(Well, Miss V is returning from summer vacation tomorrow. Gotta press on while I have some free time.)
"So what do you think?" she asked.
"I'd live here if I could," said Brad honestly.
She chuckled. "Thank you. That's quite a compliment. There's more to it, of course. We've got a vegetable garden further back, where it gets more sun, and I grow herbs around the side yard. And oh, there's that plot I promised you. Come on."
She led Brad further back into the yard. Stepping between two trees and out into the sunlight, Brad caught sight of a stand of bright green-leafed, quaking trees.
"Well, aspen, really." She considered them for a moment. "It's a clonal colony. The trees may all look separate, but at the root they're all connected to each other. They're actually a single organism."
Victoria trailed in after them. "Maybe all the aspens everywhere are connected somehow," she murmured. "Maybe that's why they say that when one aspen quakes, every other aspen quakes with it."
Her mother turned to her. "Oh? Who says that?"
"Me," said Victoria, smiling. "Show Brad his plot."
The plot was a large, roughly circular patch to one side of the aspens. Brad knelt down and dragged a hand across the surface. The soil was soft and almost black, yielding easily to his fingers. "What used to be here?" he asked.
"Oh, this was where our elm used to be," Victoria's mother sighed. "My grandfather planted it. Dutch elm disease took it a few years ago. I haven't had the heart to plant anything in its place. But it's about time we moved on, don't you think?"
Victoria knelt beside him. "What would you like to plant?" she asked curiously.
"I... don't know," Brad murmured. But his mind's eye was already planting out all sorts of flowers and bulbs, and a tree to take the place of the missing elm. It would just take a little time.
From that point on, Brad escaped to Victoria's house almost every day. They did all sorts of things together -- played checkers and Parcheesi, read, went to the movies, made up card games, worked in the garden, and hand-fed Finn the carp. Victoria discovered that Brad had never in his life stayed in a place longer than two years, and Brad discovered that although Victoria had read almost every book in the house, she had never watched television. Brad took to calling her "Queen Victoria," and Victoria retaliated by calling him "Milton Bradley," a name she lifted from the Parcheesi box. They ate lunch together, and sometimes did the dishes together afterward. And of course, Brad did work on his plot, sowing all sorts of seeds in patches and patterns, and keeping the weeds out. In fact, Brad was spending so much time over at Victoria's that his aunt got nervous and ordered him to "stay home for a while and give those poor people a breather." Fortunately, Victoria's mom called Brad's aunt, explaining that they missed Brad and that he was a great help to her in the garden, so that particular issue didn't last long.
Brad didn't even mind occasionally sitting in on Victoria's school lessons, although it didn't resemble any school he'd ever attended. Victoria's "homework" was different from day to day. Once her math homework consisted of a long list of clues, where she had to figure out the right answer in order to go on to the next clue. It was like a treasure hunt, complete with a treasure at the end (chocolate gold coins).
"Why can't they do stuff like this in the regular schools?" he asked, as they counted their chocolatey loot. "Every school I've ever been to, we just do worksheets and stuff."
"You do have to wonder why," Victoria mused, contemplatively biting into a coin. "I mean, doesn't it get boring?"
"You have no idea. You're so lucky not to have to go."
"Well, yes and no. Don't misunderstand me, I like the way my mom does things, but I don't ever really get vacation time. And then, well... it seems like public school kids have more friends."
"You have friends," Brad pointed out.
"Well, I do now. I have you and Mom. But before you it was just Mom. There are other kids in the neighborhood, but I guess they think I'm too weird to talk to," she added, a bit wistfully.
Brad remembered how Victoria had originally struck him as odd. "It's their problem, not yours," he replied stoutly.
"Oh, it's OK. I'm not going to change just for their sake. But I'll admit it did get a little lonely before you moved here."
"And now you're less lonely?" Suddenly Brad got an evil idea. He grinned impishly and grabbed her chocolate coins. "AND POORER!" he hollered triumphantly, and ran for his life.
"Aaahh! Give those back, you pirate!"
"Arr matey, these here doubloons be right tasty! Nom nom nom."
"MOOOOM! STOP HIM!"
(As always, more later. Bed now.)