‘Hold still, old boy. I’m almost done.’
Taïga is preparing old Duke for their weekly trek. The old horse leans towards Taïga, but stumbles as she maintains the heavy hoof in a firm grip. He nudges her pockets, searching for polo mints. Finally she lets go and straightens her back, caressing the silky neck.
‘Just one more and we’re ready to go.’
She continues talking to the old horse as she readjusts his tack and mounts. ‘We’re off on a long hike today. We’ll meet up with Linn at the old Mill…’
The two girls usually spend their weekends on horseback and today is no exception. They trek through the forest, following the meanders of the Crooked Bayou Swamp, happily chatting…
Time flies past and it’s already dusk when the two friends ride up in front of Bayou Oaks Mansion.
‘Who’s that?’ Linn reins in Scarlett and looks at the two visitors talking to Granny.
‘I don’t know. Probably just one of Granny’s customers…’ Taïga presses past on Duke. ‘Buying perfect tomatoes or a love elixir, who cares?’
‘Well, I better try to get home before it gets completely dark. There isn’t much traffic on the roads, but it’s dangerous anyway.’ She turns her horse around and waves, ‘See you tomorrow at school!’
Rowan has started school too, but he misses his family and life in sunny Italy. Leonardo talks to his son on the phone once in a while, but he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get him back to Monte Vista.
“Rowan is doing well at his new school, Shasta is tired or depressed, the new baby boy – Frost – has come down with a rare and difficult illness that monopolizes him and Shasta…” The excuses are many…
Frost’s health problem might explain why Shasta doesn’t want them to visit and also why she’s too busy to talk on the phone.* Taïga seems to have resigned to only communicate with her mother by texts or mail…
But in the dark hours of the night, when she’s sure her grandmother is asleep, she often sneaks into the attic to read the old grimoires Granny keeps up there. She never has to turn the pages as the old books does it all by themselves for her.
She reads avidly what the dusty old books decides to reveal, always looking for something that might help her locate her mother…
Taïga and Linn are sophomores at Fairview Heights High school. They usually spend the afternoons at the library, doing their homework. Linn has a crush on Jayler, bad boy n°1 and Don Moroni’s grandson.
‘OMG. He’s here!’ Linn hisses.
‘Really? That’s rather positive. It probably means he can read then?’
‘Don’t be such a bitch!’ Linn glares at Taïga. ‘Gosh! He’s looking at us! OMG! He’s coming over! What shall I do?’ Taïga shrugs. ‘Hi Jayler!’
‘Hi!’ Jayler smiles at them. ‘Why are you always hiding out in the library? Why don’t you come and have a coffee with us at Björn’s instead?’ Linn is nervous and blushing but so happy Jayler is finally showing some interest in her.
Taïga smiles to herself and turns the pages of her book. She doesn’t notice Tyler eating her with his eyes…
Björn’s Café soon becomes Taïga and Linn’s new headquarters. It’s not as easy to do their homework in the busy café, but it’s more fun!
They hang out after school with the boys on the basketball team, Jayler taking every opportunity to show off his muscles.
Jayler has decided to bring them to the abandoned hideaway, to have them listen to their band – IDC. When they get there, Darryl is already on the drums and Tyler is stringing his guitar. There’s also an old keyboard, but as Tess isn’t there yet, Taïga sits down and lets her fingers fly over the dusty keyboard. She starts accompanying Darryl.
‘Wow!’ Jayler watches Taïga over Linn’s shoulder. ‘Where did she learn to play the piano like that?’ Can’t he stop talking about Taïga all the time?
‘Oh. I think it was some guy in France, Louis. He was a real virtuoso and absolute ear!’
Jayler stares unbelievingly at her. ‘I know guys who play with their feet! But his ears… Wow!’
‘Musical ear? Absolute pitch?’ Linn rolls her eyes. ‘Oh, forget it…’
‘Anyway,’ she continues, ‘her boyfriend taught her how to play, and he even composed a song for her!’
‘Yes. Louis. In France, when she went to boarding school there.’
‘I got it… What about now?’
‘Yeah. Has she got a boyfriend?’
‘No, she hasn’t. But there is someone…’
‘Of course not!’ Linn slaps his arm playfully. ‘A guy named Derek, in Moonlight Falls…’
‘Oh… That’s far enough from here… What about you?’
Finally! ‘Me? Err… No one…’
‘Come to Merlott’s Saturday night. We’re playing.’
‘I’d love to! What time?’
‘8 sharp. Oh, and bring Taïga will you?’
Saturday Night at Merlott’s. Jayler has used all his charm to convince Taïga to sing, but she’s so nervous she can hardly speak. The audience screams and catcalls and she can feel her cheeks burning as she takes the mike. Tess glares at her, and Darryl does a quick drumsolo.
‘Ahem… I … We’ll…’
‘Just go ahead and sing, kiddo!’
‘Yeah! Sing or go back home to mommy!’
Tess doesn’t wait anymore. She resolutely starts playing The Pretty Reckless’ “Make me wanna die”, rapidly joined by Tyler and Darryl. Taïga can feel herself hyperventilating. OMG. OMG. She closes her eyes, lifts the mike to her mouth and suddenly everything is OK! She is one with the music, her voice -deep, raucous- breaths out the first words and the transformation is complete.
‘Take me, I’m alive – I never was a girl with a wicked mind…’
‘I had everything, opportunities for eternity…’
‘Eyes, your eyes… I can’t see in your eyes… your eyes…
You make me wanna die!’
And suddenly everyone is jumping and singing along :
‘I’ll never be good enough!
You make me wanna die!!!
And everything you love will burn up in the light…’
The audience is delirious! DJ Glowstick double-checks his phone to see if he recorded everything all right… Taïga and IDC are on a roll, when they finally take a break it’s almost midnight…
Jayler pushes his way through the excited audience. ‘Hey guys! We’ve got ourselves our first contract! Every Friday night starting next week! Are you in with us Taïga?’
He slaps everyone’s back and hugs Taïga, hard and a little too long. Tess glares, but lights up as he firmly plants a kiss on her cheek. ‘We’ve got to finalize with signatures and everything. Let’s have lunch tomorrow at Björn’s!’
‘It’s already 3 o’clock! I have to run!’ Taïga pushes back her chair. She hasn’t told anyone it’s her birthday, but Granny is waiting with the birthday cake and a surprise, and she mustn’t be late. ‘See you guys around.’
Jayler rises too. ‘I’ll drop you off!’
‘I’m OK. Biking is exercise – good for the legs, you know’ She secretly hopes her birthday surprise is a scooter…
Jayler doesn’t want to let her go. ‘Let’s do something tonight! All of us’ He looks around. ‘It’s Sunday, we could go to the movies or something?’
Linn sighs. ‘I can’t. My dads are having some important people over for dinner and I have to be there…’
‘OK. No problem. But you’ll come, Taïga?’
‘I don’t know…’ Taïga looks questioningly at Linn who adds: ‘She’ll be there!’
‘Great! See you around 8 then!’
‘Wait! Don’t forget your poster!’ Jayler hands her a roll he’s kept under the table while they were talking and Taïga unfolds it impatiently.
‘Wow! How did you do that so quickly?’
‘I took some pictures, and thought it could be fun to see what a poster would look like. And Grandpa owns the press you know, so it was no problem…’ Jayler shrugs. ‘Well. See you tonight!’
‘Thanks! See you!’
‘Is everything settled for tomorrow? Is Shasta coming? It’s Taïga’s 15th birthday after all.’
‘I don’t think so. You know she isn’t a witch anymore*, and Frost is at hospital again. They are trying a new treatment, and she won’t leave him.’
‘So, how do we proceed?’
‘Tomorrow night is the blood moon. You’ll wake Taïga up at midnight and walk her to the ring of stones. I’ll be there, finishing the consecration ritual…’
The sisters are interrupted by the phone. It’s Leonardo calling from Monte Vista with bad news…
Missy has finished decorating the cake when Granny comes back into the kitchen. ‘What did he want?’
‘He was rather upset.’ Wearily Granny takes off her apron. ‘Shasta has left him.’
‘Oh. My. Goddess.’ Missy sits heavily on a chair. ‘Tell me about it… Just imagine him raising that poor boy, Frost, alone… Did he say anything about Rowan returning to Monte Vista by the way?’
Granny stares out the window with a vacant look on her face. ‘Yes, he did… He thinks Rowan should stay with us, he is too depressed right now to take care of his son. He even mentioned it would be best to keep him here until his 15th birthday! Now that I think about it, it seems rather strange, don’t you think so?’
‘Yes… Try to text Shasta, and get her version. Maybe she just took a mini break?’
‘I don’t think so. She left a letter. Leonardo read it to me. She makes it clear she’s had enough of playing the role of mother and wife.’
‘Oh… Then she just left – again?’
‘It seems so.’
Missy wrings her hands. ‘What shall we tell the children?’
‘What truth?’ Taïga steps into the kitchen. ‘I heard what you said… Does all this mean Mom won’t come?’ Granny and Missy looks at each other…
The birthday party isn’t a happy one. Granny does her best to try to be festive but Rowan and Taïga just want to get it over with…
Later that evening.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Out. I’m seeing Tess and the others.’
‘But it’s 8 p.m.!’
‘It’s my birthday, Granny! I want to see my friends!’
‘You can see them next week-end. And you have school tomorrow morning.’ Taïga stomps back upstairs, fighting her tears.
Rowan tries to cheer her up. ‘You can sleep over at Linn’s next week end, Granny said so!’
‘Just leave me alone, will you.’ Taïga rubs her eyes. Suddenly she feels the need to be mean, to let all her pent up anger burst out! ‘You don’t understand anything – you’re just a kid! See, our mom’s never wanted us! She prefers leaving us –again!’ But seeing Rowan’s eyes fill with tears doesn’t feel as good as she would have liked…
Rowan goes to bed, offended by Taïga’s harsh words. Valkyria, feeling Taïga’s distress, lies down at her feet. Taïga closes her eyes, but she can only think about Granny’s words – “sick of being a mother…” Thud. What was that? Thud. Valkyria growls as a third stone thuds against the window. ‘Hush, Valkyria!’
Taïga steps out on the balcony. Jayler, Tyler and Darryl are waiting on the lawn.
‘Hey! We waited for you! Why did you bail on us?’
‘I wasn’t allowed…’ Arggh! That sounds lame! Taïga looks over her shoulder at her sleeping brother. ‘But I’m coming now!’
The boys push each other and grin. ‘Cool!’ ‘Hurry!’
Taïga sneaks downstairs and out without getting caught. ‘Wow! Whose car is that?’
‘Mine of course!’ Jayler bows and holds up the door. Tyler scratches his head as he climbs into the backseat with Darryl. I’ll get me some wheels so I can take Taïga for a ride – as soon as I get 16! The turquoise one Art brought home last weekend would be just right…
‘So… Where’s Tess? Where are we going?’
Jayler pats her knee and winks. ‘Wait and see!’
Taïga takes his hand off her knee with a look that says “don’t even think about it!” Then she smiles. ‘I just love surprises!’
… But not this one. Tess is waiting at the park. Jayler pulls over and they unload some big bags filled with spray cans.
‘Where are we going?’ Taïga is a little worried.
‘Target n°1 – the school!’
They pass through the dark park and soon they arrive in front of the dimly lit building. The four of them immediately starts tagging the big light blue entrance doors, covering them in graffiti. Taïga feels uneasy, but she can’t go home now. What would they think of me? They might never ask me – or Linn! – out again...
After the doors, they start on the pavement. Tess looks at Taïga. ‘Why are you just standing there?’
‘Here.’ Tess hands her a spray can. ‘It’s easy!’
‘But I don’t want to.’
‘C’mon, Tess, leave her alone will ya!’ Taïga looks gratefully at Tyler who wipes his forehead with a paint smeared hand. ‘She can keep watch!’
Taïga squints at the car approaching. It looks like a… ‘Is that a patrol car?’
Jayler drops everything and spins around. ‘THE COPS! RUN!’
‘Stop or I’ll shoot!’
Tess is not as fast as the others with her fancy designer boots. ‘Taïga! Wait!’
Taïga stops and turns towards Tess who catches up with her. ‘Hurry!’
But Tess pushes past her and Taïga slides on the wet leaves and falls. ‘I’m sorry. There’s no way I can let them catch me – my dad’s career would be over.’ And off she runs, leaving Taïga trying to scramble back on her feet.
Too late. An iron fist clamps down on her shoulder. ‘Gotcha!’
‘It’s a mistake! I assure you I didn’t do anything!’
‘Then you were at the wrong place at the wrong moment, young lady!’ The officer starts to recite the Miranda warnings ‘You have the right to remain silent…’
‘Am I under arrest?’
‘No, not yet!’
Taïga knows it doesn’t matter what she says. With a lump in her throat, she follows the policemen to the patrol car. Why did Tess push me? Why did they all leave? They don’t care! Ha! They’ve chosen an excellent name for their band… But deep down she knows why her “friends” didn’t wait for her. The mayor can’t afford a scandal with the elections coming up in a month… The social workers would be too happy to have an excuse to place Darryl and his siblings in foster homes… Tyler’s mom would get a one way ticket out of the country if immigration gets involved. And Jayler? His granddad would be proud! Of course… But better not give the police an excuse to come snooping…
The sun breaks through the heavy fall fog as they pull up in front of her home. The police officer looks up at the imposing old mansion with awe. Taïga just wants to hide under a stone somewhere… What will Granny say?
Missy answers the door. ‘Yes?’
‘Good morning, Miss Grey. Could we have a word about your granddaughter, please?’
‘My granddaughter?’ Missy’s eyes dart from the policemen to Taïga who keeps staring at her feet. ‘Eh… I’m not… Well… Come on in.’
She stands aside and lets the police officers awkwardly step inside. ‘Granny! You better come quickly!’
‘What happened?’ Granny looks from the policemen to Taïga. ‘And why aren’t you in bed?’ Taïga mumbles something unintelligible and sneaks up the stairs to her room.’
Granny listens to the police officer’s explanation without interrupting.
‘Thank you for going through this trouble, officer. I will make sure it never happens again.’ She carefully shuts the door behind the two officers, and peeks through the curtain to make sure they leave. As soon as the police car is out of sight, she takes out her wand and uses magic to dress.
Granny hesitates before rapidly calling a memorized number in Hidden Springs.
Taïga is worried. She regrets sneaking out last night… And seeing Granny and Missy solemnly sitting on the same couch, facing her as she enters the living room scares her more than she would care to admit.
‘As you already know, your mother should have been here to take you through the rite of passage tonight…’
‘… but she’s not a witch anymore, so her not being here doesn’t change anything.’
Taïga lets out a sigh. Is that all? They’re worried about tonight? ‘But…’ Taïga’s iPad vibrates with a message and automatically she checks it.
‘Shut that off, please. I don’t think you realize the gravity of your actions.’
The schoolbus honks outside, and Taïga rises.
‘See you this afternoon, I’ll…’
‘You’re not going to school.’
‘At least not today, you’re not.’ Slowly Taïga sits down. Now she is worried again. Granny has never let her miss out on school before.
Taïga listens without interrupting as her grandmother takes a deep breath and continues: ‘Destruction of Property… trespassing… vandalism… violation of curfew… community service… jail… marriage…’
‘Go ahead, tell her.’ Old Missy nudges her sister.
Granny clears her throat. ‘Your mother should have told you all about it, but things are what they are.’
‘Yes! We forgot!’
‘Forgot what?’ Taïga searches their faces, but they are both avoiding eyecontact, smoothing out invisible creases on their skirts.
‘Ahem… To tell you about your fiancée.’
Now it’s Taïga’s turn to be outraged. ‘How could you “forget” to tell me I’m engaged!?!’
‘Well, you’re not exactly engaged… ‘
‘No, more like…’ Granny searches for words, ‘… promised?’
‘I can’t believe you two…’ Taïga shakes her head. ‘I won’t do it! Whatever you have planned: I. Won’t. Do. It!’
‘We thought you wouldn’t like the idea. But you’ll have time to reconsider, as you’re leaving for Hidden Springs tomorrow morning.’
‘Me? To Hidden Springs? But why? To marry me off?’
‘No. Because you spend time with the wrong people, Taïga. We have “friends” in Hidden Springs. You’ll finish your sophomore year there as you’ll probably be excluded from school anyway. The police officer said you’re facing a first offense misdemeanor.’ Taïga stares questioningly at her grandmother. ‘Essentially, this will put you on very “informal” supervision for about 6 months and if you do everything you’re asked to do, the entire case will be dismissed as if it never happened.’
‘But I promise you I didn’t do anything! You can’t believe I tagged the school? What if I promise not to hang with Tyler and the others anymore? Please, don’t send me away!’ And what about the band? I’m their singer and we were starting to get gigs! I can’t let them down now!
But the Grey sisters are adamant. Taïga runs upstairs, and with trembling fingers she calls Linn.
‘Please, Linn. Come over, I need to talk to you!’
‘Tyler told me about last night.’ Linn whispers. ‘Are you grounded?’
‘Worse… Please come?’ She swallows as she tries to keep her tears at bay.
‘I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m in class now. Bye.’
‘Aren’t you at school?’
‘No… I overheard you downstairs – I’ll help you, Taïga. I won’t let them marry you off to some old geek!’
‘What? An old geek?’
‘No! I don’t know! I just supposed it was to an…’
‘Just go away…’
Linn comes by in the evening as promised. Taïga hurries to tell her everything. ‘… and then Tess pushed me!’
‘She’s a bitch… And what about this marriage thing? Rowan told me.’
Rowan enters the bedroom, yawning and stretching. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Nothing! You won’t understand anyway!’
‘Try me! I want to know!’
‘Go away, Rowan.’
‘But I’m tired! And this is my room too.’
Linn frowns. ‘He doesn’t speak French, does he?’
Taïga sighs. ‘Non. Pas un mot!’ The two girls smile at each other. Rowan goes to bed, his eyelids growing heavier and heavier as he listens to the melodious voices debating about if Taïga could be forced to get married or not…
‘Are you ready?’
He holds on tight as Taïga kicks Duke into a slow canter, the old horse galloping faster and faster, Taïga’s hair tickling his face…
The ground rushes past and he laughs at Valkyria trying to catch up – barking louder and louder and… Taïga bends over and kisses Rowan’s smooth forehead, her hair sweeping over his face. ‘Hush, Valkyria. You’re waking up the whole house!’ Rowan sighs, and dives deeper under the blanket.
When he wakes up in the morning, Taïga’s bed is untouched. Where is she? Then he sees the folded paper on his bedside table. He knows what’s written before he reads it…
Part II – End of Chapter 01