My Autistic Brother Reluctantly Finds a Job
I peered over my brother’s shoulder as he checked his first PostTime! account. Friends and acquaintances stay connected over great distances with the magical social media accounts on the Internet. This was his first one because our mother was old-fashioned. She still thought social media was for scammers and sex traffickers. However, I lured in Cale with the promise of PostTime! Market, where he could “shop” for used boats or vehicles without our mom finding out. He would only be able to do that, though, if he had money. Speaking of which –
“Hey, hey,” I exclaimed. He gazed at me over the laptop screen. “You’re supposed to be streaming today, right?”
Cale exhaled all the air in his lungs. “Why do I have to do this streaming thing?”
My hand rested on top of the screen and gently pressed down. His own fingers blocked the laptop from closing, and he growled softly, “Don’t do that.”
“You’re doing this ‘streaming thing’ because you need a job,” I reminded him, “Earlier this month, you told me you didn’t want to be a mechanic, so we’re trying something different. Look at it this way, you can work from home. We have a nice PC and decent wifi. Nathan will help you set up, soyou don’t have to worry about the logistics. Just have fun!”
When he reopened the computer, I caught a glimpse of someone I recognized. He noticed me staring and closed the lid on my hand. “Ow!” I glared and forced the screen back into place. “That’s your manager from the mechanic shop. Antoine, was it?” I grinned and nudged him in the ribs. “He wants to be your PostTime! friend.”
My brother's red face vibrated, and he balled his knuckles. “I don’t want any friends or followers.” He deleted the profile from his friend requests, and I noticed something else on the page.
“Why does it say you have zero friends?” I tapped the page with a knuckle. He said nothing, just sucked his lips into his mouth. “Nathan and I made ourselves your friends yesterday. We added Mom, too.” I glared sidelong at him. “Did you delete us?”
He held a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. The giggling bubbled into his throat, and I heard a chuckle. He clamped down further on his lips and nodded, the smile growing. “That’s just rude,” I continued, “After all that time we spent helping you set it up.” I finally laughed in spite of myself. We knew this would happen, but I had no idea he would delete our profiles so soon.
A pop-up on the screen arrested my attention. “Hey, look! Your manager sent you a message.”
“He’s not my manager.”
Before he could delete it, I wrestled the laptop from his hands and clicked the icon. A picture appeared of Antoine with his arms around a teenage boy. The boy was clearly uncomfortable, but he was forcing a smile, probably for his dad’s sake. From the background, I would guess they were at a fashion show or some sort of clothing convention. The message read, “Cale, thank you for helping me discover what is really important. My son doesn’t need to become a mechanic for me to be proud of him. I love him just the way he is. To show that, I took him to a fashion show! I think he had a great time. (Although he kept asking if I was feeling ill. Silly boy!) Anyway, I hope your job search goes well. Keep in touch!”
My eyebrows scrunched together. “You taught him to discover what’s important?” My head turned to my brother. “You?”
“When you are emotionless, you can be wise.”
His “sage advice” floated across the room, and I shook my head. “You didn’t talk to me all day yesterday because I didn’t buy you a jet ski. That doesn’t seem emotionless to me. That seems like you’re a drama queen.”
The hallway chuckled. My husband was eavesdropping on our conversation. Of course he was; our home was the setting of a sitcom. One never knew what they would hear walking through this humble abode.
Cale frowned and protested, “It was used.”
“For two thousand dollars! That’s more than a month’s rent!” I sighed and made a shooing motion at him. “Go find Nathan and finish setting up the streaming equipment.”
When he was out of sight, I plopped onto the couch and pulled up the latest “How-To” baby videos. This one was about the right way to hold a baby. I had been watching MyVids and reading articles about this topic all day, and I still hadn’t found the right answer. I grabbed the closest stuffed animal and propped it in the crook of my elbow the way the video showed. “Wait,” I muttered, “This is different from the last one.” My arms fumbled the stuffed animal, dropping it right onto its head on the hardwood floor. A groan escaped my lips.
“Chu, chu!” The creature at Cale’s side had the appearance of his sister. If his sister was ten inches tall with pink skin and cotton candy for hair. The little tutu around her waist floated as she beat her shimmering wings to remain aloft. Cale inhaled the scent of sugar and cinnamon. His little sidekick bounced onto his shoulder and squeaked her name, “Oneechu.” Her trembling index finger was outstretched in front of them.
A large bug up to Cale’s waist crouched before the blank background. Electrical currents surged through its black body. Every few seconds, its exoskeleton faded, leaving a transparent patch of ones and zeroes before becoming opaque again. It buzzed, and Cale gripped his head. The sound was like the roar of one airboat or one thousand fans, whichever was louder.
The buzzing stopped, and the bug shifted its weight. “It’s going to attack,” Cale mumbled. He pointed to the monstrosity and yelled, “Oneechu, attack that virus!”
Oneechu took a deep breath and fluttered from behind his ear. The fairy kissed her hand and blew into the air. SMACK! A glowing cloud of pink crackling energy floated into the air toward the monster. “Chu.” The squeak released the cloud, and it surrounded the bug. It wobbled, and numbers flashed throughout its body.
“Finish it off, Controllee.” He threw a box resembling a small game console at the cloud of energy. Midair, the box opened, creating a robot the size of a child’s action figure. Its fist closed around a tiny game controller, on which it began to press various buttons. When the robot pushed “up”, the bug moved forward; when it pressed “B”, the bug jumped. Every button forced the enemy to move as the robot (and Cale) directed.
The monster hissed once before slamming into the invisible barricade unique to video games. Over and over, its body crashed and jolted. By the time it slowed, the body was made completely from ones and zeroes; there was nothing of the bug left.
Cale took no chances. “Team-up attack.”
The fairy floated near his face and nodded. “Onee.” She grabbed the robot’s hands and spun, swinging him like a helicopter blade. “OneeCHUUUU!” The robot flew toward the blinking numbers, whirring and smoking slightly. Its arms retracted into its body and were replaced by chainsaws, which hacked right through the binary digits. They vanished, leaving a faint sparkle.
“Good job,” their master mumbled, patting his creatures’ heads awkwardly.
“You did most of the work.”
Cale balled his fists and gently smacked his head with one of them. His monsters could not talk. He shook his head like a puppy after a bath and saw his brother-in-law finishing the installations for streaming.
“You did most of the work,” Nathan repeated, “I just helped.” He crawled out from under the desk and leaned against the drawers.
“Thanks,” Cale mumbled, embarrassed.
“Now all you have to do is start the live video, say hello to everyone, and play your game.” He grinned and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Easy peasy.” He noticed a stray screw from the setup and wrapped it in plastic he pulled out of his pocket.
“Why did you do that?” Cale gestured at the screw.
Nathan sighed. “I’m starting to babyproof the house. It’s exhausting work. Who knew there was so much dangerous stuff in our house.” He leaned back and ran a hand over his reddish-brown beard. “Your sister is going to be the death of me.”
“Speaking of your sister,” he muttered.
“This article is the complete opposite of what the video said! Which one is right?” Her voice was shrill and panicking.
“Be right there, sweetheart.” He pushed off the floor with a grunt and flashed a forced smile to his brother-in-law. “I’m excited to watch your stream.” He held up his phone and headed to the other room, calling, “Babe, don’t forget, we have to get those things from the store now.”
When the door closed, Cale picked out a game, adjusted the settings, and clicked the Live button. Within fifteen minutes, he had three viewers, and comments were swarming him.
“Bro, you have to turn the camera on.”
“Hey, are you going to interact with your viewers?”
“No video. No commentary. What kind of streamer are you?”
He ignored the comments until he heard one in his ear. “Hiya. You’re new here, right?”
“I thought I turned this off,” he mumbled, stopping the game to fiddle with his settings.
A tiny laugh rang through the headphones. “I’m sure you tried, but that’s not how this new streaming organization works. In order to get paid for your contributions, you’re paired with a mentor. That would be me. I’m ButterflySlayz237. I’m still pretty new to this platform, but I’ve gotten a lot of followers recently. They probably want me to give you some tips since you’re aiming to do this as a career.”
“Fine,” he growled, “but I don’t want followers.”
Silence followed by a giggle. “Well, you’re in the wrong profession then,” she responded, “Streaming is all about follow–” Her voice cut off, and she moaned slightly. “Not again. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Cale continued playing the game without voice or video. The comments continued.
“No video. No subscribing.”
“Maybe it’s a girl.”
“Yo, no wonder they don’t want to be seen.”
“Must be a pretty ugly girl to hide her video.”
With a sigh, he finally typed into the chatbox while he muttered aloud, “I’m not a girl.”
“I could tell by the way you’re playing that you’re not a girl,” someone wrote.
“Yeah, girls aren’t any good at this game.”
He frowned and ignored the comments again. The voice returned to his ear. “Hey, I’m back. Sorry, I had some problems over on my own channel.” Her voice sounded too friendly, like she was trying to overcompensate. “So you’re playing Creds, huh?”
He nodded, then realized she could not see him. “Yep.”
“That’s my go-to game, too.” A moment of silence followed before she added, “I’ve been having some trouble with people on my channel, though.” When he didn’t respond, she continued, “I have lots of regular viewers, but recently I’ve been overrun by guys saying I can’t play that game because I’m a girl. Or that girls suck at games.” She blew a puff of air into the microphone. “I’ve taken every challenge they’ve given me and beat them. But then they claim someone else was playing for me, even though I always keep my camera on.”
Cale frowned. “Bullying is a sin,” he rumbled.
His mentor laughed, but her voice was thin as she replied, “They aren’t going to listen to your religion here. People bully others all the time.” She brightened. “Anyway, why don’t we play a round of Creds together? It’ll help me see your techniques. Maybe then we can work on some marketing ideas for your next stream. You know, appeal to the followers through your unique style.”
He growled, “I told you, I don’t want followers.”
“At least play one round with me. Come on! It’ll be fun.”
The words “ButterflySlayz237 invites you to join her party” flashed onto the screen. “I don’t play online.” Still, his cursor hovered over the accept button.
“Do you think I’m no good at this game, too?”
ButterflySlayz237 was not visible on his monitor, but he could imagine her glistening eyes and drooping mouth. He was not a bully like those others. “Just one game.”
Across town, Elizabet reached up to wipe her eyes but found them dry. “I feel nothing. I’m like the vast expanse of space. Empty and meaningless.” She shoved herself off the couch to remove the movie from her DVD player. This was the third romantic comedy of the day, but she had not laughed through any of them. As she replaced the disc in the case, she grabbed for another cookie from the open package on the end table. Her hand gripped empty air.
“Gone. Just like my heart.” She rolled up her baggy t-shirt to reveal her stomach, pinching the rolls of her skin. “Maybe I’m too fat. If that’s true, I’m not helping matters any.” She shrugged and shuffled into the kitchen, returning with a chocolate bar. “Doesn’t matter, I guess. If I’m fat, I’m fat.” She took a bite, cutting the candy in half with her teeth. “So I may as well eat what I want.”
She dropped her weight back onto the sofa. “I forgot to put the disc in.” Her hand reached out to the television set across the room and fell back into her lap. “I guess this is my life now.” She stared at the blue screen, an indication the DVD player awaited something to play. Her eyes glazed, and a piece of greasy hair fell into her face.
At some point, Elizabet had fallen back onto the couch. She was still lying there when she noticed the windows were dark. “Is it that late already?” Without moving, she eyed the clock on her phone. Two hours had passed since she finished her movie. Her stomach grumbled and rolled in her abdomen. She wrapped her arms around herself and squeezed.
“Too much food. That’s what I get.” She contorted her face in an attempt to force tears to form. “Ugh! This sucks. I hate myself!” She rolled onto her back, ignoring her protesting stomach, and grabbed the pillow behind her head. It smelled like day-old drool, but she pressed it against her face.
When she pulled it away, the cushion was wet. Tears streaked her face, and Elizabet barked a laugh. She stood and shuffled to the television. The DVD player slid open, and she inserted another romantic comedy. This time, a slight smile was growing on her face. Water dripped off her cheeks onto the stained shirt. “This really sucks.”
I peeked into the room where my brother was streaming. He was talking to someone, either his viewers or someone else in the game. I grinned and pumped my fist once. Cale never spoke to anyone. He did not enjoy online games and refused to use a camera, even when it was just us playing. I edged closer, hoping to determine the identity of the mystery people.
Nathan appeared behind me, and I waved at him. My eyes never left the room where Cale was mumbling into the mic. “Look, he’s actually talking to someone on the stream.”
“Yeah, cool.” My husband tugged me into the hallway. “I’ve put the guns and knives in the safe.” He held up fingers as he spoke. “I put those white plastic things on all the doors. All the expensive glassware is in storage. The figures are on high shelves, as are all the other collectibles. What else do I need to do?”
I squished my cheeks with my hand, thinking. “Did you put the baby books on lower shelves and all my books up high?” He nodded. “What about all the rated M games and R movies? Did we ever decide on a place for those?”
“It’s a baby. We won’t have to worry about those for a while.” His mouth twitched into a grin. “Unless you think our newborn is going to start playing Immortal Clashers Seventeen.”
“Um.” I squished my cheeks again and pulled out my phone, searching for “How to Babyproof House.” “This says we need to check for peeling paint because of lead.” I scrolled down the list, clicking another article absentmindedly. “We should also be careful of carpet because of staining.” I groaned loudly. “But we also have to be careful with wood and tile because of falling. I guess we could get a rug.” My breathing sped up, and I found myself feeling a bit faint.
Nathan grabbed my shoulders and said, “Hey” until I looked at him. It took about five Heys this time. A new record. “It’s fine. We will invest in a carpet cleaner in case it gets stained, and we’ll buy some rugs for the hard floors.”
I nodded, glancing back at my phone. “These all say different things. How am I supposed to keep track of it all?”
“You aren’t.” He sighed while I continued to scroll. Then his eyes noticed my brother stirring in the other room. “Is he –” Pause. “Talking to someone?”
My eyes ripped from the phone, and we both edged close to the door. I frowned. “Wait a second. I think he’s talking to himself.”
“Oneechu, charm them.” Cale stood in a blue space with floating words and numbers all around him. Several figures hovered beyond him. It was more accurate to say these were stacks of words in the shape of human figures. One of them was portly with the words Fat, Ugly, Stupid creating a round section about his middle. Another had the outline of a baseball cap filled with Slow, Whore. The biggest was packed with many words, none of them kinder than the others: Poser, Fake, Hot, Idiots, Homewrecker. The figures huddled in a troop, not eager to leave one another’s side.
The tiny fairy hopped twice, squeaked “Onee,” and blew a kiss. As before, a cloud of swirling energy formed around the figures. It zapped and swirled, blowing the words into the air and breaking the human forms. However, the words swept right back together after the mist dissolved.
Oneechu frowned, tears glistening in her eyes. “Chu.” She tugged on Cale’s hair, leaving syrupy handprints on the strands.
“There, there.” Cale petted her on the head, and her mouth quirked into a grin. He wiped his hair on his shirt. “Use Kindness.”
Oneechu nodded and spread her arms wide. She raced toward the figures and swept one into an embrace. The words floated out of her arms and rematerialized on the far side of the group. She huffed and moved to the next one, which did the same. “Onee!” Her foot kicked the air, and little arms spun in a savage circle.
The figures did not seem to notice her as they advanced. Words stretched out and connected with some semblance of ground, allowing them to walk like humans. The largest one strode in front while the others flanked him. They reminded Cale of mobsters in the yakuza anime he watched. Calmer and more emotionless than his sidekick, that was for sure.
He sighed and waved at the fairy to return. Oneechu reappeared at his side and nestled into his hair, as if she had not just thrown a tantrum. He pulled the black box from his pocket and muttered, “Your turn.”
The robot popped up and pressed every button on his controller. Each word making up the figures seemed to respond differently to the various buttons. As the little creature pushed one, a word broke away from the group. Another button, and a different word flew free. He continued to mash circles and squares until only one word remained. Cale walked over to it and blew, causing the single word to drift into the distance and disappear. He patted both his monsters on their heads and smirked.
Cale blinked and was back at the computer. Angry comments about his mentor and new teammate filled the screen. “Language,” he muttered.
The girl’s voice chuckled, but it sounded more like a sob. “They aren’t going to hold back on their language just because you want them to. Trust me, I’ve tried to reason with them.” She did not speak for a while. Cale continued to play, huffing as the comments became more rude and vulgar.
“I’m sorry for bringing all the jerks to your stream,” ButterflySlayz237 sighed.
Cale frowned at the newest line of text: “Girls can’t play this game. If you’re going to play with a girl, then I won’t watch you anymore.”
He typed in a single phrase. “Why can’t girls play?” ButterflySlayz237 had seemed to be doing well in their online matches. Cale had been playing this game for a long time, and he did not know any rules that barred girls from playing. Perhaps it was an online multiplayer rule.
A minute passed before the answer popped up. “Because they’re no good at this.”
Cale cracked his knuckles and mumbled into the microphone, “Her score is 25,000 points.” His eyes shifted from the chat box to the leaderboard of the game. “Your score is 1,000 points. She’s beating you.”
The chatbox was silent, so he reiterated. “Why can’t girls play?”
“This game is too violent for women!”
“But you’re playing it. If it’s too violent, you shouldn’t be playing it.”
No one spoke or typed anything for the next few minutes. Cale played in single player mode without worrying about viewers following him. He grinned and hummed to himself. The tune had never been heard on a radio or sung by anyone. He made it up himself, and no one was aware of its existence, except those closest to him.
An excited squeal pounded his eardrum. “Ouch,” he muttered, “Keep it down.”
“Sorry, sorry.” His mentor’s laughter caused him to take off his headphones for a moment. When he put them back on, she was saying, “... Over a hundred new subscribers! I guess whatever you said to those bullies really shut them down. And shut them up. Everyone was so impressed with how you handled them, they subscribed to both our channels.” Cale looked down and noticed his number of followers was climbing. He logged out of the game and prepared to remove his headphones again. “Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m not a streamer,” he muttered.
“Why not? Everyone loves you.”
“I don’t want followers.” With that, he exited the program, removed his headphones, and tramped to the living room.
I was curled on the couch with a pregnancy advice book when my brother stomped into the room. He wasn’t angry; his footsteps were just five times louder than the normal person’s. This was a problem when he lived in Mom’s apartment, but he could stomp all he liked in our personal house. “How did the streaming go?”
He grabbed a Hot Pocket and warmed it up in the microwave, staring at the floor as he answered, “Good.”
“What time are you going to start tomorrow? I want to watch.” My heart froze as he shook his head. “What do you mean, no?”
“Streaming is just not for me,” he responded.
“He doesn’t want followers.” Nathan chuckled from the other room, peeking his head around the corner of the hallway. “I heard part of your conversation with ButterflySlayz.”
Cale growled and turned red. “I can’t believe you heard that.” His mutters were always grumbled under his breath. After living with him for so long, though, we had learned how to translate them into intelligible speech.
Nathan nodded with another chuckle. “Yep.”
My brother growled once more and stomped away with his plate of Hot Pockets. This time, the stomping may have been on purpose. “Let’s just try something else.”
I sighed as Nathan wrapped me into his arms. “Will he ever get a job?”
“We’ll see, baby. We’ll see.”