Coming of Age

The Insiders Club

By Echo Miller

This book will launch on Dec 9, 2019. Currently, only those with the link can see it.🔒
Synopsis

Four social misfits: an 80s-obsessed eccentric, a movie-quoting mimic, a control freak, and a scrappy loner. They share a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, but can they create a home?

Keegan Harris has one weekend to persuade three other autistic guys to move into his group home. Using an 80s movie as his guide for socialization, he’s organized a series of adventures designed to form deep connections and create lifelong friends. But each stranger has packed emotional baggage and arrived with agendas of their own. Unless Keegan can convince everyone to stick to the script, his blockbuster plan may turn companionship into chaos.

When Monday morning rolls around, will they be best buddies or will Keegan’s community close before it officially opens?

The Insiders Club is a realistic, "autism after high school" novel that brings marginalized characters into the spotlight. If you like unconventional heroes, unlikely friendships, and bittersweet coming-of-age stories, then you’ll love Echo Miller’s uplifting read.

Take a closer look inside the autism spectrum and see that everybody wants to belong. Buy The Insiders Club to find your way home today!

Recommended for age 16+

Keegan


A friendly smile and eye contact are key to establishing new relationships. 

- Social Eyes


Keegan Harris stretched his eyes to the size of ping pong balls and arched his eyebrows so high they almost touched his hairline. With great effort, he tried to show every tooth. In the bathroom mirror, he thought his version of a smile appeared alert and full of energy. Yesterday his brother said that expression made him look deranged, so Keegan added “smile practice” to his morning routine.

Remembering the restroom had the best acoustics, he spoke to his reflection. “It’s a different day and that’s ok.” He rubbed a dime-sized amount of goo through his long, wet curls and pulled his favorite tag-less, cotton jersey over his head. The yellow T-shirt with the black zigzag stripe fell softly against his skin. 

He closed his eyes and brushed his cheek against the sleeve. The tip of his nose dragged against the fibers. He couldn’t stomach the slightest hint of mildew. Not today. Not ever. A quick sniff confirmed that the garment was clean, but the memory of that stench made him gag. His throat constricted and his stomach caved in. When the episode had passed, he grinned. “No breakfast, no barf.” 

The shirt passed the softness standard and odor evaluation. Its sunny color matched his hair. His fashionable nod to Charlie Brown was a great look for the day that would shape the rest of his life.

Last night, Keegan had been too excited to sleep. He’d set multiple timers around his suite to make sure he didn’t fall behind schedule. Freshly showered and mostly clothed, he had time to spare. 

At this early hour, the building was extra-quiet, providing the ideal opportunity to research friendship one more time. He ventured into his private living room. A collection of rocking and spinning sculptures decorated the space. The frenetic movement disrupted the still air of solitude. Sunlight streamed through the window. The glass barrier was a source of comfort and frustration. 

Keegan followed a ray of light. The beam highlighted a poster on the opposite wall, resting on the words, “Autism, it’s different than you think.” 

He snorted. “You’re telling me.”

On his way to the bookcase, he passed through floating dust particles. He squinted and mumbled, “Sunshine snow” to no one in particular. A cursory touch with his fingertip left no visible trail on the shelf. Not enough of the sneezy stuff had gathered to classify the room as dirty. Determined to unravel a few social mysteries before interacting with others, he chose three books and settled into his desk chair. 

He tasted the salty breeze ruffling the drapes near his workstation. The flavorful wind destroyed his concentration. Keegan closed Social Security: Building Confidence for Social Encounters and added it to the small pile on his desk. He pulled the curtain, but left the window partly open. 

His suite was nestled in the newest part of his family’s community for people with disabilities. The Retreat on Ainsley Avenue was a protective bubble located in Oak Bay, Texas, just six blocks from the gulf coast. Whenever he left the property, he was not simply part of the world; he was smothered by it. Immersed in the chaos of sensory overload, he interpreted the sudden rush of information as a wild party where mostly good things happened. When he was alone, he tried to understand society’s puzzling behaviors. He poured over hundreds of guides to help him navigate the complex system of social interaction. But out of his entire collection, not one volume explained the steps necessary to forge close, long-lasting friendships. 

The first step, getting “out there,” hadn’t been easy. His parents had reinvented their life’s purpose to create an “out there” inside the Retreat. His mom said they’d banked everything on bringing the mountain to Muhammad. Keegan had no idea who Muhammad was and the property didn’t even include one small hill. His parents had given up dreams of retirement and invested their life savings into creating this unusual colony. If someone named Muhammad was coming to visit, he was certain they’d have a special place just for him. There’d be a mountain. It might be made of bean bags, but his parents would be sure to meet his needs.

Keegan’s books about autism didn’t answer many questions. Each page listed characteristics about a difference he couldn’t see. One described his social experience as living behind a pane of glass, always on the outside looking in. At his height, he thought looking down through a skylight was a better description. The people who tried to interpret the spectrum but weren’t actually on it confused him. He pushed the stack of books across his desk. 

Inside the 500 square feet he called home, the Internet offered a path of entry to the rest of the world. He woke the computer with a tap on its keyboard. His own face stared back at him from the laptop’s tiny media player. The online version of himself waited patiently. The program plastered the word PAUSE across his motionless features. Keegan leaned back in his new ergonomic desk chair. His mouth curled into a satisfied smile. In just two weeks, the interview had 100,000 views. He pushed the PLAY triangle and his voice filled the living area.

“I don’t mean to be controversial, but I love breakfast. I saw this movie and—” 

The reporter interrupted his revelations about films named for the most important meal of the day. Her eyelashes fluttered. “Who’s Ainsley?”

Keegan spread his long, pale arms wide, imitating the game show models he’d seen on TV. With a professional flourish he said, “My dead friend.” 

The journalist peered into the camera. She sounded like a host for a preschool television program. “He must have been special for you to name this entire complex after him.” 

Aerial footage panned across Ainsley Avenue’s grand lawn to the recreation center. The drone soared around the cottages and back toward the rehabilitation clinic.

A buzzing timer drew Keegan’s attention. While trying to silence the horrible sound, he knocked over the family portrait on his desk. After he placed the picture back in its proper place, he smoothed the masking tape covering his sister’s face. With shaking hands, he twisted the timer’s dial back to zero. Today’s grand opening for the Inn on Ainsley Avenue would put his hosting skills to the test. 

He’d overheard his parents discuss how many residents would make the Inn a good investment. Over the course of this weekend, he needed to convince enough people to fill the rooms on one side of the hallway. If the project failed, it would be disastrous for more people than he could count. He had to succeed for his family and for his future. 

He should have finished getting dressed. Mother claimed he was much more charming when fully clothed. Instead, he dragged the progress bar across the video until he saw his father standing in front of the construction site. 

The interviewer held the mic below her chin. “Do you have plans to buy more property in our area to expand your vision? Another business, perhaps?” Mr. Harris wore his serious face. 

Once Keegan had suggested he add a cape to his suit coat. The simple embellishment would have set his dad apart from the boring business guys who wore suits. But Bill Harris wasn’t flashy. His hair was a darker shade of blond, short and straight as a board where Keegan had lighter, messy ringlets. His dad’s wardrobe consisted of suits, ties, and “smart casual” golfer gear. With or without a cape, in his son’s eyes, he was still a superhero. 

Bill’s square jaw bobbed. “We’re steadily growing. The demand for appropriate housing for people with special needs is enormous.”

A strange titter spilled out of the reporter. 

Keegan played that bit over and over. It didn’t match the types of giggling he’d heard before. 

“Well, you’ve certainly brought a lot of attention to our area, thanks to your relationships with pro golf—”

Keegan pressed the black beanie against his skull so hard it removed any urge to smile. After years of preparation and construction, his father was going to miss the orientation weekend. The PGA tour should have changed their date. When he closed the browser, the word “unacceptable” slipped from his mouth. He tore a new piece of masking tape and stuck it on the portrait over his father’s face. “Absent people get taped. Now you match Kiara.” 

Palming two unsharpened yellow pencils, he took his spot on the sofa, and slowly exhaled. He took a pencil in each hand and shook them in front of his face. Sometimes he lost track of time staring at things while waving his pencils, but the activity helped him think. 

    The black shoes he’d selected to wear today rested on a cushion nearby. Polished to perfection, these were the third pair in a series of identical shoes. On the first shopping trip, his mother had fallen into a coughing fit when she checked the price on his choice, a pair of formal loafers covered in black crystals. The style they purchased, the one she’d called sensible, hadn’t stirred up her allergies. Every time his feet grew, his parents had replaced them with duplicates. 

Five years ago, a smaller version of the same shoe had taken him to the event that put this entire project in motion: his first funeral. 


************

Keegan had been worried about what to expect at a funeral. He’d searched his social skills books, but there wasn’t a chapter on sad gatherings. His mother told him it was inappropriate to entertain the crowd to lighten the mood. Looking back, those sparkly shoes would have been wasted on that occasion. 

His friend Ainsley, the center of attention, waited inside a shiny black box near the front row. Keegan’s new shoes were hidden under the bench in front of him. Seated on the back row, Keegan spent his time drawing pictures. He tried to focus on his artwork, but using only one hand had been a challenge. He needed his other hand to pinch his nose. The aroma from the flowers combined and twisted into a repulsive odor that threatened to choke him. Giant bouquets were a poor choice for the ceremony. This funeral was a quiet, sad party and these beautiful decorations cut off everyone’s air supply. The guests’ eyes glistened with tears. Every eye watered since coughing and dry heaving were not allowed. 

A silver-haired man wearing wingtips covered with polish and scuff marks sat beside him on the bench. The gravel in his voice matched his scratched shoes. “How did you know Ainsley?”

“We’ve been friends since I was three. We went to many of the same therapies together.”

“Is that so?” 

Keegan hadn’t known how to answer that question. The man might have called him a liar. Since his mother had begged him to remain calm and not turn the event into what she called “The Keegan Harris Show,” he returned to his drawing. Creating an illustration for his sympathy card challenged him. He struggled to get the cocoon just right.

“You don’t act the way Ainsley did. He was very”—the old man scanned the ceiling—“fidgety.” 

“Mom says I don’t behave the way anyone else does.” Keegan hoped his tone wasn’t too cheery for the funeral. “I try. I’ve got lots of books about social skills.”

“You do?” 

The old guy doubted every answer Keegan offered. The suspicious nature of elderly people presented him with a new mystery. Before he considered any of the social rules, the words shot out of his mouth. “You look like you’ve had a lot of birthdays.” 

The man rewarded his guess by revealing his yellow teeth through a crooked smile. “I have,” he nodded. 

A Primer on Conversation recommended Keegan ask another polite question. “Did you know Ainsley for a long time?”

“Since he was a baby, but I didn’t see him often. What do you remember about him?”

Keegan bragged that his friend, Ainsley Mitchell, played melodies on any instrument. He even invented his own music, although not many appreciated when he produced interesting sounds. Most people acted as though they couldn’t see Ainsley because he didn’t talk. Keegan paid close attention to his friend. He kept his shoelaces tied and protected him when the boy held his ears and rocked. He told the gentleman Ainsley was smart, talented, and passionate about his art. When Keegan ran out of words, he presented the first greeting card he’d ever created. 

The old, weathered hands trembled as he read it. His voice sounded so dusty it cracked. “You know something, kid?”

Keegan’s mind raced. He knew lots of things, but many teachers had warned him about info-dumping, so he remained silent.

“You’re going to change the world.” The stranger wiped a tear from his eye, stood, and walked away, taking the card with him. 

Within a matter of weeks, Keegan had worn those same shoes to his second funeral. This time, Ainsley’s mother hid inside a black box. The original drawing had been intended for her. According to his own mother, Cheryl Mitchell had died from a broken heart. He wondered if he should have made another copy and delivered it to her. Would it have changed her world? 

************

Since then, Keegan had worn the same style of shoes to birthday parties, weddings, and more fundraising galas than he could count. He’d also created a greeting card business with the hope he’d discovered a way to bring the change the world desperately needed. 

Keegan glanced at the community newspaper on his coffee table. Headlines about a fire, several robberies, and a few disappearances shared the front page. The story about their new building was buried on the eighth page. The world needed more than a simple greeting card.

Another timer rang in the kitchen. He stopped wiggling his pencils and squeezed his feet into the elegant footwear. 

From the kitchen, Luke’s lazy Texas twang distracted him from his memories. “I can handle things for a while, Nic, but don’t leave me hang—” 

Keegan walked to the kitchenette to tend to the alarm and greet his brother. Luke stood in the doorway with his phone wedged between his shoulder and cheek. His mouth hung open, frozen mid-sentence. Shirtless, he rubbed a towel over his shaggy wet hair. Dad’s lounge pants puddled around his ankles. 

Keegan recognized that dropped jaw. “What?” 

Luke shook his head. “Nicola, I gotta go. Yeah. You know how it is here. Get back soon.” He tossed his phone onto the table, wrapped the towel around his neck, and hitched the pants at the waist. “Keeg, I don’t think you want to wear those shoes.”

“I always wear these on special days.” They matched his black cargo shorts and the black crooked stripe on his yellow Charlie Brown T-shirt. 

“True.” Luke bit his thumbnail. “Today is special, but not fancy. Your regular sneakers would be fine.” He swished his hand in the air. “I’m here because there’s a security alert about an open window.”

“Yeah. I want to let the new smell out and the old, regular air in.”

“Ma will be happy you’ve kept your room clean and smelling fresh.”

“I’m showing it off later. It needs to look and smell good.”

“Speaking of, let’s find something more appropriate for your feet.” Luke swept his damp, brown hair into a haphazard man bun. “Did you get a copy of The Tribune this morning?” 

Crouched inside the walk-in closet, Keegan spoke over his shoulder. “Yeah. It’s on my desk. There’s a story about our grand opening.”

Luke called from the other room, “It’s mentioned on the front page.”

Keegan's head swiveled around. “We’re on page eight.”

“I’ll find the article. You find your shoes.” 

Keegan chose his black high-tops with the star in the logo. At the very least, today deserved a starry shoe. 

The tone of Luke’s voice shifted as he returned to the bedroom. “They included a picture of the Inn. The headline says, ‘More Residents Expected on Ainsley Avenue.’” He cleared his throat. “‘Despite tax hikes and a dwindling economy, Oak Bay's population is expected to increase with additional housing at The Retreat on Ainsley Avenue. The Harris family’s private compound continues to bring more people with disabilities to our region. Bill Harris’ connection to the Professional Golf Association continues to draw media attention to our formerly quiet, traditional community.’” Luke bit his lip. He continued in a soft, near whisper. “‘Some residents question the city's infrastructure for supporting such a facility, expressing concerns about traffic, safety, education, and…’” His voice trailed off as Keegan finished tying the long, white laces. “Would you mind if I borrowed this? I want to finish reading it later.” He folded the paper and jammed it under his armpit.

“What's wrong? Don’t throw it out. It might be good for the scrapbook.”

“Nothing's wrong, buddy. I just don't want us to get—” 

“Off-task?” Keegan filled in.

Luke nodded. “Yep. That's just what I was thinking.” He tapped the top of his brother's foot. “Nice choice.”

Keegan followed the social custom and commented on his brother’s appearance. “Those are Dad’s pajama pants.” 

Luke gathered a few inches of extra waistline into his hand. “That makes sense.” He paced across the room, dragging the excessive length, and sighed. “You sure they’re not yours?” 

“Yes. You are un-tall. Your belly is bigger than mine but not as big as Dad’s…yet.”

Luke’s dimples appeared. A few strands of hair fell when he looked at the floor. “Dang, dude. Good morning to you, too.” 

Luke touched the back of a giant frame leaning against the wall. His brother’s Southern drawl stretched the word “bro” into something with more than one syllable. Luke had a way of making short words longer or combining several words into one sound. He didn’t speak English; he spoke Texan: “Wuhjuhdby?”

Keegan considered the coded question. Once he completed his brother’s brainteaser, he puffed out his chest and held his head high. “It will display a collage of personal photos.”

Luke turned the frame around to see the front. “Twenty pictures! That’s more than the one our sister had in high school.” 

Keegan’s eyebrows bobbed. “It says ‘Best Friends’ in the center.” He leaned his head back and stretched his arms out wide. “My room will be like Kiara’s.”

Luke flapped his arm around in a circular motion. “Are you gonna get rid of these neon lights and hang ballet stuff everywhere too? I bet we still have some of that pink paint leftover.” He flashed his teeth. “We could make this look exactly like her old room.”

Keegan responded to the error using his serious voice. “No.” His eyebrows flattened. He squeezed the woven bracelet Kiara had given him years ago. “Just pictures of friends.” 

Luke held his hands up. There wasn’t a cop in the room, but he looked like he was being arrested. “Alright. Sorry.” 

With a huff, Keegan let himself drop on the bed. A scowl settled on his face.

The bed sagged when Luke joined him. “I didn’t mean it, Keeg, I promise. You can keep your room just the way you like it.” 

Keegan spun the bracelet on his long, slender wrist. “Was it easier to make friends back in the 1900s?”

“I…” Luke scrunched up his face. “What?”

“In olden times, like the 80s, the movies made it seem simple.”

Luke wrestled with his hair. He spoke with a rubber band between his teeth. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“You're an adult.”

“I’m not that much older than you or Kiara.” He rearranged his topknot. Covered with a towel, his shoulders crept toward his ears. “I’m too young to remember the 1900s. Why don’t you ask Mom and Dad?”

“They’re the right age but they don’t know what it’s like to make friends now.”

“Dude, they meet new people All. The. Time.”

Keegan grimaced. “Philanderers.”

Luke rolled back on the bed and howled with laughter. “Philanthropists.” 

Irritation filled Keegan’s mouth and coated his words. “People who give donations aren’t real friends, Luke.”

“You better think of them that way. They helped us build this place. Keeg, their money financed your dream.”

Keegan massaged his forehead. “I started my words in the wrong place. I wanted to talk about The Breakfast—”

Luke sat up and held his hand out. “Stop.”

“It premiered in Los Angeles, California on February seventh.” To add emphasis, he stared at his brother’s Adam’s apple and hoped it looked like eye contact. “Nineteen hundred and eighty-five, Luke. Right in the middle of the 80s. It’s an important film.”

“Bro, you’re obsessing again. We’ve talked about that movie thirty thousand times. I’m sure you’ve told me that already.” Luke smirked and executed the family’s signature move, the Harris head-tilt. “Are you nervous? Dude, you came up with some great group activities. Everything’s gonna be fine. Relax.”

Keegan’s knees bounced to a silent rhythm. Special days always gave him extra energy. “I just want to have friends.”

Luke patted him on the shoulder and stood. “You already do. And you’ll have more of them.” He shuffled back over to the empty frame. “Don't worry. You’ll fill this in no time. Ya might want to buy another one…for symmetry.” He glanced at the wall of neon lights. “Your room is becoming so trendy and stylish.” 

Keegan noted his brother’s clothing. “I hope you’ll wear something fancier than a wet towel.”

Luke gripped the loose pants with one hand and raced toward the kitchen. As his face tipped toward the clock, his eyebrows shot up. He snatched his phone and sprinted to his room, calling, “Level three!”

Keegan’s wide smile pushed his cheeks to the edge of his face. His brother had a knack for calming his nerves and restoring his confidence, and Luke’s use of their cursing code brought peace of mind that foul language wouldn’t pollute the event. He would replace the towel with appropriate apparel. 

After this weekend, Keegan Harris would issue Loneliness an eviction notice. He would remain inside his cozy bubble and simply include more people in it. The future tenants would find the accommodations on Ainsley Avenue to be top notch. The Inn was superb. With flawless social skills and a schedule rooted firmly in the wisdom of 80s movies, orientation was going to be perfect.

2

Copper

Pennies from heaven


After almost two decades, Copper Munro knew how to move through his house undetected. Skulking was the best way to avoid disturbing his mother. Pearl Munro worked three jobs, and whenever she had the morning off, she insisted on making him a real breakfast. Unfortunately, her version of cooking guaranteed real indigestion. 

Without making a sound, he turned the handle and slid into the pantry. He closed the door behind him with a soft clunk. Copper made himself as lean as possible in the tight space. He sucked his stomach in and searched the shelves for Toaster Treats. Amongst a wide array of instant food, two boxes of the delicious pastries sat unopened. He considered his options. Usually, he saved the ones filled with strawberry jam to share with his brother. That package hadn’t been touched for weeks. He took a foil packet from the blueberry box and slunk into the larger part of the kitchen. 

Copper listened to the quiet morning. He heard his heartbeat, the soft hum of the air conditioner, the ticking wall clock, and his mother’s white noise machine blasting through her bedroom door. 

He removed a container of orange juice from the refrigerator and placed it on the countertop with exaggerated care. If he’d wanted to use a real glass, he was out of luck. Two people lived in this house, both over the age of eighteen, but the kitchen was child-proofed. He grimaced. More like Copper-proofed. Only one cupboard remained free of the toddler safety locks, the one containing plastic cups. His mother may have been over-protective, but she wasn’t cruel. Like a good little pet, he had access to fresh water. He could have tipped the carton into his mouth and been done with it, but he wasn’t an animal. Plastic would suffice. Moving with stealth, he slipped to the cabinet, and snatched a light blue acrylic tumbler. 

He double-checked the clock. The Entrée Network’s Sunrise Surprise would begin soon. He wondered if today’s episode would include chef Pascal Chevalier, whose culinary skills surpassed every other chef on television. Copper frequently imagined preparing a fabulous meal in this very space with Chef Chevalier. He hated to miss the program, but after breakfast, he needed to finish packing. 

He turned his attention to the cup and carton. If he had to go along with his mother Pearl on her new scheme, she should at least allow him to pour his own juice. It sloshed onto the counter. Copper drained the cup’s contents. Flavored with the acidity of independence and the sweetness of freedom, it was the most gratifying gulp of orange juice he’d ever tasted. 

A crystal paperweight shaped like a giant diamond sat on a stack of cooking magazines. The recipes he’d carefully selected sat under the fake jewel, exactly where he’d left them two months ago. Out of all the suggestions he’d posted on the refrigerator door, Pearl had only prepared one. Torn from the pages of Working Mother Magazine, its selling point was having five ingredients, most of which were found in cans and boxes. Such a crude meal would horrify Chevalier. Copper replaced the juice with a smirk. 

He inspected the small kitchen with its mysterious locked drawers and cabinets. The toaster waited in the corner, ready to warm the Toaster Treat’s filling into sweet, molten lava. He imagined the next few days and realized this moment of peace was like whipped cream on top of a burned waffle of a weekend. If his mother smelled something in the toaster, she’d interrupt what had been a semi-civilized start to the day. Extra whipped cream, he thought. It’d be foolish to start gnawing away on annoyance and stress when he could savor the sweet topping of solitude instead. He tore open the foil packet and stuffed the cold, pale beige pastry into his mouth. Orange juice dripped from the counter’s edge. The forgotten foil wrapper floated to the floor and landed on top of a small, sticky puddle. A trail of crumbs marked his path as he trudged toward the stairwell.

At the top of the stairs, bits of sheetrock dangled from a hole in the ceiling. He could almost see into the attic, but, at this hour, it was still too dark. White powder covered the staircase. With each step, puffs of powder formed ankle-high clouds. Despite Copper’s previous efforts with the vacuum, his feet had ground the dust deep into the carpet fibers. 

Glitter flashed in the air. He wasn’t sure what made him feel light-headed. It could have been tilting his head back after climbing the stairs or the avalanche of memories that fell from the damaged ceiling. Dark, foggy circles formed around the outer edge of each eye, narrowing his field of vision. Any time the rings blocked his view completely, his knees buckled. He’d learned the hard way that when the world turned to fuzzy darkness, he needed to stay close to a wall if he didn’t want to fall. He dropped to his hands and knees, braced himself against the wall, and crawled to his room. 

Copper sat on the bedroom floor with his head between his knees. After some slow, deep breaths, his vision returned. He fixed his gaze on a poster from his favorite video game, Passage. He’d spent years staring at that robot, thinking about his past and anticipating his future. The present had been like waiting for dough to rise in a refrigerator: cold, long, and lonely. He expected becoming a man and the official transition to adulthood would bring better days.

The first time he’d played Passage, his older brother Sterling had been diagnosed with the flu. Their mother bought the game to entertain them while she was at work. Sterling played it for an hour, then passed the controller. Copper took to the game instantly. He was a natural. Sterling’s light blue eyes widened, his teenage voice thick with flu goo. “I knew it. You’re smart! I’m going to tell everyone at school what you can do.” That was the first time Copper had heard anyone call him smart.

In the days that followed, Pearl had complained that her youngest son was a little obsessed with Passage. He played through the single player version in about three hours. Then he worked through it with the developer commentary on. Next, he memorized the dialogue from the robots that tried to shoot his character. 

As Sterling watched Copper win, his health improved. Soon he rallied enough to play the cooperative levels. They worked as a team, creating special pathways, solving puzzles, and avoiding the robots’ deadly lasers.

Sterling recovered from his illness and they’d continued to spend time together. Days spent playing Passage were magical. The activity provided a rare opportunity for them to focus on a task and share the experience. They could truly be together. Connect. As a result, Copper snatched up every officially licensed product. He amassed a large collection of posters, action figures, and T-shirts. Most of their conversations revolved around the game. Sometimes, when there was nothing more to say, one of them would quote the battle bot’s deceptively friendly voice: “Knock knock. I see you!” It always made the other one laugh. 

Passage had bridged the gulf between them and solidified their bond. They used the concept of the game to communicate. Eventually, their chats centered around planning for the future. Sterling had explained that he would shoot a path from high school to college. He would solve some puzzles to earn his degree. That piece of paper would provide a door to a job that paid good money. Then he could create an escape hatch. Once Copper finished high school, he could leap through and move in with his brother. Sterling promised autism would not hold Copper back. His big brother would help him reach his goals, teach him how to be a man, and make sure he’d have the best life possible. They never talked about what robots might be hiding around certain corners or what kind of deadly lasers would be fired in the real world. Copper had never thought to ask.

The robot on the poster had a catchphrase in the game. “Are you still there?” Without Sterling, Copper would be stuck looking at those same four walls until the day he died. He pulled the poster off the wall and rolled it up. Thinking of the past was a waste of time. All those plans and promises shared a coffin with Sterling.

He abandoned his quest to remain undetected. The closet door covered with Passage stickers ricocheted off the door stop. As Copper grabbed a T-shirt with a battle bot on the front, his stomach twisted. Grief tried to wring out the remnants of last night’s dinner along with this morning’s blueberry pastry. 

Pearl’s idea of fun, sleeping on some strange street called Ainsley Avenue, sounded like torture. Just thinking about it made his face grow hot. With an iron grip on the shirt, he stumbled across his room and sat on the bed. He touched his forehead. Surely, his mother wouldn’t make him go on this so-called adventure if he was sick. 

The T-shirt would be the last item he packed. When he dragged his duffle bag across the bed, a shiny penny hit the floor. He immediately thought of his brother. Sterling had collected pennies. Tears drenched Copper’s face. It’s all my fault. He placed the penny in his pocket. Whatever painful experience Pearl had planned for him, if it was a punishment, he deserved it.

About the author

Through character-driven stories, Echo Miller explores societal norms and the value of inclusion, while broadcasting the universal truth that everyone wants to belong. Echo enjoys inventing imaginary people, creating new traditions, and adding whimsy to ordinary experiences. view profile

Published on December 01, 2019

Published by Chu & Chother

70000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Coming of age

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