Tied (All Torn Up #2) - Page 26
Slowly, he nods. “I hear ya.”
He lights up another cigarette, and I have to fight myself to not ask him why he smokes so much and tell him how unhealthy it is. It’s possible he fell asleep while smoking…maybe lit his bed on fire and woke up in a fiery inferno. I shudder.
“Why you keep coming back here?” he suddenly asks, and I get the feeling it’s been on his mind.
Because you’re my prince. You just don’t know it yet.
There’s no annoyance or accusation in his voice, but embarrassment still flushes my cheeks. “I miss Poppy. He was all I had for years. Just me and him.” We both look over at Poppy, lying in the sunlight next to the fox, who’s lying on his back, looking at us upside down.
“I really don’t have anywhere else to go,” I admit. “I don’t have any friends, well, except for my roommate.” I pause under the intensity of his stare. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, like I missed that part in life where you decide what you’re going to do.” I pull my sweater sleeves farther down over my palms. “I meant what I said, as crazy as it might sound. I like it here in the woods. With you. I like hearing you talk. When you do. And I wanted to see if you would smile.”
He exhales and flicks ashes onto the ground. “You always so honest?”
I shrug awkwardly. “Yeah. I try to be.”
“It’s good,” he says, staring at the ground, his voice a bit raspier. “Don’t change it.”
He turns and goes back into his workshop, and I follow hesitantly, not sure if I’ve been dismissed or invited. “Like I said, I’m pretty sure I’m moving to New York with my brother in a few months, and I’d like to take Poppy with me. Until then…I thought maybe I could come here to see him,” I repeat, since I never got an answer the first time I asked. “I won’t get in your way, I promise.”
He places some metal into a vise on his workbench and turns it, not looking at me. I realize I sound desperate, and I hate it. I don’t want him to feel sorry for me.
“I could maybe help you with whatever it is you do?” I offer, trying to sound hopeful.
I notice his lip curve up slightly at that, like it’s an absurd idea that I could help.
“Or maybe we could just be friends?”
He looks up at me, his expression blank. “Friends?” The word comes out a little softer, less hoarse.
I can see him thinking about it and it spurs me on. “Yeah…we can be the kind of friends that don’t have to talk a lot, or even see each other every day, but we always just kinda know we’re not alone.”
He pins me with his bright eyes, then blinks and shakes his head. “We are alone,” he says, hurling his hammer into his toolbox, where it lands with a loud clang of metal.
“But we wouldn’t have to be…” I add, losing some of my earlier bravado, “if we had each other to talk to…”
His hooded eyes close for a moment, and he lets out an irritated huff of breath before he looks at me. “Let me think about it.”
I swallow nervously. “Okay.”
Resuming his stance of ignoring me, he goes back to his work, and since I have no idea if he expects me to leave, I plop my backpack down on the floor and settle next to it. Poppy and the fox immediately come over to me and take turns rolling over for belly rubs and trying to squeeze onto my lap. Tyler seems agitated by my offer of friendship and slips back into mute mode, only nodding or shrugging as I throw occasional questions and commentary at him from my spot on the floor. I try to remain smiling and hopeful but, on the inside, sadness is brewing. Earlier, I thought we were making progress as friends. But now I feel like we’ve taken a big step backward.
The more interaction I have with people, the more confused I get. I wonder if I am just as confusing to others. Perhaps it’s a human epidemic of sorts, to keep us all in a state of what-the-heck-is-going-on-ness.
When I see the sun is fading outside, I stand and announce that I should probably get going.
“Fine,” he replies reluctantly. “Come back tomorrow. I wasn’t ready for friends today.”
My heartbeat speeds up. “Really? I can come back?” I ask excitedly.
“At noon,” he grumbles.
“Okay. Noon is good.” I wait for him to look up from something he’s soldering, but he doesn’t. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I say my goodbyes to Poppy and the fox, pick up my backpack, and slowly leave, closing the door to the garage behind me so the pets can’t chase after me. As I walk back to the road, I’m so lost in my thoughts about Tyler and his odd mood swings that it takes me a few seconds to process the fact that my driver is gone.
My head snaps to the left, then to the right, my eyes searching the desolate road, hoping the car will appear. The minutes tick by as I stand at the side of the road waiting. The sky grows darker. The air turns colder. The ache in the pit of my stomach deepens. She’s obviously not coming back.
Gripping the strap of my backpack tighter, I come to the conclusion I have two options. I can turn around and go back to Tyler’s house, or I can walk home. Glancing behind me, toward his house, I recall how he didn’t even say goodbye to me. Instead, he seemed relieved I was leaving. If I show up unexpectedly again, he will probably be even more annoyed. The drive here isn’t very long, so walking can’t take too much longer. I’m sure I can make it back to Merryfield before dark.
Pleased with my decision, I begin walking, crossing my arms over my chest against the freezing wind and wishing I had worn a warmer jacket. Not long ago I didn’t have any jacket or sweater to wear, and I shivered almost nonstop all winter long for years. A short walk home in the cold should be easy for me if I refocus my mind like I used to.
As I walk, the sun disappears completely, and the sky becomes darker and darker, and I haven’t even reached the town yet, proving that my ability to judge time and distance are still incredibly skewed. I honestly don’t have a clue how far away I am from Merryfield, or Tyler’s house, or the small town. There are very few streetlights and houses on this road, and they’re quite a distance apart, and that’s not easing my worries. I refocus that fear to anger, which is an easier emotion for me to deal with.
Why couldn’t my parents let me have a cell phone?
Why couldn’t my parents be open to the idea of me driving and having a car?
Instead, I’m now walking around in the dark, with no idea how far away I am from my own apartment, with no way to call for a ride.
I always seem to be finding myself trapped and alone in some way or another, and I can’t help wondering if it’s part of my destiny or some cruel stroke of recurring bad luck that’s going to plague me for my entire life.
The sound of an engine approaching from behind me fills the silence, and headlights illuminate the road. I’m not sure if I should hide in the trees on the side of the road or try to get their attention and ask for a ride. Can I trust a random stranger to drive me home?
No. It could be another bad man.
Tucking my head down, I continue to walk, but as the engine gets closer, I realize it’s a motorcycle and not a car. It passes me with a loud rumble then pulls over to the side of the road a few feet ahead of me. I stop walking when the engine turns off and the red brake light goes with it. The rider kicks the kickstand down and swings his leg over the bike. Even though he’s nothing but a large shadowy figure in the dark, I know it’s Tyler Grace. I can feel his vibe. He walks toward me, the metal buckles on his boots making a faint clink with each step.
“I keep finding women,” he muses, stopping about two feet in front of me, close enough for me to see he’s wearing the half-skull mask that I saw him wearing that day at the traffic light. “What do you think that means?”
“I’m not sure,” I reply, wondering who else he’s found and why he wears the scary masks when he rides.
“Well, at least you didn’t run.”
“Why would I run from you?”
His eyes stay on mine as he pulls the mask off then removes his leather jacket. “You blind? Can’t see my fucked-up face? Or the psycho mask? Take your pick.”
His words both shock and hurt me. Obviously, he’s much bolder with his thoughts in the dark.
He thrusts the jacket toward me. “Put this on.”
“’Cuz you’ll freeze your ass off on the bike.”
I squeak at the mere idea of getting on the back of that motorcycle with him, being forced to be so close to him, to have to put my hands on him to keep from falling off. Oh my God. I think I’d rather keep walking.
He steps closer, and I’m still so lost in the anxiety of either getting on the bike with him or walking for who knows how long that I let him take my backpack out of my hand, and I slip my arms through the sleeves of his jacket. It easily fits over my own, the sleeves hanging inches past my fingertips. Warmth, tobacco, and cedar linger in the worn leather, encapsulating me in his raw masculinity as if I’ve stepped inside him. Slowly, he drags the front zipper up, sending comforting warmth through my veins. His fingers shake —maybe from the cold —and linger at the pulse of my throat, at the end of the zipper trail. I feel like a little girl again—safe, protected, taken care of.