After unsuccessfully trying to locate Taïga, Granny takes Rowan to school and files a missing person’s report at the local police station. The police takes down everything Granny says, but tells her they can’t do much before a 24 hour timeline, especially as the note said not to worry and that she just needed to think things over. Frustrated, she rides around Fairview in her battered old car, trying to localize Taïga with a special amulet Mary-Louise lent her before leaving earlier that morning. But it’s worthless. She finally returns home and together with Missy pick Rowan up from school and decides to lunch together at Olivia’s Old Café.
‘So what shall we do now? Nothing!?!’ Missy asks, wolfing down her soup.
‘The police told us to wait 24 hours.’ Granny says, morosely looking at the tasty vegetables floating around in her thick Minestrone. ‘They think she’ll be back before nightfall, that it’s just a teenage thing. Overreacting they said, but I don’t know if they were talking about me or about Taïga.’
‘Shasta also left before she was properly initiated…’ Missy says thoughtfully.
‘Do you insinuate it runs in the family? Shasta had a very good reason to disappear. Taïga has not.’
Missy rolls her eyes, ‘Well. She missed the blood-moon.’
‘I said – she missed the initiation.’
‘So we’ll wait until the next.’
‘Next year!?! Can that be done?’
‘Err… yes. We’ll just have to keep her from doing magic. ’
Rowan is silently listening to Granny and Missy while doing his own research, trying to find Linn’s phone number on his iPad. ‘She’ll be back, she didn’t bring Valkyria. You know, we could try localizing her iPad! Matthew in my class lost his, and they found it thanks to Find my iPhone app.’
‘Rowan. Her iPhone is still at home. Now, be quiet and don’t disturb us.’
‘Why don’t you use magic?’
‘We tried that this morning, Rowan. Even the palantìr is useless – it has never been of any use in locating Taïga. It’s as if she was shielded…’
‘What did you say, Rowan?’
‘I said: call Linn. She’s her best friend, maybe she knows where she is?’
‘I already have. I called her father immediately this morning, but she wasn’t there. And I believe he told the truth.’
Taïga has spent the night at the bus station and the day walking around in the woods, finally ending up on a bench in Hazy Embers Park.
Exhausted, she falls asleep in the freezing cold while the season’s first snowflakes dance in the afternoon sky…
The persistent buzzing of her cell wakes her. It’s Granny – again. She lets it ring until her voicemail kicks in. She hugs herself, rearranging her scarf so it covers her mouth. She’d better get moving, or she’ll freeze to death… She checks her cell for the time. It’s already a quarter to seven so Linn should be home by now… With numb fingers, she calls for a cab.
She immediately falls asleep in the warm, but cigarette and curry smelling cab. The driver wakes her up as it slows down to a stop in front of the Sandstrom residence, and Taïga pays and gets out, hurrying in the bad weather along the winding path up to the beautiful modern house. She rings the bell and waits. She can hear laughter inside, and she almost feels like an intruder, standing here and listening to Linn’s dads. She can hear footsteps approaching and the door opens on a handsome silver-haired man, Linn’s dad Jesper.
‘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?’
Viktor calls from the kitchen, ‘You’re worse than the inquisitor, Jesper! Let the poor girl in!’
Jesper looks a little abashed, ‘Yeah. Sure. As I said – Linn is upstairs…’
Taïga thanks him and heads for Linn’s room in the tower. The modern structure only has one floor and a circular tower. It is built to overlook a steep cliff, with a breathtaking view of Falls Harbor. Linn disposes of the whole tower – a huge room with panoramic windows on all sides – a painter’s dream and Taïga loves sleeping over. She breaks down as soon as she sets eyes on her best friend, falling into her arms crying her heart out.
It takes a while before she has calmed down enough to tell Linn about her running away from home, and Linn is livid.
‘I think we should tell Jesper and Victor. They might be able to help you…’
‘I’m not sure, Linn. What if they think I’m bad company for you?’
‘No way. It’s my fault if you’re in this situation. If I hadn’t asked you to keep an eye on Jayler, you wouldn’t have gone out with them. Just stay here, I’ll go and get my dad. Both of them.’
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,’ Linn agrees.
Taïga nods. She’s got a lump in her throat, her head aches and she feels like throwing up. But it feels somewhat good to have talked to Linn’s parents. Suddenly it feels like everything is going to, at least, work out.
‘What worries me most is this vandalism thing… Especially as you don’t want to tell on the guys who actually did the tagging.’ Jesper is pensive. ‘They can’t send you to prison, you’re underage. But you can get expelled from school, and you’ll probably have to do some community service.’
‘You should tell the police, Taïga. Let them stand trial for what they have done,’ Linn says softly.
‘You do realize you’ll have a criminal record if the school presses charges and you get convicted – even if it’s just about paying for the damage? You’ll need a lawyer.’
‘Granny said so. She knows someone.’
Victor looks at Taïga. ‘We’ll talk to your grandmother about sending you away. I don’t think it’s the best solution…’ He looks at Jesper over Taïga’s shoulder, ‘Now call your grandmother while Jesper and I cook something – I can hear your stomach grumbling from here!’
Taïga forces a smile and dries her tears. ‘Thank you. I really appreciate what you’re doing for me.’
Jesper pats her shoulder, following Viktor downstairs.
‘Go ahead. Call her,’ Linn urges, adding ‘Maybe you want some privacy?’
‘It’s OK.’ Taïga fishes up her cell from her back-pocket. ‘Granny? It’s me, Taïga. I’m so sorry I- … 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 can’t do this to me…’
‘They’ve decided to press charges, Taïga.’ Rapidly Granny explains that the headmaster and the Mayor wants to set an example, let this be a warning for all the other delinquent teenagers in town. They want to finally put an end to all acts of vandalism.
‘I’ll be excluded from school for six months. Six months, Linn! That’s until summer break. What about the band?’
‘Six 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 be sent to Chugcreek.’ 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 is confident but a little nervous. She and Linn have a plan that will make everything all right again. When Taïga meets the mayor, she’ll just tell him her accomplice was his own daughter. That will surely make him fix things and drop the charges.She hasn’t told Granny, nor Missy about her plans, she wants to do this her way and Granny would only try to talk her out of it anyway.
But when they arrive at City Hall, they have to wait while the two policemen who arrested her are interviewed first. After a half hour, it’s finally their turn. Taïga draws her breath when Headmaster Nowak advances, reaching out his hand. ‘Good afternoon, Mrs. 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 the policemen and the headmaster stay? I can’t say anything in front of Mr. Nowak – the Mayor will never admit in front of a witness that his daughter could be involved in something criminal…
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 and trespassing.’ 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!
Livid, Granny listens without interrupting, her mouth a thin line. Even Missy keeps her mouth shut for once. The mayor and the headmaster drones on about juvenile delinquency, tagging, youth programs and the Goddess knows what. They show pictures of the tags, and even though Granny at first thought Mr. Nowak was exaggerating, the evidence is overwhelming. How could Taïga have just been there, letting her “friends” do so much damage to their own school?
Two hours later, after a heated discussion, Mayor Ashcroft and Headmaster Nowak have made their point. There is no way Taïga can escape from going to APYR. The school and the city have pressed charges for Willful and Wanton Injury to Public Property, a Class 2 misdemeanor, and they have decided to sentence her to the maximum of six months at APYR. When Granny refused the agreement, the Mayor sat back in his leather chair, looking down his nose at her.
‘Of course we understand, Mrs. Grey. But considering the value of the property damage exceeds $300 – just for your information, it’s estimated at $1,500. So if you want to take this to court by hiring counsel, well…’ He shrugs. ‘Your granddaughter risks up to one year in a state establishment and a felony record that can impact on her future. We’ve tried to make you understand that our juvenile system is aimed at rehabilitation in lieu of incarceration. Now, it’s your choice.’
The threat is hardly veiled and Granny signs the papers against her will. 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?’ He holds on to her hand just a little too long.
Yuk… His hands are moist…
She tries to withdraw her hand, plastering a smile on her face and doing her best to behave… ‘I’ll do my best, Sir.’ Arrgghhh…
‘Can I have your salad?’ Rowan is wolfing 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 had hoped everything would be all right after seeing the mayor, but no such luck.
I can’t believe there was nothing we could do. I’ll be so alone without Linn… And I feel awful about the band…
They had talked about the band for hours last night, and Taïga had told Linn exactly how she had felt on the stage with the mike in her hands and the jumping crown at her feet. ‘It was so powerful, Linn. And I just wanted it to go on forever.’
‘Even the throwing up before the show?’
‘Of course not!’ Taïga blushes at the memory. She had felt sick before going on stage and the toilets were all locked so she had pushed the door to the men’s room. Loki had found her hugging the toilet, and instead of disgusted leaving, had stayed, holding back her hair, letting her rest her cold sweating forehead in his hand.
‘He’s really crushing on you, you know.’
‘Yeah. C’mon, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.’
Taïga blushes. Of course she has noticed, but as he has never tried or said anything… ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yeah. He’s eating you with his eyes. As is Tyler, by the way. You can pick and choose, gurl.’ Linn nudges her. ‘I wish Jayler looked at me that way…’
Loki. Will I miss him? I don’t know… Would I like him to be my boyfriend? Maybe. He is kind of cute with his freckles and bright copper hair. And his eyes… What color are his eyes? She frowns, pushing her salad around the plate.
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!’
Rowan has quickly finished Taïga’s plate and scurries upstairs, throwing a subrepticious glance at Loki as he heads for the stairs.
‘Hi! Are you Taïga’s boyfriend?’
‘Err… No. I mean I…’ Loki can feel his ears grow uncomfortably warm, and is thankful for his thick hair covering them.
‘Rowan!’ Taïga hisses, glaring at her little brother.
‘That was rude, young man,’ Granny says, but she doesn’t put much weight behind her words.
‘Sorry just asking! Goodnight!’
‘Yeah, goodnight.’ Loki smiles at Taïga and she feels butterflies in her stomach.
Rowan stops on the landing, bumping into his imaginary friend, Peaches, who immediately starts bugging him about Buddy, Taïga’s old ragdoll.
‘I’ll ask her. I can’t do much more! Are you happy now?’
‘Yes… We must keep Buddy here, in the house! She mustn’t take him with her. It’s very important.’
‘I think I’ve got the picture, Peaches…’
Granny and Taïga are talking to a very uncomfortable Loki downstairs. He has finally decided to make his move, and drove all the way out into the Bayou on his scooter to take Taïga to the movies, but he had not counted on her grumpy grandmother who refuses, making Taïga feel utterly stupid. She finally lets Taïga accompany a defeated Loki outside to say goodbye.
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? ‘I’ll be back in May sometime…’
‘Well…’ He puts his hands back in his pockets. ‘Goodbye then.’
Taïga looks at him from under her eyelashes. ‘Goodbye, Loki.’
He turns around and starts down the stairs. Gaping Taïga 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 is discreetly watching them through one of the porch windows. She can’t help smiling 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 catches a cold.’
Loki doesn’t want to leave, but he knows he has to. His eyes are drawn to a shadow behind one of the windows and he’s sure Taïga’s stern grandmother must be hovering behind the curtains. Better leave now. He jumps down the stairs, turning and walking backwards, ‘I’ll call you!’
‘I know you will…’
‘Tomorrow? Can I 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, 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…’ She leans towards her grandmother as they return inside.
As soon as she’s alone again, she calls Linn to tell her everything.
‘Guess who just left? No, Linn! I don’t think Jayler dares coming 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! I can’t understand why I was so worried… You just do what he does, it’s kind of automatic… Linn, can I ask you something? … What’s it like when Jayler kisses you? … Uh-huh… Uh-huh… Well, it felt good and everything, but I kind of wanted more… No, not more more. Just more butterflies, more passion… Yeah, you get the picture… Don’t be stupid! Of course I like him. Alot…’
When she goes to sleep that night, she has trouble falling asleep. She lives her first real kiss over and over again. But her mind wanders to Derek and the havoc butterflies had wrecked in her stomach when he had kissed her. Kissed and kissed, it was just a childish peck. She wonders how it would have felt if it was Derek and not Loki who had held her in his arms tonight. Her stomach churns at the thought, and she squirms uneasily.
‘Taïga? Are you awake? Can you get me a glass of water? Please?’
For once Rowan’s voice is a relief from her disturbing thoughts, and she obliges almost happily to his annoying request.
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.’
‘Neither are you.’ He tries to hide something behind his back.
‘What are you doing with Buddy?’
‘You know, Peaches likes Buddy a lot. I thought we could leave him here, with the other old toys…’
‘Really?’ Taïga’s attention is as usual drawn by the ancient doll house. Isn’t it beautiful? I’ve always wondered who the girl was who played with it… Granny says it was her grandmother’s…’ 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? They’d bully you!’
‘You’re probably 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. Now, if you’re done up here, shouldn’t you leave?’
Rowan hesitates. ‘OK.’ To Taïga’s surprise he puts Buddy on the armchair in the corner and leaves.
She listens to him go down the creaking stairs before she holds out her hand, opening the sealed door and stepping inside.
Taïga has been packing the whole day. Choosing what to bring, or not, for six months is difficult, so she decided to take everything. Then Granny said they’ll have to pay extra for excess luggage, and she had had to start all over again. Now it’s already past ten and Rowan is lying on his bed watching her try to fit her favorite sweater into an already overflowing trunk.
‘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…’ She looks at the wand in her hands, smiling to herself.
‘So can you tell me a story now?’
She puts the wand in her backpack. ‘OK. Move over!’ Playfully she pushes her brother and lies down next to him.
‘Tell me about when you and mom lived in Springfield! Please?’
Taïga starts to tell him about the sunny town and the sea, so unlike the Bayou…
Granny doesn’t want to wake her grandchildren who are soundly asleep. ‘Just look at those two. They’re not fighting all the time…’
Missy comes into the room. ‘They are quite sweet… Why don’t we just put a sleeping spell on them?’
The next day is the big day. Granny has booked a cab and Rowan is excited to miss school and go to the airport and he chats happily away with the cab driver. He’s riding shotgun because Granny wanted to be alone with her granddaughter and give her some last minute advice, but they are both silent, holding on to each other’s hands.
Missy is finally alone.
It’s so nice and quiet… Now what shall I do? Read, maybe?… Or watch television! No one home to complain about what I’m watching. Problem is, we don’t have a TV. Well. I can just sit here, doing nothing…
She leans back in the antique armchair. Her eyes scan the empty den. She crosses her legs and straightens her skirt over her knees. Doing nothing is boring. Maybe she should read a little? But she can’t recall where she left her book last time…
She sits up a little straighter, straining to hear. ‘What was that?’
Ah… there it is again. A tiny voice, a mixture of a whisper and the tinkle of a silver clock.
Part II – End of Chapter 02