Normally, Boots' phone never buzzed during class, because Bruno was right there beside him. Consequently, he hadn't bothered to turn it on silent, which meant that his entire math class got to hear the weird pterodactyl screech ringtone that Cathy had changed it to one night, and he'd secretly found too funny to change back.
He was lucky that Mr. Stratton only gave him a pained look and confiscated his phone for the rest of the day, which meant it was late that evening when he finally got to check his messages. Cathy is going to murder me and it's going to be all your fault for not being here to save me. I can't believe the Fish is making you do summer school.
Summer school is going to kill me and it's going to be all your fault for MAKING ME FAIL MATH IN THE FIRST PLACE, he texted back. It was a little unfair, perhaps -- it was the forest's demands of him that led to him missing so much class. And it wasn't as if Bruno had wanted him to make the sacrifice in the first place.
But it had been necessary, and it had saved them. Now Bruno and Cathy were off having fun in Wales, while he was in for a summer of remedial trigonometry and trying to figure out what exactly it was that weird, magical trees were trying to tell him.
Despite the time zone difference, his phone pterodactyl-screeched again almost immediately. Form a Committee to do your homework for you, Bruno said, and Boots couldn't stop himself from laughing.
Cathy's first impression of Wales was wet. Coincidentally, wet was also her second, third, and fourth impression, and she expected that once Bruno's curiosity had been satisfied, she'd be heading home with wet as her final, lasting impression of the country.
"You take me to the nicest places, Walton," she said, glaring at him as he tried to keep his map sheltered from the rain.
"Can it, Burton," he replied. "How are we supposed to find a Welsh king without spending some time researching in Wales?"
"By using the internet?" she said, glumly kicking a soda can out of her way. It rolled back, splashing her a little as it came to rest against her foot. She glared at it. "You know, like normal people."
"Where's your sense of adventure?" Bruno asked.
"It drowned," she replied. "Come on, let's just get to the library. We need that book you were talking about."
"See?" he said. "I knew you were excited to research."
Cathy wasn't, not really. It was more that she was anxious about researching, or anxious about not researching, and what that meant for Diane, and the way she'd been flickering out so much more these days.
"I'm excited to get out of the rain," she said instead, but Bruno knocked his shoulder against hers, and she knew he'd understood it anyway.
"You're blooming," Diane said, and Boots jumped. Had she been there the whole time? He couldn't remember, and that worried him.
She pointed vaguely behind him, and he looked back to see a single daisy springing up from the ground. "I think that was there before."
Diane shook her head. Boots was fascinated by the way the movement changed the shape of her not-quite shadow. "Look again," she said, and he crouched by it. Sure enough, it was growing from his footprint, its unbroken stem surrounded by flattened grass.
"Huh," he said, for lack of anything better to say.
"You're slipping again," she said. "In a good way, I guess, but..."
"But I'm still slipping," he finished. He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. Living with Bruno for as long has he had meant that he'd long since accepted that some things -- most things -- were entirely out of his control.
He wasn't used to being one of those things.
When he opened his eyes again, Diane was gone, and his breath came out as more of a sigh than anything else.
The university was a bust. They were both trying not to be pathetically disappointed about it. Cathy was succeeding more than Bruno; their B&B had as loose a definition of 'breakfast hours' as Cathy did herself, and an even looser definition of what a proper age to be drinking was, which was why Cathy was now in possession of a full breakfast and a generous portion of whisky.
"His name's on the university," Bruno said. "It's literally named after him. You'd think they'd have more."
"It's not like everything named after someone is all about them," Cathy pointed out. "We don't have a Scrimmage collection at our school."
"You should," Bruno said, his frown dissipating. It wasn't quite a smile, but Cathy would take it. "It would be incredible."
"A thousand books on shotguns and etiquette," Cathy said. She reached over and poked Bruno with her toe. "Let's forget this Glendower nonsense. We should obviously be trying to wake Scrimmage instead."
Bruno snorted, thinking of at least a dozen separate occasions when his and Boots' best efforts at stealth had still led to late-night shotgun avoidance. "Waking her up has never been a problem."
Before the sacrifice, Boots had never remembered his dreams when he woke up. He still didn't, not anything more than urgent whispers in Latin and the push to go now, now, now, do something.
It wasn't so urgent this time, though, more of a pleasant greeting trying to gently nudge him in the right direction, and so he dressed slowly, actually made it to every one of his classes for the first time in a week, and spent his lunch hour listening to Wilbur gripe about the cafeteria service during summer, while Chris surreptitiously drew caricatures of Wilbur's angry, complaining face.
After school, he finally gave into the nudge and wandered out into the woods on the opposite side of Highway 48. The feeling grew stronger as he walked, until finally it peaked as he all but tripped over a large, flat, rock.
He bent, picked it up, and flipped it over. There, in Cathy's familiar scrawl, was a message: still nothing, B misses you almost as much as he misses the Hall, xoxo love to you and Diane.
He laughed, shaking his head and tucking the rock into his backpack. Before Cathy and Bruno had left for Wales for the summer, her dream-messages had been incomprehensible things, left from future dreams in the past, or past dreams in the future, with cryptic messages that didn't make sense until they needed to. It was nice to see a message that made sense without context, sent at the usual time.
"Diane," he said without turning, not needing to see her to recognize her familiar buzz of energy beside him. "Is it weird that I just thought, 'finally, a nice, normal message' about a note written on a rock via a dream?"
She laughed, then considered. "Objectively, yes, but I don't think it even registers on our weirdness meter."
Bruno loved to travel, not so long ago. His last trip to Wales had been amazing; he'd been full of enthusiasm, excited to learn everything he could. He hadn't had the Hall back then, hadn't had Boots and Cathy and Diane.
Throwing himself into Macdonald Hall like he had should have left him tired after two full years of tearing off into danger, saving the school, spending his nights sneaking into Scrimmage's with Boots, and spending his days sitting next to him while the Fish looked down at them with infinite resignation over his glasses.
Instead, he was tired now, an ocean away from the Hall. He'd made staggeringly little progress on the trip so far -- a few books, a few new contacts, and a little bit of insight on ley lines from Elmer's far less skeptical cousin -- and he was just drained, as much by homesickness as he was by his lack of success. "Do you want to just go home?" he said to Cathy, who had been trying to follow his ley line map for ten minutes now. He didn't have the heart to tell her that she was holding it upside down.
"Finally," she said, tossing the map down. "Bruno, that's the first sensible thing you've said since we got here."
Boots' phone pterodactyl-screeched twice in a row in the middle of the cafeteria, and he had the good grace to look sheepish when the sound startled Sidney into falling out of his seat. He switched the sound off and looked at his phone.
Coming home early, Bruno's first message read, but it was the second message that had him smiling: And Dad thinks I should be keeping up with my studies over the summer, so he's just enrolled me for math. See you Monday.
"Hey," Boots said. Sidney, Wilbur, and Chris all looked up from their meals. "Anyone feel up to forming a Welcoming Committee?"