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This is the story of Nick. Nick was the stepson of Mac and Lisa, a cute couple who ran a small boarding house on a charming fruit plantation.

Nick was always a very bright boy. He was never the smartest or most efficient youngster, but whatever he did, he did it with flair. He was a very fancy boy. A very colourful boy.

Nick was taken care of at a very early age by his uncle Steve and aunt Eunice. Uncle Steve worked at Mac and Lisa's boarding house, and aunt Eunice worked in a laboratory far away, but Eunice came back home to help support Nick, and she and uncle Steve combined forces to take care of him.

The people at the boarding house never liked Nick much. They told uncle Steve they didn't want Nick on the property. Steve and Eunice put Nick in a little cottage on the back lot, but the people weren't satisfied. Steve's cousin John and his nephew Newton were the worst. Newton was a little brat that John doted on; no one liked either of them much, but they didn't dare oppose them either, so things got bad, very bad. Finally, uncle Steve and aunt Eunice couldn't keep their feelings bottled up any longer, and they took Nick away with them.

When uncle Steve and aunt Eunice fell on hard times, they went to live with grandpa Ross and his parrot. When grandpa Ross wouldn't have them any longer, they moved in with grandpa Scotty, whom Eunice had known going way back.

And so it went with their vagabond existence, until one day uncle Steve got a call from back home.

'Uncle Steve? Hi. This is uncle Gil.'

'I don't have an uncle Gil.'

'Nick does. By the way, how is that boy?'

'Nick doesn't have an uncle Gil either. Who are you?'

'Remember your cousin John? And Newton?'

'Yes - unfortunately. What bastards. Are they still around?'

'Newton died and John left.'

'Good riddance.'

'Steve? Could you consider moving back home again?'

'I need money to do that.'

'We can help.'


'Will you bring aunt Eunice and little Nick with you?'

'Of course. And Nick is not so little anymore.'

'Yes, I understand. We'd all love to meet them.'

And so it was that uncle Steve, aunt Eunice, and Nick returned home to Mac and Lisa's boarding house on the fruit plantation. But what a shock it was to see after all these years! The place was run down to the ground and full of old-timers sitting about, moaning and groaning and doing nothing. Even the grounds around had fallen into disrepair. A once charming property had become a haunted house.

'Who are the old people?' Steve asked Gil.

'They're the old-timers. They were here when you left,' replied Gil.

'And they're still here? Don't they have anywhere to go, anything to do?'

'Yup, nope, and nope - and all by Mac and Lisa's agreement.'

'Oh well. But they pay rent of course.'

'Actually very little. Not enough to keep the place up.'

Gil took a deep breath.

'That's where you come in, uncle Steve. You and Eunice and little Nick.'

'He's not so little anymore,' uncle Steve protested.

'He will be, if he stays around here.'

Gil explained. The old-timers refused to accept any charges for renovation of the boarding house. They liked things the way they had always been. The trouble was, nothing is ever like it always has been.

Now the roof leaked, the doors creaked, the walls needed painting, the floors needed support, the stairs were downright dangerous, the furniture was falling apart, the windows fell loose and crashed - and still no one wanted to agree to do anything about it. With no money, Gil could just watch it all deteriorate.

'And I keep trying to tell them, uncle Steve!' Gil said, exasperated. 'You wouldn't believe what we do just to keep things running! And do you know what they say, uncle Steve? That they like the house just as it is and don't want to change a thing.'

Gil sighed.

'Our cousin up the coast near the Canadian border - uncle Bill? - I think he'd know how to get out from under this,' Steve said hopefully.

'They know about him,' Gil replied. 'They're threatening to leave and move in with him! If they do that, we'll have no money at all to keep the house up, and we'll all be out of here - total capitulation!'

'I never liked that guy,' muttered Steve.

'No one ever did. He's too cheap. He suckers people in and then has them sign an iron-clad, long-term contract. If they go there, they'll never get out.'

'Don't we have any money at all?' asked uncle Steve.

'We used the last of it to bring you and Eunice and Nick back.'

'Sorry!' said Steve, but he wasn't really sorry.

'Some have even threatened to go to Finland!' Gil added.

'Finland?' Steve looked puzzled.

'That's what they say.' Gil paused. 'Some old flame of Eunice's. Ask her. The guy there promised to put them up for free. Too primitive by a mile, but some are thinking about it.'

Uncle Gil paused for effect.

'We need you here, uncle Steve. We need aunt Eunice and little Nick too. These old-timers have got a lot of money, uncle Steve - I know they do. They say they don't, but they do all right! They're loaded, the lot of them! I need you to try and shake it out of them, uncle Steve. We have to save this house!'

Steve fell deep in thought. 'Now where's that bright nephew of yours?' Gil asked, breaking Steve's study. At once Nick came running up. 'He was always such a bright boy, a colourful boy,' Gil said, smiling. Nick looked up at Gil, wondering if he should know who the man was, asking himself if he would ever feel at home in this strange boarding house.

Things didn't go well for Nick. Things didn't go well for any of them. Nick brought in diagrams of how he saw the house after the renovations, and showed the old-timers how good it would be, what comforts they would have, but they just shrugged and walked away.

Uncle Steve worked without a salary to save money. He even took money of his own and bought a jukebox for the TV room.

'What good is that going to do?' asked a perplexed Nick.

'I don't really know - I thought they might like it,' replied uncle Steve.

'But how does that help get house repairs underway? You've lost it.'

Nick looked his uncle Steve up and down.

'You need a shave. And a change of clothes.'

Nick got lethargic. Aunt Eunice thought he looked pale. She said he was a shadow of his former self. He would sit around the TV room and watch PBS all the time, and that enraged the old-timers, who wanted to watch their own programmes. And they started talking behind his back, saying his education had made him too big for his britches.

'The boy's too difficult,' they said. 'And Eunice doesn't belong here - she belongs in her laboratory. We don't like her either. And we like things the way they've always been - we don't want any renovations, or fancy comforts. We're perfectly happy taking care of things ourselves.'

Uncle Steve got some people to see his point, but he and Gil and Nick and Eunice all knew that without majority consent, there would be no renovations, and they'd all have to leave - and maybe hitch-hike up the coast to uncle Bill.

Nick tried reading Shakespeare to the old-timers, but they got angry and said Shakespeare was overly intellectual and pretentious, and that they liked simple things, like playing card games and blowing up balloons.

Aunt Eunice would show them all the wonderful things she'd learned in the laboratory, such as how to fight colon disease, and they would turn up their noses and refuse to listen.

'I want to slash those bastards!' Eunice would tell Steve.

'Me too, but we need them. We'll never make it on our own. We tried that - remember?'

'And how they eat - a fork in each hand!'

'They've always eaten that way,' said uncle Steve.

'But it's bloody ridiculous!' protested aunt Eunice.

Uncle Steve, who more and more felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, shrugged.

'If I'd only gone to Finland when I had the chance,' Eunice mused.

'Oh no, not this again, aunt Eunice!'

'I can't stay in a wasteland,' Eunice told Steve.

'But Nick needs you,' Steve pleaded with Eunice. 'We both do.'

'I will stay for the boy,' Eunice said at last. 'He needs my support. And he's always been such a colourful boy - or at least he used to.'

This is where this story ends - for now. Steve and Eunice are trying to make ends meet, but it is rough. Nick is doing his best, but the old-timers at Mac and Lisa's house just won't accept the fact the place is falling apart.

And Nick is a shadow of his former self. So says aunt Eunice, and she should know.

If uncle Steve and aunt Eunice and Nick can get the old-timers to come around, they might be able to make it, but if they don't, the banks will foreclose, and they'll all be out and on their own - and on their way up the coast to uncle Bill.

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