Autumn looked out the window into the season that was her namesake, twirled a finger through a curl in her long brunette hair, and sighed. The final leaves falling from the maple tree after a strong gust of wind reminded her of the last few months of her life, as piece after piece of it had crashed to earth.
First, her boyfriend of two years had lost interest in sex and grown distant. Her hormones had decided to go into overdrive at almost the exact same time, making it doubly torturous. After two months of frustrating near-abstinence, she'd found out why. As soon as she discovered his affair with an underage intern, she'd packed her things and left.
Then, she'd been let go from her job due to budget cuts. With the job market in shambles and rents rising due to the housing crisis, she had to take two part-time jobs working at a gas station and a grocery store just to squeak by.
Naturally, the owners of the gas station went bankrupt just as she was settling into the routine - mundane and depressing as it was.
Now, she couldn't even find a second part time job, and there was no way she would have the rent money for her apartment when it came due at the first of December. Facing the very real prospect of being homeless in winter with no family close or in a position to help her, she was on the verge of desperation.
The internet site open on her computer was a testament to that. 'Amateurs wanted for adult videos' it said in huge letters across the top of the screen. She closed the page as soon as she turned back from looking out the window, though. She wasn't that desperate for money - or sex - yet.
It was close on both counts, though.
Paul hadn't been the most exciting in bed - much to her regular frustration, considering her curious nature - but he had at least got the job done. Unfortunately, now he was doing that for someone else. Shattered by everything that had happened, she was in no emotional state to even consider taking the plunge into a relationship again, and too worried about the potential consequences to risk casual sex.
Her dreams had taken over for her lack of a real sex life, making waking up to a world that seemed intent to step on her all the more difficult. Sighing in frustration, she was about to shut down the Facebook tab that was still open when a surprise notification popped up.
Despite everything, Autumn smiled and immediately accepted the friend request from Summer. The coincidence of their names is what had brought them together in college, and they'd immediately hit it off. Autumn had always felt bad about falling out of touch, and now she had a chance to remedy that.
Within seconds of accepting the request, Summer was on chat. "Oh my god! Give me your number so I can call you!"
Autumn had prudently downgraded to a pay-as-you-go cell, which saved her from having to explain her situation right from the get-go because she didn't have a phone number to give. She wouldn't even have internet, were it not for the kindness of a neighbor offering the wireless password.
Eagerness to reconnect encouraged her to type her number, while deciding to keep her problems to herself. She'd barely typed the last digit before the phone started ringing.
"I am so glad I found you," Summer said before Autumn could even say hello.
"Me too. I'm sorry I didn't keep in touch. Things were hectic for a while, and then your number had changed when I tried to call."
"That's exactly what happened with me, too. Oh, have you looked at my profile yet?"
"Oh, I can't wait. You're not going to believe this. I'm married!"
Autumn was indeed shocked. Summer had always said that there was no way she would ever get married. Experience had taught her that she always grew bored having sex with the same person after a while. Monogamy simply wasn't in her nature, and she was self-aware enough of that to keep relationships from crossing certain emotional boundaries.
Summer laughed. "I take it from the stunned silence that I'm right?"
"Yes, you're right. How did that happen?"
"It's a long story, but I guess the short version is just that I found the right man. We've been married three years now, and I'm not even remotely bored with him yet."
She continued on, saying that they were living in a town a couple of hours away. They were sharing the rent on a duplex with some other people they'd met through her husband's work, and generally enjoying life to its fullest.
"I'm happy for you," Autumn said when her friend stopped talking.
"So, how about you?"
Autumn's thoughts raced as she considered ways to avoid the truth of her situation. "Oh, you know. Same old day to day."
"Married? Seeing anyone?"
"No. Not seeing anyone."
After a brief pause, Summer said, "Hmm ... Okay, it may have been a while, but I know you. Something's wrong - really wrong. I can hear it in your voice."
"You must be imagining it."
"No. I'm not. That's exactly how and what you said when you didn't want to talk about your Mom being in the hospital. Tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help. If nothing else, I can listen."
Autumn's lip quivered, and despite what she thought was iron resolve to keep her problems to herself, the story spilled out of her in a tear-filled gush.
Summer sniffled on the other end of the phone. "Oh, that's terrible. Hang on for just a second."
Wiping her eyes, Autumn could hear muffled conversation as she blushed, ashamed of blurting out everything the way she had.
A minute later, Summer said, "Okay. I talked to my husband. We've got an extra room."
"Yes, you can. I'm not taking no for an answer. I wouldn't even have graduated if it wasn't for you. Now, you're going to let me return the favor." Autumn faintly heard a man's voice, and then Summer added, "Brian says there are some job openings in the building where he works, too."
"I ... I just..."
"Blah, blah, blah. Brian and Mike have trucks, too. We can move all your stuff without renting a truck, and we've got plenty of storage space at Brian's Mom's if you need it too."
"Are ... Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. Oh my god, it will be so great to see you again. Give me your address. Brian and I are going to come straight there to work things out before you can think of some excuse. You are moving in with us, and you're going to like it."
Autumn laughed through her tears. As much as she didn't want to impose, she couldn't believe the luck that was lifting an enormous burden off her shoulders. Grabbing a tissue, she blew her nose, and then recited her address for her impatient friend.
Summer was in no mood to wait. That weekend, Autumn's things were already making their way to a pair of trucks. Her introduction to her new housemates proved heartening. Summer's husband Brian was full of good humor, as were Lisa and Mike, the couple who shared the other side of the house. A man named Roger who had his room on Lisa's side of the house rounded out the group of five she would be living with.
By Sunday evening, her room was set up, and everything else was stored away in a building at Brian's mother's house. Brian had given her a contact with a company in his building, doing almost exactly the same job she'd lost due to downsizing. He assured her that all she had to do was take in her resume on Monday morning, and she'd start immediately.
Sipping wine and chatting with new friends before bed, Autumn marveled at how her life had fallen back into place almost as quickly as it had disintegrated. With all of them sharing the bills, she would even be able to save to eventually strike out on her own once more.
"So, can you cook?" Lisa asked during a pause in the conversation.
"Have any plans for Thanksgiving?"
Summer let out a laugh. "Lisa's hopeless in the kitchen, and she's been dreading Thanksgiving. If you don't have any plans, I could really use some help. She can fetch beer for the boys."
"No, I don't have any plans," Autumn replied. "I'll be glad to help. I was looking at having a turkey TV dinner for Thanksgiving until a couple of days ago."
"The kitchen on my side is all yours, then," Lisa said with obvious relief.
"With you helping and two full kitchens, we can really lay out a spread," Summer said. "Make this a Thanksgiving none of us will ever forget."
"That sounds wonderful," Autumn said, suddenly anticipating the holiday she'd been trying to forget during her previous troubles.
"We'll start planning tomorrow when you get home from work, if you're up to it."
Autumn nodded her head, and then yawned. It had been a tiring weekend, and the wine was starting to get to her.
Summer smiled and said, "Finish your wine and you can have the shower first. Better get plenty of sleep for your first day at work."
Autumn unlocked the door and walked inside to find the house oddly quiet on Wednesday. After two days back at work, she had traded sore feet from standing all day for a stiff back and shoulders from sitting in an office chair all day. The significant increase in salary left little doubt in her mind which she preferred.
Summer walked into the front room from the kitchen. "How was work?"
"Just fine. It's nice to feel like all the money I spent on college was worth it again. Where is everyone?"
.... There is more of this story ...