Carefully zipping her dress up, Ivy smoothed down the voluminous skirt and adjusted the row of pink flowers that edged the top, ensuring that they laid perfectly against her pale skin. Next, she reached for the matching salmon clip that lay on her dresser and swept her hair back into a loose up-do that cascaded down her back. Examining her face in the mirror, she applied one last coat of shimmering lip gloss, fastened her necklace around her neck, and stood back.
She felt like a princess.
She couldn’t hold back a girlish giggle as she looked at herself from every angle in the mirror, sweeping her long dress around and flicking her hair. It was finally here! Her wedding day! She was finally going to become Mrs. Ethan Blaine! Well, Mrs. Ethan Rivers. She had decided to keep her own surname, as her mother had done.
Oh, Mum. Turning, Ivy looked at the two portraits of her parents that were hanging on the wall behind her, their earnest faces gazing out from the frame yet never quite meeting her eyes. Tristan had brought them over when he came to visit (well, she said visit… He hadn’t quite made it home yet!) after their funeral, along with the photographs that now adorned the other walls of the house.
How she wished they could be here today, of all days. They’d already missed so much… The birth of their first grandchild, getting to know Ethan, and now their daughter’s wedding day. It was just so un –
The sudden screech from the nursery jolted Ivy from her thoughts. She was about to go hurrying through when Tristan burst from his bedroom.
‘Ivy! I’ll get him, don’t worry. Can’t have you messing up your dress!’
‘Tristan, why are you not -‘ Ivy rolled her eyes as Tristan, still in his pyjamas, ran straight into the nursery to pick up his little nephew. The car was due to arrive within the hour, and he wasn’t yet suited and booted! Tristan had the great honour of being Ethan’s best man; although the two were not as close as Ethan was with his bandmates, he decided that he couldn’t possibly choose between them and so had asked the eager Tristan to take up the role.
‘Here we are!’ said Tristan as he emerged from the nursery, clutching little Dylan safely in his arms and ignoring Ivy’s frustrated expression. ‘Doesn’t mumma look beautiful, Dylan!’
Dylan nodded, gazing adoringly at his mother. ‘Bootiful mumma,’ he said, reaching out a tiny hand to grab her necklace. ‘Shiny! Pwetty!’
Laughing, Ivy took his outstretched hand in hers and kissed it. ‘Shiny, pretty, and expensive Dylan! It’s not for playing. Have you decided which toy you’re going to bring to the wedding, poppet?’
‘Puzzle.’ Ivy resisted the urge to roll her eyes again. She hated that odd little doll! Ethan’s second cousin Eugenie, whom neither of them knew existed until the box appeared in their mail, had sent it a few days after the baby was born. It had an odd habit of appearing to watch Ivy as she played with Dylan, or was tucking him into his crib at night, sending cold shivers down her spine. Still, her baby was growing ever more attached to the strange thing, so she figured it was here to stay.
Dylan was a bright little boy, who had learned his basic skills pretty quickly. Ivy had had a heart attack one morning when she’d gone to look out the windows and had seen Dylan running around on the balcony! Screeching, she had run out to bring him back inside; the fencing was definitely not secure enough for a toddler to be out there alone! Holding him tight, she’d walked back inside and noticed how he had escaped – a small pile of books created a little staircase next to the stereo next to the far-side door; she guessed that he’d clambered up there in order to reach the door. Such an enterprising little so-and-so! As she’d hugged Dylan close to her making him promise to never try something so silly again, Ivy noticed Puzzle sat on the counter staring at her. Hideous thing!
‘Puzzle. Okay then. Well after Uncle Tristy has helped you get changed into your smart clothes we bought last week, and got changed himself, he’ll fetch Puzzle for you, and then it should be time to go. Right?’
Dylan shook his head, glowering a little. ‘Puzzle thirsty. He needs a juicey box, mumma!’
Forcing a smile on her face, Ivy nodded over-enthusiastically. ‘Okay poppet, you go with Uncle Tristan to get changed and I’ll pop downstairs and fetch you a juicey box. After you’re changed you can give Puzzle his juice box. Deal?’
As Dylan nodded reluctantly, Ivy trotted downstairs. Honestly, that doll! She knew it was his favourite, but Dylan seriously treated it as if it were real sometimes. A little too real…
A knock at the door halted her in her tracks. That was odd; usually visitors buzzed up first in order to be let into the building. Frowning, she opened the door.
Shocked, her mouth fell open. ‘What are you doing here?!’
Maria fiddled with her ponytail, feeling a little awkward. ‘Um. Someone in front of me was buzzed in, so I just went ahead and came up here. Sorry.’
‘That’s okay.’ Ivy adjusted her flowing skirt, unsure of what to say or do next. She hadn’t even known that Maria knew she was getting married.
‘You, er… you look beautiful, Ivy,’ Maria said sincerely. Her heart was sinking; she hadn’t expected to turn up on Ivy’s wedding day. She hadn’t even known she was getting married. She’d missed so much of her friend’s life, through her own stupid jealousy.
The two stood there in silence, barely looking one another in the eye.
‘Maria, what are you -‘
‘I’vy, I’m really -‘
They fell silent again, smiling nervously as they interrupted one another. Ivy nodded at Maria. ‘You go.’
Taking a deep breath, Maria spoke. ‘Ivy, I am so, so sorry. I’ve been such a terrible friend. I was… It was just… It was always me, you know? The centre of attention. Not that I gave anyone else much chance to be there instead of me. And then out of the blue I found out that you were dating Ethan Blaine, and everyone was talking about you, and you hadn’t told me, and… Well. I reacted childishly. And pathetically. And I am so sorry for not being there for you when you needed me. And for not saying this years ago. In fact, I’m sorry for needing to say sorry in the first place. I should never have been a bitch in the first place.
Coming to a breathless halt, Maria looked tentatively up at Ivy. She really did look beautiful in her wedding dress.
Ivy tried to take everything Maria had just told her in. She’d been waiting to hear this for a long time. A very, very long time.
…Maybe too long…
‘Maria… This all happened so long ago, now. Long enough for me to move to Bridgeport, get engaged, have a child! I needed a friend to support me throughout all of this, and you just weren’t there. My parents died and you weren’t there!’
Maria hung her head in shame. ‘I can’t believe Cass died. And Matthew. I went to their funeral. I just…’ She shook her head, on the brink of tears and unable to continue. The deaths of her surrogate parents had hit her hard. Touched, Ivy reached out a hesitant hand and placed it on Maria’s, squeezing it gently. ‘Thank you for going,’ she said quietly.
‘As if I’d miss it.’ Maria smiled wanly, wiping her eyes.
‘Look, Ivy… I’m not asking you to forgive and forget. That’d be stupid, and entirely selfish of me. I just… I just needed you to know that I was sorry, and that I know I should have said all of this eons ago. I was a pathetic, horrible bitch, and I don’t deserve a friend like you.’
Ivy was stunned. She’d never thought that she’d see someone like Maria Stanislav grovelling. ‘How long are you in Bridgeport for?’
‘Um, I don’t know really. I’m in a hotel downtown. However long, really. I’ve been here a couple of weeks already looking for you,’ Maria mumbled, looking down at her shoes.
Ivy frowned a little confused. ‘Did… Er, Isidro, is it? Did he come with you?’
Maria shook her head. ‘Nah. We broke up ages ago. Just wasn’t right, you know?’
‘Yeah.’ Ivy looked up at her old friend. Oh, Ria.
‘Well, um. Yeah. I’ve said what I needed to. I’ll be off,’ Maria said a little awkwardly. ‘Congratulations on… you know. The wedding.’
‘Thank you, Maria.’
‘What’s your child’s name?’
‘Dylan. That’s lovely.’
‘Well, if you’re ever back in the Valley, I’d love to meet him.’ Maria smiled sadly, nodded at Ivy, and turned to leave.
Turning back, Maria saw Ivy smiling. ‘Would you… Would you like to come? To the wedding?’
‘I’d love to! Are you… Are you sure?’
Ivy nodded warmly. ‘Sure as sure can be. Time for a fresh start, hey?’