Loki and Linn come over to Bayou Oaks mansion almost every day. Rowan is usually trying to make them play with him, and Linn never says no.
‘I’ve always wanted a sibling! You can’t understand – I don’t even know who my mother is!’
‘Talking about your mother. Have you learned anything new?’ Taïga checks the chocolate cake in the oven.
‘No… I only know she’s from Aurora Skies, that she was 16 when I was born and that she probably moved to Falls Harbor 6 years ago.’
‘But why do you care so much? She left you, didn’t she? And you have two dads who love you!’ Both Taïga and Linn stares at Loki.
‘I guess you don’t understand! I need to know where I come from! I need to identify with someone… I would like to know what she looks like, if she was like me when she was my age…’ Linn looks at Taïga for help. ‘It won’t make me love Victor and Jesper less…’
‘She’s right. It hurts to be abandoned, but you need to know where you come from… Your roots…’ Taïga makes a mental note, she will ask the palantìr about Linn’s mother…
But before asking the palantìr, she has to prepare Linn somehow. Later that evening she talks to Granny about the best way to proceed.
‘I know you really want to help her, but she mustn’t know we’re witches…’
‘What about a forgetting spell afterwards?’
The very next day, Taïga brings Linn into the study.
‘I didn’t know you were psychic? Gosh this is exciting!’
Not exactly a psychic… ‘Sit down and think about your mother.’
Five minutes later, the palantìr has delivered its answer and the two girls walk downstairs, animatedly chatting, into the kitchen where Granny is waiting for them to cast a spell on Linn that makes her forget everything that happened since she got there this morning. Linn is soon sitting on a chair, staring ahead in a trance like state.
‘5 minutes! That was fast!’
‘But it didn’t give me a name!’
‘It never does. You have to learn to read it… Now, what did you see?’
‘Nothing special. Just images from Aurora Skies and possibly Norway. Landscapes…’
‘Take your time to think about it. The clue is forcibly there… Now let’s wake Linn up before Loki comes.’
Taïga’s phone rings while Granny is waking Linn.
‘Jayler? Hi! … No. I don’t think I’m ready to talk to you just yet, Jayler… What?… I don’t think so… Well, last time I went somewhere with you I ended up in a police car! That’s why! … Yes… Loki… And Linn… Well, you dumped her, didn’t you?… No… I don’t want to talk about this… Never… Yes, I’m going to the New Year’s Ball – with Loki… Uh-uh, no chance… Bye.’
Taïga stares at her phone. Phew… I can’t believe his guts. Call to ask me out after dumping Linn!?! And while still dating Tess! Incredible… She shakes her head.
Jayler draws on his cigarette, contemplating the ceiling. Tess is cuddled up in his arms, contentedly asleep on his chest. She didn’t even stir when he phoned! But his call to Taïga only makes him feel more restless. He draws again on his cigarette and watches the smoke slowly whirl up towards the fire alarm.
Fucking thing isn’t working… He’s slept over at Tess’ place, hiding in her darn cupboard for forty minutes while her mother whined on and on about what Tess should wear to the New Year’s Ball and who should be her date! He blows out more smoke and glances at Tess. I’ll see Taïga on New Year’s Eve… I’ll talk to her then…
Linn feels a little queasy, so she stays in the kitchen with Granny and Missy while Rowan drags Loki and Taïga outside.
‘Do you have to do that all the time? We’re supposed to have fun!’
‘We are having fun, Rowan!’ Taïga teases.
‘I mean play-in-the-snow-kind-of-fun!’
Loki sighs, he could go on kissing Taïga forever! But they’ve promised Rowan to build an igloo and a promise is a promise…
New Year’s Eve at Ana Kempinsky’s.
Ana has put in a lot of work decorating to get the right festive feeling. She’s even hired a DJ. She didn’t count on some students bringing alcohol, but Becky is kind of a rebel and soon passes out on the couch. Ana is worried, if her dad finds out, he’ll never let her throw a party again…
Darryl is chatting up the new girl in town, Lela Washington. Her dad’s a talent scout and Darryl would like him to listen to IDC. Jayler is trying to follow the conversation, but with Tess glued to him, he can hardly breathe. It might be time to change girlfriend. Soon. If I could just get Taïga alone, so I could talk to her, but Loki never leaves her side. He’s just as clingy as Tess… He scowls to himself…
Jarrod Mullins and Bloom Peacemaker are watching the couples on the dancefloor from the comfy couch. They’ve been chatting for the last half hour, Jarrod trying to make a move but he’s too shy. Loki and Taïga are slow dancing, oblivious of the others, waiting for the countdown…
‘Happy New Year…’ Loki bends over and kisses Taïga softly.
‘Happy New Year, Loki.’ She gazes into his loving eyes, searching for…
‘TAAAÏGA! Over here!’ Linn waves frantically, fraying a passage over to Taïga and Loki.
‘FaceTime greetings to your friends at APYR! Here! You hold the phone… Wait a sec…’ She shakes out her hair a little and pouts. ‘Go ahead!’
‘Ted’s online! Here we go!’ Taïga holds up the phone.
‘Happy New Year, Ted!’ The girls shout happily.
‘Happy New Year! ’ Ted’s grinning face takes up the whole screen.
Linn plasters a smile and nudges Taïga. ‘Linn wants to know if Derek’s around.’ Taïga singsongs.
‘Nope! He’s in the shower. You’re two hours ahead you know… But I’m saving this.’
Loki passes and throws an arm around the girls, shouting ‘Happy New Year!’ to the cell, before continuing into the crowd.
Taïga can feel her cheeks burning and somehow she can’t bring herself to say ‘my boyfriend’. So she murmurs. ‘Just a friend…’
The image on the screen flickers. ‘Have fun tonight! Both of you!’ Teddy’s voice is crackling.
‘Sure! See you next week!’
‘Yeah! Take care!’
Taïga hands the cell back to a disappointed Linn…
Teddy and Derek are going nowhere tonight because of the fierce snowstorm building up since that afternoon.
‘Who were you talking to?’ Derek comes out of the bathroom, rubbing his wet hair with a towel.
‘Taïga on FaceTime. But we got disconnected…’ He rises his head from his arms and sighs. ‘But I recorded it…’
‘So what are you waiting for?’ Derek pulls on his Christmas present from his mom – a University pajamas. ‘I thought your new MacBook was super-fast…’
‘Just a sec… the blizzard is making it hard to connect…’
Derek watches the video of Taïga without a word. She was blushing… so that guy must mean something to her. Gosh, she can’t lie…
He kicks violently the kit he’s just received from College and the content spread on the floor.
‘Hey! What are you doing, bro?’
‘C’mon, Der. We’ll miss “The Walking Dead”!’
‘The Walking Dead? On New Year’s Eve? Sounds like a lot of fun…’ Derek says sarcastically. ‘I think I just stay here, I’ve got some… schoolwork to catch up on…’
Teddy just stares at his brother. Schoolwork? Derek schoolwork? On New Year’s Eve? ‘OK. If you say so…’
When Teddy and Johnny come to bed after a “Walking Dead” marathon, Derek’s still awake, absorbed by something on Teddy’s MacBook.
‘Are you on FaceTime? Or watching Taïga?’
Derek doesn’t even glance at his brother. ‘Nope… I’m checking something out… I’ll tell you in the morning…’
Linn comes over after lunch and the two girls take their horses for the New Year’s first long ride in the woods.
Duke is a little stiff, so the girls let their horses walk on long reins to warm up.
‘Shall we?’ The girls look at each other…
Screaming and laughing they spur their horses down the snowclad slope…
‘Wow!’ They stop panting at the feet of the slope, the horses stomping and snorting, eager to continue.
‘Shall we try the beach?’
‘Yeah! Just look at Duke, he can’t wait to get going.’
The beach is deserted and the two horses race faster and faster. Duke seems to like stretching his legs again, and even outruns the younger, lighter horse.
It’s not easy to stop the racing horses…
Valkyria is waiting for them at the crossroads when they come trotting back, exhausted but happy after several hours in the saddle.
Taïga leans down and pats her on the head. ‘Have you been waiting the whole afternoon?’
‘Don’t forget you’re sleeping over tomorrow.’ Linn pats Scarlett’s neck.
‘Yeah. I can’t wait!’
‘Me too…’ The girls hug one last time, still on horseback.
Taïga looks after Linn’s vanishing silhouette, then she hugs Duke, who hangs his head and coughs.
‘I think you overestimated your strength, old boy.’ She lets Duke walk home on lose reins, letting him set the pace.
Once in his paddock, Taïga untacks him and goes to fetch him a blanket. The old horse neighs and Taïga turns around just in time to see him heavily lie down in the snow. Instinctively she senses something is wrong, and lets go off the tack, running back towards Duke. She encourages him to stand up, but the old horse only seems to manage to lift his head.
But the house is too far for someone to hear her cries for help. Taïga fumbles for her phone with numb fingers, but is only getting Linn’s voice mail.
‘Linn! There’s something wrong with Duke, he can’t stand up, I don’t know what to do and can you call your vet.’
She hangs up, tears streaming down her face.
She cradles the old horse’s head in her arms, mumbling softly to him, begging him to hang on… But there’s nothing she can do…
‘Luckily he didn’t collapse in the woods!’ Missy tries to comfort her, but only makes Taïga cry harder.
Granny takes her in her arms. ‘Duke was nearly 28 years old…’ But Taïga is disconsolate. ‘Make me a cup of tea’, Granny mouths to Missy.
Her sister walks away towards the kitchen, mumbling under her breath. ‘Taking that old horse out for a ride…’
‘She’s right! It’s my fault! I shouldn’t have let him gallop so fast…’ Taïga hiccups.
Granny caresses Taïga’s hair and whispers soothingly. ‘Hush… There was nothing you could have done. I think Duke wanted to run again, to feel young and strong… it was his last gift to you…’
She hugs her granddaughter hard, fighting her own tears… Granny lets Taïga cry for a while on her shoulder, before murmuring a soothing spell on her so she could get some sleep. She sits on Taïga’s bedside, debating what to do next.
Missy calls out from downstairs. ‘Was it an ice tea you wanted? Because your cup is getting cold!’
‘I’ll be right down!’ Granny stands up, and with a last kiss on her granddaughter’s forehead, she goes into the study to make some calls. First to Linn’s dad to tell him what happened, and they agree on letting Taïga stay for a couple of days at their place. Then she calls the Mullin’s, to let them know about their old horse…
It feels good to be with Linn. They spend the whole day in her room, eating ice cream and watching “Black Beauty” and “Sea Biscuit”, repeating the films over and over again, crying every time…
Victor has the dinner ready when Jesper comes home later that evening. Jesper is eager to show the girls a slideshow with his latest photos. But even though the pictures are incredible, both girls fall asleep. Victor and Jesper decide to leave them on the couch, they just fetch a couple of blankets and pillows, before turning off the lights and silently going to bed…
Taïga and Linn spend the rest of the week, just lounging around in their pajamas, discussing boys and school and boys again. They avoid talking about Duke, as the mention of his name makes Taïga break down in tears.
Linn interrupts her ranting about the pictures of Derek and squints at Taïga. ‘Can you stop shaking those darn kittens in my face?’
‘But I love my slippers! Look how cute they are! Meeew.’
‘I shouldn’t have bought you those darn things!’ She sighs. ‘Now tell me if he likes…’
‘Call him!’ Taïga interrupts impatiently. ‘Or text him! I’m not a Derek encyclopedia!’
Linn thinks about it. ‘Yeah, you’re right. I’ll text him… But what should I say?’
Taïga rolls her eyes. ‘I don’t know – “You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I’ve seen your pecs’ and I’m lost!”’ They both start giggling.
‘C’mon, help me?’
‘Nope… You want Derek? You’re on your own…’
‘That’s a real BFF!’ Linn grabs a pillow and throws it at Taïga…
The time to leave comes too soon.
‘Another six months… I will miss you so much…’ Linn is fighting the tears.
‘I’ll call you… And text… and I will miss you too!’
‘Don’t forget to talk to Derek about me!’
Taïga laughs through her tears. ‘I won’t…’
Back at Bayou Oaks, she spends the evening packing, then texting Linn and Loki. Granny comes and sits on her bedside until she falls asleep, holding her hand, a reassuring gesture for both of them…
The next day Loki comes to say goodbye.
‘I love you, Taïga. Call me when you get off the plane so I know you’ve arrived safely!’
‘Mmm… Promise.’ And it’s with a big lump in her throat she leaves for APYR…
Part II – End of Chapter 07