The first thing that Blaze thought as he took in the young woman standing in front of him was that she was simply breathtaking.
There had been town gossip that the village's original wild child had returned to town to help with the Ivy Rose Inn because Rose Leigh was now struggling to cope now that Leanne, her youngest daughter, had been diagnosed with cancer. However, he had not had the misfortune of bumping into her yet. He had overheard the vicar's wife telling the butcher's wife that Ivy was back in town and that she was obviously doing well for herself because there was something about her that screamed money – or she had married rich they had tittered. It was obvious that they would gossip about it rather than ask her because by the end of the month they'll have her pegged as a bank robber or something knowing the way the gossip vine worked in this town.
Blaze looked her up and down once more. He took in the little black dress that left nothing to the imagination as it caressed every last curve that God had deemed necessary to bless her with when she was old enough to appreciate her femininity. She wore stiletto heels that added necessary height to her already tall stature and he could not help but notice how uncomfortable they looked for her feet but she seemed to be handling them with the real grace of a desperate housewife. The bag she clutched in her hand was just large enough to hold her mobile phone, purse and probably a little bit of make up necessary for repairs but he could tell that it was a designer. He wondered how much the scrap of leather had set her back. Was it a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand but he could not imagine anyone being that frivolous with money? Blaze doubted that her money came from marriage because the whole town would have known if Rose Leigh's wild child daughter had finally settled down with the man of her dreams. Honestly, the same could be said about having a good paying job. Rose would have been proud of Ivy for finally getting her act together and realising she had responsibilities.
"You've grown up," he pointed out awkwardly and she could not help but laugh at his obvious statement. Blaze's weak point had always been communication.
"Well I should hope so, Blaze. How long has it been since we last saw each other?" It had been about six years she thought mentally to herself but she did not want him to know that each year they had been separated had been painful for her, especially if he did not feel the same way. Ivy had seen the look on his face when they had all stood outside the inn and her Mother was helping her pack up her belongings into the car as she explained that she was going to stay with her Grandmother for a short while because she was a bad influence on her younger sisters'. His expression had been neutral; unreadable. She had wondered if he had been glad to see the back of her because she had been such a nightmare. Hell, he had pretty much admitted that her leaving town would be a good thing for everyone involved.
"It's been about six years and I can tell that they have been kind to you." The first part of his statement had had her heart doing cartwheels in her chest. Yes, she had moved on from her silly little crush on this man a very long time but she appreciated knowing that he thought she looked good and that he did know how long it had been since they were last together. Had they been as terrible for him as they had been for her? "You've blossomed into a beautiful young lady just like your Father always promised you."
She knew that his statement had been meant innocently but the mention of her Father had got her back up. Even after fourteen years, she still found her Father's death a touchy subject that got her preparing to fight as well as kick and scream. It did not matter how nice the comment had been. She did not think anyone had the right to talk about him as if he was their friend. She knew it was stupid but she still blamed every last one of them for his death. "There's no need to be so fucking patronising. I knew that I was an ugly toad back when I was a kid but..."
"You were far from an ugly toad, Ivy. It's called being a late bloomer but we always thought you were pretty." He cut across her and she felt her temper bristle more at his arrogance. She knew that she was being a brat but this was what he did to her. Even on that last day, he had pulled her into a hug and explained that the time away would do her some good and she would find peace with her demons. She had not regretted the punch to his gut that she had delivered to him before stepping into the car and allowing her Mother to send her away to a friendlier version of hell.
Despite hating being banished from town by her Mother, Ivy had enjoyed her time away and 'finding herself'. She had gone to her grandmother for a year as an excuse to raise the funds to go around the world. She had worked as a waitress, a receptionist, a retail agent and had even done a stint in a garage before finally booking a one way ticket to Paris. From there she had gone on her own personal adventure that had lasted two years. Ivy had worked in any job she could find, she had socialised with characters that you would never find in a town like her home and had taught her things about herself that she had never known before. It had been the adventure of a lifetime and she had brought the experiences back home with her when she returned to find a job with a company she had worked for over there. She had made a life for herself and it had only come to a halt while she helped her Mother out. Once Leanne got the all clear after her chemotherapy then she would straight back out of this dive again and living the life that she had made for herself in a completely different part of the country.
"Well thank you, I'm so glad you saw all along that I was the ugly duckling that would one day just migrate into such a beautiful swan." She said with a fake smile before pulling her phone out of her bag and checking the time. "Oh boy, is that the time. I really should..." She said trying to giving them both an out of this already awkward altercation but Blaze quickly took hold of her wrist so that she could not move away and without realising he tugged her slightly towards him so that they were practically chest to chest if their arms had not been in the way. Ivy could not help but notice the heat rise in her or the way her heart slammed against her rib cage. "What are you..."
"Did you miss us?" His tone was soft and delicate but she could not allow herself to fall for that.
"Us as in the town?" She asked him to clarify but she did not give him chance to respond as she shook her head. "I didn't give it two second thoughts. This was just the place where I grew up and only mentioned when someone asked where I was from. And trust me, if I could get out of not admitting I was from this shithole then I did." She could see something hard setting in his eyes and his jaw clenched but she kept on going because she knew she needed to get this out now so he did not believe that she had changed as much as they had hoped. She was still the same bitter Ivy that had left six years ago but now she knew how to hide it. "This town practically turned it's back on me when I was hurting the most but do you know the world? Well that opened it's arms and enveloped me in the warmest embrace a lost child could ever imagine. Out there I found my Neverland and I can't wait to go back." Ivy did not realise how much hatred had stored up inside of her until Blaze had asked her a simple question. She knew that it was not the answer that he had wanted and she appreciated that. This place was all Blaze knew and probably would be because he would die here like everyone else does but she had escaped its clutches and she intended to stay free.
"So you haven't grown up like Rose hoped?" He asked her as he let go of her wrist and stepped back slightly, shocked at her vehemence for a place that had once been her life. This place was her roots and should be somewhere she looked back at with pride glistening in his eyes. Was she right though? Had they let her down like she felt or was she already a lost cause?
"Oh I've grown up, Blaze." She said with a sincere smile. "I just don't think it's how all you guys expected me to. Have I grown up to realise that my responsibility is standing behind the check in desk at the inn? No. Have I grown up to realise that this place is the reason I lost my Father? No. Have I grown up and realised that you can't place all your hatred into one measly building? No. But I have grown up and realised that the only person that can help you is yourself. Sure, your family and friends think they're helping you when they pack you off in the back of a hired van to go stay with a frail old grandmother that couldn't remember her own name let alone yours but they don't know shit. I have grown up and realised that the only person that can look after me is me. I am the only one that has my best interests in check and I don't care what you think of that." Flicking back her hair, she winked at him. "You can go spread that along with the gossip mills, Blaze darling. I'd start with the vicar's wife and by teatime I think the whole time would know that Ivy Leigh is still the same old wild child. She dresses like she owns the world, she smiles as if she hasn't got a care in the world but she still hates this town and this damned building."
"I've really got to go, Blaze. I'm tired and I have to man the desks this afternoon so that Mother can take Leanne to the hospital." Stepping back she took one look at the building, her eyes falling for the first time onto a 'For Sale' sign that hung from a post just in front of the door. A smile spread across her face as she realised that maybe this was her chance to get exactly what she wanted in this town. She had already started to walk away but she found herself stopping dead and turning back to look at him. "I suppose I'll be seeing you around?"
He just nodded, too stunned to answer her with actual words but she seemed happy with his reply because she just whipped back round and continued to walk away from him. What he could not find himself to point out was that he had not meant the town when he had asked 'us'. He had meant their friendship. He had meant everything that they had shared when she was younger and the sweet Little Lenny that everyone had loved. More importantly, he had wanted to know if she had missed him because there had not been a day that had passed in her departure when he could forget about her. This new cold Ivy was a shock to his system and he wondered if the Captain and his wife realised just how messed up their daughter really was. Was it his place to tell them though or should they find out on their own? He just knew that he had to make himself a promise that he would look out for her as well as help her show what there was to love in this town.
AUTHORS NOTE: I know it's been a long time and I sincerely apologise about that. I thank Rosie for getting on my case and reminding me to write it. As this was my NaNoWriMo 2012 story I ask who is doing 2013?