East of Toronto, just off Highway 48, it was a calm night. At Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School For Young Ladies, the headmistress, Miss Scrimmage herself, was sleeping soundly, surrounded by embroidered pillows, safe in the knowledge that her innocent young ladies where all sleeping just as soundly in their own beds. In the headmaster's cottage on Macdonald Hall's grounds, Mr Sturgeon was also sleeping. He was since long resigned to the fact this his young, not quite so innocent, boys were probably not asleep. He was no longer fighting that particular battle.
The plants didn't generally sleep. About thirty of them were quietly gathering energy in room 201, greedily absorbing the nutrients they'd just been given, struggling against the net that was covering them. They didn't like being caged. They were biding their time.
In room 306 Boots O'Neill jumped three feet backwards when Cathy Burton's face suddenly appeared at the open window. She giggled in delight at his reaction as she heaved herself inside with the ease of someone who had done the same thing countless times before.
"That's what you get for sleeping with an open window," she said, brushing dust off her jeans. "You never know what kind of crazy people might show up in the middle of the night."
"I don't think they come that much crazier than you," Boots muttered and took a deep breath, willing his heartbeat to slow down. Bruno Walton put his arm around Boots' shoulders, squeezing him a little tighter than necessary.
"Hi Cathy!" he grinned. "Don't worry about Boots. He had Sidney as partner in chemistry today, so he's a bit jumpy at the moment."
Cathy peered closely at Boots' face. "Can't have been that bad this time," she said. "You've still got your eyebrows."
"Just barely," Boots sighed. He looked out the window and then back at Cathy. "Are you alone tonight? Where's Diane?"
Cathy made a face and flopped down on Bruno's bed, wincing when she landed on his battered history book. "She's back in our room. Moping."
"Moping? Diane?" Bruno said in surprise. "Why? Is she sick?"
"Her boyfriend broke up with her."
Boots and Bruno stared at each other and then at Cathy.
"Boyfriend?" Bruno said in confusion. "Since when does Diane have a boyfriend?"
Cathy stared back. "Do you even listen to us when we're talking?" she asked incredulously. "She's been going on about Frank since the term started."
Boots blinked. "I thought Frank was her brother."
"That's Fred!" Cathy sighed impatiently.
"Well, really," Bruno said, looking put-upon. "We do have things of our own to worry about. You can't expect us to keep track of every brother, boyfriend and second cousin-in-law out there." He ducked quickly when Cathy threw his history book at him. It hit the wall and slid down to the floor, falling open on the chapter about the Industrial Revolution, which incidentally was exactly what Bruno ought to be focusing on. "Fine, sorry! What do you want from us, then?"
"I need your help to cheer her up. I'm worried. I haven't seen her this upset since Petunia ran away."
Bruno sighed wistfully. "I really liked Petunia. She was a good sport!"
"I still don't see how a skunk can escape from a second floor window," Boots said.
"We kept waiting for a ransom note," Cathy agreed, "but none came. Besides, Petunia was smart."
"Cathy," Boots said carefully, after making sure there were no other books within her reach. "You don't have a boyfriend we should know about, do you?"
Cathy laughed scornfully as she rose from the bed. "I've got three brothers, you two and the rest of your school to handle, The last thing I need is another boy to keep track of." She grinned wickedly as she walked over to the window. "But if Elmer Drimsdale happens to ask, you can tell him I'm interested. Making him lose all power of speech like that is one of the funniest thing I know!" She waved cheerfully, and just like that, she was gone.
"Right," Bruno said, picking up his book and slamming it together resolutely. "Operation Cheer Up Diane is in progress." He frowned. "We have to come up with a better name than that."
Boots sat down on his bed heavily. "Are we really doing this?"
"It's for Diane!" Bruno said, as if that should explain everything, and Boots had to admit that it kind of did.
"I know," he sighed. "It's just that this is our last year, and I was hoping that we might get through it without getting into trouble."
"Don't worry, we won't get into trouble."
Boots laughed hollowly. "Right. I might have believed it the first two hundred and sixteen times you told me that, but I've learned my lesson. Over and over again."
"Don't worry," Bruno said again, more insistently, as he climbed into bed. "I have a plan."
"You always do," Boots said. "That's the whole problem!" The only reply he got was a soft snore.
"Right, men." Bruno said at lunch the next day, pressing the palms of his hands to the table and leaning forward slightly, meaning business. "We have a mission."
Immediately there was a flurry of activity around the table. Wilbur Hackenschleimer froze, holding an overloaded fork halfway to his mouth. Sidney Rampulski put down his knife so suddenly he accidentally stabbed himself in the thumb. Larry Wilson looked apprehensive, Pete Anderson looked slightly terrified and Mark Davies simply rose and tried to leave the table. Boots sighed. He'd been afraid of this. Only Elmer Drimsdale calmly continued eating as if nothing had happened.
"Now, don't be like that, " Bruno said, grabbing Mark's arm and pulling him back into his chair. He quickly explained the situation with Diane. "And clearly, as her friend, it is our duty to help cheer her up."
"She's your friend," Mark pointed out. "We hardly know her."
"To be fair, she and Cathy has always helped us out whenever we needed it," Boots said. "Think of all the times they got us out of trouble."
"Think of all the times they got us into trouble," Wilbur said.
"Fine," Bruno said. "Let's look at it this way. She's Cathy's friend. And when Cathy's friends are upset, Cathy is upset. Are you really willing to risk getting Cathy upset?"
"You make it sound like Cathy belongs to the mafia or something," Pete said.
"Cathy Burton is worse than the mafia," Wilbur muttered darkly. "I wonder how many bodies are buried in Scrimmage's orchard."
"Right then!" Bruno said. "We are agreed. You have the afternoon. We'll meet here again at dinner, and then I want ideas on how to make Diane feel better."
"I thought you said you already had a plan," Boots said quietly to Bruno as the boys all left the table.
"I do. But it's always good to let the others think they have a say. And you never know. Once in a while they do come up with something good."
The ideas presented at dinner didn't quite meet Bruno's approval, though.
"Really," he said, looking doubtfully at Wilbur. "Arranging a school trip to Diane's hometown to beat up her ex-boyfriend? That's the worst idea I've ever heard! Even worse than Mark's suggestion of shaming him publicly in all the national newspapers."
"Hey," Mark protested halfheartedly.
"I have a feeling you're not taking this seriously," Bruno said, looking around him with a disappointed air.
"I rather liked my game-show idea," Pete said, looking hurt.
"Finding love on a TV-show? It's never going to happen!" Bruno said. "You're all focusing on the wrong thing. Diane's a really sweet girl," he ignored the protesting sounds coming from around the table, and continued: "She doesn't want revenge, and she doesn't need a new boyfriend. All she needs is a little appreciation, and to know that we care about her. "
"I still say beating up the guy says that." Wilbur said.
"So what exactly is your plan, then?" Boots asked.
"It's easy. We just give her what every girl wants. Flowers, chocolate, poetry, compliments, that kind of thing."
"That's the plan?" Sidney said slowly. "It seems strangely uncomplicated."
"Couldn't be simpler!" Bruno confirmed. "We'll just make up a basket full of nice things for Diane, bring it over to Scrimmage's, and problem solved!"
"You do know that Scrimmage's is strictly forbidden territory, right?" Mark asked.
"Sure!" Bruno said. "Since when has that ever stopped us?"
"Even more forbidden than usual since the dance last month when someone spiked the punch?" Larry clarified.
"Yeah, someone," Wilbur said, looking pointedly at Bruno.
"Hey, that was not me," Bruno said. "Spiking the punch is for amateurs, Boots and I did that in our first year. All we did this time was rigging the stereo so that it only played those old Winston Churchill speeches."
Boots laughed at the memory. "Miss Scrimmage loved that! She thought it was so inspirational. If the Fish hadn't pulled the cord out of the wall, I swear she would have led us all outside to fight in the fields and in the streets, and never surrender!"
"And anyway," Bruno continued, "Wilbur ate all of the food, and Sidney tripped and tore Wilma Dorf's skirt off, so I am not taking the blame for that one."
Sidney blushed furiously. "I never wanted to be reminded of that night ever again," he moaned.
Mark patted his back comfortingly. "Fine," he said to Bruno. "Not your fault, for once, but we're still not supposed to even talk to the girls."
"How does the Fish think we're going to learn how to behave in the world outside the Hall if we're not even allowed to socialize with our own neighbours?" Bruno demanded. "But it doesn't matter, we'll just handle communications without anyone catching us."
There was a round of derisive laughter from the rest of the table.
"Bruno, we're always caught," Boots said, even though he knew it was futile. Resistance always was.
"We won't be caught this time, I promise!" Bruno said.
"The definition of insanity," Elmer said from the far end of the table without taking his eyes off his notes, "is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result."
Bruno looked at him for a long moment, hurt indignation written clearly across his face.
"Well, we're not doing the same thing, are we? This is a completely new plan!"
"Why are you so quiet anyway, Elmer?" Wilbur asked. "You're usually the first to object to Bruno's wild plans. "
Elmer smiled serenely. "I'm leaving tomorrow, remember? I'm going to the Young Promising Scientists Convention in Luxembourg. I'll be gone for two weeks. You can do whatever you want, and I don't have to be part of it."
"I don't get poetry, anyway," Pete said. "I had to do a whole course of British poets for summer school. Poems don't make sense. They don't even have a plot!"
"Excellent!" Bruno beamed. "An expert on the subject. I expect you to provide the poetry, Pete." He ignored the stricken look on Pete's face and instead turned to Wilbur. "Clearly you'll have to contribute the chocolate." Wilbur dropped his fork in shock and dismay as Bruno looked around the table. "As for the rest of you," he smiled, not exactly menacing but something rather close to it. "I'm sure you'll think of something!"
"I do love the Hall," Sidney said to Mark as they were walking back to their room after dinner. "But sometimes I wonder if it hadn't been easier if my parents had sent me to York Academy instead."
"Yeah," Mark said, and then he grinned. "But you have to admit that we're never bored."
"I'm not sure about this," Boots said as he and Bruno entered room 201. "Sneaking into Elmer's room like this when he's not around? It's not right."
"If he was here, he'd help out," Bruno said reasonably. "Just because he's off on some other continent doesn't mean he shouldn't get to make Diane happier." He grinned. "You know how fond Elmer is of the girls."
Boots laughed. "I suppose he would give us anything he could to avoid having to talk to them."
"Exactly. Besides, where else are we going to find flowers?"
"Well, that clearly won't be a problem here," Boots said, looking around in amazement. It was always an experience spending time in Elmer's room. Currently it mostly resembled a jungle, with huge green plants covering every available surface, and a highly sophisticated irrigation system suspended from the roof.
"Oh, look at these!" Bruno exclaimed from the bathroom and descended upon a group of odd-looking plants residing in the bathtub. They were covered with a net, which Bruno quickly tore away.
"Plants, goldfish, bush hamsters, Elmer's bathtub is always occupied," Boots said mystified. "I'm starting to worry about his hygiene."
"These are so cool," Bruno breathed. There were about thirty small pots, each holding one plant. The one lonely flower was still a bud that looked too heavy for the narrow stem, nodding lazily. It vaguely reminded Boots of something from a cheap horror film.
"They're not very pretty," he said doubtfully.
"Yeah, but they're interesting!" Bruno enthused. "Diane appreciates interesting."
"If you say so," Boots said. "Besides, there are so many of them, I'm sure Elmer won't mind if we take one."
Bruno scoffed. "One? What's the point of one plant? He won't notice if we take half of them."
"What is Diane supposed to do with fifteen weird-looking flowers?"
"She's part of the gardening club over at Scrimmage's, isn't she? I'm sure they'll find some use for it. Better that than to let them rot away in a bathtub." He started picking up pots, managing four of them before he ran out of room in his arms, and had to use his elbow to get the door open. "Hmm, we might have to make several trips."
Boots sighed in defeat as he picked up a few plants. "I have a bad feeling about this," he told the pacific salmon staring down at him from the poster on the closet wall. It didn't reply, but he was pretty sure it agreed.
Chris Talbot stared with growing apprehension as Pete tore page after page out of his notebook and gradually began to disappear behind a mountain of crumpled paper on his desk.
"I'm an artist, and I don't think I've used up that much paper in my entire life!" he said in amazement.
"It has to be good," Pete mumbled, concentrating hard. "Cathy scares me."
"Couldn't you just copy a poem out of a book?" Chris suggested.
Pete emerged, bleary eyed, from behind the heap of paper to gaze at him in horror.
"That would be cheating!"
"I'm having enough trouble with my grades as it is! I'm not risking being caught cheating." He vanished again, with a rustling sound. "Hey, cayenne kind of rhymes with Diane, right?"
"Why is it always girls getting presents?" Boots wondered as he and Bruno stuffed the plants into his closet. They'd tried Bruno's first, but even after carefully managing not to be hit by the barrage of things falling out as they opened the door, Boots was worried the smell might kill the plants off.
"What?" Bruno said, halfway into the closet.
"Why are we always supposed to give them things? It's hardly fair. I mean, I don't exactly need the flowers and the poetry, but who doesn't like chocolate?"
"I guess," Bruno said, and emerged with one pot still in his hand. "There's not enough room. You have too many pairs of shoes, Boots." He snickered as Boots rolled his eyes. "Here, you can have it." He held the plant out to Boots, who accepted it reluctantly.
"I'll only kill it," he said and put it on his desk, giving the bud a little nudge with his finger. He turned back to Bruno and frowned. "Hey, did you just hear a snapping sound"?
There had been a brief moment of freedom, a brief moment of rejoice. But after cold and damp came warm and stuffy. Yet, there was hope. One of them was free. But one wasn't enough. They had to be more. Waiting was all they could do.
"No!" Wilbur said, blocking the door to the closet with his body. "I am not giving you my candy!"
"Please, Wilbur," Boots pleaded, wondering how Bruno had managed to convince him to do this. Right now Wilbur reminded him of a nature documentary he'd seen once, where a cornered elephant had run amok. It was rather disconcerting.
"I don't see why I always have to give up my candy for every insane plan Bruno Walton comes up with," Wilbur said stubbornly.
Boots decided to play dirty.
"Remember everything Bruno has put us through. Remember the hours of dishwashing, leaf raking and garbage picking. Remember all the hours in Mr Sturgeon's office, all the essays, all the suspended privileges. Remember all the times we've stood in front of Miss Scrimmage's shotgun."
Wilbur's eyes had darkened. "Oh, I remember. You're not exactly convincing me to help him out, here, Boots."
Boots faltered. He'd had a point when he started, but had forgotten it when he was listing all the times Bruno had gotten him into trouble, and for the moment he couldn't comprehend why he was helping Bruno either. Oh, right!
"Remember that," he repeated, his voice grave. "And then think of what Cathy is capable of doing to us."
Wilbur caught his breath, and his entire body slumped. Dejectedly he stepped away from the closet and opened the door.
"Take what you need," he said and gestured to the shelves.
When Boots, feeling rather guilty, stepped forward and started gathering chocolate, cookies and whatever he could find, Wilbur sighed. "Just have a heart," he said in a broken voice. "Leave some peanut butter."
When Boots climbed into bed that night there was a rustling noise under his shoulder. He sat up again and stared at the wrapped pieces of chocolate lying there, the colourful paper visible against the white sheet even in the dark. As he gathered them up and put them on the nightstand he glanced over at Bruno who was already snoring softly in his own bed. Huh. He smiled bemusedly to himself as he popped one into his mouth, put his head on the pillow and fell asleep before the chocolate had even melted.
Pete shoved a crumpled paper into Boots' hand when he met him before breakfast. "It's the poem for Diane," he explained when Boots looked at him questioningly.
"Um, Pete," Boots said as he read it through. "You do know that everything doesn't have to rhyme, right?"
Pete's face clouded over. "I had to read a lot of poetry in summer school. Almost all of it rhymed. That Shakespeare guy was very big on rhyming, and apparently he was good! I'm not taking any chances."
Boots thought about mentioning something about how Shakespeare didn't didn't rhyme his entire sonnets on the same word, but decided against it.
Bruno laughed heartily as he read it later. "Oh, it's perfect."
"Bruno, it's awful."
"Well, yeah, but he put his heart into it! Not like Wilbur who wouldn't even give us his peanut butter." He snickered. "'Shall I compare you to a pepper of cayenne?' I love it!"
"At Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School For Young Ladies, there were exciting things going on this week. The Garden Club, under the leadership of the lovely Diane Grant, was digging up the rose bushes to relocate them to a less sunny spot by the northern wall, in preparation for The Annual Ontario's Finest School Garden Competition later this month.
'They could do with less sun,' Miss Grant answered expertly when The Student Times enquired as to why this endeavour was taking place. When we congratulated her on this brave decision, the talented Miss Grant appeared modest. 'Really, we're just moving them,' she said. Miss Grant truly is an honour to her school, and indeed to all of Canada."
Mark's facial expression had become more and more pained as Bruno read the article in the school paper out loud.
"Urgh," he groaned when Bruno was done.
"Hey, that was great!" Bruno said, patting Mark's back enthusiastically.
"It was not," Mark said with conviction. "It was horrible! It goes against the whole purpose of journalism. I'm supposed to be objective."
Bruno shrugged. "What? It's all true!"
"Well, yes but..."
"No buts, it was perfect!" He looked thoughtful. "I wonder if there is someone on the jury of that garden competition we can bribe. I bet that would cheer Diane up!"
"Bruno, have you seen my geography homework?" Boots called, frantically moving everything on his desk around. He stopped and frowned when he came upon a book he didn't recognize. "Rudyard Kipling? Hey, is this yours?"
"What, no." Bruno said, without looking up from tying his shoes.
The book fell open at a bookmark. "'We're foot-slog-slog-slog-sloggin' over Africa...' Did you know Kipling wrote a poem about boots?" Boots quickly skimmed through the rest of the verse. "It's rather weird, though."
"I bet it's better than the ones he wrote about Melvin," Bruno muttered. "Come on, we'll be late!"
"Did you know that Larry Wilson used to model clothes for catalogues when he was a toddler?" Myron Blankenship said to Dave Jackson, just as they were passing by Bruno's desk. "He was the most sought-after three-year-old in Canada. He won Little Mister Photogenic two years in a row."
Boots stared after him. "How does he find out all this stuff? Do you think it's in our school records?"
A huge smile spread slowly over Bruno's face. "A model, huh? That is perfect!"
"I can't believe you talked me into this," Larry said, his arms crossed protectively over his chest. He cast a longing gaze at his t-shirt, which Bruno held triumphantly in his hand.
"You're doing great," Bruno said confidently. "Just try to look a bit more natural."
"And try to smile," Mark added, lowering the camera for a moment. "You're not looking very happy."
"That's because I'm not," Larry said, bravely trying for a smile. "If the Fish could see this..."
"How would he possibly find out?" Bruno said. "Oh, nice pose! This is good stuff." He turned to Mark with a gleam in his eyes. "We should make a calender! You can use the printing press for that, right? We'd make a fortune."
"I'm pretty sure that's against school policies," Boots said.
Bruno shrugged, but raised his eyebrows at Mark who thought for a moment, and then nodded enthusiastically. "We'll leave that for another time. Work it, Larry!"
Boots glances sideways at Bruno. "Sometimes you are just plain creepy."
Bruno winked at him. "You're not looking so bad yourself, there, Boots. Maybe we should have you join him."
Boots swallowed rapidly. "Good job, Larry!" he called as Bruno laughed.
"Larry, stop trying to hide behind the chair," Mark said impatiently.
"I know what we need," Bruno said, and grabbed the camera from Mark. "Larry, take off your jeans!"
Coach Flynn watched as Larry Wilson sprinted across the lawn with Bruno Walton in hot pursuit, closely followed by Mark Davies who was trying to grab the camera Walton held in his hand.
"You know," he said to Mr Fudge, a wistful note in his voice. "If they would only apply themselves with that kind of dedication in training, we would beat York Academy at everything, every single time."
"Are you sure she'll appreciate this?" Boots asked, as they were packing the things they had assembled for Diane in two large baskets they had borrowed, well, demanded, from Rob Adams who was the proud owner of the largest collection of picnic baskets in Canada. The items included:
14 small pots of plants, provided (if unknowingly) by Elmer
1 poem written by Pete
1 newspaper article, written by Mark
7 photos of Larry, in various state of undress
1 pair of socks, knitted by either Perry Elbert or Marvin Trimble (they both refused to admit to knitting)
1 box of cookies, baked by Boots' mother
Various pieces of chocolate and candy, reluctantly provided by Wilbur
3 rather good sketches of Diane, drawn by Chris Talbot
and Bruno's lucky penny (secretly provided by Boots)
"Of course she will," Bruno said confidently. "Girls love this stuff!" He studied the photos of Larry, snickering to himself. "I am keeping one of these! For blackmail purposes," he added when he caught Boots' strange look.
"Yeah, but Diane's not really girly," Boots said.
"When it comes down to it, they're all girly inside," Bruno said. "Well, except maybe Cathy... I'm not entirely convinced Cathy's human."
Later that afternoon the two boys were standing on the lawn facing the road, watching Scrimmage's gardening club hard at work at yet another project, all under the watchful eye of Miss Scrimmage.
"We'll never get over there without her noticing us," Boots said.
"Yeah," Bruno said. "We need some kind of distraction."
"Hey, guys," Larry said, coming up to them, eyeing Bruno with distrust and zipping up his sweater. "What are you doing?"
"Plotting," Bruno said.
"And that's my cue to leave again," Larry said quickly. He waved the bunch of letters he held in his hand. "I have to get over to Scrimmage's. Her mail keeps getting to delivered to us. It's really starting to annoy the Fish."
Bruno beamed at him. "Perfect! We need someone to distract her while Boots and I sneak over with the things for Diane. If you could just..."
"No," Larry said firmly.
"No! I am not taking my clothes off in front of Miss Scrimmage!"
Bruno spluttered. "I wasn't even going to suggest that!"
"Of course you were!" Larry exclaimed. "I know you!"
"Fine," Bruno grumbled, but his expression immediately cleared up when he noticed Sidney coming out of Dormitory 2. "Hey, Sidney, come over here!"
"No, Sidney isn't taking his clothes off either," Boots said and winced as Sidney, distracted by Bruno's waving, walked straight into a tree. He was still rubbing his forehead as he approached them.
"Ow. There are far too many trees on this campus."
"Could you do us a favour?" Bruno asked amiably. "These letters need to be delivered to Miss Scrimmage."
Sidney regarded Bruno suspiciously. "Why isn't Larry doing it?"
"He would, but Miss Scrimmage caught him trying to sneak into Ruth Sidwell's room the other night, so he's high on her hit list."
"I didn't..." Larry started, but was interrupted by a sharp elbow in the side from Bruno. "Yes, that's exactly what happened."
"And you know how she feels about us two," Bruno continued, indicating himself and Boots.
"So, if you could just give these to her, it would be great."
"Really," Sidney said, looking back and forth between the three of them. "That's all?"
Bruno nodded enthusiastically, Boots and Larry a bit more hesitantly.
Sidney shrugged. "Okay." He took the letters and started walking toward Scrimmage's.
"Why didn't you just tell him we needed a distraction?" Larry whispered.
"It would have made him nervous," Bruno said, just as quietly. "A nervous Sidney wouldn't even be able to cross the road without causing an major international incident. That's not quite what I'm after today."
"So, now what?" Boots asked.
Bruno rubbed his hands together. "Now we wait. Sidney's a walking natural disaster. Something's bound to happen. Just be ready to grab the baskets and go."
Mark came running, looking after Sidney in horror.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, out of breath. "Why are you sending Sidney over there?"
"Relax," Bruno said calmly. "What could possibly happen?"
"Are you kidding?" Mark shouted. "There are shovels over there! And holes in the ground, and water hoses and, oh I can't watch this. Do you have any idea what you're doing to me? I'm his roommate. I'm the one who have to help him shower and dress and everything when he's broken his bones."
"Well, I think that's something every roommate with any kind of self respect would be happy to do," Bruno stated. "I wouldn't hesitate to do that for Boots." He turned to Boots, grabbing his arm and staring intensively at him. "I want you to know that, Boots," he said earnestly. "If you ever need help in the shower, just ask. I'm there for you!"
"Uh, yeah," Boots said, confused. "That's great, Bruno. Thanks."
Bruno squeezed his arm and nodded solemnly.
"Oh, Sidney, no!" Mark said in a strangled voice.
Sidney had just reached Scrimmage's lawn when he tripped over a hoop left there after the weekly croquet tournament. He miraculously managed to stay upright, but stumbled sideways, caught his foot on a garden hose and finally fell over, landing face-first in a freshly dug flowerbed. The hose came lose from the sprinkler, wriggled like a snake on the ground and soaked two of the gardening club members in cold water. One of the girls screamed, took a step back, spun around and promptly knocked Miss Scrimmage out cold with the spade she was holding in her hand.
"We killed Miss Scrimmage!" Boots moaned, after a moment of stunned silence.
"Who cares?" Mark cried, on the verge of hysterics. "You killed Sidney!"
They stood frozen to the spot for a few horrifying seconds, until they could actually see both victims moving carefully. Mark grabbed Larry and sprinted toward Sidney, who was trying to sit up, mud clinging to his face and hair. Boots and Bruno each took one basket and ran, as discretely as possible when carrying a huge, heavy picnic basket. Diane was standing by the wall, gazing at the spectacle taking place before her, a forgotten sunflower hanging from her hand.
"Hey, Diane!" Bruno hissed as they came up behind her.
She turned and realization dawned on her face. "I should have known," she said. "What did you do to Miss Scrimmage?"
"Nothing," Bruno said, innocence written on his face. "It was one of your girls holding the shovel, don't try to deny it." He put his basket down at her feet, motioning for Boots to do the same. "Present for you!" He looked over her shoulder. "Oh, Scrimmage is waking up. We have to go!" He took off, and Boots was about to follow him, when Diane grabbed hold of his sleeve.
"What's going on?" she asked suspiciously. "What's in the baskets?"
"Just something for you. To cheer you up. Because you needed that, cheering up," he stuttered. "Please let me go, I think Miss Scrimmage is fetching her shotgun!"
"That went well," Bruno said.
Boots sat down heavily on his bed and glared at him silently.
"Oh, come on, you were already over the fence when she started shooting. You weren't even in the danger zone."
"Sidney has two broken fingers and a mild concussion!"
"That was entirely the Scrimmage's garden club's fault. Digging up the whole place like that, Sidney should sue them." He sat down next to Boots, nudging his shoulder. "I bet Diane's happy."
Boots smiled reluctantly. "Hopefully."
"Why we don't we have a garden club?" Bruno asked suddenly. "We have all those lawns, just there, filled with grass. Oh, we could build a maze! That would be brilliant! With really high hedges you couldn't see over, and..."
Boots listened with half an ear as he studied the plant on his desk. Had he really put it that close to the edge? He got up and pushed the pot further in, frowning when the bud seemed to droop even heavier. He reached his fingers out to touch it, and... "Bruno! Did you just suggest bear-traps in the maze?"
It had been so close! Just inches away. But wait, something was happening. It could feel the others, being set free. One after one, the daylight reached them. Oh, the time was almost here.
"Psst, Boots!" Boots was walking over the south lawn when he heard the whisper. He walked over to the bushes near the old cannon and saw Diane crouching behind them.
"Hi," he said sitting down next to her.
She looked at him expectantly. "So, is there any particular reason why I'm suddenly the most popular girl in Canada? I asked Cathy, but she claims to have nothing to do with it. Not that I believe her, but..."
Boots nervously cleared his throat. "We just wanted to cheer you up," he said. "Since your boyfriend broke up with you, and everything."
"Cathy mentioned your boyfriend breaking up with you, and..."
"No, he didn't."
Boots stared at her. "I'm sorry?"
"Frank didn't break up with me, I broke up with him."
Boots made a mental note never to listen to Cathy ever again. Not that that had ever worked before. "Then why have you been so upset? Cathy was really worried about you."
"It's just..." Diane sighed and looked around. "I love it here. I love this place. Cathy and all the girls, and you and Bruno, and Miss Scrimmage, and in a few months it'll all be over. And I have no idea what comes next. Or what I'll do. I love this school, but I'm not sure I've actually learned anything in all my years here. Gardening and baking and dancing and the proper way to greet royalty, but what am I suppose to do with that?"
"Oh," Boots said, momentarily stunned. "I had no idea. I've never thought of it like that."
"You don't have to, You go to the best school in Canada! Miss Scrimmage's is at number 218."
"Oh, but that's great!" Boots exclaimed. "You're up one spot!"
"Yeah, it's not so much because of us," Diane admitted. "Sandstrom's Institute for Rebellious Girls blew up."
"Blew up?" Boots stared at her in horror. "What happened."
"Cooking class," Diane shrugged. "It happens. Those pressure cookers can be quite unreliable." She sighed again. "The point is, all I have to impress people with are my croquet skills."
"Well, I wouldn't say that's necessarily true," he said. "I think we both have some skills most people lack."
She looked him with a curious smile. "Like what."
He shrugged. "Like handling a hostage situation involving a shotgun."
She laughed. "Or booby trapping an orchard."
"Setting world records."
"Matchmaking for people who hate each other."
"Saving endangered species."
"Survival in the wild."
"And most importantly, riots," Boots said decisively. "I can't imagine anything we don't know about starting riots."
"And dealing with certain people who aren't used to not getting their will done," Diane added and laughed. "I guess that is quite an impressive merit list, after all." Then she grew quiet again, and rested her head on his shoulder. "Boots? How will you manage, being without Bruno?"
He blinked. "What do you mean?"
"When you graduate. You'll have to go separate ways eventually, won't you."
"I don't see why." It had never even occurred to him that his life may take a different path from Bruno's. How could it? They were Bruno and Boots! And he had always assumed that Cathy and Diane were the same. "Is that what this is about?" He put his arm around Diane's shoulders, holding her close for a second. "I hate to break this to you, but I don't think Cathy has any intention of letting you out of her sight." More importantly, Boots had absolutely no intention of letting Bruno out of his sight. For everyone's sake. He was pretty sure the future of Canada depended on him keeping an eye on Bruno.
"I hope so," Diane said. Then she smiled up at Boots. "I haven't said thank you, have I? There was some really interesting stuff in those baskets. Cathy was particularly fond of the pictures of Larry."
"I'll be sure to tell Larry that. I'm sure he'll be thrilled."
"The plants were cool! I didn't have room for them all though, so I gave everyone in the garden club one. I can't wait to see what happens when it blooms."
They were free! Finally, after waiting for so long, freedom had come. And there was blood. Young, delicious blood, so close they could almost taste it already. The time had come. Now!
In the middle of the night there was a bloodcurdling scream, followed by several others. Boots shot straight up in bed, looking wildly around him, and found Bruno already up, leaning out through the open window.
"What was that?" Boots gasped, flying out of his bed.
"The girls are in danger!" Bruno said. He flung open the door and rushed out into the corridor, banging on the doors. "Scrimmage's is under attack! To the rescue! Leave no one behind!"
Within minutes the lawns outside both schools were swarming with students. Chaos reigned. The boys were armed with whatever they had been able to find, hockey sticks, rulers, pillows, anything that could possibly be used as a weapon.
"Where are the attackers?"
"How were you planning on fighting burglars with a toothbrush?"
"Did you guys see that Perry Elbert brought his teddy-bear with him outside?"
"Shut up, Myron!"
"Is it mandatory for the girls to wear pink nighties?"
"Knitting needles, Marvin? I knew it was you!"
As the entire student body rushed toward Miss Scrimmage's and climbed the wrought iron fence as one man, a crackling sound came over the PA system and Cathy's powerful voice was heard:
"We are under siege! The plants are attacking! Keep away from the flesh-eating creatures and keep all hands and feet where you can see them! I repeat, the plants are attacking!"
Boots stopped dead in his tracks. "The plants!" he shouted at Bruno. "Elmer's plants!"
Bruno froze and stared at him. "We filled Scrimmage's with flesh-eating plants," he said, his voice holding a mix of horror and fascination.
"If you have been bitten," Cathy's voice boomed, "try not to bleed to much in the vicinity of the plants, as this seems to encourage them! Please report to the nurse's office for first aid."
"It's an alien invasion!"
"Plants aren't aliens!"
"It's the killer tomatoes!"
A vision in pin curlers and a pink dressing gown appeared on the balcony, shotgun held high.
"Don't fear, Miss Scrimmage is here," Cathy announced. "I doubt bullets will work, but it's worth a shot!"
"Don't say shot!"
"Sidney, stop bleeding! You'll attract the plants!"
"Bruno, what are we supposed to do?" Boots hissed, as they'd thrown themselves on the ground when Miss Scrimmage started firing wildly.
For once Bruno looked bewildered. "I have no idea!" His eyes widened suddenly and he grimaced. "I have a feeling the Fish might have some very particular ideas in store for us, though." They both watched in trepidation as Mr Sturgeon walked with long strides from his cottage to Miss Scrimmage's, dressed in slippers and a red silk robe, with his hair standing on end. He took one good look around, surrounded by student from both schools running around in hysterics, and his eyes fell on Bruno and Boots.
They couldn't actually hear his words over the commotion but the meaning was clear.
"Walton, O'Neill. My office, now!"
"Right. Thank you, Drimsdale. I apologise for taking up your time, I'm sure you have a lot of important things to tend to. Yes. Good luck tomorrow. Goodbye." Mr Sturgeon hung up the phone and turned his steely grey eyes to Bruno and Boots who were squirming on the hard wooden bench in front of his desk. They'd had to wait for over an hour in the cold marble corridor outside the office before the headmaster came back from Miss Scrimmage's.
"According to Elmer Drimsdale, the plants you took from his room and for some reason decided to leave at Miss Scrimmage's school are Audritius Secondaris, a very rare, uncommonly bloodthirsty, species of fly-traps."
"Oh..." Bruno breathed, sounding almost impressed.
"We had no idea, sir," Boots said earnestly.
"I'm sure you didn't." Mr Sturgeon sighed. "However, Drimsdale assured me that they were properly contained in his room.
"There might have been a net, sir," Bruno admitted sheepishly.
"I have spent the last hour personally collecting every single one of these plants, along with a few other items that I think might belong to students of this school. Including some photos of my office messenger that I'm fairly certain I do not wish to know how they came about."
Boots and Bruno glanced at each other, not daring to offer a reply. Larry was going to kill them.
"Miss Grant was quick to inform me that this whole arrangement was apparently for her benefit, which I'm sure is commendable of you. And it seems as though no one was badly hurt. However, you are perfectly aware that Miss Scrimmage's is strictly off limits. I'm suspending all your privileges for the rest of the term." He looked at his watch. "It looks like you have just enough time to get back to your room and get dressed before morning classes start. You had better not be late, understood?"
"Yes, sir," Bruno and Boots said in unison.
"Very well." He dismissed them, and when the heavy oak door had closed behind them, he picked up the phone again, preparing himself for another call to Miss Scrimmage. "Yes, hello, Miss Scrimmage. I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that the plants are not poisonous. I have that from a very reliable source. What? No, Miss Scrimmage. No, my boys are not cannibals. They were not trying to eat your students. Yes, we do feed them."
"Mildred," he said tiredly to his wife, when he'd finally managed to get off the phone and back to his cottage. "I don't think headmasters of other schools spend this much time on lawns in their pyjamas, being threatened by crazy women with shotguns."
"I'm sure they do," she replied soothingly, pouring him a cup of tea as he sat down heavily at the kitchen table.
"Carnivorous plants, Mildred. They infested the neighbouring school with carnivorous plants." He stared into his teacup. "I suppose it would have been to much to ask that one of the plants had taken a bite out of that old bat."
"Really, William," Mrs Sturgeon said disapprovingly, and hid a smile. "I think we're all very lucky that no-one was really hurt."
"Her shotgun has done far more damage than those plants ever could," he said. He shook his head in wonderment. "It'll never cease to amaze me the things Walton is capable of convincing the other students to do." He chuckled suddenly. "Anderson is not the brightest boy, but he does deserve credit for finding seventeen ways to rhyme with Diane."
Boots was quickly shuffling through his drawer in search for a clean pair of socks, when he suddenly found a photo in the corner of the drawer. It showed Bruno, without a shirt on, smiling and winking at the camera. Boots stared at the photo, and something started to slide into place in his mind. He slowly turned around to face Bruno who was leaning against the door, waiting for him to get ready. Bruno noticed the photo in his hand, and looked nervous for a second, before smiling.
"It's been in there for days. I think you need to change socks more often."
"You!" Boots exclaimed. "With the poem, and the chocolate and the plant..." he gestured to his desk, where the trashcan was turned upside down over the pot, caging it in.
Boots had no idea what to say. "I don't need cheering up, Bruno," he finally settled for.
"It wasn't so much about cheering you up," Bruno admitted.
"What is it about then?"
Bruno grinned hopefully. "Getting what I want?"
Boots looked at him carefully as he crossed to floor over to where Bruno was standing. Then he took a deep breath, leaned in and kissed him. When he drew back Bruno's grin was even wider. "Is that anywhere near to what you wanted?"
"That's pretty much exactly it," Bruno said.
"I really should have figured that out earlier, shouldn't I?" Boots said ruefully.
"I think you may have beaten Pete to it, but yeah."
Boots raised his eyebrows. "So everyone else already knows?"
"There's a betting pool."
"Really? That's... not surprising at all." He leaned his forehead against Bruno's. "Who'll win?"
Bruno smirked. "Me."
"Of course," Boots said, laughing.
"Right then," Bruno said. They grinned happily at each other for a few seconds, and then Bruno took a deep breath, and clapped his hands. "Next item! Come on, we need to find Mark and his video camera. We've got work to do!"
Boots faltered. "Please tell me you're talking about schoolwork."
Bruno scoffed. "No! We have a perfect opportunity here, we can't let it go to waste."
"Opportunity for what?"
"We have a whole bunch of flesh-eating eating plants," Bruno exclaimed with a huge grin. "I'm thinking horror movie! We'll make a fortune! We'll be famous!"
"Oh, Bruno, please don't," Boots shook his head, but in his mind he was already composing an essay on Why I Should Not Turn This School Into A Horror Film Set (Especially Involving Flesh-eating Plants).
"It'll be great!" Bruno enthused. "We'll get Cathy to play a victim, she's got an amazing scream. And Sidney! I've never seen anyone who can bleed like Sidney."
"Have you forgotten that the plants are all safely locked away in the faculty building?"
"So? Larry can get us the key. No one will even know they're gone."
"The Fish will know."
"Even if he finds out, he won't know it was us!" Bruno started off down the corridor, then he stopped, ran back and kissed Boots firmly. "Trust me!"
"Of course he'll know!" Boots shouted as Bruno took off again, but he was already following him, and laughing. "It's always us!" It always had been, and it always would be. And Boots was completely and utterly fine with that.
By the south wall of Miss Scrimmage's, the two plants basked in the early morning sunshine. They'd been planted there yesterday, by two diligent garden club members. There was water, and soil, and sun, and air. They could live here, spread their roots, and grow, in size and multitude. They would wait here, and bide their time.