It’s Thursday, my peeps.
Time for more Say Uncle.
Iiiif you’re new or forgetful, this is a story about
a little boy and his cebus a teenage uncle and his struggle to babysit his nieces and nephews.
Read the other chapters to get the introductions to the situation and the cast.
And here we have day one of official babysitting. Let’s see how he does.
The insistent buzzing of my phone on the coffee table woke me up. I squinted my eyes open, blinking a couple of times to clear the fuzz from my vision. Sun blared in through one of the front windows and onto the foot of the couch, making that part of my sleeping bag too warm.
I rolled myself over and fumbled for my phone, muttering under my breath.
Who could be calling this early . . .?
The first thing I noticed was the texts from Henry. And the second thing I noticed was the time.
I’d been putting together a jigsaw of what information I could find to be a decent babysitter without that notepad, and one of them was the pickup times for the school bus around here.
I had under fifteen minutes.
“Uncle Micah?” Penrod’s voice made me jump, and I barely swallowed my swearing. I looked over towards the kitchen to see all four kids standing around with their empty lunch boxes, looking at me like a bunch of hungry little seagulls.
They hadn’t had breakfast. I hadn’t packed them lunch.
And I had fourteen minutes to do that.
“Shhhooot . . ..” I shoved my sleeping bag back, partly falling off the couch as I scrambled to my feet. “Shoot, shoot, shoot, okay – just hang on . . .” I stumbled my way into the kitchen, my muscles still remembering how to work when my whole body felt like I should have slept a good few more hours. My hands shook from the suddenness of going from dead sleep to adrenaline spike in less than a second.
The kids stepped back to let me through. Penrod watched me worriedly, Rudy just grinned and Charlotte and Tiny didn’t seem worried at all.
“Adults” like myself were miracle workers, of course. Just pulling food out of thin air all the time . . .
I yanked the fridge open and scanned the shelves in a panic.
The lack of ready-made anything was horrifying. Just a bunch of ingredients, health foods and vegetables.
This is what I get for having a gourmet health cook for a sister in law.
“Mother . . . of . . . Mario. Wow. Okay.” I blew out my breath, taking a second to look around the rest of the kitchen. My one lifesaver here was the fact that I’d brought along a few food supplies in my duffle bag.
“Alright guys, bring me your lunch boxes. And some bowls for your breakfast.” I started pulling stuff out of the fridge and setting it on the counter. “If you already know what you want for breakfast, raid the cupboards and help yourself. I’ll be back in a second.”
As the lunchboxes were pulled open and set on the counter with a series of clanks, I ran back into the living room and unzipped my bag. I shoved aside the clothes, grabbing the few small bags of chips, loaf of bread and peanut butter I’d brought along. Then on second thought threw back the peanut butter, since just slicing a few pieces of the cheese I’d found in the fridge to put on sandwiches would be easier.
I rushed back into the kitchen and dumped my stuff on the counter. It looked like the kids had found some box of bran cereal or something, and were passing that around with a carton of coconut milk, so that was good. I could focus on the lunches, here.
I lined up all the open lunch boxes, opened the bread bag, and got out a knife for the cheese.
That had to be record time for me putting together four cheese sandwiches, even if they were lopsided and the cheese was in more of slabs than slices. I threw a handful of barbecue chips in each and grabbed some celery sticks out of a bag from the fridge to put those in as well.
That made a decent lunch, right?
I slammed all the lids shut as I looked up at the clock.
I blew out my breath and let my shoulders relax just a little.
Not half bad.
I set all the lunchboxes upright again, ignoring the distant crunching sound of a couple of smashed chips. “Okay, there are the lunches. How far away from the bus stop are we, here?”
Charley looked up at me with that unblinking look like I was something from another planet. Or I might as well be, if I didn’t know the bus stop location.
Rudy was just slurping down the last of his cereal and set the bowl down with a clunk, leaving himself with an impressive milk mustache. “We have to walk half an hour to get to it.”
My heart dropped. “You what?”
Tiny frowned at her brother with a confused look. “Nooo, it’s just down the street.”
I shot him a withering look, then came around the counter to take a look at their breakfast progress. “Right. Wherever it is, you kids should get going. Finish up the cereal or just leave it, if you’re not finished.”
Penrod ate faster. Tiny looked up at me in betrayal with her mouth open in dismay. She still had half of her bowl left.
I sighed, running one hand over my hair and waving the other one vaguely, as I walked back to put things back in the fridge. “Or take the dumb bowl along with you to school, see if I care.”
The faster eaters got theirs finished within a couple of minutes and collected their lunchboxes, then headed for the door. A “Goodbye, Uncle Micah!” came from Penrod and a “Smell ya later!” from Rudy, on their way out. Nothing from Charley except the sound of the door swinging shut behind her.
Tiny swallowed down a few bites of cereal as she got down from the table, bringing her bowl with her. She had her lunchbox and her backpack, and by my definition, should have been ready to go. But instead, she hurried over next to me.
Good Lord, what did I forget this time . . .?
I closed the fridge and looked down at her. “What now?”
She looked suddenly nervous, tapping her pink sneaker toes together. “I . . . mommy usually braids my hair before . . . before I go to school?” Tiny blinked as she turned her eyes up to me, looking worried. “I have a rubber band and everything.”
On a time crunch, no less.
I groaned quietly, but dropped down on the balls of my feet next to her. “Okay, turn around, squirt.”
A smile lit up Clementine’s face and she handed me her pink hairband, then spun so her long, tangled hair was facing me instead.
I just stared at her hair for a few seconds. I could figure out complicated video game maneuvers and even work some coding, but getting this into a neat braid . . .
I’d never even tried braiding anything before. Never put braiding down as a useful skill . . . Hmm.
I snapped the rubber band around my wrist and made my best attempt, taking a few sections and wrapping them around each other so they’d stay that way. I didn’t have any real pattern I was following, and it took me longer than I thought.
But her hair was all back from her face in a more-or-less rope-ish thing down her back, so that was good enough.
“There.” I wound the band around the end of her hair and leaned back. “Now you gotta run to catch up with the others.”
“Okay. Thank you, Uncle Micah! Have a good day!” she spun around, beamed at me and planted a quick kiss on my cheek before dashing for the door with her cereal bowl and lunchbox in hand, her backpack thumping against her back.
I blinked in surprise, my delayed “you, too” not coming until just a second before the door thumped shut.
Goodbye kisses. Dude, I thought that was for experienced parents. Not babysitter/amateur uncle material. It was like finding some higher level-up weapon in the wrong place, in a video game.
I pushed back into a standing position and rubbed a hand along the back of my neck as I moved over to the front window. Had to make sure those stupid kids actually got to the bus stop and didn’t get themselves run over.
I squinted against the sunlight as I looked both ways down the street. The bus stop was off on the corner to the left, and they all stood in a little group. Tiny was just getting there.
And the bus was just coming around the corner and rumbling towards the stop.
I checked my phone. Seven o’clock, exactly.
What do you know? I actually did it.
I blew out my breath and relaxed. The tiredness that had been forgotten in the panic of getting the kids out the door came seeping back in on me. I rubbed my hands over my face, stifling a yawn.
Right. So I had pretty much the rest of the day to myself, now.
First in the order of events was going back to sleep.
And then I needed to go out for a supply run. I couldn’t run on all this rabbit food. I’d have to get some energy drinks and microwave burritos at the store before I had any sort of faith in my survival around here.
I unlocked my phone and went to the messages first, tapping out a message to Henry.
– It’s cool. They’re on the bus now.
The rest of my day went pretty much as planned. Plans go a lot easier when you’re not trying to herd a bunch of little squirrels.
I slept a few more hours. I got up and had some of my small food supply from my bag. I went to the store and stocked up.
Then I got home and enjoyed the alone time.
So the morning was kind of crazy, and bedtime was a hassle, but with how much of the day they were gone for, I was starting to think this might not be such a horrible thing, after all.
Mostly just get ‘em out in the morning, then I had them for dinner and bedtime, pretty much. Rest of the time was free.
And it was a pretty nice house for hanging out in, when it was empty.
I walked around at first and got a little more familiar with the house. There were a few more weirdly placed baby-gate things around and . . . I mean, really. The house hadn’t blown up when I took down the one in Charley’s room. So I took those down, too.
I texted some with Fnu. Theorized over some “UFO” pictures. I had a burrito. I played a few games on my phone, and even gave the old Donkey Kong game in the basement a try, on a different slot than Rudy’s game. I got up to the same level he’d gotten to before I gave it a rest.
I wondered what he’d think if he checked out that “un-fun uncle” named slot, later on.
It was the first time in a while I’d actually been able to relax a little without my parents fighting in the background. Without all the junk we had to go through after the car crash and the funeral.
Though I mean . . . settling back like that, after so long . . . I had a few moments where I forgot and almost texted Ingrid about some of the ridiculous things Cecily had in her cupboards.
Yeah, those messages weren’t going through. Not like she would have found hemp flour Oreos that funny anyway.
I found some pesto sauce Cecily had in the fridge and some weird . . . “quinoa” noodles in the cupboard. So I had dinner planned. Pasta was easy enough.
With early bedtime around here, starting dinner when the kids got home from school sounded like the best plan, so I started the water boiling right around when the school bus was supposed to drop them off.
I felt like some sort of suburban mother, here. Cooking dinner and waiting for kids to come home from school.
Y’know . . . minus the AC/DC t-shirt I was wearing and the fact that I was drinking a “devil juice” energy drink.
It was a few minutes past the bus drop-off time when I heard the door click open and the noises of the kids talking as they came in, breaking the quiet that had been in the house since they’d been gone.
I finished the last swallow of my drink, then set the can down on the counter next to the stove as I dumped the box of noodles into the pot.
There was a second where I thought about yelling out something to the kids, but they knew I was here already, so . . . didn’t see much point in that. They were probably coming into the kitchen anyway.
Sure enough, in just a few seconds, the ruckus moved its way down the front hall and into the kitchen.
A disjointed chorus of “Hi, Uncle Micah”s greeted me as I turned around.
“Hey, hey.” I looked them all over. Alive. Nice, they’d survived a school day. “Pasta for dinner, whenever you guys are hungry. I mean, I could hold off . . .”
Penrod raised his hand a little. “Do it now, please.”
My eyebrows went up slightly, but I nodded as I gave the noodles another stir. “Alright then. I’ll . . .” I trailed off as all the kids set their lunchboxes on the counter.
Empty clunks, except for Penrod’s.
I could hear the crunch of broken chips in the bottom. It still had the same weight in it that it had when he’d left.
Before I could even ask, the answer hit me like a punch in the stomach.
Gluten, milk and peanuts.
And for lunch, I’d given him two of the three. A freaking cheese sandwich.
I closed my eyes and groaned, dropping my head back. “Oh jeeez, Penrod . . .” How could I be so stupid?
The one kid who was being a little angel and I had to go and give him a bum lunch. Genius.
“I liked having chips!” piped Tiny. “Mom never lets us have chips.”
Aaand yet another one of Cecily’s rules, probably broken. Way to go.
I ran a hand through my hair in frustration as I looked back down at Penrod. “Dude, I’m . . . sorry . . .”
Penrod shrugged, looking down at his shoes. His happy energy was obviously less than usual. He looked shaky. Probably absolutely starving after having nothing but a bowl of cereal and two celery sticks to eat all day . . .
I looked around at the rest of the kids.
Rudy was at the kitchen table with his head propped on his hands, looking incredibly grumpy for Lord knows why.
Charley was . . . Charley. Still. I’d stopped trying to decipher any of the looks she was giving me. But she looked the same as she had when she’d walked out this morning, which I assumed was good.
Tiny looked happy enough. But her hairdo had absolutely gone to hell, over the course of the day. It looked like a sewer rat with Parkinson’s disease had tried to braid it. Lumps stuck out in all directions and little ends of hair poked out everywhere they shouldn’t.
Thank goodness, she was probably oblivious to whatever image that had cast her in. I needed to look up how to actually braid hair so she could look like . . . well not like some witch.
So one kid a mystery. One kid mysteriously grumpy. One kid starving. And one kid with cavewoman hair.
One school day past.
And . . . yeah, it didn’t look to have gone all that well, on second glance.
Penrod lifted his head to look around behind me. “Are . . . noodles supposed to cook that long?”
I spun around, biting on my tongue to keep back a curse as I got them off the stove.
And I can tell you from experience now: noodles aren’t supposed to cook that long.
The rest of the evening was about as much of a disaster as anyone could ever hope for.
Overcooked quinoa noodles with too much sauce. Yum. And it didn’t help that Charley and Rudy both decided to take turns throwing noodles at me.
Undoing and brushing Tiny’s hair ended up being such a tangle that it probably scarred her for life.
Rudy was in a funk and didn’t want to talk to me at all about what happened at school.
Charley went upstairs to count her gummy bears after spilling pesto all over her shirt.
Penrod was okay after eating twice as much mushy pasta as everyone else. It was gluten free, so he could do that.
And having not eaten pretty much all day . . . yeah, I let him have as much as he wanted. While mentally kicking myself about starving the poor kid all day.
Any smugness I’d built up earlier in the day was . . . gone.
Babysitting skill. Taking care of the kids.
This was ridiculous. I was hopeless without that dumb notebook. It would be a miracle if these kids were even going to survive the week.
What was I even going to make for them for lunch the next day? School lunch in a box was sandwiches. Seriously, that was pretty much what I got from any school lunches Mom gave me. What were you supposed to even put in there, without being able to use bread? And staying all organic at the same time? Was I just supposed to fill up their lunchboxes with stupid alfalfa pellets?
Anyway. That put me in almost as bad a mood as Rudy’s, for the rest of the evening.
I got everyone hustled into bed. I growled out a lullaby to Clementine, trying something other than Twenty One Pilots, this time. And then I went off to see if Henry still had that old drum set in his garage. I really needed to smack on something.
And it ended up that he did.
The kids were already in bed. The garage was far enough away from the bedrooms.
Time to blow off some steam.
I brushed off some of the dust, pushed the boxes away from it, and sat down on the stool. I rolled my shoulders a little as I put in my earbuds and picked up the sticks.
A bit different from my regular set, but . . . I’d take what I could get.
The garage was totally silent. I could only hear just a few night sounds of frogs and crickets outside.
I started the music, tapped the sticks together, blew out my breath and started drumming away.
It was hard loosening up enough to hit easily at first, but by the end of the first song, the tension in my shoulders had loosened. It felt good to do something I actually knew how to do.
I closed my eyes as the songs scrolled on, just focusing on drumming to the beat. Tapping my feet and moving along. Nodding my head to the bass beat. All the stuff I did when I knew no one was around.
My palms tingled and my bracelet whipped back and forth on my wrist as I kept hitting in the steady rhythm.
It was easy to lose track of time when I was drumming. The songs were the main way of telling, but I wasn’t really paying much attention. Just was gonna drum for like . . . maybe an hour or something, before heading to bed.
One of my favorite songs on the playlist came on and I started silently mouthing the words as I slammed the sticks against the drums.
Slam. Ba-bam. Ba-bam-bam-bam . . . tapatapatap . . .
Suddenly, I felt something tap on my forehead. A voice came through the blaring music in my ears and the smashing sounds of the sticks on the drums.
My eyes snapped open and I jumped back, almost falling off the stool. One of the earbuds fell out, the other one still pounding out half the song in my ear.
A girl stood in front of me with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her dark tan face. Her black, curly hair fluffed out behind her head and a too-big band hoodie wrinkled around her arms.
I yanked out the other earbud, opening and closing my mouth and feeling my face get red as I scrambled for something to say.
She raised her eyebrows at me. “I bet the neighborhood was really enjoying the concert, maestro, but your next door neighbors really do need to sleep at night.”
“It’s um . . . Micah, actually. I . . . uh . . .” I fumbled to try and untangle myself from my headphones and the drumset and stand up. “Sorry, I didn’t . . . know it was that loud.”
“Are you kidding? This garage is like your own private echo chamber!” the girl spread her arms, looking around.
Okay, well this had too much stuff in it really to be an echo chamber so . . . I mean . . .
I looked past her to the open garage door and frowned, pointing. “That wasn’t open before . . .”
She rolled her eyes. “That garage door barely works. My cat could push it up if he wanted. Everyone in the neighborhood knows . . .” her words trailed off and she squinted at me. “Where’d you even come from, anyway? No one ever plays that drum set.”
“Micah. I mean . . . my name . . .” I coughed slightly, standing up straighter. “My name’s Micah. I came from Virginia to . . . watch the kids?”
What was wrong with me? I wasn’t awkward around girls.Even if they were pretty and . . .
I mentally smacked myself for thinking that, feeling my face get redder.
“Henry’s brother?” she looked me up and down. “Yeah, you two look enough alike, I guess. Didn’t think you’d be so loud, though.”
I shrugged, sticking my hands in my pockets. I noticed a tiny patch on the sleeve of her hoodie and recognized the emblem, but tried not to let my face light up too much.
The girl shook her head, the annoyance still coming off her like heat off a fire. She gave me one last mild glare as she bit back a yawn.
“Well, anyway. I’m going back to bed, if you’re done.” She gave a wave and started back for the door.
I opened my mouth a good few seconds before I knew what I was going to say. My words barely caught her as she reached the door.
“Hey, I didn’t catch your name?”
She barely looked back at me. “Alice. Alice Miracle. I live next door and I have sensitive eardrums. Good night.”
Her poof of black hair disappeared as she pulled the garage door down after her, and it hit the ground with a thud.
I just stood there, watching where she had been standing.
Okay, just . . .
Not to say there was some sort of like . . . divine arranging going on here or anything, because that would be totally ridiculous and I’d never think of that. But there was a girl next door who was gorgeous, sarcastic and had a love of rock music.
A Miracle, huh?
I mean, it would take some doing to live down that sort of first meeting, but still . . . I could see a bit of promise here.
A small smile pulled at one side of my mouth.
The sound of small voices whispering nearby instantly wiped it from my face. I turned towards the door going into the house to see four little faces looking out and right at me.
Tiny’s mouth was in a little O shape. Rudy started cackling as I saw them. “Micah has a giiiirlfriiieend . . .”
My face got red for a different reason this time. I marched back towards them, still gripping the drumsticks tightly in one hand. “Get back in bed, all of you.”
Hope you all enjoyed this week’s installment! Tune back in next time for more. ❤