Short Story

The Mystery of Ivy Nimiki

Chapter 11 of EYES OF LIGHTNING told from Gabe’s POV

(no major spoilers if you haven’t read EOL)

Copyright © 2013 by Erin Keyser Horn

 

The boys’ locker room of Galena High School is never an enjoyable place, even on a good day. Today is not a good day—too many mysteries unsolved. Oddly, the answers to all my questions are not inside my gym locker. But I’ll keep staring into its depths, just in case they materialize.

Dan elbows me. “Gabe, what’s wrong with you?”

Nothing. Everything. Walter. Ivy.

“Did you lose your deodorant?” Dan continues. “And no, you can’t borrow mine.”

It’s comforting to receive so much sympathy from my best friend. I consider crawling into my locker. It would be a tight squeeze, but worth it to disappear for the rest of the day. Better to disappear than ask Dan one of the questions on my mind.

But I can’t help myself. In a low voice, so no one else in the locker room can hear us, I say, “What exactly is your problem with Ivy Nimiki?”

Dan suddenly has trouble pulling on his gym shirt. He yanks it down in irritation, and his carefully spiked black hair gets flattened. “So that’s why you’re moodier than Cassandra today. I guess Cal isn’t the only one wrapped around Nimiki’s pinkie.”

This garbage is typical of Dan, so I’m not sure why it bothers me now. “Trust me, you hold the market on moody. Just tell me what she did to you.”

He’s tying his shoes with such ferocity I’m surprised the laces don’t snap. Finally he stands, looking down at me from that height he’s so proud of. “Tell no one.”

As if I’ve ever told anyone his secrets. “I won’t.”

His eyes dart around the room. The closest guys are bragging and boisterous and braying. No one is paying attention to us.

Dan leans even closer and hisses, “She looks like her.”

I step back, studying his face. “Who looks like who?”

This is the last conversation he wants to have, judging by how he gazes at his locker like it’s a tempting escape hole—I know the feeling. His lips barely move when he mutters, “Ivy looks like her.”

That bitter inflection is the only clue I need. No one else in the galaxy would know whom he’s referring to, but I do. I open my mouth to say it isn’t Ivy’s fault she looks like her, but then I snap my teeth shut. If Dan were thinking logically, he’d already know this. But he thinks dramatically, artistically, hypothetically . . . never logically. And nothing I say will make any difference. It never does.

The locker room door swings open, and our friend Cal trudges through it. He looks like this is the day the music died. He doesn’t even glance our way as he goes through the motions of opening his locker.

“Evil Ivy strikes again,” Dan says under his breath.

Of course Ivy isn’t evil, but I know of no one else with the power to put Cal into such gloom. It’s just another mystery to add to the growing list.

My day goes from annoying to epic failure when Ivy is pitted against Dan in hockey. I’ve never seen a more absurd pairing of team captains in my life. Ivy, with her gym uniform two sizes too big and her stick a lifeline in her small hands. Dan, towering over her with obvious malevolence, imagining someone else in her place—someone he’d very much like revenge on. They glare at each other with loathing, and I don’t understand why it eats me up inside.

Perhaps I could knock myself out with my own hockey stick. If I collapse on the floor in a puddle of blood, that might stop the game and prevent any further transgressions on my part. As it is, I’m batting zero in a million.

I think about Saturday, my first strikeout, when I saw Ivy’s eyes for the first time. I probably looked like an idiot, standing there gawking at her. It sounds cliché, like some cheesy romance where the guy is gazing into the girl’s eyes. I hate that googly-eyes crap. But with Ivy it’s different. I swear that no other girl in the world has eyes the same spine-melting yellow as hers. I wasn’t able to stop staring . . . until my twin brothers snapped me out of my stupor. Then I was so disgusted with myself that I dragged the twins outside without looking back.

Now I wish I’d taken a second look. Since then she’s been wearing tinted glasses, completely masking her golden irises. This morning I overheard her saying that her eyes are sensitive to light. I shouldn’t feel this disappointed about a girl’s eyes, especially when the girl is Walter’s granddaughter.

Walter. The one thing he asked me to do—watch over Ivy—and I can’t make it through one day without messing up. He trusted me, as if I were a friend and not just a neighbor, and this is how I show myself worthy of his trust. Right now he’s lying in a coma—

Shut up. Just stop thinking.

But I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop thinking about Walter, or about Ivy—his mysterious granddaughter I know nothing about. Where has she been all this time? Why did Walter never mention her? Why is she ignoring me?

I groan inwardly, ashamed of my stupid thoughts. I better get my head back in the game. I knock Dan out of the way and take a turn against Ivy. She’s fast, faster than I expected. She’s almost past me. I swipe at the puck, stopping short before I can hit her feet. She steals the puck out of my reach, dancing away with a distracting grace. Her long brown hair swings near me, and I smell something sweet—like fresh bread, or maybe pancakes.

And then she’s gone, and I’m left standing there like an idiot. I hear Dan’s mumbled curse aimed my way before he chases after her.

The blue team is pulverizing us, but I could care less. All I care about are the taunts getting launched at Ivy. Cassandra’s turned the whole red team against Ivy as they do their best to break her offense. But she appears to be unbreakable. I am the one breaking. Solid and impassive on the outside, a thousand fissures on the inside. Each word, each push, each attack is a new crack under my skin.

Then I see Ivy charging the net. I see Cassandra’s foot—stretching, reaching. I try to move, try to shout a warning. But I’m never as fast as I want to be.

Ivy trips on the foot and soars forward. People scatter—objects fly through the air. She lands hard and slides to a stop. So does my heart. I imagine her joining Walter in the hospital with a broken bone.

A millisecond of silence, then chaos erupts. I shove my way through the crowd, perfectly willing to trample someone if necessary.

The first thing I notice is Cal kneeling in front of Ivy. I feel a crazy pinch of jealousy that he got to her before I did. I swipe away the emotion with a scowl.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find your glasses,” Cal says. Then he’s up and moving away, scanning the ground. I wonder why this mission is so imperative.

Coach appears at my side and says, “Ivy, are you all right?”

That’s when I see a smear of blood on the floor. No, she’s not all right.

But she’s nodding. “I just . . . need my glasses,” she mutters.

I go to her, unable to stay away any longer. “Cal’s searching for them,” I say, trying to sound reassuring.

Apparently I’m not reassuring at all, because she jumps. Crap. “It’s okay.” Am I convincing her or myself? I notice Coach hovering over us and say, “The first aid kit and a towel?”

“I’ll get them.” He jogs toward his office.

“What’s going on?” Ivy says.

“You’re bleeding a little. The school doesn’t have a fulltime nurse, but I know more about first aid than Coach does. I can help you.”

She visibly pales, which is probably a good indication of how much she trusts me to help her.

“They’re just scrapes,” she says, slowly sitting up. The gawkers around us gasp, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from doing the same. It’s worse than I’d expected. The tops of her legs and the undersides of her arms are angry-red and dotted with blood.

“Scrapes that could get infected unless cleaned,” I say, hoping my voice is calmer than my mind, which is careening to remember the proper first aid treatment.

Coach returns, huffing, and hands me the kit and towel. “Here you go. Do you need any help?”

“No, but I need to rinse the burns. Can I take her to the locker room?”

“Sure. I’ll keep the rest of the class occupied.” He turns and raises his voice. “Listen up, people. To the weight room.”

The class is like a herd of zombies, groaning and shuffling away. “Not you, Cassandra,” Coach snaps. “You’re going to the office.”

I look up from Ivy’s scrapes to see Cassandra’s reaction. Her face contorts with rage. I’m glad Ivy can’t see the scathing glare Cassandra shoots her before flouncing out of the gym.

“What happened to Cassandra?” Ivy asks.

“She deliberately tripped you. Everyone saw it, including Coach. I hope he gives her a detention.” I swallow my anger. If Ivy doesn’t feel like blaming Cassandra, then I shouldn’t either. I need to focus on helping her, so I ask how much the scrapes hurt.

“Not much.”

I don’t know her well enough to determine if she’s lying. “We need to get to the girls’ locker room. Can you walk?”

“Is this your sneaky way of spying on our locker room?”

This surprises a smile out of me. “I can take you to the boys’ locker room if you prefer.”

Her lips twitch. Then she stands, and all traces of amusement disappear. She looks down at her legs and starts to tilt, as if her world has been knocked off its axis.

“Easy.” I lunge for her, wrapping my arm around her waist before she can hit the ground for a second time today. I wince as I accidentally bang the first aid kit against her hip. Trying to get a better grip, I lift her hand and duck under her arm. Now I’m supporting her weight, her left arm around my neck, her hand secure in mine.

Across the gym I notice Cal has stopped to stare at us. Every line of his body is rigid with conflict and concern, and I know he wants to be here, helping Ivy. But he also promised to find her glasses. I give him a small nod, trying to reassure him that I’ll take care of her. The best thing about Cal—he somehow always understands. He nods and returns to his search.

I begin walking to the locker room, carefully pulling Ivy along with me. She must faint at the sight of blood; it’s the only explanation for her woozy state. This complicates matters, and I try to think of how to treat the scrapes without making her pass out in the process. But I’m distracted by her hair, which is inches from my nose. She definitely smells like pancakes—I detect a hint of syrup.

Then we enter the girls’ locker room, and the cloud of perfume overwhelms all else. “This room smells like perfume. So unfair.”

“Unfair that boys don’t wear perfume?” she says, sounding groggy.

“Unfair that our locker room smells like B.O.” I steer her toward the showers.

“Wait . . . what are you doing?”

“Rinsing your scrapes.”

“I bet that’s what you tell all the girls.”

Is that a joke? The moment for my comeback passes as I fail to recover from shock.

“I’m not getting in the shower with you,” she says, her grogginess suddenly gone. She jerks out of my grip and sits heavily on a bench.

Okay, that sounded a lot like an insult. I roll my eyes and pretend not to be offended. “Keep your clothes on. Though I’d recommend taking off your socks and shoes so they don’t get wet.”

I put the first aid kit and towel on the bench, then peel off my socks and shoes. Ivy sits without moving, her downcast eyes staring at my feet. Do they smell that bad? I wouldn’t think any odor could penetrate the floral smog in this room.

She leans down, but she can’t reach her shoes without touching the burns on her legs. When I see her cringe, I say, “Wait.” I kneel in front of her and carefully remove her shoes and socks. Somehow this is way more intimate than I thought it would be, and I regret invading her personal space. If she doesn’t want to be in the shower with me, then obviously she doesn’t want me undressing her, even if it is just her feet. I don’t look at her face, dreading the disgust I’d see there.

I stand and hurry to turn on one of the showerheads. Since we’re dealing with burns, the water has to be cold. I focus on getting the temperature just right while worrying about how exactly to help Ivy without crossing more of the lines between us.

Leaving the water on, I go to her. My arms support her as she stands. That’s when I notice the first problem—her shorts are too long, covering her scrapes. I tell her so, and she sits back down to roll up the bottoms of the shorts. I force myself to look at the bloody scrapes and not at the smooth white of her thighs. Which turns out to be a lot more difficult than it should be.

I move Ivy a little too quickly into the shower and under the spray of water. She flinches and squeezes her eyes shut. One of her hands splays against the tiled wall, and the other attempts to rip my arm out of its socket. I swallow a grunt of pain. How can someone so tiny be so strong? But I don’t disengage her hand from my shoulder.

When her grip finally loosens, I’m relieved for both our sakes. “Sorry,” she says.

“I’m fine,” I say quickly, not wanting to sound like a wimp when she hasn’t complained once about her pain. “Ready to rinse your arms?”

“Um, no.” She examines her red arms before I can stop her. There’s not much blood, but it’s still too much for her. She sways again—her knees buckle.

Without thinking, I jump forward and wrap my arms around her. It’s like trying to hold onto Jell-O. “It’s better to get it over with,” I say, regretting the pain I’m about to cause her. I shift her weight, careful to keep my hands in appropriate places, bringing her back against my chest. Then I slide my arms under her armpits to keep her from falling. I gently grip her wrists and lean forward, stretching her arms toward the water.

The spray pelts her skin and she hisses in pain. She convulses against me—then goes still. Too still. A moment later she sags even more, becoming dead weight in my arms. She’s fainted.

I shouldn’t be this worried about a girl I hardly know. Yet the way my hands shake has nothing to do with her weight and everything to do with the way my heart is pounding too fast. It’s a race of my mind, not my body, as I tear apart my knowledge of fainting and count the seconds she’s been out.

Finally I can’t stand waiting any longer. I want to pick her up, but it’s too likely I’d rub one of her scrapes. So I pull her out of the shower, her heels dragging on the floor. She stirs in my arms, and I say a silent prayer of thanks. I force my shaking hands still so I don’t scare her. Slowly I set her on the bench and push her head down between her knees.

“I’m sorry,” she groans.

Why is she apologizing for something she can’t control? I grab the towel, drying my arms and then carefully patting dry hers. “It’s not a big deal. Lots of people faint at the sight of blood.”

When she doesn’t respond, I wonder if it was the wrong thing to say. But I don’t know how to make it better. Cal’s always teasing me about not knowing how to talk to girls. Guess he was right.

First aid is the only thing I’m certain of. Usually it’s exhausting to be the responsible one all the time. Around my brothers I feel like a nanny, which is not how I want to feel. But now I’m truly thankful for my first aid knowledge if it means I can help Ivy.

Though I should’ve prevented the injury in the first place.

I search through the first-aid kit until I find a packet of aloe vera. I rip it open and squeeze some gel onto my fingers.

Ivy’s left arm is closest to me, so I take her wrist and lift it to expose the red underside. I smooth the gel onto the scrapes as gently as I can. She sighs, and I can actually see some of the tension melt from her body. As I explain to her about the aloe vera and how she shouldn’t change into her jeans, I finish her left arm and scoot over to the right. Her arm is slender, and my fingers easily encircle her wrist. She seems almost fragile.

I glance at her legs to gauge how much more aloe I’ll need, and that’s when I notice it. “You have red welts on your ankles. They’re not from the fall, so they must be from Dan’s hockey stick. I’m going to kill him.”

“Don’t kill him. Kicking his butt was the most fun I’ve had all day. I look forward to doing it again in the near future.”

I stop moving, stunned for a moment. Okay, this girl is the farthest thing from fragile. And she really did kick Dan’s butt in hockey. I can’t hold back a laugh, even though Dan would kill me if he knew I was laughing about him with Ivy.

“Why does Dan hate me so much?” she asks, her light tone belying the heavy words.

My laugh cuts off in what has to be the most obvious giveaway ever. So she knows how Dan feels—how could she not? He hasn’t exactly been subtle about it. “I don’t know,” I say, mad at myself for lying to her, and mad at Dan for putting me in this position.

Suddenly the locker room door opens. “You two decent?” Cal says.

And now I’m inexplicably mad at Cal for interrupting. What is wrong with me?

“Come in,” Ivy calls.

“It smells good in here.”

“I know, right?” I say, shoving my stupid anger aside.

“Ivy, I found your glasses,” Cal says. “Sorry it took so long—they slid under the bleachers.

You’re lucky they didn’t break.”

“Thank you for finding them.”

“You’re welcome.”

I finish Ivy’s right arm as Cal sits on her left. Slowly she straightens up, so I’m guessing she’s ready for aloe on her legs. But with Cal here, I’m feeling all kinds of awkward. I hold Ivy’s shin— more to steady myself than her—and spread aloe from her knee to mid-thigh.

Don’t be a lecher, don’t be a lecher. . . .

“Don’t my eyes bother you?” Ivy says.

I glance up in surprise as if she’s talking to me, but of course she’s talking to Cal. He has that look he gets when Dan tells an inappropriate joke. “Of course not. They’re incredible.”

How do words like that spill so easily off Cal’s tongue, but not at all off mine? I want to be the one who said it. Ivy’s gazing at Cal as if she’s never heard a compliment before. I frown in confusion.

She probably gets that reaction from guys all the time, so why is this time different? And why does she need the tinted glasses?

Then she turns, and our eyes get locked without a key. I forget Cal, forget the words I wanted to say, forget the whole universe. I’m floating in space with her as my sun, and I’m melting in the best possible way.

But I hate losing control of my words, my mind, my body. So I grab at the first anchor line I can find and try to pull myself back to reality. “Your eyes aren’t sensitive to light, are they?”

It was the wrong thing to say. Again. I can’t puzzle out her expression, but I know it’s not happy. She slides the tinted glasses on her face, burying the gold.

“Thank you for your help, but I need you both to leave now.” Her voice is quiet, but I somehow know there will be no arguing with it.

I’m frozen, searching for the words to fix this. But then Cal stands. If he doesn’t have the magic words, there’s no chance I will. I set the aloe packet on the bench and follow Cal out of the locker room. When the door shuts behind us and we’re back in the gym, Cal says, “That went well.”

I don’t know if he’s talking about my blunder or him losing another chance with her. Either way, I’ve never felt this much annoyance toward him. Cal is the best of our group—the nicest, kindest, friendliest. He’s like the Johnny freaking Appleseed of peace and love. To be aggravated with Cal has to be a sin of great proportions.

I need to forget my stupid feelings and let Cal have his chance with Ivy. I need to listen to Walter and just watch out for her, nothing else.

But there is so much more I need. Instinctively I know that within Ivy is everything I’ve been searching for—all the mysteries, all the answers, all the truths I need. Even if Walter hadn’t asked me to, I would still want to protect her. The second I looked into her eyes, I belonged to her.

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