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‘Wonderfully intimate and honest.’ Pauliina Ståhlberg, Director of The Finnish Institute in LondonShe’s just 14. He’s 21 and a grown man. Is she too young to fall in love?Kaisa is the new girl in town – again. When a messy divorce forces Kaisa’s mother to move to a small flat in an island suburb of Helsinki, Kaisa isn’t looking forward to another new school. But soon she meets Vappu Noren and begins to spend all her days in Vappu’s large, chaotic house, filled with her three unruly siblings and their friends.Matti loves Kaisa at first sight. She is just the kind of innocent girl he’s been looking for. Infatuated with her pale blue eyes, he makes careful plans to seduce Kaisa on Midsummer’s Eve.But is Kaisa too young to fall in love?If you like an honest and intimate true love story, you will adore this ‘Nordic Lolita’ by Helena Halme.A standalone read, The Young Heart is a prequel to The Nordic Heart Romance Series, which follows the tumultuous 1980’s love affair between the Finnish-born Kaisa and British Navy officer, Peter.Read this stylish European love story today!Previously published as The Finnish Girl.
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Did you enjoy The Young Heart?
The English Heart
Also by Helena Halme
About the Author
Helsinki, Autumn 1974
Kaisa was the new girl in town. Again. But she was well versed in entering a classroom where she knew nobody. At fourteen she had already changed schools no fewer than four times. During the past three years she’d spent exactly a year in each school. Still, there were a few butterflies in her tummy when she scanned the room full of new lanky students on the second floor of the redbrick building. It was late August and all the new faces, some looking up at Kaisa, had a healthy glow from the long summer, which was now nearly over.
Vappu Noren was the first girl Kaisa spoke to; she’d sat down at the desk next to her at the back of the classroom. Vappu was skinny, with an angular face framed by long, thin blond hair and a friendly smile. They exchanged a few words about how unfair it was to be back at school on what seemed like the hottest day of the summer.
Vappu said she, too, lived on Lauttasaari Island, where Kaisa had moved with her mother and sister Sirkka only a few weeks before. In fact, Vappu and Kaisa discovered they weren’t too far from each other. On that first day, after they’d had lunch together, sitting on the grassy bank at the front of the school building, Vappu invited Kaisa back to her house.
Kaisa had no idea that Vappu’s place was one of the large houses at the tip of the island, overlooking the sea. She’d walked along the shore with her mother after arriving in their new home, admiring the grand places, wondering what kind of people lived there. When she saw the Norens’ house for the first time, she’d regretted her earlier, carefree, mention of the small flat she lived in with her sister and mother. The modern detached house had a vast wooden balcony at the front with a wide driveway below, leading to a garage on one side and a front garden with paving stones up to the door on the other. Kaisa’s new home in Lauttasaari would have fitted into the Norens’ large, open-plan living room. There were five bedrooms, a sauna, and a swimming pool next to a basement TV room. The lounge had floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. Kaisa tried to remind herself that, after the divorce, her mother had done well to get a rental on a two-bedroom flat in such a good area as Lauttasaari. The flat even had a partial view of the sea, if you craned your neck and looked to the right-hand side on the small balcony. It wasn’t quite the same as the full vista of the Gulf of Finland, which the Norens enjoyed when they looked out of their living room windows, but still.
When she was ten, Kaisa’s family had moved to Sweden from a small town in Tampere. It was 1970, and she and Sirkka were put into a large new school in a northern suburb of Stockholm. After her parents separated, she and her sister had moved with their mother to another part of the city, and her mother had found Kaisa a more centrally located school. Johanneskolan had been her favourite school, and just thinking about her lovely kind, teacher, Stefan Sorenson, made her want to weep, even though it was now over two years since she’d left. When her parents had decided to have another go at their marriage, the two girls and their mother had recrossed the Baltic to rejoin their father in Finland. To please them, Kaisa’s father had rented a swish duplex apartment in Turku, with a sauna, two wide balconies overlooking the central cathedral and the rooftops of the old city. But after only a year, her father had been relocated again, this time to Espoo, near Helsinki, where both girls went to a local school.
Of course, the marriage didn’t last. Both Sirkka and Kaisa could have told their parents this well before they reluctantly left their beloved Stockholm. The bitter fights restarted almost as soon as they moved back to Finland to ‘become a family again’, as her father put it.
Kaisa’s parents finally divorced the summer after her fourteenth birthday. Kaisa and her sister then moved with their mother into the small flat in Lauttasaari and were sent to the local secondary school. Their mother insisted the school, in a modern low-slung redbrick building in one of the more affluent parts of Helsinki, would be far better for the girls than the one in Espoo.
‘Lauttasaari is a nice area,’ Kaisa’s mother reminded her daughters when they grumbled about the lack of space in their new two-bedroom flat. She said the island suburb was where the well-heeled lived to be close to nature while also enjoying easy access to Helsinki city centre. In the small flat, both girls had their own bedrooms, but the lounge was divided into two, with an alcove for their mother’s bed at one end and an old brown sofa at the other. This restricted the TV viewing in the evenings, because Pirjo decreed that the girls had to leave the room when it was time for her to go to bed.
‘I need my beauty sleep,’ she said. Their mother wasn’t one for staying up late. She worked at Neste Oil, in a new high-rise office in Espoo. She had to take two buses to get to work, but said the money was good, and she needed every penny to bring up her two daughters.
‘Since your father has decided to wash his hands of you two,’ Pirjo said, and sighed.
‘I don’t want his money,’ Sirkka replied. ‘We’re better off without the bastard.’
Vappu’s parents had split up just like Kaisa’s, but instead of having just the one sister, Vappu was the third child in a gang of four blond-haired siblings. Vappu was fourteen, just like Kaisa; her boyish, lanky, sports-crazy sister, Saija, was thirteen, her brother Erik seventeen, and the oldest, Petteri, had already turned twenty-two.
Petteri was serving his conscription in the Finnish army, so was rarely in the two-storey house that the Norens called home.
Visiting Vappu was a bit like going to a house party; there were always other young people there – Vappu’s sister and brother Erik, and their friends. They’d all cram onto the large corner sofa in the basement TV room, or have sauna and pool parties, with illicit beer and Lonkero, the Finnish bitter lemon-and-gin drink that the girls liked. Sometimes even a bottle of Koskenkorva vodka would be passed around if Mrs Noren was working late, or out with her own friends. They’d grill sausages in the log-burner, which stood in the middle of the oblong basement room, and joke and flirt with each other. Kaisa liked Vappu’s younger brother, Erik. He had pale blue eyes, straw-blond hair and a strong jaw. He’d just come back from a year as an exchange student in Minnesota in the States, and sometimes used American words, such as ‘Yeah’ and ‘Alright’, instead of Finnish.
During a particularly rowdy evening, when Mrs Noren was away on a weeklong conference, leaving Petteri in charge, a girl no one admitted to knowing threw up on the sauna floor. But the rowdy teenagers took no notice of the quiet twenty-two-year-old Petteri’s attempts to restore order, so Matti, his best and only friend, as far as Kaisa could tell, stepped in. Matti, who stood out from the crowd of blond siblings and their friends because of his dark hair and brown eyes, took on the role of a grown-up. Acting like everyone’s dad and speaking in a stern voice, Matti told the guests to leave, and the Noren siblings to go to bed. Kaisa stood there, staring at this adult amongst the teenagers, a little drunk, not knowing what to do. Vappu was very unsteady on her feet by then, and walked slowly up the stairs, arm in arm with her younger sister Saija, waving goodbye to no one in particular like a queen on a balcony. She seemed to have forgotten about Kaisa.
Matti bundled the unknown girl who’d been sick into a taxi, and when he came back inside, Kaisa noticed it was just the two of them standing in the basement hall.
‘I’ll take you home,’ Matti said in the same stern, dad voice to Kaisa. He wasn’t looking at her, and Kaisa didn’t want to cause any trouble, so she said she could quite easily walk.
‘It’s past 2am, and I haven’t had anything to drink, you’re safe with me,’ Matti said with such confidence and authority that Kaisa just nodded and followed Matti out of the door.
On the way home in the car, Matti suddenly turned towards Kaisa, and smiling said, ‘You’re a good influence on Vappu, you know.’
‘Thank you,’ Kaisa said.
‘She shouldn’t drink alcohol, so it’s good that you’re no drinker either.’
Kaisa turned fully to see Matti’s serious face, momentarily lit by the streetlights. They were about to turn onto the main road running through the western part of the island. Matti had stopped the car and was leaning forward, closer to the windscreen, to see if there was anyone coming from either direction. Kaisa thought about what he had said. Hadn’t he noticed that Vappu was so drunk that she could hardly make it up the stairs to her bedroom? Or that Kaisa herself was quite the worse for wear?
‘What do you mean?’ she said, trying not to slur.
Matti turned to look at Kaisa. For the first time she noticed that his eyes were very dark and his lips very full. The street was absolutely empty, and the only sound came from the ticking of the indicator. The sky was black against the yellow glow of the streetlights. Matti’s face was serious, but there was gentleness around his eyes when he replied, ‘I shouldn’t have said anything.’
Finally, Matti turned into the main road, and then onto the street where Kaisa lived. She had to direct him to the right turning, but apart from that they didn’t speak for the rest of the short journey. When they reached her block, Kaisa got out of the car, and leaning in before closing the door behind her, thanked Matti for the lift.
‘I’ll wait to see that you get in safely,’ he said smiling, and Kaisa nodded. There was absolutely no one about, so Matti’s caution seemed unnecessary but strangely flattering. She waved to him from the door of her block of flats, and he waved back. She saw through the glass panel that he was sitting in his car watching her as she entered the lift. When she reached her bedroom and looked down at the dark road below, she half-expected to see Matti’s car still parked below, but the street was empty.
In bed that night, Kaisa wondered how much Matti knew about Vappu’s past. Her friend had confided in Kaisa that she’d fallen pregnant in the previous summer, and had been taken out of Helsinki to have an abortion in her mother’s hometown, a small place near the Russian border.
‘I got drunk one night and I don’t even remember who it was,’ Vappu told Kaisa.
Her friend had sworn Kaisa to secrecy, saying that only her mother and father knew about the abortion. Vappu said that even her sister and brothers thought she’d ended up in hospital because of suffering appendicitis while on holiday with her mother. In which case, who had told Matti about it?
One day after school, about two months after her parents’ separation, Kaisa went to get her skates from the store at her old home in Espoo, where her father now lived alone. She’d been putting it off, but her class was due to go ice skating the next day and she knew no amount of excuses would get her off the hook with her new strict gym teacher. Besides, Kaisa didn’t want to be the poor kid in class, who needed to borrow a pair of used, stinking skates at the ice rink. Kaisa liked skating and was quite good at it, so there was nothing for it; she would risk speaking to her father again. Luckily, she’d kept a key, and as she got off the bus and walked up the little hill to where the semi-detached, wood-panelled house stood, she saw the large windows were dark. Kaisa breathed a sigh of relief. She’d be able to slip inside, get the key to the store from the hook in the kitchen, walk to the end of the long garden, retrieve her skates and be on her way back to Lauttasaari in no time.
As she got closer to the house, Kaisa remembered the last time she’d seen her father. It had been early summer, the beginning of May. She’d just turned fourteen and her sister Sirkka was sixteen. Kaisa had been doing homework in her room when she heard her father calling their names. Their bedrooms stood side by side and opened off the oblong living room with its bright red carpet, which her father had promised to replace before they moved in but never had. When Kaisa opened her door, she was faced by Sirkka rolling her eyes at her. By then, Sirkka was living with her boyfriend in the centre of Helsinki most of the time, and was only at home by chance that evening.
‘Sit down girls,’ their father had said. He was sitting opposite the sofa, in one of the large comfy chairs, while their mother, her head bent down, was sitting in the other. A large man, with blue eyes and wispy light-brown hair, that evening their father’s face was drawn and his eyes had huge dark shadows under them.
‘Your mother has decided to leave me for the second time in our marriage,’ he’d said, not looking at either his wife, or his daughters. ‘And I suppose you two will choose to live with her again.’ At that point her father had lifted his eyes at Kaisa, pleading with her. But Kaisa had moved her gaze away and glanced sideways at her sister, who shifted on the sofa and sighed. She knew Sirkka thought their mother ‘had been crazy’ to come back to Finland after she had left ‘the bastard’, as Sirkka often referred to her father. Sirkka hated their father, because he was always telling her what to do, or what he thought of her friends. They didn’t agree on anything.
The first separation hadn’t surprised Kaisa either. The fights and rows started in Stockholm shortly after the family moved there. When her father’s two-year posting in the Swedish capital had come to an end, Pirjo and the girls had stayed in Stockholm while he went back to Finland alone. Both daughters had been glad to stay put. They’d learned to speak Swedish, and loved the city, with its bustling, international vibe. Pirjo rented a beautiful apartment near the Natural History Museum, with views over woodland, and only a bus ride away from Kaisa’s new school and the lovely Mr Sorenson. Still, Kaisa was close to her father, and had missed him in Sweden, although she’d never told her mother or Sirkka this.
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