The book of ivy, p.21

The Book of Ivy, page 21

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series

 

The Book of Ivy
 


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  “Thank you,” Bishop says. More rustling and the murmur of voices. The intercom goes dead.

  I

  ’m curled into a ball, facing the wall, when he arrives. Victoria never came back to get me, but David escorted me to my cell. I tried to tell him I didn’t want visitors, but he said that wasn’t up to him. The late afternoon light coming from the tiny window gives the cell an autumn glow, even though we’re still in the last hazy days of summer. I close my eyes against the burnt orange light when I hear his voice.

  “Hey,” Bishop says softly. “We need to get you out of here. There’s definitely not room on that cot for both of us.”

  It takes me a long time to turn over, push myself to sitting. His is the last face I want to see. The one face that will undo me, that has been undoing me from the very first moment we met.

  I finally look up, and his familiar, beautiful face looks back at me. “Bishop…” My voice is hoarse, like I haven’t spoken in weeks. “You shouldn’t have come.”

  He wraps his hands around the iron bars separating us. “Of course I was going to come. Where else would I be?”

  I choke out a laugh. “Anywhere?”

  “Come here,” he says. “Closer to me.”

  I shake my head, keep my hands white-knuckled around the metal edge of the cot, like he might somehow find a way to drag me toward him if I’m not careful. I am scared his touch will make me weak when I need so desperately to remain strong.

  “What’s going on, Ivy?” he asks. “I know you weren’t going to poison me. So why are you taking the blame?” He pauses. “Was it your dad? Did he put you up to it?”

  “Why would he do that?” I ask, my eyes on the floor. “He may not like your father’s policies, but they’ve managed to get along for decades.”

  Bishop lets that sink in, studying me. “I saw him upstairs a few minutes ago. With your sister. He said you’re unstable. Callie said they weren’t all that shocked you’d do something like this.”

  So, as I suspected, he didn’t know the intercom was on. A little gift from Victoria. She probably hoped that hearing what my family said would make me spill my guts. And now Bishop is here, trying to provoke a reaction from me that I can’t let him have. My throat works, but I don’t respond.

  “Why would they say that? We both know it’s not true. I’ve lived with you, talked to you every day. You’re the least unstable person I know.”

  “They lived with me longer,” I point out, the same thing my father said.

  “I don’t care!” he practically yells and I can hear how hard he’s working to keep himself under control. “I would know.” He lowers his voice. “I know you.”

  He is right. He knows me better than anyone ever has. Than anyone ever will again. I would have stopped it if I could have. But I’ve learned the hard way, we can’t choose who we love. Love chooses us. Love doesn’t care about what’s convenient or easy or planned. Love has its own agenda and all we can do is get out of its way.

  “Where’d you get the poison?” he demands. “If this was your plan, who gave it to you?”

  I shake my head. “The person who gave it to me didn’t know what I wanted it for. It doesn’t matter where it came from.”

  “Oh,” Bishop says, “well, that’s convenient. Was the person who gave you the poison the same person who just happened to leave an anonymous note on Victoria’s desk? Amazing how that worked.”

  “Stop trying to figure it out, Bishop,” I say. “Just let it go.”

  “Are you serious?” he demands. “There’s no way I’m letting it go. This isn’t some stupid argument about whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. This is your life, Ivy!” His voice is getting louder with each word. “You know what’s going to happen, don’t you? If you plead guilty?”

  I keep my head down, my mouth closed.

  “Goddamn it!” Bishop explodes. “Look at me! My father will put you out. Beyond the fence. Do you understand that?”

  “I know,” I say, voice quiet.

  “You know? You know?”

  I paste on a pained smile, try to look at his face without my heart splintering in my chest. “Maybe I’ll be okay. Maybe I’ll make it to the ocean.”

  He gapes at me. “Maybe you’ll be okay?” he repeats finally. “Maybe you’ll…” His voice trails off, and he rests his forehead against the bars. “Will you please talk to me,” he says in a defeated voice. “Tell me the truth so we can figure out what to do. What the hell is going on?”

  I stare at his bent head, remembering the feel of his hair sliding between my fingers. “I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t want to marry you. And your father wouldn’t listen. He doesn’t care about all the girls forced to have babies before they’re ready or marry boys they don’t know. We don’t have any freedom, not even to decide who we love.” I take a deep breath. “I wanted him to know what it felt like to lose something. The way we’ve lost all of our choices.”

  He doesn’t move for a long time, and I think maybe I’ve done it, convinced him of my guilt by repeating the same reasons Callie gave him upstairs. And they’re true, up to the point they become a total lie. He lifts his head, and his eyes lock onto mine. “I don’t believe you,” he says.

  Why does he have to make this so difficult? Why can’t he accept the worst about me, the way so many other people do? Why doesn’t he just give up on me and walk away like my family has already?

  “Are you honestly telling me it was all a lie? You faked everything between us?” He shakes his head. “You’re not that good an actress. You’re no good at hiding your feelings, even when you try. It’s one of the things I like best about you.”

  I turn my face away, and the tears I’ve been holding back begin to fall. Slowly at first, then floods of tears, gushing out of me. I don’t even attempt to wipe them away, letting them drip off my cheeks and chin where they spatter on the concrete floor like a tiny rain shower.

  “Look at me,” he says, his voice low and desperate. “Look at me and tell me none of it was true.”

  “Don’t.” My voice catches. I can’t look at him.

  “Say it,” he demands. When I look at him through a blur of tears, I can tell he thinks he’s won. He knows I cannot look him in the eye and say I felt nothing for him. And if I can’t do that, he’ll know the poison is a lie.

  He doesn’t take his eyes off me as I stand. I walk toward him, stopping right before I reach the bars. “It was all true,” I say through my tears. “Every second. The times I resented you. The times I was angry at you. The times I was afraid of you.” I take a long, unsteady breath, my eyes on his. “The times I loved you. It was all true.”

  I see the relief run through him, the sheen of pain and confusion in his eyes fading into hope. He opens his mouth to speak, but I reach out and wrap my hands around his on the bars. The touch of his skin is like electricity, pinning me in place.

  “But the poison is true, too, Bishop. And nothing that I just said changes that.” I squeeze his hands. “I was going to kill you.”

  I will my words to be truth, even though I know they are the vilest deception. I set my jaw, keep my gaze steady. I don’t want him to find a lie no matter how hard he looks. His eyes search my face with an intensity now so familiar to me, I feel it in my bones.

  “Remember when you told me I fascinated you? How the first time you saw me I was scared but still defiant? How I was easy to read on the outside but complicated underneath?” He doesn’t respond, his eyes boring into mine, still digging for the lie. And if I don’t convince him soon, he’s going to find it. Desperation makes me cruel. “I’m still that same girl,” I tell him. “The one who could love you. And kill you anyway.”

  There’s a moment of charged silence, acceptance slowly flowing into his eyes like brackish water, turning them dark and cloudy. I loosen my grip on his hands. He yanks them out from under mine, holds them up like I’m pointing a gun at him as he steps back from the bars. My skin still tingles where it touch
ed his.

  “Do you believe me now?” I ask, cold as ice. Finally, after all this time and when I need it most, I’ve found Callie’s voice inside of me.

  He does.

  Life is one sick joke after another, I’m discovering. Because it hardly seems fair that it should hurt so much to finally get exactly what I’ve been wishing for.

  I

  spend the next three days alone, other than Victoria, who stops by periodically to give me updates on what’s happening in a careful, professional tone and leaves so fast she practically trips over her own feet. And David, of course, who brings my meals and actually smiles at me. Sad, sorry smiles that are somehow worse than if he glared at me or spit in my food. They remind me of the looks you’d give a lamb right before slaughter. Which is fitting, I suppose.

  My father does not come. Callie does not come. They’ve cut their losses and moved on. And although I’m not surprised they’ve chosen to save themselves—it’s what I wanted, after all—the ease with which they’ve abandoned me leaves me brokenhearted. From the beginning, I was only a pawn in their quest for power. The thought of sacrificing themselves for me has probably not even occurred to either one of them.

  I am not so selfless, or so brave, that I haven’t considered telling the truth about my family during all the endless hours in my cell. I know how easy it would be to point the finger of blame in their direction and a part of me yearns to do it. But I want to be better than the lessons they taught me. I want my love to be greater than my hate, my mercy to be stronger than my vengeance.

  Bishop does not visit me again. I don’t want him to; I could hardly bear it the first time. The look on his face as he jerked his hands out from under mine, backed away from me like I was contaminated. I wouldn’t be able to stand that again. I would break under that look and confess everything. So I tell myself it’s better that he has finally lost his faith in me.

  I never deserved it anyway.

  On the morning of the fourth day, Victoria arrives and informs me I’m going in front of the judge this afternoon. She pauses outside the cell. “It’ll be fast, Ivy,” she says.

  “Okay.” It usually is when someone enters a guilty plea.

  She looks up at the ceiling, anywhere but at me. “No, I mean…after your plea is accepted, you’re going to be sentenced. Today.”

  “Oh.” The timing doesn’t really matter. What’s done is done, but I thought I’d have more time. “And when will they put me out?” I ask.

  Again, her eyes land on everything but me. “I don’t think they’ll wait for the next scheduled day. Mrs. Lattimer is pushing to have you put out immediately. She says you’re too big a threat to keep here. And they want to use you as an example. Keep this type of thing from happening again.”

  I nod, although my neck is stiff with fear. “Thank you for telling me.”

  Victoria’s gaze finally finds mine. “If there’s anything you want to say, now would be the time to say it. It’s not too late to have a trial.”

  “No, no trial,” I say, for what feels like the thousandth time. “You turned the intercom on that day, didn’t you?”

  “Yes. I was hoping it might shake the truth loose. That it might remind you who is worth protecting. And who isn’t.”

  I don’t respond, and she sighs, the sound more frustrated than disappointed. Like she knew already she wouldn’t get anywhere with me.

  “Will I get a chance—” I pause and clear my throat. “Will I get a chance to say good-bye to my family?” Even after everything, I still love them. They are still my blood, and although we’ve disappointed each other, I would like to see them one last time, hold them in my arms and kiss their cheeks good-bye.

  Victoria’s eyes flare before she looks away from me. “They haven’t asked to meet with you, Ivy. Not even after sentencing.”

  “Oh…okay.” My voice is very small.

  “But Bishop has asked if he—”

  “No!” I exclaim. “Not Bishop.” I have no idea why he would want to be in the same room with me ever again. He once said giving up on me wasn’t an option, but I hope to God he’s changed his mind about that. I thought I had forced him to. Maybe he still loves you, a traitorous little voice in my head whispers. Maybe he’s not ready to give up. A flicker of hope sparks inside me, but I stomp on it, smother it. Hope like that will destroy us both, and I have to kill it where it lives. “I don’t want to see him,” I tell Victoria. “But can you give him a message for me?”

  “What?”

  “Can you tell him that I’m sorry.” I pause, debating how much I can say without giving everything away. But I have to take the chance. “And tell him to be careful.”

  Victoria steps closer to the bars. “Careful of what?” she asks.

  I don’t think my father will try to kill Bishop again, not when he came so close to being caught. He’ll figure out some other path to get what he wants. And the truth is, there is no way to keep someone safe forever. The world is full of a million dangers, both realized and never considered. But this is the best I can do. “Tell him to be careful about trusting people,” I say. I manage a wobbly smile. “Although that probably goes without saying at this point.”

  After a long moment of silence, she gives me a quick nod. “All right.” She steps back from the bars. “Good luck, Ivy.”

  I don’t think luck is going to help me, but I give her a small smile. She has always been good to me, even now.

  Once she’s gone, I curl up on the cot. My default position in the cell. I have every crack on the cinderblocks memorized, can tell how long it is until my meal trays arrive by the slant of light through the window above my head. But as hard as I try, I can never hear anything from outside. Just the clank of doors and sometimes the sound of footsteps. No matter what, it will be nice to smell fresh air again and hear the wind in the trees.

  I trace my finger across the rough cinderblock, remembering the warmth of Bishop’s skin under this same finger. I hope that someday he is able to forgive himself for loving me. I hope that he finds another girl, one better than me, to guard his heart. One who deserves the faith he puts in her. I hope he touches the ocean and tastes its salty sting. Tears pool in my ear and the hollow of my neck, and I’m glad there is no one here to witness them.

  Bishop asked me once who I wanted to be, and I think I know the answer now. I want to be someone strong and brave enough to make hard choices. But I want to be fair and loving enough to make the right ones. After everything, I can’t be sorry for loving Bishop. And I’m not sorry for saving him, either, even if I sacrificed myself in the process. It was my choice and I’m proud of it. If that makes me soft, then it’s a softness I can finally live with.

  T

  hey leave me handcuffed to a bench in a back hallway while I’m waiting to be escorted to the courtroom for my plea hearing. I’m staring straight ahead, trying very hard to think about nothing, when my father rounds the corner and sits down beside me.

  “Dad?” I say, not entirely sure he’s not simply a figment of my imagination.

  “We don’t have long,” he says. “The guard said only five minutes.” He lays a hand on my cheek.

  “I’m so glad you came,” I tell him, trying to smile.

  “Oh Ivy,” he sighs, his voice breaking, “what have you done?”

  My throat tightens at his words. “What I had to do, Dad.” We’re speaking in a kind of code, neither of us sure who might be listening. But it feels like we’ve always communicated this way, never able to come at anything honestly, always circling around the truth.

  He shakes his head, drops his hand. “They’re putting you out.”

  “I’m sorry, Dad,” I whisper. “I love you.”

  A tear trails down his cheek. I’ve never seen my father cry before. “I love you, too,” he says.

  “But not enough to save me,” I say, my voice harder than I expected it to be.

  My father stands and stares down at me. “You made your choice, Ivy.”
>
  “Yes,” I say, meeting his eyes. “And you made yours.”

  T

  he courtroom is packed with people when they bring me before the judge. Everyone craning for a look at the traitor. A few people hiss at me as I walk by, but I keep my eyes straight ahead and my chin high. Generally, nowadays, crime is not a spectator sport, but I must be an exception.

  I’m marched to the defense table and, after I take my seat, the two guards flanking me step back. Victoria’s colleague Jack Stewart is already seated at the table. He came down to my cell once, to tell me he is representing me. Victoria obviously ignored my request to proceed without an attorney. It doesn’t make much difference, though. His job should be short and sweet. He gives me a grim smile before turning back to the front of the courtroom. From behind us, I can hear the buzz of voices, but I don’t focus on the words. I doubt I want to hear them.

  The courtroom, with its dark cherry wood and high ceilings, lends a formality to the proceedings before they’ve even started. Any illusions I’ve had that my fate will not be determined today fade in the presence of the courtroom’s authority. My future is in the hands of the judge who will sit behind the high bench in front of me. There is a kind of relief in knowing there is nothing left for me to do.

  The voices behind me rise, and I tell myself not to turn. But my curiosity is stronger than my apprehension, and I swing my head to the left. President and Mrs. Lattimer have entered the courtroom, followed by my father and Callie. Bishop brings up the rear. He looks in my direction, his eyes remote. But he doesn’t take his gaze off mine as he joins the rest of them in the front row behind the prosecutor’s table. No one sits directly behind me. The empty bench a testament to how far I have fallen.

  I can still feel Bishop watching me, even after I turn back to face the front of the courtroom. I keep my eyes on the door through which the judge will enter and pronounce my sentence.

  “All rise, the Honorable Lawrence Lozano in session.”

 
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