DAISY CHAINS by BLUE COUTELL an episodic novelette
episode eight: the first day
Ivy’s hands are shaking uncontrollably, her adrenaline running through blood like acid. The person walking beside her has a curtain of almost black hair, masking her face from the sight. She hadn’t had much of a chance to see her. She just felt the stranger’s hand on her shoulder; she felt something otherworldly in that touch. It brought her back from the edge. She didn’t know where she was going, she just followed the stranger. A normal girl doesn’t just follow strangers around, but this person felt safe. A kind of safe Ivy had never felt before in her young life. Or maybe ever. Even with Naomi it felt like walking on eggshells. You couldn’t avoid breaking them. You could minimize the damage by being careful, but harm was a requisite. The stranger stops in front of a shop that smells of coffee and pulls the door open, ushering Ivy in. Ivy still had no idea why she was with the stranger, besides the strange almost cosmic reasoning that this was the right thing to do. The stranger approaches the counter and Ivy stands in the doorway, trying to contain the horror of the last twenty-four hours. The stranger orders something but Ivy can’t hear beyond the buzzing in her ears. The stranger waves Ivy over and they sit at a table meant for two. Ivy puts her shaking hands on the table. “I’m Astrid,” the dark-haired girl says. If Ivy had to guess, high-schooler like herself. “I know you’re not okay. You don’t have to say anything at all, if you don’t want to.” Ivy gives her a semblance of a nod. Astrid walks to the counter and picks up a drink. She sets it in front of Ivy, not having a drink herself. “Do you have a name?” Astrid asks, her voice very calm and even. Ivy shakes her head. Astrid looks around, verifying their privacy. “Drink it. It’ll help ground you,” Astrid says inching the cup closer to Ivy. Ivy takes the heated beverage in her hands. She hates coffee, but she takes a sip anyway. It’s not coffee, the sweet syrup of chocolate spreads over her tongue. “Do you have somewhere to go?” Astrid asks her. Ivy’s rose lipstick stains the lip of the cup. “I don’t want to go home,” Ivy says with a quivering lip. She takes another sip. Astrid is a striking person. Her hair is like a raven, her lips full, her eyes an unusual grey. She seemed to be Ivy’s age, give or take. She had a sharp nose, but high cheekbones. “We can sit here for a while,” Astrid assures her, grabbing her hand in a soft bout of comfort. “As long as you need.” “Why were you so close to the edge?” Astrid tries. “Why were you?” Ivy doesn’t mean for it to come out aggressive, but there were the three words in front of them like a bright neon sign. “Is the hot chocolate okay?” Astrid asks instead, completely side stepping the question. Ivy’s hands still shake noticeably. Stained red. “Yes, thank you,” Ivy says looking out of the window into the dark. “What’s your name?” “Ivy.” “What can I do to help you?” “Just talk with me, I’m not ready to go home.” “Sure. I go to Mitchell High School.” “I go to Ripley Prep,” Ivy says with a coat of disdain. Explains why she doesn’t recognize Astrid. “Please, talk about yourself. I need to focus on something else.” “Oh, I’m boring. I read a lot. Good at school and stuff. I don’t have much of a life to speak of.” “Your parents must be proud. Mine wish I’d apply myself. I just don’t have an interest in academia. Books kind of bore me.” Astrid tenses, and Ivy wonders why. “You just haven’t found the right book,” Astrid says to a doubtful, eyebrow arched Ivy. “I promise. I didn’t love looks until I found the The Catcher in the Rye. Now I can’t put them down.” Ivy recalls the The Catcher in the Rye, but she just copied an essay from someone else. She read the first five pages. But she doesn’t tell Astrid that. “Look, you’ve been very nice, and thank you for the hot cocoa, but I think I’m going to go now.” “I’ll go with you. Walk you home, I mean.” It seemed to be more of a demand than an offer. Ivy didn’t want to walk with a ghost, so she led the way out of the shop into the biting cold of the late-night outside air. They mostly walk in silence, but Ivy is glad for it. She thought hearing Astrid talk would somehow could her mind away from Naomi, but it just felt more like blasphemy. Like she was trying to erase her instead. She’d never forget the brown of her skin, the softness of her hair, or the way no matter what, her nail polish was always chipped. Her love of roses began when she met Naomi. She smelled of them. She brought Ivy a rose from her mother’s garden every day. Naomi made Ivy love roses. The walk is silent, but unfortunately for Ivy not long enough. She wanted to be next to this stranger, because this stranger brought her back and came with hot cocoa. This stranger gave her the comfort no one else could possibly provide. She felt an attraction that felt familiar. Astrid felt a lot like Naomi, but mostly just in energy. Otherwise, they couldn’t be more different. Naomi was very free, Astrid very reserved. Astrid reaches in her bag and scribbles on a piece of paper. “Call me. We can book shop this weekend.” Book shop? Ivy took the paper in her hand. That’s when she noticed the hot cocoa cup from the coffee shop in the other. She doesn’t say anything. As she climbs the steps to her home, the tears burn. Naomi shoved her off the cliff, but Astrid was her safety net.