue to gawk @ her as if she were a lab experiment.
Maybe I should wait till you’re in a much better mood, Dawn said as she walked toward the couch.
Great: so ne’er, murmured Autumn.
Tho Autumn didn’t dare let Edgar see it, she felt her breath catch up when she saw it come into view, & ’specially as she felt herself enter what seemed like a forcefield round it. Here she saw not just billions o’ tiny colored dots bunched together, giving off the flat illusion o’ a brick building, but the building itself in its full spatial glory. Soon she’d be close ’nough that she could feel the scratchy texture o’ its bricks.
But this thrill came married, as it always did, to a fear o’ all the tasks she had left to complete — all the tightropes she had to cross, e’ery 1 o’ which with its own risk o’ falling off & destroying her in the snap o’ a finger: she had to find her room in the labyrinth inside that building, had to figure out all the financial trickery to keeping it & feeding herself while paying for her expensive classes, had to get to e’ery class on time e’ery day & had to excel @ e’ery class. A single failed project could destroy her fore’er.
But she did what she always did when faced with such seeming impossibilities: she took a deep breath & reminded herself that effortless tasks were no accomplishments @ all; ’twas the threats & pain that made a task valuable.
To build onto the mask o’ disinterest, Autumn looked down @ her paper & said levelly,
It says here that my room is C4.
So Autumn led Edgar down the hallways to Section C, following the well-crumpled map in her hands while glancing up e’ery so oft @ the many strangers that passed her.
Only a few lost in these thousands will have e’er met me, & e’en those few will have surely forgotten me, & if not, they have so many mo’ important things to do than to spread rumors they can’t prove ’bout my thievery. I have a blank slate.
That is if you can keep yourself from stealing.
She found her room & opened the door to see a young woman inside, sitting on 1 o’ the 2 beds in the room, chatting to her laptop. Just after Autumn opened the door, the woman looked up & said,
O, someone’s @ the door. Hello. ¿Are you Autumn?.
Autumn tried to keep the horror she felt from appearing on her face.
The woman leaned forward on her side with her knees drawn up on the bed & stretched her hand out, causing the multiple bracelets to jangle on her wrists. Autumn stared @ them with amusement. If I were superstitious, I’d think she was testing me.
My name’s Rachel, said the stranger, half-grunting under the strain o’ her twisting.
Autumn walked up to her & shook the her hand, trying to keep herself from frowning @ the thick, meaty feel o’ this stranger’s palm.
Rachel sat back up on her knees & then turned her laptop round to face them, which showed some strange man’s face.
This is my boyfriend, Nick. He’s studying all the way up in the United States. I’m jealous, to be honest. I’m sure he’s met so many movie stars already. Autumn aimed an awkward wave @ the stranger in the computer. Rachel continued,
Nick, this is my new roommate, Autumn, &… ¿What’s your name, Sir?.
Edgar, Edgar said in his quiet voice.
Nice to meet you, Edgar, said Rachel.
I like your costume, by the way. She looked back @ Autumn.
¿Is he your boyfriend or just a friend?.
It’s not a costume.
Rachel laughed & said,
O, I didn’t know I’d have a necromancer as a roommate.
Autumn glanced @ Edgar & was relieved to see no crack in his genial expression.
Autumn saw Rachel turn the monitor back to face herself & started talking to it ’gain & decided to take advantage o’ this reprieve to walk up to her bed & drop her pack, only for Rachel to immediately start speaking to her ’gain:
¿So have you decided on a major yet, Autumn?.
Still looking down @ her backpack with her back to Rachel, Autumn mumbled,
Rachel laughed & said,
I guess that ’splains the shirt… Tho… forgive me for pointing out, it’s got a few holes in it….
But the minute Autumn stepped back inside that night, Dawn asked,
¿You in a better mood now?.
Autumn snapped in mo’ fury than she expected,
No. I’ll ne’er be. Shut it.
If there wasn’t some ulterior reason, you wouldn’t be this pissed, Dawn said as she crossed her arms.
Autumn turned back to Dawn with venom in her eyes.
All right, if you’re so intent on helping me thru humiliation, ¿what do you think happened?.
Dawn leaned forward with widening eyes.
¿What do you think?.
I don’t know.
They told me to go fuck myself, that’s what. ¿What else?.
¿Who? ¿Your parents?.
No, don’t be stupid: the college.
Dawn blinked @ Autumn.
Autumn’s mouth twisted limelike.
No. Rejection. “We’re sorry, but you’re too retarded”.
But Edgar said you got perfec — .
Edgar would say I’m Jesus’s fucking mother. You should learn that he ne’er says anything honest ’bout me. I certainly learned that the instant I met him.
Dawn almost recoiled backward.
Whate’er ’scuse you want to invent, that I’m not qualified for college is an objective fact, said Autumn, tone cooling a bit, to her surprise — in fact, becoming a bit triumphant @ finally proving to that twit what reality was.
I wasn’t when I was @ my smartest, when I was most practiced in academics, I won’t be now that I’ve gone years without practice & have had my mind dulled by hours & hours o’ packing boxes & listening to you talk.
Dawn was staring @ the carpet.
O… I’m sorry….
Autumn looked ’way herself, triumph sapped. She felt her voice become full o’ air — too much air.
Just forget ’bout it. We should consider the fact that I got a job @ all a positive; let’s not ruin my sanity when I most need it by wasting my time with this nonsense. Then she shrugged.
It’s not as if I’d be a good fit for college, anyway. Yeah, maybe I received decent grades — but I also almost got expelled for my kleptomania. I don’t know what Edgar told you, but I didn’t enjoy school, & that wasn’t ’cause o’ any “bullies” — Autumn pointed @ Dawn —
& you can tell Edgar that I wasn’t bullied; if anything, considering my constant cadging, I was the bully.
Seeing Dawn’s frown rise a bit into a weak smile, Autumn felt a bit o’ relief as she prepared to go to bed.
Howe’er, as thoughts o’ going to bed devolved into thoughts o’ returning to work packing boxes for 10 or mo’ hours, that relief was ground up into bitterness, & that bitterness left a taste that kept her ’wake for hours after she lay down & closed her eyes, which she knew would leave her exhausted all day tomorrow; & soon her thoughts transformed into fantasies o’ giant explosions engulfing her & destroying e’ery bone in her body, ’long with the aches & pains to which they stubbornly clung.
Autumn was already halfway down the campus yard before she reached into her pocket to check the time, where’pon she found only an empty, flat space. Confusion gave way to horror as she remembered she’d left her phone on the table, & thus turned & sprinted back down the campus @ twice the pace.
Howe’er, when she returned to the classroom, she found the door closed & found that the knob wouldn’t turn. Peering in thru the door’s window she saw the classroom’s lights were out & that the classroom was empty. She squinted @ the table where she’d sat & saw the small black shape o’ her phone as confirmation that she’d fucked herself.
I can’t wait here fore’er….
I need my phone for work, tho. Fuck….
¿Did you leave something inside, too?.
She turned round in the hope that ’twas the professor, but ’stead saw a young man she recognized as 1 o’ her many classmates.
Still, she said,
Yes, I left my phone inside. I need it for work. ¿Are you able to get inside?.
The young man chuckled.
I wish I could. I left my phone inside, too.
¿Do you know when the professor will be back?.
Autumn looked back @ the door, pursing her lips.
I can’t wait for “’fraid not”.
She looked back @ the young man & whispered,
Listen, you need your phone, too, ¿right?.
Then keep hush ’bout what I’m ’bout to do. I swear I’m just doing it so we can get our phones & leave.
Um, ¿what are you ’bout to do?.
Unlock the door.
The young man looked @ her with a mix o’ confusion & amusement.
Autumn unraveled the ring she still kept on her finger all these years, pushed its end into the keyhole, & began twisting it. Flicking an eye to her side for a second, she could see the young man staring @ her in curiosity. Before long, Autumn heard a click, & then turned the knob & opened it. She turned to the young man & saw him stare @ her in amazement.
She held the door open & said,
After you, Sir.
The young man bowed his head & said,
You are too kind, Madame Lupin the 4th.
Autumn hurried o’er to her phone, only to find e’ery part o’ her freeze when the young man spoke ’gain:
¿Are you dating anyone already?.
When Autumn’s brain began working ’gain after hearing such an absurd string o’ words, she nabbed her phone. For some reason, she didn’t want to be rude, so she muttered,
¿Are you busy later?.
Autumn mumbled back, while staring @ her phone so she’d have something to look @,
I have a few hours before I have to go to work. She looked up @ him & continued,
We should get out o’ here quick before the professor comes back & wonders why we’re here & why his door’s unlocked.
The young man nodded & followed Autumn. She looked back @ him & asked,
You got your phone, ¿right?. As she did this she examined the young man mo’. He had an olive complexion — a bit lighter than her — with crew-cut black hair that dropped just to the top o’ his neck & a bit round his ears. He was wearing a roomy white T-shirt with some logo she didn’t recognize on it & tight black jeans with a chain dangling from 1 o’ its pockets. From a meter ’way she could smell some kind o’ men’s shampoo or cologne on him.
After he showed his phone to her with a nod, she turned back to the door, locked it, & closed it.
All right, let’s hurry ’way from here, she said as she began walking ’way.
After a few meters, the young man continued jocosely,
Not to be rude, but you didn’t answer my question….
While looking ’way from him, Autumn said,
I did answer your question: I’m not busy for the new few hours. The question you’re thinking o’ you still haven’t asked.
Erm… ¿do you want to go eat somewhere?.
¿How would my presence improve your culinary experience?.
You could show me how you unlocked that door.
You don’t have to buy me dinner just for that. There are plenty o’ videos online that can show you how to do that.
You could tell me why you already knew how to pick a lock.
I think you should be wary o’ learning too much ’bout me.
I hate to break it to you, but that only makes me mo’ curious….
After a pause, during which Autumn tried to think o’ something clever to say to hold off on saying anything meaningful, she said,
I don’t think you know how ol’ I am.
¿Why? ¿Are you underage?.
You don’t look ol’. & it’s rude to ask a woman her age. But if you’re busy or anything else, I’ll understand, ’course….
After a moment o’ rumination rushed before this stranger took a hint she wasn’t sure she intended to give, Autumn decided:
I can lead us to a quiet place where we can continue this conversation.
She led him out & round the back, & then far out & up into the deep-wooded area, which she wasn’t e’en sure was a part o’ college grounds. Looking up @ the sky, as if asking providence what the hell she was doing, she saw it clogged by light gray clouds & began to feel beads o’ cold rain tap on her arms & face e’ery second or so, which was probably not the most romantic scenery — but, on the positive, made it less likely for there to be lingering onlookers.
I’ve ne’er e’en noticed this area, the young man said as he looked round.
Autumn searched the clearing for something they could sit on &, when she couldn’t find anything, settled for sitting directly on the grass, feeling a chill in both the romance in the air & the literal temperature as she felt cool dew soak her ass. Whether due to the literal temperature, which she’d found fine all day before, or the abstract kind, her nerves felt the need to shiver. In the most casual way she could, she wrapped her jacket-sleeve-covered arms round her knees, hoping not to bring attention to the incompetence o’ her environmental choice & almost hoping it’d look like she was covering herself for proprietary reasons. She looked up with an indifferent air while silently wondering if the young man would have 2nd thoughts ’bout the buffoon with whom he elected to associate, but saw him, without hesitation, sit down next to her as if ’twere the most normal thing one could do.
¿So how long have you been here — attending, I mean?.
Almost a year, Autumn said to the clouds.
¿What are you majoring in?.
Business, Autumn said breathlessly, & then pulled out her phone & stared @ it. She could feel the heavy minutes hanging o’er her & had become conscious o’ how much time she had before work & how much time they would waste with this tedious infinitesimal talk. She ran all her options thru her mind like Deep Blue.
¿Do you have an appointment you need to get to?, asked the young man.
Autumn hastily slid her phone back into her pocket.
In a half hour or so, but we — I — still have ’bout a quarter hour time left. She didn’t return her arms to her knees but ’stead stretched the leg closest to the young man out & then lightly dropped the hand on that side onto the young man’s knee, rubbing it side to side in imperceptibly small distances, & then stretching her fingers out & embedding them into the crook in the knee o’ his jeans.
So, uh, ¿would you like me to go find a room we can go to?, asked the young man.
Autumn looked round them to see a copse so desolate she couldn’t e’en hear chirping birds, who were probably too smart to make love on such a soggy day — tho she did hear the wind unceasingly sing a much deeper song.
It looks like we already have somewhere.
The young man tittered & said,
Before any mo’ tedious talk transpired, Autumn leaned into the young man till she was halfway sitting on him with her knees & began unbuttoning his jeans. She kept her attention fully on her work, worried that any interruption would wake her to the absurdity o’ this whole operation.
If I were wise, I’d stop & ask him if he has any protection.
¿Why would someone as self-destructive as me start worrying ’bout diseases?.
’Mong breeze’s bellowing, she heard crunches from far ’way, & then heard a perky voice say,
Hey, ¿Autumn? ¿Have you not gone to work — ?.
Autumn opened her eyes & saw Dawn just after the entrance o’ the woodland, a look o’ shock on her face, which quickly flipped to an embarrassed smile before she began hastily backing ’way.
The young man, who had turned to look o’er his shoulder with alarm, turned back to Autumn & said,
¿Are you Autumn?.
Don’t worry ’bout it. Just finish.
That’s a nice name.
¿What kind o’ guy initiates pillow talk before e’en finishing?.
Tho Autumn knew she was being too optimistic, her eyes still flared with disbelief the next day — her day off — when she heard Dawn say,
¿Do you remember what kind o’ essay you wrote for the application you filled out?.
Autumn tried to keep her tone as level as possible when she replied,
I thought we were dropping this subject ’cause ’twas a waste o’ my scarce time.
I’m sorry, I’m just trying to see if maybe I could help you in the aspects you might not be so strong @ — the, uh… social aspects & such.
You’re right there, since I have no idea what that e’en is, said Autumn.
Howe’er, I’m not good @ any aspects anymo’, since I’ve long forgotten e’erything I learned in 2ndary school.
Dawn leaned back with her legs crossed, eying Autumn cooly.
You know, I’ve seen some o’ the books you’ve been reading… College economics, that programming book that I found out is taught by MIT — a much mo’ prestigious college than BU could e’er hope to be… You’d have to be in pure denial if you believe you’re too dumb for college while already studying the work.
Autumn felt her face flush as if she were a teen who’d just found out Dawn had been reading her diary.
But then she came up with the retort,
If I’m already studying it, ¿then why does it matter? ¿What do I need to pay them exorbitant fees for?.
¿Is that what this is ’bout? You know they have plenty o’ free funding for that. This country’s desperate for anyone smart ’nough for college.
Autumn rubbed the side o’ her face as if trying to rub herself out.
¿Why are we having this conversation?.
’Cause we need to. ’Cause nothing you’re doing makes any sense.
That must be why I’m such a genius that BU should be on their knees begging me to please come share a shred o’ my enlightenment on their humble establishment.
No, it’s ’cause you keep ignoring this fact.
Autumn didn’t respond. Her forehead began to burn from the mental energy sapped out o’ her, so much so that she couldn’t focus on what she was doing, couldn’t e’en figure out what she was doing.
¿What’s the point o’ days off if I can’t do anything useful, can’t enjoy them? ¿& what’s the use o’ working if the life I buy with my wages isn’t useful? ¿Why do I spend my time working to buy time living when neither’s worth anything?.
As if reading her mind, Dawn said,
You hate your job, ¿don’t you?.
Yes, that’s why they have to pay me to do it, said Autumn.
It’d be no different if ’twas a ‘white-collar’ job.
Yeah, but you’d get paid mo’.
Whoooie. Mo’ money to sit in my bank account & rot.
The mo’ money you could save, the earlier you could retire….
So I can sit round here hearing you badger me, said Autumn.
That’s if I live that long, which is doubtful — not to mention unbearable.
You’d have mo’ money & time to help you go on those rhymin’ & stealing ventures you loved so much, said Dawn.
In a voice twisted with sourness, Autumn said,
I didn’t love any o’ that shit — & I’m way too ol’ for that shit, too.
Dawn threw her arms out.
So you don’t want money, you don’t want free time, you don’t want to do anything — including treasure hunting or stealing. ¿What do you want?.
Autumn’s eyes bore into the table with such intensity that she thought they might burn holes into it.
You know. We all know. I’m just too weak, to cowardly, to do it. ¿Why not berate me for that ’stead, — something I can control — rather than for my crime o’ not wanting something, not transforming my mind so that it has these strange passions you have, not willing for myself whate’er energy you seem to always have?.
You have 2 choices, Dawn: either accept shitty me — which is, indeed, not a healthy option — or shoot me. Anything else is incoherent — her nonsensical insinuation that she cares ’bout me while loathing e’erything ’bout me, as if there’s that fantastical version o’ me that exists solely in her mind dwelling bound & gagged ’neath this Satanic possession I’ve been in for what must be decades.
Autumn raised her voice.
¿What do you want me to do? ¿You want me to fill out some fucking form? ¿How long will it take?.
Dawn paused for a second, giving Autumn that sad stare ’gain, as if Autumn were a dumb li’l kitten with its claw stuck in a couch cushion — but still somehow smart ’nough for college. There’s that patented rationality from someone who sits round playing children’s toys all day.
Autumn still kept that sense o’ people nearby necessary for her ol’ thieving days, so she sensed Dawn walking up to her as she was trying to study in the library. She glanced up without moving her head ’way from her book to see a dopey smile.
I’m guessing you were dying to come talk to me as early as you could ’cause you just can’t wait to discuss all the different business legal statuses & their varying tax brackets, said Autumn.
¿You’re not going to introduce me to the young man you were talking to yesterday?.
¿Is “talking” the new euphemism all the hip kids are using?.
It seems you already met him, said Autumn.
I didn’t get his name.
Neither did I.
O, look who’s the player now. I’ll have to take you to the clubs ’gain.
Dawn stopped talking after this — a rarity — & Autumn took this as the end o’ their conversation & turned her full attention back to her book, only for Dawn to start speaking ’gain:
So, um, ¿do you want me to not say anything ’bout this to Edgar or is it fine?.
Autumn began rubbing her mouth.
Hrrm… I don’t think he needs to know. Fair’s fair, after all. ’Sides, it’d be inconsequential, anyway. She made a small laugh.
This is all just a ridiculous fantasy, anyway.
Autumn stared @ the sentence, wincing @ the time she was wasting.
“Write about what makes you a unique asset to the culture of Boskeopolis University in no more than 800 words”.
I presume “you likely don’t have too many thieves there” wouldn’t be a good answer — & e’en then, there must be a’least 1 person who’s shoplifted there, so that wouldn’t e’en be unique. ¿Is anyone truly unique? E’en for someone as whacked-out as I am, for e’ery trait I have I could find someone else with something similar; & these officials are bullshitting me if they expect me to believe the average trust-fund son or obscure disease pity case isn’t just like the rest o’ their peers.
Like most puzzles, she started by researching solutions online. Howe’er, the only advice she could find was generic tips that wasted paragraphs on how hard these essays are, something that would be obvious to anyone who bothered to read these articles @ bootup; common word count limits, which were already stated on essay prompts, if they apply, so this whole section gave less information than the essay prompts themselves; what kind o’ questions these prompts commonly ask, which, ’gain, the applicant will already get from the prompts themselves, so this information is useful to nobody in the universe; & then, finally, in round the last 4th o’ the article, vague tips, such as how 1st drafts & revision work. Worse, the advice & examples they provided seemed to inspire the dumbest doggerel she had e’er read, like “I became passionate about politics the day they outlawed creamed corn in the cafeteria”. ¿How could someone like Autumn, who hadn’t a passion for anything, compete with someone who could find fervor for creamed corn?
’Ventually, she settled on her usual strategy when dealing with the world: she’d lie. @ 1st she was leery o’ doing this, since she’d have to act antithetically from her essential behavior if she was going to rise from scummy thief to professional college student; but then she realized that, not being a professional college student, she didn’t know how to be 1, so she’d need to fake it, & that lying was 1 o’ the few things she had in common with professionals — that aforementioned blatant lie regarding “unique” people @ college being an example.
But she could tell without e’en needing to reread her 1st draft that ’twas much too transparently sarcastic & farcical to achieve anything but turning off the officials who read it. She had an inkling the officials wouldn’t believe her when she said that not only her natural parents, but also the 5 adopting pairs o’ parents — all happily married — she’s had, died when she was only 1 years ol’ or that she was raised by wildcats in Wasabi Woods afterward.
It made her wonder to herself: ¿Why do I e’en want to go to this college, anyway? I wouldn’t like anyone here or e’en feel comfortable being near them — & I know for sure that none o’ them will be able to tolerate a rampant asshole like me. Their “culture” is almost diametrically opposite to mine. The fact that I can’t think o’ anything to say that is e’en close to honest that wouldn’t scare them ’way should be a strong indication that I’m not a “good fit” for this place.
I’m not a good fit for earth in general, & yet here I am, still trespassing.
So Autumn just rewrote her essay to be mo’ down-to-dirt, made up some bullshit ’bout becoming passionate ’bout business & finance after some made-up story ’bout learning the value o’ money after she was devastated ’bout wasting money she had won from a part-time job on a video game she ended up hating while her mother lost her job & struggled to pay rent. ’Twas both trite & contrived & Autumn hated it. It didn’t sound the least like her, not the least o’ which since she would ne’er on her own volition write ’bout herself. Those who must talk ’bout their accomplishments don’t have any, as true accomplishments are self-evident. By definition, an accomplishment that can’t be seen doesn’t accomplish anything; ’twas as absurd as someone making a “great” painting that is invisible. The fact that there were so many people who had e’en less self-respect than she had that would make them want to do this amazed her. She downed her bottle o’ vodka so she could tolerate rereading her essay & fix whate’er typos & grammatical errors she made & then wrote what she’d typed on the anachronistic paper application Dawn gave her & left it @ that.
Autumn’s mood perked up that morn when she looked out her window & saw that spring had come early & ’twas nice out. This was not due to harboring the same sentimentality o’er nature as Edgar did, — tho that did remind her that she wished Edgar didn’t have to work that day, so he could sit with her — but ’cause it meant she could study in the peace o’ the empty wooded area she’d found near campus rather than the library full o’ people. ( Her dorm room was, ’course, unusable for studying, since as nice as Rachel was, she could ne’er stop babbling with her boyfriend, which made her wonder how she e’er passed any o’ her classes. It made her worry that Rachel may try to guilt Autumn into doing her work for her. )
As soon as Autumn left the 1 class she had that day, she dashed toward the wooded area, shooting glimpses round her as if she were ’fraid someone would see her & follow her. But as always, no one seemed to pay her mind. So far she had blended in well. Best o’ all, she’d avoided the urge to steal, tho opportunities conspired to flaunt their feathers in front o’ her. She was glad Rachel was nice so that she felt too bad to rob her, e’en tho Rachel’s oblivious nature made it all too facile. Tho e’ery scholarship she’d attempted she’d lost, she was still able to calculate her funds so that she had all the money she required — which was helped by the fact that she didn’t eat much & didn’t want anything mo’ extravagant than 80₧ cups o’ ramen & spent all her free time on studying.
Autumn sat in front o’ the tree she always sat gainst & dropped her pack. But as she looked up & round herself @ the small forest she found herself in, her encounter with that possessed tree monster when she stole that camera several years ago crept in from her memory & she felt a pang o’ nostalgia. She could still freshly recall the fear & the humiliation, the pain & the anger she’d felt during that experience; but she also remembered the thrill & the power she had felt when she had nabbed that camera, repercussions damned. For the past months she’d been @ this college e’erything has been calm. There were only a few times when she felt frustrated from problems focusing on her studies & forced herself to take walks. ’Twas refreshing that she could do that @ any time o’ day without worrying ’bout sneaking out. Most o’ the other students were out fucking @ night, anyway. She knew she couldn’t indulge in those other ol’ habits anymo’, drilling pencils into her palm, squeezing her hands hard gainst the wall, knawing on her fingers or drilling her nails into the skin under her eyes till they had red marks on them, or e’en outright socking herself in the side o’ her high cheekbone. She could no longer use the ’scuse o’ a bully — as an adult she’d be expected to identify someone & press charges, not chalk it up to children rough-rambling, & it’d be very suspicious if it happened mo’ than once. Worse, she would have to endure her roommate’s questions & concerns, since her roommate showed a weird curiosity with her, while in 2ndary school e’eryone who wasn’t antagonistic toward her ignored her.
I have to stop wasting my scarce time on such frivilous distractions. I have work to do.
To ease herself in, she started with her calculus. She ne’er understood why so many people complained ’bout math being difficult, when ’twas the easiest, simplest task in the universe — machinery could do it, after all. In a world full o’ nonsense & contradictions, ¿what could be simpler than learning simple rules & applying them?
Let ƒ( x ) = 4x, g( x ) = 3x, & h( x, y ) = ƒ( x ) + g( y ). ¿What is h( 2, 4 )? Too easy: 20.
I’ll need 20 boxes.
20 boxes. Got it. The warehouse worker wrote on the piece o’ cardboard & then rushed their cart onward. Autumn returned her attention to the boxes she had & figuring out what she could do with the resources she had. She braced herself for a long night & told herself, Mo’ o’ertime means mo’ money for my time — it’s mo’ optimal. It’s the company screwing themselves o’er with so much o’ertime.
But somehow it didn’t feel that way.
The sound o’ the door opening ’gain was followed by Dawn’s excited voice saying,
Hey, Autumn, there’s an important letter for you that I think you’ll want to open.
But I know I won’t like it, Autumn said without looking back.
C’mon: you won’t know till you try.
Dawn was standing next to Autumn now, looming o’er her with an envelope hanging out. Autumn took it & almost felt bile rise @ the sight o’ the words, “Boskeopolis University Admissions”, as if ’twere a Satanic cant — or rather, mo’ fitting for her, a devout hymn for the divine. In a deep, almost subconscious, corner o’ her mind she wondered if she e’en wanted to attach herself to such a thing e’en if Snowy Slopes burned o’er & they accepted her, since she evidently felt revulsion @ the mere name.
Autumn dropped the letter & said,
I don’t have time for this bullshit. I have to go to work in just a half hour.
You just have to open it & read it; the submission already went thru, said Dawn.
¿How? I didn’t fill out any forms yet. ¿What, did you fraud as me & filled them out yourself — while faking my signature?.
Nope. You filled out e’erything. That was what all that practice stuff was.
Still not looking @ Dawn, Autumn said,
¿If I read this, will you stop bugging me ’bout any o’ this?.
Only if you agree to attend — now hurry & read it.
Autumn tore open the envelope & began reading the letter inside. Its meaning hit her like a comet after a second’s delay. Despite the heavy emotion she felt — to her shameful admission — she kept her expression steel tight.
¿Well?. Dawn was gripping herself.
A deal is a deal.
Dawn began hopping up & down.
¡Yes! ¡Yes! ¡Yes!. Then she clutched Autumn, causing Autumn to lean back with an expression o’ disgust.
You’re going to love it, I know it, study buddy.
This time Autumn’s mouth curled into a smile.
¿See? I know you’d be excited.
I meant your promise, said Autumn.
¿What? ¿What promise?.
That you wouldn’t bug me ’bout this anymo’.
I said only if you attend.
Dawn threw her arms out.
¿Why not? C’mon, you can’t back out now that the hard stuff’s o’er with.
Autumn held the letter out & said,
Let them ’splain themselves.
Dawn’s eyes became glassy.
She took the letter & read it. Her frowned deepened @ the 1st line: “We’re sorry to inform you…”.
Autumn laughed — a much stronger laugh than she expected or wanted to emit.
You’re the mo’ downcast, she said.
Dawn dropped the letter & stared @ Autumn in hopeless confusion.
¿Did you not want to go anyway — or are you just this good @…? Well, considering all the things you’ve… I don’t know….
It’s like asking if I wanted to be an astronaut or mayor: ’twas ne’er going to happen, so — but please don’t give me any bullshit ’bout how I need to keep trying & trying & trying for eternity in your incessantly nonfalsifiable optimistic tripe. We had a fair trial, & it failed. Thus it’s falsified.
Tho Autumn couldn’t help noticing that she did feel better now — her smile was no longer fake — & was worried by this fact. There’s no question why: it’s Dawn’s misery. I hate her for bugging me with this nonsense that should’ve been left buried & that now she’s a victim o’ it feels like just deserts.
Dawn seemed to become flaccid, her arms hanging to her sides & her face tilted floorward.
OK. I’m sorry. I was just trying to help.
Save yourself time & just buy me a bottle o’ vodka next time.
¿You’re drinking now?, Dawn said not with high-pitched surprise, but with a low, monotonous tone.
No, but it’s a better swallow.
Autumn shrugged ’gain, her cheer now evaporating. We see why I can’t like her: ¿How can one like others when the desire for proximity is an inherent aspect o’ liking but one acknowledges that one is toxic?.
From the sounds o’ it, ’twas more o’ your time that you wasted than mine, said Autumn.
I’d give 20 times that amount to avoid this disappointment, Dawn said with an alarming look & sound o’ bitterness.
I wish I could have that for e’ery disappointment I’ve had, said Autumn —
then I’d have already died of ol’ age by now.
Autumn rose while looking @ her phone.
Well, it’s off to work for me. Try not to kill yourself from the immense disappointment while I’m gone.
But she made the mistake o’ taking a look @ Dawn, wherein she saw Dawn giggling a li’l.
All right. Try not to explode with joy @ ’scaping the dreadful boredom o’ having to analyze dusty ol’ literature for its author’s neuroses & stuff.
Autumn felt fury flash back thru her, but held it in & nodded. Then she turned & hurried out the door.
As she walked down the sidewalk, digging nails into her arm, she thought, I can’t win. No matter what, I can’t win, ’cause there’s no logic to me, no logic.
Then lose it already.
Fuck, I’m s’posed to drink that useless juice.
She dropped her pack & pulled out the bottle & then started drinking it. But her nerves fringed as she felt the bitter sweetness touch her tongue & she tossed the bottle onto the ground, shattering it into a blood-colored puddle. Then she pulled out her “water bottle” & started chugging that as she continued on toward the bus stop, not caring if it leaked all o’er her uniform, not caring if they had a sudden, surprise drug check, not caring @ all, no sire.