Chapter One
Mr Donner appears  

Niklas came home from school one Tuesday to find a large removal van parked outside the house next door.
'Oh good,' thought Niklas, 'somebody's bought the house. I hope they have children.' 
As he crossed the road he craned his neck to look around the side of the van hoping to spot somebody but he could see nobody there. He paused just inside his gate and watched for a while. After a few minutes three men came out of the house next door, two were younger than his father but the third looked older than his grandfather. The three men went to the back of the van and the two younger ones went inside to pick up one of the pieces of furniture that were still inside. It was an old desk they lifted, heavy and dark with a green leather top covered in old ink stains. The desk was obviously very heavy and the two men were struggling to lift it. As they came to put the desk on the small lift at the back of the van one of the men tripped over the small step and lost his grip on the desk. It fell a short distance to the metal floor of the removal van with a deep thud.
"For god's sake be careful with that," shouted the old man, "it's an heirloom. That desk is over a hundred years old. It's survived two world wars and seven fires and I don't want it ruined by a couple of thumb fingered removal men." 
Niklas looked to where the old man was leaning his heavyset form forward on his stick, scowling at the two younger men handling his desk. His shoulders were tense and his one foot was tapping and he was glaring at the removal men in a way that promised dire consequences to them if any harm came to his beloved possessions. The old mans' hair was thinning on top and almost completely colourless and only his thick but neat moustache showed any trace of its original colour. His face was a weather beaten mass of wrinkles and his liverspotted hands white with tension as he gripped his ancient wooden walking stick. His clothes were old in style and age, a jacket at once threadbare and hairy, trousers that would no longer hold the crease that had obviously been designed into them and, hiding a plain white shirt with stiff starched collar and cuffs, a waistcoat with a watch chain across the front! 
The old man watched as the desk was slowly lowered on the lift and than hefted carefully and inched across the pavement towards his garden gate. As he turned top follow its progress his scowl turned towards Niklas, watching from just within his own garden, and deepened. Niklas turned hurriedly and walked quickly up his path and through his door. 
Niklas' father was not yet home. His mother was in the kitchen, peering into the open refrigerator. Niklas stopped in the kitchen doorway and watched, leaning against the frame, his bag hanging by its straps from both his hands and swaying gently against his ankles. 

Hi, mom!

"Hi mom. There's somebody moving into the house next door." 
"Ah, Niklas, you're here at last. Good. Yes I know about Mr Donner, I went to say hello when he arrived." 
"Is there just him moving in? I had hoped there would be some children." 
"No dear, he's all on his own now." Mrs Edlund looked up from the open refrigerator, "Now don't you go bothering Mr Donner, he's come here for a rest and he needs some peace and quiet. Now dear, I'm short on eggs I think, would you be kind and go to the shops for me before you change?" 
"Okay mum." Niklas threw his schoolbag casually into a corner of the hall and waited while his mother dug into her apron for her purse, talking to him all the while. 
"Now you're to go to Mr Mercies' and get a dozen free range eggs, free range mind you, and you're to check them before you pay for them, last time when I got home I found three out of the dozen were cracked. I'll give you $5 but you're to come straight back with the change now, no stopping of for sweets." 
All the while she was digging into her purse and Niklas was nodding and making 'yes mum' noises at the appropriate times until she had finally handed over the money and pushed him gently towards the door. 
"And straight back now, you hear, your father will be home soon and I want to get dinner on as soon as possible." 
"Yes mum," said Niklas as he rushed down the hall. He opened the front door a little and poked his head out. There was no-one by the removal van so he went out, got his bike from the garage, mounted carefully and set off, straight through he open gates of the drive and on towards the shops. He wondered if he could get away with just a few toffees. Probably not. 
Mr Mercies' shop was the fourth one along of a small row of shops three corners away from Niklas home. It was a sort of mini supermarket, crowded with shelves selling all the sorts of things that people could forget while doing their regular shop at the big supermarkets as well as all the things that they may need to buy in between but which were not worth a special trip to buy. Two doors down from Mr Mercies, there was a takeaway outside which, propped carefully against the wall Niklas recognised Fabian's distinctively painted bike. It had been a rusting wreck when Fabian's mother had bought it from a second hand shop but Fabian had carefully cleaned it up and painted it with colours and designs taken from the album covers of his favourite bands. It was uniquely and unmistakably his. Niklas passed straight by Mr Mercies shop and peered through the window of the takeaway. Fabian was leaning forlornly on the wall in the middle of medium sized queue, a slightly lost look on his face. Niklas went in. 
"Hi Fabi, what ya doing?" 
Fabian's face lit up with a smile. "Hi Nik, my mother had to work late today so she said to get a takeaway for my dinner. I'm going to get cheeseburger and chips." 
"Oh. I've got to get some eggs for our tea from Mr Mercies. Why don't you come with me and then you can come home and eat with us?" 
"Won't your mother mind?" 
"Why should she? She likes you. And if she says no, then you can just get the takeaway." 
Fabian smiled and nodded and the two boys left the takeaway and went into Mr Mercies shop to buy the eggs under Mr Mercies watchful gaze before retrieving their bikes and heading back to Niklas' house. On the way, they talked. 
"There's someone moving into the house next to ours." 
"Oh, good. Do they have any boys?" 
"No, there's just an old man and I think he was in a bad mood, he scowled at me. Mum says to keep away from him." 
Fabian frowned. "He probably doesn't like children. One of my mother's boyfriends was like that, he went away because he didn't want to be saddled with me."
"Oh. He must have been a very silly man, it's not like you were bad or anything." 
"He said he just wasn't very good with children, I don't know why because I quite liked him." 
By this time the boys had turned the final corner into Niklas' road. The removal van was gone and there was no sign of the old man but both boys looked carefully at the house as they parked their bikes before going into the Niklas home. 
"Hi mom, Fabian's here." 
"Hello Fabian, how are you?" 
"I'm fine Mrs Edlund, thank you." 
"Fabian's mom had to work late so I said he could eat with us today. Is that alright?" 
"What again? Your mother works too hard Fabian. Of course you may eat with us, you're always welcome here. Your father just phoned Niklas. He's going to pick up Tine from here dance class and then come he is on his way. He should be here within about half an hour so if you boys will set the table, I will make dinner and we can get started as soon as your father gets here, but first you must change out of your school clothes Niklas. Fabian dear would you pass me those eggs, please." 
Niklas disappeared upstairs to change while Fabian began helping his mother and setting the table. 
Niklas had changed and was helping his friend finish the setting of the table when his father and sister came home. He was wearing his favourite battered T-shirt and jeans while Fabian was still dressed in his school shirt and trousers. They made quite a contrast as the work silently together laying the cutlery carefully in place. Mr Edlund had to stop and watch them for a few moments as he stood in the kitchen doorway, his daughter staring at Fabian with a sour expression beyond him. Mr Edlund reflected that for anyone seeing them for the first time it would appear that Fabian was the perfect image of the clean cut, fresh washed schoolboy. It was, he thought, a great argument in favour of school uniform. As for his own son, in frayed and faded jeans and the threadbare T-shirt. He smiled. All in all, he was immensely proud of his son, though it wouldn't do to let him know.  an argument for school uniforms "Hello boys, Fabian, how are you?" 
Mrs Edlund looked around at the sound of her husband's voice, "Hello dear, Fabian's mother had to work late again so I said that he could eat with us today." 
Tina stepped forward and sniffed, "what again?" 
"Tina!" frowned Mr Edlund. 
"Well he's always here." 
"Now dear," said Mrs Edlund, "that's not nice." She turned to Fabian. "Pay her no attention, Fabian, you know that you're always welcome here." 
"Thank you Mrs Edlund, I like it here, you're always very kind to me." 
"That's very nice of you to say dear, now if you've finished setting the table, we can sit down and eat." 
Mr Edlund left the kitchen briefly to put away his coat and hat and returned in time to end an argument over who was to sit next to Niklas. 
"No Tina, let Fabian sit next to Niklas, he is Niklas' friend." 
Finally they were all seated and the meal was served.
As the boys began to eat, Niklas with his accustomed single-mindedness, and Fabian, delicately, almost absently by comparison, Mrs Edlund spoke to her husband. 
"Mr Donner finally moved in today." 
"He did?" replied her husband, "good. It'll do him good to get settled into his own place at last. How is he feeling?" 
"He was fine when I spoke to him, although he did seem a little tired." 
"Only to be expected. It was no doubt a strain, moving house and all. Did it take them long?" 
"Yes, Niklas says they were still there when he came home from school." 
"Hmm. You didn't go bothering Mr Donner, did you Niklas? I know your habit of introducing yourself to all the new people in the neighbourhood." 
Niklas hastily swallowed what he was eating and shook his head. "No dad, I just watched for a couple of minutes and then went inside." 
"Good. Because you're not to go bothering Mr Donner. He needs peace and quiet and the last thing he wants is a lot of noisy kids around." Mr Edlund smiled as he said it but Niklas looked serious. 
"I won't bother him dad." 
When his father turned his attention away from him, Niklas looked to Fabian and the two of them exchanged unspoken warnings. And curiosity. 

After eating the two boys decided to go, first, to Fabian's house where he could change out of his school clothes and then to their friend Jason's house. There was no problems with Niklas' parents about this plan since the three boys often spent the evenings at each other's houses, each set of parents considering it a holiday when they were at the other's house, but Tina was at first insistent that Niklas stay to play with her and then insistent that she could go with them. It took the combined arguments of both boys and the final word of both parents before she could be persuaded, reluctantly, to let them go. The boys rushed out before she could think up any more arguments, they both remembered the times she had managed to persuade Niklas' parents that she should go with them and they had spent a wasted evening explaining over and again that boys did not play 'dressing up', nor did they play at tea parties. As they passed next door they stared without staring at the empty windows but saw nothing. 
Niklas push-jumped onto his bike and then looked back at Fabian. 
"Race you to your house," he shouted and then started peddling for all he was worth. 
"Hey not fair," cried Fabian and quickly raced to follow him. 
The two boys tore around the thankfully quiet streets as fast as they could peddle. Despite Niklas' start, Fabian slowly caught up with him, not only peddling faster on the straight, thanks to his longer legs, but also taking the corners much faster and sharper than Niklas dared. By the time the two boys had reached Fabian's house Fabian was only a few feet behind Niklas and had to brake and turn sharply to avoid a collision. 
"I won, I won," panted Niklas, his grinning face glowing from the exertion. 
"Only because you had a start on me," complained Fabian, "next time I'll beat you by miles." 

Fabian's house was untidy. It was not that his mother did not clean, but rather that she worked so late so often that she could never catch up with the mess as it was made. Fabian was accustomed to helping her out by doing some housework himself between eating and doing his homework, but since he had eaten with the Edlunds that day, nothing whatsoever had been done since the previous afternoon. There were books lying around the living room and dining room, both Fabian's and his mother's - she was taking a correspondence course in her limited spare time - and the previous nights' dishes still waited in the kitchen sink. Fabian sighed as he saw them. 
"I'd better do these." 
"OK, I'll help. What do I do?" 
"Well, if you dry while I wash, it'll only take half the time." 
While Fabian ran the water for the dishes, Nik looked around the room. Fabian's house always fascinated him, even the kitchen was crammed with strange objects that his mother had picked up from various places. In her youth she had travelled extensively visiting and collecting souvenirs from many different parts of the world. When she was in the mood, she would tell the boys stories of the places she had been and the people she had met but she was mostly too tired. 
Niklas turned to ask Fabian the origin of one particularly mysterious object but saw that in the time he had spent nosing about the kitchen, Fabian had run the water and piled the draining board half full of freshly cleaned dishes. He hurriedly put the strange object back in its place and ran to help his friend. 
"There should be a tea towel on the side there," Fabian told him. 
The two boys between them soon finished the dishes and, having put them carefully away, moved up to Fabian's bedroom. 
Fabian lost no time in ridding himself of his school clothes and then opened his drawers and the doors of his wardrobe, one after the other inspecting and rejecting one item of clothing after another. He tried one T-shirt against his body and then rejected it muttering, "no good, too small". Niklas picked up Fabian's guitar and leaned back on the bed watching his friend. 
Fabian had always been thin but now he seemed to be all bone, his stomach was concave and his elbows and shoulders stood out like knots in the string of his arms. It was not that he had lost weight, Niklas knew, but rather that in the last few months Fabian had grown head and shoulders above Niklas, his body elongating like a 'stretch Armstrong' doll or a figure made of silly putty, flesh tightening over suddenly lengthening bones, skin becoming taut and muscles wiry while the bones of his ribs showed through the gaps. Jason had told Niklas privately that he feared Fabian was 'growing up'. Fabian though seemed to be the only person who had not noticed and continued in the same old way without mentioning anything about his growth except to complain, as now, when he could no longer fit into any of his clothes. Fabian finally found a T-shirt that looked like it would fit him and opened the wardrobe door to take out a pair of jeans. Niklas stopped strumming an almost tune on the guitar and watched as his friend pulled on the jeans. 
The jeans fit Fabian in the same way a balloon fits the air inside it. It was almost funny to watch him hopping about from one leg to the other as he tried to jump his way into them. Niklas managed to put the guitar to one side before Fabian finally lost his balance and came crashing down on top of the bed, and on top of the giggling Niklas. 
As Fabian fell, Niklas helped him out with a guiding hand - straight onto the bed beside him where he could reach his sides to tickle. Fabian, at first annoyed at having fallen so embarrassingly could not help but crease with laughter at Niklas tickling. 
"Stop it! It's not funny," he said through his laughter. 
"Yeah," grinned Niklas, "seems funny to me." And with that he redoubled his attack upon his ticklish friend. 
By batting Niklas hands away for a moment Fabian caught his breath enough to begin retaliating and soon both boys were rolling about the bed in hysterics at each others tickling. It could not last, of course. Niklas rolled a little too far, unused to the narrowness of Fabian's bed and tumbled off with a yell, dragging Fabian after him. Landing on the floor below, Niklas with Fabian on top of him knocked the wind out of both boys and they lay there on top of the carpet and the heaps of discarded clothing until they both got their breaths back.  Stop it

Fabian relaxed on top of Niklas, pushing his head into the angle of his friend's shoulder while Niklas' arms went around him. They lay like that for some time. 
Finally, Niklas sighed. "It's good when it's like this. I wish it could stay this way forever!" 
"Well, why can't it? All we have to do is stay here like this and it will be forever!" 
At that moment the boys heard a door slam downstairs. 
"Hello, Fabian. Are you home?" It was Mrs Waitaweill, Fabian's mother, home from work at last. The two boys sighed and looked at each other for a long moment before getting up from the floor. 
Fabian shouted down to his mother: "Yes Mum, Niklas is here too, we're upstairs. We'll be down in a minute, I'm just getting changed." 
Niklas helped his friend pull on the jeans properly and do up the final button then waited near the door while his friend quickly pulled on a T-shirt. All the while the two boys could hear Mrs Waitaweill pottering about in the kitchen downstairs. While Fabian's mother was not a particularly noisy person she was an adult and it sometimes seemed to the boys that nobody over the age of fourteen could do anything without sounding like a one man band all the time. 
Finished dressing, Fabian led the way downstairs to the kitchen where his mother caught him with a hug and a kiss before he could escape. She was just about to do the same to Niklas when Fabian said, "We're just going to Jason's to play." 
Mrs Waitaweill frowned: "Already dear? Have you eaten?" 
"Yes mum, I ate at Niklas'. And it's nearly half past six." 
"Well, if you've done your homework?" 
"Didn't get any today, it's too near the holidays." 
"Well okay, but don't be too late back, it's still school tomorrow, the holidays don't start for another three days." 
"No, mum, I won't be late. Bye!" 
"Goodbye, Mrs Waitaweill," and with that the two boys went out the door and onto their bikes to their friend Jason's house. This time there was no racing as the boys peddled slowly side by side towards Jason's house, talking. 
"Did you really get no homework?" asked Niklas, "I got loads." 
"Well, I got a little, but I can do it in morning break. I bet most of your homework was for maths?" 
Niklas groaned, "Yes, we got a whole lot of sums to do." 
"Well there you are, you have Mr Swansen for maths, I get Mr Carey. He hardly ever gives us homework." 
Niklas grinned mischievously, "You know what they call him, don't you? Carey the F..." 
"Yes, I know what they call him," interrupted Fabian, "but he's alright. He always treats us like we matter not like most of the teachers. I don't think some of them like kids." 
Niklas groaned, "Mr Swansen doesn't, he's trying to kill all the kids in the world with overwork!" 
The two boys were turning the last corner before Jason's house now, one tidy semi-detached in a street full of almost identical tidy semi-detacheds. As they turned the corner, Fabian grinned slyly at his friend and started to sprint the remaining few hundred metres to Jason's house, Niklas yelled in indignation and then bent over his peddles to catch up. Fabian relaxed a little as they approached the house, allowing Niklas to almost catch up. Once in the driveway, the two boys dropped their bikes with a double crash, Niklas only moments after Fabian, and stared at each other. Each boy was trying his hardest not to laugh and almost daring the other to start first. 
"Good morning boys," came Mrs Van Mason's voice from the front garden, "Jason is round the back with Vince and Jonathon. I think you'd better go through, I have a feeling he needs rescuing." 
Niklas transferred his stare to Mrs Van Mason. If he had not known better, he would almost have sworn that she was also trying to suppress laughter. 
"Humph!" said Niklas then turned to the door at the back of the garage that led to the rear half of the garden. 
"Thanks Mrs Van Mason," said Fabian with a grin and he turned and followed. 
Niklas was still in the doorway as Fabian arrived, his slender form blocking the view beyond. Fabian pushed him slightly to one side and peered over his shoulder. There in the middle of the lawn lay Jason, arms held above his head by his little brother, being sat on by a laughing Jonathon who was bouncing as Jason struggled against the tickling he was getting. 
The two boys in the doorway looked at each other and then with a single voice yelled "charge" and ran down the garden towards their friends. Jonathon and Sniv looked up in horror at the noise but had no time to prepare themselves before the two boys were on them, Fabian rolling over Jonathon and dragging him with him off the helpless Jason while Niklas caught Sniv round the chest and pulled him over on top of him. Soon it was free for all, with each boy, even the recovered Jason, tickling the nearest available target and each boy trying to hold out against the hands coming at them from every direction. 
It was not long before they were all out of breath and unable to continue. They lay quiet together in a heap, breathing deeply and wiping the tears of laughter from their eyes. Jonathon humped himself up onto his elbows and slid sideways until he could lay down again with his head this time, in Jason's lap. Sniv picked a blade of grass and leaned up on his elbow, watching his big brother and friend while he chewed it. Niklas stared at the sky and Fabian just lost himself in the warm contact of the bodies around him. They were still and silent for a long time. 
It was, of course, the irrepressible Jonathon who broke the silence. 
"Wouldn't it be great to have your own jet plane?" 
The other boys ignored him, well aware that Jonathon would often talk just to break a silence. 
"No, really, it would be great wouldn't it? You could go wherever you wanted anytime you liked." 
Jason looked down to where he was playing with Jonathon's hair, twisting a lock of it around his fingers. 
"But where could you park it? I'd rather have a car, one that would fit in my garage." 
"But you can't go anywhere in a car, only where there are roads." 
"And you can't go anywhere in a plane either, only where there are airports." 
Jonathon batted Jason's hand away from his hair and turned to face him, lying on his friend's stomach with his elbows on either side of Jason's waist. 
"But you could buy a jump jet and that way you could land it anywhere you wanted, and still go anywhere in the world." 
Niklas and Fabian were beginning to become bemused by this point but Sniv, by now used to his brother's weird conversations with Jonathon, just sighed. 
"Anyone want a drink," Sniv looked at Niklas and Fabian only, knowing that the other too would not have heard him, both boys nodded and followed him as he unfolded himself to his feet and headed towards the house. Behind them as they went they heard Jason arguing that a man with a car could also afford to go to an airport and buy a plane ticket anywhere in the world, to which Jonathon asked 'what if the man could only just afford the car with nothing left over for the plane ticket'. 
"Do they often get like that?" asked Niklas of Sniv. 
"All the time," said Sniv, "Jason was always weird and since they met, Jonathon's gotten just as bad. I think it might be contagious." 
"I think it's sweet," said Fabian. 
"I think it's weird," said Sniv. "What do you want, Coke or lemonade?" 
Both boys opted for coke and while Sniv was pouring the dark liquid into five glasses they watched their two friends through the kitchen window. Jonathon was still lying on Jason's stomach but his restless and never-ending energy was showing in movement of his feet and lower legs, twitching like a lions tail in one of those nature films about the African wilds. Sniv handed the boys their full glasses, and one extra to Niklas for one of the other two, and then they headed back into the garden. 
By the time they reached the two boys their conversation had ended, or at least come to a long pause. Jonathon was lying with his hands on Jason's chest and his chin resting on his hands. Jason was once again toying with Jonathon's silky blond hair, a habit he seemed to be getting into. The two boys were staring into each other's eyes with vague smiles on their faces. Sniv put the base of an ice-cold glass of coke to the back of Jonathon's neck. 

need a refresh?

"Yow! Wassat?" Jonathon rolled instinctively away from the cold sensation on the back of his neck, rolling off Jason and onto his back to look up at Sniv holding the cold glass out to him. He gave a glare and then accepted the glass. Jason also glared at his little brother but accepted the glass that Niklas offered him. 
Sniv looked around at his friends and took a sip of his coke. 
"So what are we going to do today?" 
"Let's play soccer!" said Jonathon. 
"But there's only five of us, not enough for a soccer game." 
"We could go for Martin!" 
"No good, he has his art club on Tuesdays." 
"What about Keith?" 
"His step-dad's keeping him in again." 
"What for this time?" 
"I don't know, just something stupid." 
"Well, why don't we just go to the play fields and see if there is anyone there we can play with?" 
"What if there's nobody there?" 
"Then we'll just play 'headers and volleys'." 
They thought for a while and then each in turn nodded. 
"I'll get my ball," said Jason. 
The conversation went with the ritual singsong of long-time intimates. It was not a decision being made but rather a made decision being agreed upon and then put into effect. Each of the boys had known the others so long and so well that when Jonathon had first suggested the game of soccer they had all known that that was what they would be doing, it merely remained to go through the ritual of agreement.  Looking forward to the holidays

The boys gathered together while Jason went into the house to find his ball. When he returned with it, they walked in a loose group, laughing and chatting, round a corner an up a small hill to the recreation ground. Once there they used the empty bowling green, the only empty space at that time, for a series of football based games of the type that boys in their age group make up constantly and instinctively. In this way they spent their evening and others after it, relaxing together after the pressures of the schoolday. Perhaps on his way home occasionally Niklas would look rather longer than he had intended at the house next door, but in the main he forgot about it and its grumpy occupant. In this way the few remaining days left before the holidays passed quickly and before they knew it they were packing away their school-clothes to remain unused for the next six weeks, an eternity as far as they were concerned, and looking forward to the freedom of their summer holidays. 

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