The ride from the airport to Appaloosa Plains was far too long. Handyman Johnny Johnson didn’t speak much, just answering yes or no to all her questions. Finally she gave up and sat staring out the window, her nervousness growing for each passing mile…
‘Hi there! You must be Taïga? Welcome to Appaloosa Plains Youth Ranch. I’m Charles Hobbles, but you can do as everyone else – just call me Chuck!’ The Juveniles Correction Officer takes Taïga’s hand in a firm grasp.
‘Hi. I’m pleased to meet you, Sir.’
‘Call me Chuck! Got it?’ He looks her over. ‘I hope you brought some jeans and boots, I’d hate to see you mucking out the stables nicely dressed like that!’
Taïga grins. ‘Whose horse is that over there? Such a strange color…’
‘That’s Shadow. He’s mine.’ Johnny Johnson has finished unloading her luggage. ‘Your rides aren’t here yet. They’ll be here in time for when the snow melts in the spring.’ Taïga tries hard not to show how disappointed she is. But that’s in 4 months!
Chuck introduces Taïga to Jupiter, VJ, Lil and Thomas. ‘Guys, this is Taïga Grey from Fairview Heights.’
‘Fairview Heights, huh? Where the hell is that?’
‘Never heard of it before…’
‘Hicktown like this probably…’
Taïga swallows. This won’t be easy…
A guy in the kitchen waves and smiles and then does a double take. ‘Taïga? Did you say Taïga Grey?’
‘Err… yes…’ Taïga frowns as the guy comes towards her with a goofy smile on his face. Who the heck is that?
‘It’s been ages! I’m so happy to see you! Just wait till I tell Derek!’ A second later she is crushed in a bear hug!
‘Oh. My. God. Teddy? Is that you?’
‘Yep!’ He holds her at an arm’s length and looks her over. ‘Gosh you’ve become a beauty! I mean, you’ve always been prettyful! But now…’ He whistles, ‘you’re…’
He’s interrupted by Jupiter strutting by. ‘Yeah, one more on the “to-do-list” for Derek!’ he mimicks.
‘Knock it off Jupiter!’
The guys on the couch laughs. ‘You’re just jealous of the competition, huh!?!’
‘I’ll put her on my list – anytime!’
‘Yeah… Me too, take a ticket, homie, and wait for your turn!’ Taïga can feel herself blush. She searches Teddy’s face for help.
Chuck breaks in. ‘Corey! Why don’t you show Taïga around? And you two – in my office. Now.’
Taïga follows Teddy outside. ‘Corey?’
‘Yeah. That’s my real name. Derek called me Teddy because I always slept with my Teddy bear…’
‘To me you’ll always be Teddy! But… Maybe you don’t want me to? Do you mind if I keep calling you Teddy?’
Teddy smiles. ‘I like it when you call me Teddy, but the other kids would make me their laughing stock if they find out why! So… What did you do to end up here?’
‘Actually I didn’t do anything!’ Taïga sighs. ‘But it’s a long story… What about you? I hope you didn’t kill anyone! Or been doing drugs or something?’
‘Nah… We’re living with our uncle for a couple of months, helping out here, to earn some money to pay for dad’s bills. He’s at hospital, and mom’s back in Egypt again.’
‘Oh… I hope he’ll be all right! Is it serious?’
‘He got a stomach pain and they took him in for observation, and he’s still there. They can’t find what’s wrong with him… And then he told them lots of stories ‘bout UFO’s and such – really crazy! So they locked him up in the psychiatric ward… Ah there they are!’ Taïga follows his gaze. A girl is animatedly talking to a tall dark guy, leaning against the fence.
Could it be? Ohmygod. Suddenly her legs goes all wobbly and her stomach is overrun by butterflies. She wants to turn around and run in the other direction and don’t stop until she’s back in her room in Bayou Oaks Mansion…
‘Look who I brought!’ Teddy is overjoyed, talking nonstop, introducing her to the two girls, Elspeth and Chase. The petulant boy Jupiter is sitting on the fence taking the scene in.
But Taïga doesn’t listen. There’s only Derek, but he doesn’t seem happy to see her. Arms crossed, he looks her over, not missing a detail. Nervously she strokes back a strand of hair from her face. Stop blushing, idiot! Say something… ‘Err… Hi, Derek! I didn’t expect to see you here!’ Lame. Lame. Lame… Taïga does a mental face-palm.
Derek doesn’t say anything, just lifts an eyebrow and smirks. Taïga tries to keep her cool. Irritating! But he’s kind of handsome. In an irritating way.
‘So what did you do?’ The black haired girl breaks in, staring ominously at her.
‘Nobody’s here for nothing! Bitch!’
‘Give her a break, Elspeth.’ Elspeth glares at Derek and stomps off, hissing ‘Bitch’ again as she sashays past Taïga.
‘Derek! Corey! Can you come over here? I need some help with the tractor!’ Johnny Johnson is calling from the barn.
‘Comin’!’ Derek fixes her with his blue gaze. ‘I sure didn’t expect to see you here either. But it’s nice to see you again… Taïga.’ He tastes her name. His voice is grown up; silky but yet a little raspy and gruff. ‘You’ve…’ He looks her over again, making Taïga squirm with annoyance. ‘… grown…’ He saunters after Teddy into the big barn.
‘Don’t mind Elspeth, she’s just moody.’ Chase drawls with a thick southern accent.
‘Yeah… Moody and evil!’ Jupiter adds. ‘I’ll be careful around her, if I were you. She doesn’t seem to like you at all…’
Evil bitch, Taïga thinks to herself, but she can’t help smiling. She can’t be worse than Clotilde de Cosnac…
Chase takes Taïga to their dormitory. The room is not very big – four beds and cupboards and two desks.
‘This is my bed, and that’s Elspeth’s.’ Chase sits down cross legged on her bed and watches Taïga start to unpack. She tells her about herself, about her family in Twinbrook as Taïga takes off her nice dress and changes into shorts and boots. ‘I wish I had your legs…’, Chase says wistfully. Taïga doesn’t know what to answer. Poor Chase.
Suddenly the door bursts open and Elspeth stomps in. ‘You can’t take that bed.’
‘Why not? Is it yours?’
‘You better get this straight, ice princess. I decide here! This is my bed, my things and my friends.’
‘OK.’ Taïga gestures towards her bed in the corner. ‘So this is not your bed, neither is it Chase’s… I guess it’s mine now.’
Elspeth approaches. ‘You don’t seem to get it?’
‘No.’ Taïga crosses her arms and doesn’t bulge. ‘But I can’t see why you should decide where I should sleep. If I had chosen that bed, you’d probably order me to move my things to the other. Just to push me around. Well, I don’t like being pushed around. Keep your bed and your things – I don’t want them. This bed was free – I take it. Oh, and your friends are free to choose who they want to talk to!’
Chase tries to interfere. ‘There’s no need to fight girls! I think Taïga understands you’re the boss…’
Elspeth pinches her nose and looks at Chase. ‘It stinks like a whole stable in here! Have you rolled in the muck? Go get a shower!’ With a murderous glance at Taïga she stomps out of the room.
‘Don’t worry, Taïga. Elspeth is not that bad – if you do as you’re told…’ She grabs some clean clothes and leaves. Taïga sighs. This sure won’t be easy…
Lil Bling and Jupiter has followed Chase to the showers. ‘Hurry… Take a picture!’
‘Wait… We can do better than that – lets film the whole action!’
Lil Bling is proud of his little nude film, and he promptly shows it to the others before uploading it to his Facebook account… and Twitter, Tumblr, WeChat…
But unfortunately for Lil, Chuck has access to their Facebook accounts, and he was just doing his daily checkup. He’s not happy about the video of Chase circulating on the Internet… The boys are in their room, waiting to have their chores assigned to them, when a furious Chuck strides in, starting to bawl Lil and Jupiter out.
‘So there will be no more filming, no more access to the Internet for the rest of your stay here. You’ve signed a confidentiality contract. Remember? Now take off your glasses, you might be sleeping as far as I’m concerned.’
Lil Bling takes off his glasses and blinks. ‘I didn’t exactly sign it. Tom Wordy did.’
‘Sure, you’re a minor. But you read it, and you said you understood.’ Lil doesn’t answer. ‘And you, Jupiter. I thought your experience with the Medias would make you think twice!’
Jupiter is holding back his tears. ‘I’m sorry, Chuck. I won’t do it again, I promise. Will you tell Lola?’
Chuck stares at them a moment, before continuing. ‘That’s why I’ll confiscate your cells. Starting now.‘ He holds his hand out. ‘And Thomas and VJ’s also.’ Reluctantly they give him their cells.
‘You can’t be serious. No more Internet?’ Thomas chirps in. ‘For all of us?’ He glares at Lil and Jupiter. ‘Thank you, guys…’
‘Well. I think I’ve made my point. See you at supper.’ Chuck leaves.
Derek fishes out his list of chores from his back pocket. ‘Thomas, you’ll come with me and Elspeth into town and get supplies. VJ and Lil, you were supposed to muck out the stables this morning with Chase. She did it on her own, but Johnny is waiting for you to help him get new hale bales into the barn.’
VJ stands up and flexes his imposing muscles. ‘Oh, c’mon guys… Do I have to? I wanted to spend the afternoon with Elspeth…’ But he grabs his jacket anyway and starts for the door.
Derek continues. ‘Jupiter, you have kitchen duty this evening with…‘ He checks his list. ‘Taïga…’ He frowns. ‘Well, you know what to do.’
Lil Bling leers. ‘I’ll trade my stable duty and get myself some action in the kitchen with the new girl. She’s hot! Can’t wait to get her tagged…’
Lil Bling doesn’t have the time to finish his sentence before Derek is looming over him, pushing him back into the seat with an iron grip on his jacket. ‘You touch her, dude, I’ll beat the crap out of you!’
‘Derek! Calm down.’ Teddy urges. Reluctantly Derek lets go of Lil Bling and backs away, still staring ominously at him.
‘Chill, man…’ Lil straightens out his jacket and slouches back in the chair. He smiles nervously and raises both his hands. ‘No worries, bro.’
Derek stops on the threshold and without turning around he hisses. ‘I’m not your brother. Never was, never will be… Dude.’
When Derek gets back from town, he finds his brother in their room, with Taïga.
‘That’s Derek’s… I sleep up there…’
‘Am I interrupting something?’
Taïga whips around so quick she almost loses her balance. ‘God! You scared me! Don’t you ever knock?’
‘It’s my room.’ They glare at each other. ‘What is she doing here?’, he asks Teddy without looking away.
Taïga nervously blurts out: ‘Teddy just wanted to show me Big Daddy’s broken guitar and…’
‘Well… you won’t find it in my bed. It’s behind you.’
Derek strides into his room with a panther like grace and slouches against the wall next to the precious object. While Teddy tells Taïga about the famous guitar, Derek just stands there with his arms folded, looking at Taïga. She squirms under his gaze. Why can’t he act like when we were kids? We were such good friends – when we didn’t fight… She smiles to herself at the memory of how he got on her nerves as a kid. He was kind of angry at me when I left, but we talked on the phone sometimes, and by mail… But then he started dating Selena… She bites her lip, and gazes up, surprising the look on Derek’s face. A look of raw pain, his eyes dark with longing. But it is replaced by a scornful smirk in an instant. She blushes and tries to concentrate on Teddy’s tale…
‘And what about the easel? Do you guys ever use it?’
Teddy laughs. ‘No! I can’t draw a line without a ruler!’ Appalled, Derek looks at Teddy and shakes his head. Too late! Teddy continues. ‘But you can use it if you want.’
‘Do you really mean that?’ Nope! We don’t! Effing Teddy… ‘Great! I brought my sketch block and colors. I can’t wait to paint again!’
Derek checks his watch. ‘You’ll discuss painting another day, it’s time to help Jupiter get the supper ready.’
‘I can’t cook.’ Oups! Why did I say that? Taïga doesn’t know why she lies.
‘What if I don’t want to?’
‘You’ll have to!’ He looks at her at her with that scornful air of his, holding the door open for her. She grinds her teeth and gives him a dirty look, squeezing past him. He resists the urge to playfully tap her behind.
‘I wouldn’t do that if I was you…’ Teddy must have read his mind. Derek grins at Teddy who adds: ‘Just hope she doesn’t spit in you food, bro!’
Jupiter is rather nice, and they chat amiably while they prepare a salad and pasta. Derek stops by after a moment, with Teddy. And Elspeth. Evil Elspeth, laughing and flirting with Derek…
‘Do you think you could drive me to work after school tomorrow, Derek, honey?’
‘Nope. Chuck is taking you and Thomas – as usual.’
Taïga smiles to herself and tries to discreetly check out what’s up between Derek and Evil Elspeth. Please, please, please don’t let her be his girlfriend. I would be so disappointed… In his taste of course…
He’s looking at me like that again. Like he’s making fun of me! I can’t stand his… his… Him! Just look at him! He doesn’t seem to mind Elspeth snuggling up to him… Evil Bitch! She fills a bowl with steaming pasta. I have to walk past them to get into the dining room… Darn it! She straightens her back and blows away a strand of hair from her face. I’m cool… I’m the ice queen… Derek hides a smile but his eyes twinkle. Taïga resists sticking her tongue out. Unbearable!
Elspeth glares at Taïga over her shoulder. ‘So you can cook too, Miss Perfect? Or is that something you’ve prepared for the horses? It looks disgusting… Yuk! Luckily Jupiter has made something nice!’
Don’t let her get to you. I’m the ice queen…
‘Just a moment Elspeth. I need to talk to you.’ Elspeth beams at Derek who stares her down. ‘OK. I already told you to cut Taïga some slack.’
Her smile vanishes. ‘Why should I? Give me one good reason!’
‘She’s mine. I mean: she’s my friend. Like family? A little sister? Whatever you want. But she’s off limits. Do you understand? OK?’ He looks demanding at her.
Elspeth nods. What happened to Derek? I won’t let that little uppity bitch win him over!
‘Good.’ Derek turns and leaves.
‘Aren’t you eating with us, Derek?’
‘No. I’ve got something important to do.’
It’s almost midnight when Teddy shows up in the stables. ‘Are you sleeping here tonight?’
‘Do you know why she’s here?’
Teddy scratches his belly. ‘Well, she said “nothing”.’
‘Don’t be stupid, Ted. Nobody’s here for nothing!’
Teddy tries to change the subject. ‘You should be careful with the light…’ But Derek doesn’t listen.
‘I looked her up.’
‘Vandalism… Destruction of Property… Trespassing… Violation of curfew! God! What happened to her, Teddy?’
Teddy sighs. ‘Why don’t you ask her? She said it was a long story, a mistake. And I believe her. You should too.’
Derek doesn’t answer. Since Taïga’s arrival at the ranch this afternoon, his whole world seems to have turned upside down. He’d succeeded in convincing himself that what he felt for her when they were kids was just that – a very childish love… Her being a witch definitely putting an end to the innocent hope he might have harbored. He’d dated girls throughout High School, a lot of girls. But to him they were all the same- faceless bodies with no interest…
And now here she is, sweeping in like a spring breeze, just like that… She’s grown even more gorgeous than I’d ever imagined… Dang her! Making me struggle to keep my cool, when all I want to do is to drag her into one of the stables and kiss those full lips until she begs me to- He shakes his head. Gosh… She’s dangerously attractive…
Part II – End of Chapter 03
A quick introduction to Taïga’s new “friends” at APYR