- Tom Bauteil
- Bill Bauteil
- John Bauteil
- ??? Bauteil
- ??? Bauteil
She still had to figure out the last two dad’s first names. She thought again and crossed out all the last names:
A good investigator didn’t presume until she had data. She’d only confirmed Cindy’s last name for sure. She’d done a quick google check, but couldn’t find any references to the Bauteils. Maybe she could look for paperwork at the library and city hall. She could also go through their trash.
Cindy had five dads. She’d even talked about it in school, but no one acted like that was weird.
Dads. Five. Miranda was pretty clear on how reproduction worked and there should be a mother in there somewhere.
She drew another line through their last names.
Cindy just sat there brushing her hair.
Was this what Dad meant by “acting normal?” People did some pretty boring things, even the weird ones. No one in Aught was interested in solving math puzzles or plotting town statistics. Any town with a name as weird as “Aught” should certainly have some colorful characters, but Aught was perfect for Dad. Folks here were allergic to weird.
Well, maybe except for the Bauteils.
Aught was certainly the smallest town Miranda had lived in. According to the census, Aught was the sixth smallest town in Virginia. Not the kind of place where even two dads would be accepted. Some people still hung confederate flags.
Miranda’s history teacher, Mr. Walter, had replaced Ms. Basket. Ms. Basket had left town when a rumor started that she had “The Gay.”
With five Bauteil dads, it seemed someone might eventually decide “The Gay” was happening in the Bauteil house.
Cindy kept at her hair, fifty strokes left, fifty strokes right.
Miranda used a ballpoint pen to jot in the homemade investigator book. Room bare except for pictures, single dresser. Sitting on bed (UNCONFIRMED–invisible underneath window.)
She was surprised Cindy didn’t have pictures of dragons or unicorns. She seemed the type, like the kind of girl who didn’t dig through the woods or get her pink dresses dirty. Miranda wasn’t sure why she watched Cindy, but it was starting to bug her that she thought about Cindy so much.
It’d be cool to attach a mirror to the spyglass so she could also look up the street without being seen. She started sketching in her mind a mounting device and an angle adjuster.
There wasn’t much to observe in Aught. The town had exactly thirty-two streets. When they’d poured over zoning books for fun, Miranda’s dad said there were thirty-four, but he’d tracked the county lines incorrectly. She’d pointed that out, but sometimes Dad didn’t listen so well.
Across the street a Bauteil dad opened the living room curtains. A moment later he cranked open a window, the kind that opened outward like bay doors. She made a note in her book. Bill, maybe? He had light hair.
Maybe she could pretend she was taking census information. Then she could get the last two dad’s names.
The summer wind made the bush branches itch her arms. She scratched while she noted that the dad at the window was definitely Bill. He was the dad who took Cindy to school every day. Miranda had the most notes on him. He was at least six feet tall with a low body-fat index and blond hair cut like a businessman from a TV show. She estimated he was in his mid-thirties.
She flipped to the back of the book where she kept some basic notes on her own dad. Now he had a properly weird name, Alistair. Though he even hid that from everyone. He called himself Al.
As stressful as it had been to be on the run her whole life, she hated to admit that she sort of missed moving. It was hard to make friends with people in Aught when she was trying so hard to remember Dad’s latest story of where they came from. She’d told it so often that she was starting to forget the details of her real life.
But for all their stories of normalcy, Miranda couldn’t hide her freakish brain. And Dad was far too tiny to be unloading trucks. Even the women dock workers were bigger than him. Miranda didn’t know why Dad didn’t take a better job. He was certainly smart enough. How was that normal? He didn’t even like physical work, and Alistair was a lousy name for a dockworker anyway.
She flipped back to the pages on the Bauteils. Dad still grimaced when Miranda asked about Mom. She’d learned to either drop it or strap herself in for a rant. She wished she at least had a clear image of Mom’s face. The worst times were when she had something she needed to talk to a woman about. She’d just started having her period. Alice must have noticed the laundry, because she left a box of pads on Miranda’s bed. Dad had awkwardly tried to talk to Miranda about it, but she’d run up to her room. Later she looked up information online on Dad’s computer.
There was something Miranda and Cindy had in common. No mom. Miranda made another note in her book.
No one asked Miranda why she collected all this data. If they did, she would say, “Through the thoughtful collection and study of information we take control of our own lives.” She’d practiced saying that in the mirror.
She let out a breath. If Dad caught her spying, she’d be in so much trouble. She corrected herself, investigating. But no one noticed or asked.
Sometimes she wished someone would ask.
Cindy was still brushing her hair. Did she do anything else? Miranda noted the time and estimated number of strokes.
Around a hundred and twenty so far. Miranda couldn’t understand anyone doing more than ten strokes max, both sides.
The setting sun was low enough to create glare in Miranda’s spyglass. She’d have to quit soon anyway. Cindy finally finished and hopped off the bed to set the brush on the dresser. Her hair kind of flew a little bit in the wind, probably lifted by electro-static charge.
Miranda noted the brush must have metal bristles set in a rubber base.
Cindy’s hair was kind of golden blond brown–it bugged Miranda that there wasn’t a technical term for the color. It had a little bit of a green tint that came from hard water and copper pipes. She made another note. Still, the green matched the brown nicely. Miranda wished for long straight hair, even if it was a little green.
Cindy sat on the bed again and, as if on cue, Bill came into the room. He was holding an empty golden cage.
She hadn’t noticed the cage before. Miranda made a note.
Cindy was saying something. An audio spying device would be useful. She’d seen plans for bug transmitters in science magazines in the library, but Dad didn’t have money for the parts. Maybe Dad would let her try babysitting.
Bill-Dad and Cindy were probably talking about something boring anyway.
The sun’s glare made her squint. She focused one last time.
Bill set the cage on Cindy’s bed and kissed her on the forehead. Cindy put out her finger.
Bill jumped at her hand and folded upon himself, compressing until he was a little yellow bird in the air. As he landed on Cindy’s finger, the single functioning part of Miranda’s brain identified him as serinus canaria, a canary.
I was not expecting that.