“Wait for me in Alice.”
Alice. He still calls her Alice. I love that.
“I’ll be there.” I smile and a tiny grin breaks through all the worry on his face.
“Stop punishing yourself,” my dad whispers as I set a glass of water on his nightstand and adjust his covers.
“I have a job. The students like me. We turned an actual profit this summer. I didn’t burn dinner tonight, and you seem to have a little less pain than you’ve had previous nights. I don’t feel punished.”
He shoots me a look, the one where he sees through my bullshit. He always sees through it. But we are also very much alike, so as much as he hates my self-inflicted punishment, he understands it.
“I love you, boy.”
I grin, resting a hand on his shoulder before turning out the light. “I love you too.”
My usual dragging-ass pace to clean the kitchen, shower, and respond to email from students and parents is replaced with a hurry-my-ass-up pace to get to Henna.
I pause on the porch when I see her in a hoodie and jeans, standing by Alice with her head tipped back, looking at the stars. My hands will always remember the silky feel of her long, auburn hair, and my face will never forget how it feels when that hair tickles it as we kiss. And my lips … they’re ruined for eternity.
“There’s nothing like this view.”
She turns as I approach, her gaze making its own perusal of me with my wet, showered hair, clean jeans, and a hoodie too. “No boots?”
I glance down at my white Converse high-tops with the laces loose instead of tied. “Nah. There’s no work to be done.” I open the passenger door, and she climbs inside. Releasing the lever, I lower the back of her seat as far as it will go.
Her eyes shoot open wide.
“Get comfy.” I shut her door and jump into the driver’s seat, reclining my seat back as well. “There was a football game tonight.”
“There was,” she answers, both of us staring at the ceiling.
“You should have been there watching Warren play or your classmates march in the band or a million other things that don’t involve me.”
I turn my head toward her, and she mirrors me with a big grin.
“Do you think about us?” she whispers. “Because I do.”
I nod slowly.
Possibly satisfied with my confession, she turns her gaze back to the ceiling and so do I. After a few minutes of silence, I drop my right arm, letting my waiting hand hang between the seats, but it doesn’t wait long. Henna’s hand slides into mine, lacing our fingers.
“Did you have fun with your dad over the summer?”
“Yes.” She sighs. “We went to the beach, camped, and fished. He taught me how to fly fish when I was eight. I don’t know … it’s two different worlds. When I’m with Juni and Zach, taking elaborate trips and seeing the world from a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea, it’s pretty spectacular. But being mesmerized by the flames of a campfire or the ripple of the water as I cast lines with my dad is spectacular in its own right. Juni gives me wings. She encourages me to experience life to the fullest. Dad grounds me, and sometimes I need that too.”
“I love that you call your mom Juni.” I chuckle.
“I told you, she’s my friend. I can tell Juni everything, but there are some things Mom doesn’t need to know.”
“Juni is a great name. You should call her that just because it’s such a great name. And I think there’s a model or actress with the name Juniper—Juni.”
Henna giggles. “You’d be correct.”
I squeeze her hand, and she looks at me. “Why did you lie to me?”
The smile fades from her mouth. “I didn’t really lie. I just didn’t tell you the truth.” One shoulder lifts into a half shrug. “I didn’t know if we could be us if we were completely forthcoming. But …” She exhales. “I was wrong. We are greater than you and greater than me, and we are definitely greater than our life’s circumstances.”
I want to believe her. Henna’s innocence feeds my soul. It calls to me like a savior offering forgiveness. She deserves the truth, but dashing her hopes isn’t how I want to love her. And the indisputable fact is … I love her. It didn’t happen. It just is, was, and always will be.
“So your mom is Juni, but your dad is just Dad?”
“Yes.” She returns her gaze to the ceiling, stroking her thumb over the top of mine. “It’s different with him. He was highly ranked and well-respected in the Marines. Calling him something as personal as Dad feels like an honor.”
I like that. I like Henna’s mind and how it works outside of the box. Her take on life is the cool breeze I love so much on long rides in the mountains. She makes me want to close my eyes and just feel her presence. I guess I, too, need the comfort of just being with her.
We stay in Alice until 2:00 a.m., mostly enjoying the silence of sharing space, mixed with the occasional random thoughts about school or living in Colorado.
“You don’t have a curfew?”
Henna chuckles. “I’m nineteen and they don’t call me Hell for nothing. No. I don’t have a curfew. Do you?”
A hearty laugh ripples up my chest. “Midnight. I could be grounded when my dad wakes up. So … we’d better call it a night—or a morning.” I release her hand and lift the back of my seat while she does the same thing.
When I open her door, she slides out and instantly wraps her arms around my midsection, resting her cheek on my chest. “Thank you for putting me in automotive class. I’m quite the natural.”
I grin, giving my arms permission to hug her back. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
“It shouldn’t. Clearly, you thought I would be good at it. Right? Surely, you didn’t put me in a class you thought I’d fail just to teach me some bullshit lesson.”
She doesn’t see me cringe. “Never.” I release her.
Henna pulls her hoodie sleeves down to cover her hands. “Tell Duke and Leo thanks for the ride.”
“Speaking of rides. How are you getting home?”
“No.” I shake my head.
“It’s a mile. No big deal.”
“It’s dark and two in the morning. That makes it a big deal. I’ll drive you.” I open the door.
She rolls her eyes and climbs into Alice. Less than five minutes later, we’re parked at the gate to her estate. I jump out and open her door.
“Such a gentleman.” She climbs out, pulling her hood over her head.
I glance at the gate. “Katy Perry Teenage Dream?”
“Retina scan or fingerprint.”
Shaking my head, I rub the back of my neck. “Such a different world.”
“I told you I live—”
“I know. You have a bedroom all to yourself, a bathroom all to yourself, and a kitchen all to yourself.”
Her head whips back. “Wow. Could you be a bigger dick about it?”
I take a step toward her, and she steps away from me. “Henna, I didn’t mean it like you think.”
“Spoiled rich girl. Entitled. Self-absorbed.”
“Those aren’t my words.”
“They’re implied when you say things like that about me. I didn’t ask for this life, and I’m not complaining about it either. My shoes are off bargain racks, and my clothes are from thrift stores because that’s my personality. That’s the life I’ve chosen regardless of the one I was born into.”
“Okay.” I hold up my hands. “I was really just joking around. Clearly, I hit a nerve, and I apologize.”
“Don’t say that.” She deflates. “Now I feel like a bitch for going off on you.”
“It’s fine. I’m tired. I’m sure you’re tired. Let’s just call it a night.” I take slow steps back to the van.
“Bodhi.” She frowns.
“Bodhi …” She shuffles toward my van.
I shake my head. “We’re good. Get through the gate so I know you’re safe.” I shut the door, letting my mind sort out the night’s events, my emotions, and my reality. She’s a student of mine. We have no business spending most of the night together.
Henna exposes whatever body part magically opens the gate, and she gives me a final wave. I lift two fingers from the steering wheel to wave back and drive my insane self home.
My new daily schedule …
Third period in Mr. Malone’s office during the week and weekends with Bodhi in Alice. This keeps me equally satisfied and painfully tortured at the same time. He holds my hand in Alice. I hug him goodnight, pressing a kiss to his chest. That’s what he gives me. Since I do love him, I let that be enough.
“Do I want to know?” Mr. Malone asks me as I enter his office the Monday of homecoming week.
I pop out my earbuds. “It’s superhero day.” I close the door behind me.
“Leggings, a cape, and a diaper?” He scratches his chin, pushing back in his chair and propping his red boots up on his desk. Captain America has never looked so sexy.