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Counting Steps This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

“There he is,” the girl whispered to her friend behind her hand conspiratorially.

“He looks normal to me,” her friend replied as she studied the handsome boy in the white button-down shirt and dark blue jeans passing on the sidewalk.

“He's not.”

Theodore couldn't be bothered by the girls' whispering. He was busy counting. It should take exactly 1,935 steps to reach the school from his apartment. He kept a brisk pace, murmuring his count under his breath as he watched the gray cracked sidewalk move under his immaculate white sneakers. He didn't worry about bumping into other people; they would move for him.

At exactly 946 steps, a small body joined him from where it stood waiting at the doorstep of a tall apartment building. Theodore's blue eyes stared at her secretively from beneath an unruly lock of dark blonde hair that flopped hopelessly over his forehead.

She was a petite creature. Her jet black hair was braided messily and swung gently on the right side of her neck, wild hairs jutting out to tickle her skin. She clutched textbooks to her chest with a content smile on her lips. Theodore quickly looked back down at the sidewalk.

Evangeline struggled to keep up through the throngs of people that sidestepped around the striding boy. She offered apologies to the disgruntled morning foot traffickers for the inconvenience of having to take one step to the left or right in order to avoid being run into headlong by the focused teenager.

At 1,239 steps, Theodore flicked his eyes to the right just as the friendly owner of the small electronics shop paused as he unlocked the front doors to wave at Evangeline and call out, “Morning, Evan!”

“Good morning, Thom!” Evangeline answered accordingly in a cheerful voice.

The encounter lasted five steps. Theodore's eyes returned to the sidewalk.

At 1,311 steps, Theodore pointed at a raised bit of cement in the sidewalk – the crack Evangeline used to trip over every day before he began pointing it out. She stepped over it and said, as she did every morning, “Thank you.”

At 1,516 steps, Theodore's eyes zeroed in on a large mud puddle six steps ahead, directly in Evangeline's line of travel. He turned to the right, cutting her off, then turned left again, taking a path around the puddle. Evangeline followed dutifully, unconcerned by the sudden change.

He used up three steps in the detour. He'd need to make up for that discrepancy before he reached his destination. He lengthened his stride for six paces, then fell back into his normal routine.

“Hey, Evan!”

Theodore furrowed his brow at the new voice. This was not part of his morning routine. His schedule had to be consistent. Puddles he could handle. Who knows what kind of disturbance this voice would bring? He flicked his eyes in the direction of the sound and saw a tall, good-looking boy jogging down the sidewalk toward Evangeline, who waved and called, “Hello, George.”

Theodore plastered his eyes back on the sidewalk beneath his feet once more, increasing the volume of his counting, balling his hands into fists.

“One thousand, eight hundred and forty-five. One thousand, eight hundred and forty-six. One thousand, eight hundred and forty-seven.”

The boy named George walked beside Evangeline, smiling down at her.

“Ready for the math test?”

They had math class together. This was not the kind of information Theodore was ready for this early in the day. He shouldn't even be hearing this boy talking. He tried to concentrate fully on his ­counting.

“One thousand, eight hundred and fifty. One thousand, eight hundred and fifty-one.”

“I sure am,” Evangeline answered, drawing Theodore's eyes once more. “Studied all night!”

“One thousand, eight hundred and fifty-seven. One thousand, eight hundred and fifty-eight.”

“I didn't study,” George informed her. “I never study. But I still seem to get great grades.”

“One thousand, eight hundred and sixty-three. One thousand, eight hundred and sixty-four.”

Bragging. Big deal. Theodore could recite 350 digits of pi. He could square the number off of a credit card in his head. He could calculate the mass of any object just by measuring its height, length, and width with his eyes. Tell Evangeline that. Tell Evangeline that. He couldn't tell her that.

“Wow,” Evangeline said. “That's cool.”

George shrugged. “I guess.”

“ONE THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SIX. ONE THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-SEVEN.”

George looked over at Theodore, “You always walk with Ted?”

Ted. Ted. His name is not Ted. It's Theodore.

“Every morning,” Evangeline answered and Theodore raised his chin slightly, counting in a softer voice.

“One thousand, eight hundred and eighty-two.”

“Why?”

Theodore tilted his head, turning his ears in Evangeline's direction.

“What do you mean?”

George shrugged, “I don't know. I mean … he doesn't talk much.”

“I know.”

“One thousand, eight hundred and ninety.”

“You could walk with me, you know.”

“ONE THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED AND NINETY-TWO.”

“I like walking with Theodore.”

Theodore. That is his name. Not Ted. Theodore.

“Oh.”

“One thousand, eight hundred and ninety-eight.”

“You could walk with us, if you like.”

“Sure!”

Theodore stumbled. That counted as two steps in one. Two steps in one. That was not supposed to happen. Everything was wrong. That wasn't part of his schedule. He paused and stared at the sidewalk. What number was he on?

“One thousand, nine hundred …”

Evangeline stopped next to Theodore and looked up into his face. “Are you okay, Theodore?”

“One thousand, nine hundred …”

Theodore gripped his hair in despair. This was not how it was supposed to work. How could he be sure he arrived at the school correctly? He had lost track of his steps. He would need to go back and recount. He would need to start all over.

Evangeline snapped her fingers. “One thousand, nine hundred and three,” she said. “Unless you count your stumble. Then it's one thousand, nine hundred and four.”

Relieved, Theodore dropped his arms again and began walking.

“One thousand, nine hundred and five. One thousand, nine hundred and six.”

“What's up with that?” George asked, glancing at Theodore.

“Theodore has autism,” Evangeline explained, jogging a little to keep up with the boy. “Every day he counts his steps to school. They have to equal the same number every time or he goes back and starts all over again.”

“One thousand, nine hundred and sixteen. One thousand, nine hundred and seventeen.”

“Autism … Is that like Down syndrome?”

“Oh, no,” Evangeline waved her hand dismissively. “Theodore is extremely smart, and he's perfectly capable of functioning on his own. He just doesn't talk much, and has a lot of unique quirks.” Evangeline looked at Theodore and smiled. “He's really amazing. He's a genius and incredibly artistic.” She watched him walk with large strides, eyes focused on the ground, lips moving as he whispered his numbers.

“One thousand, nine hundred and twenty-four.”

“Oh. So uh …” George continued, “you two are good friends huh?”

“Well,” Evangeline said. “I like to think so.”

The corners of Theodore's mouth turned up as he marched along.

“One thousand, nine hundred and thirty-three.”

“At least,” Evangeline added, “I think so.”

“One thousand, nine hundred and thirty-five.”

Theodore stopped and looked up at the school. Evangeline stood beside him.

“To be honest,” she smiled sadly, “I don't think he even knows I'm here.”

Evangeline touched Theodore's fingers lightly before turning and walking away with tall, attractive George.

Theodore turned to watch her go, holding his fingers where she touched him to his lips. If only she knew.

He dropped his hand and stared at the school. It would take 42 steps to get to his first class in the left wing. Theodore blew air out of his nose and began.

“One.”

“Two.”

“Three.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the December 2012 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.




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This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

guardianofthestarsThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 4, 2012 at 4:40 pm
I LOVED that. It was such a sweet story. I was enraptured by it the entire time!
 
LinkinPark12 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 25, 2012 at 9:51 am
This was..amazing. Totally captured me, I was hooked from beginning to end.
 
Prose said...
Jul. 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm

This is amazing!

You captured autism perfectly!

The condition makes the human mind rely solely on the rational mind, rather than the intuitive one!

I loved it (obviously)!

 
SethP said...
Jun. 21, 2012 at 3:13 pm
Out of all of the plots and concepts for stories I have read on this website, this is one of my favorites. I think you did a great job fleshing out the quirks of Theodore and letting him drive the story and the passage of time. One little suggestion I have, though, is to try to be really careful with word choice. There was just a couple of times where I think the word choice maybe could have been a little bit more precise or a bit stronger. For example, the use of flickered stuck out to me a lit... (more »)
 
lizerina776 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 20, 2012 at 11:57 am
This story was really great. A lot of people have misunderstandings about autism or don't really get it, and your story brought out what autism really is. It was also really well written, so keep up the good work! 
 
AriShine This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 20, 2012 at 9:09 am
I LOVE this! Your style is great, and the plot is interesting. Keep writing! Please check out my work, I would love your input!
 
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