Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  Our steps are light as we sneak our way down the hall.

  Until we hear a door creak open.

  Until we hear Ella’s voice.

  Until we stop dead in our tracks and spin back around.

  Ella’s peering around the frame of the door of our room. There’s a jacket wrapped around her shoulders which she holds together in front of her chest, and her eyes are sensitive to the sudden light as she squints down the hallway at us. “Would either of you like to explain?”

  A sickening feeling washes over me and my heart drops into my stomach. My lips are parted in disbelief as I blink back at her, and all I can process right now is the hard-hitting reality that Shit, we’re about to be placed on death row. Portland is now officially off the cards, and the possibility of any hope whatsoever for Tyler and me is now gone.

  “Mom,” Tyler says, voice low, and then he begins to stammer, “I . . . I mean, we . . .” until Ella interrupts him.

  “Where are the two of you going?” she asks. She raises an eyebrow and glances suspiciously at my suitcase, and then at Tyler’s duffel bag, and then she steps out into the hallway, but not too far. She has to hold the door open with her heel to prevent it from locking her out. “Please just tell me. Back home or Portland. Which is it?”

  Slowly, Tyler exhales through the stillness of the hallway. His entire body seems to deflate next to me. “Portland,” he says quietly.

  “Okay,” Ella whispers after a moment of silence. She’s watching us both intensely, her eyes a mixture of fatigue and warmth. She pulls her jacket tighter around her. “Please drive slow.”

  Now I’m staring at her the same way I stared at her last night, with the same expression that says: What the hell? There must be something wrong with her. There has to be. After all these months of it being drilled into my head that Tyler and I are wrong for each other, now Ella is telling us it’s okay? It’s okay to leave us alone to talk to one another? It’s okay to send us off to a different state together?

  Tyler must be taken aback too, because when I glance sideways at him to gauge if his reaction is as stunned as mine, he’s widening his eyes and cocking his head to one side. “Drive slow?” he repeats.

  “To Portland, of course,” Ella clarifies without missing a beat. She tilts her head to mimic him. “Don’t do anything stupid on the roads. I swear, Tyler. No speeding on the interstate.”

  “You’re not going to stop us?” I ask. I must surely sound like a broken record to her by now, constantly questioning her decisions, but it’s only because I can’t wrap my head around it.

  “Why would I? What reason do I have to stop you?” she shoots back, but in the softest and gentlest of ways. We’re all talking in mere whispers, and the hallway is cold. “You’re allowed to make your own decisions. And besides,” she murmurs, “I highly doubt there’s going to be a miraculous turnaround on this front tomorrow.”

  “But . . . Why?” That’s all I really want to know. Why she’s passed on Tyler’s messages to me over the past year, like the way she had on the Fourth of July. Why she called me over to the house on Thursday morning to see him. Why she didn’t grow tense last night at the thought of us being alone together. Why she isn’t stopping us from heading off to Portland. Why, why, why? “I don’t think my dad’ll be happy when he finds out you didn’t stop us while you had the chance.”

  “He doesn’t have to know that I had the chance in the first place,” she says, the corners of her lips slowly curving into a smile. It may even be on the verge of a smirk. “And Eden, I can deal with your father. I may be married to him, but that doesn’t mean I have to share the same opinions as him.”

  I realize what she’s hinting at as soon as she says it. “As in . . . As in your opinion of us?” I glance at Tyler again.

  Ella nods only once, but it’s enough to tell me everything I need to know. It has taken me a year to realize it, because I have never considered it even remotely possible. The thought never once crossed my mind. I have to say it out loud, I have to ask, just to be absolutely certain that I’m absorbing this correctly.

  “You’re not against us?”

  Ella laughs under her breath the same way she did last night, like the answers to my questions are obvious, like this isn’t a big deal when, in fact, it is. “When did I ever say that I was?” she says, still whispering. Not only is it ridiculously early, Dad is also ridiculously close. “It was a surprise, yes,” she continues, “of course it was, but I care a lot more about the two of you than I do about some stigma. And I understand, I really do. The circumstances are unfortunate and sometimes I feel I owe you both an apology. I’m not sure how to handle the situation either, but if you want to go to Portland, then go to Portland. If you want to stick around, then stick around. If you want to go home, then go home. It’s your choice and I’m not going to stand in your way.”

  I could throw up. How is this possible? Dad would probably file for divorce if he knew how different their views are. All this time I believed Ella was on his side.

  When I look at Tyler again, he’s smiling and it’s reaching his eyes. “You know, Mom,” he says, “I always had a feeling you were way cooler than I ever gave you credit for.”

  “You’re right. I am,” she agrees, but her smile quickly falters and she takes a deep breath. “But tell me, how long are you planning to stay up in Portland for? Because Eden, you’ll need to come home and then head back to Chicago eventually.” She fixes me with a stern look, but it’s kind and gentle, and I don’t know how Ella manages to be strict in such a soft way, but somehow she does. Then she looks at Tyler with that exact same expression. “And I need you to come home more often these days,” she says. “Not once a year. Once a month. I’ll even pay for your flights to save you from driving.”

  “We can work on it,” Tyler says with a nod. He’s still smiling, and as he shifts from one foot to the other, he moves the strap of his duffel bag farther up his shoulder. He looks down at me. “Ready to get out of here?”

  I can’t even muster the ability to say yes. I’m still shocked, and my eyes keep finding their way back to Ella. “Are you sure?” My voice is riddled with doubt. I’m waiting for her to deliver the punch line of the joke.

  “Absolutely sure,” she says. “And if you’re going to head off, then make your move so that I can catch a couple more hours of sleep. Also, this never happened. I never saw either of you.” Slowly, she backs her way into our room again, but not without peering around the doorframe one last time. “Drive safely.”

  The door clicks shut as she disappears. We’re left in silence. I turn to face Tyler. He’s grinning so wide, with bright eyes and his perfect teeth on full display.

  “You heard her,” he says, but his voice has shot back to normal, and he winces when he realizes how loud he’s spoken. He pulls the hood of his navy hoodie over his hair, and the next words to escape his lips are hissed whispers, full of adrenaline and euphoria, mischief and exhilaration. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

  He reaches for my hand. Our fingers intertwine, locking into place, the warmth from his skin radiating against mine, and I tighten my hand around his and squeeze so hard that my knuckles ache. I can’t stop myself. I don’t want to let go, and I don’t want him to either. It’s a much more thrilling sensation than I ever believed it could be, and for how simple it is, it still gets my pulse racing. Maybe it’s the nerves that come with not knowing what I’m really letting myself in for. Maybe it’s the excitement that, just maybe, I’m letting myself in for all of this; for Tyler’s hand in mine, for the goose bumps that cover my skin, for the pain in my chest as my heart thumps frantically against my ribcage.

  Hand in hand, we finally make our getaway. Our steps are quicker than before and my heart beats even faster as Tyler leads me down the hall to the elevator, my suitcase trailing along the carpet behind me. Even in the first elevator ride down to the second floor, my chest won’t stop contracting. I pin it down to the fact that I am undeniably go
ing crazy with a range of emotions. Anxiety and relief, trepidation and elation. Going to Portland is either going to be the best or the worst decision I’ve ever made, and only time will tell which.

  It’s not until we’re in the second elevator on the way up to the parking area that Tyler asks, “Did you get some sleep?”

  “No,” I admit. Our hands are still interlocked like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “Did you?”

  “Yeah. I accidentally woke Chase up, though,” he says. With a shrug, he lets out a small laugh.

  “Did you tell him?”

  “No. He literally fell back asleep within a minute.”

  The elevator doors ping open to reveal the fourth floor of the parking structure. It’s still pretty dark out even though it’s dawn, and the air feels cool from the moment Tyler pulls me out of the elevator and across the concrete. His car is up by the back corner, and at first I don’t recognize it because I’m still getting used to the change. It certainly doesn’t draw attention to itself the way his old car did. Maybe he prefers it that way.

  When we reach it, Tyler’s firm grasp on my hand disappears, and immediately I begin to crave his touch again. My hand feels cold without it.

  “You know, Eden,” he murmurs as he unlocks the car, turning to face me, “I’m really, really fucking glad you decided to come up to Portland.”

  “Why?”

  “Because otherwise,” he says, “I would have had to give you this back.”

  He pops the trunk and as it rises, I shift my gaze to what’s inside. It’s the matching counterpart to my suitcase, the larger one, the one I travel back and forth to Chicago with. There’s a new label attached to it. I point to it and then fire Tyler a questioning glance, but he shakes his head and takes a step back.

  I look back at the label and reach for it, flipping it over as I squint through the dark at the handwriting that is all too familiar to me. It’s my mom’s.

  I’m sorry about the other day. Fix things before it’s too late. Some of us don’t get the chance to. And tell Tyler his mother is lovely – Your mom, who had every right to be walked out on (I once burned your father’s shirts in the back yard). Love you. X

  “She packed it for you,” Tyler says when he notices how confused I am. “Just in case you end up wanting to stay with me for more than a couple days.”

  “When did . . . When did you talk to her?”

  “Friday, after you guys left to drive up here.” He still has his hood up and his face is shadowed. “So you don’t have to worry about breaking the news to her. She liked the idea of you coming to Portland with me.”

  I’m rolling my eyes as a smile spreads across my face. “Of course she did.”

  Laughing, Tyler nudges me gently out of the way. He places my other suitcase into the trunk, along with his duffel bag, and then slams it shut as I make my way around to the passenger side. We slide inside the car, and I notice that he’s cleared all the trash out of it.

  The engine purrs gently to life. Tyler takes a few moments to adjust his seat, the heating, the radio, and then he swallows and places his hand on the gearshift. “Last chance to back out,” he says, but he’s smiling because he knows I won’t. I believe I’m past the point of no return.

  “Tyler,” I reply, pursing my lips. I fix him with a firm look and gently place my hand over his on the gearshift. “Just drive.”

  13

  When I wake to the bright sun shining through the windshield, I immediately regret not sleeping when I had the chance. My seatbelt is twisted around the curves of my body and my face is propped against the door. On my left shoulder, I feel the gentle, slow drumming of fingertips. In a way, it’s almost soothing, and I force my eyes open as I raise my head, lazily glancing sideways to look at Tyler. He drops his hand from my shoulder and shifts back from me, one arm resting over the steering wheel.

  “Sorry for waking you,” he murmurs. His voice is soft, quiet, like he’s afraid that he’ll startle me if he speaks any louder.

  “That’s okay.” I unbuckle my seatbelt and push myself up, rubbing my eyes. I feel a little hazy, and a little stiff, and a little hot, so it takes me a while to notice that we’re parked on a long, curving street. I look back at Tyler for an explanation. “Where are we? Portland?”

  We’re parked outside of a bungalow with white walls, a starved lawn, and a silver pick-up truck up in the driveway. Thick trees line the street in such a pretty way, obviously carefully designed. This street almost seems too nice to belong in Portland.

  “Redding,” says Tyler, and I blink in surprise. We’re still in California. “We’ve only been driving for a couple hours.” With a nod, he taps his knuckles against the clock on the dashboard. It’s only 8:09AM.

  “Why are we here?”

  “I thought we’d make a pit stop. Get some breakfast and then hit the road again,” he tells me, pushing open his door. He swings one foot out of the car before glancing over his shoulder and adding, “Besides, I promised them I’d stop by again on the way back up.”

  “Promised who?” I ask, but he’s already shut the door. His words have fully woken me, and I make a good attempt at scrambling out of the car after him. Even though my legs are still pretty dead, I force them to move, following him up the driveway. “Promised who, Tyler?”

  He’s smiling as though it’s funny, and by the time we’re both standing on the front step, he’s rolling his eyes at my dumbfounded expression. But then the humor of the mystery seems to vanish, because he clears his throat and fixes his eyes on me. “My grandparents,” he says.

  I stare at him. This is the first time I’m ever hearing about him having grandparents in Redding. Even more surprising is the fact that he talks to them. “Your grandparents?” I repeat.

  “Uh-huh.”

  I shade my face with my hand and squint up at him through the morning sunlight. “I thought none of you spoke with your mom’s family.”

  “We don’t,” he says. Turning toward the door, he gently raps his hand against the wood a couple times, and then reaches for the door handle and pushes it open. He looks back at me, his smile crooked. “But I never said they were my mom’s parents.”

  He nudges the door open wider and motions for me to come inside. I follow him, albeit hesitantly at first, and I am both nervous and uncomfortable. Nervous because I’m inevitably about to meet some of Tyler’s extended family for the first time. Uncomfortable because the only thing I find myself focusing on is that these people are Tyler’s dad’s parents, and the last thing I want to think about right now is his dad. Even at the best of times, it riles me.

  The house smells of freshly brewed coffee and cough drops, mixed with the vague aroma of sweet perfume and boiled cabbage. A wooden staircase leads upstairs, and the walls in the hall are covered with photographs in slanted frames. I steal quick glances at the pictures as we pass, of faces I’ve never seen. They seem to be from a long time ago, like the ’60s or even the ’50s. I can hear the steaming of a coffee machine in the kitchen.

  Tyler glances over his shoulder, and when he notices me anxiously looking around, it’s almost as though he wants to laugh. “Don’t worry,” he whispers. “They know all about you.”

  That doesn’t make me feel relaxed. In fact, now I’m wondering just what exactly Tyler has told them. The full truth? The bare minimum? A slightly twisted version of the truth?

  We reach the kitchen and I follow Tyler inside. It’s bright as the morning sun floods in through the windows, with a patio door leading out to the small backyard, and there’s a woman huddled over the coffee machine, her back to us.

  Tyler loudly clears his throat. “You should really keep the door locked while you’re back here.”

  Startled, the woman almost knocks the coffee pot off the machine as she spins around. She looks to be in her early sixties, short, her dark hair scraped into an up-do, her bronzed skin displaying several signs of aging. “Tyler!” she gasps. She comes rushing across the kitchen floor, ar
ms extended, and wraps him up in a tight hug. “Why are you here?” she asks once she pulls away, and there it is: a thick Spanish accent. “It’s only Sunday. I thought not until tomorrow?”

  “We left early,” Tyler says, and that’s when she notices me standing by his side. Her entire face lights up. “Yeah, this is Eden. Eden,” he glances at me, “this is my abuelita. Or, you know, my grandma. Abuelita Maria.”

  “Ah, Eden!” Maria says, my name slow and thick on her lips. She nudges Tyler aside as she embraces me entirely, wrapping her frail arms tight around my shoulders. She smells of the perfume in the hall, of roses and sweetness and love. “So nice to meet you.” When she finally steps back, she takes both my hands in hers and squeezes her bony fingers around mine. “So, so nice.” That grin of hers has yet to falter. In fact, I think it may just be contagious, because I realize I’m smiling back at her equally as wide as I part my lips to say, “It’s lovely to meet you too.”

  “Sit, sit,” she urges, motioning toward the table and directing me over to it. There’re six seats, but only two placemats. “We have pancakes on Sunday. Every week,” she says, and promptly ushers me into a chair opposite one of the placemats, her hands now on my shoulders.

  I glance over at Tyler, surprised and searching for help, but he’s watching in amusement with his arms folded loosely across his chest. Then he asks, “Where’s Grampa?”

  Maria releases her grip on me. “Garage. Car stopped working again.”

  Tyler chuckles and rolls his eyes. “I should introduce Eden to him,” he says. Almost cautiously, he extends his hand and I take it, allowing him to pull me back to my feet. “If you don’t mind me borrowing her, of course.”

  Maria quickly retreats backward across the kitchen floor, holding her hands up, palms facing us. “No, no. Of course not. Go introduce her to Peter. And then the pancakes.” She moves her hands to her hips, flashing her eyes over to the stack of pancakes on the worktop, still in their packaging. “They’re only from the store. I’m no good.”

 
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