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The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Eight – Part 1

PART II

A police officer gave her hot chocolate spiked with a little coffee. She didn’t drink it, but it made her hands warm.

She sat in a little room with a table and chairs and a framed mirror, just like on TV. Miranda counted the asbestos tiles in the ceiling and then the linoleum tiles on the floor. Anything to not give her brain space to think about anything. Forty-two tiles on the ceiling 195 on the floor, a ratio of .215 ceiling tiles per floor tile, neither primes, obviously. She didn’t notice when the female officer came in or sat in front of her.

The woman said something Miranda didn’t understand. Her nametag read LIDBECK.

The officer said, “Did you understand that, honey?”

Miranda shook her head. “This cup feels warm.”

Officer Lidbeck sat down and set a folder in front of her. She looked Miranda in the eyes. “Okay, I need you to focus for a minute. Okay?”

Miranda’s eyes felt itchy and hot. She nodded.

“Your dad’s in the hospital.” She grimaced and tapped her fist on the table three times. It made a deep drum sound. Boom, boom, boom. “We have your mother in custody. You understand?”

Miranda shook her head no. Officer Lidbeck went out of focus and Miranda had to wipe her eyes. When she looked up again, Officer Lidbeck was holding out a tissue. “We have to figure out the best place to put you. You know, so you’re okay.”

Miranda took the tissue. “When can I see my Dad?”

Officer Lidbeck looked like she was fighting from saying something. “Your father is in surgery.”

Miranda heard the words, but they didn’t entirely register. “When will he be out?”

The officer looked away. “Soon, I’m sure.”

“Why can’t I go see him now?”

“You can eventually, but he needs to rest.” The words sounded reassuring but her voice was tense.
Miranda felt confused. “Where’s … Alice?”

Officer Lidbeck put her had on top of Miranda’s. “Your mother–“

“Stepmother.”

“Oh.” Officer Lidbeck opened the folder in front of her and made a note. “Thanks, sorry. Your stepmother is here at the station. Your dad is safe from her now.”

“I know that, I just … is she okay?” Miranda didn’t quite believe the words were coming out of her mouth. She couldn’t believe she cared.

The officer seemed to be thinking the same thing. “Your stepmother is fine. She’s under observation and we’re trying to determine why she did what she did.”

Miranda looked for something to keep her attention so she wouldn’t have to think. She got a picture of Alice combing her hair. She shook her head.

The room was dirty, like they didn’t have cleaning staff. Maybe it was in constant use.

Alice whipping peanut butter to make it how Miranda liked it.

Alice offering to help Miranda with her first period.

Alice tying Miranda’s hair back with a ribbon.

Her head hurt and she rested it on the table. It was cool against her forehead. She tried counting primes, but she couldn’t think what came after seventeen.

She left and Alice stabbed Dad. She left and Alice stabbed Dad. She couldn’t get her brain to stop.

Then she thought something stupid. “You wont hurt Alice, will you?”

Anger flared on Officer Lidbeck’s face. “No one has ever been wrongly harmed in this station.” Her face shut down again. Dead eyes, cop face, just like on TV.

Miranda hated herself. She was saying everything wrong. “You said you have questions for me?”

The officer looked down at the folder. “Your report says you suspected your stepmother was planning to kill your father.”

“I wondered, yes.”

“And you didn’t do anything about it. You didn’t tell anyone?”

“I …” The words stuck in her throat. It seemed so obvious now that the officer was saying it. Maybe she should have told someone all along. “I wanted to collect enough evidence.”

Officer Lidbeck looked tired. She glanced around the room, at anything but Miranda. She pinched the bridge of her nose.

The door clicked open and a male officer leaned in. “The neighbor is here.”

Officer Lidbeck looked back to Miranda. “Do you know your neighbors, the Bauteils?”

Cindy was here? Miranda nodded.

“Are the Bauteil’s friends with your family?”

That was complicated. Should she answer with how Dad felt or with her friendship to… frankly, she didn’t care what was the correct answer. “Yes.”

Officer Lidbeck looked uncomfortable. The officer in the door scratched the side of his head. “Do you feel safe with them?” She straightened the edges of the papers in the folder. “Normally we aren’t allowed to do this, but with the hour, we’d have to keep you here.”

Miranda practically blurted out. “Tom Bauteil is my godfather. He’s been friends with my dad since high school.”

Officer Lidbeck exchanged a look with the other officer. When she looked back to Miranda she seemed relieved. “Well, then, that works out.”

This had to be another thing that was illegal three days ago. For once she was glad of reality shifting.

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Seven – Part 2

Miranda politely declined tea. “I have to get home.”

Her head spun.

If she looked at her notes, would it say five or four dads? It didn’t matter. She wasn’t crazy, she knew what she remembered. Cindy had talked about her five dads. Miranda had observed five dads.

Cindy said, “I’m going to walk Miranda home.”

Bill-dad smiled. John-dad said, “Okay, hon. Come home right after, though.”

Once they were out on the front porch, Cindy took her arm and walked left toward the corner. “Let’s go around the block.”

The evening air was still a little warm, but Miranda rubbed her arms anyway.

She glanced at her house across the street. Everything looked calm. “Okay.”

Around the corner from Cindy’s was Warren Street. They turned and walked away from both their houses.

Was Cindy still wondering about Miranda mentioning five dads? She chewed over whether to bring it up again. They walked in silence. Up above, stars shined like spotlights in the clear sky. It was a perfect night.

The more she thought about it, more she realized she didn’t want to keep yet another secret from Cindy. She was feeling pretty over secrets in general. “Cindy, I have to tell you something.”

Cindy shook her head. “I know you think you have to leave, but you don’t”

“Dad’s packing right now.” Miranda motioned back toward her house.

“He won’t even tell you why you’re running. You said it yourself. If he’s running from the mob or the government or whatever, you’d do a better job keeping his secret if you knew what kind of thing you need to be careful about.”

That wasn’t the first time Miranda had thought that. “The consistent thing Dad warns me away from is thinking about weird things.”

Cindy sort of tilted her head like a dog. “Why’s that?”

Miranda let out an explosive breath. They’d just passed the corner of Frasier Street. They should have turned left to at any of the streets parallel to theirs but it felt good to be out and walking.

Why did Dad have all these rules. None of it made sense. “It makes me crazy.”

They walked a bit more before Miranda said, “Like we don’t already have the weirdest family ever.” Talking about it made it even more real how impossible her situation was. “I’m worn out trying to keep and eye on Alice.”

Cindy didn’t say anything, but the question was on her face.

Miranda didn’t look at her. This seemed like another crying subject, but she was cried out at the moment. “I have to remember to check the breaks before we go.”

The question was still there. They reached another corner, another opportunity to turn back home. Cindy looked down the street, like she was asking if they should head back. Miranda looked to the corner and then forward, the street lights dotted the street for at least eight more blocks ahead.

“Let me tell you about my homicidal step mom.”

#

They finally turned on the corner of Gibson Street, many many blocks from her street. With another left turn at Hoover, they could walk back to her house.

“That’s pretty much everything I know about Dad, Alice. My life.”

Cindy looked shaken. “Wow.” The streetlight at Hoover was burned out. Cindy was just an outline in the dark. “Should we get back?”

Miranda pushed the light button on her watch. She was late. “It’s okay. Alice doesn’t have enough time to pull anything, and she thinks I’m up in my room.” This was the least stressed she’d felt in forever. She wasn’t ready to go back to feeling anxious all the time just yet.

But it was getting a little late. “Let’s walk quickly though.”

They walked a few more blocks when she remembered about Cindy’s dads.

“When we talked earlier this week, you had five dads.”

Cindy didn’t say anything. As they came into the light on the corner of the next street, Cindy looked like she was scrunching her face in thought. “What are you saying?”

Miranda didn’t even think about it this time, she took Cindy’s hand. “On Monday you had five dad’s and when I asked you earlier, you said you have four.”

“I do, Bill, John, Tom, and Bob.”

Miranda squeezed her hand. “There was another one.”

“Why are you saying that? There was four.” When Miranda didn’t say anything, Cindy stopped and pulled her hand out of Miranda’s.

Cindy’s voice pitched up. “What’s his name?”

Miranda looked off in the dark. “I don’t know, I never figured it out.”

“See? You’re wrong.”

“Okay, okay. I’m wrong.” She kept walking. After a couple steps, Cindy caught up with her. She had a haunted look on her face.

“You’re wrong.” She said.

Miranda patted her shoulder. “Okay, I’m sorry.”

They walked in silence for awhile. A light flashed up ahead and a horn made a single squawk, like when a firetruck ran a red light.

The whole street flashed with red and blue. The outline of Cindy’s house shimmered like the light was diffracted through water.

Behind her, Cindy said, “That’s not our street, is it?”

Miranda barely understood the words. She ran.

Two blocks passed in a blur and she rounded the corner onto her street.

It was as if the sound had suddenly been turned on.

The town’s three police cars sat in front of her house. An ambulance was parked on the front lawn. The doors to the ambulance closed. Someone shouted something and the ambulance rolled off the lawn. The front door of the house lay ajar and the police cruisers pointed in.

Part of her couldn’t connect any of this as meaning anything to her.

Cindy ran up behind her. She let out a cry.

By then Miranda wasn’t thinking anymore, she was running.

ch7

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Seven – Part 1

She was so used to this process that she didn’t even have to think about it. First she rolled her posters and collected the sticky tack into a ball so she could hang them in their next place.

Their next place. She couldn’t help but think about Cindy. Was she going to leave without even saying goodbye? Maybe she could ask Dad if she could take just a minute before they left town.

She started to choke up again and focused on dividing the room into take and leave. Everything by the window, she’d leave behind, everything by the desk she’d keep. Dad gave her limited space for her stuff and she’d collected a surprising number of things lately. She’d have to consider carefully.

They didn’t have time to donate her things to the thrift store. Hopefully the landlord wouldn’t be too angry at having to clean up her stuff.

She dug out the boxes from under her bed. The spyglass rolled out against her knee. Would she be able to bring that?

Alice called up to Dad, “Honey, I have to run to the store to get a few more boxes.”

Dad paused before he called down, “Okay, but be quick.”

“It shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes.” Alice sounded chipper, like they were just taking a vacation. “You need anything, Miranda?”

Miranda didn’t answer.

A minute later, The front door closed. The stairs squeaked as Dad moved downstairs. Miranda heard him go in the garage.

Alice was gone. She didn’t have to worry about protecting Dad while she was gone. That meant she had twenty five minutes to say goodbye to Cindy.

#

It was easier than she’d imagined to climb out on the roof and down onto the lawn. If Dad came out of the garage, he’d assume she was still packing up in her room.

There was some chance that Dad would go upstairs to ask her something, but … this was a new feeling, Miranda didn’t care.

What would Dad do? He’d yell, but he couldn’t do anything. A rush of power welled in her. She’d never felt so free. Dad would be lucky if she came back at all.

She walked quickly across the lawn and street, looking to see if anyone was looking. She was sure why it mattered if anyone saw her. Maybe Dad’s paranoia was starting to leak into her.

There were some lights on in Cindy’s house, in the living room and her room. The gauzy curtains were drawn, but Miranda could just see the outline of the dresser. It didn’t look like anyone was in there.
As she crossed Cindy’s lawn she realized how little she really knew about Cindy. A half hour ago, she felt like she was losing her best friend, but really who was she losing?

She knew Cindy had a weird past, that Cindy was a little infuriating in how little bothered her. And that she felt a little jealous of how few things bothered Cindy.

Without even thinking about it, she changed course away from Cindy’s front door, around the house to the back. The back gate was open and she poked her head in.

The backyard was dark. Just like in the photo Cindy had shown her the other day, there wasn’t much of anything back there.

She knew in the back of her mind that she was being disrespectful sneaking around in their yard, but a good investigator collect all the data they could. She glanced at her watch. She still had twenty-two minutes before she needed to worry about Alice. Good.

She stepped onto the concrete slab around the back door.

The curtains on the sliding glass door were open a little. Inside, the house looked dark except for the kitchen light and light from the TV in the living room.

In the flickering light, Cindy sat on the the huge modular couch with dads around her. They must be watching a movie. Cindy looked so content, it stuck a pin in Miranda’s heart. When was the last time Dad and she had watched a movie together?

That birdcage was up on the counter. There was paper around it, like they’d been cleaning it.

Did the dads poop in the cage when they were in there? Did they still think like people or were did they only have bird brains when they were …

Miranda realized she’d completely given up on trying to think of any logical answer for what she saw three days ago. The school was changing, Cindy had five dads, they sometimes turned into birds. Somewhere along the line she’d just switched over to believing in magic. Now she found herself trying to figure out the rules for how magic worked. Dad would be horrified.

She leaned on the door and it unexpectedly zipped sideways. Miranda was caught off balance and fell forward. The door slammed open with a loud crack and she fell to the floor inside.

When she looked up, she saw none of them had moved. They sat on the couch, staring at her.

Cindy looked like she’d just had a scare in a horror movie. “Miranda, what are you doing?”

Miranda pushed herself up form the floor. Her palms hurt from the fall. “I … I was just …” Just motioned stupidly at the back door, like that would explain anything.

“Are you okay?” Tom-Dad rushed over.

Bill-Dad wasn’t far behind. Cindy stood by the couch with her arms crossed.

She took Bill-Dad’s hand. “I’m sorry. I should go.”

He pulled her to her feet. She wasn’t used to adults being so concerned about her.

“Were you spying on us?” Cindy still hadn’t moved. Her arms were still crossed.

“Cindy!” Bill-dad looked as if he couldn’t imagine anything like that ever happening. He looked at Miranda’s guilty face for a moment and his expression changed. “Miranda, is that true?”

“I …” She looked from Cindy to Bill-dad to Tom-dad. Another dad came out of the living room. John-dad, maybe.

If she was going to be a spy, she should have at least come up with a plausible story. She swallowed. The Bauteils had never been anything but kind to her. Why was she thinking about lying at all? Why was she spying on them?

She sighed and the truth fell out of her mouth. “I was just curious.”

Bill-dad face had already relaxed. “About what?”

The silence dragged on while Miranda tried to come up with an answer that wouldn’t break Cindy’s confidence, wouldn’t give away all of Dad’s secrets. She couldn’t think of anything.

Cindy glared, but she uncrossed her arms and came over. “Dad, I think Miranda and I need to to talk in my room for a minute.”

Tom-dad looked at Bill-dad. Bill-dad nodded and John-dad said, “Okay, hon. Let us know if you need anything.”

The dads parted and Miranda followed Cindy into her room.

She’d just shut the door when Cindy rounded on her. “Just what did you think you were doing?”

Where did she start? She’d just come over to say goodbye, why had she turned that into sneaking around. Sometimes Miranda didn’t know her own mind.

She put her hands up. “I just wanted to see what a normal day was like for you.”

That was true.

Cindy crossed her arms again.

Sometimes the truth didn’t help. Miranda tried again, “I don’t know you that well, I wanted to learn more about you.”

“You could have just asked.”

Miranda started to say, “I …” but she stopped. She could have just asked. Why hadn’t that occurred to her?

Cindy’s face was red. She looked like she was about to pop. Instead threw her hands up. “I wish you’d just say you don’t trust me.”

When had Miranda ever said she didn’t trust Cindy? “What are you talking about?”

“You … You never share anything. I can tell when something upsets you, but you never actually say anything. You always smile and pretend everything is okay, but it’s obvious that you’re sad and upset all the time.”

A little trickle of sweat ran down the back of her Miranda’s neck. Her face was obviously red. She didn’t say anything.

Cindy poked her finger into Miranda’s clavicle. “I’ll tell you why. You don’t trust anyone. You certainly don’t trust me. I’ve spent the last three days being nothing but a friend to you and all you ever do is observe. You don’t interact, you just watch.”

Was that true? Miranda took a deep breath.

“My dads and I aren’t a science experiment. I came to you for help.” Cindy looked like she was about to cry.

Miranda desperately wanted to hug Cindy, but she didn’t know how to go from being yelled at to being … a friend. “I didn’t mean to. I only came over to tell you …” For the last few minutes she’d forgotten whey she came over. She felt her own eyes go hot.

Cindy looked behind herself, like she wasn’t interested. “Yeah?”

Miranda felt like she was about to cry. Should she run away? She’d never cried in front of another person before.

The tears were warm against her cheeks. She didn’t feel the headache or the hitching from before, just sort of a numb feeling in her chest. “I have to leave.”

Cindy didn’t even pause, she just dragged Miranda into a hug. That was about all it took to get Miranda properly crying. She heaved a hitching breath and sobbed into Cindy’s shoulder.

First the story of being on the run came out. Always running. She didn’t know if she was making any sense, but she sputtered about how she’d never known her mom.

“There’s so many secrets in my past. I’m not sure who I am.”

When the words ran out she just sobbed some more. The next time she came up from Cindy’s shoulder, she realized someone was hugging her from behind too. Bill-dad was couched down with his arms around both of them. Tom-dad stood with his hand on her shoulder. John-dad walked in around them and squeezed Cindy’s shoulder.

Miranda hadn’t just told Cindy, she’d told her whole family. Dad would be furious. Miranda wondered if she should worry, but she didn’t have the energy.

When she moved, the dads stepped back. Miranda wiped her nose. “I think I got snot on your dress.”

I little laugh fell out of Cindy. She shrugged.

Miranda was surprised to find that her head didn’t hurt at all. Maybe it was trying so hard not to cry that gave her headaches. Maybe crying wasn’t the worse thing in the world.

Cindy’s dads waited nearby. They didn’t look awkward that Miranda had sobbed. They didn’t look like they minded at all. In that moment, it seemed like Cindy had a pretty ideal family.

Tom-dad said, “Bob is making tea.”

Oh, that was the name of the forth dad. Now she only needed the fifth. She wished she had her notebook.

“I’m sorry I never asked before. But I know Tom and Bill and John, and now Bob, but what’s the name of your fifth dad?”

Cindy looked confused.

Miranda looked behind her to Tom-dad, who looked mystified too. “Uh.”

Cindy crossed her arms again. “What are you talking about? I only have four dads.”

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Six – Part 3

Dad hadn’t sent her to her room, but she stayed up there anyway.

There was something about being in trouble that shook her to her core. It didn’t even matter that she hadn’t done anything wrong, that the school had changed around her. She just hated being in trouble.

The first thing she did was check the school rule book. It had changed too. It was dog-eared and even had her highlighter marks, but now new things were highlighted, even Infraction 12.

She got out her investigation notebook. She should have taken better notes about the changes in town. She had some notes about the floors and lockers, but she should have been also observing the teachers.

Before the school notes section was her most recent notes about Dad and Alice.

  • 1.) Dad is running from the mob.
  • 2.) Dad is an international spy.
  • 3.) Dad committed a horrible crime.

She’d thought she was slipping into fantasy thinking Dad was a spy. With the stuff that was happening in town, she might have to expand her possibilities. She added:

  • 4.) Dad running from alien invasion.
  • 5.) Dad is Job from the bible.
  • 6.) Dad running from evil wizards.

Despite herself, she smiled. The more she thought about it, her four mysteries might bear looking at together. Alice, the changes in town, Dad, Cindy, maybe they were all connected somehow.

If the town could change, could people change? Could people be created?

The real question was, who was changing things?

She started a new section in her notebook titled EVERYTHING.

Alice called up, “Miranda, dinner!”

#

They ate in silence. Dad didn’t even seem angry, but she knew something was coming.

It took until they were running over calculus proofs for him to finally say it. He nearly whispered. “We’re going to have to leave Aught.”

She wouldn’t let him see her reaction. She folded her calculus paper carefully and stuck it in her Mathematics folder. There was no point in yelling. Dad would shout her down and she’d fall apart. She started to shake.

Dad put his hand on her shoulder. She startled. He so rarely touched her. Her brain jumped to the new school rule book. Section five, subsection thirty-seven: Teachers weren’t allowed to touch students unless they were disciplining them.

“We can’t leave.” Miranda tried to keep her voice level, but she didn’t think she was able.

Dad took his hand back. “I know you’re upset–“

“I could go to school. I could have friends.” Cindy’s face to mind. Who would help her with her mystery?

The sound of Alice cleaning came from the kitchen. She was always cleaning.

Dad said, “This is the exact kind of thing we can’t have. We have to do what we have to do to keep you safe.”

She leaped up from the couch. “Did you listen to anything I said? The school is changing!”

“We can’t talk about that.” Dad actually backed up, like he was scared.

Her hands balled into fists. She hit the sides of her legs. “What can we talk about. What’s happening is amazing. It’s scary, but nothing in there.” She jabbed her finger at the calculus book. “That says anything like this could possibly happen.”

Dad looked at her, his face set. He looked so sad.

“I’m not crazy! Cindy confirmed–“

The book hit the opposite wall. She hadn’t even seen him hit it.

His face was tight. “You brought that girl into this?”

It was ridiculous, she felt guilty again. “It, we, she noticed! She sees the same things I see.”

Dad got up from the couch. “That settles it. We have to leave tonight.”

She followed him. “What?”

He called into the kitchen. “Alice, start packing.”

Alice called back, “Okay, dear.”

Her folder hit the wall near where Dad had batted the book. “This is insane!”

He started up the stairs. When he turned back to her, he had tears on his face. “I’m so sorry. I wish I could tell you why. I really really do.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I would if I could. It’s just not safe.”

All the yelling went out of her. “Safe from what?”

He took a step upstairs before he looked back. For just a second, he looked like he would tell her. Somehow she knew the whole flood was just on the back of his tongue. “I’m sorry.”

And that was it. She lost the will to fight. She sat on the floor and grabbed a few of her papers that were nearby. “Where will we go?”

Dad didn’t answer at first. The sounds of Alice packing up their few personal items came from the kitchen.

He started back up the stairs. “I’ll have to consult my book.” His book was a little notebook that seemed to have all the answers to why he did everything. He kept it on himself at all times. “It depends on the time of year and when we leave.” His eyes were dry again and he’d gone back to being cagey.

“So there’s a pattern to where we move?”

“Miranda.” The tense edge was back in his voice.

“I’m just curious.”

“Curious is good, be curious about calculus right now.”

She got up and picked up papers.

She thought he was gone, but he said, “You’re … Someone once told me that the more you know about how the world around you works, the less likely it is to knock you over.” She watched his face blush. Sadness crossed it.

Before she could think, she blurted out, “Did mom tell you that?”

“Miranda.” Dad’s voice pitched up in that way that meant not to push it.

She picked up the calculus book.

“Get to your room soon. Make sure to pack up everything you don’t want to leave behind.”

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Six – Part 2

The receptionist, Mrs. Grieves, glared as Miranda walked in the office, like she’d committed a crime just by being there. “Ms. McGee, why aren’t you in class?”

“It’s lunch break.”

“Don’t speak back to me!”

Miranda stood still. Tears welled on the edges of her eyes. What could she say to not get in even more trouble.

There were no other students in the office, which was strange, usually someone was copying something or using the phone. Now the office had a long uncomfortable-looking bench by the front door.

She almost forgot herself and asked Mrs. Grieves how she was feeling today, but Mrs. Grieves looked so tense that Miranda just handed her the note.

“Sit, Ms. McGee.”

She sat on the bench and stared at the floor.

Mrs. Grieves let her sit there for a full ten minutes before saying, “Ms. McGee, you may approach the counter now.”

Why had she made Miranda wait just to acknowledge the note?

Miranda sprung up and stopped at the counter, still too frazzled to look Mrs. Grieves’ in the eye. “I’ve apparently … committed an infraction twelve.”

Mrs. Grieves looked down at the paper and let out a little gasp. “Sit.”

She rushed into Mr. Wodzinski’s office.

The office was strangely empty and quiet while she was gone. Miranda wondered if they were calling her dad. Had Dad changed too?

She shook her head. If things were different, she needed to collect information.

The office looked more or less the same. There were still posters on the wall. They’d been reading and anti-drug posters before. Now they had no writing on them, each was just an idealized drawing of a child. Each child had perfect hair and wore modest clothes. As far as Miranda remembered, no one in the whole school dressed that way.

She waited another two minutes before Mrs. Grieves came out. Looking like she was summoning Miranda to an execution, she motioned to the office.

#

Mr. Wodzinski normally looked pretty dour, so that hadn’t changed. Miranda waited in the doorway for him to tell her to sit, but he just stared at her till she fidgeted in place.

Finally he said, “Ms. McGee. I had been expecting you to be a source of great honor for our school. Mr. Hanson was going to recommend you for the early college program.”

Had? “Mr. Hanson still supports me. He just–“

Mr. Wodzinski went red. He vibrated.

He jumped up from his chair. “You will not speak until spoken to!”

Everyone was crazy.

“Wait, stop. I don’t understand.” Miranda put her hands out.

Principal Wodzinski slammed his hands flat on the desk. “Ms. McGee. You of all people know the rules of this school.”

She was about to speak, but she finally caught herself. She held her mouth shut and stared at the floor. She shook a little bit, afraid he’d yell again.

After a moment he sat. A long moment after that, he said, “You may speak.”

She let out the breath she’d been holding. “I’ve always followed the rules. I memorized the rules.”

If she had the guidebook, she’d show him. She’d read it twice and carried it in her bag for another three months. She could visualize it filed next to her science books on the shelf next to her desk in her bedroom.

Principal Wodzinski slid his hands back from the desk, his face unreadable, like the police officers on television shows. She shivered again.

“Sit down, Ms. McGee.” He opened the center drawer of his desk and pulled out a worn and weathered copy of the exact booklet she had at home. She quickly sat in the chair.

He stuck a finger in the center of the booklet, like he knew each page. Miranda herself knew the middle pages were concerning dress code and conduct. There were many students who dressed on the edge of the code, but she’d always made sure she was well within the rules.

She was about to say so, when Principal Wodzinski opened the book flat and turned it around to her.

Just from the font and the layout, the page was obviously different than what she remembered.

The text was harder to read, smaller and broken into two columns. There was a title at the top of the left page that read Communication Guidelines. She bent in closer and read the first lines, but couldn’t make sense of them.

“You say you memorized this booklet.”

She said, “This is different…”

Within the tight blocks of text below were subheaders. One read Infraction 11.

Principal Wodzinski leaned back. “We’re very clear here Miranda, students are not allowed to have private relationships with our teachers.”

“I … didn’t. I ….” She shut up and waiting to be yelled at for speaking without being spoken to.

But Principal Wodzinski didn’t yell. He got a condescending look on his face. “I know it’s hard to be a teen these days.” He reached across the desk and patted her hand. “I had my own infractions when I was your age, but the rules are for your own protection, Ms. McGee.”

It was confusing. She wasn’t allowed to talk to teachers one on one, but Principal Wodzinski could pat her hand? Maybe that’s why his office door was open. Her mind flew a million miles per hour. What were the new rules and how had everything changed so quickly?

She raised her hand. He looked at it, confused. “Yes, Ms. McGee?”

“May I ask a question?”

“Don’t get sarcastic with me, young lady.”

She took a breath. “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I’m just confused.”

He waved his hand. “Go on.”

She tried to order her thoughts. “I’m, sorry I broke a rule. I … I wasn’t allowed to speak to Mr. Hanson because that’s having a person relationship with a teacher, even when there were other teachers there?”

“You broke three rules.” Principal Wodzinski stuck out a finger as he listed them. “You disturbed the teacher’s sacred space.”

Sacred space?

“You initiated a relationship.” He touched his last finger. “And most importantly, you spoke without being spoken to.”

She still wanted to argue, but the look on Principal Wodzinski’s face made her stop. Without anything else she could say, she said, “I’m sorry.”

Principal Wodzinski leaned back in his chair. He rolled his shoulders. “You’ve always been a perfect student, Ms. McGee. Normally this many infractions would be an automatic expulsion.”

Miranda gasped. She bit her tongue to keep herself from speaking.

“But I’m going to let you off. This will, of course, go in your record.”

Miranda breathed. That didn’t sound so bad. “I … may I speak?”

Principal Wodzinski nodded.

“Thank you. I’m very sorry.”

“You are welcome.” He called out the door, “Ms. Grieves, get Ms. McGee’s father on the phone. She’s suspended for two days?”

Miranda just stopped herself from yelling, “What is happening?”