"But I want to stay here forever. Why do things always have to change?" sobbed Peter, fighting back tears.
"Hey, Pete," said Robbie, putting his arm around Peter's shoulders, "you knew this was going to happen sooner or later. It won't be long until Mum and Dad are approved as foster parents, and then you can come back."
"I know," said Peter bravely, "but I just don't want to go. I love being here with you guys."
"And we love having you here," said Nathan. "But you'll be able to visit us every weekend, and you can still come to the garage with us on Mondays until we go back to school - and then we'll see you every day, anyway."
Peter brightened up a little. "Will you come and visit me, too?" he asked.
"'Course we will," said Robbie, "and John will, too, won't you, John?"
"I sure will," said John. "And when I do, we'll build a model together, okay?"
Peter looked a lot happier. "I guess it won't be too bad," he said, rather dubiously, "but what am I going to do all the time I'm on my own?"
"You'll be just like me," said John. "It's not so hard, really. You'll have models to make and a lot of reading to do and stuff to get ready for when you see the Twins next. That's what I do."
"Okay, so it's Wednesday today. What are you going to do between now and when we see you on Saturday?" asked Robbie practically.
"Well, I'll finish the windmill for the model railway and start reading The Railway Children, and I might even get started on a new model car. Of course, I'll have to spend quite a lot of time helping Mrs Trent with stuff like you told me to do."
"Great!" said Nathan. "We'll really look forward to seeing what you've done, and you can tell us what you think of The Railway Children."
"And we know you'll help Mrs Trent lots because you're a really top kid," said Robbie.
Peter really did start to cry this time.
"Hey," said Robbie, giving him a hug. "It'll be all right."
Nathan and John hugged him, too.
"Mr and Mrs Trent are here," Mrs White called from the kitchen. "You'd better get your bags, darling."
"Come on, we'll help you," said John, who was such a soft-hearted boy that he was almost crying himself. He took Peter's hand, and they all went off to the bedroom to get his things.
"My goodness," said Mrs Trent, giving Peter a kiss, "haven't you grown!"
"Over a centimetre since I came here," said Peter proudly as he shook Mr Trent's hand. "The Twins have been keeping a chart."
"Looks like we might have to get you some bigger clothes for home as well as your new school things," said Mr Trent.
"I think a trip to Richmondville on Friday," Mrs Trent added.
"Hey, I might see you then," Peter said to John, his face lighting up.
"You give me a ring before you leave, and I'll meet up with you," said John.
After that, everything was all right. Peter kissed Mr and Mrs White goodbye and gave each of the boys a hug. "I'll see John on Friday and the Twins on Saturday," he said, with the closest thing to a smile he had managed all day. Then he climbed resignedly into the back seat of the Trent's car, and they drove off.
"I really love that kid," said John. "It's so sad that he can't stay here."
"Well, with any sort of luck, we'll have him back in a couple of months," said Mr White. "As soon as we're approved as foster parents."
"And in the meantime, the Trents are lovely people, and he won't want for anything." said Mrs White.
"Sure, but it's still really hard on him - he loves you all - and the farm - so much," said John.
"And you, Johnno," said Nathan. "He's in total awe of you."
"If I had a little brother, I'd want him to be just like Pete," said John sincerely.
Two days later, John was standing outside the hobby shop in Richmondville when a grinning, snub-nosed, twelve-year-old missile came hurtling at him. "Hey, little brother," he said as Peter threw his arms around him.
"Hey, big brother," said Peter joyously.
"You okay, then?" John asked.
"Yep, I've been fine, but I miss you all heaps."
"Come inside," said John. "I've got something to show you."
John had found a model plane kit, and Peter's eyes lit up when he saw it. "Wow!" he said. "It's just like what we were talking about the other day. Wish I had enough money to buy it!"
"How much have you got?"
"Only twenty dollars," said Peter ruefully.
"Well, how about I go halves with you, and you let me help you build it," said John.
"But you wouldn't really want to..."
"Yes, I would," said John. "What else are big brothers for?"
"I love you, John," said Peter, gazing reverently up at him.
"You been talking to the Twins at all?" John asked as they left the shop.
"Yeah, they ring me every night. They're great."
"You'll never find friends as good as them anywhere," said John sincerely.
"'Cept you," said Peter, squeezing his hand. "You're special. You're sort of like me."
"How do you mean?" John asked, feeling rather flattered.
"Well, Robbie and Nathan have got each other. You and me are kind of on our own."
"Maybe we've got each other, too," said John.
"Yeah, I reckon maybe we have," said Peter, squeezing his hand again. "Hey, you know how the Twins can tell what the other one is thinking. You reckon we'll ever be able to do that?"
"I can tell what you're thinking right now," said John.
"Yes, you're thinking about building that balsa model," said John with a knowing smile.
"Hey, you're right," said Peter happily. "Bet you didn't know I was thinking that you're the best brother in the whole world."
"Maybe I was thinking the same thing," said John, smiling back at him.
While John and Peter were meeting in Richmondville, Robbie was testing Nathan for the hundredth time on his knowledge of road rules.
"I know we've done it to death, but I want to be absolutely sure I get my Ls next week," Nathan said. "I mean, what's the good of having a car if I can't drive it?"
"I think you could pass the test blindfolded with your hands tied behind your back," said Robbie, "but if you're worried we'll go over it one more time."
Needless to say, Nathan knew the answer to every question in the book, plus a few even harder ones that Robbie made up, and Robbie said it was pointless spending any more time on it.
"How about you show me how to do simultaneous equations again, then," said Nathan. "I think I've pretty well got the hang of them, now."
"You're priceless, Nath! Anyone would think we were back at school," said Robbie pretending to be horrified.
"Well, I like to be ahead with things," Nathan retorted, "and Maths is my worst subject. Besides, it's far too hot to do anything else, and it's a good excuse to stay indoors with the air conditioner on. Anyway, who's been spending the last week reading Bleak House because it's on the HSC list?"
"You've been reading it, too," said Robert defensively.
"Only to keep you company because I love you," said Nathan tongue-in-cheek.
"Oh, come on then, let's do some Maths - you know it's my worst subject, too," said Robbie, grinning.
"That's what comes of us being twins," said Nathan, grinning back.
An hour later they were still hard at it. Nathan felt he now knew pretty well all the maths he was likely to come up against in Year 10, and Robbie felt that Year 11 would be a lot easier after so much revision.
"What have you two been up to all afternoon?" Mrs White asked, when she came in from working in the garden.
"Just some school-work," said Robbie.
"You've got a week-and-a-half of holidays left, and you're doing school-work!" said Mrs White in amazement.
"Yeah, well, there's no law against it, you know," said Robbie.
"I wasn't being critical," Mrs White laughed. "Quite the opposite. It's just that you really do surprise me sometimes. You'd never have caught Steve doing school-work in the holidays."
"You'd never have caught Steve doing school-work full stop," said Robbie. "I'm afraid you're just going to have to get used to the fact that we are not your typical teenagers, Mum."
"I think I may have actually noticed that," laughed Mrs White, "and I love you both dearly. Now, what have you got planned for the weekend?"
"We have a car to do in the morning, and Pete'll help us with that," said Nathan. "Then, on Sunday, John's coming for the day, and he'll pick up Pete on the way."
"What about Sunday lunch, then?" Mrs White asked.
"Barbecue - and we'll make some ice cream," said Robbie.
"And we thought we'd ask Mr Johnson," said Nathan. "We haven't seen him for a couple of weeks."
"How did I ever manage to get two such organised teenagers?" said Mrs White with a smile.
"Just incredibly lucky, I guess," said Robbie, winking at his twin.
"You're starting to sound like Shane, next door," said Mrs White.
"I'll take that as an insult," said Robbie.
"The difference with Shane is that, when he says something like that, he actually means it," said Nathan.
"He certainly seems to have a very high opinion of himself," said Mrs White.
"High opinion!" said Robbie. "That kid is so self-centred he's incapable of starting a sentence with any word except I. Thank goodness he goes to boarding school, and we only have to suffer him in the holidays."
"He might just need some friends," said Mrs White. "Perhaps you should invite him over some time."
Both boys looked horror-struck. "Please say you don't mean that, Mum," said Nathan.
"It was only a suggestion," said Mrs White diplomatically.
On Sunday morning, John dropped his mother off at her friend's house in Springdale and then picked up Peter.
"What d'you reckon I'm thinking today, big brother?" said Peter as they drove to the farm.
"I'd say you're thinking about the model railway and what the Twins are going to cook for lunch," said John.
Peter gazed at him in awe. "How'd you know that?" he asked.
"Because it's what I'm thinking," said John.
When they arrived at the farm, the Twins suggested that they all go for a run before the heat of the day.
"Do you still do training every day, even in the middle of summer?" John asked.
"Pretty well," said Nathan. "Got to keep fit and healthy, you know."
"How about we go along the road to the river?" said Robbie. "Then, if everyone's too tired we can just walk back - it's only about two k."
"Only!" John exclaimed. "That's quite enough for me. What do you reckon, Pete?"
"I reckon I should get two-hundred metres start," said Peter with a grin.
Nathan won the race, as usual, as he was by far the best distance runner. After being given the head start he requested, Peter came in a very creditable second. He wasn't a particularly good runner, but after spending five weeks with the Twins he was fitter and faster than most boys his age.
"I think walking back would be a very good idea," puffed John, trying to catch his breath. "I don't reckon I could run another step."
As they turned to go back to the farm, a stocky, dark-haired boy wearing sunglasses came riding towards them on a BMX bike.
"Ha, ha! You all looked really silly racing each other," he said. "It's pretty stupid running around like that in the middle of summer, isn't it?"
"Believe it or not, Shane, some of us actually enjoy running and keeping fit," said Robbie cuttingly.
"That's just dumb, if you ask me," said Shane. "If I want to chill out I just go for a ride on my bike."
"Hmm... If we want to chill out we just eat ice cream," said Nathan facetiously.
Peter started to laugh.
"What's your problem, kid? Can't you find anyone your own age to hang round with?" said Shane, slightly nettled
"I don't need to, I've already got friends," said Peter pointedly.
"What's with the shades and the army clothes, Shane?" asked Robbie, changing the subject. "You planning on joining the SAS or something?"
"They do make me look pretty cool, don't they?" said Shane, the irony in Robbie's remark completely lost on him. "All the guys at my school are in the Cadets. I'm a sergeant in the Territorials. Of course, it's a pretty exclusive school - only kids from better families go there. We're taught to be leaders."
"Wow!" said Nathan, "With those sunnies all you need is a white cane, and you could be the blind leading the blind."
Robbie, John and Peter fought unsuccessfully to contain their laughter but the joke was completely lost on Shane. "Anyway," he said, "I can't hang round talking to you guys. I'm taking my girlfriend out on a date."
"She blind, too, is she?" Robbie called after him as he pedalled off, and it was a full minute before they all stopped laughing.
"I don't think I've ever met a more arrogant, self-centred little prat in all my life," said John. "How old is he?"
"Officially, fifteen," said Robbie. "Socially, about five and, in his dreams, about twenty-five. I mean, what about all that army and girlfriend stuff... you've got to feel sorry for him, really. Anyone who has to try that hard to impress people needs help."
"Probably been watching so many movies he thinks that's how a fifteen-year-old should behave," said Nathan.
"Yeah, apparently he fills up all his time with trash videos, computer games and the Internet - because he doesn't have any real friends," Robbie explained.
"Pretty sad," said John. "I guess we could try to help him, but how do you get through to someone who's so up himself?"
"Not really worth trying," said Robbie. "One day he'll maybe realise that the world doesn't revolve around him, but until that happens, what can we do?"
"You're very quiet, little brother," said John.
"I feel sorry for Shane," said Peter. "If he had the sort of friends I have, he probably wouldn't be the way he is."
"You're a good kid, Pete," said John. "That's a really nice thing to say, especially after what he said about you."
"Oh, I didn't take any notice of that," said Peter. "He only picked on me because he can't handle anyone his own age."
"You're not just good, you're smart, too," said John in admiration.
When they got back to the farm, Mr Johnson had arrived, and they spent the rest of the morning talking to him and showing him the latest additions to the model railway. Peter very proudly displayed the English windmill he had been working on, and everyone was full of admiration for it.
"Your work is as good as any adult's," said Mr Johnson. "You really are very clever with your hands."
"I've had the best teachers," said Peter, grinning at the Twins and John. "I'm going to do woodwork and metalwork at high school. I like making things."
A whole new section had recently been added to the model to include more farms and an airfield. John and Peter had been given the task of building the model planes, and John had brought a kit for Peter to put together during the week.
"If these boys keep going at this rate, Tom, you're going to have to hand the shed over to them and build another one for yourself," said Mr Johnson.
"I think you're right," Mr White replied. "But they've made such a magnificent job of the whole thing that I wouldn't have the heart to restrict them, even if I wanted to. It's a great thing to see boys being boys. I'm very proud of all of them."
The boys cooked a splendid barbecue lunch, and afterwards everyone enjoyed the ice cream that the Twins had made the day before.
"It's good to chill out," said Nathan, and they all started laughing again.
"Don't you reckon we're already cool enough," said Robbie, and the laughter continued.
As soon as Nathan could catch his breath he explained the joke to the puzzled adults.
"That Shane has an ego the size of an elephant," said Mr White. "The other day he told me I should give up dairying and raise beef cattle. I may not be the world's best farmer, but I certainly don't need advice from a fifteen-year-old!"
"It's strange," said Mrs White. "His mother and father are not at all like that. In fact, Sandra was only telling me the other day that the reason they sent him to that fancy boarding school was to try to knock some sense into him. They're having a lot of trouble finding the money for the fees; it costs them about thirty thousand dollars a year."
"I hate to say it, but I think they're wasting their money," said Mr White.
"I'm sure he hasn't got any friends," said Peter in a small voice. "Everyone needs to have friends."
"I think you're right, little brother," said John, "but having friends is a two-way thing. If you want people to be friendly towards you, you have to be friendly towards them."
"I could be friendly to Shane if I tried really hard," said Peter.
"Well, you could give it a go, but I don't think you'd get much of a response," said John.
"I want to try," said Peter. "I feel sorry for him. Will you come with me to see him?"
"If you want me to," said John dubiously.
"'C'mon then, let's go now."
"He said he had a date with his girlfriend," said Robbie.
"You don't really believe that, do you?" said Peter.
"No, I guess not," Robbie admitted.
"How about we all go for a bike-ride along the road past his house," Nathan suggested, "and, if you see him, you can go and talk to him, Pete."
"All right," said Peter. "Let's do it."
They had not ridden more than a kilometre along the road when they saw Shane performing a few half-hearted stunts on his BMX bike. The older boys held back, but Peter rode straight up to him and said, "Hey, Shane."
"What do you want?" said Shane rudely.
"I want to be friends," said Peter matter-of-factly.
Shane was quite taken aback. "Why would I want to be friends with a little kid like you?"
"Because you haven't got any other friends," Peter replied.
"I've got heaps of friends," said Shane defensively.
"Yeah, what are their names?"
"Mind your own business. What's it to you, anyway?"
"Maybe I like you," said Peter.
Shane was visibly shaken by this but, regaining his composure, he replied, "Everyone likes me; I'm an awesomely cool guy."
"No they don't," said Peter, "and you're not all that cool. But you could probably be a nice person if you just stopped pretending to be such a big shot."
"Listen, pipsqueak, you don't know anything about me. So why don't you just piss off back to your stupid brothers and leave me alone."
"Because I'd like to be your friend," Peter persisted.
Shane was obviously out of his depth. He had no idea how to deal with Peter, so he just ignored him and started to fiddle with the brake adjuster on his bike.
"Nice bike," said Peter. And when this drew no response, he added, "Bet you can do some neat stunts."
"'Course I can," said Shane. "Why else would I have a BMX?"
"Can you do a wheel stand?"
"What do you think?"
"Go on, then."
Shane gave a reasonable performance and said, "Satisfied now?"
"Why don't you do that all the time?" said Peter.
"Prove you can do things instead of just saying how good you are," Peter replied. "I'd like you a lot more if you did that."
"You're a cheeky little prick, aren't you?" said Shane.
"No, I'm just saying what I think. Do you like reading books?"
"I read heaps of books."
"You're doing it again."
"Saying how good you are without proving anything. What books have you read lately?"
"Oh, I can't remember the names of any. I read all sorts of stuff."
"Hmm..." said Peter shaking his head doubtfully. "What about model-making?"
"Now you're talking. I'm awesome at art. I..."
"Hem..." Peter coughed.
"Oh, all right. I'll show you my work if you want."
"I'd like that," said Peter. "When can I come and see it?"
"Any time you like. You only live next door, after all."
"No I don't," said Peter. "I live right over at Chatfield."
"How come? I thought those big dudes were your brothers."
"They're my foster brothers."
"Why don't you live with them, then?"
"It's a long story - but I will be living with them soon."
"All right. Well, when are you coming to look at my stuff?"
"You'll have to invite me. I'll be here next Sunday."
Shane sighed. "Okay, would you like a gilt-edged invitation or do you just want to come over - any time."
"I'll see you on Sunday morning straight after breakfast, then," said Peter.
Shane scowled. "I like to sleep in on Sundays, so don't come before ten."
"Robbie says you start every sentence with I," said Peter transparently. "It's a bit of an exaggeration, but you really should try to stop thinking that the world revolves around you. I'll be there at eight."
"I don't start every sentence with I. I..."
"Think about what you just said," Peter interrupted with a grin.
Shane smiled, despite himself. "You're pretty cool for a little kid," he said.
"You're not bad for a big kid," Peter replied.
"Hey, I just thought of something," said Shane. "You got an e-mail address?"
"I'll e-mail you some of my pictures. I do most of them on the computer."
"Okay. And I'll e-mail you a plain text copy of the book I'm reading - you can get it free on the Gutenberg website," said Peter.
"Why would I want...?"
"Because we're friends now, and I'm taking an interest in your artwork, so the least you can do is show some interest in what I like. Besides, you spend far too much time surfing the Internet. It'll give you something else to do."
"How do you know how much time I spend on the Internet?"
"Never you mind. It's true, though, isn't it?"
"Yeah, well, what's this book called?"
"The Railway Children."
"Sounds like a little kid's book to me."
"Well it's not. But if you're too grown-up and don't want to be friends..."
"All right, all right, I'll read the stupid book!"
"Good. You can e-mail me and tell me what you think. I think it's great!"
Shane took a mobile phone out of his pocket. "What's your e-mail address? I'll put it in my address book."
After he had keyed in the address, Shane said, "I'll send you some pictures as soon as I get home, and I guess I'll see you at eight next Sunday."
"Okay. I like you, Shane."
"Yeah, you're all right, too - for a kid. Just don't tell anyone I said that."
"Bit embarrassing having a friend who's only twelve, is it?"
"I was only joking. Hey, I don't even know your name."
"I like you, Pete."
The Twins and John had ridden further down the road and Peter caught them up as they were on their way back.
"Well?" said John.
"He's all right. All that Mr Big stuff is just a put-on. I'm going to see his artwork next Sunday."
"Wow," said John. "You really got through to him, then."
"Yeah. We're going to be friends. He's quite a nice boy, really."
"You're amazing, Pete," said Nathan. "What on earth did you say to him?"
"I just told him he has to prove how good he is and stop starting every sentence with I."
"You didn't really say that to him?" Robbie asked incredulously.
"Sure, I told him you said he does it all the time."
"You didn't!" said Robbie, highly embarrassed. "I'll never be able to look him in the eye again."
"Why not? It's true, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but it's not the sort of thing I'd have said to his face."
"Well, he's stopped doing it, anyway - although I'll probably have to remind him a bit."
"Nath's right," said Robbie. "You are amazing."