“You shouldn’t have passed me a note.” Miranda clutched her books to her chest and rushed down the hall. She was so mad she couldn’t even look at Cindy.
Cindy had to jog to keep up. “I wasn’t trying to get you in trouble.” She kept opening and closing her book as she walked, like it was talking. “It’s just that you usually dash out of class so quickly at the end of math.” Other kids looked at Cindy like she was crazy, but Cindy just kept on with the book.
Miranda had to swap books and get to Reading Comprehension, then Chemistry. She tried to ignore Cindy.
“Have lunch with me!”
Wasn’t Cindy going to be late for Biology? She didn’t seem worried about it.
“I need to check in with the office before lunch to see if anyone needs tutoring help.” She turned to go to Reading Comp.
Cindy said, “Awww … no one shows up for that anyway.”
Miranda felt offended, but it was true. She hadn’t tutored anyone in a month. She just sat in the office for fifteen minutes feeling hungry and then gave up and got the dregs of hot lunch.
She was just about to say, “I have to go” and run off, but… really there was never anyone there. She did always end up last in line for hot lunch.
Still, Cindy had gotten her in trouble. “Passing notes is against the rules.” Not trouble exactly, but for the entire rest of the class she’d felt embarrassed.
Cindy closed the book with a snap. “Let’s grab food together. I want to ask you something.”
Miranda hadn’t realized they shared lunch period. She made a mental note to update her Cindy-tracking schedule. She’d have to correct what she’d told Bill-Dad.
“The lunch room is loud.” That was part of the reason Miranda skipped it sometimes.
Cindy’s head cocked, like she’d just remembered something. “I’ll show you my secret eating spot.”
Secret eating spot? It was true that Miranda had never seen Cindy at lunch.
Before Miranda could say anything, Cindy yelled, “It’s a date!” And ran off.
Now Miranda was late for class. Cindy couldn’t be worth all this trouble.
Lunch was sloppy joes, green beans and hash browns, each a pile in one of her tray’s three little pits.
Showing up on time for lunch didn’t improve it much.
Miranda followed Cindy out the north exit from the cafeteria. Cindy’s “secret eating spot” turned out to be a small square alcove just outside the door. It looked for all the world like there’d been an elevator in the spot that had been torn out and a floor and walls had been added. Not that that made any sense. The school didn’t have a second floor.
The linoleum had the same weathered look as the rest of the hall and the drop ceiling was grey from age, but there were no overhead lights in the space. The indented area was darker than made sense, given the lights in the hall.
Three park benches sat inside, the metal and wood kind. They faced each other, one against each wall. Cindy sat down on one and put her tray on her knees, so Miranda sat across from her, the bench looked brand new.
“I don’t remember seeing this before.” Miranda touched the wall, as if it’d turn out to be a prop on a set.
Cindy shrugged. “I only noticed it a week ago when Penny Mosley tripped me and I fell in here. It’s practically invisible from the hallway.”
As if to illustrate this, a lumbering senior passed. Miranda and Cindy fell silent till his footsteps receded.
Cindy mashed together all the food on her tray, till it was a gross mess across all of the tray compartments. Miranda felt a little sick just looking at it.
Cindy looked down at the mess. “So, I heard you’re a detective?”
Miranda blushed and looked at her own food. No one was supposed to know that! Sure, she’d let a few things slip to other kids when she’d been a little too proud or obvious in her observations. Though even though they’d asked, they always got bored after a sentence or two.
“Not a detective.” More like an investigator. “I just pay attention.”
Cindy put a plastic forkful of the horrible mash in her mouth and spoke before she’d fully chewed it. “But you can … solve mysteries, right?”
Miranda felt herself blushing. A good investigator didn’t get taken in by compliments. She made clean little channels with her plastic fork so the beans, sloppy Joe and hash browns didn’t touch. “I’ve … yes. I’m quite talented at deduction.” Maybe sometimes investigators did like compliments. Anyways, she was just stating a fact.
“I have a mystery for you to solve!” Cindy waved her arms in excitement. Her food wobbled dangerously on her knees. “You should come by my house tonight!”
Miranda poked at her food some more to give herself a second to think.
A case! And from the girl she was already investigating!
Then she sighed. She didn’t have time to pursue distractions. She had to leave last period a little early as it was to beat Dad home and test Alice’s food.
Cindy just sat there, eating. She didn’t look impatient, just waiting. Maybe she meditated too. She was the least stressed person Miranda had ever met.
She should just say no.
“What’s your mystery?” She said instead.
Cindy’s face lit up, then she looked doubtful. “I can’t tell you, I need to show you.”
Cindy stared into Miranda’s eyes with such intensity that Miranda wanted to look away. Instead she just blinked a couple times. She’d read somewhere that professionals maintained good eye contact. Cindy looked hopeful.
The easiest thing would be to say she couldn’t and leave it at that. She needed to be thinking about Alice’s schedule for the rest of the week anyway.
Cindy said, “It won’t take long, just a few minutes.”
Miranda pushed her green beans around. “Maybe I can stop by after dinner tonight.”
Cindy jumped up, as if to hug Miranda. Her tray launched forward and sloppy joe mess fell on Miranda’s shoes. “Yay! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She didn’t seem to notice the spilled food.
Miranda shook her shoe. Red glop fell to the floor. “Maybe. I’ll have to ask my dad.”