No … no, no, no.
This can’t be me. The routine is Bodhi wakes his dad up, gets him to the bathroom, and dressed. Then Etta or I arrive just as Bodhi’s leaving. We take over, making breakfast and attending to his daily needs beyond that point. Everyone knows this. Barrett knew this. That’s why he chose nighttime, so Bodhi would be the one to find him in the morning.
“Henna? Are you still there? I’m sort of in a hurry. Can you help me out?”
There’s a good chance his dad is dead. Bodhi needs to take a personal day. Period.
“Uh …” I swallow hard, choking on this nightmare. “Yeah, just let him know I’m on my way.”
“I’m not going to wake him. Just get here as soon as you can.”
“Please, babe, can you just do this for me?”
Rubbing my forehead, I close my eyes. “I’m on my way.”
Bodhi’s pulling out of the drive by the time I get there. I force a smile when he rolls down his window. It’s never hurt this much to smile.
“You’re the best.” He grabs the strap to my bag and pulls me flush to Alice so he can crane his neck out the window to kiss me. He’s in such a good mood.
Pressing my hands to his cheeks, I kiss him. Will it be the last time he kisses me? I don’t know how, but he’ll find out. He’ll know I knew about this.
“God … I love you,” he whispers over my lips before releasing me.
I return a smile that hopefully conveys my love for him. My chest is too congested with fear and dread to find words.
“Bye.” He rolls up the window and pulls away from me.
Staring at the house for a few seconds, I will my legs to take me there.
I will never forget this day for the rest of my life. It’s a feeling I can’t quite explain, but I think it will change who I am.
The ramp boards creak as I walk up them to the front door. The front door whines on its hinges when I open it. And when I close it behind me, it’s dead silent.
Taking slow steps, I stop in the middle of the living room and stare at Barrett’s bedroom door. It’s cracked open a few inches. Threading my fingers through my hair, I draw in a shaky breath.
Maybe he didn’t do it. What if their trip down memory lane convinced him to fight this? Sometimes all it takes is finding something that makes the fight worth it. I ease into Barrett’s empty recliner, ghosting my fingertips over the worn black leather arms.
And I wait.
The mantel clock keeps me company for the next two hours.
I wait two hours for a cough. I wait two hours for the squeak of his bed frame. I wait two hours to find the strength to walk into that room.
My trembling hand presses to the faded-wood bedroom door. It’s warm compared to my cold fingers. Chills vibrate my whole body, like when I’m outside on a winter day and I can’t get warm. The ache in the back of my throat makes it hard to breathe. The need to know overrides my instinct to run, call Bodhi, and tell him his dad died.
Because … what if he’s not dead?
“Barrett?” His name catches in my throat, coming out as a stutter.
I step closer to the bed and gasp, turning quickly and pinching my eyes shut. My shoulders curl inward as my breathing becomes erratic. One hand goes to my stomach as a wave of nausea contracts my abs.
This picture of Barrett will never leave my mind—pale, jaw relaxed, eyes partially open, and completely lifeless.
Should I call 9-1-1? Is that what Bodhi would have done had he found Barrett this morning? CPR? I … I don’t know what to do. This wasn’t my job. I wasn’t supposed to be the one to find him like this. Folding at the waist, I rest my hands on my knees and try to even out my breathing.
“Think …” I whisper. “What do I do?”
I run to my bag and grab my phone. There’s this sudden sense of urgency, but I don’t know why. I drop the phone because I can’t stop shaking. Desperation pounds in my chest. No amount of preparation could have ever prepared me for this.
“Hey, sweetie,” Juni answers.
Raw emotion has an impenetrable immunity to one’s will. No matter how hard I will myself to keep it together, I can’t. My answer to her greeting is an uncontrolled sob as I collapse to my knees.
“Oh … Henna …”
My cries drown all the words. The man I love to the ends of the earth, to the end of time, lost his dad and he has no idea.
“I’m on my way. I’ll be there in a few hours. Where are you?”
“Bodhi’s house? How’s he doing? He needs you, Henna. I’ll be there soon—”
“H-h-he … doesn’t k-know …” I choke. “He left …” I hiccup. “He wanted m-me to be h-here when…” another hiccup “…Barrett woke up. But he’s …”
“Jesus, Henna. I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t k-know what to … to do.”
“Breathe, I need you to breathe first. Okay?”
I nod, trying to calm myself down.
“Are you there alone?”
“Did you call 9-1-1?”
“You. I c-called you.”
“Okay. Call 9-1-1. Then go get Bodhi. I’ll have John come get you. This isn’t something you tell him over the phone. He shouldn’t be driving after hearing this news. Understood? And I’m already in the car on the way to the airport. I’m going to call your dad and Zach.”
Bella. Duke. Etta.
“K.” I wipe my cheeks and my nose while disconnecting the call and dialing 9-1-1.
“9-1-1 operator. What is your emergency?”
The answer stays lodged in my throat for a few seconds. “I … I need to report a death.”
This dispatcher leads me through a series of questions as I grab my bag and head outside as John pulls into the driveway.
I press end and clutch my phone as John gets out of the vehicle. Without a word, he wraps his arms around me and kisses the top of my head. Every day thousands of people around the world die from cancer. That means every day thousands of families go through what I’m going through now, what Bodhi and Bella are about to experience. Cancer sucks ass. Just like helicopter crashes and falling down flights of marble stairs.
On the way to the school, I call Duke. Just what Etta needs to hear when she’s already under the weather.
“Want me to go inside with you?” John asks as he opens my door in front of the school.
I shake my head. “But thank you.”
At the entrance, I press the button by the security camera. “Yes?” The voice isn’t familiar. Must be someone new working in the office.
“I need to see Bodhi Malone.”
The door buzzes and unlocks. The next set of security doors are at the office. They buzz open as well.
“Do you have an appointment with Mr. Malone?” the new receptionist asks.
I shake my head slowly. Every word she says sounds slow and echoed. Maybe it’s because this isn’t real. Maybe I’m going to wake up from this nightmare.
“Henna?” Principal Rafferty walks around the corner that leads to her office.
My gaze shifts to her, face long and incapable of a smile or anything even close to it.
“How are you?” Gail acts as if we’re friends. We are not friends. I hate her.
“I need to see Bodhi.”
She frowns. “Henna. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
I swallow hard to suppress the anger that’s mixing with my grief. It’s a toxic combination. “I don’t care what you think. Never have. Never will. I just need to see Bodhi.” I’m not telling her why. I refuse to tell anyone else before I tell Bodhi. “It’s a family emergency.”
“Well, you’re not his family, so—”
I leave the office and try to open the set of doors to the main corridor of the school, but they’re locked. “Open the fucking door!”
“Henna. If you don’t leave now, I’ll have you escorted out of the building.”
I jerk on the doors. “BODHI!” Tears burn my eyes as Gail tells the secretary to call the school security guard.
My fists bang on the glass. “BODHI!”
The security guard runs down the hallway toward the doors I’m trying to open. His hand is on his holstered gun.
What the fuck?
“Miss, step back from the door,” he calls through the door before opening it.
My eyes stay focused on his hand as it flips the snap on his holster. Stepping back, breathless and shocked that I’m considered a threat worthy of a drawn weapon, I hold up my hands.
Keeping his hand readied, he opens the door.
I blink out more tears, silenced by how long it’s been since I’ve been here and how unwelcome I am here, even now. But more than that, I’m still forbidden to see Bodhi inside these walls.
“Ms. Lane needs to be escorted to her car.” Principal Rafferty steps between me and the school security guard.
“I love him,” I whisper. “And he loves me. So go fuck yourself. I wish it were you that died today, not his …”