A Place Without You

Chapter 10

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“Alice, I missed you.”

I jump at Henna’s voice. Closing my laptop, I set it aside and shove the other half of my sandwich into the brown paper sack.

She hops into the passenger’s seat.

“Henna, what are you doing?” I glance around. “You can’t be here. Someone could see us.”

“True.” Slipping off her yellow flip-flops, she shimmies herself into the back, sprawling out on the bench seat. “You can take these seats out and put a mattress back here. Have you ever thought of doing that?”

“Henna, I have to be back in ten minutes, and you have automotive class in fifteen.” I twist my body to see her.

“Automotive class. Yeah, thanks for that, Mr. Malone. I wasn’t too happy when I got my new schedule, but after some careful thought, I realized you must have fantasies of me covered in grease working on Alice. It’s cool. I’m on board. I’m also the only girl in the class, and that seems to please a lot of guys.”

I didn’t think about that little nugget. A bunch of horny guys all after Henna. Well done, me.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

“I said it’s—”

I shake my head, pinching my eyes shut for a brief second. “I’m sorry about this summer. The way I left. Not calling. I …” Opening my eyes, I lift a shoulder. “I just didn’t know what to do. I had nothing to offer you. And it would seem maybe that was for the best. But you need to know that unlike you, I don’t have a rich family. I need this job. If anyone found out about what happened at Coachella, I’d be fired. I can’t get fired, Henna.”

She sits up, fixing her long auburn hair while her face morphs into a pensive expression. “How’s your dad?”

“He’s fine.”

I half expect her to tell me more, like her address, her current favorite song, and how she found me.

She nods slowly, trapping her bottom lip between her teeth. “I can’t pretend that weekend didn’t happen.”

“You have to.”

She balls her hands. “You can’t ask me to do that. I was going to give you my virginity for God’s sake!”

My head jerks back. “W-what?”

Wincing, she releases a heavy sigh and stares at her bare feet. “Never mind. I have to get to class.” She slides open the side door and slams it shut.

“Henna?” I jump out.

She turns.

I hold up her flip-flops.

Looking down at her feet as if she has no clue that she’s not wearing them, she walks back to me. “I can’t wear flip-flops in automotive class. Or short skirts. You kinda fucked up my whole wardrobe for my senior year. Thanks, Mr. Malone.” Taking the shoes, she walks to the building, holding them in her hand.

Henna is a virgin.

Fucking Hell.

*

After school, I hurry home to get my chores done before sunset. When I’m drenched in sweat and ready to pass out, I drag my ass into the house and take a shower.

“How was your first day as a high school guidance counselor?” my dad asks as I slip on a shirt while walking down the stairs.

“You’re awake.”

He nods from his wheelchair in front of the television.

“You were snoring when I got home. Etta said you’ve slept a lot today. I’ll start dinner.”

“You didn’t answer me.” He scratches his scalp over his full head of graying blond hair. Everyone thinks he looks just like a fifty-something Robert Redford. I can see that.

I retrieve a casserole dish from the fridge and preheat the oven. “It was chaos, but I’m sure things will settle down in another week once everyone has their schedule changes made.”

“I bet those high school girls are pretty smitten with you.”

I shake my head, hiding my grin. The whispers were too loud to ignore. Apparently, I’m quite the snack and totally fuckable—according to a few girls who waited outside of my office. “Girls. Yes. Women? No.” Except Henna. She’s nineteen and her mouth tastes like strawberry bubble gum and the feel of her nipples on my tongue gives me an eternal erection.

“Did you feed the horses?”

“Duke did.” I chop some lettuce for a salad.

“The fence to the north needs to be repaired.”

“I repaired it yesterday.”

He hisses, adjusting in his wheelchair. I don’t know what to do or what to say. Every offer I make to help him is met with “I’m fine.”

“You should get out, Bodhi. You never date.”

This is true. But I do occasionally use a website for a quick hookup. It’s not how I ever imagined meeting my sexual needs, but I also never imagined my father being confined to a wheelchair and the responsibilities of the ranch landing on me.

“I’m good.”

“Bullshit.”

I ignore him. He likes to bait me, get me riled up. My father isn’t simply confined to a wheelchair … he’s battling cancer. And on the not-so-good days, he deals with depression and suicidal thoughts.

“We should eat out on the porch. Have you had any fresh air today?”

“I smoked some weed out there for ten minutes. Does that count?”

“Sure.” I sigh, keeping my back to him as my hands pause from chopping lettuce. Closing my eyes, I go to the place in my head that brings a sliver of joy to my existence—Henna.

Bodhi and Henna.

CHAPTER NINE

Henna

“Good morning. You were asleep by the time I arrived home last night. I hate that I missed your birthday. I get the Worst Mom Ever award. My flight got delayed because of weather.” Juni kisses me on the head as I poke at my plate of eggs and toast. “What brings you to the main house this morning? You’re not usually a breakfast person.” She sits next to me as Fiona brings her a cup of coffee.

I live in the upstairs of the guest house on the Phillip’s estate—Zachary Isaac Phillips, ZIP Tunes. It’s smaller, like an apartment, and it gives me a sense of autonomy since my closest friends are at college while I turn nineteen and still have to finish my senior year.

“Bodhi is Mr. Malone.”

She sips her coffee. “I’m not following. Bodhi from Coachella? Bodhi who spent the summer tattooed to various parts of your body?” She smirks.

I roll my eyes. “Yes.”

“And who is Mr. Malone?”

Tapping my fork on my lower lip, I cringe a bit. “My new guidance counselor.”

Juni’s eyebrows jump up her forehead. “Are you serious?”

I nod.

“Oh my God, Henna! You had sex with your guidance counselor?”

“No! Why do you refuse to believe me? I haven’t had sex with anyone. At least…” I rub my lips together “…I haven’t had intercourse.”

I’m a virgin, but not a saint.

Juni studies me. It’s not that I don’t get it. A lot of girls my age are not virgins.

“Well, if that’s the case, then I have to recommend that you not have sex with Bodhi. Find another nice boy.”

Only my mom advocates for her teenage daughter to lose her virginity. Even if I don’t take heed of her advice, I find it really cool that when the day does come, I can tell her all about my first time without feeling an ounce of guilt.

“I don’t want to have sex with another nice boy.”

“Henna …” She shakes her head. “He could get fired, and not just fired, it could ruin his whole career. You’re a bit of a hellion, just like I was at your age, but you’ve also been raised to care about people.”

“It’s only an issue if we get caught.”

“Henna …”

I drop my fork and grab my bag. “I know. I know. I’ll behave.”

“Do you need John to drop you off at school?”

“I’ll walk. It’s only a mile.”

“It’s almost a mile to get off our property.”

“Fine, it’s two miles.”

“You’ll be late.”

I head to the door. “It’s just calculus. I highly doubt I’ll ever use it.”

“But you need to pass.”

“Bye, Juni.”

I make it to school with ten minutes left in calculus—a stellar start to my senior year. The pot cookie I had this morning doesn’t help me give a shit about my day or my whole year for that matter.

“I got a study hall pass to come visit you.” I hold up my pass as Bodhi looks up from his desk.

“Schedule issues?”

Stepping inside, I close the door and drop my backpack onto one of the two chairs in front of his desk while I take a seat in the other chair and pluck my earbuds out of my ears. “This is a nice office.” I smile on a contented sigh. “I’ve been in here…” I twist my lips “…a lot. But I see you repainted it.”

“No. I didn’t repaint it.”

“No?” I move my attention to Bodhi. He looks so handsome in his gray button-down and black tie. I grin, almost giggle. Why? Well, I’m a tiny bit high.

“Your eyes are a little bloodshot.”

“Yours are sexy.” I grin, sinking down into the chair a little more and pulling out my sketch pad and pencils. “Surfer and cowboy sexy. Are you wearing boots?”


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