The Book of Ivy / Page 42

Page 42


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“Besides,” Bishop says, “there’s plenty of time.”

“Less than you think.” President Lattimer’s voice is sad. “There’s always less time than you think, Bishop. So don’t waste it.”

The door closes and one set of footsteps heads back in my direction. I shrink against the wall, but they stop before reaching the library. Another door closes.

He’s gone back into his office. I sneak out of the library, down the hall, and out the front door before anyone else appears.

I take the long way home, walking off the excess adrenaline flowing through my veins. I probably could have come up with an excuse if I’d been caught lingering outside President Lattimer’s office, but the near miss still scared me. It makes my palms sweat just to think I will have to attempt it again soon.

The house is quiet when I get home, and I think maybe Bishop went somewhere else instead. But faint splashing sounds from the backyard draw me out onto the screened porch. Bishop is kneeling in the grass, washing clothes in the old metal trough. He put too much soap in, as usual, and suds overflow over the sides of the tub and decorate the lawn like miniature snow drifts. I watch him for a few moments, then step outside onto the back steps. It’s a beautiful day, not as hot as it has been, but the sun is high in a powder blue sky painted with white streaks of clouds. On days like this it’s hard to believe we almost ruined the world not all that long ago.

“You’re working hard.”

He startles, his hand knocking against the side of the metal tub. He looks up, shaking out his knuckles. I give him a shy smile, one hand shading my eyes from the sun. I don’t know why I’m so nervous. But everything seems different since we kissed. I know how he tastes now, how his skin feels under my hands. It shouldn’t make that big of a difference, but it does. We’re more than just roommates now. More than tentative friends.

“You’re home early,” he says.

“It was slow at the courthouse. Victoria said I might as well take advantage of the down time.”

He smiles at me. “Well, come put your down time to good use.”

I slip off my shoes and leave them on the step. “Are they rinsed?”

“Yep. Just need to hang them.” He holds up my bra and I snatch it from his hand, my cheeks flushed. “I’ll do the sheets,” he says, smothering a laugh, and I attempt to give him a stern look that’s completely ruined by my grin. “Good idea,” I say.

Bishop is on the last sheet when I step up next to him to help, a clothespin between my lips and one in my hand. “There,” I say, once I’ve clipped them in place. I smooth down the sheet with both hands, making a crisp, flapping sound. We are cocooned between the two clotheslines, a sheet hanging on either side of us. We have made a bedding fort.

He is facing me, close enough that I can see every fleck of darker green in his eyes. “Come here,” he says, and the intensity in his voice surprises me. He looks breathless, like I feel, and so impossibly beautiful it makes my chest ache.

I hold out my hand and he takes it, pulls me flush against him. My arms weave their way around his neck. I’m tall enough I don’t have to stand on tiptoe when we kiss; a slight tilt of my head and his lips are right there.

My body thrums against his like a plucked string, my mouth not quite relaxing the way it did last night. His hand tightens briefly on my back and then loosens. He’s leaving it up to me whether I want to pull away. I know I should. There’s a moment where it could go either way, but then I press even closer, my lips part, and his hand on my neck tightens. A tiny sigh escapes my mouth and he catches it with his.

These kisses should feel less intense, in the bright daylight, standing upright instead of lying against each other. But they don’t. Shrouded by the sheets from the bed I still sleep in alone, the unforgiving sun on our shoulders, the contact feels more intimate than it did in the private darkness of the screened porch. Maybe because we’re slowly beginning to learn each other.

When he pulls back, I keep my eyes closed, the sun lighting up the inside of my eyelids with a warm golden haze. He cups my face in both hands, runs his thumbs along my cheekbones. “How about that skirt?” he whispers. “And your top? Maybe we should go ahead and throw them in the wash? You know, so we don’t waste water.” He moves his hands down to lightly grip my hips, one finger finding bare skin under the hem of my shirt.

I open my eyes, and I know without looking that their gray light is shining. I rest my forehead in the hollow of his throat, laughter bubbling out of me. I feel, more than hear, a peaceful hum from deep in Bishop’s chest. He tips his head down and rests his lips against my hair. I am content to stay that way and he seems to be, too. And so we do. A boy and a girl holding each other between the sheets.

I dream about him now. Almost every night. Not good dreams where he’s making me laugh or kissing me or touching me with his strong hands. Dreams where I stick a knife in his chest or put a bullet in his brain or smother him in his sleep. Every possible variation of horror I will potentially inflict. I wake with wet cheeks and a pounding heart. In those dark hours of night, when the house is silent around me and he sleeps on the other side of my bedroom wall, I know down deep in my soul that I cannot kill him. That I would rather die myself than be the one to take his life. But I don’t know if I can save him, either.

It’s taken at least a dozen fittings, all with Erin Lattimer breathing down my neck, but my dress for the president’s birthday party is finally done. I’m nervous about the party for a whole host of reasons. The dress being only a small part of my anxiety. I know I’ll be on display as the president’s new daughter-in-law, everyone watching what I do, the way I interact with Bishop. And my father and Callie will be there, too. Everyone waiting for me to slip up. Although they haven’t approached me since the night I found out about my mother’s suicide, I know they want the gun safe combination. There are only a few weeks left before the deadline. And a bustling party in the president’s house is probably my best chance of finding it.

But beyond all those concerns, there is the simple desire to look pretty in my dress. To watch Bishop’s face when I walk into the room. It’s a waste of time, but I can’t stop picturing the moment. You’re being ridiculous, Ivy, I tell myself, before finding myself back in the same daydream five minutes later.

The day of the party dawns warm and rainy. I know the bulk of the party is supposed to take place on the back terrace and yard of the president’s house, but I don’t imagine the turn in the weather ruffles Erin. She’s the type of woman who expects things to happen as she wants them to, so I’m not surprised at all when the storm clouds move off and the sun shows up in the late afternoon. Her wish is the weather’s command, apparently.

Bishop disappears from the house after lunch and, almost immediately afterward, a woman I’ve never met before arrives, saying she is there to help me dress and do my hair. I would argue, but I know better. I have to pick my battles, and this one isn’t worth it. Besides, I want to look pretty, but I’d never say it out loud. To anyone.

The woman, whose name is Laura, won’t let me look at myself until she’s done. But she listens to me when I say I don’t want my hair all pulled up. Or, at least, she’s listened to what Erin told her beforehand. The dress is a work of art, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pull it off. But once I have it on, Laura claps her hands in front of her mouth and smiles. “Perfect,” she says.


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