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.
Derek hardly ever bikes to school anymore. He usually takes the bus, keeping a seat for Taïga.
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.
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, ‘OK…’
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 hates “the pinkies”, 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!’
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 her 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.’
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!’
‘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 they’re not alone, his brother Teddy overheard him on the phone last night, and has hurried to the beach to be there before his brother arrives.
And now he’s monopolizing Taïga. Derek can’t hide his animosity as he watches Teddy and Taïga fooling around in the water. Irritably he skips rock after rock, watching the round stones hit the surface.
‘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, but his pain of a brother answers in his place.
‘Sure!’ Teddy says, and they hurry off towards the cabins.
‘Maybe I want to 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 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.
When Taïga emerges from the cabin after struggling to get her favorite tights up her damp legs, she can see Derek chatting with an unwelcome person. Taïga approaches, glaring at Serena Wilkins, “pinkie” supreme, all tanned legs and sun kissed hair.
‘Hi guys!’ She waves at Taïga and Teddy, ‘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 have 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. And here comes Teddy, joining 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 Taïga! I’m coming with you guys! Bye, Serena.’
Derek dashes after them and Taïga does a mental dance. Ha! Eat your heart out “pinkie-pie”! 1-0 to me!
First they have lunch at the Vargas’ place, then they show her the 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. Too soon it’s time to leave, if they want to get home before dinner.
‘Gosh, just look at you, Derek. You’re like the Sandman!’ Taïga laughs at Derek’s sandy body.
‘Let’s go wash in the ocean!’
‘Yeah,’ Teddy stands up and brushes sand from his back, ‘but I don’t think it’s a good idea, we’re almost dry and …’
‘… and what?’
‘Last one in the sea!’
The three of them run whooping back into the water.
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. She wants to know you better. Come on!’
Derek blinks. What? What did I agree to?
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. He barely touches his meal.
‘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? Backtalk your poor mother?’
He continues eating in silence.
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.
Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have him 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…
‘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…
But 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 Moose Pass.
Taïga is riding there on her own bike, and old steel Raleigh vintage bike that once was her mom’s. 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 dragged it out from 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. 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. Grumbling, the old witch had to give in.
Granny fixed the painting and the potato chip front wheel, she even added a little basket and voilà! Ready to go. Taïga was over the moon happy about her red bike, and it made Granny consider buying her an iPad for her birthday, even though she wasn’t much impressed by what she’d seen of the technological device.
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, 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 Shove Beach where most of the kids living in Moonlight 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.
When the weather is bad , they stay in the Cove. 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 cereals?’
‘Cereals? 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…’
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.
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…
They had finally found the perfect tree thanks to Mrs. Brown, who overheard them and told them where to find the old oak. But was impossible to keep an eye on all the McDuff kids, so they had to wait with starting construction until they all left for a week at their grandparents. Mr. Vargas brought the planks and helped the kids build. Or maybe it was the other way around – the kids helped Mr. Vargas. Anyway, their secret tree house castle was finished in late July…
‘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 witch to a peasant girl!’
‘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 can see the lights! 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.
‘GO HOME! And don’t come back…’
Teddy scurries off, crying.
Taïga scrambles 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. 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… I won’t tell anybody!’
‘Cross your heart?’
‘Yes, cross my heart. Now, tell me…’
‘OK.’ He draws his breath, ‘He’s invented a time travelling machine!’
‘Sure has. And he’s used it a lot – Christopher Columbus, the Blitz, the great fire in London, Marie-Antoinette, Sitting Bull… Name it – he’s been there, seen that… he once came back from the Paleolithic age with a terrible diarrhea!’
Taïga giggles. ‘That’s gross!’
‘Yeah…’ He grins at the memory, ‘You can’t imagine…’
‘Well, one day he didn’t come back alone…’ He looks intently at Taïga’s rapt expression, ‘I was waiting for him in his workshop in the basement when a boy my age jumped out of the door, and because of him my dad almost got stuck inside the machine!’
‘Because you’re not supposed to bring people back! You’re not supposed to interfere at all – it changes history, you see.’
‘Luckily he made it. Forcing the door open, and squeezing out at the last moment! But he’s never used the time machine since…’ Derek’s eyes glaze over at the memory.
Taïga looks at him wide-eyed. ‘What about the time traveler?’
‘The boy! Who jumped out of the machine!’
‘Oh, err… Mom said we needed to have a family meeting about this. The situation was, well, strange… There we were; Mom, Dad, me and my “brother”…’
Taïga looks at him attentively.
‘Yes, the boy came from the future. Dad explained it to me, but it’s really a tough one to understand.’
‘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. Especially as he’s not her son. But dad told her, if we sent him back, he’d have to be unfaithful to mom, because what’s written in history can’t be undone.’
‘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 one, and Teddy stayed…’
‘Teddy? Teddy’s your brother from the future?’
‘Oh, come on! You’re kidding me!’ 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 08