She didn’t get any sleep that night. Dad and Alice almost caught her on the stairs because she’d drifted off trying to listen to them. She was scared Alice would get a knife from the kitchen.
Even after Dad and Alice went to bed, she sat at her desk and listened to them sleep.
At six, she listened to Dad get up and leave for work. She went into the hall bathroom and splashed water on her face. Alice hummed a tune down in the kitchen.
Back in her room, she lay down again. Her bed smelled like stress. It probably came from her not sleeping. The apoeccrine glands produced more acidic sweat when the human body was under pressure.
A couple minutes later she noticed the wet places on her pillow, one on either side of her head, which was strange. She’d dried her face in the bathroom. Maybe she’d fell asleep and drooled. It took a few more moments to notice she was crying. An impartial part of her brain noted the tears still rolling down. Something about noticing she was crying made her cry more. She had to stick her face in her pillow because she was afraid she’d start screaming. As it was, a low moan rolled out. It actually made her feel a little better. Just a little.
She should talk to the police, even if she didn’t have proper evidence.
Soon Alice would call her down to breakfast. Miranda dragged herself out of bed and wiped off her face. Her head hurt. Why did crying give her a headache?
In the mirror, her eyes looked puffy and red. Almost out of habit, she looked out the window, across the street, but Cindy’s window was dark.
Her alarm clock showed seven AM.
She panicked. Why hadn’t Alice woken her up? She’d be late for school, even if she skipped a shower. Sitting up made her feel dizzy. The thought of school made her feel more sick. The panic made her head pound a little more.
Actually, her forehead was hot. She felt generally pretty sick. She pulled on a robe over her pajamas and padded downstairs.
Alice wore a blue checkered house dress with her red apron over it. She’d made pancakes. They sat neatly in the middle of the table with syrup in a tiny glass pitcher and a little bowl of peanut butter.
Miranda loved peanut butter on her pancakes. There was even a flower on the table in a clear blue vase. She rubbed her temples.
Why couldn’t Alice act more like a super-villain?
Maybe it was all so effortless for Alice that she just looked innocent. But it was so confusing. The smartest tack seemed to be to log the attempts, just like she’d learned to log information about Dad.
Miranda sat down at the table. “Alice, I’m not feeling very well. I think I should stay home from school.”
“Oh dear.” Alice came over and put the back of her hand on Miranda’s forehead.
Her hand felt cool. Something about the action made Miranda want to cry again.
“You do feel a little warm.” Alice’s voice was short with concern.
She leaned away from Alice’s hand. She couldn’t think of Alice as a person. She had to be ready to stop Alice at all times. She wished she had a video camera. Maybe she could catch Alice doing … something.
Alice leaned across her and spread the peanut butter carefully on Miranda’s pancakes.
She’d bring evidence to the police and they’d … What would they do? Haul Alice off?
Why did everything have to be so complicated? She wanted to protect Dad, but not hurt Alice, she just wanted Alice to stop.
“You should definitely stay home today. I’ll call the school.” She touched Miranda’s shoulder and went around the corner to pick up the phone.
Miranda took the knife and the little bowl of peanut butter and spread more on the top pancake. She couldn’t help but smile. Alice always whipped the peanut butter with a fork before putting it out, so it was easier to spread. Maybe Miranda could try conditioning Alice, use some of Dad’s meditation techniques to change Alice’s behavior until everything was okay. Maybe. Maybe Dad would be willing to include Alice in their sessions.
Alice came back in. “That’s all taken care of.” She turned back to scrubbing the stove.
Miranda poured syrup on her pancakes. Now was as good a time to start as any. “Oh, Alice?”
“What do you like to do with your time?”
Alice tilted her head, and raised one eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“I’m just curious what you enjoy most.” Miranda put her hands together in a way that she hoped looked thoughtful. “I mean, do you have time to do anything fun while doing all this housework?” Maybe Alice’s homicidal urges were because she felt trapped in her domestic life.
Alice laughed. “Oh, I’m always doing what I like to do. I love taking care of you and your father.” Whenever Alice mentioned Dad, she never called him Alistair, just “your father.”
“But isn’t there anything else you’d rather be doing?”
Alice put down the sponge. “Oh course not.”
Miranda tried a different tack. “But what did you want to do with your life before you met Dad?”
Alice came over to the table. She started cutting Miranda’s pancake into little squares. “Oh, nothing else.” She glanced over at Miranda’s head. “Look at this hair young lady. You need a trim.”
“Didn’t you want to go to college or something?”
Alice put down the knife and fork and took a piece of cloth from her apron pocket.
She pulled it taught and rolled it into a tight tube. “No, no. I’ve always wanted to take care of you and your father.”
She twisted the tube into a thick thread. She took Miranda’s hair and pulled it back, tied it with the cloth. “Your hair is so pretty. But you shouldn’t cover your face.”
Miranda frowned. “But you didn’t know us until a few years ago.”
Alice blinked. “No, of course. I mean I was looking for someone like you and your dad, to take care of.” She grinned. “Well, this house won’t clean itself. I should go put the laundry in. Thanks for the chat. I’ll finish the kitchen later.”
“OK.” Miranda felt a little deflated. Alice would be a harder puzzle than she thought. Maybe she’d have to investigate Alice’s past too.
Her head hurt again.