It didn’t take much convincing to get Tristan to invite Ivy over as his guest for his party. As soon as Cassie mentioned that he was allowed a friend over on his birthday his immediate reaction had been to scream out Ivy’s name, followed by a lot of laughter and chatter.
‘Oh Mum, I’m so pleased you’ll be able to meet her!’
I genuinely cannot wait, son, Cassie replied silently. She barely slept the next few nights; she was so excited to finally see her daughter for the first time in so long that she was giddy with anticipation.
After laying eyes on Ivy for the first time, it was all Cassie could do to keep them off her. This was Tristan’s day, after all, it was his birthday and the focus should be on him, not his friend. Not his sister…
Still, as Tristan deliberated on what to wish for on his candles, both Cassie and Matt couldn’t help but steal sideways glances at this teenage girl, stood clapping politely, who had suddenly descended into their midst. She really did look like Cassie had at that age; Cassie had initially thought that she had opened the door to a mirror to the past! Giving Ivy a once over Cassie noted that they were wearing the same pair of black trainers. Her daughter clearly shared her taste!
As Tristan finally made a decision and blew out his candles, Cassie fixed her attention on him. She was sure now that Ivy was her daughter, all she could do now was wait until she could recitfy the situation and bring her home. For now it was Tristan’s time.
His candles extinguished, Cassie could hardly believe the transformation her now-teenage son had undertaken. He suddenly seemed older, wiser, yet his eyes still held a look of innocence. His once boyish scruff of hair now fell in a neat sweep just above the rim of his glasses. Tristan was definitely more of a mixture between his parents, unlike his sister. A rush of pride flowed through Cassie as she gazed at her maturing son, and she hoped she hadn’t been so distracted by Ivy’s presence that it had spoilt his birthday. After this was all sorted out she would be able to explain to him properly.
Ivy had had to leave shortly after they’d all had a slice of cake, mumbling something about having to be back at the home. Cassie’s heart had panged as Ivy inadvertently emphasised ‘the’, knowing that she did not feel she belonged there. Well, of course she doesn’t belong there. She belongs here. With us! Shortly after Ivy had gone back, having profusely thanked Cassie for inviting her in the first place (was it Cassie’s imagination or did she not look her in the eye? Did she perhaps sense the connection Cassie felt, and was confused?), a smart knock at the door signalled Eric’s arrival. Strolling in, his now grey hair shining under the lamp light, Mr. Stanislav handed Tristan’s inappropriately expensive gift of a laptop over to the birthday boy, who yelped in delight and set out doing something called ‘overclocking’ which neither of his parents really understood. Leaving the happy computer whiz to his machine, Eric took Cassie to one side.
‘Now then, my dear,’ he said with a sympathetic expression on his face. ‘My daughter tells me you need some legal aid? Something about your own daughter, is that right?’
Cassie retold the story of Tristan accidentally finding his sister to Eric in hushed tones so that her son didn’t overhear anything. Above anything she did not want to dash his hopes, so Matt and she had decided not to say anything until they knew for certain. Besides, it may have been too much for his young mind to take!
‘Oh, Cassie. Just imagine if it is her! I cannot believe I missed seeing her, too! My meeting overran. Oh, dear!’
‘So would you be able to put me in touch with a lawyer, Mr. Stanislav? I know it’s cheeky to ask, but -‘
‘Oh, be quiet, do not talk like that!’ Mr Stanislav gently chastised her. He hated the thought of Cassie being too proud to ask him for help. ‘I can of course put you in touch with my finest lawyer. I have already made provisions to make things easier, once what you know already is confirmed.’ His aging eyes twinkled.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well! I have been in touch with my contacts at City Hall. I have asked them to collate the records of Ivy so that, when she chooses to access them, they will all be in order. There is only one girl of that name in the care system in the Valley, so I am certain I have the right girl!’
* * *
A few days passed, and Cassie found herself walking past the new park which had just opened in town, Ray of Sunshine. She had just been to see the lawyer Eric had recommended, and her head was too full of legal jargon for her to concentrate. The process was going to long and arduous, no matter how certain she and Matt were that Ivy was their child. There was a hell of a lot of red tape, numerous hoops to jump through, barriers left, right and centre. The lawyer basically admitted that the state did not like giving children back to their parents, fearing that any consequential cases of mental disturbance from the dramatic change in the child’s life would leave them financially responsible for therapy in the future. He had scathingly told Cassie that this had happened once fifty years ago, and the council were not willing to let it happen again.
Rubbing her aching head, Cassie decided to wander into the park. Settling on a bench, she breathed in the fresh air and tried to just not think for a few minutes. She was only vaguely aware of a figure sitting next to her as she scanned the new surroundings. Turning to see if she knew who it was, Cassie nearly had a heart attack.
‘Hey, Mrs. Rivers. I, er, I wanted to say thanks again. For inviting me the other day.’
‘…That’s fine, really. I hope you enjoyed yourself?’
Ivy nodded shyly. ‘Yeah, I did. The cake was delicious, the nicest I’ve ever had!’
‘I’ll agree with you there! I had three more slices that night,’ Cassie laughed, remembering how cross Matt had been when he came home from work the next day to find only a small sliver remaining for his dessert that night. ‘I think Tristan had four!’
Ivy let out a small laugh, but clearly felt a little uncomfortable with the situation. Cassie decided to take the initiative. ‘Erm, I’d like to thank you, Ivy. For helping Tristan out with his scouting. He really appreciates it.’
Ivy’s face lit up. ‘Thank you! I enjoyed helping him. I like all that outdoorsy stuff, so it wasn’t any bother.’
‘Well, you were a better help to him than I could have been! Aside from gardening I’ve never really done any of that stuff. I’ve never even held a fishing rod, let alone caught anything!’
‘What? How is that even possible?’ Ivy’s jaw fell open in shock. ‘Maybe I’ll have to give you lessons too!’
Cassie laughed, before a thought suddenly came to her. ‘Um, Ivy? If you don’t mind me asking -‘
‘Yes. I should be at school.’
‘Right. Um -‘
‘And I’m not there because I don’t want to be. I’ve got English today, and I can’t stand my teacher. And he doesn’t really like me, either.’ Ivy’s face glowed red as she scowled; Cassie tried to resist the urge to pull her into a hug.
‘Why doesn’t he like you, Ivy?’
‘He made fun of a story I wrote in class once, a little while ago. And I mean, he really tore into it. He just didn’t get what I was trying to write at all. So I kind of egged his house a little bit. And I got caught. And he’s hated me ever since.’
‘You egged his house?’ Cassie tried and failed to stifle a laugh. ‘That’s pretty brave of you!’
A small smile grew on Ivy’s face. ‘Yeah, I guess. Makes a change. I’m usually pretty shy. I just snapped, you know? I’ve not exactly had the best life. That was just the final straw, I suppose.’
‘You’re in care, aren’t you?’ Cassie asked tentatively. She knew she was treading dangerous ground. Ivy nodded.
‘Yep. I have been all my life, since I was a baby. Been shipped around everywhere.’
‘So where are you from originally?’
‘Oh, I know that for sure. Here, in the Valley. But I grew up mostly in Pleasantview, then was shipped over to Bridgeport, then I came back here. It’s all to do with spacing in the homes,’ Ivy explained before she realised how easily she was sharing her life’s details with this woman she’d met only once before. Why was she doing that? Why were her words coming so easily? Usually she’d be stumbling and stuttering, unable to form coherent sentences… She decided to change the subject. ‘So, um, what have you been up to today?’
‘Not a lot. I saw a lawyer this morning.’
Cassie stalled. She couldn’t tell Ivy the truth… Could she?
‘Family stuff. I needed some help.’
‘What kind of family stuff?’ Ivy didn’t know why she was enquiring; usually she would be scared of being too forward, of being perceived as rude. What was this newfound confidence?
‘…It’s complicated… Something to do with Tristan’s sister.’
‘Tristan’s sister? I didn’t know he…’ Ivy trailed off as she recalled Tristan’s words just before she cut him off on the day they met.
‘Ivy? Cool! That’s my sis-‘
His sister. His sister’s name. They shared the same name?
‘Where was she, on his birthday?’
‘…She… She doesn’t live with us. Not yet, anyway.’ It was as if a million lightbulbs went off in Ivy’s head. No… It wasn’t possible, surely?
Biting her lip, Ivy decided to keep pressing this thread. ‘Mrs. Rivers… Have you noticed, we look an awful lot like each other?’
A tear trickled down Cassie’s cheek. ‘I think I’ve got a few more lines on my face than you do,’ she laughed hollowly. Ivy was stunned.
‘Was… Was your daughter taken into care, Mrs. Rivers?’ Cassie paused, before nodding her head slowly. Ivy struggled to take everything in.
‘How will we know for sure,’ she whispered. She knew that Cassie knew what she was thinking.
‘You can go and check your birth certificate at City Hall. All your files will be in order.’ Ivy didn’t ask how Cassie would know this. She didn’t care. She just needed to know. Standing up, she felt suddenly light headed, a little woozy, the shock of the conversation sapping her of her strength. Finding her feet, she turned to face Cassie.
‘Would you come with me?
* * *
‘What’s that my dear? You want to check your records? Just one moment, I’ll get your file… My, this is well organised! Now then, let me see… Ivy Biron? Yes… Aha… That’s not the name on your birth certificate… Ah yes, here’s the certification of the name change. You were very young when that happened, weren’t you! Now then, let’s see… Yup, clearly recorded here. Mother, Cassie Rivers. Father, Matthew Forest. …Are you feeling all right, my dear?’
Cassie and Ivy walked out of City Hall together in perfect silence, barely able to process the information they had just been given. Everything outside was just as before, it was a normal day… How was that possible? Something monumental had just happened, yet everyone else was just going about their day. They paused awkwardly at the top of the stairs.
They smiled at each other, a little unsure of how to act next, each a bundle of raw emotion.
‘I can’t wait to tell Matt and Tristan,’ Cassie broke the deadlock. ‘Trist’ll be over the moon!’
Ivy grinned. ‘I can’t believe it. All this time, I was helping my little brother?! I mean, what are the chances! Oh my god, I have a little brother!’ She let out a delighted squeal, making Cassie chuckle.
‘Not only that, you’ve got a big sister too! Oh, it’s a long story,’ she said in response to Ivy’s confused look.
‘Oh, okay… Well, I guess we’ve got a lot to catch up on.’
‘Yeah, I guess we do. How… How about we get you home?’ Cassie asked cautiously.
Ivy nodded. ‘I’d like that… Mum…’ Her lip trembling, she walked forward and flung her arms around Cassie.
Around her mother.