Palo Alto Weekly 24th Annual Short Story
LIFE WITH THOMAS
Ring! Ring! Ring!
“Okay students, have a wonderful day! And don’t forget to study for the math test!” said Ms. Smallwood.
Maya picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. She thought she saw Jake Miller walk out the door talking to his best bud Simon. She tried not to look.
“Is everything okay, Maya?” asked Ms. Smallwood.
“Oh, um, yah. Everything’s fine.”
She spotted her two best friends, Isabella and Natalie.
“Hey!” said Isabella smiling.
Maya smiled back. They always walked home together.
She saw her brother, Thomas, come running. “MAYA!!!!!!” he shouted, hugging her so tight she could hardly breathe.
“Aargh!” Maya shouted. “How many times have I told you? I need my space!”
“Oh, I’m sorry!”
Maya rolled her eyes.
“It’s okay Maya. Just relax,” said Natalie.
At least you don’t have to live with him!”
There had always been something a little strange about Thomas. He was always going to all kinds of therapists to work on his “issues,” as her mother put it. Or, as Maya liked to call it, mental problems!
“Did you guys get invited to Caroline’s pool party?” asked Natalie.
“Of course!” Maya said, “and so did Isabella. She told me.”
“I hear Jake is going to be there,” said Natalie.
“No way!” said Maya.
“Yah, he’s Caroline’s brother!”
“Wacha talking about?” asked Thomas.
“Nothing you need to know,” said Maya.
“Please!” Thomas begged.
“No!” said Maya. He was always getting in other people’s business.
By the time they got home Maya practically felt like slugging him. Thomas was bugging her the whole way home about what she and her friends were talking about.
“No!” There was no way he could get her to tell him.
“Pretty please!” He was really getting on her nerves now.
“If I tell you will you stop bugging me?” Maya groaned.
“Yes, yes, yes! I promise! Just tell me please!” Thomas looked as if he were about to have a heart attack.
Maya sighed. “We were talking about this girl in my grade who is having a pool party. Then Natalie told me that Jake Miller was going to be there.”
“Who’s Jake Miller?” asked Thomas.
“Um… he…uh is…someone I met in… Canada.”
“You never went to Canada!” said Thomas.
“I have. You just, uh…weren’t there!”
“You like him, don’t you?”
“No! Now be quiet or you’ll end up without a head!”
“I LIKE MY HEAD! I LIKE MY HEAD!!!” wailed Thomas.
“Oh, will you shut up!!” shouted Maya. But that only made it worse.
“Hey what’s all the noise?” Mom was standing in the door. Maya tried to look as innocent as possible. She hid her wailing little brother behind her back, and smiled as innocently as she could.
“Come inside,” said Mom. Maya went inside and sat down at the table for a snack. Thomas plopped himself down in front of the TV and started to watch Batman. That seemed to calm him down.
“Mom, have you decided if I could have a slumber party this year?” asked Maya. Her birthday was coming up and she really wanted a slumber party.
“Your father and I have decided that you can as long as you invite no more than six people.”
“Yessss!” said Maya. The Batman theme sounded from the living room.
“B-B-B-Batman!!!” shouted Thomas.
“NO!” cried Thomas contemptuously. “NO, NO, NO, NO! I WILL NOT EAT MY BROCCOLI! NO!” He pounded his fists on the table.
“NO! I want dessert NOW!”
“Thomas,” warned Mom, “eat your vegetables.”
“AAAAAAAAAAAAA!” screamed Thomas. Thomas stomped his feet. Maya wished she had earplugs.
The front door opened. Their dad walked in.
“Hi, Maya. Hi, Thomas,” said Dad.
“Hi, Dad. Thomas is throwing a temper tantrum again because he has to eat his vegetables,” said Maya rolling her eyes.
Dad sat down in his chair. “Thomas, eat your vegetables.”
“No!” Thomas screamed at the top of his lungs. “Broccoli is yucky! It’s poisonous! Blah!” Maya felt as if she’d go deaf!
“Thomas!” said Mom angrily. Thomas held the broccoli out in front of him and stuck out his tongue. Then he took a small bite.
“So how were your days?” their father asked.
“Thomas, why don’t you tell your father about your day,” Mom said.
“I threw a temper tantrum in class because I couldn’t solve a math problem. And I pulled down my pants.”
Dad slapped his hand on his forehead. “Thomas, you can’t do this,” he said. “Not acceptable.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Whatever,” moaned Thomas.
“Thomas, this is important,” said Mom. “You’ve got to stop.” Thomas seemed to be ignoring her. He held up his empty plate. That was his way of saying that he was done.
“You are excused,” said Mom. Thomas ran into his room singing some made up tune.
The next day at lunch Maya spotted Jake. She sat down right next to him and smiled. This was her chance.
“Hey, Jake!” she said smiling.
“Ur, um, hi,” said Jake. He seemed confused.
Simon, who had been sitting across from Jake, was staring at Maya disgustedly.
“What are you doing here?” he asked coldly. “Why aren’t you over there with the girls?”
“Shut up Simon! I’m here because I want to be,” said Maya annoyed.
The president of student council, Greg Huffman, came up in the front of the cafeteria.
“Hi!” he said, “I just wanted to remind everyone that soccer practice is at 4:00 instead of 3:45. Thanks.” Then he left.
Maya saw Thomas run up to the microphone.
“Oh, great. What’s he doing now?” muttered Maya.
Thomas was shouting into the microphone. “Blah. Blah. Blah.” He giggled. “I LOVE PIE!” he giggled some more. “Hey, everyone! Maya loves Jake! She wants to marry him!”
Maya’s mouth dropped open. She sat there stunned. Thomas, her own brother, had just ruined her life!
Maya couldn’t pay attention in class. She was too worried about what Jake would say the next time he saw her. She felt like a complete idiot. Would he run away, too afraid to talk to her? Or would he scream, “You’re so gross, I can’t believe you!”
She didn’t want to know. All she knew was that it was all Thomas’ fault. That little devil of a brother was always making her life miserable. She put her head on her desk to hide her tears.
Finally, the bell rang. Maya packed her bag and headed home.
Thomas caught sight of her and ran in her direction.
“MAYA!!!” he wrapped his arms around her as tight as he could.
“Get off me!” shouted Maya, infuriated.
Thomas jumped back and stared at her innocently.
“Sorry,” muttered Thomas.
“You better be!” shouted Maya. “Because of you everyone knows my secret!”
“Maya, guess what?”
“I don’t care! Just don’t talk to me, okay!” said Maya.
Thomas dropped his head.
“Hey, Maya. How’s your boyfriend?” chuckled Nick, a boy in her class.
“Have you kissed him yet?” giggled Nellie.
“Cut it out!” Natalie said. “Just leave her alone!” Natalie and Isabella were great friends. They always stood by her in tough times.
“Come on, Maya” said Natalie, making a face at the rest of the crowd. “Ms. Smallwood is giving out free popsicles to every kid who finished their whole reading list.”
Maya wasn’t in the mood. “No, Natalie. It’s fine. I don’t really want a popsicle right now.”
“Alright. I’ll go wait in line with Isabella.” She ran off.
Maya saw Thomas sitting at a picnic table eating his lunch. Ray, Joe, and Andre were standing around him. What would Thomas be doing with such mean boys? She walked over to the pole at the play structure and listened.
“I don’t care!” said Thomas. “I’m okay the way I am. I think I’m cool! Peace out dudes!”
Ray cracked up, “Well you’re not cool! You’re the exact opposite of cool!” He knocked Thomas’ lunch onto the floor. “Woops!”
“Hey!” cried Thomas. “That’s not nice!”
“Freak!” Ray sneered as he went away with his buddies.
Thomas wouldn’t talk for the rest of the day. It wasn’t like him. He seemed so down.
All Maya could think about was her birthday party. It was that weekend. She could hardly wait! She had picked out her cutest party dress and her mom and promised to make the best cake ever! And best of all, no Thomas! Dad was going to take him out for the entire day. She went to bed that night feeling great.
“Do these streamers look good?” Maya asked the next morning. Her friends would be there soon and they were getting ready for the party.
“Thomas will be gone, right?” asked Maya.
Her mom sighed. “Unfortunately, no. He was going to go mini-golfing with Dad but Dad has a lot of work to do so he won’t be able to take Thomas. Thomas doesn’t really have many close friends, so he can’t really have a sleepover with anyone.”
Maya’s mouth dropped open. “But you promised! Can you at least try to keep him busy?” Maya asked angrily.
“I’ll try,” she said.
The doorbell rang. Maya ran over to the door. It was her friend Robin.
“Hi, Robin!” said Maya.
“Hi, Maya. This is for you!” She handed over the present. It was beautifully wrapped.
“Thanks so much!” said Maya with delight.
After all of her friends had arrived they had a water-balloon toss. Maya really wanted to be partners with Natalie, but instead Thomas threw a fit because he wanted to be her partner.
“Mom! You said you’d keep him occupied!” yelled Maya.
“Please, Maya? Just this once. “
“Okay, fine. I’ll be his partner,” moaned Maya.
Then they had a three-legged race and again Maya had to be Thomas’ partner. Thomas was terrible at three-legged races so they lost.
“Pizza’s here!” shouted Mom from inside.
Her friends giggled. Maya frowned. This was her birthday party. But Thomas was ruining it!
As they ate their pizza they talked.
“What movie do you want to watch tonight?” asked Maya.
“Oh, I know!” said Judith, “How about Harry Potter 4!”
“No!” protested Thomas. “Too scary!”
“Thomas, you don’t get a say in this,” said Maya.
“But I want to watch Clifford!”
“No way!” everyone said at once.
After that they played Clue. Jessica won. She was really good at board games.
“Time for cake!” said Mom.
“1, 2, 3” said her mom.
“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you!” everyone sang. Maya blew out the candles.
“Ooh. I love cake!” Thomas stuck his entire hand right into it.
“THOMAS!” shouted Maya with rage. She had never been angrier before!
Thomas took his hand out and licked his fingers. “Mmm! This is good!”
“Okay … why don’t we watch a movie,” said Jessica.
“Good idea” said Judith. They all got their sleeping bags out.
Thomas came out, his hands still covered with chocolate frosting.
“Okay! Let’s watch Clifford!”
“No, Thomas. We’re watching Harry Potter.”
“CLIFFORD!!” wailed Thomas. He pouted and pounded his fists on the floor. He started to cry. Maya plugged her ears.
“Mom!” yelled Maya. Mom walked over.
“Get Thomas to calm down!” shouted Maya.
“Thomas, can you just make do?”
“NO… NO… NO!” He pounded his fists on the ground.
“Thomas! It’s Maya’s party!”
Thomas wailed even louder. Maya was starting to lose her patience.
“Fine! You know what, Mom? Just let him watch Clifford!” The girls went into Maya’s room and painted their nails instead.
The next day, after everyone had woken up and eaten breakfast, they opened presents.
Maya opened a small box. “Oh, Robin, they’re beautiful.” Maya admired the delicate pair of purple earrings inside.
She opened Isabella’s gift, “Oh, I always wanted this video game! Thanks!“
“I knew you’d like it!” said Isabella.
“Hey Maya!” shouted Thomas.
“What now?” said Maya, annoyed.
“I have a present for you, too!”
He led her to her bedroom door. Maya’s eyes widened. On it she saw the words “Happy Birthday, Maya” written in sharpie.
“YOU DREW ON MY DOOR?” Maya’s fists were clenched tightly. “Go! I don’t ever want to see your face again!”
Maya opened the door, walked in, and slammed it shut. She ran to her bed and buried her head in her pillow. It was soon soaking wet with tears.
Some nights she dreamed that she would wake up to find a normal, average, well-behaved brother. But that would never happen.
Her om came through the door.
“What do you want?” Maya sobbed.
“Shhh. It’s just me,” said her mom. She sat next to Maya.
“He’s such a freak!” cried Maya, sobbing even more.
“Oh, don’t say that,” said her mom, rubbing her back. “He has Autism, Maya. One of the problems he has is that he has a hard time understanding the people around him and their emotions.”
“Do you know how much he bothers me, Mom? Do you know how much he embarrasses me?” asked Maya.
“Oh, and you think I don’t find any of this difficult? Believe it or not, some of the things he does embarrasses me, too. But he doesn’t mean to be difficult. And you know what? He loves you very much, and he needs your support.”
It was recess. Maya was sitting on the play structure. When she saw Ray, Joe, and Andre push Thomas, her eyes narrowed. She stormed over to them. This was her chance. Thomas needed her.
“Hey!” she shouted with rage. “Stop bullying my little brother!”
They just gave her a dirty look and turned back. She pushed them away from Thomas.
“I said leave him alone,” said Maya angrily.
“Go away,” said Ray.
“You go away!” yelled Maya, “Or I’ll tell the principal that you’re bullying a first grader!
“Good. Now shoo!” They walked away.
“MAYA!” Thomas wrapped his arms around her.
And this time, Maya hugged him, too.
This writer did a wonderful job of showing the difficulties of life with a special-needs sibling. The writer really took to heart the advice to "show" rather than "tell" and the result is a very impressive story.