It's time for the monthly installment of the blog book! As always, The Trouble with Thomas is copyright protected. If you missed earlier chapters, you can find them here.
I’d promised to take care of the baby the first night, but two hours after school let out the thing started crying and wouldn’t stop. I’d fake fed it, burped it, changed it, cuddled it, bribed it with chocolate, and threatened to throw it out the window. But the screaming persisted, leading me to the only plausible explanation—we’d been given a demon baby.
“What is that?” Marco asked, peering at the demonic brat wrapped in a pink onesie and a flower print blanket. “It’s creepy.”
“It’s a baby, and I know it is. It’s the project for Health and Wellness class.”
“There’s nothing healthy or well about that.” Marco winced as the electronic catastrophe screamed again. “Maybe your mom can help?”
“She tried. She gave up when her hair got caught in its mouth thing.” I groaned and propped my injured foot up on my bed.
“That’s what the screaming was about then. I thought you must have left your gym socks on the kitchen counter again.” Marco leaned back in my desk chair and rested his arms behind his head.
I still hadn’t asked him to take Brenna to the dance, but I was pretty sure he’d agree. If he didn’t, I’d remind him he owed me. It was my idea for him to try living with us for a while. If he behaved himself while his parents were off skiing, there was a chance they’d let him go back to public school. So far, he seemed like a changed man, but only time would tell.
He fidgeted with his watch, then let the chair back down on all four legs. “I’m out. That thing screaming is like nails on a chalkboard. Good luck.”
I was lost in my thoughts—mostly trying to figure out how to ask him to take Brenna to the dance while simultaneously impressing her best friend—that I’d blocked out the incessant wailing of an overly needy infant. Once I focused on Marco again, the noise sent a shiver down my spine, and I started rocking the baby again.
“Hey, I need a favor,” I said, gaining his attention just as he reached my door.
His eyes shot wide, and he went still as a board. “I’m not touching that creepy thing. Sorry, but… Yeah, no. I’m not sorry.”
I laughed, but I had considered asking him to babysit long enough to do my homework. “Nah, I wanted to see if you would mind taking a friend of mine to the winter formal. I’m hoping to ask her friend out, but her friend won’t go without her. Some deal they made, I guess.”
Marco raised an eyebrow and pointed to himself. “You want me to take some girl I’ve never met to a public school dance? At a school that expelled me?”
I grinned. There was a good chance he’d get thrown out if any faculty recognized him, but I prayed he’d be on his best behavior and just blend into the wallpaper. “Sure, yeah, I’m sure it’ll be fun. The girl’s cool. A little quiet, but she’s fun.”
“Define quiet.” His eyes narrowed. I had about five seconds to make it worth his while, or I would never get Mina to go with me. He leaned on my doorframe, smirking, as I worked through the details.
The truth was, Brenna wasn’t even close to his type. Marco liked girls who behaved the same way he did—at least, the way he used to. He liked troublemakers like himself, but Brenna was anything but. In fact, she was probably as far from a troublemaker as one girl could be, and as soon as Marco figured that out, he’d bail on me before we even made it to the dance.
“Okay, look, she’s sort of bookish and brainy—”
“So, she’s your type. Why don’t you take her?”
I scowled, and half fell from my bed in a haphazard attempt to stand with an injury. “I told you, I like her best friend. Brenna is cool, and if you’d just give her a chance, I’m sure you can get through a two-hour dance, Marco.”
He pushed off the doorframe, suddenly more interested in my offer. “Did you say Brenna? As in, Brenna Charles?”
“Uh… yeah. You know her?” I asked, my face prickling with sweat. His smirk said everything—he did know her, and he was already thinking up ways to push her limits. I didn’t want that. Whether I liked Mina or not, there was no way I’d let him mistreat Brenna. “Actually, don’t worry about it. I’ll ask one of the guys on the team. There’s a few who would probably like to take her.”’
His eyebrows arched, peaking toward his impossibly manicured black hair. And people said my hair was perfect. I swore he woke up with it like that while I spent fifteen minutes just trying to get mine to stop sticking up everywhere.
“Oh, I’m interested. I’ll take her. When is it?”
“Two weeks. Why do you want to take her?” I asked while my stomach bottomed out. “You’re not going to mess with her, are you? I really like Mina, Marco. Do not ruin this for me by being a jerk to her best friend.” I didn’t bother to add that I’d call his father and have him sent back to military school in a blink if he so much as made Brenna frown.
Marco chuckled and crossed his heart. “I promise I’ll be on my best behavior. Now, go do something with that monster before you fail.”
He disappeared down the hall while I stared into the face of the evilest thing I’d ever laid eyes on. The mechanical baby gazed up at me with a fake smile, all while it screamed its fool head off. There was no way around it. I needed help, and there was only one person who might know what to do.
Twenty minutes later, my grandmother slammed her front door in my face. Not even she could shut the thing up. After more than three hours of screaming, I’d all but gone numb. As I wandered down the street carrying the baby in one arm, hobbling with a crutch in the other, I’d decided to just throw myself into the river and leave parenthood behind.
“You look miserable,” a girl said.
I glanced over my shoulder to find Brenna walking with Mina toward the little café at the corner. I shrugged and winced when the baby’s ear-piercing screech interrupted me before I even spoke.
“It’s been a long afternoon. Our baby is a monster just so you know. Might want to invest in some earplugs before your turn tomorrow.”
Brenna chuckled as the two approached. Mina’s cheeks were rosy, as usual, and she smiled as Brenna opened her arms wide. “Give me the monster. You hobble toward the café and get us a seat while I try to work some magic.”
I swear to all that is holy, the girl must have been magical. The second the baby was in her arms, it stopped crying. It giggled for ten seconds, then sighed and fell asleep.
“What the—I’ve been doing everything imaginable since we left school!”
Mina laughed and poked my arm. “Maybe you’re just bad at it? Like checkers.”
She would never let me live that down, but truth be told, I liked when she teased me about it. I shrugged and offered to take the baby back, but Brenna shook her head.
“It’s okay. I’ve got it for now.” She subtly nodded her head toward Mina, who was staring at her shoes. I narrowed my eyes because I had no idea what she was doing, so Brenna narrowed hers in return and scowled, then mouthed, “Talk to her!”
“Oh, uh… so… maybe I can get you a coffee?” I asked, but Mina was too busy staring at the ground to hear me. I cleared my throat, earning her attention. She smiled, which basically meant my insides were nothing but goo, while my chest felt like an elephant sat on it. “Um, can I get you both coffee? I appreciate the help.”
Brenna groaned—okay, that’s not what she wanted me to do, clearly, but I’d already offered.
“Sure, that would be nice. Thanks, Thomas.” Mina’s sweet voice—which was oddly sweeter when she was beating you mercilessly—made me smile wider.
I hobbled along and opened the door, letting her go in first. Brenna followed with the baby and a glare.
“That was your opening, doofus.” She rolled her eyes then crossed the café to sit opposite her best friend in the booth. That left two seats open—beside Brenna or beside Mina. I stupidly sat beside Brenna because she had the baby, our shared project. This action had, evidently, torn a hole in the space-time continuum. That could be the only reason for Brenna’s drop-dead glare followed by her relentless poke in the side.
“Yeep,” I said, jumping in the seat.
Mina gasped and jumped, startled. “Brenna, what did you do to him?” She laughed then scooted over in her booth. “Here, you can sit beside me.”
Brenna stuck her tongue out at her friend and poked me again, so I moved to the open space beside Mina. “I just need some room. I’ve got a baby here, in case you didn’t notice.”
And then the screaming commenced. Brenna’s eyes went wide as the baby almost brought down the café. People turned around and stared, gawking at the three teens at the corner table with a baby. Brenna rocked it, whispered to it, then groaned and got up.
“I’ll be back. Hopefully, it’ll shut up soon.” Someone gasped—because how dare she speak about her demonic baby with such hurtful words—but Brenna just shot me another glare and wandered out the front door.
“That thing is an abomination.” Mina pulled a menu closer to her and shook her head.
“I think that’s the point of the mechanical baby,” I said, making sure everyone in the tiny café heard me. “I’m officially sure I don’t want kids, like ever.”
Mina’s head shot up, her eyes connecting with mine. Her reddish hair waved around her face, framing it, so it looked even more angelic than before. “Really? You don’t want to ever have kids?”
“Well…” I froze. Did I want kids? Was I even old enough to know if I wanted kids? Did she want kids? Why did I care whether she did or not? Even if we dated, there was no guarantee we would last through college and get married. Maybe we wouldn’t even like each other, and worrying about—
“Thomas? Are you okay?”
I swallowed. “Uh, yeah. My um, my foot just hurts, that’s all.”
She chuckled and nudged my arm. “How did you trip over your own feet? Aren’t basketball players supposed to be light on their feet or something?”
“I mean, I usually am, but the hallway was wet from the rain and—”
“I was kidding,” she said. “You’re so fun to mess with. Hey, has your mom made any more of those mint chocolate cookies? Those were a-ma-zing.”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said, feeling a slight confidence boost since she was talking to me. Not just talking, but conversing as if we were friends and had been forever. “Someone beat me at checkers and stole my cookies.”
“Wait, you never even had one?”
“Nope,” I said and grinned. I hoped I’d grinned wide enough to make my eyes crinkle. My grandmother always told me it was adorable, and something about Mina told me the way to her heart was puppy eyes, adorable grins, and cookies—lots of cookies.
“Aw, I feel bad now! What if I make you some of my favorite cookies and bring them to you tomorrow?”
Suddenly, what little confidence I had wavered. Was she offering because she felt bad? Because we were friends? Or… be still my freaking heart… because she liked me?
“What kind?” Why did it matter? Ugh, I was acting like an idiot. I never had trouble talking to girls, not even ones I liked, so why was it so challenging to talk to Mina?
“Butterscotch peanut butter,” she said, scrunching her face as if she was embarrassed or thought I would think the idea of such a cookie was disgusting.
“That sounds interesting. Yes, I would like one order of butterscotch peanut butter, please, but it’s already getting late. You don’t have to bring them tomorrow.”
“You don’t think they sound gross? Brenna hates them, and my entire family thinks they’re awful.” The hopeful gleam in her eyes would have made me proclaim they were the most delicious-sounding cookies in all the world, even if I didn’t like her. “And I don’t mind making them tonight. I’ve got nothing else to do.”
“That would be really nice… and thoughtful. Thanks, Mina.”
Brenna opened the café door and crossed the distance to our table. The baby was asleep again, but Brenna’s eyes were wild and crazy, and her hair was a mess. It must have gotten windier since we’d entered the coffee shop. Her pink-tinged cheeks made me feel bad for letting her stand outside in the cold while I chatted with Mina.
“Brenna, are you okay?” Mina asked.
Brenna pointed a finger at me. “You were right. This thing must be malfunctioning or something. There is no way a real baby screams that much. And no, I’m not okay. I just got a ten-minute speech by an old lady about why I shouldn’t have had a baby if I didn’t intend to be a good mother, so that was fun.”
Mina stifled a chuckle by covering her mouth. I, however, couldn’t hold it in. I laughed so hard I almost choked, but it would prove to be a massive mistake.
“You think it’s funny, Mr. Hotshot?” Brenna stared at me the same way Marco did when he was about to do something awful. Only Brenna’s was worse because it was laced with the sweetest smile—no, there was nothing sweet about it. It was threatening, and right then, I decided the baby definitely got its attitude from her. Brenna looked at the quiet baby, leaned over its face, then yelled, “Boo!”
The thing screamed like a banshee, and she shoved it in my arms. Score one for Brenna, none for Thomas. I dropped my head on the table and groaned. Well played, Brenna Charles. Well played.
“And on that note, we should get our coffee to go, I think.” Mina waved the waitress over, placed their order, I paid, then we got the heck out of Dodge while I could. I was sure every patron of the café wanted to beat us half to death with that baby.
“So, I’ll bring your cookies tomorrow. Good luck with that thing,” Mina said, glancing at the banshee baby. Brenna only grinned behind her friend and offered me a thumbs up. I had no idea if she was saying I’d done a good job with Mina or if it was her way of pouring salt in the wound.
“Thanks again, Mina,” I said, then shifted the baby to my other arm so I could use my crutch without falling on my face. Mina offered a crinkle-nosed smile, then turned and headed toward her house.
“She’s making you cookies? You must have said something right. She hates baking,” Brenna said, then patted my shoulder and followed Mina down the street.
That elephant sat on me again, reminding me that I was still a long way off from asking Mina to the dance AND that I had no clue what Marco planned for Brenna. That thought made me a tad uneasy, so I decided to head home and drag it out of him while making another attempt to bribe a baby to sleep with chocolate. Turned out, all I really needed was a cousin who wanted something so bad he was willing to care for a demon baby, so I could finish my homework and get some sleep.