"This is a great honor, Ivy…"
Ivy looked to her mother, the woman's tone betraying her true feelings. ‘A Great Honor' rarely caused one's voice to be filled so completely with sadness. The young woman couldn't help but frown as she stared down at her mother, the woman's brunette hair masking her down turned face. A few stray strands of gray hair could be seen here or there, betraying the otherwise youthful looking woman's true age. In their land, in that time, though, it actually was an honor to have lived as long as her mother had – to reach the point where your age can no longer be masked.
"It doesn't feel like a great honor…"
Ivy turned her eyes from her mother as the woman completed the last minute alterations to her garments, finding her own reflection in the full-body mirror in front of her. The eighteen year-old found her still youthful and slender body staring back at her – a little more of it visible to her eyes than the young woman would have liked. A lace green top covered her average sized bust, held up by a single continuous strap that ran over each shoulder and behind her neck. A similarly lacey green skirt hid her waist, but was about two inches shorter than she would have liked, barely reaching down past her crotch. If it weren't for the skin tight black leggings that concealed her legs until just above her knees she would have felt entirely inappropriate in the outfit. The young woman's mid-drift was exposed, her belly button visible to anyone with eyes. It also revealed her tight, lean figure and defined muscle tone. Though it was far from what she would usually wear, she did have to admit to herself that she pulled off the look with ease.
The teen's eyes, though, were focused on the forlorn expression plastered on her face. Her normally brilliant green eyes looked dull as they stared back at her from the mirror, as if the life had been sucked from them. Her lips – despite the ‘great honor' she had been given – were twisted into an inalterable frown. Her hair – her most unique feature – seemed to hang lifelessly from her head. The entirety of its normally vivid, forest green strands were woven together into a hundred or so small braids that hung down just past her shoulders, vaguely resembling hanging vines. That day, though, Ivy felt like the exuberant hair seemed to be tinted yellow, as if it were rotting away when faced with this ‘great honor'.
"Ivy… I know this isn't what you want, but…"
"It's fine." Ivy cut her mother off, shaking her head gently. She didn't need her mother to explain it to her. While it wasn't the future she would have chosen for herself, it also wasn't a future she could deny. "It's for the good of you, and father, and Rose, and Chip, and everyone else."
The teen smiled wistfully, thinking of her brothers and sisters. She had six of them – all of them annoying pests. She would miss them, even if – in a way – it was their fault this happened to her. Not that they had consciously decided on her future either, though.
Her family was the largest in Verde Village, and so it had been decided that one of the Growth family members would need to be volunteered for this special task.
"Your family has been blessed many times," the village chief had told them, "it is only fitting you repay those blessings now."
Ivy scoffed, shaking her head again as she continued to stare at herself in the mirror. Once it had been decided a Growth would be volunteered, there really wasn't any choice other than herself. Only a woman was suitable for the chore, which meant her father, and three brothers – Elwood, Chip, and Woodward – were all safe. Her mother was too old for the job, and her sister Clover had been recently wed, and just found out she was pregnant, so no one would ask her to perform the task. Her little sisters Lily and Rose were too young to handle the job – or at least too young to be torn from their family. This left only Ivy to bear the ‘great honor' of serving The Tree Frog for the rest of her foreseeable life. There was no honor to it, though. It was simply an unavoidable burden.
"All done…" Her mother spoke, slowly lowering her hands from the hem of Ivy's skirt, her eyes focuses on the trim, studying it for any possible flaw that might prolong her daughter's departure further… but there was none.
"It's beautiful, mom." Ivy replied, forcing the cheeriest looking smile she could manage. "Thank you."
"Of course, Ivy… anything for you." Her mother turned her head up, revealing the gentle stream of tears that were flowing for her normally joyous hazel eyes. The woman was smiling up at her, despite the tears, trying to put on a strong front. "I'm sure The Tree Frog will be pleased with you, too."
"Is she ready, Daisy?"
Ivy turned her head, staring over her shoulder at the man in the doorway to her room. The man was built like a redwood – tall, thick, and sturdy. His face was grizzled, coated with an almost permanent five o' clock shadow. His short, stubby brown hair stood up straight, like a forest of leafless trees atop his head. The man turned a smiling face to his daughter, his dejected brown eyes betraying the cheerful expression.
"Yes. Just finished." Her mother replied, forcing herself to her feet.
"You look breath-taking, Ivy." The man in the doorway stated honestly as he stared at the young woman standing across the room.
"Thanks, dad." Ivy nodded, still wearing the mask of her smile as she replied.
The man continued to force his grin as he nodded. "We… need to get going, though."
The teen lowered her eyes, nodding as she turned and picked up a small leather bag from where it sat on her bed.
She followed her parents out of here room, and out of the house, taking a last glance at her home. She couldn't help but smile as she saw the crack in the wall from when she and Elwood had snuck a wild boar into the house, thinking they could tame it. The beast may have been small, but it had been mighty brave when it tried to crash through the wall in its attempt to escape. She also glanced at the small notches in the door frame of her little sisters' room, a set on each side to mark their growth over the years. At one point in time, she remembered her parents doing the same thing for her, though she hadn't bothered within it for quite a while now. And as she entered the main room of the home, she spotted the edges of a large burn on the floor, the rest of it hidden away beneath the couch. She almost laughed, thinking about when she had caught Chip ‘camping' in their living room, campfire and all. Her parents had been less amused.
The young woman stepped out the front door, her vision blurred by the light of the sun a moment as she did. As the rays cleared and her eyes adjusted, she saw her family there waiting for here, as well as a few other members of Verde Village.
"Ivy…" her eyes turned to her eldest sibling, Clover, as the blonde called out her name. Even a few months pregnant, her sister was still a vision of beauty, her golden locks framing her perfect face. When she had been growing up, Ivy had idolized the woman.
"You're crying…" her sister spoke again, voice quivering a moment as the strong smile she had worn seconds ago began to vanish.
"I'm…" Ivy lifted her hand up, wiping away a tear as it ran down her cheek, catching it in the small dimple of her fake smile. She hadn't even realized. The young woman quickly raised her other arm, drying her eyes against it.
"I'm sorry. It's just something in my eye." She lied as she lowered the limb to reveal her still tearing eyes. She wished they would stop, but the salty water continued to roll down her cheeks.
"It's okay, ivy patch." She felt her mothers arms wrap around her and had to clench her eyes shut to avoid totally breaking down. She felt her smile twist a moment as her face attempted to frown, but she fought the temptation. "It's not as if we'll never see you again."
"I know; its fine!" Ivy exclaimed, trying to sound enthusiastic.
"I don't want Sister Ivy to go…" Ivy felt a pair of small arms wrap around her legs and looked down at her youngest sister, Lily. The girl was barely old enough to understand what was going on. Though Ivy was pretty sure she still didn't completely grasp the concept, the four year-old understood enough to know she wouldn't see her sister for a while.
"I know you don't," Ivy smiled, patting the little girl on the head, "but this is a great honor for your sister. She can't pass it by."
Ivy felt her voice waver at the words ‘great honor'. She had a hard time letting the phrase slip past her lips in such a cheery and genuine sounding tone. She really didn't want to lie to Lily. She didn't want to trick the girl into believing this was a good thing…
She raised her eyes to her father, who now sat atop a small carriage, a single horse at its front, grazing obliviously on a patch of grass on the ground.
"We have to get going, bramble patch."
Ivy nodded, taking a second to hug her mother and little sister back, and then embrace the rest of her family one by one as well, before climbing up into the cart with her father.
"We love you, Ivy!" her mom shouted as her father flicked the reigns to set the horse in motion.
"I love you all, too!" Ivy yelled back, waving as the carriage pulled away. She continued to stare back, waving until her family vanished from view. Then she sat quietly, continuing to watch her town slide away until the trees of the forest surrounding Verde Village hid it from her vision as well. Even then, though, she continued to stare at what lay behind her, trying to envision her friends, her home, and her family.
"It's okay now, Ivy." Her father reached over, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as he pulled her close.
"I know." Ivy replied, forcing a cheery voice out of her throat as she finally turned forward. "This is a great honor, right? I'm so lucky, I—"
The man beside her squeezed her tight, pressing her body against his.
"It's okay now, Ivy." He repeated. Ivy felt a drop of something hit her forehead and glanced up, seeing the trail of a tear running down from her father's eyes. "You don't need to pretend anymore. You don't need to force yourself. It's okay now…"
Ivy felt the tears catch her throat, she felt the water welling in the corner of her eyes. She didn't want to cry – she didn't want her last memory with her dad to be like that! She swallowed hard, trying to force the sadness back down into the pit of her stomach, trying to will it to go away, but the more she focused on it, the stronger it became, until finally she could hold it back no more. Ivy let out a scream as the tears burst from her eyes, held back no longer as she hid her face in her father's shoulder. The man pulled her closer, stroking her head as he leaned his chin down on top of it.
"It's okay like this." The man said calmly, continuing to run his hand across her head. "I'd rather you were honest and true in these last hours anyway. So just let it out, Ivy. Just let it all out."
Ivy clenched her fists tight, rubbing her head against her father's chest as she still tried to stop the tears.
"It's okay like this."