The book of ivy, p.10

The Book of Ivy, page 10

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series

 

The Book of Ivy
 


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  “We had a maid when I was growing up. Charlotte. She used to let me sit with her in the kitchen while she cooked, and I guess I learned by osmosis. She always smelled like cookie dough.” He smiles at the memory. “I spent most of my time with her.”

  As opposed to his mom, I imagine. I can’t picture Erin Lattimer as the cookie-baking type. I stretch out on my stomach on the rock and rest my head on my folded arms. “I’m thinking that nap I mentioned earlier might be in order,” I mumble against my skin. The heat of the sun is like a warm blanket on my back, the only sound the slight gurgle of the water, the drone of bees flitting among the flowers along the bank, lulling me to sleep.

  “Go for it.” Bishop lies down on his back next to me, one arm bent behind his head.

  I fall asleep almost instantly and wake, disoriented, to his hand on my back, resting right between my shoulder blades. The outline of it burns into my skin. “Ivy,” he whispers. “Wake up.”

  I open my eyes by degrees, my limbs heavy and sleep-drunk. “How long was I out?” I ask, my voice husky.

  “A while. Long enough that you’re starting to turn a little pink.”

  Bishop is still lying next to me, but he’s turned on his side, his head propped up on his hand. I have no idea how long he’s been watching me sleep. We’re close enough that I can see the faint shadow of stubble on his cheeks, a single dark freckle nestled on the edge of his cheekbone. We look at each other without speaking, the silence between us stretching on and on, as thick and cloying as the humid summer air. Bishop moves his hand from my back, his fingers trailing across my skin, and I shiver, goose bumps breaking out along my arms and neck. I have to struggle for air, my heart and lungs seizing up like they’re being squeezed in a vise. He lifts a lock of my damp hair, lets it slide through his fingers. He reaches for it again, curling it around his fingers.

  “Thank you for today,” I whisper. The movement of his hand in my hair is hypnotic, the unexpected warmth in his eyes as drugging as the sun on my back.

  “You’re welcome,” he says, voice low.

  This is exactly what Callie warned me about, letting my guard down and a Lattimer worming his way under my defenses. But she told me to play nice, too. Act like a content wife so he won’t suspect I’m actually something much more lethal. Maybe with some other boy, some boy without thoughtful green eyes and a calmness at his core, performing those two opposing actions would be easy.

  But not with Bishop. I don’t know how to let him touch me without welcoming the heat of his hand.

  M

  y father is not a fan of surprises, so I know I’ve done something either very good or very bad when I see him coming toward me on the sidewalk, Callie trailing in his wake. I stop dead, my messenger bag slamming into my hip, and wait for him to approach. I haven’t seen him since the wedding, and if anyone is watching, they might find my reaction strange, so I stretch a smile across my face. His presence is a relief, but it’s a burden, too. I’ve missed him, but I don’t want to be reminded of what he expects me to do.

  “Hi, Dad,” I say, when he’s a few feet away. “What are you doing here?”

  “Can’t a father visit his favorite daughter?”

  Callie socks him on the arm and flashes a grin. “Hey, standing right here.”

  My father smiles at us both, and I recognize this whole strained interaction as a performance, put on for the benefit of any curious eyes and ears. It makes me sad that we have to pretend to be comfortable with each other.

  I allow myself to be folded into a hug, a quick kiss pressed against my cheek. “We’ll walk you home,” my dad says.

  “Okay.”

  I lead the way, the two of them walking on either side of me, the same way they did the day of the wedding. Boxing me in.

  “We got your message,” Callie says, once we’re past the semi-crowded streets near the courthouse and on an empty sidewalk.

  My father puts his arm around my shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Good work, Ivy.” He withdraws his arm. “Where are they exactly?”

  “In a room in the basement of the courthouse. There’s a keypad on the door and inside the room there’s a safe.”

  “How many?”

  I shake my head. “I couldn’t get a close look. But I’d guess several hundred. Different types. Handguns, shotguns, rifles.”

  “We’re going to need the codes,” Callie says. “Knowing where the guns are doesn’t do us any good without those.”

  “They don’t leave them lying around,” I snap, irritated for no good reason. I knew when I found the room that the next step would be finding the codes; it’s not a surprise.

  “I’m aware of that,” Callie says. “That’s why you’re going to have to figure out where they are. And you can’t take too long. Three months is coming up fast.”

  “I have the code to get into President Lattimer’s house,” I tell them. “Bishop gave it to me.” My father beams at me and I flush with pride. “I can use that to get in and search for the code to the gun room and safe.”

  “Once we have the codes, we’ll be close to putting the final phase into action,” my father says. He stops walking, and Callie and I do the same.

  The street is very quiet. In the distance, I hear children’s laughter. I scuff the toe of my shoe against the sidewalk. “You mean the phase where we start killing people?”

  From the corner of my eye, I see Callie give my father a look, her eyebrows slightly raised. But when she speaks, it’s to me. “You’ve known all along what’s involved, Ivy. No revolutions are won without sacrifices.”

  I take a step toward her. “Thanks for patronizing me, Callie. You’ve made everything so much clearer.”

  Callie jerks her head back like I slapped her. But before she can respond, my father puts a finger under my chin and turns my face until I’m looking into his brown eyes. The same eyes he passed on to Callie. Eyes so dark you can never figure out exactly what’s happening behind them.

  “Yes, Ivy, the phase where we start killing people,” he says. “The same way they killed your mother. The same way they showed her no mercy.”

  The familiar anger swirls in my gut, so automatic now at the mention of my mother’s name I wonder if I even really feel it anymore or if it’s just a reflex. “President Lattimer told me he knew her,” I say. “Is that true?”

  My father pauses, shrugs. “Probably. They grew up on the same side of town, so I’m sure their paths crossed at some point.”

  “But he made it sound like—”

  “Does it matter?” my father asks. “It doesn’t change anything. The facts are still the facts. And you know what needs to be done.” His voice is gentle but firm. “Not everyone who dies in a war is guilty. Sometimes they’re just on the wrong side.” He gives my chin a little chuck as he moves his hand away. “Do you understand?”

  “Yes,” I say. And the hell of it is, I do understand. They are both right. But it’s easy to talk about what’s right when the sacrifices for a cause are abstract…a president’s son, a distant stranger, a symbol. It used to be easy for me, too. But now I know the color of Bishop’s eyes in the sunlight, the way his hair stands up in the morning before he showers, the warmth of his palm on my back.

  My father smiles. “Find the codes, Ivy,” he says. It’s not a request.

  Callie squeezes my hand. “We’re counting on you.”

  I

  bite back a swell of disappointment that Bishop isn’t sprawled on the couch when I get home, his long legs resting on the coffee table, or out in the kitchen whipping up something for dinner. Already, I’m not sure how to define what we are to each other. Certainly not husband and wife, although that may be true on paper, and not exactly friends, either. But whatever it is, whatever we are, it will only make it harder in the end, because I am incapable of faking a relationship with him in order to make it through. For better or worse, my feelings for Bishop are real, whether they’re anger or frustration or something else entirely. I’
m different from Callie. I can’t base my whole life on a lie, even if it’s only temporary. So it’s better if Bishop sleeps out here, with the safety of a wall between us.

  I leave my messenger bag on the end of the couch and go into the bedroom. My neck and left shoulder have been sore since climbing the cliff at the river, and I rub the muscles with my right hand as I walk. Once in the bedroom, I kick off my shoes and one goes flying under the bed, disappearing beneath the bed skirt. I bend down and reach for it, my hand finding something hard instead of my shoe. Frowning, I get down on my hands and knees and lift up the bed skirt to peer under the bed. I pull out my shoe and toss it aside. Next to where it landed is a large photo album. I slide it out. Its cover is glossy red leather with gold leaf scrolling up the side.

  I shift to sitting, my back leaning against the bed, and balance the heavy album across my legs. When I open it, the pages stick together slightly, making a faint ripping sound as I pull them apart. The first pages are dedicated to newspaper articles about the beginning of the war, the newsprint yellow with age. It’s all information I learned from my father—how the bombs fell first on the east coast of the United States, then the west, how we retaliated, how more bombs were dropped, both here and on our allies, the ever-escalating futility of war, like the world’s most deadly game of chicken. But the articles end before the war did, simply because the destruction was too vast. There was no one left to report on the damage. Everyone was too busy trying to survive it. And most of them didn’t. Those who did were then cast into nuclear winter and their ranks further culled by disease and exposure. It’s a miracle anyone survived, really.

  After the articles, there are old photographs stuck to the pages, descriptions written below them in faded ink. Some I know from pictures I’ve seen in books, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon. Others I’ve never seen before, the sequoias in California, the Northern Lights, the Great Barrier Reef. I run my fingers over the images, trying to imagine a world large enough to encompass endless treasures.

  “So,” Bishop’s voice says from the doorway, “find something interesting?”

  I jump, the album sliding off my lap onto the floor. “Oh my God,” I breathe. “You scared me!” I glance from him to the album. There’s no way to hide what I was doing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

  But he only smiles, walks in to the room, and lowers himself to the floor next to me. “It’s all right. I don’t mind.”

  He reaches over me and pulls the album back onto my lap. “It was my grandfather’s. He started it after the war so we wouldn’t forget the way the world used to be. I’ve added to it over the years.”

  I flip to the next page, which is covered with pictures and ragged-edged postcards, all with images of the ocean. The next page is the same. And the one after that. I look up at Bishop, who keeps his eyes on the album. “You want to go beyond the fence,” I say quietly. “Don’t you?”

  He nods. “I want to see the ocean.”

  I pause, remembering the conversation we had on the couch the night we both couldn’t sleep. “That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? What you gave up when you married me.” It’s not even really a question, I already know the answer from the look on his face.

  “Hey,” he says, “it’s okay. Maybe in a few years I can convince you to take a very long hike with me.”

  “But…” I trace the edge of a shoreline with my fingertip. “The bombs hit the coasts hardest. Would it be safe? Even now?”

  Bishop shrugs. “Maybe not. Probably not.” His face tightens. “But I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favors staying isolated this way. Who knows what’s out there? We may find other people. Whole societies like ours. And even if we don’t, I’d get to hear the waves on the shore.” He gives me a sad smile. “That would probably be enough to make it worth it.”

  I stare at him, this landlocked boy who dreams of water. It might have been an easily attained dream before the war. But now, when our knowledge of the world is limited to this small parcel of earth, when safety can be counted in square miles, yearning for the ocean seems like a form of bravery most people will never come close to attaining. It feels like reaching for the stars.

  I bump my shoulder gently against his. “My grandfather saw the ocean, before the war. The Pacific. He told my dad it was loud and cold and beautiful, and that the water was so salty it made your eyes burn.” I glance down at the album. “Do you think we ruined it?”

  “Probably.” Bishop sighs. “We ruined everything else. But I’d still like to know for sure.”

  I’ve never given much thought to going beyond the fence. My world has always been confined to the boundaries established by my father. But hearing Bishop’s words, I try to imagine what it would be like to simply leave, strike out into unknown land, free from expectation, free of judgment. A whole world in front of me where I could be whoever I wanted to be.

  “So what stopped you from going earlier?” I ask. “Before the wedding?”

  He’s quiet for a moment. “My father’s sent surveying parties out. Did you know that?”

  “No.” I doubt my father knows, either. I’ve never heard a word about it. It surprises me. President Lattimer doesn’t strike me as a leader who cares much about what’s happening beyond his borders.

  “Not many people do,” Bishop says. “He sent one group of three volunteers when I was ten. And another group just a few years ago.”

  “Did they find anything?” I ask.

  “No. Only one man ever came back. They didn’t even make it twenty miles beyond the fence before they were attacked, all their food and weapons stolen. The man who returned to Westfall died a few days later from his injuries.” He gives me a quick sideways glance. “That’s why I didn’t go, I guess. Fear.”

  I stare at his profile, the sharp line of his jaw. I remember his ease in the woods and the water. I remember his words about wanting to follow his heart. “I don’t think you were scared to go,” I say. “I think you were scared to leave.”

  “Aren’t they the same thing?” he asks with a crooked smile.

  “No.” I shake my head. “You’re not scared of what’s out there. But you don’t want to disappoint your father.”

  Bishop doesn’t say anything, but the somber look in his eyes gives him away.

  “You’re going to be president someday,” I say. “You’d really turn your back on that?” It’s hard to imagine someone giving up the presidency willingly when my own father is fighting so hard to claim it.

  Bishop huffs out a laugh. “I’m not cut out to be president. I’ve known it since I was young. But my father doesn’t see it or doesn’t want to see it.”

  “I think you’d be good at it,” I say, and I mean it. I think he would be more thoughtful about balancing the needs of the group with the desires of individuals. I can’t imagine Bishop continuing the arranged marriages or forcing couples to stay married, although he’s never come right out and condemned his father’s practices.

  “No, I wouldn’t be,” he says. “I’d rather find out what’s beyond the fence than protect what’s inside it. I don’t care enough about the power.”

  The polar opposite of his own father. And of mine. “That’s exactly why you’d be good at it,” I tell him. “Because the power doesn’t matter to you.”

  “Maybe.” He doesn’t sound convinced.

  “Would you govern like your father?” I ask, eyes back on the photo album. I already know he doesn’t like the fact that we don’t have choices anymore, but I’ve never asked him this question directly.

  Bishop hesitates. “No,” he says finally, and my heart leaps as my stomach falls. “I think my father’s done a good job of keeping us alive. I think in his own mind, he means well.” Bishop sighs, runs a hand through his hair. “But part of being a human being is making your own choices, having freedom. I think my father’s forgotten that.”

  “See?” I say quietly. “You would be good at it.”

  Bishop smiles, shakes hi
s head. “I’d still rather explore than govern.” He takes the album from my lap and slides it back under the bed. “Dinner?” he asks.

  “Sure.” I push myself to standing. I grab a rubber band from the top of the dresser and reach up to gather my hair into a ponytail, wincing as I tweak my sore shoulder.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “Just sore from all the climbing.”

  “Here.” He holds out his hand. “Let me.”

  I raise my eyebrows at him in the mirror above the dresser. “You can do hair?”

  He smiles. “I can try.” He gathers my thick hair with both hands, making me laugh as he tries to pull it back and push it up at the same time. He finally manages to twist the band around it a few times, although it’s a long way from smooth. “There,” he says. He rests both hands on my shoulders and meets my eyes in the mirror. As I watch, his thumbs come up and run down the sides of my neck, slow and gentle.

  A curl of heat unfurls inside me, starting deep in my belly and spreading outward. I feel it in my toes and fingers and the heated flesh of my cheeks.

  I feel it everywhere.

  “Will that work?” he asks quietly.

  “Yes,” I say. I’m having a hard time finding my voice. “It’s fine.” The skin under his thumbs burns like it’s been painted with fire.

  His eyes are still on mine in the mirror, like he’s waiting for something. Some signal I’m too scared to give him. Bishop lifts his hands and steps away from me. “I’ll go start dinner.”

  I nod. “Okay, I’ll be right there.”

  Once Bishop is gone, I walk to the bed on shaky legs and sink to sitting. I press my palms hard against my closed eyelids. I can still feel the weight of Bishop’s hands on my shoulders, the memory of his thumbs against my neck. I remind myself what his father’s done. What he is still doing. But Bishop’s touch is gentle, his intentions good. No matter how hard I look, I cannot find the blood on his hands.

 
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