After these three years, Lu still was pretty distant to Alden and neither of them could figure out quite why. Alden thought he'd done something wrong. Lu thought that he would end up hurting the little boy he couldn't seem to understand.
But, Alden was supposed to be his nephew. And Collin was bringing an uninitiated woman around their home. For appearances at the very least, they needed to find common ground somehow. Let alone the fact that both felt lonely when they thought of the other. The Lieutenant wanted to get to know the little acorn he'd pulled out of the rubble. Alden wanted to get to know the man who had given him a home.
Alden liked dogs and dinosaurs. The Lieutenant liked books and strategy. They both had a fondness for building things. The Lieutenant had seen a strategy game at the bookstore recently. It was set in a fantasy world where knights actually commanded dinosaurs to conquer and gain control of territories. Maybe it would be too difficult for a seven-year-old.
He wasn't a normal seven-year-old, though. He understood complex theorems in physics. He had already mastered algebra. He could build something out of Legos that fit the golden ratio without even trying.
The boy was a genius.
Maybe this game would work.
So, he made a trip to the bookstore and bought it.
When he came home, he thought he'd ask Alden to play with him. But, he was busy keeping little Delia occupied. The two of them fought constantly, but there was an understanding there. Delia put up with him because she sensed his loneliness as the only child around here. Alden saw her tiny stature and seemed ready to protect her from anything at any moment. They were an entertaining pair to observe. Disappointed, the Lieutenant decided not to interrupt them. He'd have another opportunity.
He put the game on the coffee table and went into his office.
A little while later, he heard Alden's voice squeal excitedly, "What's this? Collin! Collin! Did you buy this for me?"
"No, kiddo, I've never seen that before in my life. I bet it's from Lieut."
Alden's little feet were loud as they ran to Lieut's office.
"Can I play this with you?" Alden asked, his eyes as bright as the first time he tasted waffles.
"Absolutely," Lieut stood from his desk and followed Alden back into the living room.
Alden excitedly read the rules out loud. They discussed the more ambiguous ones and made some compromises on how they would play together. Alden was serious about it. He wrote their amendments down on a yellow tablet.
They played for three hours. Delia came in and out of the room, briefly checking in on who was winning, then left to play with the dog. Collin and Molly, his fiancée, cooked dinner together.
When the call for food was made, it was decided that sustenance took precedence over playing a game. Alden noted the size of each army, the stock and armaments, and the positions and territories held by each of them.
"We can assume this another time," he said very sternly to the Lieutenant, who simply nodded.
This had been the best Saturday of his life.
More time passed.
Alden was now thirteen years old. Collin and Molly had another daughter, Lilliana. She was five, now. Delia had grown to be ten.
She had joined in the on going game between Alden and the Lieutenant. Well, more like she forced her way in.
"I think the villagers should rebel," she said one day. "That stable boy over there. I'm playing as him. I'm stealing a stegosaurus and gathering a resistance army."
"What do you know about resistance armies?" The Lieutenant asked.
She shrugged her shoulders. Probably Collin telling wild stories about the old days.
"Anyway, it's against the rules," Alden snatched the stable boy figurine out of her hands.
"Says who?" She cried.
"The rule book, duh."
"Alden, that's incredibly rude."
"Now, there is no specific rule about anyone forming a rebellion. I think it's interesting."
"But it negates the order of the game," he whined.
"Isn't that the point of a rebellion?" Delia asked, earning a smile from Lieut.
"Let her play," he said softly and calmly.
"Fine, but don't take my velociraptors."
Delia was spending more and more time in the cabin that Alden and the Lieutenant shared. More and more time hanging around Alden, more specifically. Even though the still bickered around the clock, she would not leave his side. And he didn't seem to mind.
They called their fights discussions. And they were always discussing something. It bewildered Collin, Molly, and Lieut at just how much the two adolescents had to talk about when they'd known each other most of their childhoods. The two of them would walk around the property with Steven, who was graying around his nose and ears recently. They'd talk the entire time. They'd discuss moon phases and which planet was visible. They'd talk about the theory of relativity. They'd talk about the beetles in the ground.
They made excellent pupils for the Lieutenant. There was nothing better than a participative class. Though Alden was definitely an advanced learner, little Delia kept up just fine. Though, Lieut suspected this was out of sheer stubbornness and will rather than pure aptitude like Alden. Which he respected. The little girl would pour over books in their home, determined to at least keep up with the boy who was three years her senior.
This kept on until Alden hit the age of sixteen. He had exhausted his homeschooling materials and applied for his diploma by mail without much ceremony. Delia was a lone pupil, now. And she hated it.
"Can you just hang out with us while I study? It's boring without you." She begged him.
"What am I going to do in there? Repeat three grades when I don't have to?" He asked.
He'd gotten very tall and Delia grew incredibly aware of her five-foot-three stature as they were facing off in their favorite hideaway about ten feet into the tree line at the north end of the property.
"No, but you could tutor me," she offered.
"What's the point of a tutor when you're already in a private lesson and you're the only student?"
"I miss you being in there with me," she whispered.
"What was that? I didn't hear it." He had very clearly heard her.
"I said I miss you being in there with me."
He leaned down and looked her straight in the eye.
"Then, you'll just have to hurry and catch up to me."
She hugged and stormed away. Alden crossed his arms over his chest and smiled smugly at her back as she hurried back towards her classes.