Autumn stopped @ the sight o’ a building with a sign holding the big bold words, “ROCK LOBSTER”, next to a neon-lit sign o’ a lobster that looked like ’twas s’posed to be drinking from a neon shake.
I’ve heard the food here is cheap ’nough, said Autumn.
When she didn’t hear a reply, she turned her head to Edgar to make sure he was still next to her & hadn’t gotten lost somehow & noticed a distracted look on Edgar’s face.
There’s not something wrong with this place, ¿is there?.
Autumn’s suspicions only grew when Edgar hesitated, before finally saying,
No, it’s fine.
¿Would you prefer to go to a place that doesn’t focus so much on food? I can just pick up food anywhere — as I said, I don’t care that much ’bout fancy food, anyway, & just thought…. Actually, Autumn wasn’t sure what she was thinking when she’d asked to go out here, since there was no reason either o’ them should be interested in it’s dominant feature; but she hadn’t realized her stupidity till now: @ the time she was satisfied by Edgar’s apparent excitement.
No, it’s fine… It’s just… I, uh, know the person who runs it.
Autumn stared @ Edgar, unsure o’ what to make o’ this info. ¿Was Edgar hinting that they’d be able to get a deal on their meal or wary o’ Autumn trying to finagle the owner to do so? The latter didn’t make sense, ¿since why would Edgar tell this to Autumn if he didn’t expect that she didn’t know? No, no… Maybe the owner would greet Edgar, & then she might ask for the deal.
Autumn was done with guessing games:
¿What does this mean?.
Edgar looked down. ¿Why was he nervous? ¿What strange social rituals was she mistaking now? She was usually good @ interpreting them, e’en if she thought they were absurd.
Nothing, it’s fine.
Autumn shrugged, & then said,
Just let me know as soon as you want us to leave, ’cause I’m fine either way.
Autumn opened the door, feeling a pall o’ guilt fall o’er her @ her confusion. Howe’er, this time it didn’t last long, as the sheer bliss o’ her newfound wealth o’errode e’erything — e’en her doubts that she still deserved it. After all the hits she’d taken o’er her admittedly short life so far & the sudden burst o’ power she’d gotten, ¿what could possibly go wrong?
’Pon entering Autumn saw a sign saying in cheap cursive font, “Please wait to be seated”, & stood & waited. She eyed Edgar next to her, looking all round nervously. Then she noticed his eyeholes lock on a blue-haired woman dressed in a bright purple ski cap & green jacket so long it went halfway down her thighs & covered whate’er she wore ’neath it holding a pad o’ paper in-hand, & was shocked when it came to her that this was the receptionist.
Sorry for the delay, folks. Now, how many — ¿Edgar, is that you?.
Edgar squirmed & said,
Yeah… Uh, sorry ’bout… disappearing… We, uh, ran into trouble & were busy.
& this must be Autumn, ¿right?.
Autumn looked straight @ the receptionist with horror @ the sound o’ her name. The receptionist looked her up & down & then said,
You’re e’en sexier than Edgar made me imagine. Autumn twisted her brows; but before she could think mo’ ’bout this, the receptionist reached a hand out & said,
I’m Dawn, the owner, receptionist, cook, dish-washer, marketing department, & much mo’. Which reminds me — I’d better get you 2 seated & hurry back to the kitchen to get table 7’s steak to them before it burns.
Autumn felt Dawn put a soft hand on her shoulder & lead them down the aisle & toward a table in front o’ a booth.
Dawn stood in front o’ them, legs crossed & bouncing up & down.
¿Can I get you 2 any drinks before — O, I should say 1, ¿right? ¿You can’t drink anything, if I remember, right Edgar?. After Edgar nodded, Dawn looked straight @ Autumn & asked,
¿Can I get you a drink while you plan your order, darling?.
Uh… Just water, please.
All right. I’ll get it in just a moment.
Dawn turned & seemed to skip ’way. Autumn stared @ her as she left. Then she turned to Edgar & whispered,
Not to pry — you can tell me nonya if you want — ¿but if it’s not a secret, how long ago did you know this woman? ¿Is she a friend from 2ndary school?.
Looking down @ his hands on the table, Edgar said,
I met her while you were in jail.
O… ¿Did you have a falling out?.
As it turned out, this only fed Autumn with further questions.
But Autumn’s thoughts were interrupted when Dawn returned with a glass o’ water & set it on the table. Autumn quietly thanked Dawn, & then Dawn leaned into the table & whispered to them,
¿Are you guys busy tonight?.
Autumn stared @ Dawn in confusion.
While glancing ’way & playing with the collar on her jacket, Dawn said, her words sounding like they were stumbling o’er each other,
Just, you know, wondered if you guys wanted to hang out or talk — maybe, you know, catch up with Edgar & get to know you better, Autumn. I don’t mean to get on your way or anything if that’d be a problem….
Autumn turned to Edgar, who only shrugged back.
Edgar, master o’ indecision.
So Autumn, letting her hunger for information o’erride her usual apathy toward socialization, turned back to Dawn & said,
¡Wondersome!. Autumn was surprised by how happy this person seemed. It made her grateful she’d said yes, or else who knows what this stranger might’ve done to her meal in retribution.
¿Are you ready to order yet?.
I’ll just have spaghetti with garlic bread.
OK, I’ll get that to you as soon as I can. & then Dawn scurried off.
Autumn turned back to Edgar & whispered,
¿Is this girl infatuated with you?.
Edgar squirmed, but then said,
She’s in love with a lot o’ people….
¿Is that permitted within society’s protocol for “love” or are you just using that in a general sense o’ enjoying other people’s company?.
Edgar stared @ Autumn in confusion for a moment before replying,
I mean, uh, romantically.
O, ¿does she get them all?.
Uh, for a night.
Uh… ¿Did that have anything to do with why you stopped seeing her?, asked Autumn, uneasy as she felt the strange social & emotional landmines round her, but also feeling, she had to admit to herself, a bit o’ thrill @ the mysteries still hidden.
O, no… I just, uh, you know, with us trying to get money & e’erything. ’Twas rude o’ me not to say anything.
While looking ’way, Autumn said,
It sounds like this girl’s in love with you, but you’re not, but you’re too guilty to tell her so.
No, that’s not it. I don’t think she’d have a hard time finding a replacement for me… If anything, I should be grateful for her for, uh….
You needn’t be too grateful, said Autumn.
From the sounds o’ it, she’s not an exclusive club. When Edgar became mo’ disquieted, Autumn added,
Not to bag on her, ’course.
¿Is it the other way round, then?, asked Autumn.
Edgar was staring casually @ his fingers.
No. Not truly.
I mean, I wouldn’t blame you if you did. I certainly would’ve if I were in your… feet. You know.
Edgar looked up @ her with curiosity.
¿Do you like her?.
After you she is certainly the most tolerable person I’ve met.
I think she might like you a lot….
That’s ’cause she hasn’t met me yet. Give me a chance: I’ll repel her like anyone else.
To this Edgar had no response. As she waited for her food to arrive, Autumn aimed a long gaze @ the painting ’cross the restaurant o’ an egg being cracked open to reveal the sun inside, tho she had to admit that she spared li’l thought for what she was sure was its fine artistry. She was still felt hungry for questions, but the only question she cared ’bout was 1 she knew she could ne’er ask — Edgar would just lie, anyway: ¿Why the hell did Edgar go back to slumming with a homeless criminal when he could’ve kept hanging out with ( & possibly fucking ) this sexy tart?
So, uh, ¿did you guys — sorry, I mean, Autumn, did you enjoy your meal?.
Autumn looked up from her laptop @ Dawn, standing in front o’ them.
Dawn slid in ’cross from them & leaned her head back.
Augh. I’m so exhausted. I truly should think o’ hiring help. Then she seemed to spontaneously build back all her energy as she sat straight up & said,
Bueno, it’s been a long time. ¿Are you guys doing well?. She looked @ Autumn.
I’m happy to see you weren’t in for too long; Edgar sounded so worried. Autumn couldn’t stop herself from frowning a bit in awkwardness @ speaking to a complete stranger who apparently knew so much ’bout Autumn.
Huh. ¿Did he tell you why I was in in the 1st place?. Autumn glanced toward Edgar, only to see him aim a nervous glance back.
Leaning in, Dawn whispered with excitement,
He told me you were some kinda wicked fox burglar… or a’least were… I’m not sure if you changed that or anything — as you know, we haven’t talked in a while.
Autumn pursed her lips, unsure o’ how comfortable she was to be giving too much info to this stranger.
I’m planning on focusing more on treasure hunting.
¿Like Indiana Jones?.
Nervous under so much rapt attention, Autumn muttered,
Probably not that exciting, but maybe something a quarter the way.
Dawn, who had been nothing but as ebullient as Autumn e’er saw anyone could be, suddenly looked bashful as she stared down @ her hands on the table — tho Autumn could sense strong energy brimming ’neath it.
This’ll sound silly, but I could maybe help you with some potions you could maybe use to help you on your ventures….
Yeah. ¿Did Edgar e’er — did he e’er talk ’bout me @ all, actually?.
After the briefest o’ pauses, Autumn replied,
He probably did & I probably missed it. I’m terrible @ listening & remembering things, being so preoccupied & all.
As I was saying, uh, I’m actually — well, I’m not a chemist, but I studied chemistry in college….
Autumn screwed her brows, only to unscrew them just after with guilt as she saw Dawn laugh & spill out,
I know it’s hard to believe they let me into BU. I guess they just let anyone in, ¿don’t they?. Autumn smirked. In the corner o’ her eye she saw Edgar begin to look less comfortable; howe’er Autumn only thought to herself, I deserved that, & only responded,
¿Do you use chemistry in your cooking?. For a brief moment Autumn began to wonder if she should be concerned ’bout what chemicals this stranger could’ve put into her meal, only to hastily drive such paranoia ’way.
Dawn seemed to have read her mind, for she responded,
Yes, but nothing too crazy — you don’t need to worry: I only use chemicals in ways where their effects are well documented. The government would shut me down in a second if I started getting too crazy.
A pause passed ’mong them, during which Dawn, who still appeared antsy, pulled her knees up.
¿Do you have any plans for what kind o’ treasure hunting ventures you were thinking o’ doing, or is that confidential?. Dawn seemed to lean in toward Autumn, gazing @ her in curiosity. It made Autumn realize how rare ’twas to see anyone stare directly @ her, face to face & how uneasy it made her, e’en if the attention appeared to be positive.
While Autumn did hesitate, with the brief fear that anyone might o’erhear & steal her invaluable delusions, common sense netted her back in &, for the sake o’ maintaining propriety as well as someone as socially incompetent as she could, Autumn answered, off-sleeve,
there’s some s’posedly cursed temple I’ve been thinking ’bout exploring once the weather gets warmer….
O, ¿are you talking ’bout 1 o’ those eye temples, like the “Temple o’ the Mind”, as they call it?.
It might be 1 o’ them.
That must be so exciting, Dawn said, clutching her knees with her sleeve-covered hands. While swaying her knees back & forth, Dawn turned to Edgar & said,
You have no idea how jealous I am o’ you. She looked back @ Autumn & said,
You can tell me to stick to my own business, ’course, but, uh, ¿are you guys a pair?.
Autumn glanced @ Edgar, but saw him stare down @ his fingers as if examining their e’ery atom.
Autumn looked back @ Dawn & shrugged.
I can confirm, using the fundamental principles o’ mathematics, that the sum o’ he & I adds up to 2 people.
She expected this woman to press for a mo’ definitive answer; but blessfully she ’stead just turned to Edgar & said,
You’d better speak now or I might steal her from you. Autumn glanced @ Edgar quizzically, only to see him side-eyeing her himself in apprehension.
Despite how late in the evening ’twas, the sun blared as high as if ’twere the middle o’ the afternoon as Edgar parked into the FredMart driveway. They all sat in a dimness that only seemed to make the sunlight outside hurt Autumn’s eyes e’en mo’. Autumn sighed, & then took a chug o’ her “water bottle”.
Hey, said Dawn. Autumn aimed a petulant glance @ Dawn without stopping. Dawn continued,
¡You’ll need your decision-devising skills for this!.
Autumn lowered her “water bottle” out o’ her mouth with a loud pop & replied,
If you were paying attention, you’d know that the “decision-devising” has already been done. What I need to worry ’bout is my nerves — which you’re currently riding like a fucking bull. So shut it. She took a chug, only to pull it back so fast that it sloshed water o’er her.
Actually, start yapping ’fore we leave the car. In media res, as they say.
All right, but put that ’way & lets go already.
Autumn carefully screwed the lid on her bottle, lowered it into her backpack, zipped her backpack up, grasped the car-door handle, & then took a deep breath.
It’ll go great, Dawn said in a hushed tone.
You underestimate your thinking skills. E’en if your mind feels weak now, that — whate’er survival skill it is — will make it spin like loco if we e’er get in danger, like always.
Shut up ’bout that & start yapping ’bout boy bands, Autumn whispered back as she scanned the store front for people.
Fuck that: I’m talking ’bout Kirby.
I don’t know what that is, & don’t care. Just start yapping & stay in character. Remember, this is you, not a character you’re playing.
I know, I know. All right…. Dawn paused for a second, & then started giggling.
So, uh, you know how in Kirby’s Dream Land 3, when Kirby ducks while in an animal buddy, Autumn opened the car & began to step out, only to stop when she heard Dawn continue,
it looks like the animal buddy’s bum-shoveling him…. She turned a sour eye to Dawn, who started breaking out into giggles, & then began walking toward the store.
No. I didn’t, replied Autumn.
I thought that game was kinda underrated. It’s super nice looking, what with the crayon drawings & some transparency filter that was apparently kinda impressive @ the time — this was made in the mid-90s, I think — tho kinda late for when it came out, since the system that came after the system for which that game was released had already been out for a year….
Um hmm. She had her arms clinging to her chest & kept her eyes on the ground.
They grabbed a cart & went inside. Autumn shook in her thin T-shirt & denim skirt from the chilly air-conditioned air, her skin conditioned to the heat outside. She didn’t resist &, in fact, began rubbing her gooseflesh-growing arm, too. Nor did she resist her heavy breathing & her jittering nerves. Taylor Fox was always nervous in public places.
Just as they entered, Dawn took off her jacket & set it in the baby carrier o’ the cart. Then she interrupted her monologue, turned to the cashier, & waved & said with boisterous cheer,
Good morn, Sir. Nice weather, we’re having, ¿huh?.
Sure is, he said. Autumn glanced o’er @ him to see that he was a lanky young man with shaggy dark hair covering his eyes & a zit on the side o’ his nose, mouth hanging open a bit long after he’d finished speaking. Probably too green to harbor suspicions.
As they walked farther into the store, Dawn nudged Autumn & said in a whisper loud ’nough for the cashier to hear,
I think he was looking @ you.
Autumn glanced back for a second, only to turn forward ’gain the next instant with her face pointed toward her feet & mumbled something incomprehensible.
The 2 wandered the store with their heads tilted upward.
If I’m remembering right, it should be somewhere on the top shelf, said Dawn.
¿You see it?.
So they went round the store, gathering all kinds o’ goods, placing the normal bulky objects in the main basket while placing the tinier stuff in the front basket — objects which included an iPhone, expensive paints, & mid-level jewelry.
Autumn said quickly,
Don’t lose any o’ that — it’s expensive.
I know, I know, said Dawn.
I just hope this doesn’t take too long. Dawn reached into her purse to check her phone, nudging a bunch o’ stuff in the process.
I have to be @ work by 5.
It’s not e’en close.
But then a few mo’ aisles in, Autumn nudged Dawn & said,
Um… I need to use the restroom.
O yeah, said Dawn.
Yeah, there should be 1 nearby.
They found a hall o’ restrooms near the back o’ the store after a few minutes’ search & both went into adjacent stalls. Dawn chatted the whole way, & continued to chat while they were in the stalls as Autumn set her purse on her lap, pulled out the iPhone, the paints, & the jewelry & examined them & ripped off the security tape & plastic devices.
This process hit a snag, howe’er, ’pon turning off the bulky plastic security tag on the necklass & having it spray black ink all o’er Autumn.
In her shy voice, Autumn said,
Sandy… I have a, uh, problem.
Dawn said in a hushed voice,
All o’er my clothes….
Dawn paused for a second, eyes narrowing in translation. Then they widened, & she said,
O… O, OK. I’ll just… ¿You think some paper towels will help?.
I doubt it, Autumn said sullenly.
Might as well try, tho.
Dawn rushed out o’ her stall, only to pause @ the sink.
O, I’d better wash my hands. After pushing soap onto her hands, rubbing them together, dousing them in water till the computer in the faucet said she’d had ’nough, subjecting them to the blowing machine, & then wiping them with a paper towel spit out by ’nother machine, she grabbed a few mo’ shreds o’ paper towels & held them under Autumn’s stall.
¿You need mo’?, Dawn asked standing outside Autumn’s stall.
Uh…. Autumn muttered.
Crap. Then she said in a louder voice,
I don’t think it’s coming off.
¿You need me to get a change o’ clothes?, asked Dawn.
Yes — the floral dress in the car, please. &, O, get some o’ your special cleaning product — the stuff that gets rid o’ dirty things.
Dawn paused to translate, & then nodded, despite the stall door ’tween them.
’K. Stay right here — & don’t let anyone bully you out o’ there, ¿all right?.
Dawn raced out o’ the bathroom & thru the store till she found a door round the back. Then she ran thru the parking lot & scrambled up a patch o’ bushes into the next-door Gregor’s Bar & Grill.
Edgar jumped when he saw Dawn suddenly latch onto his door. He opened the door & asked without e’en hiding anxiety in his voice,
¿What happened? ¿Where’s Autumn?.
Just those fucking ink sprayers, said Dawn.
Edgar’s pitch rose.
¿They caught Autumn?.
No, but they might if I don’t get her a change o’ clothes soon.
Dawn heard the click o’ the doors unlocking & opened them & dug thru the suitcase hid under the back seats till she found the floral dress & disintegrating chemicals Autumn was talking ’bout. As she looked @ the former, she couldn’t help smirking & thinking, I don’t know why she didn’t pick this as her initial disguise — I couldn’t imagine her in something like this.
With the disintegrater in her pocket & the dress o’er her shoulder, Dawn rushed back the way she came, thinking, I hope Taylor doesn’t mind me getting thorns & berries in her nice dress.
As she entered the bathroom, she said,
¿You still in there, Taylor?.
Yeah. Nobody bothered me. ¿Got the dress?.
Uh huh. Here you go.
She slipped it under Autumn’s stall.
Hope you don’t mind me getting it a li’l dirty on the way here….
It’s better than what’s happened to my shirt & skirt.
As Autumn changed, Dawn whispered into the door,
You don’t think the disintegrater might leave a recognizable scent, ¿do you?.
No, it should be fine, said Autumn.
After changing, Autumn used the chemicals on the clothes, backing ’way all the way to the end o’ the stall to minimize the chances o’ any o’ it touching her. As Dawn had warned, it did leave a strong sour scent that screamed, “chemicals”.
Then Autumn left the stall & glanced round.
I think we’re the only ones in here, said Dawn.
Autumn brushed her bangs.
Good. She checked her phone.
I think we’re going to be late, tho.
She led Dawn to the door &, as they were going out, Dawn said,
¿You think we’ll have time to check out?.
No. We need to hurry. We can come back later.
Dawn turned her head back to the cart they’d left by the bathrooms.
¿What ’bout the cart?.
The staff will take care o’ that. C’mon. Autumn grabbed Dawn by her shoulder.
¿You know where a nearby exit is?.
Yeah. I found 1 near the back as I was going out to the car.
Dawn led Autumn to the exit she used before. As they were walking toward it, Autumn whispered into Dawn’s ears,
It’s vital that you keep as calm as possible as you go thru those door — & e’en if something bad does happen, just keep going, ¿’K? You don’t want to lose this job.
Dawn put a hand on Autumn’s shoulder & pulled her close.
Autumn didn’t hesitate a second ’pon reaching the doors, but pushed right thru. As she did so, Dawn ran past her & shouted back,
But Autumn’s steps outside the store were as slow as before. E’en as she took step after step past the store, she was surprised the alarm wasn’t going off or that the store security weren’t jumping out to apprehend her — that she hadn’t missed some security sticker or gotten some security triggering oil on her that she’d missed. But nobody tried to stop her as she crossed the back parking lot, nor as she climbed the bushes or walked thru the Bar & Grill parking lot ’bove. Before she thought ’bout it, she was already opening the door on her side o’ the car & sliding inside, & Edgar was already driving off.
Once Autumn saw ’nough buildings & trees pass her window, she said, reluctantly,
If they’ve bugged our car, we’re already screwed, so it’s safe for you to talk.
Then Dawn o’erflowed like a waterfall unleashed:
See, I told you it’d work wondersomely. We got ’way thorn-free.
We managed to nab a bunch o’ feckless baubles. We’ll get as much as a couple thou if lucky. That doesn’t e’en come close to making up what I lost from my job.
That’s just the beginning — the warm-up.
Autumn continued to hold her attention on the scenery sliding past her outside, bothered by its incongruent brightness.
Well, as the payout goes up in multiples, the risk goes up in exponentials; & we’d better hurry if we hope to avoid financial ruin. & from here upward our punishment for failure is no longer a stern warning or a few nights in jail. From here on its 25 & up. Autumn leaned forward.
¿Are you comfortable with that outcome? ¿You comfortable with throwing ’way e’erything else in your life — your video games, your shows, your sunny beaches?.
Dawn jerked her head back to move her bangs out o’ her face.
¿Who says we’ll e’er get caught?.
The law o’ averages.
¿& who says we couldn’t ’scape if we were caught.
No, you’re Houdini. I’m just the supplier.
Autumn leaned back in her seat.
That’s if I don’t decide I’d rather stay in the kennel.
Phh, you’d ne’er let them keep you in there — they wouldn’t let you hurt yourself.
Autumn looked back out the window.
Tho she knew she shouldn’t — she knew Autumn would say it’d look suspicious — she couldn’t stop looking round herself, marveling @ where she was right now. It was far from the zaniest place Autumn had taken her, but ’twas almost crazier in how much mo’… domestic ’twas, this ol’ metal box that smelled like paint, this black leather seat that scorched her bum under the hot sun. She ne’er thought she’d e’er be on the other side o’ those candy-cane-striped triangular-shaped guard thingies till now — & certs not for the reason she was now. Her legs were bobbing up & down & twisting & untwisting round each other, clockwise & counterclockwise while her heart pattered like hummingbird wings. Tho she normally ne’er drank the stuff, she’d drunk some o’ the iced coffees they’d gotten to look mo’ like normal cops & felt its devilish caffeine possess her e’ery nerve. She felt like she would wet herself @ any moment. ¡How exhilarating!
She’d laughed & said,
It’s too bad Edgar couldn’t get time off from the kids, ’cause I’d love to see him react to how you look, when Autumn came out o’ the bathroom, now dressed in the same white police slacks, shirt, — adorned with a red tie — white hat, & eye-concealing black shades that she’d insisted Dawn put on.
Speak for yourself, buttercup. He’s seen me in goofy costumes like this before, & if it’s turned him on, he’s kept it to himself. He won’t be missing anything, anyway: if things go frictionlessly, today will be slow & boring.
¿& if things don’t go frictionlessly?.
Then today will be e’en slower & mo’ boring languishing in jail cells.
Here came a dusty white minivan driving in with a mother who looked middle-aged — tho not unattractive @ all with that long black hair frizzled with the stress o’ probably needing to meet a dozen appointments for the insatiable appetite o’ those kids in the back. It made her halfway happier that she chose to “pay” with her credit card. After exchanging pleasantries, Dawn took the card & swiped it thru the “scanner” Autumn rigged up till it beeped, & then passed it back with a
¿Did you do some kind o’ complex trickery to make sure the government can’t trace these charges back to your account, or are you just taking the risk?, Dawn had asked after Autumn had showed her how to use the scanner.
Neither: this scanner is a fake. These people won’t be charged.
Dawn laughed in disbelief.
¿You’re not truly robbing them? You’re not doing this just to amuse me, ¿are you? I don’t want to be wasting your time.
Trust me, I’m not. What we’re hoping for is the people who pay in cash — that we keep. But we can’t demand people pay with cash, as that’s suspicious, & I’m sure there’ll be people who don’t use cash anymo’ who’ll kick up a ruckus if we demand cash — & we don’t want a ruckus; so those lucky few get thru for free. Despite what all stereotypes would tell you, being a good thief requires not being greedy & knowing the right limit to set.
¿What if somebody notices their credit card isn’t charged?.
Nobody’s going to kick up a fuss ’bout not being charged money; & if some deranged nerd does, by the point that they’ll be sure ’nough to bother, we’ll be long gone from the site o’ the heist.
¿& what if nobody pays in cash?.
Then we get jack shit & suck a dick.
I’m guessing you don’t mean the latter literally.
Not for me, anyway. What you do on your own time is your business.
Dawn, we need to get moving, quick.
Dawn jumped & turned her head back to see Autumn standing up with a wrinkled frown.
Look: a cop car’s @ the end o’ traffic there.
Dawn squinted under the glare o’ the sunlight & saw the familiar black-lettered white van o’ the BPF.
I take it they won’t be happy to pay the fee, e’en by credit card.
I don’t want to take the chance. Let’s hurry out.
Dawn pushed the switch, raising the candy-cane-striped gate 1 mo’ time, & then followed Autumn out the back o’ their li’l metal box.
Autumn noticed an alleyway that turned @ a ½π-radian angle & waved Dawn to follow her inside next to the dumpster, on the side ’way from the other opening o’ the alleyway, & whispered,
Now take off your costume — ¡& hurry!, as she dropped her pack & began unbuckling her belt.
Dawn laughed nervously & blushed, which stressed Autumn out that she would lag ’hind; howe’er, Dawn merely said,
OK, & began unbuckling her own belt.
When they both finished taking off their uniforms, Autumn opened the dumpster & threw them inside while Dawn stood with her arms round herself, eyes darting all round with a bashfulness that surprised Autumn — tho Autumn was glad, as it meant she didn’t have to do so to look out for signs o’ the cops appearing. Then Autumn dug thru her pack for their regular clothes & held out Dawn’s sunshirt for her to take & put on, & then began putting on her own T-shirt & jean skirt.
¿What now?, asked Dawn.
Autumn took out a cigarette & her lighter & put the former in her mouth & lit it. As she puffed she could feel her nerves buzz with relief, watching the sterily clear air fill with warm, cloudy smoke. In the corner o’ her eye she could see Dawn’s eyes widen in surprise, & then saw her walk back & put a hand o’er her nose & mouth as the smoke began to spread.
I figured someone like you would consider stuff like that to be inefficient & not worth the money.
Money’s not a problem when you’re a thief.
& they’re quite efficient @ speeding one up to their final goal.
Dawn’s expression softened & she then said, in her usual jovial tone,
¿What if I told you that only makes you look sexier to me?.
Autumn spread an arm out & leaned gainst the nearest brick wall, & then said,
I look sexy to you no matter what I do. I can’t help your bad tastes.
Autumn took a few mo’ puffs while Dawn sat down gainst the brick wall & began playing on her phone ( Autumn couldn’t help noticing the oddity that while Dawn looked so self-conscious ’bout standing round in her knickers just earlier, now she habored no concern for sitting with her knees raised in a way where Autumn could see up her sunshirt ), & then she dropped her cigarette & smushed it with her shoe.
We need to get moving.
Autumn & Dawn didn’t stop running till they reached their apartment door. As she rummaged for their key & panted to catch her breath, Autumn said, with laughter in her voice,
I can’t believe we managed to pull that off.
’Course we could: you’re a master thief, ¿remember?.
Autumn looked ’way from Dawn & stared @ the doorknob & unlocked it.
As soon as they entered Autumn slunk off her pack & dropped it in her normal place, only to freeze up & stare @ it, pupils dilating. She felt her chest seize up with sudden anxiety as her mind rummaged round its miasma o’ memories to find some kind o’ order.
There was ’nother pack. The money was put in ’nother pack. ¿Where’s the other pack?.
She looked o’er @ Dawn, but didn’t see any pack on Dawn, nor did she remember e’er giving Dawn the pack — couldn’t think o’ why she would do so.
You didn’t pick up the pack — you left it there. She could see it clearly now, like an animated reel that’d gone so fast it’d blurred now run in slow motion.
Autumn dug her nails into the top o’ her head & shouted,
¡I can’t believe I did something so stupid!.
Dawn leapt from the couch & rushed toward Autumn.
¿Autumn, what’s wrong?.
¡The fucking pack with the money we stole — we left it @ the booth!.
It’s OK. We can just go back & get it, Dawn cooed as she grabbed Autumn’s arms & tried pulling them ’way from Autumn’s skull.
Autumn shook Dawn’s hands off her.
¿With the cops there? ¿Are you insane? There’s no way those cops haven’t gotten impatient waiting there & haven’t investigated & found the money. They probably already have it down @ the station as we speak.
It’s all right. It’s just 1 li’l mistake. I’m sure I’ve lost far mo’ money wasted on bad ingredients @ my ol’ restaurant. We can make up for it.
Autumn felt her body fill with the familiar rage that made her feel as if she couldn’t not move. She gave her nerves what they thirsted for & swung her fist into the wall, tasting the harsh sting it left on her knuckles like her favorite candy, while Dawn watched with a frown, her body shaking like a leaf. But this didn’t quench Autumn’s hunger ’nough, but only made her fill with e’en mo’ energy, & so she began drilling her teeth into her knuckles as hard as she could, twisting her eyes gainst the sharp pain.
Dawn grabbed Autumn with such force that it surprised her out o’ her rage in an instant.
It’s OK. We’ll be fine….
We’re fine till we get evicted ’cause we can’t pay rent, Autumn said from the back o’ her throat.
We’ve got money saved up.
We’ll have plenty more opportunities to get mo’ money.
That’s what you think.
Just sit down & calm down.
Dawn settled Autumn onto her couch & then sat next to her. Autumn was staring dully into the hot air in front o’ her, only to be startled when she felt a foreign cold flesh touch the cold flesh o’ her knee. Autumn looked down to see ’twas Dawn’s hand & stared @ it, her pulse still rattling.
But just then Dawn pulled back her hand. Autumn looked up @ her face to see a rare expression: embarrassment.
Sorry ’bout that, Dawn said with the usual childlike titter in her voice. Then she looked straight @ Autumn & asked,
¿Are you feeling better now?.
Autumn looked ’way, muttering,
I don’t know, & then began looking all round the apartment. Then she asked,
¿Do you know when Edgar gets home?, & regretted it just after, knowing that Dawn’s prying ears would want to know why she wanted to know.
He said he’d be back round 7 — but he did say we could call him @ any time if we needed him.
Autumn shook her head.
& yet the air that felt toxic building up inside her chest & lungs kept insisting to her that ’twas important.
¿Are you sure?.
In a tone grumpier than intended, Autumn replied,
¿Why wouldn’t I be?.
Well, I wasn’t sure if “nothing urgent” truly meant “nothing urgent” or “I think it’s urgent, but I for some reason think my friends wouldn’t care if ’twas, so I’m just going to keep it bottled up like a shook-up HeroHero.
No, I’m sorry to inform you that my mind is not that poetical. I generally say what I generally mean.
Autumn expected Dawn to drag this conversation long past expiration date, — ’haps call her out on how bullshit a claim that was from such a perpetual liar — but Dawn was smarter than that & left her with a silence, which, in hindsight, felt e’en less comfortable than if Dawn had continued babbling on ’bout inanities. She looked o’er @ Dawn, sitting back with her arms on the back o’ the couch & her crossed knees bobbing up & down, bouncing the hem o’ her sunshirt with them.
¿How ol’ is she? She’s 3 years older than me. She’s working on a master’s — if she hadn’t given that up thanks to my vile influence. She looks like she’s still 19.
Dawn began speaking ’gain, causing Autumn to jerk her attention back up to Dawn’s face.
Well, either there’s something you’re dying to get off your chest — to Edgar or me — or you’ve suddenly become enraptured by my gorgeous legs. Then Dawn began giggling — presumably inspired by the deep, scorching flush the grew on Autumn’s face. Without e’en planning to do so, Autumn turned ’way from Dawn — e’en scooting her whole body a radian or so ’way — & stared down @ the carpet, only to find her own knees in the way.
I should ask Dawn to leave — or just go into her lab. Tell her I need some ’lone time. She can think I’m crying o’er some dead aunt all she wants.
¿But could anyone be ’lone with all this bright light breaking in thru the blinds?
Suddenly she felt a hand — that same hand that touched her knee — touch her shoulder.
Well, if you need me for anything, just let me know.
& with that Dawn rose & began walking ’way toward her lab. Autumn stared @ her for a few moments, feeling her nails dig into her knees & feeling her whole body shake.
Dawn turned round, just before her lab door.
Autumn silently flicked her finger forward & back toward herself, beckoning.
This apparently amused Dawn, & when she scampered back o’er to Autumn, she revealed why:
I hope I haven’t convinced yourself that I’m your li’l Labrador retriever. She sat down, this time with her knees pressed together, tilted toward Autumn.
All right, I’m all ears.
Autumn put a hand on Dawn’s knee, only to deepen her frown @ how awkward the gesture felt.
This is a bad idea. This is an idiotic idea. ¿What the hell am I doing? ¿Why do I stubbornly stick to stupid decisions when logical decisions are handed to me on a platter?.
I don’t want to talk, said Autumn.
OK…, Dawn said, confusion clear on her face.
I can just sit here next to you quietly….
Autumn lost her patience & turned to Dawn & said,
¿Do I have to spell it out to you? ¿You o’ all people? ¿Did Edgar have to spell it out to you, too?, only to regret saying so much, her frown locking up stiffly as if this were the only way to keep her from saying anything else moronic.
Autumn, I don’t understand. You know I’m not as smart as — .
I’ve abused this woman ’nough already — I’ve abused both o’ them. Might as well.
Tell me to stop if you want me to, Autumn interrupted grumpily.
Autumn pressed her hand to Dawn’s chest, causing Dawn to to laugh & blush as Autumn lightly pressed her back gainst the other side o’ the couch. Autumn could feel Dawn’s heart beat heavily thru her light sunshirt as she said with a laugh,
This is getting weirdly sexual, only for her eyes to dilate in shock after Autumn leaned into her — till she was practically on top o’ her, feeling her legs & Dawn’s legs & her thick denim skirt & Dawn’s thin sunshirt jumble together so much that Autumn couldn’t tell what was what — & began kissing Dawn while her hand crept up Dawn’s sunshirt for approximately 2 seconds. Then she pulled back & sat there, leaning o’er Dawn with heavy breaths like a shadow, staring straight into Dawn’s still-deer-dilated eyes. Autumn couldn’t help noticing red flushes on Dawn’s cheeks.
Finally, feeling the silence become unbearable, Autumn muttered,
Sorry. I should’ve asked specifically.
Dawn began laughing, & then said in a hushed voice,
¿Why did you do that?.
Fuck if I know. ¿Why does anyone do that? ¿Why do you? ¿Why do you play those dumb electronic games you play? ¿Why does Edgar cook? ¿Why do I rob people? ¿Why does anyone do anything?.
Dawn giggled ’gain & began twisting her legs left & right while saying,
No one else could turn me on so much while talking philosophically. Autumn was surprised by the sharp pang in her heart as she stared @ this adorable woman. Edgar had once joked to Autumn that it seemed as if Dawn could be infatuated with just ’bout anyone, but Autumn now had began to feel the creeping suspicion that the same worked in the reverse.
After taking 1 last deep breath, Autumn continued:
You see how dangerous I am, ¿right? You can’t trust me — e’en I can’t trust myself. You’ll have to lock me up, just like a criminal like me deserves.
Dawn began laughing so much she sounded like she was ’bout to choke.
I hope this is sexy talk. Otherwise it’d sound disturbing.
Not letting the seriousness leave her face, Autumn continued,
You’re lucky I always keep rope in my backpack.
Dawn’s eyes lit up as she said,
¿Are these the kind o’ games you & Edgar would play? What secrets you hide.
Dawn began sliding her legs out from under Autumn’s knees & gently pressed a hand gainst Autumn’s chest, pushing her back the smallest nanometer, & said,
I just hope I can safely get to the rope….
Only if you hurry.
Dawn got up & scurried o’er to Autumn’s pack while Autumn turned to face her, her legs now crossed with her hands pressing down on the front o’ her skirt, & watched Dawn.
Dawn held up the rope like a prized flounder & said,
All right, I found it. ¿Now what?.
Autumn turned round & lay down on the couch with her head gainst the arm o’ the couch, her legs stretched out, & her arms stretching up into the air, as if yawning, & then closed her eyes.
Whate’er you feel is best.
If you say so….
Autumn felt soft hands wrap round her wrists, & then felt the hard, wiry pelt o’ the ropes wrap round them, & then tighten. She felt her heart begin racing, a much greater hit than a cigarette or bottle o’ vodka could offer.
¿What’ll be the safe word?, asked Dawn.
Autumn opened 1 eye aimed @ Dawn & said,
None: I’m willing to take the risk, before closing it ’gain.