The Book of Ivy / Page 45

Page 45


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I’m sick to my stomach suddenly, hit with the almost irresistible urge to vomit. I rest my forehead against the desk, cover my mouth with one hand. Is this who I am? A girl who will do anything for her family? A girl who will sacrifice an innocent boy to prove she’s not soft? I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.

There’s a noise in the hall, the sound of footsteps. I shove the file back into the drawer, hoping it’s in approximately the same spot it was before, and slide the drawer shut. I turn off the lamp and cross to the door in darkness, lean my head against the cool wood. I don’t hear anything other than the distant sound of voices. There’s no way for me to know exactly what waits on the other side, but there’s no advantage to staying in here any longer.

I take a deep breath, open the door, and walk out. And run smack into a man’s chest.

“Ivy?”

I look up into my father’s face, relief coursing through me. He reaches behind me and shuts the door, then puts his hands on my upper arms.

“I got it, Dad,” I whisper. “The last digit goes up by three every month.”

His eyes glow. He pulls me in for a hug and I hug him back, my chin on his shoulder. Bishop is at the end of the hall, and he smiles when he sees me. I close my eyes and my nose fills with the familiar scent of my father, wood smoke and paper. I remember the winter he taught me to read. And the afternoons after that we spent reading separately but in the same room. The times I felt closest to him always involved a book in my hand. Unbidden, Callie’s face flashes through my mind. For all her faults, she’s always protected me, even if her methods might not have been the ones I would choose. I open my eyes and watch through a veil of tears as Bishop walks toward me. And Bishop. With his deep laugh and his strong hands. The boy who dreams of the ocean and feeds people beyond the fence. What do I owe each of them? What do I owe myself?

21-13-6-18-78. I turn my head and press my lips close to my father’s ear. “21…13…6…18,” I whisper. Hesitate. Bishop hovers on the edge of my vision. “87,” I say, and pull away from my father.

It’s an honest mistake. The kind anyone could make. The type of mistake that buys me time to figure out what to do before they figure out I’m doing anything at all.

I am quiet on the walk home. I hold Bishop’s hand and make hmmm noises as he talks, but I am somewhere else. Still back in my father’s embrace, stuck at the moment when I was faced with two choices. And I chose the boy walking next to me instead of my own family.

“Oh, I talked to the head of the Matching Committee,” Bishop says. “He told me that Dylan and Meredith both put their names in again for next year.”

“Great,” I mutter. “Now Dylan will be able to make some other girl’s life hell.”

Bishop squeezes my hand. “I don’t think so. I hinted that they might want to make sure he doesn’t find a match.”

I breathe a little sigh of relief. “I can’t believe Meredith wants to go through that again, either. But I guess it’s her choice.”

“It is,” Bishop says. “Maybe she’ll have better luck this time.”

“Can’t get much worse,” I say and Bishop smiles.

I trip over an uneven patch of sidewalk, and he puts out his free hand to balance me. “Whoa.” He looks down at my feet. “Why don’t you take those off?”

His words bring me back to the day we met, the day we married, and he said the very same thing about my high heels. We’ve come such a long way since then. Further than I ever dreamed possible. Further than I ever wanted to journey. I hold onto him while I slip off my shoes. This time he takes them from me, hooking the straps over his fingers.

“What?” I ask when he doesn’t start walking again.

He lets go of my hand to smooth a lock of hair back over my shoulder. “You look prettier now than you did before the party. I like your bare feet. And your hair falling down.”

Even with the chaos inside my head, I can’t help but smile at him.

“I’m glad you got to see your father,” he says, once we start walking again.

I glance at him, debating what to say. “It was good to see him. I haven’t talked to him since that day I found out about my mother.”

“Are you still angry with him?”

“Yes.” I don’t think I’ll ever fully forgive my father for not telling me the truth about my mother’s death. Because that lie was the catalyst for so many of my decisions, so many twists and turns on the road I’ve taken. I might have chosen a different path if I’d known the truth from the beginning. My father’s cause might not have so easily become my own.

“I understand why you might want to keep your distance from him for a while,” Bishop says. “But I don’t want to be one of the reasons.”

“What are you talking about?”

Bishop’s thumb glides over my hand. “I know our fathers haven’t always gotten along. I don’t want the fact that you’re married to me to drive a wedge between you and your family.”

“It won’t.” I already knew, but his words prove it. Bishop is a good person. A better person than all the rest of us. He doesn’t understand how rare he is, how everyone else is angling for something right below the surface of every interaction. He’s the only person whose motives I trust completely.

I tip my head up to the sky as we walk. The stars wink above us, shimmering slightly in the humid air. They say before the war, you could hardly see them at night because of the light from thousands of cities. Now, they are laid out above us like a vast carpet, bright in a pitch-black sky. For all the death and hardship the war brought, I’m not sorry about being able to see the stars.

I take my shoes back from him on the front porch. “I had a good time tonight,” I tell him, but forcing my mouth into a smile takes work. I have betrayed my family and put my own desires above what is best for the group. I have decided that Bishop’s life is worth more than a hundred girls’ futures. I’ve turned a corner into a whole new world and there is no easy way back.

My fancy dress ends up in a crumpled heap in the corner of my bedroom, shoes tossed on top of the pile. I crawl into bed in a tank top and underwear and listen to the sound of Bishop brushing his teeth, hanging his clothes on the back of the bathroom door so he doesn’t disturb me by putting them in the closet. His routine has become as familiar to me as my own.

“Bishop?” I call as his shadow passes by the bedroom door.

“Yes?”

I shift onto my side. I know what I want, but I don’t know exactly how I should ask, what words I should say. It turns out it doesn’t really matter, because all my words have disappeared. Instead, I pull the sheet back, uncovering the empty spot in the bed. My heart beats slow but hard, like a bass drum inside my chest. The rhythm so deep it’s almost painful. Bishop’s eyes move from the bed to my face.

“I don’t think I’m ready for…to have sex,” I say. I clear my throat to get more weight behind my words. The truth is, I’m not scared of the act itself, not really. Not if it’s Bishop and me. And, in a different world, I probably would be ready to have sex with him. But here, in the tangled web I’m trapped in, I’m scared of taking that last step, the one that will bind our bodies together in the same way the rest of us has already merged. But I don’t want him on the other side of the wall anymore, either. “I don’t want to sleep in this bed alone,” I tell him.


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