My Autistic Brother Reluctantly Finds a Job
Elizabet held Callie snug against her chest and bounced her. “There, there, little one. It’s okay.” The baby’s scrunched face relaxed, and she stuck a thumb in her mouth. Elizabet exhaled and crept down the hall toward Nathan and Christa’s bedroom. Light snoring drifted through the door, and she smiled. The parents’ nap was saved.
When she returned to the living room, the nanny found Cale standing in the corner by the door, a large pillow wrapped around his head. He stared at her, then his gaze moved to the newborn in her arms. He squinted. “She’s not going to cry, Cale. See, she’s fine.”
As she moved toward him, Cale edged in the opposite direction. “She just needs to sleep,” he grumbled, making his way toward the couch.
“Silly, she just woke up. Even babies can’t sleep forever.”
Cale’s phone buzzed. He checked it and thumped at the on-screen keyboard.
“Another photography request?” He nodded. Elizabet whistled. “Who would’ve thought such a niche subject would be so popular.” A shrug in reply. “That little group on the internet has really hyped up your work. You’re going to be famous pretty soon.”
“I have just enough for an apartment now.” He ignored that line about being famous.
“You’re going out next week to look at that one you want, right?” Again, he nodded. “Are you excited?”
He turned and stomped away from the infant, mumbling, “No.”
A warm body blocked the path back to his room. “How about it, Mister Mayor?” Nathan wandered over to Elizabet and took the baby from her. “What’s going on, my little warrior?” Once the tot was in his arms, his face softened, and his eyes shone. Callie sucked her finger, her pale eyes unfocused. A gurgle escaped her tiny lips. Nathan laughed and lowered the cadence of his voice. “Feisty, yes! We shall dine on victory today!” Cale equipped his pillow.
“So what’s your first decree today, milord?” Nathan looked to his brother-in-law.
The younger man’s hands squeezed the pillow, and he replied, “Mayors have to deal with a lot.”
Nathan nodded. “They also have to get to work on time. Come on buddy, let’s go!” He kissed Callie’s forehead and handed her back to Elizabet. “I’ll be back soon, my little Amazon.”
After a short drive, Cale and Nathan arrived at City Hall. Cale opened the truck door to a plethora of journalists, anime figure enthusiasts, and a single secretary trying to direct him to his office. He shut the door and sank in his seat. The ruckus from outside filtered through the closed window.
“This might be your hardest job yet,” Nathan commented, “Dealing with people.”
“I feel sick.”
“It’s just nerves; you’ll feel better in a bit. Look, here comes some help.” Nathan pointed to a couple of police officers dispersing the crowd. “They can be your companions for the journey.” He placed a meaningful hand on Cale’s shoulder. The younger man stared at it until Nathan let the hand drop. “You got this buddy,” he continued, “Have fun, and I’ll be here to pick you up when the day is over.”
The door opened again, and Cale reluctantly stepped out. Two giant men in law enforcement suits greeted him. The first man had a black beard and mustache and darkened skin. “Sorry we’re late, sir.”
The second man was nearly identical to the first, except he was missing the mustache. “We’re your security detail. Let us help you inside.”
Cale saluted the officers and followed them toward the building. He took in his surroundings and noticed the crowd had not gone anywhere. They remained at a distance, watching him.
A nervous plump woman welcomed Cale into his office. “I’m sorry, sir. I wasn’t able to get through that crowd.” She sighed, and her body wobbled. He had seen her swallowed by the paparazzi earlier. “I’m Lisa. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” She spread her arms wide. “Welcome to your office.”
The large room had a wall of shimmering windows on one side; floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lined two others. Christa would have been interested to see what kind of books the mayor liked to read; Cale did not care. A huge oak desk sat in the middle of the room, dominating the space. When he inhaled, the only smells were wood and lavender. A glance at the twitching secretary made him suspect her perfume was the culprit for the latter.
He had just settled into the elaborate red chair behind the desk when Lisa asked him to stand in front of it. “We’re going to begin the inauguration ceremony,” she stammered, gesturing to a single cameraman.
Cale narrowed his eyes. This man had come out of nowhere just to film him. Why did politics have to be so showy?
“We are live before the public,” Lisa continued, “and we have the appointed judge here to swear you in.”
The judge waltzed over (also appearing from nowhere) and presented a Bible from the folds of his leather jacket. He slipped a piece of paper onto the top of the book and whispered, “Just read from that.”
Cale placed his right hand on the Bible, careful not to push his cheat sheet off the edge. The judge nodded for him to begin. Cale twirled his left wrist once and cleared his throat. “I do solemnly swear that I am duly qualified, according to the constitution of this state, to exercise the duties of the office to which I have been elected and that I will, to the best of my ability, discharge the duties thereof, and preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of this state.”
As the judge disappeared, Lisa stepped toward the camera. Far from shy or nervous, she spoke about Cale, the hero of Warlington, and his famous exploits. “He saved a man’s life without a medical license. He’s helped unadoptable dogs find their forever homes. Cale is the hero this city needs.”
The hero’s attention drifted. As his eyes glazed, Lisa transformed into something more sinister and gothic. The colors of her outfit faded and bled to gray, and her hair sprang from her head. She turned toward him with a malicious grin and cackled, “A body has been discovered!”
Nathan arrived home to find Christa waking from her nap. He grinned and knocked lightly on the open bedroom door. “Good morning, princess.” She grunted in response. “Are you ready to get up? Elizabet is here, so I can make some pancakes.”
The comforter shifted, and her scraggly hair disappeared underneath it. “Guess not,” he muttered with a chuckle. Two hands emerged from the blanket and made grabbing motions at him. Nathan shook his head. “You want me to nap with you? But I’m not tired, and Elizabet can’t do everything.” The hands continued to grab at the air.
“Fine, fine. Just for a few minutes.”
He dove into the blankets, embracing his wife and letting the comforter warm his whole body. “Just for a few–”
The room was filled with suspects. Every one of Cale’s managers or co-workers made an appearance as the potential killer. Antoine, ButterflySlayz237 (on a laptop screen), Brandy, Robert, Marsha, Brevard, Josef Hart, Lesley, Miss Ramos, Narissa, and Trent. All of them stood in a ring encircling the body in question – dear, sweet Logan.
“The rules are simple,” Lisa exclaimed, twirling a cane in her hands, “We find out who did it, and that person gets punished. If we can’t figure out who did it, then everyone but the killer gets punished!” She spun in a circle. “Fun, fun, fun.”
“This is crazy. I don’t even know who this girl is!” ButterflySlayz237 sent a bunch of confused emojis to the forefront of her screen.
“Maybe some movie watcher finally did her in,” Brevard huffed, “She ticked off the wrong critic. Or director. Heck, the kid could tick off anyone.”
Brandy stroked a cat resting on her lap. “That seems too much to warrant death.”
“Better soldiers have died for smaller causes.” Trent stared past the walls and into his own past. “I’ll never forget you, Randy.”
“Lucky them,” Narissa mumbled.
“Maybe we should ignore the murder and find out why we’re here,” Robert interrupted, “There has to be some connection between us.” He stroked his chin.
“Oh, that’s easy.” Antoine pointed to Cale. “We’re here because we all know him.”
Everyone shifted their focus to Cale. The managers vanished, replaced by a committee of random members. Lisa was back in her regular long skirt, heels, and dress shirt. The people were staring at him, waiting for an answer. An older man leaned forward and asked, “Did you hear us, sir?”
Cale shook his head.
“We were wondering what your plans were for Warlington.”
“I don’t know what I can do.”
A middle-aged woman eyed him skeptically. “As Mayor, your job is upholding citizen rights, fairly and equally, and moving us into your vision for the future.”
“My vision?” Cale adjusted his blue light glasses. The yellow tint caught the sun and shone into someone’s eyes. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“Yes, your vision,” the older man added, “Whatever you want to see in this city.”
Cale spun in the meeting room's swivel chair until he faced the window. He peered out to look at the city. It was a sunny day; the sky was blue with a few white wispy clouds. No one was outside, though. The city suddenly looked like a swelling metal container – hissing, steaming, close to exploding.
He nodded once and declared, “Tomorrow, everyone gets the day off.”
Lisa gasped. She adjusted her spectacles and chuckled. “Sir, that is an admirable idea, but I don’t think we could issue something like that.”
“The city is about to burst,” Cale told her. The secretary fidgeted with her pen, and others around the table murmured.
“Wait,” said the judge, “I think I understand. Our city has been very productive this year, almost supernaturally so. I think he is saying that if this level of work continues, people will burn out and productivity will plateau. He wants to give everyone an additional rest. This is the part of the year where government holidays are far between.”
The older woman steepled her fingers. “You think we can do it, judge?”
“I think we need to.” He nodded at Cale with a smile. “Young man, you have a very strong head on your shoulders.”
The next day, Cale, the judge, and Lisa peered at the city from the wall of windows in the mayor’s office. Cheers and laughter rose from the green in front of the building. Children chased dogs and balls down the street. Couples held hands and strolled through the nearby gardens. Even the birds seemed to sing more than usual. Families took selfies by the sign outside city hall: “Happy Rest Day!”
Lisa grinned. “The hero of Warlington strikes again.”
“What do you mean?”
She held up her phone. It was open to PostTime! and highlighted all instances of #happyrestday. Hundreds of people were discussing what a good idea Cale had implemented. “It’s not just PostTime! This hashtag is all over MyPics and pretty much any social media site. You’ve done it again, Mayor Hero.”
He folded his arms behind his back and cleared his throat. “We’ll keep the city rested and safe.” There were some similarities between himself and a certain Western bat-themed hero right now. A grin spread across his face, and he inched into the shadows, hoping to look more mysterious.
Unfortunately for Cale, that would be the last of his fun. From morning until evening for the next few days, he answered questions and looked at large digital documents. Sometimes a stack of papers would interrupt the flow, but papers weren't any less tedious. Lisa bounced between being a nervous mouse and fangirling over his every word.
The days were longer when his mind wandered to the mystery of who killed Logan. He wasted so much time defending himself in the fictitious courtroom that little real world work got done. Despite being his rival and a threat to his job(s), Logan was not his enemy. In fact, she seemed to consider him a friend. She had sent him a text with a picture of her, her sister, and the infamous Fredrick. Logan and Fredrick were dressed in Narote cosplay while her sister rolled her eyes and laughed.
When he showed this text in the courtroom as evidence, the others moved on to investigating the scene of the crime. More days passed, and they were no closer to finding the killer. Cale poured over the forensics, stressed. Everyone else was close to giving up. Lisa cackled and danced, threatening them with punishment. She never seemed to lose any energy. Cale growled at her, wishing he had her stamina in both realities.
After every account was told for the third time, Antoine finally spoke. “Maybe none of us did it? What if this is, you know?” He motioned a rope with his hands.
“It could be anything at this point,” Trent said, “But one thing is certain. Either none of us did it, or we are dealing with an expert. If we just keep guessing, we’re going to go insane.”
“No, we need to find another way of thinking,” Marsha argued, “I’m exhausted, but I’m not suffering any ‘punishment.’ No way.”
“Would you chill out?” Brevard snapped, “You’re not the only one worried here, y’know.”
“The rest of you are thinking of giving up!” Marsha spun, pointing her index finger at everyone. “I won’t die because of you!”
“Please, everyone, let’s calm down.” ButterflySlayz237 put a heart on the screen as she spoke.
“How can we calm down with a killer among us?” Brandy frowned. The cat was still on her lap,and she petted it as if in a trance.
“This is the most excitement I’ve had since the war,” Narissa mumbled.
They continued arguing, growing louder. Cale covered his ears, but the shouts continued. An argument had broken out in the real world, as well. Except here, everything was aimed at him.
In the last few days, he banned alcohol, swearing, and smoking in public places. He forced every restaurant to offer chicken fingers, regardless of whether it was a franchise or locally owned. Even ice cream shops had to start budgeting for a new influx of chicken. The biggest complaint of all, though, was about transportation. Mayor Cale tried to ban cars, recommending everyone bike, jog, or walk instead. His reason? Cars scared him and caused accidents. The city was safer without them.
Restaurant managers swamped his email inbox with complaints and demands for advice. His desktop computer dinged with a new message icon every couple minutes. Officials entered his office and regaled him with a myriad of reasons why driving was cost efficient and safer than walking. The owners of breweries and tobacco plants slammed their hands on his desk, demanding the right to work the job they chose for themselves.
The committee members all spoke at once. They had gathered to ease the situation, but instead of helping, they escalated everything. Some of them yelled; others just shook their heads and wagged their fingers at him. Everyone talked over each other, creating a cacophony that swelled with each word.
Cale’s hands balled under the table. His fists shook, and he closed his eyes. “Stop,” he growled. Soon, his entire body was vibrating, but no one paid attention to him. With a scream, he ran from the room.
Lisa followed him to the door, only to lose sight of his fleeing back. “Wow. He’s fast.”
Cale took the stairs as far downward as he could, finding himself in the building’s basement. The only sound was a drop of water every few moments. Complete silence welcomed him, along with the stench of rats and waste. The sewer must open up nearby. None of that registered to him, though; he was screaming. Echoes of his frustration carried through the pipes. Cale shrieked until his throat was sore. He breathed heavily, still covering his ears.
A touch on his shoulder jolted him. He looked up and saw a tan middle-aged man in a janitor’s outfit smiling. “Rough day at the office?” The man’s tone was soft and kind, unlike the people around the table upstairs. Cale covered his ears again and sank onto the damp floor beside the wall. He turned away from the man.
Smirking, the janitor sat beside Cale, who scooted to the other side of the wall. “I’m guessing you don’t deal with people a lot.” Silence. “Or rather, you don’t deal with a lot of people?” Still no response. He plucked a candy bar from a zipped pocket on his overalls and held it out. “Here, this usually helps me when I’m in a funk.” Cale glanced at the treat. One of his favorite snacks. He leaned over to the man, snatched it, and tore the wrapper off.
“Snacks are a great way to relax.” The older man leaned against the wall and pulled another candy from a different pocket. “So is this place. I used to come here when I was stressed, too.” Cale shot him a curious glance. “I guess Lisa never told you what happened to the previous mayor after you won the election.” He gestured to himself. Cale glanced at the floor and shook his head. “Well, what can I say? I love civic duty, and I just can’t stay away from city hall. People are my greatest passion. Everything about them, from their anger to their excitement, drives me. Do you feel that way about anything?”
He thought for a while, muttering to himself, and finally shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“I’ve noticed you trying many jobs over the past few months.” Cale squinted at him, and the man laughed with raised hands. “I haven’t been stalking you, son, if that’s what you think. You’ve been in the news an awful lot lately, and you seem to be at a different place each time. Plus, you won the election. Of course I’m going to look up on someone as influential as you are. People are my passion, remember?” Cale nodded, still giving him a side-eyed glare. “And you, my boy, you can’t quite seem to find the right fit, huh?”
“No,” he sighed.
“That’s alright, Cale. You know, most people go their whole life never trying anything like the journey you took. They settle for whatever puts bread on their table and stay unhappy and unfulfilled until it’s too late.”
“I’m not good at anything,” Cale remarked. He held up his hands like puppets and cracked the knuckles.
“You’re wrong about that. In fact, you’ve been quite good at something this whole time. It’s just so plain and second nature, that it’s almost invisible to you.”
Cale shot him a curious glance. The former mayor pointed to his head. “Some people think you’re spacing out when in reality, you’re off in another world. Your creativity is so powerful you can lose yourself in a room full of other people. How you can drown them out, even while performing something like a tire change is impressive.”
“Dreams won’t make me money.”
“Not by themselves. They’re just fuel. You need to take fuel and put it in an engine to make it go. What engines could use our dreams as fuel, I wonder?” He shot Cale a coy look.
“How did you know that I go into fantasies?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he said, tapping his head again, “Great minds think alike. Though mine might be a bit different than yours.” Cale nodded. “Your photography was a good start, but I know you can think bigger. Turn those dreams into something everyone can use.” He gave Cale a reassuring pat and stood before the young man could shrug him off.
“I’ll see you around, Mayor Hero. Oh, by the way, Rest Day was a great idea. I wish I had thought of it.” He walked up the iron stairs and disappeared into city hall.
Cale dwelled on the man’s words and had an idea. One he wished he thought of nine months ago.
When he entered the office, everyone had calmed down and were discussing ideas over drinks. They turned to him in unison, anticipation gleaming from their faces.
Cale held up his puppet hands then put them back down. He cleared his throat, stared at the large table, and announced, “I’m resigning. I’m just not cut out for this job.”
Relief blew into the room like a typhoon. Some of them sighed, while others were more honest with their feelings. “Thank God! Maybe we can still salvage this.” For once, everyone was happy he quit his job. For once, this was the best outcome for everyone involved.
“You should get your previous mayor back in here,” Cale said.
Lisa nodded and twirled her pen. Now that he was no longer Mayor Hero, she was back to being mousy and nervous. “We agree on that, Cale. Thank you for your service.”
Meanwhile, evil Lisa frowned. “No fair!”
Robert the nurse noticed an autopsy had never been performed. When he moved to check the body, Logan was still breathing! Lisa had slipped a drug into her drink that made it seem like she was dead. “Just like in that classic tale,” Brandy muttered, holding her cat close, “except we only had one death. Thank goodness.”
When Logan woke, she released her own type of punishment on the villainous secretary. She recounted why the Cod Father movies were underrated and should be heralded as legendary. Fantasy Lisa was taken into the hands of the law for endangering a youth with illegal drugs.
Cale stepped outside and inhaled. The fresh air cooled the pressure in his chest and made it easier to breathe. Birds chirped, and squirrels chased each other across the grass. Kids held their parents’ hands as they wandered along the sidewalk. The day seemed brighter than before. He was tapping for Nathan to come pick him up.
“And can you recommend a good job and college for game design?”
Before he put the phone away, he glanced back at his contacts, and pushed on the name Ellizabet. “Would you like to go out to dinner tonight?” As the little eye icon on the message indicated she saw it, Cale believed he heard a faint squealing as if from across the city.