The Book of Ivy / Page 24

Page 24


After the articles, there are old photographs stuck to the pages, descriptions written below them in faded ink. Some I know from pictures I’ve seen in books, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon. Others I’ve never seen before, the sequoias in California, the Northern Lights, the Great Barrier Reef. I run my fingers over the images, trying to imagine a world large enough to encompass endless treasures.

“So,” Bishop’s voice says from the doorway, “find something interesting?”

I jump, the album sliding off my lap onto the floor. “Oh my God,” I breathe. “You scared me!” I glance from him to the album. There’s no way to hide what I was doing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

But he only smiles, walks in to the room, and lowers himself to the floor next to me. “It’s all right. I don’t mind.”

He reaches over me and pulls the album back onto my lap. “It was my grandfather’s. He started it after the war so we wouldn’t forget the way the world used to be. I’ve added to it over the years.”

I flip to the next page, which is covered with pictures and ragged-edged postcards, all with images of the ocean. The next page is the same. And the one after that. I look up at Bishop, who keeps his eyes on the album. “You want to go beyond the fence,” I say quietly. “Don’t you?”

He nods. “I want to see the ocean.”

I pause, remembering the conversation we had on the couch the night we both couldn’t sleep. “That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? What you gave up when you married me.” It’s not even really a question, I already know the answer from the look on his face.

“Hey,” he says, “it’s okay. Maybe in a few years I can convince you to take a very long hike with me.”

“But…” I trace the edge of a shoreline with my fingertip. “The bombs hit the coasts hardest. Would it be safe? Even now?”

Bishop shrugs. “Maybe not. Probably not.” His face tightens. “But I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favors staying isolated this way. Who knows what’s out there? We may find other people. Whole societies like ours. And even if we don’t, I’d get to hear the waves on the shore.” He gives me a sad smile. “That would probably be enough to make it worth it.”

I stare at him, this landlocked boy who dreams of water. It might have been an easily attained dream before the war. But now, when our knowledge of the world is limited to this small parcel of earth, when safety can be counted in square miles, yearning for the ocean seems like a form of bravery most people will never come close to attaining. It feels like reaching for the stars.

I bump my shoulder gently against his. “My grandfather saw the ocean, before the war. The Pacific. He told my dad it was loud and cold and beautiful, and that the water was so salty it made your eyes burn.” I glance down at the album. “Do you think we ruined it?”

“Probably.” Bishop sighs. “We ruined everything else. But I’d still like to know for sure.”

I’ve never given much thought to going beyond the fence. My world has always been confined to the boundaries established by my father. But hearing Bishop’s words, I try to imagine what it would be like to simply leave, strike out into unknown land, free from expectation, free of judgment. A whole world in front of me where I could be whoever I wanted to be.

“So what stopped you from going earlier?” I ask. “Before the wedding?”

He’s quiet for a moment. “My father’s sent surveying parties out. Did you know that?”

“No.” I doubt my father knows, either. I’ve never heard a word about it. It surprises me. President Lattimer doesn’t strike me as a leader who cares much about what’s happening beyond his borders.

“Not many people do,” Bishop says. “He sent one group of three volunteers when I was ten. And another group just a few years ago.”

“Did they find anything?” I ask.

“No. Only one man ever came back. They didn’t even make it twenty miles beyond the fence before they were attacked, all their food and weapons stolen. The man who returned to Westfall died a few days later from his injuries.” He gives me a quick sideways glance. “That’s why I didn’t go, I guess. Fear.”

I stare at his profile, the sharp line of his jaw. I remember his ease in the woods and the water. I remember his words about wanting to follow his heart. “I don’t think you were scared to go,” I say. “I think you were scared to leave.”

“Aren’t they the same thing?” he asks with a crooked smile.

“No.” I shake my head. “You’re not scared of what’s out there. But you don’t want to disappoint your father.”

Bishop doesn’t say anything, but the somber look in his eyes gives him away.

“You’re going to be president someday,” I say. “You’d really turn your back on that?” It’s hard to imagine someone giving up the presidency willingly when my own father is fighting so hard to claim it.

Bishop huffs out a laugh. “I’m not cut out to be president. I’ve known it since I was young. But my father doesn’t see it or doesn’t want to see it.”

“I think you’d be good at it,” I say, and I mean it. I think he would be more thoughtful about balancing the needs of the group with the desires of individuals. I can’t imagine Bishop continuing the arranged marriages or forcing couples to stay married, although he’s never come right out and condemned his father’s practices.

“No, I wouldn’t be,” he says. “I’d rather find out what’s beyond the fence than protect what’s inside it. I don’t care enough about the power.”

The polar opposite of his own father. And of mine. “That’s exactly why you’d be good at it,” I tell him. “Because the power doesn’t matter to you.”

“Maybe.” He doesn’t sound convinced.

“Would you govern like your father?” I ask, eyes back on the photo album. I already know he doesn’t like the fact that we don’t have choices anymore, but I’ve never asked him this question directly.

Bishop hesitates. “No,” he says finally, and my heart leaps as my stomach falls. “I think my father’s done a good job of keeping us alive. I think in his own mind, he means well.” Bishop sighs, runs a hand through his hair. “But part of being a human being is making your own choices, having freedom. I think my father’s forgotten that.”

“See?” I say quietly. “You would be good at it.”

Bishop smiles, shakes his head. “I’d still rather explore than govern.” He takes the album from my lap and slides it back under the bed. “Dinner?” he asks.

“Sure.” I push myself to standing. I grab a rubber band from the top of the dresser and reach up to gather my hair into a ponytail, wincing as I tweak my sore shoulder.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just sore from all the climbing.”

“Here.” He holds out his hand. “Let me.”

I raise my eyebrows at him in the mirror above the dresser. “You can do hair?”

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