The layer of snow is still thick in Appaloosa Plains, but the wind has lost its bite and the rythmical dripping from melting icicles aren’t the only signs of the change of season. The wild geese are back, their distinctive V-formation bringing a promise of spring.
Taïga’s wounds are healed, at least the physical ones. She still can’t recall what happened after her furious departure from the barn, but her recurrent nightmares are too terrifying for her to want to probe further. The more she tries, the more evasive her memories become, followed by dreams about a bloodthirsty monster with gleaming yellow eyes and long glistening fangs. Waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, she always has trouble falling asleep again. She wonders how it felt lying in Derek’s arms, but rekindling those kind of lost memories only makes her think of Elspeth who has done more than some innocent spooning with Derek. It doesn’t help that they share a room and that she can see the swollen silhouette of the pregnant girl in the faint moonlight. Elspeth is also irritated and wants to change rooms – all that screaming most every night can’t be good for the baby.
‘And all that puking isn’t good for us,’ Chase retorts, putting a protective arm around Taïga’s shoulders.
Elspeth just snorts, adjusting a pillow under her swollen legs and putting her earphones back in, ‘You should get laid – both of you. There’s too much negative energy in this room.’
‘Don’t mind her. She’s just touchy because she’s preggers and Derek doesn’t care about her anymore.’
‘I heard that! Fucking desperation numbers both of you…’ Elspeth glares at them. ‘At least you’ll be taken care of in prison, Chase. Find yourself a girlfriend. Maybe realize who -or what- you really are. Fucking murderer,’ she adds under her breath.
‘Touchy?’ There are other expletives to describe Elspeth that comes to Taïga’s mind. ‘Why do you have to be so effing mean? I think you’re the frustrated one here,’ Taïga says, throwing a meaning look at Chase. ‘Are you OK?’
Elspeth doesn’t react, humming in rhythm to the punk music blasting so loud in her earplugs they can hear it from where they are sitting on Taïga’s bed.
‘Never mind her. I don’t.’ Chase shrugs.
Taïga is thankful for Chase. The tall, gangly girl has a sense for justice and has become a real friend. Their history is about the same, as both has taken the fall for someone else. But it’s a lot worse for Chase. She was protecting her little brother after he brought their dad’s guns to school to show off and caused major mayhem. Chase will be eighteen in September, and will go straight from APYR to juvenile in Coushatta, LA. She is terrified but doesn’t want to talk about it, and Taïga respects that. The awkward girl must feel as lonely as she does, far from her large family in Twinbrook, and without the prospect of turning back home anytime soon…
Chase smiles sadly, rising from Taïga’s bed. ‘It’s late. Better try to get some sleep.’ She lowers her voice, ‘I overheard Johnny on the phone the other day, speaking to someone called Tate.’
Taïga nods, encouraging her to continue.
‘He’s a horse-whisperer and after what I understood, we’re soon getting us some horses…’
Chase was right. The very next day Chuck brings up the subject when they all get together after school. Taïga is working on a particularly difficult math’s assignment, yet another reason to regret being angry with Derek. Teddy is nice, but not as good at explaining as his brother. She glances over at the living area, where Derek is lounging with VJ and Thomas. And Jupiter, who’s trying to escape doing his homework, as usual. Her gaze lingers on Derek’s profile, his straight nose and slightly long chin. His lips twitch a little, and suddenly he’s turning his head towards her, making her quickly concentrate on her maths again. He’s acting so aloof all the time, avoiding her as much as she’s avoiding him, which means they’ve hardly said hello to each other for weeks now.
‘I think we’ll head out next weekend, if the weather keeps up and the snow continues melting. What do you think, Johnny?’
Johnny nods. ‘Yeah. What about some scouting this Saturday? Derek and VJ can come with me to check the camping ground over at Dead Horse Canyon.’
Derek perks up, ‘Cool. Will we need the quads?’
‘Yeah. We’ll have some fun, all right,’ Johnny beams.
‘We’re doing progress on the engines,’ VJ adds, setting off a heated discussion about quads and motorcycles in general.
‘Do I really have to come?’ Jupiter whines. ‘I don’t want to sleep out in the wilderness with bears and… and no hot water!’
‘We’ll need everyone to help out.’ Chuck breaks in with an admonishing stare at Jupiter. ‘And it’s part of the program.’
Derek glances at Taïga. He’s surprised she doesn’t say anything, knowing full well how much she’s looking forward to capturing the wild mustangs.
Taïga can feel Derek looking at her, and she squirms under his inquiring gaze. She knows she has to talk to him sooner or later.
‘Can I sit here?’ Lil looks around. ‘Where’s Elspeth? I haven’t seen her around since school.’
‘Probably napping.’ Chase murmurs, putting away her things. ‘She’s sleeping a lot lately… with the baby growing and such.’
Lil draws out the empty chair next to Taïga, posing his books. ‘So, what are we doing this weekend?’
‘Same as usual, I guess,’ Teddy answers.
‘Not you,’ Lil says, playing with his pen. He turns his attention to Taïga, ‘I was thinking we could watch a movie – in town. Just the two of us.’
Taïga looks up, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve already got plans.’
‘Oh…’ Lil opens his History book, fiddling around with the pages. ‘I’m learning about some important dates in history. Wanna be one of them?’
‘Err… I mean… err… I’m writing a new song. Wanna listen?’
‘Not right now,’ Taïga says curtly. Seeing his face fall she adds, feeling sorry for him, ‘Maybe later.’
To her surprise, Lil swears, fishing for his cell, ‘Crap!’
Taïga sighs, ‘What now?’
‘Something’s wrong with it…’ He checks his impressive list of contacts.
‘Yeah, look… Your number’s not in it.’
Taïga closes her notebook with an irritated gesture and puts away her pen. She glances at her watch.
‘Almost five. I’m off to make dinner.’
‘So what’s on the menu? Me-n-u.’ Lil wiggles his eyebrows.
Taïga just shakes her head, rolling her eyes.
‘Hey! When are you gonna listen to my song?’
‘Never,’ Taïga mumbles under her breath, hurrying away.
Teddy hasn’t missed Derek’s smug smile when Taïga left Lil Bling hanging. He catches up with her in the kitchen.
‘Need some help?’
Taïga smiles gratefully, ‘Yeah. Can you cut the onions?’
‘I will cry.’
That makes two of us, she thinks. Saying out loud, ‘At least you don’t have to worry about running mascara.’
Teddy chuckles, grabbing a knife. They chitchat some, but she can feel he’s holding something back. Ever since her “accident” everyone have been acting weird around her, throwing meaningful glances and avoiding talking about Derek. Teddy has tried to convince her to come to their room as she used to do, but even the prospect of painting can’t make her put a foot in the same room as Derek. Alone that is. She has to endure his presence at meals and when they do APYR activities together, but so far he’s never been in the same group as her. Apparently he feels the same about her, as he usually finds an excuse to leave when she enters a room. Elspeth is happy, she’s spending as much time as she can with him, even if that means just sitting next to him and laugh at everything he says, throwing Taïga triumphant glances. She can sense his annoyance with the pregnant girl, and she despises him for it. If he didn’t want a kid he should have taken some precautions, it’s not just the girl who’s responsible. But he must have been over himself with passion and-
Looking thoughtfully at her through the smoke of the sizzling onions, Teddy broaches the subject, ‘You should talk to him, you know.’
Taïga leans against the counter closing her eyes, trying to get rid of the disturbing picture of Derek and Elspeth she’d just painted up.
‘I don’t know if I’m ready yet.’
‘Just hear him out?’ Teddy insists, ‘He hasn’t changed… He’s still the Derek you’ve always known…’
And loved… she silently ends his sentence. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever known him, Teddy. He’s not the same as when we were kids.’
‘Of course not. You’re not the same either. But I think you’re both acting childishly, pretending not to see each other. It’s hard on us all.’
‘I’m sorry about that. But I’d like to know why everybody’s acting weird around me. Why can’t you tell me what happened while I was out?’
‘I think it’s not for me or anyone else to tell you. You should ask Derek.’
Teddy is right. I owe him that.
He adds. ‘He’ll probably be in the barn after dinner. As usual.’
Taïga nods, but she doesn’t answer. She knows he’s spending most of his free time working on the quads or practicing kickboxing or whatever he’s doing, mauling a huge sack of sand together with VJ. She just isn’t prepared to confront him yet. Not tonight… Maybe tomorrow…
Derek and VJ vanishes out to the barn directly after dinner, as usual. To Taïga’s delight they stop Elspeth from following them, and the girl goes back to her room, pouting. Taïga usually retires with a book, but there’s no way she’ll spend the evening in the same room as bitchy Elspeth. Chase convinces her to play some pool in the basement, and she teams up with her against Teddy and Jupiter.
Chase is pretty good, but Taïga has difficulty concentrating on the game, and they are losing. Lil Bling is watching and commenting. He can’t help himself, he just has to rap out a snide remark, accusing Jupiter of cheating. The touchy boy throws a real fit, and storms off with Chase in tow.
‘Well. That’s it then. She’ll spend the rest of the evening trying to calm him down.’ Taïga turns to Teddy. ‘It’s late, I’ll just have a shower and get to bed. See you tomorrow.’
But Teddy doesn’t let her off the hook… He walks her to her room, and as soon as he gets the opportunity, he raises the sensible subject again. Teddy can be really annoying. She knows he’s got a point, and it makes it even harder to digest the fact that even though she has so much to ask Derek, she’s afraid. Cornered, she finally promises Teddy that she will talk to Derek. But not when. She finally succeeds in getting away, almost shutting the door on him.
‘I guess you’ll have to do with the least attractive of them.’ Elspeth swivels round on the chair by her desk. ‘But he is a Vargas after all, and you know what they say.’
‘No, I don’t,’ Taïga says coolly, taking her pajamas and a large towel.
‘Don’t judge a man before you get his clothes off.’
‘Don’t judge a man by the clothes that he wears,’ Taïga points out.
‘See, that’s exactly the problem with you.’ Elspeth studies her nails, glancing up at Taïga. ‘You’re too goody two shoes. Life’s about more than holding hands and star gazing, you know. Pfft… Fat chance you’ll get to know what real passion is,’ she adds with contempt.
‘I don’t think I want to know if it gets me in the same situation as you!’ Taïga storms out, slamming the door. She stomps down the long hall towards the showers, regretting her harsh words. She mustn’t forget that it’s not just Elspeth’s fault if she’s pregnant. It’s also Derek’s. Damn him!
Taïga takes her time getting ready for bed. Standing under the hot shower with the water drizzling down her body, she runs through all her options and decides she has to go through with it. No more putting it off. Teddy’s right, she can’t avoid Derek forever, and she’s the one who got mad, so she has to reach out first. Even if he’s the one who started it all… Maybe tomorrow after school, before he vanishes to the barn with VJ… Just the thought of being alone with him sends butterflies to her stomach.
I’ll say that I’m sorry, and I won’t mention Mrs. Darnell, no way. Nor Elspeth. I mean, he can do what he wants with his life, and they aren’t the only girls he’s had sex with. I guess.
But the image of Derek and Mrs. Darnell is still fresh in her memory. Closing her eyes she tilts her face upwards, letting the warm water wash away her frustrated tears.
How could I have thought I was so special to him? Just because he once told me he was in love with me. I mean, he was –what? Twelve? Thirteen? We were just kids! Stupid me. I’m not looking for a boyfriend anyway, I have Loki who truly cares for me and wouldn’t dream of sleeping around.
She’s curious about Derek and Elspeth – will they marry now that they’re having a baby together? She knows that Loki surely would marry her. She wonders what it’s like, being together with Loki like that. Does she really want to? Waiting for the marriage isn’t an option, she doesn’t want to give her virginity away to some stranger she’s never met before. They have talked about it with Linn, and they both agree that the most important is to be madly in love and to trust the other person, marriage or not. She wonders if Loki has had sex with another girl, but she quickly abandons the idea. She’ll probably feel less self-conscious if he’s as unexperienced as her. Suddenly she’s glad she doesn’t remember spooning with Derek. She gets all flustered just thinking about it… With great effort she stirs her thoughts away from the dangerous turn they have taken, concentrating on Loki’s soft embrace.
I know Loki cares for me, he’ll never hurt me. I miss him so much… He’s sweet and tender and… and… he’s not Derek.
Irritably she shuts off the water and is reaching for her towel when she catches a movement out of the corner of her eye.
Oh, no. Not Lil again. And this time Derek’s not anywhere near. At least he hasn’t got anything to film with, or take pictures, but the thought is not very comforting. Feeling dirty, she envelopes herself in the large towel and picks up her things, running barefoot to the room she’s sharing with Chase and Elspeth. If she’s lucky, her pregnant roommate is already asleep.
No such luck. Back in her room, she finds Elspeth naked in front of the mirror, turning this way and that showing off her baby bump.
‘Crap! I can hardly see my feet! I need to come clean and tell my mother, but I know she’ll be mad at me… And what about my dad?’ And Michael? Elspeth frowns. What will Michael say? ‘OhmyGod!’ She suddenly hugs her belly with both hands and leans slightly forward with a surprised expression on her face.
‘OhmyGod!’ Unconsciously Taïga mirrors her stricken expression. ‘Is it the baby? Is the baby coming!?!’
Elspeth just smiles slyly, rubbing her swollen abdomen. ‘Nooo… It’s just him kicking.’
Taïga exhales with relief.
‘There’s a real football player in there.’ She throws a meaningful glance at Taïga and adds, ‘Just like his dad…’
Taïga has heard enough. There’s no way she can spend the evening listening to Elspeth’s rantings. Or even look at her. The Hell with her resolutions, it’s out of the question not confronting Derek about Elspeth. She needs to hear him out, whatever the issue. She quickly pulls on a tracksuit. ‘If you’re sure you won’t go into labor right now, I’ll just check on the horses…’
‘Derek hates needy girls, you know. He’s into the chase so running after him won’t get you anywhere, especially not into his pants. Oups, sorry. I guess you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, little miss prude.’ Elspeth’s laugh follows her out of the room.
Taïga walks briskly through the mushy snow to the barn, playing what she will say over and over in her head.
“Derek. I need to know about you and Elspeth. If you’re the baby’s father I think you should-” No. “Derek, why don’t you act more like a father to-” No. “Why did you sleep with Mrs. Darnell when you knew Elspeth was pregnant?” Oh my God! Nononono! “Derek, tell me about you and Elspeth.” Yeah, that’s more like it! Short, direct…
She pushes the door to the barn open enough to squeeze in, quickly closing it behind her to keep the cold out. It’s dark in here, but there’s a faint light coming from a storm lamp over by Freebird’s box, dimly outlining Derek lying on his stomach high up on some hay bales. All thoughts vanish from her head, replaced by a gnawing feeling in her stomach. Fear? Excitement? She regrets coming here, but she can’t just walk away again.
She clears her throat to get his attention.
‘Hey!’ Derek hurriedly puts down his cell, his face basking in faint blueish light. ‘What do you want?’
Not the welcome she had anticipated. But what had she expected really? ‘You shouldn’t use that old lantern,’ she mutters.
‘Really? You’ve come here in the middle of the night to warn me about the risk of me setting this whole place on fire?’
She shakes her head, feeling stupid.
‘It’s a little late to check on the horses, and you’re not on stable duty today anyway… So, why are you here?’
”Teddy told me I could find you here,’ she says, walking over to the box so she doesn’t have to look at him.
‘Did he now?’ Derek says with a thoughtful frown. ‘Why?’
Distractedly Taïga pets Thunderbird. ‘Well… I just wanted to…’ Say I’m sorry… ‘Well… Talk.’ She doesn’t dare look at him.
‘Talk? About what?’
‘Us.’ God! That came out wrong! ‘I mean, you and me.’
She puts a hand in front of her mouth to keep from nervously blurting out something else, even more mortifying.
Derek props himself up on one elbow, chewing on a straw. ‘You? And me?’
‘NO! That’s not what I meant at all!’
‘Then what did you mean?’
Taïga can see he’s trying to stay serious. ‘Forget it! It was a bad idea to come here. I knew you wouldn’t listen.’
She turns around to flee but he’s right behind her. Grabbing her arm before she’s had the time to take two steps, he spins her around to face him.
‘You can’t always run, Taïga.’ His voice is low, barely a whisper. They stare at each other, the air suddenly filled with tension.
He’s so close she can feel his warm breath on her face, his eyes darting from her eyes to her mouth. Oh my God. He’s going to kiss me! She closes her eyes, abandoning herself against her better judgment. If only this could go on forever – the delicious sensation of going utterly weak, butterflies wreaking havoc in her stomach. But at the same time the anticipation of what is to come is killing her. She sighs, her lips parting slightly. This is it…
Abruptly Derek breaks the magic by taking a step back, letting go of her arm and almost making her fall forward.
She looks at him with anger and incomprehension. If this is another game of his, she’s definitely not playing. This time he shall have to explain his actions to her. ‘Why did-’
‘I thought you’d be here!’ Teddy walks in, cutting off Taïga. ‘So have you asked him?’ He looks from Taïga to Derek and back to Taïga again. Seeing their flustered expressions he finally understands. ‘Oh… I get it. Maybe I should leave?’
‘No!’ Taiga panics. Even if her heart, and even more so her body, long to be alone with Derek, she’s suddenly scared of what could happen. Or not, which would be so humiliating. ‘Please stay, Teddy,’ she pleads.
‘Ask me what?’ Derek breaks in.
‘About err… Elspeth. Amongst other things… and err… people,’ Teddy stammers, looking sheepish.
‘Elspeth?’ Derek stares astonished at Taïga. ‘You’ve come here in the middle of the night to talk about Elspeth? I think I can mind my own business without your help, thank you,’ he adds with sarcasm.
She swallows, suddenly hating herself for how he must see her – meddling and curious. She has trouble meeting his contemptuous gaze. ‘I wouldn’t dream of telling you what to do! I just wanted to know if… I got the feeling that…’ She bites her lip and looks up at him. ‘You know.’
‘No, I don’t,’ he answers icily.
‘C’mon, Der. Tell her. Bite the bullet!’ Teddy encourages his brother who just stares back at him. If he didn’t know his older brother’s character so well, he would almost think that Derek was afraid. But it’s more likely that he just doesn’t want to explain himself, so he adds to Taïga, ‘He’s not the one got her preggers!’
‘Yeah. Some guy back in Bridgeport did, long before she slept with my bro-’
‘Why don’t you just shut up, Ted?’ Derek passes his hands through his hair, trying to stare Teddy down before switching his attention back to Taïga.
She stares back at him, the rush of relief flooding through her is almost making her giddy. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘You didn’t ask.’
‘But you didn’t do anything to make me think otherwise.’ Taïga feels ashamed of all the bad things she’s thought of him.
‘How could I know-’ … what was going on in that pretty head of yours? ‘-that you thought it was me?’
Taïga blushes. ‘Well, Elspeth didn’t exactly hide the fact that you and her had… err… been intimate, and I really thought you were still an item when I got here…’
Intimate? That girl’s vocabulary is incredible. Derek’s lips twitch. He’d love to get intimate with her. In fact, it’s the only thing he can think of when she’s in the same room…
‘… and then, well, your reaction when she told you at the party-’
Derek grimaces. His first thought was that the baby was his, and it took quite a while before he understood it wasn’t. He had confronted Elspeth about it, and she had told him the truth, promising to fix everything. Apparently she had not. That’s probably why Chase is looking at him with disapproval, too…
‘-I was so angry, I felt betrayed. I supposed you were just trying to escape your responsibilities.’ She looks at him with those huge green eyes.
Derek looks surprised at her. What did she say? Betrayed? That’s kind of positive, isn’t it? Anything is better than indifference. ‘I thought you knew me better than that. You shouldn’t go around “supposing”.’ Two seconds later Derek regrets his thoughts about “anything” and “indifference”.
‘Here we go.’ Teddy mumbles with a heavy sigh.
Taïga puts her hands on her hips, her green eyes becoming dark slits, ‘Aren’t you the judgmental one now? I got the feeling you are judging me when you don’t even know why I’m here.’ She stops to catch her breath.
Teddy slumps down on the closest hay bale, getting ready for the show. Of course they couldn’t continue discussing without one provoking the other, and now Derek will say what he shouldn’t…
‘I looked you up.’
‘Uh-oh.’ Teddy grimaces. He was right…
Taïga stares wide eyed at Derek. ‘You did what!?!’
He looks sheepishly at her. ‘You’ve got a rather impressive record…’
‘So you looked me up and then jumped to conclusions? Is that it?’ Derek shrugs. ‘You know that’s illegal, don’t you? God, you’re such a pain!’
‘What? I’m not!’
‘Oh yes, you are,’ Derek chuckles.
‘You are so… so… so full of yourself you must weigh a ton!’
That’s when Derek slowly smiles. A rare, boyish, dazzling Derek-smile that makes her forget why she was angry, and instead liquefy with fluttering feelings in her stomach. She quickly looks away. Maybe it’s better when he smirks and glares. Kind of safer…
Teddy clears his throat. ‘Ahem… I’m so grateful that you two are talking again, but could you please stop bickering? See what happens when there’s a lack of communication? Or an overdose of it. Whatever. Why don’t you finally tell us your story, Taïga? All of it.’ He taps the hay next to him and grateful Taïga sits.
Derek puts the straw back in his mouth, leaning against the bales. She licks her lips, and swallows. Why has he got this effect on her? She can’t even think straight, too focused on his lips. The butterflies are back with a vengeance.
‘Yeah. I’m curious about the “nothing” part,’ he says, the straw held between his white teeth.
‘Huh? Yeah, why not.’ Self-consciously Taïga leans forward and hugs her knees. Better not look at him. She concentrates on the tips of his worn black leather boots, and starts telling them how come she’s here at Appaloosa Plains Youth Ranch. As the story unveils, Derek feels a little shamefaced, having thought she was guilty of all the charges against her.
‘But why didn’t you tell Granny all about it? She could have tried to help? Talk to the Mayor or something,’ Teddy asks.
‘Yeah. His daughter kind of set you up after all.’
‘I did. I told her. But there was so much going on… If we had met Mayor Ashcroft alone, it could have worked, but the headmaster was there, and the cops who arrested me… And you don’t know Granny. She’s old school all the way – if you get punished at school, you get the double at home. She thinks that taking my responsibilities makes me grow as a person.’ She stops and takes a deep breath, debating with herself if she should let the Vargas brothers in on her secret.
‘I don’t buy it,’ Derek says flatly. ‘Your grams scared the shit out of me when we were kids, but she was, well, true. She’d never have let you come here if you were innocent.’ Teddy starts protesting, and he turns irritably towards his brother, ‘Don’t you see? She’s got a record now, for Christ sake. You don’t wipe that away with magic, do you?’ He stops abruptly, looking at Taïga, a silent question in his eyes.
She shakes her head. ‘You’re right,’ she whispers. ‘That’s not all. There’s something else.’
They both look at her, silently waiting for her to continue. ‘I guess she felt I was safe here… At least for the moment.’
‘What do you mean? Safe?’ Derek looks questioningly at her but Taïga can’t hold his gaze.
‘I don’t know how to break the news, but, I’m promised-’
Derek stares at her. ‘What? You’re supposed to marry that redhead moron? It won’t happen!’
‘Derek!’ Taïga stares angrily back at him.
‘What?’ He stares back. ‘He is a moron. Nothing can change that,’ he mutters.
‘I don’t know who! I’ve never met him! I don’t even know his name! This is something that was decided even before I was born.’ She looks sheepishly at a fuming Derek.
Teddy just stares at her. She’s not kidding. She’s given away in marriage like it were the fucking Middle Ages or something. Or perhaps the Grey’s are part of some kind of sect. Or Muslims maybe? He swallows, looking back at his brother who seems to have totally lost it. Please, don’t turn. We can’t handle a werewolf, too. He swallows again.
‘They can’t do this to you! You’re supposed to fall in love with… with…’ Derek smacks his fist into a hay bale, scattering hay around him. ‘God!’ He looks at her, his ice blue eyes dark with emotion. ‘With someone you know at least!’ He points a finger towards her. ‘And I’m not talking about Mr. Ginger-Perfect from Fairview.’ He passes his hand in his unruly hair and mutters, ‘He’ll just bore you to death!’
Derek leans with both hands against the wooden wall, trying to regain his composure. Teddy sits as on needles, monitoring his every move. ‘I’m OK, Goddammit,’ he sneers. Rubbing the base of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, he’s not feeling OK at all. He must try to get control of his emotions, or he’ll scare away Taïga for good. If he doesn’t slaughter her first. He chuckles sadly, adding, ’When is this pseudo marriage going to take place?’
Taïga is surprised to see Derek so upset. It’s unsettling, as he’s usually so cool and aloft, but it’s also a little scary. ‘I don’t really know, just that being here postpones at least the official engagement which would have happened after my birthday sometime.’
‘Thank God for small favors…’ Derek resumes his pacing. ‘There must be something you can do… WE can do… Gosh, I’ll kill him!’
‘First we must find out who she’s marrying.’ Teddy finally speaks up.
‘Yeah.’ Derek smiles evilly. ‘And then I’ll kill him.’
Taïga looks up at him. ‘I like the idea, but you can’t go around killing people, Derek,’ she teases.
‘Why not? I’ll consider him a criminal, it makes it easier.’
Taïga stares. ‘You are serious, aren’t you?’
Derek doesn’t answer. He just leans against the giant hay bale, frowning. ‘Tell me what you know.’
‘Just that I will marry someone before I’m eighteen. Granny was very uptight about it.’
‘I bet she was.’ Derek says sourly.
‘Well… She’s not happy about it, but it’s a kind of custom in the family. Usually they married at sixteen.’
‘Yep. The middle-ages, all right.’ Teddy mumbles, feeling grateful he can rule out the other options. It should be easier to handle something that doesn’t exist anymore…
‘So your grams went through this? And your mom?’ Derek asks.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Granny’s fiancée slit his wrists on the wedding night-’
I can understand the poor guy, Derek thinks.
‘-and mom ran away.’
‘So why don’t you do the same thing?’ Derek asks.
‘Yeah, we’ll help you get away and keep you hidden. Huh, Der?’
‘Hidden? For the rest of my life?’
‘Did your mom hide for long?’
‘No, but she got me. And then she married someone.’
‘Cool… You could do that, too! Marry someone else.’ Teddy says thoughtfully.
Derek looks at her. ‘Yeah. Me for example.’ He shrugs, ‘I’m willing to make the sacrifice.’
Taïga throws a handful of straw at him. ‘Why can’t you be serious? You said it yourself, I’m supposed to marry someone I love, and that goes for you, too! We’re not talking charity here!’
Derek doesn’t say anything, he just looks at her with an enigmatic expression on his face.
Teddy breaks in, ‘I know! We’ll kidnap you! And hide you!’
Both Derek and Taïga stare deadpan at him. Taïga doesn’t know if she should laugh or cry. ‘You’re hopeless… Both of you!’
But the ice is broken, and the three of them walk back to the main building together. Teddy pulls her into one of his comforting hugs before they part. ‘It’ll be OK, forced marriages are forbidden in this country. Granny might be unyielding when it comes to education, but she’s not a criminal.’
Taïga nods, meeting Derek’s eyes over Teddy’s shoulder. He’s standing a few feet away with his hands deep in his pockets, his hood still dripping after their brisk walk through the snow mixed rain a few minutes ago. He looks both thoughtful and worried, knowing what Teddy doesn’t – that Taïga is a witch, and they have their own laws.
That weekend Taïga takes up her habit of spending a couple of hours In Teddy and Derek’s room before going to bed. Derek hasn’t been home the whole weekend, but tonight he’ll be back again and she’s a little nervous. She’s too unnerved to paint, and is grateful for the opportunity of just hanging with Teddy, discussing and listening to music. She’s reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men on Derek’s bed, sitting with her back to the door, when it suddenly swings open and there he is.
He throws his bag on the floor, ‘Hi, guys. You can’t imagine the place we’re going next week – incredible!’ Grabbing a pair of black jeans from a drawer, he vanishes into the bathroom, and Taïga can finally breathe.
‘I guess I should go,’ she says, hoping that Teddy would ask her to stay. And, of course, he does. A couple of minutes later, Derek is back from the shower. He shakes his wet hair like a dog over her, making her squeal and angrily hold her book out of reach of the water.
‘It’s a school book, you dork!’
Derek just laughs, and this time she laughs with him. ‘I never thought I would find you in my bed – with my brother,’ he teases.
‘On your bed,’ she rectifies, blushing.
‘Whatever.’ He pushes Teddy lightly, ‘Get off my bed, man.’
Teddy pulls up the small couch and leans towards Derek. ‘C’mon, tell me about it.’
The two brothers start talking boring guy talk and Taïga yawns, opening her book again. Suddenly she startles. Derek has stretched out his long legs and his naked foot is lightly touching her hip. She glances up at him, but he isn’t looking at her, deep in a hushed conversation with his brother.
She swallows. He’s not wearing a shirt, and she has trouble keeping her eyes away from his lean ripped body. The top button of his jeans is deliberately undone, and her eyes stray, following the trail of dark hair starting at his belly button and ending… She closes her eyes, blowing out air softly. Get a grip on yourself, she scolds herself. Folding her knees she tries to concentrate on her book. Ever since their discussion in the barn, Derek has become friendlier. But also more aloof. He’s treating her like she was his little sister, and it drives her mad… She turns the page, realizing she hasn’t taken in a word of what was written.
‘You can’t be serious?’ Teddy stares at Derek who doesn’t answer right away, thoughtfully contemplating Taïga reading. She has a freckle on her lower lip he hadn’t noticed before. Must have come with the spring sun.
‘But how?’ Teddy insists.
‘I haven’t really thought about it yet,’ Derek answers without looking at his brother. ‘There must be a way to get access to their database. I can’t do anything before we’re sure he’s there…’
They are discussing their dad again. Their mom called from Egypt with disturbing news this weekend. Their dad had apparently been transferred to a Psychiatric Hospital and their mother had tried to contact him, but had been given the run-around. Both brothers are terribly worried about the tests they might be running.
Teddy has explained it briefly to Taïga, ‘But you know our dad, he was convinced he’d been probed by aliens, and when he started telling them lots of stories ‘bout UFO’s and such -really crazy- they locked him up in the psychiatric ward.’
Teddy throws a worried glance at Taïga, but she seems to be totally absorbed in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
‘I guess we could ask Thomas,’ he ventures.
‘Uh-huh.’ Derek rests his head against the wall, closing his eyes. He’s got a bad feeling about the whole thing. Their dad might be a little crazy, but he’s far from insane. And what will happen when he starts talking? Because he will. ‘There are two options – they could think he’s really lost it and throw away the key. Or they could believe him…’ he says in a low voice.
‘Uh-huh… Dad must have talked by now so they’ve probably found out about Alia*…’ Teddy thinks out loud.
‘Alia?’ Taïga puts down the book she’s been skimming.
‘Err… Yes, Alia was our… err… cousin. Kind of. Not really family.’ Teddy’s eyes dart from Taïga to Derek.
‘Your story was true then? You didn’t make it up?’ She searches Derek’s eyes, but he just stares back at her, willing her to be quiet. ‘Your sister? Alia? It was true? Oh. My. God!’ Taïga lances a bewildered glance at Teddy. ‘And what about Teddy? C’mon, don’t tell me the time machine really exists!?!’** But when Taïga sees Teddy’s mortified expression, she knows that it does. Oh. My. God.
‘You told her!?!’ Teddy stares accusingly at Derek whose lips curl at the corners as he tries not to laugh. ‘Asshole!’
Derek ducks as Teddy throws a pillow at him, catching it and preparing to throw it back.
Taïga’s confused smile fades away as another thought hits her head-on. She looks at Derek and starts to shrink away.
‘It was you, wasn’t it? The boy? Damon? It was you all the time, huh?’*** Derek just looks at her defiantly, letting the pillow drop to the floor. Suddenly he seems to grow darker somehow, and his eyes glint as they varily follow her movements.
‘So that’s why you… you… I saw you. In the woods. The… The…’ She puts a hand in front of her mouth and bites hard on her knuckles to keep her from screaming. Choking on her tears, she scrambles off the bed and flees out of the room.
‘What are you waiting for?’ Ted looks accusingly at his brother. ‘You can’t just let her run off like that!’
Taïga’s slams her door shut as Derek skids around the corner. He stops, breathing hard, not from the run, but from the stress. He hesitates in front of the closed door. He can hear her breath on the other side, but instead of knocking he turns on his heels and walks away. He stops short in front of the stairs, swearing softly. Angry with himself for being such a coward, he walks back again letting his hand hover over the doorknob before passing it through his unruly hair instead. He exhales softly… and knocks.
‘Go away!’ Taïga’s voice is muffled but very close.
‘Let me explain, Taïga…’ His voice is hoarse with emotion and the way he pronounces her name, Ta-ee-guh, makes her knees weak. ‘Please, don’t be afraid of me. I… I would never hurt you.’
He closes his eyes, feeling them burn. Concentrating on her ragged breathing on the other side of the door, he leans towards it, almost feeling the heat of her body through the dead material. He could kick it open easily… God, this hurts. ‘Please, don’t hate me… Say something,’ he begs.
She knows he’s sincere, but she’s not ready to face him just yet. She needs to think this over, come to terms with this overload of information before letting him in. Her heart beats so fast it almost hurts. Fear? And something else.
‘I need to be alone right now… Just… just leave. Please,’ she whispers hoarsely, leaning her head against the reassuring thickness of the wooden door.
With a stab of disappointment she hears his footsteps fading in the corridor. She closes her eyes, but they only burn more from held back tears… Derek… Thoughts are hurtling in her head. Derek… Who is he? What is he? A werewolf? Her mind screams “NO” because she doesn’t want him to be a… a monster.
She slides slowly down to the floor with a moan. She can’t hold her sorrow back anymore, it feels like she’s torn apart, the pain tearing at her insides almost physical. Finally she can’t fight it anymore and sobbing she lets go. Slumping to the floor and hiding her head in her arms, her shoulders shake erratically and her eyes overflow with held back tears.
The sound of laughter and hushed voices make her get a grip on herself, and drying her tears with her T-shirt, she hurries to bed. Pulling the blankets high over her head like a shield, she fights her tears. She can’t continue crying, or they will hear her.
Elspeth and Chase comes into the room, discussing the last episode of Supernatural. She listens to their muffled voices from the warm darkness of her shelter. They are getting ready for bed, talking in low voices about Sam and Dean and someone called Castiel.
Elspeth and Chase comes into the room, discussing the last episode of Supernatural. She listens to their muffled voices from the warm darkness of her shelter. They are getting ready for bed, talking in low voices about Sam and Dean and someone called Castiel.
Angels, Demons… do they also exist? If all Derek told her when they were kids is true, then who knows? And what about vampires? Ghosts? And fairies? Her head spins as she tries to process it all. Why doesn’t the whole getting-abducted-and-impregnated-by-aliens business seem so farfetched? Something is stirring in her memories and she vaguely remembers a summer long ago, in Monte Aquila.* How come she had forgotten all about it? She even took pictures! She has to ask Derek if he still has got them…
And what about the time machine!?! She can just imagine what would happen if the military get their hands on it. They would never release M. Vargas. They would just keep him locked up until he revealed all his secrets. She winces.
And darling Teddy. If all this is true, he’s from the future! She wonders if he remembers anything. Or is it even possible to remember something that hasn’t happened yet?
Her thoughts are ricocheting around her head, and even though she tries to avoid processing her information about Derek, her thoughts keep coming back to him. His distraught face when he found out that she was a witch and how his rejection had hurt her keeps haunting her.** She can’t treat him the same, it would be too unfair… And he’s never injured anyone… Or has he? She shudders at the unwelcome images of slaughter that comes to mind. He’s never hurt her, so there’s no reason he will do it now… He said so… She has to hang on to that.
And maybe there’s a cure. But his mom would surely have found it by now. Didn’t he say his mother spent all her time researching? Is that what she’s doing in Egypt? The boy in the story got bitten –no, scratched– in Egypt.
Suddenly she’s overwhelmed by despair. Derek is a werewolf. He’s transforming into a sanguinary beast every full moon, and killing without remembering it afterwards. She has to talk to him about it, hear it from his own mouth. Maybe it’s not true. But she knows she’s trying to hang on to a straw. She saw his expression. She heard him plead to her. He is a werewolf…
It’s no wonder her agitated sleep that night is haunted by nightmares – visions of aliens, monsters, time machines, pyramids, werewolves… and Derek…
She’s not the only one who’s pondering the happenings that evening. Derek can’t fall asleep, he just lies staring at the bulk bed above him with unblinking eyes.
‘Don’t worry, bro.’ Teddy’s reassuring voice comes from the darkness above. ‘She’ll come around…’
Derek doesn’t answer, just sighs. And what if she doesn’t? It might already be too late… What if she’s too scared? He bites his lip to refrain from sobbing, it won’t do to let his brother hear him crying over a girl. Even if the girl is Taïga. Angrily he brushes away a stray tear. If he can’t even refrain from crying, what would happen if she’s around when he changes? He has a vague memory from the night she was found in the woods, but it’s mostly a hungry blur. He knows he was on the verge of losing control that night, and he doesn’t know what forces made him spare her and bring her home… What if I can’t control myself around her? What if she considers me a monster… a freak…? What if…
When he at last falls asleep, he’s dreaming of Taïga. Of holding her slim body close, finally kissing those full inviting lips… But he wakes in a cold sweat as the dream transforms into something else and his kiss turns into a mauling…
Teddy is calmly snoring, his arm dangling over the edge of his bed. Derek pushes it, but there’s no other reaction than a mumbled grunt. He lies motionless a little while, jealous of the calm breathing from above. So simple, just being a teenager. But he has made his decision. There’s no other way, really, but to stay clear of Taïga. He must make sure to have someone around at all times, or he might hurt her. Just like in his dream. Silently he gets out of bed and sneaks out. He stands still on the porch, feeling the cold night air prickle his bare skin. The moon is soon full. Another night or two of respite before it will happen again.
Rolling his large shoulders, he jumps a little up and down, shaking his muscles loose. Then he’s off, running faster and faster, finally shedding his human form and running like the Devil into the dark woods…
Teddy finds Derek’s bed empty when he wakes up, and covers for him during breakfast. He doesn’t show up at school neither, but Teddy’s not worried. His brother probably had to run it off, as usual when he’s troubled by something.
He goes looking for Derek again after school, finding him in the barn where he’s letting off steam working the punching bag. Teddy sits on a hay bale for a while, watching his brother circling, kicking and striking. Derek slams his feet into the heavy sand sack, making the whole contraption sway. A series of flowing but violent punches are rapidly following. The only sound in the barn is the loud crack of the blows and Derek’s ragged breathing.
‘You have to eat.’
‘Cause I already have.’
Crack. Crack. Crack.
He stops moving around and goes in for the kill, each punch harder than the one before. Teddy stands up and holds the sand sack with all his force, while his brother tries to maul it with powerful punches.
Derek takes a step back and dries the sweat on his brow with a bandaged hand. ‘Just go, Ted. I’ve got it under control.’
Teddy hesitates, watching his brother’s menacing stance. ‘Yeah, I guess I’ve got some homework to do.’
The sound of Derek’s violent punches is following him out of the barn…
Taïga is doing her homework with Chase and Lil Bing when Teddy gets back in. He checks what she’s doing and seeing that she’s working on their foreign poetry assignment, he takes out his own stuff and sits next to her. They all work in silence for a while.
‘This is impossible… I don’t even know who this Rilke guy is!’ Taïga crosses out what she’s written and frowns.
‘A German poet,’ Ted volunteers.
Irritated, Taïga looks at him. ‘I know that, thank you. But that’s about all I know… How could I analyze his texts without any background information?’
Chase bites on her pen. ‘You could Bing him. If you had your cell – or access to the computer aka if Thomas and VJ are done playing videogames!’
‘Haha… Doesn’t help me much. Eff Mr. Blackburn for giving us this over the weekend!’
‘Maybe you should have done it during the weekend,’ Teddy says, continuing reading.
Taïga glares at him. No matter all her good intentions, she usually does her homework at the last minute. She always works best under pressure anyway, she justifies herself.
Ted doesn’t look up from the book he’s reading. ‘You can use my Mac,’ he whispers.
Taïga stares at him. She’s not sure she heard him right. Teddy never lends his precious laptop.
He glances up at her, ‘What are you waiting for?’
‘Really? Are you sure?’
He nods. She quickly puts her things back in her bag, and hurries off towards his room. Chuck and Johnny don’t know about the laptop, and this precious help can’t be wasted. She just hopes that Derek’s not back yet, but he usually stays out in the barn until long after dinner. She notes that Elspeth is also missing, feeling a quick stab of jealousy.
She hurries over the yard, and lets herself into the room the Vargas brothers share with Johnny.
‘Hey Ted, do you think-‘
‘OhmyGod!’ Taïga stops in her tracks and stares at a naked Derek who just emerges from the bathroom toweling his hair.
Derek is just as surprised. The towel falls from his hands, he’s frozen stock-still. Self-consciously he crosses his hands over his junk, slowly bending to get the towel. Taïga tears her eyes away and swivels round, her cheeks burning.
‘I’m sorry, I-‘ they both burst out at the same time.
Looking at her, he wraps the towel around his waist. He can’t see her face, but her posture shows how troubled she is, and that’s cute. He waits for her to say something and he’ll take it from there.
‘Ted sent me to… to get his… ahem… MacBook,’ she stutters, conscious of Derek behind her. He doesn’t say anything but she can imagine the smirk on his face. She catches sight of the laptop on the desk. ‘I’ll just take it and leave.’
Derek can’t let that happen. This is his chance to set things straight again, and if he doesn’t play this right he might never get another chance. He can’t be too bold or she’ll run and he doesn’t want that.
‘Oh no, you’re not!’ Derek is faster. He efficiently passes her, blocking the access to the desk. Will she run now?
Taïga backs off, crossing her arms on her chest. ‘Give it to me.’
Derek exhales slowly, grinning. She’s not afraid. On the contrary, she wants to play. Relaxing, he leans on the desk. ‘Not before you promise me something… in return.’ He catches her eyes roaming over his chest, and self-consciously he contracts his abs. He knows he’s showing off, but just having her look at him like this is strangely arousing. He wants her to like what she sees. To want it.
Taïga tries to keep eye contact but her eyes seem to have a mind of their own and keep wandering over his ripped stomach towards the towel hanging low on his hips. Just a tug…
She snaps out of her daydreaming. ‘Huh?’
Derek raises an eyebrow and a smile plays in the corner of his mouth. What did he just ask?
‘Why can’t I just have it?’ She asks petulantly.
Oh, it’s yours whenever you like, Derek thinks. His lips twitch in a slow lopsided grin. ‘Why don’t you just come and get it?’
Taïga’s heart beats faster. She knows he’s not talking about the laptop and blushes furiously. How she’d love to have some repartee, say something witty and funny instead of just blushing and stammering like a fool. Or, even better, be brash and daring and just walk into his arms and…
‘Didn’t you find it?’
She whirls round, facing a very smug Teddy.
‘I’ll get dressed,’ Derek mumbles and with a quick glance at Taïga picks up a T-shirt and jeans from a chair. ‘We need to talk.’
Taïga doesn’t know what to answer, but Derek hasn’t stopped to wait for her decision neither. Does she really want to talk to him? No. She needs it. Desperately. She musters a smile to Teddy. ‘You did this on purpose, didn’t you?’
He avoids looking her in the eye. ‘Shall we get back to the others or do you want to stay and take care of Rilke here?’
She hesitates, she would like to stay, but she doesn’t want to come across as needy. But Teddy won’t go anywhere, so staying should be safe. ‘I guess we can stay here.’
‘What was all that about?’ Teddy nods towards the closed bathroom door.
‘Nothing.’ Taïga blushes again and bites her lip. ‘I guess Derek wasn’t sure about my intentions. I mean, you never let anyone touch your new laptop!’
‘MacBook.’ Teddy blinks at her and fires up his Mac. ‘And I don’t want the others to know about it, or we’ll have people here all the time. It’s already difficult without our cells, but if Chuck gets to know we’ve got a laptop I bet he’ll confiscate it, too. Goodbye freedom…’
They settle down at Teddy’s desk and start their research on Rilke. Taïga is acutely aware of Derek coming back, slumping down on his bed with a sports book. She frequently glances at him over Teddy’s shoulder but he’s concentrated on his book. She’s surprised when he looks back at her, a smile slowly spreading across his lips. It’s irresistible, she can’t help smiling back. A warm, fuzzy feeling is diffused through her. Everything will be all right. They will talk this through, and she will listen. He’ll never hurt her…
They’re interrupted by a knock on the door and Thomas saunters in, laden with CD’s and cables.
‘Hi guys! I brought along my stuff, or what’s left of it anyway.’
‘Great!’ Derek nods his head towards Teddy. ‘I’ll let you two do the set up.’
Teddy’s jaw drops. ‘What!?!’
Taïga picks up her stuff so Thomas can drop his gear on the desk. Sitting down on the couch she starts rearranging her notes.
‘Can I have your chair?’ Thomas nudges Teddy’s shoulder, already opening a CD.
‘Err…’ Teddy stands up. ‘Did you fix this, Der?’
Ignoring Teddy, Derek throws his book on the floor and flops down next to Taïga on the couch. ‘So who’s Rilke?’
Taïga realizes she’s held her breath and expires loudly. ‘Well, he was a German poet who…’
Thomas takes out a huge screwdriver, making Teddy almost jump out of his skin. ‘Hey! Wait!’
‘No worries.’ Thomas answers calmly. ‘I have to open the laptop to connect directly inside – make us untraceable, you know.’
‘Yeah. To hack into the Dementé Insanatorium database? Derek didn’t tell you?’
‘Eh… No. I mean yes. Yes, of course he did. The sanatorium, huh?’ He looks over at Derek who shrugs and mouths “duh”.
Thomas knows what he’s doing, but Teddy’s worried none the less. ‘Are you sure you have to…?’
‘Yep. We need to connect TCP blabla, IP, overide winsock, blablabla Linsux, root access, vi, blablabla…’
Thomas doesn’t even glance at Teddy who regrets his question. ‘OK. Just… do your thing…’
It feels safe to talk to Derek with Thomas and Teddy in the same room. They avoid talking about what happened last night, but discuss the upcoming outing to catch wild horses, his scholarship and other normal, safe topics. His knee rubs accidentally against hers and he doesn’t move it away, making her heart beat faster. He smells so good, leaning towards her to talk in a hushed voice, making her feel special and attractive.
The clicking of Thomas fingers rapidly typing has a hypnotic effect on her but she fights sleep. Derek talks about football, so boring, but she’s perfectly happy to listen to his low voice – full and a little hoarse. She yawns and sinks a little lower, resting her head against the back of the couch. She doesn’t want to doze off, if only she could sit here all night, with the warmth of Derek’s knee against hers and his voice surrounding her like a blanket… She yawns again…
‘Taïga. I have to ask you something. Taïga?’ Derek stops talking. He watches her sleeping face, so peaceful. The dark lashes fanning out over her pale cheeks, lightly dusted with freckles. Her lips are full and inviting and he has to restrain himself from bending over and kiss her. Instead he installs Taïga as comfortably he can on the small couch.
‘So, how’s it going?’
Thomas is having a hard time trying to break through the Asylum’s firewalls. ‘Getting there… Boy, what a bagbiter! Chomp, chomp! …Gotta reboot those b0x0rz.’
Teddy and Derek look at each other over Thomas head.
He tries again and again, fingers flying, softly murmuring to himself. ‘The system’s been behaving pretty randomly… corrupt the execution stack… aliasing bug… overrun screw… fandango on core…’
Teddy has drawn up the chair Taïga just used, following Thomas every move. Even Derek is fascinated, silently observing, throwing a glance now and then over his shoulder at the sleeping Taïga.
‘I’m in! k-rad! Now let’s see what’s hidden in their database…’
‘Look at this. Do you guys want me to copy it on the hard drive? It could take a while, there’s some heavy stuff in here!’
‘Yeah. It could be useful, later.’
Thomas sticks in a flash drive. ‘Where shall we start?’
‘What about the list of patients? Stuff like that.’
‘Sure. You know you have secrecy laws on patient information – Wow. Shut up…’
‘Did you know it’s classified information? Like in army-top-secret-red-stamp-on-brown-envelopes classified?’
Derek and Teddy looks at each other. ‘What does it say?’
‘I don’t know. It’s coded… But you’re right. Let’s get it on the flash drive. I have written a program that will take care of this. Piece of cake.’ He types in some new commands, ‘Uh-oh. We might have some trouble doing just that – they know we’re in, guys…’
Derek jumps up onto the couch and nudges Taïga awake. ‘Hey, sleepyhead! It’s time to wake up!’
She stirs and rubs her eyes. ‘Did I fall asleep?’
‘Yep. You went out like a light, snoring and drooling all over the place,’ Derek says smugly.
She sticks her tongue out at him and looks around her. ‘Where’s Thomas?’
‘He just left.’
Taïga looks inquiringly at Teddy who sits staring at the screen. He seems really self-satisfied about something.
‘But he hacked into the Dementé Insanitarium database before he left,’ Derek continues.
‘That’s wonderful!’ Taïga jumps off the couch to have a look.
‘Thomas copied the patient files, and started his decoding program. It will soon be done, I’ve been watching this green bar loading for the last half hour, but soon all these numbers will reveal their secrets. At least we hope they will.’
‘Look!’ Taïga points to the screen.
‘Yaaassss!’ Teddy punches the sky. The first file pops up, quickly followed by others like an accordion, one after the other. Thomas’s decoding program has worked like a charm, and the Vargas’ file is one of the first to open.
Taïga high fives Derek and bends over a happy Teddy kissing him on the forehead.
‘OK. So we know where our dad is…’ Derek is annoyed at Taïga and Teddy, she doesn’t need to be so touchy-feely with his brother, does she? He glances at the laptop and does a double take when he sees what’s on the screen. What the…???
Teddy’s on cloud nine, but Derek’s worried. His fingers move swiftly to scroll down while his eyes rapidly scan the text. This information is not ready to be divulged. Before he has the time to regret his actions, he pushes the delete button, hoping neither Teddy nor Taïga have noticed…
‘Oups.’ All the files start disappearing, not just only Don Vargas’s. Teddy and Taïga watches in horror as the program shuts down, leaving a blank black screen.
‘I guess his decoding program isn’t quite ready yet,’ Derek shrugs apologetically. Better safe than sorry…
Part II – End of Chapter 10