Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame

  That’s when Chase turns to Tyler and asks, “Why didn’t he shake your hand?”

  I don’t think Tyler even knows himself, because he looks at me as though I’ll be able to offer an explanation for my dad’s behavior, which I can’t. I shrug and sink down further into my chair, so all Tyler can say is, “It’s complicated.”

  “Not really,” Jamie says. His expression is blank, and he leans forward and crosses his arms on the table, his eyes trained on Tyler. “Dave doesn’t like you. He never has and he never will. It’s as simple as that.” He’s not saying this to be cruel. He’s saying this because it’s the truth, and we all know it.

  Except maybe Chase, because he raises his eyebrows and asks, “But why?”

  “It’s complicated,” Tyler says again.

  This time, Jamie doesn’t try to explain it. Chase has always been kept in the dark about the truth surrounding Tyler’s life. He doesn’t know the truth about their dad. He doesn’t know about Tyler’s drug-taking. He doesn’t know the real reason Tyler was in New York—Ella told him that Tyler was there as an events promoter, and he didn’t question it. Sometimes I feel sorry for him, but most of the time I’m glad he doesn’t know.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Dad and Ella. They’re walking back toward the door, past the large windows, but they’re not talking and they’re not in line with one another. Dad is trailing behind and, of course, he’s scowling. Ella doesn’t look too happy either, but Dad waits out on the sidewalk as she makes her way back inside the café.

  And the second she pushes open the door, a wide smile immediately spreads across her face. It’s so forced that I think it might just be hurting her. But she maintains it nonetheless, beaming down at the four of us as she approaches, creating the illusion that everything is fine, she and Dad are fine, we’re all fine.

  “Let’s go see the Capitol,” she says, and we all rise from the table without hesitation.

  * * *

  By the time we’re making our way to our rooms at 10PM, I have never felt so glad to be back at the hotel. It’s been a long day, full of tangible tension between Dad and Ella, boring museums, malls, more awkward meals, and a stroll through the International World Peace Rose Garden that didn’t bring us any peace whatsoever. Tyler has been incredibly quiet and has barely said a single word since we left Ambrosia this morning, and he remained a good five feet away from me at all times, but this could be because Dad has been firing him death glares every thirty seconds. And Dad looks like he’s in hell. He’s hardly said anything since breakfast either and he looks far too disgruntled for his age, like a kid sulking because no one wants to talk to him. Jamie has kept his head in his phone the entire day.

  Although I woke up in a good mood, the day has been disappointing. We’re all feeling pretty lethargic and deflated as we reach the doors to our rooms, lingering for a second as we wait to see who’ll break the silence first.

  As always, it’s Ella. “Remember to set your alarms,” she murmurs, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She glances around us all. We’re standing in a perfect semi-circle. “Actually, don’t. It’s Sunday tomorrow. No alarms.”

  “Hell yes,” Chase says under his breath.

  Dad is the first to pull out the key card for his room, and the first to unlock the door, and the first to disappear. He doesn’t say anything to Ella. He doesn’t say goodnight. They’re still not talking, because Ella is still livid. I can just tell, even though she’s trying so hard not to let it show.

  “Night,” Jamie mutters. He follows Dad inside their room and pushes the door shut.

  Immediately, Ella lets out a heavy sigh that she’s been holding back the entire day. She tilts her face down and presses her hands to her temples, her eyes closed, as though she’s on the verge of having a complete breakdown. I can’t blame her. She’s been trying to hold this family together for a year now and it never seems to be getting any better.

  “Hey,” Tyler says, turning to Chase. He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans and pulls out the key card for their room. He hands it to Chase and nudges him toward the door. “Why don’t you see if there’s anything good on TV? I’ll be in in a sec.”

  Chase knows not to say no. He nods and swipes the card through the slot, glancing back at us over his shoulder as he heads inside, and the second the door is closed, Tyler takes a step toward Ella.

  “I’m so sorry,” she blurts, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she looks up at him. He’s much taller than she is. “I can’t believe he did that.”

  “Don’t stress out over it,” Tyler orders, his voice firm but also low, because Dad is only on the other side of the wall. Gently, he reaches for her wrists and moves her hands away from her face. He doesn’t let go. “Seriously, Mom. Don’t. It’s not like I didn’t expect it and it isn’t the end of the world. We can’t expect him to like me overnight. It’s gonna take time.”

  “But we don’t have time, Tyler,” she groans, her words a whisper as she pulls her wrists away from him. “Don’t you get that? You leave on Monday and nothing is going to have changed. Everything is going to be the exact same. And Eden”—she turns to me—“you’re leaving again in September, and there’s been absolutely no improvement whatsoever with you and your dad.”

  “I don’t mind,” I say with a shrug. “You’ve probably already noticed, but I’m done trying.”

  She looks pale as she slowly shakes her head back and forth. “Do you have any idea how awful that is to hear? That you’re at the point now where you don’t even mind that you don’t have a relationship with your father?”

  I shrug again. “He doesn’t want one. He never did, and especially not now, after everything.” I can’t help my eyes wandering to Tyler. Both he and Ella know exactly what I’m referring to.

  “I don’t know what to do,” Ella admits.

  “Sleep on it,” Tyler says. “It’s really not that bad.”

  She narrows her eyes at him. “I disagree.”

  “Trust me, Mom, it’s not,” he insists. His voice is husky as a result of how quietly he’s talking. “Dave’s going to lighten up eventually. So will Jamie, and once they do, I’m pretty sure everything will be fine. Because, c’mon, let’s not kid ourselves here. None of this would be happening if it weren’t for us.” He glances sideways at me for a split second, but then his gaze returns to Ella. “So once they accept that it happened, then the arguments are gonna stop. You and Dave are gonna be fine.”

  When did he become so mature? When did he become the reassurer?

  Ella still doesn’t look convinced, so I tear my eyes away from Tyler and say, “He’s right. They’ll get over it,” even though I don’t entirely believe it myself.

  “I can only hope,” she murmurs. There’s a brief silence as she stares down at the carpet, like there are a million worries and doubts running through her mind. When she looks up, she smiles: a sad one. “Right, time to turn in for the night.” She slides her purse off her shoulder and begins to search inside it for the key card. “Try to actually get some sleep tonight, Tyler.”

  “Actually,” he says, “can I borrow Eden for a sec?”

  Ella stops fumbling around and her eyes flicker up. She looks at Tyler for a moment before she glances at me, and I have no idea what Tyler needs me for, but I do know that I’m fighting the urge to laugh. I can’t believe he just asked her that. Never in a million years is she going to leave us alone together. That would be insane.

  “Whatever you do or wherever you go, don’t stay up too late,” she says. Pulling the key card from her purse, she turns for the door to our room and inserts it into the slot.

  “Wait,” I say, blinking in disbelief. “What?”

  “Don’t stay up too late,” she repeats as she pushes open the door. She holds it open and looks over at us with an eyebrow arched, as though she’s just waiting for me to question her again.

  Which I absolutely do. “I know, but I mean . . . What?” I stare at her with
my mouth slightly open. “Why aren’t you saying no? Have you forgotten about Tyler and me?”

  “Oh, Eden,” she murmurs, and for the first time today, she actually laughs a little under her breath. “Here.” She extends her hand and passes me the key card. “Behave yourselves. I know it’s a Saturday night, but please don’t attempt to sneak into any clubs or anything of the sort.”

  “It’s not worth the effort,” Tyler tells her, but he’s grinning. “Night, Mom.”

  “Goodnight, both of you.” Blowing us a kiss, she makes her way into our room and the door clicks shut behind her, leaving us in silence.

  For a second, I’m utterly dumbfounded as to why Ella is allowing us to be alone together, just Tyler and me. It’s like throwing a gas canister toward a fire—you are not supposed to do it. It slowly becomes less surprising when it occurs to me that she did the exact same on Thursday morning after she ambushed me with Tyler. She left us alone. It’s like she wants us to talk to each other.

  I turn to him, my gaze quizzical. “What exactly do you need to borrow me for?”

  He mouths Shhh and presses his index finger to his lips. He points to the door of Dad and Jamie’s room with his opposite hand, and then nods his head sideways toward the elevators. As he makes a move, I follow. And when we reach the elevators, I immediately reach over to press the button, but he catches my hand and stops me.

  His grip is firm but gentle, and my eyebrows knit together as I look at his hand around mine. When I glance up at his face, he’s already staring back down at me with his forever warm gaze. My heart beats too fast at his touch and I almost feel disappointed when he lets go and takes a step back.

  For a moment, he studies my expression in the middle of the hallway, his intense eyes searching my features for an answer that I don’t know the question to. “Portland,” he states. “You, me. Let’s go.”

  “Tyler . . .” My shoulders sink as I sigh. If I hear him mention Portland one more time, I think I might just flip. “Not this again.”

  “You said you’d consider it if I stuck around,” he tells me, and already he sounds persistent, like he’s prepared to plead with me. “I could have left last night, but I didn’t. I stayed and I made a damn fool of myself in front of your dad, and I know we’ve only got one more day left here, but I doubt we’ll miss much. We don’t even have to mention it. We’ll be gone before morning.”

  “We can’t just leave,” I murmur. The elevator doors ping open and a semi-drunk couple clings on to each other as they escort one another toward their room. Tyler and I shift over to the soda machine to let them by, keeping quiet until they’re out of earshot.

  That’s when Tyler turns back to me, his words laced with more urgency than before. “Why can’t we? Give me one good reason.”

  “It’ll make the situation worse,” I say without having to even think about it. “I don’t think my dad will be exactly thrilled if he wakes up and finds out I’ve run off in the night with you, especially after you just told him that all of this was over.”

  “For someone who doesn’t mind not having a relationship with him, you sure do worry a lot about what he thinks,” Tyler points out. He raises one eyebrow and presses his lips together, but he doesn’t give me the time to muster up a comeback. “Do you honestly care what your dad is going to think? You’re an adult. He doesn’t have a say in your decisions.”

  “What about your mom?” I ask quickly. I want to change the subject, because I know Tyler has a point. I just don’t want to admit it. “You’re just going to leave her to deal with all this shit on her own?”

  “If we’re gone, there won’t be anything left to deal with.” He leans back against the soda machine and stuffs both hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “We’re the problem here, remember?”

  “Oh, yeah,” I say dryly. “Nothing to deal with except for the fact that we are gone. If you think they won’t care, then you’re deluded. My dad will never let me step foot in the house ever again if I leave with you.”

  “I never said they wouldn’t care. I just think that we shouldn’t care.” He tilts his head back against the machine, his eyes on the ceiling, and he removes his hands from his pockets and runs them back through his hair instead. “For once, Eden,” he says quietly, voice breathy. “Just once.”

  I try to recall everything from the past three days, from the moment Tyler showed up until right now. I try to piece together every emotion I have felt, from fury to love. I try to pinpoint exactly what it is that I want, from closure to unfinished business.

  But the truth is, my head has never been more all over the place. My thoughts are a mess, all entwined, making it difficult to figure out how I really feel. For the past few days, I seem to have been jumping back and forth between wishing that nothing would happen with Tyler and wishing that something would. After last night, I’m leaning more toward the latter, but it’s still tough to know for sure. Having our family surrounding us the entire time seems to be clouding my opinion, because all I can think about is how impossible it all seems, Tyler and me. How unfair it is on them. How wrong it is. It’s starting to take over my mind and it’s holding me back. The only way I will be able to decide how I feel is to spend some time alone with Tyler, with enough space and enough time to figure out if the two of us are still worth fighting for.

  I need to go to Portland with him.

  My head feels heavy as my gaze snaps back into focus. Tyler’s chest is rising and falling as he breathes heavily, deeply, his face still tilted back toward the ceiling. I don’t know what comes over me, but I just can’t stop myself from taking a step toward him and pressing my hand to his chest, just to feel the sensation. It startles him and he immediately looks down at my hand atop his shirt. I can feel his heartbeat as it speeds up.

  “When do we leave?”


  It’s 5AM.

  I’m meeting Tyler out in the hallway in fifteen minutes.

  I haven’t slept yet. I can’t sleep. It’s not just because I’m worried that I won’t wake back up again, but because I’m abuzz with nervous excitement. I’ve showered and dried my hair as best I can with a towel. I’ve tiptoed around the room in the dark, gathering up my belongings and packing them carefully into my suitcase. I’ve charged my phone and applied makeup. I’ve even watched some TV—on mute, of course. Ella is sleeping.

  We could have left hours ago. We could have driven through the night and been in Portland before noon. Being in Sacramento, we’re already almost halfway there. But Tyler wanted to get some sleep first. It would be unsafe for him to drive for so long otherwise. So although I may not have slept, I’m hoping he has.

  I’m sitting in the chair in front of the dressing table, picking up my phone every few minutes to check the time, but it only seems to be going slower and slower. I release a slow sigh into the darkness around me and then quickly glance over my shoulder to check that Ella hasn’t stirred. She hasn’t, but the feeling of guilt is quick to diminish the excitement that’s been flowing through me.

  I think about how furious she’ll be when she wakes up and discovers I’m not here, and how that fury will grow when she finds that Tyler isn’t either. How she’ll confer with Dad and piece together the obvious realization that Tyler and I have left together. How they’ll never trust us ever again because once again we have caused trouble.

  My eyes fall to the complimentary hotel notepad at the edge of the dresser. There’s a fountain pen to match. Dad may not deserve an explanation, but Ella certainly does. I reach for the notepad and pen, chewing my lower lip as I toss sentences back and forth in my head, considering the best thing to say. Using the light from my phone to guide my hand, I scribble the first words that seem to make sense.

  I can explain. Call me. Or call Tyler. It doesn’t matter who—we’ll be together.

  I stare at it for a while. And then I add: Sorry.

  I pull the page from the pad and get to my feet, turning back around toward Ella. She still hasn??
?t moved. My steps are slow, careful, as I edge my way around the bed and place the paper down on the bedside table, right by her phone so that it’s impossible for her to miss it in the morning. At least when she calls, I’ll be able to explain myself without having to look her in the eye. It’s easier that way.

  I shift back around the room and turn off the TV. I tuck the chair back under the dresser. I smooth out the wrinkles in the comforter of the bed I haven’t slept in. I even fluff up the pillows, and after all of that is done, I check my phone to find that it is 5:13AM. Time to go. Time to leave. Time to, essentially, run away.

  Yanking out the handle of my suitcase, I wheel it across the carpet, my footsteps inaudible, my heartbeat thumping in my chest. I don’t look back. I reach for the handle of the door, and slowly— so, so, slowly— I pull it open. It does creak a little, but I slip out into the hallway and carefully click the door shut again. I breathe a sigh of relief and step back.

  To my right, Tyler is leaning against the wall, the strap of his duffel bag resting over his shoulder, one hand in the front pocket of his jeans, the other toying with his car keys. He smiles when my eyes meet his. “We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.”

  All of a sudden, I’m numb. My legs feel as though they’re buckling beneath me and my head feels weightless above my shoulders. I can’t believe I’m really doing this. I’m really going to Portland. I’m really going with Tyler. It freaks me out and excites me all at once. I try my best to swallow back the nerves, and my voice is a whisper when I say, “Then let’s go.”

  His smile stretches and he nods down the hallway toward the elevators. The hotel is quiet, asleep. It won’t stay this way for long. Very soon, everyone will be waking, just not Tyler and me. We’ll be gone by then.

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