Everything is back to normal again in Midnight Hollow. The Zombies have been taken care of, the spells on the houses were short hexes and are now gone.
Granny has spent a couple of hellish weeks at the local gym’, losing some weight, encouraged by her repentant sister.
After a week at Easter Camp, they get back to Vulturu just in time for High School Prom’. The schoolyard is bustling with activity, carpenters are making the finishing touches on a wooden dancefloor and teens are helping with the decorations. There’s even a game area with a horse shoe court and kissing booth!
Mitchell has asked Taïga if he could talk to her about something important, so they’ve taken a seat on one of the benches. He has told her he’s interested in someone, and now he is fishing for information.
‘But Mitch! You have to ask her! You’ll never know if she likes you if you don’t ask.’
‘But if I ask her out, and, you know, she says no.’
Taïga thinks about it. ‘Well… That’s a risk…’
‘Ahem… And how do you… Err… Kiss?’
Taïga smiles at him. ‘Easy! Just close your eyes and pucker your mouth, like this…’
‘Wow… But if she doesn’t want to kiss me?’
Taïga thinks about it. ‘Well… I guess you just feel it if she wants to. Or not.’
They are silent for a while, lost in thoughts.
Suddenly Mitchell blurts out. ‘Have you ever kissed a boy?’
‘Yes, I have… I mean NO! He kind of kissed me, and…’
Taïga smiles at the memory and Mitchell feels his heart sink… Hmm… must be that guy from Bigwood Falls she’s always rambling about…
‘Taïga! Mitch! C’mon, let’s try the dance floor!’
The carpenters are finished and are laughing at Jen and Leann who are happily bouncing about on the parquet floor.
Taïga and Mitchell join them, dancing and just having fun. They know they’re not supposed to play here, with prom a couple of hours away, but the empty floor is so tempting!
A well-dressed man stops for a little while. Silently he watches the children play, then he leaves without drawing attention to himself. He glances over his shoulder a last time and takes in Taïga doing a perfect pirouette in her rubber boots before he enters the school building.
Toma is one of the teens helping out with the decorations and stuff. He fastens some balloons and walks over to the dancefloor,
‘Hey! Show me, Taïga!’
Taïga stops dancing and a little out of breath she asks, ‘Show you what?’
Tom looks at her from under his bangs. ‘How you just did that dancing thing!’
‘No, the hip-hop thing. I want to impress the girls tonight!’
Taïga spins round, moving her hips and Tom tries his best to do the same. ‘Like this?’
‘Yeah! You’ve got it!’ Taïga can’t help but laugh at Toma. He’s so… stiff!
‘Tom! Can you give us a hand over here?’
‘Sure, comin’!’ He rushes back inside.
‘GET OFF THE DANCE FLOOR, OR I’LL GIVE YOU ALL DETENTION!!!’
Miss Holden has stepped outside and is outraged to see the children dancing with dirty shoes on the brand new dance floor. The children quickly obey.
‘C’mon, let’s try out the game area!’ Toma takes Taïga and the other kids to the horse shoe court.
‘It’s easy! Just try to hit the target – like this…’ he throws the horseshoe, but misses. ‘Look, I’ll win you a teddy bear!…’
He aims… throws… ‘Darn it! I missed again!’
A teddy bear? Yeah. Sure… I’ll better help him a little if I want that bear…
As Toma aims carefully and throws his last horseshoe, Taïga concentrates on the flying object, guiding it with her hands…
The ring of metal hitting metal resonates and the horseshoe lays perfectly still in a cloud of dust.
‘YAY! DID YOU SEE THAT!?!’
‘Wow, Tom! You’re the best!’ Taïga tries her best to look innocent.
‘I’ll catch up with you later, I have to take this.’ He fishes out his cell and ambles off to get some privacy.
True to his word, he comes looking for her a little later with a cuddly, pink teddy bear in his arms.
‘Here you are, Taïga. I picked a pink one…’
It’s so smooth… ‘Thanks!’ Taïga holds the teddy bear against her.
‘You have a cell, don’t you? Let me show you something! But you mustn’t tell anyone, OK?’
Tom shows Taïga the only place at school where you can access the web on your cell = in the bushes…
Taïga hurries to send her mom a mail.
‘Why does it take so long? Are you writing a book!?!’
‘Just a minute…’
‘Well, hurry up. I have to change for prom’. I could give you a ride home, BTW.’
Taïga lights up. ‘On your scooter?’
‘Yeah, I answered your Aunt’s ad in the paper and she wants to talk to me about a job!’
Missy would like Toma to help her out with the garden twice a week and Tom is happy to get a job that gives him some pocket money.
Before leaving he finds Taïga in the dining room. ‘Wanna hear a secret?’
Taïga blushes when Tom leans in close and whispers to her, ‘I think Mitchell would like you to be his girlfriend!’
Granny has finally made the difficult decision – Taïga will start boarding school next fall. But to choose which school will suit her granddaughter best, she’ll have to visit them in person…
‘Yes, please… I’d like two seats, window and aisle, if possible… Nono… alone. What? Do I have to pay for the seat next to mine to make sure to be seated alone? … Well, then… Thursday will be fine… Yes, and a one way flight from Shang Simla to Al Simhara. …Saturday… Yes, that will be perfect. To Paris, and back to Bucarest next Thursday. Yes… yes… Thank you, goodbye.’
Granny has just called to confirm her flight.’…so I’m leaving tomorrow… What do you think? You’re unusually silent.’
Taïga holds on to Buddy, hard… ‘Granny… I don’t think I want to go to boarding school!’
‘That’s not for you to decide, darling child. The school here has got a reputation, and not a good one. I just want you to get a good – no, perfect- start in life. You see, good school = good marks.’
‘But I’m an A student, Granny! And I want to stay with you!’
‘I’ve already made up my mind, young lady. End of discussion.’
She softens a little when she sees Taïga’s expression. ‘Come here, let’s have a look on that Internet of yours…’
Taïga quickly gets her iPad, and sitting close to Granny on the couch, she turns it on and hands it to her grandmother.
Granny fumbles a little, ‘Can you get a map on it? A world map?’
‘Sure.’ Taïga is happy to show how the device works, and deftly she pulls up a map.
Granny takes the tablet and points to where they live, ‘This is Transylvania.’ She squints a little, ‘Midnight Hollow is so small you can’t see it, but it’s here… Somewhere… Well, Shang Simla is far, far away from Midnight Hollow. As I’m flying with Aeroflot, it will take me about 14 hours to get there, with a 4 hour stop in Moscow.’
She shows Moscow in Russia on the map.
‘Will you take pictures, Granny?’
‘Of course I will. Lots of pictures. Now, let’s see… I will then fly to Egypt, to Al Simhara…’
When Granny opens her eyes after sleeping the whole trip, she gets a quick glimpse of the Forbidden City before the plane slowly circles, and prepares for landing…
Here it is – The Kao-Lin Academy of Martial Arts… Let’s take a look at the timetable : Mental discipline… martial arts… mental discipline… jiu-jitsu… mental discipline… tae-kwando… mental discipline… judo… mental discipline… karate… mental discipline… sumo… mental dis -hang on!?! Sumo? SUMO!?! No way will I let my granddaughter study “sumo”… hmpff… sumo…
… But the school is magnificent! I wonder if there was sumo on the schedule when Missy studied here… probably the only subject she excelled in… hehehe…
What a lovely view, you can see the whole Forbidden City! And the air is pristine. And the silence is… is… is good for meditating!
‘We always have room for an A-student, Miss Grey… Would you like to stay overnight? The last bus for the airport left just five minutes ago, but we have wonderful accommodations – identical to the room your granddaughter will have…’ The school secretary, Hui Young Kim, adds efficiently, ‘There are sightseeing tours leaving every hour from the market place. I can reserve tickets, and tonight there is also a special performance of “The Old 12 Girls Band”.’ She smiles encouragingly at Granny, who fumbles for her purse.
Why not? I’ve never visited the Forbidden City…
Absentmindedly she listens to the young woman, ‘Zijin Cheng -The Forbidden City- was home to the Celestial Emperor from the Ming Dynasty to…’
‘… gilded lions guard the entrance…’
‘… political and ceremonial center if China for 500 years…’
‘… the Palace Museum with famous artifacts such as the masks from the Sanxingdui civilization…‘
‘… 14 million visitors every year…’
Hui Young Kim hands Granny a map, where she deftly puts crosses as she continues her explanations.
‘You can also take a rickshaw, maybe it’s better than trekking or pedaling…’ She looks Granny over, deciding she’s too old to go all the way up to the Temple of Heaven by her own means.
‘Shing Hong is honest, and his cycle rickshaw is very modern. He will take you on the most picturesque sightseeing tour, all the way to the Dragon Springs. His father Chen will then take you back to the Forbidden City on his traditional “hongtou” sampan.’ She nods encouragingly. ‘It will be memorable! Only 400 simoleons, plus fifty and a little tip for the Hong’s. Shing Hong will even take you to the Great Chinese Wall. You will see, it is magnificent!’
‘Will I be back in time to change before the show?’
‘Oh, yes. It will not start until sunset. My sister Sun and I will sing and play the erhu.’
Granny pays and pushes back her chair. ‘You’ve been most helpful, Miss Young Kim. It will be a pleasure to listen to you and your sister tonight.’
It’s an exhausted Granny who stumbles to bed late that night after day filled with emotions.
Hmm… the mattress is thick but hard – feels like it’s stuffed with stones… I don’t think I need to set the alarm clock – I probably won’t be able to sleep much anyway…
The plane takes off, and Granny watches with wonder how tiny the Temple of Heaven seems from above…
Granny catches a last glimpse of the Great Chinese Wall before the view is hidden by the clouds…
Part I – End of Chapter 25