The Book of Ivy, page 19part #1 of The Book of Ivy Series
His eyes glow. He pulls me in for a hug and I hug him back, my chin on his shoulder. Bishop is at the end of the hall, and he smiles when he sees me. I close my eyes and my nose fills with the familiar scent of my father, wood smoke and paper. I remember the winter he taught me to read. And the afternoons after that we spent reading separately but in the same room. The times I felt closest to him always involved a book in my hand. Unbidden, Callie’s face flashes through my mind. For all her faults, she’s always protected me, even if her methods might not have been the ones I would choose. I open my eyes and watch through a veil of tears as Bishop walks toward me. And Bishop. With his deep laugh and his strong hands. The boy who dreams of the ocean and feeds people beyond the fence. What do I owe each of them? What do I owe myself?
21-13-6-18-78. I turn my head and press my lips close to my father’s ear. “21…13…6…18,” I whisper. Hesitate. Bishop hovers on the edge of my vision. “87,” I say, and pull away from my father.
It’s an honest mistake. The kind anyone could make. The type of mistake that buys me time to figure out what to do before they figure out I’m doing anything at all.
am quiet on the walk home. I hold Bishop’s hand and make hmmm noises as he talks, but I am somewhere else. Still back in my father’s embrace, stuck at the moment when I was faced with two choices. And I chose the boy walking next to me instead of my own family.
“Oh, I talked to the head of the Matching Committee,” Bishop says. “He told me that Dylan and Meredith both put their names in again for next year.”
“Great,” I mutter. “Now Dylan will be able to make some other girl’s life hell.”
Bishop squeezes my hand. “I don’t think so. I hinted that they might want to make sure he doesn’t find a match.”
I breathe a little sigh of relief. “I can’t believe Meredith wants to go through that again, either. But I guess it’s her choice.”
“It is,” Bishop says. “Maybe she’ll have better luck this time.”
“Can’t get much worse,” I say and Bishop smiles.
I trip over an uneven patch of sidewalk, and he puts out his free hand to balance me. “Whoa.” He looks down at my feet. “Why don’t you take those off?”
His words bring me back to the day we met, the day we married, and he said the very same thing about my high heels. We’ve come such a long way since then. Further than I ever dreamed possible. Further than I ever wanted to journey. I hold onto him while I slip off my shoes. This time he takes them from me, hooking the straps over his fingers.
“What?” I ask when he doesn’t start walking again.
He lets go of my hand to smooth a lock of hair back over my shoulder. “You look prettier now than you did before the party. I like your bare feet. And your hair falling down.”
Even with the chaos inside my head, I can’t help but smile at him.
“I’m glad you got to see your father,” he says, once we start walking again.
I glance at him, debating what to say. “It was good to see him. I haven’t talked to him since that day I found out about my mother.”
“Are you still angry with him?”
“Yes.” I don’t think I’ll ever fully forgive my father for not telling me the truth about my mother’s death. Because that lie was the catalyst for so many of my decisions, so many twists and turns on the road I’ve taken. I might have chosen a different path if I’d known the truth from the beginning. My father’s cause might not have so easily become my own.
“I understand why you might want to keep your distance from him for a while,” Bishop says. “But I don’t want to be one of the reasons.”
“What are you talking about?”
Bishop’s thumb glides over my hand. “I know our fathers haven’t always gotten along. I don’t want the fact that you’re married to me to drive a wedge between you and your family.”
“It won’t.” I already knew, but his words prove it. Bishop is a good person. A better person than all the rest of us. He doesn’t understand how rare he is, how everyone else is angling for something right below the surface of every interaction. He’s the only person whose motives I trust completely.
I tip my head up to the sky as we walk. The stars wink above us, shimmering slightly in the humid air. They say before the war, you could hardly see them at night because of the light from thousands of cities. Now, they are laid out above us like a vast carpet, bright in a pitch-black sky. For all the death and hardship the war brought, I’m not sorry about being able to see the stars.
I take my shoes back from him on the front porch. “I had a good time tonight,” I tell him, but forcing my mouth into a smile takes work. I have betrayed my family and put my own desires above what is best for the group. I have decided that Bishop’s life is worth more than a hundred girls’ futures. I’ve turned a corner into a whole new world and there is no easy way back.
My fancy dress ends up in a crumpled heap in the corner of my bedroom, shoes tossed on top of the pile. I crawl into bed in a tank top and underwear and listen to the sound of Bishop brushing his teeth, hanging his clothes on the back of the bathroom door so he doesn’t disturb me by putting them in the closet. His routine has become as familiar to me as my own.
“Bishop?” I call as his shadow passes by the bedroom door.
I shift onto my side. I know what I want, but I don’t know exactly how I should ask, what words I should say. It turns out it doesn’t really matter, because all my words have disappeared. Instead, I pull the sheet back, uncovering the empty spot in the bed. My heart beats slow but hard, like a bass drum inside my chest. The rhythm so deep it’s almost painful. Bishop’s eyes move from the bed to my face.
“I don’t think I’m ready for…to have sex,” I say. I clear my throat to get more weight behind my words. The truth is, I’m not scared of the act itself, not really. Not if it’s Bishop and me. And, in a different world, I probably would be ready to have sex with him. But here, in the tangled web I’m trapped in, I’m scared of taking that last step, the one that will bind our bodies together in the same way the rest of us has already merged. But I don’t want him on the other side of the wall anymore, either. “I don’t want to sleep in this bed alone,” I tell him.
“Ivy…” He sounds uncharacteristically nervous, and that makes me brave. He won’t be the one to ask for this. He’s been waiting for me.
“I want you next to me,” I say.
It takes him four steps to get to the bed, and then he hesitates. He is dressed only in a pair of boxer shorts, and I’m hit with a sudden attack of nerves. Maybe I should have suggested this when he was fully dressed. Who are you kidding, Ivy? My hands itch to touch; my fingertips throb with need.
“Are you sure?” he asks me.
He climbs in beside me, the sheet puddled around our ankles. He mirrors my position, on his side, one arm under the pillow where his head rests, knees bent. Our legs are both so long that our knees bump, and after a second’s awkward hesitation, I slide a leg over both of his. He puts his free hand on the hollow of my waist before moving it lower to rest on the curve of my hip. His thumb glides along my skin, back and forth over my jutting hipbone.
I inch closer. His eyes glitter in the near darkness, his hair tousled from the pillow. I move closer still, until my body is flush against his. I twine both arms around his neck. Climbing him like my namesake.
We kiss until I’m drunk with it, drunk with the taste of him. His hands are fisted in my tank top, pulling it halfway up my sides, my leg hooked around his waist. And it doesn’t matter what either one of us said about not being ready, if we don’t stop soon, we aren’t going to be able to stop. It will be like trying to put out an inferno with a thimble full of water.
“Ivy,” Bishop whispers against my mouth. “There’s a fine line between self-control and masochism and right now we are walking it.” His voice is husky and breathless but laced with amu
I tug lightly on his hair. “Lying in bed with me is a form of torture?” I ask, laughing.
“When we’re both half naked, it is.”
One of my hands has found its way to his bare chest and my fingers play lightly over his skin. It’s warm and smooth, and I like the way his muscles shift under my curious hand.
“Stop,” he groans, catching my hand as it drifts toward his stomach and raising it to his lips. “Now you are torturing me.”
I hadn’t thought a touch like that would affect him so much. But then I imagine him touching my bare chest the same way, and heat pools in my stomach, leaving me dizzy and short of breath. “Sorry,” I whisper.
“It’s okay,” he says, tipping his head down to look at me. “There’s just a limit to what I can take.”
I lean up on my elbows and give him one last kiss. I turn over, pulling his arm across my waist. I fold his hand between both of mine. We’re not kissing anymore, but I’m not sure this is any less dangerous, having him pressed against me, his chest to my back.
The full moon is visible through the curtains, its cool glow painting the room in silver. I trace the long lines of Bishop’s fingers. “Why didn’t you stop trying with me?” I tell myself that if he’s asleep, I won’t ask again.
He’s not asleep. “What do you mean?” His breath tickles the tiny hairs on my neck.
“That night we played truth or dare. You said that after a while you stopped trying to earn your mother’s affection.” I pause. “Why didn’t you give up with me, too?”
“You know why,” he says quietly. I close my eyes. I do know, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to hear it. But some part of me must be, because I wouldn’t have asked the question otherwise, not of Bishop, the boy who never chooses to say something easy just because the truth is hard. Maybe I want to hear it so that I will know, once and for all, that there is no going back.
“Because I’m in love with you, Ivy,” he whispers. “Giving up on you isn’t an option.” He lifts my hair away from the back of my neck and kisses the delicate skin there.
My breath shudders out of me. The silence spirals into the dark room, and maybe it was foolish to ask the question, but I’m not sorry. I uncurl his hand and kiss his palm, his skin cool and dry. I place his hand over my heart, cover it with my own.
We fall asleep that way. His lips on my neck. My heart in his hand.
hen the end comes, it comes quickly. I am not prepared, although I should be. Every second of my life has been leading to this moment. Its arrival should not surprise me.
I’m leaving the courthouse for the day, mind on Bishop and home, when the man from the jam stall at the market approaches. He’s walking in my direction, pushing a small cart loaded with his wares. I pretend not to see him, like a child who thinks if she doesn’t look in the closet a monster won’t be hiding there. But refusing to look doesn’t save me.
“Jam?” he calls after me as I pass. “Ma’am, could I interest you in some jam?” His voice is loud enough that I can’t ignore him, not without drawing attention to myself.
“No, thank you,” I say over my shoulder. “Not today.”
“But ma’am, I have raspberry. At a good price.”
I have no choice but to stop and turn with a false smile stretched across my face. “One jar,” I say.
He sidles up next to me, raspberry jam already in his hand. He passes it to me, along with a small slip of paper, and I hand him a wad of crumpled vouchers. “Thank you,” he says. “Enjoy.”
I shove the jam into my bag, keeping the note in my fist, and walk away fast. I wait a block, then two, before I stop and open it. Bridge in the park. Now. Callie’s handwriting.
It’s almost a relief, after all these endless weeks, to finally be getting down to it. I suppose I could ignore the summons, but that would only delay the inevitable. So instead of continuing straight toward home, I turn left at the corner and cut across the park, the brittle, late summer grass crunching under my feet.
Callie is already waiting for me on the bridge. She’s standing against the railing, leaning out slightly over the hazy water. A few ducks swim lazily below her, but even they are subdued by the heat. She waits to speak until I’m next to her, my bag lowered to the bridge between us.
“It’s time,” she says.
I don’t say anything, keep my eyes on the far edge of the pond. She is holding something out to me, but I refuse to turn my head and look at it.
“You need to put this into his food,” she says. “Most of it. Take a little yourself so they won’t suspect you of doing it. But only a little. A few drops.”
“What is it?” My voice is a dead thing, flat and dry.
“It’s a poison that mimics a virus.”
This is not what I expected. Something more dramatic that involved sharp knives or bulging eyes. Some method where I would be forced to use my hands to take his last breath.
“We’re going to have some put into food at the market, too.” Now I look at her, my eyes wide. “Not enough to kill anyone, but enough to make some people sick. Everyone will think it’s another epidemic. They happen often enough.”
I stare at her. “And the fact that only Bishop dies? No one’s going to be suspicious of that?”
“Suspicion is a long way from proof.” Callie shrugs. “And besides, there’s no way to know how much people might eat. Bishop may not be the only death.” Her nonchalance sends a dagger of ice through my chest.
“Why do we have to kill him?” I ask. “Why is that the only way? If Dad believes a democracy would be better, why can’t he convince people to follow him instead?”
“Because people are stupid,” Callie hisses. “People do what’s easy. They do what they know. Look at all the families who line up on the wedding day with smiles on their faces while their children marry strangers. No one’s going to risk their necks for change.”
I take the small vial from her hand. The liquid inside is a dark purplish-red color. The color of an old bruise. Ancient blood. Callie rests her hand over mine. Her fingers are cold and wiry. “Think about the end result, Ivy. Once this is over, we’ll have the power. And you can do what you want. Work at an important job. Get married again to someone you choose. It’ll all be different.”
I look into her dark eyes. “What if he’s the one I would choose?” I ask. “If I had the choice?”
Callie rolls her eyes. “Give me a break. If you had it to do over, you’d still want to get married at sixteen? Have all your decisions made for you?”
She’s right, of course. No matter what I feel for Bishop, I wish I wasn’t married. That the government hadn’t forced us into it before we were ready. “No,” I say. “I don’t want to be married. Not now. Not yet.”
But someday, I would still want it to be him.
“See?” Callie’s eyes spark to life. “That’s what I’m talking about. We’ll have choices once Dad’s in charge. It’ll all be worth it.”
“If Dad wants people to have choices, then why is he stepping into President Lattimer’s place? How is that a democracy? Shouldn’t we let people vote the way they used to?”
Callie’s face tightens. “So now that we’re down to the end, you suddenly have a million doubts? Dad does want a democracy, but there’s no one else better prepared to run Westfall, and you know it. After he has things back to the way they should be, then we’ll think about voting. One step at a time, Ivy. And right now we’re at your step in the plan.”
The vial in my palm burns against my skin. How do you measure the life of one person against the greater good? Can it ever be the right thing to sacrifice an innocent person? And how do you know what the greater good really is? None of us is being tortured. No one is starving or sold into slavery. So is it worth killing someone to make it better? What if that death results in saving the futures of countless girls? Gives thousands of people back their free will? In the end, the answer to all those questions doesn’t matte
I can’t kill him. I won’t.
“So, what’s the plan?” I ask her. “What happens with President Lattimer?”
Callie stares at me for a long time before she speaks. “Once Bishop is dead, we’ll move in to take control of the guns while President Lattimer is grieving. His death will come after that. Once people see he can’t even ensure their safety, can’t keep control of his own weapons, they’ll be a lot more likely to embrace us.”
“So he’s going to have to suffer through the death of his son,” I say slowly.
I nod. “Is that part of Dad’s plan, too? Making sure President Lattimer loses someone he loves, the same way we lost Mom?”
“Yes,” Callie repeats. “And it feels like justice to me.”
I close my eyes. All along I’ve been motivated by a desire to see things change. To give people a voice in their government, a say in their own lives. And I still believe my father would be a better leader than President Lattimer. But now I fear he may have been motivated by vengeance, the desire to watch President Lattimer suffer the loss of his son, while my father stands back and relishes the pain. “How are you going to kill President Lattimer?” I ask. “Isn’t everything already set in motion?”
“Not exactly,” Callie admits after a pause. “It will be once Bishop is dead.”
“Then why was there a timeline? Why…” My voice fades into nothing as I finally understand. “It was a test, wasn’t it? You were testing me?”
“It wasn’t a test, exactly,” Callie says, and has the decency to look at least slightly uncomfortable. “But we couldn’t have you dragging your feet. We always knew this would be hard for you, Ivy. We couldn’t afford to wait forever. But you did great, finding the guns and the codes. Better than we ever hoped. Now there’s just one thing left for you to do.”
I bark out a laugh. If only she knew the code I gave our father was wrong. “When?” I ask, holding up the bottle.
“The exact timing is up to you, so long as it’s in the next week.”