Posts Tagged ‘The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee’

The Curious Investigations of Miranda McGee – Chapter Three – Part 4

“You shouldn’t have passed me a note.” Miranda clutched her books to her chest and rushed down the hall. She was so mad she couldn’t even look at Cindy.

Cindy had to jog to keep up. “I wasn’t trying to get you in trouble.” She kept opening and closing her book as she walked, like it was talking. “It’s just that you usually dash out of class so quickly at the end of math.” Other kids looked at Cindy like she was crazy, but Cindy just kept on with the book.

Miranda had to swap books and get to Reading Comprehension, then Chemistry. She tried to ignore Cindy.

“Have lunch with me!”

Wasn’t Cindy going to be late for Biology? She didn’t seem worried about it.

“I need to check in with the office before lunch to see if anyone needs tutoring help.” She turned to go to Reading Comp.

Cindy said, “Awww … no one shows up for that anyway.”

Miranda felt offended, but it was true. She hadn’t tutored anyone in a month. She just sat in the office for fifteen minutes feeling hungry and then gave up and got the dregs of hot lunch.

She was just about to say, “I have to go” and run off, but… really there was never anyone there. She did always end up last in line for hot lunch.

Still, Cindy had gotten her in trouble. “Passing notes is against the rules.” Not trouble exactly, but for the entire rest of the class she’d felt embarrassed.

Cindy closed the book with a snap. “Let’s grab food together. I want to ask you something.”

Miranda hadn’t realized they shared lunch period. She made a mental note to update her Cindy-tracking schedule. She’d have to correct what she’d told Bill-Dad.

“The lunch room is loud.” That was part of the reason Miranda skipped it sometimes.

Cindy’s head cocked, like she’d just remembered something. “I’ll show you my secret eating spot.”

Secret eating spot? It was true that Miranda had never seen Cindy at lunch.

Before Miranda could say anything, Cindy yelled, “It’s a date!” And ran off.

Now Miranda was late for class. Cindy couldn’t be worth all this trouble.


Lunch was sloppy joes, green beans and hash browns, each a pile in one of her tray’s three little pits.

Showing up on time for lunch didn’t improve it much.

Miranda followed Cindy out the north exit from the cafeteria. Cindy’s “secret eating spot” turned out to be a small square alcove just outside the door. It looked for all the world like there’d been an elevator in the spot that had been torn out and a floor and walls had been added. Not that that made any sense. The school didn’t have a second floor.

The linoleum had the same weathered look as the rest of the hall and the drop ceiling was grey from age, but there were no overhead lights in the space. The indented area was darker than made sense, given the lights in the hall.

Three park benches sat inside, the metal and wood kind. They faced each other, one against each wall. Cindy sat down on one and put her tray on her knees, so Miranda sat across from her, the bench looked brand new.

“I don’t remember seeing this before.” Miranda touched the wall, as if it’d turn out to be a prop on a set.

Cindy shrugged. “I only noticed it a week ago when Penny Mosley tripped me and I fell in here. It’s practically invisible from the hallway.”

As if to illustrate this, a lumbering senior passed. Miranda and Cindy fell silent till his footsteps receded.

Cindy mashed together all the food on her tray, till it was a gross mess across all of the tray compartments. Miranda felt a little sick just looking at it.

Cindy looked down at the mess. “So, I heard you’re a detective?”

Miranda blushed and looked at her own food. No one was supposed to know that! Sure, she’d let a few things slip to other kids when she’d been a little too proud or obvious in her observations. Though even though they’d asked, they always got bored after a sentence or two.

“Not a detective.” More like an investigator. “I just pay attention.”

Cindy put a plastic forkful of the horrible mash in her mouth and spoke before she’d fully chewed it. “But you can … solve mysteries, right?”

Miranda felt herself blushing. A good investigator didn’t get taken in by compliments. She made clean little channels with her plastic fork so the beans, sloppy Joe and hash browns didn’t touch. “I’ve … yes. I’m quite talented at deduction.” Maybe sometimes investigators did like compliments. Anyways, she was just stating a fact.

“I have a mystery for you to solve!” Cindy waved her arms in excitement. Her food wobbled dangerously on her knees. “You should come by my house tonight!”

Miranda poked at her food some more to give herself a second to think.

A case! And from the girl she was already investigating!

Then she sighed. She didn’t have time to pursue distractions. She had to leave last period a little early as it was to beat Dad home and test Alice’s food.

Cindy just sat there, eating. She didn’t look impatient, just waiting. Maybe she meditated too. She was the least stressed person Miranda had ever met.

She should just say no.

“What’s your mystery?” She said instead.

Cindy’s face lit up, then she looked doubtful. “I can’t tell you, I need to show you.”

Cindy stared into Miranda’s eyes with such intensity that Miranda wanted to look away. Instead she just blinked a couple times. She’d read somewhere that professionals maintained good eye contact. Cindy looked hopeful.

The easiest thing would be to say she couldn’t and leave it at that. She needed to be thinking about Alice’s schedule for the rest of the week anyway.

Cindy said, “It won’t take long, just a few minutes.”

Miranda pushed her green beans around. “Maybe I can stop by after dinner tonight.”

Cindy jumped up, as if to hug Miranda. Her tray launched forward and sloppy joe mess fell on Miranda’s shoes. “Yay! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She didn’t seem to notice the spilled food.

Miranda shook her shoe. Red glop fell to the floor. “Maybe. I’ll have to ask my dad.”

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

Ugh, people. She didn’t understand other teenagers. Other fourteen year-olds seemed to do nothing but fight and gossip and drown in hormones. They were like aliens. Horny aliens. Guys had even started to notice Miranda, which is why she’d started wearing baggy t-shirts.

Miranda dodged around Penny Mosley walking hand in hand with one of the football players.

Then she had to slow down so Cindy didn’t notice. It was relatively easy to observe and follow Cindy, since they had Algebra One together.

Miranda really wished she was in college Calculus instead. Dad was helping her with it at home, but said she had to hold back at school. How was she supposed to pretend to be normal when he was teaching her all these things? Why was it so important to fit in anyway?

She’d tried for the first month, she really had. She made sure to get one or two questions wrong on each assignment. She had the best scores in class, but just barely. Maybe she should have varied her mistakes or something because Mr. Hanson somehow noticed.

At first she’d denied that she was bored, but she panicked and the whole thing came flooding out. He’d let her run off to her next class, but on Monday she found a probability and statistics book in her desk. After class he said, “Keep turning in the Algebra homework, and I’ll grade whatever work you do in the college books too.”

She still made one wrong answer on each test, but now she incremented the question number, question one on the first test, question two on the next, etcetera. Sometimes she tried to leave a puzzle for Mr. Hanson in her wrong answer. She sometimes caught him grinning while grading tests.

When she got her learners permit, she could drive to Southwest Virginia Community College. If she got all her electives out of the way in the next two years, she could go to state school and then grad school when she was seventeen.

Not that Dad would let her.

The five-till bell rang. Miranda followed Cindy to Mr. Hanson’s door. Cindy missed the two girls who waved at her as she went into class. One of the girls rolled her eyes. Miranda almost apologized to them on Cindy’s behalf. Neither waved at Miranda.

As usual, Mr. Hanson’s class was in pre-lesson chaos. Her plan to sit right behind Cindy and observe her for (supposedly) magical behavior was foiled by two cheerleaders and two football players pairing up and taking the back row. She slipped around a freshman girl to the door to go in. Maybe she could get the last seat behind Cindy to the left. Someone touched her arm. “Miranda.”
Mr. Hanson stood just outside the door. He gently took the freshman by the arm and walked her out of the way. He was always doing stuff like that, moving the students around like they were invalids. “Miranda, can we talk a minute?”

She tried to be discreet, glancing back into the room. Cindy was sitting in her usual seat. One seat behind her was still open. “But … class.”

He waved it away. “We still have a few minutes. Walk with me.”

She glanced back again and sighed. Mr. Hanson was already a few steps ahead of her. She ran to catch up.

He gave a look at a football player with his face locked against a cheerleader’s, but Mr. Hanson didn’t say anything. He glanced over at Miranda. “I wanted to see if you’d gotten your parents’ consent about taking college courses next year.”

She didn’t saying anything for a moment, but he wanted an answer and they’d have to go back to class soon. “Not exactly.”

Mr. Hanson waved at Principle Wodzinski who was scratching his bald spot and talking to Mr. Brown, the janitor. Mr. Brown looked like he just wanted to be left alone to fix a drinking fountain. Mr. Hanson’s smile dropped. “I know your dad has concerns, maybe if you asked your mom to–“

“Alice isn’t my mom.” That came out harder than she intended.

Mr. Hanson rubbed the back of his neck. Something he often did when he was on the spot. “Oh, I’m sorry.” The skin under the hair on his neck was red. “We better head back.”

They got to the door of the class without saying anything else, but before Miranda went in, he said, “We’ll make it work, Miranda. Don’t worry.”

Class was almost full. The only available seat was dead center, two rows in front of Cindy.


Miranda kept herself from turning around and looking at Cindy. Well, at least after the first two times.

Both times Cindy had been looking right at her! Miranda was still blushing. What was Cindy thinking? Did she know Miranda was watching her?

Mr. Hanson told them to read the section on multiplying fractions, which Miranda had already looked over last night. She took a deep breath and tried to do one of Dad’s relaxation exercises. She wished she could feel as at ease as Cindy looked. It wasn’t as if Cindy was good at math. It wasn’t even that other kids never made fun of her. She just didn’t seem to mind.

Cindy twirled her hair around a pencil while she read. Usually within ten minutes she had it completely tangled in there. Kids called her “Pencil,” because they weren’t clever enough to think of a nickname like “Tangles” or “Hair Extensions.”

Miranda sometimes wanted to smack the thing out of Cindy’s hand. Other times she wanted to sit patiently and work the metal pencil end out without tearing too much of Cindy’s hair.

One of the football lunkheads said, “Pencil” and chuckled, like he just come up with something clever and original. As usual, Cindy didn’t notice. Miranda used to think Cindy was good at ingratiating herself to teachers, but really it was that she never made trouble. Miranda herself was actually popular with teachers, but that was because she worked so hard and tried to make the best of all her school time.

Not that all teachers liked her. She’d been devastated when Mrs. Dover had suggested Miranda “chill out a little.” She suggested Miranda get a hobby. Miranda hadn’t spoken in class for a week after that. She didn’t want to admit Mrs. Dover might be right, but Cindy moved in shortly after that and Miranda took up investigating her as a hobby.

Something hit the back of Miranda’s neck. She felt for the wet of a spit-wad but her neck was dry. She scanned the floor for an eraser or a pen cap, but the only thing down on the floor was a tightly folded note.

Passing notes was against the rules. She’d learned not to tattle, that drew a lot of attention, so she just ignored the note. Someone made a noise behind her. When she looked back, Cindy winked.

Mr. Hanson still faced the board. Miranda felt a little guilty, but she leaned over and grabbed it. Mr. Hanson kept writing on the board, talking about matching divisors. Miranda opened the note on her desk.

Before she even registered the words she noticed Cindy’s tight precise script. Much neater than hers.

Let’s do lunch together, Miranda McGee!

“Is that a note, Miranda?” Mr. Hanson must have turned around the second she’d opened the note. He looked honestly surprised, like it’d never occurred to him that Miranda was capable of doing anything wrong. Everyone in class was looking at her. A few kids giggled.

“It’s… it’s…”

Mr. Hanson waved his hands, like “whatever” and turned back to the board. Miranda could feel her cheeks burning. Something hit the back of her neck, but she was pretty sure this time it was a spit-wad.

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

In the movies or on TV, school always came off as exciting and/or sadistic. Bullies were blatant and outwardly evil and the teachers always turned a blind eye to the suffering of the smaller kids.

Miranda’s experience was that kids were much more subtle at torturing each other, everyone felt insecure and the teachers were just really busy.

The front doors of Union High School looked like Victorian church doors, complete with stained glass (underneath protective glass and steel mesh.) Two stone lions sat on either side of the concrete stairs. Some quick internet research revealed they’d originally been installed in front of the Dillwyn town hall, a richer town twenty miles west. Some farmers had stolen the lions thirty years ago, each on a separate weekend. Apparently no one had bothered to take them back. Now they added some class to the school.

Cindy waved at Miranda and ran off. Miranda didn’t even get a chance to wave back. She went up the stairs to the school, slipping past two arguing seniors. The front doors were propped open, which was good because they were heavy and warped. Just inside the door vice-principle Brook did her usual nodding at everyone, as if to say, “There is an official presence here.”

No one knew Brook’s first name. She gave Miranda the thumbs up, which Miranda assumed was a sort of hello, since she couldn’t think of any other reason to do it. Miranda waved in return.

The High School halls were worn. The wall cracks were painted over but still lingered beneath the grey paint. The red linoleum had faded to pink-salmon and was cracked in patterns that looked like retinal veins. The lockers had so many coats of paint they stuck shut, especially in the summer.

Miranda usually didn’t talk to anyone when she entered the school, making a beeline for her locker while staring determinately at the floor.

Kids weren’t as bad out in the halls, where teachers could catch them. It was easy to tattle when they hit you or took your stuff. It was much harder to prove mean words.

Still, she kept to herself, waved at a few people so as not to be too insulated. Insulated wasn’t ‘normal’ and kids who didn’t talk to anyone attracted more attention than the loud ones. Dad once said, “Act like people like you and they will.”

Miranda kept a map of the school in her head with likely locations of key people. Principle Wodzinski would be in the teachers’ lounge. Mr. Hanson would be sneaking a cigarette back by the track.

Her locker was on a small side hallway, but fortunately close to the main strip. She didn’t want to be down at the dark dead end. Bobby Hanson’s was way down at the end. He flinched whenever anyone turned in his direction. Maybe Dad was right. If she acted more like Bobby, she’d really be a pariah. She wished she could teach Bobby her equation for responding to questions and jokes. Just smile and repeat back the last half of what they said. Then people generally left her alone.

Cindy wasn’t quite the social pariah that Miranda was, but other kids talked about her behind her back, for all she noticed.

She couldn’t figure out what anyone wanted from each other. No one ever said what they meant, even the teachers. Everything was caged in sarcastic language. Miranda wasn’t good with sarcasm.

Her locker stuck, but she pressed her foot against the edge and pried it open. She fitted her books on the wooden shelf she’d built for the bottom of her locker. The fake cardboard wall made a dull hollow sound. She smiled.

She’d smuggled it in, piece by piece after painting it to match the rest of the locker. She’d never thought of anything to hide behind it, but it was fun knowing it was there.

First class was History, just down the hall. Then she could swing back past the locker for her mathematics book. When she thought about History class, an annoying part of her head added, “without Cindy.” She already found herself thinking of the next time she’d see her. Annoying.

The walk to class was uneventful, and her favorite seat was empty. She sat in the front, having decided best visual access to the board was a reasonable trade-in for people throwing stuff in her hair.

Aught was even worst than the last town in California. The kids here were suspicious of anyone with an IQ over 110.

It wasn’t like Miranda wanted to show anyone up, she just needed good scores to get into college. When she’d tried to explain that to Suzanne Wilkens, Suzanne said, “You don’t need a 4.0 to get into college.” Which was beside the point, really. Mr. Hanson had offered that with Miranda’s grades, she could go to college early. She worried that Dad would find the card from the college. She should have put it in her secret drawer.

But all that work made her the class uber-nerd. It wasn’t her fault she had good genes.

Her desk had a new carving. A little heart with “HI!” carved in the center. She frowned.

Mr. Walter was fun, and liked Miranda, but he ran his class like a circus. Each lesson was sort of an event. That was fun, but Miranda sometimes worried about Mr. Walter’s historical accuracy.

The shades were down and Mr. Walter was playing with a projector in the back of the classroom. Miranda double-checked the schedule in her head to make sure she hadn’t forgotten any assignments. She was a little surprised that Mr. Walter was showing a film. He usually warned them the day before.

Class filled with her fellow students. To Miranda’s quick analysis, thirty percent looked happy and engaged. Ten percent looked scared of everyone else. Fifty-sixty percent looked incredibly bored–those were the ones who usually sat in the back. She formed an equation to plot how many acted bored and how many were genuinely bored. It’d be easier if she had access to IQ records. She suspected the truly bored ones had very low IQ. She could see being bored when class wasn’t challenging, but how could anyone be bored in Mr. Walter’s class?

“And we sit!”

Miranda was already sitting, but everyone else found theirs. Mr. Walter never called anyone a kid or a student. Miranda respected his teaching methods, even though they could be a little stressful.

“You no doubt notice we have a surprise today. Watching a film causes the inability to take notes and is therefore less work than if we used a book.” Kids laughed. “I’ve cued this film after the titles and, without sound, we– ha ha ha, sorry– you have to identify the time period and the location.”

Other kids groaned, but Miranda was excited. She pulled out her notebook and pen. She’d made this notebook too, so every other page was covered in crossed-out pages from their printer. It reminded her of her investigation book. Cindy and the … bird thing dropped into her consciousness like ice water. She’d been in the Bauteil’s car! She could have interviewed them properly. Maybe she could try to get a ride back, but no, dad would probably be home by then.

The bottom of the desktop scratched her knees, which was weird. She’d surreptitiously measured the height of the desk last week when she was thinking about ergonomics. She’d thought it was a little too high then. She doubted she’d grown much in a week. Everyone was focused on Mr. Walter fighting with the projector. She leaned forward to look at the legs.

That explained it. It wasn’t the same desk. The legs were iron and swept forward in a sort of curl down to the floor. Actually, all of the desk-legs in the room were like that. Where had the school system gotten the money?

She sat back up and looked at the top of the desk. The “HI!” heart was new, but it still had the half moon carved in the top right corner, the one she always stuck her finger in while taking notes. She couldn’t figure out why they’d replace the legs and use the old desktops. When had they even had time to do this?

The projector started up, and Mr. Walter called out. “Someone get the lights.”

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

She woke up with a scream.

She could never remember her dreams, but her heart raced. The streetlights left her room glowing blue. The faces of her inspirational scientists looked as sad and stressed as she felt. Her adrenalin was spiked, but she couldn’t remember what she’d dreamed about. She lay awake with her covers coiled around her fists, which gave her plenty of time to obsess about Cindy.

By four am, she decided that the whole bird incident had been a partial hallucination, mixed with sunlight reflection. She wasn’t even sure Cindy had a canary. She’d have to check that.

Eventually she gave up on sleeping and clicked on her desk lamp. An hour with an abnormal psychology book helped her drift off.

She hadn’t set an alarm, but she woke up with a start at seven the next morning. Her brain was a sludge of exhaustion, but she couldn’t fall back to sleep.

After she dressed she spent an uncomfortable breakfast wincing under Alice’s chipperness and Dad pretending he hadn’t yelled at her at dinner the night before. Alice made her lunch and then left with Dad. Dad paused out in the driveway, looking at the Bauteil’s house and shaking his head.

She sometimes worried about leaving Dad alone with Alice in the car, but none of the hypothetical attempts had happened in public. Dad had early shift at the grocery store and would drop Alice off at the hair salon on his way. They’d only be together for fifteen minutes. Once they were gone, Miranda stood at the end of the driveway, glancing at the juniper bushes and wishing she were hiding in them.


While she waited for the bus, she watched the Bauteil’s house. Cindy passed her window a few times, brushing her hair. How could someone with five dads be so boring?

One of the Bauteil dads walked by the front window. Probably Tom-Dad. Then Bill-Dad passed, then another dad.

The Bauteil’s garage door rumbled and slid up. Their one car, a 1989 Buick, edged down their driveway. Miranda idly wondered how six people got by with just one car. As usual, Bill-Dad was driving. He waved. Tom-Dad sat in the passenger seat, distracted with something in the glove compartment.

She waved back, genuinely smiling. It was just nice to have someone who wasn’t mad at her. Bill-Dad was always the most outgoing of the dads. Cindy waved from the backseat. Miranda kept waving; too long, probably. She blushed and forced herself to stop. The car made a little squeak as it stopped. Bill-dad’s head bobbed as he said something to Cindy. The reverse lights blinked on. When the car stopped in front of Miranda, he motioned to Tom-Dad. He looked up, saw Miranda and rolled his window down.

Tom-Dad had a warm smile. “Hey Miranda, did you miss the bus?”

He didn’t look like someone who would turn into a bird. He didn’t look anything like a bird. He and Bill-Dad just looked like … dads. The bus hadn’t come yet, but she found herself nodding, which was sort of like a lie, but she hadn’t said anything. It was possible she’d missed it.

Bill-dad said, “We can give you a ride if you want.”

A bunch of Dad’s rules ran through Miranda’s mind; they all pretty much added up to “stranger danger” and “you can never trust anyone.” Not to mention, “Stay away from the Bauteils.” She imagined Cindy being the bait for a ring of slavers. She smiled and shook her head. That was ridiculous.

If ever there was a chance to figure out the Bauteil’s, this was it.

“I’d like a ride.” Which was not a lie.

The kids on the bus were always yelling and changing seats. It’s too bad she didn’t have a ride like this every day, she’d have more time to get home and check on Alice.

Bill-dad had a great smile too. “Hop on in.” It’d been a long time since her own dad had smiled like that. Tom-Dad twisted around and pulled up the backseat door lock.

Chapter 3 image

Once inside, Miranda threw her bag on the seat next to Cindy and buckled the seat belt. Her head snapped back when Bill-Dad zoomed off.

She thought about quoting the speeding laws, but she kept her mouth shut.

They passed Fremont Street, and Tom-dad said, “Nice to finally get a chance to say hi.”

The rode in silence for a bit, while Miranda tried to think of something to say.

Fortunately Bill-Dad asked. “You two have any classes together?”

Miranda rattled off, “Mathematics at nine AM and then gym and homeroom. In math she sits two desks to my left and one row behind, but homeroom has open seating and of course gym is gym.”

Her cheeks flushed. That was the kind of answer that often got her made fun of. But Bill-dad just smiled and nodded. “That was a very exact answer, Miranda.”

Cindy giggled. It was a melodious giggle, and Miranda smiled in spite of herself. Normally when people laughed she assumed they were laughing at her, but that was hard to imagine right now.

She said, “Cindy doesn’t talk much.” That was probably not a socially appropriate thing to say.

Bill-dad laughed. “She does at home.”

Miranda was becoming aware of how much she was talking about Cindy, rather than to her. But she couldn’t think of anything to say. She looked out the window. They passed the giant oak tree in the Emmons’ front yard. The fallen leaves around it formed a nearly perfect heart pattern. Someone must have raked them that way. It seemed unlikely to happen naturally.

Cindy said, “I like your spyglass.”

Miranda felt her heart speed up. Cindy knew she’d been spying on her. Miranda looked at Cindy’s dad, but he just smiled and kept driving.

Cindy said, “I’m thinking I should get a spyglass.”

Tom-Dad reached back over the seat and ruffled her hair. “That can probably be arranged.”

A good investigator would have a cover story ready for such a situation. All Miranda could do was prattle off, “Oh yes, stargazing is really interesting. I could recommend telescopes to you. I mean, I made my own, but it’s based on a Scientific American model.” She stopped herself there. When she talked too much about things she was excited about, people’s eyes started to glaze over.

Cindy said, “Maybe you could show me yours sometime.”

That’d be cool. Miranda didn’t say anything, but she smiled out the window. This must be what making friends was like. Her smile faded. There was no way Dad would let her bring a friend over, especially Cindy Bauteil.

They rode in silence for a few blocks and Cindy said, “Your dad doesn’t like us.”

Bill-dad nodded. Tom-dad looked out the window.

Miranda tried to think of something positive to say, but it was true. She wanted to say, “Dad doesn’t like anything weird, and you all are definitely weird.”

Bill-dad looked at her a moment, then shrugged.

While she was searching for something to say, Cindy said, “It’s okay. Maybe you could bring your spyglass over to my house sometime.”

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

They didn’t speak for the rest of dinner, but while Miranda was cleaning the dishes Dad came and put his hands on her shoulders. “We need to meditate later.”

That was it. Same as always, no explanation, no apology.

She didn’t want to speak to him, but she nodded. He just stood there till she turned. He looked distracted.

She thought about the ripped up card in the garbage. She almost blurted out about the bird and Cindy, just to blow his mind.

Dad had told Alice to put the garbage out in the can in the backyard, even though it was mostly empty. Miranda made a mental note to sneak out later to get it. Why was Dad against her using her brain? He hated his job with the grocery store. She didn’t understand why he didn’t just get a job that used his brains.

“Come on.” He patted her shoulder and left.

She dried her hands. Dad said, “Alice, could you finish the dishes?”

“Of course dear.”

Miranda hadn’t quite worked out her feelings on feminism, but still, Alice’s complacence sometimes set her teeth on edge.

Dad was already on the couch in the living room. He’d turned off the TV and the overhead fan, so Alice’s dish-washing noises were clear. Miranda wasn’t sure why Alice didn’t need to meditate, but Dad never invited her. Alice seemed happy all the time anyway. Maybe dumb people didn’t need to clear their heads.

Miranda felt guilty for thinking that.

Dad said, “You’re frowning. Come sit down and clear your head.”

“Sorry.” She wasn’t sorry, but she sat next to him anyway. She quickly realized she was forcing her eyes shut, so she relaxed her face.

Clearing your head was easier said than done. Her mind was awash with thoughts about Cindy and her too-many dads and the possibility of magic. What was a logical explanation? Did they have a projector? Was it a trick?

Dad grunted, and Miranda took a deep breath. When she set all that aside, her head flooded with how she needed to plan for the next week. Alice’s volunteer group was having a day off next Wednesday and Miranda might have to skip school to keep an eye on her. At least her dad would be at work–

“Clear your head, Miranda.”

Crap. She took another deep breath and thought about a candle. Dad had said imagining a candle flame gave her brain something to do while she relaxed. She liked to imagine a big white taper candle, like the kind dad had plunged into her fifth birthday cake. They had been on the road and he couldn’t find real birthday candles, but she liked the single big one better anyway. She forced herself not to smile.

Apparently her face looked relaxed enough, because Dad finally started his meditation routine. “Okay, as you breathe, imagine a cube. What is the cube made of?”

She had to come up with a new material each time he asked this, anything she wanted as long as it was a real substance. “Glass.”

“What kind of glass?”

She’d been researching and making lists of materials since they started this meditation. “Pyrex.”

“Which is?” She knew Dad knew, but he always wanted her to be specific.

“Borosilicate glass.” She smiled.

“Clear your head.” Dad sounded stern, but pleased. “What are the dimensions of the cube?”

“Three by three by three.” Three cubed, the perfect cube.

“Inches? Meters?”


She swore she could hear the smile in Dad’s voice. “Good. Maintain your breathing, in slow calm words, describe the qualities of this cube.”

The image of Cindy Bauteil’s dad turning into a bird flooded her head again, but she relaxed into her breathing. “The density of borosilicate glass at these dimensions is…” It took a moment to remember the density of the material and calculate for the size. “Two point two grams.”

“Keep breathing.” She heard Dad tap into his laptop to check her answer.

They did physics every two days, math every other day, biology three times a week. He often used their meditation sessions to review what they’d learned.

“Okay, I’m going to count down from ten, breathe with each number, and then we’re done for tonight.”

She had to admit. Doing these meditations made her feel closer to Dad. It was the most relaxed she ever felt. Learning new things was fun, but she wondered what the point of it all was. She was years ahead of everyone else in her school and yet Dad freaked out at her looking at college.

Chapter 2 illustration

“Ten … Nine …” Dad was breathing steadily with her. His cheat book rustled. “What would you use three by three blocks of Borosilicate glass for?”

That threw her. Dad usually just made her memorize things, not do things with them. “Um, you could build a flame retardant wall out of them.”

“Eight … Seven …” Sometimes he snuck in a surprise question.

She imagined the wall of blocks. “They’d make good toys.”

She swore she heard Dad smile. “Good. Visualize a glass cube in your head. Think about how it would feel in your hand.”

She could. She started thinking about how various intersects would cut the shape and what the resulting shapes would be. Quadrilateral. Pentagon. Pyramid.

Dad would be angry if he knew she was playing with the shape in her head, so she stopped.


Later, after Dad and Alice went to bed, Miranda found half of the card in the garbage outside and half in the garbage in the garage. She was exhausted, but before she went to sleep, she meticulously taped the card back together and hid it in her secret drawer.