Since the next chapter of Evermore Experience is going to be a bit delayed, I thought I'd post my one shot for the Autism Speaks fundraiser. I hope you enjoy it.
Things you should know: Just as every snowflake is different, every person with Autism, no matter where on the spectrum, is unique. James reflects a child I knew and the experiences I had with him. They are by no means a blanket statement.
Grad student Bella volunteers at the Campus Y and meets baseball player Edward who she thinks is volunteering only to fulfill his community service requirements.
Alice bounced lightly from foot to foot as she hurriedly handed over the possessions.
"Okay, Bella, here's James' snack and his jacket and…" she started.
"Alice," Bella sighed with a smile, watching the silent five-year-old stand next to the force that was his mother. "How long have I been friends with James?"
"Nine months," Alice sighed with a smile. "You've been his constant here this school year, and I greatly appreciate that." She turned toward her son and squatted down to look at him face to face. "I'll be back in one hour, James. You listen to Miss Bella, eat your snack when she tells you it is time, and …" Alice shook her head and looked up at Bella before looking back at James. "And play nicely with the others."
James stood stoically, blinking at an appropriate pacing but unresponsive.
"Okay," Alice sighed, standing up to her full 4'11" height, straightening her blouse and skirt. She smiled apologetically at Bella before murmuring, "I sometimes forget and want to tell him to behave but…"
"That would require listing everything he needed to do," Bella smiled understandingly. "He's fine, Alice. Really."
"Thanks again, Bella." Alice gave one last glance at her son before patting him on the shoulder and rushing out of the classroom, shutting the bottom half of the Dutch doors behind her.
"Good afternoon, James," Bella grinned, pulling out a child-sized chair from the low table and carefully sitting down. Just the last week, she had misjudged the distance and had a bruised coccyx to prove it.
James gazed at the wall behind her impassively. To the outside world, he was a typical five year-old with his denim shorts, green knit shirt and Velcro sneakers … but to those closer, he was James Whitlock; and he had Asperger's Syndrome.
Bella had read all the popular website definitions of Asperger's when James first came into the Campus Y's afterschool friends program in order to be a better friend to him. They all basically said the same thing; Asperger's Syndrome was a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. It was common for "Aspie's" to exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. What the webpages had not done was prepare her for just how many subjects James would be fascinated with.
In the last two months, James had immersed himself in anything and everything dealing with toilet plumbing, baseball, state trivia—including counties and their county seats–and classical composers. Bella found herself visiting the library every week after spending the afternoon with James in an effort to find some book to give her something to discuss at least semi-intelligently.
"I found a new book on…" Bella started before a light rap at the door interrupted her. She looked up to see Mrs. Cope smiling at the entryway.
"Bella! Good to see you. Good afternoon, James!" she grinned, her naturally friendly demeanor bubbling forth.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Cope," James murmured, not making eye contact.
Mrs. Cope smile grew, for as the "Special Friends" program's director, she understood what a breakthrough this was. Alice and her husband, Jasper, had spent countless hours working with James as soon as the diagnosis had been made and as the summer approached, they had hoped the Campus Y camp would provide him with even more experiences to ease the transition into kindergarten in the fall.
"Bella, I just wanted to remind you that your new assistant will be arriving next week."
Bella nodded, a scowl marring her brow.
"I'm not thrilled with someone who doesn't want to be here pretending to care just because the university mandated all sports scholarship recipients have to serve the community," Bella replied, watching James meander over to where three children sat playing with a pile of Lincoln logs. He did not join them in their construction, but he did sit back a few feet from the trio and intently stared at them.
"Well, Edward's not your average jock," Mrs. Cope replied, checking her clipboard to confirm the name of the new volunteer. "Maybe you two will have something in common."
"I find that highly doubtful," Bella replied as politely as she could, watching James and the other children. Sports and Bella Swan had very little in common. She enjoyed watching them with Charlie, her dad, but anyone that expected her to play was taking their safety into their own hands. She was not intending on sounding like an intellectual snob, but she knew that it came across that way.
"You never can tell."
Bella looked up questioningly and was only met with a wink and a grin.
"I'll bring him by once he arrives."
"Looking forward to it."
"Liar," Mrs. Cope giggled before waving and disappearing down the hall.
Bella shook her head and turned her attention back to her four charges.
"So he's actually going to show up today?" Bella muttered as she set up her room in preparation for her class to return from recess. Nap mats were already laid out, and she carefully set out paper towels and goldfish crackers at six places and pulled out James' snack from his lunchbox and put it at the head of the table. Like many kids with Asperger's, James had severe food allergies and could not ingest any form of wheat or cow's milk. Fortunately, his mom, Alice, loved to cook and experiment in the kitchen to find palatable alternatives.
"Bella, be fair. He didn't know the team would make the College World Series when he volunteered," Mrs. Cope gently chided as she straightened a few of the chairs. "Unfortunately, their best pitcher blew out his shoulder, and they lost in the first round."
"When did you become an expert in all things baseball?" Bella teased, smiling at the older woman.
"Hey, I read the school paper," Mrs. Cope shrugged.
"It wouldn't be that a certain director of a certain Campus Y has season tickets to the minor league games or anything, would it?"
"Hey, I'm divorced; not dead."
Both women giggled conspiratorially before a gentle tap at the door interrupted their banter. Bella looked up to see a slightly awkward looking man-boy standing on the other side of the Dutch doors, unsure as whether to enter the room or not.
He looked to be around the same age as her, but she was quite certain he was in a league all his own. He appeared to be over six feet tall and had that natural leanness of an athlete. His short cropped hair could only be described as bronze-auburn and looked like it wanted to curl just slightly but had been buzzed a little too short to allow it to happen. He wore a well-worn black tee shirt that stretched across his shoulders and chest in a way that made her blink twice. At least he was pretty to look at, Bella mused internally, still held to the belief that he did not want to be there of his own accord and therefore would be a bugabear to work with.
"I'm looking for Mrs. Shelly Cope," he murmured softly, quickly looking between the two women.
"And you found her. You must be our new boy wonder!" Mrs. Cope hustled to the door and extended a hand after brushing it off on her jeans.
"Well, I don't know about that. Edward Cullen," he replied, introducing himself and warmly shaking her outstretched hand.
"Pleased to finally meet you, Edward Cullen," Mrs. Cope grinned, noticing the faint blush that tinted poor Edward's ears. "This is Bella Swan. You'll be helping her with our Summer Friends Camp."
Bella waved as she pulled out the book she had planned on reading while the children ate their snack. After retrieving her selection, she approached the door, hand extended in welcome, a genuine smile on her face.
"Welcome to the Campus Y," she greeted, taking his hand. A light jolt startled her, causing her to drop her book, which fell on the other side of the Dutch door.
Edward released her hand and bent to retrieve it for her. Bella would neither confirm nor deny that she checked out his khaki cargo short clad rear as he stooped down, but the cocked eyebrow she received from Mrs. Cope told her it had not gone unnoticed. She felt her cheeks flush red.
Fortunately, the sound of sneakers on linoleum flowed down the halls, interrupting their private moment.
"Incoming!" Bella grinned, opening the door and motioning for Edward to enter.
Edward shuffled inside the room just in time to be out of the way of a half dozen hyper five and six year-olds and one stoic just-turned-six-year-old.
"Come by and see me during their nap time, and we'll finish up your paperwork," Mrs. Cope stated as she smiled at each child.
Edward nodded, seemingly overwhelmed by the whirlwind that was seven children under the age of seven.
"Take your seats, everyone," Bella sweetly requested. "Eric, Tyler…leave Angela alone."
She had already warned those two to quit teasing the girl and was just waiting for Angela to lose her temper and stomp on their toes. Bella had toyed with the idea of conveniently being blind when that moment happened.
The children hustled to their seats expectantly and waited for permission to eat. Mrs. Cole excused herself with a wave and a smile, leaving Bella and Edward with their charges.
"But, Miz Swan, she took…" Eric started, pointing accusingly at the little girl across the table from him.
"Eric, what is the rule?" she interrupted.
"No tattling unless there's blood," he pouted, flopping down into his chair.
"Well, that's not exactly what I've said," Bella replied, biting back a smile, looking quickly over Edward who was himself trying to hide a grin.
"Who are you?" Angela demanded, peering through her glasses up at Edward.
"Edward Cullen, at your service, Princess," he smiled, squatting down to be at her eye level.
"Edward Cullen, centerfielder, .304 batting average, right handed, 85 RBI, Fifth Year Senior, double major Chemistry and Music," James rattled off in an even voice before turning to his snack and beginning to eat.
"He does talk! I told you!" Tyler announced, hitting Eric on the shoulder.
"Hands to ourselves, Tyler," Bella warned, glancing quickly between James and Edward. She wondered briefly if Mrs. Cope had informed him about James's propensity to spout off random facts. Judging by the lack of change in Edward's expression, Bella assumed he did know.
"What did all that mean?" Angela asked, shoving a handful of goldfish crackers into her mouth.
"I play baseball for the university. James was telling you my stats," Edward smiled, swiping a cracker and popping it into his mouth.
"Statistics. Geez, Angela, you are such a girl," Eric muttered, spraying the table with half-chewed crackers.
"You leave her alone," a little boy with sandy-brown hair demanded, his face turning red.
"Ben and Angela sitting in a tree," Tyler started in a sing-song voice.
"Tyler, that is enough," Bella stated in a tone that brooked no disobedience. "Apologize. Now."
"I'm sorry, Angela," Tyler replied in a contrite tone.
"Angela?" Bella inquired.
"Thank you for the apology," Angela responded, returning to her crackers and water as if nothing had happened.
"Edward is going to be your other teacher for the summer," Bella announced. "This is Ben, Angela, Tyler, Eric, James, Jessica and Elizabeth."
"We're the Moonbeams!" Jessica piped up.
"Moonbeams?" Edward asked, stifling a smile.
"Each class has an outer-space themed name," Bella explained.
"It was either that or Ellipse," Elizabeth offered, her brown curls bouncing as she nodded to punctuate her words.
"Eclipse," Bella gently corrected.
"Yeah, and who wants to be all darkness like when we can be sparkly like a moonbeam," Jessica replied with a flip of her hair.
"Welcome to the world of kindergarteners, Mr. Baseball," Bella grinned at Edward's wide-eyed silent gape. She turned back toward the table and noticed everyone was finished with their snacks. "Okay, my friends, let's clean up and find your mats. I've got a great story for you today!"
The afternoon sped quickly by with a rousing reading of Debbie Allen's Twelve dancing princes, a quiet time with classical music playing in the background during which Edward excused himself to chat with Mrs. Cope, and soon it was the last hour before parents began to arrive.
"No, James!" Eric shouted suddenly, just as the crashing sound of wooden blocks collapsing filled the room.
Bella looked up from the coloring sheet she was working on with Ben and Angela and instantly jumped to her feet. Edward was across the room in the purple beanbag chair, reading Hop on Pop to Jessica and silently asked what was wrong. Bella shrugged as she tried to assess the situation.
James, oblivious to the fact that the entire classroom was now watching him, continued to pace back and forth across the rug, kicking gently fallen blocks out of his way as he moved. He was focused on his hands which were held at chest level, shaking them lightly up and down. Alice referred to this as "flapping" and had warned Bella in the past that when overly stimulated, James would do this. It was not harmful to himself or others, but if James became unfocused and stressed, he could have an emotional meltdown. The next few minutes would be crucial for his mental stability.
"James," Bella gently stated, taking a step toward him.
"Camden Yards. Baltimore Orioles. Seats 48,190. Target Field. Minnesota Twins. Seats 39,504. Fenway Park. Boston Red Socks. Seats 39,928. Angel Stadium. Los Angeles Angels. Seats…" James murmured softly, without inflection nor pausing to take a breath until the very end.
"45,113," Edward offered, kneeling down to look at James at a slightly more eye to eye level.
James stopped dead in his tracks and silently gazed up at Edward. He cocked his head slightly to the side as if studying an oddity.
"Bella, do you have any Play-Doh?" Edward quietly asked, not looking away from James.
Bella scurried to the supply cabinet and pulled out the box. Edward took it with a smile and offered his hand to James who did not react so Edward took hold of his hand and carefully led him to a round table in the corner, away from the rest of the children.
Almost immediately, the other kids began rebuilding their tower, reading books and coloring on photocopied pieces of paper as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Bella cautiously watched Edward and James out of the corner of her eye as she found the right pink crayon for Angela to color her roses with.
Edward head was bent close to James' as he talked quietly but firmly with James. He quickly made what looked like a bowl and started putting little dabs of Play-Doh into it. James pulled the small balls out one by one and broke them in half, his lips moving, but Bella was too far away to hear what was being said. Edward smiled broadly as James finished up and began the cycle over again, continuing until all of the parents had claimed their children.
Bella and Edward silently put the room back in order in preparation for the next day.
"You did really well with James this afternoon," Bella stated as she locked the supply cabinet. "I'm afraid I misjudged you."
"You did?" Edward inquired, straightening the books on the bookshelf.
"I assumed you were here only because of the Chancellor's mandates. Anyone who takes the time to calm a…to calm James like that, obviously isn't here because of someone's orders. I'm sorry."
Edward let out a little half-laugh before looking over at her.
"Apology accepted," he smiled. "But only on one condition."
"And what is that?"
"That you let me take you out to dinner tonight. You know, since we're going to be working together and all. It would only make sense for us to get to know each other better." Edward pulled out a glasses case from a side utility pocket of his shorts and put on an adorkable pair of black rimmed, rectangular glasses.
Bella raised an eyebrow at the eyewear.
"I'm slightly nearsighted. Don't need them all the time, but if I'm going to drive, it's for the best," he shrugged. "What do you say?"
"I think I'd like to have dinner with you, Mr. Cullen," she smiled, grabbing her backpack.
"Wonderful, Miss Swan," he smiled, opening the bottom half of the Dutch door for her.
"By the way, what were you and James doing with the Play-Doh?" Bella asked as they shut off the lights and headed out into the hot June afternoon.
"That? Oh," Edward blushed uncomfortably as he pointed out his car in the parking lot. "Growing up I had a friend, Mike, that was … I'm not sure what the label was. I was 10, and I didn't really care at the time. Anyhow, when he'd get overstimulated, we'd make Play-Doh nests and have chickens lay eggs in them."
Edward opened the door for Bella and closed it for her before getting behind the driver's wheel.
"You like Italian?" he asked, firing up the engine.
"Love it," Bella smiled, earning a heart-warming grin in return.
"Great!" Edward backed the car out of its space and headed toward La Bella Italia. "Anyhow, I made eggs, and James would count them out. He added the cracking them to make scrambled eggs. Apparently, he really, really likes scrambled eggs."
Bella laughed and remembered how James had broken each little ball of Play-Doh in half in his own meticulous manner.
"So you did a great job calming him down," she smiled.
"Who knew counting chickens would be the key to it all?"
"Who knew indeed."
AN: Special thanks to Nitareality for prereading and Javamomma0921 for prereading and betaing this story.