Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  “Oh, I did hear about that,” Mom says, and her voice has that bittersweet tone to it, which I’m sure Dad is picking up on. She pinches her lower lip with her free hand and adds, “Sacramento, isn’t it? How lovely. Eden’s dreading it, so just know that you’re forcing her to do this against her will, and I swear to God, Dave, if you make this weekend hell for her then I will drive up there myself and bring her home.”

  “Oh, just stop it.” He narrows his eyes at her with such rebuke that I can’t wrap my head around the fact that, once upon a time, they were meant to be in love. “The last thing I want to do is take this trip. It’s all Ella’s doing.”

  “Clearly,” Mom remarks dryly. “It’d be unlike you to plan some quality time with your family.”

  “For God’s sake, Karen.”

  I don’t want to see Mom’s temper flare up, so I quickly slide into Dad’s view before they erupt into an unnecessary argument. He spots me within a heartbeat and his glare only sharpens further.

  “What are you standing right there for?” he asks, but, of course, his tone is far from pleasant. As usual, it’s gruff and strident and laced with resentment. “Get in the car.”

  Mom’s quick to defend me: As soon as the words have left his lips, she’s already raising her voice and saying, “Stop talking to her like that.”

  “It’s fine, Mom,” I say, although I know it’s not, and I quickly rush over to draw her into a hug before she can start tossing death threats at him.

  With one hand still holding back Gucci, she wraps one arm around me and whispers, “He’s such an asshole,” into my ear. When I pull away, I smile at her in agreement.

  “Hurry up,” Dad mutters, and my smile quickly falters as I wheel my suitcase outside, purposely elbowing him out of the way and avoiding eye contact. I hate him.

  “Eden,” Mom calls after me. “Remember I’m just a call away.”

  I look back over my shoulder at her, nod, and then continue to the car. The engine is still running and Ella’s peering at me through the window of the passenger door, offering me a small wave. I sigh, but thankfully, she can’t hear it. Mom and Dad are exchanging some final words of loathing back at the front door, so I open up the trunk and quite literally have to ram my suitcase inside, spending a good minute rearranging everyone else’s in order for mine to fit. I slam the trunk shut and slide into the backseat with my backpack.

  “Hi, Eden,” Ella says, angling her body around to look at me over the back of the passenger seat. “Ready to go?”

  “No,” I say, blunt as ever, and then I glance to my left as I pull on my seatbelt.

  Chase is in the middle seat next to me, playing on his phone and with a set of headphones over his ears. He looks up and smiles at me only briefly, and then returns to the app that he seems to be invested in. I lean forward to look past him and see that Jamie has his arms folded tightly over his chest, his head turned to the window and his earphones in. I take a deep breath and sit back, pulling a hair tie off my wrist and quickly stacking my hair haphazardly into a small messy bun, out of my face. It’s a long drive to Sacramento.

  Dad finally returns to the car, aggressively pulling the door shut behind him as he mutters something under his breath. It’s most likely something about Mom, an insult that would probably shatter her if she’d heard. He and Ella exchange a look, communicating through only their eyes, and then Dad adjusts his seat and pulls away from the house. I cast a glance out the window, ready to throw Mom a final goodbye wave, but the front door is already closed.

  And as Dad starts to drive, it only occurs to me then that something is missing. The car is full and we’re one family member short, and the thought of him managing to get out of this lame-ass trip is enough to make me mad. If I have to suffer through this, then so should he. “So,” I say, breaking the silence, “where’s Tyler?”

  “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Dad mutters back, but I feel as though he didn’t intend for me to hear it. So I pretend that I haven’t, and instead I keep my eyes trained on the back of Ella’s head through the gap in the headrest in front of me.

  “He’s driving up on his own,” she says, and then turns on the radio and says nothing more.

  And that’s enough family communication for me for one day. I fumble around inside my backpack for my earphones, placing them in my ears and then pulling the hood of my hoodie up over my head. As I slump down in the seat, I tighten the drawstrings and turn to look out the window, turning up the volume of my music as loud as it can possibly go. It seems that the three of us stuck in the backseat prefer it when we’re all blocking each other out. That way none of us have to say anything, and that’s great, because none of us want to.

  8

  I’ve never been to Sacramento. I mean, sure, I’ve been around LA and I’ve been to San Francisco, but I have never visited the state capital until now.

  It’s just after 6:30PM when we finally arrive, and my legs are numb and my back is stiff. By the time Dad finally pulls up at the lavish hotel Ella has booked for us, I couldn’t be more desperate to get out of the car. It’s been a long drive, and a dreadfully uncomfortable one at that.

  For the entire weekend we’re staying at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento, directly opposite the California State Capitol, as Ella informs us all, yet I can’t even see the damn landmark because it’s surrounded by so many trees. Once Dad has cut the engine and handed over the keys to the valet parking attendant just outside the main entrance to the hotel lobby, we all lethargically climb out of the car. To the attendant, we must appear to be the most sullen family to ever exist.

  The early evening sun is still pretty hot, so I pull down my hood and fan my face while hauling my suitcase out of the trunk, accidentally pulling Jamie’s with it. His tumbles to the ground and, of course, he’s far from pleased, which earns me another of his infamous glares I’ve grown used to ignoring. I’m getting pretty good at ignoring things these days.

  “Do you think this is gonna work?” Chase’s voice comes from behind me as I’m trailing along behind Dad, Ella and Jamie toward the entrance.

  I slow down, drawing my suitcase to a stop and glancing over my shoulder to look at him. He jogs to catch up. “Do I think what is going to work?”

  “This,” he says, and then nods to the hotel, and then to everyone else, and then to the streets around us. “Do you think it’s going to stop everyone fighting?”

  “I don’t know,” I admit. Honestly, I doubt that all six of us being forced to spend time together will make a difference when it comes to changing our perspectives. I strongly believe we’re past the point of no return. “But I guess we’ll find out.”

  We head into the main lobby, all of us appearing surly apart from Ella, and she deserves some credit for somehow maintaining a positive outlook despite how glum the rest of us have been during the entire drive up here. She and Dad head over to check-in, while the rest of us hang back, sprawled out along the plush couches decorating the huge lobby.

  “I hope Tyler runs out of gas,” Jamie mutters. He’s kicking at his suitcase, that same old scowl upon his face. “To be honest, I doubt that he’ll even show up.”

  “Why wouldn’t he?” Chase asks.

  “The better question is: Why would he?”

  And I get Jamie’s point. If I were Tyler, I wouldn’t show up either. I’d keep on driving. Who knows? Maybe that’s exactly what he’s doing. Maybe he’s heading straight for Portland and I’ll never, ever see him again.

  For some odd reason, my stomach tightens.

  “Eden,” Ella says as she approaches us, “you’re with me.” She holds up a key card while Dad rolls up behind her with their huge suitcase. “Jamie, you’re with Dave. Chase, you’ll be with Tyler.”

  “Sweet,” Chase says. He pushes himself up off the couch just as the bellhop arrives to take our luggage.

  I’m still finding this entire experience foreign. We have never done this before. I have never sat through a six-hour drive with
my dad. I have never shared a hotel room with my stepmom before. I have never sat in a hotel lobby alongside my stepbrothers. And the more I think about it, the more surprised I am that we haven’t ever been on vacation together. We have been a family for three years. Or at least we have tried to be.

  We make for the elevators and head for our rooms, all three of them next door to one another on the seventh floor, facing the Capitol building. We’ve all agreed to take a good half-hour to ourselves to settle in before we go out for dinner, and although we’re all pretty hungry, we’re twice as tired. Traveling has done that to us, and it’s only just turned seven.

  The room Ella and I are sharing is huge, with two large double beds, and I make straight for the one nearest the window, sitting myself down on the edge of the soft mattress to claim it as mine. I cast a glance out of the window and I see those trees again and the tip of the white Capitol building. It’s not that exciting, so I look away, to find Ella watching me from the other side of the room.

  “I know you’re mad,” she says after a minute. Slowly, she moves across the carpet and sits down on a corner of the other bed, her eyes still locked on mine. “But I didn’t have a choice, Eden. We’re falling to pieces here.”

  I can’t hold her gaze, because she’s right. I am mad, and I even feel guilty about it, so I look down at my feet. “I’m not mad about this.”

  “Oh.” A moment of silence, except for the faint sound of traffic outside and a TV playing in the room next door. “Then what are you mad about?”

  I shrug at first. I don’t want to tell her, because I don’t want to talk to her about it. But then she says my name firmly, and my attention is forced back to her. I swallow and then I say it. “I’m mad about Tyler.”

  “I understand,” she says softly, crossing one leg over the other and offering me a sympathetic smile, as though she’s a goddamn therapist.

  I narrow my gaze and stand. How can she possibly understand? “No, you don’t,” I argue sharply, and I believe it’s the first time I’ve ever used such an aggressive tone with her. And once I start, I simply can’t stop. “Because if you did, you wouldn’t have thrown him at me the way you did. You know I didn’t want to see him. Didn’t I make that clear enough?”

  “I’m sorry,” she says, but she’s blinking up at me with wide eyes, as though she’s surprised, either because of the words I’m saying or the tone I’m using. I don’t know which. “He was dying to see you.”

  “You know, that’s what I don’t get,” I admit, shaking my head. “Why did you go out of your way to bring the two of us together? Are you crazy? Did you forget what went on last summer? Did you forget about him and me?”

  “Eden . . .” She goes quiet.

  Yet I’m doing that thing again, that thing where I can’t stop yelling and my temper won’t stop flaring up and I just want to scream. “I’m mad at everything. I’m mad at him for walking out. I’m mad at him for completely cutting me off. I’m mad at him for going to Portland. I’m mad at him for turning up again as though nothing has happened and everything is fine.” And suddenly I’ve reached the point of fury that crosses the line from hot anger to pained anger, and now I’m crying yet hardly even realizing it at first. My eyes are burning and Ella is turning blurry in front of me and yet I’m still going on and on. “I’m mad at him for being half the reason this family is so messed up, yet I’m the one who’s getting all the blame. I’m mad at him for being the reason I keep arguing with everyone around me. I’m mad at him for being the reason Dad hates me. And I know this sounds awful, but I’m mad at him for existing and I’m mad at you and Dad for ever meeting and I’m mad at myself for ever agreeing to come and stay with you guys that summer.”

  “Oh, Eden,” I hear her murmur gently, both her voice and her touch tender and warm as she gets to her feet and pulls me into her arms.

  I’m shaking hard and I’m sobbing uncontrollably and I feel pathetic for getting so worked up again. I’m nineteen, yet I’m crying against my stepmom’s shoulder because of her son, and it’s awkward and embarrassing and it shouldn’t be happening, but it’s too late now.

  “Listen,” she says by my ear as she rubs soft circles on my back, which makes me feel around ten years old, but it’s comforting and I couldn’t care less, “your father doesn’t hate you, so please don’t think that.”

  “He does.” I force out the words through my blubbering, taking a short step back from Ella and looking at her with tears streaming down my cheeks. “And he can’t stand me.”

  “That’s not true. It’s just . . .” Her words trail off as she thinks about the right thing to say, and her hands are now on my arms. “It’s just difficult. We both know he’s never been Tyler’s biggest fan, and when you pair Tyler with you . . . It’s just that . . . Well, your dad doesn’t like it.”

  “But there’s nothing even going on between us anymore and yet he still won’t let it go,” I sniff. Reaching up, I dab at my eyes with my thumb. I don’t even have to look in the mirror to know that I’m a mess right now.

  “There’s nothing going on?” Ella echoes, raising an eyebrow. “Does Tyler know that?”

  “I straightened everything out between us yesterday.”

  Just as she’s parting her lips to say something, her phone starts to ring. I recognize her generic ringtone immediately as it blares from inside her purse, and she lets go of me and fumbles around for the device for a few seconds before answering. She says hi. And then she says she’ll be right down.

  “He’s here,” she tells me once she’s hung up, stating the obvious. “Dry your eyes and freshen up, okay? We’ll go for dinner and we’ll all talk. I’ll be back in five.”

  The second she’s gone, I sit back down on my bed, and I breathe. No more tears, no more anger, no more anything. My eyes rest on the carpet and my body is still, and the only thought running through my mind right now is that I’m tired of feeling this way. I’m tired of feeling guilty and tired of feeling hurt and tired of feeling alone. I am just so tired.

  When Ella returns to our room, fifteen minutes later rather than five, we don’t talk. I might have recovered and calmed down, but there’s a sense of discomfort between us, most likely because I broke down over her son right in front of her. We brush past each other and make minor eye contact, but that’s all. I have changed my clothes and applied some blush to give myself some color, and now we are leaving our room in silence to meet up with everyone else.

  But none of them are waiting out in the hallway like they are supposed to be, so Ella starts knocking on their doors, telling them to “c’mon” and “hurry up”. At almost the exact same time, both doors swing open and our four male counterparts join us in the hall. But I’m only looking at one of them, and that’s Tyler.

  I haven’t seen him since last night, when I left Dad’s house and walked all the way home. I’m not sure how he’s feeling about all of this, because he looks pretty nonchalant, especially when he notices my gaze lingering on him. I don’t look away, and as Ella and Dad exchange suggestions about where we should head for dinner, we all start to make our way down the hallway toward the elevators. Tyler ends up trailing at the back by my side, and although there’s a safe distance of several inches between us, I find myself wishing there wasn’t. It’s a strange feeling, and I feel so drawn to him because he’s so familiar to me that I end up having to say something to him. I can’t bring myself not to.

  “How was the drive?”

  He looks sideways at me as we walk, and he seems a little taken aback at first. It seems he wasn’t expecting me to talk to him, and especially not so casually. But he’s still my stepbrother at the end of the day, so I have to treat him that way. “It was alright,” he says.

  “Count yourself lucky you weren’t stuck with the rest of us,” I tell him. Out of the corner of my eye, I’m checking that Dad hasn’t noticed us talking, and so I’m keeping my voice low. Talking to Tyler in front of Dad, no matter how innocently, will always be something
that he won’t like.

  “You could have driven up with me,” Tyler says, but then immediately he bites down on his lower lip and adds, “Sorry. Forget I said that.”

  We stop talking once we’re shuffling into the elevator, and Dad eyeballs me suspiciously the entire way down to the lobby. He makes me feel forever guilty, even though I’m not doing anything wrong. He frowns and glances away once the doors ping open. We actually end up making for Dawson’s, the hotel’s own steakhouse, and Tyler sighs but doesn’t comment on it. It seems he’s still maintaining his vegetarian lifestyle.

  Despite turning up without a reservation at 7:30PM on a Friday, the restaurant manages to squeeze us in at a table over by the back corner. I can tell without even picking up the menu that the prices will be extortionate. There’s a very sophisticated feel to the place and it’s extremely formal, which makes me feel underdressed despite having already changed my outfit. It’s dark but cozy, and the six of us get comfortable, musing as we scour the menu and then appearing totally normal as we all order.

  But then the silence comes again.

  Dad taps the table with his fingertips. Jamie starts twisting his knife around his hands. Chase pulls out his phone and discreetly uses it beneath the table. Tyler’s sitting opposite me, so it’s easy to see the way he’s looking at his hands in his lap, interlocking his fingers over and over. Ella and I are the only two glancing around at everyone, and she shakes her head at me, as though to say, Can you believe this? I can believe it, so I just shrug.

  “Put the phone away,” she orders Chase, and just by the sound of her voice, firm and stern, we can all tell she’s got something to say. One by one, we all look up at her and we wait, just like we did yesterday. “Let’s talk,” she says.

  It feels like she’s about to break up with us all, because I get that sick feeling in my gut that only comes with hearing those words. Jamie groans and places his knife back down, dramatically leaning back in his chair and folding his arms across his chest.

 
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