One evening the doorbell rings, and when Granny opens a stranger is on the doorstep…
‘… and I was on my way to spend Thanksgiving at my parent’s in Riverview, when I ran out of gaz. Midnight Hollow wasn’t that far, so I let Buster out and we started walking. Then Buster saw a rabbit, and… well, he vanished! I’ve been looking all over for him!’
Granny is suspicious. ‘What makes you think we’ve got him?’
‘Because I saw him and followed him here!’
‘I think we should see what Tramp, I mean Buster, has to say!’
‘OK!’ The guy whistles and Tramp aka Buster comes running into the room. He skids on the parquet, jumps into the guys arms and licks his face all over…
‘But we found him in Roumania!’ Missy adds, but the young man is too busy greeting his dog to listen.
Granny nods to herself. ‘I wonder how he got there… If dogs could talk, he’d probably have an amazing story to tell us…’
There’s nothing the two old ladies can do, except watch “their” dog happily follow his master out of their lives… Granny knows Taïga will be devastated when she learns Tramp had another owner… With a heavy heart she calls Taïga in France…
Taïga is back from border school in France for the Christmas holidays. And what a surprise!
The mansion is huge! Much bigger than I imagined but kind of old and decrepit… ‘Granny!’ Taïga lets go of her heavy suitcase and runs towards her grandmother. ‘I’ve missed you so much!’
Taïga loves her new room, and sets of to explore the rest of the house. After dinner Granny wants to hear about what she would like for Christmas. ‘Jeez… I don’t know… there’s so much I’d like to have for Christmas, Granny! And I’m not sure Santa exists anyway!’
‘Go on and make a wish list anyway, honey. Christmas is just around the corner…’
Taïga humors Granny and scribbles down what she would prefer.
Missy is astounded about Granny’s choice of food for Christmas Eve. ‘Homard Thermidor? Why not a turkey as usual?’
Granny doesn’t even look up. ‘Good you asked. The turkey is in the fridge… Can you help me with the stuffing?’
Missy sighs. Why can’t I keep my mouth shut? Yuk…
Granny prepares the side dishes while Missy takes care of the stuffing.
The two sisters finish the preparations for dinner, chatting amiably.
‘Where’s Taïga?’, Missy asks.
‘I think she’s in the dining room, decorating the Christmas tree…’
‘Does she know she isn’t supposed to light it before tomorrow morning?’ Missy dries her hands on a towel. ‘I better go and see what she’s up to, there’s no point standing in front of the stove watching the turkey change color, is it?’
Granny smiles. Missy always loved to decorate the tree when we were kids… ‘Go ahead, I’ve got everything under control!’
Of course you have, Missy mumbles under her breath.
The brine-soaked turkey accompanied by buttery roasted chestnuts and apples is perfect. So are the green bean casserole, the mashed potatoes with gravy, the cranberry sauce and the Angel Cake… Granny even had time to prepare Tom and Jerry drinks!
When the doorbell rings, Taïga rushes outside to greet her mom and Rowan… and Leonardo.
‘Mom! Rowan! How he’s grown! Do you think he remembers me?’
‘Of course he does, Taïga! And you’ve grown too. Especially your hair*…’
Proudly Taïga shows her mother the table settings. ‘I’ve folded the napkins myself – Jeanne taught me!’
‘It’s beautiful… Did Granny tell you the plates are the same as when I was a child?’
‘Yes. And she also told me you broke one when you got angry because you didn’t get to stay up and wait for Santa!’
Shasta frowns. I have to have a serious chat with Mother… ‘Well. I hope you won’t throw a tantrum tonight, Taïga.’
‘Oh, there’s no risk! I know Santa doesn’t exist anyway! Oups… Sorry Mom. Do you think Rowan heard what I just said?’
‘I don’t think so. Look at him…’ They both laugh and Rowan first looks at them, then he laughs too.
They are interrupted by Granny and Missy with the turkey. ‘Time to get seated everyone.’
‘I’ll feed Rowan first and put him to bed. He’s exhausted after the long journey.’
‘You are right. I’ll get Rowans chair, carina.’ Taïga likes it when Leonardo talks; he makes her think of Goopy and Cipriana.*
Before starting in on the turkey, Granny says grace.
‘Who are we waiting for?’ Shasta gestures towards the empty place setting on her right.
‘Don’t you remember? It’s for the spirits, dear. This place is supposed to be occupied by the souls of the loved ones – the dead who have left and this one night they are allowed to come back to visit…’
Taïga dries a tear. ‘Mrs. Brown would have loved to see how good a cook you’ve become, Granny!’
‘Thank you, Taïga. But without Missy’s help, there wouldn’t have been any turkey!’
‘That’s right, I stuffed and cooked the turkey!’ Missy adds proudly.
Leonardo is surprised Granny and Missy have cooked the whole delicious meal all by themselves. Granny’s cooking skill has really improved since poor Mrs. Brown passed away.
‘What do you eat for Christmas in Italy, Leonardo?’ Taïga asks politely.
‘Ah, we have turkey and Pannettone on the 25th. On Christmas Eve we have seafood!’
‘Si. And pasta and sweets.’ Leonardo kisses his fingertips, ‘Buonissimo!’ He ogles the Angel Cake. ‘Gli italiani preparano dell’ottimo cibo, but the Grey sisters cuisine is excellente!’ Granny blushes…
Minuit is inspecting the empty platter… Missy narrows her eyes. For a second I thought Minuit’s eyes were red! How bizarre… Maybe I shouldn’t have added rum to my Tom & Jerry’s…
Taïga doesn’t protest when it’s time to go to bed. All that food and talking is truly exhausting… But in the middle of the night she suddenly wakes up. I thought I heard something…
Cautiously she sneaks downstairs…
Oh My God! It’s Santa!!!
‘Hohoho, you must be Taïga?’
Taïga can’t help herself – she stares at the imposing figure even though she knows it’s rude. He’s huge! How could he possibly fit in the chimney!?! And how is he supposed to leave, now he’s lighted a fire?
‘I’ve heard about you and what happened to your dog Tramp…’
‘Yes, Santa. I’m really sad about it, but Granny said Tramp was so happy finding his old master, so I guess it was for the best…’ Taïga’s eyes fill with tears, and she sniffs.
‘Don’t cry little one.’ Santa reaches out and strokes her cheek. Taïga hickups. Bizarre… I don’t feel sad anymore…
‘Hohoho…’ Santa takes out a giftwrapped box from the sack at his feet. ‘Merry Christmas, Taïga! Take good care of my gift…’
‘I will, Santa! Thank you! Do you know that I didn’t really believe you existed? My grandma is a… well, she’s special! And I thought she was the one putting the gifts under the tree and if you just wait I’ll get Rowan…’ Taïga happily chatters away. She walks into the dining room to put the gift under the tree and and ‘Wow!’ She’s almost blinded by the big Christmas tree, surrounded by gifts. She shakes the box a little… It’s heavy… and almost lets it fall to the floor when it starts to whimper! What!?! She tears away the ribbon and the paper, and with trembling hands she opens the lid…
A tiny black snout helps her push the lid away. Astounded she watches a little Doberman puppy jump out of the box. ‘Hey… aren’t you beautiful, little one? It feels good to be out of that box, doesn’t it? Santa, has it got a name? Santa?… Santa?’
Oh no! He’s gone! Taïga runs to the door and throws it up, but she can’t see much because of the snow storm raging outside. In the distance a faint sound of bells is quickly fading… She leans against the closed door. Nobody will believe me…
‘What are you doing, Taïga? And is that a dog in your arms?’
‘Granny you won’t believe me if I told you…’
Granny smiles. ‘Try me. You won’t know if you don’t tell me.’
Granny is right, as usual. And she’s totally charmed by the little puppy… Together they walk upstairs.
‘Can I sleep with her?’
‘You can keep her in your room, but NOT in the bed. That little beast will grow and take up a lot of space…’
Taïga thought she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, but with the little puppy cuddled in her arms she soon gave in. She wakes up early the next morning and sneaks into Rowans room.
‘Wake up, Rowan… Santa’s been here!’ She carries her little brother downstairs. ‘Come on, Rowan. Puppy will follow…’ I have to find her a name…
Rowan gets all excited and and almost hurts his head on the table when he breaks into a run seeing all the gifts under the tree. Taïga catches his arm just in time ‘Hey! Watch out!’
They start opening their gifts immediately… Rowan mostly tearing and throwing paper around him, laughing and screaming happily.
The grown-ups join them a little later… Taïga’s puppy comes dragging “Buddy”, happily chomping away on the poor ragdoll.
‘You’re not supposed to chew on my toys…’ Taïga admonishes. ‘Let’s find out if there’s something for you under the tree…’
After opening all the Christmas presents, Leonardo and Shasta disappears upstairs and Granny goes to fix breakfast. Taïga hugs her puppy, but she looks a little disappointed.
‘What’s the matter?’
She looks up at Missy. ‘I suppose Santa didn’t read my letter…’
‘How come? I think he read it, but just decided to ignore you!’
‘Why should he? I mean, I just asked him for a pony, nothing else, to ride when I’m home on vacation!’
Missy sighs: ‘You just got a dog, didn’t you?’
‘Oh yes! I’m so happy! Maybe I’ll get a pony next year!’
Missy makes a face. I sure don’t hope so! I’ll better write Santa a letter too, asking him for no more animals!
The Christmas holidays are rapidly over and Shasta and Leonardo will leave for Monte Aquila tomorrow afternoon. Should Shasta tell anyone about her secret? Or is it too soon? Will the news about a new baby make Taïga happy – or jealous? And what about initiating Taïga to witchcraft? She’ll soon be a teenager after all… There’s so much she has to talk to her mother about before leaving tomorrow.
‘I need to talk to your grandmother about something very important before we leave. Can you go out and play with Rowan?’
Together they build a snowman, with charcoals for buttons and a big carrot nose.
‘… you must have thought about it! She’s almost a teenager and you know what happens when she turns fifteen!’
‘Yes, Shasta. But there’s still time! To prepare her – and us!’
Shasta acquiesces. ‘She seems innocent enough.’
Granny chuckles: ‘Hmpfff… I think she’s already used magic! At border school, to catch a lobster to impress her friends! Hihi!’
‘Mother! How can you laugh about something as serious as using her powers before her 15th birthday!’
‘I know, I know… I have to tell you something, Shasta, and you won’t be happy about it…’ Granny proceeds to tell Shasta about Taïga’s strange “dreams”, about her ability to see the Grim Reaper and the dead…
When Granny has finished, Shasta is silent. She has forgotten all about telling her mother about her pregnancy. ‘Oh, Mother. What shall we do?’
‘We can’t do much yet. It’s a good thing she’s at boarding school, with “normal” children her age.’ Granny looks at her hands. ‘As for the preparations for her turning 15 – I think Taïga is too young to get engaged.’
Shasta stares at her mother. ‘I was her age when I got engaged, Mother.’
‘Yes… and I was too… But times are changing.’
‘Not for us, Mother, they are not…’
‘Derek!’ Taïga blushes with pleasure. ‘… Uh-huh… Yeah… Well, tomorrow morning. I’ll catch a late flight and I’ll be in Champs-sur-Sauloise by morning… Sure! … And what about you? … Really!?! … Oh, c’mon! That can’t be true? … You’re kidding me! … Granny’s calling, I have to go! … My Mom and Rowan are leaving… Me to! …’
Part I – End of part 50