Ivy's Bitter Poison
A lingering sense of dread enveloped me in its cold embrace. The feeling danced upon the smoothness of my skin, crawling slowly up my arms and eventually choking my slender neck. I couldn't breathe. My vision began to blur, my brain unable to function fully and solely focused on trying to stay conscious. White noise screamed into my ears, and a black fog overtook my vision. I couldn't fight it anymore. My legs buckled underneath my weight, and the last thing I could process was the cold tile catching me as I fell.
Click. Click. Click. Click. The tapping of my black suede boots echoes on the streets as I make my way home from an adventurous night out. The word 'adventurous' alluding to the fact that I ran a few errands after my job got canceled at the last minute. A plastic bag swings back and forth in my small hand, hitting the side of my obsidian hue coat. Inside, the grocery bag contains a tin of hazelnut coffee from a small cafe a few blocks from my home and a few apricots from the local grocery store. My perfectly-plain brown hair cascades to my mid-back; the slightest waves are present in the locks. It matches my chocolate brown eyes, complementing the chestnut sweater dress hugging my athletic figure. My warm medium-deep beige skin tone peeks through my stockings.
My boss always tells me that I would be the perfect femme-fatale; young, charming, skillful, clever, and bold. In most work settings, this wouldn't be something one would hear within the professional surroundings; however, it's relatively common to be exposed to these whispers when you're an assassin. I prefer to use my... other assets. My target— an upcoming businessman who is about to take over a hotel chain due to his late father's untimely demise. He was supposed to attend an indoctrinating preliminary meeting at their only lavish hotel in the area, Eden's. He never showed, and I got a notification that my target stayed home feeling unwell from a colleague of mine, Shadow. The target's penthouse is too heavily guarded to attempt an assassination with no extra planning, so we called it a night. Until next time, John Garner.
Before I knew it, I had already made it back home. The old brick building sheltered several different families within— but most importantly, my own. The whole reason I even joined the organization– to make sure I could support my siblings and my poor father, who refuses to retire from his job from hell. I walk up the messy concrete steps and open the door, revealing a shared hall space. A few mailboxes, four to be exact, are embedded into the wall. Two doors confront me; one to my right and the other to my left, a bit further down after the mail. Following the left door, a set of rickety-rusty stairs travels up to the next floor. I cross the vinyl ground to traverse up the stairs, the familiar creeks as I mount each metallic step. My feet instantly turn about to my left as I make for the furthest door after reaching the top of the stairs.
After placing my hand atop the golden knob, I twisted it, and to my disappointment, it swung right open. They forgot to lock the place up again. I walk into the dark entryway and take off my stylish boots before placing them onto a wire rack by the door. I do the same with my coat and make sure to lock the door behind me. I guide myself through the small hallway to the kitchen. I proceed with caution, for the off chance that it wasn't my family being irresponsible again. My family should be more careful about leaving the door unlocked, but I guess it's because they're still not used to actually having one .
A dim light illuminates the kitchen, and there was my father preparing meals for the next day. He looks so tired and disheveled from whatever his day had entailed, but there he is, still taking care of all of his children even when I tell him he can take it easy now. The kitchen is decently sized for the place we live in, it even has a small island and enough cabinets to hold the food I buy for everyone: me, my father, two growing girls, and a demanding brother.
My eyes wander to my father's calloused hands. If I didn't know any better, I would think that the cuts and scrapes on his hands were from the kitchen tools, a result of his own clumsiness. Except I did know better. Those were from his work at the factory again. The one with barely any legal guidelines or regulations but just always seems to get by the law. Those machines are not safe for people to be working with, and I'm scared he'll lose his hand one day. I set the bag with my groceries down on the counter in front of him.
"Hola, Mija. What happened to work? I thought you had a sale that was going to go through today, no?" Even after all these years, his accent shines through his calming voice. I hate lying to my family about my work, but it's not like I can tell them I kill people for a living. Even the amount of money I bring home is much less than what I actually make. I don't want my father to get suspicious and start snooping into what I'm really doing. One wrong move, and it could get him killed. A harsh consequence in my field of work.
"Ah, they decided they needed some more time to think it over. But, more importantly, why was the front door unlocked?" I ask while beginning to unpack the two items I had brought home. After I put them away in their proper storage areas, I return to the island to face my father.
"Aye, we keep forgetting! Sorry Mija, after living here for almost two years, you would think we'd be better about this. It's too bad about your job, though. Selling arts and jewels is not easy. No guarantees for your commissions." He continues as he begins placing lids on the food-filled containers.
"No, but I know that I can sell this piece. So you don't have to pick up any more shifts at that shit-hole factory." I tell him bluntly. He knows I don't like him working at the fireworks factory. Yet, despite how much I push him to quit and live a comfortable life, he just smiles and gives me a determined and unwavering look in his brown eyes.
"Mija, I keep this job because we don't know what could happen. Your job gives you fancy clothes to help look the part for your sales, but what if you lose that job? Or you can't make a sale? Then we have the money from my— what did you call it? Shit-hole job, eh? Haha. No, I will not quit my job until I feel like I have fulfilled my role as your father or I die. Whichever comes first." He shrugs almost playfully as if it's a joke before continuing, "I feel blessed that you have a good job that treats you well and can pay for our food, the clothes we wear, and the roof over our heads. But it doesn't give us savings for a rainy day. You are working for five. Let me work because I like to. I want to."
I wish I could reassure him with all the earnings I honestly have. "Dad-"But he cuts me off, clearly wanting to end the conversation there.
"Mija, do you think this will be enough for Luke? He's growing up so fast now. I think he's going to eat through all of our food." He lets out a small chuckle as he takes the meals and puts them into the fridge. I let out an inaudible sigh. Stubborn as always. I don't know how mom ever put up with such stubbornness; may she rest in peace. I guess it's a family trait.
"Are Luke, Angela, and Chloe all asleep?" I question, deciding it's not worth it to fight right now.
"Sí, Erica, they should be in bed, but you know how they like to stay up and wait for you." He smiles. His smiles are warm and gentle, and his face scrunches up just enough to make it look like his right eye is winking. "I'm glad they have such an incredible sister to look up to."
I walk up to him, just standing a few inches shorter than he is, and give him a goodnight kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, dad. Goodnight."
"I love you, Mija; goodnight." He shuffles out of the kitchen toward his own bedroom– his black jumpsuit shifts with his movements.
I quietly traverse the quaint hallway to where my siblings should be resting. Every time I cross these old floors, I wonder if I should give my family a better life. I'm scared that if I do too much for them too quickly, I'll be found out, and in turn, my family will become targets. Certainly, after two years of getting out of the old homeless community, it wouldn't look suspicious if we got a house. When the agency first found me at 15, they made a fair point to me that it would be weird if the homeless 15-year-old suddenly had the money to buy a home for her destitute family. So I made a deal that they would keep my money safeguarded for the first five years of my contract with them, and a small portion would still be given to me. It would look like I had a regular part-time job to help support my family. That was my story for the first five years, with the cover that I worked as a "delivery person". When I turned 20, the money that was rightfully mine poured into a false bank account in order to keep my identity a secret. Erica Fuentes still only had a few thousand to her name. Claire Jones, however, had well over seven figures. It'd be more if the agency didn't take out so many fees. As I got older, I realized it would still be weird for me to be able to get my family a nice house right away. So I settled for this old quadplex. Two years have passed since I signed this lease, so maybe it's the right time now.
I don't get to finish the thoughts; already making it to my destination. I gently knock on the door and slowly turn the knob, pushing it open. Two smiling faces rush up to me, and a third grumpy one stays sulking on his bed. My younger sisters Angela and Chloe hug me with all their might. Angela wraps her tiny arms around my waist. Unlike me, she has straight blonde hair and freckles covering her face. Dad says that mom used to look like that before she turned 16, and after that, mom's hair started getting darker, and the freckles, while never truly fading, began to disappear. Angela also has mom's green eyes. She's very different looking from Chloe, her fraternal and younger twin. Chloe clings to my leg and stares up at me with big hazel eyes and brunette hair. A gap in her teeth makes her s's sound like a quiet whistle.
"Sis, sis! For our birthday, can we get the paletas from Sally's?" Chloe asks excitedly. They both turn ten in three weeks, and I honestly don't know how I ended up with such sweet sisters. They never ask for anything more, every year just wanting the same ice cream bars from the local ice cream shoppe. I playfully tap my chin, pretending to think hard about the decision.
"Please, please, please!" They both plead in unison, jumping up and down while still holding on to me.
"Okay, okay! We can go, but you have to behave. Remember, no jumping or screaming this late. We have neighbors across and below us." I look down at them with a shushing finger pressed to my lips as I speak.
"Okay!" They excitedly, but quietly, whisper back to me. They run back to their bunk bed, Angela getting the top and Chloe resting on the bottom. Angela continues to talk to Chloe, peeking her head over the bed, and they continue to whisper frantically about their upcoming birthday. Double digits. I don't know how time flew by so fast.
I finally address the sulker across the room on his own bed. Luke. He turned 14 earlier this year and just entered his second year of high school. He's been a great older brother to Angela and Chloe and a trooper remaining as their roommate even as he entered his teen years. I think, if anything, he was just grateful to have a room that wasn't being shared by everyone and to have his own bed. The look on his face concerns me, though, and I can only hope he's frustrated at his living situation rather than what happened last time.
"What happened today?" I straightforwardly ask as I take a seat next to him. The bed creaks a little with my added weight; he doesn't look over at me. Instead, he crosses his arms across his chest and grips them tightly. I look away from him so he doesn't feel like I'm staring too much. I let my eyes rest on the twins, watching them gleefully talk back and forth to each other in hushed words.
He's barely audible when he speaks up. "I'm grateful for everything I have, but... don't you think I'm getting too old to share a room with two girls?"
An unexpectedly relieved sigh escapes from my mouth. "I know." I fall back onto the bed and make eye contact with him, my brown eyes staring into his hazel ones. "I'm trying, but you know how dad feels about my work. He doesn't think it's reliable and doesn't want me to waste my money on useless things. He says we should be grateful for this roof over our heads. And he's right. But I agree with you."
"Jake said that it's weird that I share a room with my sisters." Luke fidgets with his sleeves.
"Jake? We're listening to him again?" I give him an incredulous stare. This is what I was more afraid of.
Luke breaks eye contact with me. "Look, I know Jake and I have had our ups and downs, but he just has a hard time socializing. He doesn't mean anything bad." He defends.
"Like when he threw your water bottle in the street? Or when he "playfully" shoved you to the ground in the middle of the hallway? Made you look bad in front of the first girl you liked, made fun of you during class, or when he–"
"That's just how he is, okay? You gotta admit he brings up a pretty good point, though. Isn't it weird? To share my room with my sisters? Can't they move into your room? That way, it's all girls together, and nobody feels weird about anything." He's quick to change the subject away from his supposed best friend, Jake.
"I know, but you also know I have important work in my room that those two hooligans would not keep their grubby little hands off of." There's no way anyone could move into my room. I even go as far as to lock it whenever I leave. While it can look ordinary from a quick glance, if you look too carefully, someone could stumble upon my stash of weapons and poisons. It pains me to even think of my family accidentally stumbling upon those and either being lucky enough to question me about it or finding them dead.
Luke lets out a frustrated sigh and rakes his hand through his light brown hair, but there's a sense of understanding behind his actions. I pause, contemplating the idea of upgrading to a nicer home. Of course, I'd have to get Secretary's permission. It's a lot more complicated with a family, and I'm in the minority, with most agents living solo. As long as I just get a small home, it shouldn't be too weird, right? "How about I make a deal with you?" He raises an eyebrow, intrigued. "If I'm able to sell this next piece, and you promise to stop interacting with Jake... maybe I can do something about the whole room situation."
"Really?" He says with a disbelieving stare.
"Yup, but you have to promise. And I have to sell this piece with no complications." The complications being my death or getting caught.
"I know you think Jake is a bully, but he's just–"
"Yeah, I know, 'that's just how he is'." I roll my eyes. "Just don't let him push you around. You deserve to be treated better."
"I know... I promise." Luke mumbles. Even though his tone makes him seem annoyed, there's a glimmer of joy in his hazel orbs.
"Thank you." I sit up on the bed and give him a small hug. Picking myself up, I walk across the creaking floors on my way out of the room, passing by Angela and Chloe, still talking excitedly to one another, now about some TV show all the kids are watching. "Goodnight, everyone." I sing as I flip off the light switch, leaving the room dark except for the single nightlight by the girls' bunk bed. A unison of everyone saying goodnight ensues, and I walk out, closing the door behind me.
I cross over and unlock the door hiding my own resting quarters. It's a small room, with a bed in the far corner from the door and a small window letting in the dim glow from the city lights. The room itself is quite bare, revealing a desk with nothing on it except one family photo and a pendant with the same picture inside of it. The closet rests in front of the bed, and I grab what I need to prepare for the night. After collecting some fresh clothes, I head to the bathroom to shower.
The first ten minutes I stand in the steamy hot water, mindlessly letting the liquid fall around my curves. I rest my forehead upon the false tile lining the shower walls, my thoughts beginning to file their way in. I just need to get this kill, and then my family can move up to a better home. My dad can see that my work is all we need and can stop working at that forsaken factory. My siblings can have a suitable life growing up. I know that's what mom would've wanted for all of us. So for her sake, I'll do my best to make her wishes come true, even after death. "...Please watch over us, mom." I give a small prayer as the hot water runs out and turns cold. Quickly, I finish up my nightly routine.