Compared to the events taking place around the same time in Champs-sur-Sauloise, spring at Bigwood Falls Elementary and Middle School, is rather uneventful.
The school bus doesn’t go as far as to the Cove, so Taïga has to walk, or rather run, to take it at the crossroads. She’s often a little late, getting distracted by animals and other interesting things along the way.
The bus is almost filled when she gets on, but she doesn’t have to worry about getting a seat.
Derek hardly ever bikes to school anymore. He usually takes the bus, keeping a seat for Taïga, and when he’s not, there’s always Teddy.
It’s an ordeal for the shy young girl to walk all the way over to where he sits though, because of his friends on the school’s football team catcalling and whistling, doing all they can to make her, and Derek, feel uncomfortable.
Taïga sinks deeper in her seat, blushing furiously, but Derek nudges her. ‘Hey! Don’t mind them – they’re just jealous… Of me!’
She slaps his arm playfully. ‘Stop teasing.’
‘I’m not. But we could bike to school if it makes you more comfortable.’
‘You know I don’t have a bike.’
‘No worries! Meet me at the crossroads tomorrow morning.’
He grins at her and she nods.
Derek is already there when she gets to the crossroads the next morning.
Glaring, she gets on the bike, holding on to his waist. ‘Where’s your bag?’
‘Teddy’s got it.’
And they’re off. Derek pedals fast, and they shoot out of the forest right when the school bus passes, making Taïga squeal with fright.
‘See! We’re not late!’ Taïga giggles as he picks up speed, pushing hard to try keeping up with the bus, but they’re soon distanced.
They make it in time to school, if barely.
‘I get the point, I’ll be there earlier tomorrow!’ Taïga jumps off the bike, waving at Teddy who’s anxiously waiting with his brother’s heavy bag slung over his shoulder.
‘Who said we’re not taking the bus?’ Derek is bent over his bike, breathing heavily.
Taïga looks at him, disappointment radiating, ‘Oh… I thought…’
He shoves her gently off towards the entrance of the elementary school. ‘Gaah, just be at the crossroads when I get there tomorrow morning…’
Spring has brought a lot of rain, forcing Derek and Taïga to often take the bus. Taïga stays after school three times a week to dance. She is starting to enjoy the discipline and hard work classical ballet implies. It’s difficult to conciliate with the schoolwork, but her hard work is paying and she has gradually become as supple and graceful as the other girls.
Derek has also stayed on, reveling in the female attention. Taïga dislikes “the pinkies” with a vengeance, especially Serena who’s always fluttering her impossibly long eyelashes at him…
As the second semester advances, Taïga decides she wants to join in auditioning for the County set-up of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.
Serena snickers. ‘You could always dance Carabosse – you won’t even need make-up. Gypsy.’
What Taïga lacks in witty answers, she compensates with stubbornness, and Serena’s mean comments only strengthens Taïga’s decision to get a part – preferably not as the ugly, wicked fairy godmother.
Taïga can’t sleep the night before the auditions, and she’s up at dawn, training in the den. Today is the big day and she’s way too excited to sleep. There will be a talent scout coming to the studio this morning and he’ll pick out the best girls… Only the best…
Humming along with the music, she gracefully dances around the armchairs, avoiding Minuit who tries to catch her feet. She’s so immerged in the music and dancing that she doesn’t even notice her grandmother watching from the stairs.
She finishes dancing, bowing deeply. Tiptoeing and bending to pick up the flowers her imaginary public throws at her, she blows kisses to the audience.
Granny applauds from the stairs. ‘Bravo! Bravissimo! Encore!’
Taïga grins at her grandmother. ‘I thought you were asleep, Granny!’
‘With Tchaikovsky at full volume downstairs?’
Suddenly the little girl throws herself into her grandmother’s arms. ‘I’m so scared, Granny! What if I make a fool out of myself and everybody laughs?’
Granny hugs the frail body. ‘I’m sure you’ll do just fine! I’m convinced you’ll make it! Just do your best, and leave the rest to the Goddess. I am so proud of you no matter what happens. Remember that.’
Taïga withdraws, looking up at the wrinkled face with huge eyes. ‘Do you think we could invite Mom? If I get a part, I mean.’
‘If only we knew where she was…’ Granny strokes her grandchild’s cheek.
Taïga nods. She knows her mother won’t come. She walks over to the secretary and, as usual, writes her a letter which will join the others in the drawer…
Their dance teacher receives the results three weeks later and she reads them out after class. To everybody’s surprise, Taïga is on the list. A girl from the Skagit Valley Academy of Dance is dancing the head role as Aurora, making pretty Serena cry with rage.
The first one to know is Derek, who’s had football practice and is waiting in the yard to take her home.
‘Duh… I knew you could do it!’
‘Yeah…’ She gets on his bike behind him, holding on to his waist, ‘You should have seen the look on Serena’s face when Mrs. Hoffman read out my name…’
Derek chuckles, ‘So, if you’re the princess… Who’s the prince?’ He throws her a quick glance over his shoulder as he steers out from the schoolyard.
You are… she thinks, but keeps her thoughts to herself. She can’t start behaving like one of “the pinkies”. Instead she says, ‘I told you I’m not a princess. I’m the Diamond Fairy!’
‘Right. Fairy, princess… What’s the difference? You said you’ve got a solo.’
‘Yup. Fifteen seconds of glory!’
‘And what about the others? Did they get any parts?’
‘Well… Serena did. She’s dancing one of the falling breadcrumbs – with Kendall.’
‘Serena a breadcrumb? OMG. Now I really wish I had been there to see it myself…’
Taïga beams at his back. ‘Yeah. It was rather gratifying.’
‘Hey! That’s not the right way home!’
Intrigued, she waits for him to say something more but he doesn’t. ‘So, where are we going?’
‘Looking at some trees!’
They meet with Teddy down by the river, and together they set out prospecting for a suitable tree to build a treehouse in. They aren’t lucky. Derek is never satisfied. The trees they see are too small, not strong enough, too close to the road, too far from the Vargas’ home… They spend the whole weekend literally looking at trees, and even though Taïga was quite excited in the beginning, she’s getting a little bored.
‘Why don’t we just build it on the ground?’ she mutters. ‘Like that we don’t have to look at any more trees. And why does it have to be close to your place? Why can’t we build it close to the Cove?’
‘Dad said he’ll help us, so we can’t stray too far. I mean, just think about it. We’re talking carrying wood here. For construction.’
Taïga sighs. ‘Let’s go to my place. Mrs. Brown has made a new kind of cookies with white chocolate and cranberries.’
‘Are you sure? Is your Grams at home?’
‘Yeah, but you know it’s OK to come with Teddy.’
Derek just shudders. He’s quite scared of Taïga’s impressive Grams in her long grey robes and witches’ hat. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was just that – a witch.
They keep their eyes open for a suitable tree on their way to the Cove, even though they’ve already checked the area.
‘… and she said there was a good one in their backyard, but I said I didn’t think-’
‘What!?!’ Derek stops, grabbing his brother’s arm. ‘You told the MacDuff kids we were building a tree house? How stupid can you be!?!’
‘Just Felicity? Telling her is like shouting it from the roof tops for God’s sake!’
‘But I thought-’
‘Just stop thinking! This was supposed to be our tree house!’
‘He’s right, Teddy. It was supposed to be a secret-’
‘Yeah! Our secret!’ Derek stares his brother down, his eyes black slits.
‘I promise I didn’t tell her anything important!’
‘Just that we were looking for a tree to build a tree house, huh? We’ll never get the planks to the site without them knowing.’
‘They don’t know where it is. Even we don’t. Yet…’ Teddy’s voice trails off.
‘We’ll have them spying on our every move, asshole…’ Derek stabs his finger at Teddy’s chest.
‘Don’t call me-’
‘Wait. I think there’s a way…’ Taïga raises her hand to stop the two brothers. ‘If Teddy stays with Felicity, making sure she won’t follow us, he can also report on her big brothers.’
‘But I don’t want to play with her! She’s boring and stupid! And she’s a girl!’
‘Perfect! That’s your punishment for blabbering about our secret.’ Derek glares at his brother.
‘Right. And FYI, I’m a girl too.’
‘Sorry,’ Teddy mumbles. ‘I didn’t mean to say that. You’re not a girl! I mean – you don’t act like a girl, you’re like us! A boy… I mean, no…’
They both glare at Teddy who’s saved from further explanations by Mrs. Brown, calling them in for tea and cookies.
After weeks of intensive training, putting the concerned families to contribution in making the costumes, the three girls are finally ready for the premiere. Mrs. Hoffman, their dance teacher, brings all her students to Mount Vernon the day before graduation in the football team’s bus, the excited girls singing all the way.
The County set-up of “The Sleeping Beauty” is a frank success. The young girls dance to standing ovations, and Taïga can finally pick up real flowers and blow kisses to a real audience. A stiff lipped Granny dries treacherous tears with an embroidered handkerchief, firmly believing that her granddaughter is the most touching little fairy she has ever seen.
Apparently she isn’t the only one. There were talent scouts in the public, and one of them comes over to congratulate Granny to her granddaughter’s achievement and to ask for a meeting. He’s interested in Taïga doing the auditions for the Bridgeport Academy Ballet School next August. Granny is flattered, but unfortunately she doesn’t have the parental authority to sign her grandchild up if ever she succeeds…
On the first day of the summer holidays, Derek is meeting Taïga at La Push Beach.
But it didn’t work out as he had expected. His brother Teddy overheard him on the phone last night, and has hurried to the beach to be there when Granny dropped Taïga off. At first Derek doesn’t care as his teammates show up around the same time. He spends a couple of hours fooling around with them, playing football in the sand and the shallow water.
But after a while, seeing how his brother and Taïga have fun together without him is getting annoying. Each time he scores, he glances over at her to see if she has noticed, but she isn’t even looking his way, too busy laughing at something his brother has just said or done.
He pulls on his jeans, deciding to leave. But Taïga and Teddy just wave at him, continuing whispering together.
Derek can’t hide his animosity as he watches his brother and Taïga fooling around in the water. What are they doing? Dang Ted’s can’t just keep monopolizing her like that… Irritably he decides to stay just a while longer.
Picking up some flat stones, he starts skipping one after the other, watching the round stones hit the surface and bounce.
‘Come and play with us!’ Teddy calls out.
‘Nah…’ He snaps his wrist forward, sending another stone skipping. ‘I think I’m going to our place.’
‘Are you going home already?’ Taïga stops splashing water on Teddy.
‘No. He’s talking ‘bout our secret beach.’
‘You have a secret beach?’ She looks from Teddy to Derek. ‘And you haven’t told me about it?’ she adds accusingly.
‘Wouldn’t be a secret anymore…’ Derek grumbles, sending the last stone spinning in a straight line, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8… ‘Hey! Did you see that? 8 in one throw!’
‘Cool!’ his brother exclaims, but Derek’s disappointed that Taïga apparently missed it.
The annoying girl is keeping her grey-green eyes focused on his face. ‘Well. Now I know about it, you can just as well show me.’
Derek just glares back at her when his pain of a brother answers in his place.
‘Sure!’ Teddy says, and they hurry off towards the cabins.
‘Maybe I wanna be alone.’ Derek calls after them.
Taïga stops in her tracks. ‘So why did you talk about it? You could just as well have just left? I mean, you’ve been sulking the whole time here!’ She turns on her heels again and scurries away to change out of her wet bikini. Derek doesn’t seem that happy to have them tag along, but he waits for them by the bike rack nevertheless.
His teammates are calling out for him. They are goofing around, trying to impress the newly arrived pinkies by showing off who can jump highest from the wooden fence separating the parking from the beach.
Derek scrambles up on the fence. Turning his back to the slope, he jumps. His daring backflip draws Serena’s attention, and she pulls him aside as soon as he’s back. He can’t help being flattered, she’s the most popular girl at school after all. It will do uppity Taïga good to see Serena talking to him.
But where is she? He tries to concentrate on what Serena is saying, but his eyes stray to the giggling pinkies who are looking over their shoulders at them, annoying Derek. Serena shouldn’t be so confident, thinking she could get whatever she wants by batting her impossibly long eyelashes and flicking her hair. He needs to get away from her rambling, wondering what is taking Taïga so long.
The sand slope is perfect to land on, and the boys are outmastering themselves, inventing figures. The Pinkies are urging them on with high pitched screams and they grow bolder and bolder. La Shove beach doesn’t have any lifesaver squad to stop their dangerous games, but Coach Stevens’ car pulling into the parking lot, puts an abrupt end to the fun.
When Taïga finally emerges from the cabin after struggling to get her favorite tights up her damp legs, she can see Derek chatting with an unwelcome person. So that’s what all the ruckus was about. The Pinkies…
Taïga approaches, glaring at Serena Wilkins, “Pinkie” supreme, all tanned legs and sun kissed hair.
‘Hi guys!’ She waves at Taïga and Teddy, who sighs. He had been waiting to scare her, but Serena blew it.
‘Aren’t you swimming on a day like this? Maybe the water is too cold for you, Taïga?’ Serena flicks her golden hair and bats her dark eyelashes. ‘Or are your legs too pale to show? Hihi.’
Suddenly her favorite tights and boots seem inappropriate. ‘We’ve already swum – the whole morning,’ she mumbles, hating the effect Serena has on her self-confidence – making it vanish totally and forcing her to justify herself. ‘In fact, we were just leaving, ‘she adds without conviction.
‘We?’ Serena’s scornful eyes move away from her, concentrating on Derek. ‘Are you leaving too, Derek?’
‘Yes. I mean no. I mean…’
What!?! Taïga stares at Derek with a frown. That stupid Serena always has that effect on the guys. They start blabbering as soon as she bats her eyelashes. Derek is stupid too. God forbid Teddy joins the cluster of drooling Serena-fans.
She turns her back on them, grabbing Teddy’s arm, ‘Well, we have a lot of interesting things to do. Elsewhere. Bye!’
‘Hey, wait, Teddy! Taïga’s riding with me. Bye, Serena.’
Derek dashes after them and Taïga does a mental dance. Ha! Eat your heart out “pinkie-pie”! 1-0 to me!
They stop by the Vargas’ place to have a quick, cold lunch, then they continue to their secret place, a deserted beach not very far from their home.
The bad blood between the brothers is forgotten and they play in the sand for hours, building an enormous castle. Tired of playing, they just sit around, talking. Too soon it’s time to leave, if they want to get home before dark.
Taïga interrupts the disturbing silence, throwing a glance at Derek who has been looking strangely at her for a moment now.
‘Gosh, just look at you, guys. You’re like the Sandman.’ Taïga laughs at the boys’ sandy bodies.
‘Let’s go wash in the river. A last time before the sun sets.’ Derek looks at his sandy arm, brushing away dry sand.
‘Yeah, but I don’t think it’s a good idea, we’re almost dry and …’ Teddy stands up and brushes sand from his back.
‘… and what?’
‘Last one in the river!’ He sets off, spraying sand in his wake.
‘Hey! You’re cheating!’ Derek takes Taïga’s hand, pulling her to her feet. Without letting go, they run whooping back into the water following Teddy.
As usual, Derek accompanies Taïga to the door when they get home after dark. Taïga would like him to stay for dinner, but suddenly she feels shy.
He’s been looking at me in that intense way of his a lot today, and it makes me feel insecure. Just staring, like right now. I’m sure he hasn’t listened to a word I’ve been saying.
She glances at him and he quickly looks away, turning around and jumping up to sit on the railing.
Taïga assembles all her courage to ask him, ‘So it would be OK for you to stay. I mean stay for dinner, of course! Would you? Like to have dinner with us?’ She crosses her arms on her chest, ‘Derek, I’m a witch!’
But there’s no reaction from Derek whose lips are twitching as he looks down, deeply concentrated on his wiggling foot.
‘Derek! DEREK! Are you listening to me?’
Derek pops out of his daydreaming about him kissing Taïga. ‘Err… yes.’
‘Good, I’ll tell Granny. I know she wants to get to know you better. Come on!’
Derek blinks. What? What did I agree to?
But Granny doesn’t seem eager to get to know him at all. She already suffers his presence, together with his brother, too often. Derek feels terribly awkward in the presence of the old woman. Granny doesn’t even try to be polite, and he can feel the dislike emanating from her.
‘Have you no idea what time it is? Dinner was hours ago. Now is more like supper,’ Granny grumbles.
‘Thank you for waiting, Granny,’ Taïga says soothingly.
Granny snorts. ‘I was too busy to pay attention to the time, dear.’ She locks eyes with Derek who is cautiously sitting with his hands on his lap. ‘Don’t you like vegetables?’
‘I do, ma’m.’
‘Maybe you would have preferred something else? A raw steak perhaps?’
Why raw? Derek thinks, easing his chair closer to the table. Taïga’s grandmother really is bizarre… He musters a smile and takes a bite. ‘I like vegetables. A lot. Err… but we don’t have fresh greeneries like this very often. My mom’s not much of a cook, we usually have frozen stuff.’
Granny looks at him with disapproval. ‘That’s rude young man. I’m sure your mother only means well.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-’
‘To what? Complain about the food? Or worse – backtalk your poor mother?’
Derek continues eating in silence, keeping his eyes averted.
Feeling Derek’s discomfort, Taïga decides to tell her grandmother about their day at the beach. She struggles to keep the conversation flowing, while Derek and Granny barely utter a word.
As soon as she has finished her plate, Granny mutters an excuse, takes one of the chocolate brownies Mrs. Brown has made for dessert, and retires to her study. Derek can finally breathe. The food was delicious, he just didn’t enjoy it with Granny’s ominous presence tarnishing it.
Politely he helps Taïga clear the table, and they do the dishes together.
‘Don’t you have a dishwasher?’ He asks, drying a plate.
‘Don’t you have a housekeeper?’
‘It’s quite handy, you don’t have to do the dishes all the time, you know.’
‘Well. We don’t have to cook!’
‘I’m sure you don’t cook anyway.’
‘And I’m sure you don’t do the dishes!’
‘But I do.’
‘Uh-uh. Teddy told me it’s always him.’
‘Hey, I pay him!’
Still bantering, Taïga follows Derek outside. Neither of them notice the old witch, not so discreetly, keeping an eye on them through the window.
Taïga is preoccupied by thoughts about her grandmother’s attitude. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have Derek endure dinner with Granny… She really seems to dislike him and I don’t understand why. He’s always polite even when she’s unpleasant. And he’s never done anything to merit her dislike. At least not that I know of. Apart from when I took him to my room, of course, which didn’t go down well. But since, he’s never even been upstairs…
‘Hey, a penny for your thoughts.’
Startled Taïga pushes a strand of her hair out of her eyes, but it falls right back again. ‘Err… Goodnight, Derek. Be careful.’
‘Sure. Don’t worry… Goodnight, Taïga.’
He hesitates. Reaching out, he pushes a strand of hair away from her face and she shies away a little. Why? He doesn’t know. He would like to kiss her cheek, but goes for the safety of a hug instead. They hold on to each other a little longer than necessary, and they both feel terribly awkward afterwards.
Suddenly he turns and jumps over the railing, making Taïga squeal with surprise and not a little awe. How did he do that?
She opens the door, but falters. ‘So… Bye then!’
Derek turns on the light on his bike. ‘Yeah, bye. See you tomorrow?’
‘We can meet at the festival, I’ll try to get rid of my bro, he’s such a pain…’
Taïga nods. Derek hasn’t forgiven his brother for not being able to shut his mouth, and their relation is somewhat strained. Sometimes she just want to scream at them both to stop being so childish. She can see the pain in his eyes, how embarrassed he is. She wants to hug him again or just tell him that she didn’t want to shy away, but he surprised her and she didn’t know what to do and… And eff this. She hurries down the stairs again.
Suddenly the door opens on Mrs. Brown letting Minuit in.
‘Oh my, there you are! Your grandmother wants to see you.’
‘I’ll be right in, Mrs. Brown.’
She frowns slightly. ‘You should leave now, Derek. It’s late and the fog’s descending. Do you want me to call your parents?’
‘No, I’m fine Mrs. B, I’m on my way. Thanks for dinner, it was really good!’
With a last wave, he fastens his helmet and hurries home. On Teddy’s bike.
She stands on the porch in silence with the housekeeper until the flickering light of his bike vanishes between the trees, then she turns on her heels, following Mrs. Brown upstairs to Granny’s study…
That night, Derek doesn’t dream of football and dinosaurs as usual…
His dreams are filled with visions of a raven-haired girl with smiling grey-green eyes.
The Midsummer Festival is the highlight of the holidays. Taïga and Derek are going every day – even when it’s raining, which it often does in Bigwood Falls.
Taïga is riding there on her own bike, the old steel Raleigh vintage bike that once was her mom’s and that Granny finally has bothered getting repaired and repainted in red. It’s not as fancy as Derek’s, and not as fast, but it has fenders to protect her from puddles and mud, and most important – it’s hers, giving her a sense of freedom she never has experienced before.
Mrs. Brown had dragged it out again from where Granny had hid it behind a lot of old stuff in the basement after hearing Granny complain about seeing her granddaughter hitching a ride with the young Vargas boy.
‘On the handle bar, no less! And the plump little brother rode his bike arms outstretched like some circus artist. Mrs. Durwood almost ran over them on her way out from the parking lot. You should have seen them.’
They argued over the fact that Granny didn’t feel comfortable about letting her granddaughter ride along the dangerous roads, which Mrs. Brown countered pointing out that she already was.
‘A scandal is what it is!’ Granny muttered, just to have the last word. But, grumbling, the old witch had had to give in to Mrs. Brown’s unfailing logic.
So Granny agreed to fix the painting and the potato chip front wheel, Mrs. Brown added a little basket and voilà! Ready to go. Taïga was over the moon happy about her red bike, but Granny made her promise to be careful, handing her a little book with traffic rules. Taïga solemnly promised never to ride with Derek again, and not seeing the young girl’s crossed fingers behind her back, Granny made her way upstairs to continue working on a new potion against warts and other skin ailments. Satisfied with herself, she even considered buying her granddaughter an iPad for her birthday. Even though she wasn’t much impressed by what she’d seen of the technological device so far.
The fairground has set up during the night and is bustling with activity. It seems like all Taïga’s friends have met up for old-fashion roller-skating and all the fun the different stalls have to offer!
Derek is hungry and challenges her to have a go at the eating contest. She hesitates but accepts when she sees that two of the pinkies are competing too. They are beaming at Derek, making Taïga seethe. No way is she leaving Derek with them, and any opportunity to shut off Serena’s stupid clique is good. Even if it means stuffing herself with food despite the fact she’s not even hungry.
The stall attendant brings forward the food. There are at least twenty hotdogs each set out in front of the four kids, and Taïga regrets having accepted the challenge.
Derek grins at her. ‘You’ll stop at five.’
‘I won’t.’ She glares at him, but knows he’s probably right. She doesn’t even know how to manage eating one…
She does her best, but almost chokes after four. Saved by the bell she leans against the table, fighting the urge to throw up. She can’t help but thinking about what their teacher had told the class about starvation in Africa…
Derek nonchalantly puts an arm around her shoulder. ‘Five?’
She hesitates, but decides on the truth. ‘Four. And a half. But I could have kept going if they hadn’t blown the whistle!’
Derek raises an eyebrow and squeezes her shoulder before letting her go. ‘Sure.’
‘You don’t believe me, do you?’
He laughs. ‘We weren’t competing, Taïga. We were having a free meal.’ He glances at Kendall, who accepts her prize, looking like she wants to throw up, ketchup smeared across her chin.
Taïga giggles. ‘Did you see how-’
Derek waves to someone behind her. ‘Just a sec. I’ll be right back!’ He ambles over to a group of boys from his team, and Taïga looks around her. She catches sight of some girls from her class over by the roller rink and decides to have a go at roller skating with them.
Chatting with the girls, she watches them put on their old fashion roller-skates, getting ready to enter the rink. She waves at Derek on the other side. He’s also equipped and ready to go, as soon as they open the gates.
‘I’m not sure it’s a good idea.’
Taïga freezes. Of course Serena is here. How could she for a second have thought she wouldn’t be…? She glances at the pretty blonde girl, who meanly looks her over, flicking her silky hair. Taïga is suddenly very self-conscious, comparing Serena’s fashion outfit with her old cutoff jeans and Doc Martens.
‘What isn’t?’ she adventures.
‘Getting on the rink, making a fool of yourself.’ She gets past Taïga in the queue. ‘Derek hates clumsy girls.’
Taïga watches the kids on the rink, they all seem to know what they’re doing, with a few exceptions. Derek waves his way expertly around them, picking up speed doing crossovers, heading their way. He stops to help a young boy who stumbles and falls right in front of him, rolling his eyes and smiling at Taïga. Or was it at Serena?
Serena throws her a meaningful glance before graciously entering the rink right in front of Derek. Too late, they bump together but without falling.
Serena swirls around, grabbing his hand to stabilize herself. ‘Derek!?!’
She skates backwards, keeping his hand in a firm grip, all white teeth and blue eyes and long soft hair whirling around her pretty face.
Derek shrugs apologetically at Taïga, letting himself be dragged away. Dragged? No, he doesn’t seem to mind that much. God, I hate her. And Derek too, for being such an ass.
It doesn’t matter that Derek lets go of pretty Serena and comes over to her. Leaning on the fence, he asks her why she hasn’t put on her skates yet.
Suddenly she doesn’t want to try anymore. She’ll slip and fall, and Derek would have to help her up and he would roll his eyes at her, thinking she’s clumsy and a burden…
She comes up with a stupid excuse, and in a haze she watches him push away back into the maze of roller skating kids and adults.
Serena is showing off, taking up more than her share of space on the rink, and Taïga unwillingly admires her rival’s skill.
If only… No… I don’t want to hurt her. Not much anyway. At least not physically…
… but I can let her experience ridiculous!
Summer goes by too fast. The festival only stays for a couple of weeks and Taïga finally lets Derek convince her to try roller-skating, but only after making sure Serena or the pinkies aren’t around. It’s more difficult than ice skating, and she doesn’t really want to let go of the security of the surrounding fence. Derek has to drag her out onto the floor, patiently holding both her hands as he skates backwards, dragging her along until she finds her balance.
‘Don’t look at your feet, kiddo!’
He holds her gaze and Taïga would have loved to hold his hands looking into his beautiful blue eyes for the rest of the day. But she soon gets the hang of it, and when the summer festival packs up and leaves, she can even skate backwards.
Taïga and Derek spend most of their free time together. When the weather is nice, they go to La Push Beach where most of the kids living in Bigwood Falls spend their days. Teddy is keeping his promise, grudgingly playing with Felicity MacDuff.
But the young girl is misreading his interest though, comparing him with her teenager siblings and their friends…
… and she can’t understand why Teddy doesn’t want to be her boyfriend.
Unfortunately, La Push Beach is also the pinkie’s favorite hangout. Serena has a new bathing suit every day, always in pink, of course, and she’s surrounded by her clique of ballet dancing clones, flicking their shiny hair and getting angry when splashed at. Understandable, when you know that her expensive fancy bikinis aren’t supposed to get wet…
So Derek shares his time between his teammates friends and Taïga, making Serena seethe with jealousy and Taïga jubilate.
They are often the last kids to leave the beach, chased by the teens who’ve declared it their place after dark.
When they’re not hanging at La Push Beach, or down by the river, they play in the forest. But with the heatwave hitting the Pacific West Coast in July, the danger of wildfire is omnipresent and Granny doesn’t like the thought of the kids alone out there.
The dry weather lasts through the beginning of August and Granny has to use magic to draw water for her cherished garden.
She doesn’t mind Taïga, Derek and Teddy raiding it for sun-warm tomatoes and strawberries and munching on the juicy fruit without even washing them clean. Mrs. Brown tut tuts, watching them from the porch. She is worried about snakes and calls out to them to ensure they make enough noise before plunging their hands into the produce.
Teddy and Derek happily stomps away while Taïga harvests the fruits. Mrs. Brown sees to it the kids are hydrated, serving cold slices of watermelon and tasty homemade ice-cream. Taïga proudly fills their glasses with lemonade. Mrs. Brown has taught her her secret recipe and even picky Granny seems to appreciate it.
The warm weather is tiring for everyone. Granny suffers from the heat as everybody else, but is refusing to wear anything but her grey, long outfits. She keeps to the shadows, reading and fanning herself. Teddy and Taïga are playing on the old seesaw, enjoying the semblance of fresh air each time they move up and down while Derek has brought an old and is untiringly kicking it against the garage wall.
‘Why don’t you come play some soccer with me?’ Thud.
‘It’s too warm to run around,’ Taïga answers.
‘Yeah. Why don’t you come seesaw with us?’
They are silent for a while, gently bouncing up and down, ball thudding against the wall.
‘I’m so bored. I wonder if we’re ever gonna start on the tree house,’ Teddy whines.
‘Yeah. Me too,’ Taïga sighs, pushing off with her feet.
‘You’re not exactly keeping an eye on Felicity and her siblings,’ Derek adds, kicking the ball.
‘She said she’s going to her grandparents for a week. It will be perfect.’ Teddy lands hard, making Taïga squeal as she bounces on the seesaw.
‘When?’ Derek walks back a few feet and aims at the ball.
‘Soon…’Teddy answers vaguely.
‘Anyways-’ The ball thuds against the wall. ‘-we gotta find a tree first.’
The steady dunking of the football hitting the garage wall, and the screechy grinding of the seesaw finally gets on Granny’s nerves.
Slamming her book shut, she struggles out of the hanging rattan chair and smooths out the creases in her long skirt. Raising her hands to form a loudspeaker, her voice booms out, ‘STOOOOOP!’
Startled at her sudden outburst, the kids stop and stare.
‘Just take the planks behind the garage and go and build your godforsaken treehouse!’
‘But we don’t even know where to build it yet, ma’am,’ Derek ventures.
Granny stares at him, her hands on her hips. ‘Mrs. Brown!’
Mrs. Brown comes hurrying, drying her hands on her apron.
‘Show them to the old oak – the one where we built a tree house with my cousins. Please.’
Mrs. Brown is more than happy to get out of the house for a while. She’s humming to herself while she briskly walks ahead of the children.
‘What are you singing, Mrs. B?’ Teddy asks.
‘Bare Necessities from the Jungle Book,’ she answers smiling.
‘Baloo’s song, you dork,’ Derek answers. ‘Don’t you recognize it?’
Teddy aims a fake gun at her back. ‘I’m a bear hunter!’
‘Oh my!’ Mrs. Brown mocks being frightened and starts running, Teddy on her trail.
‘OMG.’ Derek does a face palm, shaking his head but Taïga giggles.
‘I think they are fun!’
Derek looks astonished at her. ‘Teddy is fun? And Mrs. B?’
‘C’mon, let’s see if she knows who King Louie is.’ He sprints away, catching up with them and taking them over. Taïga laughs at the sight of him waving his arms.
‘Hey! Wait for me!’ She scurries after them, waving her arms too.
The four of them are soon scrambling along the dirt track, singing along at the top of their lungs with Mrs. Brown.
‘Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife…’
They had finally found the perfect tree thanks to Granny and Mrs. Brown, who showed them to the old oak. There was already an old tree house that just needed some major repair work, but they had to wait with starting construction until all the McDuff kids left for a week at their grandparents. Just to be sure not having them discover their secret place.
Mr. Vargas brought the planks over from the Cove and helped the kids build. Or maybe it was the other way around – the kids helped Mr. Vargas. Anyway, their secret tree house castle is finished in late July…
When the usual Washington weather catches up with them in August, they stay inside. Derek is quite handy, with some help from his father he has made some furniture to her doll’s house, even though he hates dolls.
‘I’ve made the furniture. That’s all.’
‘But we have to see if everything fits! What if my dolls can’t sleep in the beds because they’re too small? Have you thought of that?’ Promptly she hands him a male doll. ‘Try to see if he can sit at the breakfast table. His name’s Pete, by the way.’
Grudgingly Derek bends the tiny legs and sits Pete on a tiny chair. ‘See. It’s good.’
‘Wait.’ Taiga rummages in a box and picks out a little bowl that she places in front of Pete.
‘Can’t you see it’s cereal?’
‘Cereal? Pete’s an adult. I think he has black coffee in the morning.’
‘OK.’ Taiga takes out a tiny cup. ‘Here.’ She pretends her girl doll is rummaging through the box. ‘What do you want for breakfast, Pete? I can make pancakes!’
‘No. Let me see what’s in there…’ Derek pulls the box closer and peeks inside, ‘Jeez… Do they need all this?’
‘It’s a family, stupid. Families need things.’
‘But baby gear? They don’t even have kids! And don’t call me stupid!’
Derek stares at her.
‘Kids. They’ll have them soon, they’ve just got married you see, and I’m sure she’s pregnant-‘
‘No way am I playing with baby dolls!’ Derek jumps up onto his feet, ‘Or any dolls. I’m outta here.’
Taïga doesn’t budge.
‘Wanna check out the treehouse with me?’ he asks.
Taïga lights up, ‘Sure. We can play fancy dress!’
Derek grimaces, ‘OK. But only if you bring some of Mrs. B’s chocolate chip cookies…’
‘But there aren’t any left. We finished the last yesterday.’
‘She’s baking now.’
‘How do you know? I can’t smell anything…’
‘Err…’ He doesn’t say he can actually hear her getting started. ‘C’mon. Let’s pick out the fancy dress gear. But I won’t wear it until we arrive. And nor will you.’
‘Because I don’t wanna risk running into someone dressed like a fucking fairytale couple!’
Taïga stares at him. ‘I hope Granny didn’t hear you use the F-word…’
Granny watches them leave from her upstairs study. She mostly stays out of the way when Derek comes over, she cannot help feeling weary around the young boy.
She absentmindedly picks Minuit up, burying her nose in his soft fur. ‘I wonder if it is triggered yet, and if so, can he control it? He’s so young… And I can’t let him hurt Taïga…’
‘Hail fellow! How fare thee on this day of providence? State your business or I’ll empty the hot oil!’ Taïga shakes the water bucket, spilling drops on Derek down under.
‘Milady, it’s me – the knight in grey armor!’
‘I’m not a lady! I’m a princess transformed by a mean witch to a farmer’s daughter!’
‘So what shall I call you? Peasant!?!’
Taïga thinks. ‘I guess Milady will do.’
‘Gaah! Just let me up!’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yep! Anybody can disguise as a knight and come up and-’
‘-we don’t have a password!’
‘Oh… Right. OK. Come on up, Sire!’
The tree house is a real castle, hidden from view high up from the ground. They play pretend or just sit around discussing.
‘Did you hear that?’
Taïga looks at Derek with a frown. ‘No, I can’t hear anything special. You must have…’
‘Shh… Someone’s coming…’
‘HELLOOoo! Is there anybody up there? I’ve got something to show you – a turtle! TAÏGA, are you up there!?!’
Derek stands up, Taïga can see how irritated he is.
‘Crap! Dang Teddy hollers so you can hear him to Portland… I’ll take care of this, wait here.’
A bucket of water is always ready in case their hideout should be attacked by other kids, and now it comes in handy.
Derek doesn’t hesitate, he empties the cold water on his little brother without a second thought.
Poor Teddy didn’t see it coming. He gasps at the onslaught of the cold water.
‘GO HOME! And don’t come back…’
Teddy scrambles onto his bike and pedals off, crying.
Taïga struggles to her feet, looking over the wooden balustrade at the departing figure. ‘Poor Teddy! You didn’t have to do that.’
‘Yes, I did.’ Derek grumbles, adding to defend himself, ‘I’ve already warned him and it was just water. He’ll survive…’
But Taïga is angry, ‘Teddy said he was sorry and I believe him. I don’t think he’ll ever talk about our secrets again – at least not to Felicity, so I don’t understand why you keep punishing him?’
Derek hesitates. Because I can’t stand seeing the two of you playing and laughing together! But of course I can’t tell you that. ‘Because… He’s not my real brother,’ he blurts out, ‘Or he is, but it’s complicated.’
Taïga’s curiosity is awakened, ‘I love complicated – tell me.’
‘Well, you know my dad’s an inventor?’
‘Yeah, he makes those funny little gadgets!’
‘Yeah, well, he invents useful things too.’
‘Err… A flask tie.’
‘That’s not useful.’
Taïga looks at him stony-faced.
‘A coffee mug you can iron with…’
‘What has that got to do with Teddy?’
‘Nothing. You got me off track.’ He sits down in front of her. ‘OK. He’s also invented something really big… I’m not supposed to talk about this.’
‘Is it a secret?’
‘Oh, come on… You know I won’t tell anybody!’
‘Cross your heart?’
‘Yes, cross my heart. Now, c’mon, tell me.’
‘OK. Here goes.’ He draws his breath. ‘He’s invented a time travelling machine!’
‘No way!?!’ Taïga stares in disbelief at Derek’s smug expression, not being sure if he’s lying or not.
‘Sure has. And he’s used it a lot – Christopher Columbus, the Blitz, the great fire of London, Lincoln, Sitting Bull… Just name it – he’s been there, seen that.’
‘That’s pretty cool. He’s never been hurt? I mean from dinosaurs and such.’
‘Nah. I don’t think he’s ever went back that far. But he once came back from the Paleolithic era with a bad case of TD, though. It was the first time he stayed away for about an hour and he got back all made over. Scared the Hell outta me! I thought he was some kind of wild Cro-Magnon, grunting and-’
‘Err… Ancient man, you know, dressed up in furs and grunting.’ He burrows his brows and tries to look menacing.
‘I meant TD.’
‘The runs. You know…’
Taïga giggles. ‘That’s gross!’
‘Yeah…’ He grins at the memory. ‘You can’t imagine… I think he walked doubled over for a week.’ He glances at her. ‘Grunting.’
They both topple over with laughter.
‘But seriously. Mom was concerned, so she brought home a discarded manual defibrillator from the hospital. Just in case, you know. Dad repaired it and mom had him promise never to travel in time when she wasn’t home, but we never had to use it as nothing happened to him. At least not that we could see.’
Taïga is curious. Leaning slightly forward, she asks, ‘What did it look like? A car? Like in that old movie we watched the other day. Can we go too?’
‘No. It was more like an elevator, with thick lead walls to counter radiation. You had to enter a pin code – some kind of GPS / time data – and then it opened on the future or the past. Your choice. Or rather dad’s…’
‘When the doors slid open, it was filled with something glowing ultraviolet and shimmering like water. It lit up the whole room… Dad wore a special brownish suit he had made to prepare for the eventual gravity changes. A mixture of astronaut / fight pilot meets superhero. Quite fancy. He had wanted to attach a large red cape to complete the image but found it too cumbersome.’
‘But he stayed on earth, didn’t he? So why the astronaut stuff?’
‘He went through space time, and needed something to maintain his limbs together during the microseconds it took to get where he wanted. I guess.’
‘So you mean that without the suit he would just have floated out into some kind of puddle?’
‘Really, Taïga? I don’t know. Anyway, he had to gather his speed to be able to break through the antimatter – that’s the shimmery stuff -‘ he adds, but Taïga just nods, holding her tongue.
‘-and then he dived right in. And we waited around for him to come back.’
‘It must be awesome! You didn’t say if we could go, too? I’d like to be a medieval princess and-’
‘Nope. We can’t. We’re too young to take the strain of the antimatter. And it doesn’t work that way anyhow. You’re just supposed to watch. Can you imagine what would happen if you interfere with the past?’
Taïga shakes her head.
‘Have you heard of the Butterfly Effect? Chaos theory?’
She shakes her head again.
‘Dad explained it to me. Err… It’s something about a butterfly flapping its wings and creating a Tornado several weeks later, elsewhere. Just one action being like ripples on the water. Do you get the picture?’
‘If I go back in time and do or touch something, maybe I won’t even be born,’ Taïga says thoughtfully.
Derek nods. Sometimes she’s incredibly bright for her age. He had had lots of trouble understanding his dad talking about Lorenz and ripple effects.
‘So you’ve never used the machine?’ she asks.
‘Nope. I wanted to, but I told you – dad said it was too dangerous. That kids probably wouldn’t survive it…’ He picks a leaf from a low hanging branch and studies it carefully, debating with himself about telling her the whole story or not. He looks up at her, having made his decision. ‘He lied, you know.’
‘Yeah. Well, one day he didn’t come back alone. He brought something back …’ He looks intently at Taïga’s rapt expression. ‘Usually he returned after a few minutes, but there was this once, when he was gone for hours. It was freaking me out. Mom wasn’t home, she was working the late shift, so I just sat around, doing my homework, playing on the iPad and stuff. He had promised her not to leave, remember? But he did anyway and I was really scared something would happen to him. The only experience I had of the defibrillator was what I’d seen on TV.’ He mimes holding up the peddles and calls out ‘Clear’.
‘Is your mom a doctor?’
‘No, she’s an ICU nurse. She takes care of really sick people after accidents and such.’
‘She would know what to do then.’
‘Right. But I told you she was at work.’
‘Sorry, I forgot.’
‘Yeah. Do you wanna hear the rest or not?’
‘Yeah. You said you were waiting and stressing out.’
‘Uh-huh. As I told you, I had been waiting for him in his workshop in the basement the whole afternoon and now it was late evening. The time machine was humming steadily, so at least it seemed like it was working normally. I was deep into playing Angry Birds and-’
‘Angry Birds? Are you kidding me?’
‘I was seven!’ Derek answers heatedly, but Taïga just looks at him with an infuriating little smile. ‘Just a kid,’ he adds, waiting for her reaction.
‘Duh, I’m eight,’ she mumbles. The mocking smile is gone, replaced by an annoyed expression.
Good. He clears his throat. ‘Suddenly there was a loud clang, as if something metallic had hit the floor inside the machine. I stood up, not sure of what I had heard.’
He can see he’s got her attention again, so he plunges on with a vivid description of the time-machine.
‘It was vibrating bizarrely out of sync, and the antimatter seemed to seep through its walls, enveloping it in a hazy pulsating shimmer…’
‘I approached the door where the shimmer was getting colored-’
‘The same ultraviolet as the antimatter core?’ Taïga whispers.
Derek nods, continuing, ‘-trying to hear what was going on inside. It was like touching silicone rubber. Slime, you know, but more solid. I could see the doors of the time machine, but I couldn’t touch them through the sheen.’
‘I jumped backwards when they were pried open. Black gloved hands were forcing the doors apart and blinding me with the light coming from inside. Someone was forcing their way through.’
‘But it must have been your dad, stupid!’
‘Don’t call me stupid! And why did it have to be him? It could have been anyone who had learned about dad’s secrets and decided to take a trip to the 21st century himself!’
‘Yeah. Some murderous psychopath…’
‘Exactly.’ He throws away the shredded leaf. ‘But it was dad.’
Taïga breathes out with relief.
‘And he was fighting hard to get out of the machine. I ran towards him, but he screamed at me to back off, or I would be happed too.’
‘I knew he would never be able to get out by himself, so I grabbed a broom and blocked the doors with it. He could then pry himself lose. It was like the antimatter spit him out, he fell flat on the floor, but rolled over and kicked the broom loose, into the time machine.’
‘He had finally returned. He wore strange clothes and had his hair cut very short – with bangs, can you imagine that?’
Taïga sincerely can’t.
‘He looked surprised to see me, and asked what year we were. When I said he had been gone for almost six hours, he just gaped and started rambling about how six years had passed in the machine. He had expected a teen, not the same boy he left six hours / years ago.’
‘But that’s awful. How could he have stayed away for so long?’
‘That’s exactly what I said. Six years and he hadn’t even tried to get back. It was just about time he got home then. Remember he had a family waiting in the past.’
‘So this time he went to the future?’
‘Yeah, to 2732. I guess that explains the awesome hair and clothes…’
Taïga giggles. ‘At least we won’t live to see that. If we don’t use your dad’s machine, that is.’
‘Oh. It’s broken beyond repair.’
‘How come? Are you sure your dad can’t fix it? He built it after all.’
Taïga looks shattered, and Derek realizes she really had hoped to use it someday.
‘I’ll come to that. Just wait and listen.’
‘He was trying to explain his reasons, which, by the way, I think were really stupid, when the machine started whirring all over again and the doors opened behind his back.’
Taïga draws her breath.
‘The antimatter pulsated and the keypad started to display numbers all by itself.’
‘Dad totally freaked out, trying to shut down the machine by entering his special emergency code. But the buttons seemed blocked.’
‘He entered code after code, repeating over and over again; “It’s not possible, this wasn’t supposed to happen, it’s not possible.” Finally he was screaming and hammering at the buttons with his fist.’
‘That’s when we heard it. Dad froze, slowly leaning so he could look right into the blinding light of the antimatter. “Did you hear that?” he asked me, and I nodded.’
‘What was it? What did you hear?’
‘Yeah. I said so, didn’t I? A child’s voice. Screaming “Wait”… “Dad”.’
Dad got in a frenzy, shouting at me to get away from the machine which was now short-circuiting, sparks spraying all over the place. He tried to shut the doors, pushing at them with his bare hands an inch at a time, when a girl – at least I thought it was a girl – my age literally flew out. I fell backwards, but rolled aside and he crashed to the floor.’
‘Was he hurt? How come you thought it was a girl?’
‘He had such a girly emo haircut. Rihanna like, you know, with the hair short on one side and over the eye on the other. Geez. Such a moron… I was furious with him.’
‘Because of his haircut? I think you’re the moron.’
‘Nah. He could wear his hair the way he wanted. But it was his fault the time machine kinda blew up. And it was because of him my dad almost got stuck in the future… You’re not supposed to bring people back. One person leaves, one comes back. You’re not to interfere at all – it changes history, you see.’
‘The Butterfly Effect…’
‘Yeah. Luckily dad made it. Forcing the doors open, and getting out at the last moment. But unfortunately he forgot about shutting the machine off before the dang boy jumped out too. So now you know all about why it’s broken. Dad has never repaired it…’ Derek’s eyes glaze over at the memory. ‘Maybe it’s because he needed more of the extraterrestrial stuff he got from a meteorite-’
Taïga looks at him wide-eyed. ‘What about the time traveler?’
‘The boy who jumped out of the machine.’
‘Oh, him. Err… Mom got home at that moment and said we needed to have a family meeting about this. The situation was, well, strange… There we were; Mom, Dad, me and my “brother”. They looked alike, though, my dad and the boy, with their futuristic clothes and horrid haircuts. Mom said she’d take care of the hair herself before they set foot outside, it was so ugly.’
Taïga looks at him attentively.
‘Right. The boy came from the future. Dad explained it to me, but it’s really a tough one to understand. He stayed in a town he called Utopia, because it was so fantastic. I don’t think he wanted to come back here again. He still talks about Utopia sometimes and he gets all dreamy and misty eyed… Anyway, he met his descendants there. He was even present when the boy was born.’ Derek looks a little thoughtful.
‘And then everybody talked at once! We discussed it for hours… I didn’t want no brother! Not this way, I didn’t! Mom wanted to send him back, too. But dad told us that it was too risky. The boy would have to go back alone, and with all the circuits of the machine fried, God knows what would happen to him… And if we sent them both back, he’d have to be unfaithful to mom, because what’s written in history can’t be undone. So mom was OK with it, at least during the time it would take to repair the machine…’
‘Geez. This is complicated. What did Teddy say about your new brother? Did he want to send him back too?’
‘Wait a minute, you really don’t see who-’ Derek widens his eyes and smiles broadly. ‘You’re funny… Well, my dad won this argument, for once, and Teddy stayed…’
‘Teddy? Teddy’s your brother from the future?’
‘Oh, come on. You’re kidding me! He’s never mentioned it.’
‘He lost his memory. Remember my dad said it was dangerous for kids to time travel. He tried to hypnotize Teddy to confirm his stories. But it was no good. Teddy can’t remember anything from the future.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ Taïga pushes Derek lightly. ‘An alien sister and a brother from the future… Liar!’
He chases her down from the tree house and they return home giggling like madmen.
Part I – End of Chapter 10