‘Hold still, old boy. I’m almost done.’
Taïga is preparing the Grey’s old horse, Duke, for their weekly trek. The old horse leans heavily towards Taïga, but stumbles as she doesn’t let go but maintains the hefty 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. And I’m not talking sweets here, you glutton.’ But she gives him a polo mint nevertheless, kissing his soft nose.
She continues talking to the old horse as she readjusts his tack and finally mounts. ‘We’re off on a long hike today. We shall meet up with Linn and Scarlett 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. An unknown car is parked next to Granny’s, and there are people on the porch.
‘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 jam… Who cares?’ I wish it was something exciting, like a love elixir, she adds to herself. It’s such a pity Granny doesn’t sell her potions, they would be quite well off if she did. Missy has also tried to convince Granny to open a little shop in town, but Granny is adamant. “Magic is not for the common mortal, yada yada…” Taïga tries to concentrate on what Linn is saying.
‘Well, I’d better try to get Scarlett back to the stables 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 also started school again, but he’s a loner, often crying himself to sleep. Taïga suspects he’s being bullied, but the little boy refuses to talk about what’s going on. Granny dismisses it with home sickness, he misses his mother and father in addition to his easy life in sunny Italy and can’t really adjust to the American school system. His father, Leonardo, is a busy man juggling between his job as CEO for the family wine business and his image as the world famous magician “The Dazzler”. He calls once in a while, but he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get his heir back to the family estate in Monte Vista.
“Rowan seems to be doing well in his new school, blabla. Shasta is tired – or depressed. Whatever. The new baby boy – Frost – has come down with yet another rare and difficult illness that monopolizes his and Shasta’s attention…” There are many excuses for the Di Grisogno’s not to have their firstborn back, and as many not to pay the Grey’s a visit…
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 feels sorry for the sad little boy, but she seems to have resigned to only communicate with her mother by texts or mail. When she was younger, she felt it rewarding to know that Shasta had also abandoned Rowan and didn’t speak to him neither. But now she’s only worried, having a gut feeling something is amiss.
That’s why she sneaks up to the attic in the dark hours of the night when she’s sure everyone’s asleep, to read the old grimoires Granny keeps up there. She can now light the candles with a flick of her hand, but usually she doesn’t even have to do it herself – they light up as soon as she enters the room and same goes for the door. In the beginning she had to stand in front of it, reaching out with her hands and concentrate so hard it gave her a headache for days afterwards. Now she can open or close any door without even thinking about it. Practical, you say? Not really. She has to think about using the door handles so as not to raise suspicions.
The same thing is happening with the spell books – there are many of them, but she always knows which one to choose as they seem to call out at her, beckoning for her to pick the right one destined only for her. When she places it on the lectern, the old pages open and the strange scripts and symbols suddenly become crystal clear.
She can’t give orders to the spellbooks, she has to accept what they decide to reveal. She avidly reads what the dusty old books divulges, in the hope of stumbling upon something that might help her explain her strange dreams…
She would like to try the palantìr again, but after some fruitless attempts only resulting in a horrible, helpless feeling of suffocating before finally passing out, she has stayed away. She’s soon fifteen, and will start her training in a few weeks. Then she will try it again. And she will master it.
Taïga and Linn are sophomores at Fairview Heights High school. They usually spend the afternoons at the library, doing their homework together. Linn has a crush on Jayler, bad boy n°1 and Don Moroni’s grandson. Taïga doesn’t understand what her best friend sees in him, apart from his ripped body which, she has to admit, has a certain appeal.
‘OMG. He’s here!’ Linn hisses, frantically opening her laptop again on her already finished essay.
‘Really? That’s rather positive. It probably means he can read then.’
‘Don’t be such a bitch!’ Linn glares at Taïga. ‘OhmyGod! He’s looking at us! How do I look?’
‘Frantic, flustered and available.’
‘I hate you!’
‘OMG! He’s coming over. What shall I do?’ Taïga shrugs, rewarded by a glare from her best friend. ‘Hi, Jayler!’ Linn peeps up.
‘Hi!’ Jayler smiles at them, passing his hand in his long brown hair. ‘I’ve never seen you around before, you’re what? Sophomores?’
Linn just nods, speechless with admiration.
‘OK… I won’t give you guys a pick-up line, if you just let me buy you a coffee at Björn’s.’
‘That’s a pick-up line,’ Taïga murmurs, rewarded by an angry glance from Linn.
‘Yeah, sure,’ Linn stammers blushing, throwing a nervous glance at her crush. She can’t believe Jayler is finally showing some interest in her.
‘Why are you hiding out in the library?’ Jayler asks, peaking over Linn’s shoulder.
‘We’re not exactly hiding, we’re… err… working. On our homework.’
Taïga smiles to herself and turns the pages of her book. She can easily picture Linn doing a mental face palm when she glimpses Jayler’s surprised, a little scornful, expression. She doesn’t pay attention to Tyler Hale from her class who’s sitting on the couch, eating her with his eyes while he’s waiting for Jayler to do his thing…
‘Homework, huh? Why don’t you come and have a coffee with us at Björn’s instead? Like, right now. What do say?’
The two girls follow Jayler and Tyler across the street to Björn’s Café, settling at a table by the window and, a little self-consciously, ordering Björn’s famous Lattes.
The artsy 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 definitely more fun. Most seniors and juniors from school show up at a moment or other, studying while having a snack. An unwritten law states that the sophomores only have access to the second floor, but Taïga and Linn are soon established as Jayler’s friends so they can practically sit wherever they want.
Jayler is on the basketball team, which implies that Taïga and Linn are hanging around the basketball court when he’s training. The warm Indian summer gives Jayler an excuse to show off his muscles and play shirtless to Linn’s joy. Loki Simmingway is also on the team, and he’s waiting for an opportunity to ask Taïga out on a date. He missed out on homecoming, but is saving up his courage for the Halloween party in a couple of weeks.
Jayler, Tyler and Darryl have a group – IDC. They rehearse on Friday’s and tonight Jayler is bringing Linn and Taïga to listen.
‘They’re good,’ Jayler says. ‘But no group can get anywhere without a singer. Tyler dabbles with songwriting, but he’s too damn shy. We need someone to get up there and make the girls throw their panties at him.’ He chuckles at his metaphor.
‘Why don’t you sing? I bet you’re used to the panties part,’ Taïga says ironically, knowing about Jayler’s reputation.
‘Nah. I can’t sing, and I’m their manager anyway – I prefer getting the big bucks without sweating in front of thousands of fans… Here we are.’
His big black Thunderbird slows to a halt at the curb.
‘Err… Are we supposed to get out here? In the middle of the swamp?’
‘Yeah, I can hear Tyler and Darryl warming up. I’ll just wait for Tess – she’s bringing the food.’
The Mayor’s daughter, Tess Ashcroft, who plays the keyboard in IDC, is Linn’s worst rival.
‘She’s always hanging at every word he says,’ Linn mumbles, ducking under a low branch, holding it aside for Taïga.
‘Let her hang. He’s interested in you, Linn. Not in that boring horsey-face.’
Linn giggles. ‘You’re right, she looks like a horse. But still. He’s waiting for her…’
They follow the sound and the faint light, suddenly emerging into a clearing next to an abandoned warehouse. A fire is burning in a sawed oil drum, bathing the place in a warm light. Darryl is already on his drums and Tyler is stringing his guitar. Taïga perks up at the sight of an old keyboard, and she caresses the keys with longing.
‘Have a go at it, Tess is not here yet,’ Tyler says magnanimously, knowing full well Tess will have a fit if someone touches her keyboard.
‘Are you sure?’ Taïga asks, already turning on the device. ‘I haven’t played the piano in ages.’
‘Yeah, I’m positive. What do you wanna play?’
‘I used to play classical stuff mostly, Chopin and such. Nothing you’d like to hear, I guess…’
Tyler shrugs. ‘Just go ahead, we’ll follow. I’ll join in as soon as I’ve finished according my guitar.’
Taïga bites her lip. They won’t jam together on Stravinsky, that’s for sure… But… Tentatively at first, she starts on the first notes of an old Boogie Woogie, afraid she won’t remember the tune. But her fingers seem to have their own memory and before long they are flying over the keyboard. Darryl is soon sweating on his drums, and Taïga’s hair is falling into her eyes as she hammers savagely on the keys, grinning happily at the devilish tempo. Darryl and Tyler are both struggling to keep up.
‘Awesome!’ Jayler puts his arms around Linn’s waist, making her start. A little hesitating, she leans towards his chest, sighing contently. He hands her a beer, watching Taïga over her shoulder. ‘The girl’s amazing. Where did she learn to play the piano like that?’
Can’t he stop talking about Taïga all the time?
‘Oh.’ She takes a swig from the bottle, grimacing at the bitter taste. ‘I think it was some guy in France, Louis. He was a real virtuoso and absolute ear!’
Jayler stares unbelievingly at her. ‘That’s cute, but kinda old fashion, you know.’
‘Calling a guy “dear”. Geez, Linn, you sound like my grams.’ He takes her hand and steers her towards the makeshift couch.
Linn follows him, butterflies in her stomach. ‘I said ear.’
‘Oh… my bad. Hey, I’ve seen a guy who played with his feet, on America’s got talent. Pretty cool, except he didn’t have any arms. Poor guy, I bet he’d prefer being able to jerk off than playing the piano like… Well. But his ears… Wow!’
‘Musical ear? Absolute pitch?’ Linn rolls her eyes. ‘Oh, forget it…’
Jayler leans back, resting his arm behind her. Thoughtfully he sips his beer. ‘He probably did it with his feet…’
‘What?’ Linn swigs carefully to avoid a surge of foam escaping her bottle.
‘Played with himself, of course.’ Jayler grins at her.
‘Anyway,’ she continues, steering the conversation back onto safer ground, ‘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 Bigwood Falls. Pacific West,’ she clarifies when she sees his empty expression.’
‘Duh… That’s far enough from here… What about you?’
Finally! ‘Me? Err… No one…’
‘Why don’t you come to Merlott’s Saturday night? IDC’s got a gig.’
‘I’d love to! What time?’
‘I’ll pick you up at 8 sharp. My old man is lending us a truck to transport all the gear, but there’s room for two more. And bring Taïga will you?’
He draws her in towards him but his eyes never leave her best friend. Linn is happy to snuggle close, wondering if he’ll kiss her tonight. Her musings are interrupted by Jayler nudging her.
‘Hey,’ he says softly and Linn turns her face expectantly towards him, closing her eyes. ‘You don’t happen to know if she sings, too?’
Saturday night at Merlott’s, the week’s busiest night. Tonight the bar is so crammed there’s hardly a place to sit, IDC’s performance being the highlight of the evening. Jayler has used all his charm to convince Taïga to sing, but she regrets having given in and now she’s so nervous she can hardly speak. The fact that she’s not allowed to be in a place like this just adds to her uneasiness. She can see that Linn has second thoughts, too. It had seemed so easy and exciting when they planned it yesterday, but now…
The audience screams and catcalls and Taïga can feel her cheeks burning as she takes the mike. Darryl does a quick drum solo to get the audience’s attention – as if it was necessary. It seems they are all staring at her. Especially Tess. They’ve never been close friends, but having touched Tess’ sacrosanct keyboard yesterday triggered open hostilities.
‘Ahem… I … We’ll…’ she stammers into the mike, making it screech.
‘Just go ahead and sing, kiddo!’
‘Yeah! Sing or go back home to mommy!’
Tess glares at her. She doesn’t see why they should wait for Taïga to screw up their performance. She doesn’t want to – or can’t – sing? No problem. Tess knows the words, too. Resolutely she starts playing their rendition of The Pretty Reckless’ “Make Me Wanna Die”, secretly hoping Taïga will bail out. She’s 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, who just popped in for a quick and quiet drink before hitting the dancefloor in Falls Harbor later that night, double-checks his cell to make sure he’s recorded everything all right… This girl is gold, he’ll make sure to mix in her voice to a new sound he’s gonna try tonight.
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 do this correctly – lunch tomorrow at Björn’s everyone!’ He grabs Linn and kisses her full on the mouth, both staggering away tightly locked in an embrace that makes Tess seethe with rage.
‘It’s already three o’clock! I gotta run!’ Taïga pushes back her chair. She hasn’t told the group about her birthday, and she has sworn Linn to secrecy, but she can’t linger at Björn’s any longer. Granny is waiting with the birthday cake and a surprise, so she mustn’t be late. ‘See you guys around.’
Jayler rises too. ‘I’ll drop you off!’
‘I’m OK. Biking is good for the legs, you know.’ She secretly hopes her birthday surprise is a scooter. Granny’s always bickering about pollution and biking is ecologically a good action, but geez – they live so far from everything…
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 mouths, Yes, her eyes darting meaning fully between Jayler and Tess.
Taïga gets the hint, Linn wants her to keep an eye on her boyfriend and Tess. ‘Sure. What are we going to watch?’
‘Dunno. We’ll see.’
‘OK. See you around eight 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? It’s Sunday!’
‘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? Are you sure Shasta isn’t coming? It’s Taïga’s 15th birthday after all. And her initiation…’ Missy licks her finger, tasting the cake batter. ‘A little more chocolate, don’t you think?’
‘There’s no chocolate, I told you it’s an almond cake.’ She tastes the batter with the wooden spoon. ‘And there’s no reason to stress. I think we’ve been through the proceedings enough; you’ll wake Taïga up at midnight and walk her to the ring of stones. I’ll be there, finishing the consecration ritual with the others-’
‘The others? Who? Shasta?’
‘You know what happened to her, she isn’t a witch anymore*, so I’ve asked Phyllis Arrington to bring her daughter, Tanya, Harriet Trotterbottler is on her way in from Bigwood Falls, and Mary-Louise Conundrum is driving here from Chugcreek. Thank the Goddess, the pentacle is complete.’
Missy taps her nose with her index, a sure sign that she’s annoyed. ‘And what about me? I know the ritual, even if I haven’t really participated before. I could be useful.’
‘I guess there’s only one way to interpret that… outburst.’
‘I’m sorry, but you know how important it is that nothing goes wrong, and well…’ she can’t really say that her sister is a catalyst for trouble, can she? ‘Err… You’re not a full-blooded witch and-’
Missy raises her hand to stop her sister. ‘I’m not sure I want to hear that. Again. So that’s settled then. Let’s get back to your daughter’s business.’
‘Well. As I said, it’s Taïga’s fifteenth birthday, and witch or no witch, I think her mother should be here.’
Granny sighs, ‘Apparently Frost is at hospital again. They are trying a new treatment, and Leonardo said that she won’t leave his side.’
‘Excuses, excuses. I’m not sure I believe in their histories-’
The sisters are interrupted by the phone.
‘Go ahead, take it. I’ll survey the cake,’ Missy offers.
Granny hesitates, but she doesn’t want to upset her sister by not letting her do something as simple as checking the cake so it doesn’t burn. She hurries out of the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron.
Missy has finished decorating the cake when Granny comes back into the kitchen. ‘Who was it?’
‘Leonardo? Talking about the Devil… 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 all about it. I can just imagine him raising his poor boys 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 makes it clear she’s had enough of playing the role of mother and wife.’
‘How do you know? Have you spoken to her?’
‘No. But she left a letter which Leonardo read to me.’
‘Oh…’ Missy shakes her head, looking into space. ‘So 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 didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help hearing what you said.’ She looks from Granny to Missy. ‘Does all this mean Mom won’t be here tonight?’
Granny and Missy looks at each other. ‘Let me explain, dear,’ Granny says, reaching for her, but Taïga steps back.
‘The truth you said. Just tell me the truth…’
The birthday party isn’t a happy one. Granny does her best to try to be festive but after telling Rowan and Taïga about their mother leaving Leonardo, they just want to get it over with.
Missy doesn’t want them to cut the cake at first, she’s so proud about the decoration. ‘I didn’t even use magic,’ she gusses, but adds when they all stare at her, ‘OK. But just a little – to smooth out the chocolate cream.’
‘We can’t keep it forever, Missy,’ Rowan says. ‘And I’m hungry.’
‘I don’t see why not? Wedding cakes are conserved for a year.’
‘This is not a wedding.’ Taïga mumbles, making Missy look at her thoughtfully.
‘I could make your wedding cake… Nonono, I said!’ She slaps at Rowan’s hand.
‘I think Taïga should decide what to do with it. It’s her birthday,’ he answers.
‘But I made it!’
‘Granny made it!’
‘I decorated it! And we all know the visual is the most important.’
‘Really? I prefer an ugly, tasty cake over a-’
‘Stop bickering, you two.’ Granny enters the living room carrying a tray with tea and lemonade. ‘Go ahead Taïga, blow out the candles so I can cut the parts.’
‘I will cut the parts,’ Missy states, grabbing the knife.
The afternoon is spent avoiding the sensible subject, at least as long as Rowan stays with them. Taïga doesn’t agree with Granny and Missy’s politics of sparing Rowan. She thinks it’s better to let all their griefs out in the open and she can’t help feeling a little pang of jealousy when she realizes how her grandmother is worrying about her grandson. After all, nobody spared her when her mother left. They play board games for a while, as usual on Sunday nights, but Taïga retires unusually early, going upstairs to put some make-up on.
Granny hails her on her way out, ‘Where are you going?’
‘Out. I’m going to the movies with some friends.’
Granny is a little taken aback, this behavior is not usual. ‘But it’s 8 p.m.’
‘It’s my birthday, Granny! I want to see my friends!’
‘You’ll see them at school tomorrow morning.’
Without a word Taïga stomps back upstairs, fighting her tears.
Rowan is reading on his bed, when she angrily throws up the door without touching it.
‘Wow… Awesome. Can you show me how to do that?’
She throws him a stare that says it all, but Rowan isn’t scared of his big sister. He puts his book aside and looks slyly at her.
‘I won’t tell if you do something for me.’
‘Don’t tell what? The door thing? Go ahead and tell Granny if you want, she’ll just laugh at you.’
‘Because she already knows, of course,’ she bluffs.
‘Well, maybe you can help me anyway.’
‘Granny said you can sleep over at Linn’s next week end…’
She looks deadpan at him, and the words stumble out of his mouth, ‘So if you sleep over at Linn’s, maybe I could invite someone over here-’
‘Just leave me alone, will you.’ Taïga rubs her eyes. Suddenly she needs to be mean, she can’t hold all this pent up anger inside her or she’ll burst. ‘You don’t understand anything – you’re just a kid! See, our mom’s never wanted us! She prefers leaving us –again!’ She pauses for breath, but when she sees Rowan’s eyes fill with tears she’s suddenly ashamed of what she just did. Poor kid, it’s not his fault.
‘Sorry, Rowan. I didn’t mean that.’ She opens her arms and he hesitates before hugging her back. ‘It’s late, you should already be in bed.’
Rowan nods, and a little reluctantly she lets go. ‘I’ll just take a shower…’
When Taïga comes back from the bathroom, her brother is already sleeping soundly. She tiptoes to her own bed and lies down, pulling her soft blanket up high under her chin. She doesn’t protest when Valkyria jumps up on the bed and, feeling Taïga’s distress, lies down at her feet. Taïga closes her eyes, but sleep doesn’t come easy tonight. Granny’s words echo in her head – “sick of being a mother…”
What was that? Valkyria pricks up her ears, looking with rapt attention at the French windows.
The dog whines as a third stone thuds against the window. Taïga pushes back her blankets and Valkyria jumps growling onto the floor. ‘Hush, Valkyria. Don’t wake Rowan.’
Taïga steps out on the balcony. She can see three silhouettes gesticulating on the lawn – Jayler, Tyler and Darryl.
‘Hey! We waited for you! Why did you bail on us?’
‘I wasn’t allowed to go out.’ Arggh! That sounds lame. Taïga looks over her shoulder at her sleeping brother. ‘But I’m coming now!’
Grinning, the boys elbow each other. ‘Cool.’
‘C’mon! Get a move on!’
She sneaks down the creaking stairs and out without getting caught, but stops and stares at the car. ‘Wow! Whose car is it?’
‘Mine of course. I’ve just had it repainted. Do you like it?’
Taïga squints at the large red tribal painting on the hood. ‘Yeah, it looks pretty cool.’
Jayler bows and holds up the door. ‘Get in princess.’
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…
Taïga looks at the boys in the backseat. ‘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 to show that she’s not a buzz kill. ‘I just love surprises!’
They drive into town, meeting with Tess who’s waiting in the park. Jayler pulls over and opens the trunk. They all dig into the trunk, excitedly whispering. Curious Taïga peaks over Tyler’s shoulder at the spray cans rolling around.
‘Which color do you fancy?’ Tyler holds out two spray cans towards her. She shakes her head, not liking where her thoughts are headed.
‘You’re all loaded? Let’s go!’ Jayler shuts the trunk, turning towards her with a grin.
‘Where are we going?’ Taïga is a little worried.
‘Target n°1 – the school!’
‘Why? Are you going to tag the school?’
‘You haven’t heard? Jayler didn’t tell you?’ Taïga shakes her head, keeping up with Tyler. ‘Jayler got suspended for smoking. He won’t play the next three games.’
‘C’mon. You don’t get suspended for smoking. Coach Johnson smokes.’
Tyler looks at her and shakes his head. C’mon, Taïga. You aren’t stupid.’
‘Hey, don’t call my girl stupid.’ Jayler slows down, putting an arm around her shoulders.
She stops, shrugging off his arm. ‘I’m not your girl…’
‘Right, your BFF is.’ He winks at her, turning on his bad boy charm, but Taïga just thinks he’s creepy. She must get Linn to realize he’s not good for her…
‘Hey, are you coming or not?’
They pass through the dark park and too 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, it’s way too far in the dark night. And what would they think of her? They might never ask her – or Linn! – out again… Her best friend would never forgive her if she cuts her – admittedly – thin thread with Jayler. She sighs. But what they’re doing isn’t right…
After finishing the doors, they start on tagging the pavement. Tess looks at Taïga. ‘Why are you just standing there? Here, take this.’ 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!’
Tess looks at her, mumbling something Taïga can’t hear, and frankly doesn’t care about. Keep watch? OK. As long as she doesn’t have to take active part in the vandalism, Taïga is relieved. She takes up post on the highest step of the stairs, having a relatively good view of the street and part of the park. Nervously she turns her head this way and that, jumping when her cell vibrates in her back pocket. It’s Linn, wanting a full report on Jayler. Taïga smiles to herself, it’s so typical of her best friend. She starts answering, but a movement catches her eye. She squints at the car approaching. It looks like a… a…
‘Is that a patrol car?’
Jayler spins around, dropping everything. ‘THE COPS! RUN!’
With wailing sirens and flashing lights the patrol car slides to a stop on the sidewalk and two officers jump out, ‘Stop or I’ll shoot!’
But only Taïga stops, scared witless.
‘C’mon Taïga! They won’t shoot!’ Jayler shouts, running towards the parking lot behind the school and the forest beyond.
Jaylers words snap her into action and she follows him, looking over her shoulder at Tess coming running behind. But the Mayor’s daughter is not as fast as the others with her fancy designer boots. ‘Taïga! Wait!’
Taïga stops and turns towards Tess, grabbing her arm to help her along. ‘Hurry!’
But Tess just pushes her hand away with such violence 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.’ Without looking back, she runs towards the safety of the trees, leaving Taïga trying to scramble back onto her feet.
‘Gotcha!’ An iron fist clamps down on her shoulder, turning her arm behind her back at the same time she’s being yanked to her feet.
‘Ouch! 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?’
‘It depends on how old you are. Just taking my precautions, now will you be quiet?’ He continues reciting the Miranda warnings as the other officer panting approaches.
Taïga knows it doesn’t matter what she says. With a lump in her throat, she acknowledges that she has understood and follows the policemen to the patrol car.
Why did Tess push her? She only wanted to help, so why did they all leave? Because they don’t care. Ha! They’ve chosen an excellent name for their band. She closes her eyes, fighting the tears. She can’t break down now. She has to get her thoughts straight before she’s face to face with her grandmother…
She tries to find a comfortable position, but it’s not easy with her hands cuffed behind her back. She leans her head against the cool window and looks out at the blurry landscape.
Deep down she knows why her friends didn’t wait for her. The Mayor can’t afford a scandal, especially with the elections coming up in less than 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 is probably proud of him. Of course… But he’d never forgive his grandson if he gave the police an excuse to come snooping around.
A first ray of sun is breaking through the heavy autumnal fog as they pull up in front of Bayou Oaks Mansion, bathing the Grey residence in a golden glow.
The officer riding shotgun helps her out and takes off the cuffs. Taïga mumbles a thank you, rubbing her numb wrists, starting up the path in the officer’s wake. He looks up at the imposing old mansion with awe.
‘This old house has cleaned up nicely…’
‘Yeah, but everyone says it’s haunted,’ the other policeman says almost to himself, locking the car. It’s not for nothing this lane is called Hangman’s Nook. And it’s number thirteen…’
Taïga pretends she didn’t hear. She just wants to hide under a stone somewhere. What will Granny say?
‘C’mon, Jake. Superstitions.’
‘Hey, I was born in Fairview – we always went out here on Halloween to try to glimpse a ghost.’
‘Did you? See one I mean?’
‘Well, told ya it’s superstitions!’
The door opens on Missy. She pulls her robe tight around her squinting at the police officers with a puzzled expression. ‘Yes?’
‘Good morning, Mrs. 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. ‘Err… I’m not… Well… Come on in.’
She stands aside and lets the police officers awkwardly step inside.
‘Tara! You’d better come quickly!’ she shouts over her shoulder.
Taïga can see her grandmother in the kitchen. A wonderful waft of warm waffles drifts into the hall and the police officers look at each other. Taïga seizes the opportunity to edge towards the stairs.
‘Just, a second, Missy. I’ll just add some blueberries to the waffles, it’s Taïga’s favorite. Could you wake her, please? I want her to have breakfast before leaving for school.’
‘Well, she’s kind of already awake.’
‘And why aren’t you in bed?’ Granny’s cool voice stops Taïga on the first step of the large staircase.
She turns around, forcing a smile. ‘Good morning, Granny. I’ll just take a shower while you err… talk to the… err…’
‘Police?’ Granny follows Taïga’s gaze and her eyes widen in shock when she discovers the two officers.
‘Is my granddaughter injured? Did someone try to hurt her?’ Granny looks from the policemen to Taïga.
‘No, ma’am. We arrested her for vandalism-’
‘She was tagging the school, ma’am. We caught her red-handed.’
‘Yeah, there’s no doubt she was trespassing. But she wasn’t alone and she refuses to give up the names of her accomplices.’
‘is that true?’ Granny looks bewildered at her granddaughter who refuses to meet her eyes.
‘I can explain, Granny, I-’
‘So it’s true?’ Granny’s expression changes, her mouth a thin line. ‘Your explanations will have to wait. Just go to your room while I listen to what the officers here have to say.’
Taïga mumbles something unintelligible and rapidly sneaks up the stairs to her room.
Granny turns her attention back to the young policemen. ‘What on earth happened?’
‘You heard them. She was-’
‘The suspect failed to stop when he was told to stop. As a result, a chase ensued,’ one of the officers says, sounding terribly technical and impersonal.
Granny pushes back a grey strand of hair behind her ears, suddenly feeling very tired. And old. She listens to the police officers’ explanation without interrupting, keeping her trembling hands deep in the pockets of her old dressing gown.
When the police is done talking, she gently but firmly steers them towards the door. ‘Thank you for going through this trouble, officer. I will make sure it never happens again.’
She carefully shuts the door behind them, peeking through the curtain to make sure they leave. She heads upstairs as soon as the police car is out of sight. Decidedly, she’s not able to think rationally when she’s not properly dressed. Missy follows her, a cup of tea in one hand, a half-eaten waffle in the other, giving her opinion on the situation.
Granny wishes she could share her worries with another adult, not just her sloppy sister, who’s not doing a very good job at pretending outrage, but is secretly reveling in the excitement.
‘Can you believe we’ve finally got a criminal in the family? But maybe it doesn’t count if she’s not sent to jail… Do you think she’ll go to prison, Tara?’
Taïga can hear them through the din of the old plumbing, and she holds her breath, expecting her grandmother to knock on the door any minute now. But she doesn’t, and Taïga is careful not to turn off the water before she’s sure they’ve headed downstairs again. She almost jumps out of her skin when there’s aloud banging on the door. It’s Rowan who needs to pee.
‘Use the downstairs bathroom!’
‘I can’t. It’s too far! And Granny said you mustn’t use up all the hot water – as usual!’
‘At least I shower, you dirty little twerp!’
‘I’ll tell her you said that!’
‘Go ahead. I bet she’ll be really happy about you coming bickering about something as trivial as our hot water supply!’
Granny goes straight to the study and starts leafing through documents in a locked drawer. Missy joins her, bringing a cup of steaming sweet tea to her sister.
‘It’s not in there,’ she says, noisily sipping her own hot beverage.
‘It should be.’ Granny doesn’t even look up from her bent over position.
‘Yes, but it isn’t.’
‘How do you even know what I’m looking for?’
‘I don’t. But if it’s the little black telephone book, it’s right next to the telephone. There.’
With a murderous glance at her sister, Granny snatches up the precious book and starts leafing through it. ‘It’s supposed to be locked up.’
‘I know. I must have forgotten to put it back.’ Missy sips on her tea. ‘You should hide the key better. I could suggest a few places I would never think of looking. You see…’
Granny just shakes her head. She won’t put the book back, oh no. She’ll hide it so well even she herself will have trouble finding it. Gaah, her sister could be so aggravating sometimes. ‘Would you mind awfully getting dressed, Missy? And while you’re at it, ask Taïga to join us in the parlor,’ she says primly, waiting for her sister to leave the room before she rapidly calls a number in Roaring Heights.
Taïga takes her time getting dressed. She checks her watch, she can’t put it off any longer or she’ll be late for school. Her grandmother must be furious, but at the same time she knows it won’t serve her to stall… What will her grandmother do to her? She doesn’t know how she will be punished – probably grounded, and no access to social medias…
‘She’ll take your iPad. And I’m sure she won’t let you keep your cell as well.’
‘How do you know? And it’s not your business anyway.’
Rowan shrugs. ‘I just overheard Granny downstairs – and I saw a police car leave. Have you killed someone?’
‘Not yet.’ She reaches for him, but misses.
He ducks under her arm shouting on his way downstairs, ‘Just wait till I tell the kids at school! Awesome!’
She scrambles after him, ‘Don’t you dare, you little twat!’
‘Taïga? We are waiting for you in the parlor!’
Rowan sticks out his tongue at her and she stops, swearing softly under her breath. ‘I’ll be right there!’
Taking her courage in both hands, she walks down the last steps, dragging her feet with a sinking feeling in her stomach. She really regrets sneaking out last night, but she knows Granny won’t pardon her for breaking her trust. She stops and takes a deep breath before turning the corner and hesitatingly enter the parlor.
Seeing the two old ladies solemnly facing her, scares her more than she would care to admit. Granny nods for her to take a seat, and she sits carefully on the edge of the ancient couch.
Granny clears her throat. ‘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,’ Missy adds.
Taïga lets out a sigh of relief. Is that all? They’re worried about tonight? ‘But…’ Taïga’s iPad vibrates and automatically she picks it up and checks the message.
‘Shut that off, please. I don’t think you realize the gravity of the situation.’ Granny’s voice is as stern as her face.
‘Yes. You should give it to us. We’re confiscating it.’
The school bus is honking impatiently, and Taïga rises from the couch.
‘Gotta run. See you this afternoon, I’ll…’
‘Sit.’ Granny’s voice hits her like a whip and she hesitates.
‘You’re not going to school,’ Missy squeals.
‘At least not today, you’re not,’ Granny adds.
Slowly Taïga sits down again. The pang of relief is replaced by a gnawing fear. Granny has never let her miss out on school before, not even when she was feeling ill.
Her grandmother takes a deep breath and continues, ‘The police have told me their version, and I will listen to yours – in time. They said you’re facing a first offense misdemeanor.’
‘A class 2 misdemeanor,’ Missy points out. ‘I checked North Carolina law on the Internet and-’ she nods towards Taïga’s iPad on the table, ‘-you can get up to 6 months in jail for that!’
‘Yes, Missy. But the officer said that if we plead guilty to the charges, maybe we’ll only have to pay a fine.’
‘Maybe. But actually, it could be worse – depending if the value of damage exceeds $300,’ Missy adds. ‘Then it’s a felony!’
Taïga draws her breath. She can easily figure the total cost at more than $300. She stares questioningly at her grandmother.
‘I guess you’re right, Missy. If you’re convicted, and Taïga is not-’
‘Not. I repeat – If you’re convicted, the penalties are quite severe.’
‘Yes! I told you so! Fines, restitution, probation and a criminal record. And, of course, incarceration. That means you’re going to jail.’ Missy looks triumphantly at Taïga, who nods warily.
‘We mustn’t be pessimistic, Missy,’ Granny admonishes.
‘But I’m not,’ she answers, a little puzzled.
Granny looks back at her granddaughter, ‘Where were I? So, what happens next depends on if the school presses charges or not – in that case we’ll need the advice of an attorney and your grandfather’s law firm in Roaring Heights is willing to assist us if needed.’ Taïga sits perfectly still, listening to her grandmother going on and on about the law while Missy nods her support, ‘… destruction of Property… trespassing… vandalism… violation of curfew… community service… jail…’
‘Don’t forget the marriage,’ Missy adds with an unmistaken air of importance.
‘What? Marriage?’ Taïga sputters. ‘Who’s getting married?’ A cold feeling is starting to spread from her stomach as the two old ladies’ expressions are giving it all away.
‘Go ahead, tell her.’ Old Missy nudges Granny who gives her sister a meaningful glance.
She clears her throat. ‘Your mother should have told you all about it, but things are what they are.’
‘Absolutely!’ Missy claps her hands. ‘She should have. But she didn’t really get around to it.’
‘She didn’t, and as things are what they are-’
‘-but we forgot!’
‘Forgot what?’ Taïga searches their faces, but they are both avoiding eye contact, smoothing out invisible creases on their skirts.
‘Ahem… To tell you about your fiancée,’ Granny says in a low voice.
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…’ Missy tries.
‘No. It’s more like…’ Granny searches for words, ‘… being err… promised?’
‘What!?! Nonononono… Taïga shakes her head vehemently. ‘No way. I won’t do it! Whatever you have planned – I. Won’t. Do. It!’
‘We thought you wouldn’t like the idea-’ Granny says, a little hesitating.
‘-but there’s nothing you can do about it,’ Missy finishes her sentence, rewarded by another stern look from her older sister. ‘Well. You’ll have time to reconsider, as you’re leaving for Chugcreek with Mary-Louise tomorrow morning.’
‘Me? To Chugcreek? But why? To marry me off? You know that forcing marriage on a minor is against the law, don’t you?’
Missy starts answering but Granny silences her with a sign of her hand. ‘Our witches’ law stands above the common mortal’s. But of course you’re not getting married yet. We’re sending you to Chugcreek, because you have recently spent too much time with the wrong people, Taïga. You’ll finish your sophomore year there as you’ll probably be excluded from Fairview High anyway. Mary-Louise Conundrum is an old friend of the family and very respectable in our community. She’ll take you through your first steps as a witch-’
Taïga can’t hold her tongue anymore. ‘I can’t believe you two! You’re sending me away because of my friends? And you’re not even going to teach me your magic, but you’re letting a perfect stranger handle what you’ve always told me was so damn important!?!’
‘Watch your language, young lady.’
Seething, Taïga mumbles an excuse.
‘And I’m not abandoning you. I will join you as soon as possible to supervise your education.’
‘But why do I have to leave? I promise you I didn’t do anything! You can’t seriously believe I tagged my 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 just starting to get gigs. I can’t let them down now!’
‘Err… Tyler, Darryl and Tess have created a group. It’s called IDC.’
‘And you sing in their group?’ Taïga nods. ‘Since when?’
‘Friday. I’ve only done it once, I promise. We rehearse on Fridays and it won’t interfere with my schoolwork, it’s just… When I sing I feel alive, Granny. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,’ Taïga looks at them with shining eyes.
Granny and Missy look briefly at each other. ‘Well. They will have to do without you.’ Granny stands up, a sign that the conversation is over.
‘I’m sure they’ll find another singer.’ If Missy meant to cheer up her great niece, it didn’t work as expected.
‘No Grey witch has ever been a pop star anyway. It’s not suitable.’
Taïga just shakes her head. ‘So this is it?’
Granny is adamant, ‘At the time being… Yes. There’s no need to make projects before we know what is going to happen.’
‘You seem to have quite a lot of projects concerning my future! But I won’t let you decide for me!’
Taïga runs upstairs, and with trembling fingers she calls Linn, even though it’s school hours. Linn answers on the first ring.
‘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. Uh-oh.’
‘Hello? I think it would be better for everyone if you came here in person for class.’ It’s their History teacher’s voice.
Taïga forces a smile, ‘Good morning Mr. Olsen. I’m not feeling well today, so I called Linn to see if she could take my assignments for tomorrow.’
‘Ah. Well, take care, then. I’ll see to it Linn gets copies of everything.’
Taïga thanks him and hangs up.
Linn comes by in the evening as promised, bringing a lot of homework and notes. Granny likes Linn, and feels a little sorry to separate such good friends. But Linn also hangs out with the same group, so maybe she should call her parents…
Taïga drags her best friend upstairs into her room and hurries to tell her everything. ‘… and they would never have caught me if Tess hadn’t pushed me!’
‘She’s such a mean bitch… And what did you say about leaving?’
Taïga quickly finishes updating Linn, who gapes at her. ‘They can’t be serious? They’re sending you away tomorrow before even knowing if the school presses charges. What if they don’t? Will you come back then? Maybe they won’t even kick you out! You can’t take the fall for them all, you must say something!’
Rowan enters the bedroom, yawning and stretching. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Nothing! You won’t understand anyway!’
‘Try me! I want to know!’
‘You know too much already. Go away, Rowan.’
‘But I’m tired! And this is my room too.’
Linn frowns, ‘Poor kid needs his sleep. He doesn’t speak French, does he?’
‘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 if Taïga should tell on their friends or not…
Old Duke neighs, stopping to nip at some bushes and Taïga laughs. The sun is warming Rowan’s back as they slowly ride bareback down towards the waterfront.
‘Are you ready?’ Taïga looks at him over her shoulder and he laces his arms around her slim waist.
He holds on tight, anticipating the surge forward when Taïga kicks Duke into a slow canter. The old horse’s heavy hooves sounds like thunder as they hit the ground faster and faster.
Taïga’s hair tickles his face but he doesn’t dare letting go…
A flash lights up the room, immediately followed by rolling thunder making Taïga stop on the threshold. She must hurry before it starts raining. She walks over to her brother’s bed, quickly bending over to kiss Rowan’s smooth forehead. Her hair sweeps over his sleeping face, tickling him, and for a brief moment she’s afraid that he’ll wake up but he just smiles in his sleep, diving deeper under the blanket.
The ground rushes past and he laughs at Valkyria trying to catch up with them…
When he wakes up it’s still dark and Taïga’s bed is untouched. He rubs sleep from his eyes, checking the alarm clock, but it’s not time to get up yet. So where can she be? Then he sees the folded sheet of paper on his bedside table.
He knows what’s written even before unfolding it… Brandishing the note, he rushes to his grandmother’s bedroom, but it is empty. No sign of neither Granny, nor Missy. He stops halfway down the stairs, watching the front door open on Granny, Missy and three other persons he has never set eyes on before. He knows instinctively that they are witches, not only by their hats and peculiar long skirts, but by their aura. It seems like magic is oozing around them, and it intrigues him.
‘Rowan! What are you doing up this late? Shouldn’t you be asleep?’
‘Taïga is not in her bed. I can’t find her.’
Granny turns toward the little group. ‘Just give me a minute. I will have to put Rowan back to bed.’
She walks up to her grandson, steering him towards his room.
‘Where is she? Who are these people? Why didn’t she sleep in her bed?’
‘Shh… We are looking for Taïga, and we will soon find her. Don’t worry…’
She puts her grandson to bed, taking out her wand and casting a sleeping spell on him, hoping there would still be enough of her powers left to initiate the locating spell on her missing granddaughter…
Part II – End of Chapter 01