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.”