02-35 Not So Sweet 16

Content Warning : Soft nudity and drugs


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Saturday afternoon…

Humming to herself, Taïga puts down the heavy paper bags on the kitchen counter. Even riding Sunny, which she truly loves, seemed never ending today. The last hours after lunch dragged past, but her work at Nat Kempinsky’s yard is finally over for the weekend, and together with Linn they did the shopping on their way back to Bayou Oaks. They are both excited about tonight – Jayler has promised more people than on their usual Friday night gig, and Taïga’s stomach is churning with nerves.

‘Look at you there, happy out leaping about the place!’ Sprinkler’s righteous voice makes her jump.

‘Geez! You scared me!’ Automatically she looks over her shoulder, but there’s no need to worry, Linn has taken Valkyria and Ruff for a quick walk. She starts unpacking the groceries.

‘You bought po-ta-toes, didn’t you?’

‘Ta-daa!’ Taïga hauls out a packet of French fries from the bag.

Sprinkler looks at it with contempt written all over his face.

‘Po-ta-toes grow in dirt, not in plastic bags!’

‘You’ll love these potatoes – wait and see.’ He doesn’t seem convinced, though. Silently he watches Taïga unpack microwave popcorn and a couple of bottles of root beer. ‘We’ll have pizza tonight after the show, and catch up on The Walking Dead on Netflix, but tomorrow I’ll make “fish and chips”, just like in Ire-’

‘I’ve thought it over, and I don’t think ye should go to Merlott’s on your own tonight.’

‘-land.’ She stares unbelievingly at him.

‘Come here to me! I-’

‘Err… I’m right here?’

‘Nah. I mean listen. I said that I don’t think-’

‘Yeah, right. Merlott’s.’ She rummages in the bag. ‘But I won’t exactly be alone – Linn’s with me. And the whole band!’ And hopefully tons of fans, she adds to herself, crossing her fingers.

‘Aye! Exactly. Yer gunna have a whale of a time!’ He looks at her with cocker spaniel eyes. ‘And you were just gunna leave me here… Getting all bored on my own…’

‘Well. You won’t exactly be alone… Huh, Minuit?’ she says to the old black cat which is rubbing against her legs affectionately, marking her mistress. ‘And-’ she looks at Sprinkler out of the corner of her eye, ‘-we can’t risk you being discovered, can we?’

Sprinkler snorts and raises his hat a little to expose his forehead, ‘Jeani Mac! Does it say “stupid” here? Does it?’ Angrily he pulls his hat down again. ‘Come here to me… I have it all figured out. You know I’m the master of disguise. I’ll melt in with the crowd, nobody will notice me. I’ll stay behind the loudspeakers. Or the bar. Very discreet.’

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‘Really?’ she glances quickly at him, ‘What do you think people would say if I bring a garden gnome to a concert?’ She withdraws the new shampoo Linn recommended from the paper bag. ‘Mmm… Smells divine…’ she quickly snaps the bottle shut and continues unpacking.

‘Garden gnome? Hmpff… Who was talking about a garden gnome? I’m a skanger!’ He spins on himself. ‘Yo! Gangsta gnome!’

Taïga tries to keep a straight face but it’s difficult at the sight of Sprinkler walking to and fro on the kitchen counter, laden with jewelry, gesticulating and hugging his crotch.

‘Geez… I don’t know what to say…’

‘A “Yes” will do fine.’

‘Oh, Sprinkler… You know it’s impossible…’

He straightens his cap, then thinks better of it and turns it to the side. ‘OK. I’ll stay here then…’

Taïga sighs with relief and continues emptying the bag.

‘On one condition.’

She sighs again and grimaces. I knew it! Of course it was a little too easy. Now, what does he want?

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Sprinkler peers out the window at the quickly darkening sky. ‘God, it’s fierce weather we’ve been having the last few days.’ As if on cue, the grey clouds open and the rain pours down – again.

Taïga acquiesces, on her guard. He wants to talk about the weather? OK…

‘Yeah…’ She glances out the window at the drizzling rain and clears her throat. ‘Ahem… If it doesn’t stop raining I won’t even be able to see the blood moon. The sky’s totally fogged over.’

‘Aye… The blood moon…’ He nods thoughtfully, tapping his teeth with his index. His eyes are hidden behind dark sun glasses, but she can imagine how cunning they are. ‘And after… Are ye gunna help me set the fairy free?’

Ah. Here it comes! Taïga has thought it over, ‘Yes… I will at least try.’ She leans over the paper bags, towering over the little gnome, ‘But you should know that tricking a witch can have rather unpleasant consequences…’

Sprinkler flinches slightly but recovers quickly. ‘Are you threatening me?’

‘No. I’m stating facts.’

’I don’t know if I like facts so much…’

‘Talking about facts, Sprinkler. There are some things I’d like to know before we set the fairy free.’

‘Anything, sistah.’

Really? ‘Well, you haven’t told me why she was captured, and who put her in the cage?’

‘Oh. That. Aye… She was caught by-’ Suddenly he vanishes.

‘Shit!’ She slaps the counter hard with the palm of her hand. ‘Why do you always do this!?!’

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‘Do what?’

Taïga freezes. She had been so engrossed in her conversation with Sprinkler, that she didn’t even hear the door open on Linn coming back from walking the dogs.

‘Oh, nothing. It’s not you. I just realized I forgot the… the pizza at Stop & Shop.’

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Linn frowns. ‘Weren’t we supposed to order?’

Taïga slaps her forehead with her palm. ‘How stupid of me! I totally forgot…’

‘Must be the nerves. Well. I’m soaking wet and freezing. Do you think there’s time to take a shower before we leave?’

Taïga smiles. ‘Sure! I guess you’re not seriously thinking of going tonight all smelly of barn and horses anyway? But one of your usual marathon Linn showers? Probably not!’

Linn peeks over Taïga’s shoulder and snatches the miracle shampoo from the counter. ‘I’ll take this! At least I will look glamorous if we get stuck somewhere. You know, with the roads flooding or whatever! Might be some handsome rescue guys…’

‘You’re hopeless, Linn. I bet it’s the last thing you’ll worry about if your new car gets carried away by the rising waters-’ she calls after her friend.

Linn stops at the stairs. ‘You’re just jealous because I’ll be rescued first! Except…’

‘Except what?’

‘Except if it’s Logan. He’ll go straight for mouth-to-mouth – whether you need it or not!’ Linn giggles and runs up the stairs before Taïga has the time to think of a witty answer.

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An hour later, Taïga walks out of her dressing for the umpteenth time. Tired of trying on different outfits for the show, she turns on herself.

‘Nah…’ Linn studies her sternly. Nothing seems to find grace in her critical eyes. ‘I like the jeans though… But… Try to roll up the sleeves a bit…’

Taïga does what she says and strikes a pose. ‘Better?’

‘Hmm… Why don’t you take it off?’

‘Take it off?’

‘Yeah. I think you’ll look hotter with just the vest!’

Taïga pulls off her T-shirt and buttons the soft leather vest, feeling rather exposed. ‘I’m almost naked, Linn!’

‘You’ll get used to it – you do want to become a rock star, don’t you?’

Taïga glares at her, tugging on her jeans. ‘I want to make it thanks to my voice – not my boobs!’

‘A rock star doesn’t go on stage in a T-shirt.’

‘Bruce Springsteen does.’

‘He’s a guy. And he’s famous enough to look decent whatever he’s wearing. But you’re a girl and there are certain rules-’

Taïga grimaces.

‘- to follow. Like Beyonce. She doesn’t wear t-shirts on stage, and neither does Lady Gaga or Rihanna! Nor J-Lo.’ Linn adds triumphantly.

Taïga shrugs, ‘Meanwhile it’s not you strutting half naked on a stage before thousands of fans!’

Linn raises her eyebrows.

‘OK. A couple dozens of fans.’ She reaches for her jacket, but Linn stops her.

‘You can’t go like that!’

Taïga gapes. ‘What!?! Make up your mind! You just said-’

‘Nonono! It’s your hair!’

‘I get it! Braids aren’t rock n’roll?’

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‘Exactly! Come here.’ Linn drags out Taïga’s chair and pushes her down on it. Swiftly she disentangles her friend’s curls with her hands and starts teasing the hair with a comb. ‘At least we don’t have to add much more body… I just wish I had your hair…’ she adds wistfully.

It doesn’t take long for her to arrange a messy hairstyle. ‘It is important that you don’t overdo it, it must seem natural,’ she says, fastening the last bobby pin. ‘You can look now.’

Taïga swirls the chair around and peeks at the strange face in the mirror. ‘Wow… I look different… Kind of grown up!’

Linn beams at her. ‘You forgot to say you look awesome! Maybe I should think about a career as a hairdresser instead of becoming a lawyer…’

‘Your dads would freak out! They’ve already picked out your college.’

‘Not really. They’re bickering about it… Anyways – It’s a creative job, and both Jesper and Viktor won’t admit it, but they hate the thought of me becoming an office rat!’

Linn pulls on her trench coat, ‘I think you should get a tattoo. Or at least your navel pierced.’

‘What?’

‘I could do it too… Have you got an umbrella, by the way? It’s practically pouring down…’

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It stops raining during their ride to Merlott’s but the road is muddy and the bayou threatens to flood after the devastating rainfall earlier. Linn’s car slides to a halt, spraying dirt in front of the decrepit dive bar. Jayler’s car and the pickup with the gear is already parked in front of the entrance and the guys are busy loading in – amplifiers, guitars, mic’s, cables, xlr’s, stands, extension cords, batteries, picks, stings, straps and drums are being unloaded and carried inside.

Darryl waves to them before hoisting one of the loudspeakers onto his shoulder. Grinning, he nods towards the bar owner, Molly Merlott, who’s precariously balancing on a ladder trying to hang a huge poster on the wall, supervised by Tess.

‘It’s not written in neon, but Jayler’s printed us some publicity!’

Avoiding the puddles, they make their way over to the entrance to have a closer look. The poster dates from their first show a year ago and pictures Taïga and Tyler in front, with a blurry Darryl and Tess in the background.

‘I can’t believe it’s only been a year, it seems like a lifetime…’ Linn says thoughtfully.

For a fluttering moment Taïga thinks about her fifteenth birthday and what brought her to APYR. And Derek. Suddenly she feels nauseous. ‘I’ll just grab a glass of water inside.’ she mumbles and hurries after Darryl.

‘Maybe one of you boys could help me before I fall and shred this masterpiece!’ Molly squeaks to Jayler and Ty who puts down what they carry and hurry over to stabilize the unsteady ladder.

‘You look really cool, Ty.’ Tess says thoughtfully, scrutinizing the poster.

‘Thanks. I’m surprised you even noticed me – the star is Taïga!’

Molly climbs down the rickety ladder and lights a new cigarette on the old one, ‘Just don’t forget who gave you the chance to play on stage… Later, when you’re wading in it!’ She rubs her index and thumb together.

They all laugh self-consciously. Tess forces a smile. ‘I think we should take a pic with the whole group…’

‘Yeah, that’s a great idea. Maybe Jesper could give us a hand, Linn?’

‘Sure! I’ll ask him.’

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Taïga gulps down the fresh water and leans against the bar, her head in her arms.

‘Are you OK, honey?’

‘Gotta try to contain them butterflies…’

Darryl smiles. ‘I’ve never imagined a chick as talented as you could get such a bad case of stage fever… Well, at least you don’t throw up anymore… Or do you?’

Taïga shakes her head and grumbles something inaudible.

‘Wanna smoke some weed with me? Calms the nerves…’ He finishes expertly rolling a joint and licks the paper to seal it.

Taïga lifts her head and pushes a strand of hair from her pale face. ‘Nah. I’m not really good at smoking!’

Tyler looks up from the maze of electric cords, ‘Don’t let her smoke for heaven’s sake, Darryl. She’ll bail out on us.’

Molly holds up the glass she was polishing and scrutinizes it. ‘He’s right, you know.’ She turns to Darryl. ‘No weed in my bar. Take it outside! And don’t get too stoned – you’re here to make money, remember?’

Darryl holds up his hands in mock defense. ‘No worries, Molly, just taking five. Are you coming, Ty?’

Tyler plugs in his electric guitar and fingers the cords to try out the sound, before carefully putting the jewel of his eyes, his Dean V Dave Mustaine Guitar, back on the stand, and follow Darryl out back.

Jayler is on his knees under the keyboard, ‘Tess! Where do you plug in this shit?’

‘On the side.’ Tess gestures vaguely, ‘I have to clean my shoes. C’mon Linn, yours are muddy as hell too.’

Jayler watches the two girls head towards the restrooms. ‘You can do it yourself – I ain’t getting no extra money for hauling gear while you’re powdering your nose!’ Disgusted, he throws the cords on the floor. ‘Hey guys, wait!’

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The door bursts open on Lucky Perkins. ‘Bless your heart, all y’all!’

‘We’re closed!’ Molly announces tartly but Lucky stomps in nevertheless.

‘Jest passed by, hehe. Would you cut on the light outside? It’s raining so hard the animals are starting to pair up and you cain’t see a damn thing through the fog. Almost missed the door myself-’ He does a double take when he sets eyes on Taïga who nods a greeting.

Shit! If he tells the Darer’s, I’m done… She picks up the cord and plugs in the keyboard, mostly to have something to do so Lucky won’t start talking to her…

But Lucky has more important things on his mind. Rubbing his hands, he ambles over to the bar where Molly serves him a beer.

He takes a hearty gulp and dries away the foam with the back of his hand. ‘Aaah. There’s nothing like good food, good beer, and a bad girl!’ He motions Molly closer and lowers his voice, ‘What’s up, honey-pie? That’s the Grey girl over there, idden it? I’m standing in need of an explanation why she’s dressed like a $10 Memphis whore, bless her heart.’

‘She’s singing tonight – IDC is giving a concert and we’re expecting quite a crowd.’

‘Ah. Is she now?’ He rubs the stubble on his chin. ‘That kid’s got a voice like an angel, in all my born days, I haven’t seen such a thing… ’ He settles comfortably on the barstool, ‘Well. I reckon I’ll just have to stay put then. Keep the chair warm, as my old lady would say.’

‘You’ve never been married, Lucky.’

‘Bah… Details… It ain’t important. I’m waiting for the right gal to come ‘round.’ He winks to Molly, who opens a beer for herself.

‘Cheers.’ She raises her bottle and they clink glasses.

‘I’ve got news from Juan in Lucky Palms.’ Lucky says smugly, ‘The Mile High Club…’ He lets the sentence hang in the air and takes a healthy gulp of beer.

Molly swigs directly from the bottle, murmuring, ‘Poor man must go bonkers in the City of Sin. He squeezes a quarter so tight the eagle screams.’

‘Well, better be careful with that Ol’ Missy of his running wild in those fancy shops.’ Lucky chuckles. ‘Where were I? Right. So did he get his membership? Nope. I disremembered some of his sayings on the phone, it was something about all the stewards being gay, but wait, there’s more!’

Taïga glances towards the bar. She’s relieved to see Lucky and Molly laughing together. Maybe Lucky will leave before they start the concert. Or get so hammered he forgets he saw her. She mustn’t worry about him, she’s nervous enough already without adding Lucky to the list… Hesitantly she lets her fingers caress the black and white keys. Before she even knows it, the chords of I’d Rather Go Blind fills the empty room, and her voice brings new emotion to the old Etta James’ song.

Etta James cover by Demi van Wijngaarden

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The sound of music draws the guys inside again. They hover at a distance so not to disturb Taïga but she wouldn’t have noticed if wild horses passed through the bar. Eyes closed, she’s totally immerged in the music.

‘Something tooold me it was ooover…

When I saw you and her… talking….

Something deep down in my soul said, “cry girl”…

When I saw you and that girl, walking out… Ooo…’

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‘Etta James. My grams listened to her all the time.’ Darryl’s eyes are unmistakably moist, but maybe it’s the smoke of his joint that makes his eyes water…

Tyler shivers, ‘I’ve got goose bumps all over…’

‘Yeah. I think we should add a couple oldies like that one to our repertoire.’ Jayler adds.

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Tess comes storming out of the bathroom, followed by Linn.

‘How dare she use MY keyboard?’ Tess heads for the scene but Jayler catches her arm and draws her close to his chest.

‘Hush, baby…’ He murmurs in her hair.

‘Ooo so you see,

I love you sooo much

That I don’t want to watch you leave me baby,

Most of all, I just don’t, I just don’t want to be free no’

Ooo I was juuust, I was juuust, I was juuust sitting here thinking

Of your kiss and your waaarm embrace, yeah.’

Seething, Tess shuts her mouth, but she can’t relax in her boyfriend’s arms. Effing Taïga, always showing off!

‘When the reflection in the glass that I held to my lips, now baby,

Revealed the tears that was on my face, yeah…’

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‘Ooo… and baby, baaaby, baaaby

I would rather be blind booooy

Than to see you walk away, walk away from meee, yeah

And baby, baaaby, baaaby, I’d rather be blind boooy

Than to see you walk away, see you walk awaaaaay from meee…’

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A little surprised Taïga looks around her at her friends who are clapping and whistling. Everyone except Tess, who tears away from Jayler’s arms and angrily stomps over.

‘I hope you’ve not done anything irremediable,’ she mutters under her breath, pushing past Taïga.

Taïga steps aside, ‘I’m sorry, Tess. I just wanted to check if I got all the cables right.’

‘Obviously you did.’ Tess slumps down and starts adjusting whatever there’s to adjust, concentrating on ignoring Taïga.

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Molly calls from the bar, ‘Shots on the house before we let the crowd in!’

Lucky grins and holds out his empty glass to Molly who frowns. ‘That’s a beer glass, Lucky. You’ll get drunker than Cooter Brown.’

‘Yep. I’m just sayin… There ain’t no need to refill.’ He leers hopefully, but Molly just takes his glass and fills it with beer, before lining up seven glasses and pouring Tequila to the brim.

Lucky gulps down his beer and slams the empty glass back onto the counter, muttering, ‘That ain’t fitting! Bunch of kids should drank Co-cola or a Sebmup…’ But he doesn’t protest when Molly fills his glass again.

In her heart, Taïga agrees with him. She’d rather have a soda, but doesn’t dare ask for one or she’ll come across as a real killjoy. She catches Linn’s eye, but her best friend only shrugs and smiles apologetically. If Linn drinks… And it’s not like I’m going to get wasted or something…

She lifts the glass and smells it, recoiling as the sharp odor of the alcohol hits her. ‘Yuk!’

‘Here, let me show you.’ Tyler licks the back of his hand between the thumb and forefinger before sprinkling some salt on it. Taïga follows his example, feeling a little stupid.

‘Wait!’ He holds out a slice of lime, and she takes it, being careful not to get rid of the salt on the back of her hand.

‘To the moment of happiness between the salt and the lemon.’ Molly says solemnly.

‘To fame!’ Jayler adds.

‘To fame!’ Taïga hesitates, licks the salt and kicks back the small glass following the other’s example. She gasps for breath and grimaces at the burning sensation of the alcohol making its way down her throat, making Tyler and the others laugh.

Jayler nudges her arm, ‘The lime.’

Quickly she bites down on the acid slice of lime, fighting the urge to throw up.

Molly draws on her cigarette and tops the glasses, ‘Have to get this right, hon’!’

Taïga nods, blinking. ‘OK.’ She takes a deep breath. I can do this. Lick. Sprinkle…

‘To success!’

Breathe in. Swallow, bite and… Oh, God! She shakes her head. ‘Wow.’

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Kelly Clarkson Stronger

Molly wants to make money and move booze, and IDC is keeping up their end of the bargain. She’s working her ass off behind the bar as the band’s repertoire switches between covers of famous songs and their own stuff, written by Taïga and Tyler.

The show is a frank success. Jayler has outdone himself networking; posters and flyers have been handed out both at FHHS and Jayler’s university, and he’s keeping a constant tag on social media’s.

Word has spread since IDC’s last performance but Molly didn’t expect quite the crowd that showed up tonight. She hates turning people down, and from her position behind the bar she has no way of controlling the entrances anyway. Consequently, the bar quickly gets crowded by a buoyant party pack and she realizes that she has let in more people than authorized for a bar the size of Merlott’s. She spends the evening torn between profit and fear that the cops will drop by. She’s gambling her license after all…

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Taïga is singing her heart out, making the crowd jump and stomp, sing along and dance. Her beautiful cover of Rihanna’s stay, together with Tyler, makes the public pull out their lighters and Molly almost got a heart attack with fright they would set the establishment on fire.

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The show draws to an end and Darryl whips up his drums to accompany Taïga’s presentation of the band.

‘We need to take a one minute breather, here.’ Taïga bends towards the mike, turning her head in Tess’ direction. ‘Tess Ashcroft on the keyboards!’

Graciously Tess rises, and with arms outstretched embraces the crowd’s cheering.

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‘And on the drums… Darryl Donald, y’all – Darryl Donald!’ Darryl lets himself loose on his drums, his muscular arms waving and hammering his drumsticks at top speed, finishing with a dramatic crash on the cymbals.

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‘Tyler Haaale! Lead guitar! Stand back girls!’

Tyler revels in the attention of the female audience who cheer wildly.

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Taïga points to his guitar as he whole heartedly lances into Muffin Man riff. She puts a hand behind her ear, encouraging the public with the other hand. She smiles to herself, feeling her cheeks burn from sheer euphoria at the feedback from the people in the crowd.

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‘And I’m Taïga,’ she murmurs into the mike and the crowd goes wild, roaring ‘Taeeguh! Taeeeeeguh!’ and stomping their feet.

A little thrown back from the powerful response, she nods to Tyler, a smile plastered from ear to ear. It feels like flying…

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Tyler starts on their last song, the cover of Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger, and the crowd goes crazy.

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They share the mike for the refrain, their voices mingling and complementing, almost drowned by their fans singing along.

‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger

Just me, myself and I

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Stand a little taller

Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone…’

Exhausted, they finish the show, but the audience calls them back on stage three times before they finally call it quits…

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Back at the manor Taïga relaxes in a hot bath. Even though she felt like flying earlier, now it’s more like she’s been overrun by a truck. Every muscle aches, and her throat is a little sore.

‘Effing rain…’ Linn grumbles. ‘I don’t know why I bother blow-drying my hair…’

‘I know why,’ Taïga teases. ‘You hope it’s that cute guy delivering our pizza.’

Linn giggles. ‘He’s something, you’ll see! Makes ordering pizza worthwhile! I just hope he’s working this late tonight.’ She checks her watch. ‘So what happened?’ She disentangles her hair, swearing to herself.

‘Happened?’

‘Yeah. You vanished for quite a while. Everybody was looking for you.’

‘Err… I just had to get some air after the show.’

Linn brushes her hair energetically. ‘With Logan?’

‘Logan? No!’ Taïga can feel her cheeks burn and sinks deeper into the bubbles. ‘I went outside alone! I didn’t even notice him, we drew quite a crowd tonight.’

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Linn pouts, looking meaningfully at Taïga in the mirror. ‘Hmpff… He didn’t tear his eyes away from you during the whole show!’

‘You couldn’t have seen that – he was standing behind you!’

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Linn scoffs. ‘See? You noticed him all right…’

‘Uh-huh…’ Taïga blushes even deeper and busies herself with the soap. Of course she’d noticed Logan. Tall, dark and handsome… And 21. Thoughtfully she rubs soap onto her arms.

Rather flattering. And daunting at the same time. She followed him outside, against her better judgement and too much tequila… Whatever. He said he wanted to talk to her. Nothing wrong with that… Should she tell Linn? Definitely…But later, over pizza…

The monotonous sound of the hairdryer and Linn’s voice lulls her almost to sleep. With a sigh, she sinks deeper into the warm water, closing her eyes.

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She knew she shouldn’t have followed him. She should have said no. But the crowd rushing forward onto the small stage had scared the wits out of her, and it was with relief she let Logan make room around her.

It was a little flustered and with her heart beating fast that she hung on to his hand, letting him whisk her like a bodyguard through the cheering crowd and out through the emergency exit.

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The whole situation was so exciting. Not only having a guy like Logan interested in her. No. The rush of the show and the alcohol flowing through her veins contributed to making her lightheaded. It was flattering having Logan’s attention, to be considered like a woman and not just any teen girl.

Logan didn’t waste time with small talk and suddenly she was scared – scared that he would kiss her and even more scared of his reaction if she didn’t want to.

And what if he expected more of her? All of a sudden the arousing feeling of being desired wasn’t enough, she didn’t want to make out with a stranger! Why had she let him take her out here!?!

Nervously blabbering, stalling for time, she backed away as much as she could, scraping her shoulders on the wooden paneling. She could smell whiskey on his breath as he leaned in closer, mumbling about how beautiful she was. His dark eyes were darting towards her mouth as he caressed her face with his thumb. Ohnonono. He was aiming in for the kiss.

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She was getting ready to duck away and run back inside, when the back door suddenly burst open on Rod and his gang. She would never have though that she’d be so grateful to see their leering faces…

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‘Yo!’

‘Wassup, bro?’

Logan sighed almost as loud as she did, but not for the same reason. Reluctantly he let go of her as the younger guys piled out, starting to roll joints and slapping Logan’s back. Blushing, she seized the opportunity and sidestepped discreetly, scraping her back against the wall as she quickly rushed back in…

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‘Psst… Wake up!’

‘Huh?’ With a start Taïga sits upright, splashing water over the edge of the tub.

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‘Hey! Watch out! I mean; Yo! Chill it, sistah!’

Sprinkler! Taïga glances quickly towards Linn, but she’s blow drying her hair, oblivious to what’s going on behind her back. Taïga motions the little gnome closer.

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‘I thought we had made a deal?’ she whispers.

Sprinkler looks a little contrite, but just a little. ‘What deal?’ he asks innocently.

‘You know very well what I’m talking about here. You showing up in the bathroom,’ Taïga hisses. ‘Without knocking.’

‘Oh. Aye. That.’

Taïga glares at him. ‘And why are you still dressed like a leprechaun version of Lil Jon?’

‘It’s err… Swag! Don’t you like it, eh – Yo?

All my jewelry cold as fuck but I’m a hot boy

All these stones in my chain make me a rock boy’*

He raps, waving his little arms in a hip hop gesture.

Taïga rolls her eyes.

*Meek Mill

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They gon ask who at the door

Tryna get in too-

‘Sprinkler.’ Taïga interrupts, ‘You didn’t show up here just to show me that you “know how to bust a rhyme to make money”, did you?’

‘Aye. Right. I’m just trying to pass on a message here.’

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‘A message? What message?’

‘Welcome to my house party party…’

Sprinkler resumes walking back and forth, rapping in a low voice,

‘Welcome to my house party party…’

Taïga stares deadpan at him. He stops and scratches his beard. ‘Maybe I’m just gunna head on before she catches sight of me…’

‘Yeah. Right. Do that. Good idea.’

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‘You said something?’

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‘Err… Nothing. I just dropped the soap.’

‘Oh. Well. So I said to her that-’

They are interrupted by the doorbell.

Linn’s face lights up, ‘Must be the pizza!’

‘Already? Geez, I’m starving!’

Linn unplugs the hair dryer. ‘I’ll get it. Hurry to get dressed!’ she adds, rushing out from the bathroom.

‘There’s change on the kitchen counter!’ Taïga calls after her, grabbing a towel.

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She pulls on some lounge clothes and rushes after Linn, but stops dead in her tracks at the bottom of the stairs.

‘Hi!’ she lances bewildered at the small group in the hall. ‘What are they doing here?’ She hisses between clenched teeth to Linn, who scratches her head and shrugs.

‘Dunno…’

Part II – End of Chapter 35

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