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Dawn woke to her phone’s reveille. E’en so early, the room was already well lit, as usual on summer morns. Years ago, she’d regimented her preparatory half-hour: shower, get dressed, eat toaster strudel with orange juice, & then go out with time to spare in case of delays — usually in the form of some plain-looking jerk who won’t budge from the path till she finishes some irrelevant subquest.
She was proud o’ the efficiency & the maturity o’ said regiment, e’en if she’d rather sleep-in some morns or spend those extra minutes doing something mo’ interesting. She found it a refreshing contrast to her usual erratic way o’ doing things that leave whatever one could say ’bout her productivity inconsistent.
Outside was a well-lit stage filled with warm air whose odor had no adjective as far as Dawn could tell, but smelled good ’nough that it should’ve. Too bad she’d be blocked from it by a flat roof most o’ the day.
’Twas here, in the middle of her trek to the Rock Lobster, that the sun had awaken her ’nough to remember last night’s accounting, & suddenly ’twas as if clouds had swarmed the sky.
She frowned. ¿How am I going to make up ’nough to pay back that outstanding debt ’fore August?
The answer was that she knew no way to do so. She calculated it: ’less thunder struck twice on a pot o’ winning lottery tickets or someone committed voter fraud & she packed the restaurant & had them come in & out frequently for the next 2 months, the math just wouldn’t add up — the jerk.
Deciding to do every job @ once was a bad idea. Should’ve just hired people. It seemed like a brilliant way to use my ADD, too.
By this time, she’d already made it to the Rock Lobster. As she went inside, she stared round @ the empty cold gray inside — a twisted malformation o’ the usual brightness buzzing with energy, not unlike the harried, vulnerable appearance of one who’s just awoken.
She clicked on the lights, but then frowned. It only looked e’en mo’ aberrant — like a cave entrance filled with neon pink light ’stead o’ black darkness.
She sat @ the counter & stared @ the front door.
I should probably give up. I’ll inevitably lose it, anyway; & it’d probably be better to cut my loses now than further indebt myself.
She tapped her fingers gainst the counter-top.
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought ’bout this for almost a year. She was wary o’ how absurd her reason for keeping the restaurant was, e’en when it benefited neither it nor her. The problem was an imbalance o’ consequences: she could always sell the restaurant later if she kept it, but couldn’t do versa-vice so easily; so she stuck with the latter just to be safe. Every time she’d thought ’bout it, she’d always tell herself, I can think ’bout this later.
& now she told herself, I’ll just see how well it goes in the next few months. If it doesn’t, I’ll just go down with the plane. Who knows: maybe everything’ll go orangy.
Autumn knew this plan wouldn’t go orangy. They ne’er did.
No choice: no misery, no victory.
& I need victory.
She tapped the eraser end o’ her pencil gainst her notepad as she checked o’er her home-made map 1 mo’ time.
Then she slid the notebook to Edgar.
“OK, I think I made the #s all fit without inconsistencies”, she said as she poked @ the notebook. “¿What d’you think?”
Edgar scratched his head as he stared down at the map of Honey Plaza divided into 9 3-by-3 squares, each divided into 9 smaller 3-by-3 squares, each o’ which contained a seemingly random 1-digit #.
“Um… sure”, he said.
“¿You don’t notice any missing #s or duplicates within the same row, column, or block?”
“Uh…” Edgar’s eyes scanned o’er every #. “I don’t think so. I mean, what #s might be missing; ’cause I don’t know much ’bout math, but I think there are so many #s that you’d ne’er be able to fit them all in there, e’en if you wrote microscopically”.
“¿Does every row, column, & block contain the #s 1 to 9?” asked Autumn.
Edgar nodded. “Probably”.
Autumn rubbed her chin as she stared @ the map ’gain, not trusting Edgar, who was too polite to offer e’en warranted criticism.
“It’s as good as my bug-ridden brain can test”, she said. “O well: plans are ne’er fully bug-proof”.
Edgar nodded. Considering the subject, he figured if Autumn said ’twas true, it probably was.
’Twas as she rushed to deliver the 22-layered sandwich tower, caramel ham cooked for precisely 1,234,567 milliseconds & lathered in golden frog sauce, Pompei salad, & chicken-fried chicken meal TV dinner to Sir Dinerosachels that she saw the 1st bugs seep into her buggy career.
The door opened, & in came a glowing blue figure, his coat o’ custom-coded rainbow rooster hide, his shoes personally sewed by Spinach Swamp crystal crocodiles, his nose hairs as ebony as a hawk listening to My Synthetic Amor.
An I.S.C. Dawn thought with a tremor in her chest.
She knew that if she satisfied this Immensely Significant Customer, she’d earn a houseful o’ ₧.
But she also knew that that was a hefty if to lift.
She ran up to him with her loyal pad & pencil & asked him for his order.
“¿Order? ¿Order?” The I.S.C.’s voice rose. “You don’t think just ’cause I’m an I.S.C. that I’m… that I’m some kind o’ tyrant who saunters ’bout on his high equine & demands my every whim or off with your spinal cord, ¿do you? ’Cause that’s not me. That’s not who I am. That’s—”
“O, no, I’d ne’er acc—”
“H-h-hold it, Madame, thank you, I’m not done yet”, the I.S.C. said as he flapped his hand up & down, quickly but slightly. “As I was saying, that’s not the kind o’ person I am. I am not a human who does that sort o’ things. It’s not in my character design”.
He paused, scrutinizing Dawn, who merely stood there with a citric smile. He could taste the giant sweat drop dribbling down halfway on the side o’ her face, which was strange, since he ne’er remembered licking her face — or any part o’ her, truly. He’d have to investigate this strange phenomenon someday later. He wasn’t one who went round licking people’s faces, you have to understand. That wasn’t who he was.
“¿Do you understand, Madame? I hope I was not too rough. Sometimes I’m too rough; but I want you to know that that’s not the type o’ person I am. I’m just not that kind o’ person…”
As he blathered, Dawn glanced round the restaurant, licking her perpetually-drying lips as she watched other customers turn scarlet, crimson, lust, cardinal, #ED1C24, ruby, carmine, & firetruck red. One became so enraged that she began throwing her arms up & down — in only 2 frames o’ jerky motion, too.
¡I’m doing so impoverishedly that I haven’t e’en been able to afford a hardware update to this stupid restaurant so that it doesn’t play as if we were still in the early ’80s!
“Madame, ¿am I boring you too much?”
Dawn swung back to the I.S.C., cracks growing under her eyes as she was reminded o’ what she was doing.
“I’m sorry I’m not as exciting as that rude woman making silly sounds gainst her table”, said the I.S.C. “But you must understand: that’s not who I am. I don’t do that. That’s not me. You have to respect me for who I am, you see, & that’s not me. You can’t expect these exciting things from me. Perhaps you’d be happier if you could; but I’m sorry to say that you can’t. That’s just not me”.
Dawn nodded ardently. “I understand completely. Now, ¿may I take your… your request?”
“¿Now why should I request anything o’ you? You think I’m a sponge, don’t you — a do-nothing, a bourgeoisie… ’Scuse me, Madame: ¿could you tell me if I spelt that word correctly? You look like the type who spells words well — not to judge a window by its blinds. If that’s not who you are, please forgive me & ignore my petty request. It’s just that “bourgeoisie” is such a long, complicated word full o’ vowels all mashed together & so I always misspell it. Please forgive me if my spelling’s so rotten: good spelling is not who I am, you must understand. In fact, I’m not e’en any type o’ spelling, actually, being made o’ bones & blood & flesh & bacteria”.
Dawn scratched her knee, ’cause itchy was the type o’ person Dawn was, you must understand.
“Um… I’m not sure how you could misspell a word you said ’loud…”
“I know you’d probably have preferred that I wrote what I said, wouldn’t you have. But—”
“That’s not who you are”, blurted Dawn. She nodded. “Uh huh. I understand completely. No need to say mo’”.
Then, before he could reply, she said, “¿How would you like to… have the ‘Don’t Be Sneaking Any O’ Your Sneaky Glances in There, Assglove’ Stew? It’s rather popular with ¡Alarm! @ the R&B fans”.
The I.S.C. waggled his finger. “Now there you go ’gain, assuming things ’bout people you don’t know — & you know what happens when you assume: you get approximately 5.43656365691809047072057494270532499551449418739991914993393525544815326070709518914276435705033285485493278386400611984363482719325808714580066859052119126147626465725588698152646765976150639050203802314766837586140430817829986976833501848952292133616452960033695482370748469088487421507815548998413910340552367721252266276916600150408986765312059521347422640141865741825488749409446139395441862028338567363805103021731492754422250477956885011390739354157089993993589372890981197586327377846019758625547235643084999845915270296441653979038733606636505773879699293021164187847965897758664072501888623460247639413683…”
“Definitely some obnoxious bourgeoisie doing this simply for cocks & guffaws”, said Autumn.
Autumn & Edgar wandered through a specific area o’ Peanut Park, Autumn’s attention vacillating ’tween her map & the vicinity.
“¿Did you already check this peanut butter?” Edgar said as he stopped in front o’ a thick, lightly-roasted sienna tree.
He could feel his metaphorical tail wag as his metaphorical nostrils filled with the familiar metaphorically high, literally sweet scent o’ peanut butter.
& yet, @ the same time he felt his chest fill with pokey, warm static air o’ longing — 1 o’ the less-common classes o’ longing. Though he knew he shouldn’t build his hopes too high, he secretly hoped Dawn’s optimism ’bout inventing a serum that’d let him taste — he didn’t remember the complex details o’ how: something ’bout adding some taste property to his “character subclass” or something — would return true.
“Here it is”.
Edgar jerked his head toward Autumn crouched in front o’ the big wood-chip box holding the playground full o’ kids gawking & pointing @ them to their alien masters. She had her neck craned down, her eyes wincing as they appeared to inspect a shady side o’ the flat playground border.
“When it said ‘wood’, it didn’t mean a tree, it meant this dumbass wooden playground edge; & there was no paper this time: the unclefucker carved these instructions right into the fucking wood”.
Edgar glanced back @ the playground to see Jupiterian cancers’ eyes spin in indignance.
“Well, ¿where do we go now?” Edgar said from the back o’ his throat as he looked ’way from the Jupiterian glares literally heating the marrow in his bones.
Autumn reclimbed to her feet & looked back @ her map. Edgar could hear her exasperation @ this extraelaborate exploration through the heavy heat released from her nose & mouth.
“Next is this… organ store, — I didn’t e’en know you could just buy an organ from any common business nowadays — & the hint gives an insipid pun based on appendices”.
She sighed ’gain as she wiped ’way the sweaty bangs sticking to her forehead. “Well, I s’pose we’d best get going or we’ll ne’er finish by sunslumber”.
Edgar nodded slowly, matched Autumn’s similarly-sweaty hand, & they ventured off.
Once they’d left the playground’s screen, 1 o’ the kids standing halfway up the stairs o’ the slide turned to his alien master & said, “Those 2 were sooo weird. ¿Did you see the weird, um… the weird costume her husband was wearing? ’Twas soooo weird”.
His alien master transmitted the thought into the kid’s head, “Yes, yes. Return to your physically-enduring play. We need to build those succulent muscles”.
By this point, Dawn was yanking her cheeks down with such muscle that they were bound to be ripped off.
¿Would the chance o’ getting a good review from such a cashew be worth losing so many customers?
She centimetered 1 foot, dragging her other leg sideways like a pianist crab, while her eyes remained on the I.S.C. still spewing seemingly random #s.
But she stopped when the I.S.C. suddenly stopped & said, “I must apologize if I’ve failed to maintain your attention yet ’gain. You must realize that interesting just isn’t the type o’ person I am. It’s just not me. That’s not who I am”.
She dashed back o’er to him & said, “¡No! ¡Not @ all! I’d love to listen mo’ to your riveting commentary. It’s just that I have so many jobs I have to do; so if you could grant me your request—”
“Now, why should I expect anything o’ you as if—”
Dawn threw her arms out & said with eyes dilated & caved-in, “¡’Cause this is a restaurant & that’s what everyone who comes here does! ¡Ordering something wouldn’t indicate a single property o’ your character design!” She dropped on her knees & grasped the edge o’ his coat, looking up @ him with a warped mouth. “¿Now would you please, please just order something already?”
The I.S.C. round eyes became rounder as he gawked @ her.
“Why, I had no idea, Madame. You must understand: I am not the kind o’ person who just recognizes these things immediately. That’s just not who I am. That’s just not me. That’s not the kind o’ person I am”.
Dawn was only half paying attention to what he was saying. She was panting o’er his coat with magenta circles floating in front o’ her eyes. She recognized this feeling: ’twas the misstep o’er the long climb up the obscure mount, the sudden drop to the bottom.
“¿May I have time to consider my request 1st, Madame? I’m not one to think quickly on my heels. That’s just not the person I am”.
“¿Huh?” Dawn looked up ’gain. She was surprised by his unexpected silence.
She nodded. “O, yes — ’course”.
She stood ’gain, wiping the floor juice off her knees & half-smiling with embarrassment.
I’m always focusing so much on the right-now, thinking that low-points are the whole thing, & then ’course things turn out much better than I expect — & the same will happen here.
She rushed to the nearest table with a customer banging his purple face on the table.
Just gotta keep trying & everything will turn out just melony.
“This is not turning out melony”, Autumn said as she rubbed her febrile forehead.
They sat on a bench, — back @ Peanut Park for this square’s 4th subsquare — leaning into each other with heaving chests & noses stung by the citric sun. Both searched for signs o’ a balloon; but neither could see 1 anywhere. Nor did either want to admit the exhaustion pumping their lungs.
¿Am I getting ol’ already? pondered Autumn. I used to be able to withstand much mo’ strenuous action than this.
Then ’gain, I don’t remember any venture being as dull as this.
“This is likely a wild-shiny chase”, said Autumn. “I knew I shouldn’t have wasted our time on this nonsense: look @ how desperate I’m getting”.
“It’ll be OK”, said Edgar.
“This is the 1st venture I’ve e’er considered outright quitting. The time investment just doesn’t seem worth it. & yet, ¿would it be better to waste mo’ time squeezing the stone for ’nother idea?”
She paused, gazing glazed-eyed ’head o’ her automatically. Everything ’bout Peanut Park now felt like a heavy, itchy blanket held o’er her head for eternity, including the thick eye needle that was the sun & the many birds’ chalkboard-scratch squawks.
“¿You getting bored o’ this? ’Cause I don’t want to force you to waste all o’ your time, too”, said Autumn.
“¿Is that ‘no’ as in, ‘No, I am not getting bored @ all’, or as in, ‘No, you needn’t worry ’bout whether I’m bored or not’?”
“Well, ¿what do you want to do?” asked Edgar.
Autumn rubbed her forehead ’gain.
“I’d like to have an idea o’ what I should do. There has to be an opportunity hiding somewhere — just have to keep digging. ¿But where?” She paused ’gain. “How ’bout this… You might not like this, so if you don’t want to do it, please say so. So we can finish this tedious nonsense sooner, we could split up — you sticking with this route & I trying to find the clue in an area we haven’t tried yet & leaving ’hind easier-to-find answers for you if I do find any. & if we finish ’fore midnight, we’ll do an equally-frivolous task that you want to do”.
“O, you don’t have to do that…” said Edgar.
“Well, we’re going to, anyway. Now, ¿how would you feel ’bout the splitting idea?”
“¿Are you sure I’d do much o’ a good job on my own?” asked Edgar. “You found pretty much all o’ the clues we’d already found”.
“You found a’least 1/4th”.
Edgar concentrated on a lonely clump o’ grass below him.
“& it’s probably just that I found the answer ’fore you had a chance to. I know the 1s you found happened that way: I was just on the brink o’ finding them”, said Autumn. “But if you’re intent on us staying together, we could still do that”.
“Well, if it helps you end this faster…”
“& we still have our cells, ¿right?” Autumn asked as she looked down @ the spot o’ his sunshirt where she expected his phone pocket to be.
Edgar nodded as he dug under his shirt & pulled it out.
“Great. Then you still have the opportunity to send me all o’ the greasy talk I know you love to give”, said Autumn.
Edgar giggled. “OK”.
Autumn lifted her knees & used them as a board while she hastily sketched out ’nother graph o’ their game board, & then tore it out o’ her notebook & handed it to Edgar.
“I’ll text you if I e’er finish my part, & then you can tell me where you are & I’ll join you”, said Autumn.
They leaned their faces toward each other & kissed. Then Autumn jumped to her feet & began moving.
As she stared @ her graph, she said, “I’ll start in the ‘square’ just o’er here”, as she pointed ’head o’ her.
“’K. See you later”, Edgar called out.
Autumn waved back @ him & then disappeared from ’hind a pile o’ bushes.
Dawn ran in zagzigs like a leopard just out o’ the bushes to get meals to & take orders from as many customers as possible ’fore they stormed out & wrote disgruntled reviews on the internet, only to become subconscious ’bout their grammar & spelling & to delete said post & spend the rest o’ their night rolling round on their carpet like a manatee. Having foregone all lunch, bathroom, & paragraph breaks, Dawn tried to ignore the divot in her stomach & the pain in her bladder, which was actually quite easy — as easy as ’twas to become distracted from her job by the color process after looking @ 1 customer’s rainbow fez.
That was when her dastardly plate tried slipping out o’ her grasp…
“¡No, arms! ¿Why?” Dawn said slowly & slurly — e’en though the latter wasn’t e’en a true word. But then she regained her grip.
“O, wait. Everything’s fine now”, Dawn said as she took out her moth net & caught her breath, which tried to exploit said distraction to ’scape to the other side o’ the restaurant.
But then while she was distracted by her renegade breath, the plate hopped out her hands & went jogging with ’nother customer’s spoon.
“¡Madame! ¡Madame! ¡My spoon has spontaneously developed human cognizance! I demand this meal on the house — no, fuck it: the whole god damn street”.
Dawn squeezed the sides o’ her face.
“That doesn’t e’en make sense”, she said through voice muffled by distorted cheeks. “Augh. ¿Why does stupid stuff always happen when I don’t want it to? Things would be a lot better if stupid stuff happened when I liked it to, like when I find 100₧ sunbathing in the middle o’ the road.
She stopped when she felt the floor rumble through her legs. She turned round to see a Repraesentativumsaurus rex burst through the front door.
“Hello, everyone. My name is Matt Richton, & I’m running for representative o’ this fine district…” he said, his enormous jaw bobbing down & up in exagerative movements, unable to keep his flipper hands from flapping @ the speed o’ sound.
Dawn pulled @ her hair. “Now, ¿where did that come from?”
“O, that’s for me, Madame”.
Dawn turned to the source o’ that noise to see the I.S.C., who gave her a short wave & a polite smile ’pon matching eyes.
“You have to understand, Madame: enjoying Cretaceous politicians is the kind o’ person that I am. It’s who I am. It’s me”.
“¿What? But… ¿How? ¿Why? ¿What?” Dawn’s pupils had dug themselves deep into Dawn’s irises in hopes o’ ’scaping this mad circumstance, only to find this impossible.
“Well, you said you wanted me to order something”, said the I.S.C..
“Something from the menu”, Dawn was now rubbing her hands roughly up the sides o’ her face. The fringes o’ her jacket & bangs drooped.
“O, well I apologize, Madame, but I didn’t know that. You see, I’m not the—”
Dawn threw her arms out. “¡Yes! ¡I get it! ¡You’re not the kind o’ person who understands basic fucking common sense! ¡That’s just not who you are! ¡That’s just not who you are! ¡Repeat! ¡Repeat! ¡Repeat!”
Dawn slapped hands o’er her mouth, enflared eyes scrubbed shiny with fear.
The I.S.C.’s jaw jutted out like a cash register, which was gross & caused a few customers to puke on their tables, which was also gross & caused a few mo’ customers to get up & leave.
The I.S.C. threw his napkin onto the table. He wasn’t holding 1, so he had to politely ask Dawn to get him 1, & when she did, he threw it onto the table.
“¡I have ne’er been insulted in all my life!” he shouted. “¡You must understand: one who sits round being insulted is not the kind o’ person I am! ¡That is not me! ¡That is not who I am!”
He scooted his seat back, rudely causing it to squeak — a squeak so nauseating, it caused mo’ customers to puke & then mo’ customers to leave. Then he rose & stormed toward the front door.
Dawn stood staring, turning when he passed to keep him in her vision.
¿Should I try to stop him from leaving? ¿What would be the better outcome?
Dawn frowned. Either way, I’m probably screwed.
Well, that’s no ’scuse to ignore your other customers. That’s the problem with you: you put all o’ your cans in 1 bag, & then whine when a hole rips in that bag & causes them all to fall into the street, forcing you to pick them all up.
¿But wasn’t the problem that I did too many things @ once, which would be the opposite, probably?
Dawn grasped her forehead. Augh. I don’t know.
Well, e’en if things are bad, that’s no ’scuse not to a’least try with the time you—
She jumped when she heard the sound o’ shattering glass.
O, ¿what could it be now?
She strode o’er to the kitchen, only to be halted by the R. rex running up to her & shoving its snout all o’er her, sniffing heavily.
“¡O! ¡O! ¡A citizen! ¿What’s you got there? ¿You got a vote sheet? ¿You got a vote sheet? O, ¡please fill my name in! ¡C’mon! ¡C’mon! ¡C’mon!”
In a rare stroke o’ luck for this day, Dawn did have a rolled up newspaper in her pocket, which she summarily extracted & began lightly whacking gainst the R. rex’s head.
“No. No. Bad representative. Keep that up & I’ll vote for the Clear candidate”.
The R. rex’s eyes dilated while his tiny flipper hands reeled into his chest, a finger rubbing the edge o’ his tie.
“No. Don’t do that. Anything but that. %LASTNAME%%, you know this movement is important for all o’ us”.
“¿What did you call me?”
“Uh… %LASTNAME%%”, said the R. rex. “That’s your name, ¿right?”
“I think you need to get your automatic fill-in algorithm fixed”, said Dawn, head shaking, as she passed.
Due to that distraction, Dawn found it difficult to remember why she was headed for the kitchen in the 1st place, till she opened its door & saw some woman with a red ponytail wearing glasses, a black T-shirt that said ‘PHAT LOOT’, & a short denim skirt just opening the pantry — presumably to hide. However, the woman stopped, aiming an angry glance in Dawn’s direction.
¿Do I recognize this person? ¿Why would she be here?
Surely I didn’t hire an extra cook & forget ’bout it…
It may be that my mind’s tricking me — ’specially with everything that’s gone on today — & it’s just a casual th—
¡That’s who it is!
Dawn put a hand on her forehead. “Autumn, you’re not robbing me today, ¿are you? Not this day out o’ any other”.
“Where’s the broom”, was all she said.
Dawn vacilated ’tween the polite part that wanted to tell her she needn’t do it & the tired part that didn’t want to have to add that task to all o’ the others.
Before she could answer, Autumn pulled out 2 spiral notebooks & began sweeping shards with 1 onto the other.
“I don’t know if this is a way to make up for you stealing from me or if you’ve decided not to do it or what, but if you do do it, ¿could you do it ’nother day, please? I truly don’t have time for this”.
“¿Don’t you own this place?” mumbled Autumn.
“Yeah: that’s the problem”.
“¿Why have the place if it’s such a burden? How could someone your age get a place like this, anyway?”
Dawn waved the question ’way. “That doesn’t matter”. She leaned back gainst the wall, half sitting & standing. “I probably won’t have it for long, anyway”.
“Then why don’t you just sell this place off ’fore you go bankrupt to minimize the costs”.
Dawn sighed. “You don’t understand…”
“Then ’twas wise to grumble @ me ’bout the issue; though I do have to agree that I shouldn’t question one with as impeccable a business acumen as you — ’specially with all o’ the skill you employed to inherit the money used to buy this place from your ancestors”.
@ 1st Dawn flushed with rage, hands furled so tightly that they hurt. Her 1st reaction was to just call the police & had her tossed out, but then realized that’d just create mo’ hassles.
’Sides, e’en if she… I mean, she doesn’t e’en know what she’s saying.
Tiredness o’ercoming anger, she sat down & said, “Yeah, you’re right. You don’t need to sweep up those shards. It doesn’t matter. Though I’m guessing you’re just sweeping them so you can sell them, ¿right?”
“Garbage does go for a high price”, said Autumn.
“Well, most people don’t break into people’s establishments to steal stuff, accidentally break something, & then clean up their stuff while verbally abusing them”.
“I’m not most people. I’ve finished, anyway”.
Autumn poured the glass on her makeshift dustpan into the trash bin & then pocketed the notebooks. Then she walked down the kitchen, eye locked on Dawn. However, she stopped with her hand on the door & turned back @ Dawn, causing her to frown deeper.
“¿Is there anything I could do so that you do not take out whatever offense I caused on Edgar?” asked Autumn.
“¿Why would I do that?” asked Dawn.
“I don’t bother ’bout the whys; only the whats & hows”.
Dawn’s brows twisted. “¿Do you normally play mind games with the people you rob?”
“I would rebuke that I hadn’t e’en robbed you; but then I s’pose breaking property might count as the equivalent o’ stealing”, said Autumn. “¿So you’ve indicated that you harbor no resentment toward Edgar?”
Dawn looked down @ the checkered linoleum floor ’tween her feet. “No. Neither o’ you. It doesn’t matter. E’en if today ne’er happened I’d be screwed. I just didn’t want to accept it”.
Autumn nodded awkwardly, eyes carefully avoiding Dawn. She slowly slid the door open mo’, only to stop when she heard Dawn continue:
“I… I just wanted to show I could be responsible for once, but you’re right: I’m not. I couldn’t e’en keep my parents’ business from dying…”
Dawn was staring @ her feet with a crumpled expression; but then she couldn’t help noticing Autumn’s horrorstricken stare aimed as far ’way from Dawn as possible & couldn’t stop herself from laughing. She wiped her eye with a sniff ’way & stood.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have unloaded all o’ this on you like a bucket o’ LEGOs”.
Autumn replied in slow, jerky pieces, “I’m sure its price was less than that o’ the dishes I broke”.
Then Autumn stared @ the doorknob, forehead creased.
“So… ¿is it money you owe?”
“¿What? O… Yeah, I guess. It’s way mo’ than…” Dawn’s eyes widened. “No, you can’t… You shouldn’t waste any o’ your money on that. I’d just lose it all o’er ’gain. It’s bad ’nough I squandered my family’s stuff; I can’t go round squandering others’, too. No, I knew this’d happen. I just gotta… I guess I just gotta live with it, then”.
She’d expected Autumn to insist, but ’stead just saw Autumn nod. ’Twas just then that she realized Autumn probably only knew a tiny fraction o’ what she was talking ’bout & probably thought she was a loony.
O well. Not the 1st.
Suddenly, Dawn heard a buzz & saw Autumn pull out her cell.
“¿Yeah? … ¿O, truly? That’s great, but I think we’re done with this horseshit: it’s for the pidgeons”.
“¡Ooo! ¿Is that Edgar?” said Dawn, leaning in toward Autumn.
Autumn’s pupils rose to the top o’ her eyes. “Unfortunately, yes. … If she lets me leave. … Well, e’en if not, I’m sure I could find a way to ’scape. ¿Are you @ that bench where we agreed to meet each other? … No, that’s fine. You’ll probably get there ’fore I do. … OK. Yeah. See you”.
As she clapped her phone shut & pocketed it, Dawn nudged Autumn & said, “Planning late-night activities, ¿eh?”
Autumn blinked @ her for a few seconds ’fore replying, “Yes: we shall be doing things late @ night, so that is certainly accurate”.
“Great. Actually, I’m pretty sure my apartment’s on the way to Peanut Park, so we can walk there together”.
Dawn chortled as she saw the wary expression Autumn aimed @ the door.
“¿Don’t you have to finish up business & such?” Autumn asked hesitantly.
“That’s all @ my apartment”.
“¿But aren’t there still people here you need to watch?” asked Autumn.
Dawn’s mouth twisted to 1 side.
“’Bout that…” She put a hand on Autumn’s shoulder till she saw the cringe on Autumn’s face. “We’ll want to go out through my secret exit”.
Dawn opened the door & watched Autumn’s expression tear open like a supernova.
It’d be easier to register every detail o’ a ¿Where’s Whitebeard? game than to understand the sheer madness that pummeled Dawn’s restaurant: different classes o’ tableware warred gainst each other, crashing into each other to shattering deaths like suicide bombers; something had caused the lights to go out, causing the tablecloth phantoms to float round the chandeliers; unbearably famished patrons were already in the midst o’ taking great gulps o’ pieces o’ the tables & chairs; & 1 R. rex insinuated that the other was actually glad that the economy was doing so badly.
I couldn’t just leave. I had to open my obese mouth & attach this canyon mouth to me like a mosquito.
Autumn walked down the streets toward Peanut Park with her hands in her pockets & her shoulders slumped as always while Edgar’s inane friend in the lime sunshirt so literal it actually had a picture o’ a sun on it remained by her side, talking both ears off, & probably her eyes & nose, too, by the time she’d finished.
“So, ¿is that tough act o’ yours just to make thieving easier?” asked Dawn.
“I know neither ’bout my ‘tough act’ nor how it would affect my ability to steal”, said Autumn.
“O…” Dawn’s eyes wandered, barely spending a whole second in the same direction. “So, you just usually act…”
“¿Like a robot? ¿Autumnbot?”
Dawn laughed. “The way Edgar described you, I didn’t think you’d be into something like Transformers”.
Autumn turned to give Dawn a confused stare.
“You know: Autobot”, said Dawn.
Autumn looked ’head ’gain & said, “Huh”, feeling a renewed disgust @ her former costudents.
“You didn’t answer my question”.
“Mmm”, Dawn said as she nodded.
She continued, “Sorry if I’m talking a lot; these last few months trying to truly get the restaurant back into the green left me li’l time to slap fists with anyone, so I guess I’m taking it out on you now”. This was followed by ’nother weak laugh.
“Hmm”, Autumn replied. She always found it to be the best response, useful after almost anything anyone else says.
“I can be annoying a lot, which was why I was bullied a lot in school”. Dawn turned to Autumn. “Hey, did you steal back in school”.
“¿Is that why you only hung round Edgar? ¿Was everyone else mad @ you?”
“Did they…” Dawn cringed. “¿Did they e’er get back @ you truly badly?”
“It depends on your definition o’ ‘truly badly’,” said Autumn. “I’m still ’live with every part o’ me functioning”.
That’s technically true: my mind definitely functions, e’en if not correctly.
She could see the by the baffled look Dawn gave her, which reminded Autumn that she had still been smiling ’bout the memories that emerged from Dawn’s question.
But then Dawn looked ’head ’gain. I’m somewhat hoping she’ll become so irked by me that she concocts a ’scuse to ’scape me.
“So you don’t have any friends other than Edgar, ¿do you?”, said Dawn.
¿What the hell’s up with this character? I thought they only existed in fiction — or as school faculty who want to exploit you for something.
I hope she’s not doing that to Edgar & it’s working. ¿But could I be surprised if that’s the goal? & maybe Edgar’s better off that way, anyway. It’s not as if Autumnbot comprehends such functions.
She knew she’d ne’er have the heart to tell Edgar ’bout her suspicions, anyway, much less urge him out o’ being snared in them.
Dawn laughed ’gain. She’d been doing that a lot in the few minutes — though what felt like hours — that Autumn had been near her. It didn’t sound like a response to anything particularly funny, either, but some arbitrary speech pattern, a nervous tic.
Dawn accompanied her laugh with, “Sorry for asking such pokey questions. I guess it’d be strange to have this person you barely know come up to you & ask you all these questions”.
Autumn mumbled, “¿Huh? Sorry, I was busy planning. ¿What were you saying?”
She’d hoped that Dawn would take the cue & say, “O, nothing important”, but this time she was the sociologically challenged one & repeated her question.
Finally, Autumn said, “Buddy-buddying everyone wouldn’t help me in my vocation”.
“They could become part o’ your merry men”.
’Gain Autumn smiled slightly, acknowledging the 1 pleasing statement Edgar’s friend had made so far.
But then she flattened her mouth & said, “Most don’t consider thievery to be a savory vocation. Some, in fact, are quite opposed”.
“¿You made a lot o’ enemies?”
Their walk ne’er ended.