Unlike most 11-year old girls, Autumn found friends in the people who had none. The seventy-year old woman next door, a stray kitten, and the comic-obsessed boy with Down Syndrome on the corner were some of her buddies, just to name a few. Her absolute best friend of all time, whom she had rarely been seen without, was little Adam Keller. He was only seven years old, and was already in the fourth grade. Autumn met him a two years back, when she first started taking her walks. She met him reading outside on his lawn and he started walking with her. They hit it off immediately.
I hadn't been the biggest fan of Adam from the get-go because he was…well, a genius. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't jealous of the kid. Grades didn't matter to me much; I tried (ish) but I had more important things to do. If anything, I felt a little bad because he was a likely target for bullying, according to the sick, sick social protocol of public schools. But he sort of scared me a bit. I mean, here was this tiny little guy, knowing more geometry than the average middle school teacher. In all honesty, he didn't really like me either. Autumn shunned us both, and tried to get us to bond. When that didn't work, she just sighed and kept us as separate as possible.
Three weeks after Autumn died, Adam came by with a box of her stuff. He explained to me that they'd been building an invention at his house, and it didn't feel right doing it all by himself. Then, without warning, he dropped the box on the door stoop and flung his tiny body into my arms, sobbing uncontrollably.
I easily could have just shoved him off me, gave him a pat on the back, and sent him on his way, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So, against my better judgment, I let him cry for a minute or two, then led him gently back to our sofa. He sat down next for me and tried to explain himself through his tears.
Not much of it was comprehendible, but I understood "Autumn….hurts….goodbye….why?" I know this is a horrible thought, but I was a little glad that someone was as screwed up about this as I. Obviously, my parents were crushed, but it's not like I could really talk about her with them, you know? It would just be more painful than helpful.
Anyway, one glance back at Adam wiped away all comfort. It just may have been the saddest thing I've ever seen. He didn't even seem to breathe, except to gasp for air occasionally, between his heartbreaking sobs. Eventually, he got a grip and looked at me with watery blue eyes, full of innocence and expectation. After a second, I got the message. He wanted me to tell him what to do, how to feel, or, even better, that everything would be okay.
But I couldn't do that. I couldn't lie to him, only to crush him even harder when he realizes that it just might not be true.
Instead, I gave him a nod and rose from the couch. He started to, but I waved him down. When I returned with two glasses of water, he was sniffling again. I gave him the glass, one small hug, and a half-hearted smile.
"Everything's going to be okay," I lied.