A Place Without You (Page 23)
I take the ripped condom and wrapper, squinting at him while I slip it into my bag. “You read a lot of fiction. I, too, heard rumors about a condom shoved into Moby Dick, but that’s a bit too amateurish for me.”
He opens his desk drawer and retrieves a lemon drop, pops it into his mouth, and closes the drawer. “Go be a good student. I have work to do.”
I grab his tie and yank him down to my face. He grins. I grin. And I kiss him, sliding my tongue into his mouth just as the bell rings. He pulls away, rubbing his lips together then pausing.
My exaggerated, toothy grin shows him his lemon drop trapped between my teeth.
“You suck.” He opens his drawer for another lemon drop.
I unlock the door and turn the handle. “You know it. Like the last drag of a joint.” Glancing back over my shoulder, I blow him a kiss.
I stop halfway out the door. “Yeah?”
His gaze inspects the hallway behind me for a quick second before those blue eyes land back on me. He mouths, “I love you.”
“You wanted to see me?” I poke my head into Principal Rafferty’s office.
“Yes, Bodhi. Come in and shut the door, please.”
I take a seat in the faded black fabric chair. My master’s degree should alleviate the stress of sitting across from a principal, but it doesn’t. It still gives me flashbacks of my high school days.
She takes her time finishing up something on her computer. Then she signs a few papers and sets them on the top file on the corner of her desk before returning her attention to me. Clearing her throat, she interlaces her fingers, resting her hands on her desk. “How would you describe your relationship with Henna Lane?”
Oh. Fucking. Hell.
My stomach coils while my lungs constrict.
“Relationship? I’m her guidance counselor.” I try to shrug, but my body is too rigid to even lift my shoulders. “So that would make it the same as my relationship with all my other students.”
Her head bobs repeatedly in the slowest series of nods ever, like a large boat rocking in the ocean. My knee starts to bounce out of control. I rest my hand on it to steady my nerves.
“Why do you ask?” I try the proactive route. The what’s-the-problem-because-I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-getting-at route.
She sighs, smoothing a few stray black hairs back into her bun before pushing her white-framed glasses all the way up her nose. I prefer it to the way she looks judging me with her chin down, eyes peering over the top of them.
“One of the other faculty members reported seeing you and Henna in your blue Volkswagen van. Henna was driving. They said she parked at the entrance to her family’s estate, and you both got out and went through the gates together … holding hands.”
Holding hands … Holding hands … Holding hands …
Her words echo like we’re at opposite ends of a long hallway with tall ceilings. My pulse pounds in my ears, and the past I can’t escape whispers, “You’re a fuckup. A selfish child who never thinks of anyone else. You can’t undo this.”
“She rides horses at my family’s ranch. My dad’s in a wheelchair. He befriended her. They both have tragic pasts. He’s a relentless old man who won’t take no for an answer.” I refuse to make up a story that’s not true, so I take the high road, even if it’s more of a tightrope.
“He found out that she never took driving classes because of her accident, and he insisted I teach her how to drive. I know it was wrong, but not starting an argument with my father who will never walk again and who’s battling cancer…” I find that shrug that I couldn’t find earlier “…it seemed like the lesser of two evils.”
Principal Rafferty blinks several times. “You weren’t holding hands?”
“We were. She wanted to show me where …” I hate this. Henna’s secrets aren’t mine to share with anyone, but I’m trying to protect her—protect us.
“Where she once tried to commit suicide.”
“I didn’t feel right about going onto her family’s property uninvited by her parents. She—being Henna—grabbed my hand and persuaded me to go with her anyway.”
She steeples her fingers, resting her chin on them. “I should have warned you about Henna. She’s had issues for years, even before the accident. They’ve just been more extreme since it happened. Every guidance counselor before you knew her quite well. Her family has contributed a great deal to this school. But we can’t show favoritism.
“However, navigating her chronic pain and emotional issues is a very unusual and delicate situation. If I’m honest, I really just want to see her walk across the stage, get her diploma, and …” She exhales.
“No longer be your responsibility?”
Gail gives me a regretful smile. “Yes.” She clears her throat again, straightening her back. “I don’t want this to get out. Nothing about Henna Lane is black and white. I’m not firing you … yet.” She raises her eyebrows in warning. “I’ll deal with your colleague who reported you. And while I like you and I want to trust you—I don’t trust Henna. She’s clearly fond of your company, and that’s just something we can’t have. So …”
She stands, resting just her fingertips on her gray industrial desk. “Mrs. Bateman will take over Henna’s schedule and all of her other guidance needs. I will talk to Henna and her parents, strongly suggesting they find someplace else for her to enjoy her equestrian hobby, as well as finding her an actual driving instructor.”
I don’t respond because I have no clue what I’m supposed to say. All I can do is keep blinking, hoping that eventually I will awaken from this nightmare I call my life.
“In the meantime …”
I glance up at her.
“I suggest you not give her so much as a second glance if you pass her in the hall. Are we perfectly clear on this?”
“Perfectly,” I murmur.
I suck on a lollipop waiting for Bodhi to hurry up. He usually comes out of the school by four. It’s nearly four thirty.
“There he is,” I tell Alice. Pushing off her front bumper, wearing the grin I reserve just for Bodhi.
When he glances up from his phone, looking all hip in his tweed blazer, mismatched tie, and black Chucks, he stops. I crook a finger at him. This is the first time I’ve asked him for a ride, but I want him to take me shopping for some riding gear—boots, a hat, and maybe my own riding crop. Okay, maybe not the riding crop. I’ll let his reaction to it dictate whether I get one or just pretend I’m joking.
Stopped a good twenty yards away, he just stares at me. No smile. Not a twitch of movement.
“Let’s go!” I call.
The parking lot is basically empty. No one there to see us. What’s his deal?
He turns and walks back toward the building.
What did he forget? The tack store is going to close if he doesn’t hurry up. Collapsing again against the front of Alice, I shove my hands into the pockets of my jacket to keep them warm against the cool fall breeze. A few minutes later, Principal Rafferty struts toward me like an arrow headed for the bullseye.
What now? I’ve been on my best behavior. No skipping classes. Not so much as a late assignment.
The lollipop. Seriously? She’s going to bust me for a lollipop at the far end of the parking lot, an hour after school’s been dismissed? Gail needs a life.
“Henna.” She pulls up the collar to her tan wool coat and lifts her shoulders to protect her ears from the cold.
“Principal Rafferty.” I twist my lollipop in my mouth, hoping my respect in properly addressing authority buys me a free pass for my mildly illegal indiscretion.
“Do you need a ride? Can I call a friend or parent for you?”
I shake my head.
“Is there a reason you’re leaning against Mr. Malone’s van?”
Easing forward, I put enough space between my backside and Alice that I’m no longer leaning against Mr. Malone’s van.
“I talked with Mr. Malone today, and I’m going to schedule a meeting with you and your parents. But in the meantime, I need you to stay away from Mr. Malone. Mrs. Bateman or I can handle your school needs. As for your after-school activities, such as riding the horses at Mr. Malone’s family’s ranch, I have to ask that you refrain from it and not be anywhere near the property or Mr. Malone and his family.”
“What the fuck! Did you fire him?”
“Please don’t take that tone with me or use such language. But no, Mr. Malone is still employed with the school district—for now. If you want him to keep his job, I strongly suggest you heed my warnings and do as I request.”
I’m kinda high and really pissed off. It’s a terrible combination. I’m angry that I’m not angrier. My mind won’t stay focused on one thing long enough to formulate an argument. I think I want to cry, but I’m not sure why because I haven’t talked to Bodhi.
But … he was there. Twenty yards away. And he walked back into the building. What if he didn’t forget anything? What if this is his way of avoiding me? God … what if he sent Gail out here to get rid of me so he didn’t have to face me?