At an early age, Ivy learned that the most important thing in the world was power.
Her parents didn’t explicitly teach it, writing it on a chalkboard in block letters and demanding an essay on its meaning and impact.
The way people deferred to her parents and her grandparents in any and all conversations, including those in which they could offer little expertise. The way crowds parted in every space they entered. The “family and friends” discounts from strangers, with whom Ivy had never seen her parents spend time. The willingness of others to stretch truths on their behalf to make their bad deeds disappear.
While people around them worked their asses off to advance a millimeter in their jobs, at home, in the race of life, Ivy learned all she had to do was drop that Walthorpe name, have someone glance it on her school bag or her ID, and she advanced to ten feet within the finish line, each and every time.
Had it helped her? Of course. But it was a stupid form of power, although she would never admit it out loud. It was too offensive to say so, too ungrateful, her Grandpa Milton would tell her. But it was the truth all the same. It wasn’t as if they had earned the privilege through their own effort or knew what it meant to strive for that power, like her great great grandparents had when they had actually achieved it. Five generations in, it was inherited, passed down in the genome like her almond eyes or knobby knees. The only thing this generation of Walthorpes had succeeded in was keeping their grip on it.
What she didn’t learn—explicitly or implicitly—until the age of 17 was how far her family would try to float on that name. Or how much people would hate them for it. Or how much they would hate themselves.
“Miss Walthorpe-Jennings, thank you for taking the time to speak with me,” Special Agent Foley says as Ivy shuffles into the room, tennis shoes squeaking across the recently-waxed tile floors. Ivy watches as his eyes flick up and down her, most likely clocking the navy sweatshirt, gray sweatpants combo that she had been sporting in their interview three days before, and when he first came to the Walthorpe home the day before that. She considered changing, mainly when her family members told her the switch of wardrobe would do her good mentally, and, according to her Uncle Chase, would help her avoid the stench that was sure to find her if she wore it for one or two more days.
While the sweatpants belonged to her, the sweatshirt had been her dad’s, lodged in her memory for as long as her mind held onto images. The fabric showed its age in the faded collar, the small tears on its sleeves, barely noticeable but enough that her mom had asked him to throw it away on multiple occasions. Ivy was grateful that he hadn’t listened, because it was suffused in his scent. The scent of life, or maybe just his life tried-and-true: Ralph Lauren Polo Black cologne and mint toothpaste and lavender detergent. Not the scent of iron that seems to ha coated her olfactory nerve. Five days in and it hasn’t lessened, not at all.
“You’re welcome,” she murmurs and pushes herself up in the small padded chair, her posture changing from a backwards slump, to a forward hunch against the edge of the white table. “What’s going on? Do you know anything?”
Her eyes meet his, the gray of his irises bright against his tan skin, the wrinkles around them and the crinkle of his eyebrow conveying sympathy. “We’re working on it. I promise we’re doing all we can.”
“Okay,” she says, but promises mean little to her these days. Her trust level of others is down to zero. Strike that, it’s gone negative. “What do you need me for?”
“I just want to talk to you again about that night.”
She knows it won’t work. All she’ll be left with is the ache, and she’s been feeling it for days. “Why? I mean I want to help, but what more is there for me to say?”
Ivy had asked her mom the same question when she came into her room less than a half hour earlier, and found Ivy curled up in the corner of her closet with a pile of fluffy blankets over her, a couple pillows from her bed beneath her, and her pink Beats headphones around her neck. She had thought the music might soothe her, but the inability to hear any noise around her when she wore them made her feel like a sitting duck just waiting for the predator to return and take her, too.
“Ivy. The police need you to come down to the station and talk to them,” her mom had called, but Ivy didn’t answer. She just watched as her mom peeked around the door, glanced over the bed, across the desktop and her open laptop. It amazed Ivy, how well put-together her mom was now, her slicked-back ponytail and cream sweater and jean pairing making her look like she was straight out of a magazine, not in mourning. As her mom kicked aside the wheeled ottoman, her gaze followed the trajectory past its stopping point near the foot of the bed and to Ivy in her closet hiding space.
She sighed. “Ivy, come on. You have to pull yourself together.” Maybe it was the grief, or the exhaustion, but Ivy couldn’t help but think it sounded more irritated than understanding, more displeased than empathetic, despite the fact that when her mom spoke with police that night, she had sobbed.
“How?” Ivy asked, genuinely seeking the answer. How could she pull herself together when the phrase alone made her think that someone, somewhere was trying to pull her father together, to sew closed the gaping wounds that had left open to the elements the chest she had once fallen asleep on, the arms that had cradled her, the legs that had bounced her, the heart that had loved her as much as it’s rigidity would allow. All in the name of making him presentable for the public. Death mirroring life.
Her mom didn’t have to see it. The police had cordoned off the entrances to the house five minutes before she arrived. If her mom had come home on time, she would’ve been the one to find him, rather than Ivy. A matter of minutes and Ivy’s mind wouldn’t be haunted this way. It was a selfish thing to wish, but she couldn’t help it. She wished she could have covered all the wounds, wished she could have had more hands, wished she could have stopped the bleeding although it was already done.
Then again, her mom wasn’t exactly winning the award for selflessness either lately.
“I don’t know. You just need to do it.” Her mom crossed the room to her, and tried to haul Ivy up by her underarms. Ivy offered little help. To do so she would need to regain control over her body, to stop dissociating, to find her bearings in a world that had gone completely off-kilter. Her mom heaved another heavy sigh, and Ivy saw the anger pulling at the corners of her mouth, the tears budding into the corners of her eyes. “Don’t make this harder on me than it already is.”
The admission, one that someone beneath the polished surface she was feeling some pain, some difficulty, roused enough energy in Ivy for her to stand, to walk down the stairs and out the door past her family, and into the Range Rover waiting in the driveway, Chase at the wheel.
“If you could, I just want to go over your night leading up to going home, and then when you arrived, before you called for help. Do you think you can do that?” Special Agent Foley asks her from across the table.
Can? Just barely. But will she? She has to, although she can’t she quite understands why. Is he looking for inconsistencies in her story, like her mom had warned her about? Make sure you’re consistent, it will raise questions if you aren’t. But she doesn’t have a reason to be inconsistent, because she didn’t do anything, and for them to be looking for them means they’re looking at her, and that is something she definitely doesn’t understand. How could she of all people do this to her dad? How could anyone?
She nods and swallows. “I’ll try.”
“Good. Start whenever you want. I’ll ask questions if I need to,” he says, waving her on.
On the tabletop, Ivy notices a winding scratch, not deep enough to cut into the table, but enough to mar the veneer. She puts her fingernail into the groove and follows its swirl. “I had heptathlon practice. It started at 3:45. We have, well they have, a meet this weekend, so we ended up going longer than usual. We’re supposed to get done at 5:45 but we got done at 6:45 instead. My friends and I walked to our cars, and we talked about meeting up before school the next day to have coffee. It was my turn to pick it up.” Much more often than not, it was her turn, since their favorite spot, The Tea, provided a steep Walthorpe family discount—no questions asked. “When I got in my car, it was 7:03. I remember because I looked at my phone and I had a text from my mom. She asked me if I could run and get some Chinese for dinner because she was working late.”
“Was that normal for your mom?”
“What part of it? The Chinese food or the working late?”
“Both. Did she work late a lot? Did she send you to get food normally?”
Ivy scratches at her hair, and feels the grease of strands between her fingers. Maybe Chase was right and she should shower. “Uh, yeah, working late wasn’t abnormal.”
With the number of plates they were spinning at all times, past 7:00 P.M. nights weren’t uncommon in the least, hell past 9:00 P.M. work nights weren’t. Things hadn’t been going well there lately, scandals within management, financial pitfalls due to the ever-changing news landscape, and as long as fires were burning, longer nights were on the table too. “But, no, she didn’t normally have me get food. Usually we’d have something at the house. Either I’d make it or our housekeeper, Diane, or Dad.”
Her voice cracks on the final person, as a memory emerges from her brain, one of him cooking up fettuccini alfredo from a Hamburger Helper box like he had ate when he was younger and still in school, saving his money for books and gas and weekend trips to the bars on the cape. Was it the best fettuccine alfredo he had ever had? No, that was a tiny restaurant in Italy years later, when the money came in heaps, power in spades, and the Cape was the location of their vacation home; but it was still his favorite, he has told Ivy.
“I mean, not too much,” Ivy shrugs. “She’s not a huge fan of takeout but I thought maybe everyone else was busy, and she knew I was, so she thought it was the easiest thing to do. It was already a long day.”
“Okay.” The agent glances at his notepad. “So, then what? Did you have any more of a conversation than the food?”
“No. I told her I could get it, and she texted me where to pick it up, so I went there and grabbed it. It was like ten minutes out of my way, so by the time I got home it was close to 7:30 and then—“ She breaks off. The tension grips her, and nail presses so hard into the tabletop she thinks it might break too. She can feel the beginnings of sweat on the back of her neck, budding up whenever she thinks about what is to come next. “I pulled in the driveway, and I got out of my car with the food and my school stuff and everything, and I walked up to the door, and it was unlocked. It normally wasn’t. We had a rule to lock it, you know with the threats my family has gotten over the years.”
As her grandma had told her, with power came pissing people off, and the Walthorpes had pissed more than a fair amount of people off, be it through their own choices, or the stories they printed. Never had Ivy thought they’d do something so terrible to elicit the amount of anger required to do something just as horrifying as this. “So I thought that was weird, but my dad’s car was already in the garage so I just assumed he had left it by accident. But he hadn’t.”
“Do I have to talk about this, too?
She knows the answer. The details of her night leading up to what happened are of little significance to what he can mine from her story of what actually happened, but she feels compelled to ask anyways just in case there is any way she can squeak out from under recounting this trauma again. And, when he shakes his head, her heart sinks anyways.
“I’m sorry, but you do. Just one more time.”
She takes a breath to collect herself, but there’s only so much of herself to gather when most had been when most had been obliterated, crashed, crushed in the moment her world turned upside down.
“I—I walked in the door and I called out for him, and asked if I was supposed to leave the door unlocked but he didn’t answer. It was super quiet, like quieter than it ever is when someone is home. We always have music or a TV going, and I couldn’t hear anything. So, so I was getting more and more freaked out, and then…then.” To catch her breath is impossible, like capturing sunlight in your hands. “I went into the kitchen, and there was stuff all over, like there had been a fight or something and he—he was on the floor, next to the stove. Blood everywhere, all over him, all over everything.”
Ivy’s mind couldn’t make sense of it, and still hadn’t fully. Her brain refused to connect the blood to her dad, at first choosing to believe it had randomly appeared there, and her dad just happened to be lying in a massive puddle of it. Not moving. When she whispered his name, then said it, then screamed it and he didn’t respond, her mind finally connected the dots. It was his. This was real.
“I ran over to him, and I tried to find a pulse but, but, his neck was—“ Nearly halved. She shakes her head. The rest of her body follows suit. “But he was still warm, so I thought, I thought that maybe he could…he could be—“
“I know,” Special Agent Foley said.
“I grabbed all the kitchen towels, I tried to stop the bleeding. Put it on his chest, and his neck, and—and they were everywhere. I tried CPR, but that couldn’t help obviously, but I needed to try.” It’s a good thing he’s heard this story before, because Ivy’s voice is at a whisper. “I was screaming. I didn’t realize it but I was, and Graham heard and ran over. He called 911. Then you guys came.”
Graham was her next door neighbor, confidant, flirtationship, she thought maybe boyfriend if they ever got the chance. As he spoke with the dispatcher, Graham knelt beside her, put his palms to her cheeks, and told her to look at him, to try to breathe. It didn’t work really, she just fell onto her heels and sobbed. He took the towels from her and held pressure although he knew even more than her that it was futile, as she cradled her dad’s head in her lap, and begged him to wake.
He lifted his shoulders, his mouth agape, searching for words neither of them could still find. “I don’t know.”
“Did it seem weird to you? That Graham came over? That he came into your house?” Agent Foley asks.
Ivy wipes at her eyes so much that the cuff of her sleeve is damp, as she shakes her head again. “No. Not when I was screaming like that. He thought I was hurt, or something was wrong.” He was right. “Why would that be weird?”
Setting down his pencil, Agent Foley lays his arms across the tables.
Ivy perks up in her chair, tilting her head as if that will make the words slide into her ears and bounce off her eardrum in a way that makes sense. “What? Why would she say that?”
“She said that he and your dad didn’t get along the best, and she found it strange that he would be over at the house so quickly when you were inside the house screaming. That he could hear that from inside his own.”
“I had just found my dad stabbed to death. I was screaming really loud. Other neighbors heard it and called too. You have the logs of that,” she says, and he nods, confirming. “And no, they didn’t get along the best. My dad didn’t like how much time I was spending with him. He thought I should be using my time in other ways.” Better ways, he had said.
“Your mom said that they had fought recently.”
What the fuck, Mom? What are you doing? Ivy wonders. “Yes, they had. I had snuck over to his house a couple weeks ago and my dad came looking for me and wasn’t happy. My dad started yelling, and Graham yelled back. I did, too. But they weren’t so angry at one another that Graham would kill him. Not even close. He would never. He’s one of the gentlest people I know.”
Over the past few days, he has been one of her strongest supporters, even if her mom had only let him visit for a few minutes, telling her it was “family time.” The rest of their communication was through phone calls and texts, her phone lighting up every couple hours with one or the other, checking in, seeing if he could do anything.
Of all the people who she thought the police would be considering for this, Graham didn’t place anywhere near the top of the list. “That’s like saying because I was yelling at him, I did this. Or because my mom and dad did, she did this. It doesn’t make sense.”
Special Agent Foley eyes narrow in curiosity. “Your mom and dad fought? A lot?”
Ivy is just angry enough to answer without putting much thought into it first. “Not a lot, but enough.” Catching herself, she realizes she should probably explain more considering why they are there, and the targets that are being aimed at people’s backs. “I don’t know how much other parents fight, but it’s probably the same.” Or more as of late. “Is he a suspect? Graham? He was with his friends most of the night. I don’t know he even could be.”
“Graham has a solid alibi that we have corroborated with multiple people, including his friends. Just as we have corroborated yours. Neither of you are on our suspect list at this time.”
Very few things have brought Ivy any sense of relief since that night, but this lets a bit more air in her lungs, the coil of fear wrapped tight within her unwind one round. “But then why did you even ask me about him then?”
His answer comes slowly, a breath drawn in, a breath released. “Because I wanted to know why you thought your mom has multiple times tried to implicate him when he has an alibi?”
Agent Foley nods again.
Laying her head in her hands, Ivy presses her palms into her eyes, as if she can massage an answer out of them but all she sees is stars. No explanation presents itself. “I know she’s not a huge fan of him either. She says he’s new money.” As if money’s age means anything, other than being an indicator of when someone last worked for it. As if inherited power was superior to creating your own. “But like I told you before, I don’t know why she would say that.” Just as she doesn’t know why he is asking this, although as soon as the question forms in her brain, it fires reasons right back at her, red flags that should’ve been lifting throughout this conversation but haven’t until right now. If they had, she would’ve seen where this was going from the beginning, his reason for bringing her here. “Do you think my mom had something to do with this?”
Ivy trips on the words, which are just as unwelcome on her tongue as they are in her mind. They feel like a betrayal to speak out loud. Her mom could never do this. Never.
Agent Foley had told them that the amount of stab wounds pointed to a crime of passion, more than a break-in gone wrong that the spatulas, pans, and coffee cups strewn across the kitchen had suggested. A crime of rage.
Yes, they had their bad moments. Yes, they had been happening more. Yes, there were times that Ivy wanted to run further away than Graham’s house to escape it.
But no, it couldn’t possibly come to this. No, their passion was one of love stories, not murder mysteries. No, her mom wouldn’t have kept Ivy out of the house longer to finish the job and then lure her back when she was ready and traumatize Ivy so she wouldn’t be the one on the record as finding him. No, she wouldn’t try to pin it on an innocent person to keep the heat and the accountability off herself.
How many times at the corporation had she forced the blame of mistakes and blatant errors on a person she deemed below her or that she just didn’t like, making them the fall guy? How many times had she used her relationship with the police to the detriment of others who didn’t hold the same power? How many times had the Walthorpe named saved her from the reprimands and consequences she had deserved? Multiple.
But that wasn’t murder. That wasn’t her husband. No. No. No. No.
“I can’t say that for sure. We’re looking at others. As you said, there are plenty of people to look at. But her alibi isn’t adding up. We haven’t been able to corroborate all of it, and we believe she’s lying about some of it.”
“Why would she do it? She couldn’t have. That’s not possible. She isn’t capable of that.” Or is she? Hasn’t she seemed too composed, only losing it at the right moments? Ivy thinks back to earlier, when her mom told her to pull it together. Was that a normal response to a daughter who was deep in grief from a mother who should’ve been as well? Or was that the reaction of someone who didn’t want to see the pain they had caused? Or is Ivy just thinking this now because she needs to understand what the police could be seeing to make them think that? Are they trying to turn her against her mom to see what they can get? “Do you think she’s capable of that?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “There’s a lot we don’t know right now.”
The nausea churns in her stomach, crawling up her throat, and resting heavily on her gag reflex. “Does she know that you’re looking at her?”
Agent Foley pauses, and taps on his notepad. “No. Not yet. And I need you not to tell her either.”
“How?” Ivy asks again, only this time instead of to her mom, it’s to the person telling her her mom may not be the person she thought she was, who may be a murderer.
If she thought they had already lost enough, she was wrong. She didn’t realize that everything else could soon go with it.
The floor is no longer just shifting, it is spinning, flipping. Along with the room. The building. The rest of her world as she knows it. She grips the table, as if that can keep her stable, but nothing can.
How is she supposed to keep this in? How is she supposed to go home and feel safe? How is she supposed to get through this if it is the truth?
How do you survive that? She wants to ask. How will life ever make sense after this?