A Thousand Boy Kisses

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“Jeg vil dra! Nå! Jeg vil reise hjem igjen!” I shouted as loud as I could, telling my mamma that I wanted to leave, now! I wanted to go back home!

“We’re not going back home, Rune. And we are not leaving. This is our home now,” she replied in English. She crouched down and looked me straight in the eye. “Rune,” she said softly, “I know you didn’t want to leave Oslo, but your pappa got a new job here in Georgia.” Her hand ran up and down my arm, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I didn’t want to be in this place, in America.

I wanted to go back home.

“Slutt å snakke engelsk!” I snapped. I hated speaking English. Since we set off for America from Norway, Mamma and Pappa would only speak to me in English. They said I had to practice.

I didn’t want to!

My mamma stood up and lifted a box off the ground. “We’re in America, Rune. They speak English here. You’ve been speaking English for as long as you’ve been speaking Norwegian. It’s time to use it.”

I stood my ground, glaring at my mamma as she walked around me into the house. I looked around the small street where we now lived. There were eight houses. They were all big, but they all looked different. Ours was painted red, with white windows and a huge porch. My room was big and it was on the bottom floor. I did think that was kind of cool. Sort of anyway. I’d never slept downstairs before; in Oslo my room was upstairs.

I looked at the houses. All of them were painted bright colors: light blues, yellows, pinks… Then I looked at the house next door. Right next door—we shared a patch of grass. Both houses were big, and our yards were too, but there was no fence or wall between them. If I wanted to, I could run into their yard and there’d be nothing to stop me.

The house was bright white, with a porch wrapped right around it. They had rocking chairs and a big chair swing on the front. Their window frames were painted black, and there was a window opposite my bedroom window. Right opposite! I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that I could see into their bedroom and they could see into mine.

There was a stone on the ground. I kicked it with my foot, watching it roll down the street. I turned to follow my mamma, but then I heard a noise. It was coming from the house next to ours. I looked at their front door, but nobody came out. I was climbing the steps to my porch when I saw some movement from the side of the house—from next door’s bedroom window, the one opposite my own.

My hand froze on the rail and I watched as a girl, dressed in a bright blue dress, climbed through the window. She jumped down onto the grass and dusted off her hands on her thighs. I frowned, my eyebrows pulling down, as I waited for her to lift her head. She had brown hair, which was piled up on her head like a bird’s nest. She wore a big white bow on the side of it.

When she looked up, she looked right at me. Then she smiled. She smiled at me so big. She waved, fast, then ran forward and stopped in front of me.

She pushed out her hand. “Hi, my name is Poppy Litchfield, I’m five years old and I live right next door.”

I stared at the girl. She had a funny accent. It made the English words sound different to the way I had learned them back in Norway. The girl—Poppy—had a smudge of mud on her face and bright yellow rain boots on her feet. They had a big red balloon on the side.

She looked weird.

I looked up from her feet and fixed my eyes on her hand. She was still holding it out. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what she wanted.

Poppy sighed. Shaking her head, she reached for my hand and forced it into hers. She shook them up and down twice and said, “A handshake. My mamaw says it’s only right to shake the hand of new people that you meet.” She pointed at our hands. “That was a handshake. And that was polite because I don’t know you.”

I didn’t say anything; for some reason my voice wouldn’t work. When I looked down I realized it was because our hands were still joined.

She had mud on her hands too. In fact, she had mud everywhere.

“What’s your name?” Poppy asked. Her head was tipped to the side. A small twig was stuck in her hair.

“Hey,” she said, tugging on our hands, “I asked for your name.”

I cleared my throat. “My name is Rune, Rune Erik Kristiansen.”

Poppy scrunched her face up, her big pink lips sticking out all funny. “You sound weird,” she blurted.

I snatched my hand away.

“Nei det gjør jeg ikke!” I snapped. Her face screwed up even more.

“What did you just say?” Poppy asked, as I turned to walk into my house. I didn’t want to speak to her anymore.

Feeling angry, I spun back around. “I said, ‘No, I don’t!’ I was speaking Norwegian!” I said, in English this time. Poppy’s green eyes grew huge.

She stepped closer, and closer again, and asked, “Norwegian? Like the Vikings? My mamaw read me a book about the Vikings. It said they were from Norway.” Her eyes got even bigger. “Rune, are you a Viking?” Her voice had gone all squeaky.

It made me feel good. I stuck out my chest. My pappa always said I was a Viking, like all the men in my family. We were big, strong Vikings. “Ja,” I said. “We are real Vikings, from Norway.”

A big smile spread across Poppy’s face, and a loud girly giggle burst from her mouth. She lifted her hand and pulled on my hair. “That’s why you have long blond hair and crystal-blue eyes. Because you’re a Viking. At first I thought you looked like a girl—”

“I’m not a girl!” I butted in, but Poppy didn’t seem to care. I ran my hand through my long hair. It came down to my shoulders. All the boys in Oslo had their hair like this.

“—but now I see it’s because you’re a real-life Viking. Like Thor. He had long blond hair and blue eyes too! You’re just like Thor!”

“Ja,” I agreed. “Thor does. And he’s the strongest god of them all.”

Poppy nodded her head, then put her hands on my shoulders. Her face had gone all serious and her voice dropped to a whisper. “Rune, I don’t tell everyone this, but I go on adventures.”

I screwed up my face. I didn’t understand. Poppy stepped closer and looked up into my eyes. She squeezed my arms. She tilted her head to the side. She looked all around us, then leaned in to speak. “I don’t normally bring people with me on my journeys, but you’re a Viking, and we all know that Vikings grow big and strong, and they are really really good with adventures and exploring, and long walks and capturing baddies and… all kindsa things!”

I was still confused, but then Poppy stepped back and held out her hand again.

“Rune,” she said, her voice serious and strong, “you live right next door, you’re a Viking and I just love Vikings. I think we should be best friends.”

“Best friends?” I asked.

Poppy nodded her head and pushed her hand further toward me. Slowly reaching out my own hand, I gripped hold of hers and gave it two shakes, like she’d shown me.

A handshake.

“So now we are best friends?” I asked, as Poppy pulled her hand back.

“Yes!” she said excitedly. “Poppy and Rune.” She brought her finger to her chin and looked up. Her lips stuck out again, like she was thinking very hard. “It sounds good, don’t you think? ‘Poppy and Rune, best friends for infinity!’”

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