Disclaimer! This chapter contains explicit language and may not be suitable for younger readers
Taïga is surprised that nobody comes to meet her at Twallan International in Falls Harbor. Her cell is out of battery so she waits for a while before finally deciding to take a cab. The sun is setting just as she arrives at Bayou Oaks, making a perfect setting for the festively Christmas lit old mansion that looks warm and welcoming… Valkyria comes running, scaring the cabdriver off with Taïga’s change, but her menacing growl changes into a happy whimpering as she recognizes her mistress.
Taïga hugs her dog. ‘I’ve missed you sooo much! C’mon, let’s see what Granny is doing…’
Rowan comes running to see what the ruckus outside is about just when Taïga steps inside with Valkyria whining and dancing around her feet.
‘Taïga!?!’ he howls, hurtling himself into his sister’s arms. ‘Granny! Missy! Taïga’s home from prison!’
Taïga laughs. ‘C’mon, Rowan. It’s not a prison!’
Granny throws her apron on the counter and hurries out from the kitchen at the same time as Missy comes stumbling down the stairs, dripping water in her wake.
‘Taïga? Dear child!’ Granny hugs her hard. ‘Let me look at you.’ She scrutinizes Taïga and hugs her again. ‘Weren’t you supposed to come tomorrow?’
Missy clears her throat behind them. ‘Oups! I guess I forgot to tell you about the mail…’ She scratches her head. ‘I’m sorry!’
Taïga laughs. Her airhead of a great aunt hasn’t changed a bit. ‘It doesn’t matter, Missy. I took a cab at the airport.’ She bends towards Rowan and whispers, ‘How’s Peaches doing?’
‘Do I really have to go to bed now that Taïga is here? Why can’t I stay up with you all?’
‘Because you’re still a little boy, and we have things to talk through with your sister.’
‘It’s late, weren’t you already on your way to bed when Taïga came home? You’ll catch up tomorrow.’
Sulking, Rowan starts upstairs.
When Taïga finally comes into the room she shares with her half-brother, he’s faking sleep.
‘Stop sulking, Rowan! Here! Take this!’ Playfully she throws her pillow at him. She doesn’t have to wait long for a reaction. Laughing he jumps up on her bed and counterattacks.
Valkyria joins in the fun, excitedly barking.
‘No! Rowan wait!’ Taïga is out of breath. ‘Enough, Valkyria.’
The dog stops and looks pleadingly at her, but Taïga is adamant. Valkyria is getting too excited and someone might get hurt. She shows the door with her hand, ordering firmly, ‘Out!’
With Valkyria out and away, Peaches scrambles onto the bed to help Rowan.
‘It’s not fair!’ Taïga protests. ‘Two against one!’
‘We’re smaller and Peaches doesn’t exist!’
Taïga can’t argue and Peaches grabs the opportunity, hitting her so hard she’s sent sprawling to the floor.
‘Ouch!’ Taïga laughs. ‘That hurts – for a non-existing blow.’
The door opens on Granny and Missy armed with pillows, and soon feathers are flying all over the room…
Exhausted by the journey and the pillow fight, Taïga falls asleep as soon as she lays down. Someone tucks her in and she murmurs something unintelligible and turns onto her side.
‘I waited for you… Why didn’t you come? … Why?’ Her mother’s voice reaches her through her dreams.
‘Mom…’ Taïga murmurs. She tosses and turns, but doesn’t wake up.
In her dream she can see her mother using the palantìr. Everything is devoid of color, the palantìr itself seems dull. Shasta’s lips move and slowly a waning crescent is drawn from the milky sphere. It grows at it floats up and out of the window, getting fuller as it rises higher and higher on the dark night sky. The room is bathed in an eerie light. Shadows are taking the form of an old tree, reaching over the snow covered floor, snaking up the bed towards her sleeping form. The terrifying howl of a wolf in the distance makes her hair stand on end and she struggles to wake, knowing she will soon die if she doesn’t.
But her eyes remain firmly shut.
As the howling approaches, the shadows recede and she stops struggling. Suddenly she’s laying in Derek’s arms. She can’t see him, but she can hear his heart beating, feel the warmth of his body chasing the terrifying numbness of her own. Slowly she’s filled with a soothing feeling, knowing nothing can hurt her – not even the shadows.
‘Follow the wolf… You must follow the wolf…’
Taïga’s eyes pop open. ‘Mom?’ She sits up and looks around. ‘Mom?’
The room is empty, but her mother’s perfume is still lingering. She scrambles out of bed, opening the curtains and is blinded by the sun.
‘What time is it?’ She hurries downstairs to find Granny.
‘You’ve slept late.’ Granny is cooking for Christmas and doesn’t look up when Taïga walks into the kitchen. ‘There’s French bread for breakfast, and your favorite – blueberry jam.’
‘Thanks.’ She grabs a warm bread roll from a plate and looks around the kitchen to find somewhere to sit.
‘Where are the others?’
‘Missy is in town with Rowan. I guess they’re trying to find a last minute present for his father.’
‘Good.’ She takes a bite of the bread roll. ‘Mom was here last night,’ she announces matter-of-factly and the effect is immediate.
Granny lets go of the plate of gingerbread she just hauled out from the oven and gapes at Taïga. ‘You said?’
‘I was sleeping, but I’m pretty sure she was here.’ Taïga gets on her knees and helps Granny clean up the mess on the floor.
‘Wasn’t it a dream then? Tell me…’
Taïga tells Granny about her strange dream, and why she thinks that her mother was really there. She leaves out Derek, though, suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable about the whole thing. Thinking about him wakes up the disturbing, contradictory feelings again, and she knows Granny would disapprove anyway. She sighs.
‘-so that’s definitely something to take seriously.’ Granny looks at Taïga and she realizes she hasn’t listened to a word her grandmother has said about her dream.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well. Dreams are messengers and they can tell you things about your past, as well as the future. It’s not easy to interpret yours. I think it’s just because you’ve been through some stressful moments out there, and your subconscious is trying to tell you that.’
‘Oh.’ Stressful moments? That’s a euphemism…
Taïga spends the whole day with Granny in the kitchen and finally everything is ready.
‘Shall I bring the cake?’
‘Not yet Missy.’
‘But when? I think the cake would look great over there, in the corner.’
‘Was that a car?’ Taïga listens. ‘I think Leonardo’s here!’
‘Oh my!’ Granny looks panicked around the living room. ‘And I haven’t even changed into something suitable yet!’
‘Drama, drama. Here’s your wand,’ Missy says, concerned.
Granny just has the time to magically change clothes before the door opens on her son in law. He strides smiling into the hall and gestures to the cab driver to follow him in with an enormous basket with fresh fruit. ‘Merry Christmas, ladies.’
‘You didn’t bring Frost?’ Granny enquires, feeling drained and a little dizzy.
‘No. He’s with his nanny in Monte Vista,’ Leonardo lies. ‘Ah, Rowan! How you’ve grown! Come here, I’ve got something for you.’
‘Grazie, Papa.’ Rowan takes the flat gift and eagerly rips it open. ‘An iPad! Grazie! Can you show me how it works, Taïga?’
Leonardo looks her up and down with a little smile. ‘You are becoming quite a beauty, cara mia. You’ll soon surpass your mother.’ Gallantly he bends over her hand lightly touching it with his lips, making Taïga feel terribly grown up and a little uneasy.
Taïga doesn’t talk much during dinner. Right in the middle of the main course, when Leonardo was expertly carving the turkey, a cold wind blew through the dining room, making Taïga shudder. The joyful clinking of cutlery and happy conversation grew distant and dull, and when she turned her head to the right it seemed like she was moving in slow motion. Her mother silently slides down on the empty chair on Taïga’s right, and she draws her breath. She can see Rowan discreetly playing with his iPad on his knees as if she looked at him through water. Her mother turns her head and looks Taïga straight in her eyes.
‘You must find me, my daughter…’ She reaches for Rowan. Taïga can see strands of his brown hair moving slightly, making him quickly look up at her through his mother’s translucent body, and smile.
‘Protect him from his brother. Don’t let him leave…’ Shasta’s voice echoes in Taïga’s head. She tries to say something, but she can’t move. Mom…
‘Please, Rowan. Put away your iPad.’
‘Just a sec, Granny. I’ll just-’
Leonardo stares sternly at his son. ‘You can play after dinner. Now put that away.’
‘Yes, father.’ Rowan obediently turns off his new toy, and literally wolfs down his food before asking for permission to leave the table as soon as he reasonably can.
Taïga keeps glancing at Rowan, wanting to tell him that their mother is sitting at the place reserved for the cherished ones that are dead. Their connection is broken, she just sits there, staring intently at her husband. Taïga scrutinizes her grandmother and Leonardo, but apparently they can’t see their guest.
‘Aren’t you hungry, Taïga?’ Leonardo asks. ‘You look a little cold, maybe some wine?’
‘No, thank you. She’s only fifteen,’ Granny says primly.
‘Talking of which… There’s no wine left! Would you mind helping me, Leonardo? The wine is in the cellar.’
‘Of course.’ Leonardo dabs his mouth with his napkin and pushes back his chair. ‘And yes, my son. You can leave the table.’
Rowan quickly jumps down from his chair, happily running upstairs with his new toy and Peaches in tow.
The words stumble over Taïga’s lips as soon as Missy and Leonardo are out of earshot. ‘Mom’s here,’ she whispers, watching her mother rapidly fading away. ‘But she’s fading as we talk.’
‘Shasta? Here?’ Granny looks bewildered around her. ‘A ghost!?!’ Her gaze stops at the “empty” seat next to Taïga.
Taïga nods and looks over her shoulder. ‘Shhhht. They’re coming back.’
Granny is flabbergasted. ‘But that must mean that she is… dead!?!’ she mumbles to herself, making sure Taïga didn’t overhear her.
Taïga can see her grandmother grow pale, but she knows better than to ask any questions.
‘There were still two bottles in the kitchen,’ Missy chirps joyfully. ‘Dinner is saved…’
They finish dining, the conversation a little stilted as both Granny and Taïga are fighting with their knowledge of Shasta’s presence. Granny asks questions about her grandson, Frost, and Leonardo shows them pictures of a little serious boy with dark hair and a smile that never reaches his eyes.
After dinner, they settle in the den with a cup of tea and eggnog, listening to Granny’s favorite old disc with Chopin’s Nocturnes. Leonardo gives them ‘Just a little something I brought for Christmas’.
Taïga gets a beautiful short skirt and a Kashmir sweater, Granny gets a state of the art chocolate fountain and Missy an upgraded popcorn machine. Leonardo seems to appreciate his Hermes gloves and matching scarf. It’s after midnight when he excuses himself, stifling a yawn.
‘Rowan! Devo lasciare! I have to leave.’
Leonardo is tired, and longs to get back to his hotel. Granny and Missy has kindly offered him to stay overnight, but he declined, preferring the comfort of Hotel Bellevue. But where’s Rowan? He can’t leave without saying goodbye to his son.
‘I’m coming, I’m coming…’ Rowan ambles downstairs, not wanting to say goodbye.
‘I have to leave for Italy tomorrow morning so I’m going back to my hotel now.’ Rowan doesn’t say anything. He’s jealous of Frost who can enjoy his father every day. Or at least more often than he, Rowan, can. They stare at each other and it’s Leonardo who breaks the silence. ‘Va bene. I will fetch you for the summer holidays and after that you’re going to boarding school… Capisce?’
‘Do I have to?’ Rowan mutters.
‘Si. Arrivederci, figlio mio. Be a good boy.’ They hug, then Leonardo turns his back on his son and leaves. Rowan watches his father get into a cab, then he rushes upstairs hollering for Taïga. He and Peaches had been doing some research on his new iPad about something really important and he can’t wait to ask Taïga to help him with his secret project.
Granny and Taïga are upstairs in the study. They can hear Rowan calling, but Missy gets to him before he has the time to barge in and disturb them. Granny wants to check Taïga’s saying about Shasta’s ghost as soon as possible.
But on this Christmas Eve, the palantìr seems to weigh a ton. Its color shifts from translucent to a light grey… but nothing happens. Granny can’t hold it up anymore and has to let go of it.
To her surprise it doesn’t settle.
‘By the Goddess! It doesn’t obey me! It won’t let me see anything!’ Granny is devastated.
Taïga reaches out and slowly the Palantìr sinks down. Granny can’t believe her eyes.
What was that? ‘Ahem… Can you do that again?’
‘I don’t know…’ Taïga squirms on her chair. She can’t tell Granny that she has already used the palantìr, with Rowan…*
‘Well. I would like you to try. Don’t be afraid…’
Taïga approaches her hands and without hesitation the palantìr lifts.
Taïga concentrates and suddenly it lights up from within, immersing the room in a pale pink light.
To Granny’s astonishment it doesn’t swirl, but its power seems to slowly concentrate towards Taïga, while the side that faces Granny stays deceptively empty…
Taïga’s hands feel numb and a tickling sensation is spreading up her arms, like thousands of ants swarming over her chest and when it finally reaches her head she fills with a light so bright it hurts.
Then she can hear it; a whisper, caressing her soul, echoing inside her, cajoling, ‘Av-‘osto, Hiril vuin, Av-‘osto … Leithio nin…’*
*Don’t be afraid, my lady, don’t be afraid… Release me…
Granny watches her granddaughter sway with her hands glued to the palantir, seeing the light seep out of it and into Taïga’s glowing hands.
‘It can’t be? … Oh, no. I must stop this. Now!’
Startled, Taïga snaps open her eyes and lets go of the palantìr.
‘I was going to ask you the same thing, dear child. You scared me for a while!’
Taïga blinks and shakes her head. ‘I can’t remember… There was a voice. A whispering voice that made me feel good…’
Granny searches her face. ‘What did it say?’
Taïga frowns. ‘I can’t remember… It was a strange language, but pleasant to listen to…’
‘Try to recall, Taïga. It’s important.’
‘Hmmm. Could it be Av-osto-’ She hesitates. ‘Leithio nin?’
Taïga nods. ‘What does it mean?’
‘It’s Elfish and means something like: Don’t be scared… Err… Set me free, release me…’
Taïga stares big eyed at Granny. ‘I didn’t even know there was something like an Elfish language. What does all this mean?’
‘I don’t know… I have to think about it. Now go to bed.’
Taïga pushes back her chair and rises. Her legs feel a bit wobbly and she’s lightheaded. She stops on the threshold and looks at Granny. ‘It called me Hiril vuin,’ she whispers.
Granny repeats with a shaking voice, ‘Hiril vuin. My Lady… Everything becomes clear. I was too late… The palantìr has chosen you, Taïga. For good… and for bad… I really must think about this, you haven’t been initialized yet, and I’m still alive. It has never happened before… Now leave me, please.’
Taïga doesn’t go straight to bed. She’s strangely agitated and goes to warm some milk with honey. She stops at the bottom of the stairs. The tickling sensation is back and amazed she looks at herself. ‘Oh my God. I’m sparkling!?!’
It only last a few seconds and disappears as soon as she lifts her arms and stretches her fingers. The tickling also ceases as fast as it began.
‘I saw you,’ Rowan says with a little, scared voice. He’s sitting all alone in the den, looking a little sleepy and upset.
‘What are you doing up this late? It’s past midnight!’
‘I’m waiting for Santa! And then I saw you.’
‘What exactly did you see?’ Taïga asks warily.
‘How you sparkled.’ Taïga closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. ‘But don’t worry. I won’t tell. If you convince Granny to let me live here for good-’
‘Rowan, I will try. But I can’t promise you anything.’
‘-and if you stay here and wait for Santa with me…’
Taïga sighs. ‘OK.’
‘Hey! Stop! How many things are you going to ask me?’
‘Three, of course! Wishes always come by three, don’t they?’
‘I’m not a genie, Rowan…’
‘You sparkled! Who knows what you are?’ He looks at her grimacing. ‘Anyway, I was looking for you everywhere because we need your help! Please?’
She sits down on the sofa facing him, waiting for him to start. ‘We? You and… Peaches?’
Rowan nods approval, looking over his shoulder at Peaches who’s impatiently waiting for him start. He draws his breath. ‘Do you remember that Peaches was just a ragdoll in the beginning? …’
Five minutes later he finishes, ‘… so can we make him real? Like Pinocchio – a real person? But we must keep it a secret.’
‘OK. I promise I won’t tell. I’ll look it up in the old grimoires in the attic, there might be something that can help us. But you must know that I have no say in what the books will show me. Do you understand?’
Suddenly her phone vibrates. ‘It’s Linn, calling from Aspen!’
Rowan doesn’t want her to take the call. ‘But you have texted her the whole day!’
‘You said it – texted! Now leave me alone.’
Rowan mutters, sitting down on the other couch.
Linn can’t sleep either and they are both eager to catch up. Happily chatting about everything that’s happened since they last met, they finally decide that Linn should come over as soon as she gets back home on Boxing Day.
Rowan has finally fallen asleep, listening to boring girl talk works like a sleeping drug on the exhausted young boy.
When Santa finally arrives, everyone in the mansion is sleeping…
The next morning, after opening all their Christmas presents, Granny encourages Taïga to seek answers in the palantìr. She sits for a long time without moving, staring at the crystal ball, apprehending.
Will the voice be there again? What will happen if Granny can’t stop it? Do I really want to find out if Mom is dead?
Granny is pacing nervously outside the study, trying not to listen in on what’s happening.
Tentatively Taïga reaches out towards the palantìr, and the flow of energy is immediate.
The smooth, languid voice fills her head and the palantìr levitates… ‘Av-‘osto, Hiril vuin, don’t be afraid… Ask me and you shall see…’ She tries to concentrate on what she wants to know.
Afterwards she has to lie down a while, but she’s eager to tell Granny and Missy about it all, how darkness hid her mother, but also that she’s practically sure she’s been killed. The two old sisters sit by her bed, listening with serious faces, nodding to each other when she starts talking about the blood drenched demon.
‘Shasta most certainly was killed by a dark force,’ Missy says thoughtfully.
‘Yes, I agree. But does Leonardo know?’ Granny adds, looking at her sister.
‘Was it after she left him and Frost?’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Because if it was before…’
‘Oh, my! Do you think Leonardo has something to do with her disappearing?’
‘I think we should keep this to ourselves, at least until we know more.’
‘Yes, and we should definitely keep Rowan out of it. We can’t tell such a young boy that we suspect that his mother might be dead.’
Their voices disappear in a blur as Taïga weary drifts off to sleep…
Linn comes over on Boxing Day. The girls can’t wait to be alone so they can talk.
‘Are you seeing Loki soon?’
‘Uh-huh… I’m having dinner with his parents tonight!’
‘No way? His parents? He’s serious about you, isn’t he?’
‘I think so…’ Absentmindedly Taïga strokes Minuit’s back. ‘But I feel weird going out with him.’
‘Weird? Aren’t you in love with him?’
‘I guess I am. But we’ve known each other for so long. He’s always been around – like a friend. And now we’re supposed to, well, kiss and stuff.’
Linn nods. ‘What are you worried about – the kissing or “the stuff”? You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I’m sure Loki will respect your wishes – he really cares about you, you know. Not at all like Jayler…’
‘What do you mean?’
‘What?’ Linn picks up Taïga’s phone and starts going through the photos.
‘You know what I mean! Linn… Have you already? You know… Done it?’
‘Are you crazy? I’m fifteen!’
‘Yeah, but you’re dating Jayler, aren’t you? And everybody knows his reputation…’
Linn giggles. ‘He was trying to get to second base and, well, you know…’ She concentrates on Taïga’s cell, blushing.
‘Oh. My. God. You did it!?!’
‘Yeah, well. Not the whole thing, you know what I mean.’
Taïga doesn’t really, but Linn continues. ‘He’s a little overwhelming, you know. He drove me home after the movies a couple of weeks ago. We started kissing and it got very intimate. He’s a very good kisser, and when he touched my breasts I just let him. It felt good, and I mean, it’s nothing wrong with a little cuddling. But when he tried to reach into my pants I told him to stop.’
Taïga stares wide-eyed at her friend. ‘Did he? Stop, I mean.’
‘Yeah, thank God. But then he wanted me to feel him up and I said I wasn’t ready for that kind of thing yet. He said he respected that, but I could feel he wasn’t happy about it.’
‘I bet he wasn’t…’ Taïga says vehemently, unwillingly thinking of Derek. She wonders what would have happened if Elspeth hadn’t dropped her bomb the other night. When they were dancing together she was having butterflies not only in her stomach, and she would have followed him anywhere… But would she have let him touch her? And would she have touched him? Hell, yeah. When they were dancing it was the only thing that mattered – his touch sending twinges of electricity, jolts of a tingling sensation she didn’t know how to control. That she had no wish to control.
‘Anyway. He dumped me when I didn’t want to… you know…’ She shrugs. ‘I guess he got bored just playing around and now he’s with Tess.’
‘I’m sorry! Why didn’t you tell me? He’s such a loser for dumping you…’
‘Yeah… isn’t he? I guess I’m better off without him… I’m not sure he’s in love with Tess either. He’s the kind of guy who’ll always be screwing around. He talked about you a lot when we were together,’ she adds, glancing at Taïga over the cell.
‘Me?’ Taïga swallows, fighting away the unwelcome thoughts of Derek. ‘I would never date him, he’s not at all my kind of guy.’
‘I know. That’s why I think you’re so lucky to have someone like Loki. I wish I had, but I’m always attracted to bad boys… You warned me enough of Jayler… But I guess he was preoccupied by the band and stuff. I told you they haven’t found a singer yet, didn’t I?’ Linn changes the subject.
Taïga acquiesces, feeling guilty for letting IDC down.
‘Tess is happy enough, having Jayler and the band all to herself…’ Linn adds thoughtfully. Then she looks from Taïga to the door and back again, lowering her voice. ‘Can you believe he was bragging at school about him and Tess making it to Third Base? I was all like, duh. But then Tess showed up with a scarf, trying to hide a hickey. Just wait till the Mayor finds out, they’ll probably have to get married!’
Taïga sniggers. ‘Can you imagine Tess’s mother? Her daughter with a Moroni? She’ll probably disinfect her grandchildren!’
‘Don’t worry – I bet Jayler’s taking precautions,’ Linn snorts.
‘They merit each other. I’m curious to see if he can shake her once he’s got what he wanted.’
But Linn doesn’t really listen anymore, she’s distracted by a picture on Taïga’s phone. ‘OhmyGod… This one’s a looker! Is that him?’
‘Who?’ Taïga asks grinning to herself as she’s visualizing Jayler and horsey Tess in twenty years.
‘Derek of course!’
‘Let me see…’
‘Yeah, that’s him…’
Linn takes the phone back. ‘Total babe… Is that the only picture?’
‘I don’t know. I think so.’ Taïga says, thinking of the two other pictures in her cell – selfies of them together.
‘And you said he’s single?’
‘You’re kidding me!?! Girls must be all over him.’
Taïga laughs. ‘Stop drooling. He’s a stubborn, obnoxious ass! You wouldn’t want to be his girlfriend!’
‘He’s a stubborn, obnoxious, drop-dead gorgeous hunk. And I bet his ass is too. It’s a pity you didn’t get all of him on the pic…’
‘Linn! He was wearing jeans!’
‘Oh, c’mon, Taïga. You’re so crushing on him right now!’
‘I am not! We’re just friends!’
‘Liar! I can tell you like him.’ She flashes another picture of Derek – a selfie with Taïga. ‘Just look how good you two look together!’ She quickly turns the pages on the phone. ‘Wow. This is a mean one…’
‘I hate that one! I look drugged, or worse. I can’t believe I’ve kept it!’
‘Maybe because Derek looks hot? I can’t believe anyone could have as blue eyes…’ Taïga just glares at Linn who continues, ‘So how come you have a nude pic of him on your cell?’
‘It’s note a nude! I told you he wore jeans.’
Linn glances up. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it?’ Taïga doesn’t answer. ‘This guy screams “sex”!’ Linn returns to the first picture. ‘Jeans or no jeans…’
Taïga sits up and gently pushes away Minuit. ‘He’s unbearable. I would rather die than being his girlfriend.’
Linn stares at her. ‘You’re crazy… Or sooo in love with Loki you’re blind.’ She winks but when she sees the expression on Taïga’s face she gets serious again.
‘Did I say something wrong?’
‘No… It’s just… I think he’s going to be a dad.’
‘Apparently he’s slept with one of the girls at APYR, and now she’s preggers.’
‘OMG! How stupid of them! I mean, they should have protected themselves. Derek doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to go around without a rubber in his pocket – just in case.’
‘So what happens now? Will she keep the baby? Will they get married?’
‘I don’t know. And I don’t really care. He can do whatever he wants… C’mon, I don’t want to talk about it right now…’
Linn has a thousand questions, but she looks thoughtfully at her best friend, seeing she’s really upset about this pregnancy thing.
She kisses Taïga’s cheek. ‘C’mon, let’s get you ready for your date tonight.’
Taïga laughs but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes. Why am I irritated with her? She can be such a pain sometimes! Derek’s not my boyfriend, Loki is. So why does it hurt so much when I talk about Derek? Gosh, I want to erase those darn photos just so she won’t set eyes on him again.
Linn is already going through Taïga’s clothes holding up a short midnight blue skater skirt with handmade embroideries on the hem, ‘I love this skirt. Is it new?’
‘Yeah, courtesy of Leonardo for Christmas.’
‘Geez, the old goat has taste. Maybe because he’s Italian…’ She holds it up, accidentally setting eyes on the lapel. ‘Oh my God! Is it Dolce & Gabbana? I absolutely think you should wear it tonight – Loki will drool!’
‘I don’t think he even knows what Dolce & Gabbana is.’
Linn giggles, ‘You’re right. Poor guy will probably think it’s some Italian dessert – his dessert,’ she adds and winks. Now lets find something to go with it…’
‘There’s a sweater somewhere in the top drawer. A grey one, and tights. Leonardo brought the whole outfit – except shoes.’
‘So, what are you waiting for? Try it on.’
Taïga quickly changes out of her jeans and into the chic outfit. A little awkward she looks at herself in the mirror.
‘I think you look stunning!’ Linn muses. ‘It’s just…’
‘The skirt! I knew it! It’s too short?’
‘No, the skirt is perfect! It’s your hair.’
‘What about my hair?’
‘I think you should wear it lose, but strict. Nice and clean, you know what I mean? I can help you flat ironing your hair.’
Taïga rolls her eyes. ‘OK. Whatever. But I like my hair like this,’ she adds petulantly.
But of course Linn gets her way.
‘They’re here! Ernest! Come and have a look…’
Loki’s mother has impatiently been looking out for her son and Taïga, and she squeals excitedly at the sight of them getting out of the cab. She has never seen her son with a girlfriend, and she discreetly turns away when he hugs the beautiful raven haired girl in the driveway, kissing her cheek.
Loki is holding Taïga’s arm in a reassuring grip. ‘Don’t worry. They won’t eat you!’
Taïga just glances up at him, feeling terribly awkward. They talked a lot in the cab on their way to Thornbuck Slope, effortlessly sliding into their easy friendship, but she’s still uncertain of how to act as his girlfriend. He kissed her on the cheek when he picked her up, and Linn shared the cab with them all the way here, so they haven’t really been alone.
She lets him hug her, and kiss her cheek again, waiting for the fireworks and the sweet anticipation of his touch, but there’s only affection. She sighs. She has already met his dad, but it will be the first time she meets his mother and she’s so nervous. Maybe that’s why she can’t concentrate on feeling in love? But you shouldn’t have to concentrate on that, should you?
Loki reaches for the door but it opens from the inside on his dad.
‘Hello. Nice to see you again, Taïga.’ Loki’s father’s grip is firm. ‘Come on in, it’s freezing out here.’
Loki’s mother is really sweet and goes out of her way to make Taïga feel comfortable. Loki has told her Taïga loves fish, so she has cooked salmon for dinner.
‘It both looks and smells divine, Mrs. Simmingway.’
‘It’s fresh from the Fall’s. Ernest enjoys his fishing trips.’ She reaches for her husband’s hand and squeezes it.
Taïga isn’t used to see affection displayed, so she blushes and concentrates on her plate. Loki’s mother seems to be a rather sweet person, but his little sister is a real pain. She has been staring at Taïga since they sat down to dinner. Suddenly she breaks the silence and Loki groans.
‘Are you getting married when you get out of prison?’
‘Erin!’ Loki’s father says sharply.
‘We have explained that she’s not in prison,’ his mother says, frowning. ‘I hope you’ll excuse her,’ she adds to Taïga who nods and forces a smile.
‘I just wanted to know if they were going to have kids soon. Because I could baby-sit for money.’
Loki kicks Erin’s leg under the table and glares at her.
Taïga throws a shy glance at Loki. ‘I don’t think so, we’re only fifteen-’
‘Loki’s soon sixteen! And he says when he’s legal he’ll do it as often he can, but without making babies!’
‘I’ll decapitate your Barbies – ALL of them – if you don’t shut up,’ Loki hisses.
‘But you said-’
‘Enough! Both of you.’ Ernest glares at his children, and his mother nervously clears her throat.
‘Some more potato gratin, Taïga?’
‘No thank you, Mrs. Simmingway.’ Taïga focuses on finishing her plate, trying to hide her smile. Erin reminds her of Rowan, she can understand Loki a hundred percent.
Loki pushes back his chair, ‘Don’t worry, mom. Taïga and I’ll take care of the dishes.’
Taïga smiles up at him, grateful that he’s providing her with an excuse to leave the table.
His mother folds her napkin. ‘That’s sweet of you, but I have to take out the dessert from the fridge.’
‘We’ll fix that, too. Just stay put.’
They collect the dirty dishes and Taïga follows him to the kitchen.
‘Don’t even think about it!’ She dodges his hand.
‘About what?’ Loki fakes innocence and retrieves his hand, feigning to scratch his head.
You were going to slap my butt.’
‘I wasn’t… OK. I was.’
Taïga rolls her eyes, scraping the plates clean while he loads the dishwasher. ‘What’s for dessert,’ she finally asks, to break the uncomfortable silence.
‘Mom’s special – Raspberry cheesecake. You’ll love it!’
Taïga’s mouth waters when she sets eye on the beautifully decorated cake. ‘I love raspberries, they’re my favorite.’
‘I know…’ He looks at her with such tenderness, she spontaneously walks into his arms and kisses him full on the mouth. A little surprised at first, he quickly pulls her closer, deepening the kiss. That’s when Erin chooses to walk in on them.
‘Mom! Dad! They’re making out in the kitchen!’
‘OK. You can officially kill her. I won’t tell,’ Taïga says when Loki reluctantly lets go of her.
After dessert, Loki takes Taïga up onto the roof terrace to watch the full moon rise above the dense pine woods. It’s very romantic, but also freezing cold. Taïga shudders and Loki pulls her closer, but the warmth of his arms isn’t enough to make her stop shivering.
‘I guess we should get back inside… Would you like to see my room?’
Taïga just nods with clattering teeth, incapable of articulating.
His room is quite big, and she welcomes the cozy warmth. He closes the door, leaning towards it and watching her stroll around looking at his things. He’s glad his mother is a cleaning freak. His room is spotless, yet it reflects his personality well. Taïga admires the original film posters and the pictures of fast cars adorning the walls. She picks up an enormous rabbit in the corner and swirls around, hugging it.
‘Dad got me that in China. He went there to promote his book in February – it’s the Chinese New Year…’ He sits on the bed, calling her over, ‘Come here… I’ll tell you all about it.’
Taïga bites her lip and she can see Loki draw his breath. When she kissed him in the kitchen earlier she didn’t experience the same overpowering feeling as with Derek, but the butterflies had definitely been present, and she can feel them move around now too. She loves to see how Loki swallows as he watches her approach, how he moves up onto the bed to leave her enough room to sit comfortably without breaking their gaze. She might be in his room, on his bed, but she knows that she doesn’t risk anything. Loki would never go too far without her consent. She’s perfectly sure she can trust him.
He touches her smooth skin in wonder, letting his fingertips brush the contours of her mouth, before he tenderly brushes her lips with his. She tastes of raspberry and something more he can’t describe but knows he’s now addicted to. He exhales shakily. Closing his eyes he pushes his mouth a little harder against hers. Taïga doesn’t shy away, but opens her lips to welcome his tongue. Her mind can’t help travelling back to her dance with Derek, how she felt when he was about to kiss her. A soft moan escapes her, goose bumps shimmer across her skin and she shudders involuntarily. Loki groans, and he grabs her a little harder, pulling her in towards his chest. A discreet knock on the door make them both breathless draw apart.
Loki’s mother passes her head around the door, ‘It’s time to drive Taïga home, Loki. Dad doesn’t want you to practice tonight, he’ll drive. It’s snowing and the roads are dangerous…’
Part II – End of Chapter 06