The centerpiece of the complex is a grassy outdoor seating area populated with oversized, oddly shaped chairs painted in bright zigzag patterns. I’ve already “planted” miniature plastic palm trees in the grass, and now I’m strategically placing miniature plastic people holding miniature plastic shopping bags to give it the “vigor of life,” as Mr. Waterman would say.

In two years of tutoring I’ve only met Mr. Waterman in person twice. Usually all of my tutoring, including architecture, takes place via Skype. My mom’s made a special exception this week. I think she’s still feeling badly about Kara and Olly’s visit from a couple of weeks ago. I told her she had nothing to feel bad about, but she insisted. Having a visitor is a big deal because they have to agree to a medical background check and a thorough physical. Also they have to be decontaminated, which is basically like getting a high-speed air bath for about an hour. It’s a pain to come see me.

Mr. Waterman bustles in looking merry but harried, like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve just before the big ride. The decontamination process makes him cold, so he’s rubbing his hands together and blowing on them for warmth.

“Madeline,” he says happily, clapping his hands together. He’s my favorite of all my tutors. He never looks at me pityingly and he loves architecture like I love architecture. If I were going to be something when I grew up, an architect is what I would be.

“Hi, Mr. Waterman.” I smile awkwardly, not really knowing how to be around someone who’s not Carla or my mother.

“So what have we got here?” he asks, gray eyes twinkling. I place my last two tiny shoppers next to a toy store and stand back.

He circles the model sometimes beaming, sometimes frowning, all the while making weird clucking sounds.

“Well, dear, you’ve outdone yourself. This is quite lovely!” He straightens from the model and is about to pat me on the shoulder before he catches himself. No touching allowed. He shakes his head slightly and then bends over to examine some more.

“Yes, yes, quite lovely. There are only a few things we should talk about. But, first! Where is our astronaut hiding?”

Whenever I make a new model I make a clay astronaut figure and hide him in it. Each figure is different. This time he’s in full astronaut gear complete with airtight helmet and bulky oxygen tank, sitting in the diner at a table piled high with food. I’ve made miniature banana split sundaes, blueberry pancake stacks, scrambled eggs, toast with butter and marmalade, bacon, milk shakes (strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla), cheeseburgers and fries. I’d wanted to make curly fries but I ran out of time and had to settle for just regular fries.

“There he is!” Mr. Waterman exclaims. He clucks at the scene for a few moments and then turns to me. His merry eyes are a little less merry than usual. “It’s just wonderful, my dear. But how will he eat all that scrumptious food with his helmet on?”

I look back at my astronaut. It’d never occurred to me that he’d want to eat the food.

Everything’s a Risk

Carla’s smiling at me like she knows something I don’t know. She’s been doing it all day whenever she thinks I’m not looking. Also she’s been singing “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA, her absolute favorite band of all time. She’s breathtakingly out of tune. I’ll have to ask Olly the probability that she could miss every single note. Shouldn’t she hit one just by random chance?

It’s 12:30 p.m. and I have a half hour for lunch before my history tutor comes online. I’m not hungry. I’m basically never hungry anymore. Apparently a body can exist on IM alone.

Carla’s not looking, so I tab over to my Gmail. Thirteen messages from Olly since last night. They’re all sent around 3 a.m. and, naturally, he doesn’t write a subject. I laugh a little and shake my head.

I want to read them, am dying to read them, but I have to be careful with Carla in the room. I glance over and find her staring back at me eyebrows raised. Does she know something?

“What’s so interesting on that laptop?” she asks. God. She definitely knows.

I draw my chair closer to the desk and place my sandwich on the laptop.

“Nothing.” I take a bite of the sandwich. It’s Turkey Tuesday.

“It’s not nothing. Something is making you laugh over there.” She inches closer, smiling at me. Her brown eyes crinkle at the corners and her smile reaches the edge of her face.

“Cat video,” I say through a mouthful of turkey. Ugh, wrong thing to say. Carla lives for cat videos. She thinks they’re the only thing the Internet is good for.

She comes around, stands behind me, and reaches for the laptop.

I drop my sandwich and hug the laptop close to my chest. I’m not a good liar, and I say the first thing that pops into my head. “You don’t want to see this one, Carla. It’s bad. The cat dies.”

We stare at each other in a kind of shocked standoff for a few seconds. I’m shocked because I’m an idiot and I can’t believe that I said that. Carla’s shocked because I’m an idiot and she can’t believe that I said that. Her mouth drops open comically, like a cartoon, and her big round eyes get even bigger and rounder. She bends over at the waist, slaps her knee, and laughs like I’ve never heard her laugh. Who actually slaps their knee while laughing?

“You mean to tell me the only thing you could think to say was that it was a dead cat?” She’s laughing again.

“So you know.”

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