Rory was looking for somewhere to eat his lunch when he found Amelia Pond sitting under the oak tree. An apple in one hand and a paring knife in the other, she looked up at him suspiciously. "Hello," she said, making it sound like a challenge.
"Uh," he said. "Hello. I was just looking for somewhere to sit."
She eyed him from scruffy sneakers to scruffier hair, then shifted over. "Okay."
He hesitated. The other boys would make fun of him if he ate lunch with a girl, especially with crazy Amelia Pond. But it would be rude to refuse now. Besides, with Tony away sick he had nowhere else to go. He glanced around, but the oak tree hid them from all the seats and he could only see the empty football field. If he ate quickly he could leave before everyone started playing.
He sat down and took out his jam sandwiches. "I'm Rory."
"Yeah, I— I know." Everyone at school knew she was Amelia, and she had no parents, and she was crazy. He crammed as much of the first sandwich into his mouth as he could and chewed busily. Amelia watched with an odd look on her face. "What?" he said through the half-chewed bread and jam.
"You eat like my friend," she said, and turned back to carving holes in her apple with the knife.
Crazy, Rory thought. Everyone knew she didn't have any friends. That was why she sat alone under the oak tree. He swallowed and quickly took another large bite and tried to ignore her.
But his eyes kept glancing back at the concentration on her forehead, and the face appearing on the apple, and the knife in her hand. He swallowed again and said, "Are you supposed to have that knife?"
"No," she said without looking up. "So what?"
"Nothing. I guess. Why are you doing that?"
"It's what my mother did."
"You don't have a mother."
"I can still remember what she did."
"You've lived with your aunt all your life."
She looked up at him then, her eyes scathing. "The Doctor believes me."
"Doctor Evans?" Then he remembered Jeff saying she went to a doctor in town for crazy people.
"No," she said, as if both he and Dr Evans and possibly Jeff too were the stupidest people in the world. "The Raggedy Doctor. He lives in a blue time machine and he makes monsters go away and he's going to come back and take me with him."
Rory opened his mouth, then remembered she had a sharp knife in her hand. "Okay," he said instead, and went back to his sandwiches.
Through his eyelashes he could see Amelia narrowing her eyes at him, but after a moment she put the knife away and bit into the apple.
They ate in awkward silence. Rory finished his sandwiches before she finished her apple, and took out his biscuits. He studied them thoughtfully, then offered, "You know you don't have to be afraid of monsters."
She was gnawing her way around the applecore as if it was a corncob and paused to say, "I'm not. But I think he was a little bit."
"Um, right," he said. "Well. Because, I was going to say, monsters aren't actually real. They're just a story your older brothers tell you to scare you."
"I don't have any older brothers," she pointed out scornfully. "Are you crazy or something?"
He blinked at her, then saw the corner of her mouth twitching. He smiled back tentatively and on an impulse gave her one of his biscuits.
She looked surprised, but took it without saying anything embarrassing and ate it almost as quickly as he ate his. He guessed it wasn't too weird having lunch with a girl. Even if she was crazy.
"You'd better go," she said suddenly.
"They'll be coming out to play football. They'll see us. Together."
He was already scrambling up before she finished, but suddenly felt guilty. "I could come to your place," he suggested, "maybe. After school?"
She looked at him suspiciously. "Why?"
"Well..." He couldn't say he liked her. And he didn't exactly want to be friends. He ended up saying honestly, "Because Tony's sick and my house is too noisy."
She chewed on her lip in thought, then gave a nod. "Okay. But you can't walk with me. Go over the bridge—"
"I know," he said, and hurried away.
Everyone knew Amelia Pond lived in the haunted house. Not that Rory believed in ghosts, but if there were ghosts he thought they'd like the large house and wildly overgrown garden.
He walked slowly toward the door, pushing stray branches off his face. Maybe he should go to the library instead. Not that he was scared, just this was a silly idea. She'd probably just want to play with dolls or something, like his sister and her friends — they were all crazy about Pocahontas.
He jumped, but it was only Amelia's face poking around the corner of the house.
"Come around here," she said. "I want to show you something."
He followed her around to the back of the house, which was even more of a mess than the front. An old bench sat among grass almost tall enough to hide it. The swingset looked new, but Amelia was standing by a haphazard pile of planks. He left his bag by the swing and went to join her. "Is that... a shed?"
"Yep," she said, grinning. "That's where the Raggedy Doctor crashed his time machine last week."
He wasn't sure what to say about that, so just said, "Huh."
"Aunt Sharon says it was hooligans. And then she got really mad about the kitchen, and she said she's never leaving me home without a babysitter again. But she always says that and then she can never find one. Come on."
He picked up his bag while she unlocked the door and ran inside. As he hurried to catch up with her the kitchen caught his eye. It didn't look anything out of the ordinary to him. He started up the stairs after Amelia and asked, "What did the hooligans do to the kitchen?"
"I told you," she called back down in exasperation, "there weren't any hooligans." She ducked into a room off the landing, still talking: "It was the Raggedy Doctor. He's a very fussy eater and he's a bit clumsy. I was going to clean up after him but then I fell asleep. So Aunt Sharon thinks it was me. Here you are," she said, emerging with a man's shirt and tie.
"Um," Rory said, tearing his eyes away from counting the doors. "Thank you?"
"You wear them, silly. You can be the Raggedy Doctor and I'll be me. Come on." She clattered back down the stairs.
Five rooms, he counted — and the attic. If his family lived here they could all have their own bedroom.
"Come on!" Amelia shouted again.
"Coming!" he called back, and added, "I'm just putting these on." The shirt was gigantic and he ended up using a bowline on the tie, but when he got outside Amelia didn't notice. She was too busy heaving up one of the shed's walls and propping it against more of the ruins.
He waded in to help, and together they got four walls put up again, more or less. She didn't seem worried about its missing a roof, which was good, because the weight would probably have collapsed the whole thing.
"Okay," Amelia said, puffing with the effort. "Now you start in there. We can pretend that's your time machine, and it just crashed, and now you're in the swimming pool in the library."
"There's a swimming pool in a library in the time machine," she said impatiently. "And you— Wait, we're going to need some rope."
"So you can climb out of the time machine."
"I can't climb out of that!"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You have to climb out of it, the door's on the top."
"But the walls will fall down. Can't we pretend the door's here?" He showed her a corner he could open without everything else falling apart.
"But that's not what happened."
He opened his mouth to tell her she was crazy, then shut it again. She glared at him as if he'd said it anyway. Meekly he said, "No, but I bet the time machine didn't fall apart either."
"No..." she admitted.
"So I have to come out the corner and pretend I'm coming out the door at the top."
She chewed the corner of her mouth as she thought. "I guess," she decided.
In relief, Rory squeezed into the 'time machine' before she could change her mind. He followed the rest of her instructions without arguing — at least not too much. It was better than Pocahontas, anyway. Actually it was almost as fun as playing with Tony, just... really weird.
In the kitchen she got him an apple. "Yum," he said without any prompting, "I like apples," and took a big bite.
"Now you spit it out," she said.
He blinked at her but he couldn't protest with his mouth full. He chewed and swallowed and said, "Why?"
"Because that's what the Raggedy Doctor did."
"But he likes apples."
"He thought he liked apples, but he's got a new mouth and it's like toothpaste."
She explained again, but it didn't make any more sense this time, and finally she said with a sigh, "That's just what happened."
It almost sounded like fun. Except... "It'll make a mess. Won't your aunt be mad?"
She wrinkled her nose and sighed. "Yes."
While she thought, Rory surreptitiously took another few large bites of the apple.
"I guess I can tell you instead," she said. "—You can sit down if you want."
He listened enthralled and envious as she told him about the yoghurt, and the bacon, and the baked beans, and the buttered bread. She wrinkled her nose as she told him about the custard and fish fingers, but Rory thought they might actually go together pretty well. He was trying to figure out how he might be able to get his parents to let him try it when the front door opened and a woman's voice called, "Hello, Amelia!"
Amelia pulled a huge face but called back, "We're in the kitchen and we didn't make a mess."
Her aunt looked wary as she came through the door, but smiled in surprise when she saw Rory. "Oh, hello!"
He stood up quickly and wiped his juicy hand on his giant shirt. "Hello, Ms Pond. I'm Rory Williams."
"It's lovely to meet you, Rory. Amelia, you didn't tell me you had a new friend."
Rory darted a horrified look at Amelia. "I, um—"
"He's got to go home, Aunt Sharon."
"We lost track of time," he agreed in relief. "I'll just get my bag. Oh, and... sorry about these," he added, looking down at the gigantic shirt and tie. "They got a bit dirty."
Amelia's aunt blinked at them vaguely. "Goodness, did you find them in the attic? Just throw them in the laundry, Amelia, and see your friend to the door."
"Yes, Aunt Sharon." But at the door she told Rory firmly, "We're not friends."
"Of course not." He scuffed his foot for a moment, then said, "But it was kind of fun."
Cautiously she smiled back. "Yeah, it was okay. You can come again if you want. If Tony's sick again, I mean."
"Yeah, sure." She wasn't bad for a crazy girl, and it was definitely better than Pocahontas.