Two sets of spiritually identical irises met through a window meant for watching and over snow meant for crunching. One pair pale green, like a field of healthy wheat. The other, the specific shade of rich, moist soil. Across the void, a pulse of lightning moved. Familiar, and yet poisoned light. The electricity too strong for any eye to hold on to, the collision of gazes became its own collapse.
The owner of the dirt-like eyes shattered the connection first. Her name was Ivy Grainsman, and that look was her primary reason for not wanting to be here in the first place. Here, exactly, was a cottage in… well, in the middle of nowhere, in the very sense of the phrase. For miles surrounding the wooden cabin, there was nothing to see but woods. Good thing, or else the lightning could’ve been a present danger to the surrounding area. Luckily, those few people surrounding Ivy and Grandin, the grassy-eyed man, had spent the last month learning how to survive the strike.
Unbeknownst to Daisy, Ivy’s extravagantly highlighted-haired friend, Ivy knew well enough that her friend hadn't missed a moment of the calamity known as Ivy and Grandin’s demise. Though Sammy and Angie missed the occasional ragged dying breath, the group had been to the Lofelin Cottage enough winters to learn the ways of Ivy and Grandin’s fairy-tale romance. No one had been surprised when they had first gotten together three cabin trips ago.
Ivy’s eyes, darting away, landed on a painting hung next to her before she had the thought to stop them. It depicted a rustically designed cottage, not unlike their own vacation home, with ivy crawling over the acorn-coloured walls. But that’s not what Ivy saw. In her eyes, the frame engulfed a reel of scenes from her most recently deteriorated relationship. The birthday when Grandin gifted the painting to her. Their first kiss in the very next room. The dozen times he’d fallen on her while skating. Her eyes crinkled, squinting into the kelly leaves. Trying to find something. She wasn’t sure what.
“You’re not thinking of throwing it away, are you?”
“Hmm?” Ivy averted her eyes to Daisy, who was looking up from her phone on the couch.
“Don’t get rid of it, Ivy. You’ll want it someday,” she sighed.
Right then and there, the idea sounded appealing. Ivy peered out the window again. Out on the pond, Grandin’s butt hit the ice as Angie gracefully left him in her dust. Grandin let out a yelp and she threw her head back laughing. Ivy reminded herself to pay less attention to Grandin’s butt. “You don’t know that.”
Daisy chuckled. “Of course I do.”
Ivy knew Daisy was right, but that didn’t stop flames from twinkling and gasping in her head as they climbed over the painting. It bathed in the ashes of the fire pit out in the yard, soaking up the marshmallow scraps and shriveled up pages from late nights past.
Daisy sucked in a breath, pretending to be looking at something on her phone. “You can’t sulk silently forever, you know.”
Ivy scoffed. “I’m not sulking.” Was she?
“What happened between the two of you, anyway?” Daisy dropped her phone. Ivy could sense the cautious gentility in her voice. There was no doubt the rest of the group had put Daisy up to this. That’s not to say she wouldn’t have pushed it on Ivy anyway.
When she didn’t say anything, Daisy continued. “It’s just, one day Angie heard you and Grandin yelling and the next day you guys told us you were broken up. And you haven’t been yourself since.”
Ivy could feel Daisy’s eyes penetrating her soul as she reached up to swing her silver necklace with one tanned and lithe finger.
“I don’t care what happened, Ivy. You know I’m on your side. But I can’t help you unless you let me. I’m worried about you.” Daisy sounded like she was attempting to prevent a voice-activated bomb from going off. Maybe she was. “I’ve known you twenty years and I’ve never seen you like this. Like you’re living in a darker world than the rest of us.”
“You shouldn’t worry about me,” Ivy lied. “I’m fine, I promise.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
Ivy’s gaze whipped to Daisy, and after a moment, a mutual chuckle shattered the ice. Then Ivy turned away, and just caught Grandin’s butt hitting the ice again. After all these years, he really was a horrible skater. She almost smiled. Almost.
A shaky breath escaped her lips as she tried to steady her delicately fluttering soul. “That last day... he started going on about… our future and stuff. He was just saying all these things and how we would get a house soon and we’d have kids and... I didn’t know how to react.” Her fingers tapped her thigh. “What are you supposed to do when that happens? So anyway. I freaked. He made some stupid comment and we yelled. It turned out we saw our futures completely differently. So I left.”
“And that was it?”
“That was it,” Ivy sniffled. Her soul was rotting, her heart breaking in slow motion. She turned her warming cheeks back toward the painting. It was the last thing she wanted to look at, but neither Grandin out the window nor Daisy could be allowed to see the blood in her cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Ivy. You know you two made me want to vomit sometimes but I was always rooting for you.” She paused. “We all were. And we all thought it would be you and Grandin forever.”
Ivy aggressively rubbed away a tear before it could pass the bags in her eyes. She steadied her voice before turning back.
“Yeah, well, me too,” she muttered nonchalantly. Ivy knew Daisy sensed the momentary switch occurring again. She was good at it but it was, unfortunately for her, always obvious.
Daisy watched her with a look of pity. That was rare for her. Usually, she was all thorns rather than roses. Roses simply didn’t suit her face.
Then she stood and swept her best friend into an embrace. Ivy accepted, not-so-secretly grateful. Daisy’s warm breath brushed her ear as she whispered, “Go get your skates.”
“No.” It was an impulse response.
“I wasn’t asking.”
Daisy pulled away and Ivy’s arms were crossed by the time she could see them. Daisy made a beeline for her room.
“Come on,” she commanded in mock impatience. It rang like she was lifting a struggling toddler onto their feet.
Ivy’s friend came out of the room carrying her skates and placed them in front of the couch to start lacing them on. Ivy made a mental note to make sure she didn’t leave any scratches on the wood. Mrs. Lofelin would kill her.
Daisy looked up, mid-lace, to see Ivy standing with still-crossed arms. Her features were twisted with the stubbornness that came from training to be a lawyer.
“Look. I’m glad we were able to convince you to come up here, but that’s not gonna be enough. You have two choices. You can stay alone inside sulking for a week and spend it all wishing you were out there, or you can come outside. This doesn’t have to be goodbye for you and Grandin. You two were friends for four years before you got together. You’ve got another four, at least. But you’ve got zip if you stay in here. Go get your skates, lace them on, and come hang out with your friends. I’m not asking.”
Daisy almost had her. Ivy looked at her with sad, delicate eyes. Distantly, she could hear a piano melody in the back of her head, but she didn’t know where it came from. It was muffled by her mind’s natural layers of defiance.
“If you hate it, you can hit me later.”
It took a different kind of lightning emitted by Daisy’s eyes to convince her. A commanding kind that carried a promise. With a sigh and a dash of for-show exasperation, Ivy trudged to her room and carried her skates out.
In a matter of minutes, Ivy and Daisy were laced and bundled up. When they stepped out into the cold, unforgiving wind, she didn’t hesitate to watch Grandin for a moment, even when he heard the door click and banana-peel-slipped. Ivy only laughed, frail fingertips shivering, and called “Still suck on ice? Never change, Grandin.”
Angie flicked her gaze to Ivy, surprised and delighted, and Sammy let go of where he was tugging her coat. Ivy didn’t let herself look up at Grandin quite yet, but she would. For now, she only felt his faint electric smile beaming in her direction while he struggled to rise from the slippery surface of the ice, mittens already soaked through from the effort.
“It was the wind, dumbass,” Grandin scolded. Ivy choked on a sarcastic laugh that came out like “HA!” It sounded like beginning.
“What, not afraid of falling through the ice, anymore?” Retorted Grandin. That had been Ivy’s excuse for not coming out to skate earlier.
“Oh, shut up, Granny.”
The group laughed. Not to Ivy’s knowledge, Grandin mouthed “thank you” at Daisy. She only rolled her eyes, as if to say “I didn’t do it for you, stupid.”
And Ivy’s skate rose above the ice. In a nanosecond, she surveyed its sky-blue surface and her small, scared reflection arching under her. She sharply inhaled the numbingly chilled air of winter and the scent of pines. She knew this was her home, with the decades-old trees scratching claw marks through the barely pink sky, the pond ice crisscrossed with Angie’s beautifully executed skate marks and Grandin’s mitten smudges, the cabin she had spent every January in since she’d started her life back eighteen.
One small step. Her blade touched the ice and didn’t leave for the next beautiful eternity.