‘Can I come in? You’ve been in there for ages!’ Teddy hammers on the bathroom door.
‘Sure… Door’s open…’
Teddy picks up the tooth paste and looks at his brother in the mirror. Derek worries him, he’s been more dark and sullen than usual since they got back from the ridge, keeping to himself…
‘Is it Taïga?’
‘Huh? Hell, no!’
‘OK. If it’s not Taïga, so what is it?’ Teddy gesticulates with his toothbrush towards the ceiling, ‘Hey body-snatchers! I’d like to have my grumpy bro’ back, please!’
‘You’re spitting toothpaste all over the glass…’ Derek rises from his bath and wraps a towel around his waist, before sitting down on the edge of the tub. ‘It’s not Taïga. It’s mom.’
‘Yeah. She’s on to something, but she didn’t want to tell me on the phone… And I got the answer from Simvard. I’m on.’
‘But that’s great news! You’ve made the team and there might be a cure! So why are you sulking? You could have told me earlier you know.’
‘She doesn’t want to come back. She’s found a job at a hospital in Al Simhara. I’m afraid she’s giving up on dad.’ He rises and walks into to the bedroom, pulling on his jeans.
‘Aw shit!’ Teddy trails after him, ‘That’s not possible! She loves dad!’
Derek just looks at his brother. ‘That’s why we have to get him out.’
Teddy gulps. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean going in and bring him home. Then mom will come home too.’ I hope….
Teddy gapes. ‘I know we’ve been talking about it a lot, but really? You know what will happen? We’ll get the army and the secret service guys tracking us for the rest of our lives? Goodbye Simvard! Goodbye normal life! I’ve been giving it some thought too, and I’m sure dad wouldn’t want us to do it!’
‘You’re right. That’s why I’m doing it alone.’
‘Alone? You are serious, aren’t you?’ Teddy slumps down on the couch.
‘Yeah. Solo. Just me.’ Derek pulls a face and dances around, boxing the air.
He stops when he sees the serious expression on Teddy’s face. ‘As soon as possible.’ He pulls out a drawer and takes his time rummaging through it so he won’t have to meet his brother’s eyes. ‘Actually tomorrow.’
‘What about school? You won’t graduate!’
‘I think dad’s more important than a dumb diploma.’
Teddy starts to get desperate, he’s got a gut feeling Derek won’t come back again. ‘Have you talked to Johnny about this?’
‘No. And I won’t tell him. Because he’ll find a way to stop me, you know that.’
Teddy tries again, ‘And you count on leaving me to tell Taïga?’ Teddy’s voice rises a notch. ‘She’s flying in tomorrow, she’ll kill me if I let you leave like this!’
Finally Derek turns and faces his brother. ‘That’s why I kind of counted on you to be there when I told her.’ Teddy scratches his head. Oh. My. God.
As soon as Taïga’s back at APYR, she stumbles out of the taxi on her brand new high heels and hands the driver the fare. ‘Thanks for the ride. Keep the change!’
The taxi driver chuckles as he watches her awkwardly hurry to APYR’s red SUV to dig out her cell from under the seat. Great! I thought I’d lost it! Gosh. How stupid of me to forget my cell in the car the other day. She turns it on, but the battery is critically low. A message from Derek, no – two, and one from Teddy and five from Linn and Loki and… she frowns. Ty? What does he want?
She bumps into Chuck and VJ in the hall. ‘You’re the first one back, Taïga! I hope all flights aren’t delayed or we’ll be up all night waiting for the others…’
Chuck hugs her. ‘I think your mare’s been missing you, why don’t you ride her a little in the paddock today.’
‘Sure! I’ll just unpack first, these heels are killing me!’ She takes her cell back to her room and plugs it in next to her bed, then she quickly changes into her riding clothes before checking her messages.
Five minutes later she’s saddled Sweet Thing…
… and is riding out from APYR at full gallop!
Derek and Teddy has told Taïga to meet them at the Rustler’s Den, a safe place where no one can overhear them.
‘She won’t come.’ Derek stops pacing and leans on his motorcycle. ‘She’s more than an hour late.’
‘Of course she’ll come. Give her another ten…’
‘She hasn’t answered my texts…’
‘You’re right, mine neither… I admit that’s strange… But I’m sure she would have told us if she couldn’t come, so…’
Derek makes a gesture with his head towards something behind Teddy. ‘There she is…’
Taïga has pushed Sweet Thing rather hard, thoughts of disaster swirling in her head while she incessantly urged the horse on. She holds in just an instant to see how the mare will react to the gleaming motorcycle at the end of the road.
Derek watches her approach, nonchalantly leaning against his ride.
Teddy walks up to her with a large smile, ‘Hey! So you came all this way on horseback? So that’s why you’re so late!’
‘I didn’t feel up to ride a bike this far up into the hills! I guess I’m too lazy.’ She smiles back at him, trying to be cool. ‘Actually the plane was delayed.’
‘So why the secrecy?’ She pats Sweet Thing’s neck before jumping off the horse and tying the reins to a branch. ‘I didn’t get your messages before I got back. I forgot my cell in the car on the way back from the ridge and your messages were so… so…’ She realizes she’s blabbering, ‘ Well, I’m worried. Tell me!’
‘Do you remember what we told you about our dad?’
‘Yeah? How could I forget?’ She pulls her jeans back down over the boots. ‘Has something bad happened? OMG. He’s not…?’
‘No.’ Teddy hesitates, ‘But something has to be done soon or he’ll probably die – or go completely insane.’
Derek breaks in. ‘I’m getting him out of that place.’
Taïga gulps. ‘When?’
‘I’m leaving tonight.’
‘Tonight? Are you going to tell me what happened this week-end?’ She looks from Teddy to Derek.
‘Actually it’s because of our mom…’
‘OMG. Your mom? Is she OK?’
‘Well…’ Derek and Teddy start to explain about their fears and their plan. Taïga listens, asking questions and getting more and more worried.
If he makes it, he will be on the government’s black list. He won’t be safe anywhere. And what if he doesn’t make it… She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. ‘I get the picture. And I don’t like it. What about…’ I can’t say “us” because there is no “us”. Has never been “us”. She feels like crying. Suddenly Teddy’s cell starts ringing.
‘I’m sorry, guys. I have to take this.’
Taïga watches Teddy walk away, trying to get a better connection. She looks at her feet, desperately thinking of something to say. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Derek pass his hands through his hair, a sure sign he’s nervous. It makes her smile and she bites her lip, keeping her eyes on her feet, trying to regain her composure. She can sense Derek awkwardly approaching.
He reaches out and touches her elbow, making her start. Her heart beats like a sledgehammer, and she’s afraid her eyes will give her away if she looks at him.
‘I haven’t forgot about my promise, Taïga. It’s just…’
She looks at his hand on her arm, and he lets go of her.
‘I understand. Family is important,’ she gulps, missing the warmth of his hand. ‘And I think Granny’s forgotten all about my marriage anyway. I mean… I can take care of myself…’ She squeezes her eyes shut to keep those darn tears at bay. ‘I’m more scared of what might happen to you.’ Her voice comes out in a whisper.
‘Hey… Look at me.’ His fingers under her chin forces her to meet his eyes.
Sighing, he leans his forehead against hers. ‘This is hard for me… I might not come back again.’
‘So this is goodbye?’ Taïga’s voice quivers a little.
‘Yes. This is goodbye.’ He kisses her forehead, letting his lips linger…
His thumb brusher her cheek and she leans toward his hand overwhelmed by the force of her feelings…
… his other hand nestles in her hair pulling her towards him, sending shivers down her spine and waking urges in her she didn’t even know existed.
‘I’ve always wanted…’ His voice is hoarse and hesitating.
This is it… She can feel his hot breath on her face making her lips part and she’s never wanted anything as much in her life as to be kissed by him. Now. This instant.
‘Yaaaaaaayyyyyyy!’ Teddy spins round throwing his hands in the air…
… making Taïga and Derek part as if they’ve been scorched.
‘I’m sorry, Taïga. I… I got carried away. I shouldn’t have taken advantage of the situation.’
Taïga feels like awakening from a dream. This is not real… Not again!*
Derek turns and glares at a grinning Teddy. ‘What the fuck’s going on! This better be good!’
‘It is, bro! It is!’ Teddy looks smug. ‘It was mom calling. And she’s been preparing the same thing as we. There’s a team ready to go in and bring dad to China, where he’ll go into hiding. Their government will even get him a new ID! Isn’t it great?’
‘What? And she told you this on the phone?’
‘Did you tell her what we’ve planned?’
‘Err… no. Not exactly.’
Not exactly… Derek closes his eyes a brief moment. ‘And you think that’s all? You seriously believe the Chinese are willing to get into diplomatic trouble with our country just for the pleasure of hosting dad indefinitely? No… They want something in return and I guess it’s the same thing our government wants… When did she say this is to be pulled off?’
‘She didn’t give a date, just said dad would be with her so they could both call me on my birthday.’
Taïga adds, ‘But that’s next month!’
Teddy scratches his head. ‘Actually she was a little strange, insisted on the fact how happy she was when I became part of the family…’
Derek passes a hand through his already disheveled hair. ‘I think mom wanted to warn us by talking about the day Dad brought Ted back with him. She wanted to tell us they are coming in five days… Listen. If I can- When I get dad out, and over the border to Canada, the government won’t be able to do anything about him – or me.’ He looks from Teddy to Taïga. ‘But you’ll have to visit me over there…’
He smiles his trademark devilish grin and walks over to his motorcycle. ‘I really have to move now if I want to beat the Chinese to dad… I’ll let you off at APYR, Ted. Is that horse of yours ready to go, Taïga? I’m sorry, but we really have to leave now.’
‘Just a minute… I might be able to help you, Derek.’ She pulls out her wand. ‘It’s one of the first spells Granny taught me…’
Derek backs away, ‘Will it hurt?’
‘Oh, c’mon. Of course it won’t hurt…’ She looks slyly at him, turning her wand, drawing a green sparkling figure in the air, ‘… but you might be turned into a toad if you don’t stay still…’
Derek stares at her, but when he sees how her eyes sparkle with mischief he knows she’s not serious.
‘OK. Just do it.’ He braces himself…
May the rainbow light surround you
and protect you from all harm
this is my will so
MOTE it be
A blast of rainbow light burst out of the wand, throwing him off the ground and several feet up in the air, before landing on his feet again.
‘Gosh… But I don’t feel any different… Maybe it didn’t work?’ He teases.
‘Didn’t work? Even Granny has never thrown me up in the air like I just did with you. I’m sure it worked!’
Teddy has trouble holding Sweet Thing. ‘Taïga, you better take care of your horse. She’s a little nervous, and I’m afraid I can’t handle her.’ He hands Taïga the reins before joining Derek over by the motorcycle.
‘But I…’ Taïga thinks better of what she wanted to say, and mounts Sweet Thing who’s sidestepping and neighing. As soon as Taïga’s on her back she starts to walk backwards.
‘Whoa…’ Taïga pats her neck and turns her around as she can’t make the mare stand still.
Derek swings a long leg over the bike and turns the ignition. The bike comes to life with a mixture between a purr and a growl that makes Sweet Thing jump sideward and almost throws Taïga off.
‘Be careful, Derek.’ She turns the mare round again and spurs her horse into a gallop before he can see her tears.
‘Wait!’ But she can’t hear him, the beating of the hooves on the hard ground drowns out any other sound.
‘I want you to look after her, bro.’ I’ll personally take care of her “fiancé”… ‘And don’t let her marry that Loki person.’
‘I’ll do my best, Der’.’
I know you will. With a grim look on his face, he revs up the engine. ‘You better put that helmet on.’
Teddy is waiting for Taïga when she gets home. They walk Sweet Thing together to cool her off, and stay in the living room long after the others have turned in for the night, talking about Mr. Vargas, Derek, their mother and all their worries.
Chase is not yet asleep when Taïga sneaks downstairs after midnight.
‘Hey, I waited for you. You’ve got something under your bed! A gift! I just couldn’t go to bed, I’m too curious to see what it is!’
Taïga bends and withdraws a little white box. She shakes it carefully and unties the ribbon. There’s only an envelope in the box. Taïga turns it in her hands. She recognizes Derek’s handwriting, “Don’t open”.
‘Oh, c’mon! Open it!’
She ignores Chase. Why did he leave me something giftwrapped, then asked me not to open what’s inside… Suddenly it becomes very important for her to follow his instructions. ‘No.’
She starts to put it back into the box when Chase grabs it. Taïga reaches out and tries to take it back. With a ripping sound the two girls fall backwards, each with a half envelope in their hands. A small silver ring rolls on the floor and stops at Taïga’s feet. Chase reaches for it, but Taïga is faster.
‘Look what you’ve done!’
‘A ring! Let me see. Who’s it from? Who’s your secret admirer?’
‘That’s not your business, Chase. The envelope said “Don’t open”!’
‘C’mon… What’s the meaning of giving you a ring and…’
‘Just be quiet. Please, Chase.’ Taïga slips the ring on her finger and pulls the blanket high over her head. I wasn’t supposed to see the ring, but Chase is right. What’s the meaning with that? And why did Derek leave me a ring? I’ll ask Teddy tomorrow…
She wakes up before the alarm goes off and hurries to Teddy’s room. Johnny’s already up feeding the horses, so Teddy’s alone. She shakes his bed until he wakes up.
‘Gosh, Taïga! What time is it?’
Taïga sits on Derek’s bed. ‘5:30. I’m sorry, but something happened last night.’
Teddy’s curiosity is awaken and he climbs down from his bed, yawning and stretching. ‘I have to take a… Well, pee.’
‘Go ahead, I’ll wait. But please hurry.’
Taïga can hear Teddy brushing his teeth. She sighs and lies down on Derek’s bed.
‘OK. What happened?’
‘This happened.’ She waves her hand with the ring.
‘Oh. When did he give you that?’
‘It was in a box under my bed, in an envelope with “Don’t open” written on it.’
‘I can see you opened it.’ Teddy chuckles.
‘I didn’t exactly open it, it was Chase who… Well, it doesn’t matter. Do you know why he left it to me?’
‘That ring is what Derek treasures most. He’s got it since he was a kid, always wore it around his neck… I guess he wanted you to keep it for him…’
Taïga feels guilty. I’ll hide the ring somewhere safe as soon as possible… Nobody will look inside my little voodoo doll…
They continue talking about Derek until they can hear the school bus honking outside…
Part II – End of Chapter 16