Elspeth is tired but can’t sleep. The baby’s been kicking and moving around since she lay down, making it difficult to find a position that makes her relax, but finally it seems to have settled down.
Probably exhausted by moving around like an acrobat in there… She sighs and closes her eyes, her limbs feeling lead laden with exhaustion.
Suddenly her eyes pop open. Oh no… And now it feels like she needs to use the bathroom – again! Awkwardly she manages to get out of her sleeping bag without waking Taïga and Chase, but once outside she stops, yelping as a sharp pain rips through her.
Derek stumbles out of his tent, sleepily looking around the campground. He rubs his eyes, trying to see into the darkness, then concentrates on listening. But, apart from the light snoring from the other tents, there’s nothing but the usual sounds of nature to be heard; the rustling of leaves, a small animal scurrying away, a coyote yelping…
I’m sure I heard something… He shrugs and turns around to go back to sleep again.
Elspeth has ducked down behind a tent, straining not to move.
Oh my gosh. Derek! Go away… Warm liquid is trickling down her legs. And I just peed myself! Or could it be..? But it’s not supposed to happen before another fortnight!
Elspeth keeps her head low and doesn’t move.
But she can’t keep from groaning as the pain seizes her again, making her double over. Derek finds her on her knees in the bushes, gasping for breath, moaning quietly.
‘Elspeth!?! Are you OK? What happened?’ He scans the surroundings for a trace of a puma or a bear, as he swiftly kneels by her side, a hand on her shoulder. Elspeth looks up at him, her face an ugly mask of pain. She squeezes her eyes shut and strains not to scream as another contraction makes her lower back feel like a truck just ran over it.
Derek’s knee is getting soaked. Oh My God! She’s bleeding to death! He sniffs his fingers. Weird… ‘Is that…? Has the water broken? Is it the baby!?! Is the baby coming?’
Elspeth shudders his hand off and wheezes with clenched teeth at him, ‘Of course it’s the baby! DO something!’
Derek swipes her up in his arms and panicky his eyes dart around. OMG! This is NOT happening! The car? Too far. I can’t put her back in the tent. OMG. OMG. Where the hell IS everyone! His eyes fall on the big wooden table and he kicks away a chair, quickly sweeping it clean with one hand before putting Elspeth down.
He smiles a nervous smile and gulps, walking backwards, hands raised in front of him, ‘Don’t move! I’ll be right back!’
Elspeth leans up on one elbow, the other hand wiping sweat from her brow. Don’t move? Who’s he kidding!?!
Derek turns around and sprints away.
‘AAAaarghh! Don’t leave me alone! DEREK! COME BACK! DEEEEREEEEEEK!!!’
But Derek’s off to wake Tate who as usual has been sleeping under the stars by the wild horses’ corral.
Elspeth’s screams and the rising sun soon has everyone on their feet, milling around trying to be useful. Johnny and Taïga are doing their best comforting the agonizing young woman, as Chuck comes sprinting back from the car with the first aid kit.
Derek has woken Tate, but the old man takes his time, leaving Derek worriedly pacing. ‘Where the heck is Tate?’
‘Behind you, son.’ Tate looks calmly at the scene. ‘The head is crowning, I can see it from here!’
‘Does that mean we can’t take her to hospital?’ Chuck puts the kit down.
‘Yep. We’re too far from town to risk getting there by car.’
‘Wait a minute!’ Elspeth looks from Tate to Chase. ‘I’m not doing anything here! I’m not having my baby in the… in the wooOOOoooods!’ A new contraction makes her seize her knees and push.
‘I don’t think your baby agrees, little lady.’
Elspeth glares at Tate. ‘But I’m supposed to have pain killers! An epidural anesthesia! Or some morphine or Tylenol or…. Taïga! You have Motrin! AAAaargh… Gimme some! AAAAAAaaaargh!’
Tate smiles to himself and searches for something in his pockets. ‘You will have to do exactly as I tell you, do you understand?’ He puts a fresh wad of tobacco into his mouth and grins.
‘What!?!’Elspeth pants, ‘But you’re not even a doctor!?!’
‘Well. Nature’s not that complicated and you seem to be a healthy enough young mare, just follow your body and everything will be all right.’
‘A mare!?!’ Elspeth looks bewildered around her. ‘He’s comparing me with a fucking horse! Please help me someone!’
‘That’s just what I’m going to do. Each contraction is bringing you closer to your child, whether you want it or not. And I can assure you, the real worries begin once the baby’s out and you’re a mother… So just keep that big mouth of yours shut and economize your strength…’
Elspeth just gapes at him and shakes her head, but another contraction focalizes her attention and she concentrates on the excruciating pain that rips through her body.
Tate rubs his hands together. ‘Now let’s get down to business.’
Chuck calls for helicopter assistance, as Tate starts barking out orders, ‘Get me a bucket of hot water and some clean linen!’ He grabs Johnny’s arm as he tries to leave, ‘Johnny, you’ve already helped a mare to foal, so I want you to stay here and give me a hand. Can you hold her up? Good. It will be easier if she sits up.’
‘What can I do?’ Taïga wrings her hands.
‘Er… Emotional support – hold her hand or something. And help Johnny to keep her in a sitting position…’
He looks up at the worried boys, frowning. ‘And you guys on the bench over there! Just get out of here!’
The helicopter reaches the camp in a half hour, but they have some trouble finding a landing spot, so when the rescue squad with Dr Gavin Pinkerton* finally arrives, it’s already too late. With a last effort, Elspeth pushes her baby into the world.
Tate takes the little bloody bundle and drops it into the bucket with now lukewarm water.
‘Tate!’ Everyone’s screaming at the same time.
‘Pick it up!’
Tate grabs the small, now relatively clean bundle and holds it up for Taïga to wrap a clean linen, or rather one of Jupiter’s soft night shirts, around.
‘It seems to be a girl, ma’am.’ He smiles and spits some tobacco on the ground, before tenderly putting the little screaming bundle into Elspeth’s waiting arms.
With trembling lips, Elspeth kisses the tiny head and the baby stops screaming, looking up in wonder at her mother. Taïga brushes away a tear and swallows. She leans in towards Derek when he puts his arm around her, feeling happy and exhausted. Overcome by emotion he kisses her cheek. Nobody says anything, filled by the magic of the moment.
Doctor Pinkerton breaks the silence, ‘Thank you, Mr. Curley, but I’ll take over from now. There’s still the expulsion of the placenta, and we need to get Miss Cook to the helicopter, everything’s ready for her and her baby at the Wolfson’s Hospital…’
With Elspeth safely in the helicopter on her way back to town, the teens start to take down the tents and pack everything up after ten days in the wilderness.
Johnny and Tate leave on horseback, taking Firebird with them.
‘Here’s the trail!’
‘Do you really think we’ll make it back before the trailers?’
After lunch everything’s cleaned up and they just have to load the four wild horses into the trailers. The ride back to the ranch seems endless as the trailers with the horses have to keep a slow steady pace and the road is full of pot-holes. After driving the whole night, only stopping for a quick breakfast, the two trailers finally count on arriving around noon.
Taïga’s cell comes alive as they approach civilization, and she hungrily reads through all her messages. But all news aren’t good news…
Derek throws her a glance in the rearview mirror. ‘Bad news?’
‘Nah… I just don’t think the weekend back home will be as fun as I thought…’ He raises an eyebrow but keeps his eyes on the road. ‘Everyone’s away, it seems I’ll be stuck with my little brother and Missy.’ She laughs a little sad laugh.
‘It’s only two days.’
‘Yeah… I guess two days is just what I can handle…’
‘At least you’re going home, I’m trapped with Ted and Der’!’
Teddy laughs and turns around on the front seat. ‘Oh, c’mon, VJ! Admit it! You don’t want to leave us!’
VJ leans in and peeks at a picture on Taïga’s cell. ‘Who’s that girl in the snow?’ He grabs it from her and holds it just out of reach. “Happy Easter, Derek! Love, hugs and snowy cool kisses from Linn!” He grins at Taïga. ‘Were you going to show him this?’
‘Yes. Now give it back!’
But VJ hands the cell over to Derek instead. ‘Here. She’s pretty Linn.’ He glances at Taïga. ‘And Derek’s always been a sucker for blondes anyway…’
I’m cool. I’m the ice queen. I won’t ask for my cell back.
She stares out of the window at the pouring rain, tuning out the boys voices as they talk about skiing and football…
‘OK guys. Let’s unload the horses!’ Chuck gives orders as he and Derek open the trailers. ‘We shall unleash them in separate corrals to introduce them to their new environment. Johnny? Are the corrals ready with hay and water?’
Jupiter stares unbelievingly at Johnny and Tate. ‘How come they’re already here? Since when a horse went faster than a car?’
‘They didn’t have to take the road!’ Chase answers, adding thoughtfully, ‘Do you think we can visit Elspeth before we all leave?’
‘I dunno… Hey! Look at Lil!’
The horses already in the corrals neigh welcomingly and Cream surprises Lil Bling by suddenly setting of in a brisk trot, Lil hanging on to her leash as best he can.
‘Hey! Pull her in!’
‘Pull her in!?! This monster must be a thousand lb!’
Chuck catches up with them and takes the leash, planting his feet firmly on the ground, making Cream swirl. She stands still, nostrils flaring, then she neighs, making Lil cover his ears.
‘And she must be a thousand db too!’
Chuck gives him the leash back. ‘You’re the one who’s deciding where, when and how. Now calm her down before starting to walk. And don’t let her pass you. You’re first. You’re leading. You’re…’
‘… the Boss.’
Derek crosses his arms and shakes his head. Horses… You don’t have to take lessons in how to talk to a motorcycle…
Taïga takes it easy getting out of the trailer, reassuring her horse with her voice. ‘Steady now… That’s right… Good girl…’ I won’t let Sweet Thing pull me along as that moron Lil Bling.
But she didn’t need to worry, the little paint mare behaves impeccably, stepping out of the trailer as if she’s been doing it hundreds of times already.
‘I’ll show you her pen!’ Thomas catches up with Taïga and Sweet Thing. ‘As she’s the last, she’ll have the corral furthest over by the windmill…’
He continues chatting, but Taïga tunes him out. She doesn’t want to leave APYR for the Easter week-end – even though it’s only for two days… Granny won’t be there, she’s off on some secret business in Roaring Heights and will spend the whole Easter weekend in Florida with some “friends”. BFF Linn is off skiing in Hidden Springs, and Loki is in Paris with his parents to promote his dad’s latest book which has just been translated to French… And she’s a little jealous thinking that someone else will be taking care of “her” horse…
Rowan is pacing in the garden with Peaches following in his path like a shadow, waiting for Taïga to come home. Brusquely he stops and the huge doll slams into him, making them both fall into the newly planted flowers. Rowan pushes her away and rises, trying to brush off the dirt from his clothes.
‘Can’t you just sit down somewhere? I can’t breathe with you so close all the time! I’m not Peter Pan, you know?’
‘Peter Pan? Shadow?’ He lifts his eyebrows at her but Peaches just stares back at him with her empty doll’s eyes.
‘Forget it…’ He resumes pacing, Peaches close behind.
‘What now?’ He turns on Peaches, frowning.
Peaches takes a step back. ‘Maybe you should think about changing. Clothes. Changing clothes.’
‘Oh. Well. Just stay here, I’ll be right back!’
‘And don’t forget to…’ The door slams shut and Peaches ads to herself, ‘… wash your face, it’s smeared with dirt all over…’
The sound of the Grey sister’s vintage car screeching to a halt, makes Rowan take the stairs in two strides, hurriedly pulling on his cardigan at the same time. Taïga is bent over the trunk pulling her suitcase out.
‘Wait I’ll take care of that!’ Rowan grabs it and hugs her, urgently whispering in her ear. ‘Meet me after dinner in the attic!’
‘Whoa!’ Taïga pushes him away. ‘Take it easy!’ She turns towards Missy, who’s rearranging her hair after the ride in the open car. ‘Who the hell is that? Don’t tell me the surprise you’d been talking about all the way from the airport is… is… my fiancé? You could have told me!?!’
‘Your fiancé? But it’s Rowan, dear.’ She looks at them, the smile vanishing from her face. ‘Oups! I did it again, didn’t I? I completely forgot! And Granny who told me to tell you in person on the way back from the airport! Gosh!’ She slaps her front with her open palm. ‘I’m so sorry!’
Taïga gapes at Missy, then at Rowan who frowns. ‘Just close that mouth of yours before it gets stuck!’
‘OK! Now I can see it’s you, Rowan, all right!’
He grabs her arm before she has the time to say anything else. ‘C’mon. I’ll tell you everything!’
Missy shouts after them, ‘Don’t be late for dinner! We have a surprise guest!’
Missy starts to prepare the Easter meal. She hums a fancy tune to herself, chopping and mixing the ingredients. Midnight purrs and mews at the smell of the shrimps out of reach.
‘I’ll give you one cooked!’ Hmm. It says one sweet pepper…
She rummages through the fridge, and stumbles on some cute looking miniature peppers.
Just what I needed… But these are so tiny… Better take them all! One, two, three, four… eleven!
‘And a little bit of this… and a little bit of that…’ She adds some herbs to the plate and sniffs the appetizing odor. ‘I don’t understand why Granny makes such fuzz about cooking. This was easy. She quickly disposes of the first, all burnt plate in the bin. ‘Voilà!’ She takes off her apron and hangs it up. Midnight takes advantage of Missy turning her back to jump up and start licking the bowls. ‘Midnight get down from there! Greedy cat!’
‘… so that’s the story.’
‘Wow. I don’t know what to say…’
‘You don’t have to say anything!’ Peaches adds, ‘We just need you to make the potion!’
Taïga just looks at Peaches, then she turns back towards Rowan. ‘Are you sure you’ve got everything needed? Can we still use the wonder petal? It must be all dried up by now?’
‘I picked a lot and there’s still two of them left…’
‘And who’s the guest, by the way?’
‘I suppose it’s Juan. I think Missy is waiting for him to pop the question one of these days!’
Taïga gapes. ‘Juan Darer who built the tree house? Is Missy romantically involved?’
‘Hey, sis, you must stop that gaping thing, you’re sooo not pretty when you…’ Taïga tries to punch him, but he ducks and runs away, keeping just out of reach of Taïga and followed by a happily barking Valkyria…
Peaches suddenly realizes they’re off and sets clumsily off after them, ‘Wait for meeeee….’
They almost run over Juan, who hurries up the steps and into the mansion without knocking.
Missy scurries out from the kitchen at the sound of the door slamming shut. ‘Darn kids! Make that dog shut up and stop howling!’ She stops and automatically rearranges her hair. ‘Juan, you’re early!’
‘I know. But my stomach grumbled so loudly I followed it here! Hahahaha!’
She stares at him. ‘Hahaha.’
‘Flowers! How romantic! But you shouldn’t have…’
‘I know. I picked them in my garden…’
‘Wait! I have a surprise for you too! I’ve prepared a romantic dinner! Shrimps!’
‘Shrimps! My second best! How thoughtful of you! I would have preferred a steak or maybe meatballs… But shrimps will do just fine!’
‘I think shrimps is more romantic than meatballs.’ Missy grumbles to herself… ‘Can you call the children? Dinner is ready!’
Missy turns around and stumbles on Midnight. ‘What happened to you?’ She picks the panting cat up in her arms. ‘Let us get you some water, poor thing…’
But Midnight jumps out of her arms and vanishes upstairs. (Where she spends the rest of the evening drinking in the toilet… Yuk…)
‘What is it Missy?’
‘It’s shrimp, dear. A little romantic recipe I picked up on one of my journeys to Africa.’
Taïga is doubtful. ‘But what’s in the sauce, Missy?’
‘A little bit of this and a little bit of that. It’s a secret, dear.’ She taps a finger against her mouth, thinking. ‘If I can remember it right, it’s Caribbean and it’s called “salsa do diablo”.’
Rowan whispers across the table, ‘I bet you don’t dare!’
Without looking up she takes a shrimp, dips it in the sauce and pops it into her mouth. ‘Don’t dare, huh?’ she whispers back as she picks up another one.
Missy fidgets on her chair. ‘Juan has already finished his plate!’ She announces, triumphal. ‘What did you think about the salsa, Juan? Juan?’
Oh. My. God. This must be what they call a mouthpocalypse! If I open my mouth I’ll surely set something on fire…
‘Excuse me!’ Taïga pushes back her chair and hurries away.
She reaches the bathroom just in time…
Taïga kisses Missy perfunctorily on the cheek. ‘Thanks for dinner! It was… special! Are you coming, Rowan?’
‘Yeah, sure!’ Gratefully, Rowan pushes back his chair and follows his sister.
‘Where are you two going?’
‘To sleep, Missy! The journey was long…’
‘But what about you, Rowan? There’s lime pie for dessert.’
‘Err… I’m… I’m having some books to read… Goodnight, Missy. Mr. Darer.’
Juan still doesn’t answer.
Giggling they hurry up the stairs to the attic, where Peaches is waiting for them.
‘Let me see… Ah! Here it is.’ Taïga scans the text. ‘… and add the parts of the wonder petal lastly, from the Androecium or the Gynoecium but never both…’
‘What does that mean?’ Peaches is curious.
Taïga looks up from deciphering the old spell book. ‘I remember andros is man in greek so I think gynoecium is the girl thing, the pistil. You know flowers and bees stuff…’
‘OK OK. I don’t think we need a lesson in plants reproductive morphology, do we? Just let’s get started!’ Rowan is impatient.
‘But I’m a girl!’ Peaches protests, ‘I don’t want to be transformed into a hybrid something?’
‘You’re an imaginary friend, Peaches. You’ll only be a girl if this succeeds.’ Rowan adds drily.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to taste my pie? It’s one of my specialties!’
Juan just shakes his head, and starts to clean away the plates.
‘But you must at least try the romantic cocktails. Please?’
‘Water. I think a glass of water will be just fine. Please.’
So water it is… Juan follows Missy into the kitchen. She takes down a glass, but he is already drinking directly from the tap. ‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ Juan dries his mouth with his sleeve. ‘You’re sweating, dear. Let me see if you’re running a fever.’ She touches his front. ‘Cool. Maybe too cool. Why don’t you light us a romantic fire in the den?’
Missy takes two glasses of pink cocktails and brings them into the small den.
‘Here. To us.’ She says seductively and holds her glass up to clink it with Juan.
‘To us.’ Juan raises his glass to drink. Unsuccessfully. He tries again, almost falling over backwards.
‘Oh. Maybe I put a little too much gelatin in.’
‘Too much of what?’
‘I wanted to do romantic jelly shots!’
‘Maybe the glass is a little too big…’
‘… but I didn’t have any small glasses and these are so much more romantic!’
‘Romantic?’ Juan holds it upside down over him shaking the glass ever so slightly while peering up in it. With a glop the pink jelly lands on his face…
The potion glows a fiery red, bubbling and nasty looking.
‘It’s time to add the wonder petal.’
‘Here. I’ve got two left. Do you need them both?’ Rowan hands Taïga one of the large, smelling flowers.
Taïga takes it and wonders over its weight. The flower is really heavy…
‘No. One should do.’
‘We need to save one for Buddy!’
‘Don’t worry, Peaches. We’ll take care of Buddy next. Now, can you stop moving around? It’s unnerving!’
Taïga carefully dislocates the pistil and throws it into the kettle, then she starts to pick the petals off one by one.
‘Precious jewels of lunar, I offer these petals of wonder…’
The petals become brittle and easily reduced to powder as they are separated from the flower. The potion changes color slowly, from red to a glowing pink.
‘… in honor of your power let magic light shine through.’
She stirs the potion.
‘Blessed be with life… and child…’
For each stroke of the ladle, the potion grows paler…
‘Is that normal?’ Peaches asks anxiously.
‘How could I know? I guess you’ll soon find out!’ Rowan answers sullenly. ‘Now be quiet and stop fidgeting!’
We’ve danced for ages and he still hasn’t asked me anything except if all my cuisine is as spicy… And he keeps glancing at the watch on the mantelpiece… Maybe it’s time for some cuddling on the sofa…
Taïga taps up a large decanter with the elixir…
‘Here!’ She holds the elixir up and admires how it glows in the candlelight.
Rowan takes it and makes it whirl. ‘Beautiful…’
Their eyes lock for a moment, and they both grin.
‘Give it to me!’ Peaches grabs it and starts to swallow huge mouthfuls.
‘We must hurry!’ Taïga and Rowan joins hands and begins the magical chant, watching how Peaches starts to glow.
‘With one mind, we call to thee
With one heart, we long for thee
Puppet of Earth, Wind, Fire & Sea
In to your life, we welcome thee
By Earth, Fire, Wind, and Sea
A real girl you will be.’
And there she is. A real girl, about their age and truly beautiful. Her silky hair is tied by a ribbon, and her eyes are the darkest brown Taïga has ever seen. And she’s staring at Rowan gratefully. No, adoringly!
‘Hi.’ Rowan circles Peaches, looking her up and down. ‘How do you feel?’
‘I don’t know… Good. I guess…’
Peaches blushes when he touches her cheek. ‘Smooth and warm… Just like a real person…’
‘OK. Er… I guess I’ll just go back to my task.’ Taïga backs away from Rowan and Peaches. ‘To prepare some potion for Buddy of course…’
But they take no notice of her. Taïga starts all over again with the next potion. She looks at Rowan and Peaches over her shoulder. That “girl” is pretty… But there’s something uncanny about her… Probably because she’s a… was a doll… She concentrates on the potion.
‘Rowan, where did you put the second wonder petal?’
‘On the counter, next to the grimoires.’
Taïga takes it and carefully picks the anthers off the filaments.
‘Why don’t you throw the whole stamen in?’ Rowan has watched her while talking to Peaches.
Yeah. Why not? She adds the petals reduced to powder between her fingers and repeats the magical words…
‘Well… I think it’s time for me to leave…’
Oh no! He can’t do this to me!
‘But I don’t want you to leave, Juan. Not before you…’
‘Before I what?’ He glances over his shoulder and blemishes. ‘Ohmigod! What are you doing?’
‘It won’t hurt. And you won’t remember anything about what I’m doing right now… Shazam!’
‘Are we ready?’
‘Yes, we are.’ Rowan Puts little Buddy on the floor and steps back.
Peaches looks at the potion on the edge of the table and asks, ‘Are you sure it will work?’
‘Well. It worked for you.’ Rowan answers with a little tight smile.
He looks at his sister who can’t take her eyes off Buddy. She bites her lip and glances up at him. She’s really nervous… He grins reassuringly at her, ‘But first the Friendship Elixir…’ He glances over his shoulder at Peaches. ‘Would you mind..?’
‘Oh. Sorry.’ She takes her hands off his shoulder.
Rowan empties the whole bottle over little Buddy who crumples on the floor, completely soaked in potion.
‘OhmyGod! You killed him! I can’t watch this!’ Peaches whines.
‘Then don’t.’ Rowan crosses his arms and waits.
They don’t have to wait for long, suddenly the little doll seems to unfold and grow.
‘Oh my!’ Taïga is thunderstruck.
‘What’s happening?’ Peaches whines.
‘Why don’t you take your hands away and look?’ Rowan snaps a little irritated.
But Peaches has hardly the time to uncover her face before Buddy pales and starts to crumple.
‘Hurry Rowan! The Elixir!’
Rowan puts the elixir in Buddy’s shaking hands and he lifts the recipient to his mouth and swallows it all hastily.
And the transformation begins. The three of them hold hands while chanting:
‘With one mind, we call to thee
With one heart, we long for thee
Puppet of Earth, Wind, Fire & Sea
In to your life, we welcome thee
By Earth, Fire, Wind, and Sea
A real boy you will be.’
And Gosh, what a boy! Peaches fans herself and Taïga leans in to have a closer look. Those must be the most incredible eyes I’ve ever seen! Turquoise…
Rowan just glares. Buddy is taller than me… But with hair like that he’s probably gay…
A bloodcurdling scream (worthy of the Superbowl!) from downstairs interrupts them.
‘Boooooyyyyyaaaaaaa! I’m engaged!!!’
Rowan and Taïga both let out a loud breath. ‘I guess Juan popped the question, huh?’
Part II – End of Chapter 14