Perhaps it was silly, but Greg closed his eyes and made a wish before blowing out his candles. He listened to the chatter of his family as Mum cut the cake, glancing out the window at the house next door.
The place had been unoccupied for most of the year, but a family had moved in just a week or so ago. He knew Mum had gone over and introduced herself, and he’d had a few glimpses of two boys, one about his age and a younger one, but the one time he’d gone over to see if they wanted to play he’d been informed that they were busy.
But Greg had also noticed the red-headed boy in his room at night when the curtains weren’t quite shut all the way. He seemed to spend a lot of time at his desk and Greg wondered just how much homework he was given and which school he was attending. He’d slid an invitation to his birthday party under their door, but there had been no response.
“Here you go, Greggy.” Mum gave him a piece of cake and Greg smiled at her, digging in, though his mind still wandered.
Later that night, after the guests had gone home, he glanced out the front window and saw the neighbor boy walking towards home. Without thinking much of it, and before his mother could question, he hurried to the kitchen for a piece of leftover cake, scooping it onto a paper plate and darting out the front door. “Hey!” he called.
The boy took another step, then hesitated and looked back, caution in every line of his body, as if expecting Greg to jump him.
Biting his lip, Greg took a step forward. “You didn’t come to my party, but, maybe you’d like a piece of cake?”
The neighbor hesitated again, glanced towards his house and took a step towards Greg. “I’m not supposed to eat sweets. Mummy says I’m too heavy.”
“You’re fine,” said Greg. “If you can’t have it at home, come into my garden?”
There was more hesitation, the boy studying him for a moment, then nodding. “Okay, for a few minutes.”
A warm smile bloomed on Greg’s face. He led the way to the gate and opened it, leading his companion inside. A small dog wagged her way over, sniffing his hand.
“That’s Rupert. She’s old, but she likes people.” The garden had a small picnic table and Greg sat down at it, sliding the cake towards his new friend. “I’m Greg, by the way.”
“Mycroft Holmes,” he said, sitting down and pulling the cake the rest of the way towards him. “Happy Birthday?”
“Thank you. I’m twelve, now. You?”
“Eleven.” He took a bite and Greg watched his eyes close as he savored the taste of it. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Greg cocked his head. “Did you know you were invited to the party?”
Mycroft shook his head. “No. Usually I’m busy. I was just coming back from the library.”
“Didn’t check anything new out?” asked Greg.
“Mummy prefers to be with me when I do. I read there sometimes, though.”
Greg frowned. “You’re big enough to pick out your own books.”
Mycroft shrugged. “She wants to make sure I’m reading the right things. It’s for the best, really.”
“You study a lot.”
Now it was Mycroft that frowned. “How do you know that?”
Greg gestured at the house. “I can see your bedroom from mine.”
“Oh. I suppose I should make certain the curtains are closed all the way.”
“I don’t mind,” said Greg. “All you ever really do is sit at your desk.”
Mycroft looked at the cake and regretfully pushed it away. “That’s why Mummy doesn’t want me to eat sweets. I’m no good at sports.”
“Well consider it my birthday present to you.”
“But it’s your birthday.” Mycroft scrubbed a hand through his hair. “I need to get home before she wonders.”
“Wait a minute,” said Greg, hopping up and darting back into the house, coming back with a piece of tupperware. “Take the rest of it home.”
Mycroft bit his lip, but nodded and accepted the cake, slipping it into his jacket pocket. “Thank you,” he said again.
“Anytime. You should come over and play. Even if you’re not good at sports, I’ve got a chess set and some other stuff.”
“We’ll see.” Mycroft looked at Greg another moment, then hurried to the gate and let himself out. Greg watched him go, absently scratching Rupert’s head and wondering.
The tupperware appeared on the picnic table the following morning, empty and cleaned. Greg saw it when he let Rupert out to do his business. He glanced at the forbidding house next door and went to put it away.
Greg noticed Mycroft’s curtains were more fully closed over the next few nights. He wondered if he’d done something wrong, but he was pretty certain he hadn’t.
Thursday afternoon he got home from school and noticed Rupert wasn’t at the door to greet him. He walked through the empty house calling for her and wondering where he’d got to when he reached the door leading into the back garden.
There was the answer to his question, Mycroft’s little brother playing with the dog and seemingly having the time of his life. Greg smiled and got another small piece of leftover cake and opened the door.
Immediately the boy looked up and made a run for the fence.
“No, it’s okay!” said Greg.
The boy stopped and turned around, eyeing Greg warily.
“Here,” Greg smiled and put the cake on the picnic table.
“You’re where Mycroft got the cake from,” he said, picking up the piece and standing to eat it, still watching Greg.
“Yes. I had a birthday a few days ago. I’d invited you two, actually.”
“Mummy isn’t sure about your family. She wants us to associate with the right people,” he wrinkled his nose.
“Ah, well. I’m Greg.”
“Sherlock.” he stuffed the rest of the cake in his mouth like a squirrel, still watching Greg with wide, wary eyes.
“I’m sure Rupert was enjoying the attention. Mum and Dad both work so I’m afraid she’s stuck in the house all day by herself.”
Sherlock swallowed. “Why is a girl dog named Rupert?”
“We didn’t realize she was a girl dog right off, by the time we did the name had stuck.” Greg smiled warmly at him.
“And you’re not angry at me for letting her out and being in your yard?” Sherlock cocked his head at him, looking even more like a squirrel.
“Naw, it’s good for her.”
Sherlock cracked a tiny smile. “You’re strange.”
“Thank you. Oh, say, before you go home, can I give you something to give to your brother?”
Sherlock nodded and turned back to the dog. Greg hurried into the house and grabbed a paperback from his room. A science fiction novel he’d read a few times over and hoped that Mycroft would enjoy. Sherlock took it without comment and used an old trellis to scramble over to his side of the fence.
Only a few hours later, not long after Mum got home, the doorbell rang. Greg hurried down the stairs but Mum answered before he could. Mrs. Holmes stood on the doorstep, looking displeased. Greg’s heart sunk as he saw she was holding the book.
“Can I help you?” asked Mummy.
“My son had this, I can only assume it belongs to yours?”
Mummy looked at it. “Yes, but if your son had it I’m sure that was intentional.”
Mrs. Holmes sniffed. “My children do not read such garbage.”
Greg hurried over. “I gave it to him. Surely it wouldn’t hurt for him to read something for himself?”
Mrs. Holmes fixed him with a cold look. “He needs no assistance from the likes of you.”
Greg crossed his arms. “He’s eleven.”
“And that means he should be studying, not wasting his time with frivolities. How are your grades?”
“Fine,” Mummy interjected. “Really, there’s no harm in a child reading what he wants.”
Mrs. Holmes harrumphed and pressed the book into Mummy’s hands. “Goodnight.”
“Would you like to come in, have a cup of tea?” offered Mummy.
Mrs. Holmes hesitated, clearly torn between good manners and storming off. “Fine.”
“This way.” Mummy turned to guide her into the kitchen, slipping the book behind her back and giving it to Greg.
Grinning, Greg grabbed it and stepped out the front door, running across the yard to the house next door.
Sherlock opened the door before Greg could knock, giving him a quick nod and taking the book from him. Smiling, Greg returned to his own house.
He schooled his features as he walked into the kitchen. Mummy looked up at him. “Ah, Greg, Mycroft will come over after school to tutor you.”
Mrs. Holmes was just finishing up her tea. “I understand you’ve been having trouble with maths?”
“Yes ma’am,” Greg lied easily.
“Mycroft will be here promptly at four on Tuesday. He’ll tutor you twice a week.”
“Thank you, I really appreciate it.” Greg ducked his head.
Mrs. Holmes eyed him a moment longer, then allowed Mummy to see her out.
At four on Tuesday Greg answered the door. Mycroft stood there stiffly, holding a maths book. “Good afternoon.”
“Come in,” said Greg, stepping aside and closing the door after him.
Mummy walked into the living room and plucked the book from Mycroft’s hands. “There’s snacks for you in the kitchen and then you can go on up to Greg’s room to play.”
Mycroft blinked. “But… tutoring?”
“My maths are fine. It was the only way for your mom to let you come over.” Greg smiled at him. “Come on, Mum made cupcakes.”
Mycroft stared a moment, then followed Greg. Greg reached out and put an arm around him, tugging him along. Might take some working around Mrs. Holmes, but he was certain he and Mycroft would be great friends.