The Ivy Wall
Author's note: I've been working on this piece for a couple years now, and it's really special to me. This story... Show full author's note »
Chapter One“Not again,” I muttered to myself, quickening my pace as I walked down the dimly lit street. “I could have driven, but no, I had to do the responsible thing,” I thought bitterly as I recalled the night earlier events.
“I’m fiiiiiiine,” Kelly has slurred as I grabbed away her car keys.
“Not after that keg stand you’re not. Come on, I’m taking you home,” I grabbed her hand and eased her into the back seat of her baby blue VW bug.
She kept up a constant
I muttered a string of profanities as the footsteps behind me picked up, though still staying at a distance. How could I have been so stupid? This had happened before, and yet I permitted it to keep happening.
The first time was on the night of my seventeenth birthday, three weeks ago. It had been a long day. Of course my dad and step-mom had forgotten, but my best friend Amber had thrown a huge bash at the local roller rink, which probably hadn’t been used for a party that big since the 80's. It was a blast and I didn’t get home until almost three in the morning. Amber had driven me home, and I had her drop me off at the end of my street. It just seemed easier, I remember thinking. How stupid of me.
As I started the trek, I realized how dark it had gotten, and hugged my coat closer to me. My pace quickened slightly when I thought I heard a twig snap, but I slowed again, glancing behind me. There was nothing, I was just over reacting. But as I walked on, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched, so I began to walk faster. It was the next thing that sent shivers down my spine as I broke into a run. I’d felt someone breathing down my neck, but it wasn’t the breathing that scared me. It was the breath itself. It had felt.......wrong. Stale and cold somehow, as if the lungs that pushed it were hardened and old. So I ran, but before I could get away, whoever, whatever was chasing me lashed out with something, tapping me on the forehead. Lightly, but still enough that I could feel the bruise swelling.
When I got back into the house, breathless and shaking. But I wasn’t shaking from the cold or the exhaustion of the run. There was a warmth traveling down from the spot on my forehead that had been hit. I rushed to a mirror, only to see that my forehead was completely normal, not even a hint of a bruise. But I could still feel the warmth spreading down, just passing my chest now, making it’s way down my legs, all the way to my toes. Then it pooled into my heart, causing me to gasp. The emptiness, the loneliness I’d felt since my mom had died seven years earlier, it was filling. Not completely, but the warmth was filling me with happiness and a sense of unity I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I glanced back into the mirror, seeing my eyes light up with the wonder, the togetherness of it all, and I saw what people meant when they said I looked like my mother. Because that was the exact same twinkle of happiness she’d always had in her eyes. Sure we’d had the same fiery red hair, the same oddly bright green eyes, and freckles, though I’d always had more. But I’d never seen it. Never seen the similarity before now. Looking in the mirror that night was like looking at my mother in her prime, when she was happy and alive.
Just then the phone rang, breaking me out of my trance-like state, and the warmth settled in pit of my stomach, burning intensely for a moment before dulling to a slow simmer. I marveled at this as I ran to get the phone, picking it up just as the answering machine started.
“Hello?” I said breathlessly.
“Welcome Cassidy,” a calm, feminine voice said before hanging up. I put the phone down and walked to bed in a haze, falling into bed with my clothes on, asleep before my head hit the pillow.
And here I was again, out alone at night with the same strange presence I’ve been feeling for weeks now. “Stupid stupid stupid,” I chanted, finally turning onto Amber’s street. I was almost to her house when I felt breath on my neck again. This was odd, because since that night, whatever was following me hadn’t gotten this close. My footsteps picked up, but the thing kept up. I was halfway up the driveway when it said something in a strange language and a bolt of light slammed me in the gut. I was flung back into the garage door. I got up, feeling the warmth that had been simmering in my stomach grow and grow. From a low buzz to a crashing wave, it became so loud it was a roaring in my ears. A blazing purple fire shot from my fingertips and hit the thing square in the chest, shooting it backwards. It got up, brushed itself off, and disappeared. Just vanishing into dust.
I stumbled backwards into Amber’s door, grasping for the handle. It took me a moment to get inside, but when I did I was gasping for air as if I’d run a marathon. I felt myself sliding down the wall, trying to calm the roar of power I’d just unleashed. It took some effort, but purple sparks stopped shooting from my fingers and my breathing returned to normal.
“By the Moon, what was that?” I muttered to myself, swearing by the Moon, as my mother had always done, though for what reason I did not know. This couldn’t be happening. I didn’t just shoot fire from my hands. I looked down at them as if they were no longer a part of me, but dangerous imposters. But they looked like my normal hands again, no longer engulfed in violet flames.
The burning was back in my stomach and it traveled to the middle of my back, centering around one point and getting hotter and hotter until I gave a small cry of pain. It had almost reached the crescendo when my vison got spotty and I blacked out, the burning too intense to bear.
I regained consciousness the next day around noon. Amber still at her grandma’s and would be home until tonight. Her mom had given me a key when we were younger, inviting me over anytime I needed to get away. I sat up, my neck and back aching from spending the night on the floor. I looked around Amber’s three story cabin with fondness. It was a little wacky, just like her and her mom. The whole bottom floor was conservative, all blacks and whites and greys and the second floor had walls painted in bold colors like eggplant and lime green. The top floor, on the other hand, was entirely surrounded by glass walls. This was the art studio/music room/ all around party room of the house.
I went up to Amber’s second floor bedroom and grabbed a pair of her jeans and a tee shirt she’d borrowed from me last week before going through to the attached bathroom. It was decorated in all black and neon colors, the shower curtain splatter painted with pink and black paint. I turned my back to the door and started taking off my shirt. I was reaching back to unhook my bra when I saw something in the mirror. I got the small mirror off the vanity and turned my back to the mirror again.
I adjusted it until I could see the center of my back and screamed. The mirror clattered to the floor, but did not break. I hurried to pick it back up and repositioned it, still not believing what I was seeing with my own eyes. In the center of my back was a scarlet star with black tips, black and grey swirls and designs sprouting from the center. I reached into my pocket and took a picture with my phone, unable to hold the mirror still any longer, my hands shaking so badly.
I finished undressing mechanically, and stepped into the shower, letting the hot water run over my skin, calming my tense muscles. I stopped shaking after a few moment and finished showering before stepping out and dressing in the borrowed jeans and my tee shirt. It took me a moment to realize I was just standing there, staring at the picture on my phone. I put my phone back in my pocket and forced the image out of my head. I just couldn’t handle the stress of what happened last night, and this too.
So I pushed it all to the back of my mind, knowing I should go home, but not ready. I figured my dad and Clarice would be back around two, so that left me about two hours before they would be getting angry at the lack of my presence. I made my way into the kitchenette off of Amber’s room and made myself a bowel of cereal. When I finished I brushed my teeth with my spare toothbrush I kept here and sighed. I was getting tired of being alone, and even unpleasant company was better than none.
One problem, my car was still in front of James Peterson’s house, where the party last night had been. I guess I’d be sticking it out here until Amber made it home. I let out a resigned sigh and plopped down on the bright blue couch and flicked through the channels, finally coming to rest on The Princess Bride one of my favorites. I snuggled into the couch and abruptly fell back asleep, still exhausted.
* * *
I slammed my locker closed, irritated at myself for letting Laura get the best of me. I knew better than to get upset over her petty insults. Just because her boyfriend likes me more. I laughed sarcastically at this thought. I still don’t know why elicited THAT in the first place. I was what was considered “weird” in this small town. I painted my nails black and reading to going out and getting high, so there MUST be something wrong with me. Of course, everyone wants what they can’t have.
But that didn’t mean she had to bring up my mother. Suggesting that she might have burned down the cabin herself, just to rid herself of me. That she was a whore, and a drunk. I shouldn’t have punched her in the nose, but it sure did help the sting of tears go away. It wasn’t worth the two weeks of detention I got for it though. I sighed and hit my head against my locker, furious at myself.
“Your going to do damage to that big head of yours if you keep doing that,” observed Amber as she watched me. I glared at her and slung my backpack over my shoulder, heading towards the parking lot.
“So I see you are feeling especially murderous about the mishap today. That just makes what I must tell you all the more difficult, not to mention dangerous,” she mused, trying to cheer me up.
“If you could hold off on the bad news until I have some ice cream, I would be much obliged,” I told her, sliding into my car. She just shrugged as she took the passenger seat, tossing her stuff in the back. I put in a Panic! CD and she wrinkled her nose, but said nothing. I listened to her funky indie music in her car, but my radio was reserved for nothing but the best music.
Amber had the whole funky art chick thing going on, but we still differed on many things. We were both tall, but that was where our similarities ended. She wanted to save the planet, I focused on getting through the next day without insulting someone. She was set on going into the peace core when she graduated, while I was on my way out of this dinky little town and off to New York. Amber liked to see good in all people, I chose to focus on their negative characteristics. While she was a dreamer, I had it all planned out. We balanced each other out. I kept her grounded, while she kept me from becoming entirely too cynical.
We reached Aunty Patty’s Creamery after a short drive and went inside for our weekly fix. Every Wednesday after last period we came down here to get our ice cream.. I bought a chocolate cone and Amber got a strawberry shake before we went out to sit on the hood of my car.
“So about this bad news,” Amber started just as I took the first lick of my cone. I sighed and looked at her, bracing myself for the blow.
“So spring break is coming up, and we were going to go to Colorado to see my aunt and uncle, but there was a change of plans. They seem to be moving here,” she said, not meeting my eyes. I visibly relaxed.
“That’s not so bad, I’ve met your aunt and uncle and they seem really,” I broke off. “Wait, which aunt and uncle? The ones without kids or the...other ones?” I asked quietly. She was silent for a moment, and that was all the answer I needed.
“He’s really not that bad anymore, and he hardly ever even mentions you or does something stupid. He’s really gotten more mature and,” I cut off her babbling with a glare. She got deep red and looked at her hands.
“When are they coming?” I asked in a cold tone. She mumbled a reply. “What was that?” I snapped.
“Tonight,” she said a little louder. I let out a deep breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I poked Amber in the arm and she looked up. I smiled slightly, knowing it wasn’t her fault and I shouldn’t be so mad at her. It’s just...her cousin and I never really got along very well.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you,” she visibly brightened and continued with her speech about how he’s changed, though I doubted it very much.
When I first moved here to live with my dad I was only ten, but Amber and I became fast friends. At the time, her best friend was her cousin, Aaron, and he, on the other hand, did not like me at all. The feeling became mutual after he harassed and embarrassed me countless times. The worst being at a dance in the seventh grade. I was there with my first boyfriend, Kyle. He could do no wrong in my eyes, and was one of the best looking guys in my grade. Aaron, being a year older than us, wasn’t supposed to come to the dance, but he snuck in anyway. Kyle had wandered off while I was talking to Amber so I went to go find him.
I found him down in a hallway, with blood all over his face from a broken nose. He told me Aaron had done it and I brought him the school nurse before going to find Aaron. He was talking to some of his friends in the corner and I marched right up to him. His eyes flickered angrily when I shoved him.
“What the hell, Cassidy?” Aaron asked, tripping backwards over a cord, unplugging the music, but I was too angry to realize.
“Why did you beat him up? What the hell is wrong with you?” I shouted in his face. He scoffed at my accusation and told me I was pathetic.
“I’m the pathetic one? And how’s that?” I asked dubiously.
“Yes pathetic! Falling all over some guy who got dared to go out with you and was making out with your friend Ashley behind your back!” he spit in my face. “I beat his sorry little ass because he hit me first! Trying to threaten me into silence, what a little prick.” he said, looking disgusted. I felt tears come into my eyes and I willed them away, turning around quickly so I could leave. But we were surrounded by all of the dance goers who had turned their attention to us when the music had stopped.
Some of them were laughing at me, others looked sympathetic, which might have been worse. I was so tired of that “poor you” look. The same look I got for years when my mother died. The boy closest to me, Alex Zimmermen, was Andrew’s best friend. He was laughing too, so what Aaron said must have been true.
“Stupid little freak. Did you really think he liked you?” Alex scoffed, turning away. I fought my way through the crowd and locked myself in the third floor janitor’s closet until Amber came to find me. By that time I was cried out and over it, hardening against the outside world, putting up walls. I marched my way back downstairs and into the nurses office, where I preceded to re-break Andrew’s nose and ensure he could never have children.
For years after everyone either pitied or scorned me, so I grew a thick skin, I learned to withstand it. Now that everyone has seemed to forgotten, since Aaron and Andrew both moved away, I’d finally let my walls fall a little. Make more friends, not expect the worst in everyone. And now he was coming back, and I’d have to remember to keep them up, at least around him.
“Amber,”I said, interrupting whatever she was saying, “how about I promise not to hit him, and attempt a friendly smile,” I negotiated. She agreed after some thought, knowing it was the best deal she was going to get.
I told her I better take her home, since I didn’t want to show up when they were there. I’d face him tomorrow at school, but no sooner than that. After I dropped her off, I headed home, knowing I’d need all the sleep I could get tonight. So as soon as I got there, I turned on my radio and fell into bed, asleep withing minutes.
The next day at school I’d walked into my first period class late, handing Mr. Gardner one of the many late slips I kept on hand. I’d slept right through my alarm, waking up only when I heard Carissa getting into the shower. I only had time to put my dark red hair into a side pony and throw on a new tee shirt before rushing out the door. I put my eyeliner on in the car, just barely missing a stray dog.
I took my seat at the back of the classroom and pulled up the hood on my sweatshirt and putting in my ear buds. We were talking about differential equations, which I’d figured out about a week ago, plus the fact that half the class period was spent listening to one kid ask every step to be explained, just to get a laugh from his friends, so I usually just listen to my ipod and read. Mr. Gardner doesn’t complain as long as I continue to ace my tests. I was counting down the minutes until the end of the period when a paper airplane fell on my desk.
I opened it carefully, looking for the note. I finally spotted it near the lower left corner and almost through it on the floor. I’d recognize that handwriting anywhere.
It was kinda rude not to even acknowledge the fact that I’m back, you know. But I just wanted to say hello and make sure you remembered me. -Aaron
I resisted crumpling the note and wrote a small note back “I guess you’re just not noticeable. And I almost forgot you existed for a while there, what a blissful time that was. -Cass” before refolding it and throwing the plane so it landed perfectly on his second row desk. A couple eyes turned to the back row, but I was already reading my book again, hiding a small smile behind it.
It next to my desk this time and I had to wait until the teacher turned away to retrieve it.
“Cassidy,” it said, “you have gotten to be such a smartass while I was away. And sexier too. And I’m more noticeable than you. - Aaron” I was taken aback at the sexy comment, but that had always been his thing. Disrespecting girls and patronizing them.
“Bite me” I wrote back and threw it, getting it back a few seconds later.
“Gladly” was his only reply. I crushed the note in my hands and tossed it into my bag, not wanting one of my classmates to pluck it out of the trash. I heard him laugh, but was resolved not to take my eyes off the clock. As soon as the bell rang, I was out of there, off to second period French.
“So how was your day?” Amber asked me warily as she sat down next to me on the hood of my car. She knew, she had to know.
“He’s in five out of my seven classes.” I spit out between my teeth, glaring at my car keys. Amber sighed beside me. “You knew. You obviously knew and didn’t tell me,” I said quietly, a little hurt that she wouldn’t have shared that with me.
“Well if you’d answer your phone,” she trailed off. That’s right, I thought with a jolt. I was asleep all last night and this morning. I glanced down at my phone and saw I missed seven calls from her.
“I’m sorry. But it’s got me really on edge having him here. It’s not your fault, I shouldn’t let him get to me this way. Speak of the Devil,” I mumbled, watching Aaron stagger out of the school, weighted down by the pack of girls clinging to him, disgusted. But I also felt something else. I wanted to tear those girls off him, take their place. I shook myself mentally, I was just hungry, not having eaten dinner last night or breakfast or lunch today.
“Come on, we’ve got prom dresses to buy with our parents credit cards,” I said, trying to focus on something other than Aaron and his pack of drooling mutts. “What?” I asked at Amber’s shamed look.
“I kinda told Aaron we were going to the mall and he wanted to tag along,” she muttered miserably. I sighed at refrained from strangling her. He was her cousin, and before me, her best friend. She was just being nice. So I gathered myself and yelled over at him.
“Hey Michaels, we’re taking off! Do you want a ride or not?” I turned around and got in the car before he could respond. Through my rearview I watched him extract himself from the group of gaggling bimbos and head towards my car.
I could see why they were all interested. He had black, straight hair, so black that it looked blue in certain light. It hung at a perfect length, long enough to obscure his eyes slightly, but not too long. He had ice blue eyes and tan, smooth skin. When he walked you could see the lean muscles ripple under his grey tee shirt. His strong jaw and full lips. Lips to keep you up at night...
“Unlock the door!” Amber yelled in my ear, breaking me out of my reverie. I was shocked, was I really just fantasizing...no, I wasn’t. I couldn’t have been. I silently unlocked the door and let Aaron in, avoiding eye contact and turning on the stereo to avoid conversation. Amber was looking at me funny, but I brushed it off and drove straight for the mall in the next town over, ready to get as far away from Aaron as I could.
“How about this one?” Amber asked, holding up an orange atrocity. I sighed and pointed to my hair, reminding her that orange and red clash terribly. “Right, no orange,” she muttered, putting it back on the rack. She’d already found her dress, a long, flowing pale pink strapless dress that looked amazing with her dirty blond tresses and tan skin. She was a picture of beauty, but we still couldn’t find anything for me.
“Maybe we could try another-” I started to suggest, but was cut off by the sight of the beautiful dark purple gown in Ambers hands. The bodice was beaded with black sequins and silver beading. The front was strapless with a corset bodice and it had a low swooping back. I grabbed it from her and ran into the dressing rooms, ripping of my shirt and jeans before slipping the cool satin over my skin. The skirt flowed down to floor and rippled slightly when I moved.
Amber called anxiously from the outside and I stepped out and into the semi circle of mirrors outside the dressing rooms. The dress fit me perfectly, hugging me in all the right places and the corset was tied together with black ribbons. I twirled around and watched the skirt flow out around me.
While I was admiring the dress, Aaron had entered unseen. He reached out and touched the middle of my back. A shiver of energy ran down my spine. I felt goose bumps rise on my bare back and neck.
“When did you get that?” Amber and Aaron asked at the same time, both referring to the wings on my back. I’d forgotten all about my new tattoo.
“Oh, a couple months ago. I guess I forgot to tell you,” I said lamely. Amber looked slightly surprised, but resigned, like she’d expected to see it eventually. Aaron’s reaction was strange though, he looked panicked, as if he’d seen a ghost. Mumbling something about french fries, he wandered away.
I changed back into my regular clothes and put the dress back onto the hanger, walking out of the dressing room mechanically. Why would Aaron react like that? The only reason’s I could come up with were too disturbing to consider, so I pushed it to the back of my mind. Amber and I went to pick out our shoes, which brought me out of my stupor.
We payed for our items and headed outside to find Aaron. He was picking at some fries in a booth near the corner. Before we got there, Amber pulled me aside.
“So since it’s a teachers work day tomorrow, and we were gonna sleep over at your house tonight, can you please please please let Aaron come too?” she begged, knowing I couldn’t resist her puppy dog face, along with the fact that I was still on my new shoe high. I sighed heavily and nodded slightly, causing Amber to hug me and rush over to tell Aaron. He looked surprised, then pleased beyond measure, before deciding on indifference.
I sipped my water and texted Amber, telling her I was going to get the car and would meet her out front. She nodded across the room and continued to babble happily to Aaron. I looked back at them one more time, wondering idly how the night would unfold. Let me tell you, I couldn’t have guessed right to save my life.