“Oh, crap…” Natalie said, emerging from her room.
“Stay cool,” Kate said, hopping up from her bed in the next room. “Remember, we’re a team.”
“Petey!” Natalie banged on their little brother’s door. “Downstairs!”
Petey poked his head out. “I heard him.”
“Well, well, well.” Mr. Thompson was waiting for his kids in the kitchen, pacing back and forth and holding a couple sheets of white paper in his hands. Mrs. Thompson stood at the counter, mixing milk into her tea.
“What’s up, Dad?” Natalie grabbed a seat at the island.
“I’ll give you all three tries,” Mr. Thompson said, putting on his reading glasses, “to guess what I’m holding here in my hands. Here’s a hin—”
“It’s the phone bill,” Kate said. “We can see the AT&T logo.”
Mrs. Thompson snorted.
“Very perceptive, Kaitlin,” Mr. Thompson said, gathering himself. “Yes, it’s the phone bill. This morning your mother and I looked at the total cost for last month, and it’s a preposterous number. Over a thousand dollars.”
“Yes, Petey. You should be shocked. We should all be shocked. Thompsons are more than Apple products. And punishments will be doled out accordingly.”
Natalie opened her mouth to speak.
“Before you claim your innocence, Natalie,” Mr. Thompson said, “know that thanks to my AT&T app, I can isolate the charges on each phone. I plan on looking at each phone number’s data usage later today. Unless… unless one of you has the courage to own up right now.”
The kids sat stunned, and proud of himself, Mr. Thompson started making himself a cup of coffee.
“He really does have the app,” Mrs. Thompson said lowly. “I watched him download it this morning.”
“Mom, this is insane,” Kate whispered.
“No, Kaitlin,” Mr. Thompson said, “this is justice. So. Who’s had a case of the texties this month? Go on, don’t be shy! Natalie?”
“My phone screen cracked three weeks ago, Dad. You know that. If I scroll too much my fingers start bleeding. Seriously. I’ve barely looked at my phone.”
Mr. Thompson nodded. “I do remember that. Hmm. Kate? Got anything to say for yourself?”
“Me and Cliff broke up, remember? We stopped texting last month and I’ve barely been on social media. The pictures just depress me.”
“Ugh. Cliff. So that’s officially done, right? He won’t be coming here again?”
“Walter!” Mr. Thompson dodged a swipe from Mrs. Thompson.
“What? The boy had a C- handshake.”
Kate put her head in her hands and massaged her temples.
“Ok, Petey,” Mr. Thompson said, taking a long sip of coffee. “I knew we’d regret getting you that iPad for your birthday. What have you been playing up there? Clash of the Bandicoot? Fortrim? Out with it, sport!”
Petey looked from his sisters to his mom to his dad, his eyes wide like Bambi caught in a hurricane.
“It’s c-coming from my room,” he stammered, “but it isn’t me.”
“Heh? What do you mean?”
“It’s the monster under my bed. He got an iPhone.”
Natalie and Kate stifled giggles.
“Again, Petey?” Mrs. Thompson said, putting her hand on Petey’s shoulder. “We’ve been over this.”
“He’s there, he got a phone, I swear, you have to believe me—”
“Enough,” Mr. Thompson boomed. “You’re grounded Petey. And no iPad for two months. I expected better from you, son. Coming in here with crazy tales about monsters operating iPhones. You should be ashamed of yoursel—“
“It’s actually I who should be ashamed, Mr. Thompson.”
The family whipped around. Leaning against the entryway to the kitchen was a 7-foot tall beast with blue fur and the fangs of a saber-tooth tiger. He held a single iPhone in his massive right paw.
“I’ve been under Petey’s bed for a while now,” the monster explained, setting the phone down on the kitchen counter. “My heart hasn’t really been into scaring him lately, he’s such a good kid, and I was getting pretty bored down there. So I bought the phone. I’ve been scrolling the days away until he turns 10 and I get reassigned.”
“You didn’t think to ask for the WiFi password?” Mr. Thompson asked.
“Oh, I didn’t want to impose,” the monster said bashfully, kicking his feet together. “I’m really sorry about all this, mainly I’m up there on the Times crossword app or bingeing a podcast called Crimetown.”
“Oh, no,” Mrs. Thompson muttered.
“Crimetown?! I love Crimetown,” Mr. Thompson exclaimed. “I listen to it on my commute every morning. What season are you on? What did you say your name was again, Mr. …”
“Monster,” the monster said, stretching his hand out to shake.
“That’s a hell of a grip you got there,” Mr. Thompson said, raising his eyebrows. “That’s an A+ handshake. Why don’t you show me your space up there? You’ve gotta be squished under Petey’s trundle.”
The monster and Mr. Thompson headed for the stairs.
“You ever been fly fishing?”
“Not for years! Love it.”
“Wanna get out next weekend?”
Mrs. Thompson finished her tea and looked at the kids in the kitchen.
“Thank god,” she said, shaking her head with a smile. “We’re in the clear. I was convinced it was me this month.” She took an iPhone X out of her pocket.
“Me too,” the girls said in unison, and they pulled out their phones.
“I haven’t slept in months,” Petey said.