While the novel Going Back for Romeo has folks slipping back and forth between the 21st century and the 15th, the love story of Ivy MacKay and Wickham Muir starts here, in Wyoming oil country, 1954.
Wicked is an introduction to Ivy...
From the diary of Ivy Wickham...
I’m a wicked, wicked girl, and I know it.
I got it into my head that I wanted to go spend the summer with Cousin Mary in Scotland and I knew Daddy wouldn’t let me go, come Hell or high water. So I figured I’d just have to make him want to send me.
And what would make an over-protective papa like mine want to send his daughter as far from home as humanly possible? A budding romance with the most undesirable pick of the Wyoming litter, of course.
Poor Teddy. I don’t think he knew what hit him that spring. His own daddy was a drunk. His mother worked at the Pine Lodge, which was really a bar, but kids weren’t supposed to know that. People would rather die than confess their menfolk were at a bar, sinning. Saying your daddy’s down at the Pine Lodge wasn’t embarrassing. Kids weren’t sure what went on in a lodge.
It was embarrassing to admit your mom even had a job—didn’t matter where she worked. So Teddy had two strikes against him. Because of his parents, people didn’t expect much of Teddy; maybe that’s why he didn’t expect much of himself.
So when I sat down under Teddy’s usual tree, spread out my poodle skirt, and opened up my lunch one April morning, he jumped to his feet like he thought I’d brought a bee’s nest to nibble on. It took me five minutes of whispering to him to get him to sit back down. Another five to get him to smile at me—though it wasn’t very convincing. And by then it was time to return to class. I felt real bad he didn’t get his lunch eaten. He probably cursed me for the rest of the day, every time his belly growled, but how else was I going to plant that first seed, I ask you?
Since that first seed needed a little water, I didn’t go straight home from school that day. I held back so the girls I usually ride with had no choice but to leave without me or get their own butts blistered for getting home late. Then I took a nice leisure-like walk out around Donny’s pond. (We don’t remember what it was called before Donny Golightly drowned in it.) Donny, thank heavens, wasn’t around that day.
Now, I chose that route because when I told people later that I missed my ride and took the shortcut around Donny’s pond, no one was going to believe me. First of all, it wasn’t any shortcut, and second of all, even boys aren’t brave enough to walk around Donny’s pond alone, even in daylight. And this was all due to the fact that Donny supposedly got restless from time to time and made an appearance.
I was far too determined to get to Scotland than to let a lonely ghost bother me. I’m not easily scared. Daddy says money will do that to a person. Mother says it’s alcohol. And they should know. Daddy was a Scottish engineer who never spoke enough for his brogue to be catchy. He hit oil just where he’d figured it would be. Mother hit alcohol with the same confidence, but she wasn’t a drunk. Drunks drank in bars.
When I got home that day, I told our cook, Gay, where I’d been. She told my mother, of course, since she was the unofficial liaison to my parents. My mother, who had by then heard the news about me eating lunch with Teddy Martin, added the water to the seed and a fine little horror story had sprouted by the time my father got home from the oil field. Of course, neither my mother, nor my father would have taken the time to consult with me, to ask if any of that particular horror story were true. That just wasn’t done. Facts were facts. No need to check ‘em.
I was informed, by Gay, that I was to keep away from Teddy Martin for the rest of my life, or until I was dead, whichever came first. My parents, like always, thought a good stomp on a weed, from an expensive pair of shoes, was all it would take to make the thing shrivel up and die. They just didn’t know how many more seeds I had in my pocket.
I waited a week before I picked on Poor Teddy again. He asked the History teacher, Mr. Checketts, if he could use the restroom half-way through a film strip, and everybody knew, including the teacher, Teddy wouldn’t be back. I asked if I could go to the ladies room soon after, so when I wasn’t in my seat when the lights came back up, the next seed was tucked a good two inches into warm, moist dirt.
I had to be careful about watering that one. Wind of it might take a day or two to get back to my parents, I figured, so I didn’t want the rain to fall too soon.
I thought I was a fairly clever woman at the time. (I’d turned 18 near the beginning of the school year, so I thought it was pretty generous of me to even show up after that.) So in my wisdom, I’d sent two letters to Cousin Mary a couple of weeks before I ever started planting seeds. I sent two, you see, because there was no doubt in my mind that my aunt Maude Mary was going to insist on reading Mary’s letter after her daughter was finished with it. So the first one was your typical hello and wish you were here kind of letter. The second one I taped shut and wrote private across the seal. In that one, I pled with my cousin to suggest to her parents that I come to Scotland as a reward for graduating high school. I only told her that I was planning to pester my parents so they were in the mood to get rid of me.
The only risk was the possibility of Maude Mary having no qualms about opening Mary’s mail and telling my parents what I was up to, but that was a risk I was willing to take. For if my plan worked, I would be able to brag for the rest of my days that I’d traveled to Europe. No one in Wyoming traveled to Europe, and I was pretty sure, except for Mr. Checketts, they’d all forgotten Europe even existed.
When I could feel the tension rise in my house, with my parents speaking low behind closed doors, I went immediately to the fireplace in the formal living room and started a small fire. A fire was rarely lit in that particular fireplace because it was built from white stone and cleaning it was rather a mean thing to require of the staff. So it didn’t take long for Gay to come a’ running once the smell of smoke left the room. By then, of course, I’d already burnt a pile of papers that looked very much like stationary. Of course Teddy Martin wouldn’t have used stationary for love letters—he wouldn’t have been caught dead writing love letters in the first place—but Gay wasn’t likely to think of that. She’d only know that I’d felt such a need to destroy some papers that I’d gone and built a fire in the formal living room fireplace.
The tension rose to the point that my father actually paced outside his bedroom, and I almost wished I’d paid more attention to my Gaelic vocabulary so I might have understood a little of what he said.
When neither of my parents were adequately provoked to have a conversation with me, I thought the seed and rain combination needed a little sunshine, a little heat to get things moving. So I walked into the formal living room, where Daddy was alternately pacing and glaring at the ashes in the fireplace. I innocently lowered myself into a wingback chair and smiled up at him.
He froze in his tracks, turned a deeper shade of red than the shade he’d been sporting, and left the room. The string of curses he left in his wake were probably expected to stand in the stead of a true conversation because (and I know my father thinks this way) he allowed his feelings on the matter to be known.
Thwarted, but only for the present, I retired to my own room where I filled four pages of a steno notebook while practicing my signature with variations of my name combined with Teddy’s. I tried Ivy Delilah McKay Martin. That was tiring, so I filled two pages with simply, Ivy Martin. And to go in for the kill, I filled the last with Mrs. Theodore Martin and Mrs. Ivy McKay Martin.
I had no idea if Teddy’s name was Theodore, but it was a good guess. And again, neither Gay, nor my parents would be interested in that detail. At the last moment, I realized the pages were lacking in emotion, so I drew small hearts all along the edges of each page. By the time I was done, I stopped and asked myself if I might have a tender feeling or two for Teddy, the newly decorated pages were that convincing.
I folded the pages carefully and went to the laundry. When I found a skirt that had yet to be laundered, I stuffed the papers in a pocket.
“What are you doing, there?” Gay walked up behind me and rested her chin on my shoulder. It was her idea of affection, and as much as I would have liked to tease with her, I had a more important role to play.
I pulled the pages back out of the pocket and hid them behind my back as I turned. Since Gay was not stupid, she knew I was hiding something. She also knew me better than anyone else and would be the first to catch on if I was a poor actor. I stuck to the truth as much as possible.
“None of your business. I have the right to privacy like anyone else, don’t I?”
Gay took a step back and looked me over. I suppose being nervous about my acting played to my favor. She simply rolled her eyes and held out her hand.
“Hand it here,” she said as if she had no doubt I’d comply.
I looked at her down my nose. “No.”
I can honestly say that after the age of maybe five years old, it may have been the first time I’d denied Gay anything. She was a warm woman. A no nonsense kind of gal that did her job, reported to my mother because that was her job, and didn’t let the world put her in a foul mood if she didn’t want to be there. She wasn’t obnoxiously cheerful either. There wasn’t a dishonest or heartless bone in her body. And it was for those reasons I felt like a mean dog for using her the way I had.
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. Then raised them again when I continued to stand my ground. If she’d have gotten angry and stomped off to visit with my mother, I’d have been in the clear. But she didn’t.
She puckered those yellow and gray brows of hers over the oldest pair of puppy dog eyes you could imagine, but it wasn’t Gay that started crying.
It was me.
I cried for a good five minutes before I could catch my breath. I’d say she hugged me to her bosom, but it was more like the area where her bosoms used to be. She was nearing sixty and if she wore a bra, she wore it around her waist like a belt. Decades of cooking had made more of her to love, and more of her to hang, and she’d given up the fight a good ten years before. She always said by the time she was seventy she’d be able to just put her bosoms in her pants pockets and not have to worry about a bra again. I didn’t think she spent much time worrying about one then.
She wasn’t one to worry much about anything, including my crying. And she just laughed when I stopped.
“That was a long time coming, Ivy McKay. If you’d cry more often, it wouldn’t last near as long.” She pushed my hair off my face and gave me a hankie from her pocket. “Now, you want to tell me about it? Is it this Martin boy? Broke your heart, has he?”
She patted a stool. I sat on it while I emptied my nose. When I handed her the hankie, she just stuffed it down into her pocket like it didn’t bother her a bit.
“I hope you don’t forget about that,” I said, eyeing her pocket.
“Clean ones in the right, dirty ones in the left,” she said, patting her right pocket like it was full of twenty dollar bills. “Now, about this Martin kid...”
It was no use. I could never lie to Gay—or at least, not for long. So I told her everything.
She sat next to me and listened, holding a clean hankie to her mouth while I talked. When I opened up the papers from the steno notepad and showed them to her, she broke out in what I thought were heart-wrenching sobs. Turned out she was laughing herself sick. She even had to run off to the bathroom at one point. I was disgusted with myself for sticking around waiting for her to come back and laugh at me some more, but I needed to know what she was going to tell my parents.
She snatched the papers out of my hand.
“I’m sorry, young lady,” she said. “I’m going to have to show these to your mother. You should have never tried to hide them from me in the first place.” She winked at me. “Now, if I were you, I’d march up to that room of yours and wait to see if you get any supper.”
She dried her eyes, paused to consider the hankie before stuffing it into her left pocket, then toddled out of the kitchen like she was on a mission. Gay was going to play along!
After the shock wore off, I ran to my room.
As it happened, I did get supper, but it was delivered to me. Apparently my parents still weren’t ready to speak to me and sent Gay with a tray. But Gay looked worried, and Gay never worried.
“You’re supposed to eat in your room, honey.” Her voice was funny. “And after your father’s eaten, he’s going to town... He’s gonna have a talk with Teddy Martin.”
I’d been so busy feigning my love for him, I’d forgotten Teddy Martin was a real person!
My mother made the ultimate sacrifice for me that evening. She was plenty nervous, but instead of pacing in her room lighting up cigarettes, she sat in my room with me. She’d done this once before that I could recall. It was when I was ten.
There had been a boy who lived next door to us, and was therefore rich enough to be allowed to be my friend. His name was Nathan Rasmussen. And since rich kids were few and far between, I took what I was offered. Back then it didn’t matter if kids had anything in common besides being, well, kids. You’re a kid. He’s a kid. Go off and play.
But that year Nathan got a bike for his birthday and I knew that our friendship would be brief. A girl on foot is no match for a boy on wheels and I soon stopped trying to catch up—probably about the same time that he stopped looking back over his shoulder when he rode away.
One evening I heard a ruckus outside and followed my mother out the front door. There were a bunch of people gathered in a circle on our lawn, like they were gathered for prayer or something. My mother stopped half-way between the house and the crowd and pointed to the front door.
“Stay back, Ivy!”
I would not dare defy a direct order, so I backed up and sat on the steps. My mother stood her ground and folded her arms, waiting for someone to come explain—she didn’t mix with all our neighbors, even if they were on our grassy knoll. Soon a white form emerged from the circle. It was Gay. She seemed relieved when she saw me on the steps, then hurried to my mother’s side. It was the first time I saw Gay touch my mother, the only time I remember seeing my mother show any emotion in public, as Gay put her arm around Mother’s shoulders and led her back into the house as if a storm had just broken overhead.
I loitered in the butler’s pantry and eavesdropped when Gay used the telephone to make sure an ambulance was coming. Nathan Rasmussen had been struck by a car while riding his bike. His body had flown almost forty feet to land on our lawn. The car that hit him belonged to the doctor himself, who also lived on our uppity street. Gay supposed Nathan was lucky to have the doctor on hand. I thought it would have been luckier had the doctor stopped at the Pine Lodge instead of rushing home that day.
So my mother sat with me, as if sitting was what women were supposed to do while waiting for word that someone was dead. Waiting for Daddy to come back from his talk with Teddy Martin felt much like the day the doctor hit Nathan. Daddy had come to the door of my room and shook his head, then Mother had followed him out. Gay had explained to me that Nathan hadn’t survived, but then she’d had to explain that hadn’t survived meant Nathan was dead.
I stared at my bedroom doorway, dreading what my father might do when he returned, hoping he’d do anything but shake his head and walk away. For of course I’d never meant for Teddy to get involved in our little romance, let alone be punished for it.
My other fear was that my parents were about to discover that indeed I had not been traipsing around with Teddy Martin and therefore had allowed my daddy to go make a fool of himself in front of all and sundry. That led to a string of worries, the first of which was, how old must a girl be before her father was no longer allowed to beat her? I had never had a beating in my life, but if I ever deserved one, it was for causing Teddy Martin grief.
It didn’t really matter what Teddy said, of course. I’d planted those seeds, you see. I’d made sure that no one would believe me if I denied it, so no one was about to believe Teddy Martin. If I’d pled with my daddy not to go looking for Teddy, or tried to convince my mother it was all just a lie, it would only cause embarrassment. And for my family, the pledge of allegiance should have gone something akin to “with liberty, justice, and the avoidance of embarrassment for all.”
That’s why my little plan had been so clever. The threat of a little shame was a powerful motivator.
Daddy never came to my room that night to collect my mother. When the grandfather clock in the foyer chimed ten o’clock, Mother helped me into my pajamas like I was a little girl, then tucked me into bed and patted my cheek without saying a word. There were tears in her eyes, and tears in mine, but I was fairly certain we were weepy for far different reasons.
She was probably thinking her little girl was growing up.
I was thinking that Daddy was in jail and that Teddy Martin was dead.
Saturday mornings, I was always allowed to sleep in. Usually, what woke me were the squeaky wheels of various bicycles and wagons parading down our sidewalk—a parade that started around eight a.m. My remedy was to sandwich my head between two fat pillows and go back to sleep. At noon, Gay would poke her head in the door and ask if I was going to sleep all day. It was the routine of my life and I'd have given anything to have awakened on Saturday morning—or afternoon, rather—only to find that the worries of the previous night were only a nightmare. When the parade started, however, even my goose-down pillows couldn't keep those worries from flooding back to mind and waking me up like the horn of a freight train coming through my room.
What had Daddy done to Teddy Martin?
When I emerged from my bathroom, Gay was waiting. If she'd have dressed to match the look on her face, she'd have been draped in black.
"Ivy Delilah," she said, letting me know right away there was trouble on my horizon by the use of my middle name, "You are to get yourself dressed and ready for company. You wait in your room and you'll be called down when you're wanted."
It was a word rarely used at our house. Company meant I was to be on my best behavior since a parent was judged almost entirely on the manners of their children. But whoever company was that morning, it seemed they would have something to do with my trouble.
The word trouble did disturbing things to my insides. Some people used the word trouble to mean 'in the family way' and I certainly wasn't in that kind of trouble. I wasn't even aware of the particulars of how one got in the family way. And besides, I was still young enough to find trouble in regular ways, like sneaking into the cookie jar without asking permission.
Amanda Barlow, just two seats ahead of me in Mathematics, got into trouble when she accidentally stole from the five and dime. She'd hung around at the soda fountain for so long that she'd forgotten to pay for her gum. And when she'd walked out, Mrs. Farson went to the sheriff’s office and complained. Of course, after Amanda explained, it was Mrs. Farson who was snubbed for a long while after, for thinking a good girl like Amanda had stolen something on purpose. Eventually, the woman had been forced to apologize publicly to Amanda's mother before the rest of us felt much like buying a soda for a while. When all was forgiven, they say Farson's business perked back up just fine.
But other than such misunderstandings, girls didn't get into trouble. And I wondered if my parents were capable of jumping to horrible conclusions, if perhaps their company was going to be a preacher with Teddy Martin in tow.
The idea made me laugh. It was a fact, I giggled the entire time I was dressing. When I looked at my belly in the mirror, my laughter turned a little hysterical and that scared me into silence. I'd sown the damned seeds. I was going to reap what I'd sewn, good or bad. And as long as there was a possibility that Teddy was dead and buried in the bottom of one of my father's drill sites, there was a possibility that damnation was all I'd get for my harvest. Looking back, I probably should have worn my white suit and gloves, but the skirt was a bit tight and I didn't know how much sitting and waiting I'd be doing. So I wore the grey sweater and black a-line that went nearly to the floor. No sack cloth, but I had the ashes down pat.
When Gay came to collect me, I was sober enough for my own hanging.
She led me not to the formal living room, but to the dining room. My mother was seated at the table with Teddy's. Why that surprised me, I didn't know. I always pictured the woman at a desk at the Pine Lodge writing in a Steno notepad, and it was only reasonable for her to leave work from time to time.
She and my mother were clutching their drinks as if they were afraid they might spill, but the woman had a kind smile for me, which was almost my undoing. If Teddy was dead, she was being awfully nice, considering.
My father stood behind his chair at the head of the table. Another man stood behind him, looking out the French doors into the garden.
My father so rarely spoke my name it sounded foreign. I had to convince myself he was addressing me.
"This is Mrs. Martin and Mr. Martin." Daddy stepped aside to allow the other man to face me.
"Mr. Martin," I said. "Mrs. Martin." I nodded to each of them in turn. I did everything but curtsy. "I'm very pleased to meet you."
Mr. Martin stared me down like the dog I was, I supposed. He stretched his neck a bit as if his tie were too tight. Of course men wore ties for every occasion, even working in the garden, but Teddy's father looked like he did not appreciate the need to wear one on a Saturday morning in any case, and he clearly blamed me. When he looked away, his eyes caught on his wife's drink for a second or two before he turned his back again.
"I'd like ye to do somethin' fer me, Ivy," said my father in a tone that implied he was not requesting at all.
"Whatever you ask," I said meekly. I was keen for anything that might postpone that hanging and my meeting with God, or more likely, the devil.
Daddy pushed the curtains away from the other French door revealing the fact that Teddy stood out in the garden.
"I want you to go outside and say goodbye to Ted," he said. I had the impression he'd like to tell me exactly how many steps to take, which words to use, and how many seconds I had before I'd better be back inside the house, but he didn't.
"Is Teddy going somewhere?" Surely the man hadn't found a reason to throw the boy in jail. Of course, out of everyone I knew, Teddy was the most likely to see the inside of a jail cell, eventually, but he wasn't going to go there because of me.
"He's goin' tae Laramie," my father said, as if that's all I needed to know. But wasn't there a prison in Laramie?
I folded my arms and waited to hear more.
My father was not pleased at my sudden change in attitude. He took a step toward me and Mr. Martin actually reached out and put a hand on Daddy's arm.
"He's going to Laramie to attend the college there, sweetheart," said Teddy’s dad. "He's going to be a college man." He let go of my father, then walked over behind his wife. The woman had tears in her eyes and I thought Mr. Martin was going to console her, but he reached over her shoulder and took her drink instead. Then he threw back his head and swallowed everything but the glass in one long gulp. I couldn't tell if his wife was more upset about losing her son or her morning Scotch.
"College?" I was happy for Teddy, but then I realized my chess piece was still in play and it was my turn. "When does he leave?" I asked in a dramatic whisper and stopped short of sticking out my bottom lip.
"T'dee," said my father to the room at large, as if the Martins needed convincing.
I lifted my chin and walked to the door as if to say, "We'll see about that."
It was very theatrical. I hoped Gay was somehow watching.
"We'll wait here," said my father. He wasn't going to take his eyes off me, was what he really meant.
Teddy turned at the sound of the door snapping shut. The only expression on his face was a little pucker between his eyebrows where they pushed together. Almost sad. Slightly worried. When he opened his mouth to speak, I suddenly wondered how thick were the panes of glass and raised a finger to my lips as I walked toward him. A slight nod told me he understood. I gave him a big smile that no one else would be able to see.
"Teddy Martin. Congratulations. I hear you're going off to college. I can't tell you how worried I was about you."
He bit his lips. I could tell he was pleased about the situation, but he covered it well under a sheen of anguish. He shook his head as if in denial. "Isn't it wonderful?"
I almost laughed.
"Teddy. I'm so sorry about this, it's just—"
"Ah, don't worry about it, Ivy. We all do stupid stuff to get our parent's attention. It's worked out well for me. I won't be tending sheep for the rest of my life, thanks to you." He blushed and looked away. "Who knows? Maybe I'll come back and be mayor of this stupid town."
"Oh, Teddy." I rushed forward and threw my arms around him, partly because I was happy for him (though I was not the huggy type), and partly because our parents would be expecting some show of emotion. It wasn't as if we were on the front steps or something. The neighbors would never know. And I could just imagine Daddy and Mr. Martin stumbling over themselves to get the French doors open.
But nothing happened.
Teddy kept hold of me as I pulled my head back to look at him.
"Why haven't they stopped us?"
"Well, I'm not going to complain." He looked at my lips. "Maybe they're going to let us have one last kiss."
I gasped. "I don't know...how."
He grinned. "I'll show you."
And he did. It was a lucky thing Teddy Martin had never kissed me before that day or I might well have given up all thoughts of Scotland and my parents would have been right to send him away.
I was just catching on, of course, when I heard the throat clearing about five feet behind me. And if throat clearing could carry an accent, this one was Scottish.
"Goodbye, Ivy," Teddy said as he set me down. I didn't even remember him picking me up. "I'll always remember this."
My daddy snorted.
I touched my lips and smiled. "So will I." And for our audience, I added. "And I'll keep my promise..."
Daddy stared me down as the Martin's made their exit. As soon as the door shut, he stepped close.
"Ye will tell me what ye've promised that lad."
"Promised?" I shook my head. "I promised to remember him," I said innocently.
Daddy shook his head. "Ye will do no such thing. Ye will forget him, do ye hear?"
"Forget him. I command ye to forget him." Daddy’s head had turned dark red beneath his thick orange hair.
"Of course," I said. "Of course I'll try." And as I walked around him, I rubbed one finger along my lips.
By the time the invitation arrived from Maude Mary, I'd already made a list of what to pack.