Authors: Tabatha Vargo
I was excited to get out of the city and back home, but things were off. My dad seemed uncomfortable with Russell, and I knew it was because I hadn’t mentioned him in our conversations. I usually told my dad everything.
My mom, while still being her cheerful self, was acting strangely, as well. I knew she wasn’t a fan of big cities, and New York was one of the biggest, but it was something more than that. An underlying worry I couldn’t put my finger on.
But more than anything, it was Tyson’s silence. It cut me like a sharp blade, making me feel as though I was doing something wrong when I wasn’t. I’d offered Tyson everything—I’d told him my feelings and begged him to reveal his. It wasn’t my fault he refused.
What was I supposed to do?
Live my life chasing after a man who was too afraid to want me? A man too afraid to touch me—too afraid to be touched.
I couldn’t do that anymore. No matter how much his silence hurt me, I deserved to be happy. I knew that, and I knew Tyson knew it, too.
I KNEW PAIN
. I’d lived it until I was twelve years old and then in my nightmares every night since then. I’d been beaten and raped. I’d been burned and verbally abused. But none of it rocked me as hard as seeing Nicole kiss another man. None of it had killed me as badly as seeing her arms around him and the way he smiled down at her. It left me feeling sick in my core and hurt in a way I never thought I’d feel.
Her performance had been amazing. She was beautiful on stage in her element—her body stretching and bending with the music from the orchestra. I’d always loved to watch Nicole dance. The exhilaration on her face when she was dancing was contagious. The music and the calculated movements of her body were soothing. Watching her on stage made me glad that I’d gone to New York with the Palmers.
After Thanksgiving, I didn’t see Nicole again before she went back to school. I did, however, see a new picture she’d posted on her Facebook with her mom and dad. The nasty bruises on her cheek made me pop open a fresh bottle of beer. Knowing I was the culprit behind that bruise—that I’d marred her beautiful face—made me nauseous.
She probably thought I was a total dick for not coming to see her off to New York after Thanksgiving, but fuck it. I was staying away for her. She thought she knew what she wanted, but I knew what was best for her, and I wasn’t it. No matter how badly I wished I were good enough, I wasn’t.
Instead of dwelling on it, I worked my ass off, staying so busy I didn’t have time to think about anything else. When I got back to my lonely one-bedroom apartment, covered in motor oil, I’d shower, I’d drink, and I’d crash.
“Bro, what the fuck’s wrong with you?” Nate asked.
We worked side by side at the garage, plugging tires and changing oil. He was also co-owner of The Blind Tiger, the tattoo shop where I worked when I wasn’t slinging spark plugs at the garage.
I’d known Nate since my junior year of high school. There was a fight in a Burger King parking lot, and I was outnumbered by five dudes. Nate had stepped in and made sure I didn’t get my ass kicked too badly.
Afterward, he’d taken me back to The Blind Tiger, given me a beer, even though I was underage, and grinned at me with a bruised eye and a bloodied lip before we both burst into laughter. We’d been close friends ever since.
“Nothing, man, I’m good.”
It was a lie.
I wasn’t good.
I hadn’t been good since Nicole ran off to New York.
I knew it was what she wanted. I was aware of how amazing she danced and how far she’d go in the world. I didn’t belong in any part of her perfection, but that didn’t mean it didn’t suck not to see her every Sunday at dinner. It didn’t mean I didn’t miss her.
“You’re so full of shit.” He laughed.
The guys at the garage were my friends, and most of them were older, except Dennis, the owner’s seventeen-year-old son. And since I’d started working there when I was younger, we’d become a bit of a family. The boys had my back, and I had theirs.
I finished the day with a tattoo of an American flag and a bald eagle at the Tiger and went home to find Mr. Palmer waiting out front.
“Hey, bud, work hard today?” he asked, grabbing one of my bags and helping me carry it inside.
“It was a long one. What’s up?”
It wasn’t often that Mr. Palmer stopped by, but when he did, there was a damn good reason.
“Connie wanted me to come over and make sure you were up for New York.”
“What about New York?”
My apartment was clean and organized and even had some nice decorations in the living room area thanks to Mrs. Palmer. Not long after I’d moved in, they’d stopped by. When she saw I was sitting on a lawn chair and using a milk crate as a side table, she took matters into her own hands.
I came home the next day to find her polishing furniture she’d picked up at the Goodwill and a new-to-me couch and chair. There were pictures on my new entertainment center of the family, but the best part was the silver frame on the table next to my couch with a picture of Nicole and Brian.
She was smiling at the camera as if she was hiding a sweet secret from the world. Her blond hair blowing in the breeze and her blue eyes glowing—she was beautiful. Some nights, when I was feeling particularly lonely, I’d pretend I was the secret she was hiding from the world.
“Nicole has a big performance. We thought it would be nice if the whole family went together and made an adventure out of it.”
If I’d known then that the adventure meant seeing Nicole kiss another man, I would’ve said no to Mr. Palmer for the first time. But I hadn’t known, and I’d agreed to make my adopted family happy.
Flying to New York with the Palmers wasn’t exactly what I wanted to spend my weekend doing, but I supposed flying and family time were better than drinking my cares away. I’d already decided after the Thanksgiving drama with Nicole that I’d stay away from her.
I’d thought staying away would be easy, except for major holidays, but the family was making it damn near impossible. However, after the show, and once Nicole ripped my heart from my body, I knew I’d make it happen. I’d stay away if for no other reason than because every time I looked at her, all I saw was her sucking face with another guy.
I didn’t say much during our trip home from New York. There wasn’t much to say. I felt heartbroken, and like the wild animal I was, I wanted to attack the cause of that hurt. But breaking Nicole’s new ‘friend’ in two wasn’t going to fly with the Palmers. They weren’t much for violence. Instead, I stewed all through the entire trip and the flight home.
Once we were back in Charleston and I could get away, I made an excuse about working early the next morning and left as soon as possible. It worked since it was way late when we finally got home from the airport.
I left without saying goodbye to Nicole. Hell, I’d barely said two words to her or even looked at her the entire time. I couldn’t. It hurt too much.
She was mine—she’d always been mine—but she wasn’t. I’d made it so, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I stopped by a gas station on the way to my apartment and filled up my car. Then I drove home with the radio loud in hopes that the music would block out the sounds of my racing heart. It was like I could hear it breaking—feel it crumbling inside my chest. It wasn’t a great feeling.
Once I was inside my apartment, I crashed on my couch with my face in my hands. She was driving me crazy. For years, she’d been driving me insane, but seeing her with him—seeing his hands on her—I wasn’t taking it well.
I’d known this would happen at some point. I knew she’d date once she was in New York, and I wasn’t there to stop it from happening, but what I didn’t know was how badly I was going to react to it.
I was home only minutes before I went to my refrigerator and grabbed a beer. It was well after midnight, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to get any sleep without it.
I swallowed it down with the refrigerator door still open before grabbing another one and taking a seat back on my couch. I didn’t turn the TV on or listen to music. Instead, I sat there, drinking and replaying her lips on his over and over again until I felt like I was going to explode.
Two hours later, and a twelve pack down, a knock sounded on my door. It wasn’t often that I got visitors, especially in the middle of the night, but usually, it was one of the guys stopping by to hang out. I stood from the couch, the room spinning and letting me know I’d drank too much too fast, and I went to the door. Skipping the peephole completely, I threw the door open to find Nicole standing there staring back at me.
“We need to talk,” she said, before stepping around me and coming into my apartment.
I closed my eyes and breathed in the sweet smell of her perfume as she passed.
I was drinking.
I was drunk.
My control was already close to snapping after seeing her with another guy, so adding in alcohol and jealousy wasn’t going to help. Her being in my territory wasn’t going to end well or it was going to end great. Either way, I was going to be in hell.
ONCE WE WERE
home, and I settled my things in my room, I made myself a sandwich while the rest of the family crashed. Standing at the kitchen counter, I ate and stewed over the way Tyson had acted toward me. About an hour after Tyson left without saying goodbye, the real anger set in.
Who the hell did he think he was anyway?
He had no right to be mad at me. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was eighteen years old, and I’d dated maybe three times in my entire life. I deserved a friend—even if Russell thought we were more at the moment, which I would have to take care of after the holidays.
The main point was Tyson had chosen our situation. I’d thrown myself at him more times than I wanted to admit, and every time, he pushed me away. I wasn’t about to let him make me feel guilty for moving past him.
Making sure not to wake the entire family, I took Dad’s car and drove over to Tyson’s apartment. It was the middle of the night, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. Anger was fueling me, and that made me do irrational things. I drove by several times, and seeing the lights still on in his place, I finally got the nerve to park.
The leather of the steering wheel squeaked under my abusive grip. My nerves were getting the best of me, and I was starting to sweat even though it was cool outside. I hadn’t even turned on the heat in Dad’s car.
I had no idea what I was going to say once I was face to face with him, but I needed him to know he was the one in the wrong … not me. I needed him to know he was no longer in control of my dating life or anything else in my life. I had to let him go. I had to move on, and that’s kind of what I was doing with Russell.
He looked like shit when he opened the door, his wide shoulders taking up the doorway and a beer dangling from his fingers. I’d never seen Tyson drink before, not even at the few high school parties I’d gone to, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it very much. I especially didn’t like the way he looked at me once he opened the door. Like I was nothing—like I wasn’t good enough to be in his presence.
I pushed past him, sure that he would shut the door in my face if I didn’t, and my shoulder slammed into his. It was cold outside, but when my body crashed into his for that brief second, his warmth made my frigid fingers tingle.
He turned, watching me as I stepped across his living room and took a seat on his couch. Then he clenched his eyes shut and sighed, his fingers turning white as he gripped the door and closed it.
“We have nothing to talk about,” he said.
The chuckle that sprang from my lips was full of sarcasm. All the times we skirted the issue—for seven years, we’d worked up to that moment—and he wanted to act as if the heavy weight settled between us didn’t exist. He was a pretender, and I was sick to death of pretending with him.
“I disagree.” I stood and stripped my heavy coat from my shoulders. “You’re pissed off with me, and you don’t have the right to be. You’re the one who chose for things to be this way between us … not me.”
I moved closer to him as his dark eyes glittered in anger. Most people would be afraid of Tyson, but I wasn’t, and I never would be.
“What did you expect me to do, Tyson? Wait for you forever? Was I supposed to just sit around alone all the time while you went out and had sex with as many girls as you wanted?”
He shoulders stiffened, and his lips went tight. “Stop, Nicole.” He held his hand out, and it was then I noticed the slight slur to his words.
There was no telling how long he’d been drinking—no telling how many beers he’d choked down before I got to his apartment. Still, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from saying the things I needed to say.
“No. I’m not going to stop. You know, I saw you kiss a girl once. I saw you put your hands all over her and touch her in ways I’d always wanted you to touch me, but I never said anything. I never even mentioned it. And you know why I didn’t mention it?”
My voice was rising as anger simmered in my stomach. Still, he stood there staring back at me, his face turning red and his muscles so tight I thought they’d snap.
“Because you weren’t mine, Tyson. No matter how badly I wanted you to be, you were never mine. And I’m not yours. Apparently, I’ll never be yours.”
Those words triggered something in him, and suddenly, he moved. The beer bottle in his hand crashed to the floor seconds before he grabbed me by my arms and jerked me to him. The smell of beer and his cologne mixed, marking the moment in my memory.
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” he snapped, his teeth gnashing like a rabid dog.
His words were hot and harsh against my cheek, his fingers biting into my arms and making me hiss in pain. Noticing how roughly he was handling me, his fingers loosened and he clenched his eyes closed and took a deep breath.
“Have you slept with him? Has he … has he touched you?” His words were soft and broken—his eyes wide and hurt.
His questions shocked me.
Did he think I slept around?
Didn’t he know I was a virgin?
He made it next to impossible to date a guy when we were growing up, much less be alone with someone for more than thirty minutes.
When did I even have the time to sleep with someone?
Surely, he didn’t think I’d have sex with someone I’d only known a few weeks.
Then again, he was clueless to how long I’d known Russell. As far as he knew, I could’ve met Russell the day I started school.
“Don’t answer that.” He pulled away and shook his head. “I don’t want to know. It’s not my business.”
He ran his fingers through his hair roughly in aggravation before locking his hands behind his neck, giving me the perfect view of his beautiful tattooed biceps. The sleeves of his shirt slid up, showing more and more of the inked perfection—some of the artwork familiar from his old bedroom walls.
He dropped his arms when he realized I was checking him out, and I quickly turned away and cleared my throat. I’d always been crazy attracted to Tyson … always, and it seemed to be getting worse the older we got—the more I realized exactly what I wanted from him … from his body and mind.
He went into the kitchen and pulled open the refrigerator. Digging inside, he came up with another beer. It was then I remembered he was drinking. I was positive he’d had too much to drink by the way he was acting and the questions he was asking.
“Are you drunk?” I asked, making him pause with his beer almost to his lips.
Shaking his head, he chuckled, his sardonic smile splitting his handsome face. He moved back into the living room and closer to me.
“You are, aren’t you? That’s the only reason we’re even having this discussion right now.” I felt tears form again. “The only reason you’re even asking these kinds of things… because you’re drunk.”
He swallowed, his thick throat working up and down. “You should go.”
He wanted me to go?
Then I’d go.
I was no longer going to sit around and dwell on him the way I had been for years.
“Fine.” I turned away, snatched my coat from his couch, and started toward the door.
My fingers curled around the doorknob, and I pulled to open it, but before I could, his large, warm body pressed into me from behind, pushing my chest into the door and keeping it closed.
I melted against him. Feeling him so close to me was the thing dreams were made of. After longing for someone for years, something as simple as being close to him was almost enough.
The wooden door was cold against my forehead when I pressed against it. My hot breaths reflected off the wood, rushing back into my face and making my nose tingle.
His large hand moved over my side, gliding down my body before he wrapped it around my hip. Closing my eyes, I enjoyed the feel of him. The alcohol was making him respond to me, and I knew it was wrong to take advantage, but it felt so amazing.
In the back of my mind, I knew I needed to put a stop to everything he was doing. I needed to leave and wait it out until he wasn’t under the influence before we had this talk, but I couldn’t make myself move. The more his hand explored my body, the faster I melted beneath his touch.
His fingers brushed my hair over my shoulder, exposing the back of my neck to his breaths.
“There’s so much light around you,” he muttered, confusing me. “It’s so bright. Why’s it so fucking bright, Nicole?”
I shuddered, his breathy words making the back of my neck prickle.
The shiver that moved through me made my entire body shake.
“I don’t understand. What does that even mean?”
He was talking in riddles, and I was too lost in the feel of him against my body to decode his words. His hand slid from my hip to my waist, his fingers digging into my side and holding me so tightly I wanted to cry.
“There’s no light inside me, Nicole. There’s nothing.”
I tried to turn and face him, but he held me still, keeping me pinned between the door and his large body.
“That’s not true. There’s so much inside you. You’re …”
He stopped me when his lips skimmed my earlobe. “Shhhh. Don’t.”
Goose bumps covered every inch of my flesh, sending me reeling and making my body beg for him in ways it never had before. His whispered words against my skin were too much. It was sending me over the edge, and I felt myself losing control.
“Tyson.” I whispered his name as I leaned my head to the side and hoped his lips would touch me.
He didn’t disappoint.
He pressed his warm lips against the area beneath my ear, and my knees shook with weakness. An embarrassing squeak escaped my lips, and I shuddered once again.
“Don’t stop,” I whispered, afraid that if I spoke too loud, I’d ruin the moment.
Again, his lips brushed the skin beneath my ear. And then he moved his mouth to my ear and whispered, “Leave.” His words shocked me from my dreamlike haze. “Stay away from me, Nicole. Stay away from me, and I’ll stay away from you.”
And then he moved away from me, letting the cool air of his apartment take his place and chilling me to the bone. I closed my eyes, feeling the tiny fragments of my heart break even more, and I knew … I just knew I had to do what he asked.
I would leave his apartment, and I wouldn’t look back. I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. It was time I moved on. It was time I let Tyson go for good. No matter how badly it hurt.