The Book of Ivy / Page 34

Page 34


I look back at the tree, but I can’t focus on it. The whole world is a roaring blur around me. What he said cannot be true. It cannot be.

“You’re lying,” I whisper.

“No, I’m not,” he says, and I hear the truth in his voice. “I wish I was.” He stares at the tree. His voice is far away, gone back to a time when my mother was still alive. “Yellow was her favorite color.”

I lower my head down between my knees and cover my ears with my hands. I fight off the black spots twirling in front of my eyes through sheer will. My father hardly ever spoke of my mother. When he did, it was as a whip to keep me on the path he wanted me to walk. And this man sitting next to me has flowers planted in her honor, even though the sight of them must torture him a little every day. I want to tear off my own skin to escape his words. I want to curl into a ball and die. I want to kill something and hear it scream.

President Lattimer puts his hand on my back and I buck it off, a high, keening cry bursting from my mouth. “Don’t,” I pant. “Don’t touch me.”

“I’m sorry, Ivy,” he says. He sounds confused. “I thought you knew how she died.”

I’m up and running before he can say another word. I scramble down the front steps, ignore him calling after me. My breath is coming in short, sharp gasps as I flee from the truth of my mother’s death. I run through town like to stop means to die. People stare as I sprint past, a few call my name, but I don’t slow down, weaving around obstacles. Thunder claps over my head, streaks of heat lightning rip jagged gashes in the sky. My legs ache and my lungs scream and I welcome every stab of pain like a long-lost friend.

My father and Callie are both sitting at the kitchen table when I burst in, the remains of dinner between them. They stare at me, my father half rising from his chair.

“Ivy?” he says. “Are you all right? What’s happened?”

“I know…” My voice is ragged, like I’ve swallowed glass and I’m choking on the shards. “I know what happened to Mom. You lied to me.” I cross to my father and push hard against his chest. He grabs my wrists before I can touch him again. “You lied to me!” I scream.

“Callie,” he says, looking at my sister over my shoulder. His voice is steady.

From behind me, I hear Callie get up and the back door shut and lock. The curtains over the sink are yanked closed. I wrench my head around and catch Callie’s eyes. One look and all the fight goes out of me. I sag in my father’s grip. “You knew?” I say. “You knew and you never told me?”

“It was better that way,” Callie says. “You couldn’t handle it. Look at you now.”

“Callie, stop it,” my father says sharply. He rarely speaks to Callie that way. He lets go of my wrists and puts an arm around my shoulders. “Come sit down. We need to talk.”

I follow him into the living room on numb legs. Callie trails behind us, but at the doorway, my father looks at her over my head and she turns back to the kitchen.

“Here,” my father says, guiding me to the couch. I sink down into its familiar softness and he sits next to me, our knees touching. I’ve spent a thousand hours in this room, know its tan walls and wood floors by heart, but it feels like a stranger’s house to me now.

“I don’t know exactly what he told you,” my father says. “It was President Lattimer who told you, wasn’t it?”

I nod.

“That bastard,” my father mutters.

“This isn’t about him!” I practically shout. “You should have been honest with me a long time ago.”

“You’re right,” my father says. “But you deserve to hear my version, too.” He takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I wasn’t happy about the arranged marriage. I didn’t want to marry some girl I’d never met before. I thought about refusing, but I didn’t see how that would get me anywhere except put outside the fence. So I went through with it. And your mother walked up to me at the ceremony…” He shakes his head. “It’s such a cliché, Ivy, I almost couldn’t believe it. But, for me, it was love at first sight.” He laughs, but there’s no humor in it.

“But it wasn’t for her,” I say, to save him from having to say it himself.

“No. Because her heart already belonged to him.” My father looks away, his throat muscles working. “We got along, though. She liked me.” He says the words with a bitterness that reveals how much it hurts to be merely liked by the person you love. “And I thought once you girls were born that things might change. Because whatever was lacking between her and me, she loved the two of you. Very much.”

“Not enough to stay with us, though,” I say, with some bitterness of my own.

“Oh, Ivy.” My father sighs. “Her heart was broken, and no matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard she tried, we couldn’t fix it.”

My own heart aches when I look at him. How much it must have hurt him to love a woman who could never love him back. And I think of Erin Lattimer who is in the same position. I know why President Lattimer thought he was doing the right thing by not marrying my mother, but he wasn’t. Love isn’t something you can legislate. Love is more than charts and graphs and matching interests. Love is messy and complicated and it is a mistake to deny its random magic.

“But why did you lie to me?” I ask him. “Why did you tell me he killed her?”

My father takes my rigid hands in his. His knuckles are big and scarred and I can’t count the number of times as a child I’d wished he’d hold my hand. “We should have told you the truth, you’re right. But the basic facts are still the same. He killed her.” He must recognize the incredulous expression in my eyes because his hands tighten on mine. “He did.”

“She killed herself,” I say flatly. “She swung from that tree because she wanted to be married to him, not to you.” Some vindictive piece of me relishes the pain that flashes across his face.

“She killed herself because he let her believe they’d end up together. But in the end, he forced her to marry someone she didn’t pick for herself. The same way he forced you to marry Bishop. The same way he’s forced a hundred other girls.” He ducks his head to find my eyes. “And he’ll keep doing it until we stop him.”

“Do you even really care about the arranged marriages? Or about the fence? Or any of it?” I ask him. “Or are they only convenient words you say to get what you want from me?”

“Of course they aren’t,” he says, squeezing my hands.

“Then why?” I ask, hating the break in my voice. “You still haven’t said why you lied to me.”

“It didn’t feel like a lie,” my father says. “I still believe he killed her. Maybe not with his own hands, but he gave her the rope.”

“That’s not—”

“And I lied because I was afraid to tell you the truth,” my father continues. “You look so much like your mother. Half the time you act exactly like her. Plunging into things head first.” He taps a finger against the scars on my arm and I want to scream. I will never outrun that dog bite as long as I live. “I didn’t want you to think…I didn’t want you to think you were destined to end up the same way.”

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