Autumn Leaves || A.I.

**PROLOGUE HAS BEEN CHANGED**

"You are one of a kind, love. You got into this mess on accident. But you can get out of it easily. All it takes is for you to think." --Ashton Irwin

Tatum Dawson was a 25-year-old who lived a great life. She had her own apartment, a job as graphic designer, and a fiancé who loved her unconditionally.

But at one point things went south. A day after she met a temporary neighbor named Ashton Irwin, a friend died, her fiancé disappeared, and her ill mother got worse. Then, to top it all off, Tatum got kidnapped. How would she deal with her great life being disturbed?

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5. 《Chapter 2》

"Ashton?" "Yeah, you know, the one who bumped into twice, and only once literally." "Yeah, I got that," I said with a little laugh. "I'm just surprised that you called me. How did you get this number?" "My work partner told me about the graphic design office on Main Street and I remembered you telling me that you work there. So I guess we will be working together sooner than we thought. Of course, if you'd like." "Of course! I just need you to tell me exactly what it is you are working on." So he told me. He was selling his photography. He was going to need an ad. He would be selling framed photos, on greeting cards, posters, and so on and so forth. He needed everything by April, which was in six months. That's when he wanted to start selling his stuff. He gave me his email and I told him I'd contact him as soon as I was free. He said okay and we shared our goodbyes before hanging up. I put the phone down and got back to my laptop. I opened up the photoshop window and continued on my work. ^^^ It was six in the evening and I was done with my work for the day. When I looked for Carl to ask him if he wanted a ride, I didn't find him anywhere. His car was in the repair shop, so he had been taking the bus. When I called him and it went straight to his voicemail I went to my car, guessing he probably already made it to the bus stop. My Impala waited for me in front of the building, sitting in between two more modern cars and showing off its vintage and shine. Just as was about to climb into the driver's seat I heared someone shout out my name. "Tatum!" I turned to see Carl, running up to me in his Jersey Shore shirt and light blue jeans. I never really liked Jersey Shore, and nor did I like it now. I didn't find people talking about their sexual relationships and yelling at each other over shit on reality television entertaining. Carl loved it, though. "Hey," I said as he stopped short beside me. He gave me a quick peck on the lips, his six feet towering over my five-seven. "I tried calling you and I looked all over the office floor for you. Where were you?" "Sorry. My phone turned died," he told me. "I was also looking for you." "Okay. I guess you found me." "Thankfully." He grinned his wide, toothy grin. His smile was contagious to me, so I couldn't help buy smile myself. Carl leaned closer and kissed me passionately, his lips soft against mine. But even though they're soft they felt a little... tense. As if he didn't want to be kissing me. I pulled away and looked at him curiously. He looked at me, as if a little surprised. "Are you okay?" he asked me. "I should be asking you the same question," I told him. "What do you mean?" He seemed genuinely confused. "It doesn't seem like you want to kiss me. Are you okay?" "I'm fine," Carl said. I didn't believe that. "Just that I realized I forgot to visit my sister's grave yesterday." "Didn't you call me as you were on your way there?" I asked. "Yeah, but then something came up with a customer and I had to postpone the visit." "Oh, okay. Maybe you can go tomorrow before work. And you can tell Lipinski that you need to go." I was sure Lipinski, the principle of the graphic design department, would understand. "I guess you're right," Carl said, letting out a deep sigh. "What if I take you out for dinner tomorrow night?" "That's a great idea," I agreed. "Do you wanna stay over?" "Sure." Carl got in the passenger seat and I got in my seat and we drive off, a tape of The Doors quietly playing in the background. I did have other genres of music. I just didn't feel like changing it. "So how was your day?" Carl asked me. "Busy. I'm almost on my deadline for an order so I was working on that all day." "Interesting." "And on top of that I got a new assignment this morning. What about you?" "Not so busy. I finished an assignment sometime before lunch. That was my only assignment for an entire two weeks. So now I'm waiting on a new one." I knew how that was. All of us in the graphic design department knew how that was. You sat there, waiting for a phone call or an email from a client, or you opened up photoshop and freestyled for your own entertainment. It's all the same. But at least you got paid well. When we got to my place Carl and I decided to order pizza: one large pepperoni and one large Hawaiian. I didn't really have anything to eat at home. For the past two weeks, I had been ordering takeout. I kept telling myself I had to pick up my lazy ass and go to the grocery store. I didn't really listen to myself. The pizza arrived thirty minutes later and we consumed it like hungry savages. To my surprise, of course. I didn't realize I was that hungry until I opened the first pizza box. Then Carl and I proceeded to watch comedies and action movies. This was what we usually did when we were too tired or too lazy to go out and do anything else. After all the pizza has been eaten and all the movies have been watched, Carl began to kiss me. He kissed me passionately, on my lips, then moved down to my jawline, and then down my neck and to my shoulders. This was honestly just what I needed after a long and repetitive day at work. That's what both of us needed. Carl picked me up, my legs around his waist and his arms around my thighs, and brought me into my bedroom. He started taking his clothes off and then proceeded to do the same with mine. ¤¤¤¤ I woke up the next morning to the sun's bright rays shining into my room through the white curtains and from my alarm going off at five forty in the morning. I felt with my hand the other side of my bed and noticed it was cold and empty. I looked to see no sign of Carl. The only thing there was: a note on the pillow. Hey, I had to get to work earlier because of an email. I'm buying you breakfast, so don't go to that coffee shop that you love so much. Honestly, I hope you love me more than that filthy place. Carl xoxo I chuckled at Carl's disdain for the coffee shop I loved going to each morning. In the two years being together with him he never really told me why he didn't like it. Whenever I mentioned the shop he would roll his eyes and change the topic. I guess I would never know why he dislikes it. I got out of the comfort of my bed and I noticed I was still nude, so I went straight to the shower. I stepped over my clothes that were strewn across the bedroom floor. I didn't have to worry about any creep staring at me through the window because one, I lived on the side facing the street, and two, my curtains were half closed. I stepped into the shower cubicle and adjusted the water to a warm temperature. I didn't like taking long showers in the mornings, especially on work days. I usually just sang a song or two and I was done. But today I was making an exception. I didn't have to stop by the coffee shop on the way to work so I had at least twenty-five minutes to waste. I took my time in the shower and sang a bunch of songs, which varied from classic rock to modern pop. When I was done with that I dried myself with a towel and wrapped it around my bare body. I went into my bedroom to find clothes to wear to work. I found a maroon muscle tee and black skinny jeans with a chain that showed off my curves. I slipped on my black toms and to top it all off a black leather jacket. This was my usual, everyday style. Unless I was too lazy and wore sweats. I didn't bother with makeup. I was never really a fan of it and still was not one to this day. I straightened my long blonde hair and put it up in a high ponytail. I grabbed my phone and keys and made my way out. As I went to wait for the elevator I came across... Ashton. Again. What was he doing here? I was getting this feeling that he wasn't banging the slut five doors down. But if he was, she must've liked him a lot to call him over again. "Ashton?" I called to him. "Tatum, hey," he said. "What a coincidence." "Not really," I said. "I live here. What are you doing here?" "I'm staying at my brother's place for some time," Ashton explained. "My place is going through some renovation." "Who's your brother?" "Otto Irwin." "Wait, Otto? Guitar Lord Otto?" "Yeah, that's the one," Ashton said with a chuckle. "I can see by the expression on your face that you're very familiar with him." "Hell yeah!" I exclaimed. "He's so cool! And the way he plays his guitar is so sick!" "Yeah, I know." "Man, you're so lucky to have him as a brother." "Is that so?" "Yeah. He's so attractive and talented and funny and smart. All the girls would be on him. He will even find girls for you!" "Is it just me, or do you have a thing for my brother?" Ashton said with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. "What? No," I told him. "I don't. And even if I did it would be wrong. I'm engaged." I show him the diamond on my ring finger. "Oh, wow." He seems genuinely surprised. "How old are you?" "Twenty-five." "Really? You look younger." "Huh. How old are you?" "Twenty-seven." "Well, you look younger also." "Haha, thanks." I didn't notice how we were already walking through the lobby of the building. I got lost in conversations easily, especially when I felt I connect with that person. I knew I met Ashton just yesterday and I knew it was weird to trust him with things about my life already, but I felt like he would never tell a soul, even if he was asked at gunpoint. I knew it was a weird thing to feel when I barely even knew him, but I guess I couldn't really do anything about it. "Do you need a drop off to work?" I asked. "Oh, I don't want to be a bother," Ashton told me. "Oh, don't worry," I assured him. "Where is your work?" "It's about five blocks away from your building." "All right, come on. You can pick the music." Ashton followed me through the building in silence. I wondered what he was thinking. Was he thinking that he must be troubling me in dropping him off? Or was he thinking about something else? I'd never know. What I was thinking about was why he wasn't at the coffee shop. Was yesterday just a craving stop or did he oversleep today? That, I guess, I'd never know either. Unless I asked him, that is. "Woah, that's your car? Amazing!" Ashton exclaimed as I unlocked my ride. "Wow, a Chevy Impala from 1967. I didn't think they make these anymore. I love it, Tatum." "Thank you," I said. "He was a gift for my seventeenth birthday." "He?" "Yeah, I named him Dean." "Oh, cool." When we were inside the car I gave him the box of my tapes and told him to choose. He asked me "classic rock?" and I said yes. He said this all reminded him of something and I told him yeah, it's that show Supernatural and he said oh yeah, I remember it. He told me it was his favorite and that he was really sad they canceled it and I agreed. Ashton chose Black Sabbath and we listened to the music as we made our way to work. We sang along to the band and let me just tell you that Ashton's voice sounded so heavenly. It was beautiful, just like everything else about him. Whenever I stopped singing he would ask me why I stopped. I kept telling him I was lost in thought and that I liked listening to his voice. "You know, I used to be in a school band," Ashton said. "Really?" I said. "What did you play?" "The drums. I didn't sing, though. I don't really like to sing very much." "Why not? You have such a great voice." "I don't know. I guess it just isn't my thing." "I'm guessing the band broke up. Why?" "Yeah. Um, we got into this huge fight. The lead singer was moving away to Canada because his mom got a job offer there. It was a great offer, so his mom decided that they would move there. Then we began having auditions for a new lead singer, and to be one required to have a good voice and to play the guitar professionally. There were a lot of good candidates, and we got into a big argument about who to choose. So we split because we were so angry with each other." Wow. That must've been a really tough time. I wondered if he ever wanted to be in another band after what happened. "Do you wonder where they are now?" "Sometimes, when I think of all the memories. But I try not to think about it too much." "Oh, okay." After that it got quiet in the car, save for the music playing to fill it. It was a little awkward, and I didn't know what to say. I didn't think he knew what to say either. But that was okay. Because soon we were on Main Street, and Ashton told me where his office building was. It was a nice, low building with many windows and that was painted white. I stopped my car by the curb in front of the structure and Ashton got out, thanking me for the ride. I told him no problem and drove off after adding that I'll see him later. Probably. I parked my car in front of my work building and made my way up to the fifth floor. Making my way through the laughter and chatter of co-workers I came to my desk and saw that Carl had, in fact, bought me breakfast. He got me a pumpkin spice latte (that is still hot, in fact) and two small baggies of chocolate chip cookies, two in each. The wrappers and coffee cup said that they were bought at Starbucks. I continued my daily routine with plopping down on my spinny chair, dropping something on the floor, picking it up, and turning on my laptop. I opened the folder that I was working on yesterday and focused on finishing it. "Tatum!" Lola's voice rang out through the chatter around me. I turned in my chair to see her coming up to me with a pale face and eyes as wide as the moon as if a deer in headlights. "Lola, what's wrong? What happened?" I questioned. "It's Derek," she said, her voice catching in her throat. "H-he-e's--" "Try to calm down. Take three deep breaths." Lola did just that and nodded her head. "In, and out. In, and out. One more time, come on. Are you a bit calmer now?" She nodded her head and I said, "Okay, so tell me what is the matter." "ThepolicecalledjistnowandtheysaidDerekwasfoundbeatupanddeadinanalley." She said it all in one breath and when it was all out she broke down and started crying big, thick tears. I sat there with my mouth hanging open and my eyes showing sympathy for the girl in front of me. This had never happened to me before. I never really lost anyone close to me to death. So this news really hit me. Derek and I were friends, yes, but we never really hung out together unless it was with Lola and/or Carl. Aside from Lola and Derek's family, Carl would be most devastated. Derek was basically like a brother to him. They knew each other since they were in diapers. Carl was the one who introduced Lola to her boyfriend. And now he was gone. "Oh, my god, Lola," I said in almost a whisper amongst the noise of my surroundings. "I'm so sorry. I-- oh, fuck. Come here." I stood up and held out my arms for Lola, and she walked into them, basically throwing herself at me. I tried my best to comfort her by smoothing her back, rocking her back and forth, and telling her it was going to be all right. I wiped away her fat tears and told her that we would talk about it when she was ready to do so, and she agreed. She went back to her desk, saying she would try to focus on her work. I doubted that would work. I suggested she went home to calm down, but she refused, saying that she had a due date coming up and she needed to finish. I let her go, remembering that I needed to finish up as well. I couldn't help but feel a little grief myself over Derek. He was a great guy. I think that we planned a double date on Friday actually. I guess that wasn't going to happen now. I tried my best not to think about Derek's death and focused on my work and ate my breakfast. I had to admit that it was a bit hard to move on with life when you lost a friend. I had such a hollowness inside of me now. Even as I worked I felt myself shed a few tears that I wiped away quickly before anyone could see. About an hour into my designing Carl came up to me and kissed me softly on my lips. "Morning, beautiful," he said. "Good morning," I replied. "Last night was great, babe." "So does that mean I'm better than any Jem?" "Well..." "Ah, you can be such a tease, you know that?" "I try my best." I gave him a wink. "By the way, thanks for the breakfast. It was so delicious." "Any time. By the way, have you found a place for us yet?" Carl and I were engaged, yes. But we didn't have a place together. We lived in separate apartments for now. Carl and I were doing our best to find a place we could both afford and that we would both love. "Not yet. Have you?" I said. "Still looking. Tatum, why are your eyes red and puffy?" Dammit, he noticed. "I didn't get enough sleep. That's all." "No, that's not it. You've been crying, haven't you?" I didn't say a thing. "You were. Why? What happened, babe?" He knelt down beside me and looked softly into my eyes. "You can tell me, Tate. What is it?" "Derek was murdered." It took Carl a couple seconds to realize what I just said. When it finally hit him he widened his eyes. He let his mouth hang open slightly and stuttered. "W-what?" "He was beaten up and murdered in some alley. The police called Lola earlier to let her know." With that said, Carl slowly got up, turned around and left. He didn't say a word to me, didn't even give me a kiss. He just simply got up and walked away from me, without telling me where he was even going.
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