They all have different chores that changes every week at the Ranch – in the stables, in the kitchen or in the garden. Some of them have part time jobs in town like Elspeth and Thomas. Jupiter hates outdoorsy work. Well, he hates getting dirty in general.
Taïga prefers working with the horses and she can’t wait until spring to have her own horse to cherish and ride. Derek is OK with taking them out to the paddocks and such, but get on their back and ride? No way! He’s got his bike for that; a powerful black Jamboree.
The stables offers a haven of peace and quiet as the others only come here when they have to. That’s why Taïga often volunteers to stable duty. She loves the soothing smell of hay and horses… Teddy’s always around and she likes him like a brother. He makes her laugh all the time, and tries his best to make her feel less homesick. With Derek everything is different. She wants to be with him, but when he’s near all they do is bickering. He avoids her as much as he can.
Elspeth is having a smoke outside with Derek. ‘But I don’t want to do stable duty! I hate horses and they hate me so I really don’t see what the problem is?’
‘I don’t care. If you find someone to do it for you, go ahead!’
‘I already have! Taïga said she’d be happy to change with me. She doesn’t mind getting dirty and smelly!’
Derek doesn’t have time to answer as the door opens on Taïga, on her way to the stables.
Elspeth leans against Derek. ‘It’s time to study. Are you coming Derek?’
‘Yeah…’ But he corners Taïga on her way out. ‘Hey! Wait!’ Taïga stops and turns around slowly, waiting for a flip comment. But Derek scratches his head and tries a little awkwardly. ‘I have to write an essay about John Keats and well… Can you help me out? I don’t even know where to start.’
Taïga’s first impulsion is to tell him to study with Elspeth, but she thinks better of it. He really seems earnest… and I love Keats… Why not?
‘OK. Are you supposed to analyze his poems too? Or just talk about the poet?’
‘I should deepen the analysis of one of his poems.’
‘I’ve chosen “Bright star”…’
Derek is supposed to go to university next year, on a football scholarship. But he has to keep his grades up through his senior year. Taïga discovers another Derek that afternoon. A serious Derek, who’s listening to her without being sarcastic. She likes his choice of poem, it’s her favorite as well, and they are soon discussing it heatedly.
‘… so that’s why I think Keats loves her unto death!’ Taïga adds enthusiastically.
‘Yes, Fanny Brawne!’
‘Maybe…’ Derek looks intently into her eyes. ‘But I get the impression he means that death is an alternative to love…’
Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priest like task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft swell and fall,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.
‘Are you already done?’ Derek asks as Elspeth pushes back her chair, making as much noise as possible.
‘I don’t feel well. I’m off to bed.’
Taïga throws her a glance. Good riddance! But she looks a little pale. Or miserable. Or just her gloomy self… Hope it’s not contagious…
When the others watch TV or play pool or just hang out after dinner…
… Taïga usually sets her things up in Derek and Teddy’s empty room and paints. At first she was alone with Teddy, but Derek has started to come back earlier and earlier, soon spending the evenings lying on the bed just watching her paint. They don’t talk much and Taïga often forgets he’s there, completely absorbed in creating.
Teddy is more talkative. ‘I like that. The colors are nice.’
‘You only say that because you can’t see what I’m painting!’
‘I guess I am… Why don’t you paint things? Real things?’
‘Because this is relaxing, and I need to relax. Don’t you think it has a soothing effect, just watching the colors blend and imagining whatever you want to see?’
Derek smiles to himself. It’s anything but soothing, watching Taïga paint. But the imagination part suits me fine. He’s mesmerized by her lower back and how he’d love to touch that smooth skin… Think about football. Think about anything but those sweatpants…
Taïga steps back and scrutinizes the canvas. ‘What do you think?’
Teddy tilts his head this way and that. ‘I think it’s… Nice?’
Derek puts his book down again. He’s been trying to read for the last hour without success. Listening in on Teddy and Taïga’s happy banter, watching her move is too distracting. But the football training starts in half an hour and he has to get moving, especially as he counted on jogging to school. ‘Do you want my opinion?’
‘No, thanks.’ Taïga rolls her eyes.
‘Well, you’ll get it anyway. It’s blurry and I hate the colors. What did they teach you in that fancy French school?’
Taïga glares at Derek. It doesn’t make things better that he’s right – her painting is awful… Why does he have to be so mean all the time? ‘What’s wrong with you, Mr. Art Critic?’ She starts to put away her things, throwing them into her bag. ‘Do you remember when we were kids?’ She blurts out. Derek frowns but doesn’t answer. Taïga pushes on. It’s too late to stop now anyway, and she has to know. ‘That last day in Moonlight Falls…’
Derek studies his fingers. ‘After the fire? When you made the leaves dance?’*
‘Yes, that’s it. I just wondered – are you still mad at me? Is that why you’re so despicable all the time?’
‘What?’ Derek is caught off guard.
‘You do remember what you said, don’t you?’
‘Yeah. How could I forget?’ Derek resumes the study of his right hand. ‘I broke my fingers, you know.’ He looks sheepishly at her. ‘When I smashed my fist into the bin.’ He doesn’t tell her how scared he was when he saw his fingers heal in front of his eyes.
Taïga looks questioningly at him. ‘You never told me.’
‘Well, I was so mad at you…’ Teddy has discreetly left them alone. ‘You are a witch, aren’t you?’ Taïga just nods. She’s afraid to talk. ‘Well. That settles it.’
Derek sits on his heels, looking down at her like a predator ready to pounce. Taïga squirms a little under his gaze but she can’t tear her eyes away from his face.
‘It’s something you can’t undo. And I can’t be mad at you for that. It took some time for me to understand, but…’ He thinks of the Lycan curse, and swallows. ‘It’s difficult to believe you’re a witch, though…’ He smiles his brash trademark smile and continues. ‘Aren’t witches supposed to be ugly with warts on their noses?’ He scrutinizes her face. ‘Is that a black hair on your chin? But I guess that comes with age – you’ve still got a couple of years to…’
Taïga throws her sneaker at him, but laughing he jumps of the bed. ‘Hey! That’s not fair! Using stinking witch-warfare…’
He ducks out the door at the same time as poor Teddy walks back in. Thud! The second sneaker hits its target spot on and Teddy crumples to the floor, holding his nose…
Elspeth retching wakes Taïga the next morning. Gosh! That’s gross! Chase is already up, helping Elspeth to throw up in a bucket. Taïga fetches her a glass of water and some mouthwash… For once Elspeth accepts their help without being mean in return.
‘Just stay in bed this morning, Elspeth. I’ll take care of the mucking out for you.’
‘I’ll help.‘ Chase offers. ‘I’ll finish cleaning up fast and I’ll be right there!’
But Taïga would rather be alone in the stables this morning. ‘Don’t worry, Chase. I know you’re supposed to fix breakfast too.’
‘I completely forgot! Are you sure don’t need any help?’
‘Definitely.’ Taïga pulls on her shorts and sweater and hurries outside.
Taïga might love stable duty, but it would be so much better if she could spend more time with the horses. She brought her mom’s wand after all and spreading the hay can’t be that difficult. Tentatively she moves the wand around and its wakes to life.
This is easy! Almost a perfect sigma… What did Granny say about sigmas? They are portals something. She whirls the wand around. Beautiful!
A movement over by Derek’s bike makes her stop.
‘Hey! Stop spying on me and come out or I change you into a toad!’
Derek laughs. ‘I was just trying to repair my bike, but it’s difficult with all that sparkling and fizzing going on!’
He saunters over, his hands in his backpockets. Taïga tries to concentrate on what she’s doing.
‘Would you kiss me if I was a toad?’
‘Don’t you know that princesses are supposed to?’
‘Frogs. Princesses kiss frogs.’
‘So would you kiss me if I was a frog?’
‘Nope. Because I’m not a princess!’
‘That’s a pity… Don’t change me into a toad or a frog then.’ He winks. Is he flirting with me? ‘What are you doing by the way?’
‘Apart from threatening to change handsome strangers into slimy toads?’ She banters.
‘So you think I’m handsome?’
Taïga doesn’t know what to answer. Yes! You’re drop dead gorgeous! Ravish me! ‘Elspeth’s ill so I took her turn to muck out the stables and I just thought it would be faster this way…’ Arrrgh. Mental face-palm.
‘Ouch!’ Derek dodges the green sparkling light coming his way. ‘Are you sure I won’t be part of the muck on the floor if I stay here?’
‘Sit down over there, and I’ll try not to hurt you.’ She smiles shyly and he grins back.
A half hour later, Taïga is exhausted but the packs of hay remain intact. Derek yawns. ‘I’ll help you.’
‘You can’t handle a wand!’
‘To spread the hay with a pitchfork, smartass!’
‘Don’t call me smartass!!!’
Fire blast forward from Taïga’s wand and all the bales around Taïga scatter over the floor throwing Derek hard against the wall. He shakes his head. What the hell was that?
Seeing Taïga’s lifeless body makes him scramble up and rush to her side. Frantically he checks her respiration and her heart beat. She’s breathing regularly, so he settles down, cradling her head in his lap. Tenderly he strokes back a strand of hair from her face, letting his thumb tentatively brush against her cheeks. Her skin is so smooth… Lightly his fingertips brushes over her eyes and then her mouth. The opportunity is too good to be ignored – he bends over and gently kisses her lips.
‘Oh. My. God! What happened?’ Dizzily Taïga tries to sit up.
‘You finally found out how to scatter the hay – with less effort.’ He stares deadpan at her.
‘Less effort, huh?’
‘Yep.’ She gapes at him, then they both burst out laughing. She hesitates before grabbing his hand and he pulls her up effortlessly. He doesn’t let go of her hand, turning it palm up, gently stroking it with his thumb. Taïga can hardly breathe as every square inch of her skin is covered with goose bumps.
Guiltily he lets go of her hand when Teddy and “Evil Bitch” Elspeth push open the door to the barn. Taïga blushes, Teddy smiles and Elspeth glares. Derek mumbles something incoherent and scurries outside…
‘Hey?’ Teddy stares after his brother. ‘We just wanted to know if you’d like to go out with us tonight. Johnny will take us to the Waterhole…’
As promised, Johnny takes Derek, Teddy, Taïga and Elspeth to “The Waterhole Saloon” that night. Elspeth immediately joins Benni, from their school, and Kenji Midden. Taïga is a little disappointed that Derek spends so much time with local bad boy Zac Whipsnake and Mrs. Darnell. So when Teddy asks her to play some pool with him, she jumps on the opportunity.
‘Welcome to Cougar town!’ Teddy jokes, but Taïga doesn’t think he’s funny.
‘Why do you say that?’
He looks at Derek and Mrs. Darnell. ‘She’s BFF with Sophia Martingale who spends a lot of time and money on her “cubs”.’
‘Cubs?’ Realization hits her. ‘Oh. But that’s disgusting!’
Taïga grimaces and Teddy laughs at her. ‘They’re not underage!’
‘Did you say Martingale? But that’s Cruz’s Mom, isn’t it?’ Taïga and Teddy continue gossiping as they set up the rack. Teddy breaks…
Derek bets 10 bucks on his brother and takes up position to watch the game. It’s soon Taïga’s turn. She bends over, adjusting her shot. A loud crack and she sinks the first ball.
Elspeth hates it when Taïga gets all the attention. Especially from Derek.
‘But I don’t feel well. Can’t you take me home?’
‘Shht Elspeth. My money’s on Teddy, don’t disturb him. We’ll leave as soon as they’re finished.’
There’s soon a little crowd gathering around the pool table. Taïga aims, lining up the shot and the ball rolls into the pocket, leaving the cue ball in position for another shot.
She’s darn good. If she continues like this I’ll lose my money…
Teddy hits the ball too hard and his shot jumps the 8-ball off the table! Taïga looks triumphantly at Teddy, who scratches his head.
‘I guess I won!’
‘Yeah. I guess you did. But next time I’ll beat you!’
‘Don’t be too sure, Ted…’
‘Hey, you’re good. Where did you learn to play like that?’
Taïga beams up at Kenji.
‘A good friend, Jayler Moroni.’
Zac breaks in. ‘Jayler Moroni? Of the Falls Harbor Moroni’s?’
‘Taïga squints at him. ‘Yes. Why?’
He slaps Derek’s back. ‘You’ve got yourself a good one here, bud. Better watch your back!’
Derek doesn’t budge. So that’s the people she hung with… I’m not surprised she got in trouble. I wonder what else she’s been up to?
Benni sashays over, suddenly eager to make friends. ‘Can you show me how to play?’
Saturday – at last! Taïga jumps out of bed. It’s so much easier to get up when you’re not supposed to go to school. For once she feels happy and she wants to share her good mood.
‘I could help you with that…’
‘You know, the zits.’
‘So you mean she needs help?’ Elspeth peeks out from under her blanket. ‘Is that it? Is it that awful?’
‘No, that’s not what I meant, I just wanted to help.’
‘You’re so full of it! Just leave Chase alone, little Miss Sunshine!’
Chase smiles apologetically at Taïga. ‘I don’t know what you could do anyway… We’ve been to the doctor’s and I’ve got lots of different stuff to use… None that works though… But thanks anyway.’
Taïga refuses to let go of her good mood. ‘Well. I’m off having a shower! See you at breakfast!’ Or not… Preferably not!
Jackpot! Wow… She really is prettyful… Lil Bling can’t take his eyes off Taïga’s lithe body. It’s only when she turns off the water and starts toweling that he remembers that he’s got VJ’s phone. Swearing to himself he fumbles with the settings. Taïga has already started to dress when Lil Bling drops the phone on the floor. What was that? Lil is to slow to duck down and Taïga lets out a blood curdling scream.
Derek wasn’t far away. He barges into the shower, making Taïga scream again. He pulls his T-shirt off and throws it at her. ‘Here, put this on…’
Lil doesn’t stand a chance, Derek charges like a raging bull, pushing a terrified Lil up against the wall. ‘I told you to leave her alone!’
‘Don’t you “dude” me!’
Elspeth and Chase are just behind Derek. ‘What happened? OhmyGod!’
Chase picks up Derek’s t-shirt from the floor. ‘Here. Cover yourself.’
Elspeth takes in the action, whistling softly, but Chase ushers her out. ‘Let’s get Taïga out of here before we get in trouble.’
Derek is out of control, beating Lil Bling to a pulp.
Taïga fills them in on what happened. ‘I’m so ashamed…’
Chase shakes her head. ‘It’s not your fault, darling.’
Elspeth adds: ‘I hope Derek smashes his face in!’
‘Yeah. That creep’s had it coming for weeks now!’ Taïga doesn’t say anything, she shivers in the wet t-shirt that smells wonderfully of Derek…
‘Did he touch you? Or film?’ Chase is worried but Taïga shakes her head.
Elspeth lights up. ‘I’ll wait for Derek and we’ll check. Don’t worry.’
Chase puts an arm around Taïga’s shoulders and escorts her back to her room.
‘Get up! I’m not finished with you yet!’ Crying, Lil Bling backs further away into the corner. Derek snorts contemptuously.
Then he turns and leaves, breathing heavily, his knuckles bleeding but he’s too angry to feel the pain.
‘Just keep away from her.’
He leans on on one of the sinks and lets the water slowly wash the blood away, waiting for his heartbeat to calm down.
Derek doesn’t turn around when Taïga comes into the laundry room later that afternoon.
‘Just put your laundry over there, Taïga.’
‘How did you know it was me?’
‘But… I haven’t put on perfume since this morning.’ She pulls on her sweater and sniffs. Derek is leaning against the washing machine, watching her. He raises an eyebrow. ‘I guess your things are soaked in perfume then.’
‘Don’t you like it?’ Derek watches his feet a brief instant. ‘Like it?’ God. I love it… Then he smiles one of his rare smiles that lights up his face. Taïga stares. He’s got beautiful white teeth… They’re not really straight but that’s charming…
‘Yeah. I guess I like it. I don’t recognize the fragrance, but I can tell you what’s in it.’
‘Every single ingredient?’
‘Every single ingredient.’ He answers cockily.
She comes closer. ‘Let’s play a game. If you win I’ll take over your laundry service – if you lose… You’ll take mine. Deal?’
‘OK. Now close your eyes and concentrate on my perfume.’
Taïga makes the most of the fact that his eyes are closed. Finally she can study his face and she takes in every detail; the long dark lashes, the eternal frown between his eyebrows, the straight nose, his mouth. She wonders what it would feel like, sucking on that lower lip…
Derek sniffs in the air. ‘Let me guess… It’s smells powdery and sweet… there’s vanilla and flowers…’ He swallows as he can sense her approaching. His nostrils analyzes the fragrance of her perfume mingling with the intoxicating cocktail of emotions wafting from her skin, conjuring up the vision of her half-naked in the showers this morning. Think about baseball! Or football! Anything but her body…
‘Bergamot… Err… Iris, jasmine.’ He inhales deeply. ‘… and roses and…’ He expires slowly. She smells heavenly… good… ‘… something I don’t recognize.’ He shakes his head as if to clear it. ‘Oh, and incense.’
Taïga smiles to herself. Now it’s his turn to feel awkward…
The light sensation of her breasts against his chest, her lips brushing against his cheek and her breath tickling his ear as she whispers ‘You lost…’, triggers something deep inside him he can’t control.
He grabs her wrists and pushes her away. ‘Don’t’, he gasps.
She gazes up at him with eyes like dark forest lakes, brimming with desire, and bites her moist lip. With a low growl, he nestles his right hand in her hair and tilts her head backwards. Violently he takes possession of her lips. Taïga kisses him back fiercely.
They stagger backwards and the cool, tiled wall prevents them from falling. Derek stares down at her, gasping for breath, his eyes dark with passion.
Seeing her tear-filled eyes looking up at him through wisps of dark hair makes him come to his senses. Abruptly he releases her and swears. ‘Fuck!’
He smashes his fist violently into the wall. ‘Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!’
His breathing is jerky and he stares wildly at a gaping Taïga. ‘Don’t play with me, little girl.’ he pants.
And he’s out of the laundry room, the door crashing shut behind him.
Taïga slumps trembling to the floor. She closes her eyes and rests her burning cheek against the cool wall tiles. Tentatively she touches her bruised lips as tears start to roll down her cheeks. I hate him! I hate him! Why did he stop? Her palm slams into the hard floor, again and again, in rhythm with her thoughts. Why. Did. He. Stop. Kissing. Me? I hate him!
I almost shifted in front of her! I’ve never lost control like that before! Derek runs straight out into the forest…
… shifting as he continues running… faster… faster…
Taïga doesn’t feel like painting that evening. She wants to show Derek she’s not a kid anymore and turns her drawers upside down in search for something grown up to wear. And sexy. Yes! Sexy would do just fine, thank you. She settles for her usual shorts and the short leather waistcoat she bought for IDC’s first concert and never had the opportunity to wear. She feels self-conscious entering the living room. An exhausted Derek lies on the couch, his legs propped on Teddy’s knees.
‘Wow! Come and sit here!’ Teddy gestures to the floor at his feet, next to Jupiter. ‘The film is about to start.’
Graciously she sits down, right in front of Derek, who doesn’t acknowledge her. Her skin prickles, she knows he’s looking at her. His hand brushes against her bare shoulder by mistake (?), making her shiver with pleasure. She can hear him draw his breath behind her. She closes her eyes for a second, leaning in towards him, but he removes his hand. The film is boring, and Teddy and Jupiter soon gives up trying to feign interest. They leave to play table tennis in the basement.
Before long she can hear Derek’s breathing become regular as he falls asleep on the couch. She stays in the living room until the end of the film, watching it with the others mostly because there’s nothing else to do…
‘C’mon, wake up, Derek… They have all left… There’s only the two of us…’ Taïga whispers suggestively and he can feel the warmth of her breath against his lips. But when he avidly turns his head towards her, she withdraws and lies down beside him.
Oh my God… He straddles her, pinning her wrists to the couch, taking command. Her chest is heaving and she moans softly when he lets his tongue trail from her cleavage and upwards.
‘I’m happy you’re not wearing a polo neck sweater, as usual.’
She gasps. ‘Don’t talk…’
He nibbles and licks and sucks his way up her neck. Listening to her moaning response makes him shiver with pleasure, encouraging him to continue. He can feel her wriggle and squirming under him, urging him on… His own excitement is rapidly building up a pressure the like he’s never felt before. There’s no turning back now. He will take her here and now, on the couch… ‘Oh… Taïga…’ He groans as his lips finally finds hers and…
‘Hey! Wake up!’ Teddy shakes Derek’s shoulder, grinning. ‘Sounded like you had a nice dream, bro.’
Sleepily Derek looks around the empty living room. He can still smell her perfume, taste her on his lips. His gaze fixes on his grinning brother. ‘Go to hell!’
Derek takes a long shower, not turning the cold water off before it has turned his body and his mind numb enough to be able to sleep.
Part II – End of Chapter 04