Autumn was called into the Principal’s office yet again when a teacher caught her rifling through a backpack a classmate had left behind as everyone went off to lunch—everyone except Autumn, who always lagged for opportunities to swipe anything left behind without being spotted.
Well, this time she didn’t factor in—or rather, judged the risk worth it—the teacher returning because she’d forgotten her assignments, which was when said teacher saw her bent down, digging through a gray-and-black Starsun backpack.
‘Twas only when the teacher loudly coughed that Autumn raised her eyes from the backpack and up at the teacher’s questioning stare. Autumn didn’t move an inch; she simply stared up at her without concern.
“Madame Springer, that isn’t your backpack, is it,” the teacher asked.
“Why, yes, it is,” Autumn calmly lied.
The teacher pointed behind Autumn. “Then what is that on your back.”
“My other backpack,” Autumn answered.
“Autumn, I know you don’t have two backpacks,” she said.
Autumn shrugged. “And whose backpack is it? The invisible man’s?”
“I believe that’s one of your classmates’ who accidentally left it behind,” the teacher said.
“Then he clearly didn’t care about it that much,” Autumn said as she continued digging through the backpack.
“And how would you feel if you left your backpack behind and someone stole it?”
“Who cares how I would feel?” Autumn answered. “If I’m dumb enough to leave my stuff behind wouldn’t I deserve to have it stolen? I would simply steal it back; and if I couldn’t steal it back, well, wouldn’t I deserve to not have it?”
“You know this is serious, right?” the teacher said. “You could get kicked out for this kind of behavior.”
Autumn didn’t respond. ‘Twas a statement of fact, not a question, and thus didn’t require a response.
The teacher sighed and pointed at the open door behind her. “You’ll need to go to the Principal’s office. And don’t think about blowing it off, because I’ve already called the Principal and told him you’re coming.”
“I’ll go,” Autumn said with a nod.
She stood up and casually walked out into the hall and toward the Principal’s office with her hands in her pockets, feeling the leather wallet she’d pilfered.
Thankfully that idiot hadn’t considered me having already absconded something from the backpack, Autumn thought. I feared my leaving without protest might arouse suspicions, but it seemed to have satisfied her so that she would not pester me further, as I’d hoped.
Autumn walked into the main office and stood near the front desk until another student behind the desk told her, “He’s ready to see you back there,” with a look of nervousness, as if she were afraid Autumn would blame her for her punishment.
But Autumn simply nodded and walked down the designated hall. Since this was nowhere near the first time she’d been sent here, she already knew where it was.
Principle Barter’s office was a small boxy room with a short gray plastic desk covered with an old computer, piles of disorganized papers, and a wobbly little plastic chair for guests. When Autumn entered, she sat down on it and distracted her head to the right while Barter typed on his keyboard.
Barter—a short, balding, hefty man with eyes covered by large, round glasses—noticed Autumn sit down and turned away from his computer and toward her in his chair, creating a creaking sound in the chair underneath him as he moved. He clasped his hands together and leaned them forward over the desk while he stared at Autumn with a polite smile, slightly tilting his head. Autumn met this with a glazed stare, her arms hanging limply over the back of the chair.
“Madame Springer. Would you be offended if I guessed that you were brought here for being caught stealing again?” Barter asked, jokingly trying to emulate Autumn’s professional diction.
“No,” Autumn said. “’Twould be accurate.”
“Now, I know you have some financial difficulties at home, Madame Springer,” Principal Barter said; “but surely there are better ways to get assistance than stealing.”
“That’s none of your concern,” Autumn said, adding in the back of her mind, or at least your fake concern.
“And why do you think that?” he asked.
Autumn gave him a strange look, as if he’d asked why poking oneself in the eye is a bad idea.
“Because you’re not me, nor do you know me, and the possibility of having authentic concern for so many people is thin,” Autumn said.
“If we didn’t care about you would we waste our time talking to you,” he said.
“Considering you have to for your paycheck, yes,” Autumn said. “And anyway, your concern is unasked for, and thus it’d be better for both of us if you saved that concern for other matters—perhaps your own problems.” She didn’t add that she felt he needed it—having Principal as one’s career not being what she’d consider the height of success—since she knew the offense it might create would not be worth the slight increase in persuasive power it’d create for her argument.
Figuring he wasn’t going to convince Autumn any time soon—he never was able to in any of the various meetings they’d had before—Barter moved on to another subject: “Anyway, it is our concern when our students have their stuff stolen. Do you understand how it might make them feel?”
“That is not my concern,” Autumn said.
Barter sighed. “It will be your concern when you get expelled. You know this is serious business, right?”
“I do,” Autumn said with a nod. “I’ll have you know that I take thieving very seriously.”
“But don’t you think there might be better ways to use your talents?” Barter asked.
“Considering my talents are based primarily on my thieving, no.”
“Look, you can’t seriously expect to make a career out of stealing. It’s illegal.”
“That doesn’t make it impossible,” Autumn said. “That doesn’t stop gangs or businesses from thriving off law-breaking. I just need to learn to get caught less as they do. Now, are we finished? This is cutting into my lunch, and I think we can both agree that this conversation will lead nowhere useful.”
Barter’s smile melted into a look of sadness. They had this same conversation dozens of times already, and it always ended the same way. He knew there was nothing he could do to stop her from stealing.
He leaned in closer with a look of grave sincerity in his eyes. “Madame Springer, look, I know you think this is all fun and games, but you can’t keep going around doing this. We may not be able to expel you because the loss of your grades would ruin the school, but there will come a time when you’re arrested and put in jail; and you’re too smart to throw your life away like that.”
“I disagree with both points and neither of us have any evidence to back up either of our arguments, so let’s save time by agreeing to disagree and end this time-wasting conversation, please,” Autumn said. “I have far too much planning to do for my ‘fun and games’ to spend here.”
Barter simply stared at her grimly without any idea of what to say. Of course, he’d met plenty of students like this over the decades he’d held this job. He’d watched them as one watched a slasher movie, dreadfully waiting as life sneaked behind them with a knife, ready to slit their necks at any moment.
Barter took off his glasses and sighed as he rubbed his face. “I just wish you would think about what I said, Madame Springer; but, yes, you may go.”
“Thank you,” Autumn said perfunctorily with a nod, and then rose and left.
IIThe halls were congested with various students sitting against walls, chewing the fat while chewing fatty food. But Autumn spent no attention on them; instead, she made straight for the cafeteria and stood at the back of the shortest line, which today was for mushrooms dowsed in honey syrup with Carbo cookies and Able juice on the side.
Every day Autumn would sell her daily free lunch at a price slightly lower than the regular price, usually to the same few people who were always hungry for a second meal (she made a mental note to avoid stealing from these people—at least not in a way that might risk her getting caught—so that they would remain neutral enough toward her to keep buying from her, as opposed to some of her classmates who outright despised her because they lost an expensive cellphone or iPod to Autumn’s pickpocketing). When that meal was sold, she would then sit at an inconspicuous booth near a back nook and devise plans for prospective heists while keeping her eyes scalloped for any stray trays of nourishment abandoned for her to snag and sell.
This afternoon would turn out to be an anomaly when she went up to one of her customary customers—a student one year younger than Autumn with short moppish hair, a Hawaiian shirt and a large mouth—hiding behind bushes outside to sell him her lunch.
“Well, I’ve already had my second meal, but sure, I could use a third.”
“Oh, do I have competition now?” Autumn asked in a faux-jovial tone, though dully; but behind this she was truly curious about this arrogant newbie trying to invade the industry and purloin her profits.
‘Twould be quite interesting crushing her or him, Autumn thought.
Paying no mind to Autumn’s usual quiet detachment as she stared up at some random elm trees glowing under the afternoon sun, the other student shook his head.
“Some little weird kid in a large puffy jacket came up to me and offered to get me lunch for some reason. I guess he overheard me complaining about you taking too long.”
His face slumped in mild disgust. “When I asked him why he was giving it to me, he said ‘twas because he wasn’t hungry, and all I could see were these glowing red orbs of light surrounded by darkness where his face was supposed to be.”
He shivered. “He freaked me out so much I tricked him into getting some book from the library for me and I hid around here.”
But Autumn wasn’t too interested, her thoughts distracted more by this mysterious student giving away free lunches.
Hmm… He sounds as if he’d be gullible enough to give me his lunch every day, which would increase my profits exponentially, Autumn thought. But do I truly want to go down that route?
Of course, if she did indeed, she still needed to think of a crafty means to do so, and quickly.
The other student suddenly remembered who he was talking to, and then gave her a stare of stern warning. “Hey, you’re not going to go tell him where I’m hiding, are you? I know you like to do anything for money.”
“No, I was planning on snatching his daily lunch,” Autumn said, figuring ‘twould be better to tell the truth, not wanting this customer to have needless ill will toward her.
Autumn was about to go, but the other student interrupted her:
“Wait, I want to ask something real quick.”
“So you do anything for money, right?” he asked with a wry smile.
“I suppose,” Autumn said.
“So, would you even have sex with some really ugly dude for money?” he asked.
“Why? Did you want to be my first customer?” Autumn asked, unable to stifle her tight frown and glare of disgust.
“Oh, god no!” he said with a cringe. “I was just curious.”
“Well, anyway, I have business to attend to,” Autumn quickly mumbled before speed-walking away back toward the cafeteria, silently muttering, “Jackass,” to herself along the way.
IIIShe didn’t find the strange student anywhere in the library, but she did eventually run into him in one of the hallways, walking next to a short, skinny freshman with thick bangs, who was nodding absentmindedly as he glanced side-to-side warily, as if he were ensnared and searching for a way to escape.
Sure enough, he was covered entirely in a thick coat, shrouding his face in pure blackness under the hood, save two glowing red balls of light. But the way he slouched and aimed his shaking eyes straight at the floor, Autumn thought he appeared more pathetic than petrifying.
She could hear the middle of this mysterious student’s nervous sputtering grow louder as she neared them: “—classes do you take next?”
“Uh… math, I guess,” the other student answered in a bored tone. His eyes briefly flickered on Autumn walking toward them, and then continued searching around the area.
Autumn abruptly hesitated. I still don’t know about this… Am I truly going to stoop this low?
Look, we’re strapped for cash. We only have two years till graduation and you’re still not even close to self-sustainability. Are you truly going to let this potentially large gain go because of some minor uncouthness? After all, it couldn’t be worse than what you’ve done in your earlier heists. Dishonesty’s what it’s all about.
Yes, but that was honest dishonesty. These dickbags already know I hate them; this is a creepier manipulation—one that’s less likely to succeed, too.
None of your plans are likely to succeed. It’s all based on risk. And besides, if you don’t care about these dickbags, then let them make fools of themselves. It never stopped them from doing the same to you. Remember, you’re a piece of shit on purpose: because that’s how you get ahead. So then just throw away that final inconsistent shred of pity for these dopes and push to your full potential.
But it’s not pity that’s troubling, so much as the indignity of it.
Superstition. Selling government-funded lunch is hardly dignified, either. How is this different?
Then a direr uncertainty sprouted:
And what if he rejects my offer? ‘Twould put quite a dent in my reputation.
He gave away his food to that one asshole before. He clearly has no standards.
Those still might be higher standards than I need. Besides, I still don’t know how I’d carry this out. Do I just waltz up to them and say, “Hey, give me your food while I pretend to be your friend?”
That was the original plan. However, this plan was circumstantially changed when she felt herself suddenly bump into them, being too distracted by these thoughts to notice her environment.
“Sorry,” she mumbled as she clutched the mysterious student’s arm and helped him up.
The mysterious student raised his glowing eyes in shock when he saw her do this.
“Uh… that’s okay…” he said.
The other student also stared at her, shocked—and then an ecstatic smile appeared on his face.
“Well, don’t let me interrupt you two from meeting,” he said, and quickly walked off before any of them could even acknowledge him, staring forward in horror at the boredom he had to endure with that kid.
Autumn stood there in awkward pause as her mind tossed file cabinets around to find ideas for the next proper statement. Luckily for her, the mysterious student supplied it for her:
“Oh… Um, hello!” he weakly exclaimed. “Uh, my name is Edgar… Edgar Winters. What is your name?”
“Autumn Springer,” Autumn said as she started to take Edgar down the hall with her, her arm still clutching his arm as if helping someone with a broken leg walk. “You look lonely. You have any friends?”
“Oh… no,” Edgar said as he shook his head. “But I do hope to make some. Are you looking for some?”
Perfect, Autumn thought: He’s one of them wimpy types; so he shouldn’t be too hard to convince me to give me his food—especially if he easily gave it to that one swabber back there.
There was still a tinge of uncertainty surrounding what would be an enduring heist. Autumn had long since begrudgingly recognized the need to exploit others in order to gain wealth, but they were usually on the periphery. This was the closest she’d ever allowed herself to get to someone, and she worried over the effect ‘twould have on her work.
The… properness of the venture, too, still festered in her mind.
‘Twas the right thing to do, though, she reminded herself. That’s why he won and you failed, after all. The same logic applies here.
I remember…she thought grimly.
“Why yes, I was,” Autumn lied; “but I’m not looking for any loser to be my friend. No, there’s something… special about you…”
Autumn wasn’t sure what she was supposed to mean by that; but she knew she needed an excuse to blow off any other idiots who might want to bug her. Besides, ‘twould make Edgar keener to help her, though she felt it was a little too sycophantic, which kind of disgusted her a little.
Then again, business is all about jerking the haves off so they give what they have to you, she thought.
Pathetic business. No, you fucked up. Became frazzled by a hastily planned endeavor and overcompensated. It’s too late to take it back, but we must be more careful in the future.
But while Edgar seemed to get excited by what Autumn said, he also looked afraid, and he stared at Autumn curiously.
“What do you mean I’m… special?” Edgar asked as he held his hood down tighter.
“Uh…” Autumn stared straight forward, trying to think of an answer to give, when her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by whispering she heard to her right: “Hey, kid, can I speak to you for a second.”
She swung her head rightward and saw someone whose face she recognized, but couldn’t remember his name. He was tall, skinny, had thick, moussed hair and thick, round glasses. His eyes looked stern; and when they temporarily flicked angrily up at her, she remembered who he was (or at least one important thing about him): He was one of the rich kids she often stole from. She remembered that she specifically liked to steal from him, not only because he would leave his stuff lying around all the time, but also because of some indignant remarks he’d made about her that she couldn’t quite recall now.
Edgar, who of course knew nothing about any of this, only stared worriedly at this stranger. “It’s… it’s not about the hood is it?”
But before the stranger could answer, Autumn loudly blurted, “What? There’s no rule against hoods in the hallways. You’re not trying to fill this poor kid’s head with lies, now, are you?”
He glared up at her and replied, “No, I don’t think you’ll need any help with that.”
“Listen, kid, I’m just warning you: Madame Springer here is pretty infamous around this school. You can ask anyone if you don’t believe me. She steals from everyone around here. Don’t be fooled by her street-urchin-like appearance.”
Autumn stood silently with an impatient expression. She knew outspoken denial would only feed fire to suspicions.
The other student looked back at Edgar. “I’m just trying to warn you.”
And with that Autumn and Edgar continued walking down the hall as the other student walked past them. Autumn paid little attention to Edgar still caught in her right arm; instead her eyes wandered around the putrid yellow, green, and gray cracked walls while her mind focused on how to keep the rest of the zoo from sabotaging her plans.
She’d expected Edgar to bring up the other student’s charges, ask her if they were true, which was why she frantically constructed the most persuasive answer she could; but he never did. He simply stared down at the gaudy ground as he followed her.
Edgar did finally attempt to make small talk with Autumn—the same as with the other student: “What classes do you take?”, “What do you do after school?”, “Have you lost any lives yet to bottomless chasms?” The usual. Autumn carefully answered all of these questions while offering the least incriminating information she could. She still didn’t say anything about her thieving work, though she knew he’d figure it out eventually.
Then again, perhaps he doesn’t care. He hasn’t brought it up yet, she thought. For some reason, it only made her curiouser about what this abnormal specimen of hers was thinking about the situation, the business-based detachment she felt easing the normal aversion she’d feel to associating with someone else.
After all, she rationalized, he’ll eventually find out and be pissed off, anyway, so it’s not as if what he’d think should matter.
The bell rang. Autumn and Edgar had the same class for next period, so they walked over to Edgar’s locker—Autumn always kept her backpack with her, not trusting some government-controlled locker to protect her valuables from one of her enemies—and then to Room 1704, where they had “10th Grade World Literature.”
Autumn never liked this class much because she couldn’t hide out in the back of the class and do her “real” work. Instead everyone’s desks were arranged in a circle, where the teacher could clearly see if she was doing something else during class. So Autumn had to sit still and pretend to pay attention to the class—a skill she’d mastered, which involved turning to people when she heard them begin to speak and moving her eyes down from their eye contact every so often so she could pretend that she was pondering what they were saying—while she secretly thought about other money-making schemes. She did half-listen to what the teacher said, though; only so she wouldn’t be completely lost when she was inevitably called on to say something. The gist of it was that they were learning about “postmodernism,” specifically “breaking the fourth wall,” which was when obnoxious writers think it’s really funny to write something weird or stupid and then point out how they wrote something weird or stupid.
Although Edgar overall enjoyed the class, he didn’t enjoy the beginning when the teacher forced him to take his hood off.
The teacher sighed. “I’m sorry, Edgar, but the school rules require you to not have your hood on during class.”
Autumn felt awkward in this situation, not being used to pretending to be anyone’s friend before. On one finger, she felt she was probably expected to stand up for the loser; on the other, she didn’t want to needlessly net herself extra scrutiny. She calculated that Edgar was not assertive enough to reject her fake friendship if she did nothing, so she temporarily pretended that neither of them was there, her mind returning to her plans.
Edgar, who didn’t dare disobey the teacher for fear of being cooked in a giant dunce cap full of chili—standard protocol in high school—dutifully pulled his hood off, revealing a large gray skull with two big black holes for eyes.
“See, Edgar, that wasn’t too bad, now was it,” the teacher said.
Then she opened her copy of The Catcher and the Rye. Seeing that the minor drama was now over, the other students turned away from Edgar and opened their books as well, the event soon fading from their memories.
Autumn herself used this cue to take out her book she stole from the library—attempting to ignore the embarrassing racial slurs and penile artwork featured inside—and pretended to focus on it. She momentarily moved her eyes off it to glance sideways at Edgar, just to see what all the fuss was about his appearance. Though it briefly intrigued her, she quickly turned back to the book all the same.
IVThe hallways were filled with gossipy whispering:
“Hey, did you hear that Marvin got Samantha pregnant?”
“No… That’s impossible.”
And then another woman walked down the hall toward them.
“Hey, did you hear that Marvin got Samantha pregnant?”
“I am Samantha.”
“Oh… Well, did you hear about you getting pregnant yet?”
There was even some gossip about Autumn befriending Edgar, which actually has some relevance to the story.
“Hey, you know that antisocial woman who steals everyone’s stuff?”
“Apparently she’s hanging out with that weird kid in the large jacket.”
“Wait, who cares about this? I mean, our existence is based entirely on whispering news about other people that everyone already knows. What kind of cruel gods rule this world?”
And so these two unnamed people were obliterated from existence, never to be read about again now that their purpose has been fulfilled.
Edgar needed little convincing to deliver his free lunch to Autumn, who carried it around with her own lunch, asking people to buy them, including that one large-mouthed guy I still haven’t named yet.
“Hey, large-mouthed guy, you want to buy an extra meal? I have two of them here—fifty cents each.”
“My name’s not ‘large-mouthed guy,’” large-mouthed guy corrected.
“So?” Autumn asked. “You’re not important enough to earn a name. Now, do you want to buy or not?”
Large-mouthed guy couldn’t argue with this logic, and he bought all three meals, even though there were only two of them. When Autumn tried to correct him on this, he refused to let himself be constricted by reality and adamantly paid Autumn the full 150 cents.
After stuffing a few imaginary fries into his mouth, he said through his loudly munching gums, “So, are you just hanging with this freaky hooded guy because he gives you his lunch?”
Autumn glared at him, while Edgar only stared down at the dewy grass in embarrassment.
“No, of course not,” Autumn grunted as she crossed her arms. “I’ll have you know that I and, um… um…”
Autumn made a mental note to practice remembering his name yesterday, but was so caught up in her school work and her heist work that she forgot to do it—and now she couldn’t remember it. After all of the risky stunts she’d done to steal people’s possessions, this was the first time she’d ever failed something so mind-numbingly easy. She stared forward with widening eyes of horror, trying her hardest not to even peek in Edgar’s direction, while her hands withered down to her sides.
She turned around and muttered, “Well, I have business to attend to,” and then quickly walked into the cafeteria to sit at one of her usual tables in the back.
I can’t do this anymore, she thought. It’s too pathetic. It’ll be worth starving on the street years from now if I avoid becoming that bastard.
She sat her backpack next to her and dug around inside for her pencils and papers when she heard Edgar slide in the chair in front of her. She focused all of her attention on writing, too embarrassed to look at Edgar, all the while thinking, If he’s pathetic enough to continue hanging around me it’s his own fault.
Edgar leaned into the table to see what Autumn was writing, only to realize he couldn’t understand any of it, other than that it involved what looked like a diagram of the school and a bunch of lines drawn around it.
“So, do you always sell your lunch? I mean, every day?” Edgar asked.
“Huh?” Autumn muttered, while taking the time to glance around the table now that she remembered to look out for abandoned meals. Without looking at Edgar, she said, “Yeah.”
“Well… I mean, what do you eat?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Nothing.”
“Isn’t that bad for you, though?” Edgar asked.
“There are lots of things ‘bad’ for you. I only do ‘bad’ things that help me become successful. Maybe when I’m rich in the fantasy bizarro mirror of this reality, I’ll be able to worry about such luxuries as eating. Until then, shut it.”
They both sat there with not a sound between them except the scratching of Autumn’s pencil on paper. But the more Autumn saw Edgar sit there the more revolted she felt at herself.
“Look, I know it’s quite stupid of me to forget your name, being so ‘special’ and all, but I’m truly bad at names, okay,” Autumn muttered gruffly.
“Well, I mean… we only just met yesterday,” Edgar said.
Autumn couldn’t help thinking the amount of denial one would have to have to say something so pathetic, which only made her want to puke even more.
This time Autumn looked up, directly into Edgar’s red glowing eyes and pointed a finger toward him.
“Look, in case you’re a total dolt, I am just pretending to befriend you for your free meal; but I can’t use you anymore. It’s just… it’s just not right. Any money I steal through you is worthless. So I think you’d be wise to leave.” Autumn waved her hand signaling him to go.
“Oh, well, that’s okay…”
Autumn moved her pencil around, pretending to continue working, while in reality she wondered why the skeleton kid was still around.
Edgar sensed this irritation and said, “Uh… Do you still want me to leave?”
Autumn nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
“Uh, okay… Sorry for all of that trouble…” Edgar mumbled as he looked down at the table. After a minute’s awkward silence as he puzzled over something more intelligent to say, he slid out and walked away.
Autumn squeezed her pencil tightly, somehow angered even further by Edgar’s docile reaction.
VMost of her fellow students were even less happy with Autumn since she broke off their business relationship—not because they felt bad for him, but because now he went back to annoying everyone else. For the braver students they could just yell at him until he slunk away; but the more polite students, they had to make excuses to get away from him.
This was especially hard for the two or three shy losers scattered outside during lunch who were too nervous to tell Edgar they preferred being shy losers. One of them couldn’t take the awkward silence and heavy breathing of being around Edgar so much that he’d impaled one of his eyes with a fork for an excuse to spend the rest of lunch in the nurse’s area; but then Edgar followed him there to see if he was okay. So his next plan was to whisper to the nurse that Edgar was the one who stabbed him and Edgar was thrown into Mt. Volcocoa for an hour as punishment—standard protocol in high school.
Tomorrow’s lunch break, Edgar was walking down a long hall of rusty gray-green lockers, trying to find more people to befriend, when he noticed a tall woman in a blue basketball jersey whose eyes were aimed sharply at him. He waved nervously and skipped over to her with a, “Oh, hello. My name is Edgar. What’s yours?”
“Melissa,” she said. “Hey, you hang around with that Autumn bitch, right?”
“Uh… no. At least I don’t think so…” Edgar sputtered out.
“What do you mean ‘you don’t think so’? You either do or you don’t,” she said. “I left my iPhone with all of my pics and shit in it in my locker, and about a minute ago I found my locker hanging open with my iPhone missing, even though I sure as hell remember it not being open when I last left it. Now I know that bitch is the one who always goes around stealing people’s shit. Now where is she?”
Edgar began to shake, his thin bony hands covered by his bulky sleeves glued to his chest.
“Uh… I haven’t seen her today, but I do have her next period and I can tell her what you said.”
“Tell her it’ll be the last time she ever steals,” Melissa said.
And with that Edgar continued walking on past her at a speedy pace, nervously glancing behind him until he was safely past the next corner and he was satisfied that she’d let him go in peace.
Edgar dashed over to the cafeteria and searched around until he saw Autumn sitting at an empty table near the back corner and sneaked into the opposite seat, ducking his head in hopes of hiding behind the back of his chair in case Melissa came by. Autumn could see him appear in the corner of her eye, but she refused to take her eyes off of her paper and pretended to ignore him.
“Autumn, did you recently break into a locker, by chance?” Edgar whispered.
This, however, seemed important enough for Autumn to look up at him, earlier expecting him to be here for something stupid. With a glance of suspicion she asked, “Why? Was your locker broken into?”
“No, but some truly strong person’s was and she said she wasn’t very happy about it,” Edgar squeaked.
“You’d be surprised to find that most people aren’t happy about their possessions being stolen,” Autumn replied.
“So… so did you take it?” Edgar said.
“I’m not sure. Probably,” Autumn said as she leaned her head into her right arm. “Walking down here from third period, I did see a loosely-opened locker, pried it open, and stole an iPhone from it. So, yes, ‘twas likely me. Why?”
“She, um… she said ‘twould be the last time you’d ever steal again…” Edgar gulped.
“Ah, a tough one, then,” Autumn nodded. “Yes, they’re always risky ones. Not the first one I’ve dealt with, however.”
“Well, I mean… how did you deal with the others?” Edgar asked.
“Oh, they never do much, actually,” Autumn said. “Most I was able to trick into believing I didn’t take anything from them. I have ways of hiding my treasures, let me just say. Some just pummel me or yell at the authorities, who are never able to find anything on me; but none of them have ever killed me yet.”
“But… but what if this one does?” Edgar asked.
Autumn shrugged. “Well, then she does and that’s that.”
“Aren’t you worried about what she might do to you?” Edgar asked.
“How would worrying benefit me?” Autumn asked as she picked her pencil back up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have work I need to do.”
Autumn did, however, make use of this tip by lying low during breaks, sticking near large crowds while walking through the halls and spending most of her lunch in her emergency hiding place: a secret hole under the school she’d found two years ago and covered with a pile of inconspicuous wood planks. Since Autumn didn’t share any classes with this Melissa student, she had no run-ins with her for the next couple of days. She just had to hope Melissa would soon forget about the whole ordeal, as most did.
But ‘twas clear the next day that Melissa was still after her. She hunted for Autumn all over the hallways, but could only find Edgar, who was not lying low, but instead went around introducing himself to everyone. She picked him up by the back of his coat by surprise when he was talking with one of the students and turned him to face her bitter frown.
“Okay, where is she hiding?” she asked.
“I… I don’t know…” Edgar squeaked. “I told you… we don’t hang around during lunch anymore…”
“Yeah, but you also told me you have next period with her,” Melissa said as she glanced around the hallways suspiciously. “Now I want you to sneak her backpack and deliver it to me tomorrow, okay?”
“What? That shit’s irreplaceable. You think she cares about that? Besides, she deserves it for taking other people’s crap all the time. What does she think she is, queen of the world? And you said yourself that you don’t hang out with her anymore, so why do you care?”
“I, um… I don’t know if I can steal people’s stuff, though…”
“It’s not stealing if you’re taking what’s already been taken. You know that rat doesn’t have anything valuable that she didn’t pilfer.”
“Somehow I think she would say the same thing…” Edgar gulped.
She shook him up a little with one hand and pointed menacingly with the other.
“Look…” she began, trying to keep control of her temper. “I need that phone and I’m not going to let her get away with it like everyone else at this lazy school. Now, the way I see it, you have a choice here: you alone have the choice to do the right thing, or you can help her do wrong by doing nothing. And I have no qualms with hurting people who abet criminals.”
The bell rang and Melissa dropped Edgar back to the ground, her face softening as she began to feel guilty about the harshness of these actions.
He’s gotta learn now that everyone’s actions have consequences. If he’s fine with standing around letting others get victimized all so he can save his sorry behind, well, then maybe it’s time to give him a taste of it, she assured herself.
As soon as Edgar gained control of his body again, he scurried away to room 1704, this time looking all around him in all directions, fearful of any random danger that might be hiding somewhere.
As he entered the room, he saw that Autumn was already present, her attention still rapt on her plans. He scurried over right next to her right ear, which was enough of a disturbance to pry Autumn’s attention from her papers up at Edgar.
He whispered shakily, “Autumn, can I speak to you privately?”
“What is it, now? I told you, I don’t care about some idiot who’s angry about me stealing her crap,” Autumn whispered back.
“But she said… she said she was going to hurt me if I didn’t steal your backpack for her today…”
Autumn paused for about a minute, staring blankly forward before she finally replied, “Well, that’s no surprise. The people at this school are all awful. What, did you think me and my stealing were some special case?”
“What should I do?” Edgar whispered hysterically.
Autumn paused again, tapping her hands against the top of her desk. Well, she knew what he should do: steal her backpack; but, of course, Autumn didn’t want him to do that, so why should she give him the idea.
All Autumn could think of to say was, “The idiots around here make empty threats all the time. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I’m sure she’ll forget.”
But that didn’t seem to be the case the next day when Autumn noticed Edgar wasn’t present when the bell rang for fourth period to begin.
There could be an infinite number of reasons why he’s not here, Autumn tried to reassure herself. It’s not as if he were dropped in the middle of Mt. Volcocoa.
But when fourth period ended, and everyone else filed out of the class—except for the two early fifth period students—she went up to the teacher, cleared her throat, and asked, “Uh… would you happen to have seen Edgar around?”
The teacher looked at Autumn with shock and said, “He’s at the nurse’s. Apparently he got into a fight. Are you friends with him?”
Autumn didn’t waste her time answering. Instead, she instantly turned around and dashed off toward the nurse’s office, hearing the teacher call out, “I’ll tell your fifth period teacher I sent you to the nurse’s, okay?” from behind.
Autumn cringed as she realized the true magnitude of this plan’s failure: it hadn’t just wasted her time and dignity, but also left lingering troubling consequences.
She slowed as she entered the main office so she wouldn’t arouse any suspicions about her own connections to this incident and walked slowly to the front desk, where she asked the nearest student behind it for the nurse office’s location. She followed the student’s finger to a door leading to a little yellow-walled room, where she saw a man in a light blue uniform putting Edgar’s arm in a slink.
Edgar turned with a look of surprise at Autumn as she walked over to him and said with a little wave of his other hand, “Oh, hi, Autumn.” The nurse also turned to her, gave her a smile, and asked, “Are you a friend of his?”
But Autumn ignored him and focused her eyes on Edgar, his broken left arm, and the tears on his jacket. Although her eyes kept their normal bored stare, her mouth twitched in irk as she thought about all of the damage that might be hidden under that jacket.
“So I take it I was wrong yesterday?” Autumn asked as she glanced rightward at the nurse, suspicious he might catch on to Autumn’s meaning.
“What? Oh… Yeah, she wasn’t very happy about it, no,” Edgar replied.
“You know why these two got into a fight?” the nurse asked with a questioning stare aimed at Autumn.
Autumn only shrugged.
She turned back to Edgar and asked, “Are you busy next lunch?”
“No… not really. Why?” Edgar asked.
“Meet me at my regular table at the beginning of tomorrow’s lunch, okay?”
“Okay,” Edgar answered.
VIEdgar met Autumn at her usual table in the cafeteria the next day, still with his left arm in a slink, but not looking as shaken up as he did before. This time Autumn wasn’t digging her face into her papers, but instead had her backpack still on her back as her attention focused on surveying the cafeteria for Edgar, with a few taps of her hands on the table top in bored anticipation.
When she saw Edgar walk toward her, she stood and whispered, “Follow me,” with a wave of her hand. Edgar nodded and she led him outside, to the side of the building where the large pile of wood planks lay. After shifting her eyes around to ensure nobody saw what they were doing, she moved a few of the planks to reveal a boxy hole underneath.
“This is my secret hideout,” she whispered. “It’s small and dirty, but ‘twill hide you from what’s-her-name until this all boils over.”
“Oh… thank you,” Edgar said with a mix of nervousness and cheerfulness.
“Yes, well… sorry about mixing you up in all of this, I suppose,” Autumn grunted back.
She motioned Edgar inside, which he dutifully followed, and then climbed down herself before moving the planks back into place, hiding them both. However, she made sure to leave a streak of sunlight in so she could see.
After sitting and setting her backpack down next to her, she dug her papers out and continued her usual work, using one of her school books as a board set on her upraised knees.
Meanwhile, Edgar sat right next to her, staring down at the papers in front of her in curiosity and, when he saw again that he couldn’t understand any of it, stared straight forward while his hands fiddled around with his sleeves awkwardly.
VIIBut Autumn’s hiding strategy met its limit when she sold her lunch—and Edgar’s, now that he was accompanying her every lunch—at the beginning of next Monday’s lunch and she walked out the back door only to see Melissa standing there waiting with her arms crossed.
Autumn swung into the other direction and zipped forward, dragging Edgar behind with her, only to crash right into the nearest table, knocking her to floor, where Melissa’s feet had already stopped.
Melissa grabbed around her neck, picked her up, and held her back up against the wall while Autumn stared awkwardly at Melissa’s stern face.
Most students in the cafeteria turned their heads toward the two because of the commotion, as well as the intrigue at the local thief actually being caught for once in public. They all gabbed their mouths up and down in incomprehensible mutterings, the way large crowds of unnamed people never always do when staring at something important.
Among the people watching, but much closer, was Edgar, who had just gotten up from his fall caused by Autumn’s accident. The first thing he noticed when he returned to his senses was Autumn being held up by the neck. He quickly dashed over and lightly pulled on Melissa’s shirt.
Autumn, who was looking to the side of Melissa to see where Edgar was, was the first to notice Edgar running over to them. She thought, Ah, shit. Now what’s he doing. I’m not equipped to handle this, with a weary expression as she shook her head and silently mouthed the word, “No. Go away.” Melissa didn’t see this; by this time Edgar was already pulling on her shirt, and she had already turned her head toward the annoyance and saw Edgar’s two red glowing eyes aimed at her.
“You’re not… you’re not going to do anything too drastic are you?” Edgar squeaked, remembering his bandaged arm and wondering what worse ideas she had in store for Autumn.
Melissa ignored this question and answered instead, with a stalactite tone, “I see you’ve been running around with this thief now again. Now run off before your other arm’s broken.”
This caused Autumn’s blood to abruptly erupt; but she said calmly, “Run along, Edgar. You won’t be able to stop her anyway, so you would only be harming both of us instead of one of us.”
Though Edgar backed up a meter, he still stood nearby, afraid to watch what might happen, but even more fearful for what worse could happen for some reason if he didn’t keep his eyes open.
Autumn turned back to Melissa and said, “And for the record, the only reason he’s ‘running around’ with me is to protect himself from being attacked by cowardly thugs. Next time you have a problem with me, you might prefer putting in a better effort to find me instead of taking out your aggression on someone clearly much weaker than you.”
“A petty thief shouldn’t be lecturing me on ethics,” Melissa said as she throttled Autumn against the wall, which Autumn noted hurt her neck, but did no further damage.
But Autumn felt no need to pay attention to that, since there was nothing she could do about it. She looked around below her and tried to think of what she could do to escape, but couldn’t think of anything. Counterattacking would only get her attacked even more, which would hardly be beneficial.
When the throttling stopped, Autumn turned up at Melissa again and said, “I know I shouldn’t be; but then here we are.”
She couldn’t explain how this would be a good strategy, since it likely only made her madder; but then she figured ‘twould be better to get pummeled to death than to let what she thought was clearly a pathetic, petty thug pretend to have moral supremacy over her.
And as Autumn guessed, Melissa was not too fond of this answer, and proceeded to punch her in the face, giving her a black eye and chipping two of her teeth, causing a little blood to dribble down her lips.
‘Twas at this point Autumn decided maybe ‘twould be best to tone it down; although she was not badly damaged yet, she was worried about what damage she might sustain later—especially broken bones that may interfere with her work.
Melissa calmed down again and said, “I know you think you’re pretty clever stealing everyone’s stuff and never getting taken to task for it. Well, I hope you’ve now learned that that isn’t the case.”
Autumn nodded in understanding.
“Now, where is my phone?” Melissa asked.
“See, now this is the funny thing: I really don’t have your phone,” Autumn said. “You simply assumed I took it because I have notoriety for robbing people, as if nobody else has ever committed theft, or as if nobody who hates me for robbing him or her set me up. Did it ever occur to you that the reason I never get ‘taken to task’ for stealing people’s possessions is that I do not steal from people who might beat me up?”
“Then why were you hiding?”
“To avoid the punches I just received,” Autumn replied.
“You’re full of crap,” Melissa said.
“Check my backpack for yourself,” Autumn said with a shrug.
And so Melissa did, taking her right arm off Autumn’s neck, while her left arm remained, and used it to slip off her backpack and dig through it, checking every pocket, as well as checking the entire binder. But all she could find were a bunch of books, pencils, and a ton of papers.
Melissa looked back at Autumn’s calm stare with sour incredulity and proceeded to stuff her free hand in both pockets, in both her jacket and skirt, only to find a couple one-dollar bills and a handful of change, which she put in her own pocket.
Damn it, I knew I shouldn’t have left that in there, Autumn grumbled in her head.
But Melissa still found no phone and resorted to yanking off Autumn’s jacket and shaking it out, and then shaking Autumn herself, upside-down by her feet. Nothing fell down, except the glasses that had already been clearly visible on Autumn’s face.
“I’m telling you I don’t have anything,” Autumn said.
But as Melissa shook Autumn she felt a strange bump on Autumn’s left shoe and, suspicious, pulled it off only for a flat, black cellphone to tumble down on the ground, as well as a wad of paper money plopping down nearby.
Though she could barely see without her glasses, Autumn could feel the shoe slip off her foot and had already cursed in her head with the knowledge of what would happen next. Still, she maintained her plain expression, knowing there was nothing she could do about it. Though she’d tried to think of ways to break through Melissa’s grasp, none seemed operable. She just had to hope Melissa would not find much more.
Without a word, Melissa bent down, still holding Autumn by just her left leg, and picked up the phone—as well as scooping up the wad of money and stuffing it into her pocket. She then examined the black phone now sitting in her right hand.
“Strange, this looks just like my phone,” Melissa said with a patronizing glare aimed at Autumn.
“Could be coincidence. After all, if it’s your phone your information should be inside it,” Autumn replied.
Melissa turned it on and tapped around in it with her thumb as she examined it.
“Hmm… It seems the information is all blank,” Melissa said with barely-concealed anger. “Funny you would be carrying around a blank phone that you certainly didn’t hack into to erase the data from.”
Autumn remained silent. It wasn’t as if she could say anything that would change her mind.
Hmm… That’s a good idea. Why hadn’t I thought to put my information in there to better conceal its true quality.
Probably because that could’ve incriminated you even further in other circumstances, she answered herself.
Melissa then grabbed her other shoe and shook it, as well as her two socks, to release more wads of cash, which she also scooped up into her pocket while Autumn barely held off cringing at most of her success being scooped into that pocket.
“Got anything else on you?” Melissa asked.
Autumn shook her head. “Where else would I hide any money?”
Melissa didn’t reply, but she patted around Autumn until she found another little bulge on the side of her skirt.
Next, Autumn felt herself being shaken up and down until she fell out her skirt, landing directly on her head, like a pickled sardine.
Autumn sat back up, rubbing her sore head, as the crowds watched her in hushes and wide-eyed stares—the way large crowds of unnamed people never always do at these occasions. But Autumn’s widened eyes instead looked up at the blurry image of Melissa towering above her, just at that moment pulling a thick wad of bills out of her skirt from a secret pocket she cut on the inside that she was sure nobody would find.
Melissa looked down at Autumn with a look of triumph. “I hope this teaches you not to steal from me again.”
She then snatched Autumn’s backpack and opened it just to stuff Autumn’s skirt in it before closing it again.
“And I’ll be taking these things just in case there’s more wealth hidden in these. I want to make sure you have nothing that you didn’t earn yourself—which would be absolutely nothing, since I know you don’t make any money legitimately.”
Then Autumn cringed even more as she heard the crack of breaking glass and plastic. She had specifically avoided moving for her glasses, knowing ‘twould give Melissa ideas; but now she realized Melissa was savvier than she’d originally imagined.
“And that ought to keep you from stealing for a while,” Melissa said before turning and leaving.
Autumn stared down blankly at the blurry ground, paralyzed by the immense loss, oblivious to her surroundings.
She’d gotten through every clever defense I’d crafted, she thought. I mean, I’ve been foiled before; but never this completely—and so quickly too.
Edgar, meanwhile, had moved over next to her and asked, “Are you all right?”
Autumn looked up at Edgar confusedly and said, “What? Oh, yeah,” and stood up. “Not nearly as bad as you received with your arm, actually.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t do anything to help you…” Edgar said shyly.
Autumn blinked up at Edgar confusedly. “I specifically told you not to, precisely because you couldn’t do anything.”
The bell rang and Autumn stood and walked toward her next class with her arms out, trying not to bump into anything else. All the while she stared down at the ground grumbling in her head about everything she lost.
That was about two hundred dollars’ worth of material I lost—‘twill take about a year to make up for that!
“Hey, Autumn… Autumn!” Edgar shouted, shaking Autumn out of her distraction temporarily.
“What?” she muttered.
“You, uh… you need help finding your way around?”
Autumn sighed. “If you insist.”
She felt cloth grab her hand and lead her forward. And now I am disabled so much I cannot even walk by myself, apparently… Autumn mused.
“Um… What are you going to do about your, um… lack of wardrobe…” Edgar said as he stared up away from her awkwardly.
“What do you mean—ah, shit,” Autumn grunted as she stared down to check her clothes.
“Do you think we should take you to the office or something?” Edgar asked.
“I don’t know—Does this school have standard protocol for when people lose their clothes for further money inspection?” Autumn asked. “These are the only clothes I have, too; and as you saw already, I lost all of my money.”
“Can your mother not buy you anything?” Edgar weakly asked.
“No,” Autumn said with a shake of the head. At least I sure as hell am not going to grovel to her to buy me anything. “Anyway, fuck the office, they never do anything anyway.”
“So you’re just going to go to class like that?” Edgar asked.
“Yeah,” Autumn said.
“But… but aren’t you embarrassed?” Edgar asked.
“You’re damn right, I’m embarrassed. I’m supposed to be the best thief around, and yet I lose everything in one day. It took years to save that up.” Autumn turned back to the floor in front of her before remembering something else and turning back to Edgar with her arms raised in frustration. “And she found my secret pocket, too.”
Wait… should I be saying this all out loud?
What harm could it do now?
You never know about the future…
Edgar, who became so distracted by the conversation that he forgot to avoid looking at Autumn, finally noticed Autumn’s backpack gone.
“She… she took your backpack, too?” Edgar asked.
“Yeah,” Autumn mumbled.
“Oh… Well how are you going to do your homework?” Edgar asked.
“I’ll manage” was all Autumn said; but what she really worried about was all her plans being taken. Great, now I have to start all over on that, too.
VIIIAutumn thought she might actually get used to seeing without her glasses—or at least that’s what she told herself as she walked down the street toward home, her eyes squinting so she could get at least a vague glimpse of her surroundings.
In reality, she had to put effort into keeping her nerves calm. For reasons she could not explain, the lack of sight caused by lack of glasses made her feel as if something might attack her from any direction; and no matter where she turned, she wouldn’t be able to see it, whatever it might be.
When the need came to cross the street, Autumn stopped on the curb and looked both ways, trying to listen for any cars coming. Unfortunately, the street was full of them, and so she could only hear a cacophony of objects zoom by here constantly.
She made one more look around and, when she had a good inkling that no car was coming, she made her way through.
Unfortunately, this was not the case; a sedan was rolling down the road just as she started walking. When its driver saw her crossing he shoved his foot on the brake, screeching his car to a halt just in time so that it barely bumped Autumn onto the ground.
“Hey, kid, are you all right?” The driver yelled out his window.
Autumn sat up and gave him a thumbs-up. She made a quick assessment of any damages and found that she only had a bruise on her side.
“You want me to call an ambulance?” The driver asked.
Autumn shook her head, slowly stood up, and moved on as if nothing had happened. After she felt the situation had safely passed, however, she turned her head around her more often, hoping to avoid any other problems.
I think I’m getting the hang of this seeing without glasses. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I do wonder if I could force my eyes to adjust to proper sight by sheer muscle power.
When she finally made it home, she stayed on her bed, safe in the knowledge that she couldn’t bump into anything if she were not moving. Since she couldn’t convince herself that she could even see writing on paper, she eschewed writing her new plans—she didn’t have any paper or writing utensils anymore, anyway—and settled for relying on memory. She was actually glad she was sent home early as it gave her plenty of time to plan the rebuilding of her empire.
Then she remembered why she was sent home in the first place and decided to rectify that immediately. She searched around the house for scissors and, upon finding a pair, cut out a piece of her bed sheet and crafted a makeshift skirt from it, using tape she found in the closet to tape together multiple folds so that ‘twould at least look vaguely like the standardized school uniform.
As she gazed down at its blurry wonder she mused to herself, And people actually waste money on this stuff…
IXAutumn spent lunch sitting at a lone table with her face leaning on her arm and staring down at a piece of paper when Edgar finally found her. He could see by the hard squint in her eyes and deep breathing that she was peeved.
Autumn jumped, only to calm down again when she turned and saw Edgar there.
She took another petulant deep breath. “Don’t tell me she’s screwing with you still?”
“Uh, no… I, uh, I just wanted to see if you wanted to try these on.” Edgar dug through his pockets and held out a pair of spectacles.
Autumn blinked at them in confusion. “Why are you giving me these?”
“What do you mean?” Edgar asked.
“What are you looking for in return?”
“What? This is… this is just to thank you for helping me yesterday.”
“But the problem was my doing as well, so at best, this would be a neutral outcome,” Autumn explained.
Edgar paused to consider how to reply, and then just said, “Well… don’t you still want them? I mean… You can’t seriously think about going around unable to see for much longer can you?”
“Blind people manage,” Autumn said. “So can I.”
Edgar didn’t know how to respond to this.
She shook her head. “Yeah. Sure. If you insist.” Then she blurted, “Sorry. Thank you.”
“Is something wrong?” Edgar asked.
Autumn paused to consider the question. “If I said ‘no,’ even you would be smart enough to interpret that as a lie, I suppose; and you would keep pestering me about the subject, too, right?”
“Uh… yes?” Edgar said with a confused tilt of his head.
He handed her the glasses and she fit them on. She blinked in wonder as if she had entered an alien planet, gradually stopping as her eyes adjusted. She was not sure whether she was gladder or more distressed over their working.
“Do they work?” Edgar asked.
“Yeah,” Autumn said with a sigh.
“I, uh, figured they would… I took a few pieces of your glasses’ shattered glass and used that to have someone find a new pair for you.”
“And where’d you get the money for that?” Autumn asked.
“I had a few dollars saved up, and I was able to scrape up enough aluminum in garbage cans to sell.”
Autumn stared at Edgar as if he were a cat who fell off the table.
“And, uh, also, I, uh…” He pulled out a plastic bag and set it in front of Autumn. “I got you this.”
Autumn hesitantly opened the bag. Inside she found a skirt.
“And I suppose you sold an arm to buy this,” Autumn said dryly.
“Uh, no,” Edgar said. “I, uh, I found it at the lost and found.”
Autumn nodded in understanding. She would solicit the lost and found every so often, but only rarely and without taking too much, for she knew they would catch on if she had overstepped their suspense of disbelief. She had not, however, thought to solicit it for this purpose and felt a little shame in not doing so.
Then Autumn said, “Edgar, sit down, please.”
When he slid into the opposite seat she continued, “Edgar, you can’t keep doing this.”
“What?” Edgar asked.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Well… I feel a little guilty about all of the trouble I caused… You probably wouldn’t have gotten caught if you weren’t trying to protect me,” Edgar said.
“No,” Autumn corrected. “Quite the opposite: I wouldn’t have even known she was after me until ‘twas too late if you hadn’t warned me.”
“Still, you didn’t have to protect me, so I thought I’d help you, too,” Edgar replied. “Anyway, if you want I can give you some peace now…”
Autumn knew she should’ve taken him up on the offer, but knew it’d only create further problems for her in the future.
“No you can’t. Whatever you meant to do, and to no fault of your own, you have attached yourself to me. Tell me, has anyone been picking on you?”
Edgar began to shake his head, only for Autumn to interrupt him again:
“Don’t answer that; I already know the answer. I can see the bruise around your left temple that was not there last time I saw you. I can clearly see the logic here: The lesser idiots—not including Melissa, who did eventually come to me, in fairness—want to try to tarnish my standings through you. I cannot allow that to continue.”
“Uh, okay…” Edgar stuttered as he rubbed his sleeve-covered hands together. “I’m sorry…”
“No you’re not because that doesn’t even make any sense,” Autumn said. “I can see by the look on your face that you have no idea what I’m saying, which is no surprise considering the obscurity of my circumstance.”
“So, uh… What do you want me to do, then?” Edgar wrung his wrists nervously, images of him being locked in a cage or some other torture fresh in his mind. “I’m sorry if I didn’t, uh, understand everything you said.”
Autumn nodded in understanding. “All you need to do is sit over there quietly for now and avoid any potentially dangerous people as much as possible between classes. That’s no burden, is it?”
Edgar shook his head. “Oh, no. I can do that, fine,” he said, his voice brightening.
She nodded with a curt, “Excellent,” before immediately turning her head down to the paper she had attempted to read before.
Being reminded of her ability to see again she muttered, “Oh, yeah, and thanks for the glasses, by the way.”
Edgar nodded. “You’re welcome. Uh… You want any help with that?”
She was about to decline, only to remember his idea about the lost and found.
“Why, do you have any ideas?” she asked.
“Uh, well…” Then he jumped up. “Oh, have you tried the blood drives?”
“They pay you for that?”
“Uh, yeah. Just a little.”
“I suppose ‘twould be worth the trouble. Uh… thank you.”
“Oh, that reminds me… Did you eat yet?”
The mood on Autumn’s face immediately turned stormy, being reminded of idiotically dropping her lunch on the way to large-mouthed guy.
“If you mean did I get my lunch already, yes, though it didn’t do me much good. Why?”
“I’ll be right back,” Edgar said as he jumped out of his seat.
Autumn finally looked up from her work and watched Edgar as he joined the shortest line. She kept him in the corner of her eye until she saw him walk back to their table. She had expected him to set it down, but instead saw him pause standing.
“Uh, okay… I’ll let you have this on one condition,” he said.
She eyed him suspiciously. “What’s that?”
“You have to eat it.”
Her suspicion only grew; though she hadn’t seen him tamper with it in any way, she had not watched him closely. He could have snuck something inside.
“Why?” she asked.
“Well, I mean… You can’t go without eating lunch every day,” Edgar said.
“I have for the past years.”
When Edgar made no reply Autumn added, “Eating that would be a waste of precious money—and I’m desperately low on that right now, thanks to my recent troubles, if you do not remember.”
“But is that really worth starving yourself?” Edgar asked weakly.
“Clearly, yes. No pain, no gain, after all.”
“What concerns you so much about whether I eat or not?” Autumn asked, a suspicious eye still screwed on him.
“Well, I… uh…”
Edgar was taken aback at such a strange question.
“Well, I mean… you need the energy to come up with these, uh, plans and stuff.”
“Why would you care about that?”
“Well… that also includes protecting me, I guess.”
She shrugged. “Anything greater than nothing’s a gain, regardless. It’s your lunch, after all.”
“Thank you,” Edgar said as he set the tray in front of her and slid back into his seat.
“I’m not sure why you’re thanking me for doing something that doesn’t benefit you, but okay,” she said as she stabbed her fork into a homogenized blob of vague meat.
The she looked up at Edgar credulously.
“Hey, that claim that you don’t need to eat isn’t manufactured, is it, you hypocrite?”
Edgar shook his head. “Though I don’t know why you’d be concerned about that.”
Autumn stared down at the table in concentration.
“I suppose you have a point,” she said.
And so began a partnership that, unbeknownst to both, would last for decades.