Fiction, Music, Art

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

Miranda sat on an old blanket on the Bauteils’ couch with Mom’s head on her lap. They were both soaked with flower oil. John made coffee in the kitchen while Bill and Tom found them towels.

The couch had changed, but Miranda couldn’t remember how it had looked before. Now it was covered with some sort of corduroy fabric. Mom was going to have lines on her arm when she got up. Miranda stroked Mom’s head.

Cindy came back from her room with one of her dresses. “Do you want to change?” The dress was green, probably the least girly thing Cindy owned, which was probably why she’d never seen Cindy wear it.

The dress looked even more plain against the yellow frilly dress Cindy wore now. Miranda felt warm inside. Cindy wasn’t just looking out for her, she knew to offer her least frilly dress.

Her heart clenched. Did Cindy know so much about Miranda’s taste because Miranda had made her? Was Cindy anything more than a collection of things Miranda was missing in her life?

She shifted uncomfortably on the couch. Her clothes felt surprisingly comfortable, considering. The flower slime was drying away, leaving her clothes feeling softer and lightly floral smelling. Her hair felt conditioned.

Cindy waited. Miranda shook her head. “Thanks. I think I’ll just let these dry.”

Cindy folded the dress, She looked a little disappointed, but she shrugged. “I’ll get you some milk.”

Was Cindy anything more than a playmate? A servant Miranda had dreamed up?

The towels Tom brought were warm and fluffy. Maybe he’d run them in the dryer.

“Thanks.” Miranda put one on her neck and rubbed Mom’s hair with the other.

Mom opened her eyes and coughed. “We need a plan.”

Either Mom’s voice or the open window made Tom stop. His face ran through confusion and recognition. “That… river…”

Miranda stopped rubbing Mom’s hair.

Mom sat up, “Yeah?”

Tom looked as if he were thinking deeply. Cindy said her dads had noticed something was weird about town, but they’d never been able to say specifics before.

Cindy watched her dads from the bathroom door. John and Bill came over from the kitchen and joined Tom by the window.

It was like watching them wake up. Tom said, “That river is new. We used to have a road.”

Bill nodded. “I checked the garage, how would we use the car?”

Mom nodded. She grabbed Miranda’s knee. “This is new.” She observed the three dads like they were lab animals. “No one, besides you, ever notices the changes.” It made Miranda uncomfortable that Mom was speaking as if the dads weren’t right there.

“I do.” Cindy came from around with a glass in each hand.

Mom’s fingers dug into Miranda’s knee. “I assumed Miranda convinced you.”

Cindy shook her head. “The school keeps changing. Dad didn’t believe me at first either.” The glasses of milk formed condensation around her fingers.

“This is new.” Mom repeated.

After everything they’d been through, Miranda couldn’t see why this was a big deal.

“It’s been like constant deja vu lately.” Bill shrugged. “The library has always had a drive through, but I remember it otherwise.” Tom and John nodded.

Mom shot up from the couch like a spring. The Bauteils parted for her. She paced to the kitchen and back. “It used to be only I noticed the changes, even before… the god changed me.”

Bill frowned. “The god?”

Mom waved her hand. “In a second.” She pointed at their house across the street. “Sometimes I thought even I was missing changes.” She looked at Miranda. “Like with Alice.”

A little pain twitched in Miranda’s chest.

Mom didn’t seem to notice. She sat down on the couch again. “But now people are starting to notice.”

Cindy finally noticed she had the milk glasses. She handed one to Miranda. “At least us. I still don’t think anyone in town notices.”

Mom nodded absently. “Just me and people Miranda has m–” Miranda knocked Mom on the hip. Mom stumbled. “The… people in this house.”

Cindy’s glass froze halfway to her mouth. She looked from Mom to Miranda. “What’s she saying?”

The uncomfortable silence drew out. How would people she’d made react to finding out she’d made them? She coughed.

To her credit, Mom picked up on Miranda’s tension. Cindy and her dads looked like they were waiting for an answer.

Mom stood up from the couch. She dragged Miranda to her feet. “I think the Bauteils and I need a minute.”

The tension felt so thick, Miranda could barely breath. She realized she was still clutching the full glass of milk. She set it on the side table. They were all standing in an awkward circle.

Bill sighed and wiped his face. “Cindy, hon, maybe you and Miranda should go in your room for a little bit.”

Mom gave Miranda a look. She’d probably meant to speak to Cindy too. After a pause, she nodded.

The relief at not having to explain, made Miranda feel giddy, but it was immediately followed by guilt. Without thinking about it, she leaned in to hug Mom.

Mom gasped and stiffened like she been shocked. Miranda felt three awkward pats on her back.

Embarrassment ran through Miranda. She knew Mom didn’t like to be touched.

She was just about to apologize when Mom hugged her so hard, Miranda could barely breath.

Mom’s voice cracked. “It’s going to be okay.”

Mom gently pushed Miranda back and looked her in the eye. “I guess things are changing.”

The look passed and the Mom’s face got hard again. She pulled Miranda close and whispered, “Don’t change anything. The mad god is too close to waking up.”

She pushed Miranda in Cindy’s direction. Cindy seemed to realize she hadn’t drank her milk either. She set it on the counter. As Miranda followed Cindy to her room, Mom invited the Bauteil dads to sit on the couch.

As Miranda closed Cindy’s door behind her, she heard Mom say. “We don’t have a lot of time, so I’m going to be blunt.”

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