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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6. 《Chapter 3》

Looking for a new cover for the story bc this one sucks. It would be great if someone made one! If you do I will dedicate a chapter to you I swear it.

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"Lola," I said as I walked up to her desk. "Have you seen Carl?"

"No, I haven't," she told me. "Why, is something wrong?" It was obvious she had been crying. Her eyes might have not been stained by running mascara, but they were watery and red.

"I don't know. After I told him about Derek he just left without saying anything. He won't return my texts or my calls. I asked other people if they've seen him and no one has since the morning."

"Maybe he turned his phone off,"Lola suggested, "because he had to go somewhere important."

"Maybe," I said. "But he would have let me know. He wouldnt just walk off like that without saying anything to me first. Anyway, how are you holding up?"

"Pretty bad."

"Wanna stay over at my place? We can order a bunch of food and watch movies or something. We can stop on the way to get ice cream."

"That sounds like a great idea, Tate. Thanks. Why not."

Lola followed me downstairs and to my car, getting in when I unlocked the vehicle. She requested to put on Amy Winehouse and I complied. As the first song began to play in the small space of the car I exited the parking space and drove to the grocery store near my apartment.

On the way there Lola told me what the police said about Derek's death. His death was recent, about a day old. At first glance it looked like a mugging gone wrong,  but as they looked closer they noticed that it was nowhere near a mugging. He was shot at close range into his chest, an inch above his heart. His wallet and passport were in his jacket and his wrist watch was around his wrist. His nose piercing was also in place. But he also had a number of bruises. Some were beginning to fade a little, some were a bit more fresh. But it is certain he was kidnapped and beat up. And when he didn't give them the answers that they wanted they killed him. Very simple. But what the murderer wanted to know was a mystery.

All this was told through sobs and tears. It sounded very ugly, but I couldn't really blame her. I had my own moments where I did the same thing.

When we got to the grocery store I told Lola to stay in the car while I went in. I went straight to the frozen section and got five jars of the best gelato in the universe. It might have been a bit more expensive but it was so worth every single penny. On the way to the cash register I spotted Ashton. Damn, was he following me or something? I saw him everywhere.

I tried my best to not be seen; I had a broken friend to get back to. I got on the shortest line that consisted of two other people and waited impatienty for my turn. I did my best by not turning around, in case he felt my eyes on him and turned to me. I liked to be in Ashton's presence but right now was just not the right time.

Just as it was my turn to pay for the ice cream I heared Ashton call my name. I turned around and saw him standing in line with me.

"Oh, hey, Ashton," I said.

"Hey, Tatum. I see you are stocking up."

"Oh, no. My friend is in the car, and she's been crying all day. She's staying over, so I'm just trying to cheer her up."

"Ah. You're a really god friend for doing that," Ashton complimented.

"It's the right thing to do. What kind of a friend will I be if I ignore my friend's misery?"

The lady at the register checked out my ice cream and I paid her. I said my goodbye to Ashton and went back to my car.

I let Lola hold the bag containing the five containers of gelato and brought Dean to life as we rolled on down to the garage.

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On Saturday I had off. I had the entire day to myself so I decided to go visit my parents.

While I was in my car a train of thoughts flowed into my mind.

I thought about Derek and what happened to him this past week. He was tortured, beat up for information about God knows what. He was missing for an entire week. And Lola only called to cops to file a missing person's report on Monday. When the police rang up Lola with the information on her boyfriend, she completely broke down in front of me.

I've always wondered how it was, how it felt, to lose someone you knew. Whenever I watched movies and someone died I never really understood the other person's loss. But now I did. I might have not known Derek to a full extent, but he was a great friend and a shoulder to lean on when everyone else, excluding Lola, couldn't or wouldn't support me.

Then I thought about Carl and how he left after I told him the horrible news. He didn't say a word to me except for one question. What? He hadn't called me or texted me since to let me know where he was. He hadn't assured me that he was okay. He hadn't told me what the hell was going on and why he left so suddenly, without a trace of his existence afterward. Why would he do that? In a month we were supposed to be getting ready for our  wedding. There was so much stuff to do, and if he wasn't going to show up or let me know where he was by that time I wouldn't bother with the wedding plans. I knew how that probably sounded cruel but I was serious. I wouldn't continue with the wedding if he didn't bother to show. After all, he's the groom.

My parents lived half an hour away from my place. I usually visited them when I had a day off, and even then I was not always free. It made me feel bad that I couldn't always visit them. My mother was really ill, and I couldn't help but feel guilty that I didn't see her often.

My mother had pancreatic cancer. The doctors discovered it too late, when she was fourty-six and on stage four. Now she was forty- seven, and supposed to be fourty-eight in five months. My father and I were devastated, but my mom was calm. At least on the outside. I could tell how scared she was of dying, of leaving my dad and I too early. It was very evident in her eyes. But she continued to stay strong for us.

I always thought about what will happen when Death came and took her from us. I wondered if a sheath of sadness would cover us both, and we wouldn't be the same anymore. Or would we be the same, just with an emptiness inside that we wouldn't want to talk about?

Now, I was saying this stuff about my mom dying so surely. Other people would think: What is wrong with you? Why are you so sure your mom is definitely going to die? Why don't you have hope? The thing is, I already knew she was going to die. My father knew it too. It was too late in my mother's illness to think that she would survive. My father and I already took in the fact that she wouldn't be around much longer. No amount of treatment could help her at that point. There was nothing else we could do.

I parked my car a block away from my parents' house, which was where I grew up. As I neared it, I walked steadily with the hopes of my mom being as she was the last time I visited her, which was last week.

When my father greeted me at the door and I walked into the bedroom he shared with my mother, I saw her more frail and weak, as if in seven days she lost twenty pounds. Tubes were connected to her from monitors, giving off an irritating beeping noise. I walked up to her and she reached a boney, pale hand out to me.

"Tatum," she said with a smile. "How have you been?" When she spoke it sounded like she was using all of her energy to get the words out. I did all I could to not cry.

"I'm doing great, mom," I told her. "How are you?"

"Same as always, sweetheart."

I knew she would answer with that. She always did.

"So, anything new in your life? How's Carl doing?"

"He's fine, mom." I didn't want to tell her that I haven't heard from him since Tuesday. Or that Derek died. I didn't want to worry her in her state. She most likely wouldn't be able to attend the wedding. But she wanted me to have it so badly, no matter what. But I didn't think that "no matter what" meant the groom disappearing into thin air. "Everything is really the same."

"Okay," mom said. "Are you excited for the wedding?"

"I really am," I told her with a small smile. But I would be more excited if you were able to be there.

There was a knock on the bedroom door and I turned to see Dr. Lee, my mom's doctor who came every day to check up on her. My mom refused to stay at the hospital. She said she'd rather die in her own house than in a cold and sterile-smelling hospital.

"Hello," the doctor said. "May I come in?"

"Of course," my mom said. "Honey--"

"No, it's okay, mom," I told her. "I have to go anyway. I need to talk to dad. Listen to Dr. Lee, mom."

I kissed her on her forehead and with a soft voice she said, "I love you, baby."

"I love you more," I whispered back.

I greeted Dr. Lee on the way out and shut the door. As I went downstairs I hear him ask her how she's doing, and her saying the same thing she said to me. Same as always. I found my dad on the couch, looking at the wall opposite.

"Dad," I spoke, breaking the deafening silence in the room. "I need to tell you something."

"Of course, sweetie. Sit down." He patted the space next to him on the couch and I took a seat. "What's up?"

"Well...." I tried my best not to let myself shed a tear. I took a deep breath and told him everything. I let everything spill out about Derek's death, how Lola and Carl reacted to it. I told how Lola had been crying a lot, sometimes not being able to sleep. I told him how I hadn't heard from Carl every since that morning, how he wouldn't return my calls or texts. How he hadn't been showing up for work.

My father sat next to me, listening to every single word that spilled out of my mouth. When I talked about Derek and Lola he had this look of sympathy and shock on his face. When I talked about Carl he grew angry. Don't get me wrong; my father loved Carl. It's just the fact that he disappeared without any trace made him furious. Especially a month before we had to start getting ready for the wedding.

"Do you know what you're going to do about him?" my dad asked, his mustache curving down with his frown.

"I honestly have no idea," I answered. "If I don't hear from him by Monday I will have to file a missing person's report."

"That's a good idea. But... what if they don't find him by the first of April?"

"Then the wedding's off. It's that simple."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that. I'm not going to waist my time and money when he won't even bother to show up, or at least let me know what the hell is going on. And if this is going to happen every time for the rest of our lives... no. I can't and won't deal with it."

"That's my girl," my dad said, bringing me into a warm hug. I took in the smell of his colone. It was faded on his forest green t-shirt. But it was enough to bring back memories of us together. When we went on picnics for my mother's birthday; when my dad and I danced the father-daughter dance at my cousin's wedding; when he taught me how to ride a skateboard; when he took me out for sushi when I broke my foot. If I lost him soon after I lost my mother I think I would go mad.

We stayed in the hug for a full minute when he pulled away from it and said, "What do you say I take you for lunch some time?"

"That would be great, dad," I replied. "I'm gonna go now, though. I have been ordering takeout for almost three weeks now. I need to go stock up on actual food before going to my dance class."

I had been going to dance class for a year now, and let me just say that I was in love. Dance, just like graphic design, was art. When I moved to the sound of music I felt free, like a bird in flight. Dance was also a way I relieved my stress. And right now was a perfect time to do just that.

I said bye to my dad and told him to tell mom the same and I walked to my car. I drove to the grocery store. I quickly ran over the things I needed to buy in my head and got out of the car. When I entered the store I looked around for any signs of Ashton. I was not avoiding him because I didn't want to be around him, I was just curious if he was here. Honestly, I saw him almost everywhere that I kept getting this strange feeling that he was following me.

But then again, what kind of stalker would want to tell the person they're following about themselves? The entire week we'd been bumping into each other. I really enjoyed his presence. He had told me so much about himself. How he knew how to ice skate; how he loved to go to the gym to workout on Sunday mornings; how he loved punk rock as much as he loved classic rock. He loved the Disney movie Hercules. He knew how to draw pretty well, and he loved bubble tea. I wondered when I would get to see him again. Hopefully he can shed some light on these problems.

When I didn't find him in the grocery store, I felt upset. If I didn't see him here maybe I would see him in the apartment building and invite him in for some coffee.

After I got everything I needes in my basket I proceeded to checkout. It bummed me out when I didn't feel Ash tap my shoulder. Whatever. I'd obviously see him again some other time. Ashton was probably just busy and was stocked up with food already. After all, he probably had other needs besides shopping for groceries.

I took my bags and put them in the passenger seat of my car. I drove Dean into the garage of my building and parked him in his spot. I stepped out into the dimly lit garage and took my shopping bags out of my car. I locked my car and headed towards the door that would lead me into the lobby.

Then something strange happened. My head began to hurt very badly, as if something hit my head with as much force as possible. I saw stars in my eyes and felt myself sinking to the ground. The shopping bags escaped my grasp and the products spilled out. I felt my eyelids grow heavy, and then I felt the darkness envelope me in its grasp.

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A/N
Hi, readers!

As you can tell this is the first author's note for this story. How are you liking the story so far? Also, I apologize for a shorter chapter this time

I also don't have access to updating the cast list. So I added a cast page after this chapter.

Stay tuned for the next chapter. Meanwhile, vote, comment, and share!

-Sophie

 

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