Home > A Place Without You

A Place Without You
Author: Jewel E. Ann

CHAPTER ONE

Don’t sweat it. Everything is temporary.

I stare at the words on my thoroughly dented metal water bottle as I wait for my dad in the crowded, three-star hotel lobby filled with music enthusiasts. This will be the most epic three days I’ve ever had with my dad, and we’ve had a lot.

“Where are you?” I answer my phone, picking at the frayed hem to my high-waisted cutoffs accompanying my red crop top and tons of beaded bracelets, necklaces, and dangly earrings.

“Sweetheart, I’m still at home. I think I ate some bad sushi last night, and since then I’ve been praying to the porcelain god. I’m afraid I can’t go. Can you still get back home? Has the plane left?”

“Wait. What? You’re not coming?” His home in Oceanside, California is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive to our hotel in Indio. He has to make it.

“Henna, I’m drenched from a cold sweat, painful stomach cramps have crippled me, and I’m not sure I can make it to the bathroom without shitting my pants, let alone spend hours in the car. I’m so incredibly sorry.”

“Oh, Dad … I’m sorry. That’s awful.” And gross. I drop down onto a chair that a gentleman vacated when his wife arrived with their key cards.

“Next year. I promise. No sushi.” He tries to laugh, but all I can hear is the physical strain and weakness in his voice. “I’ll fly you out in a week or two, and we’ll do something else before school ends. Then we’ll have two weeks on the beach together this summer.”

I nod to myself, biting on my gray painted thumbnail to channel my disappointment into something more sympathetic. “That’s fine. I’ll send you video and some photos.”

“Henna, you have to go back to Colorado. You can’t be at Coachella alone. It’s not safe for a young girl like you to be there without a chaperone.”

“Dad, I’m an adult. It’s a music festival. I’ll be fine.”

“You’re eighteen. That’s not really an adult.”

“I’ll be smart.”

“Still. The answer is no.”

“Mom sent …” I stop myself. General Mitchell Lane is not as free-spirited as the mother of his child. Something tells me that the stock of condoms my mom sent with me is not going to comfort him.

“Mom sent what? A bodyguard?”

“Not exactly.” I wrinkle my nose.

“Then get back on that plane and go home. Okay?”

I shake my head. It’s Coachella. The lineup is so sick. I could die just thinking about it. There’s no way in hell I am going back home before the weekend is over. “Okay. I’ll go home.”

In three days.

“Thank you, Henna. And again … I’m so sorry.”

“No apologies. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

*

There are two groups of people: those who love Coachella and those who have no clue what they are missing. I belong to the first group.

Me: You’re the coolest mom ever, right?

I grin, swiping out of my messenger screen to order a ride as I wait outside the hotel. Sushi-sick dad cancelled our reservation. Not cool.

Juni: Your dad just called me.

Juni … because my mom is too cool to be lumped into the “mom” group. So I call her Juni.

Me: Of course he did.

Juni: I’ll arrange your transportation home.

Narrowing my eyes, I frown at the screen.

Me: Such a waste of a dozen ready-to-use condoms that YOU sent with me. My first April as an adult—what happened to telling me to just “live?”

Juni: Yeah, yeah. I already made arrangements for you to stay with Lauren, unless you have friends there who have room for you. Now that your dad’s not there, I’m feeling more maternal anxiety and worry.

Me: I’ll figure something out.

Juni: BE SAFE!!!

Me: Will do. <3

Sliding into the backseat of the Prius, I hug my bag to my chest as the opposite door opens.

“Uh?” I slip out one of my earbuds, pausing my music, as I glance in the rearview mirror at the driver. “Did I get in the wrong car?”

“You clicked ride share,” the driver says.

“Oh. Okay.” I shrug and give the blond guy sliding in next to me a smile and an exaggerated once-over because he’s quite the snack.

Jeans and cowboy boots are an interesting choice for a day in the desert.

A few seconds later, he catches me assessing him and his hair again—buzzed close to his head on the sides and longer on the top. Did he forget his cowboy hat? That’s the real unsolved mystery in my head.

His lips move. I stare at them for a few breaths before I realize he’s talking. My hand tugs out my earbud again.

“Sorry. Did you say something?”

“What are you listening to?” he asks in a voice as smooth as his Mediterranean eyes.

“That’s kind of a personal question. Like asking my underwear color.”

He grins. It’s all kinds of wicked. “Personal?” He shrugs. “I don’t know about that. Depends on the song … and the color.”

“Amy Shark, ‘Adore.’ And red and silver polka dots.”

“Mmm …” He nods slowly. “Good choice.”

“The song?” I bite the corner of my lower lip to control my grin.

“The underwear.”

My heart wakes up as if to say, “Whoa, is something going on here I should know about?”

“Wanna see mine?”

My eyebrows lift a fraction. “Your underwear?”

He digs his phone out of his front pocket. “Do I look like a perv? My song.”

Damn. He’s good. My tummy joins in on the little dance happening inside of me.

Twisting his wrist, he shows me his phone screen.

“Apocalyptica, ‘Nothing Else Matters.’ Hmm … that’s unexpected.” I let my gaze fall into his, a dangerous place to be. “You going to Coachella?”

He nods several times, glancing over the seats to the road before us. “I’m working there.”

“Oh, cool. Doing what?”

He inspects my hair. I’d planned on changing clothes and doing something a bit more original with my crazy, dark auburn hair than a messy braid over one shoulder, but sushi dad took away my hotel room. Sexy stranger grins like either my question or my messy hair pleases him. “I’m an in-house tech—audio, lighting, video.”

Dear God, he’s the full package, especially when that grin of his grows as I continue to violate him with my eyes. Maybe it’s just the lollipop I had on my way to the hotel. Everything seems aesthetically pleasing when I’m a little high.

“So, I’ll know who to blame if the sound is a bit off while one of my favorite bands performs.”

“You’ll know who to thank when it isn’t.” He leans toward the middle of the backseat. I follow his lead because I’m curious if he smells as good as he looks. “But I get this feeling that in your state, everything will sound good.”

Ignoring his whispered accusation that I’m high, I sniff. “You smell like lemon.”

He sticks his tongue out, revealing a half-melted lemon drop.

I grin as we sit straight again. “Last year my mom brought back lemon drops from the Limoncello factory in Sorrento. They were amazing.”

Sucking more intensely on his sour goodness, he nods slowly. “I’m sure they were. Sadly, I don’t think my lemon drop was made in Italy.”

“That is incredibly sad.”

He chuckles. Is he laughing at me?

“Nice tats.” He nods to my arms.

Holding them out, I admire my art. “They’re henna, like me.”

“Like you?”

“Yes. My name is Henna. And these will be much more intense tomorrow.”

“Like you?” His teeth scrape along his bottom lip. It’s ridiculously sexy.

“Are you flirting with me?”

He chuckles. “We met less than five minutes ago. I have a little more tact than that.”

“Tact? Like asking the color of my underwear?”

He runs his hands over the legs of his jeans. Is he sweating? Am I making him sweat? That possibility gives me a whole other kind of high.

“I didn’t ask. You freely offered that information. Besides, I have rules about flirting.”

“Well, I despise rules, but you must share your rules anyway.”

“Never flirt with someone who is not sober.” He stares out his window like his rule is the end of our friendly conversation.

“Sober? Dude, this is as sober as I get.” Leaning forward, I shove down the waist of my shorts in back, exposing a long L-shaped scar.

He glances over, forehead wrinkled.

“If I sit too long or stand too long or do anything too long, life kinda sucks. But a little high can go a long way with making said life a lot less sucky.”

Sitting back, I exhale. Sexy stranger seems at a loss for words.

“Tell me, tech guy, do you have a name?”

The driver stops at the crowded entrance.

“Thank you,” we say while getting out of the car.

Digging out my Coachella bracelet and All-Access Pass, I slip on my backpack and make several failed attempts to put the bracelet on my wrist amongst the other gazillion bracelets on my arms.

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