Home > The Invisible Hour

The Invisible Hour
Author: Alice Hoffman








Ivy Jacob came from Boston, and had lived her whole life on Beacon Hill, but whenever she was asked where she grew up, she would say, West of the moon. She laughed when she gave out that fairy-tale locale that had never existed in this world or any other, but anyone could tell from the look in her eyes how deeply she wished it were true. She had always felt like an outsider in Louisburg Square, an exclusive enclave of Greek Revival houses surrounding a small park and garden, all privately owned by the elite families in the city. Neighbors didn’t necessarily speak to each other, but they respected one another, and they followed the rules. The other girls on the hill wore pleated skirts and blouses with Peter Pan collars, they did as they were told, and when they graduated from the Birch School, they went to Wellesley or Mount Holyoke. Ivy was different. She did as she pleased. Her parents didn’t appreciate the way she sulked, or how she shamed herself with her short skirts, treating her beauty as if it were a curse, chopping off her hair one year and dying it blue another, storming out of the room whenever her parents tried to talk sense into her. All the same, she was an intelligent girl, and had always been a great reader, spending hours at the Boston Athenaeum; but despite her love of books, she ignored her schoolwork and was failing her classes, bored to death by her lessons. She loved Thoreau for his rebellious thoughts, and the Brontës for their dark and tragic tales of love, and Toni Morrison, whose novels made her cry and feel as if she didn’t know the first thing about life.

What few treasures she had were stored in a small jewelry box she’d been given when she was a child. When the lid was opened, a dancer spun in a circle. Inside there were little more than trinkets, silver bangle bracelets, a ticket stub from a concert she’d gone to when her parents were away vacationing, the key to their maid Helen Connelly’s house. Helen, who’d never had children and always regretted that decision, saw the family close-up, and she knew how unhappy Ivy was. She’d been with the Jacob family ever since Ivy was a toddler and thought of the girl as her own, even though she wasn’t. If she had been, Ivy would have been pulled out of that private school, where she was so clearly failing; she’d know she was loved.

“For emergencies,” Helen had said when she gave Ivy the key. “If you ever need me.”

Ivy had thrown her arms around Helen to thank her. “Every day is an emergency,” Ivy had whispered, and although she had smiled, it didn’t feel like a joke.

“Don’t forget,” Helen had told the girl. “Day or night. I’m here.”

Ivy was a true beauty, with black hair and gray eyes, but as she grew older, she became more unmanageable, at least in her parents’ opinion. By the time she was sixteen her mother considered Ivy to be the bane of her existence. When she was a senior in high school, her grades were abysmal, she often slept past noon, and she’d become a vegetarian, a choice her parents were convinced she had made out of spite. Ivy had been picked up by police with a group that had vandalized the statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard, painting his foot red. There had been one boy after another, and Ivy had recently been caught in her room in bed with a neighbor’s son, a Harvard student named Noah Brinley, who was from a perfectly fine family; still, their actions were unacceptable. Noah’s parents were not informed of the situation—boys would be boys after all—but Ivy was grounded for several weeks, although if her parents had been more observant, they would have seen damp footprints on the carpeting in the hall, left there on the cold mornings when Ivy sneaked back into the house after nights spent in the Public Garden, or in Noah’s dorm room, or wandering home along Beacon Street.


* * *


IVY DIDN’T REALIZE WHAT had happened until September, and by then three months had passed. She’d skipped her time of the month before, but one day she felt something move inside her. No one had discussed birth control with her, and she’d thought she could depend on Noah to take care of that, but he’d never been one to take responsibility. Now it was as if she had swallowed the sea, and there was a wave coursing through her, a quickening that felt as if another heart was beating against her own. Ivy had never thought about having a baby, children were of no interest to her, but now what was important in the world had changed.

Students were just returning to Harvard, and she found Noah in his dorm room, unpacking. He’d been away all summer, traveling with his parents in France, and somehow, he had not connected with Ivy after his return to the States. The truth was, there were other girls he found more interesting, ones who didn’t have so much baggage and were more sophisticated in sexual matters. Noah was tall and handsome with thick red-blond hair. “Hey,” he said uncertainly when he saw her in the doorway. Ivy looked heavier, and she had a strange, dreamy expression, almost as if she was in a trance. “What are you doing here?” Noah asked after a measured pause.

She was there to tell him that their lives were about to change, that they were meant to be together, that joy would be theirs, but when she announced that she was pregnant, Noah had no response. He appeared blank and fuzzy-headed, the way he did when he’d had too much to drink. Ivy told him she wanted them to run away together, and in response Noah slammed the door shut in case his roommate returned. “Lower your voice,” he said, and at that moment, there in his Harvard dorm room, he sounded like Ivy’s father.

Ivy had thought they were in love, that’s what they had told each other, but now she saw the dark, sidelong look Noah gave her and she thought that she might have been wrong. She’d seen that look before, from her father as a matter of fact. Disappointment and distance. Noah was still in the room with her, but it was as if he’d already left.

“Do you think I would actually consider running away?” Noah said coldly, a scowl on his handsome face. “This is my sophomore year. This year matters. Don’t screw it up for me.”

Ivy felt like a little girl, abandoned to a world of chaos. The truth was, for all of her bad-girl attitude, Noah was the first boy she’d been intimate with. She couldn’t go to her family doctor for help with birth control, he would have immediately told her mother, and the one time she’d gone to a clinic for help, there were protesters outside, and she’d been too nervous to walk past them. “I thought you wanted us to be together.”

Noah depended on the goodwill of his parents, and this news of Ivy’s would infuriate them. Who knew what price he’d have to pay? He would have never gotten into Harvard without his father’s interference. “People change,” he said with confident authority. He’d heard his father say so many times before.

Noah wasn’t even certain how he felt about Ivy anymore. What did love mean, anyway? Ivy was beautiful, but what had made for amusing fun at the start—jumping into the Charles River, even though it was polluted and freezing, stealing from shops on Charles Street, having sex late at night in the Boston Public Garden—seemed childish to him now. Ivy could get rid of the baby or have it, that was her decision. What did he have to do with it?

“Hey,” Noah told her. “What can I say? Do as you please.”

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