Vulturu houses a large wooden cabin high up in the Carpatian mountains. It’s one of Santa’s workshops situated all over the globe. It’s open a few days before Christmas but the visitors are rare, as most people don’t even know it’s there. People? It’s actually only known to certain witches…
Granny and Missy have made the journey to the secret place riding their brooms, covered by the heavy snowfall. And while Missy squealing sets off touching just about everything in reach, driving Santa’s helpers crazy, Granny tries to find something special for Taïga. The shelves are overflowing with colorful toys, but nothing seems to suit her granddaughter.
Cute, but… Naaan…
Yesss! That doll is beautiful… but maybe too creepy…
‘Don’t you just love that doll?’ Missy walks past her, followed by a little helper hidden behind a mound of gadgets in his arms.
‘It’s very well made, but I think it’s too creepy for Taïga…’
‘Too creepy? Nonsense! I’ll take it! Wrap it up, please. And be sure it’s delivered to 46 Breach Bend on Christmas Day…’
‘Is all this for Taïga?’ Granny nods towards the spider legged mound next to her sister.
‘This?’ Missy seems surprised at the amount of things she’s piled up in the little helper’s arms. ‘Nah… Some is for me, and some is for the hospital.’
‘Yes.’ She lowers her voice and whispers in Granny’s ear. ‘I have a project, you see… a scientific project together with Dr. Franke at the Fascinating Facts Observatory. And I need to get on the Director’s good side to gain access to the morgue…’
Granny mouth falls open.
‘I know. Don’t be jealous. It’s top secret…’ She looks at Granny’s empty arms. ‘You should really try to get Taïga something while we’re here, it’s soon closing and it won’t open again until next year!’
Granny looks after her departing sister. Dr. Franke… The morgue… What are they up to? But she’s right, I have to find something for Taïga. That’s why I’m here after all… Hmmm… Let’s try the toy machine…
After a lot of rumbling and squeaking, the machine opens – not on a toy, but on a piece of paper. Granny reads it and slow smile spreads on her face. Yes! Why didn’t I think of that before? It’s so evident!…
‘What does it say?’ Missy is back, reading the message on the paper slip over Granny’s shoulder: “A place to read, a place to sleep, a place to hide, a place to keep”…
‘Taïga needs her own room, and that’s what she’ll get!’
She was so happy back at the cove to have her own little place, and now Granny wants to recreate it as faithfully as possible, making her granddaughter feel at home!
‘Yes! It’s a great idea! We’ll install her in the attic! Far from us grownups! The higher the better!’
‘I was rather thinking of transforming the library. Why don’t we install the bookcases in the attic!?!’
Missy thinks it over. ‘But that will be too many stairs for my old legs…’
‘You never use the library, Missy. I haven’t seen you put your foot in the library since we got here. You always read the same book.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with Wuthering Heights. It’s a classic!’
‘A classic you’ve been reading over and over since high school, Missy. You must know it by heart now.’
‘I don’t. But if you insist, go ahead and install your granddaughter, transforming my house!’ She ambles off, grumbling about certain persons who think they always know best…
The very next day the two old ladies goes shopping.
‘I don’t know, ma’am… We sell a lot of these steampunk lamps to children…’
‘My grand child doesn’t like steampunk. She likes… likes… Err… She likes flowers! Yes. Flowers. And butterflies. And horses. Especially unicorns.’
‘Why don’t you take a look around? I’ll get back to you if you need me.’
Granny walks around the brightly colored shop, feeling hopeless. No inspiration whatsoever…
Missy calls her over. ‘What do you think? We’ll buy seven and she’ll feel like Snowwhite!’
‘I don’t think so, Missy… In a garden, maybe… They are too… too Halloweenly ugly!’
‘Hmm… I’ll take some of these. In bright colors, please!’ She waves the seller over.
While Missy is talking to the shopkeeper about decoration, Granny finally sets eye on something interesting.
What is that? Rugs? On the wall? ‘Could I have a look at that pink rabbit thingy over there on the wall, please?’
After buying garden gnomes and rugs, they head over to the Fanciful Furniture Store. Most furniture is heavy and dark, but in a corner she finds a real pearl hidden from view.
Hmmm… I like this chest of drawers. Girly but not ridiculous… Now let’s see if there’s a bed to go with it…
Surprisingly there is. Granny can’t believe her luck.
The same flower painting and just the same shade of grey. Perfect! She looks around for Missy.
‘Come and look at this bed, Missy! What do you think?’
‘Why don’t we just conjure one up?’
‘She’s ten years old! You should know that she can’t sleep in a magic bed!’
‘Hmpff… Can’t eat magic food. Can’t sleep in a magic bed… What purpose is there to have a witch child if you have to treat her like a standard human model!?! Huh? Tell me?’
… and the mattress seems good. Not too hard… not too soft… ‘Err… You seem to have forgotten she doesn’t have any powers before she’s 15.’
‘Really? Usually that’s what happens. But that’s not what you told me! She’s riding a broom, using psychokinesis to levitate leaves and has successfully used a wand –that’s not hers by the way, and that’s scary!’
‘What is scary, ladies? The beds? The price?’ Me?’ The salesclerk has sneaked up on them, but luckily he didn’t hear what they were talking about.
Must be careful. These people are moving like ghosts… Granny musters a smile. ‘Oh. I would say the weather is quite frightful in these parts of the world.’
The salesclerk chuckles. ‘It takes a while to get used to, indeed. Have you ladies found something you fancy?’
‘Yes, this bed-’
Granny looks astonished at her sister. ‘But?’
The salesclerk looks at the sisters, ‘Shall we try to find an agreement here?’
‘Just a moment.’ Granny lowers her voice, speaking to Missy. ‘There’s only one bed and I want it. Why don’t you wait for me downstairs?’
Missy glares at her. ‘OK. But don’t come complaining afterwards.’
Granny turns back to the salesclerk, ‘I am buying. And I’m interested in the set – chest of drawers and bed.’
‘Are you out of your mind? 15,094 leu! For a bed!’ She listens to the sales clerk.
‘The bed, the chest of drawers and the cashmere blanket.’
‘Oh, the bedspread is cashmere…’ Granny sighs.
‘Yes, ma’am. 100 % pure cashmere. 360g/m². Touch it… Your granddaughter will sleep like a princess!’
‘For 15,000 it’s yours.’ He holds out his hand.
‘Well, I take it – with the blanket… For 15,000 leu.’
They shake hands and agrees on the delivery.
Missy is waiting at the small café just opposite the shop.
‘Don’t tell me the drawers are lined with cashmere? Well, sister. You should have let me negotiate… They drive a hard bargain here…‘ she says after Granny has told her how much she paid.
Granny morosely stirs her tea.
The shop delivers the furniture on Boxing Day, absolutely too late for Christmas, so it was lucky she bought a new magic chest and Missy bought that big doll!
The delivery van pulls up while Taïga is out walking Tramp, so they know they won’t have more than an hour to fix everything. The two men who deliver the furniture are very helpful, carrying the heavy gear up the stairs, pushing the furniture around until Granny is satisfied.
The shop threw in two bedside tables also, to pardon themselves for the delay. Or because they want a good customer like Granny to come back spending her money. With the lights and the rugs, the room is almost ready. Missy is satisfied to see her sister use magic for the last touch…
‘Not exactly out of a design magazine, but good enough…’
‘Let’s take care of the wallpaper now, shall we…’ Missy says. ‘What color will fit the best? Pink?’
‘No… I think we shall keep a grey tone.’
‘You and your grey. She’ll love pink!’
‘I’m not sure about that. Oh, was that the door I heard?’
They look at each other, ‘Taïga? Is that you!?!’
They both put away their wands and rush downstairs.
‘You’re back early!’
‘There’s a surprise for you, upstairs!’
Taïga dashes upstairs and into the guest room.
‘No! It’s in there!’ Missy points towards the closed door to the library.
Granny motions her to hurry, ‘Come on. Open the door.’
She can’t believe her eyes! ‘Granny! It’s so beautiful! It’ll be like sleeping under the stars!’
Missy clears her throat. ‘Actually, the stars were my idea.’
‘Oh, thank you Missy!’ She hugs them both.
She jumps up on the bed! ‘So smooth…’
‘It’s cashmere, so I do hope it’s smooth! Hurry up now and change clothes, we shall meet your headmaster for Boxing Day dinner!’
‘Why can’t we have dinner at home?’
‘Because Mr. Synapse wanted to invite us, that’s all! Now, hurry up!’ And he’s a “friend” of Missy’s…
When they arrive at the Lonely Literary Café, the little restaurant where they will have dinner with Mr. Synapse, Granny almost falls over backwards when her sister sheds her coat.
‘Missy! Are you sure you want to wear that dress?’
‘It’s my best dress. I wore it for prom!’, Missy says petulantly. ‘And everybody said it looked extraordinary.’
Granny rolls her eyes. ‘Exactly! Missy. That was 45 years ago!’ And if you looked like a slut back then, now there’s no word to describe you…
‘But it still fits! And I think Mr. Synapse likes it. You should have seen how he looked at me when I took off my coat…’
Granny is out of arguments…
‘Wait a minute…’ Missy’s cell is vibrating. She hands it over to Granny, ‘Could you take that, it doesn’t work with gloves on.’
Let me see… how does it work? ‘WHAT!?!’
‘Who is it?’ Granny’s world is spinning. The text is from her daughter. ‘Shasta…’ Granny whispers, ‘She and Leonardo are on their way. Here.’
‘Oh, good! I thought they wouldn’t make it, as they’re touring.’
‘Yes. Leonardo is on a world tour, and Shasta is accompanying him. He performed in Bucarest yesterday, and I thought it would be a good idea to have them over. Mr. Synapse didn’t mind. He’s a huge fan…’
Seeing Granny’s thunderous expression, she adds, ‘Oups. I guess I just forgot to tell you.’
A gust of cold wind makes them turn towards the open door.
Granny hugs her daughter perfunctorily. She looks good. Healthy and she carries her pregnancy well… and those rubies! Where have I seen them before?
She is surprised to finally meet Leonardo. He must be her age! She lets him kiss her hand.
‘Such a pleasure, Signora Grey. Your beauty is only eclipsed by your daughter’s.’
Granny frowns slightly. A charmer, huh. ‘It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Count di Grisogno. You’ve succeeded rather well in hiding my daughter away in the Italian country-side…’
‘Leonardo. You must call me Leonardo. It would be a pleasure to have you as a guest, Signora.’
His attention is drawn to Mr. Synapse, and he walks over to greet him.
‘Mom! I’ve missed you, Mom!’ Taïga jumps up and down with excitement, ‘Did you know the sun NEVER shines here? Granny said we’d visit Monte Vista soon and now you’re here! And I danced the Diamond Fairy at the Spring festival last year… I wish you could have been there. I can do perfect échappées now, I’ll show you!’
‘Oh, darling, I’ve missed you too! Has Granny given you my birthday present?’
‘Yes! Wow, thanks Mom… I’ve tried to call you, but you’re never home! Can I have your cell number?’
Granny watches her daughter and granddaughter get acquainted again.
‘How you have grown! When I left, you were this big!’
‘Now you’re exaggerating, mom!’
‘Well, maybe a little…’
Taïga can’t keep her eyes from straying to her mother’s swollen belly. ‘Wow, Mom! You are huge!’
‘And it’s only six months,’ Shasta chuckles, ‘It will get even bigger!’
She caresses her baby bump, ‘I can’t wait to hold this little bundle of joy in my arms…’
Taïga bites her lip and shuffles her feet.
Granny clenches her fists, “Little bundle of joy” … Can’t she see her daughter is jealous? Just look at Taïga! How happy she was to finally see her mother again and now this!
‘Can I have a word with you, Shasta?’
Granny and Shasta talk with low voices so nobody can overhear them, but the discussion soon gets heated.
‘Don’t you dare “Mother” me! You’re a mother too! And I will not stand by and watch you ruin her life! Again!’
Tramp starts barking, and Taïga just wants to cry…
‘Calm down… It’s nothing…’ Taïga hugs the excited dog.
Granny is seething, but she tries her best not to show how upset she is. It’s Boxing Day after all, and she doesn’t want to make a scene at the Headmaster’s dinner.
Missy watches the scene with ill hidden disgust, God, I hate that dog! Barking, drooling, and shedding fur all over the place…
‘Now, where is he by the way?’
‘Who?’ Missy looks away from the disgusting scene.
‘The headmaster? Mr. Synapse?’
‘Out smoking with that charming husband of Shasta’s… Don’t you think we should let out the dog too? He’ll only be a nuisance, barking like that.’
The door bursts open and Mr. Synapse waves excitedly at them, ‘Mersul cu steaua! (Going with the star) Hurry!’
They pile out onto the porch to listen to a singing group of children in hats, carrying a brightly colored star.
Mr. Synapse whispering explains that the whole set up is in symbol of the Three Wise Men looking for Jesus Christ. Nobody notices that Missy and Shasta has stayed behind.
The dinner draws to an end after midnight and it’s time to take their leave…
‘Here Taïga, this is for you! A late Christmas present!’
Taïga holds back her tears, ‘Goodbye, Mom… Promise you’ll call?’
‘Goodbye, Mr. Synapse. Thank you!’
The Grey’s walk home in silence, each of the three witches thinking about the evening’s events.
Taïga hesitates in the garden.
‘I’ll be right in, Granny! There’s something I have to do first…’
She trudges out to the backyard with Tramp in her wake, looking for the perfect spot. She lets herself fall backwards into the thick snow, arms and legs flailing to make a snow angel…
She lies staring up at the twinkling stars, hardly noticing the warm tears slowly dripping from the corners of her eyes… I wonder what Derek is doing right now…
… I wonder what Taïga is doing now?…
Part I – End of Chapter 17