‘I want to show you something.’
Peaches reaches for Rowan’s hand, and in a flash he gets a glimpse of the ragdoll’s real face. Wow! Peaches is a girl! A pretty dark-skinned girl with fair hair and large brown eyes. Almost as beautiful as his sister. Almost.
Rowan blinks and the magical moment is gone. Peaches is standing before him – big gangly ragdoll as usual.
He shakes his head to clear it. ‘Is Buddy the same?’
‘So you mean there’s a girl “trapped” inside him too?’
‘No. Buddy is a boy.’
Rowan looks at the ragdoll in his arms and frowns. ‘But why doesn’t he move like you? Why is he so small?’
‘I don’t really know, but maybe you can help him?’
Every day after school, Peaches and Rowan meet in the attic to work on their secret project, pretexting tidying up the old toys… But Rowan can’t make Buddy and the older ragdoll live like Peaches. They stand up, but that’s about all.
‘It’s impossible, Peaches. I can’t make them real…’ Peaches doesn’t say anything, she only hangs her head…
Ever since Rowan got a glimpse of Peaches “real me”, he’s been obsessing over the idea of making her real. When Taïga finally comes home for Christmas, they ask her to help them. Taïga did some research in the old grimoires, and she learnt that Rowan was the only one who could possibly help Peaches. But they also found out that they needed a very special plant that you only find when the snow melts in the deep Canadian forests around Hidden Springs…
‘Taïga said she would help us make the potion, but that it had to wait until next year.’
‘Because she can’t leave APYR to go picking spring flowers in Canada!’ Rowan sighs.
‘Why can’t we go? Just the two of us?’
Rowan just stares at the giant ragdoll. Peaches is really thick sometimes. ‘Really? How far would we get before some policeman would start asking questions? Or worse!’
‘Oh! I see…’ If Peaches could bite her lip she would surely have done it now… She glances at Rowan and adds slyly, ‘It’s a pity you’re just a child…’
As Peaches has pointed out, as a child he’s powerless. There’s only one way to speed things up; he has to grow a little first. He takes his savings and goes to “Abracadabra Witches’ Brews” shop and explains his dilemma to Jodi Wren who runs the store,
‘… so I’d like to buy a “grow up” potion!’
Miss Wren laughs a little. ‘But no! There is no such thing! You’ll just have to wait and grow like everyone else your age…’
But when she sees the distress on the young boy’s face, she returns behind her counter and rummages around on the shelves. ‘Here! This might help you. It’s a very powerful friendship potion…’
Rowan puts a brave smile on his face and fishes out his purse.
‘No, you don’t have to pay. It’s your Grandmother who’s made it anyway…’ She pats him on the head and hands him the light blue bottle.
Rowan takes his time walking home, kicking pebbles along the way and thinking. I hate to be patted on my head! A friendship potion! Do I look like someone who needs to throw potion around to get friends? Suddenly he lights up, he’s just got a brilliant idea… He runs the rest of the way home, throwing his coat on the stairs as he takes them two at a time. He grabs Buddy in his room and rushes up the stairs to the attic with Peaches in tow.
‘What’s up?’ Peaches pants behind him.
He doesn’t answer, just puts Buddy on the floor and sits down facing the doll.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Wait and see.’ He unscrews the bottle and drips a little of the potion Miss Wren gave him on Buddy’s head. A part from a little speck of humidity, nothing happens.
‘Maybe we need more?’
He empties the elixir on Buddy’s head, seeing it getting absorbed… But nothing happens.
Rowan looks at the bottle. ‘Well, it was worth a try…’
‘Look! Rowan! Look at Buddy!’
The little doll is shaking and suddenly he pops up from the floor and unveils! Just like Peaches, but with no sparkling!
‘It worked!?!’ Rowan stands up. ‘Can you speak?’
‘I think I can…’ Buddy coughs. ‘I can! I CAN SPEAK! LOOK AT ME!’ Buddy screams, jumping up and down.
‘I said speak! Not scream!’ Rowan hides his ears.
Peaches circles around Buddy admiringly. ‘I guess we’ll have to prepare two potions…’
But the bright orange starts to fade… Rowan reaches out and touches Buddy. But without warning he just shrinks to become a little ragdoll slumped on the floor again, an image of desolation. Rowan picks Buddy up and turns him this way and that.
‘Well. I guess it didn’t work after all…’
‘We’ll need more potion! A lot more potion!’
‘Oh, yeah. I kind of figured that out already!’
Peaches scratches her head. ‘I know where there is more.’
‘Really? And why didn’t you say that earlier?’
‘You didn’t ask.’
Rowan follows Peaches gaze towards the closed door in the corner. ‘We’re not supposed to go in there.’ Rowan hesitates. ‘And the door is locked…’
Peaches looks at Rowan. ‘I know where the key is hidden… I can get it tonight…’
Rowan and Peaches sits down again and starts to plan. Peaches tells Rowan how she followed Granny one night when Rowan was sleeping and saw where she hid the key to her store room…
The next afternoon after school they meet up in the attic. The door seems darker and bigger up close.
‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ Rowan is a little nervous.
‘Yes. Missy is in town and you know Granny never comes up here during the day.’
Rowan looks at Buddy in his arms. There might be more of that blue friendship potion in there… And maybe there’s something to make me grow too…
But is it worth it risking Granny’s fury? Nah… Rowan in not so sure anymore that he wants to go through with their plan. It seemed easy enough yesterday, and it was rather exciting to plan the whole thing, but now…
‘Come on. I’m sure there’s more of the blue potion for Buddy!’
‘I think you’re more worried about Buddy than me.’
‘I’m not!’ Peaches answers irritably. ‘Now, are you chickening out?’
‘No, I’m not. But I don’t like the way you talk to me. Maybe I won’t do it.’
Peaches hangs her head, an image of sorrow. ‘I’m sorry…’
‘OK OK…’ Rowan takes the key from Peaches and turns it once… twice… The door clicks open…
He hesitates, but Peaches encourages him to step inside the dimly lit room filled with elixirs and bizarre things floating around in bottles. He scans the shelves for something light blue, but the only one in sight says “Morpheus” something, there’s no sign of the kind of potion needed for Buddy.
‘OK. There’s nothing for Buddy in here.’
Peaches looks disappointed. ‘Don’t forget the other reason why we’re here!’
Rowan continues to take down bottle after bottle, reading the labels.
Peaches interrupts. ‘Hurry! Do think it says Rowan’s Growing Potion on it?’
‘Probably not, but I won’t risk my health trying them all!’
He picks down a yellow flask.
‘I think this is it! It says: “Ingrotio: What is short, what is small, makes it grow 2 inches tall – what is young in nature, makes it grow and become mature” then it says 1/year.’
‘Hmm. I guess it means you must drink one big slug for each year.’
‘Yeah yeah… 10 slugs, huh? So I’ll be 21…’
He lifts the bottle to his lips, but the disgusting smell almost makes him choke.
‘Go ahead! Drink it!’
Rowan closes his eyes and holds his breath. He quickly takes a big slug, then another. 3, 4, 5… He almost chokes.
‘Oh no! You mustn’t stop! Five more…’
But it’s too late… A dizzying feeling overwhelms Rowan, and the bottle slips from his grip, rolling away on the floor, spilling its precious liquid on the rough planks.
His body tickles and itches, the clothes suddenly feeling too tight. He tears them off as the dizzy feeling grows stronger and stronger.
Pain sears through him and he struggles not to cry out.
‘It worked! Oh. My. God. It worked!’
‘You look good. Hmm… Very muscular.’
Rowan touches his hair. ‘Yeah. And my hair has speed grown too…’
‘But it looks good! You’re very handsome!’
‘Thanks. Gosh, my underwear is too tight. How old am I?’
‘I counted five, so that makes you…’ Peaches counts on her fingers, ‘… sixteen. We have to do with that…’
16! Hehe! I’m older than Taïga!… I can’t wait to have a look at myself…
He hurries into the bathroom and does a double take when he sees himself in the mirror. Handsome? Definitely. But what is this? I need to shave? Wow… He rummages through the little cupboard and comes up with some disposable plastic razors. Luckily Granny and Missy have hairy legs! He chuckles to himself. I’ll bring those along with my toothbrush. After a quick shower, he puts his too tight underwear back on and sets out to find Granny.
‘Yes, Rowan. Have you already finished your homework?’ Granny closes the wardrobe door before turning around.
She screams at the sight of the half-naked young man, and almost passes out! She recovers quickly from her fright though, and whips out her wand.
‘How dare you threat an old lady!?! Stand back!’
‘I will change you into a frog! No, a toad!’
‘But it’s me, Rowan. Granny! Please stop!’ Granny hesitates. ‘I just wanted you to help me with some clothes!’
‘You’re right! I can always change you into a toad afterwards. It could be funny to see a toad with clothes!’
A second later Rowan is fully dressed.
‘Thanks, Granny!’ He passes a hand through his hair. ‘Peaches made me drink a yellow elixir you’ve made.’
‘Is it really you, Rowan?’ Granny stares gaping at him. ‘Did you say a yellow bottle?’
‘Yes. It’s disgusting, by the way. Isn’t there a way to make it more drinkable?’
‘Drinkable? You’re not supposed to drink it!’
‘But it said 1/year?’
‘Oh my. Let me examine you!’ Granny scrutinizes Rowan thoroughly, making him gape and stick his tongue out, checking the color of his eyeballs, pinching his arms and cheeks. Finally she seems satisfied. ‘It’s 1 spoon-full in two gallons of water, once a year – for my plants!’ She frowns a little. ‘But it seems to work on humans too… I better keep a close look on you for a while…’
‘But I feel great!’ He hesitates. ‘There’s no risk I’ll start sprouting leaves through my nose or something like that, is it?’
He blinks at Granny and starts out the door.
‘Wait a minute, young man! Who’s Peaches?’ Uhoh… Rowan grimaces, while Granny continues. ‘And how am I supposed to explain this at school? And what about your father? Have you thought about what your father will say?’
Rowan is in no hurry to find out his father’s reaction, so he and Peaches decides to leave as soon as possible. They sneak out around midnight that same night. Rowan has left a note so Granny won’t worry, but he counts calling her in the morning anyway. He remembers when Taïga took off in the middle of the night and how worried they all were.
‘Wait a minute. I don’t feel… well.’
Rowan stops. ‘Again? Can’t you just stop strutting and try to walk normally. You’ll be able to walk faster.’
‘No. It’s…’ Peaches starts to unfold…
… And before Rowan has the time to blink, the ragdoll is as tall as he is! Peaches stretches her arms, and rolls her head.
‘Oh… I feel a lot better now! What are you just standing there for? Let’s go find that railway track!’
Rowan scratches his chin, but follows Peaches. ‘Can you tell me what that was all about?…’
They jump on a northbound train, and sleep through the night in goat smelling hay.
‘We have to find somewhere to shower!’ Rowan sniffs his armpits.
‘Yes, you reek like a buck!’
‘Thank you… You don’t smell so nice either! And you can’t shower, so if you don’t watch your tongue I’ll just put you in a washing machine!’
Peaches doesn’t have time to answer, as the train slows down and they have to jump off.
Rowan calls Granny as they walk along the railroad tracks. He tells her a white lie, ‘Actually I’m on my way to Monte Vista, I’m boarding right now… Yes, I wanted to see my dad… Yes, I’ll tell him… I love you too and I’ll be back in a fortnight or so! Bye!’
‘It’s coooooooming!’ Peaches sprints past Rowan. ‘The traaaaaaiiiiiin is cooooooming!!!’
They jump onto the slowly moving train, relieved to find the wagon once again empty. Twenty hours later they arrive in Hidden Springs after an uneventful journey. On their way into town, they stop at a gas station and Rowan washes in the bathroom. True to his word, he takes a protesting Peaches to the laundromat.
‘But I’m not waterproof! What if I shrink? And my colors will surely fade!’
‘You’re grey, Peaches. I wouldn’t worry about fading…’
‘That’s cheating! You can’t do this to me!’
But Rowan just chuckles. ‘You stink, and people think it’s me…’
He promptly stuffs Peaches into one of the huge machines, before settling on one of the chairs, closing his eyes.
After putting a dripping Peaches in the dryer, they walk down the main street trying to find somewhere to eat. Peaches is brooding, tagging along mumbling about injustice and generally snobbing Rowan, refusing to talk to him. They stop at a little restaurant, Hogan’s Deep Fried Diner, and Rowan asks the young waitress if she has any knowledge about the woods.
‘We’re… I’m here to help my dad list the area’s flowers…’
Rowan is charming and the young waitress tells him all she knows – which isn’t much. She quickly scribbles down her phone number and gives it to Rowan with a wink.
‘I’m Blake Grayson. Call me. There’s a party on Friday…’
Rowan spends his last money on a little tent and they set out into the wilderness. Two days later they still haven’t found what they were looking for and they’re out of supplies.
‘Let’s have fish for dinner!’
But they aren’t good at fishing. After getting their hooks and lines into a mess for the umpteenth time, Rowan gives up, ‘We have to head back into town!’
‘Let’s find Blake and ask her if she can tell us more.’
But Blake isn’t at work, and Jenny Lho, the other waitress, doesn’t seem in a good mood to talk.
Rowan digs in his pocket and fishes out the little slip of paper with Blake’s number. He quickly dials and she answers on the first ring.
‘Hi! It’s Rowan. I guess you don’t remember me but you gave me your…’
‘Of course I remember you! You’re the cute guy who’s looking for flowers! I’m on my way to the party and I can pick you up at the diner in 10!’ And she hangs up.
Rowan shudders. ‘Might as well go. A party means free food!’
Blake is right on time, she leans over and opens the window, motioning for Rowan –and invisible Peaches – to jump in. She seems truly happy to see Rowan again, chatting about the upcoming party. Rowan tries to ask her more questions about the wonderpetal, but he was right, she doesn’t know anything. Peaches grumbles about stupid blondes from the backseat. They drive out of town, and turns right onto a dirt track up into the mountains. Blake pulls her turquoise Renault up in front of a brightly lit house.
Loud music is blaring out of the windows and there are teenagers and young adults milling about.
‘Yeeehaaa! I want to try that!’
Rowan rolls his eyes at Peaches. Thank God no-one can hear her… Or see her! ‘Go ahead. No one is stopping you!’
Blake turns around and grabs his hand. ‘Of course no one would, it’s my house!’
‘Err… I meant… Nothing. Let’s do this!’
With a last glimpse at Peaches by the kegger, Rowan follows Blake inside, and she introduces him to everyone along the way. Between pats on his back and handshakes, someone puts a red mug with something that might be beer, in his hand. He drinks it quickly but as soon as he puts it down he gets another.
He loses Blake in the crowd, but in the kitchen two guys take him under their wing.
‘You must help us!’
‘Yeah, Dennis here believes his drink is the tastiest…’
‘C’mon Emmit, you know it is.’
‘Yeah, but half the taste is in the choice of glass. Look.’ He raises his green drink towards the light.
‘Err… OK.’ Rowan takes the pink glass and takes a big gulp. The liquid burns its way down to his stomach and he makes a face. ‘Wow. This one is powerful… Wow.’ He takes another gulp. ‘But it’s good.’
Dennis smiles triumphantly at Emmit, who promptly puts his glass in Rowan’s hand and urges him to drink.
Rowan sips carefully, but the green liquid isn’t that juiced. ‘Tasty.’
Emmit turns towards Dennis, smirking. ‘Told ya!’
Dennis says, ‘But mine is more powerful!’
‘I’ve got an idea…’ Emmit rummages through a cupboard and comes up with some martini glasses. Rowan accepts the empty glass that’s offered and they pour a little of both their drinks in it.
Rowan sips it tentatively. ‘I think this is it, guys! Maybe it lacks of… pink?’
Dennis and Emmit cheers and starts to pour a little of their drinks into each glass and soon the three of them are tasting the mixtures, adding some of this and a little of that…
Blake finds him in the kitchen.
‘There you are! I’ve been looking for you, I want to dance!’ She takes the glass filled to the brim with the pastel colored mixture offered to her, but puts it down again on the counter on their way out.
Rowan reaches for the glass, but she swaps his hand away. ‘You shouldn’t drink that. Before you know what’s happening to you, you’ll be hugging the toilet…’
Blake drags him back into the living room and onto the dancefloor and when she sneaks closer and kisses him, he kisses her lightheaded back. They sway to the music, kissing.
‘Wow. THIS is powerful.’
‘Nothing…’ He reaches for her lips again. ‘There are perks to being a teenager…’
Without a word she pulls away and takes his hand. He follows Blake upstairs, head turning, heart beating fast. He just wants her to stop walking so he could kiss her again.
She pushes open a door and Rowan catches a glimpse of a couple making out on the bed in what seems to be the master bedroom. The sight of the couple awakes feelings in him he didn’t even know existed, but he’s starting to get the hang of his new body. Following his new urges, he takes Blake’s hand and guides her downstairs again, through the dancing crowd and out into the night.
He hesitates on the lawn, but Blake knows where to go…
‘Where are you going?’ Peaches voice comes out of the darkness.
‘Somewhere you shouldn’t be going!’
‘Don’t worry… I know this forest, I grew up here,’ Blake adds reassuringly, tugging at his hand, taking him further away from the house.
‘You shouldn’t go with her. It might not be safe!’ Peaches whines.
‘Safe?’ I don’t care if it’s safe or not!’
‘I’ve got what’s needed for “safe”.’ Blake fishes up a little blue package from her pocket and Rowan blushes.
‘I can’t believe your guts!’ Peaches adds as Blake pushes Rowan down onto the lawn. ‘She might be a psychopath or something!’
Blake closes her eyes and nibbles at his lower lip. ‘Mmm… I love it when you talk to me like that…’
‘But…?’ Peaches tries to make herself heard.
‘Just let me do this… Alone!’
‘Go ahead! I’m yours!’ Blake kisses him and he responds hungrily, forgetting all about Peaches…
Rowan rolls off Blake with a contended sigh. He closes his eyes for a moment to make the stars stop spinning, then he turns towards her with a grin.
‘That was incredible! I think I…’ The smile vanishes from his face and he reaches behind her head. ‘What the…?’ He pulls at the plant and sniffs it… Wonderpetal!?!
Rowan throws the flower into the air and jumps to his feet, pulling Blake up with him. He swings round and round with Blake in his arms.
‘You’re my good luck charm!’
She doesn’t understand, but his merriment is contagious so she laughs nevertheless…
Good luck charm? I’m his good luck charm! Peaches holds up the flower and if she could smile she probably would have…
Part II – End of Chapter 12