I could hear the raised voices next door. I stopped pushing the mower and leaned on the handlebars grinning, waiting for the tornado to exit. The door blew open and Sanna, the girl next door, spilled out, turning around and around as she spun down the steps and down the garden path. The shouting from inside was muffled again as the door banged closed behind her. She swung open the little front gate and, still spinning, jumped on her moped. Sticking her finger up at her house she kicked her moped into life and roared off.
She didn’t roar far; she coasted to a stop by my fence. Glancing back towards her house to check we were alone, she leaned over the fence towards me, beckoning to me. Sure she was angry, but she wasn’t angry at me and her face softened. “Quick, get your helmet!” she whispered urgently. I didn’t need telling twice. I rushed to the porch, grabbed my helmet and key and ran out towards my little motorbike. Sanna revved and inched forward, positioning her moped to block me as I approached my bike. “Get on,” she said urgently, nodding her head over her shoulder towards the passenger seat behind her. And so I hopped on pillion and we rode off down the track together on Sanna’s moped. It would have been dead romantic if it were sunset but instead it was a hot, sticky day, I was hot and sticky from mowing the lawn and Sanna drove too fast, throwing up hot, sticky dust that billowed around us. Her long black hair, sticking out the bottom of the helmet and down her back, whipped my face mercilessly. I was tempted to put my arms around her waist but didn’t dare - the last thing I wanted was to be made to walk home.
So many stories start with a boy and a girl being best friends from a young age and, in storyland at least, it predictably turns into first love and first fuck. Hey, that’s fiction! How many teenage boys and girls really ever play together, even when they grow up as neighbours? None!
I live next door to Sanna, which is a really common girls name here in Finland, although its not so common in the Swedish-speaking part of Finland where we live. There are only three houses in the hamlet, and if you translate their Swedish house-names they are literally called North Farm, Middle Farm and South Farm: Swedish names are often unimaginative like that.
Sanna and I did play together as kids, but not as much nor as often as we could have, despite being neighbours in a hamlet with population almost-zero. I live in North Farm. Sanna is a year older than me and has a brother, Juho, who is a year younger and they live in Middle Farm. We were the only teenagers, although there is now one more kid in the hamlet - I have a much younger brother who surprised us all a few years ago. Unplanned but welcome. My grandparents on my father’s side live in South Farm and we’re traditional ethnic-Swedish farmers. Sanna’s family are ethnic-Finnish, but the house has been in their family for generations and its not like ethnicity is important; we’re all Finns.
So, just three teenagers, yet we don’t really hang out and play together. Sanna and I get along great but, lets face it, girls and boys aren’t really interested in the same things. And we’re too old to ‘play games’ any more, anyhow. Now that we’re teenagers and have mopeds and motorbikes, we can take ourselves into town to hang out with our school friends instead. And neither of us gets along with Juho: he is a bullying evil shit of a brother and I think that’s been a major motivator in getting Sanna out of the house and as far away from home as possible most days. She almost never has friends over, instead mostly visiting them in town. Juho often has his shitty, stupid, evil friends over and I do my best to avoid them, too, often taking off on my motorbike to kill time in town.
So whilst we’re friendly, Sanna giving me a lift towards town is a new experience for me. We got half way to town, almost as far as the start of the metalled road, when Sanna slowed down and swung off up a track into the pine forest. This was different. I had assumed we were going into town, perhaps to hang out and see who else was idling in the town square. But now we were heading up one of the many little logging tracks in the managed woodland which is everywhere where we live and goes on to cover most of the rest of Finland.
The track was bumpy and we went slower and slower until we were just barely making walking pace as Sanna tried to steer around the bigger bumps and deeper puddles. We coasted to a stop in the middle of nowhere, deep in the forest. Sanna kicked down the stand, switched off and jumped off. Now that we’d stopped was the first chance I’d got to talk since the ride had started - you just can’t chat comfortably when wearing helmets and riding whiny little mopeds and motorbikes.
“You alright?” was my immediate question. Not ‘Why are we here?’ or ‘What are we going to do?’, but ‘You alright?’. I figured, after yet another argument at home, she had dragged me out here to hear all about it and to assure her she was in the right.
Sanna sighed. She seemed calm and resigned.
“Mattias dumped me. He’s been two-timing me with Aino, the slut.”
Well, this was news to me! I had no idea that Sanna had had a boyfriend nor that she had ever had any boyfriends. What with her being a year older, and her being a girl, we had our own friends at school and town and somehow I hadn’t heard any rumours.
“You don’t seem very upset. Was that what that argument was about?” I asked. Sanna was going to have to get used to my useless, unsympathetic manner if she was going to start confiding in me and looking to me for support with her troubled love life.
“I didn’t really like Mattias anyway, and the fight was about something completely different! Mum and dad have grounded me for all of next week for telling Juho I’d pull his balls off if he tried to spy on me changing again.” She seemed to take defiant pleasure in telling me her threat, and mimed a grab-and-tug under-belt cherry-picking motion with her hand for emphasis.
I paused to process this. She dated a boy she didn’t like? Several boys were called Mattias but I think I could guess which one. He was really popular. And her parents had grounded her for threatening Juho? They couldn’t know, they’d never side with Juho if they knew, but Sanna never really told them what kind of brother he was behind their backs. They probably thought it was all Sanna’s fault. Anyway, Sanna was going to be grounded next week? That was the week before the school holidays, but Sanna had just had her final exams and would be stuck home alone.
Sanna walked around me to the back of her moped where she had a big fibreglass carry box. Big enough for her helmet. She opened it up and fished out a small tartan picnic blanket, a pack of biscuits, a pack of mints and a pack of cigarettes. She deposited her helmet instead. Then she marched off into the forest, following a small deer trail. I followed her small tail.
She stopped in a clearing where a big boulder sat on top of some exposed bedrock. It was still warm and sunny and there weren’t too many biting insects to fight off. Besides, we were used to the midges and mosquitoes. She unrolled the picnic blanket on a dry, warm spot and plonked herself down, then patted the blanket beside her. She had to wriggle a bit to get her keys and phone out of her jeans pockets because her trousers were so tight it was uncomfortable to sit on them. I sat down, too, as she wriggled and kicked beside me.
“I didn’t know you smoke,” I said. The cigarettes had taken me a bit by surprise.
She leaned back, studying my face. “I don’t. They’re Mattias’s. He probably wants them back. Well, I’ll tell him where I buried them. He’ll have to dig them up! Don’t dare have them at home where mum might find them. She thinks I’m feral enough already.”
She looked suddenly serious. “Promise me you’ll never smoke?! It’s fucking disgusting, kissing a smoker. Never start.” She was giving me important advice. I nodded. It felt like she was telling me generally, as a favour, and not because she was ever going to kiss me. (At least, I didn’t think of the possibility of kissing Sanna until we got home that evening.) We buried the cigarettes in some peaty moss we could just reach without getting up from the mat and then we opened the packet of biscuits.
We talked about general stuff like school work and our social circles. We knew so little about each other. I wouldn’t have thought that Sanna would be very interested in me and my friends, but she listened politely and asked enough small questions to keep me talking. Normally girls her age hang out with older boys who could buy alcohol and drive cars. As she told me all about her gang, I realised she was completely normal in that regard and the mystery Mattias must have been a couple of years older.
Sanna twiddled with her phone, scowling as she swiped away lots of texts. Perhaps it was Mattias trying to reach her? She was just deleting everything, cleaning up.
“Give me your phone a minute,” she demanded. I wasn’t sure, but she wasn’t taking no for an answer, so I handed it over and Sanna started flipping through it. I could see screens flickering by. Was she reading my messages? Sad that I didn’t have anything exciting nor naughty on it. Sanna seemed to reach the same conclusion; “Don’t you have a girlfriend then?” she asked, surprised.
“Eh, no. What? Where did that come from?” I felt defensive, insecure, unmanly.
“Well, you’re quite a catch, and there’s not a single girl in your contacts! You’re not gay are you?”
“What the fuck!? Definitely not gay!” I replied angrily. I breathed out and calmed down. I had overreacted. “Wouldn’t a gay have lots of girl friends? I mean, friends who are girls?”
“Eh, yeah, they would, that’s right. So what is it, then? Just wondering.” Sanna smiled quietly.
“Just, you know, never had the guts” I replied without a smile, but equally quietly.
“Friends is a good start.” Sanna was eying me like I had so much to learn.
It was just getting too hard to keep batting the mosquitoes away as the sun started to get caught in the tops of the trees, and we had to get home again. We’d demolished all the biscuits and we were hungry, anyway. We got up and Sanna folded the blanket up into a tiny, neat square. I tried not to study her arse as she bent over to do it. Then we walked quietly back to her bike. When we reached it, and Sanna had retrieved her helmet, she turned towards me like we were going to say goodbye. For a moment I was scared she was going to expect me to walk home! But she just reached out and squeezed my hand and thanked me for listening. “We should talk more often,” she said. She seemed to think it was important. We grinned at each other and then mounted up and headed home.
Sanna pulled to a halt and switched off her moped when we got to mine. Then she quietly pushed it the last little bit back to hers, trying to avoid detection. She stealthily slipped in the back door. I thought about her mum thinking her feral - Sanna did have a cat-like quality about her. If there’s a word that perfectly describes Sanna it’s lithe.
Mum, dad and Ville were just sitting down to dinner when I got in. They had laid a place at the table for me. My parents looked relieved and concerned; they had found the lawn half done and I’d disappeared without my bike and I hadn’t called. I didn’t really want to tell them I’d been with Sanna but ‘I just went for a walk’ wasn’t cutting it and they knew Sanna’s moped was gone. In the end, I admitted I’d gone for a walk with her. To bring the conversation to a close, I stared down at my food and tried to ignore them but I could feel that they were exchanging meaningful glances.
“You must be careful around Sanna now she’s growing up, you know” my mum started. “She can be hard to say ‘no’ to and you mustn’t let her lead you astray.” The lecture continued in that vein for a while; I imagine Sanna’s parents had complained often enough and they only ever heard Juha’s side of the story, too. They didn’t understand that everything was always Juha’s fault; Sanna was sweet and nice. My parents probably thought Sanna was uncontrollable, too.
That evening, I shut myself away in my room and relived the afternoon with Sanna. I’d always fancied her, I mean, she is my girl next door! My girl next door. And she is really pretty hot. She’s tall for a girl, with narrow hips and shoulders that somehow make her seem even taller. She has long, jet-black hair and a small, pixie face and captivating, light blue eyes. She’s slender and sporty and not very busty but she is somehow still curvy and feminine and has great legs and soft, glowing white skin. She dresses quite trendily and has lots of really pretty friends. And we’d always been polite and friendly even though I’m in the year below at school. But this was the first time we’d spent time alone together in years. And I now knew she was single and I now knew she was grounded next week ... so it was exciting to wonder if we’d spend more time together.
My phone dinged: “‘night” was all it said. From Sanna. There was even a picture of her face as an avatar next to it. That’s what she had done with my phone in the forest: she had added herself to my address book, even taken a selfie, filed under a new contact group she’d created called “chicks”.
“Sweet dreams,” I replied. Always easier to be bold and flirty – virtually - than in the real world, isn’t it? I knew I was going to have sweet dreams, Sanna probably supplanting all the other girls I usually fantasized about.
The next day was Johannesafton. Mid-summer Eve. That’s the Friday, just a week before the school summer holidays start, which is a kind of national holiday. Technically, the Saturday is a national holiday but here everything is closed at least half day Friday. Where we live we celebrate in the Swedish style, with dancing around a maypole and a big lunch outside with new potatoes, sour cream, herring and meatballs and, importantly, lots of shots and singing. We have the Finnish-style mid-summer bonfire, too; you don’t have to pick one or the other when you can pick the best traditions from both!
I didn’t have to get up too early but I had a lot to do once I got up. I helped set up the long table on the yard out in front of the farms. The houses are all in a row with tidy little gardens with orchards and picket fences. Then, on the other side of the gravel road, there is a big farm yard with long barns and outbuildings. There are no fences on the farmyard but everyone knows which barn belongs to which farm and everything. But it feels like a shared space. These days, there aren’t any animals and just a few tractors and trailers and stuff for forestry and nowadays I have to mow the grass on the yard like it’s a lawn. I put up the trestle tables end-to-end right in the middle of the yard and spread out a white, disposable paper table-cloth that we buy by the roll. I stood back to admire my work. From the corner of my eye I noticed something moving in the vegetable garden at the back of Middle Farm. It was Sanna, dressed in a sweet, yellow summer dress, crouching down picking new potatoes. I sauntered over to help.
Getting close, I noticed how nice Sanna’s dress was. It was far too nice to wear when digging in the dirt. It was a very short dress and she was flashing all of her slender white legs and thighs as she squatted over the potato bed. She jumped in surprise when I crept quietly up behind her and squatted down beside her.
“Happy midsummer, Sanna.” Suave.
“Hi! Eh, shouldn’t you be getting ready? You can’t go dressed like that!”
I looked down at my faded, washed-out t-shirt and grubby jeans.
“You look fantastic, Sanna. Hardly suitable attire for picking potatoes. Please, allow me,” and I reached pompously in front of her and took over.
“Thanks,” she said but she didn’t leave me. I groped around in the soil bringing up new potatoes and Sanna gathered them up and put them in a basket carefully, as though they were eggs. It was so dry that the potatoes came up looking so clean they didn’t look like they needed rinsing.
“That’s plenty. Thanks again. Now, I’ve got to go pick wild flowers and you have to go shower!” she admonished lightly. Then she got up and skipped off to her back door, which was open. She actually skipped. That’s something only little girls do surely? I hadn’t seen a teenager do that ever before.
About midday we all drifted towards the yard. Dad had worked the morning, the mums and Nan had prepared the food, grandad had been out with the chainsaw to get a nice straight pole to make a maypole and my Sanna’s dad had been out getting lots of small sprigs of oak leaves to clad it. A midsummer pole is actually a cross-shape with rings hanging from the cross-piece. Kind of hard to explain. One thing is easy to explain: only Juha hadn’t been helping. He didn’t get out of bed until the last minute.
We sat down and tucked in. As we passed the food around, Juha somehow managed to engineer it so Sanna got every dish and bowl last. If I’d been sitting closer, I could have passed her stuff. No one else seemed to notice. That kind of pettiness was just so normal it was invisible.
I tried not to stare but, from a lot of short glances, I managed to build up a complete picture of how Sanna looked. Her canary yellow dress had quite a deep V neck and lots of tiny, pearl white buttons down the front. Sanna didn’t have a big bust but there was a captivating curve down to her tight tummy. She had no make-up on, but she was wearing a beautiful midsommarkransen - a wreath of wild flowers - in her hair. That must have been the flowers she said she had to pick. The bright blue corn flowers really matched her eyes perfectly. She looked gorgeous and she looked happy.
The discussion at my end of the table turned into a list of things I could help with in the summer holidays. I was beginning to regret not getting a proper summer job. Instead of freeing up my time, it seemed everyone expected me to help grandad with the forestry, instead. I put a brave face on it and pretended to be happy to help out. The discussions at the other end of the table seemed much more interesting. Nan was explaining to Sanna some Swedish traditions, for example, how - if a maiden lays seven types of wild flower under her pillow tonight she’ll dream of the man she’ll marry. There was lots of giggling and mum joined in and asked if Nan had ever dreamed of grandad. Nan seemed suddenly nervous as though there was a story there and that made everything even more funny.
“Sanna will dream about Mattias,” Juha injected. That screwed things up. “Who’s Mattias?” asked their mum, and it became clear that Juha had just ‘accidentally’ let slip that Sanna had a boyfriend. It didn’t help that Sanna denied she had a boyfriend. I think if Juha or I had a girlfriend, then we’d be congratulated, but the idea of Sanna and boyfriends just spelled trouble in her parent’s eyes; more so when Sanna denied it because that just seemed to confirm their worst suspicions. Sanna was seething with anger and looking daggers at Juha. Juha was innocently explaining that Sanna had been going out with Mattias and that he’d caught them smoking. The whole midsummer happiness had evaporated as our neighbours fought.
Suddenly Nan clapped her hands together and told us it was time to clad the maypole so we could dance around it. Sanna jumped up like it was the saviour she needed and I followed her over to the pole, leaving the others at the table. We started to bind the oak leaves and wild flowers around it and we worked happily and effectively together. I wanted to say something comforting and supportive but I couldn’t think of anything. My mind was kind of hopelessly blank. Sanna was totally engrossed in the work and seemed to have forgotten all about the unpleasantness at the table.
Juha got up and sauntered over. I could feel myself tensing up, a mix of fear and anger boiling up in me.
“Mattias is going out with Aino now,” Juha whispered triumphantly, as though it was the most hurtful thing he could think to say.
I don’t remember thinking at all. I just acted. I punched Juha so hard on the jaw there was a clunk. Juha might be a year younger than me but he is built like a brick shithouse. He’s in the local junior hockey team. I had hit him with all I had, and it was just about enough to make him stagger backwards a couple of paces. First, he straightened up and then he limbered up, his shoulders hunching forward and his elbows crooked as he swung his clenched fists threateningly. Just has he started towards me, my dad slid between us, his hands out pushing us apart. He had run over. Mum and Juha’s parents were hot on dad’s heels.
“Just what have you started now? You don’t hit people! Apologise!” my mum was ranting at me. It was just like how Sanna had it. I knew I couldn’t win. I had to apologise. Mum made us ‘shake hands and be friends’ and Juha had a just-got-away-with-it smirk as he crushed my offered hand.
Then Nan made us dance around the pole. Sanna’s parents played the accordion and violin - which were the perfect traditional accompaniment. It’s really hard to be sad and angry while you dance around the midsummer pole, sometimes holding hands with the young girl next to you in the ring, but I managed it. I was in a dark, depressed, helpless mood as we danced and sang happy traditional midsummer songs. Sanna could tell I was tense. She held my hand tighter than needed as we danced in a ring. I felt good about standing up for her, and apprehensive about how Juha was going to get even, later.
I didn’t glimpse Sanna Saturday nor Sunday and I wasn’t about to go knock on her door. I ended up riding my motorbike into town to hang out. My friends - all boys - all fancied Sanna - well, we’re boys and we fancy most girls, even if Sanna wasn’t really top of the list - so I hadn’t said a word about our trip to the forest together. I did tell them about punching Juha, but didn’t expand on why. No-one thought I needed much specific reason to hit Juha, they were all just amazed I was still alive. It occurred to me that they weren’t going to be much backup if Juha and his hockey teammates set about me. So instead, we did the normal things us boys do, like hanging around the hot-dog kiosk in the town square hoping girls our age or younger would pass so we could try and chat them up, or at least dare each other to. I remembered what Sanna had said about ‘being friends is a good start’, and I realised I wasn’t going to make any girl friends while I hung out with this gang. But what to do? Suddenly, Sanna seemed as far away as she ever had and I almost didn’t think about her, sometimes for several minutes at a stretch. Was I starting to crush on her? Perhaps a little.
The last week of school really dragged out. Sanna had already finished her final exams and was hanging around at home, grounded. I rode my motorbike to school to avoid Juha. My little brother Ville went on one school bus to primary school and Juha rode the other school bus to high school. It was a routine week, but I was keeping an eye out for Sanna when I was home, even more than usual. Sometimes a glimpse of her crossing the garden to the vegetable patch or something like that. Never more than just a glimpse. And no text messages.
It was Friday afternoon when, as I got home early from my last day at school, I saw Sanna sunbathing in the back garden in the orchard. She didn’t normally do that; her skin was so white, even her arms and legs, because she’d been dressing a bit goth this year. So seeing her in a bikini really got my immediate attention and I went to push the lawn mower in the part of our garden nearest her, even though that was the part that I’d already cut just a couple of days ago.
It must have been a transparent ruse. She saw me, sat up, pulled a towel over her torso, and waved. My heart leapt but I tried to play it cool. She was wearing sunglasses and I couldn’t tell if she was watching me or sleeping after that. I kicked myself for not having sunglasses on myself as I tried not to ogle too obviously.
It was legitimately hot weather and I got all sweaty as I mowed the same small patch of grass again and again so I took my t-shirt off and Sanna wolf-whistled. Then she got up and, donning a t-shirt, strolled slowly over to the fence, her hips swaying seductively. Her long jet black hair was in a plait that slinked over one shoulder and snaked down her chest. She was so out of my league. I paused my mowing to chat and pretend that I talked to beautiful girls casually all the time. She lifted her sunglasses and looked me and down obviously, like she was teasing. She was trying not to giggle.
“So you on holiday, now? Got any plans?” she asked sweetly.
“No, just going to take it easy for a few days,” I said as nonchalantly as possible. That wasn’t true: my friends would wonder where I was if I didn’t take myself into town every day, but right then, talking with Sanna, my friends all seemed so unimportant. All I wanted to do was hang out with Sanna. “How has your week been?” I followed up.
Sanna sighed. She was just poised to answer when we heard the distant crunch of wheels on gravel of Juha’s final school bus on the road as it approached. Sanna looked round, her brow furrowing. “Perhaps another time,” she said flatly as she turned and scampered indoors. It felt like we’d shared another private moment together before Juha’s return spoiled it.
Monday felt like the first official day of summer holidays, at least for us kids; our parents still had to work, but having the house to ourselves seemed like proper school holidays. Unfortunately my parents made me promise to look after Ville, which really put a damper on my day. I hadn’t really thought about that; I guess it was my fault for not getting a proper summer job that would take me away from home daily. While I had planned to be free all summer, my parents, on hearing I had no job lined up, had decided I should help grandad on the farm a few hours a day, just doing menial, boring things like thinning the forest and chopping firewood. Although we were three family farms in the hamlet, all the fields had long since been rented out to a local, full-time farmer and we just kept the forest tidy waiting for the logging - every forty years or so.
So, what was I supposed to do with a six year old? Wasn’t it obvious that Nan ought baby sit him? Mum and dad had barely left for work before I took Ville over to see our grandparents in South Farm.
Grandad was in the kitchen pouring coffee into three small cups on a tray when Ville charged in through the back door. Grandad put the jug back on the coffee maker and dropped down on one knee to be at Ville’s level to receive his hug. Grandad looked up past Ville at me and asked what my plans for the day were. I shrugged, unsure. The only thing I was sure about was that I had to baby-sit a six year old. Ville was still stuck in the embrace, grandad not letting go whilst he questioned me. Then grandad really surprised me: “Why don’t you go for a walk with that nice girl next door? Your Nan and I can look after Ville.” I went red and there was a polite cough and chuckle from the living room. Grandad released Ville and stood up to pick up the tray of cups. “Think about it,” he whispered and winked as he led us into the living room.
Nan was giggling. They must have heard grandad’s offer. ‘They’ were Nan and Sanna. Sanna was sitting in the living room beside Nan! Sanna had a precious, awkward expression on her face, almost embarrassed to be found there.
The ladies composed themselves and straightened up in their armchairs. Nan picked up a fancy glass plate of biscuits from the small coffee table between them and waved it at Ville, “go on, have a biscuit! Sanna has been cooking again.” I had no idea Sanna cooked and I had no idea she ever visited my grandparents. Gran had said ‘again’, so it must couldn’t be the first time. Gran wobbled the plate enticingly and Ville stretched out tentatively to take one. I reached over and snatched one, too. They were rough, round oatmeal ‘bondkakor’, which translates to ‘farmer’s cakes’, and you could see they were home-made. They were warm and smelled delicious- I think they were freshly baked, straight from the oven. I think they must have been spiked with sweet spices like ginger or nutmeg or something - they tasted a lot more exciting than they normally do. Nan patted her lap and Ville jumped up and sat, wrapped in nanny’s arms, nibbling at the biscuit edges to prolong it as he stared intensely at Sanna.
Grandad put a cup down on the armrest of the sofa and told me it was mine. He then went back into the kitchen to pour himself another cup. So, I sat down on the sofa and took another biscuit. Nan smiled at me and told me it was okay to dunk it in my coffee even when we had guests, meaning Sanna. As if to underline the incitation, Sanna leaned forward, took a cookie and dunked it in her coffee. Then she looked up expectantly at me as though daring me, so I dunked mine, too. Do you dunk biscuits where you live too? Here, its the height of bad manners but everyone does it all the time and just apologizes.
It was quiet for a few moments, just the tick-tock of the clock and small sipping sounds and clinking of cups on saucers. It was a comfortable silence. Then Nan, who always broke silences with never-ending questions, asked me what I would be doing for the summer.
“Not much. I suppose I have to help grandad with the forest and firewood and stuff,” I explained. Short answers like that would just cause more questions, but surely Nan knew my duties already? I think she had been the one to suggest I help grandad, anyway.
Nan turned to Ville in her arms. “Grandad and I have to buy groceries. You can follow along if you like”. When Nan asked questions with that tone they weren’t any choices. And so it was that, when the coffee was drunk, refilled and drunk up again, Nan and grandad took Ville with them to the supermarket, leaving Sanna and me alone. Neither of us had made our excuses and left so we were just kind of left alone together in the living room. Sanna picked up the plate of biscuits and thrust it towards me “Take the last one, I’ve had so many I feel sick.” Well, that wasn’t a very good recommendation from the cook, but I took that last biscuit, anyway.
Sanna stood up. “You were going to take me for a walk?” she asked innocently.
We left by the back door and through the small gate that led to a track behind the houses that went off into the forest. We were quickly out of sight. We hadn’t said anything to each other, yet.
Sanna was wearing tight jeans and a loose t-shirt. Very normal, casual clothes, but clean and fresh. I was wearing the same rough old clothes I’d had on when I’d helped her with the potatoes. I’ve always just dumped my clothes on my bedroom floor so I could pluck them up and wear them until they could stand up themselves. Now, I was thinking I had to start wearing nice, clean clothes all the time on the off-chance I ever got the chance to go for another walk with Sanna. Did my breath smell? We’d both just had coffee and cakes. When had I showered last? Did I smell of sweat? Did my underpants smell of wee?
“Thanks for standing up for me the other day,” Sanna said softly. I looked across at her as we walked. Both of us were walking awkwardly apart with our heads down. Did she know I had a crush on her?
“What did you do last week?” I asked.
“Oh, mostly at your Nan’s” she replied quietly. I was surprised. I had no idea Sanna ever visited my Nan. Why would Sanna spend time with old people? As if she could follow my thinking, she whispered almost silently, “I like them.”
Sanna explained that her mum had taken Sanna’s moped keys and phone. Sanna was stuck at home even when her parents were at work. And she wasn’t really going to risk having friends over. In fact, she explained, ever since Aino had taken Mattias from her, Sanna was really not in the mood for spending time with her gang. She wanted a bit of space. In fact, she wasn’t even planning on keeping in touch with them with her phone.
Apparently - and I’d never thought about this before - Nan and grandad didn’t like Juha either. They had their suspicions and picked their side and they were always nice to Sanna. Sanna had spent most of the week helping Nan with all the small jobs like boiling the jam jars that would be used for jams and preserves soon. It was kind of like how I was supposed to help grandad in the forest.
By the time we got home again, Ville was back with Nan and grandad and it was time to make lunch. Sanna and Nan disappeared into the kitchen whilst grandad and I went into the yard to sharpen the chainsaws.
“You took her for a walk, then?” he asked me as we clamped the chainsaws down on the workbench.
“She took me, more like,” I smiled. Grandad chuckled.
We didn’t say much more; grandad wasn’t much of a talker and I wasn’t about to volunteer anything. And talking wasn’t so easy once we started filing the teeth.
“Where’s Sanna?” Juha asked. I hadn’t heard him come into the workshop. I had forgotten he was also off school for the summer holidays.
“I don’t know, she’s not here,” said grandad uncooperatively. He turned back to the bench and started filing the saw teeth again, making a grating squeaking noise like nails on a blackboard.
“If you see her, tell her it’s lunch time. I’m hungry” Juha said and he turned and drifted out.
“Bloody, lazy, useless sod” said grandad under his breath. He paused filing and stared at me, our eyes locked. It was a clear ‘not a word to anybody’ look and I nodded and smirked.
When we came out of the workshop we found that the ladies had laid the little garden table in the orchard under the apple trees. Sanna was calling for Juha, who eventually found us and joined us. I guess she couldn’t really leave him to starve.
Lunch was meatloaf with brown sauce, green beans, potatoes and a generous dollop of lingonberry jam. It was delicious.
Juha was poking at his. “What’s this?” he sneered, holding up a squishy, brownish lump he’d found in the middle of the loaf.
“Prunes, dear” said Nan cheerfully. I was used to finding plums in the middle of meatloaf, but I guess its a family recipe or something, because Juha had obviously never encountered it before.
Juha tentatively bit a tiny bit off his prune. He seemed to like it. “Mmmmm” he sighed.
“Do you like it? Here, have mine” said grandad nicely as he chopped up his own slices, picked out the prunes and plopped them onto Juha’s plate. I was immediately suspicious. I had just today learned that Nan and grandad didn’t like Juha. Sanna joined in, depositing her own prunes, too. Now I was doubly suspicious. Since when was Sanna ever voluntarily sharing anything with Juha?
Juha didn’t even say ‘thank you’. He just tucked in and demolished his dinner. He ate all the prunes, too. He was finished long before the rest of us. He asked if there was any pudding, was told there wasn’t, and then got up and left us still eating without even saying ‘good bye’. As he left there was an awkward, loud fart and Nan, grandad, Sanna and Ville all burst into fits of laughter. Now I remembered: that that is what happens when you ate too many prunes. Juha was going to have a windy afternoon. Revenge is sweet.
After thanking the ladies for the lunch, grandad and I headed out into the forest on a tiny old Ferguson tractor, me driving and grandad standing on the footplate. We went up the same path that Sanna and I had walked in the morning, but we didn’t drive very far, stopping in the nearest stand of forest. We had a wood box on the back lifting arms with all the chainsaws, visors and a fuel can. Grandad had a big strimmer with a steel disc. too. We got out and set to work thinning out some understory and chopped down some birch.
It wouldn’t be very hard work but it’s hot and sticky with the helmet, visor, saw-proof trousers and boots on; the safety clothes made it hard work in the summer heat. Time went quite fast. I didn’t realise how much time had passed before I heard someone hollering my name.
Sanna, Nan and Ville were standing by the tractor. They had to really shout to be heard over the saws and our ear protectors. They weren’t about to come try and approach us until they knew we’d seen them and stopped the saws. Never ever walk up to someone with a chainsaw, basic safety precaution that everyone knows, right? Nan was holding Ville’s hand with a vise-like grip.
We stopped and went over to them. Sanna spread out a picnic rug on the path. There wasn’t any nice bit of grass anywhere except in the middle of the path between the tracks. I think it was the same rug she had in her moped. She had a basket with ‘fika’ in it, too. It’s traditional to have coffee and cakes mid-afternoon and it’s called fika. The clean visitors sat down on the mat and grandad and I, wearing our dirty, sweaty overalls, sat down on the grass beside them. Nan was pouring coffee. Sanna was opening a packet of biscuits.
“Homemade biscuits taste waaaay better,” I said. She beamed at me; the compliment had landed.
“Where’s Juha?” grandad asked. He was staring at a half-eaten biscuit as though there was a maggot in it. I guess home baking had spoiled him, too.
“Juha is playing video games,” Sanna explained matter-of-factly. That figured.
“Sanna, I was thinking...” Nan started. She looked sharply at grandad, as though they had discussed something. “ ... you’ll be going off to uni in the autumn, right?”
Sanna nodded. We all knew this. There must be more.
“ ... and it will be the first time you’ve ever lived away from home, right?” Nan was asking quietly and slowly, as though her head was preparing the sentence to come after it, already.
Sanna nodded again. Where was this going?
“ ... it can be quite scary, being away from home for the first time,” Nan finished. There was a pause. I wondered what the punchline would be.