A Place Without You (Page 21)

“Henna here likes your van. You should let her drive it sometime.”

Bodhi’s lips purse as he walks up the ramp. “Hmm … I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“When a pretty young thing like Henna shows interest in your van, you should jump on that opportunity. Ask her out on a date or something like that.”

“I don’t date.” He gives his dad a look. I can’t quite decipher it.

“And I don’t have a driver’s license.” I give Barrett a tight grin when he shoots me the same incredulous look he gave me when I said I liked Bodhi’s van. “My accident happened around the time other kids my age were learning to drive and getting their permits. I went to physical therapy instead. Walking was a pretty big accomplishment.”

I hold out the plate of cookies to Barrett. He winks at me and takes another cookie. It’s our wordless exchange that I know, at least in part, how devastating it is to not know if you’ll ever walk again.

I did.

He didn’t.

And that’s just the suck ass part of life.

“Teach the girl how to drive, Bodhi.”

Bodhi glances down at me. “How about I make dinner instead?” He returns his attention to his dad.

“Too late.” Etta comes out the door. “Chili’s in the Crock-Pot. It should be ready in about an hour. You’re welcome.” She pinches Bodhi’s arm before heading down the ramp. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight and thank you,” Bodhi says.

“Well, there you go. You have an hour to start Henna’s driving lessons.”

“Etta just left. I can’t leave you.”

Barrett holds up his hands. “I’ll be right here, being good.”

Bodhi seems conflicted. I don’t know what to say.

“Go.” Barrett takes the cookies from me.

“One more is your limit. Okay?” I warn him.

He winks. “Yes, ma’am.”

“We’ll be right back.” Bodhi keeps giving his dad a look.

“And I’ll be right here. Promise.”

Bodhi nods slowly and heads down the ramp while I follow him. He opens the driver’s door for me. I hold back my scream because BODHI IS LETTING ME DRIVE ALICE!

I fasten my seatbelt and look over at him as he continues to hold the door open. “Bodhi Malone, I have never loved you as much as I do in this very moment.”

“Don’t kill Alice.” He lifts a brow in warning just before shutting the door.

I start Alice.

“Whoa …” He jumps in and fastens his seatbelt. “You need to wait until I’m ready for you to start her.”

“Dude, I’m in automotive class. I can start a vehicle all by myself.”

“So you’ve never driven a car … like at all?”

“Well …” I put Alice in drive and ease up on the brake.

“Well what?”

“Nothing.” I wave to Barrett and he waves back.

“Both hands on the wheel.”

I smirk, placing both hands on the steering wheel as we crawl down the gravel lane.

“Let’s go to that old road that runs just north of your house. Very little traffic.”

I nod, pulling out onto the main road.

“Good job.”

I chuckle. “Thanks, teach.”

“You’ve driven a car before, haven’t you?”

“Driven. Borrowed. Stolen.”

“Henna Eve …”

“Bodhi Kaden …” I mock him. “Before you go all guidance counselor on me, the stolen car was not technically stolen; it was borrowed. But the owner and I disagreed on that little detail, so it got reported as stolen, and I did a little community service and wrote a long letter of apology. No biggie.”

“What have I gotten myself into?” he mumbles.

“Tell me about Alice. Why did you choose her? I mean … you know it makes you undeniably irresistible in my eyes, but she’s a lot of awesomeness for the average guy.”

He shrugs. “She was my mom’s.”

“I would have loved your mom.”

Bodhi nods. “She would have loved you too.”

That gives me more than a moment’s pause. It’s a beautiful sentiment that makes me feel incredibly special.

“Why does leaving your dad by himself for an hour freak you out so much? I saw the looks you gave him. What’s up with that?”

“He’s unpredictable.”

“I’m unpredictable.”

“He can be a danger to himself.”

I know what he means, but it’s not my favorite topic because it hits close to home. “Well, that ramp is a little steep. Is it up to code?”

Bodhi misses my humor. Instead, he stares out his window. “Where are we going?”

I park at the entrance to the Phillips estate.

“I’m not ready to meet your parents.”

“Let’s go.” I climb out and open the gate.

“Henna?” He follows me.

“Hush. We have less than an hour.” The gates open. I look back and offer my hand.

He shakes his head.

“You’re not meeting my parents.”

Bodhi wastes another thirty seconds of not trusting me before taking my hand. I guide him down a trail to a breathtaking lookout area probably forty feet above the stream. A fallen tree connects our hill to one on the other side of the stream. I step up onto it and start walking across it like a balance beam.

“Henna, don’t do that.”

“Come on.” I stop and hold out my hand again.

“No. I can’t die today.”

I grin. “I can walk across this blindfolded. Wanna see?”

“No. I want you to come back here.”

“You swim with sharks. That takes big balls and good balance.”

“That’s different.”

My head tilts to the side. “I’ve seen your balls. They’re huge.”

He fights a grin.

I put my hands on my hips, not fazed at all by the forty-foot drop below me. “Okay. Let’s say you die. Then what?”

“Then I won’t be able to take care of my dad.”

“So your sister has to do it.”

He doesn’t respond.


Bodhi nods once.

“The school hires a new guidance counselor. I find someone with a name cooler than Bodhi but that still sounds stellar with Henna.” I hold out my arms, palms up. “There you go. Now you know.”

“Know what?”

“That life will go on if you die. Don’t sweat it. Everything is temporary.”

He eats up another few minutes with his worry. I shrug and make my way to the middle where I squat and straddle the trunk, letting my legs dangle in the cool air. A grin pulls at my lips when he steps on the end of the log. Looking only at me, Bodhi walks with the ease of a cat to meet me in the middle. He straddles it, facing me. I glance between us at the carved letters in the log.

Henna +

Bodhi traces my name with his finger then glances up to meet my gaze.

I smile. “I carved it a week after I started to walk again. But …” I swallow back the emotions that come with the memories. “I couldn’t balance very well. Sadly, I didn’t care. If I’m honest, I wondered what it would feel like to fall.”

“Why? You were finally able to walk again.”

“Yes, but everything hurt. Walking. Sitting. Going to the bathroom. Rolling over at night. Just … everything. And while I wanted to walk, my reasons for it were much more different than what everyone thought.” Giving him a sad smile, I lift a shoulder. “Just as I started to fall from this very spot, my stepdad, Zach, grabbed my arm. I didn’t know he followed me. But my mom asked him to keep an eye on me when she couldn’t because she said …” I drag in a shaky breath of courage. I’m not that person who wants to die anymore, but the memories of that person will never disappear. “She said I was a danger to myself.”

A slight flinch pulls at Bodhi’s brow.

With my finger, I trace the plus after my name, over and over. “Zach straddled the tree right here, holding me with my back to his front. I cried for the life I thought I’d never have. Who would love me when I hated my miserable existence? I was addicted to pain meds, a year behind in school, and in spite of it all, I was expected to have this gratitude for just being alive. Do you know how hard it was for me to not throat punch everyone who told me to look at the bright side?”

Bodhi scoots forward until our knees touch.

“Zach pulled out a pocket knife and handed it to me. He said I needed a goal, and he told me to make it personal, completely selfish, and a pivotal moment in my life. So I carved this because I knew if the day ever came that I finished it, it would mean that I was okay. More than okay. It means that the pain paid off. I’m still here, and…” I pull the keys out of my pocket and use one to carve Bodhi “…it means someone loves me.”

When I finish, he takes the keys from me, wearing a grin as he glances down at the creek. It’s entirely believable that I would accidentally drop them. I match his smile.

Bodhi grabs my hips and slides me so my legs rest on top of his. It steals some of my balance, but I know he’s got me. I wrap my arms around his neck.