Hi, everyone. The following collection will include short stories from a variety of genres, including, but not limited to, literary, sci-fi, young adult, horror, romance, and everything in between. Some, including this first short story, may be expanded upon to become part of a novel, while others are stand alone works meant to explore certain subjects using only a limited number of words. This first story tells of two sisters, one of whom is autistic, and how complicated their relationship becomes after their mother abandons them. Some of it's based on my own experiences as a person with Asperger's Syndrome, but is not meant to show how it's like for all people with ASD given how all cases are different.

If you enjoy this, be sure to review and let me know how I'm doing. I'll be looking forward to sharing more of my short stories with you in the future.

Petty Habits

Cassandra Flores sighed in frustration after going through her black leather bag a total of three times. So far, she'd managed to find a crumbled twenty-dollar bill from 1989, a month-old receipt from Target, and two Marvel trading cards, but no sign of her house keys.

"Is everything going okay, Cassandra?" Lisa Carlson, the head librarian at the Willow Heights Public Library, where Cassandra worked as a librarian's assistant, asked with that look of concern which she always saved for Cassandra's moments of distress.

"I'm busy right now, Lisa!" Cassandra called back. While most people would have responded by saying that they were fine, Cassandra was incapable of doing this. Telling any lie, even the smallest of fibs, left her with a paralyzing feeling, as if someone was about to jump right in front of her and announce to the whole world that she was a liar. That was just one of the unusual behaviors caused by her autism, but it wasn't the most debilitating of all. The way Cassandra saw things, her tendency to forgot about important things due to her obsessive habits was much worse.

For instance, the reason why she'd forgotten her keys was probably because she left them behind at the table as she'd been cleaning up the kitchen, doing everything from washing the dishes her sister Lilli had left behind in the sink to sweeping the floor of all the cookie crumbs that had been scattered during breakfast. That had to be done every morning before leaving for work, because if a long pile of plates reaching the ceiling were to be stacked on the sink, or an army of ants were to feast on the scraps of breakfast food, Cassandra felt as if she might go…

"Cassandra, you forgot something again, didn't you?" Lisa asked.

Cassandra sighed in frustration. "What will it take for you to let me handle my own problems?" she demanded. "I may make mistakes sometimes, but don't we all from time to time? You don't see someone getting all over your case just because you sometimes forget your gloves, right?"

"But we all need a little help sometimes. There should be no shame in that," Lisa said.

"But not everyone has someone constantly bugging them over every little mistake they commit because they're autistic," Cassandra complained. She then picked up a stack of young adult paperbacks and placed them in the library cart for Lisa to handle later. She'd read three of the five books there before, and was almost tempted to pick one of them up herself on her way out, but knowing the rules well enough, she walked away. She had to start leaving within three minutes, and aware of the trouble she was to face, she figured it was better to handle it all sooner rather than later.

As she started picking up her things in the storage room, she caught Lisa following her once again. She frowned and asked, "What do you have to say to me now that I don't already know?"

"Cassandra, you do know that I'm willing to assist you with anything you have going on with Lilli, right? I raise two young girls, so I know enough about how to help others settle small issues that occasionally get out of hand. It's normal if it happens a few times, but if it goes on nearly every day, you must find some way to get help if you're to have a good relationship amongst yourselves," Lisa said.

"I don't know if the problems we have can simply be solved by talking it all out with you, Lisa," Cassandra said as she put her jacket on.

"At least think about it, dear. I'm sure Lilli cares as much about you as you do for her; there may just be some communication issues amongst yourselves that hold you back from understanding each other," Lisa said.

Cassandra nodded, but stepped away from Lisa as soon as she could. As she made her way out of the library, she grabbed her bag, dug out her smartphone, and clicked on Lilli's number. She could see a group of children staring at her as she left, no doubt noticing how quickly she was walking and how she couldn't take her eyes off her phone as she did so. However, because they didn't say a word to her, Cassandra ignored them. This wasn't the same as it was with the neighborhood children back when she was growing up, who would call her "Pendeja", or "La chica tonta", out loud because they believed she was too stupid to understand Spanish. These children may think she was weird, but at least they weren't trying to shame her for it.

But soon, she was hearing the one person who shamed her on a regular basis as Lilli's cranky voice came through the phone, yelling, "Don't even get started on why you're calling me, Cassandra! I found your keys lying around the table next to your old newspaper, and you can probably guess how pissed off I am."

"Lilli, don't make such a big deal about it," Cassandra said, trying hard not to sound too stressed. "What matters is that you got back before I did and can now let me in when I get home. It's not as if I lose my keys every day."

"That may be so, but you're always getting caught up in things that don't matter!" Lilli protested. "Seeing how everything's so spotless, I can bet that you forgot your keys because you were too busy doing your stupid morning cleaning before going to work. It's the same with money. Here I am hoping that I can buy one of those beautiful dresses they have on discount at Macys for prom night, but you want me to buy some old rags from Goodwill just so we can save up for college or a summer trip to Florida, even though I'm not interested in any of those things!"

Cassandra shook her head in frustration. Lilli had been going on nonstop about the prom for the past two months, especially since multiple boys had been asking her to go with them. Cassandra kept trying to convince her that she wasn't in need of so much expensive stuff just to make the night special, that one of those nice pink dresses they sold at Goodwill for only $10.00 was just as gorgeous as the $50.00 black satin dress from Macys which Lilli noticed her friend Brianna Owens wearing through a Facebook picture. But it didn't work. For Lilli, the more money something cost, the more it was worth having. Her visions of how prom should be came straight out of the old teen movies she used to love watching in middle school, with a plain girl suddenly becoming stunning and cool in a matter of days, complete with a limo to drive her over to the event and a gorgeous jock waiting for her at the doorsteps of the entrance.

"Lilli, there's much you're going to need once prom's over," Cassandra insisted. "Just a year ago, you were complaining about how we never go on vacation during the summer…"

"But that was before Mom left us," Lilli reminded her. "Now there are other stuff I'd rather have. If you think about it, the cost of a good dress is nothing in comparison to the cost of a trip to Miami or a full year of community college, which is what you'd rather spend money on."

"But doesn't your future mean anything to you, Lilli? Why worry about looking good for one night when considering how much money you can use to cover the $5,000 tuition fee you'll need for your first year of community college, or to get away from Willow Heights for at least a month? You said so yourself that some of your friends have to settle for wearing clothes from second hand shops because of their savings plans, so why can't you do the same?"

Lilli responded to this with a snarky laugh, not that different from that of the neighborhood bullies speaking Spanish, or that of their mother when Cassandra was little and would talk about wanting to be a teacher or doctor when she grew up. "Just listen to yourself, Cassandra, talking about the future as if it were so predictable. Could any of us have guessed that one day Mom would just pack up all her stuff and leave with nothing but a note explaining how she was so sick of having a daughter who wouldn't amount to nothing without help from others? Think about that the next time you ask me about college or summer plans. Now do me a favor and just let me decide what I want to do with my life."

And with that, she hung up, leaving Cassandra standing in the driveway with her head hanging in shame. A couple people walking out of the library, including two girls wearing matching pink jackets, take notice of her, but upon recognizing her as the odd library assistant, they leave her alone almost as quickly as she'd drawn in their attention. Doing this is considered an act of politeness by some, but Cassandra understood that behind this politeness was always fear, whether it was fear of making her feel bad by behaving the wrong way or just fear of disabled people themselves.

She remembered how eight months before, she'd seen the worst of these acts of fear. She had come home from her college classes to find Lilli crying in the kitchen, holding out a small note in her hand when Cassandra asked her what was wrong. And there she saw the complaints her mother had made all her life, about how useless Cassandra was and how as a woman approaching retirement, she wanted a daughter who could look out for her in her old age, not a pendja who still needed her clothes laid out for her every morning and couldn't schedule her own appointments without getting so nervous, which was why she decided to leave the two of them behind. Perhaps then Cassandra would wake up and start behaving like an adult for once, as she'd written on the last part of the note. And when she'd tried to say something comforting to Lilli, she responded by slapping Cassandra in the arm, yelling, "Leave me alone, Cassandra! I don't want to talk to anyone right now!"

Cassandra then stepped away and went to her room, where she worked on homework while Lilli stayed where she was until evening. Afterwards, she'd stepped into their room with a scowl on her face. "Why the hell didn't you come check on me, Cassandra? I fell asleep after a while, and by the time I woke up, it was supposed to be time for dinner. And even then, you didn't bother to show up at all!"

"But you told me you wanted to be left alone, Lilli," Cassandra said, too overwhelmed to try dealing with Lilli's bursts of temper.

"That doesn't mean I wanted you to completely ignore me all night! God, when are you going to learn that people aren't always serious about every little word they say? Do you really believe I wouldn't want anyone to ask me how I was doing after what Mom just did to us? You really need to wake up, Cassandra, or else who knows what will become of us."

After that, she'd slammed the door, leaving Cassandra to bury her head on her pillow for nearly an hour. She didn't cry, yell, or utter a word, but rather quietly contemplated just what she'd done wrong, why it was that her mother hated her so much, and whether things could turn out being the same with Lilli.

And despite all Cassandra had done since that awful day, including getting a full- time job which paid well for all household bills and expenses to be covered and getting by with little help from relatives or friends, she felt as if Lilli was still trying to push her away, allowing her to stick to her own petty habits of disapproval and disgust. But at least one of them had to make the effort to break free of their habits if things were to change, and so Cassandra refused to give up on her goals, even if she was to get little support from the person who mattered the most.

With that in mind, she slipped her phone back in her bag and started walking back to her condominium building. Even if Lilli was still in a bad mood when she got back, she promised herself to stay patient with her even as she insisted on sticking with her current plans. Perhaps sooner or later, Lilli would thank her for caring so much.