‘So if you take eight away from this, carry the four, and multiply the whole lot by twenty six you get… Uh… Oh, gnomes…’
Homework had never been Ivy’s strongest point. Growing up with only basic supervision had meant it was simple to get away with not bothering, and so she, like many of her foster-siblings, had easily opted out of completing their extra work. It was to be expected, really. How many children enjoy their homework? How many would rather go outside and play than sit slaving away for hours at their desks after slaving away for hours in school? While she was cleverer than she gave herself credit for, Ivy didn’t really know how to put her brain to good use. She hadn’t bothered to learn in an academic sense, instead choosing to pour her heart into the things she loved; growing fresh produce and spending time by the lakes, teaching herself which fish liked which bait and the best methods of catching them.
Frowning, she stared at her messy notebook. Numbers were everywhere, crossings out and scribbles covered the page, and she still wasn’t any closer to the answer.
She scratched her head and gazed out the window at the now-familar view. She didn’t even have the ‘new surroundings’ excuse to fall back on; her newfound parents, worried that she would feel alienated in her new bedroom, had decorated it with the same patterns as her room back at the home. Ivy hadn’t particularly minded; she loved the bright, flowery prints that surrounded her and it did help with the transition. What she did mind was the new pressure to finish her work!
She halfheartedly rubbed out a few calculations and started again, trying to ignore her natural urge to put the pencil down and walk out. She knew that she needed to do this. She didn’t particularly want to go asking her baby brother for help again!
Tristan was the complete opposite to his sister, in regards to education. As soon as he got to high school, he immediately enrolled in homework club for extra credit.
On the days the club didn’t meet Tristan and the friend who he brought home with him that day would rush back to make a start. Half the time they wouldn’t even stop to close the front door, instead walking through into the entrance and plonking themselves down to make a start! Ivy couldn’t understand it. She had been thrilled to learn that Tristan was her brother, the notion not sinking in immediately after learning that Cassie and Matthew were her long lost parents, but she did wish they had a little more in common. Now that he was no longer in Scouts Tristan rarely left the house, prefering to sit on his new laptop on the internet, although he did occasionally accompany Ivy on visits to the fishing spots around town for the sake of old times. Ivy supposed it was evidence of their individual upbringing; while she had grown up in a claustrophobic house full of people Tristan had had a quieter time of it. He hadn’t felt the need to escape.
Groaning, Ivy picked up her half-finished assignment and trudged downstairs to put it away in her school bag. This would have to do, for now at least. Her teachers were already having palpitations over the fact that she was doing her work at all; any more and they’d have full blown heart attacks, she reasoned. Sliding down the bannister next to the last few steps Ivy noticed her mother sat watching television, who looked up as she heard someone enter the room.
‘Ah, I recognise that look! Homework troubles?’
Ivy nodded glumly. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. I’m sure they’ve printed it wrong or something.’
‘They’ve been doing that since my day!’ Cassie chuckled nostalgically. ‘Fancy some help? Trist seems to get all his work done sat down there, must be a pretty good spot for concentrating or something,’ she said, nodding to the place on the carpet that Tristan used. Ivy nodded, shyly. She did find it easier to talk to Cassie and Matthew than she did other strangers, but she still felt slightly awkward around them.
Settling themselves on the surprisingly soft carpet, Ivy flipped her book open to her homework. Cassie shuddered. ‘Quadratic equations? Poor you!’
‘I know, right? So pointless! And so bloody difficult! Right, so for number six I’ve got…’
They sat there for the best part of an hour, mother and daughter, only recently reunited. Anyone watching wouldn’t have thought that it was anything out of the ordinary.
Cassie, a little unsure of how to go about telling Ivy about what had happened to her and why she had been forced to give her up, had done the next best thing. She gave her the book she had written after leaving prison, telling her daughter that if she had any questions whatsoever that she would be more than willing to answer them.
It was quite a long book but Ivy devoured it, eager to find the answers she had been searching for all her life. The first book she ever read from start to finish gave her them. As she finished the last page, closing the hardback cover, she leant back in the cosy armchair and thought long and hard about what she had just read. For the longest time she had just presumed that her parents were no good, that they must have neglected her, that she had been taken away from them for her own well being. That was what had happened to all the other kids she had lived with over the years, a long procession of abused children who could actually remember their parents. She had always been relieved that she had no memory of hers, that she had nothing haunting her.
How wrong she had been.
That evening, Cassie had gone fishing with Ivy for a long awaited lesson. Hooks baited and floats bobbing, Cassie asked her what she had thought.
Ivy cleared her throat. ‘Well. I do understand why you had to give me up. I know it wasn’t your choice, you were in a horrible situation and your hands were tied. I know you’ve been looking for me, but the system… Well. We both know the system.’
The pair fell silent for a moment, Ivy staring glumly at her reflection in the crystal waters.
‘The thing is,’ Ivy continued, ‘is that I’ve spent my whole life hating you. Well not you exactly, just what I thought about my parents. These fictional beings who had hated me so much that I ended up being shoved about everywhere. The idea of you. Do you know what I mean? So, logically, I know that it wasn’t your fault. I do. But in my heart… Well, you can’t just change what you believe in over night. It’ll take time. But I’ll try my best.’
Cassie nodded, understanding perfectly as her heart broke a little. They hadn’t even told Ivy why she was in care, that she wasn’t like the other children with horrible parents. They’d just let her hatred of them grow, not caring that one day they might be reunited. She barely noticed that her float had gone under as she thanked llamas that she had found her daughter before it was too late, before her contempt had overridden her logic.
‘Cas – er – Mum! Look! You’ve got one!’ Ivy beamed as she guided her mother in reeling in the catch.
Along with regular trips to the local lakes, Cassie helped Ivy to set up a small vegetable patch at the back of the house, getting in contact with Kym, who was now happily settled in Bridgeport, to make sure they positioned it correctly and to find out which plants would flourish in their soil type.
Ivy doted on the little vegetable patch. She had longed to have one all her life, but had had to settle for a couple of tomato plants on her window sill. She loved watching the plants grow and seeing the vegetables emerge and ripen, and she had adored the reactions of her family when she served her first salad made entirely of things grown in their own back garden!
* * *
‘Him?! Oh you have got to be – Oh, hello!’
Maria and Ivy waved at Ivy’s old care worker, who had just sat down on a bench with a book in his hand. As soon as his nose was buried in it, the pair burst into suppressed giggles.
‘The Art of Child Care? Seriously?! Child care’s no art!’ Maria laughed, trying her best to keep her voice to a whisper. ‘He’s not going to find any answers in there!’
‘Oh I don’t know Maria, he does need all the help he can get. Me and a couple of others managed to get hold of fake IDs, you know, he had no idea why we were staggering around half the time! So useless!’
‘Fake IDs?! Are you kidding! Bloody hell, you were a wild one, weren’t you?’ Maria stared wide-eyed at her new friend. The two girls had hit it off almost instantly, Maria’s good humour easing Ivy’s grumpy side and ambitious nature encouraging her to apply herself more. In turn, Ivy’s down to earth attitude and love of the simple life showed Maria that the finery she adored so perhaps weren’t as important as she held them to be, easing her snobbish tendencies. The girls brought out the best in one another and got on like a house on fire, despite the age difference of a few years.
‘I wasn’t really wild, it wasn’t like I was trying to get into clubs and stay out all night. It was just that everyone was doing it, and I didn’t want to be left out. I’d have been just as happy mooching around the park or something, but everyone else wouldn’t do it unless we had a six pack and a bottle of whiskey. You know what I mean,’ Ivy replied with a distant look in her eyes. Maria nodded sympathetically, deciding not to push her. ‘Race you to the swings!’ she exclaimed childishly, sprinting off at an impressive pace despite her high heels.
The two reached the swings at the same time, laughing breathlessly at their race before settling down onto the plastic seats, gently swinging companiably side by side.
‘So how’s your Dad?’ Ivy enquired, scuffing the dirt beneath the swing.
‘Not so bad now,’ Maria’s face fell a little. Eric had been having a few health issues with his heart and had spent a few weeks in hospital, during which Maria hadn’t left his side. ‘He’s coming home tomorrow, actually!’