Bill-dad didn’t try to talk to her for the whole ride home, though for part of it he reached behind the seat and held Miranda’s hand. Cindy’s head was heavy on Miranda’s shoulder and Cindy’s tears made the shoulder wet. All Miranda could focus on was that it made her shirt itchy.
They pulled onto Huntington Street. Miranda’s heart skipped and she kept her eyes locked on the Bauteil’s. Anything so she didn’t look over at her own house.
She imagined yellow tape across the door.
The garage door closed behind them and it felt safe to look around. The Bauteil’s garage was immaculately clean. The bare yellow light bulbs lit walls lined with perfectly spaced, perfectly clean yard tools.
Cindy pulled her out of the car. Even the concrete was stain free. Miranda wondered if they cleaned the tools after each use.
Little organized sections of camping equipment and toys lined the floor along the walls.
“Cindy, why don’t you help Miranda get cleaned up while I make a bed in your room.” Bill-dad paused and laid a hand on Miranda’s shoulder, then he went to the back of the car.
Cindy wiped her face. “We have extra toothbrushes and you can borrow some pajamas.”
Miranda couldn’t help it, just for a second, she smiled. Cindy’s pajamas were probably pink, with unicorns on them.
Cindy made sure Miranda brushed her teeth and washed her face and then left her in the bathroom. The pajamas turned out to be blue, but with lace on the edges. That made Miranda smile a little.
When Miranda came out of the bathroom, Cindy was in the living room with all her dads.
Four of them. Miranda felt a pang in her heart. She’d sort of hoped there would be five again.
The cage sat on the kitchen counter. The dads stood in a line with Cindy centered in front of them. One at a time, each dad hugged Cindy goodnight.
Bill looked worn out. He’d waited at the police station for hours. Miranda realized she didn’t need the “dad” distinction after their names anymore. He was just Bill.
He glanced over at Miranda a few times. She had the impression he wanted to come over and give her a hug, but wasn’t sure if she wanted one. Miranda was fifty percent sure she wanted a hug, but didn’t know how to ask for one.
Cindy opened the door on the cage.
Tom smiled at Miranda. “I made you a bed on Cindy’s floor. Just let us know if you need anything tonight.”
Then he was a bird.
She’d blinked and missed the transition, if there had been one. The little bird flew once around the room and into the cage.
Miranda was pretty sure her mouth was hanging open.
Bill said, “Goodnight, Miranda,” and also folded into a tiny bird. He did one quick circle around the room and flew into the cage next to Tom. Even as birds, she could tell which was which. Tom was all black, with a red streak on his wings. Bill was a yellow canary. Ah, it’d been him she’d seen on Sunday.
Then Bob and then John. A bluebird and a finch respectively. Cindy closed the cage door. There was no latch. Miranda supposed there was no reason to lock them in.
“That’s how it works.” Cindy shrugged again.
Miranda whispered to her, “Can they understand us when they’re birds.”
Cindy leaned in and whispered, “Yes, and they can hear you.”
The birds tweeted in unison. It sounded like laughter.
Cindy bopped her on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go to bed.”
The bed roll was surprisingly comfortable. Bill had put down two sleeping bags, one over the other, and tucked a sheet under them to make a mattress. He’d folded the blankets back diagonally over the pillow and set a little green teddy bear there. She felt so touched she couldn’t feel offended that he’d thought she needed a teddy bear.
Once Cindy turned off the lights, though, she held the bear.
She tried to be quiet, but every time she looked over at Cindy, the streetlights glinted off Cindy’s eyes as she stared at the ceiling.
Finally Miranda said, “I can’t sleep.”
“Yeah.” Cindy reached behind her head to switch on the light.
They lay there is silence for a bit before Miranda said, “How do you feel?”
Cindy kept staring at the ceiling. “Sad.”
Miranda pushed the teddy under the blankets. She’d never seen Cindy so reserved. They both had good reason.
Finally Cindy said, “I’m trying to get my head around this.” She got up on her elbow. “I can’t stop thinking about that fifth dad you say I had.” Her face got that hollow look again. “What was he like? What was his name? Was he nice?”
“I never met him.” Miranda hadn’t realized how sad that was. She didn’t have anything to offer. She felt like she’d let Cindy down.
Cindy lay back. “I wonder if other people in town have disappeared and we just don’t remember.”
Miranda said, “I don’t think so. For some reason I always notice stuff like that. I always remember.”
Why her? She noticed things, sure. But so many things had changed. “I don’t know.”
Cindy pulled her sheets to her chin. “Why did I notice the changes to the school then? But not my dad?”
“I don’t know.”
Neither of them spoke for awhile. Miranda listened to Cindy breathe. The breaths came out fast and hitched.
Cindy got up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. “You know what I think? I think the weird stuff in town is connected to your step-mom.”
Miranda sighed. “I’ve thought about that.”
She had. It was hard to pinpoint when her life had gotten weird. It had always been weird. But she was trying to pinpoint when things had stopped making sense. She remembered the desks changing in school last Monday, but before that …
“It think the first weird thing was you and your dads.”
Miranda forced herself to keep eye contact with Cindy. She wished she’d said that more tactfully.
But Cindy’s face was tight. She didn’t say anything at first, just tapped her leg against the side of the bed. “What are you saying?” She crossed her arms.
Miranda didn’t know why, but she felt angry. “Your dads. Your five dads and you and this house.” She gesticulated around the room. “Your deed is written in crayon.”
Cindy pounded her fists into the bed on either side of her. “Your step-mom acts like a Barbie mashed up with every old TV mom. You’ve been driving around with weird for three years.” Cindy’s voice was getting loud and harsh.
“Is that my fault? I’ve been dealing with her and Dad and changing towns every eight months!” She wanted to throw the teddy bear into Cindy’s face. “I didn’t get everything I wanted and five parents to take care of everything for me.”
Miranda was screaming, but she didn’t care. “I’m sick of this! I’m sick of all of this! I never wanted Alice or your dads! I never wanted you!”
The words just hung there while Cindy and Miranda stared each other down. Miranda was shaking. She wanted to scream and cry some more, she wanted to take it all back, but it just sat there out in the open.
Cindy’s door bumped inward and a little yellow bird flew in and suddenly Bill stood there in his day clothes. “What’s going on in here?”
It was ridiculous, but all Miranda could think about was what happened to Bill’s clothes when when he turned into a bird? Now he was human again. Did the clothes come back from some other dimension? Were the cloths just part of him? She shut off the train of thought that tried to remember what outfits Bill had worn over the last few days.
Bill crouched down and sat on his heels. “Guys–“
“Miranda thinks I’m spoiled because you’re good dads.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Miranda looked down at her blankets. That was what she meant.
Cindy’s voice broke. “You think we’re a bunch of freaks.”
Bill put his hand out. “It’s okay, it’s been a bad night for everyone. I think we’ll all feel better after a night’s sleep.”
“What if Dad …” She couldn’t finish the sentence. “in the night.”
“You’re dad is going to be okay. We’ll go see him tomorrow.” He stood up.
Miranda looked at Cindy, but she was looking out the window.
Bill wiped his eyes. “Maybe we should set one of you up out in the living room. Cindy, how about you come sleep on the couch and give Miranda your bed.
“No!” Miranda didn’t realize how completely terrified she felt of being alone tonight.
Bill came over and put his hand and her shoulder. “Okay. No problem. Right, Cindy?”
Cindy didn’t look back over. “It’s fine.”