The book of ivy, p.2

The Book of Ivy, page 2

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series

 

The Book of Ivy


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  The first name called is Luke Allen. He’s blond, with a spray of freckles across his nose like brown sugar. His eyes widen briefly as Mrs. Lattimer tears open the envelope with his name written across the front and pulls out the creamy card stock. “Emily Thorne,” she calls. There is rustling behind me, excited murmurings, and I turn my head. A petite, toffee-haired girl slides past the knees of the girls seated in her row. She stumbles a bit on her way up the stairs to the stage, and Luke hurries forward to take her hand. Some of the girls behind me sigh as if this is the grandest romantic gesture they’ve ever seen, and I will my eyes to stay still in their sockets. Luke and Emily stand awkwardly, giving each other sidelong glances, until they are shooed to the edge of the stage so the next couple can be announced.

  It takes what feels like hours to get through the thick stack of envelopes. And even then there are plenty of girls left sitting, including the one next to me. Tears slide down her cheeks as Mrs. Lattimer holds up the final envelope. I want to tell her to be glad, to be happy that she can go back home tonight and figure out what she wants to do with her life beyond being a bride. But I know my words will be cold comfort. Because all anyone will ever remember about this girl is that she came home unmarried, that at the end of the day she was unchosen.

  Mrs. Lattimer looks over her shoulder at her husband, and the president stands and approaches the podium. He is a tall man; it’s easy to see where his son gets his height. His dark hair is sprinkled with premature gray at the temples, his cleft chin strong. His pale blue eyes scan the crowd, lingering on me. A shudder works its way up my spine, but I hold his gaze.

  “Today is a special day,” he says. “Even more special than usual. Years ago, after the war, there was disagreement about how we should rebuild. Eventually, the two sides managed to come to an accord.”

  I find it interesting that he turns a battle into a disagreement, a forced hand into an accord. He has always been masterful at twisting words to fit the stories he tells us.

  “As you all know, it was my father, Alexander Lattimer, who led the group that ultimately took control. And it was Samuel Westfall who opposed him but who, with time, came to agree with my father’s vision for the future.”

  That is a lie. My grandfather never agreed with the Lattimers’ vision for Westfall. He wanted a democracy, for people to have a vote and a say in their own lives. He spent years keeping an ever-growing band of survivors alive and moving until they found this place to settle. Then he had it all ripped away from him by Alexander Lattimer, who wanted a dynasty for himself and his descendants.

  I don’t dare turn my head to find my father or Callie in the crowd. They are skilled, after all these years, at hiding their emotions, but I will be able to read the rage in their eyes, and I cannot let it show in mine.

  “And today, for the first time, we have a marriage between a Lattimer and a Westfall,” President Lattimer says with a smile. It looks genuine to me, and maybe it is. But I also know what this marriage means to him. It’s another way to cement his power, which is what he is really happy about. After my father, there will be no more Westfalls. It’s not enough for President Lattimer that the Westfall line has run out—he has to turn my children into Lattimers, too.

  “Up until now, neither one of our families has been very good at producing girls,” President Lattimer continues. There is a rumble of laughter from the crowd, but I can’t bring myself to join in, even though I know I should. When the chuckles die down, President Lattimer holds up the envelope for everyone to see. “The president’s son and the founder’s daughter,” he calls.

  My father was not the founder, of course. It was his father who founded this town and was then usurped by Alexander Lattimer and his followers. But it was established early on that the original founder’s descendant would take on the title of founder, the same way Alexander Lattimer’s descendant is called president. It’s a meaningless title. The founder has no say in how the nation is run. He’s only a ceremonial figurehead, trotted out to prove how peaceful we are. How well our system of government works. The title of founder is like giving a beautifully wrapped present with nothing inside. They hope we’ll be so distracted by the shiny outside, we won’t notice the box is empty.

  “Bishop Lattimer,” the president calls out in a clear, ringing voice. The sound of the envelope, the paper tearing, seems as loud as a scream to my ears. I can feel hundreds of eyes on me and I hold my head high. President Lattimer draws the paper out with a flourish and smiles in my direction. He mouths my name, Ivy Westfall, but I can’t hear him over the ringing in my ears and the pounding of my heart.

  I take a final deep breath, trying to draw courage into my lungs like air. Trying to stomp down the anger that buzzes through my veins like poison. I stand, my legs steadier than I thought they would be. My heels click on the tile floor as I make my way to the stairs. Behind me, the crowd claps and shouts, a few irreverent whistles punctuating the chaos. As I start up the stairs, President Lattimer reaches down and takes my elbow.

  “Ivy,” he says. “We’re glad you’re joining our family.” His eyes are warm. I feel betrayed by them. They should be icy and indifferent, to match the rest of him.

  “Thank you,” I say, with a steady voice that doesn’t sound like my own. “I’m glad, too.”

  Once I’m onstage, the other couples move even closer to the edge so that I can make my way to the center, where Bishop Lattimer waits for me. I hold his unwavering gaze. He is even taller than I thought, but I am tall, too, and for once my height is a blessing. I would not want this boy to dwarf me. I feel powerless enough already.

  He has dark hair, like his father. Although up close, I can see lighter streaks in among the coffee brown strands, as if he’s spent a lot of time outdoors, under the sun. That makes sense given the rumors I’ve heard about him over the years: that he prefers to be outdoors rather than in, that his father has to force him to attend council meetings, and that he’s more often found rafting on the river than inside City Hall.

  His eyes are a cool, clear green, and they study me with an intensity that makes my stomach cramp. His gaze is neither hostile nor welcoming but appraising, like I am a problem he is figuring out how to solve. He doesn’t come toward me, but when I get close enough to hold out a hand, as I’ve been coached to do, he takes it in his. His fingers are warm and strong when they close over mine. He squeezes my hand briefly, which startles the breath in my throat. Was he trying to be kind? Reassure me? I don’t know, because when I glance at him, his eyes are on the minister waiting in the wings.

  “Let’s begin,” President Lattimer says. Everyone on the stage shifts into position, standing across from their intended spouse, Bishop and me in the center where everyone in the audience can watch. Bishop takes my other hand in his, our hands joined across the small space between us.

  I want to shout out that this is wrong. That I don’t know this boy across from me. Have never had a single conversation with him in my entire life. He doesn’t know that my favorite color is purple or that I still miss the mother I don’t remember or that I am terrified. I shoot a panicked glance out to the audience but see only smiling faces reflected back at me. Somehow, that makes it even worse, the way everyone goes along with this charade. How no one ever cries out or tries to stop their child from marrying a stranger.

  Our compliance is the strongest weapon President Lattimer has in his arsenal.

  And, in the end, I’m just as bad as the rest of them. I open my mouth when everyone else does, repeat the words I can’t even hear over dozens of louder voices around me. I tell myself that none of it matters. I have to get through this part, and so I do. I slide the plain gold band that was my father’s onto Bishop’s finger and he does the same with mine. The ring feels foreign against my skin, tight and confining even though the sizing is correct.

  When the minister pronounces us man and wife, Bishop doesn’t try to kiss me, not even on the cheek, and I am thankful. I don’t think I could have stoo
d it if he had. It would be like someone on the street grabbing me and planting his mouth on mine. An assault, not affection. But all around us, couples hug and cheer and most of them have no trouble kissing as if they’ve known each other for much longer than an hour. Will these girls be so happy in a few months when their bellies are heavy with babies and they realize they are stuck forever sleeping next to a boy they barely know?

  For them this ceremony is about keeping the peace, about honoring a tradition that has worked to stabilize a society for more than two generations. But unlike them, I know how fragile that peace is, how it hangs by only a few slender threads that are even now being snipped. I am different from all these other girls surrounding me because marrying Bishop Lattimer has not fulfilled my destiny. My mission is not to make him happy and bear his children and be his wife.

  My mission is to kill him.

  A

  fter the ceremony, everyone files down to the basement of City Hall, where long tables are set up against the walls, cups of bright pink punch lined next to a single large wedding cake. There will only be enough for the brides and grooms to have a bite or two, but just the thought of the sweet icing clinging to my teeth makes me feel nauseous.

  Bishop’s parents greet us almost as soon as we enter. His father pulls me into a hug and kisses me on the cheek. I try not to flinch, but my smile is tight across my face. His mother is not as demonstrative. She lays her hand briefly on my upper arm and then snatches it away, more the idea of a touch than a touch itself. “Be good to him,” she tells me, and I don’t have to strain to hear the warning in her voice.

  “Mom,” Bishop says. He gives her a sharp look that I pretend not to see. Bishop puts his hand on the small of my back, guiding me away from his parents.

  “Where’s your family?” he asks, tilting his head down so I can hear him over the din of happy congratulations all around us. They are the first words he’s spoken to me other than our vows, which don’t really count, even though in a different world they would matter most.

  I point to the far corner of the room where my father stands stiffly, Callie leaning against the wall next to him.

  “Let’s go say hello,” Bishop says, and I glance up at him, surprised. Our families pretend to get along, we fake smiles and clasp hands and all the while we seethe under our skin. But his voice sounds easy, his eyes sincere. He is a good actor. I will have to be careful around him, even more than I anticipated.

  Callie pushes herself away from the wall as we approach, taking a spot next to my father, a bright smile on her face. My father smiles as well, but his is more reserved and doesn’t come close to touching the dark depths of his eyes.

  “Dad,” I say, “you know each other, I think.” I cannot bring myself to introduce Bishop formally, to call him my husband. “This is my father, Justin Westfall.”

  They shake hands. “Nice to see you again, sir,” Bishop says. “It’s been a while.” His eyes hold my father’s. He doesn’t blink. My father does not intimidate Bishop the way he does most people.

  “You, too, Bishop,” my dad says, clapping him on the shoulder with his free hand. “And this is my older daughter, Callie.”

  “I’m sure he knows who I am, Dad,” Callie says with a laugh. She looks up at Bishop from under her dark eyelashes. “I’m the one you almost married two years ago.”

  I’m not sure what she’s doing, whether she’s flirting with him or simply trying to remind him of the fact that his original obligation was to her. All I know for sure is that she wanted to be the one to take his life and now she’s been robbed of the chance. One more thing she will never forgive him for. I glance down at the floor, hoping he can’t feel the turmoil swirling around us, so strong I can practically taste it on my tongue.

  But all he says is, “I remember.” His smile reveals even white teeth. A future president’s smile. “But it is nice to officially meet.”

  We make the rounds of the room, accepting congratulations from friends and strangers alike. I watch the other brides, most of them with shining eyes and wide smiles. They never stray far from their new husbands, proud to show off and be shown off in return. Do they worry about what comes later? Tonight and all the nights to follow, the endless hours they must fill with these boys they don’t know? The children of my grandfather’s original group go to schools on the opposite side of the city, in Westside. Mingling is not forbidden, but it is not encouraged. Adults constantly chaperone those under sixteen, just to ensure they don’t develop crushes or begin romances that will only make the arranged marriages more difficult. I have no doubt the majority of these girls have never set eyes on their husbands before today. How can they smile so broadly? How can they be so convinced of their own happiness?

  “Are you ready to go?” Bishop asks me. “I don’t think I can stand one more handshake.”

  I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Part of me wishes I could just kill him right here and now. Grab the knife off the cake table and bypass all the steps in between, jump straight to the final result. “Yes,” I say. “I need to say good-bye to my family.”

  Bishop nods and I breathe a sigh of relief when he doesn’t follow me. I want to say my farewells in private.

  “Well,” I say, once I’m next to my father and Callie again. “This is it.”

  “You can do this,” Callie says. Her hand grabs mine and squeezes until my bones grind together. “He’s good looking. He seems nice enough.” Her sneering voice belies her words. “Just get through it. Get through tonight and tomorrow will be easier. I promise.”

  But how can she promise me that? She is not the one who has to go home to a strange house with a strange boy and let him…

  My father catches my gaze. “Remember the plan,” he says, voice barely a whisper. “And remember I love you.”

  I can count on one hand the number of times he’s said that to me. I don’t doubt his love, but a bitter, angry part of me I try hard to silence questions what that love is tied to—my obedience, my allegiance, my success? Will he still love me if I fail?

  I nod, lips pressed together, because I’m not sure what will come out if I open my mouth.

  B

  ishop and I are among the first couples to leave, and several older boys in the crowd catcall as we climb the stairs from the basement.

  “Leaving so early?”

  “Can’t wait, huh, Bishop?”

  “Somebody’s in a hurry to see what’s under that dress.”

  My cheeks burn at their words. I would like to march back down the steps and slap them all. Slap Bishop, too, while I’m at it, just for being a part of this. I stumble on a step, and Bishop reaches out and steadies me with a hand on my upper arm. “Ignore them,” he says, voice tight. “They’re idiots.”

  They may be idiots, but I can’t imagine they’re wrong, either. He’s an eighteen-year-old boy and this is his wedding night. I don’t think he’s taking me home to play checkers. My heart leaps hard in my chest, like it’s going to tunnel out, right through my ribs. I wish, for the millionth time, that it was Callie standing here instead of me.

  After I point it out, Bishop grabs my suitcase from the row lined up outside the doors to City Hall. “Is this it?” he asks. “Only one?”

  “Yes,” I say. “We don’t have as much on my side of town,” I can’t resist adding, even though Callie told me countless times not to antagonize him. I have to fight my natural inclination to provoke.

  But he doesn’t seem angry or even surprised at my words, he just follows me down the steps, suitcase clutched in his hand as though it weighs nothing. “You know it was your grandfather who wanted to keep the two sides separated, right?” he asks, voice mild.

  Callie told me there was no point in pretending our families love each other, that he’d see right through that. But I have to hide the true depth of our hatred. It’s like walking a tightrope with no net, every step a huge risk. “At first, yes,” I say finally. “But that was only a temporary plan, a way to calm thing
s down between the two sides. He never wanted it to continue for this long.”

  Every year my father approaches President Lattimer and suggests it’s time to end the arranged marriages and co-mingle the two sides of town. He keeps his ideas reasonable, doesn’t ask for a democratic government, which will never be granted. And every year President Lattimer smiles and nods and does exactly nothing.

  “What’s the difference?” Bishop asks. “It’s all one town, it’s not like you were living in a prison.”

  Easy for him to say, this boy who’s grown up knowing the best of everything, who from birth has been the chosen one. Even this marriage is something he orchestrated, swapping my sister for me as easily as he changes clothes.

  “It doesn’t always feel like one town,” I tell him, because that seems like the only safe thing I can say. He’s right in that there is nothing glaringly different between his side of town and the side I grew up in. The physical differences are subtle—a little more shade, the houses slightly bigger and set back a little farther from the sidewalks, the streets a few feet wider. They are the kind of differences that aren’t obvious enough to breed outright resentment, but the mere fact of their existence is a way to remind us of our rightful place.

  Once on the sidewalk, we turn right, venturing farther into his side of town, illustrating my point, even if Bishop doesn’t get it. I’ve been past City Hall before, the informal line that separates Westside from Eastglen, but not often. And I’ve never been inside Bishop’s parents’ large home, but I know my father has.

 
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