Ryan refused to meet his mom’s eyes.
Miranda offered her palm. “What happened? Show me.”
The six-year-old plunged his hands behind his back and shook his head.
Miranda knelt on the kitchen floor, lowering herself to his level. “Ryan, I need to see what the teacher sent home. I promise to only look in her folder and nowhere else unless you want me to, ok?”
Ryan looked up toward the window. The blinds let slats of golden afternoon sunlight pour over dirty dishes on the counter. He tightened his lips and kept his arms rigid, hands behind his back.
“Honey, it’s ok. I won’t be mad. I promise.”
The boy sniffed as he finally brought his right hand in front of him, offering his palm to his mom.
Miranda slipped her hand over his, letting their interfaces link. She made herself keep her promise and accessed the only teacher’s folder, finding a few notes. She downloaded the entire folder and released his hand. “All right. You can have two cookies for your snack. I’ll see what you need to do for homework.”
Ryan slunk out of the kitchen. Miranda stood and stretched the knee that had been on the floor. She opened the three notes. One was a standard “this week we’ll be studying” from Mrs. Dendee. The second was a note on fundraising for the class this year.
The third revealed something else entirely. “Ryan is a good boy. You are a good mom.”
Miranda sighed. Old Mrs. Dendee had never figured out how to lock her documents when she uploaded them to the students. And Ryan had learned long ago how to change them up when he didn’t want to do homework or get in trouble for something he did at school.
Miranda stalked into the dining room. Ryan sat at the table, two cookies in front of him on the table cloth. Not a single bite was taken out of them.
His sad face almost made Miranda trip. “I saw that you deleted a note.” She swallowed, calmed herself. He was already guilty. Calm down. “Honey, what did you delete?”
“It was a bad note.”
“Did you get in trouble?”
“Tell the truth, Ryan.”
“I didn’t get in trouble!” He glared at her.
“Ryan, you need to tell me what you deleted. I can tell you changed the note.”
His eyes flickered up to hers. He grunted and squirmed in his chair.
“If you don’t tell me the truth, you’re going to be in big trouble.” Miranda kept her tone flat.
Ryan trembled, but not with fear. Miranda hated when he got angry when he got caught doing something. “Fine! Here!”
He slapped his hand on top of hers. She jumped and pulled away as the interfaces connected. No, force the hand to stay. Let him show her. The interfaces made contact. Miranda saw him highlighting a memory from the day.
She downloaded it.
Miranda felt short of breath. That’s how it usually was when Ryan shared a memory. She – he – looked up at his teacher, Miranda gazing out from the memory of his eyes.
Mrs. Dendee shook her head. “Ryan, in the memories you brought for show and tell, I saw a lot of dirty dishes.”
Miranda felt Ryan’s shoulders shrug.
The ancient teacher’s face frowned. “I need to look in your memories and find out if your mom’s taking good enough care of you.”
“No!” his voice answered.
“Don’t worry. This won’t hurt.” The teacher reached for his hand.
Miranda felt Ryan yank his hand back. “No!”
Mrs. Dendee’s frown grew deeper. “Then I will have to send a note home telling your mother you refused to cooperate in school today.”
Ryan pulled his hand away from Miranda’s interface. “Happy now?”
She reached out to embrace her son. “Oh, Ryan, Mrs. Dendee’s an old bat. She saw that our house is usually dirty. She can’t do anything except send over a social worker. I’m not scared.” She cradled his head against her shoulder. “You did the right thing, telling her no. Never let any adult read your memories unless you want them to.”
The boy melted into his mother’s embrace. He shook, and then was still. He backed away.
“It’s not ok you deleted her note, though. You need to tell me when things like this happen. OK?”
Ryan pinched his lips together.
“All right. Eat your cookies.”
She returned to the kitchen and slumped against the counter, gasping for breath. No. The teacher couldn’t suspect. She was a curmudgeon, sure, but she couldn’t know. No way. Kids talked, but she’d made sure Ryan knew to keep things in private folders, locked away. Dendee was only a stickler for cleanliness, and the house was never clean. That had to be it. It had to be.
She opened up one of the cabinets, took out the drawer, and removed the false bottom. No, Dendee couldn’t guess that they read the Bible, unaltered, unremembered, only printed, every night.
She couldn’t take her child away.