The Book of Ivy / Page 35

Page 35


A cold spot opens in my chest at his words and I can’t speak, everything frozen inside of me. All my life I’ve felt a void inside myself, an empty place that never gets filled no matter how hard I try. Is that what my mother had inside her, too? Is that what my father is afraid of, that someday the world will be too much for me and I’ll give up? Does he have such little faith in my strength?

“You think I’m weak,” I say, voice dull.

“No,” my father protests. “I’ve never thought that. You could have handled the truth and we should have trusted you with it. We know you’re strong. If we didn’t, we never would have asked you to do what you’re doing.”

But maybe I am weak, because the thought of ending Bishop’s life is starting to become more than I can bear. “Daddy,” I whisper, my voice breaking. “I don’t want to kill him.”

“Of course you don’t,” he says gently. “I’d worry about you if you did.”

“He doesn’t believe in the marriages, Dad. He wants to help people, make things better. He wants people to have choices too.”

My father nods. “Is that really what he wants, Ivy, what he believes? Or is that only what he tells you? Remember, his father is playing this game, too.” He pauses. “But if you can’t do it, you can’t do it.”

I look up at him, hope bubbling in my blood.

“But how many more women have to end up like your mother before things change? Isn’t freedom worth it? The chance to make our own choices?” He touches my cheek, smooths my hair behind my ear. My heart breaks a little at his tenderness. It’s the most he’s ever offered me and it’s still too much for me to bear because I can no longer tell whether it’s the truth or another lie.

“Don’t make a decision yet. The clock hasn’t run out,” he says. “Take some time and really think about it. About who has your best interests at heart. We’re your family. And none of this works without you. We don’t work without you.”

I’m slowly coming to understand that what he’s asking of me is wrong and sick and ugly, yet the warmth of his words spreads throughout my body. They need me. They can’t succeed without me. I have a place in this family that no one else can take.

“Callie,” my father calls, and she enters the room so quickly she must have been lurking outside the doorway the entire time. She sits on my other side and kisses the top of my head like she used to when I was small and she tucked me in at night. I close my eyes and breathe past the swift knife of pain in my ribs. “I’m sorry for what I said earlier,” she murmurs against my hair. “And I’m sorry about Mom. I wanted to tell you a hundred times. But I didn’t want to hurt you.” She pauses. “I didn’t want you to doubt yourself.”

“You hurt me more by lying to me.” I twist away from her.

“I know that now,” she says. “I was wrong.” Her words are soft, but her gaze is hard. I have disappointed her. I find I don’t care. She’s disappointed me, too.

“We both were wrong,” my father says. “But we won’t keep things from you any more.” He looks from Callie to me and his eyes blaze. “Just think of all the changes we can make. All the choices you girls will have. We can make peoples’ lives so much better. Think about it, Ivy. Promise me that?”

“I promise.” I don’t have to think about it to know that no matter his reasons for wanting to overthrow President Lattimer, my father would be a better leader. He would never put someone out for a minor crime. He would give us back our free will. People would have a say in their own government. After everything, I still have full belief in my father’s ultimate goal. It’s his methods that are the stumbling block. If I kill Bishop, my family will be in power, but Bishop will be dead and what will I be? A murderer. A girl who killed a boy who had done nothing to deserve it. A boy who held my hand, and let me speak and not once tried to silence me. I will be the one with blood on my hands, and I don’t know if that’s something I can ever wash away.

It’s raining in earnest when I leave my father’s house, but I refuse the umbrella Callie holds out to me, along with her offer to walk me home. I want to be alone, and the rain is a relief against my overheated skin. I have no idea what time it is, but the sun has set and there is no one out on the rain-slick streets. My sneakers are soaked by the time I turn up the walk to our house, water running in rivulets from my hair and down my back.

I don’t see Bishop until I’m almost to the porch. He is sitting on the front steps in the dark, the roof overhang protecting him from the rain. His face is solemn. I stop mid-step and watch as he stands, a towel clutched in his hands. One second I’m standing still and the next I’m running toward him and I don’t know when my legs decided to move. I fly up the three shallow steps and wrap my arms around his neck. He is strong and warm and after only a second’s hesitation, he clutches me against him. I am sobbing; all the tears I’ve wanted to cry for what feels like years are flooding out of me, mixing with rainwater on his neck.

He holds me and lets me cry. He doesn’t try to talk me out of my sorrow, like my father did, or tell me to snap out of it, as Callie tried to, always impatient in the face of emotion. Bishop simply stands with his arms firm across my back, his breaths steady against my temple. I didn’t realize until this moment how badly I wanted him to be the one to witness my tears. His left hand comes up and grips the back of my neck lightly, his thumb rubbing against my skin.

It takes longer than I would have expected for my grief to burn itself out, leaving me breathless and limp. I pull back a step, loosening my arms from his neck. “I didn’t mean to…I shouldn’t…” My breath hiccups out of me.

“Shhh,” he says. “It’s all right, Ivy. It’s all right.” He lifts his hands from my back and presses the towel against my head, runs the dry cotton over my forehead, under my still streaming eyes. “My father told me what happened,” he says. “I’ve been worried about you.” He gives me a rueful smile. “I thought I might have to sit out here all night.”

“Did you…” I take a gulp of air. “Did you already know?”

“No. Or at least not all of it. I’d heard bits and pieces over the years, but I never knew it was your mother they were talking about.” He gathers my hair to the side and dries the dripping ends with the towel. “Your father never told you anything about her?”

“Not really,” I say. “He acted like it was too painful to talk about.”

“Maybe it was,” Bishop says.

But I’m not ready to hear words in my father’s defense. “All he told me were lies.” It is a betrayal of my father to say this to Bishop, but right now I don’t care. “He told me your father killed my mother.”

Bishop doesn’t stop drying my hair, doesn’t pull back in anger the way I thought he might. “And you believed him?” he asks, voice mild.

“He’s my father!” I exclaim, almost choking on another sob. “Don’t you trust your father?”

“Honestly?” Bishop shakes his head. “Not completely. I don’t trust most people.” He lets the towel drop. “Except for you.”

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