Martha Abbott was running late.
It wasn’t her fault. If it had been up to her, she would have abandoned her class trip to go see Ivy the moment that they arrived in New York City. But they weren’t supposed to wander around the city alone, and it wasn’t until this evening that Martha at last had the chance to feign illness, stay at the hotel while the rest of the class went to see Coppelia, and slip away to meet Ivy.
Now Martha threaded her way along the crowded sidewalk, her breath puffing through her lips in cold white clouds. Perhaps, she thought – just briefly – perhaps it would have been more sensible to ask Ivy to meet her in the hotel lobby.
But then Kelly Peters might have seen, and that would have spoiled things. And besides – besides. When Martha and Ivy met again, it ought to be outside, among the trees. And where else could you find trees in Manhattan but Central Park?
Martha had heard stories about the dangers of the park at night, and the Mighty Mouse within her faltered at the entrance. But this part of the park, at least, was still busy and well-lit, and Martha felt very cold when she stood still, so she continued forward toward the ice-skating rink.
How would she ever find Ivy in this crowd? Martha gazed for a moment in dismay at the skaters crowding the rink, then shook herself. Ivy would not be skating. I wish we had time, Ivy had written in her last letter. Ice skating is like flying – The dash had swooped across the page, as if to demonstrate in punctuation the way that ice skating felt.
But, Ivy had resumed, we have too much to talk about to skate this time. Maybe next time you come to New York…
Next time she came to New York. The words gave Martha a warm and cozy feeling, even now as she stood in the cold park with snow falling on her shoulders. Martha would graduate at the end of the year. She had applied to a lot of East Coast colleges, including Barnard, right there in New York City.
Martha and Ivy’s little sister Josie had taken Martha’s Barnard application to Bent Oaks Grove and put it on the Fortune Table, and danced around it, until they felt too silly and collapsed laughing in the leaves.
“Still,” Martha told Josie. “It’s worth a try. You saved me from moving to Florida once, so maybe you can help me move to New York.”
“Maybe I’ll be living in New York by then, too,” Josie had said, and wrapped her arms around her skinny knees.
The crowd thinned as Martha approached the southern edge of the rink. An old woman walked past with a little dog on a leash; a slim girl in a sleek black coat leaned against the railing of the rink, gazing at the skaters. A young couple snuggled close together on a park bench. The snow swirled beneath the streetlamps, glimmering like fairy dust.
But no Ivy. Martha’s heart beat in her throat. She thought she might cry from disappointment, then and there, even though it seemed entirely possible that the tears would freeze to her cheeks.
The girl in the black coat turned. It was a slight movement, but Martha’s feet understood it at once, even if the rest of Martha didn’t catch on immediately. Martha began to move toward the girl, slowly at first, until the girl lifted her face and Martha saw her eyes – and then Martha began to run. “Ivy! Ivy! Ivy!” Martha shouted.
Then she stopped, a couple of yards away from the girl, suddenly unsure again. Could this really be Ivy – this sylph in a slim black coat, with short hair tamped down beneath a fluffy white hat?
Then Ivy swept the hat off, and her curls sprung free, a wild dark frame for her pointed elfin face. “Martha,” she said, and all of Martha’s doubts evaporated and she flung her arms around Ivy.
“Ivy,” she said, and stepped back to look at her friend again, and felt shy. “You look like Audrey Hepburn,” she said.
“You look like Martha Abbott,” Ivy said, very seriously, as if Martha were already a movie star herself; and suddenly both of them were nearly doubled over with laughing.
Then they both quieted down again, and looked at each other, so pleased that they were both beaming, and yet with that slight awkwardness hanging in the air between them. “How long can you stay?” Ivy asked.
“Not long,” Martha said. “My classmates will be back from the ballet by eleven.”
Ivy widened her eyes. The falling snow settled on her dark hair like stars. “You’re skipping the ballet for me?”
“Of course,” Martha said lightly. “You’ll make it up to me when you’re the prima ballerina, won’t you? You’ll get me free tickets to all your shows.”
“Of course,” said Ivy, just as archly. She did a few dance steps on the trodden snow. “I might not do ballet,” she said, eyes on the snow rather than Martha. “Most ballerinas have been training since they were small children – ” She made a short chopping movement with one hand. “I might go into modern dance,” she said, and lifted her eyes to Martha. “Or become a choreographer.”
“A choreographer!” Martha cried, startled. But almost at once she could see it. “You could direct the dancers just like you used to direct our plays at Bent Oaks Grove.”
“Yes! Just like that,” Ivy said. “Do you still go to Bent Oaks Grove?”
“Sometimes,” Martha said, although the truth was not very often. Martha, at seventeen, was turning into an interloper in the Grove: it belonged to younger children now. Like Ivy’s sister Josie. “I go whenever I have a letter from you,” Martha added.
“I take them up there at sunset – after all the kids are gone.”
“Oh.” Ivy sounded wistful. “I just read your letters during breaks at rehearsal.”
It rose up before Martha like a picture: Ivy sitting in the shadows behind the velvet curtains, the air smelling of greasepaint and sweat, the whisper of tulle and the soft thump of feet and the tinkle of the piano all murmuring in the background as Ivy read Martha’s letter.
A snowflake landed on Martha’s nose. The cold startled her out of that imaginary theater and back into Central Park. They were walking away from the ice rink now, the clamor of voices and slice of the skates on the ice drifting away into the distance. The snow fell down around them like soft white feathers. It crunched beneath their feet, and they both turned back to look at the tracks their feet left on the snow-dusted sidewalk.
“Maybe I should read some of your letters before play practice at school,” Martha said.
But the idea seemed babyish once she’d said it. Martha was only in little high school plays, while Ivy was studying dancing in New York.
But Ivy’s eyes brightened: the old imagining light came back into them. “Yes!” she said. “It will be almost like we’re reading our letters together. All theaters are connected, you know.”
“Of course,” Martha agreed. “There’s a magic door somewhere in the Roosevelt High School theater – if only I could find it. I’ve looked all over.”
“It’s probably somewhere you’ve looked a hundred times,” Ivy said. “Someday you’ll walk past it, not even looking, and then – there it will be!”
“Right when I need it?”
Ivy shook her head. A shower of snow fell off her hair. Snowflakes glistened on her black coat like chips of diamond. “Right when it needs you, probably,” she said, and gave a little skip, so that she landed on the untrodden snow ahead. Martha stopped, and watched Ivy do a short slow dance in the snow that was not quite a dance at all, but calligraphy with her feet.
Ivy hopped away from her snow drawing, and stood to admire, leaning forward with her hands clasped behind her back. “Are you and Josie still riding every Sunday?” she asked.
“Not every Sunday,” Martha said, and was smitten by guilt. She and Josie hadn’t been riding since before Thanksgiving. “I’ve been busy since school started,” she said, trying to excuse herself. “We did go every week during the summer. We take the same trails you and I used to ride. Mrs. Smith invites us to have tea with her afterward, and Josie sits up very straight and pokes her pinky in the air as she holds her teacup.”
Ivy was smiling. “That’s great,” she said.
“I’ll have more time now that I’ve finished my college applications,” Martha said. “Josie and I should be able to go riding every week – until the spring play starts, at least.”
“I should be able to bring Josie here by then,” Ivy said. “I hope. I always said I’d bring her as soon as I turn eighteen, and I think I’ve got enough money saved.”
“That’s great!” said Martha.
She spoke a little too heartily, as if to buck Ivy up – because Ivy didn’t sound quite sure. Ivy let out a long breath, which turned white in the air, and looked up, gazing behind the snow-dusted evergreens at the skyscrapers beyond the park.
Ivy dropped her gaze and scratched her cheek with her mittened hand. “Do you think Josie will be happy here?” she asked, that wistfulness in her voice again.
Martha was suddenly stricken. “Are you happy here?”
Ivy’s eyes widened. They looked large and dark in her pale face. “I’m dancing,” she said. “It’s what I’ve always wanted.”
That wasn’t really an answer. Martha made no reply, because she was not sure what to say. This was uncharted territory for them: they had always pretended together, never talked about their real lives.
Or rather, Martha realized, they had never talked about Ivy’s life, or Ivy’s problems. Martha had poured out her own small troubles.
But before Martha could really think about that, Ivy had begun to speak again, haltingly, which was rare for Ivy. “I just wish,” she said, and let out a sigh. “I wish you didn’t have to live in the city to study dancing.”
“Oh, Ivy!” Martha cried.
Then Ivy’s quicksilver smile was back. “It’s all right,” Ivy assured her. “I come to this park a lot. That’s why I wanted to meet you here. There are some places farther in that are really almost like a real forest. I’ve made friends with a silver stag who lives beneath the spruces.”
Ivy said it matter-of-factly, the same way that she’d always said the most outlandish things, and Martha felt a rush of pleasure and affection. “Do you think we might see him tonight?” Martha asked.
“Oh, maybe. He doesn’t usually come this way, but he might for you,” Ivy said. She smiled. “I’ve told him all about you, of course. He might come if we’re quiet.”
They walked onward, quietly. The path curved and bent, and then Martha let out a little gasp – not because she saw the stag, but because they had come in sight of a beautifully arched stone bridge, like something out of a fairytale. The ice broke up beneath the bridge, leaving a stretch of dark water.
“Come on,” Ivy said, and grabbed Martha’s hand. They ran for the bridge together, slipping on the snow and laughing as they went, until they reached the apex of the bridge and leaned together over the cold stones to look into the water below. “It’s a scrying pool,” Ivy said. “If you stand on the bridge and look into the water – ”
“You can see the future?” Martha suggested. Ivy nodded vigorously. A lock of her tamed hair burst free, falling into her eyes. “Or the past,” Martha added.
“Across time or maybe space,” Ivy said. “I’m not sure. I saw you in this pool once, and I thought it was the future, but – now that I’ve seen you, I’m not sure. You look so grown up, it might have been now.”
“But not grown-up, right?” Martha said, and she felt surprisingly relieved when Ivy smiled and shook her head.
“Only grown up in the good ways,” Ivy assured her. “Grown up in the ‘you’ll soon be in control of your life’ way. Not grown up like you think you need to control everyone else.”
“Our spell worked,” Martha said.
“Oh,” Ivy said generously. “Even without the spell, I don’t think you ever would have grown up completely.”
“That’s probably the nicest thing anyone ever said to me,” Martha laughed.
They stood side by side, gazing down at the dark stream below. Martha wished that she could see their faces reflected in the water. She leaned forward, as if to look closer, but the movement seemed to remind her body of how cold she was, and she began to shiver.
Ivy looked over at her, and straightened up. “We’d better get you back to your hotel.”
The cold bit into Martha’s wrist as she pulled up her coat sleeve to check her wristwatch. “Yes,” she agreed. “Oh, drat! It’s been so short – ”
“We’ll meet here again,” Ivy said. She spoke with such certainty that it sounded like a prophecy.
“Next fall,” Martha agreed. Her teeth were beginning to chatter, but despite the cold, she felt the same certainty settling on her shoulders as she spoke. “I’m going to college somewhere on the East Coast. We’ll meet here next fall.”
Ivy walked back to the hotel with Martha. The walk warmed Martha up again: soon her teeth stopped chattering. They slowed to look at the brightly lit Christmas displays in the store windows, laughing together over a set of plush ducklings riding a mechanical Ferris wheel in the window of a toy shop, and exclaiming over a shoe store display with shoes arranged as if they were dancing all on their own.
They lingered over the shoes: it was only one block to the hotel after that. Martha could see their misty reflections in the window glass. “When you saw me in the water,” Martha asked, “what did you see?”
“Oh,” said Ivy. “You were dancing.”
“Dancing?” Martha said, smiling.
“Dancing,” Ivy said. “It was dark, but I think you were at Bent Oaks Grove.”
All the hair rose up on Martha’s arms. “It wasn’t dark…” she began. But understanding grew as she spoke, and she went on, slowly: “But maybe it will be – when I go to Bent Oaks Grove to celebrate my acceptance to Barnard.”
Ivy turned to her. Her hair had fallen in her eyes, just as it always did, and she blew the lock of hair out of the way. Her dark eyes looked luminous. “That must be it,” she said, and ceased Martha’s mittened hands in hers. “Oh, Martha. You’ll be coming to New York!”