The Book of Ivy, page 13part #1 of The Book of Ivy Series
“He seems pretty predictable to me. He hits her whenever he wants.”
“I’m serious, Ivy. Don’t try to deal with him on your own.”
I stare down at the floor, still hearing the crack of Dylan’s palm against Meredith’s cheek. I hate President Lattimer all over again for putting girls like Meredith in a position they can never get out of, left with absolutely no power over their own lives.
“What was that, by the way?” Bishop asks. I look up and he’s staring at me.
“What are you talking about?”
“Sitting on my lap.” He pauses. “Touching my hair.”
I have no idea how to respond to his question. Which answer is the truth and which is a lie, which one will make things temporarily better and which will make things permanently worse?
“If you touch me, I want it to be because you want to, not because people are watching,” he says. “I don’t care what other people think. What does, or doesn’t, go on between us isn’t anyone’s business but ours.”
I didn’t know he could read me so well. I don’t know why I’m surprised. He’s been watching me since the moment we met, learning me like he’s learned the river and woods. I want to tell him that I may have started out touching him because I was worried about other people, but that’s not what I was thinking about by the end. Everyone else in that backyard had ceased to exist for me.
I want to be honest with him. But I’ve already made so many mistakes today. I can’t afford to make another one.
e return to the fence a week after the barbecue, but this time, although we walk in tandem, we do not hold hands. There’s been a distance between us since that night in the kitchen, a tension that simmers on the surface of every painfully polite interaction. I hate it, but I tell myself it’s better this way. I pretend I don’t miss the sound of his voice and the touch of his hand.
The walk seems to take longer today, maybe because I’m not running after him like a crazed maniac, maybe because of the silence between us and the oppressive heat. The sun is high in an electric blue sky, not a cloud to be seen, the air so hot it practically sizzles on the inhale.
When we reach the tree line, I approach the fence warily, not wanting Mark Laird to surprise me. It would be foolish for him to have remained here, but that hasn’t stopped the girl, whose crumpled form still lies at the base of the fence. The spot where I last saw Mark is empty, and no one else is in sight. The only sound is the breeze sighing through the long grass beyond the fence.
But the breeze brings something besides sound. It brings the smell of death, burning the delicate lining of my nostrils and coating my throat so that I can barely swallow past its foulness.
“Oh, God,” I manage to choke out, my eyes watering.
Bishop is already crouching down beside the girl, one hand covering his nose and mouth. I take a cautious step closer and wish I hadn’t. Her face is a dark purple horror. She’s been strangled, her head lolling on a snapped neck. Her long skirt is hiked up around her waist and I turn my head away, press my cheek against the hot metal of the fence and close my eyes. I know I will never be able to unsee the livid bruises on the insides of her thighs, her milky, sightless eyes.
“He killed her,” I say. I’m breathing like I just ran a race, gulping down air contaminated with the remains of the dead. I dry heave, gritting my teeth until I gain control over my stomach.
I feel, rather than see, Bishop stand up beside me. I can hear him breathing hard, too, a harsh, ragged sound.
“What did she do?” I ask, although I don’t really want to know.
“Does it matter?” he asks. He sounds so tired. “Will it make it better if she deserved it?”
I shake my head, the fence pressing harder into my cheekbone. “No. I just want to know.”
“She wouldn’t agree to an arranged marriage, refused to even take the personality tests,” he says. I squeeze my eyes shut even tighter. She is the girl I heard Victoria talking about with Jack Stewart my first day at the courthouse, the girl whose family was making too much noise about her punishment. For the first time, it sinks in that the horrors beyond the fence are the same as those inside it.
People. And the brutal things we do to one another.
The fence shakes against my cheek and I turn, careful to keep my gaze lifted. I don’t have it in me to look at her again. Bishop is grasping the chain-link with both hands, knuckles white, his eyes closed. His whole body is wound tight as a spring, like if I reached for him he would simply break apart at the joints, splinter into a hundred pieces. I don’t try to touch him.
He lets out a yell and then another and another, loud and wild and out of control. He shakes the fence hard with both hands. His anger and frustration are more potent somehow because they are unexpected. When his scream fades into silence, he rests his forehead against the metal. “Sometimes,” he says, voice raw, “I hate this place.” He twists his neck and looks at me, hands still hooked in the fence above his head.
“I know,” I say, barely a whisper. “Me, too.”
t takes every ounce of energy I have to make the return walk home. The day has taken something from me that I know a shower or a nap or a good meal will never replace. I haven’t felt innocent in years, but maybe there was still some left down deep inside of me that is now forever gone. The space it left behind filled with the image of a dead girl I never even knew.
As we are dragging up the walk to our front door, Dylan appears from the side of his house. He has a tool belt around his waist that is threatening to pull down his pants, and he looks so ridiculous I want to laugh. “Hey,” he says, giving us a wave. “I was just looking for you, Bishop.”
“Yeah?” Bishop asks. He runs a hand through his hair, exhaustion written on every inch of him.
“I’ve got some loose shingles.” Dylan looks over his shoulder at their second-floor dormer. “Thought maybe you could give me a hand.”
Bishop glances at me, then back to Dylan. “Sure. Give me a minute, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, no problem,” Dylan says with a smile. Every time he smiles it’s disconcerting. His open grin doesn’t fit at all with what I know lurks underneath.
We go inside and I kick off my shoes, harder than I intended because one hits the living room wall with a clatter. Bishop raises his eyebrows at me.
“I can’t believe you’re helping him,” I say.
“It’s just some shingles.”
I hate how casual he’s being, like he’s already forgotten what Dylan did to Meredith. “So what?” I fire back. “We shouldn’t be helping him at all.”
Bishop doesn’t respond other than to grab a jug of water from the icebox. I glare at his back for a second, then stomp to the bathroom, slamming the door behind me.
I take a long, cool shower, water stained brown with dust swirling over my toes and down the drain. When I step out, the house is quiet and I can hear the faint sound of hammering from next door. Maybe the universe will dispense some justice for once and Dylan will hammer a nail through his hand.
I wrap myself in a towel and stand in front of the mirror. My face is sunburned, freckles popping out on my nose and along my cheekbones. I still look like the same girl I’ve always been, but I don’t feel like her anymore or at least not entirely. I am my father’s daughter. And Callie’s sister. And I always will be. The biggest parts of me are theirs. But as much as I don’t want it to be true, I know there’s a space inside me, however small, that belongs to Bishop now. I’m not even sure how it happened or what I could have done to stop it.
I slide down the bathroom wall and rest my forehead on my upturned knees. If Callie had been the one to marry him, she would never have let this happen. Her loyalty to the cause would have been unwavering. I don’t know what it is about me that is so easily bent. Why when I look at Bishop’s face I see a boy who gives water to the dying and encourages me to think my own thoughts instead of all the ways his father has wronged us
I sit until my skin grows cold, my back aching from being pressed into the unforgiving wall. My damp hair leaves a wet streak on the paint when I stand, and I wipe it away with my towel. I throw on clean shorts and a T-shirt and pile my wet hair on top of my head. I’m not sure what we have to eat, but I figure it’s probably my turn to make dinner. From the kitchen I can still hear hammering, the muffled sound of Bishop’s and Dylan’s voices through the open back door.
As I lean in to the icebox to peruse my options, there is a crash from outside, followed by a scream. The sound is piercing, the kind of scream that means pain and blood and torn flesh. I leave the icebox door swinging and run out through the screened porch, pushing the screen door open with both palms as I pound down the steps.
Dylan is on the ground in his backyard, upper body on the grass, his legs lying twisted on the concrete patio. He is not moving. I glance up at Bishop, who is standing on the edge of the roof, looking down at Dylan. The sun is behind him, and I cannot see the expression on his face, but something in his stance stops my forward movement. I stand at the fence, not sure what’s happening, and watch as Bishop swings himself onto the ladder, moves down to the ground in seconds. Dylan has blood on his face and one of his legs is bent in a way nature never intended, a flash of white bone peeking through a rip in his pants.
“I need to get help,” I call to Bishop. Meredith is nowhere in sight.
“Wait,” Bishop says, eyes on Dylan, who is beginning to stir on the ground. Bishop sounds as calm as I’ve ever heard him. Too calm for the situation, and my blood turns to ice in my veins.
Dylan lifts his head and pushes himself up on one bloody elbow. He’s groaning, his free hand hovering over his shattered leg. Bishop takes a step toward him, and Dylan looks up, then tries to scoot backward on his elbows, making frantic mewing sounds in his throat. Bishop ignores him, squats down near his head, and puts a hand on Dylan’s chest to keep him in place. I can’t hear what Bishop says, only the low murmur of his voice, but Dylan’s eyes go wide. He shakes his head and Bishop’s hand pushes harder against his chest. There’s a breathless moment where no one speaks, even the birds in the trees go silent, and then Dylan nods.
“I think Dylan needs help, Ivy,” Bishop says without turning around. “His leg is broken.”
“Okay,” I say. I turn and run, through the gate, out onto the sidewalk and down the street. My bare feet slap against the hot pavement, but I don’t feel the sting. I don’t slow down and I don’t stop until I’m at the hospital and have paramedics on their way back to Dylan’s house with a bicycle-pulled stretcher cart.
By the time we return, Meredith is sitting next to Dylan in the grass, his head cradled on her lap. His face is as white as the bone protruding from his leg, and Meredith is weeping without sound, murmuring nonsense as she runs a hand over his hair. Bishop is sitting on the picnic table, his long legs balanced on the bench in front of him. His face is carefully blank.
I stand next to him while the paramedics work to stabilize Dylan’s leg. He screams as he’s lifted onto the stretcher, and Meredith’s hands flutter uselessly above him like injured birds.
“It might be easier on him if he passed out,” Bishop says flatly.
“Maybe he will,” I say. “It’s bound to be a bumpy ride.” I surprise myself with how little sympathy I have, even knowing how much pain Dylan is in.
The paramedics walk out of the yard with Dylan, Meredith trailing behind them. I don’t say anything until they are out of sight.
“What happened?” I ask.
Bishop hops off the table and stands next to me. “He fell.”
I tilt my head up and look at him. “Did you push him?”
Bishop doesn’t answer for so long I think he isn’t going to. “We were discussing the way he treats Meredith. He got agitated,” he says finally. “A roof is a dangerous place to be if you’re not focused.”
“Which doesn’t answer my question,” I say, voice quiet.
“No, I guess it doesn’t.”
“What did you say to him, after?” I can’t get the image of Bishop pushing his hand into Dylan’s chest out of my head. It wasn’t a violent gesture, but there was menace behind it, a warning Dylan would be a fool to ignore.
Bishop’s mouth tightens. “He’s not going to hurt Meredith anymore. That’s all that matters.”
“I’m gonna go inside and get cleaned up,” he says, cutting me off. He walks away from me and I watch the long, lean line of his body as he goes. He’s strong, I know that. I felt it when he pulled me up the cliff at the river, when he shook the fence in frustration. And now I know he can be ruthless, too. If he had been the first night, it would not have surprised me. But now, after all these weeks, it comes as a shock, a side of him I didn’t know existed. I wonder whether the other parts of Bishop he’s never shown me are as dark and dangerous as the current I sensed today pulsing beneath his calm exterior.
Although it should make me wary, I admire him for his ruthlessness. He isn’t afraid to act, when action is necessary. When we first met, I thought he was apathetic, as if he didn’t care at all about what went on beyond his small, privileged world. But now I realize he feels things just as deeply as I do; he simply approaches them differently, less headlong dive and more deliberate thought.
From the very beginning he has wrong-footed me, upended all my simple, pre-formed ideas about who he is. This is just one more piece of the Bishop puzzle, a piece with jagged edges and no simple place where it slots into the bigger picture. I like that he is complex, that the final result of all his pieces will be something unique and hard to solve. I have no right to wish it, and no hope the wish can ever be granted, but I still long to be the one to decipher him.
e eat a quiet dinner and I don’t ask Bishop where he’s going when I hear the front door open and close softly while I’m clearing the table. Out of the kitchen window, I see Meredith going into her house, and I knock on the window to catch her attention. The face she turns toward me is tear-swollen, her eyes red-rimmed and exhausted. I hurry out the back door before she can disappear inside.
“Hey, Meredith,” I call. “How is he doing?”
Her hands are clutched around the iron railing on her steps as if it’s the only thing keeping her upright. Her hair looks dirty, hanging in lank clumps around her shoulders. “He’s out of surgery. It went well.”
I stand awkwardly on her bottom step. “Well, that’s good,” I say. I’m not sure what the protocol is, when I’m not sorry her husband was hurt and don’t understand why she is.
“He said…” A tear slips down her cheek and she brushes it away impatiently. “He said as soon as he’s able, he’s going to sign a petition to end the marriage and I need to sign it, too. He said President Lattimer will approve it.” Her voice breaks. “He said we’re not a good match. He didn’t even ask me what I wanted.”
So that must have been what Bishop said to him when he was lying on the ground, putting the final nail in the marriage’s coffin. “Isn’t it what you want?” I ask. “He hits you, Meredith.”
She gives me a look of such withering contempt that I back up a step. “Don’t you think I know that?” she says. “But how is this any better? Our marriage is over. I move back across town with my parents and then what? No one’s going to want me. They say they’ll put me back in the pool for next year, but you know they won’t.”
“If they don’t, there are bound to be some boys on our side of town who are looking for wives.”
“Not wives who’ve already been passed over once before.”
“You don’t know that. Besides, you don’t have to get married,” I tell her. “You can get a job and make a life for yourself where someone isn’t beating on you all the time.”
She laughs, a harsh, bitter sound that doesn’t match her sweet, heart-shaped face. “I want a family, Ivy. I want children. I don’t want to liv
“That won’t happen,” I say, although I have no real conviction that it won’t. There are plenty of girls who are never picked and who live their lives alone, not shunned but always regarded as less than, as having been not quite good enough. “And even if it did, if you never have children or get married again, it still has to be better than him hitting you every day.”
Meredith bites her lip, tears streaming down her cheeks now. “Maybe,” she says. She shrugs. “I guess now I’ll never know.”
“Oh, Meredith,” I say, torn between frustration and sorrow. “You don’t mean that.”
“Don’t tell me what I mean. It should have been my choice.” She pushes open her front door. “I know you meant well, both of you.” She doesn’t look at me as she speaks. “But it wasn’t for you to decide.” The door latching behind her is very quiet, and very final.
I’m not sure how we got to this place, where a girl’s only value is in what kind of marriage she has, how capable she is of keeping a man happy. Maybe Bishop is right and it depends on the couple. Stephanie and Jacob appear to love each other. But there’s something fundamentally wrong in a system where a girl like Meredith would even consider staying with a boy like Dylan if she has the chance to be free of him. Meredith doesn’t know her own worth, and in this world we’re living in, she never will. My father might not have held my hand or expressed his love openly, but he taught Callie and me that we had inherent value, that we were fully formed human beings without a boy by our side. For that, I will be forever grateful.
I return to the house and try to read on the screened porch, but the stifling heat and my own restlessness conspire against me. Bishop is still not home when I fall into bed at close to midnight, and I hope he isn’t punishing himself for what happened earlier. Perhaps Meredith is right and it wasn’t Bishop’s decision, but I’m not sorry he made it. And I don’t want him to be sorry, either. My only regret is that I didn’t think of it first.