The Darer’s decrepit car screeches to a halt in front of Bayou Oaks Mansion and an exited Missy almost falls out onto the driveway.
She runs up the porch, waving with a large red book in her hand, ‘Granny! The photos are ready!’
Granny dries her hands on the apron and takes the glossy album.
‘That was fast.’
‘Yes, wasn’t it?’
They navigate between some leftover cardboard boxes into the study.
‘These are yours, you know. Do you think you can take them today?’ Granny asks.
Missy sighs, ‘I don’t have much room in the car…’
‘Missy. It’s a pick-up!’
‘OK. OK. I’ll take them. Now look…’
Granny returns her attention to the album and reverently starts turning the pages. Jesper has done a good job, the pictures are really nice. Juan almost looks handsome, when his hat hides the unibrow…
‘They are all good but I think I prefer the one where you’re sitting on the bench.’ Granny points to the first heart shaped picture, ‘It’s funny, but Jesper doesn’t come across as the “heart” kind of guy…’
‘The hearts were my idea! I helped with the layout, you see.’ Missy says smugly. ‘I placed the hearts myself there on the computer, mind you! It was such fun. Jesper had lots of them little widgets… I wanted hearts and flowers, but apparently he took away the flowers… and the glittery fairies. Hmpff…’
Thank God for small favors! Granny thinks. ‘It’s perfect like this, Missy. You’re already surrounded by beatiful flowers in that park. Maybe artificial flowers would have been a little… too much.’
‘Everything’s too much in your eyes!’ She sniffs the air. ‘What’s that smell?’
‘Oh my! I think I’ll stay for tea, then.’
‘I hate to ask, but weren’t you supposed to be on your honeymoon?’
‘Oh. The honeymoon. Well.’ Missy’s eyes flicker and she closes the album. ‘You see, Juan thinks it’s a waste of good money when we have the beach just around the corner. For free. He’s right, you know. It’s the same Ocean here and in Isla Paradiso…’
Granny doesn’t know what to say. Missy was so excited about their honeymoon, and hearing her now is like listening to that cheapskate Juan.
Missy bites her lip and steers the conversation away from the sensible subject.
‘I brought the “Thank you” cards!’ she says, turning her handbag upside down and scattering glossy cards all over the desk.
Granny picks one of the cards up. It’s really nice, picturing Juan romantically kissing her sister’s hand. She sighs wistfully.
‘A real Southern Gentleman, isn’t he?’ Missy says proudly.
‘You wouldn’t say…’ Granny arches an eyebrow but her sister busies herself, starting to stack the cards into a neat, well – a heap.
‘Is Taïga in?’
‘No, she just left for Björn’s. Why?’
‘I figured I needed her to help me write the personal greetings on the back! I’ll never fix this on my own.’ Missy looks at her big sister with despair in her brown eyes. ‘I don’t even remember who gave us the toaster. Or the teaspoons for that matter.’
Granny isn’t surprised. ‘I told you to get started on this right when the postman started to bring the gifts…’
‘But that was way before the wedding! I didn’t have the cards then!’ She adds, ‘A little magic might help…’ but her sister doesn’t seem to hear her. Or she’s deliberately ignoring her. ‘I said. A little magic-’
‘I heard you Missy. And you’ll get your wand back in…’ she throws a glance at the calendar, ‘… 23 days. I told you I blocked it until your return from the honeymoon.’
Missy makes a face.
‘But I’ll help you. You’ve still got the list, don’t you?’ Granny starts rummaging through a drawer. ’I’ve got a copy in here somewhere…’
‘What about the things not on the list?’
‘We’ll figure it out… somehow. Ah! Here it is.’
Missy looks over Granny’s shoulder, ‘I think we should start on this now, before having tea. To get it over with.’
‘You can’t just get it over with. It’s a matter of good manners.’
‘Good manners? It’s a waste of time!’
‘Those people have gone through a lot of trouble finding something that correspond to you both. Don’t you think they deserve something personal in return?’
Missy snorts contemptuously, ‘So what do I write? “Dear cousin Anna-Liza Riddle, thank you for the inscription to the amazing activity “Cross stitch for couples” that you sent Juan and me as a wedding present. I know we will enjoy it for many years to come…”
She glares at her sister. ‘It was so thoughtful of you to give us personalized “His and Hers Whiskey Barrels”.
Missy paces the dining room, counting on her fingers, ‘… and a tandem bike, “The Good Wife Guide”, an Asherah Pillar Fertility Idol, a set of brothel red bath towels, a birdhouse made of license plates, a painting of poker playing dogs, a bunny that I don’t know if I should cuddle or cook, a… a fartblanket-’ She stops to take a deep breath.
‘Please don’t ask me… And don’t you think a fertility symbol is a little up the nose at our age?’
Granny starts to say something, but Missy interrupts her, ‘But wait, there’s more! We also got a real fashion road kill: His & Hers Matching Couples Comfy Pajamas.’ Missy mimics, hands on hips. ‘In pink… The only thing Juan came out with was that he’s snug as a bug-’
‘You mean you actually got him to wear pink pajamas?’
‘You forget it’s his favourite color! Look. We took a picture with the self-timer!’
She waves her cell under Granny’s nose. Granny catches a glimpse of intertwined pink and tries to keep a straight face.
‘But I don’t know where to stock it all! I think I’ll just put it over in the old house and set fire on it again. Nobody will be the wiser and-’
The doorbell chimes, interrupting her litany. ‘Are you expecting someone?’
Björn’s Café, in the heart of Fairview Heights, is usually filled with people on Friday afternoons. But today it’s curiously empty. Everyone’s probably at the seaside, making the most out of the last days of the vacation. Björn is busy setting up new paintings on the walls. They are by Shakra Peacemaker*, an artist who lives a- let’s call it alternative lifestyle, in a peaceful community on the Ocean side. Her paintings are naïve and colorful, probably inspired by lots of time spent around the hookah with Guru and his other wife, Indra…
‘Sorry I’m late. I was helping Granny pack away the last of Missy’s stuff.’ Taïga eases into a chair facing Linn, ‘Her things will never fit into Juan’s place!…’
‘It’s OK. I just got here myself.’ Linn fidgets on her chair. ‘So tell me, what was it you couldn’t talk about on the phone?’
‘Well.’ Taïga takes a deep breath, ‘I’m breaking up with Loki.’
‘What?’ Linn stares at her best friend, relief flooding through her. Thank God it wasn’t about Rowan! ‘Er… Did you two have a fight or something?’
‘No. It’s just… I need time.’
‘But you can’t just break up with him like that! You two seemed so happy at the wedding!’
‘I thought you were too busy drowning in a certain best friend’s brother’s grey eyes at the wedding to notice anything!’
Linn blushes beetroot, ‘I didn’t… Er… We didn’t… Oh. For God’s sake – nothing happened!’
‘OK. He kissed me.’
‘Kissed you!?! And you didn’t tell?’ Taïga is livid. Her brother and her best friend… She doesn’t know if she’s supposed to laugh or cry. Rowan’s only 10! Or 12? Whatever! His body’s 16… She zooms her attention back to Linn.
‘Er… You’ve spent the whole week helping Granny pack up Missy’s stuff and it was more a quick peck that landed on my mouth by mistake and-’ She shrugs, looking apologetic. ‘… I guess we got a little carried away.’
Taïga grimaces. Rowan might be immature, but he doesn’t do “carried away”… ‘At least that explains why you didn’t want to hang at my place…’ she mutters.
Linn shrugs, ‘Has he said anything to you?’
‘Rowan? Er… No. But he’s a guy, Linn. He’s not supposed to squat my bed with a pot of “Chunky Monkey”, spilling his heart out!’
Linn can’t help but laugh at the image popping up in her head! ‘Look! Isn’t that him?’ she motions towards someone briskly walking by on the side walk.
‘Speak of the Devil…’
‘No! What are you doing!?!’
But Taïga has already tapped on the window, waving at Rowan to join them.
‘Did you really have to do that?’ Linn nervously passes her hand in her hair, ‘How do I look?’
‘Pretty as ever… but-’ She doesn’t actually know why she adds, squinting at her best friend, ‘… you’ve got something between your front teeth.’
Poor Linn fumbles for a mirror in her bag, spilling her things onto the floor in her haste. A little remorseful, Taïga joins her under the table to help her pick her things up.
‘Just joking Linn!’
A pair of impeccable shoes stop at their table, followed by Rowan’s grinning face. ‘I hope you’re not trying to hide from me, because that’s a lousy hiding place!’
Linn jumps with nerves and bumps her head as she crawls out from under the table.
‘I hate you!’ she mouths to Taïga who tries to keep a straight face.
Taïga mouths back, ‘Love you too!’
Rowan hardly has the time to sit down before Linn nervously showers him with words, getting her back on Taïga for knocking on the window,
‘Please, Rowan. Can’t you talk some reason into that stubborn head of your sister’s? She’s breaking up with Loki!’
Taïga throws her best friend a meaning glance and Rowan pushes back his chair, ‘Er… I don’t think that’s such a good idea… Er… I’ll get you girls something to drink. OK?’
He stops in his tracks, ‘A Macchiato and a Chai latte, as usual…?’ Both girls nod. ‘Coming up!’
He hurries off, self-consciously feeling Linn’s eyes on him.
‘Why did you tell him? You really have a big mouth sometimes!’
‘I just felt I had to say something! And your knocking on the window and dumb joking kind of got me mad!’
Taïga bites her lip, ‘What if you had something between your teeth?’
‘OMG! Did I?’
Taïga shakes her head. ‘Uh-uh.’
‘Do you remember when I had braces? You always said I had something stuck… It really bugged me!’
‘Yeah… Always carried that toothbrush around, with “LINN” written on the handle. I wanted the same with my name, but I never found one… Remember when we had spinach at school?’
‘Oh God, yes! And I was soo crushing on Jarrod Mullins…’
Taïga nods, ‘How come he’s such a great guy now? He was a real jerk in middle school!’
‘Yeah… He told me I didn’t need a fridge, that I could store the food in my braces! I didn’t smile for a week!’
‘It got me so angry, I said to him your braces soon would come off, but that it was a shame he couldn’t do anything about his face!’
‘That really pissed him off! He ambushed us after school-’
‘Yeah, but Loki and Tyler was with us and held him so you could kiss him!’
They both burst out giggling.
‘Please don’t tell Rowan!’
‘Cross my heart!’ Taïga gets serious again. ‘So what’s this thing with Rowan?’
Björn chitchats while preparing their order, frothing and pouring the milk over the hot beverages. He kindly asks Rowan if Taïga is back to stay this time, ‘The drinks are on the house, it’s a pleasure to have your sister here again!’
‘Thanks!’ Rowan is distracted by the girl’s happy laughter and wonders if they’re making fun of him.
The two friends stop talking when he approaches. He puts the tray on the table and Taïga gratefully puts her hands around the steaming cup. ‘Thanks, Rowan.’
‘Björn’s treat. It’s on the house.’
Taïga waves and musters a smile for Björn’s benefit.
Rowan sits down and takes a sip of his latte. ‘Björn might not be a very talented artist, but he sure is a great Barista!
‘Er… Barista. He knows how to make good coffee. Obviously.’
‘No. I mean the artist thing. I like his paintings.’
‘Nothing. Forget it.’ He glances at Linn, but she’s concentrating on her Latte Macchiato.
Linn stirs her coffee and blows on the steam, ‘Er… So… I think you have to explain this.’
Taïga looks at her. ‘Explain what? Why I like Björn’s paintings?’
Linn’s cheeks are flushed, ‘What we were talking about. You and Loki.’
‘Oh. Yeah.’ Taïga sighs. She almost felt happy a moment ago, and now her problems are catching up with her again… ‘Er… So… I just need your advice, Linn.’
The girls continue their hushed conversation.
Rowan stirs the hot liquid in his mug. It’s awkward being around Linn. And she apparently doesn’t want him to be here. She doesn’t even look at him, focusing on her best friend, quietly discussing girl things he doesn’t really want to be involved in.
‘I don’t understand you, Taïga. Loki is caring and understanding. And good looking…’ She adventures a quick glance at Rowan but he seems utterly bored, arms crossed, staring at his coffee.
‘Yeah… He is. But sometimes he’s just too… perfect… I kind of need a break…’
‘He’s… Gosh. He’s madly in love with you. It’s been Taïga this and Taïga that since you went away last year. And God knows there have been girls turning around him. You know he’s a keeper, Taïga.’
‘I know, I already feel bad about it… But I have to go through with this, I don’t have any feelings left for him. Not the kind of feelings he expects from me anyway.’
‘Have you told him you feel this way?’
Taïga just shakes her head, staring at nothing, feeling empty – a feeling she’s getting used to since the memorial.
Linn adds, ‘Stupid question. I’m sorry, of course you haven’t or we wouldn’t be having this conversation…’
‘Why can’t you just wait until he moves to Starlight Shores?’
‘And text him? Or call? Geez, Linn. That’s cruel!’
‘No. I was thinking rather… Just let the relationship run out in the sand. It should be easy, with the distance and so on…’
‘The thought have crossed my mind but I’ve been a coward about this, Linn. I’ve realized I have to set things straight now. I can’t continue to play along, letting him kiss me when I don’t feel anything but friendship!’ Taïga looks desperately at her best friend, ‘Did you know he wants to get married?’
Now she has Linn’s undivided attention, but Rowan has heard enough. He looks frantically around for an escape.
‘Are you serious?’ Linn gapes.
‘It changes everything, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes. When did this happen?’ Linn’s eyes scan Taïga’s hand but there’s only the thin silver band she always wears nowadays. No sign of an engagement ring. ‘Did you refuse the ring?’
Taïga fiddles self-consciously with the ring Derek left her, ‘It didn’t really happen like that, I mean he didn’t get down on his knees or something…’
The girls are so deep in conversation, they don’t even pay attention to Valeria Morales who just walked in at the same time as four firemen in full gear. The newcomers offers an escape to Rowan, who deftly pushes back his chair and goes to greet the pretty girl.
‘Coffee as usual, guys?’ Björn calls from the counter as the firefighters hang their heavy vests just inside the door.
‘Sure. Two black – one with no sugar –and two latte!’
‘Coming up right away!’
Discussing business they take the center table, discreetly checking out the action. The absence of admiring females is disappointing. Logan Rider sits astride a chair, glancing briefly at the girls at the window. Cute but too young – even if the dark haired girl is quite striking. How old could she be? 17? 18? He sips his coffee.
‘What do you think, Logan?’ Alex Brennan snaps his fingers in front of Logan’s face.
‘About the truck?’
‘What about the truck, Captain?’
‘You haven’t listened to anything we’ve been talking about?’ Surreptitiously Alex looks over his shoulder, ‘Too young. Now, we were talking about upgrading the truck…’
Linn pouts, looking at Taïga over the rim of her cup.
‘… he’s head over heels in love with you and quite romantic, so I’m not surprised. He told me he’ll wait for you, and that he’ll give you the time and space needed to forget about the accident, but he hasn’t even mentioned that he planned…’
Her voice trails off when she sees the expression on Taïga’s face.
Taïga just stares at Linn, tears of frustration and anger welling up in her eyes. Forget? How could my best friend be so oblivious of my pain!?! She clears her throat and tries to speak calmly, only the white of her knuckles gives her emotions away.
‘I could never – do you hear me? – never forget the accident.’ She looks down into her mug, inhaling the soothing odor of the spicy tea, before gently putting it back on the table and crossing her arms to steady her hands. She swallows, ‘I… I will move on… But I won’t forget…’ I’ll always carry Derek with me. In my heart.
Linn reaches out and takes Taïga’s hand in hers. ‘I’m sorry. It all came out wrong. I can’t say I know what you’re going through, but I understand it’s both painful and long.’ She blinks, fighting tears. ‘I just want you to be happy again…’
Taïga squeezes Linn’s hand back. She knows how impulsive Linn can be, and she realizes she didn’t mean to hurt her.
‘So… When are you doing it? When are you going to tell him?’
‘Tomorrow I guess. He wants us to have brunch at Olivia’s Old Café and I’m afraid he’ll officially ask me…’
‘Can’t say I envy you. It will be difficult…’
‘I know. It scares me… You know I care for him.’ She leans back, and closes her eyes briefly. She sighs, ‘I don’t know what to say. Or how to say it. I guess I just have to play it by ear…’
‘Just be kind to him. Don’t hurt him too badly, but I guess that will be impossible.’
Linn casts a furtive look over her shoulder for the umpteenth time, assessing the whereabouts of Rowan. She leans in and lowers her voice, ‘Don’t look, but Logan Rider has been checking you out since he came in.’
‘Logan Rider?’ Taïga glances at the four firefighters having coffee at the table next to them, ‘But he’s… old!’
‘He’s twenty something. That’s not exactly old – it’s experienced!’
Logan says something that makes the others laugh, and then suddenly a beeper goes off, causing the handsome firefighters to rapidly grasp their jackets and hurry out. Logan seizes his coffee and gulps it down, catching Taïga staring. He lowers his Ray Bans and winks to her, making Taïga blush beetroot.
‘See? Told you so!’ Linn adds wistfully. ‘Do you think he likes her?’
‘Huh?’ Taïga looks at Rowan and Valeria, giggling at something he just said. ‘I don’t know… But thinking about it – my brother is rather handsome. And charming, so I guess she-’
‘Yeah, yeah. I’ll ask him.’
Linn expires heavily, ‘Good. Because she seems to like him!’
Loki’s dad, Ernest Simmingway, has more or less suffered from writing block since he wrote his bestseller long before the move to Twin Towns. He finally published the sequel to “Another Shade of Sim” last winter, after working on it for almost five years. Fortunately, the book was a huge success, and he was rapidly contacted by Starlight Shores for the film rights.
If only the movie could be a blockbuster! Then they could live off the royalties and he wouldn’t have to write another word for the rest of his life. If the script is well done, if the casting is right, if the soundtrack hits the charts… If it got nominated for an award… But if a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his butt!
Fortunately, things have changed since Missy’s wedding last Saturday. Miss Goodytwoshoes’ suicide attempt seems to have triggered his inspiration and the writing block is gone. He’s spent his whole waked time writing on the third tome of what now seems to become a trilogy…
His wife Gwen is a Daycare specialist and weekdays there are up to six toddlers and children in the house. The noise of the daycare children breaking havoc at home has made it a habit of his to escape to the peace and calm of The Old Olive Tree Park in Fairview Heights. This Saturday morning is no exception. When Constance Campbell-Black called last night to inform his wife of sudden important business, he packed his Mac and left before dawn.
The Old Olive Tree Park is usually only attended by retired people, and lately by Shakra Peacemaker painting landscapes. They come for the soothing calm of the park as well, and don’t disturb his writing. It’s also not far from Bellevue Hotel, where the action of his new book takes place… Maybe he should pop in and see how Raquel is doing, to make sure she’s all right. And to get some more inspiration… He knows he’s just putting off the inevitable, and that he has to confront her sooner or later… Later. He’ll just finish this chapter…
Olivia Morricone clears her throat, ‘Your coffee, Mr. Simmingway.’
‘It will be a busy day. There’s a showjumping competition at Kempinsky International and we’ll probably be invaded by riders around noon…’
‘Yes. I’m glad Indra Peacemaker will be here shortly to help me out.’
‘Oh. OK. Well.’
‘The horse vans don’t disturb you? They’ve been rumbling past since dawn…’
‘What? No. Not at all.’ He smiles apologetically, itching to get back to his writing, but Olivia stays, fidgeting.
‘Well. If that’s all..?’
‘Thank you, Olivia. Everything’s fine.’
She opens her mouth as if to say something, but changes her mind. ‘Have a nice day then, Mr. Simmingway.’
But Ernest is already hunched over his Mac, taking up where he left it when Olivia interrupted him.
Ernest hits save and reaches for his cup. A dog barking makes him glance up. He didn’t expect to see Raquel Goodytwoshoes leisurely strolling past, walking her dog… Their eyes meet and he steadies the cup, nodding imperceptibly. Raquel checks the surroundings, but there’s no one around this early. She pulls on Spot’s leash and approaches Ernest’s table.
‘Are you crazy? Someone might see us!’
‘Good morning to you too, Ernest. The park is empty. And we have to talk about what happened.’
‘Well. That’s the point. Nothing happened.’
‘I’ll buy you a coffee.’
‘Already have one.’
‘Another one then. Brunch?’
Ernest realizes she will continue bugging him until she gets her will. ‘OK,’ He snaps the laptop shut with an irritated gesture and rises, ‘But just a coffee.’
Raquel bites her lip to hide her triumphant smile…
One coffee leads to another and time flies by. Raquel explains her gesture, why she tried to end her life but didn’t have the courage to go through with it.
‘‘I was so scared you’d leave me… and I was desperate for you to stay with me, Ernest.’
‘‘And you thought killing yourself would arrange that? Being dead?’
‘No. Listen. Ever since I got your message telling me about the move, I’ve tried to imagine what my life would be like without you. I couldn’t.’
Ernest doesn’t know what to say, so he just nods for her to continue. ‘It seemed like it was an impossible situation too deal with. So I thought it would be best to…to… end it. I wouldn’t stand in your way anymore…’
‘I think it’s very selfish of you to think like that!’
‘Selfish? You’re the one being selfish. How long have I been the “other woman”?’
Ernest counts in his head, ‘Er… 3 years? Uhm… 4?’
‘You have promised to leave your wife for four years, two months and thirteen days.’
She glares at him. ‘Plus the summer we spent together when you wrote your bestseller… at my hotel. Or should I say in my bed?’ Her voice softens, ‘There’s always been something in the way – Erin was little, Loki had to adjust, Gwen was depressive, you needed to finish your book… And I…’ She sniffs and her eyes glazes over. ‘I… waited.’
Ernest reaches out and takes her hand. ’I’m sorry, Raquel. I don’t want to live like this… You know that my marriage is over and I love you.’
She looks up at him with tears gleaming in her huge brown eyes. ‘Do you, Ernest? Do you really?’ …
The small café is crowded when Loki and Taïga come strolling from the parking lot a bit further away.
Taïga’s stomach is fluttering with nerves. It seemed so easy when she talked it over with Linn yesterday. She told her she’d play it by ear and it seemed to be a good idea. But that was yesterday. Now she’s with happy, loving Loki, she’s suddenly scared…
Unexpectedly he stops and tugs her under the porch. Oh no, he’d want to kiss me! She’d succeeded in keeping her distance since he picked her up, but now…
But he just peeks around the corner, ‘Dad’s here. With Raquel!’
‘But I thought she was at hospital?’
‘I thought so too…’
Taïga throws a brief glance around the corner at the couple holding hands over the table. ‘She looks fine…’
Loki pulls her back and checks again. ‘The bastard!’ he mutters under his breath.
‘What shall we do?’ she asks with a concerned frown, peeking around the corner a second time.
‘Well, I guess it will be rather awkward to sit at a table next to them…’ He toys with her fingers, watching her attentively. She’s so pretty, but so distant since she came back. I’m sure something happened between her and that Derek guy in Appaloosa Plains, even though Linn says nothing did… I’m too afraid to get an unwanted answer to dare ask her myself… Even though it doesn’t really matter, he’s not a threat anymore. I love her and must trust her… But what if she’s lying? Dad lies to mom after all, about his late nights writing in the boat house. Would mom stay with him if she knew he’s been cheating on her with Raquel Goodytwoshoes? Or does she know and prefers to turn a blind eye? I don’t care after all. They are the adults. It’s their business…
Absentmindedly he tugs at one of Taïga’s raven pigtails, making her look at him. I don’t care what happened while she was away. She’s here now, and she’s mine… He pulls her closer, watching her beautiful face. The long dark lashes surrounding astonishing green eyes, her smooth cheeks powdered by tiny freckles, the perfect nose and those luscious lips… Those lips…
Taïga knows he’s going to kiss her. She’s been avoiding it since he picked her up and feels she can’t just shrug it off this time without hurting him. She closes her eyes and for a brief moment she imagines it’s Derek pulling her close.
Ashamed by her thoughts, she opens her eyes and bends backwards, avoiding the kiss.
‘Loki… I… We need to talk.’
‘Really? I had something else in mind…’ He lets the sentence trail and looks flirtatiously at her.
‘I mean seriously. Not just small talk… Let’s walk over to the park. Please?’
The smile on Loki’s face vanishes when a familiar silhouette walks past pushing a stroller.
‘Oh shit! Mom! What on earth is she doing here?’
Taïga follows his gaze. ‘OMG…’
‘I don’t want to see this. C’mon.’ He grabs her hand and they almost run over to the small park before his parents get a chance to see them.
Loki discards his jacket and sits on the edge of the old fountain, dragging Taïga down onto his lap. He doesn’t say anything, just pulls her closer.
Taïga feels bad. Maybe his parents will divorce now, and here I am, thinking of delivering the final blow. And how on earth can I break up sitting on his lap???
She wriggles a little. ‘Loki…’
She tries to stand up, but he holds her firmly on his knees, ‘Stay. Please. I need to hold you…’
Taïga stiffens as Loki burrows his head in her hair. His voice comes out muffled, ‘I’m moving to Starlight Shores next week, and I know how difficult it will be for us to continue dating… I mean, we won’t see each other except for a couple of days during the holidays and such… But I can take that. We’ve been apart for six months after all. It’s just that living without you…’
His voice breaks, ‘My life won’t make any sense, Taïga. Without you I’m nothing. I love you. I’ll quit school if you want to, we can run away and get married and I’ll get a job. I’ll make you happy. I promise I will…’
‘Oh, Loki.’ She hugs him, gently stroking his hair, ‘Don’t…’ God, this is so hard… ‘We’re just kids. You can’t seriously think about quitting school at sixteen? I won’t let you do that for me…’
He doesn’t answer, but the erratic shaking of his shoulders gives his tears away.
Taïga pushes further, she has taken the first step and there’s no turning back, ‘We are too different. And I’ve thought this over for quite some time now. I mean, it’s not fair to you… You deserve someone who’s devoted to you a hundred percent, and I can’t be that person. Not right now anyway…’ Oh my God. Are those words mine? I can’t leave him hanging…
She continues, ‘Since the accident, when Derek…’ died. She can’t bring herself to utter the dreadful word. ‘… I’ve tried to deal with it, I really have. But I’m not ready for a serious relationship…’ Or any relationship for that matter…
She blubbers on, platitude after platitude tumble out of her mouth but she’s unable to stop herself, ‘You’re too good for me… I don’t deserve you… You’ll be better off without me… We’ll still be friends… etc. etc.’
Loki doesn’t hold her back when finally, out of breath, she tries to stand up. He doesn’t even look at her.
‘Just leave. Go…’
She turns on her heels and walks away. Away from Loki. Away from the shadow of Derek. Away from her own ghosts. Faster and faster she walks, falling into a jog, running… running…
Blinded by tears she rushes through the streets of Fairview and finally into the cool forest. Her foot catches on a root and she slips, falling through the underbrush down a slope. Her body twirls and jerks, hurtling through the spiny branches, twigs scraping her bare skin, before she finally slides to a stop on a patch of dry grass. She catches her breath, lying on her back, listening to the absence of sound around her.
Tentatively, the birds start to sing again, a frog croaks nearby and an invisible cricket chirps. She doesn’t know how long she just lies there, curled up into a ball with her eyes glazed over, silently crying.
Acoustic cover of Rihanna – Stay by Emily Davis & Ben Owen
As usual there are teens at Silver Sands, enjoying the last days of freedom before their evenings become busy with homework again. School starts the day after tomorrow, and that’s also when Loki will leave his friends for good. He pulls up beside the other cars and treks through the high grass towards the sound of music and laughter. Down by the water he can see his friends – and Taïga. Her face is shadowed by strands of dark hair and she hasn’t seen him yet.
‘Shit!’ It’s been a whole week since they broke up, but he’s not ready to talk to her again. Not yet. He stops in his tracks and starts to turn around, but too late.
‘Hey! Loki!’ Jarrod Mullins waves him over.
Loki strolls towards the party, avoiding to look at his girlfriend. He mentally slaps himself – ex-girlfriend. Taïga has brought her guitar, and together with Tyler they are playing and singing acoustic covers of popular songs. He recognizes the melancholic chords of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’.
‘Here!’ Lolita, Jayler’s sister, rummages through the cooler and tosses him a beer.
‘Thanks.’ He opens the can and drinks avidly.
‘Hey. You look like you’re in need of something stronger.’
Loki takes the bottle Jayler hands him without answering, just swigging the hard liquor directly from the bottle. He coughs and grimaces, checking the label, ‘Jeez! What is this shit?’
‘White Lightning. Some home brewed stuff my Uncle brought home from Darer’s bachelor party.’
He winks at Loki and takes a swig, ‘Want some, honey?’
Tess shakes her head and snuggles closer.
‘Here.’ He gives the bottle back to Loki. ‘Keep it.’
He turns and dip kisses Tess.
Loki takes the bottle and throws himself down next to Linn, where he can keep an eye on his ex-girlfriend. He proceeds to regularly swig from the black bottle, glumly watching Taïga, ignoring Linn by his side.
She soon gives up trying to talk and leaves him alone, thinking about her own problems. She’s been chatting to gorgeous Rowan on fb since he left for Italy last Sunday. He’s so nice to her, and she finds it easy to chat when she doesn’t have to face him… But at the same time it’s bugging her as her heart sways between him and darling Teddy. Linn is keeping the secret to herself. She thinks Taïga would freak out if she knew she’s seriously attracted to her half-brother… and her lost love’s brother too. God. Why does everything have to be so complicated…
Taïga avoids looking at Loki, but the lyrics go straight to his heart. It seems she’s singing the song for him, and him alone…
“Makes me feel like I can’t live without you… I want you to stay…”
Yeah. Breaking up was a mistake… She knows it and this is her way to let me know. Yeah. He swigs again and again, each gulp of alcohol making the message clearer and clearer.
“Oh now tell me, now tell me, now tell me, now you know…”
Loki’s not the only one spellbound by Taïga. Jayler can’t take his eyes off her. We must get her back to the group… She seemed happy when I asked her to help us out singing at the wedding party so I guess it won’t be that difficult to convince her. Molly Merlott was adamant, she’ll sign us up if we get a lead singer worth a try… And Taïga is sure worth more than a try…
Around 10 pm, Taïga puts away her guitar and stretches.
‘That was fun, but I have to leave now. See you at school guys!’
Loki stands on unsteady legs. ‘I’m leaving too,’ he slurs a little and tries to focus on Taïga’s departing silhouette.
He catches up with her by the road. ‘Wait… I’ll give you a ride home.’
Taïga pulls out her bike from the weeds, ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Well… As you please…’ He pulls off his jacket and throws it on the roof of his sports car. Then he proceeds to unbutton his pants.
‘What do you think you’re doing!?!’ Taïga almost lets go of her bike, staring at him.
‘Going for a swim to clear my thoughts a bit…’ He stumbles trying to get out of his pants, losing his car keys. ‘Shit!’ He gets down on his knees, fumbling under the car.
Taïga just shakes her head and picks up the keys. ‘Here, I’ll drive you home. Just get your pants back up. Please?’
His face lights up with a boyish grin. ‘Sure!’
He staggers around to the passenger side, where he leans against the convertible, struggling with the buttons of his jeans before almost falling into the passenger seat, ‘And how will you get home? You can stay at my place if you want?’
‘I’ll call a cab.’ Taïga puts the sports car in reverse and instantly stalls.
‘Careful. It’s a manual transmission European car,’ he sludders a little. Seeing Taïga’s blank face, he clarifies, ‘– there’re gears you know. Six of them.’
‘Just push down the middle pedal…’ She tries to follow his instructions while he takes care of the gears, backing out onto the dirt track.
‘Now, cup your hand around the gear knob and move it to first gear… HEY! Careful! Smoothly… Like this.’
She pulls her hand back as if bitten by his touch.
‘I just want you to get the hang on how to switch gears…’
He cups his hand over hers and gently moves the lever from one position to another, ‘Now release the clutch pedal slowly… Accelerate! Simultaneously!’
The car jumps forward but doesn’t stall. Taïga beams as she slips the red sports car into 2nd, then 3rd gear, and soon they are loping along the dimly lit dirt track.
But Taïga can’t keep her eyes on the road and switch gears at the same time. Her eyes stray to the lever each and every time she has to slow down or accelerate. And Loki? Well, he can’t tear his eyes away from Taïga…
‘We must have missed it! It’s not possible to drive for so long without passing the crossroads???’
Loki just nods. The Bayou fog has rolled in without warning, changing the familiar road into something out of a dream. He’s trying to concentrate on the road ahead, but he’s starting to feel a bit queasy…
‘There!’ he cries out.
Taïga screeches to a halt and puts the car in reverse. ‘Are you sure?’
The small road seems to lead right up the mountain…
‘Yeah. Let’s try it. I live in the hills, remember?’
‘Sure, Loki. But on the other side of the Bay Bridge, remember?’
Loki lowers the window, ‘I can’t see what’s written on the sign… “High” something…’
‘Could it be “Highway”?’
‘Yeah… Maybe it’s a shortcut? It’s worth a try.’
Ignoring the roadblocks, they turn onto the small dirt track, continuing uphill in silence. Suddenly the road stops at the edge of a steep – very steep – slope.
Taïga hits the breaks and the car skids to a halt. They both gape in awe.
The Bay opens at their feet, displaying Falls Harbor’s skyline… The view is incredible.
Loki fumbles the door open and staggers out, his legs buckling. He leans on the hood for balance, and Taïga hurries out to help him.
‘Are you OK?’ Stupid question. Of course he’s not OK… Gosh, I hope he won’t throw up on me…
Loki’s on his knees, retching. But the fresh sea breeze makes wonders, clearing his mind enough to help him fight the nausea. He sits back on his heels and closes his eyes, feeling the world gently swing around him.
‘Do you need help?’ Taïga squats by his side, gently squeezing his shoulder. ‘Want some water?’
He shakes his head, fumbling for a chewing gum in his pocket. ‘I don’t think so.’
She rises to go, but he grabs her arm. ‘Wait.’
A little shakily he gets onto his feet in front of her, scrutinizing her face. Tentatively he brushes her cheek with his thumb. ‘Taïga… I…’
She puts a hand on his chest to keep the distance, ‘Loki. Don’t go there.’
Suddenly he’s all over her, whispering words of love that have no sense. Hungrily he kisses her neck, leaving hickeys on her pale skin.
‘What are you doing!?! NO! Loki stop! Let GO of me!’
She tries to push him away, but his grip is too hard, leaving only her legs free enough to kick but he doesn’t seem to notice. She gasps for breath, begging him to stop, suddenly terrified. But his mouth is coming down on hers, hard and demanding. His arms are holding her too tight, his hands fumbling with her t-shirt.
She bites down hard on his lip, the pain finally making him come to his senses and release her.
‘You scare me!’ she staggers backwards and almost falls into the bushes.
Loki is bent over, his back to her, ‘Shit, Taïga.’
He spits and turns around, surprise written on his handsome face. Absentmindedly he dries blood from his mouth with his sleeve.
‘Don’t you dare “shit” me! You… you act like a total moron!’
‘But I thought…’
‘You thought what?’ Taïga is so angry she can hardly speak.
‘That song… It was for me, right?’
‘What? Which song?’
Taïga rolls her eyes, ‘But how could you..? What made you think that?’ She sighs and closes her eyes a moment, trying to regain her composure. ‘As a matter of fact it was for… Just forget it.’
He takes a step towards her, reaching out his hand, but she flinches, ‘Don’t. Touch. Me!’
His hands fall to his sides, ‘I’m sorry…’
‘I’m sorry? That’s all? You… You…’
‘It won’t happen again. I promise. Just say you forgive me. Please. I guess it was the liquor, I’ll never drink again. Please, Taïga. Say something…’
She searches his eyes, ‘I wanted us to stay friends, Loki. That’s all. I cared for you like a friend. Nothing more. Now… I’m not sure I want to talk to you ever again…’
She turns on her heels and vanishes into the darkness.
That night, she cries herself to sleep as usual. But not for the same reasons…
Part II – End of Chapter 27
This chapter might need some explanations:
Hecate is just biding her time, even though the pendant won’t be useful to her anymore. Missy/Juan has some good, some bad things coming… Wait and see…
Taïga and Linn at Björn’s Café:
Linn was so nervous that Taïga wanted to talk about what happened between her and Rowan at the wedding, that she almost went giddy with relief it wasn’t about her! And having Rowan show up just got her more unfocused on her friend’s problems. Like in real life, lots of things are going on around you and draws your attention… It doesn’t mean she doesn’t care, teens are just usually more focused on themselves.
I was trying to get the general feeling of teenage awkwardness, when you’re too young to ask direct questions, and interpret what you’re seeing without the experience of relations that comes with the years… Hence the lack of communication between Linn and Rowan, caught up later on fb with a safe distance between them.
Taïga being a coward and not honest regarding her feelings:
Taïga herself didn’t realize how deep her feelings for Derek were before it was too late, and is not only struggling with the sense of loss, but also with “what-could-have-happened-if…“. Being only 15, soon 16, she’s a child in a woman’s body, experiencing the finality of losing of the man she loved. Everybody tells her that it will get better in time, that she’ll get over it. But it doesn’t feel so… Will Loki be half as heartbroken as she is right now, if she breaks up with him? Will he get over it? There are so many questions and she doesn’t want to hurt him. That’s why she’s put it off for so long.
It’s her first, scary, break-up. Knowing she will hurt Loki who she’s known since childhood, and who was her first real boyfriend, makes her a coward about the whole thing. If you don’t talk about it, maybe it will go away? She finally realizes it doesn’t work that way, that there’s no easy way out. That playing along, trying to be as usual, is not a solution – it’s too hard on her and not fair to Loki. So even though she’s been thinking this through, she’s still afraid and unprepared when she has to face him. Anyone who’s ended a relationship know it’s difficult to hurt the person you once loved, and who presumably still loves you. Add to that the uncertainty of how the person will react, and you’re in for a guilt trip.
Loki is seeing things from his perspective. He’s been in love with Taïga since forever, and when he finally made his move it was just before she left for APYR. They’ve been going steady for about 9 months, but their amorous relation is quite fragile. Taïga was away for 6 months at APYR and Loki has spent a good part of the summer holiday touring with his dad… He’s been thinking of her all the time, and supposes she’s been doing the same thing, even though he suspects something happened between her and Derek… But now they’re together again, everything will surely work out… And if it doesn’t, he’ll see to it that it does.
Loki has recently learned about his dad’s infidelity, and that’s a lot to bear for a child. What he doesn’t know, though, is if his mother is aware, and he‘s struggling with his knowledge. Should he be the one to tell her and thus maybe break up their marriage? No. He feels he must leave that to his dad…
So when he takes his girlfriend for a romantic lunch, and sees his dad and the other woman, and then his mom shows up… Well. He doesn’t want to witness it. Especially not in front of Taïga.
Unconsciously hoping to run into her, and at the same time trying to avoid her… Loki’s leaving for Starlight Shores with his family and knew where to find his friends to say goodbye. Well, she was there… Taïga is deep into her music, thinking of Derek as usual when she’s singing. She probably didn’t even notice Loki arriving before he slumped down right in front of her, drinking. Better avoid looking at him getting drunk, feeling guilty she’s the one making him so unhappy.
The other teens present at the party know about their break-up, that’s why Jayler passed him the bottle. Loki’s not the drinking type, but the homebrew came as a rescue, numbing his feelings – in a bad way…
I guess they were all a little out of it… But they all left at the same time, and saw Taïga drive him home…So why bother calling a cab? School starts tomorrow and it’s already late…
The Bayou Oaks Mansion is on the verge of the Bayou, not very far from Silver Sands (Taïga even went there on foot as a kid with Rowan). They had not driven as far as you might think, what with the fog and all. Fog is awful, making you misjudge distances you usually travel and changing the landscape. That, and also not being focused, made them miss the crossroads. But on foot she found her way back more easily.
Zabeth0: “Oh, wait, if she disappears into the night… that left the drunk guy to drive home from a sheer cliff, after the girl whom he’s told he’s nothing without just told him she never wants to see him ever again, while facing that his parents might divorce and that upcoming move away from all of his friends… are we going to see Loki again?”
I won’t tell how it ends – you’ll have to read the next chapter for that. But I think this is the most stupid decision Taïga has ever made in her short life. Even if I don’t think she really made a decision, she just took off because what Loki did was just too much for her…