The book of ivy, p.7

The Book of Ivy, page 7

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series

 

The Book of Ivy
 


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  He holds my hand all the way up the long drive to his parents’ house and only releases it once we’ve stepped inside the door. My bare palm feels naked, and I have to resist the urge to scramble for his fingers when his father approaches.

  “Bishop, Ivy!” President Lattimer calls out. He comes toward us with both arms outstretched and pulls us into hugs before I can deflect him. “We’re happy you could join us. We wanted to have you over earlier, but you know your mother,” he says with a grin at Bishop, “she has to make sure everything’s perfect.” Which sounds like an excuse to me. It must to Bishop, too, because he raises his eyebrows at me over his father’s shoulder.

  Erin Lattimer appears behind her husband, a pained smile on her face, like someone is pulling on her cheeks at the same time she’s gritting her teeth. She is wearing a cherry red skirt and long-sleeve blouse, too hot for the weather, but she doesn’t have a hair out of place. I doubt she even knows how to sweat. She reminds me of the Barbie dolls that are found every once in a while—plastic to the point of perfection. I know that Erin was originally from my side of town, born Erin Bishop and a classmate of my father’s. But it hardly seems possible, her refined elegance so at odds with most of the women I knew growing up. She’s cultivated a new persona for herself, and she wears her chilly mantle like a queen.

  She embraces Bishop, who gives her a stiff kiss on the cheek, but she only nods at me. I’m glad she’s not faking affection. It’s more honest than what her husband is doing, at least. Dislike is an emotion I can respect.

  Dinner is served in the formal dining room, the four of us spread out at a table much too big for our small party even with the table not fully extended. The Lattimers are seated at each end, and Bishop and I are to sit across from each other. It’s like being marooned on my own small island, surrounded on both sides by hostile waters.

  Bishop pulls out my seat, then grabs an extra chair from against the wall behind us and sits down next to me. “It’s too far away, across the table,” he says to his mother. I try not to feel ridiculously grateful for this small act of defiance, this solidarity he’s shown me.

  Mrs. Lattimer is not happy with the change, but she doesn’t make it an issue. She nods curtly to the maid waiting by the doorway, who scurries over to move Bishop’s place setting across the table.

  “They are still newlyweds, after all,” President Lattimer says with a smile. Whatever President Lattimer envisions, I doubt Bishop sleeping on the sofa every night is part of it.

  We make it through the salad course and warm rosemary bread with small talk and only a few awkward silences. I’m starting to think I may survive the evening unscathed when President Lattimer turns toward me with a smile. “How are you enjoying your job at the courthouse?”

  “I like it,” I say. “I’m working with Victoria Jameson.”

  President Lattimer nods. “We know Victoria well, and her father, of course. That will keep you busy until babies come along.”

  My heart skips a beat. “Yes,” I say.

  President Lattimer cuts into his chicken. “Are you learning anything interesting?”

  I take a sip of ice water. “Mostly I’m helping with case work,” I say carefully. “Keeping the judges organized.” I pause. “Victoria did say that next week we may be doing some work with the prisoners.”

  Mrs. Lattimer’s hand rises to her throat before falling back to her lap. “Oh,” she says. “I’m not sure that’s appropriate, Ivy. Not for you.”

  “Why not?” I ask, the words coming out even more defensive than I intended them.

  “You’re only a girl,” Mrs. Lattimer says. “There are some things that are too adult for you.”

  I focus on my plate. Keep your mouth closed, I tell myself. Just shut up. But I can’t, and I now fully understand Callie’s apprehension when Bishop asked for me instead of her. If I can make my father’s plan work, it will be a miracle. “I think if I’m old enough to be married off against my will, I’m old enough to work where I want,” I say, raising my eyes to meet hers.

  There’s a long beat of silence. Mrs. Lattimer’s fork clatters to her plate. “How dare you,” she says, eyes wide. “How dare—”

  “Erin,” President Lattimer says, voice calm. “Ivy’s allowed to have her own opinions. Especially here, at our dinner table.” I look at him, taken by surprise. “I encourage debate,” he tells me, no irony in his tone.

  “As long as it’s within the confines of your beliefs, right?” I ask. I put down my fork so no one can see my hand shaking. “Out on the streets, people aren’t allowed to talk about democracy, are they? About having a voice in how things are run?”

  President Lattimer’s face tightens. “Democracy was what your grandfather espoused, Ivy. And he lost. He lost because he didn’t have enough supporters behind him.”

  “No, he lost because your father got to the guns first.” I need to stop. I take a breath, bringing myself back under control. Bishop’s hand brushes against mine on the tabletop. Just his pinky shifting against my fingers. I glance at him, startled, and his eyes hold mine. Encouraging me, or at least not trying to stop me.

  “What’s wrong with letting people decide the kind of government they want?” I ask. “What are you afraid of?” They are my father’s words, and it makes me feel closer to him to speak them.

  “People need certainty,” President Lattimer says. “They need peace. We’ve had enough war and unrest.”

  “Putting people outside the fence, that’s a kind of unrest, though, isn’t it?” I say.

  “The people put out have done horrible things. The punishment fits the crime,” Mrs. Lattimer interjects.

  “Maybe for some of them,” I concede. “But it’s not just murderers who are put out. It’s people who steal or upset the status quo. How does leaving them to die bring peace?”

  Mrs. Lattimer opens her mouth to speak, but I cut her off before she can get a word out. “And what about forcing girls to marry, not letting them have any say in their own lives?”

  “Our priority is not personal happiness, Ivy,” President Lattimer says. “It can’t be. We are all still trying to survive, increase our population, and when people have too many choices, they often make the wrong ones. So it’s up to me to guide them.”

  I choke out a laugh. “So you know what’s best for every single person in Westfall?”

  “Yes,” Mrs. Lattimer says. “He does.” She glares at me, little wrinkles forming around her lips where her mouth is drawn tight.

  “You know,” President Lattimer says, pulling my attention away from Mrs. Lattimer, “you remind me of your mother. Of course, you look like her. She could be…impassioned, too.”

  “What?” My voice comes out as a whisper I can barely hear over the screaming in my head. “You knew my mother?”

  “Yes.” His smile is sad. “I knew her well.”

  I have so many questions that they form a ball in my throat and not a single one can escape. I want to scream at him, rake my fingers down his cheeks and ask how he can talk about her with such fondness in his voice when he was the one who had her killed? But a bigger part of me doesn’t care, right in this moment, who he is or what he’s done. If he can tell me about my mother, then I’m willing to listen.

  My family often uses the memory of what happened to my mother to invoke my wrath, but no one’s ever talked to me about her life. About who she was before she became a symbol of my family’s rage. All my life, the most I’ve gotten are whispers passed back and forth above my head like a hot potato no one wanted to be caught holding—fragments of sentences I craved like a drug: tragic, disgrace, heartbroken, gone, never coming back.

  “How did you know her?” I ask, voice raw.

  A chair scrapes back, making me jump. “I’ve had enough of this,” Mrs. Lattimer says, throwing her napkin down on the table as she stands. “It’s not bad enough that she’s the one he marries? But then she comes into my home and spews her father’s delusions and we’re expected to s
it and listen?” She points at me. “I won’t—”

  “Enough,” Bishop says. He doesn’t raise his voice, but his word is a warning just the same.

  Mrs. Lattimer stares at her son, her lower lip trembling. “Two weeks?” she hisses. “That’s all it takes for her to turn you against us? Two weeks.”

  “No one’s against you, Mom.” Bishop sounds weary, like he’s had some version of this conversation a thousand times before. Did he spend his childhood having to constantly prove his devotion to his mother instead of being the recipient of hers? Maybe he and I have something in common after all.

  “Erin, please,” President Lattimer says, “sit down. There’s no need to make a scene.”

  But Mrs. Lattimer is not going to be easily consoled. “I’m not the one who made a scene,” she shoots back, eyes on me. She turns and leaves the room, her heels tapping a fading staccato rhythm on the wood floor of the hallway.

  “Excuse me,” President Lattimer says. He doesn’t seem particularly ruffled by his wife’s behavior. He follows her from the room, and Bishop and I are left alone. I stare down at the chicken congealing on my plate. The candles in the middle of the table flicker and glow, casting shadows across my hands. The only sound is the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall.

  “I’m sorry,” I manage to say. And I am. Sorry I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Sorry I’m not the girl my sister and father need me to be.

  “No need to apologize,” Bishop says. I turn to look at him, half his face in shadow. “I told you before, I want you to be yourself. That includes speaking your mind, even if it makes people uncomfortable.”

  I nod. “There was a man on our side of town. He lived a few houses down from us.” I have no idea why I’m telling him this, maybe testing to see if he means what he says. Which is stupid and risky, but I can’t stop the flow of words. “A couple of winters ago, his son got sick. And the hospital wouldn’t give him medicine.”

  “There are protocols for the medicine,” Bishop says. “They don’t just hand it out.” He is speaking like his father now, always with an answer for everything. I yank my hand off the table where it lays close to his. Bishop draws his hand back, too.

  “I know that. But this man’s son was really sick, about-to-die sick. And they still put his name at the bottom of the list. So my neighbor stole some medicine, saved his son’s life. And your father had him put out for the crime. He froze to death on the other side of the fence, didn’t even make it one day.” I hold Bishop’s gaze. “That’s your father’s idea of justice. Those are the kinds of choices he makes.”

  Bishop stares at me. “What do you want me to say, Ivy?” he asks finally. “That I agree with what my father did? That I don’t? What’s the answer you’re looking for?”

  “I’m not looking for a specific answer,” I tell him, although the part of me that’s been coached to kill him hopes he agrees with his father. “I want to know what you think.”

  “I think,” Bishop says, “that we can love our families without trusting everything they tell us. Without championing everything they stand for.” He delivers the words matter-of-factly, but his eyes are locked on mine. “I think that sometimes things aren’t as simple as our fathers want us to believe.”

  I

  have a pile of new books on my bedside table, but no matter which one I pick, I can’t seem to turn off my brain and settle down. It’s long past the time I usually turn out the light, and I will be cursing my inability to sleep come morning when it’s time for me to get up for work. Finally, I give up and climb out of bed. The hallway and living room are dark, and I tiptoe into the kitchen and grab a glass of water as quietly as I can. I’m sneaking back to the bedroom when Bishop shifts on the couch. “Can’t sleep?” he asks.

  “No,” I say. “You can’t, either?”

  The room is dark, but a sliver of moonlight shines in through the not-quite-closed front window curtains. Bishop shakes his head, the light glinting off his cheekbones.

  “I was just getting some water,” I say.

  “Yeah.” He smiles. “I can see that.” He has one arm hooked behind his head, his sheet tangled at his feet. His pale T-shirt glows in the dim light. “Want to keep me company while you drink it?”

  “Okay,” I say, starting toward one of the chairs across from him, but he bends his legs at the knee, making room for me on the end of the couch. “Thanks,” I say, sitting down, curling my legs up next to me.

  “It’s weird, isn’t it?” Bishop says, breaking the silence before my mind can spin away from me, worrying about all the things I should be saying and doing.

  “What?”

  He gestures broadly. “This. Us. How only a couple of weeks ago we were just teenagers living with our parents and now we’re…here.”

  “Yes,” I say. “Very weird.”

  There’s a long pause where I can feel him watching me. I turn my head and look at him. “Remember the day we went to my house,” he says, “and got the books from my father’s library?”

  “Yes. What about it?”

  “You were right, Ivy,” he says quietly. “It does bother me. The way our choices are taken away from us.”

  I’m almost scared to breathe. He is confiding in me, opening up to me exactly the way my father and Callie wanted. “Why didn’t you say something right then?”

  Bishop sighs. “I’m not…I’m never going to be the guy who lays it all out there. That’s not me. Until I really know someone, not much gets out. It’s just the way I’m built.”

  “Okay,” I say, waiting. If nothing else, I understand what it’s like to have a part of your personality that’s not easy to change.

  “But it doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings,” he says. “That things don’t matter to me.”

  I take a sip of water. “I shouldn’t have said that, the morning we fought, about you not feeling anything. That wasn’t fair.”

  “I understand why you might think that,” Bishop says. “But it’s not true.” He pauses. “I wanted something else, too. Something more than being your husband.”

  “Like what?” I ask.

  His eyes drop away from mine. “Nothing that matters now. This is what we have. This life. Each other. This house.” His hand thumps downward. “This couch.”

  My heart jumps. Was all this a prelude to getting me into bed? I’m already kicking myself for sitting down on this stupid sofa.

  “Relax, Ivy,” he says, a smile in his voice. “I’m not asking for anything.”

  But someday he will. As far as he knows, this relationship is forever, and I can’t imagine he’ll want to sleep on the couch for the next fifty years. I’m not sure what I’ll say if he does ask. For the sake of my father’s plan, I know my answer has to be yes.

  “Well, I’d better get to bed. Work in the morning.” I stand, set my cup down on the coffee table.

  Bishop’s voice stops me before I get to the hallway. “You told me you were trying, remember?”

  I glance back at him. “Yes,” I say, cautious.

  “I’m trying, too.”

  “I know,” I say, watching the way his eyes shine in the moonlight. I turn and go back to bed.

  I

  try not to be nervous as Victoria leads the way into the basement of the courthouse. It’s not as if I’m going to be left alone in a room with any of the prisoners. I don’t want Erin Lattimer’s words—there are some things that are too adult for you—to be a prophecy. I’m determined to do this, and do it well, if for no other reason than to prove her wrong.

  “What are we doing with them?” I ask Victoria, trotting to keep up with her. Even though I’m taller, she walks fast everywhere she goes, like she’s rushing to catch something that’s always disappearing around the farthest corner.

  “These are prisoners who are already convicted,” she tells me. “We need to get some final information from them. Next of kin, that sort of thing. We should have it already, if the screenings were done correctly the first
time around.” Her tone of voice tells me that’s unlikely. “But we have to double check, before…”

  “Before we put them out,” I say, because she seems reluctant to finish the sentence.

  “Yes,” she says, glancing at me and then back to the hall in front of us. “I know that must be hard for you to understand, with your father being who he is.”

  She says it with no malice in her tone, but I’m wary anyway. I don’t have any trouble speaking when my temper gets ahead of my good sense, but being drawn out on the subject is a danger even I should be able to avoid.

  “Well, he’s not a big fan of putting people out,” I say, choosing every word with care. It’s no secret my father opposes Westfall’s method of punishment. My family always has, since my grandfather’s time. But my father is careful not to be too vocal. He makes our position clear without being strident. He is smart, with one eye always on the long-term goal.

  Victoria uses her shoulder to push through the door at the end of the hall. “But does he have a better solution?” she asks, eyebrows raised. She doesn’t give me a chance to respond, just leaves me to follow or risk getting hit by the door swinging back in my face.

  We’re in another hall, this one short and with a single door at the end. The door has a small window at the top and there’s a guard standing outside it, hands crossed in front of him, gun at his waist.

  “Hey, David,” Victoria says. “We’re here to do the final interviews.”

  “We’re ready for you,” David says. He barely glances in my direction. “They told me you’d be down this morning, so I went ahead and brought the first one in. Laird, Mark.”

  Victoria holds out her hand, and I shuffle through the stack of manila folders in my arms until I find the one labeled with Laird’s name and pass it to her. I’ve gotten used to Victoria’s efficiency, which can sometimes border on rudeness.

  “Okay,” she says to me. “This time, watch and learn. You’ll be doing these on your own soon enough.”

 
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