The car ride was long.
Ivey’s legs were antsy, aching to be free of the confines of the Nissan Pathfinder. The three-and-a-half day trek from Colorado to Massachusetts was enough to make her want to scream. She yearned for nothing more than to be done with life on the road. Perhaps by some uncertain means this extensive road-trip is a blessing in disguise. There was no rush to reach the unknown.
Her mind had recently become besieged by opposing forces. Uncertain if relocating would release her of her inherent anxieties, Ivey Hammond found that the caustic sprain between not wanting to leave her friends, and wanting to leave her past was more formidable than she would like.
Which is more favorable to my sanity? She begged for the likely fickle answer.
Her scouring eyes maintained their severe scrutiny over the alien landscape smearing past the passenger window.
The trees were unusual – stout and cramped . . . ghastly.
The architecture of the houses was peculiar – symmetrical and simple . . . boring.
Hell, even the roads were a different color and distinction. What next? Miserly
Hell, even the roads were a different color and distinction. What next? Miserly
people? Narcissistic drivers? Ivey was far from optimistic.
She slumped back against the car seat, brooding - her tense hands white-knuckled a water bottle.
“A penny for your thoughts?” her father chimed from behind the wheel, glancing back with an amiable ruddiness.
“I’m so done with riding in this car.” She forged a smile.
“You never were one for long rides,” her mother snorted playfully from the front passenger seat.
Ivey didn’t respond to either of them. She was sure if she did it wouldn’t sound polite. Her knotted thoughts were unfairly influencing her mood.
Continuing with her morose gaze upon the landscape to avoid further small talk, she plugged her ears with the tiny speakerphones of her iPod, hitting play. There was still another two hours left in the car. In the meantime, all she wanted was to drown-out the fear of not knowing what unpleasantry waits in her new hometown.
Even the heavy rock music that she favored wasn’t deflecting her intruding bitter thoughts.
Her parent’s decision to live in Willows, MA came about with breakneck speed, suddenly and without warning. And before she could pry her lips with a protest, junior year at Loveland High was history; the Pathfinder was kissing the asphalt of the open road - with U-Haul in tow - and they were making for the Atlantic Coast. Not to mention, she was being stripped of completing her final year of school in the town where she grew up.
Who starts their senior year at a new school? Nobody!
There was little choice. Ivey’s father was bullied into a job transfer at the publishing company where he’d been an editor for ten years. It was either take the transfer, or be laid-off. The company’s sister office in Ipswich, MA had an opportunity for a promotion with a considerable pay increase, making little sense – leave, but oh, here’s a salary upgrade for your troubles?
Then again, maybe this ill-timed twist of fate made perfect sense.
Six months prior to Merrill being advised to relocate, Ivey and her parents had received an unforeseen inheritance from her mother’s side of the family. Lauren’s grandmother, who lived in Willows with no other kin to speak of, left both her home and bookstore to them. The excessive gift couldn’t have presented itself at a more opportune time.
“The last time I saw Grandma Olivia was when I was a teenager.” Lauren muddled after hearing the news. “Why would she leave everything to me?”
“You and Ivey are the last living members of the Crane family.” Merrill said.
Her parents wished to liquidate the bequeathed assets with no intention of moving to Massachusetts. But when news of Merrill’s proviso rippled into their lives, having delayed in proffering a realtor to sell the Willows real-estate proved advantageous.
At seventeen Ivey wasn’t quite so eager to up and leave her life as Lauren and Merrill were. There were no back-springs or cartwheels coming from her. Logically, separating from her friends and everything that defined her was unthinkable. Prudent enough to grasp the precariousness of their situation, she did however understand that inevitably she would have to accept the fact that the move was inescapable.
Starting a new life in a strange town though, on what is quite literally the edge of the earth, far from where she had comfortably existed, really blows.
Skipping through her playlist for something distracting – Flyleaf always worked – she released her finger.
Relentless hills rolled alongside acres of deciduous forest – so damn confining.
Claustrophobia creeped together with Ivey’s growing concerns, reducing, casting a melting-pot of panic potpourri as she neared their destination.
Farms were sprouting every few miles. Trees forced their ever lingering presence upon her.
Trees . . . trees, and more . . . trees.
The highway zigzagged and curved like a snake through the green clouds of a billowing ash, oak, and maple forest. The rollercoaster ride was making her nauseous. She forced her eyes closed, lolling her head to the opposing side of her window scenery.
“Oh, please let me warn them – don’t you come here, don’t bring anyone here.” The doleful lyrics were making her feel worse.
She shut off the music. It was hopeless - no matter the song, one way or another, the lyrics brought her back to her confliction.
Her attention shot back to the images projecting past the window: The lush forest felt like a mob of encroaching sloths ready to pummel her into a slow, drawn-out death. No longer were there the patches of the conversant, soaring evergreens that rendered a sense of freedom to admire the vast sky and majestic Rockies. In their place was a blob of impenetrable green, keeping her captive, restrained.
Lauren’s smiling eyes peered around the upholstered seat at her daughter. “Did you get a chance to finish reading Atlas Shrugged?”
Snapping out of her reverie, Ivey focused on her mother’s genial face. “Uh, I’m about halfway through that monstrosity. I think I get the whole “objectivism” message.”
Lauren shifted her torso to face forward. “I wasn’t sure if you’d like it or not. I read it in college. I enjoyed Ayn Rand’s philosophy on happiness as a moral purpose – it makes perfect sense.”
Her father snorted. “Sure, if you’re living in a black and white world. The problem with Rand’s reoccurring theme of a laissez-faire social infrastructure is . . .”
Ivey pulled away from her parent’s impending literary debate - common dialogue in the Hammond household. Not up for the long, drawn-out analysis of the two opposing sides of her parent’s perspectives, she fell back into oblivion.
More of an insightful adult than her age professed, Ivey could’ve easily offered a strong perspective to her parent’s ensuing discussion, but for the moment, she just wanted to numb-out and ponder nothing requiring any real thought.
The emerald-green highway signs were too intermittent to hold her attention. And town names like Tyringham and Blandford did nothing to stimulate her imagination. The rolling hills of Western Mass seemed endless - a perpetual cordon of lush trees closing in on her.
A welcomed break in the endless blanket of green, revealed a small restaurant on the side of the highway. She’d been cramped for three hours and was in dire straits for a restorative stretch. Her stomach moaned a somber tune, alerting her of its need for sustenance.
“We’re stopping for lunch.” Merrill switched the car to the slow lane.
They pulled into a dirt parking-lot. A one-level farmhouse turned restaurant greeted them: sided with chocolate-stained shingles narrowing the already tiny windows, its front door appeared to be plucked from the forest – weather beaten boards forged together to form a rectangle then crudely hinged to the entranceway.
Upon entering she took in the small, dimly lit dining-room with its décor resembling that of an old public house: dark wood paneling, brass candle sconces crowning every booth, and a large stone fireplace in the far wall – nothing like the restaurants she was used to back west.
Ivey and her parents were soon seated by a hostess who resembled the furnishings – lowly and elemental. They sat at a booth.
“Isn’t this charming?” Lauren cooed in a delighted tone.
“I think it’s all original.” Merrill said with head rubbernecking, taking in the architecture. “Late nineteenth century, I believe.”
Ivey cringed at their enthusiasm.
There were only two other patrons in the dining area - an elderly couple who appeared to be arguing over what the white haired man was allowed to order from the menu.
French onion soup, Rueben on rye, pigs in a blanket, what? Where are the salads and wraps? Ivey huffed over the neglect in healthy options.
They ordered then ate with haste.
When the check arrived, she set off to take advantage of potentially the last bathroom break for the next couple of hours. Her father was pushing for an arrival time of four o’clock at the house, before the movers showed. Merrill was even anal retentive enough to schedule stops for bathroom and food breaks. All within the trip-roster that he felt so compelled to construct on his iPhone.
The ladies-room of the pub was floor to ceiling pine shingles. Ivey felt like she was entering a sauna, only there were two stalls where the lounge benches would be. The confined space was stuffy, stinking of disinfectant.
Lifting an arm to part a stall door, she hesitated in mid-reach. An isolated, cold mist engulfed her bare flesh. Retracting with a reflexive jerk, the daunting sensation was unsettling.
Rubbing her arm to rid the death-like chill, her attention was then detained by an intrusive scent. Earthy, potent, she was certain it was sandalwood. Was it the décor?
Surveying the trim of the floor and ceiling, seeking air vents that might attribute to the immediate drop in temperature, Ivey cased a baseboard heater. Prompting a few paces to see if cold air was shooting from its slots, her fingers fanned the stagnant air above it.
She rolled her eyes in irritation with herself. It’s nothing.
For the final encroaching hour, with the north shore in their sites, Ivey felt like a nap. The scenery was boring - trees were again seizing the sights.
Before dozing, her thoughts streamed to the odd sensation in the bathroom. An unsavory residue lingered over her.
Ignore it, and it’ll go away.