“Ivy, sweetheart, I’ve told you so many times!” Neve James said, exasperated. “Please don’t play in the front yard without telling me!”
As Neve stood on the front porch, watching her daughter, Ivy, jumping around in the snow in their front yard, she began to feel the memory of Ivy’s father creep across her shoulders and settle in her mind.
“Mommy! Come build a snowman with me!” Ivy called out, breaking into Neve’s thoughts.
She jolted a bit at her daughter’s voice. It wasn’t surprising, after all these years, that Neve would still become overwhelmed by emotions while standing in this spot. After all, it was in this very front yard that Neve had fallen in love with Ivy’s father.
He had been a good-looking, darkly charming teenager when they were together for that short time in high school. Now, he seemed to be more of an apparition that had come and gone in her life – except for when she accidentally stumbled across his face on T.V.
That was always painful. How could it not be?
In love, engaged…and then alone, and pregnant. That first year had been agony, the stares from the other townspeople, the judgement in their eyes, having to tell her parents. God, that had been a terrible moment.
But at least there was a silver lining to the suffering – Ivy was the spitting image of her father.
His name was Connor Bush, and he had been an angst-filled teen, fiery and hard towards the world, but always soft and kind when with Neve. His sweet and tender love for her had been part of the reason she had never come to terms with his leaving. How could he have seemed to love her so much, yet leave so abruptly without a word? As the memory of Connor began to creep towards the painful realization that he had chosen to walk out of her life, Neve reached out her gloved hand to tuck away a wisp of hair that had escaped from Ivy’s ponytail.
“Ivy, you’re so beautiful,” Neve mused, her thoughts drifting softly.
“Beautiful like Daddy?” Ivy asked innocently.
A stab of pain pierced her heart, but she was careful to shield the look from her daughter. Neve had never hidden the identity of Connor from Ivy. She told Ivy weekly how she looked just like her father.
She had explained to her that he had left to bring color to the world and help people see their dreams come to life. The idea was grand to a child, and placated Ivy’s imagination. In reality, Connor had become a successful tattoo artist, famous and distant. It was ironic to Neve that the man that had left her empty and alone was famous for his ability to deliver permanency.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Neve finally responded to her daughter. “Just like your daddy.”
Ivy had Connor’s shiny dark hair, thick and straight, and long, much like her father used to wear it back in high school. Her eyes were large like Neve’s, but gray like Connor’s, and her skin was olive toned like Connor’s as well. Ivy was still so young, but already appeared to have her mother’s tall and graceful frame.
Our daughter really is a perfect mixture of us both, Con, she smiled bitterly to herself. Although he’d never know that.
Neve observed Ivy as she carefully rolled a snowball, to create the base for their snowman. As Neve watched, she inhaled a deep breath of the cool winter air. She and Ivy were living in the same home that Neve had grown up in, given to her by her parents when they decided to retire as snowbirds to Arizona. Mannington, Illinois was all Neve had ever known, and in a way, she held onto it, hoping, but never letting herself admit it, that one day Connor would return to her.
She had kept her life nearly the same since he had suddenly left without a word to her over seven years ago.
Watching her belly swell with Ivy just as Connor’s memory faded, even as a young girl, she had known she was going to be confined to this small town by the growing responsibility for a child.
Pursuing Connor was impossible—at the time she’d had no idea where he had gone or why, and as time passed without any word from him, his absence became normal.
Before she even realized it, life without him and not knowing where he had gone was just a reality of her situation to be accepted and hopefully forgotten.
But Neve was never able to completely forget, and when he did finally reappear, it was four years later, and it was to her TV screen. He was the host and producer of a famous flash tattoo show called “Ink in a Blink”. Knowing where he was though, didn’t really help. He obviously had the ability to contact her – but he hadn’t. The pain of being forgotten so easily still burned in her chest at times.
When they had been teenagers in love, Connor and Neve had carved their names into a tree in her front yard. Without even looking, she could feel the imprint of the carving searing into her heart, despite the fact that it was currently covered in snow.
Closing her eyes, Neve could see the blue skies that she and Connor had hid from under the thick branches of the oak tree. She could feel his strong hands running over her arms and cradling her face. She could feel the freedom and see the love in his dark gray eyes as they looked into her own emerald green orbs. She could feel her body, relaxed and content as she sat in his lap when they lounged on lazy afternoons.
Her breath began to increase as she conjured his memory. She felt his strong lips press down onto her waiting mouth, a kiss that she was sure had enough feeling to sizzle across her nerve endings. The memory of lazy days began to fade into a memory of the last night Neve had spent with Connor. The night she had given him her whole self, the night she had surrendered to his love, the night she had thought would be the first night in a lifetime’s worth of firsts.
Connor had proposed to her on that night. Her parents had gone out of town for a weekend in Dearborn with her ailing grandmother, and her and Connor had been left alone with each other. It was a frosty evening in winter, with snow packing them into the warm house – the weather similar to how it was in this present day. He had pulled her heart-shaped face close to his, his hands firm against her cheeks and his breath warming her lips as he spoke his proposal.
Neve’s eyes shot open.
She fell back to reality with a thud, disoriented from how deep in the memory she had been. It had been so real, like Connor had just spoken her name. She shook her head and bent down to help Ivy roll the snowball for their snowman base. But when she looked at Ivy, the little girl’s eyes were turned towards the street, wide in wonder. Neve turned to see what Ivy was watching so intensely, and when she saw what it was, she froze in shock.
Staring back at her were dark gray eyes.
“Neve…” Connor said again.