My Autistic Brother Reluctantly Finds a Job
A pair of yellow tentacles sprouted from Cale’s back and grabbed a ladle from the sauce bucket. While Cale’s arms spun a dough disk in the air, the noodle limbs spread sauce on the circle in front of him. He flattened the airborne dough onto the table’s gleaming metal surface and spread sauce on that one, as well. Another tentacle opened the fridge while a fourth popped up to root around inside the space. “Where are the pepperonis?”
“I don’t know!” His rival’s uniform hat bopped into view from the cash register. She pulled out an air gun and shot pellets at the new appendages. They bobbed and weaved to avoid the attacks, managing to continue their job while dodging. “Can’t you find the dang toppings yourself? I’m swamped out here.” With a parting shot at his hat, Logan disappeared.
Cale nodded, and one of his two hands gripped a new roll of pepperoni. The actual process of making pizza was easy, if dull – dough, sauce, cheese, toppings, oven, repeat. He did enjoy tossing the dough in the air, though more often than not, it landed on his head or the floor. The topping process was monotonous, and he wasn’t allowed to be creative. Not after that time he added chocolate sauce to the meat lovers.
He ducked away from an incoming pellet and cut into the pepperoni. His hands were busy making multiple pizzas, and his feet danced to avoid Logan’s BBs. Still, Cale’s mind wandered. This was the longest he had been at a job, almost a month now. Barring his two-hour stint as a photographer, Sewer Pizza was the only employment he tried this month. Between this and the influx of orders for his anime figure pictures, he had enough for a security deposit within the next paycheck. The rent and apartment itself, though, were different stories.
The tentacles sprang back into action as he juggled the creation of three pizzas at one time. He dipped out sauce, kneaded dough, and added toppings. “Only what they ask for,” he grumbled, placing anchovies on some cheese. The fishy stench overpowered the welcoming atmosphere of cheese and crust. A gagging noise forced itself from his throat, and sucked in his lips. “That’s disgusting.” One of the tentacles plugged his nose as he continued working.
Meanwhile, the wannabe assassin asked for customers’ orders. A low wall divided the kitchen from the dining area, and Logan was tall enough to see over it without tiptoes. She often took shots at Cale and his extra limbs from behind the counter. “Welcome to Sewer Pizza. (shot) How may I (shot) help you today (shot)(shot)?”
Cale’s body and head were in no danger from her aim, but the yellow feelers wiggled and wriggled out of her range. The plastic bullets never connected to any of his extra appendages, or his true body, for that matter. “You’re just jealous because I’m faster than you.” All the tentacles danced the wave at the young lady while his original hands placed pizzas on the oven’s conveyor belt.
“I’m. Not. Jealous!”
Another volley of bullets rang through the restaurant. Older customers flinched and ducked away from the crazy cashier. Babies shrieked, and their parents pet their sparse hair to calm them. Some of the older children watched her with wide eyes. “Whoa,” a little boy breathed, “This place is amazing.” His friends nodded in silence. Together, they bowed and swore loyalty to the Sewer Pizza Samurai.
Logan screamed in frustration and slammed down the current customer’s receipt. “Have a good day!”
The teenage boy backed away, wide-eyed. “Y-you too.”
A few minutes later, the place was empty, and Logan sank into a chair near the counter. “Man, that was nuts, even for this place.” Cale slunk up beside her and nodded. A buzzing sounded in Logan’s pocket, but she just frowned. Her companion looked from the pocket to her.
“Are you going to answer?”
“I’m on the clock.” She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. “Wake me up when someone comes in.”
“You’re just taking your break.” The phone continued to vibrate. “You should get that.”
“Ugh! Mind your business.” She held up her airsoft gun, but she let it droop. With a groan, she dropped the weapon and drew a cell phone from her shorts. The screen lit up, showing numerous messages from the same person.
Cale stood over her shoulder and pointed. “Who’s that?”
“Just my dumb sister.” Logan shoved the mobile back into her pocket as a customer approached the counter. While Cale made the pizza, Logan leaned against the low wall and explained, “I haven’t spoken to my sister in over a year. She has this –” She waved her hands in the air. “What’s it called?”
Cale shrugged and put the pizza in the oven. “Pet?”
“Much worse than that.” She snapped. “Fiancé! That’s the word.”
Her co-worker blinked. “Congratulations?”
“No, no, no!” She paced as the customer retrieved his pizza and scooted into a booth. “It’s horrible! This guy is ugh! And he just ack! And then she blech. It’s awful!” Neither her hands nor feet could keep still. She whirled on Cale, waving like a squadron of flies was assaulting her. “You see?” She shook her head. “We used to do everything together. Now, it’s all ‘my boyfriend this’ and ‘he’s so great’ that.” She pointed a finger to her mouth and gagged.
“You should be happy for her.” Cale flinched and squatted behind the wall, expecting a volley of pellets headed his way. None came. Seconds passed. He stood and returned to his tasks, watching Logan with wary eyes.
The young woman’s head rested on the side of the wall. “You can say that because you don’t have a crappy older sister.”
“I do have an older sister.” He sighed. “She’s just been bothering me for thirty years.”
Logan’s eyebrows furrowed. “Dude, you aren’t thirty.” He shrugged, and she continued, “Well, your sister is letting you stay with her, right?” He nodded. “Mine would never do that.”
Her face turned red, and she straightened, moving back to the cash register. To Cale, she seemed to shrink. “She just, I don’t know, she wouldn’t. Now, drop it.”
Elizabet burst into the pizza place. The monotone “Welcome to Sewer Pizza” died on Cale’s lips. “Baby! Sister! Hospital!”
Logan stood beside Cale and cocked her head at Elizabet. “Your baby sister is in the hospital?” Elizabet shook her head, her brown hair flicking Logan in the face. Logan pointed at Cale. “His baby sister is in the hospital?” She shook her head harder. “Is my baby sister in the hospital?!” She exhaled. “Wait, I don’t have a baby sister.”
“Breathe.” Cale put a hand on Elizabet’s shoulder.
She sucked air into her mouth and blew it out several times. “Your sister is having the baby. I’m supposed to bring you to the hospital.”
With a single nod, Cale pulled the apron over his head and made his way to the door. Elizabet ran out to her car and turned on the ignition. They heard a sputter and watched a plume of smoke rise into the sky as the old vehicle struggled to life.
Logan grabbed Cale’s arm, and he flinched. “Hold on!” He turned and stared at her. “You can’t just leave in the middle of your shift. What am I supposed to tell the manager?”
“I have to go.” He spun back to the door, shrugging off her grip.
“I’ll have to do all your work! That’s not fair!”
He looked over his shoulder and said, “My sister is having a baby. She needs me there.”
“Why? I mean, this job is important.”
“Family is more important than money.” With that, he left the pizza parlor, yanking at his collar and fanning his face.
Logan watched the car drive out of the parking lot and turn toward the hospital. She marvelled over how easily Cale could walk into a job and walk right out. Granted, he had been at Sewer Pizza for longer than she had, and granted, her past few jobs hadn’t stuck either. That was different, though. She never left voluntarily; something always forced her hand.
“And for what?” She muttered to herself as she poured flour on the counter and rolled some dough. “His sister?” A sharp laugh exploded from her belly. “What has his sister ever done for him?” She frowned as she remembered Cale lived with his sister. They were apparently very close, even though he never spoke of her. Certainly closer than she and Deanna. She hit the dough harder than necessary and threw it into the air. It landed with a thump on the counter, and she continued to stretch it with vehemence. “Sisters,” she mumbled, “They suck. Can’t count on them for anything.”
Despite her words, Logan’s eyes wandered to her phone where Deanna’s latest text waited to be read. She wiped the flour on her apron and opened it. “Hey, Logie.” Logan bristled. Not a great start. “I know we haven’t talked for a while. You always seem busy when I want to hang out.”
The young lady blew a piece of hair from her face and muttered, “I’m not busy. I just don’t want to hang out with your boyfriend. I want to see you.”
The text continued, “I’m coming down with Fredrick this month.”
“Big surprise! Fredrick again!” Logan rolled her eyes. “Why does he have to come along and ruin everything?” She considered deleting the message without reading the rest. If she never met Fredrick, would she be able to see her sister again? Or would Deanna choose lover-boy over Logan?
Hands shaking, she continued reading. “I really want you to meet him; he’s a great guy and a big otaku. I think you’ll get along. He’s even seen all of Narote.” Logan grinned. That was quite a feat. “You know I can’t marry him unless my favorite sister approves.”
She squinted at those last words. “You can’t marry him unless–” She swallowed, but her throat was dry. “Unless I approve? Me?” Logan wiped her phone on her uniform and growled. For some reason, the words were blurring and wiping the screen did not help.
“Anyways, love you,” her sister wrote, “I hope to see you soon.”
Cale’s retreating back flicked to her mind. His simple words, “My sister is having a baby. She needs me there.” Logan wrapped her arms around herself. If Deanna had a baby, would she call on Logan? Or had Logan’s constant refusal to meet Fredrick created too large a barrier between them?
Was there still time to correct that?
She took a deep breath and typed into the phone, “I would enjoy seeing you. And I guess I’ll meet Fredrick if this is so important to you. Love you too.” Her shoulders sagged as she hit send, and a tiny grin shone on her face.
Customers queued in the parlor, but Logan held up a finger. “Sorry, I gotta ask the manager something real quick.” Most of them grumbled but nodded. A few older ladies huffed and stormed out the door. “That’s fine, people. I didn’t want to serve anybody like you anyway. Oh, hey, boss!” She spoke to the manager for a few moments and hung up. The customers fidgeted with paper menus and shuffled their feet.
Instead of putting the phone away, she tapped another number and held the receiver up to her ear. Only one more thing to do. “Hey, I got your number from the manager. How’s your sister?” She listened for the response. “I said I got it from the manager. So how’s your sister?” Pause. “And the baby?” Wait. “Well, I guess it is a bit soon for the baby to be here, isn’t it? I just wanted to let you know I’ll take your work from here. I told the manager what happened. He said you can’t come back to your shift since you didn’t let him know yourself.” She frowned and took a deep breath. “Sorry about that, man. I’ll pick up your slack. At least, as long as I’m here.” She was glad Cale could not see her face grow red. “What do I mean? Weeeellllll, the manager may have had a complaint about BBs in someone’s pizza.” Pause. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll find something better than this, though! I hope you find a perfect job, too. Tell your sister I’m glad she’s doing well. Let me know how the baby does when they arrive.”
Logan’s phone beeped as she pressed End Call. “Local news? Booooring.” Before her finger could swipe the notification, a familiar name jumped at her. “Cale?” The news was about the mayoral election results. Her eyes widened as she realized why Cale’s name appeared in such an article. “What?!”
The ride to the hospital was short, but the family sat in the waiting room for hours. On the phone, Nathan had warned them both that labor could take from four to twenty-four hours. Cale wanted to stop at home for an “emergency room kit” full of games and books, but Elizabet insisted there was no time to lose. When they arrived, they discovered there was plenty of time to lose. Time to kill and more.
Small tables with hand sanitizer were scattered around the small room. People sat in groups, wringing their hands or occupying themselves with stilted conversation. Cale wiggled on the plastic chair, and it squeaked. He glared, reminded of the military recruitment center. Someone sneezed, and he darted out of the seat for the closest hand sanitizer. “Cover your mouth. You’ll get people sick.”
Elizabet kicked his sneaker. “Don’t talk so loud. They’ll hear you.” He sighed and mumbled something to himself. “Cale, sit down. We’re going to be waiting a long time. Just get comfortable.” She was settled into her own chair by a table lamp. The tiny table itself held a small box of markers she brought from home. Her eyes stayed glued to an adult coloring book open on her lap. She colored sections with the markers, held it up to the light, nodded, and repeated the process.
Cale perched on the edge of his seat in the corner. There was no table here, just an empty chair. He pulled out his phone and tried to play Monster Catcher Anywhere. There he was, standing in a field with little creatures all around him. A sheep monster leaped from side to side in front of him. “Now I’ve got you.” His hand flew to his belt, but his fingers grabbed air. “Ugh!”
Elizabet elbowed him this time. “Shh. This is a hospital.” He glared at his phone. “What’s wrong now?”
“I’m out of balls. I can’t play the game.”
Above the receptionist’s desk, a car commercial played on the television. He closed his eyes and threw himself back into the transforming robot. The robot-car raced from the hospital, avoiding blasts from alien ships overhead. It drove up the side of a building, and momentum propelled it toward one of the enemies. He rammed the ship, driving through and popping out the back in a fiery explosion. The car landed on another building with enough traction to make its way back to the ground. It came to a drifting stop feet from the front door.
Other UFOs swarmed in the sky. Cale revved the engine, but it sputtered. The car powered down. He checked for damages, but everything was perfect. Turning the key again, he discovered the problem. A needle rested at the very bottom of the gauge, underneath an E.
“No more gas?” He returned to reality with a sigh.
Every few hours, a doctor would emerge from the swinging doors and congratulate a waiting family. Cale stood to avoid a person walking too close to his chair. He wandered to the doors and peeked through as a nurse entered. Beyond the waiting room, he saw people in hospital gowns shuffling down the hall. A shiver ran down his spine as they all turned to look at him. Their faces melted and limbs snapped at ridiculous angles. He backed away, his pulse pounding.
“Hey.” He backed into someone! Whirling, he exhaled when he saw Elizabet. “What’s wrong?” She peered around him and shook her head. “Those are just patients. I mean, we are in a hospital. Why are you so jumpy?” The zombies had returned to their original form, and Cale shrugged. “I swear, people are going to think you’re the nervous father.” She grabbed his arm and led him back to their area.
Someone was sleeping in the previously empty chair, and Cale scooted his seat as close to Elizabet as he could. The world dimmed to black, white, and gray. He leaned his entire body away from the stranger and onto the side of Elizabet’s chair. She narrowed her eyes when he bumped her coloring hand. “I have some earbuds you can borrow. Why don’t you watch something on your phone?” She rifled through her purse.
An ethereal light shone around Elizabet. Her hair floated as if underwater, and gold bands gleamed on her wrists. The bright purple outfit on her body stuck out like a polar bear on the beach. As she held up the earbuds, birds sang and tiny cherubs played the harp. With each second, color returned to the world, pulsing from the magical girl’s very being.
“This is the power of friendship,” he muttered. With a small bow, he took the headphones and plugged them into his phone. Elizabet shot him an inquisitive glance, and he corrected, “Thanks.”
Hours later, Cale checked his phone battery. “It’s going to die,” he muttered.
Nathan paced across the cheap rug, too absorbed in his own anxiety to pay attention to his brother-in-law. Elizabet continued coloring and stated, “Nathan, she’s going to be fine. Christa is young and healthy, and there haven’t been any problems this whole time. The doctors are convinced she will be just fine.” His strides grew faster, anyway.
Cale wondered if Elizabet would say anything to reassure him. The phone had twenty percent left, and neither of the people he asked had a charger. The waiting room television was playing reruns of the classic I Love Linda and Lucky Ladies. He did not enjoy these shows, but even if there was a remote, the nurse would not let him change the channel. Waiting was easy when his mind let him retreat, but his fantasies took a lot of concentration. Something that was lacking with his sister in a hospital room and his brother-in-law wearing a hole in the floor. All he could do was sigh, and even that didn’t get any attention.
Two more hours passed, and his phone died. Cale fell to his knees, a single shaft of light cast over him in a pitch black room. He held the coughing phone with both hands. As it blinked its last text light, he blamed himself for underestimating its importance to him.
“I’m sorry, old friend,” he whispered.
“We’ve had some good times.” The phone’s voice spoke in a Yankee accent, “We really knew how to throw down, know what I’m saying?” Its digitized eyes winked at Cale.
“I’ll never find a replacement for you.”
“You’re right. Ain’t nobody like me.” The device coughed and wheezed.
“I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“Me neither, but that’s the hand you're dealt. Keep your nose clean, kid.” With that, its eyes turned into two large Xs, and the screen faded to black.
Cale lowered his head and remained on his knees (even outside the fantasy, where everyone was looking at him). Elizabet tugged his shirt, and he reddened as he felt everyone watching him. He slunk back into his chair and asked if he could help with her coloring.
Ten minutes after his phone died, Cale growled and dropped the marker in his hand. Elizabet put a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off. His eyes glanced over at Nathan. His brother-in-law was finally sitting down, but he stared at the ground, bouncing his leg and muttering to himself.
A doctor entered the room and called, “Nathan?” Nathan jumped three feet in the air and hurried to her. The doctor started, regained her composure, and asked him to follow her. There was a slight sense of urgency in her voice, and Nathan’s face turned blue as he followed her.
Cale wandered to the bathroom, even though he didn’t have to go. He sat on the toilet seat fully clothed, not sure what to do. The stall was quiet, and he enjoyed the peace. He plugged his nose and closed his eyes. Hospitals were overwhelming with their strange smells, crowds of people, and bright lights. It felt like his senses were being bombarded from all sides. The bathroom was calming.
“I wish the baby was already here.”
He washed his hands and opened the door to Elizabet, who was waiting for him. She took his hand and led him to a set of the swinging doors. A huge grin lit her face, and he blushed, nodding. “Let’s go!”
My brother looked at his phone and answered a text. Thank goodness Nathan brought our emergency room kit when we packed earlier. I thought Cale might explode if he had to spend another minute without his phone. “She says she’s glad you’re doing well.”
I frowned. My brain was foggy from the medicine. And, you know, hours of labor. “Who says that?”
Elizabet broke in as he stared at me. “Probably Logan. She’s been at quite a few jobs Cale had. They’re kind of buddies.”
“She’s not my buddy,” he growled. His eyes flitted to the phone as soon as it vibrated, and he replied to the message immediately. I grinned. Not friends, indeed.
The bundle in my arms squirmed, and I shushed Cale. “You’ll wake Callie.”
Nathan and I smiled at one another. I responded, “We decided to name him after our favorite brother.”
My husband added, “It was either Callie or Cale-ita. That last one didn’t go over so well with your sister.” We all chuckled, and Cale turned pink. “You wanna hold her?” Nathan took the bundle from my arms and held her out to Cale.
My brother shook his head and backed away. “No way. I don’t want to drop the baby on her first day in the world.” His mouth twitched, and he held a hand over it. Blocking a smile. Typical.
Elizabet tucked her arms under Nathan’s and relieved him of the precious load. “She’s so beautiful,” the girl whispered.
I nodded, drifting in and out of consciousness. “She really is.”
Nathan squeezed my hand. His voice tickled my ear as he whispered, “It’s alright. You can sleep. We will take care of everything else.”
My eyes fluttered shut, and I nodded. Everything would be taken care of.
While Christa slept and Elizabet cooed over the baby, Cale edged up to Nathan. He cleared his throat and stared at the hospital bed. “I lost my job. Again.”
“You mean you quit without knowing?” Nathan chuckled. “I thought you might have left that pizza place because you heard the news. It’s the talk of the town.”
Cale wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Cale, bro. You’re the new mayor of Warlington! Inauguration is next month.”
Elizabet sparkled with excitement. Her Cale, mayor. Excitement obscured the question of how. Sure, she had voted for him. Her pal Antoine practically worshipped Cale, and he begged her to vote for him. The mechanic’s heartfelt endorsement was all she needed; the other candidates were no good this year, anyway. She hopped for joy, and Callie burbled.
Meanwhile, Cale stared blankly at Nathan. “What’s inauguration?”
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