Miranda’s front door was locked.
She chewed her lower lip. That could mean Dad was home, but she couldn’t tell because the garage door was closed.
Flickering TV light came through the living room curtains, but she couldn’t see inside. She could use the key hidden in a fake rock under the left bush beside the porch, but what if Dad was in there? It was probably better to sneak around back and go in through the kitchen. If dad was already home, maybe he’d assume she’d been in the backyard. She should have put out her spyglass.
She felt guilty. Was this like lying? Was it okay to do something your Dad told you not to do if you didn’t agree not to do it?
Mostly she felt worried about getting caught. She’d done a little research on sociopaths to check to see if Alice was one (she didn’t fit the profile.) Maybe Miranda should take the test herself. Maybe she didn’t feel guilty enough.
The back gate was latched, but she kept a notched popsicle stick nearby in the gravel to unlatch it. The kitchen light was off but fortunately the back door was unlocked. She opened it quickly, since it squeaked louder when moved slowly.
There was no sign of Alice. If Dad wasn’t home, Miranda could just sit on the couch and he’d assume she’d been there the whole time.
The hallway from the kitchen to the living room was dark, but the TV still chatted away. She jumped back when she saw someone, Alice with her back turned.
Miranda stuck her head around the corner again. At first it looked like Alice was standing and watching TV, like she was exercising or something. She raised her hand over Dad’s chair, her fist empty, but clutched tight as if it were around a knife. She brought her fist down hard on the back of the chair, bouncing her wrist off the cushion. She stepped back a bit, spread her feet a little wider and tried again. Like she was practicing the best way to stab someone. In the head.
A loud surprised breath slipped out of Miranda and she put her hand over her mouth.
Alice turned, she looked out of breath, but she was smiling, calm as always. Her hand unclenched and fell to her side. “Miranda dear, where have you been?”
Miranda motioned at the chair. “What were you doing?”
Alice rubbed her wrist, still smiling. “Practicing.” Her fingers looked white from strain. “Are you hungry?”
Her demeanor was so casual that Miranda momentarily though she’d hallucinated the last minute.
Hungry? It was hard for Miranda to track conversations that changed directions quickly. Her brain flailed for a response. “What are you practicing?”
Alice looked back at the chair. She frowned, like she’d forgotten something. “My stroke.”
She was still trying to think of something else to say when Alice said, “Miranda McGee, you’ve been out of the house for quite a while. Where have you been?”
The garage door rumbled behind Miranda and she stupidly looked behind her like she could see through the wall. “Uh.”
Shouldn’t she be accusing Alice? Pointing a finger? Calling the police?
The door from the garage opened. Miranda’s dad rarely called out when he came home, but she heard keys and and a plastic bag hit the counter. Dad grunted and Miranda thought of the popcorn, sitting unpopped in the air popper.
He walked around the corner out of the kitchen, and when he saw Miranda in the hall he looked confused. “Is Bill Nye on?”
The silence was palpable. Alice crossed her arms. “We’re discussing why Miranda was out so long.” The look on her face wasn’t angry or deceptive. It was like she was saying, “You scamp.”
Miranda took a breath. She wanted to yell, “She was practicing to stab someone, probably you!” But while she was putting the words together in her head, Dad flipped on the hall light. His face was tight and red. “Where were you?”
She tightened her fists like Alice had earlier. “I needed to ask Cindy something.” True.
“You went over to the Bauteils?” Dad’s face got redder. “I expressly forbid you from talking to them!”
She let go of the breath she’d been holding. Not actually true. His exact words had been that he didn’t want her to talk to them. Wanting wasn’t forbidding.
While she tried to think of a response, Alice walked around Dad’s chair and sat on the couch. Miranda watched her as an excuse to collect herself for a moment. Alice smoothed her skirt.
Miranda used her calmest voice. “Cindy needed to ask me something. I was only there for a little bit.”
Dad wouldn’t look at her. “What did we agree?”
“Al, it was only for a little while.” Alice had a very reasonable look on her face. It clashed in Miranda’s head with what she’d just seen Alice doing. She was practicing stabbing, right?
“Alice, not now.” Dad held up a hand. “Miranda, what did we agree?”
Miranda kicked her heal against the wall. “We didn’t agree! You said you wanted me to stay away from the Bautils!”
Dad turned on her. “That’s right, stay away from them!”
“I don’t even know why this is a big deal!” Her voice was getting higher and she could feel tears pressing against her eyes. So much of the past year, the whole of her life welled up. He wanted her to be normal and she just wasn’t. Nothing about them or their lives was normal, and it was worse that he wanted to both be normal and not have any friends. How was that normal?
She hadn’t noticed Alice get up, but suddenly she was between Dad and Miranda. “I think we’re all getting a little upset over nothing.”
Miranda froze. Alice had never tried to mediate between Miranda and Dad before. Even Dad looked surprised.
Dad wiped his hands over his eyes. “If you only understood. None of this is simple, Miranda.”
“You never tell me anything!” She almost never yelled, especially at her dad, but she was so frustrated and tired. She lowered her voice. “I know something is going on. I know it.”
Dad leaned against the wall. He rubbed his face. “Do you think I like this?”
He waved his hand at the room, almost at Alice. Alice looked as if she’d say something, but didn’t. Dad’s face was awash with guilt, which was scary. He often got the most angry when his was guilty.
Miranda looked at the floor. “Go to your room.”
“Fine!” She slammed up the stairs. “I hope she does stab you!”
Once in her room, she locked broom handle lock and pushed her rolling chair against the door. Which was stupid, it wouldn’t actually hold anyone out, but putting it there made her feel a tiny bit better. Once on the floor next to her bed, she started to regret yelling about Alice stabbing Dad.
Downstairs, Dad yelled and Alice replied calmly, then there were murmurs. What if Alice really was going to kill Dad?
Miranda couldn’t watch them all the time. She leaned under her bed, moved the spyglass out of the way and pulled out one of the many boxes under there. As she’d remembered, the second box from the wall was labeled “electronics.” She dug out the baby monitor she’d bought at the thrift store a month earlier.
It didn’t sound like Alice or Dad were coming upstairs yet. She moved the chair away from the door and listened. Dad wasn’t yelling anymore but she could hear him and Alice walking around the kitchen.
Her door squeaked as it opened, but the sounds downstairs continued. She sneaked quickly but softly across the hall, past the bathroom and into Dad and Alice’s room.
They had two twin beds, sort of like a husband and wife on a fifties TV show. The room was pretty bare otherwise, not even a dresser. Dad and Alice kept all their things in the walk-in closet. As long as she could remember, Dad packed light, as if he was always ready to pick up and leave.
There was one outlet by the headboard of Dad’s bed, closest to the door. The voices downstairs droned on. She got down on the carpet and quickly shimmied halfway under Dad’s bed. Once the transmitter was plugged into the outlet she could listen to make sure Alice didn’t try anything tonight. She paused before she turned it on. Hopefully Alice and Dad wouldn’t have sex. Ew.
A red light lit when she clicked it on. So far so good. Dust bunnies clung to her shirt as she pushed herself up. She’d left the receiver in her room, so she couldn’t test it. The house was silent.
She froze, listening for the stairway to creak. She didn’t even hear any noises from the kitchen anymore. There was a little red glow from under Dad’s bed, but hopefully they wouldn’t notice it when they turned on the light as they came in.
As she crossed the hall to her room, Alice’s voice drifted up. “Just sit and watch some TV, dear. Let me rub your shoulders.”