Bodhi Lawson kept his eyes averted as he strode through the Marseilles Airport. May in the French Riviera had turned beastly hot in a matter of days. This time last month, he’d still been wearing a wool cap and gloves on his walk to work. But this morning he’d closed the blinds tightly against the sun and left the fan in his small apartment screaming with the effort of circulating the air. Sleeping had become difficult, as had cooking. Today the air seemed to warp with the heat, and the pavement had shimmered under the tires of his Renault as he drove from Touciennes to the airport.
He scowled. The girl could’ve taken the train. He should’ve just told her he’d pick her up in Touciennes. Why he’d volunteered to drive all the way to Marseilles, especially on a sticky day like today, escaped him.
He checked his phone, then the arrival time of Flight 303 from New York City. Due in at nine, they’d hit some storms and been delayed almost two hours back in the States. Now her ETA read eleven-ten.
“Excuse me,” a young woman said behind him. She sounded American. Bodhi glanced over his shoulder, surprised to hear non-accented English, surprised enough that he forgot to raise his hand to shield his face the way he always did around strangers. Habit, by now. Part of his every waking hour. And yet somehow he’d forgotten.
The look on her face reminded him in a heartbeat. She dropped her eyes, then raised them again, as if to indicate she hadn’t seen his right cheek or been shocked by its appearance. “Thank you,” she added as she moved an inch or two away. She hadn’t asked him a question. He hadn’t answered one, or done her a favor, or given her a hand with anything. There wasn’t any reason for her to thank him, but she was being nice, the way people did when they tried to prove too hard they weren’t either horrified or macabrely fascinated by the way Bodhi looked.
He ducked his chin and checked his phone again. Ten-fifty. That gave him about a half-hour before the girl arrived. He ran one hand over his shaggy dark hair and ordered a double espresso from the closest coffee shop. Why did I agree to this?
He paced the concourse and sipped his espresso too fast. That answer was easy. Because Dad asked me to. The Lawsons were indebted to Heath Garrick, always had been, since the guy headed off a mortar attack thirty years ago somewhere in God’s forgotten, forsaken desert of war and saved Jackson’s life.
I’m alive today because of Heath, plain and simple. If his father had said it once, he’d said it a thousand times. Bodhi heard it in his dreams sometimes, and he wondered what it felt like to owe your life to someone else’s actions. To feel simultaneously that connected and that indebted to another person.
He stopped at a magazine kiosk and finished his espresso as he scanned the headlines. Would his kids, and Heath’s grandkids, be connected in the same way? Did karma go on eternally? Or was there some point where the score evened out?
He checked the time again. Babysitting a college student wasn’t really his idea of how to spend the summer. Okay, maybe he wasn’t babysitting, exactly, more like finding her an apartment and showing her around, but still. I don’t have a lot of free time, he’d said the first time his father emailed with the request.
Can’t imagine it’ll take a lot of time. You told me the other apartment was vacant.
Yes, he had. And besides, it always came back to the debt.
Heath could have asked Bodhi’s father for the moon, and they would have figured out a way to get it for him. He had to admit, helping the girl find a cheap place to live was a simple enough request. Fine. I’ll give her a ride back to town, show her the apartment building, make sure she has a train schedule, and that’ll be the end of it. Well, it might not be the literal end, because they’d be living within a few feet of each other for six long months, but with any luck, they’d be on different schedules and rarely cross paths.
He headed for the gate and nearly collided with a little boy darting through the airport. The boy slid to a stop just in front of Bodhi’s legs, wheeled his arms for balance, and was about to fall when Bodhi reached down and steadied him.
“There you go.” Then he added in French, just in case, “Voila.”
The boy stared at him with wide black eyes. A moment later, a woman with the same wide eyes hurried up to them, scolding the boy in French, but when she looked at Bodhi, the words died in her throat. His hand went to his cheek, but then her eyes lit on the back of his arm, and the same scarred, twisted flesh that covered his wrist all the way to his elbow. He usually wore long sleeves in public, but with this damn heat--
“Merci,” she whispered, then took the boy by one hand and led him away.
“You’re welcome,” Bodhi said, but they’d already disappeared around a corner. He pressed his arm into his side. Were the scars really so bad? After almost fifteen years, they’d faded considerably. He thought they had, anyway. But maybe that was just in his own mind.
He stuffed both hands into his pockets and waited for the terminal door to open. He wondered what she looked like. Her name is Chloe, his father had emailed last week. Long blonde hair and thin, I think. Not like either of them had ever seen the girl in person, though Bodhi seemed to recall Christmas cards sent the last couple of years, now that Heath had settled down with a woman in a small Connecticut town. He’d also seen a few pictures of his father with Heath back when they were both deployed, so he supposed he’d just look for a female version of Heath at twenty-one. Dark blue eyes and a square jaw. Possibly tall, unless Chloe had inherited her height from her mother.
Then she appeared almost directly in front of him, and every thought went straight out of Bodhi’s head.
Dark blue eyes, yes. Almost navy blue, if he was looking at them right. And long enough. And now it was too long, and still he couldn’t tear his eyes from hers, and she was smiling up at him from a face that was breathtakingly gorgeous and curious and young.
“Are you Bodhi Lawson?”
Comment: What’s your initial reaction to Bodhi? Are you interested, intrigued, turned off, want to know more? What could make him more compelling to you?