The book of ivy, p.9

The Book of Ivy, page 9

 part  #1 of  The Book of Ivy Series

 

The Book of Ivy
 


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  “I wish we hadn’t had a fight,” I find myself saying. “Last night.” I didn’t know it was true until the words left my mouth.

  Bishop raises his eyebrows, gives me an easy grin. It’s the opposite of the presidential smile he gave Callie on our wedding day. This one is the real Bishop, less perfection, more warmth. “That wasn’t a fight. It’s not a fight unless we give each other the silent treatment for at least a week.” His mouth is still smiling, but his eyes are sad. I think of his mother’s impersonal gaze, her stiff embrace. I’m guessing Bishop knows firsthand the pain of growing up in a house where an icy wind is blowing. “But I am sorry for what I said about listening to your father,” he continues.

  “I’m not a complete idiot, you know,” I tell him. “I do think about alternatives if things were to change in Westfall.”

  Bishop swings his legs off the sofa and sits forward, facing me. “I have never, not for a single second, thought you were an idiot, Ivy.”

  “You listen to your father, too, don’t you?” I ask him.

  Bishop looks down at his clasped hands, then back up at me. “Sometimes. I just think that because of who we are…the president’s son and the founder’s daughter…” He rolls his eyes, making me smile. “It’s doubly important that we think for ourselves. We’re not our parents. We don’t have to agree with everything they stand for.”

  “But what if I do agree with my father?” I ask, because it seems like I should, like it is important I reaffirm my belief in my family’s cause.

  “Then great. More power to you,” Bishop says. “But I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because of who we are, because of who they are, we owe them more than we do. We’re still free to choose who we want to be.”

  “Really?” I ask. “Because I didn’t get to choose much of anything.” All my life, my father and Callie made my decisions for me. Any dissent on my part was taken as disloyalty. Then Bishop’s father determined who and when I would marry, setting the course for the rest of my life.

  Bishop takes my sarcasm in stride. “Well, obviously a lot of things are out of our control.” He wiggles his ring finger, and the early evening light catches the gold band, making it gleam. “But no one controls who we turn into but us.”

  “And who do you want to turn into?” I mean the question to be mocking, but that’s not how it comes out. I sound interested. I reach down and scratch my leg, trying to hide my embarrassment.

  Bishop looks at me. “Someone honest. Someone who tries to do the right thing. Someone who follows his own heart, even if it disappoints people.” He pauses. “Someone brave enough to be all those things.”

  A boy who doesn’t want to lie, married to a girl who can’t tell the truth. If there is a God, he has a sick sense of humor. “What about you?” Bishop asks. “Who does Ivy Westfall Lattimer want to be?”

  This is all new to me. The back and forth, the give and take. I would suspect it was a trap, but no matter what Callie warned me about, I can tell Bishop is genuinely interested in me and what I have to say. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time. “I don’t know,” I say quietly. My throat aches. “I’ve never really had the chance to think about it.”

  “Well, now you do,” he says simply. As if figuring out who I want to be is as easy as deciding to do it. Maybe for him it is. He stands and holds out his hand to me. “Let’s have dinner. And tomorrow we’re going to do something fun.”

  I put my hand in his and let him pull me to my feet.

  “S

  aturdays are for sleeping in,” I inform Bishop at eight o’clock the next morning as he makes sandwiches at the kitchen counter.

  “Sleep is for wimps,” he replies.

  “At least tell me what we’re doing. Does it involve a nap?”

  Bishop laughs, a rich, warm sound. “No naps,” he says. “But you won’t want one. Trust me.”

  He grabs two small jugs of water from the icebox and puts them into his backpack, along with the sandwiches, a couple of apples, and some cookies from the market. “Ready?” he asks.

  “As I’ll ever be,” I say with a long-suffering sigh, which nets me only a grin in response.

  “You’ve got a swimsuit under there, right?” he says, pointing at my tank top and shorts.

  “Yes.” I ignore the heat in my cheeks. Ridiculous to be embarrassed by such a mundane question.

  “All right, then.” He swings the backpack onto his back. “Let’s go.”

  I follow him out the front door and as we head side by side down the front walk, our neighbors’ door opens and Dylan comes out. We make eye contact across the lawns, and it seems rude not to stop.

  “Hi, Dylan,” I say. Bishop slows next to me.

  Dylan crosses his lawn into ours, his hand already outstretched. “Hey, Bishop,” he says. His voice has a false heartiness that grates on my nerves. “Don’t know if you remember me. I was a couple years behind you in school.”

  “Refresh my memory,” Bishop says as they shake hands, and I have to bite back a smile as some of the enthusiasm dies in Dylan’s eyes.

  “Dylan Cox.” Behind him, their front door opens again and Meredith comes out. I inhale sharply at the sight of her, and Bishop looks from me to her. Her left eye is blackened and she’s walking with a slight limp.

  I dart around Dylan toward her. “Meredith,” I say. “Are you all right? What happened?” Although I’m sure I already know what happened. My hands ball into fists.

  Her gaze flits to mine and then away. “Oh.” She gives a breathy laugh. “I’m such a klutz. I fell down the basement stairs and hit my face on the railing.”

  Dylan comes from behind me and wraps an arm around her shoulders, pulling her against him tightly. “She went down there at night without turning on the light. Can you believe that?”

  “So stupid of me,” Meredith says. She keeps her eyes on the ground.

  Bishop is beside me, his bare arm brushing against mine. “You should have let us know,” he says. “We would have been happy to come over and help.”

  “We had it covered,” Dylan says. We all stand there for a minute, an awkward little group. I wish Meredith would give me some sign she wants me to interfere, but she keeps her face averted, making eye contact with no one.

  “Well, it was nice to meet you,” Bishop says, voice flat.

  “You too,” Dylan says, although he seems annoyed all over again that Bishop didn’t remember him. I hope Meredith doesn’t suffer for that, too.

  Bishop and I walk in silence to the north side of town, where the main road peters out into gravel. The sun is already high in the sky and sweat trickles down the back of my neck. Only June and already so humid it’s like breathing through a wet washcloth. I imagine this is the closest you can get to drowning on dry land.

  Bishop veers off the gravel road and into the thick stand of trees. I try not to think about ticks as we crash through the brush. I’m about to complain when a narrow path opens up in front of us. The trees overhead bring some welcome relief from the sun. I keep waiting for Bishop to bring up Meredith, but he doesn’t. So I do.

  “He did that to her,” I say to Bishop’s back.

  He doesn’t stop or turn around. “I know.”

  His lack of reaction only fuels my irritation. “That’s the kind of stuff I was talking about when I said I didn’t like arranged marriages. He thinks he owns her.”

  “That can happen whether the marriage is arranged or not. It depends more on whether the guy’s a piece of shit than on how they ended up married.”

  I allow myself a quick grin only because he can’t see me. “Still, somebody needs to do something to help her. Because your father’s laws aren’t going to cut it.” Under the law, as it stands, there is no easy path to divorce. A marriage can only be dissolved if both parties sign a joint petition and President Lattimer approves it, something I’ve only ever heard rumors of happening. And, even then, only when the parties involved were personal friends of President
Lattimer’s. “Something tells me Dylan’s not going to agree to sign away his marriage.” The path is sloping upward and I stop to catch my breath. “He’s finally got his very own punching bag, one that makes him dinner and has sex with him, too. He’s not going to be in any hurry to give her up.”

  Bishop stops just ahead of me. He slides the backpack off his back and digs inside. “Can we not do this right now?” he asks. He hands me the water jug.

  “Do what?”

  “Argue.”

  I take a gulp of water, backhanding the excess that dribbles down my chin. “We’re not fighting, according to you,” I point out. “No silent treatment.”

  Bishop gives me a closed-mouth smile and shakes his head, holding out his hand for the jug. “At this point, I’d consider the silent treatment a blessing.”

  I slap the jug into his palm. He tilts it to his mouth and takes a long swallow, his Adam’s apple bobbing in the tanned column of his neck. There’s a sheen of sweat on his skin, darkening the neck of his T-shirt. I jerk my eyes away.

  He gives the jug back to me to carry and takes off again. I sigh and hike after him, waving my hand through a small army of gnats that circle my head. “How much farther?”

  “Not far,” he says. He’s not even slightly out of breath.

  “Are you taking me to some stupid clubhouse where you hang out with your friends? Will I have to learn the super-secret handshake to get inside?”

  He huffs out a laugh. “I don’t have friends. I’m the president’s son, remember? I have sycophants.”

  “Wow,” I say. “Fancy word.”

  He glances at me over his shoulder but doesn’t slow his pace. “Don’t even pretend that you don’t know what it means. Anyone who reads Anna Karenina as a bedtime story is familiar with fancy words.”

  Okay, he’s got me there. I wonder if he’s serious about not having friends. Since we’ve been married I haven’t met any. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t mind me saying exactly what I think; maybe no one has ever done that with him before. I suppose being a leader’s child doesn’t lend itself to genuine friendships. It certainly never has for me.

  After ten more minutes of hiking, I begin to hear the sounds of water to our right. I try to visualize the town map in my head, but I’m not that great with directions. “We’re near the fence, aren’t we?” I say. I’ve rarely been close to the fence in my life.

  “Yes,” Bishop says, unconcerned. “But we’re not going there.”

  The tightness in my shoulders relaxes at his words. I don’t know why the very thought of the fence makes me anxious. It’s not as if it’s a living thing that can harm me. But my entire life, safety has been inside that fence, and everything beyond is unknown and unknowable.

  “My dad said people used to try and get in, back when Westfall was first founded,” I say.

  “That’s what I’ve heard, too,” Bishop says. “Sometimes we would let them in, sometimes not. I think it depended on whether they seemed sick and how much food we had. But nowadays that doesn’t happen very often.”

  “Didn’t some just breach the fence?” I remember my father’s stories about groups coming right over the top when he was a boy, heedless of the razor wire.

  “Yeah, but we have the constant patrols now, just to make sure it’s in good shape, that no one’s tunneling underneath it or ripping it apart.” He glances back at me. “But there’s hardly ever any activity outside the fence these days, at least close by. Only the people we put out, and they rarely try to get back into Westfall. I guess they figure it’s better to take your chances out there than be guaranteed a death sentence in here.”

  “Either option sound pretty horrible to me.”

  Bishop shrugs. “I don’t know, sometimes I think we should just tear down the fence. Towns didn’t have fences around them before the war and everything was fine. I think it was supposed to keep us safe, but instead it’s made us scared.”

  Before I can respond, we emerge from the trees next to the river and my thoughts fly right out of my head. These are not the wild, raging waters I’ve seen before. Here it is lazy and shallow, bubbling quietly over huge flat rocks that lie half submerged. Trees bend over the water like they’re straining to touch it with their leaves and small white flowers grow along the banks, nodding their heads in the breeze. There’s a steep limestone cliff on the far side, which adds to the feeling that this is a secret, secluded place. Its tranquility is catching. Standing at the edge of this water makes me calm.

  “Nice, huh?” Bishop says.

  “It’s beautiful,” I breathe.

  “Follow me.” He steps out onto one of the flat rocks in the water, moving across to the far bank in seconds. It takes me a little longer to find my footing, but I make it across without getting my shoes wet.

  Bishop drops the backpack at the base of the cliff and kicks off his tennis shoes. “Leave everything here,” he says. “Except your swimsuit.” He reaches behind him with one hand and yanks off his T-shirt.

  I feel self-conscious as I step out of my shorts and remove my tank top. I take the time to fold both items of clothing, keeping my eyes on my task. My black bikini is more sporty than sexy, but I am still closer to naked than I’ve ever been with anyone other than my sister.

  When I turn, Bishop is watching me. I stare back at him, telling myself I am not embarrassed.

  “Ready?” he asks.

  “For what?”

  Bishop heads toward the limestone cliff and begins to scale it as if it’s a ladder, barely looking at where he puts his hands and feet. “Put your feet where I put mine,” he says. He doesn’t seem at all concerned about my safety, as if he’s sure I can handle the task. Strangely, his confidence in me erases any questions I had about making the climb.

  I clamber onto the rock below him and start up, watching to see where he moves. The muscles in my shoulders burn as I pull myself upward, but it’s a good kind of pain. The cliff isn’t so high that I’d inevitably die if I fell, but I’d break something, maybe many somethings, so I don’t look down. I keep my focus on Bishop climbing above me, the muscles in his back shifting and bunching as he moves. His body works with a kind of lazy grace, making every move seem effortless.

  “Almost there,” he calls down to me as he heaves himself over the top lip of the cliff. I curl my fingers into a handhold in the rock and use my legs to help propel me upward the last few feet. Bishop leans over and I grasp his forearm, and together we get me over the top.

  “So I’m guessing we’re going to jump?” I say, sucking in air. My heart is pounding and sweat stings my eyes. I haven’t felt this alive in a long time. “Unless there’s an elevator I’m unaware of.”

  “No elevator,” Bishop says with a grin.

  I walk to the far edge of the cliff and look down. There’s a pool on this side, the greenish water still and flat in the midday heat. It’s impossible to tell from looking how far down it goes, but it must be deep because we have to be at least three stories high.

  I cross back to where Bishop is standing. “Run and jump?” I ask.

  He nods. “Don’t think about it—”

  But his words of advice are lost to me because I’m already running, flinging myself off the edge with a scream of delight. Hot air rushes against my skin, the water rising up to meet me until all I see are its green depths. I plunge in feet first, the shock of cold forcing a yell from my mouth. Bubbles tickle against my closed eyelids and the underwater silence envelops me. I let myself sink, down, down, down, until the need to breathe takes over and I kick my way upward.

  I break the surface just in time to witness Bishop make the leap above me, his body plummeting like an arrow. He barely makes a splash, disappears with a slight ripple into the water beside me. He takes so long to come up that I start to worry, until his fingers clamp around my ankle, dragging me under.

  I rise with a splutter and a squeal, splashing him in the face when he bobs up next to me. He grins, shaking the water off his face.
I can’t believe you jumped like that,” he says. “What if there were rocks down here?”

  I shrug. “You would have warned me beforehand if there were.”

  “Again?” Bishop asks. I nod in agreement, and he cuts through the water to the bank with long, sure strokes.

  We climb and jump until my fingertips burn from pulling myself up the rock face and my stomach is cramping with hunger. I swim over to one of the flat rocks poking partially out of the water near the base of the cliff and rest my arms on its heated surface. Bishop joins me and mimics my pose on the opposite side of the rock.

  “Having fun?” he asks.

  “Yes,” I say with a smile. I tip my head up and close my eyes, let the sun burn into my closed eyelids. I didn’t have a bad childhood, but there was no magic in it. No one hit me, no one neglected me, but there wasn’t much that was childlike about it. Even fun involved barely disguised lessons about my future and my father’s plans. It is only now, away from the presence of my family, that I can admit that to myself. This has been one of the most carefree afternoons of my life.

  “When you smile,” Bishop says, “it gives you a dimple.” I feel his finger press gently against my cheek. “Right here.”

  I open my eyes and look at him. His hair is wet and unruly, his eyes glowing. He’s at home here, outdoors, in the water. I wish I had never mocked his love of the river. He may be the president’s son, but his rightful place will never be at a stuffy council table.

  My stomach gives a huge growl and Bishop laughs. “Guess I don’t need to ask if you’re ready for lunch.”

  We eat sitting on the flat rock, letting our feet dangle in the water. I can’t remember the last time a simple sandwich tasted this good. I’m glad he packed extras, because I down two in a matter of minutes, along with an apple and three cookies.

  “Where’d you learn to cook?” I ask him.

  Bishop glances at the remains of our lunch. “This wasn’t exactly cooking.”

  “You know what I mean. You make dinner more often than I do.” Boys don’t usually cook, not anymore. It’s the wife’s job to get food on the table. Not a law or anything, but an unspoken rule, just like with the laundry. But Bishop not only cooks without complaint, he’s good at it. His food always tastes better than mine.

 
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