After riding around Fairview in their battered old car, trying to localize Taïga with an amulet, the Grey sisters pick Rowan up from school to lunch together at Olivia’s Old Café.
‘So what shall we do now? Nothing!?!’
‘The police told us to wait 24 hours.’
‘I know Shasta also left, but she was 17…’
‘She’ll be back, she didn’t bring Valkyria. And the note said she just needed to be alone a couple of days to think things over.’
‘And we missed the blood-moon!’
‘We’ll just have to wait until the next.’
‘Err… yes. I just hope she’ll keep away from doing magic…’
Rowan is silently listening to Granny and Missy, while doing his own research, trying to find Linn’s phone number. ‘We could try to localize her iPad!’
‘Rowan! Be quiet and don’t disturb us!’
‘What about a location spell?’
‘We tried that this morning, Missy. Even the palantìr is useless – it’s as if she’s vanished!’
‘What did you say, Rowan?’
‘I said: call Linn. She’s her best friend, maybe she knows where she is?’
‘I did. I called Jesper immediately this morning, but she wasn’t there. And I believe he told the truth.’
Taïga has spent her day walking around in the woods, finally ending up on a bench in Hazy Embers Park.
Exhausted, she falls asleep in the freezing cold, the first snowflakes dancing in the afternoon sky… Her phone wakes her. It’s Granny – again. She lets it ring until her voicemail kicks in.
I better get moving, if I stay here I’ll freeze to death… What time is it? 6.45… Linn should be home now… With numb fingers, she calls for a cab.
‘Good evening, M. Sandstrom.’
‘Hello Taïga! What brings you here in the evening on a week night? Are you OK? Come on in… Linn is upstairs.’
‘Oh… I almost forgot. Your Granma called this morning… She didn’t seem to know where you were. Has something happened?’
Jesper calls from the kitchen, ‘You’re worse than the inquisitor, Viktor! Let the poor girl in!’
Viktor looks a little abashed, ‘Yeah. Sure. As I said – Linn’s upstairs…’
Taïga breaks down as soon as she’s with Linn. ‘I think we should tell Jesper and Victor. They might be able to help you…’
Jesper and Victor listen to Taïga’s story, filled in by Linn when Taïga’s sobbing takes over and prevents her from speaking. ‘You can stay here tonight, Taïga. Can’t she, Jesper?’
‘Of course she can… But we have to contact your grandmother, she must be sick with worry!’
‘Yes, before she calls the police…’
‘I suppose she already has, she sounded quite frantic this morning!’
‘Jesper and Victor are right, you must at least call your grandmother to tell her where you are!’
Taïga nods. She’s got a lump in her throat, her head aches and she feels like throwing up.
‘What worries me most is this marriage thing…’ Jesper is pensive. ‘They can’t force you to marry, you’re underage!’
Victor looks at Taïga. ‘We’ll talk to your family, we’re not in the Middle Ages, after all…’
‘Now call your grandmother while Victor and I’ll cook something – I can hear your stomach grumbling from here!’
Taïga forces a smile and dries her tears.
‘Granny? It’s me, Taïga… Yes, I’m all right… I’m at Linn’s… No! There’s no need to come – I’ll stay here tonight… Yes… No… NO!.. But… What? The Headmaster? Oh… OK… But why?… But I told you I’m innocent!..’
‘They’ve decided to press charges, Taïga.’ Rapidly Granny explains that the headmaster and the mayor wants to let this be a warning, they want to put an end to all acts of vandalism.
‘I’ll be excluded from school for 6 months! 6 months, Linn! That’s until summer break! What about the band?’
‘6 months? Wow… And don’t worry about the band! Did they worry about you when they scurried off like scared rabbits!?!’
Taïga smiles through her tears. ‘But it’s so far, Appaloosa Plains… It’s in the middle of nowhere… The only nice thing about it is the horses.’
‘Yeah… Granny said it’s a Youth Farm, whatever that is, with horses…’
‘Horses? That sounds good! And it means you won’t get married yet!’ Linn tries to be positive, but Taïga starts crying again. ‘It will be all right, Taïga. I know you’re innocent, and your grandma does too. That’s the most important… There must be something we can do…’
A couple of days later, they have an appointment with the mayor. Taïga and Linn has a plan. When Taïga meets the mayor, she’ll just tell him her accomplice was his own daughter. That will surely make him fix things to drop the charges… But when they arrive at City Hall, Headmaster Nowak is there to welcome the Grey sisters and Taïga.
‘Good afternoon, Miss Grey… Miss Grey… Miss Grey. Mayor Ashcroft will soon join us, he had some urgent business to see to.’
Taïga crosses her arms and rolls her eyes. I suppose that means I’m not “urgent”… And what if he stays? I can’t say anything in front of the headmaster – the mayor will never admit in front of a witness that his daughter was involved…
The mayor breezes into the room, nods at Taïga and firmly shakes the Grey sister’s hands.
‘Please excuse me, I had to attend to a problem with the interior design company. We’re having the whole City Hall redecorated and they’re supposed to finish before Christmas. At this rate I’ll still be in this time-worn office next Easter…’ He shuffles some papers around. ‘As you already know, the school presses charges against your daughter for vandalism.’ He holds a hand up to get some quiet, as Granny starts to protest. ‘We know she wasn’t alone, but as she doesn’t want to tell us who her accomplices are, she will take the sentence. Remember my slogan: “Mayor Ashcroft will make Twin Towns the best place to live, from childhood to retirement”.’ He looks expectantly at Granny and Missy who just stares back. ‘Now, under the circumstances, we think Appaloosa Plains Youth Farm is an excellent choice. It’s an organization with the mission to prevent juvenile delinquency and develop lawful, productive citizens through a broad range of family-centered services. It will help Taïga achieve goals and provide her the encouragement to keep moving in the right direction…’
What!?! He can’t be serious! I’m an A student! Say something, Granny!
The mayor and the headmaster drones on about juvenile delinquency, tagging, youth programs… Yadah yadah…
Two hours later, after a heated discussion, the mayor and the headmaster has made their point. There is no way Taïga can escape from going to APYR. It’s the law after all…
Headmaster Nowak Looks Taïga straight in the eyes as he recites, ‘Remember; “Doing the right thing for the right reasons at the right time”, young lady. Do we have a deal, Miss Grey?’
Yuk… His hands are moist…
C’mon Taïga. Plaster a smile on your face and behave… ‘I’ll do my best, Sir.’ Arrgghhh…
‘Can I have your salad?’ Rowan wolfs down his supper, as usual.
But Taïga can’t eat, she’s too worried about her journey to Appaloosa Plains the next morning. Childishly she hoped everything would be all right after seeing the mayor, but no.
I can’t believe there was nothing we could do! I’ll be so alone without Linn… And I feel awful about the band… And Loki. Will I miss him? I don’t know… He’s acting like my boyfriend – without ever touching me! It’s so confusing… He hasn’t even tried to hold my hand… or kiss me! Would I really like him to kiss me? … I like it when he hugs me… But kissing? … Yes! Definitely!
‘Gosh! I have to change out of this itching sweater… I’ll be right back…’ She turns around. ‘And don’t touch my salad!’
‘But you’re not eating it?’
‘That’s not the point! Just don’t touch it!’
She’s soon back, pushing her food around on her plate. ‘Are you sure I can’t have your salad?’ She glares at her brother. The doorbell rings and Granny is surprised to find a young man on the doorstep.
‘Hello, Miss Grey.’ Politely he shakes Granny’s hand. ‘I’m Loki Simmingway, a friend of Taïga’s.’
‘I know who you are. Don’t you think it’s a little late to make social calls, young man?’
‘But it’s only 7:30?’
‘I mean that Taïga leaves the day after tomorrow.’
Taïga comes running from the dining room. ‘Loki? Hi!’
‘I’ll ask her. I can’t do much more! Are you happy now?’
‘Yes… But we must keep Buddy here, in the house! She mustn’t take him with her. It’s very important.’
Granny and Taïga are still talking with Loki downstairs. He would have loved to take Taïga to the movies, but Granny refuses. She finally lets Taïga accompany a defeated Loki outside.
Taïga closes the door behind her and shudders.
‘Gosh… It’s cold!’ She looks expectantly at Loki as she hugs herself, but Loki stares at his feet.
‘So… you’ll leave tomorrow?’
‘The day after tomorrow.’
‘Well…’ Loki puts his hands in his pockets. Then he takes them back out. ‘I guess I won’t see you until summer then?’
Taïga bites her lip to prevent her from smiling. He’s so cute… He’s never been out of words before! Is it because of me?
‘Well…’ He puts his hands back in his pockets. ‘Goodbye then.’
Taïga looks at him from under her eyelashes. ‘Goodbye, Loki.’
Loki turns around and starts down the stairs. Taïga gapes and stares after him, overwhelmed by disappointment. Is that all? I thought he’d at least try to-
Suddenly he turns around and takes the stairs in two strides. Gripping her arms he bends forward and Taïga feels suddenly awkward…
Her heart beats faster as Loki hesitates for a second before softly brushing his lips against hers.
He holds her as if she was made of glass, something so precious it could vanish in an instant. His warm lips and his arms around her makes her forget the cold, but Taïga wants him to kiss her harder…
Caressing her lips with his, he slowly strokes her face with his fingertips… Murmuring tender words between butterfly light kisses.
Taïga pushes into him, her lips parting slightly and Loki deepens the kiss…
Granny smiles to herself… It seems like it was yesterday she got her first kiss…
Missy’s voice interrupts her thoughts. ‘I just hope she’ll forget all about Loki when she gets to Appaloosa Plains. It will be so much easier to present her to her promised…’
‘We’ll see… Maybe we’ll find a way not to… Oh, I think he’s finally leaving. Better get Taïga inside before she gets ill.’
‘I’ll call you!’
‘I know you will…’
‘Tomorrow? I’ll call you tomorrow!’ Taïga just smiles dreamily. She would love him to sweep her up into his arms and kiss her again… More passionately!
Taïga jumps at the sound of Granny’s voice behind her. ‘I think you should come in now, Taïga.’
‘Oh! Yeah… I’m coming…’
Granny puts her arm around Taïga and squeezes her a little. ‘Everything will be all right… He’ll wait for you.’
‘I know he will, Granny. It’s just… Nothing…’
‘No, Linn! I don’t think Jayler dares to come here… It was Loki! … Well, he wanted to take me to the movies, but Granny said no… No.’ Taïga giggles. ‘You know Granny, she almost threw him out!… Well, I went outside with him, and he was so cute… Totally!… And then he kissed me!… Yes… A real French kiss, and I didn’t want it to stop!… Fresh mint!… Good… I didn’t really think about it! You just do what he does, it’s kind of automatic! … Of course someone will kiss you one day, don’t be stupid!…’
The next day is busy. Taïga needs something important from the attic, but Rowan has followed her. ‘You’re not supposed to be here, Rowan.’
‘You neither!’ He tries to hide something behind his back.
‘What are you doing with Buddy?’
‘You know, Peaches likes Buddy a lot.’
‘Really? Look! Isn’t this old doll’s house beautiful? I’ve always wondered who the girl was who played with it…’ She sits down on the floor in front of the doll house and starts moving the furniture around, blowing away the dust.
‘I said Peaches is sad because Buddy is leaving.’ Rowan sits down next to her.
‘Oh… I see… So you think I should leave Buddy here?’
‘Yeah, that’s right! What do you think the criminals would say about a girl with a ragdoll, anyway?’
‘You’re right… But make sure Peaches is kind to him. Talking about Peaches, I haven’t seen him around for a while.’
‘He comes and goes you know. Are you sure you’ll be OK, leaving Buddy here?’
‘Taïga… What’s behind that door over there?’
‘Nothing you should worry about, just Granny’s stuff.’
Taïga has been packing the whole afternoon. Choosing what to bring or not for 6 months is difficult, so she decided to bring everything! Then Granny said they’ll have to pay extra for excess luggage, and she had to start all over again.
‘I can’t sleep, Taïga.’
‘I’m sorry, Rowan, but I have to do this now. You know the plane leaves early tomorrow morning!’
‘Why don’t you ask Granny to help you?’
‘Because I don’t want to…’ She looks at the disarray of things on the floor. And she looks again. Her mom’s blue wand. Why not? ‘Promise you won’t tell Granny?’
‘Cross my heart.’ Rowan stares at Taïga as she picks up the wand and tentatively twirls it around. ‘Abra-cada-brace pack into my suitcase!’ She blinks as she looks at the now empty floor.
‘It worked!’ Rowan claps his hands.
‘Yeah… It worked…’
‘So can you tell me a story now?’
‘OK. Move over!’ Playfully she pushes her brother and lies down next to him.
‘Tell me about when you and mom lived in Twinbrook! Please?’ Taïga starts to tell him about the swamp, so much like the Bayou…
Granny doesn’t want to wake her grandchildren who are soundly asleep. ‘Just look at those two!’ Missy comes into the room. ‘They’re not fighting all the time…’
‘They are quite sweet… Why don’t we just put a sleeping spell on them!’
Rowan is excited to go to the airport. He chats happily away with the cab driver. Granny and Taïga are silent, holding on to each other’s hands the whole way…
Finally alone… It’s so nice and quiet… Now what shall I do? Read, maybe?… Or watch television! No one to complain about what I’m watching. Or just sit here, doing nothing… Being bored… What was that? She sits up a little straighter, straining to hear. Ah… there it is again.
A tiny voice : ‘Help me!’
Part II – End of Chapter 02