Chapter 6:

Lights, Camera, Interaction

My Autistic Brother Reluctantly Finds a Job

“Seriously? Again?” I shook my head as I scrolled through articles on my phone.

“Isn’t it great?” Elizabet’s tinny voice reverberated through the air. “He’s famous!”

Apparently, my brother noticed some kind of embezzling scheme. This manager had been taking money from his company for years, and no one noticed. Until Cale arrived, that is. Once again, he was famous. Elizabet texted me as soon as I woke up, asking if I had seen the news. Since we don’t have cable television, I checked social media feeds and local stories on my phone. It was the first story to pop up wherever I searched.

I lifted the mobile device to my ear and chuckled. “It’s a pity, though. If this hadn’t happened, he may have enjoyed that job.”

“He stayed there longer than the other places, right?” Elizabet’s cousin worked as a teller at that bank; she learned about the heroics before I did.

“Yeah.” I held the phone back to check the time. “Listen, Bethy, I’ve gotta go. Nathan still hasn’t finished that crib.” I heaved myself off the couch with a grunt, and we said our farewells.

As I worked my way down the hall, I could hear Nathan grunting and yelling at something. “Hey.” I knocked on the door and pushed it open an inch. “How’s it coming?”

His eyes widened at the sight of me, and he shoved something behind his back. A smile swept across his mouth. “Hey, honey. I’m good. Still working on this crib.” He gestured with one hand, the other still behind his back.

I leaned around him, as much as I could with a pregnant belly, and caught a glimpse of an instruction manual and some empty baggies. “Wasn’t this supposed to be done a few weeks ago?”

“It’s taking a little longer than I planned, but it’s alright. Everything will be done before the baby gets here.”

My fingers pulled at the wisps of hair on my arms. “Okay, but just remember there are other things to do, too. It’s not like we have months just to make the crib.”

I swear he grimaced before the smile returned. “I’ve got this covered, baby,” he reassured, edging me out the door, “Trust me.”

When the door swung shut, I stood listening on the other side. A second later, I could hear Nathan talking. “Do you have any –” He rattled off a list of hardware. “What do you mean sold out? Until when?” His voice grew loud, and I stepped backward.

My husband told me the crib would be done within the week, but it didn’t sound like he was close to finishing at all. Did the company not ship us all the pieces? Is that why this was taking so long? I frowned and strode toward Cale’s room. “Why didn’t he just tell me that?” My mind swam with possibilities, frustration clouding all the rational thoughts. “What if he’s not done by the time the baby comes? Then what?”

I arrived at Cale’s room and knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again, trying the knob. It was locked. “Hey!” I cupped my hands over my mouth and held them against the wood. “It’s time to go to work!”

My feet slipped, and I almost fell forward when he opened the door without warning. “I don’t work at the bank anymore,” he rumbled, pushing the entryway closed.

“I don’t mean the bank.” I stuck my foot over the threshold to keep the door from closing. “You’re going to a movie theater today.” He eyed me and shook his free hand back and forth. “Come on, you love movies. Maybe you can recommend some good ones to the customers.”

“Fine.” He pushed my foot with his own and shut the door the rest of the way. A couple minutes later, he emerged dressed in a polo shirt and dark wash jeans. “But I’m not being famous.”

All the media attention surrounding his last two jobs was making Cale nervous. He had always influenced people without realizing it. Now, everyone was taking notice of him, including the media. Which was the very last thing he wanted.

“This job will be nice and easy.” I heard a moan from the backseat. “Hey, just think! At least you aren’t running for major.” My left hand gripped the wheel of the car, and my right gestured to a billboard on the side of the road. It had a man’s giant face plastered on it and read “You Can Count on MEEM.” Smaller words underneath stated simply, “Meems for Major.”

“True.” Cale nodded sagely. “When you’re in politics, you don’t get a break.”

I chuckled. “I can’t take any of these seriously. I mean your name is pronounced the same as the word ‘meme,’ for goodness’ sake. I’ll probably just write a random person’s name on the ballot this year. None of the official party delegates really speak to me.”

“Well, voting is your constitutional right and duty as a citizen,” Cale piped.

He inhaled to start a lengthy speech about voter registration when I pulled into the theater parking lot. “Oh, look at that! We’re here!” I unlocked his door, and he stared at me. “Have a good day.”

My smile pulled itself up into my hair, and he shuddered. “Stop that,” he muttered, stumbling to exit the car. I watched him race to the door, stop, tuck in his shirt for the third time, and enter the building.

“Welcome to Royalty Theaters.” The monotone voice belonged to an older man with white hair slicked to one side. He wore a red polo with the theater logo emblazoned on the front, and he smelled like burnt butter. Cale did not even know that was a type of smell until now. “You’re Cale?” Cale nodded once and twirled his wrists. “You and Logan will be training with me today. We don’t have extra staff right now, so you’ll both be working together. That alright?” He yawned and turned away before noticing Cale’s vehement head shaking.

“Um, I work best alone,” Cale asserted in a grumble.

The old man barked a laugh, making Cale wince. It was so sinister sounding he wondered if an evil monologue was going to follow. “Me too, kid, me too.” He held up a shirt identical to his own and pressed it into the younger man’s hands. “Go get changed into this. Maybe by then, this Logan fellow will be here.”

Without even nodding, Cale scampered into the bathroom. While he changed in the handicap stall, he texted his sister, “Come get me.” When a full minute passed and she had not responded, he added, “Now!” The shirt was a bit snug around his ample middle. Regardless, he tucked it into his pants until it was snug against his flesh.

Bright light appeared from his phone screen, and his eyes flew to Christa’s reply. “Not until closing time. Have a good day!” He growled and punched the stall wall with one fist. With no other alternatives, Cale stomped back to the lobby to meet the sinister old man.

When he arrived, a young lady about his age was standing beside the man. She had a Monster Catcher (otherwise known as MC) ball dangling from the belt loop of her khaki capris. Her red hair was tied in a tight ponytail under a baseball cap, and she wore the same theater uniform shirt as him. When she caught sight of him, she whirled her hat around backwards and fingered the MC ball. “A challenger approaches,” she cried.

“I’m not a challenger.” He averted his gaze, staring at her high top shoes.

Her fingers dropped, but her eyes stayed on him. “If you’re not a challenger, who are you?”

The old man cleared his throat and stretched out an arm towards Cale. “This is Cale.” His other arm shot out. “This is Logan.” His face twisted into a grin when he took in Logan’s hat. “You’ll have to take that off.” She moaned but complied, attaching it to the belt loop opposite the ball keychain. “Now that you two know each other, it’s time to start training.” He strode towards the concession stand.

Logan ran to keep up. “Hey, wait. You didn’t tell us your name.”

“I’m Mr. Brevard.” He rummaged behind the popcorn maker and muttered to himself.

“Sheesh, I’m stuck with two guys,” she grumbled.

Cale squinted at her and spun his right wrist. She narrowed her eyes and backed up a step. “Logan is a boy’s name.”

“Huh?” The sentence was so off topic, she had no idea how to respond. “No, it’s not! Lots of girls are named Logan! Anyway, I know more about movies than you ever will.”

Now it was Cale’s turn to squint at her. “No, you don’t.”

“Aha!” Their argument was interrupted by the reappearance of Mr. Brevard from the popcorn maker. He held out a broom to each of them. Cale stared at it before loosely holding it with one hand. Logan shook her head as if he were offering a snake. “Nuh uh. I didn’t come here to sweep the floor! I came to recommend movies to people and to serve popcorn.”

“You can’t recommend things you haven’t seen.” He gripped her hand and wrapped it around the broom handle. “And you won’t be allowed to see anything if you don’t do your share of the grunt work.” He maneuvered into the ticket booth and put his feet on a small safe in the corner. Leaning back, he pulled a book out of the cash drawer. “Sweep the theater lobby before customers start coming in, and then I’ll teach you some other things.” His wicked grin returned. “That’s what newbies are for.”

Cale shifted the broom back and forth over the floor behind the concession stand. As he brushed the popcorn across the tiles, fallen kernels transformed into grass and rocks. His sweep through the jungle proceeded as planned. Tracks led in this direction, but he had seen no sign of it for an hour. Perhaps he was lost. He drove his ‘94 Cupra between the trees, swerving so close branches caught on the mirrors.

Its roaring engine alerted a nearby pack of raptors to his position. They raced alongside the sports car and slashed at his tires. A claw pricked through the windshield before scrambling into the trees with a screech. Air whooshed through the opening. Cale’s expression remained the same. He stayed calm and wove through the jungle as if he had driven this path his entire life. Branches snapped, crackled, and popped as the car spun through unfamiliar territory.

One of the Raptors leaped onto his car, and an unfamiliar cackling filled the humid air. Through the side mirrors, he saw a figure riding atop the ferocious beast. It was Logan! She was wearing her baseball cap but dressed in jungle safari gear. Her left hand tapped the raptor, and it moved in that direction. They were so close to the car, she could have touched it. “I’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty!” She cackled and shot holes into his hood with a shotgun.

The car exploded, and Cale was thrown out the front window. He hurtled through the air, his arms scratched by branches and brambles before landing.

Right onto the popcorn-covered theater floor. “That was weird,” he growled. He had never been interrupted like that before. And he was pretty sure he didn’t like her being in his fantasies.

Elizabet adjusted her simple floral crown above her low pigtails and kicked some dirt away from the doormat. With a deep inhale and small grunt, she rang the doorbell. It was an old-fashioned button on the wall of the house, and she was glad there was no camera to record whatever happened next.

A voice from inside called, “I’m coming!” The girl on the stoop ran one more hand over her hair, patting it as if that would tame the unruly curls. Christa appeared at the door. She held a hammer in one hand and balanced a slab of wood on the other. “Bethy, it’s so nice to see you!” She tucked the board under her arm and motioned for her to come inside the house.

“Is Cale here?” Elizabet did not move except to swish her green skirt from side to side. When Christa shook her head, the visitor frowned. “I’m sorry to bother you all. I’m sure you’re very busy.”

Nathan appeared at Christa’s shoulder. “Who was at the door?” His eyes caught Elizabet, and he grinned. “Oh, hey, Bethy. What’s going on?”

“Hey, Nathan. I was just leaving.”

She turned to go, but Christa grabbed her shoulder. “You don’t have to go so soon,” she asserted, “We aren’t that busy.” Nathan’s brows twisted into a grimace, but she waved a hand at him. “I could use a break, anyway.” She leaned back and patted her stomach, groaning in such an exaggerated manner even Nathan had to laugh. “Seriously, though, Bethy. We have cookies. You’re welcome to come in and visit.”

“As long as that’s alright.” She made her way to the living room and sat on the couple’s sofa. Nathan disappeared into the garage, and Christa appeared with a carton of Chips O’ Boy. “Is Cale working again today?”

Christa chuckled. “Yeah. Though with all the publicity he keeps getting at these jobs, I’m not sure I can convince him to keep looking for one.”

The brunette giggled and reached for a chocolate disk. “Seeing him in the news was definitely a shock,” she agreed, “And twice! I can’t believe you’ve gotten him to try so many new things. He would’ve never done that before.”

“That’s the problem.” Christa took four cookies and balanced them on her stomach as she leaned into the couch cushions. “He never did it before, so he has so much life to catch up on. I have to teach him not only how to interview but how to budget and now how to buy an apartment!” She ran her hand down her arm, making the hair stick up.

“Has he found an apartment?” Elizabet tried to picture Cale in his own place. All she could imagine in the bedroom were blank walls and a futon instead of a bed. In the living room, though, he would have a big couch and a giant television hooked up to all the major gaming consoles. Shelves full of movies would line the walls, and his oil diffuser would make the room smell like calming lavender all day.

“He’s still looking, but there’s a certain area around here that’s caught his interest.” Christa munched on her cookies and held a hand over her mouth as she talked. “He wants to stay close to us, which I appreciate, but he also doesn’t know what his budget will be.” She tried to keep her expression flat, but her eyes squinted. “Since he can’t seem to stay at one job longer than a few weeks.”

Elizabet nodded. She had heard all about his foray into banking the day he quit. This morning, the two of them had spoken at length about his heroics. If she didn’t know Christa was tired of discussing it, she would have brought it up again. Instead, she asked, “When he’s not working, what does Cale like to do?” Christa opened her mouth, but Elizabet added, “Besides watching movies and playing games.” She shut it again.

Seconds went by in silence. Every time Christa opened her mouth, she closed it again. “You know,” she finally replied, “I’m not sure. He really likes anime, and he writes all that fan fiction stuff. Besides that, I have no idea. He never leaves his room except to grab food or use the toilet.”

Elizabet ran her fingers over a seam in her shirt and whispered, “No idea what he would want to do on a date then?”

Christa grinned and finished the last cookie. She sat forward and brushed the crumbs onto the floor. “I don’t know, but neither will you unless you ask. You could always go see a movie.” Her eyes shone at the prospect, and she cupped her hands around her face. “You guys are going to be so cute as a couple.”

“What’s up with you?” Elizabet squirmed under her gaze. “This seems to be about more than me dating your brother.”

“Ugh, yes!” Christa slumped. The couch creaked in protest. “It’s just so nice to talk about something other than the baby. It’s always ‘nursery’ this or ‘childproofing’ that. Nathan has been working on that stupid crib for who knows how long, and it’s still not done. I even took a leave of absence from work to spruce up the house. Also help Cale with his job, but that doesn’t take much effort.” She blew a hair out of her face. “I’m ready for this to all just be done. I want to go back to work and see my friends.” Her head bobbed toward the garage, where sounds of clanging and exclamations of frustration leaked through the wall. “He is driving me nuts. They both are!”

“Well, you know you can always ask me for some help.” When Christa sat up, she continued, “You’re not scheduled to go back to the library full-time for a while, but you could always volunteer or grab a few hours a week. I can take over some of the house duties while you’re gone, since Nathan is always busy.”

Tears slipped down Christa’s face. “Would you be willing to stay on after the baby comes, too? We would pay you, of course!”

Elizabet held her friend’s hand. “Of course. Whatever you need, girl.” Cale’s sister cried, and Elizabet pulled her into a tight hug. “Whatever you need.”

As Cale stared at the spinning film reel, he sliced the incoming missile aimed at him. He gripped his glowing blue light sword with both hands. Breath steady, he kept a cool eye on his opponent, Darth Logan the Mad. She kept using her jewel-adorned glove to launch missiles and other artillery at him, grinning all the while.

Cale took a single step toward her, deflecting each attack with ease. “I am emotionless. Therefore I am wise.”

“Your wisdom means nothing in the face of my power!” Darth Logan screamed and waved a red light sword with one hand. With her other hand, her glove hurtled projectiles at him.

Cale was just feet from her now, and he assumed a sword-fighting stance. Darth Logan growled, grit her teeth, and swung with both hands on the hilt. Cale deflected each offensive motion with a careful defense, but she left him no room to attack. On the other hand, Darth Logan was so consumed by the sword attacks, she could not utilize her gauntlet.

Their battle was at a stand-still. Neither fighter, both with their own style and skill set, was a match for the other.

“I, Darth Logan the Mad shall conquer all!”

“Good and wise people will always win,” Cale responded flatly.

A sharp thwack on the back of the head brought him back to reality. Logan stood beside him, holding her cap in one hand and a reel of film in the other. “I’ve already asked you, but you didn’t answer. Why don’t you like Alien Phone Home?” He shrugged at that distinctive ninety degree angle, and the angry woman leaned back. Her face was no longer angry but puzzled. ”What are you doing with your hands? Some kind of dance move?”

“It was boring.”

“Boring?! No, that’s a classic,” she declared, spooling the next reel of film, “I write for a movie review site, and everyone else agrees that the movie is one of the best ever made.” She paused and scrunched up her face. “Why are you staring at me?”

“How much do you make?” She blinked. “You know, writing movie reviews.” Maybe if Cale could write movie reviews from home, he would be able to afford an apartment without getting a real job. He could stay in his room all day and get paid for it.

She blew a raspberry and collapsed in one of the folding chairs. “Not enough, man. You think I’d be here if I could make enough money writing reviews at home?” He shook his head. “Darn right.” She waved a hand at him. “Anyway, what kind of movies do you like?”

He ticked off some on his fingers, staring at the floor in concentration. “Horrible You, Saving Dino, Freeze, Super Ricario –”

“Hold up, hold up.” She waved her hat like a fan in front of his face. Cale inhaled and growled a little. Logan either did not notice or did not care. “Those are all movies for little kids.” He nodded. “I mean real movies. What real movies have you watched?”

“Kids' movies are real movies.”

“What’s going on in here?” Mr. Brevard opened the door, burning their eyes with unexpected light. “You guys figure out how to run the film reels?”

“Yeah, but nobody uses these old things anymore,” Logan complained, “Anyway, tell Cale that kids’ movies aren’t real movies.” She plopped her hat back onto her head. Mr. Brevard glared at her and motioned for her to take it off. She did so with a grumble. “They aren’t going to win any awards, so they aren’t real movies.”

The gray-haired man shook his head and mumbled, “I don’t get paid enough for this.” He opened the door leading back into the main lobby and motioned for them to follow. “Come on, one of the movies just finished, and we have to clean the theater before the next one starts.”

As they walked, Logan droned on about the movie awards and all the “real movies” she had enjoyed. Cale did not know any of them. They sounded dramatic and dull when she described their plots, and he could not imagine why someone would vote for a movie like that.

Mr. Brevard stuck around to help them clean the theater. He took cups out of the cupholders and tossed them in a huge trash bag. Logan crawled under seats, picking up dropped food and other trash, while Cale swept the aisle with his trusty broom. “You both love movies. That was evident on your applications,” the older man stated. His voice echoed through the empty room. “It doesn’t matter what kinds of movies you watch.” Logan and Cale both opened their mouths to protest, but he held up a hand. “But if you must know which type people prefer, you may work at the ticket booth and recommend movies to the customers. Today’s sales will be broadcast in employee emails tomorrow morning. You’ll be able to see which of you has the better idea.”

Logan’s eyes gleamed with mischief. Cale spun his wrists and muttered to himself. He did finish sweeping much faster than normal, though. Cleanup took no time, and the two newbies raced to their posts in the ticket booth. Logan perched her feet on the safe like Mr. Brevard had. Cale sat behind the cash drawer and set a calculator on the counter. Logan stared at the device but said nothing.

A mother and her preteen son approached the concession stand. “Hello, we would like tickets to Quick and Angry, please.”

Cale hesitated, peering at the boy. “That’s PG-13.” When no one said anything in response, he added, “You’re not thirteen.” He pointed at a sign advertising the newest movie by Studio Wishney. “Why don’t you go see this instead?”

“No way!” The son was red-faced and pounded the counter. “What I want to watch is none of your business. Now, give me the tickets to Quick and Angry.”

Logan reached over Cale and rang up the pair. “Enjoy your movie. I’ve heard it’s great!” She leans in and whispers, “The part where Vince dies always makes me cry.”

The mother yanked her blank-faced son away from the counter. “Thanks for ruining it for us,” she snapped, “I ought to ask for our money back.”

Logan shrugged. “It’s still worth it.” She hugs her cap to her chest and laughs. “There’s so much character development between them.”

Cale shakes his head. “It’s just about cars.”

“Well, I’d like to hear a better story about family.” Logan crosses her arms over her chest. “Go on, I’m waiting.”

He swallows, speaks to his hands for a second, and begins to describe the plot of Freeze, a Studio Wishney movie from a few years back. Two sisters rule a kingdom together, but one of them is cursed by black magic. She goes on a quest to find her true love to break the curse, only to discover it was her family all along. “It just has themes of family, forgiveness, love, romance, friendship, and magic.”

Cale had been staring at the floor in order to concentrate on his tale. Now, he glanced up and found a line of people outside the booth listening to him. His cheeks flushed, and he scooted further down in the folding chair. “Just don’t pay attention to me,” he muttered.

“Excuse me.” A man tapped on the glass. “That story you just spun sounds really good. You said it came out a few years ago?” Cale nodded without looking up. “Is there anything similar you can recommend?” He smiled sheepishly. “It’s my only day off, and I want to watch something magical. My kids always made fun of me, but there’s enough drama in real life to last me through the week. I want something simple.”

Other people in line murmured their assent. Cale agreed and began handing out tickets to the other Studio Wishney movie as fast as Logan could print them. “Stupid people,” she mumbled, “Drama is good for you. It strengthens your soul. Reminds you that not everything has a happy ending.”

“Some things have a happy ending,” Cale murmured.

At last, it was time to clock out. Mr. Brevard patted each of them on the back. Cale stepped away with a quiet “No, thank you.”

“It’s been fun, ladies, gents.” Mr. Brevard nodded. “Now, it’s time to go home and do all this over again in the morning.”

“Do what?” Logan glared at him, throwing her hat onto her head. It stuck on the ponytail and stayed cocked to one side. “You did absolutely nothing to teach us anything around here! It’ll take a month before I know what I’m doing!” In a strange act of solidarity, she turned to Cale. “Right, Cale?” She spun in a circle. “Cale?”

“Being wise has won this day.” Cale stood in front of his star navigation crew, speaking to Logan on the front monitor. Her ship was beside them, and she had just lost the largest starship battle of the century. To him, of all people.

Logan stood with her back to the screen. They had the exact same posture, but she was dressed in spiked warrior armor with a crew to match. “You think you’re so great just because the world agrees with you today. But mark my words, I will show everyone my true genius!” She whirled around and stuck her finger into the screen. “You haven’t seen the last of me, Cale.”

“You have too many emotions.” Cale waved a hand, and the first officer cut the connection. He heard a defeated scream just before transmission was cut, and his lips twitched into a rare smile.

Cale waited on the curb in the theater parking lot, poking away at his phone.

The crib was still unfinished. Cale had quit yet another job. I was at my wit’s end with Nathan. Dinner was burned. The laundry wasn’t finished. My list went on and on.

At least I had that nice talk with Elizabet earlier today. I grinned and stretched out on the couch. It was so nice not to talk about myself and the baby for once. My eyes fluttered shut. Rest was crucial during a time of transition, but I never had a few moments to simply sit and relax. Something always needed to be done, and it needed to be done right away. Cale was still living with us, Nathan was still working on that crib, and I was going to give birth in a few months. Something had to give.

“Honey!” Nathan called me from the other room. “Can you come here?”

“Can I have a few minutes of peace, please?” I never meant to snap, but I was so tired. Nathan was silent, and I snuggled into the cushions. My hands rubbed my arms, feeling the hair stand up and lay flat.

I could hear Cale rummaging in his room. He had unpacked all his movies since coming home today. Something about “real movies”. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I just nodded and smiled, like always.

Crash! Bang! A mumbled response to the noise. Screwdrivers sounded in the other room. Nathan grunting, trying to fix something into place. Never a moment of silence around here.

My eyes closed again, and I let out a long breath. True, there was never a moment of silence. But I was never lonely. I had my two boys, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. With that thought, I drifted off to sleep.