She woke up with a scream.
She could never remember her dreams, but her heart raced. The streetlights left her room glowing blue. The faces of her inspirational scientists looked as sad and stressed as she felt. Her adrenalin was spiked, but she couldn’t remember what she’d dreamed about. She lay awake with her covers coiled around her fists, which gave her plenty of time to obsess about Cindy.
By four am, she decided that the whole bird incident had been a partial hallucination, mixed with sunlight reflection. She wasn’t even sure Cindy had a canary. She’d have to check that.
Eventually she gave up on sleeping and clicked on her desk lamp. An hour with an abnormal psychology book helped her drift off.
She hadn’t set an alarm, but she woke up with a start at seven the next morning. Her brain was a sludge of exhaustion, but she couldn’t fall back to sleep.
After she dressed she spent an uncomfortable breakfast wincing under Alice’s chipperness and Dad pretending he hadn’t yelled at her at dinner the night before. Alice made her lunch and then left with Dad. Dad paused out in the driveway, looking at the Bauteil’s house and shaking his head.
She sometimes worried about leaving Dad alone with Alice in the car, but none of the hypothetical attempts had happened in public. Dad had early shift at the grocery store and would drop Alice off at the hair salon on his way. They’d only be together for fifteen minutes. Once they were gone, Miranda stood at the end of the driveway, glancing at the juniper bushes and wishing she were hiding in them.
While she waited for the bus, she watched the Bauteil’s house. Cindy passed her window a few times, brushing her hair. How could someone with five dads be so boring?
One of the Bauteil dads walked by the front window. Probably Tom-Dad. Then Bill-Dad passed, then another dad.
The Bauteil’s garage door rumbled and slid up. Their one car, a 1989 Buick, edged down their driveway. Miranda idly wondered how six people got by with just one car. As usual, Bill-Dad was driving. He waved. Tom-Dad sat in the passenger seat, distracted with something in the glove compartment.
She waved back, genuinely smiling. It was just nice to have someone who wasn’t mad at her. Bill-Dad was always the most outgoing of the dads. Cindy waved from the backseat. Miranda kept waving; too long, probably. She blushed and forced herself to stop. The car made a little squeak as it stopped. Bill-dad’s head bobbed as he said something to Cindy. The reverse lights blinked on. When the car stopped in front of Miranda, he motioned to Tom-Dad. He looked up, saw Miranda and rolled his window down.
Tom-Dad had a warm smile. “Hey Miranda, did you miss the bus?”
He didn’t look like someone who would turn into a bird. He didn’t look anything like a bird. He and Bill-Dad just looked like … dads. The bus hadn’t come yet, but she found herself nodding, which was sort of like a lie, but she hadn’t said anything. It was possible she’d missed it.
Bill-dad said, “We can give you a ride if you want.”
A bunch of Dad’s rules ran through Miranda’s mind; they all pretty much added up to “stranger danger” and “you can never trust anyone.” Not to mention, “Stay away from the Bauteils.” She imagined Cindy being the bait for a ring of slavers. She smiled and shook her head. That was ridiculous.
If ever there was a chance to figure out the Bauteil’s, this was it.
“I’d like a ride.” Which was not a lie.
The kids on the bus were always yelling and changing seats. It’s too bad she didn’t have a ride like this every day, she’d have more time to get home and check on Alice.
Bill-dad had a great smile too. “Hop on in.” It’d been a long time since her own dad had smiled like that. Tom-Dad twisted around and pulled up the backseat door lock.
Once inside, Miranda threw her bag on the seat next to Cindy and buckled the seat belt. Her head snapped back when Bill-Dad zoomed off.
She thought about quoting the speeding laws, but she kept her mouth shut.
They passed Fremont Street, and Tom-dad said, “Nice to finally get a chance to say hi.”
The rode in silence for a bit, while Miranda tried to think of something to say.
Fortunately Bill-Dad asked. “You two have any classes together?”
Miranda rattled off, “Mathematics at nine AM and then gym and homeroom. In math she sits two desks to my left and one row behind, but homeroom has open seating and of course gym is gym.”
Her cheeks flushed. That was the kind of answer that often got her made fun of. But Bill-dad just smiled and nodded. “That was a very exact answer, Miranda.”
Cindy giggled. It was a melodious giggle, and Miranda smiled in spite of herself. Normally when people laughed she assumed they were laughing at her, but that was hard to imagine right now.
She said, “Cindy doesn’t talk much.” That was probably not a socially appropriate thing to say.
Bill-dad laughed. “She does at home.”
Miranda was becoming aware of how much she was talking about Cindy, rather than to her. But she couldn’t think of anything to say. She looked out the window. They passed the giant oak tree in the Emmons’ front yard. The fallen leaves around it formed a nearly perfect heart pattern. Someone must have raked them that way. It seemed unlikely to happen naturally.
Cindy said, “I like your spyglass.”
Miranda felt her heart speed up. Cindy knew she’d been spying on her. Miranda looked at Cindy’s dad, but he just smiled and kept driving.
Cindy said, “I’m thinking I should get a spyglass.”
Tom-Dad reached back over the seat and ruffled her hair. “That can probably be arranged.”
A good investigator would have a cover story ready for such a situation. All Miranda could do was prattle off, “Oh yes, stargazing is really interesting. I could recommend telescopes to you. I mean, I made my own, but it’s based on a Scientific American model.” She stopped herself there. When she talked too much about things she was excited about, people’s eyes started to glaze over.
Cindy said, “Maybe you could show me yours sometime.”
That’d be cool. Miranda didn’t say anything, but she smiled out the window. This must be what making friends was like. Her smile faded. There was no way Dad would let her bring a friend over, especially Cindy Bauteil.
They rode in silence for a few blocks and Cindy said, “Your dad doesn’t like us.”
Bill-dad nodded. Tom-dad looked out the window.
Miranda tried to think of something positive to say, but it was true. She wanted to say, “Dad doesn’t like anything weird, and you all are definitely weird.”
Bill-dad looked at her a moment, then shrugged.
While she was searching for something to say, Cindy said, “It’s okay. Maybe you could bring your spyglass over to my house sometime.”