A Place Without You

Chapter 16

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The doorbell rings. It’s Warren. Here goes nothing … just my virginity. I navigate my way down the stairs.

“Wow!” He stumbles back with his hand over his heart.

Juni and Zach smile. I don’t have to read their minds. Of course they want to know why I can’t fall for a nice young man like Warren. Well, they’ll have to ask Bodhi Malone. He just sort of happened, and as much as I wish at this moment that I could make him un-happen, I can’t. So even if I take off my clothes for Warren and give him my body … even if I try to love him in my mind, my heart will always know the truth.

“You look very handsome, Warren,” Juni says, bringing me out of my wandering reflections.

“Yes.” I jump to agree. “You do.”

Warren smiles.

“Good game tonight,” Zach adds.

“Thank you, Mr. Phillips.”

“Well, we’d better get going.” I hug Zach and Juni.

My mom whispers in my ear. “It’s your night. It’s whatever you want it to be. It’s your decision. Just be safe.”

For once, I know she’s giving me her blessing to stay Henna the Virgin, and her be safe is not a condom reference. It’s a good old-fashioned “fasten your seatbelt and don’t drink and drive.”

“Love you,” I whisper back. “Ready?”

Warren nods, looking truly handsome in his black suit as he offers me his arm. I take it and follow him to his Subaru all washed up for the evening.

We meet several other couples for a quick dinner before the dance. My high keeps me smiling but fairly mute during dinner. Warren occasionally reaches under the table and squeezes my hand, giving me a reassuring smile that I try to return. By the time we make it to the dance, I’m wholeheartedly resigned to the fact that I’m going to do this … I’m going to have sex with Warren tonight—and I’m going to hate Bodhi for it the whole time.

“Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?” Warren whispers in my ear as we dance to Bazzi’s “Mine.”

“A few times, but can a girl ever hear it too much?”

He grins, brushing his lips along my bare shoulder. It feels nice, especially when I pretend those lips belong to a messy guy who dribbles ketchup down his white T-shirt. Closing my eyes, I let my high take me back to April when the hands on me were Bodhi’s.

Over the next two hours, Warren is crowned homecoming king and for whatever really crazy reason, I’m crowned queen. Then we chat with friends and dance more, and the more we dance, the more kisses Warren steals and the more brave his hands get, feeling intimate places of my body over my dress.

I kiss him back because in my head he’s Bodhi.

His touch turns me on, makes me want more because in my head, his hands are Bodhi’s hands.

“Wanna get out of here?” Warren whispers as Ariana preaches in her most seductive voice about God being a woman.

My head spins. “Yes.” I grab his face and kiss him, flicking my tongue against his, but he doesn’t taste like lemon. I pretend he does because all these months later I can still taste Bodhi.

Warren groans, sliding his hand over my ass to pull me closer to him. He’s firm, but not hard like Bodhi. He’s tall, but not as tall as Bodhi. His hand grips my ass like a football that he could fumble. Bodhi grips my ass like he owns it.

Warren pulls away, eyes heavy with lust, as he takes my hand and leads me out to his car. Our hands are clasped, but he doesn’t move to interlace our fingers. When he puts me in the car, he leans in and kisses me. It’s desperate, but sloppy. I can already feel that he’s not going to last. He’s losing control too quickly.

I kiss him back, refusing to keep entertaining this ridiculous comparison in my head. I’m going to let Warren fuck me if for no other reason than I want to march into Mr. Malone’s office on Monday and tell him how an eighteen-year-old senior got the job done—the one Bodhi failed to accomplish at Coachella.

Warren breaks our kiss as I keep ahold of his hair. “I have a hotel room.”

“Does this seat recline?”

He nods, a bit of confusion flitting across his face.

My lips move to his ear. “Guess what I’m wearing under this dress?”

“What?” He breathes heavily.

“Absofuckinglutely nothing. So we don’t need a room, just a little creativity.”

“Sweet Jesus,” he says as his hands start working the button and zipper to his pants.

We won’t be the first or last couple to not make it out of the parking lot after homecoming.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Monday morning I stand outside of Mr. Malone’s office, holding my pass from study hall, but it takes me a full ten minutes to work up the courage to knock on his door.

“Come in,” he calls when I do.

I open the door slowly with half the confidence I usually have when visiting his office. He doesn’t say anything as he looks up from his computer screen, but his jaw pulses as if he’s biting back the words he wants to say.

“Hi.” I slip inside and shut the door behind me.

“Hi.” He returns a monotone greeting.

I had this grand entrance planned. I’d hoped he would be blinded by my afterglow. Instead, I’m hurting so badly, I struggle to keep taking my next breath. How can he not know what he did to us?

“Did you have a good weekend?” I drop my bag and fall into the chair.

Bodhi nods once, chewing on the inside of his cheek as he returns his attention to the computer.

“I was crowned homecoming queen. Can you believe it?”

His eyebrows knit tightly, but he doesn’t look at me. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks,” I murmur.

For the next thirty minutes, he uses silence as a weapon to make me pay for what he practically told me I should do with Warren. I wait it out and say goodbye when the bell rings. We repeat this standoff for the remainder of the week.

Every day after school, I’m hell-bent on walking to Bodhi’s house and letting him know exactly how much he hurt me. Instead, I get high and the marijuana does its job. After a while, I just don’t give a shit. All is right in the world when I’m high.

Except today, I don’t get high. It’s Friday, the best day to binge-watch Riverdale and get high. Instead, I go for a sunset ride with Leo and a small group of tourists. I had no idea I was a horse person, but Angelina is a great creature. When my ass isn’t throbbing with pain from the saddle, we’re a match made in equestrian heaven.

“Do you have plans for later tonight?” Leo asks as the three other people follow us back to the stables.

I glance over at him. He gives me a very flirty smile. Bodhi could take a few lessons from Leo. “Not that I’m aware of. Probably getting high.” Something tells me Leo won’t judge me.

“Want company?”

I was right.

“Sure.” I grin back at him.

“Sweet. It will take me about forty-five minutes to finish up here. Meet me at the end of the lane in say … an hour?”

“An hour it is.”

After dismounting Angelina, I start to walk in the direction of the road, but a dark figure on the porch of Bodhi’s house catches my attention. My feet overrule my common sense, and they carry me toward the porch. There’s an older man in a wheelchair entranced by the sunset.

“You lost?” he asks as I reach the bottom of the ramp.

“No.”

He brings a joint up to his lips and takes a drag. “You take the tour?”

I nod, ambling up the whiney ramp.

“Was it good?”

“Sure.” I shrug.

“That Leo kid is full of shit. You didn’t actually believe anything he said, did you? Tourists are so gullible. No offense.”

I laugh. “I live up the hill about a mile. And Leo is totally full of shit, but it’s mildly entertaining shit that seems to amaze the tourists, so you should keep him around.”

He inspects me for several seconds, his joint paused a few inches from his lips. “I’m Barrett.”

“Henna.” I hold out my hand.

He doesn’t shake it. Instead, he offers me his joint. Can’t say I’ve ever smoked pot with a guidance counselor’s father before. I take it. I guess there’s truly a first for everything.

“Have a seat.” He nods to the wooden rocker beside his wheelchair.

I hand the joint back to him and take a seat.

“How did you end up in a wheelchair?” It’s weird how I’ve never had the courage to ask Bodhi the same question, but when a stranger offers you a drag of his joint, nothing’s off the table.

“Fourteen marble stairs.”

“You fell?”

Barrett nods.

“That sucks ass.”

He looks over at me.

I shrug. “Don’t look at me like that. I speak the truth, and you know it. Any way you look at it, falling down fourteen marble stairs and permanently landing in a wheelchair just sucks ass.”

A grin works up his face. “What do you know? You’re clearly just a pretty, young pothead.”

I turn to the side and lift my shirt, showing him my scar. “I know about things that suck ass.”

“Mmm …” He inspects it for a long moment. “But you can walk.”


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