“Amelia, can we please do something else?” Rory whined.
“Doesn’t your dad have any ties that are…” If Amelia had heard his protests, she’d evidently chosen to ignore them. “…I don’t know, cooler?” She emerged from his parents’ cupboard with a messy handful of neckties clutched in one fist.
“I don’t know,” shrugged Rory. “Couldn’t we play some other game?” He asked again. “I got in trouble last time for wrecking my new shirt.” It had been awful; for a whole week, he’d had to sit inside and watch Amelia play the Raggedy Doctor game— their game —with stupid Jeff from two streets over.
Amelia bit her lip as she considered this. “I guess we don’t have to dirty up your shirt this time,” she finally acceded, “but I’ve still got to find the right tie.” She held up one of her knot of potential ties against Rory’s chest, scrunching her face into that squint people on the telly made when choosing clothes (Rory couldn’t understand how squinting helped— when he’d tried it, he couldn’t see the clothes at all).
“Why does it matter? The Raggedy Doctor could have more than one tie.”
“No,” Amelia said with a distinctive air of derision in her voice.
“Because he doesn’t!” Amelia snapped. “I’m the one who met him, and it’s my game, so you have to follow my rules, and I say he only has one.”
“You don’t know that,” said Rory. “You only saw him the one time.” He didn’t say if that even happened and you didn’t just make it up, but he thought it, and he knew she could see it on his face. He flinched, and squeezed his eyes shut in preparation for her attack (he’d watched her tackle a boy in the form above them at school for calling her mad, and everyone in town knew there was a direct relationship between the suspicious crescent of scabs that had appeared on the back of old Dr. Ambrose’s hand and the decision to send Amelia to that new psychiatrist in Upper Leadworth from now on), but to his surprise, no attack came. He chanced a peek, and found that Amelia had gone perfectly still, staring at him with eyes full of sadness and hurt feelings. Rory felt guilt settle cold and hard in his stomach, like he’d swallowed an ice cube whole. “Amelia, I—”
“If you didn't want to play with me, you could have just said,” she said softly, dropping the wad of ties and running out of the room.
“Amelia, wait!” Rory called after her, but she had already darted out of the front door of his house, leaving his rather confused-looking mother standing in the doorway, arms full of groceries she'd barely managed to keep hold of as the eight-year-old girl had barreled past her. Rory could only manage an apologetic shrug before he too rushed out.
It didn't take long to find her; after all, Rory knew exactly where she would go. She sat on the solitary swing in her aunt's back garden (she still didn't call it “her back garden,” and so neither did Rory), sullenly staring at the new shed. It had only been finished six months or so ago, but already it was beginning to show signs of weathering, and pretty soon it would look like it had never been destroyed at all. He'd mentioned this thought to Amelia once; she'd not taken it well.
“I'm sorry, Amelia,” he said, his tongue suddenly feeling too large for his mouth. “I believe you, really, I do.”
“No you don't,” she said, voice quavering as if she were trying very hard not to cry. “No one does.”
“I do,” Rory repeated. “I promise I do.” He moved around the swing-set so he could stand beside her. “As long as you believe, I believe.” Amelia wouldn't look at him, choosing instead to stare at the ground, but a small smile appeared on her lips all the same. “And anyway, I still say he's got to have more than one tie,” he said, bumping shoulders with her. “I mean, my dad's got loads and he's only been as far as London. I bet the Doctor's got ties from all sorts of cool... time... places,” he finished lamely. It did the trick, though; she giggled, wiping her nose on the cuff of her sleeve as she looked over at him.
“Yeah, I guess you're right,” she grinned. Impulsively, she threw her arms around him, swatting him in the face with the swing's chain as she did so, but he didn't mind. That cold feeling in his stomach had disappeared, replaced with a warm, fluttery, nervous sort of feeling he didn't have a name for and wasn't sure he liked, except he must have liked it because suddenly he couldn't stop smiling.
As the two children ran off to continue their game, Rory realized he'd won the tie argument. Funny, he hadn't noticed, and to his surprise, he found he didn't really care. He was happy to follow Amelia's rules, so long as it meant he could follow her.