My Autistic Brother Reluctantly Finds a Job
Elizabet knocked on the front door to Christa’s house. A few minutes later, she heard thumping and muttering. The door opened to Cale wearing a robe and fiddling with a figurine. Her eyes ran up and down over his figure. “Um.”
“What are you doing here?” Cale narrowed his eyes and edged behind the wood.
“I’m here to take you to work today. Christa said she needed some time to herself.” Elizabet frowned. “Why aren’t you dressed? Your sister said photography was your idea.”
“I just meant doing photography in my room,” he mumbled. He held up a camcorder and a digital camera from Walls-Store. “I don’t need you to drive me anywhere.” He started to close the door.
The young lady slipped her arm into the house and held the door open. “Hold on a minute!” She peeked her head across the threshold and shook it. “There’s no way you have enough light in here for professional photos. Get dressed and come on. We’re going to the park. Bring everything you need.”
He pried her fingers from the frame and shut the portal. Elizabet waited on the porch. There was no way to know whether he was ignoring her or getting dressed. She checked her phone. “I’ll give him ten minutes.”
True to her word, Elizabet knocked on the door again when the time limit expired. Five more minutes passed before Cale emerged in a t-shirt and jean shorts. His camera hung on a thick band around his neck, and he carried a box. “Why can’t I just take pictures in my room?” He shuffled to her car and stood, both his hands on the box.
Elizabet wandered to his side of the car and opened his door before sliding into the driver’s side. “Because you want to be able to sell these photos, right?” One nod. “Then they have to be professional.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she continued, “That means good lighting and a nice background. I assume you don’t have a green screen or blank screen for a background?” He shook his head. “What about those fancy lights mounted on the umbrellas? You know, the ones that make the flash?” Another shake of his head. “Then you need natural lighting. Nobody can go wrong with natural lighting.”
Elizabet and her best friend, Melissa, had taken photography classes together at community college. Melissa continued her education while Elizabet chose to pursue other interests, like retail and romance. Still, she remembered certain things from the beginning classes, like the Rule of Thirds and how to use natural lighting to your advantage.
“What’s in the box?”
Cale fished around under the flaps and held up a plastic anime girl. The figure was about ten inches long with its head on backwards. “Oops.” He straightened it and pressed the limbs against the body. Apparently, the whole thing could come apart – arms and legs popped off, head unscrewed, even some of the clothes were interchangeable.
Elizabet scrunched her eyebrows together. “Why do you need those for a photography shoot?”
“You’ll see.” He placed the figure back into the box and closed the flaps. “Are we almost there?”
As he spoke, they turned into the largest public park in Warlington. Patches of sunshine beamed through the forest of trees opposite the parking lot. Benches sat interspersed along a dirt walking path which wound in a circle along the park’s edge. To the left, children played on swings, a slide, and other multi-colored playground equipment. On their right, a small sculpture garden rested, awaiting artists to gaze upon them in wonder.
Elizabet parked mid-way between both of the park’s features. She exited the car and stretched, taking a deep breath. “Fresh air. I didn’t realize I needed it, but I’ve been inside for so long.” Because the baby was due to arrive any day now, she had been furiously cleaning and organizing the house. No one knew when the family would head to the hospital, and she wanted everything to be perfect when they left. This meant she spent every waking minute within the confines of their apartment, even when she was resting.
Cale was still in the car. He squinted at the sun like it was his archenemy and inched open the door. He mumbled to himself as he crept from the seat into the open air. Bugs buzzed around him. The shrieks of children grated on his ears. He could feel sweat budding on his forehead, and his hair began to expand from his head. Elizabet’s hair was also puffing more than usual from the humidity. He growled and dodged a beetle. “Why did we have to come here?”
“I told you, the light is better.” Elizabet grabbed a tripod out of her trunk and strode into the trees. “Come on!”
Cale followed, the forest transforming as he walked. Instead of bugs, the trees held beautiful creatures. A large spotted squirrel hung upside-down with its three tails. It chewed an acorn and chittered when he passed below it. The top of the nut fell into his hair, and he shook his head to dislodge it. The squirrel chittered, holding its stomach. It waved to other squirrels, and they surrounded him, cackling.
One of the creatures, black with only one arm, was as large as Cale’s torso. It tossed another nut at him. The object hit him in the face, and they chittered. Cale mumbled and pulled out his camera. He shot pictures of the upside-down squirrel and its companions. When he grabbed an acorn from the ground, they hushed. A tiny one crawled toward him on a branch and held out its hand. He placed the nut into its outstretched palm, and it leaped in excitement. Cale’s shutter clicked, and he nodded. “Four stars.” He wandered the woods alone, keeping an eye out for any more interesting creatures.
While his eyes scanned the treetops, he tripped and fell into a small stream. “Great. Now I’m soaked.” He had fallen onto his hands and knees, scraping both on the rocks. Dots of red blood dripped into the clear water. He brushed the liquid onto the tops of his pants, even though they were soaked through. Looking down, he noticed his shirt was mostly dry with just splotches of water.
SPLASH! The wave appeared out of nowhere and drenched him. Cale growled and pounded the water with his fists. He saw another splash nearby and stood to see the culprit. A large red fish with six eyes swam in circles in a deeper part of the stream. It noticed him and leaped into the air, creating another huge splash.
Cale’s camera had been submerged in the water when he fell, but it was waterproof. He held it up and clicked the button. The fish stuck its tail in the air, as if waving at him. He continued to snap shot after shot of this obnoxious fish. When he got closer, it did a barrel roll, and Cale was able to capture its spin. “Three stars.” He waved at the fish, who flapped its tail onto the surface in response.
“Come on, Cale!” Elizabet’s voice broke his tiny world and brought him back to the muggy, light-speckled park. He sighed and set up the tripod in the middle of a copse.
Elizabet reappeared wearing a flowered yellow sundress with a straw bonnet. She was not wearing that earlier, and Cale assumed she had run to the bathroom and changed her outfit. “Are you ready?” Cale nodded, snapping his camera into the tripod setup. She fluffed her frizzy hair and spun her skirt. “Where should I stand?”
Cale’s head tilted to his shoulder. He motioned for her to move right. Elizabet obliged. “More.” She took another step to the right. “Perfect.” He leaned over the camera and began snapping shots.
“Um? What do you want me to do?” Elizabet fidgeted with her hat. It was so hot, her makeup was beginning to melt. The things she did for love.
“No specific poses or anything?”
“Clumsy schoolgirl pose.”
She frowned but complied. “Let’s see here.” Her hand gripped the trunk of a nearby tree, and she lifted one leg in the air as if walking. Hair covered her face, and she cocked the hat at an angle on her head. “Oh my,” she exclaimed in a phony accent, “I have fallen! My school books!” She straightened and pointed to the ground. “They’re all over the ground. Someone, please help me.”
Elizabet slapped her arm, and Cale jumped. “Sorry. Mosquitoes. Where were we? Oh, yes, school books!”
Before she could resume her pose, Cale marched to another area with fewer trees and more sunlight. She hurried after him. The tripod took both hands to carry, and she had slung a duffel bag over her shoulder. The extra weight made her lean to one side, and her stride was unsteady. “You may get your clumsy schoolgirl, after all, if you keep making me carry all this alone,” she mumbled. He continued to march out of the woods towards an open fitness path. She called, “Hey, where are you going? The lighting was better near the playground.”
“Just too many trees and too many bugs.”
“Wait for me, then!”
I checked the clock for the third time in five minutes. Nathan said he was coming home for lunch, but it was past one. Maybe he got held up at the office, but a vision of those silk underwear swirled in my mind. My feet carried me to the kitchen, and I brewed a couple coffees out of habit. I picked the crust off my peanut butter sandwich and licked around the edges.
When I had eaten half the sandwich, the door to the garage opened. Nathan peeled off his shoes and shuffled in, collapsing onto the couch with an “Ugh!” I finished my sandwich and sipped my coffee. I heard sniffing from the other room. “Is that coffee?”
“Can I have some?”
I waddled into the other room and handed him the mug. “Already made you one.” I glanced at the empty seat cushion beside him and back to him with a questioning expression. He gestured for me to sit, and I eased myself onto the sofa. “How was work?”
He threw his head back and groaned again. The groan turned into a sharp inhale as coffee spilled onto his lap. I held his cup as he wandered to the bathroom for a towel. “It was bad,” he yelled down the hall, “The managers want to make sure everyone is back from lunch before someone else can leave. The guy before me decided to take an extra half hour, which meant I had to take on his extra workload for that time and then get to my own lunch late.” He sighed. “I’m sorry it took so long to get back here.” He froze. “What’s wrong?”
By the time he returned, I was crying into the coffee. I handed one of the cups back to him, but he took them both and placed them on the floor by our feet. “Christa, honey, what’s the matter? I was just a little late.”
“Are you sure it’s because you were working?” I glared at him. “Not cavorting with some, some homewrecker?” I hiccuped and pushed away his hug. Instead, I grabbed a pillow and held it against my body.
He frowned. “You think I’m cheating on you?” I avoided his gaze. “What in the world gave you that idea? Baby, I would never cheat on you.”
“What about the late hours?” I spoke to the wall, knowing if I looked into his eyes I would melt and lose all my confidence.
Nathan blew air into his hands, and I could tell he was rubbing his face. He was probably twisting his beard in that way he did when he was thinking. “Honestly? I was avoiding you.”
“I knew it.” I threw the pillow across the room and turned toward him.
“No, wait. Hear me out.” He held up his hands in surrender. “I want you to be happy. But lately, you’ve been pushing me into all these projects and pressuring me every single day to finish them. I can't handle all that on top of work.” He twisted his beard. “Plus, I’m nervous. I mean, if I’m this exhausted before the baby comes, what’s going to happen when he or she finally gets here? Will I have enough energy to play with them? What about when I have to work? Will they understand?” His voice lowered, and he looked away from me. “Am I even going to be a good dad? What if I’m not?”
My hands twitched. I ached to hold Nathan. But what if he wasn’t telling the truth? I took a deep breath to keep my own voice steady. “What about the underwear?” He cocked his head to the side. “In the towel closet?”
His face reddened, and a smile spread across his lips like melted butter. “Oh, you found those. Oops.” He held out his hands, palm up. “They were going to be a surprise. A last hoorah before the baby came, you know?”
“So–” I rubbed the hair on my arms. “Whose are they?”
“They’re yours, silly.” He poked me in the arm. “I hid them so you wouldn’t find them for a while. But I guess the jig is up.” He put a hand on his head. “I can’t believe you thought I was cheating on you. Man, I should’ve thought that through a little more.” He sobered and caressed my cheek with a finger. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you all this sooner.” He stared at the couch cushions. “I’m scared. This whole situation is just too much. I understand my work. It was comforting to just stay there and avoid all this. Anything to do with the baby. But I shouldn’t have. I should’ve talked to you.”
Nathan held out his arms, and I fell into them with a sob. “I’m sorry I suspected you. I’m nervous, too.”
He chuckled. “Of course you are. You’re the one giving birth!” We laughed and cried, snug in each other’s arms.
The photographer stopped behind one of the wooden fitness stations. Hidden in the tall grass, he saw a group of turtles with multi-colored fluff lining their shells. A large, fiery mouse stood in their center. Cale squinted and corrected himself, “No, that’s a rat.” He filmed their hijinks with the camcorder while he hid behind a tree. The squirrels and fish seemed to react abnormally when they noticed his camera. He wanted to get these turtles in their natural habitat.
As soon as the thought crossed his mind, he noticed the pizza box. He crept closer, sticking to the shadows and hiding behind trees. Sure enough, there was an empty pizza box half-hidden in grass. One of the turtles with orange fluff had a slice in its mouth, chewing slowly. The rat was wrapped in a tiny cloth and standing on its hind legs. It struck out with its arms, and the other three turtles (the ones not eating pizza) balanced on their hind legs to do the same.
One of them with a blue lining tipped over, knocking into its more reddish brother. Cale continued to record the shenanigans as the turtles snapped at one another, and the rat squeaked back at them. The pizza turtle edged its way into the empty box and lay down for a nap.
Cale stepped closer, and some leaves crunched. The animals turned toward him and fell back onto four legs. The rat chewed on the cloth wrapped around its body. One turtle rolled onto its back and kicked its tiny legs in the air. The photographer zoomed in and snapped a picture of the unfortunate scene. “Sorry to interrupt.”
Elizabet caught up to him, puffing and wheezing. She wiped her face on a shirt in the duffel bag and dropped the whole burden under a tree. “Do you want me to change again?” He shook his head. “Are you sure? The pictures will look funny if I’m in the same outfit.” He blinked and whispered to his hand puppets. “Models usually wear different things on a photoshoot,” she pressed, “especially if we’re out here most of the day.” He spun his left wrist and sucked his lips into his mouth. “So do you want me to change?”
His head lifted for a second, and she sucked in a breath. Then he shook it. “Nope.” He wandered around the exercise area, sticking anime figures in different poses and angles on the equipment. His camera zoomed in on each of them, and he snapped shot after shot.
“Those figures make nice background objects.” She twirled her skirt. “So where would you like me to stand?”
Cale stepped back from the figurine and gestured her closer to it. Elizabet perched on the sit-up bench and brushed strands of hair from her face. She crossed her legs and kicked her foot, smiling dreamily.
“What do you want me to do next, sweetheart?” Blonde hair floated in the wind, and her blue eyes matched the sky. The woman was wearing a high school uniform which was tight across the chest. A pleated skirt reached her mid-thigh, and underneath that a pair of dark green leggings hugged her long legs. The leggings matched the huge bow on the front of her top. Anyone could see this model was an adult dressed in children’s clothes, but that was part of what made her so fascinating. (Maybe because she wasn’t actually a model. She was the figurine of a popular fan-service character in Cale’s favorite anime.)
Cale flipped his camera sideways as she cupped her head in her hands and leaned forward. “Hello, darling.” Her normal sultry tones were replaced by the chirp of a love-sick teenager. “I’ve been waiting all period for you to sit beside me.” She stared into the distance, as if looking out the school window. “All I have to do during this class is stare at the people in the courtyard.”
“Now magical girl.”
Cale picked up the figure and replaced its clothes with the magical girl variation. In his mind, the model spun, and her uniform disappeared, replaced with the same frilly dress Ruby Ray had worn. He blinked a few times and shook his head. “What’s wrong, honey?” The model pursed her lips. “Don’t like it?”
“It’s good.” He snapped close-ups of her brandishing a staff against evil. With a step back, he could capture the full figure of a magical girl mid-attack. Sparkles flew from the staff and made incredible lens flare in the pictures. “Write your name in the air.”
“Like a sparkler?”
He nodded, taking multiple shots of the sparkling words in the air. “R.U.B.Y.R.A.Y” His hands dropped from the tripod. The model giggled and spun, but her outfit was different now. Instead of a staff, she held a sword. Gold bands circled her wrists, and a pink-and-purple dress flowed from her figure. Her hair had changed from straight blonde to curly brown.
Cale rubbed his eyes as the model became Elizabet in front of his face.
“Cale? What’s wrong?” It was Elizabet. She had been watching him the whole time.
“I’m done with this photography thing.” He began taking apart the tripod for travel back to his house. Something buzzed near his ear, and he waved his hands around his head. “That’s it! I’m out of here.” He grabbed the smallest tripod piece and his camera and speed walked back to Elizabet’s car.
She stared after him. “Cale, what about the rest of this stuff?” He ignored her, and she yelled, “You’d better not expect me to carry all this back alone!”
Elizabet had carried all the equipment back to the car alone. She had also given Cale a piece of her mind while they drove back to his house, but all he did was growl. “I’m never doing a photoshoot outside again.”
Once everything was back in its proper place, Elizabet settled on the couch with the camera. Cale sat in the other chair, laptop balanced on his knees. She could see pages with apartment listings as he scrolled. “Just don’t look over my shoulder,” he grumbled, closing the lid.
She held up her hands and returned to the camera. “Alright. I’m sure these pictures are more interesting than your apartment hunt anyway.” She bounced in her seat, ready to peruse the fruits of their labor. As she scrolled, her eyes narrowed, and her mouth drooped. “Wait a minute.” Picture after picture after picture held a single theme. “I’m not in any of these!”
Cale turned to stare at her. He held up a single hand and shook it side to side. “Nope.”
“Why the heck not? I thought I was your model.” She continued clicking through the confusing, albeit well-done photographs. “These are all anime figurines!” He nodded and turned his attention back to the apartments. “How are you going to get any QuickPic followers for this stuff?”
“I just don’t want followers.” He shrugged without looking up. “I’m just a strange person, and I take pictures of what I want.”
Elizabet groaned and fell back into the couch cushions. “Well, if you don’t have followers, you won’t sell any prints. Which means no money for that apartment.”
He cupped a hand around his ear, and his eyes appeared over the laptop screen. “I just need money for an apartment, though.”
“Fine, fine, fine. I’ll set up an account on QuickPics for you and set some sort of price for each of these.” She lifted a PearPad from her duffel and tapped away. “Heaven knows how much to ask for something like this. I mean, wouldn’t this be a violation of copyright or something?” Cale just shrugged and scrolled.
Elizabet jolted for a moment. Here she was, sitting in this house all alone with Cale. They were in the same room – rare. He was talking to her – even rarer. Best of all, he was letting her help him with something – rarest! She closed her eyes and savored this moment, hoping the rest of her life could be exactly like this.