From 10.14.19 – 10.17.19, I am posting short stories centered around characters from previously released novels. All of these short stories were once released in a compendium titled ‘Four Short Stories from the Books of Chase Connor,’ but it is not longer in publication. You will be able to read these stories in the posts themselves, or you can download a PDF of the story to read on the go. If you download a PDF, feel free to share them with friends, family, whomever you think might enjoy them. The copyright belongs to me but I am giving everyone permission to share them as they see fit. You may not reprint them, claim credit for the work, or modify the work in any way but you are free to read them as much as you want and share them as much as you want.
These stories may contain spoilers, so if you have not read the books these stories are based around, you might want to read the books first.
Today’s short story is centered around Noah from ‘A Tremendous Amount of Normal‘ and is a follow up to where Noah is now after the events described in the book. If you have not read the book, this story will give away MAJOR plot points. Just a fair warning.
Noah Short Story
I don’t like it when people stare at me.
Usually, I don’t notice.
Now that I’m not as anxious as I used to be.
Now…now I can ignore a lot of things. I don’t spend as much time noticing things that go on around me.
It’s mostly my medicines. I take an SSRI and a sedative. I’ve been taking them for three-hundred and…a year. Manny said that I should tell people that I’ve been taking them for a year. Neurotypical people understand what “a year” means but they might not understand if I tell them it has been three-hundred-and-seventy-seven days. I don’t think I really understand it, either, if I’m being totally honest. I don’t know why I know how many days I’ve been taking my pills. I just do. It makes me a little embarrassed to know that I know these things, but other people do not. It makes me not normal. I don’t like being different sometimes.
But then Will tells me that he loves my type of normal.
And that makes me feel really good.
So, I stop noticing things again.
It’s kind of hard to notice things in the library anyway. It’s very quiet there. The shelves, which are seventy-eight inches high, which is seven-and-a-half inches taller than I am, make everything muffled. All of the sounds that might be heard in a library are indiscernible when I’m putting books away from my cart. It’s the books. All of the shelves are stuffed full of books, and when I’m between the shelves, I feel like I’m in a cocoon. When no one is in the same aisle as me, I can imagine that I’m completely alone and I don’t have to worry about people staring.
But I noticed the girl staring this time.
Does she know that I’m not normal?
Was she going to call me a “retard” like the other students used to do in high school? Was she going to ask me what’s wrong with me and then I’ll have to explain being on the spectrum like Will taught me to do? I don’t like explaining what’s wrong with me to neurotypicals because I have Asperger Syndrome, but I have to say “on the spectrum” for them to understand. I don’t like saying that because it isn’t true and it’s not the reason that I’m not normal.
No one really bothers me at the library. Not since Mrs. Robinson asked if it would be okay if she put up a sign at the entrance. It says that “one of the employees” has Asperger Syndrome and does not like to be touched or talked to loudly so please be mindful of that. Not in those words, but it lets people know that they shouldn’t just assume that it’s okay to touch strangers without asking first. I told her that I thought that was a good idea because I do not want people touching me unless they ask first, and even then, it might not be okay.
The girl who has been staring at me for twenty-seven seconds is now standing three feet away, staring at the side of my face as I put a copy of The Two Towers on the shelf where it belongs. J.R.R. Tolkein. He’s one of my favorite writers. He created a whole new world that has rules and structure and didn’t make me have to suspend disbelief too much—like a lot of fantasy novels do. His world makes sense. Even if there are magic and elves and dwarves and wizards and orcs. After I shelved the book, I turned and reached for another book, ignoring the stare of the girl who was standing really close and not even trying to hide the fact that she was staring at me. I’m not sure if that was rude or not and I didn’t have Will or Manny to ask.
But I knew that I’m not supposed to tell people that they are being rude unless I know for sure. People don’t like that.
The girl spoke to me.
Her voice sounded like bells. Like sleigh bells. One of my favorite sounds. I like it in Christmas songs when there are sleigh bells.
I turned to the girl. I tried to look her in the eyes. I failed. Again. I try a lot to look people in the eyes, especially Will and Manny. Last week, the therapist who leads my behavioral therapy class told me that I don’t have to look people in the eyes continuously. In fact, it’s best if I don’t. Most neurotypicals don’t maintain eye contact continuously throughout a conversation. Their eyes move around from time to time for dramatic effect, to give themselves a reprieve from being overly stimulated by emotions they experience during intimate conversations.
The Intense World Theory—a theory about why atypical people like me do not make eye contact well—says that people on the spectrum, and people with Asperger Syndrome, are continuously assaulted emotionally by our environments. We do not make and/or maintain eye contact as a way to cope with this continuous processing of an abundance of information. Especially emotional information. My therapist said that while people like me don’t understand emotions like neurotypicals do, we still have emotions, and we process them differently. We also process them nonstop. Because we’re easily over-stimulated.
I like my new therapist a lot. He is a black guy, and he is five years older than Will and Manny. He’s really tall. He smells like the beach—like saltwater and suntan lotion. I don’t like the beach, but I like how the beach smells. And he always says, ‘I’m so happy to see you today, Noah.’ He is really patient and takes time to talk to me the way I like to be talked to. If his skin weren’t so dark, he would be a lot like Will. If I get overstimulated or confused in class, he lets me put on my headphones and be quiet for a while. He’ll turn off the lights while I’m being quiet and he always keeps the room cool. I really like that. He told me once that he understood being different so I shouldn’t be afraid to tell him how I’m feeling or talk about anything I need to talk about. I really liked that, too. We talk a lot.
Will let my therapist take me to the YMCA when he was meeting his friends for a basketball game. I don’t know how to play, and I didn’t want to play, but I had a lot of fun wearing my headphones and watching. All of my therapist’s friends were really nice to me and would tell me before they patted me on the back or shoulder. My therapist showed me how to shoot a basketball after the game was over and all of his friends cheered for me. At least, they looked like they were. I can’t hear much when I’m wearing my headphones.
Will and Manny told me when I changed doctors and therapy classes, it was going to be a challenge for me. But Dr. Mangal and my old therapist had done all they could do for me, and they all thought that things might be even better if I saw new people and tried new things. They were probably right. I haven’t had to do any repetitive motions in two-hundred-and-sixteen days. My new doctor is in the same building so Will and I still get to see Dr. Mangal often. He’s always really happy when I tell him how I’m doing.
I gave Will a “high-five” after he beat Manny in a video game yesterday.
Will looked at me really weirdly for a minute and then got up and left the room.
I know now that when Will leaves the room, it’s because he needs to be quiet for a little bit, too.
Manny said he wanted to hug me.
So, I hugged him so he would be happy.
But only for three seconds. It felt weird with our chests touching.
But it was okay because he’s my brother, too.
It was kind of weird when he told Will about hugging me, and they both seemed really excited about that. But they were happy. So, it didn’t matter.
When Will bought me an orange hoodie to try, I didn’t really like that, though. Not all change is good. Orange is a fruit, not a color to wear. And I told him that. But I wore it because he bought it for me and that was more important than hating orange. Mrs. Robinson, the library administrator, told me that I looked really handsome in orange and that it was one of her favorite colors. So, sometimes I wear it because it makes her happy. But I like my purple and blue hoodies more.
“Hi.” I was able to look at the tip of the girl’s nose instead of her eyes. “Can I help you find a book?”
That was what Mrs. Robinson said I should ask people if I don’t know what someone might need.
The girl smiled at me. Her teeth were very white. They looked very clean.
“I see you here a lot.” The girl said.
That was funny. But I didn’t laugh. Will told me not to laugh at things neurotypical people say unless they laugh first. That’s not what neurotypicals do, but I am not neurotypical. I have to do things differently if I want to seem more normal.
“I work here.”
The girl laughed. But…it was different than the way most people laugh when I say something.
“I see that.” She looked down at my cart. “You’re always here putting books up when I’m here.”
“Monday, Tuesday…Monday through Friday.” I replied, remembering the way Manny told me to explain my work schedule.
The girl smelled like laundry detergent and soap. I like it when things smell clean. I don’t like it when people smell like sweat and dirty things.
“Do you…are you in college?” She asked, which I didn’t understand because that had nothing to do with my work.
“Are you still in high school?” She asked another weird question.
“No,” I responded but knew not to ask why she was asking me questions that were dumb. Manny told me not to do that. “I graduated last year.”
“But you don’t go to college?”
“No.” I looked at her hair. Her hair was dark. Like mine and Will’s and Manny’s. It looked like silk—like how Will describes Manny’s hair. But the girl’s skin was not dark like Manny’s. Not as dark anyway. She was really pretty.
“I’m on the spectrum.” That’s what Will said I could tell people if they wanted to know why I was working at the library and not going to college. “I’m not ready to go to college yet. My brother, Will, said that if my therapy helps, maybe I’ll go next year. But only if I want to. I don’t have to.”
The girl stared at me. I don’t like to be stared at by strangers. But…this girl smiled at me when she stared. And her eyes didn’t, like, bore into me. Her eyes looked all over, not just in one place.
I just stood there, my eyes moving to her chin. I was getting tired of trying to keep my eyes on her face.
“Do you have Asperger’s?”
I didn’t know what to do. Neurotypical people never ask me if I have Asperger Syndrome when I tell them that I’m on the spectrum. They usually say something that doesn’t make sense and then walk away. I felt myself getting a little anxious because I’ve never had to know what to do when a stranger who is neurotypical asks me if I have Asperger Syndrome.
That seemed like the appropriate response. Manny would probably be really proud of me. I want my brothers to be proud of me. I try really hard to be normal so that they will be happy. I told Will that once and he told me that he was really happy just because he was lucky enough to be my brother. Even if I wasn’t like neurotypicals. I didn’t know what luck had to do with it, but I’m glad that he’s happy, so it doesn’t matter.
“Are you heterosexual?” The girl asked.
That is really funny when you think about it. It’s probably my hair. My brothers tell me that my hair is really handsome. I think sometimes people think that I’m homosexual because my hair looks the way it does.
“Yes. I am heterosexual.”
I like questions that make sense and have simple answers.
“You’re very cute.”
I didn’t know what to say to that except what Manny had told me to say when someone says something that is probably nice.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
I surprised myself. I answered without thinking. But…I had already decided that the girl was pretty when I first saw her staring at me.
“Thank you.” She replied.
I just stared at her. I wanted to say something else, but I didn’t know what it was that I was supposed to say. Will told me that if I felt like I wanted to talk to someone, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say, that I should just be myself and be kind. So, I tried that.
“I think that your hair is really pretty,” I said. “It looks like both of my brothers’ hair. And mine. But yours is nicer.”
“Thank you.” She replied, her teeth showing again.
I liked her teeth.
“How many brothers do you have?”
“Two,” I said. “My brother Will and my brother Manny. Manny is my brother’s boyfriend, and he has dark skin like you, but his is a lot darker. He’s Indian, but he was born in Vermont. His parents are from India.”
The girl smiled widely at me.
“I’m from Texas.” She replied. “My parents are from Oaxaca.”
“Do you speak Spanish?”
“Very little.” She replied.
“Did your parents not teach you Spanish?”
“They tried.” She laughed.
So, I laughed with her. That’s what Will would have told me to do. Unlike other neurotypicals, she didn’t give me a weird look when I laughed.
“But…I wasn’t a great student.” Her face looked scrunched up when she smiled. “I wish I had tried more.”
I understood that I think. When Will and Manny and my therapist teach me ways to be more normal, I have to try really hard. The girl continued to stand there and look at me, but it didn’t seem like she was uncomfortable. And with her staring at me I didn’t feel uncomfortable because she was smiling and her teeth were really pretty, and she didn’t say anything that didn’t make sense.
“I’m going to college here.” She said. “I’m studying psychology and childhood development. I don’t really have a lot of friends here yet.”
“My brothers are my best friends,” I said. “And Mrs. Hess and Principal Hoffman.”
“Who are they?”
“Mrs. Hess was my history teacher in high school, but now she’s retired, and Principal Hoffman is…was my principal before he had his heart attack. Now he runs a bookstore.”
“They sound really nice.”
“They’re really nice, I think.”
“Do you like coffee?” She asked.
“I’m not allowed to drink coffee because it has caffeine in it, and it can make me anxious,” I said. “My brother let me try it once, and it tasted okay, I guess.”
“Would you like to talk to me while I drink coffee sometime?” She was looking down at her feet.
I had to think about that. Not the talking to her part. I thought that I would like to talk to her a lot. Or at least listen to her talk. But I didn’t know if I would like going to a coffee shop because they always had a lot of people in them and people are really loud and might touch me without asking first.
“I don’t think I’d want to go to a coffee shop,” I said.
“Do you like pancakes?” I asked.