The book of ivy, p.14

The Book of Ivy, page 14

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series


The Book of Ivy

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  I don’t remember falling asleep, but the sound of the shower wakes me. I push myself up on my elbows and listen to the rattle and spit of Bishop brushing his teeth. The bathroom door opens, and the dark outline of his body moves down the moonlit hallway.

  “Did you just get home?” I call to him.

  He stops in the doorway. The pale towel around his waist glows in the darkness. “A few minutes ago. Did I wake you?” he asks quietly.

  “It’s okay.” I scoot up to sitting. “Where were you?”

  He runs a hand through his hair and sighs. “Out walking. I’m sorry I left without telling you. I needed to be alone for a little while.”

  “I saw Meredith. She said Dylan had surgery and it went well.”

  Bishop doesn’t answer, shifting slightly in the doorway. I can smell the fresh scent of soap as he moves, tangy and sharp.

  “He told her he’s signing the petition to end the marriage.”

  Bishop nods. I can tell he’s watching me, though I can’t see his eyes.

  “You did a good thing,” I say. I hesitate, but he deserves to know all of it. “Even if Meredith doesn’t believe it yet.”

  “Did I?” His voice sounds ancient. “Can hurting someone ever be a good thing?” He blows out a breath. “I’m not that different from Dylan, really, in the end.”

  I push myself forward so I’m kneeling on the edge of the bed. I wish I were closer so I could touch him, although it’s a horrible idea. “Don’t say that. Sometimes pain is the only language certain people understand. And you are different than him.” My voice is strained. “You wouldn’t hurt me that way, Bishop. I know you never would.”

  For a long time, there is only the ticking of the clock on my bedside table, the muted melody of water dripping from the showerhead across the hall. His eyes are on me and mine are on him and the tension swirling around us is so strong it’s like another person in the room, a living thing breathing heat into the space between us.

  “You never say my name,” he says finally. His voice is low and rough.

  “What?” I’m so confused that for a split second I think maybe I’m dreaming. I don’t know what I expected him to say, but it wasn’t that.

  “Just now. You called me Bishop. You’ve never said it before.” He pauses. “I like the way it sounds.”

  He’s right, and I never even realized it. I haven’t said his name, as if by subconsciously keeping that tiny bit of distance I can make what’s happening between us less real. Like that might be the omission that saves me.

  I am a fool.

  “I’m sorry,” I say, willing myself to speak past the tears gathering in my throat.

  “Don’t be sorry.” I see the outline of his smile in the moonlight. “Just say it again sometime.”

  I nod. I will not allow myself to cry. “Good night, Bishop,” I whisper.

  “Good night, Ivy,” he whispers back.

  I stay kneeling on the bed long after he’s gone, until my legs are numb and my eyes are dry and I can’t feel anything at all.


  resident Lattimer looks genuinely pleased to see me. “Ivy,” he says with a crinkle-eyed smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” It’s possible he’s mocking me, but I don’t think so. He opens the front door wider. “Come in, come in.” The air wafting out of the house is chilly and smells, as always, of flowers. Too sweet for my taste.

  “Can we sit out here?” I ask, pointing to the front porch. “It’s such a nice day.” It isn’t really. It’s hot and muggy, and I think I acquired a dozen new mosquito bites on the walk over, but I can’t stand the thought of being shut up inside the house with him. I need to be able to at least have the illusion of freedom, if not the reality.

  President Lattimer glances at the front porch. The wrought-iron furniture arranged along its perimeter looks like it was picked for style, rather than comfort. But he nods and ushers me in front of him, closing the heavy door behind us.

  “I don’t know if I’ve ever sat out here,” he says, confirming my earlier assumption. But he gamely takes a seat in one of the chairs and I sit down next to him, a small table edged with dust positioned between us.

  “How are you, Ivy?” he asks.

  “I’m fine.” Ever since Bishop and I had dinner here and President Lattimer mentioned knowing my mother, I’ve wanted to come back and talk to him. Especially after I asked my father about it and it was clear he was keeping something from me. But fear kept me away. Fear that I would ruin the plan, say something in anger that would give away the game. Fear of President Lattimer himself. Fear of what I would find out. But the need to know has gnawed at me, not going away no matter how hard I tried to ignore it. I’m not sure where to begin, though, so I blurt out the question. “How did you know my mother?”

  President Lattimer sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I had a feeling you wouldn’t let that go.” He lowers his hand and looks at me. “It probably would have been better if I hadn’t said anything.”

  “But you did say something,” I remind him.

  He gives me a quick smile. “So I did.” He points across the street to the large house sitting kitty-corner to his. It is gray clapboard and is hard to see, hidden behind a screen of old oaks, half of them dead, half still thriving. “I grew up in this house, Ivy. And your mother grew up right there.”

  My breath catches in my chest, like a splinter snagged on cloth, a sharp, sudden twinge. Of course I knew my mother grew up on this side of town, but I’ve never known where. In my mind she’s always existed in some in-between world. I could never quite picture her as a living, breathing person, let alone one who grew up across the street from Bishop’s father.

  President Lattimer leans forward, puts his elbows on his knees, and stares at his hands. In this moment, he looks very much like his son. “What do you know about your mother?” he asks me.

  “I know you killed her,” I tell him, my voice flat. Sometimes my capacity for self-destruction surprises even me.

  He blows out a shaky breath and lowers his forehead to his clasped hands. “That’s a cruel thing to say.” After a long moment, he raises his head, keeping his eyes on the house where my mother grew up. “But I suppose, in all the ways that count, it’s a true thing as well.”

  I’m glad he admitted it, that we aren’t going to have to pretend. Dancing around the truth is exhausting. “Tell me about her?” I ask, and I half expect him to laugh in my face after what I just said to him. But he only nods.

  “We loved each other,” he says simply. “From the time we were very young.”

  I knew what he was going to say, had known since the moment I saw the look on his face as he showed me her house, but my stomach drops all the same, something solid and heavy as iron taking its place. The day is as hot as ever, but I am suddenly cold.

  “She was headstrong, your mother. She had the same eyes as you, the same beautiful hair.” The corner of his mouth turns up at some ancient memory. “She did things without thinking, forever figuring out the consequences after the fact.” He raises his eyebrows at me.

  “That sounds familiar,” I allow, and he laughs.

  “But she was full of energy and life and warmth. She made me happy to be alive, even when the world was dark and frightening. I could tell her anything.”

  I can’t help but like the picture he’s painted of my mother, and hope that I am as similar to her as he believes me to be.

  He glances at me. “There was never anyone else, for either of us.”

  I’ve always known my parents didn’t marry for love. How could they, with their marriage arranged for them? But the way my father speaks of my mother, I know he did love her by the end. My heart aches to think that the affection may have only flowed one way.

  “What happened?” I ask. “Between my mother and you?”

  “She thought we would get married. Have children. She thought because I was the president’s son, I could make that happen.” He looks at me, his blue eyes full
of sorrow. “And I suppose I could have. I wanted to, so much. But that wouldn’t have been fair. I can’t expect everyone else to enter into an arranged marriage and not do the same thing myself. Westfall has thrived because we put the needs of the group ahead of individual desire. We start making exceptions, and the whole structure falls apart.” He sounds like he’s still trying to convince himself, even after all this time.

  “So you married Mrs. Lattimer instead?” I ask.

  “Yes. I took all the personality tests and sat through the interviews and Erin is who fit me the best. So I married her. And despite what you might think, it hasn’t been a bad match. We have an amazing son. We work well together. In some ways, it’s been a much easier marriage than one to your mother would have been.”

  Which sounds a long way from love to me, but what do I know of love, anyway? I am hardly an expert.

  “But I broke your mother’s heart the day I married Erin,” President Lattimer says. He leans back in his chair. “And in return, she broke mine.”

  “When she married my father?”

  “No,” he says, shaking his head. “I never blamed her for that. She was only doing what was right. What was expected. I was glad she made a life for herself. And Callie was born…and then you. I thought she was finally happy. Or at least that she’d found a way to move on and let go.”

  “Then how…how did she break your heart?” I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know.

  He points again, this time with an unsteady finger, to the lone oak standing on his own front lawn. There are yellow roses blooming at its base. “She hanged herself right there.” As I watch, he catches a sob between his teeth before it can escape. “More than fifteen years ago, and I still see her there every damn time I walk out the front door.”

  I look back at the tree, but I can’t focus on it. The whole world is a roaring blur around me. What he said cannot be true. It cannot be.

  “You’re lying,” I whisper.

  “No, I’m not,” he says, and I hear the truth in his voice. “I wish I was.” He stares at the tree. His voice is far away, gone back to a time when my mother was still alive. “Yellow was her favorite color.”

  I lower my head down between my knees and cover my ears with my hands. I fight off the black spots twirling in front of my eyes through sheer will. My father hardly ever spoke of my mother. When he did, it was as a whip to keep me on the path he wanted me to walk. And this man sitting next to me has flowers planted in her honor, even though the sight of them must torture him a little every day. I want to tear off my own skin to escape his words. I want to curl into a ball and die. I want to kill something and hear it scream.

  President Lattimer puts his hand on my back and I buck it off, a high, keening cry bursting from my mouth. “Don’t,” I pant. “Don’t touch me.”

  “I’m sorry, Ivy,” he says. He sounds confused. “I thought you knew how she died.”

  I’m up and running before he can say another word. I scramble down the front steps, ignore him calling after me. My breath is coming in short, sharp gasps as I flee from the truth of my mother’s death. I run through town like to stop means to die. People stare as I sprint past, a few call my name, but I don’t slow down, weaving around obstacles. Thunder claps over my head, streaks of heat lightning rip jagged gashes in the sky. My legs ache and my lungs scream and I welcome every stab of pain like a long-lost friend.

  My father and Callie are both sitting at the kitchen table when I burst in, the remains of dinner between them. They stare at me, my father half rising from his chair.

  “Ivy?” he says. “Are you all right? What’s happened?”

  “I know…” My voice is ragged, like I’ve swallowed glass and I’m choking on the shards. “I know what happened to Mom. You lied to me.” I cross to my father and push hard against his chest. He grabs my wrists before I can touch him again. “You lied to me!” I scream.

  “Callie,” he says, looking at my sister over my shoulder. His voice is steady.

  From behind me, I hear Callie get up and the back door shut and lock. The curtains over the sink are yanked closed. I wrench my head around and catch Callie’s eyes. One look and all the fight goes out of me. I sag in my father’s grip. “You knew?” I say. “You knew and you never told me?”

  “It was better that way,” Callie says. “You couldn’t handle it. Look at you now.”

  “Callie, stop it,” my father says sharply. He rarely speaks to Callie that way. He lets go of my wrists and puts an arm around my shoulders. “Come sit down. We need to talk.”

  I follow him into the living room on numb legs. Callie trails behind us, but at the doorway, my father looks at her over my head and she turns back to the kitchen.

  “Here,” my father says, guiding me to the couch. I sink down into its familiar softness and he sits next to me, our knees touching. I’ve spent a thousand hours in this room, know its tan walls and wood floors by heart, but it feels like a stranger’s house to me now.

  “I don’t know exactly what he told you,” my father says. “It was President Lattimer who told you, wasn’t it?”

  I nod.

  “That bastard,” my father mutters.

  “This isn’t about him!” I practically shout. “You should have been honest with me a long time ago.”

  “You’re right,” my father says. “But you deserve to hear my version, too.” He takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I wasn’t happy about the arranged marriage. I didn’t want to marry some girl I’d never met before. I thought about refusing, but I didn’t see how that would get me anywhere except put outside the fence. So I went through with it. And your mother walked up to me at the ceremony…” He shakes his head. “It’s such a cliché, Ivy, I almost couldn’t believe it. But, for me, it was love at first sight.” He laughs, but there’s no humor in it.

  “But it wasn’t for her,” I say, to save him from having to say it himself.

  “No. Because her heart already belonged to him.” My father looks away, his throat muscles working. “We got along, though. She liked me.” He says the words with a bitterness that reveals how much it hurts to be merely liked by the person you love. “And I thought once you girls were born that things might change. Because whatever was lacking between her and me, she loved the two of you. Very much.”

  “Not enough to stay with us, though,” I say, with some bitterness of my own.

  “Oh, Ivy.” My father sighs. “Her heart was broken, and no matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard she tried, we couldn’t fix it.”

  My own heart aches when I look at him. How much it must have hurt him to love a woman who could never love him back. And I think of Erin Lattimer who is in the same position. I know why President Lattimer thought he was doing the right thing by not marrying my mother, but he wasn’t. Love isn’t something you can legislate. Love is more than charts and graphs and matching interests. Love is messy and complicated and it is a mistake to deny its random magic.

  “But why did you lie to me?” I ask him. “Why did you tell me he killed her?”

  My father takes my rigid hands in his. His knuckles are big and scarred and I can’t count the number of times as a child I’d wished he’d hold my hand. “We should have told you the truth, you’re right. But the basic facts are still the same. He killed her.” He must recognize the incredulous expression in my eyes because his hands tighten on mine. “He did.”

  “She killed herself,” I say flatly. “She swung from that tree because she wanted to be married to him, not to you.” Some vindictive piece of me relishes the pain that flashes across his face.

  “She killed herself because he let her believe they’d end up together. But in the end, he forced her to marry someone she didn’t pick for herself. The same way he forced you to marry Bishop. The same way he’s forced a hundred other girls.” He ducks his head to find my eyes. “And he’ll keep doing it until we stop him.”

  “Do you even really care about the arranged marriages? Or
about the fence? Or any of it?” I ask him. “Or are they only convenient words you say to get what you want from me?”

  “Of course they aren’t,” he says, squeezing my hands.

  “Then why?” I ask, hating the break in my voice. “You still haven’t said why you lied to me.”

  “It didn’t feel like a lie,” my father says. “I still believe he killed her. Maybe not with his own hands, but he gave her the rope.”

  “That’s not—”

  “And I lied because I was afraid to tell you the truth,” my father continues. “You look so much like your mother. Half the time you act exactly like her. Plunging into things head first.” He taps a finger against the scars on my arm and I want to scream. I will never outrun that dog bite as long as I live. “I didn’t want you to think…I didn’t want you to think you were destined to end up the same way.”

  A cold spot opens in my chest at his words and I can’t speak, everything frozen inside of me. All my life I’ve felt a void inside myself, an empty place that never gets filled no matter how hard I try. Is that what my mother had inside her, too? Is that what my father is afraid of, that someday the world will be too much for me and I’ll give up? Does he have such little faith in my strength?

  “You think I’m weak,” I say, voice dull.

  “No,” my father protests. “I’ve never thought that. You could have handled the truth and we should have trusted you with it. We know you’re strong. If we didn’t, we never would have asked you to do what you’re doing.”

  But maybe I am weak, because the thought of ending Bishop’s life is starting to become more than I can bear. “Daddy,” I whisper, my voice breaking. “I don’t want to kill him.”

  “Of course you don’t,” he says gently. “I’d worry about you if you did.”

  “He doesn’t believe in the marriages, Dad. He wants to help people, make things better. He wants people to have choices too.”

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