The Christmas holidays are over and Taïga is starting school for the first time in her life. She takes the school bus after trekking through the forest to the crossroads in the deep snow.
She shyly keeps her gaze averted as the school bus fills with buoying children. Hugging her new schoolbag tight to her chest, she stares out at the pristine landscape, listening to the other kids talk about their Christmas holidays.
She regrets having said no when Granny offered to drive her, having her by her side arriving at school would have felt comforting, but she didn’t want the other kids to know how afraid she truly is…
She gets off the bus with the other kids and follows them inside. She has to find the principal’s office…
She’s nervous and excited and scared too. She has always been homeschooled, as Shasta never seemed to be able to settle down for good somewhere. So she can read, and she knows her tables, but that’s about all. She’s terrified the other kids will make fun of her…
Taïga hesitates, is she supposed to sit next to the boy in the back of the class?
Mrs. Hoppcraft, her teacher, seems to be a bit harsh, so Taïga doesn’t dare ask her again. The boy doesn’t acknowledge Taïga, but she can see him blushing as he bends over his book.
She needn’t be afraid, the kids in her class are a nice bunch, and at the end of the first day she’s got invitations from three girls to come play after school. Taïga isn’t alone anymore, she spends the weekends playing outside with her new friends. They build snowmen, have snowball fights or just talk.
Their teacher takes them outdoors for PE once a week, and Taïga discovers skating on the frozen lake.
She admires the other girls twirling and she’s ashamed of falling so much. Her ankles hurt, but not as much as her butt. The boys kid her, saying she should have brought a pillow.
It’s the most difficult thing she has ever done –apart from learning to master the broom- but she’s learning fast.
She finds snowboarding easier…
… as it’s a little like riding her broom – but with more room for her feet!
Taïga never thought she would love school so much. First because of the friends in her class. Second because of her thirst for knowledge; she loves history, English and especially science…
One day I’ll be a famous scientist and I’ll find cures for all diseases, and a cure for dolls so they don’t have to be dolls anymore… and I’ll find one for teddy bears too! And if it doesn’t work, I’ll just use magic! Like Granny!
Taïga is a clumsy little girl. She loves to play pretend and being a princess, but she’s really more of a tomboy. Granny and Mrs. Brown have it all figured out; even though Taïga wants to join the scouts after school, they roll her up for dance lessons. Gaah.
Taïga is a little late and changes quickly into her sports outfit in the empty locker room -a loose fitting T-shirt, harem pants and sneakers- before following the sound of classical music and girls chatting…
She hesitates at the door. There are fifteen or more girls in the room, all clad in various shades of pastel colored tights and leotards. All of them wear soft ballet shoes. All of them are staring at Taïga. The girls giggle as she advances into the room. She smiles nervously, taking place at the barre. A blond pretty girl steps up to her and looks her over.
‘I’m Serena, and I’m going to play the lead at the spring festival. You will definitely lessen our chances as a team. Come on girls.’
With a malevolent glance over the shoulder she crosses the dancefloor and takes place at the barre on the other side. The other girls follow her and Taïga finds herself alone.
The dance teacher enters, ‘Good afternoon, girls!’ She looks at Taïga. ‘Welcome. I see you are new here.’
All the girls snickers.
‘Most girls dance since they are tots, but I think you’ll catch up… eventually.’
Taïga just nods, fighting the tears.
‘And next week, put up your hair in a “chignon”.’
Taïga nods again, she doesn’t know what a “chignon” is, but she’ll make a bun like the other girls. And ask Granny for some stupid leotards…
‘Let’s take five!’ The dance teacher claps her hands and all the girls dash away to the lockers to drink.
Taïga prefers staying. She is practicing the movements she just has learnt when the door pushes open.
Who’s that? A boy? In dance class? But it’s the boy who saw me at the edge of the forest! Or at least I think that he saw me…
She observes him out of the corner of her eye as he throws down a heavy sports bag in the corner and grimacing strikes a position.
He seems as happy as I to be here. Blushing, she quickly averts her gaze when he looks her way.
The boy is interrupted by the doors bursting open again, this time on some teenage girls, followed by the “pinkies”.
‘How’s it going, Der?’
They all giggle, but not in the same way they did at Taïga.
The dance teacher claps her hands,
‘Get back in line girls!’ This giggling girls line up along the barre, pushing Taïga backwards until she’s last. It suits her though, like that nobody can see how clumsy she is.
The dance teacher focuses on the boy tying his laces. ‘I can see Derek has finished his football training and has decided to finally join us. Where are your tights, Derek?’
Taïga can see his jaw tense, but she can’t hear his answer.
‘Hmm… Well, get back in line.’ She claps her hands.
She doesn’t dare look at him as he takes up position behind her.
‘Let’s give the Ballet III and IV some space – it’s time for pair work exercises!’
All the girls quickly pair up with their BFF’s. There’s only Taïga and the boy left.
‘Hi!’ Taïga feels awkward. What if he doesn’t want to work with her?
‘Hi…’ He keeps his eyes fixed on her shoes, ‘Sneakers, huh? And err… What kind of pants are they? Hip-hop?’
‘Err… Honestly I don’t know.’ She almost said they were her mom’s jazz outfit, but stops in time. Suddenly it seems important what he thinks of her, ‘… but I guess I’ll have to squeeze into tights and a leotard… Eventually…’
He snickers and glances up at her, making her gasp. She finds herself drawn in by the bluest eyes she has ever seen, fringed by impossibly long dark eyelashes. She can’t help but stare.
‘Ahem… Err… You’re not in my class, are you?’ Taïga asks just to have something to say.
‘No.’ He grimaces, and says almost accusingly, ‘You’re new here, you live at the Cove.’
‘How did you know that?’
‘Well, I saw you playing in the woods and I followed you.’
‘You stalked me?’
‘No, I followed you. I was curious.’
‘It’s still stalking…’
‘Stop talking over there, and do the exercises! Plié! Plié!’
‘What’s your name?’ the boy whispers.
‘Taïga,’ she whispers back.
‘Ta-ee-guh? What kind of name is that?’ She likes the sound of her name rolling of his tongue.
‘Hi Ta-ee-guh. I’m Derek.’
‘I told you – be quiet!’
A snowstorm has prevented the habitants of Bigwood Falls from going outside for several days, and school has been cancelled. Taïga has grown used to playing with her friends every day and is bored.
She’s making cookie dough with Mrs. Brown when it knocks on the door of the cove. Granny opens, looking malevolently at the young boy standing on the porch. His cheeks are already red from the cold, but gets a shade darker when he meets Granny’s disapproving gaze.
‘Good afternoon, Mrs. Grey. I’m Derek Vargas. A friend of Taïga’s from school.’
Granny takes his outstretched hand, but releases it straight away. ‘What do you want?’
‘Err… Can Taïga come out and play?’
‘In this weather?’
‘It has stopped snowing, ma’am.’
‘The sun is already setting. It will soon be dark.’
Taïga comes rushing from the kitchen. She stops, delighted surprise written all over her face, ‘Oh! Hi Derek!’
She tugs at her grandmother’s arm, ‘Please, Granny? We’ll stay in the garden.’ She doesn’t wait for her grandmother to answer, but hugs her, ‘Thanks, Granny!’
Granny looks at Derek over her granddaughter’s shoulder, ‘Only until nightfall.’
She slams the door shut. ‘Don’t you ever do that again, Taïga.’
‘Do what?’ Taïga asks cautiously.
‘Take my answer for granted.’ She looks sternly at her granddaughter. ‘Now tell me who that boy is. Is he in your class? Where does he live? Who are his parents?’
‘No, he’s not in my class, but his little brother Teddy is! And he takes ballet with me… Err… I think they live by the lake. His dad is an inventor and his mom works at the hospital in town. She’s a nurse…’
Granny scratches her chin, ‘I think they moved here last year or so, to the house down on Lakeside Drive… Little brother you said? How old is this young man? I would rather you play with children your own age…’
‘He’s two years older than me… I think. He helps me with my math, Granny!’
‘At the school library after school. You know I have an hour before the school buses come…’
Granny grudgingly lets Taïga off the hook.
Derek’s face lights up in a rare smile when he sees her. ‘I was almost giving up. I thought she would never let you out!’
They trudge through the snow around to the backyard.
‘Your grandma doesn’t seem to like me a lot.’
‘Don’t judge her, she’s not used to kids.’ Or other people… She changes the subject, ‘Why don’t you like dance class?’
‘Isn’t it obvious? Because of the tights, of course.’
Taïga giggles, ‘Yeah. And I bet you look stupid in pastel colors.’
‘Right!’ He bends down and squeezes the snow, ‘Perfect to build a snowman.’
‘Don’t try to change the subject! Why do you come to the studio when you seem to hate it so much?’
He tells her dance class is a punishment, as his grades dropped catastrophically last semester. ‘Luckily my dad didn’t let mom take me off the team – I mean I just have to do sports and just imagine what the other guys would have thought!’
‘So you don’t think dancing is a sport?’
‘Well. Yeah. It is. But it’s a bit too girly for me…’ He looks slyly at her, ‘But now you’re in the group I’m not the worst dancer anymore!’
Taïga pushes him hard, and surprised he falls backwards.
She picks up a handful of snow and grinds it into his face, ‘Take that back!’
Derek splutters, but being stronger than her, arrives to push her back. ‘Jeez. I like your style kid! Are you punished too?’
Taïga just glares at him. ‘No. Yes. Well, I like the music.’
Derek stares at her with disbelief. ‘Are you telling me you like the way that old harpy is hammering away at the piano?’
Taïga squirms, she doesn’t want Derek to think she’s weird, but she doesn’t want to lie about her taste neither. ‘Granny’s got an old music machine with wonderful piano music. I’ll show you next time. Now, can you get off me so we can make that snowman?’
‘Sure.’ Derek stands up, holding out his hand, ‘Go ask your housekeeper for a carrot for his nose while I fix branches and stones.’
‘There’s some leftover BBQ coal in the garage. We could use it for eyes!’
Taïga lets him pull her up and shuffles away through the snow towards the house.
Derek shouts after her, ‘And bring some cookies!’
Taïga stops in her tracks.
‘Please?’ he adds.
She turns around catching his eyes, ‘How did you know?’
‘You reek of cookie dough!’
She smiles to herself as she hurries inside…
The snow packs together nicely, and they start rolling three different sized snowballs.
‘That’s too small. If we start out with that, it will be a snow dwarf!’
‘Yeah. Let’s make him really huge!’
They continue rolling the snowball until it gets the right size.
‘If he’s too big, we won’t be able to put the head up there,’ Taïga says thoughtfully.
‘Don’t worry, Taïga.’ Derek groans and hoists the heavy head up on top while Taïga smooths out the sides.
‘Geez. You are strong!’
They pack snow between the layers to make sure they’ll stick together.
‘Where’s the carrot?’
Taïga fishes it out from her pocket, ‘I’ll fix it!’
She places the carrot in the middle of the head to act as a nose. Together they place the eyes and bickers about the mouth – smiling or not.
‘I don’t want to look out at a sad snowman, I’ll feel guilty enough when he’ll melt away without him looking sad!’
So a smiling mouth it is.
‘Now close your eyes, Taïga! And count to fifty!’
Taïga closes her eyes and starts counting, ‘1-2-3…’
‘-6. Of course not! Hurry! 7-8-9…’
She can hear him shuffling about, then suddenly he’s behind her, covering her eyes with his cold wet gloves. She squirms a little, but he hushes, guiding her with covered eyes around the snowman.
‘Are you ready?’
She nods. ‘Yeah.’
‘Tadaa! What do you think?’ He takes away his hands and Taïga gasps, surprised to see his handiwork.
‘Great! He looks a little like Mr. Timbley!’ Taïga giggles. ‘But Granny will throw a fit when she finds out you took her broom! Can’t we go inside? I’m freezing!’
‘Yeah, sure. Has Mrs. Brown finished baking?’
‘Uh-huh. Do I reek of chocolate-chip cookies now?’
Derek’s mouth twitches, ‘Maybe. C’mon!’
But as soon as he turns his back, Taïga gathers a handful of snow, and quickly shapes it into a ball. ‘Hey!’
Derek turns at the sound of her voice, catching the lightly packed snow right in his face!
You’ll regret this!’ he lunges for her, wiping snow from his face.
Squealing with laughter, Taiga sets off as fast as she can, Derek sprinting behind her.
‘Just wait till I catch you!’
He stops to gather some snow.
Confident he’s too far behind, Taïga stops and makes a silly face, teasing him. ‘But you won’t! Catch me if you can!’
Derek aims. ‘Oh. Don’t worry! I’ll get ya!’
The hard snowball hits target and explodes on Taïga’s shoulder.
‘OUCH! THAT HURTS! STOP IT!’’
‘Say you’ll give up!’
Derek throws another snow ball, making Taïga back away protecting her face with her hands.
‘Just stop! Please!’
Instead he throws another one that makes her fall backwards. ‘Pretty please!’
‘OK, OK, OK, I surrender…’
Taïga struggles to sit up in the deep snow, but Derek pushes her back again.
‘You can do better – Pretty please, Derek, you’re the best!’
She glares at him.
‘OK, I guess “I surrender” is OK.’ Derek smirks, he knows when to stop pushing her.
She takes his outstretched hands and lets him pull her to her feet.
‘Are you OK?’ He brushes snow from her shoulders and hair.
They smile at each other and let themselves fall backwards into the snow…
‘Hey! What are you doing?’ Teddy’s voice interrupts their making of snow angels.
‘What are you doing here?’ Derek looks up at his brother’s grinning round face.
‘Mom said I could come over as you’re here and bring Taïga our assignments. She’ll pick us up in time for dinner.’
‘Homework? Duh…’ Derek stands up and brushes snow from his pants.
‘Yeah. Internet’s back up and she logged in to the school site…’ Teddy shrugs.
‘Well. I don’t wanna do homework. And we don’t even know when school’s starting again.’
‘Mom said tomorrow.’
‘We can do our homework together,’ Taïga suggests. ‘I’m freezing and I’m sure there’s enough cookies for all of us.’
‘Cookies? I love cookies!’ Teddy starts towards the house grabbing her arm.
Incredulous Derek watches them walk away. What is his dang brother doing? ‘Hey! Wait! I’m the one you promised cookies!’
The kids settle in the dining room and Granny brings a book taking a seat at the end of the table. Just to keep an eye on that Vargas boy. He glances furtively at her and she stares back, making him look down again. He’s nothing like his little brother. Something dark is emanating from him that makes Granny’s neck hairs stand on end. She hasn’t had such a negative reaction to anyone since- Since when exactly? She turns the page of her book without having read a single word. She must try to recall who – or what – the Vargas boy reminds her of.
One afternoon Taïga finishes unexpectedly early and decides to walk home from school instead of waiting for the bus.
Taking a shortcut through the woods, she finds some intriguing footprints in the snow, and when she follows them she sees a wild horse by the lake.
She gets really near the beautiful animal, but not near enough to touch it. It runs away in a cloud of snow and Taïga sets off home in a hurry. She didn’t know it before, but the idea grows in her mind as she approaches home. She wants a pony! Or at least riding lessons. But trying to convince her grandmother will not be easy.
She finds her grandmother upstairs, adding rags to her magical chest.
‘Please, please, please, Granny? Can I have a horse?’
Granny stares at Taïga. ‘A horse?’
‘Yes! Or a pony.’
‘Well, keeping a horse is very expensive. It needs food and-’
‘There’s lots off grass in the garden.’
‘But we don’t have a garden big enough to feed a horse!’
Taïga doesn’t understand. ‘Our garden is huge, Granny. And we don’t have any neighbors who will complain about the smell.’
‘It still isn’t big enough to keep a horse… And it would need a stable.’
‘We can fix the garage. You never park your car in there anyways.’
‘Anyway,’ Granny corrects, adding, ‘A horse is very expensive.’
‘But can’t we try to capture the one I saw in the forest?’
‘It’s against the law to catch wild Mustangs. And if it’s wild you can’t ride it anyway.’
‘That’s why it would be a good idea if I could take riding lessons! Carla does.’
‘Carla’s parents own the riding center,’ Granny points out. Better try to stop this conversation before her granddaughter talks her into something she doesn’t want to. ‘What about your sleepover? Have you decided who you want to invite?’
‘Oh, yes! I’ve made a list. It’s upstairs in my bag, I’ll get it!’
After Granny has given her consent, Taïga invites all her friends from school, even Carla, the town meanie.
‘Would you like to come to my sleepover party? You haven’t answered my invitation.’
‘It depends. Who’ll be there?’
‘And you said it’s fancy dress?’
Carla pretends to think about it. ‘OK, I’ll be there. And I’ll bring my brother.’
Of course she invites Derek, ‘… a werewolf? That’s a cool idea!’
‘And what about you?’
‘I might dress up like a witch!’
‘Oh yeah – you’ll look good with a wart on your big nose!’
‘My nose isn’t big!’
‘It will be, if you’re disguised as a witch!’
‘And you’re a pain!’
‘Maybe I won’t let you in!’
‘Maybe I won’t come!’
Why does it feel like the whole world is about to crumble if Derek doesn’t come? ‘Seriously? You really don’t want to come?’
Derek looks contrite, ‘Err… sorry. Of course I want to come.’ He looks up at her with a rare wolfish smile. ‘Just to have a look at the wart on your big nose!’
She lashes out at him, but he dodges and laughing she chases after him.
Mrs. Brown is so happy to have a child in the house. For Taïga’s sleepover, she prepares special cheeseburgers, and all Taïga’s friends stuff themselves. First with hamburgers, then with homemade cookies!
‘Wanna play tag?’
Taïga turns around, and is face to face with Super-werewolf. ‘Ha! I recognize you! Your disguise is terrific, Derek!’
‘Yours too, Serena!’
Taïga’s smile fades. ‘But I’m not Serena, stupid!’
‘Oh, then you must be … Taïga? But she’s not as pretty as you are, my princess!’
Taïga clenches her fists and her mouth tightens to a thin line as she angrily tries to stare him down. I hate him! Why does he always have to tease me? He can go to hell! I don’t want to play his stupid games anyway. I hate him!
‘Not as pretty, huh!?!’ Taïga reaches for a pillow and smacks Derek with it.
‘Take that back, you brat!’ She swings the pillow again.
‘But I… I was just saying…’ He backs around the room, trying to avoid a furious Taïga, until he can grab a pillow too, and counterattack.
‘I heard what you were saying!’ She ducks, striking sideways and almost making him fall.
‘No! Ouch! I mean you’re pretty dressed like that… like a princess!’ He tries hitting her pillow out of her hands, to no avail. He’s got a fury in front of him, and she doesn’t hold back when she swings her pillow again and again.
‘But I’m NOT pretty otherwise?’ Her pillow comes at him again, making his head spin.
‘I never said that!’
‘You did!’ She swings her pillow low, trying to destabilize his knees, but he jumps over it.
They don’t stop fighting until the pillows are broken and feathers are whirling all around them like snowflakes.
Out of breath they look at each other and soon a bubbling laughter erupts. To his surprise she doesn’t fight back when he pulls her into his arms in a fierce hug. Taïga is stunned but she doesn’t want him to let go, it feels good to have him so close.
How come he changes like that? He sways from stupid brat to funny friend? Why is my heart beating so fast when he’s talking to me? I feel tingly all over and I feel jittery and warm and special and I simply cannot stop smiling. Am I in love?
Later that night, when all the kids are all partied out and soundly asleep in their sleeping bags on the floor…
… a menacing silhouette approaches the Cove.
Granny’s eyes pop open, ‘Strange… I thought I heard something. I better check on the kids downstairs…’
She swings her legs over the edge of the bed and shivers a little.
‘Now where are my slippers?’ she mumbles.
Tightening her robe around herself, she starts out onto the landing, but freezes when she catches sight of a movement by the staircase. She presses her back against the wall, holding her hand against her hammering heart.
OMG, a burglar!
She quickly backs into her room and silently closes the door before he can see her.
Where’s my phone? How stupid of me, I don’t have a cell!
She knows she has to do something before the burglar gets downstairs again. Before he hurts the children… Maybe it’s already too late?
I’ve hit jackpot tonight! Just look at those pictures on the wall! They must be worth a fortune…
The burglar opens his sack and starts throwing in various valuables, when suddenly there’s a creaking sound behind him… He spins around, but there is no one…
Phew… I’m getting nervous. Better hurry up… What the hell is that!?!
Something is coming out of the wall…
The burglar is scared out of his mind, thinking the old lady is some kind of ghost or evil spirit. The sack slides out of his grip and he backs away from Granny.
‘Nonono, don’t come near me!’
He turns and runs out of the house, straight into the arms of the police officer who just got there. After cuffing the burglar, he asks Granny who called 911.
‘We thought it was a prank! A kid calling in a burglar alert! Luckily we decided to check it out…’
Granny gives a fake explanation to the officer and returns back inside…
Fortunately the children didn’t notice what happened that night, they didn’t even wake up. Taïga is happy, her party was a success and all the kids want to come back and play again. Derek is the last one to leave. He hugs Taïga, whispering in her ear to be careful and close the door at night… with a key.
She follows his advice, turning the key twice after him, ‘Derek told me to be careful…’ she explains before hugging Granny. ‘Thanks! This was the best party ever! Where’s Mrs. Brown? I have to thank her too!’
Granny frowns and watches Derek’s silhouette disappear in the falling snow. So it was him…
‘… and you must cut the frog’s tongue out while it’s still alive…’
‘Yuk! Does it have to be alive?’
‘Well, if you want the full power of the potion – yes. It has to be alive.’
‘I don’t need to learn that recipe, then. Because I’ll never make that if I have to hurt a poor animal!’
‘As you wish, Taïga. We’ll try it tomorrow, without that ingredient, and see how it works! Goodnight now.’
‘Goodnight, Granny… Have you ever been in love, Granny?’ Her grandmother stops at the door. ‘What does it feel like?’
Granny sits down again.
‘That’s a lot of questions, Taïga…’ She seems to get lost in distant memories, a slow smile lighting up her face…
‘When you see the person you love, or just thinking about them… Err… I guess it feels like you have butterflies in your stomach. You feel like you always want to be around that other person and talk to them…’
‘… the mere sight of them makes it all better and you can’t wipe the smile off your face…’
‘… and then -when he finally kisses you- it…’
‘Yuk! That’s gross! Does he have to kiss you?’
Granny’s eyes pops open. ‘Err… no. Of course not. Ahem… The day you fall in love, Taïga, you’ll be able to sense it. But you’re still too young! Goodnight.’
Granny leaves the door ajar. She’s not in love, is she? She mustn’t be. That young boy isn’t suitable, they can never be allowed to unite… It’s too soon… I have to talk to Missy…
Taïga sleeps fitfully, dreaming about her prince…
… and about her Mom…
As soon as she’s had breakfast, Taïga joins her grandmother in the attic. Granny has already started on the potion, taking care of the basics before the arrival of her grandchild.
‘Promise there aren’t any frog’s tongues?’
‘I told you last night we’d give it a try, didn’t I?’
‘Yes, but look at the color, Granny! Should it be that blue?’
‘Err… no… Let me see…’
Taïga stares at the bizarre blue mixture. ‘Maybe we should put something else in the potion?’
‘Like what? Have you got an Idea?’
‘Granny… You’re the one who knows how to make a good potion!’
‘Yes, but you’re the one who didn’t want the frogs’ tongues!’
They continue bickering amiably…
Part I – End of Chapter 04