‘Go ahead. She’s in the garden…’
Granny discreetly watches Linn from behind one of the screen doors. The young blonde girl crosses the lawn and approaches Taïga who is sitting motionless, staring into space, on one of the antique stone benches in the shadow of a birch tree. She can see them talking a little, and then Linn sits down next to her best friend and they hug fiercely. Granny realizes she’s been holding her breath and expires loudly.
‘Are you all right, dear?’ Missy inquires.
‘Oh, yes. I am now…’ Granny answers a little absent-mindedly. ‘I just wondered if I did the right thing.’
‘The right thing? Since when do you doubt your decisions?’
‘Since never, of course. But still… Calling Linn…’ She turns around and shrugs. ‘Well. There’s no need for us to stand around watching the girls chat. I’m sure you have something constructive to do. At least I have.’
With that she turns on her heels and walks away.
Missy is way too curious to just turn a blind eye to drama. Grumbling to herself, she takes her favorite book, Wuthering Heights, out onto the second floor balcony, where she can watch over the girls while sipping a nice glass of ice tea. Apparently her older sister is curious, too, because she hovers outside in the garden, tending to the already perfectly groomed flowers while discreetly keeping an eye on her granddaughter.
Linn stays the whole afternoon, sitting by Taïga’s side, holding her hand and drying her tears. Granny can’t hear what they are talking about, she is just relieved to see Taïga smile between bursts of tears.
When Linn leaves, she stops by the old lady who is on her knees pulling at weeds, and announces that she will be back the next day…
Linn’s daily visits gradually pulls Taïga out of her lethargy and she even starts to come down for the meals. Politely, she spends her evenings with her grandmother and great aunt, before retiring for some time alone before going to bed. Granny has encouraged her to pray to the Goddess, and Taïga heeds her advice, patiently waiting on her balcony for the Northern star to light up the dark sky before praying. She doesn’t know who she prays to, anyone, actually, but she thinks of how Derek had explained when they were little about the Northern star helping lost sailors home. She doesn’t know how it could help Derek, but it feels right somehow, to ask the star to bring him back home.
Taïga’s pale cheeks starts getting a healthy glow and she enjoys her best friend’s company, but she is not her usual dauntless self, letting Linn and Rowan decide what to do and where to go. Both Rowan and Linn are happy to have her tag along – only a week ago she didn’t even want to get out of bed. They usually end up playing around in the cool water at Silver Sands which makes the sweltering, moist August afternoons bearable. Peaches and Bud, who appreciate everything they now can do, are always ready to go, but their incessant optimism and chatting can get overwhelming. Rowan doesn’t hesitate to leash out, but Taïga thinks he is unfair to them.
‘Poor guys have spent almost their whole life as stuffed ragdolls after all. Let them talk, you don’t have to listen.’
Linn splashes some water on her arms, looking covertly at her friend.
‘Have you heard from Loki?’ she asks innocently.
Taïga nods. ‘Yeah. He’s coming home this week. On Wednesday I think.’
‘I don’t know, Linn. I’ve kind of put all thoughts about him on standby…’
Linn tries to sound casual. ‘Do you still love him?’
‘Love…’ Taïga lets her gaze stray. What is love? Safety? Kindness? Affection? Devotion? She looks at her feet in the clear water. Or is it danger and admiration? Sweet, but excruciating, pain?
She sighs. My feelings for Loki pale in comparison with the all-consuming fire Derek awoke in me… Or was it only lust? Fireworks in the moment that would never have lasted, that would have left me feeling as shallow and… and empty as I am feeling now?
‘Do you?’ Linn insists.
Taïga focuses on Linn again. ‘I don’t- I mean, I’m not fair to Loki. Of course I love him… But not enough,’ she adds to herself under her breath. How on earth could she explain her feelings to Linn? She feels guilty enough as it is without talking about it.
‘Oh, nothing. It’s just-’
‘C’mon girls!’ Bud is threading water. ‘We’re going diving from Rattlesnake Cliff!’
Taïga jumps on the occasion to escape from further explanations. She looks at Linn and both girls set off in a sprint.
‘Hurry Peaches! Don’t let the guys win!’
Peaches squeals and runs after them, but is soon overcome by Rowan. Bud tries to catch up with them, running through the water, but stumbles and falls.
Rattlesnake Cliff hovers over the deepest part of the lake. No one has ever dived deep enough to touch the bottom and there are lots of tales about what supposedly is hiding in the black waters. It only adds to the teens’ excitement as they -screaming with terrified delight- dive and jump off the cliff.
Taïga can’t sleep. The air is hot and humid, barely breathable. She lies with closed eyes, listening to the rhythmic swoosh of the ceiling fan and the screeching cicadas in the trees. She decides she will ask Granny if she can sleep over at Linn’s tomorrow – they have AC. She sighs.
She needs to pee. Again. Or maybe she is thirsty. The image of the pitcher with strawberry lemonade in the fridge downstairs is haunting her. She slips out of her bed and tiptoes downstairs.
Maybe a cup of herbal tea will make me sleep… Or a book, a boring one…
She brings a steaming cup into the study, and sips at the tea while she browses through the books on the shelves.
‘Great! Dracula… I’ll keep it for a rainy day… So Granny is a Twilight fan? Wow. I never knew she had all Stephenie Meyer’s books… I’d love to meet a vampire one day. Just hope he’s as handsome as Edward… And what’s this? Encyclopædia Britannica.’
Taïga is astonished over the sheer number of volumes, there must be at least 50.
‘Maybe there’s something about Rattlesnake Cliff in here…’ she mutters to herself but when she pulls out the volume with “R” printed on the leather back, she can see something behind. It’s an old, dusty volume that must have been pushed back and lain there for ages. She blows away the dust and admires the painted cover. It seems she has stumbled upon an ancient fairy tale book. She loves fairy tales. Excited, she sits on the floor amid the collection of books she wants to read later, and carefully opens the first page. She was right. The book is about fairies and trolls, and Taïga forgets the time, avidly reading about true love and treason.
Turning a yellowed page she admires a detailed drawing of a beautiful forest fairy and she is just about to put the book down when her attention is drawn by a familiar object in the background. An awful old witch holds a small statue up against the full moon. She squints to see better.
Could it be..? But there’s no doubt – it is a Cowplant. And there seems to be three others at the old crone’s feet. She holds the book up towards the fading light. Something is scribbled in the margin in almost faded ink.
‘… ilk… elixir… life… beware…’
Taïga reaches for a notebook. Better try to write this down correctly. Deeply absorbed in deciphering the handwritten text, she stays until the wee hours of the night. A little frustrated she stretches. She has scanned through the whole book, but the only notes were on the page with the drawing.
‘Four different Cowplants, the four different points of the compass, the fourth day of the month, four o’clock when the moon is full…’
The instructions seem easy enough.
‘But why four?’
She taps the pen against her nose, grimacing in thought. It’s a pity it’s only the 15th… The old clock strikes two. So. The 16th.
She grins. 4×4. ‘That should max the power a bit now, shouldn’t it? And it’s Thursday, the fourth day of the week.’
She looks out the window at the full August moon, hanging low in the sky, then back at the black Cowplant statue on Granny’s desk. Why not?
She dashes through the old mansion, silently gathering the Cowplant statues in the different rooms – the gold one from the fireplace and the bronze one from the dining room. But where is the one she brought home from Monte Vista?
It must be here somewhere. She racks her brain for a possible place it could be and she remembers seeing it – On Granny’s bedside table!
She tiptoes into the bedroom her grandmother shares with her great aunt, holding her breath as Missy snores and mumbles in her sleep. Deftly she retrieves the statue and hurries outside to dispose them in the garden, completing the setting facing the four different points of the compass.
She looks at the four tiny statues, then over her shoulder to make sure nobody is watching:
‘Here goes nothing,’ she murmurs, drawing the blue wand.
As the moon sets and the dawn colors the sky a warm shade of pink, she finishes the incantation.
Maybe the date was important after all…
Disappointed, she turns to leave when there’s a faint sound, similar to the crackling of a newly opened soda can. A pink cloud is surrounding the statues, hiding them from view.
The earth starts to quiver, green tentacles are coiling out of the cloud and burying into the ground. Taïga stares fixedly at the green snakelike tubes and, suddenly uneasy, backs away a bit.
When the cloud dissipates, she is a tiny bit disappointed.
All this fuss and the four small statues have just transformed into a large one. Ugly as sin and with awful colors. A thick green stem is bowing to hold up the enormous blind head of a black and white cow with horns the size of her arms and T-Rex teeth. No way will Granny take it inside. It would definitely spoil her attempts at decoration.
She scrutinizes the large statue. The only thing normal sized about is the udder, except that it is situated under the beast’s chin, like some kind of frigging beard.
Gosh… It’s huge! Where can we put it? Maybe we can donate it to the The Galler-E in Falls Harbor… It would sure have its place among Harwood Clay’s awful modern creations.
The large cow like head bows in the faint wind and Taïga blinks. For a split second it had almost looked real, but the thick stem is probably some sort of spring.
‘Mmmm…’ She takes a deep breath. How come such an ugly thing smells so heavenly good? Chocolate cake, with strawberries and- no, peanut butter ice-cream and whipped cream…
Her mouth waters as she approaches the velvety nose…
Suddenly, the huge jaws open, revealing even more monstrous teeth and something edible looking in guise of a tongue. Taïga’s brain suddenly connects again and she dives to the ground, inches from being devoured alive.
Panting, she backs away out of reach of the monstrous teeth. She stares at the giant “thing”. Placidly it hovers, like frozen. It seems she had dreamed it just moved with the speed of a rattlesnake. What diabolical creature has she conjured up? And how to get rid of it? A fire spell? She can do that. And she will have the time to get rid of the ashes before anyone wakes up.
But she doesn’t have time to set her plans in motion before she hears an excited squeal. The earth shaking has awoken Granny and Missy, who come running, followed by a dazed Rowan.
‘WTF???’ He stops in his tracks and scratches his head. ‘Where did that come from?’
‘Oh My God! Is it real? I’ve only seen a genuine Laganaphyllis once, when I was little. Do you remember, Tara?’
But Granny doesn’t care about the beast. She is concentrating on Taïga, who has never seen her grandmother so angry before.
‘You did this?’
Taïga only nods, too scared to answer.
Granny continues, her voice deceivingly sweet and calm, ‘Do you know what it is? No. I didn’t think so.’ Her voice rises, ‘It’s a goddamned Laganaphyllis Simnovorii. And do you know what these things eat? Because they eat! It’s not enough to splash some water and fertilizer on these… these…’ She throws up her arms in a desperate gesture. ‘They eat people! People, Taïga! Any person who ventures within its reach is fair prey! Goddess… What have you done?’
‘Cool. We’ve got a man eating blind plant-’
Granny silences Rowan with a glance. ‘This. Is. Not. Cool.’
‘Tara. It’s fantastic! You have to admit it is. And Taïga did it all alone. You have potential for the dark side, dear child. Great potential for-‘
Granny and Missy stare at each other. ‘You know it’s true, Tara. And by the way, it only eats people when it’s starving. You can feed it small animals, like rabbits and dogs and fish too. I’ll show you.’
Missy hurries towards the kitchen. Granny sighs and sits heavily on the bench. Suddenly she seems old and frail.
Taïga recovers her speech. ‘I did it for you, Granny.’
Granny looks up at her grandchild. ‘For me?’
‘Yes. I found an old book in the library, and there it was-’ Taïga sits next to Granny, exitedly taking her worn hands in hers. ‘-it said milk from a cowplant is a “rejuvenating nectar of life”.’
Granny squeezes Taïga’s hands. ‘It’s true. But that is also why it’s called Simnovorii – to be able to produce the milk, it has to devour a person first…’
Taïga pales. Ohmygod… What have I done?
Missy comes rushing with the large marlin they had bought for Sunday dinner.
‘The whole fish?’
‘A fillet is not enough… You’ll see. Watch me.’
She waves the fish in front of the huge blind bovine head. Slowly it turns towards Missy. It’s eerie to see how it moves almost in slow motion. It opens its mouth slightly and Taïga can see-
‘A cake? There’s a cake in there?’
Missy looks at Taïga. ‘Yes! It’s bait. To lure people closer so it-’
‘WATCH OUT!’ Rowan grabs Missy and pulls her backwards, just out of reach of the perfidious plant.
Missy straightens her robe and picks up the fish again. ‘Oh. I forgot to tell you – keep eye contact. Err… Well. Just don’t turn your back…’
Once more, she waves the fish in the air, drawing the Cowplant’s attention.
‘One… Two… Three!’
The fish flies through the air and the Cowplant opens its jaws like a giant snake, revealing the cake -Mmmm… It looks delicious and smells even better- and gulps the marlin whole – sharp spear like snout and all.
Taïga can only imagine what it would do to an unsuspecting child.
‘How do we get rid of it?’
Missy and Granny looks astonished at her. ‘Get rid of it?’
‘But we can’t. It’s impossible.’
‘Can’t we just let it starve?’ Rowan suggests.
‘Too long. And when it’s starving, the cake gets irresistible, and even someone in the family might get eaten…’
Taïga glares at the ugly thing. So the Cowplant is here to stay…
‘So you mean it won’t eat us?’ Rowan has that look that means he’s up to something.
Missy looks thoughtful. ‘No. Only when it’s really, really, hungry.’
‘Better keep it fed and happy then…’ Taïga adds miserably.
‘Maybe we can train it… It looks peaceful enough right now,’ Rowan adds.
Missy perks up. ‘What a wonderful idea! Maybe it could be our watchdog!’ She throws a quick glance at Taïga. ‘I don’t mean we should get rid of Valkyria or something, but she’s getting old and until now she’s only bitten the postman.’
‘Don’t tell me you want to get rid of Mr. Michaels?’ Granny is appalled.
‘No. Of course not. But if there’s someone really dangerous in the vicinity…’
Granny arches a brow and Missy mouths exaggeratedly Magnus Darkling. Tentatively she pets the ugly head. ‘I think he likes it…’
‘Yeah! Sure. Like any domestic animal!’ Rowan grins at Taïga.
Or a ruthless henchman… But Taïga holds her tongue.
‘Taïga. Let’s continue this in my study.’ Granny leaves without looking at Taïga.
Rowan holds up his hand, fingers crossed, mouthing ‘good luck’.
‘Yeah. I’ll need that…’ she mouths back.
Granny takes place in behind her desk, a sure way to make Taïga realize the seriousness of what’s about to come. An hour later she joins Rowan, Peaches and Bud in the attic.
‘Just don’t ask any questions. I don’t want to talk about it – yet.’
Taïga is awaken by the distant shrill sound of the phone ringing in the study downstairs. She squints at her alarm clock. Nine a.m. She sighs and pulls the sheets over her head to shut out the sunlight.
If I try hard enough I might catch on to the dream I just-
A knock on the door, and Missy peeks in. ‘Taïga? Are you awake?’
‘I am now,’ she mutters.
‘Phone for you. It’s Loki.’
Taïga’s voice comes out muffled from under the sheets, ‘Tell him I’ll call back.’
‘As you wish…’ Missy retreats, closing the door on her last words, ‘He’s back home by the way. As a matter of fact, he’s on his way here.’
Taïga throws back the sheets and stares at the ceiling. Loki. Is. Back. Fuck! What will I tell him? Fuckfuckfuck.
She swings her legs over the edge of the bed and strides briskly into the bathroom. She looks at her scared face in the mirror.
‘Here’s to hiding from your problems.’ This is why ostriches aren’t an endangered species… Or maybe they are…
Deep down she hopes she will feel something when she sees Loki again. A spark of electricity. Some butterflies in her stomach. Something that tells her she won’t have to hurt him.
She is still in the shower when the doorbell chimes. Granny welcomes Loki and shows him to the tiny winter garden, politely chatting about the West Coast until Taïga shows up, her damp hair rapidly braided into two tangled plaits.
‘Here she is. I’ll leave you two, you must have a lot to catch up on.’
She stops with her back to the door, waiting a second, straining to hear what is being said on the other side. I can’t leave them both alone in there. Taïga might need help to handle poor lovesick Loki… I’ll bring them some homemade lemonade…
She walks briskly out of the den.
Taïga hesitates, suddenly awkward.
Loki drinks her in –God, I’d forgotten how beautiful she is! As soon as Granny has closed the door he strides towards her to kiss her. To his surprise, she turns chastely her cheek. He frowns, but doesn’t want to push her. They haven’t seen each other since last winter, after all. She sits on the stone bench and looks up at him.
‘So… You’re back?’
‘Yeah. Dad tied up his business early.’
He sits on the bench next to her, but not too close. It feels like being close to a wild animal –a sudden movement, and it will flee… She’s so silent… ‘What are you thinking about?’
‘Nothing… You look… good. Taller.’
Loki’s face lights up with a broad smile. ‘It was sunny on the West Coast!’ He reaches for her hands. ‘Nice ring.’
Taïga blushes a little, pulling back her hand. ‘It’s an antique. Now tell me about yourself. What have you been up to all summer?’
Loki reaches for her right hand, playing with her cool fingers, telling her about his summer with his dad, finally dropping the bomb about his family’s move to California in September.
‘Oh.’ She looks at his fingers stroking the back of her hand like hypnotized. Oh. That’s all she has to say? Oh???
A sudden movement catches his eyes. ‘What was that?’
Taïga tries to retain him, but he is already up, pulling at the large sunflowers to get a better view of the beastly plant in the garden. Taïga doesn’t really know how to explain the Cowplant. Better go for the truth.
‘It’s a Laganaphyllis Simnovorii. A Cowplant.’
‘Cowplant? That thing out there is a plant?’ Realization hits him. ‘Like this one?’
Taïga nods and Loki suddenly lets go of the sunflower, backing away from it with an expression on his face that makes Taïga laugh.
‘Don’t worry, that one won’t eat you!’
‘Because that beastly thing out there might?’
‘Probably,’ she murmurs under her breath.
Loki stares out at the large bovine head, gently swaying in the breeze. ‘It’s amazing… Where did you get it?’
Granny pushes open the door carrying a tray with lemonade. ‘I’m sorry to barge in like this, but as you can see my hands are full.’ The smile slowly fades from her face when she sees Loki at the window, a perplex expression on his face. ‘Oh. You’ve seen my latest acquisition, haven’t you? It’s a carnivorous orchid plant from the Amazonas… Or was it New Guinea? Whatever! It’s rather exotic, isn’t it? And very fragile, better not get near it. We shall build a greenhouse especially for it.’
Taïga pours a glass of lemonade. You bet we will. A metalclad, shellproof greenhouse…
‘Have you ever been to South-America? No? I went to Buenos Aires when I was about 25. Such a lovely town…’ Granny chatters on, expertly changing the subject.
Today is the big day -the grand piano will be delivered. Granny and Missy have talked about it for a while, knowing Taïga played the piano when she was in France, and maybe music will open her up some. Granny looks disapprovingly at the three teens lounging in the den, adventuring the surprise effect of the new object. Rowan is showing Linn his new fancy school in Monte Aquila on his iPad and Taïga is deeply engrossed in Tolkien’s “The return of the King”, Minuit playing at her feet. Since the memorial, the cat hasn’t left her side, hissing at anyone trying to come too close – including Valkyria.
Granny claps her hands to get their attention. ‘You can’t just sit around here all day. Why don’t you get some fresh air?’
‘Fresh air? It must be at least 100 outside,’ Rowan murmurs.
But Granny doesn’t let go. ‘Right. So why don’t you go to Silver Sands? As usual.’
‘I got a flat tyre,’ Taïga volunteers, throwing Granny a glance before returning her attention to the book.
Granny taps her teeth with her finger. ‘Oh. We’ll go to the bike shop next time we head to town…’
Missy stops in the door frame on her way to the kitchen. ‘Juan can probably repair it. He’s quite handy,’ she gushes. ‘Why don’t we all go to the beach? It’s been ages since we last went!’
Granny and Missy are not usually beach people. Even with the ongoing heat wave, Granny protests. But they have to get the teens out of the house somehow, and with Juan promising to come over and supervise the piano delivery, Granny finally accepts to come along. The girls wanted to go to the Surfer Hot Spot on South Beach, but the old ladies insisted on taking them to the new pool installation that had opened earlier this year.
‘But it’s so much funnier on the beach!’
‘Yeah… Checking out all those ripped surfers, right? Stupid six packs with no brains.’ Rowan teases.
Linn taps his arms playfully. ‘You’re just jealous because you can’t surf!’
‘Or because you believe you’ve got a brain!’ Taïga adds, quickly avoiding Rowan reaching for her.
‘Listen. We don’t have much room in the car for everything we’d need for the beach, and Bellevue Beach Pools supplies everything! Just think of bringing your swimsuits.’
End of discussion. They all pile into the car.
‘Are you sure this is legal?’ Linn whispers, moving over so Taïga and Rowan can squeeze into the almost nonexistent back seat.
‘Probably not.’ Taïga sighs as Rowan leans over her to ask Linn if she’s got her cell.
‘Bud borrowed it – he had some calls to make about his army project.’ He returns his attention to Linn who tends him her cell. ‘It’s OK, just text Loki to see what he’s up to. I need another guy around, as I suppose you two won’t leave your deck chairs…’ He winks at Linn who blushes. If she wasn’t interested in Teddy, maybe…
She fumbles with her cell. “WRU?”
‘What does he say?’ Taïga leans in to see the screen.
‘He’s already at the Beach Pools with his parents and kid sister, waiting for us to rescue him!’
Taïga smiles. She knows what a pain his little sister can be…
The cell pings.
‘Oh. Donald and Tyler are just arriving… With Ibtihal and Ghana!’
‘Ghana Washington? She’s Kenye Washington’s daughter. The Music Talent Scout, you know. I think you met her at Ana’s party on New Year’s Eve.’
‘The dark girl with those huge eyes who didn’t talk to anyone, just spent the evening texting?’
‘That’s her! I’m surprised you remember her, you were so busy with Loki…’
‘Just stop it, will you. Kenye Washington… His name seems familiar.’
Linn googles him. ‘He was roadie for Big Daddy for a couple of years. Then he went on to play the guitar with… OMG!’
‘Who? Show me?’ Taïga eyes the cell. ‘Mookie Blaylock???’
Linn looks expectantly at her. ‘D’Andre Cox.’
Exasperated she taps her palm against her head. ‘How stupid of me. They broke up the band and DeAndre Wolfe continued a solo career. Wow. He’s a legend.’
‘Yeah. I love D’Andre Cox … I’m a huge fan!’
‘I think Kenye is the stupid guy here,’ Rowan intervenes. ‘If he hadn’t left the band, he’d be a billionaire by now…’
‘I think he’s doing quite well, scouting for talent. SimmyC got a brand new Mustang for his 16th birthday,’ Linn adds.
‘Yeah. And he crashed it a week after,’ Rowan says.
‘Really? Was he hurt? You never mentioned it?’
‘Nah. He just went to fast on the way home from Château de Richebois…’
They pile out of the car.
‘Was he drunk?’
‘Well, he brags about it at school… But I think it’s just attitude.’ She imitates SimmyC, rapping, ‘Yo. Look at meee, bad boy drunk drivin’ at sixteeeen.’
Taïga laughs. ‘You should be an actress, Linn…’
Bellevue Beach Pools – even the name has a classy ring to it. The pool complex is financed by Kempinsky Inc. and designed by the same architect who created the famous resort “Lagoon View Pools” in Sunlit Tides. Ana’s father, Nat Kempinsky, hopes to make it “a first class attraction accessible to everyone”.
The old sisters settle in two comfy deckchairs on sundeck with the stack of fluffy beach towels they’ve collected upon arrival, while Rowan chases Taïga and Linn towards the farthest pool where you can already hear laughing and splashing from the teenagers fooling around.
‘This is soo good.’ Missy leans back and closes her eyes.
Granny shades her eyes and squints towards the farthest pool. ‘With the sun in my eyes I can’t see them.’
‘Them? Let go, Tara. Rowan and Linn are with her and they all swim perfectly well. Taïga needs some time away from us. Some distraction will do her good…’
Granny doesn’t answer. She knows Missy is right – for once. But the need to protect her grandchild is tugging at her insides.
Missy admires the view. ‘You could almost believe we’re in Sunlit Tides… I think I’m going to get myself one of those cocktails with an umbrella!’ She signals for one of the waiters hovering. ‘A Piña Colada, please. No, make that two! And don’t forget the umbrellas.’
Granny shakes her head. ‘Nothing for me. Or just some sparkling water.’
‘Well, make that two anyway.’
Granny turns her disapproving gaze at Missy. ‘Two? Is that reasonable?’
Missy looks contrite. ‘Well. You might change your mind… Oh!’
Her attention is drawn by two perfectly tanned women arriving, wearing tiny bikinis. They are accompanied by a plain girl with glasses, fully dressed and self-consciously hugging herself.
Missy is more than happy to change the subject. ‘Look at the Caliente sisters!’
Granny forces an eye open, faking interest.
Missy sighs wistfully. ‘That’s how I’d love to look…’
‘I’m sure Juan would love that,’ Granny adds tartly.
‘I’m certain they are fake anyway.’
‘It spells hot-shot surgeon Rupert Campbell-Black all over their perfect boobs…’
The waiter brings the drinks and a huge beach umbrella. Deftly he replaces the umbrella already shading the sisters. ‘Here you are, ladies. Just call me if you need something else…?’
‘Thank you…’Granny stifles a giggle.
‘Did you see that? I just wanted a tiny umbrella in my drink…’
Their attention is drawn towards Dina and Nina again, as Don Lothario shows up… ‘Do you think there’s something going on between them?’
Granny sips her drink. ‘Delicious… I’m sorry. You said?’
‘I was just wondering if Don Lothario is… You know, romantically involved with one of the sisters-’ She looks naughtily at Granny. ‘-or with both of them!’
‘Missy!’ Granny splutters, quickly straightening her drink.
‘Well. It’s just a theory.’ Missy takes a healthy gulp and continues, ‘It wouldn’t surprise me, though…’
Granny dabs at the moisture on her bathing suit with her hand. ‘The three of them?’
Missy nods emphatically. ‘Yes,’ she lowers her voice and leans in towards her sister. ‘I’ve heard from Bridget Douglas – or was it Darla?’ She frowns. ‘Anyway, it comes from a very reliable source. You see, around Easter…’
They continue gossiping.
Jayler and Tess are just arriving after first having checked out South Beach. Spotting Taïga, he lets go of Tess’ hand and throws his beach towel into her arms. Showing off, he sprints towards the pool, and dives into the water.
He emerges, shaking water from his long hair. Surreptitiously he checks if Taïga saw him, but she’s deep in conversation with her brother. And Loki.
‘He’s moving this fall aka they’ll break up, so why is he drawing out the inevitable? Just a waste of time, if you ask me.’
But nobody is asking him.
He looks around and his gaze falls on Linn, timidly testing the water with her toes.
‘Hey, Linn! Can you give me a hand, will ya’?’
Linn looks surprised at him. ‘Sure.’
She bends over slightly and reaches for his outstretched hand, squealing with outrage as he yanks her into the water.
Taïga can’t help herself, but the sight of Linn’s surprised expression cracks her up.
‘Thanks Jayler! She’d never got into the pool without you!’
Linn splutters. ‘And you’re supposed to be my BFF!?!’
Jayler beams. ‘Wanna join her?’ He splashes some water in Taïga’s direction.
‘Don’t push your luck, bro.’ Rowan glares at him.
But Jayler’s on a roll, feeling incredible about succeeding in putting a smile onto Taïga’s melancholy face. He just grins and swims off, looking for his next “victim”. He’s having the time of his life, fooling around with all the girls and making Tess incredibly jealous.
The light white curtains flutter in the evening breeze, carrying the smell of magnolias and honeysuckle into the study where Taïga sits curled up on the large windowsill. She has taken up writing a diary, finding a strange relief exorcising her pain on the blank sheets.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do
To have just one more chance
To look into your eyes and see you looking back”*
She sings her newly written poem in her head, humming a soft melody in E minor. Maybe I should take up playing the guitar again…
She bites her pen, frowning slightly. She’s been writing since they returned from the beach, but the oppressive humidity makes her restless. She puts away her writing gear and stretches, pushing the window open wide.
*Christina Aguilera – Hurt
Through the high-pitched buzz of the cicadas, she can hear Granny and Missy talking with low voices on the porch downstairs.
She wonders where Rowan could be… Probably holed up with the IF’s, conspiring… She decides to join her grandmother and great aunt for a glass of fresh lemonade before going to bed. She wishes they would let her have some Mint Julep, it would surely help her sleep. Even if Missy probably would let her taste some, her grandmother would refuse. When she walks past the landing, she stops. A grand piano is looming in the shadows and intrigued Taïga approaches.
A grand piano? When did it get here? She lets her fingers run lightly over the black wooden lid, hesitating. Her fingers leave a smudged mark on the polished surface.
Valkyria sits next to the piano bench, looking up at her mistress with an invitation in her brown, faithful eyes. Taïga slides down onto the padded leather and dries her hands on her pj shorts. Reverently she turns the brittle pages of the old sheet music propped against the glossy dark wood. The complicated notes of one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies look like a work of art, and more, the paper feels like it could be dating from the famous composer’s time.
She takes a deep breath and lifts the lid, discovering the ebony and, slightly yellowed, ivory touches of the keyboard.
Uncertainly her fingers caress the keys. She strikes the first ominous note of Rhapsody number 2, then another. She is not surprised to find the piano perfectly tuned. Her bare feet move to the cold brass pedals.
She winces, but concentrates on the sheet music.
Her numb fingers gradually remember the movements and dance over the keyboard. She remembers her music teacher at Saint Simon’s wrath when she had wanted to bail and just run around outside and play sports. Derek had ended up loving piano music, too. They had spent endless hours playing Granny’s old records and-
She doesn’t notice her eyes brimming with tears before her vision is getting too blurry to correctly read the notes.
She breaks down, crying uncontrollably. Valkyria whines, pushing at her mistress with her nose, trying to comfort her as best she knows how.
Taïga dries her tears and tries to calm down. The pain that overcomes her when she thinks of Derek is like a gaping hole that threatens to swallow her. Just empty darkness.
She sits for a while with her hands in her lap, looking at the keyboard until the black and white becomes an undistinguishable grey blur. She blinks away her tears and tries to focus, absentmindedly playing with her right hand. She displays her thumb and pinkie: E. B. E. A-C-B.
Over and over again, a little faster. Adding the left hand.
The sad notes of the song* she just composed fills the room and Taïga’s voice comes out first like a whisper.
Seems like it was yesterday when I saw your face,
Then stronger and stronger – putting all her emotions into the song.
If only I knew what I know today
I would hold you in my arms
I would take the pain away
Thank you for all you’ve done
Forgive all your mistakes
There’s nothing I wouldn’t do
To hear your voice again
Sometimes I want to call you, but I know you won’t be there
Granny and Missy look at each other over their mint juleps as the music waft through the open French windows upstairs.
If I had just one more day, I would tell you how much that
I’ve missed you since you’ve been away
Oh, it’s dangerous
It’s so out of line to try to turn back time
Taïga plays for hours, a sad song following another, not stopping until her voice is raw and the night sky changes into a light pink, announcing the dawn.
When Linn comes over the next afternoon, she finds Taïga and Rowan in the den, playing the piano and singing. She leans against the wall, admiring the beautiful siblings.
‘C’mon, Linn. Sing with us!’
Linn blushes. ‘I sound like a lawnmower… except you can tune a lawnmower!’ She laughs a little embarrassed. ‘I’m perfectly happy just listening to you both.’
Taïga moves over and pats the bench next to her. ‘You don’t wanna sing? Well, play the piano with me then…’
Linn obliges happily. They have a piano at home, and she has endured her fair share of private lessons to hone her skills.
Part II – End of Chapter 23
A thousand thanks to JesseSue at Poses by Bee who has created the sad piano poses at my request. As usual, she has outdone herself, getting such emotion into her poses that I’m not sure my picture taking is enough to give her creations credit! Thanks so much for your incredible patience and creativity!