Authors: Tabatha Vargo
I’D LOVED TYSON
Payne since the day he became a part of my family. His father, a friend of my dad’s from high school, had dropped dead from an overdose, leaving his twelve-year-old son with no one to care for him. My father was contacted as next of kin for some reason, and he and my mother gladly took Tyson in.
He came to our home with his head down, beaten and defeated by life. Dirt smudged his olive-toned skin, and his clothes were tattered and too small for his growing frame. His hair was dark as night and hung long over his face. He was scary, but when he looked up and his midnight eyes connected with mine, I saw so much more.
I saw what Tyson really was.
He was beautiful. The way a jagged icicle ready to fall and pierce your heart could be beautiful. He was tragic, with heartbreaking memories that hid behind his gaze and taunted my curious nature. To know everything about Tyson was my ultimate goal, but getting past his steel exterior proved to be fruitless.
And that was our life.
From the time he arrived when I was eleven, we grew up together; he took his place in our family without allowing himself to actually become a part of the family. He’d never said so, but he always thought of himself as the outsider. He took that role to heart—the outcast—brimming along the edges of our lives while living under the same roof and abiding by the same rules.
He never allowed my parents to do much of anything for him yet pushed to do everything he could for them. As if him being there wasn’t enough. Like he needed to prove he was worthy of my parents and their love.
He was the shadow of our family, always walking a few steps behind and darkening the halls of our modest home.
Coarse and quiet.
Hard and soft.
He was everything to me, and the more our minds and bodies matured, the more diverse he became—transforming from a scrawny boy into a large, beautiful man before my eyes.
A bad boy.
That was what the girls at Bennett High School called him, and I could see where they got the name since he was in the principal’s office at least twice a week for fighting. I’d been told a lot of his fighting had to do with me and defending my honor, but I was sure his issues with being touched also contributed.
It was strange.
At home, he was respectful and obedient—always kind and quiet—always willing to do whatever he needed to do to please my parents, but at school, he was wild and untamed—untouchable—uncontrollable and mean. He walked the hallways broody and angry—unwilling to take any drama from anyone—and people responded by giving him respect.
By the time we were sixteen, the girls adored him and his dark, exotic looks, and the guys wanted to be him. He kept his hair longer, his black eyes hidden just beneath his overgrown strands, and had a cocky secure grin the ladies loved. I hated to admit it to myself then, but I loved everything about him too.
Usually, I was immune to such things, but he called to me without even speaking. It was the danger that squatted beneath his olive skin and the mystery of his mind. His thoughts were his own, yet he never spoke them freely. It lent to an elusive quality about him. He was my enigma and the only thing I’d ever wanted for myself.
For seven years, I’d tried to get him to open up to me. I’d tried to know him in a way that I was sure no one else had ever known him, but he would leap away every time I got close to seeing his light, leaving me breathless at every turn and lost in the darkness he left behind.
One thing I
sure of was that things had happened to Tyson … bad things. I’d once overheard my parents talking about some of the stories the police had told them when they dropped him at our home. The words
“How could someone do something like that to such a sweet boy,” my mother had asked with tears in her voice.
“I don’t know, honey, but we’ll make it better. We’ll give him a better life,” my father had responded.
I’d sat on the bottom step just outside the living room when I was supposed to be asleep, and I’d silently cried for Tyson and all the secrets he held. I wanted to hug him—hold him to me and make it all better—but I knew it was an impossibility since Tyson refused to let people touch him.
My family learned about and adapted to his repulsion of being touched from the very beginning. My mother had once tried to hug him, and he freaked out. The older he got, the more he allowed touching, but only from my mom, and usually, it was as simple as a hand on his forearm that went along with a smile.
There was no doubt about it; Tyson had a dark past … one that made him black on the inside. He was a contrast to my family. The shadow to our light. A smudge to our clean exterior. An exotic statue of a boy sitting at our dinner table with his dark hair and black eyes. He clashed with our blue and blond genetics.
Even though he pulled away, only letting bits and pieces of himself free over the years, he always had his eyes on me. I could feel them penetrate my clothing and leave my young skin hot and flushed. Teaching me the ways of desire without even a single touch. But I never caught him staring. Whenever I’d look up at him, his eyes would be elsewhere, and his strange hold over me would be broken.
His dark eyes were a thing of dreams. They were so dark, in fact, that you could barely distinguish the iris from the pupil. His ebony hair remained untamed and unruly, falling across his perfect brow, tempting me to smooth it away. Begging me to lose my fingers in its silky strands.
But his mouth captured my attention the most. It was wide with a full set of plump lips that lived in a perpetual frown. I’d gone to bed many nights thinking what those lips against mine would feel like. And the first time I’d touched my young, untried body, I envisioned his mouth.
I was in love with him, and I knew he had to be aware of my emotions. We’d essentially grown up together; he joined my household at the median of my hormonal growth and ushered me to the peak of womanhood. But even though he was there, acting the part of my mother and father’s extra son, he was nothing like a brother to me.
I didn’t need another brotherly figure, and I certainly didn’t want the boy I longed for to take on that role. If he did, then my feelings would be wrong. My yearning for his body and mind would be frowned upon, and I’d live with a never-ending sickness in my stomach.
I wanted so much more from Tyson.
So much more.
And I got more, in the form of a protector. Once we arrived in high school and boys started taking an interest in me, Tyson stepped forward and took control of the situation. And after a few run-ins, no one even looked at me wrong, much less said anything. Everyone was afraid of Tyson and the threat in his eyes and stocky shoulders.
Everyone but me.
I could never be afraid because somehow, I always knew he would never hurt me. At least not physically. I was untouchable to him, and he made it clear to everyone who knew me that I was off-limits.
It thrilled me in a way, even if I barely dated growing up. Knowing that Tyson cared enough to protect me was enough to get me through for many years.
Until it wasn’t enough anymore.
I always wanted more.
“You’re not going,” Tyson muttered from my doorway, his thick arms crossed over his chest.
He hadn’t always been so large and muscular, but over the years, he’d made the gym his home. Tattoos hadn’t always littered his arms, but most of his friends were men long out of high school who worked at a local tattoo shop called The Blind Tiger.
I wasn’t surprised that he’d gravitate toward that crowd of people. Tyson loved art, and he’d always been fascinated with tattoos. His drawings and paintings littered the walls of his room.
Portraits of people I’d never seen and dirty landscapes. Jagged tattoo designs and words in unique fonts. There was even an occasional beautiful picture of something from nature. It was a mix of everything, all hand drawn or painted by him.
With the approval of my father, he picked up a tattoo gun at eighteen, and he hadn’t put it down since. It seemed like every time I saw him, he had new ink on his body. I secretly longed to see the ink that wasn’t visible, since I knew tattoos also decorated his chest and back.
I chuckled to myself before turning to face him. “I hate to tell you this, but I’m going, Ty. I’m almost packed and ready,” I said, motioning to my open suitcase.
Clothes spilled from the sides as I folded another shirt and shoved it on top.
The thought of leaving him was killing me, but Juilliard was the next step in my life. I’d known since my freshman year of high school that I’d end up in New York. My parents wanted me to follow in their footsteps and attend The College of Charleston, but I wanted to dance. Being accepted into Juilliard was a thing of dreams, and I couldn’t pass that up. Especially considering they only accepted twelve girls.
I hadn’t thought about how hard it was going to be to walk away from everything I knew—to walk away from Tyson—and leave him alone in Charleston with hordes of women climbing all over him.
Tyson had graduated the year before, but he hadn’t gone to college, even though my parents offered to pay for everything. My dad pushed for a prestigious art school in Atlanta, but Tyson gratefully refused. Instead, he’d gone to work before he even graduated high school, filling his days after school with motor oil and exhaust working on cars at a local garage.
A few of the guys he worked with at the garage also worked at a local tattoo parlor called The Blind Tiger, and once they got to know him, he became their apprentice of sorts. He learned his way around a tattoo gun while sweeping up their shop at night after slinging tires and changing out spark plugs after school. He’d come home exhausted, shower, and then crash. I rarely saw him once he started working, and I hated it.
The money was good at the garage, and it wasn’t long before he moved out of our house and into an apartment down the road from our neighborhood. Still, my parents had instilled enough respect in him over his six years living with us that he knew Sunday dinners were mandatory. And every time we sat down for our family dinner, he was across the table from me, touching me with his eyes and leaving me breathless.
Once he moved out, I spent the whole week anticipating that one meal. His leaving our home was hard on me, and somehow, Sunday became a day of relief. Seeing him made everything better, but going to school in New York meant no more family dinners.
No more innocent glances across the table over meatloaf and mashed potatoes. No more brushing by him in the kitchen while we cleaned the dinner dishes and catching the faint scent of his cologne mixed with motor oil. It sickened me to know how much I was going to miss a boy who didn’t seem all that concerned with seeing me much.
“It’s not safe, Nicole. Not for a girl like you.”
Tossing my favorite shorts into the piling suitcase, I turned with my hands on my hips.
“A girl like me? What exactly makes me so different from every other girl who leaves home and goes to college?” Anger rushed over my cheeks, heating them.
I usually didn’t mind his overprotective ways, but he was suddenly making me feel like a child—like I wasn’t just a year younger than he was. He was treating me as if I wasn’t old enough to live on my own—like I wasn’t strong enough to be on my own the way he was.
I didn’t want him looking at me like young Nikki, the little girl he grew up with. I wanted him to put me on his level because without him seeing me as the woman I was blooming into, I knew I’d never get the more I so desperately longed for from Tyson.
He sighed in aggravation and looked up at the ceiling. “You’re taking it the wrong way.”
“Am I? Then would you like to elaborate? Explain to me why it’s safe for every other eighteen-year-old to go off to college, but it’s not safe for me. Do you think I’m stupid, Tyson? Do you think I don’t know how to take care of myself?”
“Jesus,” he growled, running his long fingers through his hair the way he did when he was aggravated. “That’s not what I meant, Nicole. I just don’t understand why you had to pick a school so far away when there are plenty of good ones right here in Charleston.”