When she’s not meeting with her friends, Taïga spends a lot of time with her little brother. She really enjoys the affection he shows her, putting his chubby arms around her and telling her he loves Tagga.
His parents are too busy to play with him, having hired Ellen for that, but even Ellen is thankful to let his sister take over as much as possible. Taïga reads to him from his magnitude of books and has taught him several songs and rhymes. His favorite is The Brave Little Taylor, and she has read the book so many times she knows the story by heart.
‘Once upon a time, in a country far, faaar away…’ Rowan listens with huge eyes, turning the pages and pouring over the pictures as if each time was the first.
When it’s not too warm, they play catch or hide-and-seek. Rowan loves trying to escape her, screaming with terrified glee.
But after having jumped out from behind a pillar, poor Rowan got so scared he fell over and started crying. It didn’t last though.
She picked him up to try to calm him before their mother heard the commotion and decided to check on them, and he kissed her cheek. It was a strange feeling, she felt all warm inside and at that moment she could have done anything for him. Even read the Brave Little Taylor story again.
They play with his train, puzzles and Play-Doh. But most of all Rowan loves to build castles. Or rather; with angelic patience, Taïga builds and Rowan destroys…
‘Look, Rowan. Just one more over here. Put it up here… No I said – here! … Nooo…’
Taïga sighs, looking at the mess. ‘You’re hopeless, Rowan… You’re supposed to help me build something, you know that.’
He has a xylophone and a little drum. There’s no need to point out that he prefers the drum.
‘C’mon Rowan. I’ll read you a story if you stop mistreating the drum,’ Leonardo says, watching Ellen try to take away the offending instrument. ‘Who on earth bought him the blasted toy?’
‘You did, Signore,’ Ellen answers, obtaining a noncommittal hum for an answer. Taïga rolls her eyes. It’s cool that Leonardo wants to spend some quality time with his son, like that she might take her sketchbook and find someplace quiet to draw.
Shasta is so thrilled about her daughter being admitted to the prestigious St. Simon’s Art School. Leonardo has pulled some strings and succeeded in getting her private lessons by Signore Da Vinci. Twice a week, she goes to the park to learn the basics in painting nature. Signore Da Vinci’s real name is Pantalone, but he doesn’t believe in the percentage of success with a name like that.
‘But doesn’t your artsy name err… imply very high expectations?’ Taïga says. ‘I mean with Mona Lisa and stuff.’
‘Cara bambina, what do you know about expectations? Or about fama in general?’ Signore Da Vinci gesticulates and starts on a monologue about early Hollywood stars who had changed their names to become famous.
Taïga shrugs. She’s not very sure about anyone having the right to use for example Marilyn Monroe as a scene name to get famous quicker, but she’s definitely sure she’s not supposed to contradict the passionate painter anymore. He’s kind and funny, and she likes his lessons, better not upset him further. She concentrates on the array of flowers.
Cipriana is in the park with Goopy. They are on their way to buy some ice cream when they catch sight of Taïga painting in a quiet corner.
Well, not so quiet. Signore Da Vinci is walking to and fro, gesticulation and talking. He has reverted completely to Italian now, feeling more at ease using his mother language. The fact that Taïga doesn’t understand is secondary. Like a session on YouTube, he has strayed from the initial subject of fame to the importance of keeping Mozzarella-making traditional.
‘Ahem.’ Taïga is busy painting, and doesn’t notice her friends approaching.
Cipriana tries again, ‘Ahem…’
‘Hey! I didn’t see you coming!’
‘You didn’t hear us either! What are you painting?’
Signor Da Vinci stops mid-sentence, and turns around with a dramatic swirl.
‘Buongiorno, signor Pantalone,’ the two kids say in unison. Signore Da Vinci’s expression makes Taïga stifle a laugh.
He twirls his moustache and looks down his nose at the girl. Recognizing Cipriana, daughter of infamous Mafioso Dante Costa and his wife Giovanna, he holds his tongue. Better think of his artistic future, which could be a comment away from vanishing, together with his life. ‘Cipriana Costa. Che piacere – such a pleasure.’
‘Guilhermo and I would like Taïga to meet our friends, and we thought…’
‘Ah, si. Such a good idea. Splendido!’ He kisses his fingers. The faster he gets rid of this little maffiosa, the better he’ll feel. ‘Our lesson is over anyway. Go and have fun.’
‘Are you sure, Signor Da Vinci?’ Taïga asks, she has barely been here twenty minutes.
‘Si, si. Run away now. I will put away all the “stuff”. Sbrigati!’ Drying his brow, he watches the three kids run off towards the swings. Cipriana’s father, head of the Tuscan branch of the Familia, has unfinished business with him. A copy of a Vermeer painting, that personally he was very proud of accomplishing, unfortunately didn’t go undetected by the art experts it was supposed to lure. Since the Girl with a Pearl Earring episode, he’s been living in constant fear of retaliation. But maybe Don Carlo has forgotten all about it? It happened way before Cipriana was born, after all. But no. Cosa Nostra never forgets.
Cipriana and Goopy are excited to tell Taïga about the Circus coming to town. The huge striped tent is already installed, and the first performance will be given tomorrow afternoon. All the kids in Monte Vista will be there, at least according to Cipriana.
‘I’m not sure I understand,’ Taïga hesitates.
Goopy interrupts her. ‘Si, si! Un circo. Domani! Will you come?’
‘To the Circus? That’s it? Sure! But I’ll have to ask my mom first.’
The di Grisogno mansion is situated high up in the rolling hills and Taïga loves to ride her bike downhill to the beach or the swimming pool. But today she’s going to the Circus with Ellen and the Di Grisogno’s in her stepfather’s limousine. It’s very luxurious, and she’s feeling special when she sees people turn their heads as they pass. She’s even allowed to drink as much ice-cold soda from a little fridge as she can.
As soon as they arrive, Leonardo and Shasta sends Ellen to buy tickets for the different merriments. They take the giggling Rowan and hoist him between them up the stairs where a beautiful old carousel is installed. Taïga watches them. It seems they have forgotten all about her…
She’s supposed to meet up not only with Cipriana and Goopy, but all their friends, too. She’s excited, and not a little nervous. What if they only speak Italian? She understands more now than in the beginning of the holidays, but still…
Suddenly she hears her name called out. Goopy is waving from his vantage point on one of the artistically painted wooden horses and he’s beckoning for her to come. Smiling she follows her mother up the stairs. Maybe she’ll get a ticket to ride, too.
‘Look, Taïga! I will ride the lion next!’ Goopy shouts.
Taïga laughs as Leonardo puts a wand of tickets in her hand. ‘Go and have fun with your friends. Just don’t forget to join us when the show starts, huh?’
He sits next to Shasta on a bench where they can keep an eye on Rowan. Ellen rides the carousel too, standing next to the little boy if ever he should lose his balance and fall of the “roaring” lion he so proudly rides.
She doesn’t have to worry. Cipriana and Goopy’s friends all learn English at school, and they are so excited to show Taïga their prowess with the language. An extra bonus is Laura Perry who is spending her vacation at her grandparents’ summer residence just outside Monte Aquila. She is British and she makes Taïga laugh when she fills her in on everybody who’s attending. Cipriana is a little jealous. She’s the one who discovered the American girl at the pool, so she’s supposed to have some privileges.
The Circus is milling about with children and their parents. Everybody wants to talk and play with Taïga. Goopy keeps the boys at bay by telling everybody she’s his girlfriend. ‘… siccome sono il suo ragazzo.’
Taïga is having fun, too. Eating gelado, watching the jugglers and magicians and learning new Italian words.
Suddenly there’s a fat girl aiming straight for Taïga, making the other girls whisper nervously.
‘Guarda chi sta arrivando! Look who’s coming!’
‘Tanto peggio! Too bad!’
‘She’s bad news, that one. Always looking for trouble,’ Laura says. ‘Let’s go, Maybe we can see the lions from over there.’
But they don’t have a chance to get away. Taïga freezes with her icecream halway to her mouth as Constanza stops a few inches from her, hands on her hips. ‘Guglielmo è mio! Non toccare! Capisce? Non toccare!’
Taïga doesn’t understand every word, but she gets the hint. She looks nervously around her, hating being the center of attention. Ice cream is melting and running down her fingers. She itches to lick it up, but she seems frozen in place, unable to do anything but blink stupidly. Toccare, toccare. What the heck is toccare?
The girl gesticulates. Taken by surprise, the icecream slips out of Taïga’s hand and falls to the ground, splattering her naked toes. Cold. Sticky. She looks up at the snickering girl, but has to stagger backwards to avoid Constanza, who advances, pointing an accusing finger in her chest.
‘Ma chi credi di essere?’ Pick. ‘Ti odio!’ Pick. ‘Sono la sua futura moglie!’ Pick-pick-pick. Like an angry woodpecker Constanza forces Taïga backwards, one step at a time, towards the edge of the smiling clown fountain.
Moglie… Moglie… What does that mean again? It’s a word she has heard Leonardo say to Shasta several times. Wife! But why is this girl talking about a wife. ‘What’s going on? I-’
‘Brutta! Ugly!’ The fat girl suddenly pushes Taïga hard in the chest, and she tumbles backwards into the fountain.
It is not very deep, more a wading surface for children, but she goes under completely anyway. Spluttering she tries to sit up, but the bottom is slippery and she falls backwards again.
Goopy comes running, followed by his best friend Orlando, and he’s furious. ‘Constanza! Adesso basta! Non avresti dovuto farlo! (You shouldn’t have done that!) Taïga è davvero simpatico.’
Constanza answers petulantly, ‘Volevo solo scherzare. (I meant it as a joke.)’
Goopy turns his back on Constanza, and reaches for Taïga. ‘Come va?’
She seizes his hand and lets him pull her out of the shallow pool.
‘I’m OK.’ She smiles a little, throwing a worried glance over his shoulder at the fuming girl who just pushed her into the water.
Goopy scrutinizes her face, ’Are you sure?’ Deciding she’s OK, he turns back to Constanza.
Cipriana and the other girls are taking Taïga’s defense. ‘Hai fatto una cosa stupido.’
‘Va’ a quel paese!’
Constanza raises her eyebrows, looking at them in surprise. ‘Dici a me?’
Goopy pushes his way to the front. ‘Si. Lasciami in pace!’
‘Non parli sul serio, vero?’
‘Si. Parli sul serio… Arrivederci!’
Constanza leaves, proffering insults. ‘Stronzo! Capisci? Bastardo!’
Taïga grimaces. She swears that she’ll never make a scene like that over a boy. Not even over Derek… ’Wow… His future wife is really something!’
The other children start laughing, but a nervous silence falls on the little group when Shasta suddenly towers over them.
‘What happened? No. Don’t tell me. I can’t let you out of my sight five minutes before you do something stupid to make yourself interesting.’ She grabs Taïga’s arm and steers her away. ‘Lucky for you that Leonardo’s limousine hasn’t left…’
She glances over her shoulder, but Shasta tugs her along, dragging her away from her friends. From the fun.
A last glimpse before the door shuts on her. Goopy and Cipriana are standing clustered together with the others, watching her disappear into the sleek car. She can’t read their expressions from this distance. Awe? Regret?
Constanza crosses her arms, a triumphant little smile playing with the corners of her thin lips. Taïga leans back towards the soft calfskin, letting herself sink deep down into the plush seat. Angrily she dries water dripping from her hair onto her cheeks. Or are they tears?
Taïga prepares some bread and jam, taking the sandwich with her upstairs where she takes a shower and changes into pajamas. She’s all alone at home. Ellen is at the Circus with the Di Grisogno’s and James is watching a movie in town as he has been given the evening off. She can see the dome of the circus tent lighting up the sky from the bathroom window. She feels a little like Cinderella. It must have been like this to watch the castle from afar…
Suddenly something catches her eye, and she stops. Fireworks! They said there would be fireworks later. The view must certainly be better from the second floor terrace. She grabs her sandwich and rushes outside. She’s not supposed to be out after nightfall, but this isn’t really outside, is it?
She settles on the railing, watching the sparkling colors on the night sky. But there’s not the usual booming. In fact, there’s no sound at all, even the crickets are silent. She watches the starry sky, but the strange lights are only to be seen in one place. Could it be what Granny calls an Aurora Borealis? When she looks closer, the lights don’t seem to be as far away as she first thought. Glittering and glimmering in the spectrum of a rainbow, they seem to hover over a point in the valley. It’s a pity she doesn’t have any binoculars. But she does have a camera. Or Ellen does. She runs back downstairs, across the Atrium and upstairs again, into Ellen’s room. She doesn’t have to search long, it is lying around on the unmade bed, waiting for her. Ellen is something of a slob, Taïga thinks, taking in the unmade bed and the clothes and underwear strewn all over the place.
She grabs the camera and rushes back to her vantage point, but to her disappointment, the beautiful lights are gone. She munches on her sandwich, inspecting the camera. It seems easy enough to use – on/off and the camera whirrs open. There’s even a zoom. Swallowing the last bite, she dries her hands on her pajamas and leans over the railing, watching the scenery on the little screen.
That’s when she sees it again. A tiny flicker, so brief she almost missed it. Without thinking, she pushes down the shutter, keeping her index finger on it. Click-click-click-click. And then silence. After a few seconds the cicadas start their rhythmical screeching, at the same time the first palm shaped firework is seen, followed by a loud bang, similar to a gunshot. The next half hour is interspersed with humming, whistling, crackling, whizzing and loud booming.
The night sky is lit up by the magic of a big firework, but Taïga isn’t watching. Her eyes are glued to the tiny screen as she scrolls through the pictures using the scroll wheel. There is definitely something, but she can’t define what. If only she had a larger screen…
Two minutes later she’s plugging in a USB cord to Leonardo’s laptop, transferring the ten pictures she has just taken.
Eight of them are blurry beyond recognition, one is really pretty -a shower of colors surrounding one of the larger mansions in the valley.
‘Wow… this picture is good. I’ll send it to Granny! She likes the Aurora Borealis, and this is Monte Aquila Borealis, hihi!’
But it’s the last one that has her gaping.
She enlarges it as much as she can, staring wide-eyed at the colorful blur of what seems to be something out of a Lucas film. With a pilot. No, let’s be honest about the pale dark eyed figure. It’s an alien! Yes. An alien piloting the UFO. Maybe Derek didn’t make up the story about his sister. What if his dad really got abducted by aliens? What if they had abducted someone again? Right now? What if this is the beginning of a freaking invasion? She must call the police. With trembling fingers, she calls 911, only to listen to a mechanical voice saying something about not attributed numbers. ‘Per favore riprova…’
The rumbling outside reaches a crescendo as the final bouquet of fireworks lights up the sky. Maybe it has already started? Derek. She must send him the pictures. His dad most certainly knows what to make out of them. If she’s lucky, they’re awake. She counts backwards on her fingers, loses track but knows it morning.
Quickly she opens her mail, types in Derek’s name and adds the zipped folder before pushing the send button. There. It’s done. She has just the time to put away the laptop before the Limousine slows to a halt in front of the residence…
Part I – End of Chapter 33