The Book of Ivy / Page 4

Page 4


For them this ceremony is about keeping the peace, about honoring a tradition that has worked to stabilize a society for more than two generations. But unlike them, I know how fragile that peace is, how it hangs by only a few slender threads that are even now being snipped. I am different from all these other girls surrounding me because marrying Bishop Lattimer has not fulfilled my destiny. My mission is not to make him happy and bear his children and be his wife.

My mission is to kill him.

After the ceremony, everyone files down to the basement of City Hall, where long tables are set up against the walls, cups of bright pink punch lined next to a single large wedding cake. There will only be enough for the brides and grooms to have a bite or two, but just the thought of the sweet icing clinging to my teeth makes me feel nauseous.

Bishop’s parents greet us almost as soon as we enter. His father pulls me into a hug and kisses me on the cheek. I try not to flinch, but my smile is tight across my face. His mother is not as demonstrative. She lays her hand briefly on my upper arm and then snatches it away, more the idea of a touch than a touch itself. “Be good to him,” she tells me, and I don’t have to strain to hear the warning in her voice.

“Mom,” Bishop says. He gives her a sharp look that I pretend not to see. Bishop puts his hand on the small of my back, guiding me away from his parents.

“Where’s your family?” he asks, tilting his head down so I can hear him over the din of happy congratulations all around us. They are the first words he’s spoken to me other than our vows, which don’t really count, even though in a different world they would matter most.

I point to the far corner of the room where my father stands stiffly, Callie leaning against the wall next to him.

“Let’s go say hello,” Bishop says, and I glance up at him, surprised. Our families pretend to get along, we fake smiles and clasp hands and all the while we seethe under our skin. But his voice sounds easy, his eyes sincere. He is a good actor. I will have to be careful around him, even more than I anticipated.

Callie pushes herself away from the wall as we approach, taking a spot next to my father, a bright smile on her face. My father smiles as well, but his is more reserved and doesn’t come close to touching the dark depths of his eyes.

“Dad,” I say, “you know each other, I think.” I cannot bring myself to introduce Bishop formally, to call him my husband. “This is my father, Justin Westfall.”

They shake hands. “Nice to see you again, sir,” Bishop says. “It’s been a while.” His eyes hold my father’s. He doesn’t blink. My father does not intimidate Bishop the way he does most people.

“You, too, Bishop,” my dad says, clapping him on the shoulder with his free hand. “And this is my older daughter, Callie.”

“I’m sure he knows who I am, Dad,” Callie says with a laugh. She looks up at Bishop from under her dark eyelashes. “I’m the one you almost married two years ago.”

I’m not sure what she’s doing, whether she’s flirting with him or simply trying to remind him of the fact that his original obligation was to her. All I know for sure is that she wanted to be the one to take his life and now she’s been robbed of the chance. One more thing she will never forgive him for. I glance down at the floor, hoping he can’t feel the turmoil swirling around us, so strong I can practically taste it on my tongue.

But all he says is, “I remember.” His smile reveals even white teeth. A future president’s smile. “But it is nice to officially meet.”

We make the rounds of the room, accepting congratulations from friends and strangers alike. I watch the other brides, most of them with shining eyes and wide smiles. They never stray far from their new husbands, proud to show off and be shown off in return. Do they worry about what comes later? Tonight and all the nights to follow, the endless hours they must fill with these boys they don’t know? The children of my grandfather’s original group go to schools on the opposite side of the city, in Westside. Mingling is not forbidden, but it is not encouraged. Adults constantly chaperone those under sixteen, just to ensure they don’t develop crushes or begin romances that will only make the arranged marriages more difficult. I have no doubt the majority of these girls have never set eyes on their husbands before today. How can they smile so broadly? How can they be so convinced of their own happiness?

“Are you ready to go?” Bishop asks me. “I don’t think I can stand one more handshake.”

I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Part of me wishes I could just kill him right here and now. Grab the knife off the cake table and bypass all the steps in between, jump straight to the final result. “Yes,” I say. “I need to say good-bye to my family.”

Bishop nods and I breathe a sigh of relief when he doesn’t follow me. I want to say my farewells in private.

“Well,” I say, once I’m next to my father and Callie again. “This is it.”

“You can do this,” Callie says. Her hand grabs mine and squeezes until my bones grind together. “He’s good looking. He seems nice enough.” Her sneering voice belies her words. “Just get through it. Get through tonight and tomorrow will be easier. I promise.”

But how can she promise me that? She is not the one who has to go home to a strange house with a strange boy and let him…

My father catches my gaze. “Remember the plan,” he says, voice barely a whisper. “And remember I love you.”

I can count on one hand the number of times he’s said that to me. I don’t doubt his love, but a bitter, angry part of me I try hard to silence questions what that love is tied to—my obedience, my allegiance, my success? Will he still love me if I fail?

I nod, lips pressed together, because I’m not sure what will come out if I open my mouth.

Bishop and I are among the first couples to leave, and several older boys in the crowd catcall as we climb the stairs from the basement.

“Leaving so early?”

“Can’t wait, huh, Bishop?”

“Somebody’s in a hurry to see what’s under that dress.”

My cheeks burn at their words. I would like to march back down the steps and slap them all. Slap Bishop, too, while I’m at it, just for being a part of this. I stumble on a step, and Bishop reaches out and steadies me with a hand on my upper arm. “Ignore them,” he says, voice tight. “They’re idiots.”

They may be idiots, but I can’t imagine they’re wrong, either. He’s an eighteen-year-old boy and this is his wedding night. I don’t think he’s taking me home to play checkers. My heart leaps hard in my chest, like it’s going to tunnel out, right through my ribs. I wish, for the millionth time, that it was Callie standing here instead of me.

After I point it out, Bishop grabs my suitcase from the row lined up outside the doors to City Hall. “Is this it?” he asks. “Only one?”

“Yes,” I say. “We don’t have as much on my side of town,” I can’t resist adding, even though Callie told me countless times not to antagonize him. I have to fight my natural inclination to provoke.

But he doesn’t seem angry or even surprised at my words, he just follows me down the steps, suitcase clutched in his hand as though it weighs nothing. “You know it was your grandfather who wanted to keep the two sides separated, right?” he asks, voice mild.

Prev Next