The House That Ivy Built - Book 4

Excerpt 2

(from The House That Ivy Built #4, © 1997-2024)

Excerpt 1
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[NOTE on this excerpt: Ivy's coming to see Nina after a very long absence. She has never seen Nina's new baby brother, Erik. Nina's father, Carl, never approved of Nina's friendship with Ivy and her presence makes him nervous; for the last three books he's disapproved of everything Nina does that has to do with Ivy or her house, but has never strictly forbidden their friendship.]

Book 4, Chapter 18, Begin excerpt

       I opened the screen door so I could knock on the wooden one behind it. I wished there was a bell on this door, but there wasn’t, so I had to make do with hurting my knuckles. I waited for a moment, then knocked again. Nobody came.

       Glancing at the driveway, I saw that Mrs. Fairchild’s car was there. She had to be home; Carl had their other car.

       I went around the house and peeped in the kitchen window, looking for signs of life. No one was cooking dinner or anything. I was just going to scream if this house was deserted too. I located the window lock with my eyes and made the window open up. The air-conditioning splashed me from inside through the screen.

       “Hello? Anybody home?” I called. I could hear something from inside that sounded a bit like voices, so I shut the window again and went back around to the door. In just a moment my ears picked up footsteps, and then the door was flung open by Nina.

       “I thought that was you, Ivy!” she drawled, grabbing my hand and tugging until I stepped into the house. Then she wrapped her arms around my middle and squeezed until it hurt.

       “Hello, Nina,” I managed to reply. I picked her up after she was done hugging me, sitting her easily on my hip. She laughed.

       “Mama says I’m too big to be doin’ this kinda thing anymore,” she said.

       “What kind of thing?”

       “Bein’ picked up and carried around by grown-ups. Now she’s got the baby to be carryin’ around so she’d rather carry him, he’s lighter.” Nina grinned. “Come on, you gotta come see ’im . . . he’s soooo cute, you hafta ask Mama if she’ll let ya hold ’im!” Nina flicked her head in the direction of the living room, narrowly missing my face with her long brown ponytail.

       “I’d love to see him . . . ” I said.

       “Well, come on then.”

       I provided the ride to the den and paused in the doorway, holding Nina.

       “Mama, look who’s here!” she exclaimed. Francis, sitting on the couch, looked up at us. Her face softened into her buttery smile when she saw me.

       “Welcome back, Ivy,” she said softly. “I don’t believe you’ve met Erik. Why don’t you come on over here and I’ll introduce you?”

       The baby sat in a lump on Francis’s lap, leaning against her chest. She grabbed one of his pudgy fists and waved it at me as if he was saying hi.

       I came over to the couch and sat down beside Francis, putting Nina beside me on the next cushion. Francis plopped Erik into my lap, and I wasn’t sure what to do with him. I tried just putting my hands under his arms to hold him up, afraid if I let go he’d fall off. Francis laughed.

       “Never held a baby before, have ya?”

       “Not one this young,” I replied. He looked so small and fragile. It was funny to think he was actually a person.

       “Here, lemme see if I can make you a li’l more comfortable. . . . ”

       Francis rearranged the baby familiarly, leaning him against my chest. I didn’t know what to do with my hands so I just put them on the baby’s stomach like a seat belt. That felt comfortable, so I stayed put.

       “So ya like ’im?” Nina chirped.

       “Yeah, he’s cute . . . ” I said. “He’s sleeping, right?”

       “He’ll wake up soon,” Francis assured me.

       “I like his hands best,” said Nina. She grabbed one of his little fists and spread it apart into five miniature fingers. His nails were so small it amazed me. “And lookit his little toes!” Nina touched the baby’s foot, and his toes tried to curl around her finger like a little monkey. She showed me all her favorite parts of her new brother while Francis looked on, smiling with pride.

       I felt a little out of place, but I tried to relax even though there was a potato sack of a kid sitting on my lap.

       “Erik likes it when I sing to him,” Nina bragged. I wondered how she could tell if he liked anything she did. “I’m in the chorus now, I sing my songs for him all the time.”

       “You’re in chorus? Do you like it?” I had been in chorus when I’d been in school.

       “Oh, yeah, I love it.”

       “Tell me about how you’ve been doing in school,” I suggested.

       Nina erupted into a stream of excited, Southern-accented chatter, telling me among other things that she’d finally been selected as student of the month for her grade. It was something she’d been hoping for for a long time. She’d also had her mother bring Erik in to show her class. I liked listening to her talk.

       “So what have you been up to, Ivy?” asked Francis when Nina was done with her spiel.

       “Actually, you know what? I won a million dollars.”

       Francis and Nina stared at me. I explained the rest of the story, talking for nearly half an hour. The baby’s weight made my legs go to sleep somewhere in there, so I lifted him up over my shoulder. He woke up and started squirming around, so I put him back on my lap so I could see what he was like awake. As I explained what I’d been doing, from the idea for Ruben’s business to meeting Max, I watched the baby. His eyes were big and blue, and he was very free with his hands. He got his fingers wrapped around my braids more than once during the conversation. I wondered if that was why Francis had short hair. For a tiny kid his grip was incredibly strong. I had to loosen his fists with my energy to keep from tearing the strands. Still, he was cute. I liked him.

       Just as I finished my story and we were beginning to talk about other things, I heard the door slam in the kitchen. The heavy sound of the shoes on the linoleum told me it wasn’t Nina’s brother Jeremy arriving. I stiffened.

       I expected Nina to run and greet her father like she had the day I’d met her, but she didn’t. She stayed seated next to me on the couch, her head leaning on my shoulder and her hand stroking the baby’s sparse hair. It was as if she hadn’t even noticed her dad was home.

       Soon Carl was in the den doorway looking at us. I didn’t want to see the expression on his face so I didn’t meet his eyes.

       “Hi, hon, how was your day?” asked Francis. She got up from the couch and went to her husband, giving him a quick peck on the lips.

       “I brought dinner home,” said Carl flatly. “I didn’t know we were havin’ any guests, so I only brought enough for three.”

       I looked up at Carl. “That’s okay, I wasn’t planning on staying . . . I have somewhere to be.” I stood up with the baby and went over to Francis. When I tried to pass him over to her he clung to my shirt. Nina laughed from the couch.

       “Erik really likes Ivy,” she said.

       “Well, I really like Erik.” I shook his little hand like he could understand what it meant. “It was nice to finally meet you,” I said in a babyish voice. Francis laughed, but Carl did not seem amused. “Thanks for the visit, you guys . . . and it was nice to see you too, Mr. Fairchild.” He caught the sarcastic edge in my voice and scowled, but he didn’t say anything. He was afraid of me; he only said bad things about me behind my back.

       Not wanting to say I’d visit again soon in front of Carl, I left it at that and escaped.

       I walked out onto the Fairchilds’ lawn, not wanting to fly away just yet. I turned around and looked at the house, thinking about how weird the visit had been. I hadn’t really done anything but sit around with a baby on my lap, talking to Nina and her mother. It had been nice, but nothing like it had used to be. I wished I had remembered to tell Nina to talk to Adele about coming to my little dinner party. I figured Adele would get the message to her sooner or later. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too late to get her to the party.

       I shuffled out onto the street, thinking if I started to fly now my feet would go back to sleep. I needed to wake them up a bit first. As I walked down Nina’s street, I thought some more. I’d caught up on events with Nina, but I didn’t really feel like we’d had a visit. It hadn’t been an interactive conversation, and we also hadn’t really been doing anything. Even though I’d just left, a part of me already wanted more time with her. Another part of me was screaming to get out of here. I felt so strange and sort of dead, and I wanted to feel more alive. If I went back home now and the house was empty, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. I wanted conversation, or loud music, or something that would take the silence out of my mind and the stillness out of my heart.

       Where else could I go, though? It was too late to go to Shelly’s manicure parlor to talk to her, and she was really the only friend I had around town . . . besides Bill. I thought about Bill, my old basketball partner. I didn’t know where he lived; we’d gone to his house once, but I couldn’t remember where it was, mostly because we’d walked there and I had trouble remembering places I hadn’t navigated to from the sky.

       I lifted off the ground and headed for Nina’s elementary school playground. When I got there, I touched down on top of Nina’s squat little elementary school as I’d been told not to by the principal so many times. I lay down on the hard roof and looked up at the sky, which was just now darkening. It was a hazy blue color with no clouds. I blinked at it and thought about the past: About meeting Nina here and how it all started. I hadn’t known how to act like a human then, or how I should treat humans. This was really like my elementary school, too, the place where I’d really learned what the outside world was like. I sat up and looked at the unchanged playground. Same trees, same kickball field, same equipment . . . the only thing that was different was that the kids weren’t here. But I was.

       I went over to my old tree where I used to wait for Nina. I looked at the reddish sand: It seemed unearthly in the fading light, like Martian soil. Still sitting among the branches of the familiar, comfortable tree, I began to build another castle.

       This sandcastle was bigger than the one I’d built the last time. I built it so fast that it almost seemed to grow out of the ground. I evened its corners, built its turrets, carved its windows, and finally I flew over to it and tested its strength. The sticky North Carolina clay held together well, and I sat on top of it, looking out over the playground. My castle wasn’t quite as high as the school, but it was a close second. Even though it was just a sandcastle, I felt proud of it, almost like it was a work of art.

       I stood up on my sandcastle and looked around at everything again. The light kept fading, turning the playground little by little into something I’d never seen before. Even though I knew where every tree and piece of equipment was, it seemed totally different in the dark. I marveled at the effect my visual sense had on my thoughts. The playground seemed more and more like an enchanted place, full of so many beginnings that were starting to fizzle away into nothing.

       A summery wind blew across my hair as I stood on the sandcastle, and I decided that now it was definitely dark, no longer dusk. I looked down at the ground below me, so close, and suddenly I just jumped, preparing to belly flop onto the sand. Of course I caught myself, a few centimeters from impact, but my braids continued what my body had started, smacking the dirt like eighteen little whips. I looked at the earth in front of my eyes, so close I could smell it, and at my braids with their golden ends curled into the ground like little tree roots. I felt funny just hanging there over the ground. I shook my braids onto my back and flew to the swing set.

       The first time I had ever seen Bailey, she had been on a swing set a lot like this one. I sat down on a swing and my long legs put me much too close to the ground to swing without dragging my feet. I contented myself with just sitting, thinking about Bailey now instead of Nina.

       I remembered the sight of her on the swings; she had been laughing merrily as she swung back and forth in the middle of a rainstorm. Bailey had once told me she liked storms. I remembered searching for her in New York, finding her in the rain only to lose her again, finding her the next day. I had felt so close to her then, like I had found a sister. Now I didn’t feel like I had any real family ties. Coming home after such a long time was just not turning out how I’d imagined it. I wondered if I shouldn’t have come; if it was better to leave the past behind. Then I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to visit . . . then maybe I wouldn’t feel like this. I felt like I should cry or express some kind of emotion, but I didn’t feel any tears rising in me. I just felt calm and sad, and strangely helpless. I had a sudden sense of how small I was, just a realization of insignificance. I was alone in a city where I wasn’t welcome anywhere, a place where a lot of the people who knew me were scared of me because of my past behavior.

       I wanted to get out of here, but I wasn’t sure “here” was a physical place. I thought it was more of a state of mind, and if it was, it was going to follow me if I flew away.

       The big bluish dome above me seemed to be beckoning me somehow, so I didn’t resist its call. I went straight out of the swing into the sky, and the wind welcomed me dryly. I felt like I was in an air-desert, dehydrated and just as isolated. In such a big world where I knew millions of people were living and breathing around me, I had no place to go. I supposed this was what I got for lying to Carl and telling him that I had somewhere to be.

       I needed something emotional to happen right then. I needed to feel an emotion that would make it onto my face; I felt like a stone. I climbed higher in the sky, realizing it was my typical course of action when I felt I had to get away. Parking at a comfortable altitude, I started spinning a wind.

       The wind was as dry as paper and about as emotional as a blank sheet. I closed my eyes and tried to pour what I was feeling out into the air, but nothing really came. I was moving the air, but nothing was lighting up. My lack of emotion made me shiver. I felt thirsty.

       I left the playground behind. Going back across the town, now lit up with streetlights, I searched for something to make my heart beat. I was flying at a safe height, unidentifiable and almost invisible to the ground folk. I decided I felt too separate at this altitude, and I went much lower. I dipped until I was just above the humming power lines of the city. If anyone were to look up and see me, they would definitely be able to tell I was a flying girl. That was dangerous. It was delicious. I shivered again, but this time I smiled.

       I looked at Ridgefield from this bizarre height, where I could read all the road signs and shop advertisements. I could see the cars very well and usually the people inside. I found myself hoping people would see me for some reason. I’d never wanted that before, and I didn’t know why I wanted it now. I also found that it was fun to get such a close-up look at the city without having to be down inside it.

       I grew bored of sightseeing quickly. I felt like causing a commotion, catching some action. But I wasn’t feeling imaginative . . . what could I do to amuse myself and get rid of my antsy feeling? I couldn’t stand it; I was discontent without any way to put my finger on it. I realized I had an overpowering urge to go home.

       The pool wasn’t far away, and I was there in a matter of minutes. I went through the lake’s gate and when I came up in the ground floor even Adele wasn’t there. She must have just left it open and gone to do something else.

       I slammed the trapdoor open and floated up into the entranceway of the house, then right out the front door. The ocean, now more black than blue, was waiting. I picked a nice spot far offshore and began to formulate a wind there. I drew some of the water up into my funnel of air, and that, of all things, added the element that had been missing when I’d tried to make a wind earlier. The ocean’s water somehow quenched my “thirst.”

       All of my emotions finally bled into the air around me, and I felt like I’d released a dam. My breezes tossed my braids in every direction and yanked at my clothes, and something gave way inside me the way it hadn’t for so long. It was that second level of energy I’d discovered back when I was in school; it amplified every small motion I made so that gentle breezes became powerful gusts and moderate gales became hurricane strength. I usually regretted stumbling into this level since it made my energy difficult to control for a while afterwards, but at the moment the repercussions were not something I was thinking about. I funneled the ocean and the air through my mind into a splashing spiral all around me. I felt the old sorrow of being the only one who could appreciate this art form; the sadness bubbled up in me again, changing the colors in my head. Other anxieties and disappointments found their way out too, painting the screen on my eyelids dark blue and green. Then my anger began to flash out in yellows and reds, the wind around me churning the water as if it was trying to make butter out of the sea. Finally even the happiness came out, whitewashing parts of my screen and bringing in some pink paint. I realized that even with all the unpleasantness and strangeness I’d endured since I’d come home today, I was still glad to be here. I was back over my ocean, in my sky, over my beach and the house I’d built. The place was still the same, even if the people had changed.

       My wind piece grew smaller and began to dim inside me as I calmed down. My neurons were still racing with the extra energy that came with this second level, but I could tame it if I felt like it. Right now I liked the feeling. It hadn’t happened in too long. If I’d tried to do something like this in the middle of the night over the community pool in L.A., someone surely would have seen me and had a heart attack. At least here, anyone who looked at me would know who I was and that it was best to leave me alone.

       Finally my wind went out like a candle; the ocean bits I’d collected returned to their humdrum lives. I rested in the air with my eyes closed, just breathing the sea air and feeling my blood race through my body.

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