40: Birthday

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The days tick by like a bomb without a timer. Autumn almost likes not knowing how much time she has left more than knowing she has eight months. She feels like each day, doing homework, eating and sleeping was a waste of time. 

She spends a month without any action. She is considering dropping out of school, knowing there is no point in good grades if she isn't going to college. 

She voiced this opinion while walking home with Adrian one day, and saying it out loud seemed to make it true. 

She isn't going to get to go to college. 

She has to fight back tears until Adrian leaves, and she lets them flow freely. 

Her birthday is November 29th. She's overjoyed that she can turn 16. She invites Adrian over, redundantly, and he rings the doorbell at noon on the dot.

She smoothes her auburn curls in front of the mirror and answers the door.

Adrian stands in the doorway wearing a t-shirt and khakis, his dark hair obviously gelled. She snickers a little at his appearance.

She glances down at his hands, which are clasped together in an odd way. She welcomes him in.

"Happy birthday," he says.

"Thanks,"

"I got you something,"

She blushes. "You didn't have to,"

"I know," he smirks, and just then Autumn realizes there's something in his hands, which is why they were held so strangely.

He unfolds them.

Inside his hands is the tiniest little ball of spiky fur, maybe six inches long. On top of it sits a red bow.

Autumn laughs out loud. "You got me a hedgehog?!"

"Happy birthday!"

She laughs and takes the hedgehog from his hands. He grins, loving her reaction.

Autumn giggles, petting the little hedgehog, as she goes to her room and takes her bucket list off of the wall and brings it back down. She lets Adrian cross off number 2.

They sit on the dusty old couch, and just talk. They talk about life, death, and everything in between. Literally.

Autumn admits her fear for the first time. "I'm so scared I'm not going to live to be 17," she says.

Adrian looks shocked at her pessimism. "What makes you say that?? You've got to believe you're going to beat it if you are!" He says it almost angrily.

Autumn grimaces. "I'm sorry... I'm just... Not sure," she finishes lamely. She doesn't want to depress him with the information that she has about her life span. She changes the subject. "So! Any college applications?"

He grins, obviously liking the new topic better than the old one. "I got accepted already," he boasts.

She raises her eyebrows. "Really? That's great! Where? What are you majoring in?"

He chuckles. "You have a lot of questions. Well, yes, Illinois U, and mechanical engineering." he says.

She nods approvingly. "I can see you doing that."

He smiles. She can tell he was excited to let her know. 

They talk through the night. They go out into the yard, where there isn't a cloud in the sky. The stars are bright and clear. 

They lie on their backs in the grass, continuing their conversation but speaking to the stars. 

Something in the sky flashes. 

Adrian grins, clearly pleasantly surprised. Autumn flinches. 

"What in the world was that??"

Adrian turns his head to look at her. "I do believe that was number eight,"

Autumn racks her brain, trying to remember what number eight was. Publish a novel? Be in a movie? Feel pretty? How was it that Adrian remembered this better than she did??

It happens again, and this time Autumn catches it. 

"A meteor shower," she breathes. 

"What a coincidence," Adrian says, staring out into the abyss of stars, "that it happens on your birthday. It's like God's present to you," 

This makes her laugh, though she does ponder what he said a bit longer. She was raised on Christianity, but doesn't consider herself a religious person. When she dies, will there be a God to welcome her to Heaven? Or was everything she was ever taught about God just a story? A tale to tell yourself when you're hopeful of something or happy about it? She wondered if God would accept her into His heaven or if she would be rejected and sent somewhere else for eternity. She tries not to think about it and watches the stars fall down to the earth, flinging themselves at random points in the sky. 

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