The book of ivy, p.20

The Book of Ivy, page 20

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series

 

The Book of Ivy
 


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  That doesn’t give me much time. “What about Mrs. Lattimer?” I ask.

  “She’ll be irrelevant once they’re dead,” Callie says. “We’re not wasting energy on her.”

  I have no illusions about the relationship between Erin Lattimer and me. It is not made up of warm, fuzzy emotions on either side. But my heart still breaks a little imagining her left behind, husband and son both dead. Her entire world destroyed in the blink of an eye. The very indifference to her suffering an especially vile form of cruelty.

  “Our family has waited years to be back in power,” Callie continues. “And no one is going to take it away from us.”

  “Power over what? A bunch of scared people who are trying to pretend the world hasn’t changed? Everyone too terrified to even ask what else is out there? This little patch of land with ten thousand people, that’s what we’re fighting over?” I look out across the park, try to imagine what lies beyond this tiny bit of earth we all claim like it’s the only scrap left. Maybe it is. But we don’t know that for sure. “Is it worth it?” I ask.

  “Of course it’s worth it!” Callie exclaims. “This is all there is. And it’s supposed to be ours. A Westfall founded this place and a Westfall should be in charge.”

  That doesn’t sound much like democracy to me. I put the vial into my bag. “Good-bye, Callie,” I say. I grab her and hug her hard before she can protest or push me away. After everything, she is still my sister. I still love her. And I always will. But I realize now that Callie and my father have been holding me down my entire life, never allowing me the freedom of my own thoughts or actions for fear they would differ from their own desires. They are not so different from President Lattimer.

  And it is Bishop who helped me break free. He didn’t save me, though. He allowed me the freedom to save myself, which is the very best type of rescue.

  I

  ’ve gone over every possibility a dozen times. Thought about telling Bishop what my father and Callie are planning. But as much as I want to stop them, I cannot go that far. I cannot be the one who dooms them, even if they might deserve it. And doing nothing is also not an option. I could smash the vial and continue on with my life, but they will still find a way to kill Bishop, with or without my help. No matter how I come at the problem, the fact remains that in the end there will have to be a sacrifice. If I won’t allow it to be Bishop and I can’t stomach it being my family, then there is only one choice left.

  It will have to be me.

  I

  leave the note where I’m sure they’ll find it. If not tonight, then early tomorrow when Victoria arrives. She’d never miss it; she’s too good at her job. Afterward, I walk home and put the vial in the bottom drawer in the bathroom, behind the washcloths and a jumble of soaps and shampoos. I don’t know if they will go to the trouble of checking the vial for fingerprints, but I wipe it off carefully just to be safe, so only my prints will remain.

  I smile at dinner and try not to think that it is my last night in this house. I listen to Bishop’s laugh and try to forget I will never hear it again, that by tomorrow he will hate me. But he will be alive and that is a fair trade. Or as fair as either of us is likely to get in this lifetime. And at bedtime I don’t linger in the bathroom, don’t allow panic to set into my bones like the poison hidden in the drawer. I crawl into bed beside him and reach for him in the dark. I don’t let myself think that any second there could be a knock on the door, that any moment could be the last.

  “Ivy?” he says. I want to memorize the sound of his voice. “Why are you crying?”

  “I’m not,” I say, swiping at my cheeks with angry fingers. I push against him, rolling him onto his back, and swing myself over so that I straddle him. His eyes look almost translucent in the moonlight. “We could leave,” I find myself saying, my breath hitching out of me on a sob. I am wound tight, my body trembling. I feel like the only thing connecting me to the world is the warmth of his hands around my hips, tethering me. “Go beyond the fence. See what’s out there. Find the ocean.”

  He watches me, forehead furrowed. “What’s wrong?” he says finally. “Talk to me.”

  But I can’t. I shake my head. “Never mind,” I whisper.

  His hands tighten on my hips. “Someday,” he says. “We’ll see the ocean together, I promise.”

  I nod because I cannot open my mouth, have no idea what might come pouring out. A different kind of ocean maybe, one made of words that would drown us both. So I brace my hands on the pillow beneath his head and lean down to kiss him instead. The softness of his lips, the taste of his tongue, the strength of his hands. I store them up inside of me for a time when they are no longer mine.

  I want to tell him I love him. But that would be selfish of me. To leave him with yet another memory he will only question later, a hard-won truth he will only remember as the worst, and final, lie.

  I

  ’m asleep when the knock comes, loud and insistent. Bishop is curled around my back, one hand pushed underneath my tank top to rest flat against my stomach.

  “Bishop.” I nudge his arm. “Someone’s at the door.” The first hazy streaks of sunlight are poking their way through our gauzy bedroom curtains.

  “Hmmm?” he mumbles, his breath warm against my shoulder. The knock comes again, harder this time. They won’t wait long. “Who the hell is here this early?” he says as he pushes himself up, throwing the sheet off our tangled legs.

  As soon as he’s left the room, I sit up, take a deep breath, and palm my hair off my face. I have to be stronger now than ever before, braver than I knew I could be. Voices float in from the living room, Bishop’s, another man, and is that…Erin? This is going to be even worse than I anticipated.

  I throw on a pair of shorts and pull a T-shirt over my tank top. I just have time to pull my hair up into a messy ponytail when Bishop and a uniformed man appear in the doorway. The man is agitated, face red and veins bulging in his neck. Bishop, with his sleep-rumpled hair and bare chest, just looks confused.

  “Ivy,” he says. “My parents are here. And the police.” He indicates the man next to him with a curt nod. “They say they received an anonymous note saying…” His voice trails off and he looks at the cop. “This is ridiculous. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation.”

  “The note said you planned on poisoning him,” the cop says.

  “They want to do a search,” Bishop tells me.

  “Go ahead,” I say. I wish the rest of me was as numb as my voice.

  The cop backs out of the room, and a few seconds later, I hear the sounds of cabinets opening in the kitchen, his voice barking orders. Bishop is staring at me and if I don’t look away, I’m going to cry. I sit down on the edge of our bed, keep my gaze on my clasped hands.

  “I don’t understand what they’re even doing here,” Bishop says. He sits down beside me, so close our bare legs touch. He scrubs at his face with both hands. “Weren’t we asleep five minutes ago?” He lets out a raspy laugh. “Maybe I’m dreaming.”

  “It’s not a dream,” I say. My voice sounds very far away to my own ears, like I’m speaking through a curtain of clouds.

  “Well, they need to hurry up and get out of here,” Bishop says. The anger in his voice is hiding something else—fear, maybe, or doubt. My heart drops into my stomach. I wish there was a way to save him that didn’t involve hurting him. But it’s a choice between pain now or death later, and he’ll get over the pain of losing me. I’ll make it as easy for him as I can.

  Bishops takes my hand in his, following the lines of my palm with his index finger, while we listen to the police ransack our kitchen and living room, pretend we don’t notice them moving down the hall to the bathroom right outside the door. Tension races through me like lightning, threatening to shoot sparks from my fingers and toes. No matter what Bishop said to the cop, he’s feeling it, too. His body vibrates with nerves next to mine.

  There’s an exclamation from the bathroom, the sound of rapid fo
otsteps, more talking. I don’t focus on the words; instead I try to clear my mind and take even breaths.

  “We found something,” the cop says, and Bishop and I both swing our heads in his direction. He’s holding up a plastic bag with the vial inside.

  “What is it?” Bishop asks.

  “That’s what we’ll have to find out,” the cop says, staring at me. “But if I had to guess, I’d say it’s poison.”

  It seems like slow motion as Bishop turns back to me, his green eyes locked on mine.

  “We need to—” the cop begins, but Bishop doesn’t even look at him. Bishop holds up a hand to cut him off.

  “Ivy,” he says. He’s not just looking at me, he’s looking into me, probing me with his gaze. He doesn’t believe. He’s waiting for the explanation, waiting for the words that will make sense of that vial. He doesn’t even look that concerned. He doesn’t believe in the vial because he believes in me.

  A single tear spills over, runs down my cheek. “I’m sorry,” I whisper. Every inch of me hurts; even my skin aches. I want to throw my arms around him and never let go. But I stand on steadier legs than I deserve and face the policeman who is coming toward me. I don’t resist as he grabs my arms, keeping my gaze fixed on the far wall. I don’t look when Bishop tries to intervene, pushing against the cop, calling my name as I’m dragged into the living room, past the president, a stricken look on his face, and Erin, who would tear me apart if she could.

  I don’t look back as I’m escorted out of the house, Bishop’s voice a constant, furious counterpoint behind me. On the outside I am calm, a careful blank, but inside my blood and bones and flesh scream out for him. But I put one foot in front of the other, remind myself that every step makes him safer even as it takes me farther away from him.

  T

  hey put me in a cell in the basement of the courthouse. It is clean, at least, and separated from the other prisoners. The cop who found the vial practically shoves me in, but David, who met him at the courthouse door, is kinder.

  “I’m sure we’ll get this all sorted out soon,” he tells me with a worried smile. “Sit tight.”

  The door clanks closed behind them, but I don’t sit. I sink onto the cot bolted to the far wall and curl up into a ball, as tight and small as I can make myself. It’s hot in the airless cell, but I shiver uncontrollably, clench my teeth to stop their chattering.

  I have to be prepared for whatever happens next. I can’t falter now. I tell myself that whoever comes into my cell, I will be ready. It could be my father, the president, Bishop himself. Whoever it is, I will be strong.

  I’m not sure how much time passes. Long enough that bright sunlight is slanting in through the tiny window at the top of the cell. It’s almost unbearably stuffy now and tiny dust motes dance in the bright shaft of light. If I stare at them long enough, I can pretend I’m floating among them, transported somewhere far away from here.

  “Ivy?”

  I jerk up to sitting, blood beating against the backs of my eyes. It’s Victoria in the doorway. Not who I expected. She closes the cell door behind her and leans back against it. Her eyes are sad.

  “Your father and sister are here,” she says. “They’re upstairs being questioned. Then they’ll meet with the Lattimers. They say they had no idea what you were planning.” It’s not a question, but she asks it like one. Waiting for me to sell them out.

  “They didn’t know,” I say. My tongue is dry and feels several sizes too big for my mouth.

  “I assume you don’t want to talk to the police without an attorney. So this afternoon, we’ll get a lawyer assigned to you. Then you can—”

  “No,” I say, too loud. I temper my voice. “No lawyer.” The legal system is not the same as it was before the war. We are not entitled to an attorney or to refuse to speak to the police. But my friends in the courthouse are giving me special treatment I neither need nor want. Victoria probably thinks she is helping me. “I want to plead guilty. No trial.”

  “Ivy,” Victoria says, taking a step toward me. “I don’t know what’s going on. But I do know what will happen if you plead guilty. And so do you.”

  I nod. Breathe past the terror sitting in my chest like a boulder. “I’m guilty. No trial.”

  Victoria stares at me for a moment, then reaches behind her and unlocks my cell. “Come with me,” she says.

  I hesitate. “Where are we going?”

  “Come on,” she says. “Hurry.”

  I don’t want to leave the relative safety of my cell, but Victoria has never hurt me. I stand and follow her out of the cell. “We’ll see what we can do about getting you some shoes,” Victoria says, glancing at my bare feet. “And some other clothes.”

  We walk out of the cellblock and through another door Victoria has to unlock with a ring of keys attached to her belt. David is waiting on the other side, and his eyebrows shoot up when we come through.

  “I’m putting her in one of the interrogation rooms,” Victoria says.

  “Okay.” David seems confused, but he doesn’t argue.

  Victoria leads me to a door on the left of the hallway, indistinguishable from all the rest. The room beyond the door is small, holding only a card table and two chairs. “Sit,” Victoria says. “I’ll be back.” Before she leaves, she flicks a button on the wall intercom. She locks the door behind her.

  There is a two-way mirror on the far side of the room, but I don’t think anyone’s watching me. I sit on the metal folding chair and cross my arms, using my hands to try and bring some warmth to my skin. The intercom on the wall buzzes to life, static shooting through the room, startling me and making me jump in my seat.

  “She says she’s guilty.” Victoria’s voice from the intercom. What is going on?

  “Bishop! Are you listening? Did you hear what Victoria said?” Erin’s voice this time. The intercom distorts the sound, making everything fuzzy and slightly indistinct, but I still recognize the voices. I pick up my chair and move it closer to the wall.

  “It doesn’t matter what she said.” Bishop. He sounds exhausted. “She didn’t do it. She wasn’t going to kill me.”

  “Then why was there poison in your house?” Erin demands.

  “I don’t know,” Bishop says with a sigh. “I don’t have an explanation for it, but I know she’s not guilty.”

  I want to reach through the intercom and touch him. It’s a kind of torture knowing he’s right upstairs and I can’t get to him.

  “She says she is, though,” President Lattimer says. They must all be here. Are my father and Callie up there, too?

  As if the thought summoned her, I hear Callie speak. “I didn’t want to say anything before. But now I think I have to.”

  “What is it?” President Lattimer asks.

  “Ivy’s always been…different,” Callie says. My hands curl into fists in my lap.

  “Different?” Erin’s voice is sharp. “What do you mean?”

  “Unstable,” my father says, and with that word I hear the last brick fall. My fate well and truly sealed. It’s what I wanted. It’s what had to happen. But my family’s betrayal still cuts like a sharp blade. “We did what we could for her,” my father continues. “But she’s always been up and down, impossible to predict. We hoped that she would outgrow it. That it wasn’t a permanent part of her personality.”

  There is silence for a moment, and then Erin bursts out, “Just like her mother. Crazy like her mother!” I am glad we are not in the same room, because right now my fists have a mind of their own.

  “Erin, stop it!” President Lattimer barks.

  “Ivy is not crazy. And neither was her mother,” my father says. “But…it’s not completely out of character for her to do something like this.”

  “She felt very strongly about the arranged marriages,” Callie says. “That they were wrong. She might have thought this was an appropriate response. There’s really no way of knowing exactly what was going on inside her head.”

  There’s a mo
ment where no one speaks. “Bullshit,” Bishop says flatly into the silence. “That’s utter bullshit.”

  “Bishop!”

  Even with my entire life spiraling out of my hands, I have to smile at Bishop’s words, at his complete faith in me, at his mother’s appalled response. He can still, after everything, make me smile when I least expect it.

  “I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but what you’re saying about Ivy isn’t true,” Bishop says. “Either you don’t know her at all or you’re lying. I lived in that house with her every day. I slept next to her. And there is nothing wrong with her. She—” His voice breaks and I turn away from the intercom. I know how carefully Bishop guards his emotions, protecting them from those who don’t deserve to see beneath his surface. I hate that I am the one who has forced him to reveal himself this way.

  “We lived with her, too, Bishop,” my father says. “For a lot longer than you. No one knows her better than we do.”

  “Then how could you let her marry our son?” Erin demands. “Knowing that she’s unstable?”

  “That wasn’t our decision, if you’ll recall,” my father says. “He was supposed to marry Callie. But he chose otherwise. It wasn’t up to us.” So smug, so confident, even with his plan falling to pieces around him. There’s no way he can kill Bishop now, or at least not in the near future. After what I’ve been accused of almost doing, my father can’t risk the finger of suspicion pointing back at our family so soon.

  “Regardless, you had an obligation—”

  “Be quiet.” Bishop’s voice whips out of the intercom and everyone falls silent. “Just be quiet.” There is a pause, and I hear a chair scrape back. When he speaks again, his voice is louder. Closer to Victoria? “I want to see Ivy.”

  “No,” I say before I can stop myself. I spring out of my seat, clawing at the intercom, but they can’t hear me. “No!”

  “I want to see her,” Bishop repeats. “Now.”

  “Give me a minute,” Victoria says. “And you can’t go inside the cell.”

 
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