by Kimberly Steele
Autumn Rose was as tough as nails. She was rich, thin and gorgeous. Her thick, styled blond hair fell over her shoulders as she walked with confidence. Her family was rich, thin and gorgeous (save the baby, who was rich, chubby and gorgeous). Autumn had worked hard for all of it and took nothing for granted. That was why, on her day off, she was on the way to Palmer and Associates, the law office she worked at. She was a paralegal and needed to do lunch with her husband, who also worked for Mr. Palmer, as a lawyer. They needed to discuss once again the final details of their plans to adopt the newest member of their family from Thailand. It was going to cost an arm and a leg but the only thing the Rose family cared about was holding that precious baby!
Autumn knocked timidly on the office door, overly aware of her frumpy clothes and fighting back tears of shame the same way she did every time she had to go through this humiliation. Wasn’t it bad enough that she needed to live off the worksweat of others, did they have to drag her down here to wait for hours at their dingy, depressing office to be interrogated every three months? Was it just for their own kicks? How many people who got state benefits had to drag themselves down so often to get what they needed for their families, she wondered. And how many of the cheaters who abused the system called in on their government sponsored iPhones and renewed their benefits with some sort of dignity? Dignity they didn’t even deserve. She fought the anger that welled up in her; it immersed the shame but was hardly going to do her any favors when she went into her interview.
“So, you need to continue health coverage for all three of your children, yes? Dana, thirteen, Robert, eleven and Sara, three? Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Autumn replied feebly. She wanted to tell this droning, vapid woman that her children were real people who lived and breathed and not just meaningless names and numbers on her paper. Her kids were going to be better than she was. They were already more attractive. They had thick red hair instead of her own thin, mousy brown. The one gift their father had given them. They all had the same bright blue eyes, this gift from her, though hers were world weary and not so bright anymore.
“And you are currently still receiving foodstamps for all three children, as well as housing allowance and your daycare is paid for as well? Am I neglecting any other benefits you’re receiving?”
“No, ma’am,” Autumn mumbled. She had the sudden, hysterical urge to tell this woman that Sara still called her brother “Rowbert” and the little boy loved it because it was also how she said “robot” and he wanted to be a robot. Instead she crossed her legs self-consciously and waited for the next question.
“And still no luck reaching the father to collect child support?” her eyes skimmed across the most deeply personal details of Autumn’s life as if the fact that she did this activity every day made the pain of her clients immaterial.
Autumn uncrossed her legs nervously. Do not cry, she demanded of herself. You have never before cried in front of these people and you never will.
“It’s kind of hard to, you know, collect money when you can’t find someone. He left us years ago and he don’t want to be found. We’re still trying, though.”
Autumn crossed and uncrossed her legs in a misguided attempt to collect her thoughts and promptly burst into tears. She hugged her husband. She hugged Dr. McGuffey. She was so happy she literally pictured herself hugging people who were not even in the room.
“I am? I really, seriously am? You’re positive? You’re super positive that I am pregnant without any doubt whatsoever?”
“With twins,” said the doctor, smiling almost as wide as the couple themselves. He had been doing his best to help them become pregnant for the past two years and every time it failed he had watched their hope dwindle that much more. If this last treatment had not been successful, they would not have been able to afford any more tries.
He liked both of them, but especially spunky, vibrant Autumn. She reminded him of his own daughter in both physical appearance and attitude. Dark features that belied kind hearts and energy to spare. This would be their first child, and the fact that it would also be their second was a miracle in its own right. They had always wanted more than one child, but had resigned themselves to the knowledge that they would be desperately lucky just to have one. Two was beyond their wildest dreams at this point.
“Two healthy babies, all the tests confirm it!”
Autumn almost slapped the doctor in the face at that point.
“Who the hell do you think you are, telling me that I should murder my child before he is even born?” More than anything else in the world, she longed to see her husband. He was away in Afghanistan and probably wouldn’t be back until his son was born. It wasn’t fair that she had to go through this all alone. She had known that he was going to be away when she had married him, but not that it was going to be this hard.
Dr. Jones held up a hand that was intended to be calming but just came off as amused and placating.
“Don’t talk like that, Mrs. Leigh. I know you haven’t had a lot of time to process this, but you would have to be a saint to sign on for this ride if you had any idea what it was really going to be like. Constant doctor appointments, always going crazy over all the medicines and procedures you’d have to handle…
“I know it’s a shock to find out that your child is going to be born severely mentally and physically incapacitated,” he continued, intentionally using blunt language to make a point to the silly, emotional woman in front of him. “But you simply cannot compare my recommendation to murder! If you love your child, as I know you do, then this is the only way to spare it from a terrible life! And you’ll be sparing yourself many miserable years of wishing that you were a normal parent and could stop worrying about your child!”
Autumn stood and smoothed her cheery but tasteful maternity shirt over the prominent bump that was her son. She spoke calmly, hoping that the idiot spawn in front of her would understand that her calm demeanor only meant she was concentrating too hard on sending death rays into his brain to shout.
“Listen to me you self important, condescending prick. My baby is not an it, his name is Geoffrey. He will be born and raising him does not qualify me for sainthood, it makes me a mother. All parents worry about their children all the time, I’ll just be worrying about different things. Do not ever so much as think that you know what it takes to make me crazy, you have no idea who I am.
“My son will not have a terrible life and it’s not for you to decide what is terrible, doctor. I’m not some hysterical pregnant lady with no idea of what she is getting into, I’m just completely disgusted by your lack of compassion and saddened because you have no idea what it means to love. I will not be returning here ever again and if you dare say one more word to me I’ll slap your ugly, smug face into next week!”
Autumn’s fiery red hair bounced merrily as she spoke, as if to emphasize the importance of her words. She looked at the man across the table from her and laughed. The two of them had been laughing so much throughout the night that people were actually beginning to stare a little bit.
“How did we even get on this topic?” Connor laughed, unconsciously mirroring Autumn’s head bob. He found that his hands had stopped their nervous fiddling quite a while ago.
“I read a book,” she said. “But don’t change the topic. Did you or did you not just reveal the depth of your nerditude by telling me, on our first date, mind you, that you believe people will someday travel in time?”
He laughed again. “Don’t say it like that! You’re making me sound silly on purpose!”
“I think you’re doing a pretty good job of making yourself sound silly, my dear.”
“Okay, listen. There is no doubt in the realm of science that such a thing is possible. Not probable, but possible. Time is a human construct; what we label as time is really a fluid thing. I’m only saying that’s it’s possible and I think it’s interesting to speculate about whether or not we achieve it in the future.”
Autumn tried to keep a sober face.
“I’ll grant you that the possibility exists to accomplish time travel, but I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that humanity will not achieve it before the world ends.”
Autumn’s smug look was adorable and she knew it. She would never admit that she knew it, but she did.
He was smiling. “Okay then, wise counselor, tell me how you know this alleged fact…”
“It’s simple deduction!” she said, happy to be engaged in such a conversation even though she teased him mercilessly for showing his nerd card so quickly. “The nature of time travel is such that if we achieved it in the future we would have the ability now because of the very reason the act of time travel is possible: time is fluid. So, since our current world does not have the ability to travel in time it will never happen. Because if time is fluid rather than linear the whole future has already happened!”
“Not necessarily. Maybe they have strict regulations so that humans aren’t informed that time travel has been achieved until a certain point in our humanly constructed, linear timeline?”
“I find that highly unlikely, due to the human tendency to break the rules as much as possible, but say for the sake of argument that it’s true. Even if you don’t strictly believe that squashing a butterfly in Asia will wreak havoc all over the world and change all of history, certainly a big thing would. And since I think we both know that humanity is a bunch of clumsy oafs, we can deduce that lots of big things would be done, over and over, and history would be changing left and right! How could we not, somehow, become aware of this at some point? Or at least have some kind of inkling…”
Connor laughed for what must have been the hundredth time that night.
“One second I’m an Olympic athlete and the next I’m a hobo on a street corner begging for change? One second we’re on this date and the next I’m on the first voyage to make Mars an inhabitable planet for earthlings?”
“Exactly! And that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
KIMBERLY STEELE was born and raised in Oregon, but currently calls Issaquah, Washington, home. She loves traveling the globe, comedy, psychology and of course, writing. At eight years old she caused a commotion when she wrote in an assignment that she accidentally saw her (male) teacher naked and has never looked back since.