Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  “I’m just over here,” Tyler says, slipping his hand into the back pocket of his jeans and pulling out a set of keys. I follow the direction of his gaze, which leads to a door that’s named Unit 3. By the time we reach it, Tyler’s cheeks are flushed. “It’s a little, uh, bare,” he warns me, and turns the key in the lock. “I’m not much of a decorator.”

  Pushing open the door, he steps back to allow me in first. And the first thing I realize when I take a few steps over the hardwood flooring of the living room is that he wasn’t kidding. It is bare. The walls are white and empty besides a TV that’s mounted. The rest of the living room consists of nothing but a single black leather couch and a fluffy beige carpet in the center of the floor.

  “In my defense,” Tyler says quickly as he wheels my two suitcases toward me, “I didn’t want to blow half my cash on shit I don’t really need. And besides, I’m not even here half the time.” He slides his duffel bag off his shoulder and throws it onto the couch, then moves toward the far corner of the room, where there’re two doorways: one leading into a small hallway, one leading into a small dining room.

  Tyler shows me the dining room first, which is simply a black table with two matching chairs, and then we’re through another doorway and into the kitchen, which is a small cube in comparison to Dad and Ella’s kitchen back home. But it has everything a kitchen needs, and I figure Tyler does have a point about not spending money on huge apartments and furniture just for the sake of it.

  I follow him back through the dining room and into the small hallway now. There are two bedrooms, with the bathroom in the middle of the two. The bedroom on the left appears to be Tyler’s, even though there’s nothing exactly personal about it. Again, the walls are empty, and the only furniture in this room is the double bed pressed against the wall. The closet is built-in. And the only reason I figure this room is his is because the other room is entirely empty.

  “I probably should have got around to setting this room up,” Tyler says, his voice echoing. I look at him sideways, and he’s rubbing at the back of his neck a little awkwardly.

  “Mmm.” We’re both thinking the same thing: Where the hell am I going to sleep? The last thing I want is for Tyler to suggest that we bunk together, because that’s definitely not happening, so I quickly say, “I can take the couch. I don’t mind.”

  He steps in front of me so that he can see my expression. “I can’t let you sleep on the couch, Eden,” he states, voice firm and strict, as though he’s my parent. “My mom would kill me for the shitty hospitality.”

  “Seriously, I don’t mind,” I try more convincingly. “I live in a dorm, remember? So believe me, I’ve crashed on more couches than I can count.”

  He studies me, frowning. “Are you sure? I feel pretty bad.”

  “Positive,” I say. “We should go get those groceries.”

  And that’s what we do. It doesn’t take us long to unpack it all, with me removing everything from the bags and Tyler placing them into the cabinets. By 5:30PM, we’re settled in and hungry. It’s been a long day.

  So Tyler starts preparing some sort of pasta dish for himself, and I fetch myself a bowl of those Lucky Charms I picked up earlier. It’s all I’m craving, and I pull myself up onto the worktop, crossing my legs, and eat slowly while I watch Tyler cook.

  “You should text your mom,” I say, my voice muffled and my mouth full. Quickly, I swallow. “Let her know that we’re here.”

  “Shit, yeah.” Tyler stops dicing tomatoes and wipes his hands on his jeans, fishing his phone out of his pocket. I scoop up another spoonful of cereal as he types, his eyes glancing constantly between his screen and the pasta that’s cooking in the saucepan on the stove. I’m staring at his shoulders, because I’ve never truly appreciated how broad they are before. Then my eyes trace a path down to his bicep, where his tattoos are peeking out from under the sleeve of his T-shirt, and I quickly blink when I realize I’m staring.

  “Can I ask you something?”

  Having sent the message, Tyler places his phone down on worktop and picks up the knife again, turning his back to me. “Sure.”

  “Why didn’t you want her to know that we stopped by your grandparents’ place?”

  As soon as I say it, he’s sighing. He looks down, places the knife back, then slowly turns around to look at me. “Because she doesn’t know I’ve been talking to them again. We didn’t exactly keep in contact with them after Dad got locked up. They moved away and we never visited—people don’t typically travel nine hours to see the parents of their ex-husband, you know? And besides, anything relating to or about Dad, Mom hates. So there’s no point in telling her.”

  I nod, and there’s a brief moment of silence where I twirl my spoon around my bowl and where Tyler turns back to the saucepan, adjusting the heat. “She’s a really great mom,” I finally mumble. I’ve already told Ella this before, because it’s true. I just wonder if Tyler knows it too. “I’m just saying it in case you weren’t already aware.”

  “No, I know,” he says, turning back around to face me. “She’s always been great, even though it wasn’t easy for her after the truth came out about Dad. She was pretty much in pieces back then. So different to what she’s like now.”

  I place my bowl down on the worktop and then wait for Tyler to hopefully expand. I like knowing about their lives, because I’m part of them now. I’ll never know exactly what Tyler’s family went through, but I can at least try to understand it as best I can. Over the past three years, I’ve learned a lot.

  Tyler runs a hand through his hair as though he’s contemplating whether or not he’s going to give in and open up to me, his gaze narrowing on the small window beside me. After a few moments, he turns to the stove and switches off the heat.

  “She really fucking loved my dad, you know,” he starts, gripping the edge of the worktop. “And he felt the exact same way about her, because seriously, when I think back to when I was a kid, all I remember is the two of them being totally obsessed with each other. So you know, when she found out about Dad and he got arrested, it shattered her. And it didn’t matter how much she loved him, because she couldn’t bare to look at him anymore, so she filed for divorce as soon as he was sentenced.”

  He stops, looks at the ground for a moment, then back up. “She stopped working, and for like the first year after it all happened, she could hardly look at me either. She felt so guilty for not noticing what was going on before, and this one time when I got into a fight at school, I came home with my face all busted up and she seriously burst into tears the second I walked through the front door. Her parents always said she’d never be a good mom, so I think she believed that for a while. And obviously I wasn’t making it any easier for her with all the sneaking out and the drinking and the smoking.”

  He pauses again, but this time he straightens up and takes a step toward me, coming to stand right in front of me. He has that gentle, sincere tone to his voice that was once rare but is now increasingly common. “But then she met your dad, and she stopped sitting in front of the TV all day with five cups of coffee. She started going out more, and as lame as it sounds, she seemed happy again, because she was. I knew she’d met someone before she even told us. It was so obvious, and when she did finally tell us, it didn’t really freak me out or anything like she thought it would. I was glad your dad came into the picture, because that’s when Mom started being herself again.” Slowly, he runs his eyes over my legs, still crossed over the worktop, and he moves against me, placing both his hands on my knees. He hesitates before saying anything else, like he’s waiting for me to push him back, but all I can think about is how quickly my chest has tightened. I couldn’t push him away even if I wanted to, because I feel frozen in place, paralyzed by the mere touch of his fingertips. He is the only person I have ever met who has such an effect on me. The only person who I want to have this effect.

  “So,” he says, smiling a little as he glances back up at me from beneath his eyelashes, “I
actually met your dad for the first time when I was fifteen. Mom told us all to be on our best behavior, but you know, I was going through my I-don’t-give-a-fuck phase, so I’d been out drinking with some guys a whole lot older than me, and when I got home, I was pretty paralytic. As soon as Mom walked into the kitchen with your dad, he’d barely even introduced himself before I threw up on the floor. Gross, I know. Talk about bad first impressions. So Mom was mortified, and your dad was horrified, and to this day I’m still surprised he stuck around after that. And I know I’ve gone way off subject, but the point is, your dad didn’t like me straight from the get-go.”

  I sense him swallow, and the kitchen is silent. His voice is almost a whisper when he speaks again. “And I can’t help but think that if I hadn’t acted the way I did when I was younger, then maybe your dad wouldn’t be so against . . .” His words taper off and his breathing is slow, deep. I can’t see his eyes, because I’m staring at his lips, at the way they’re edging toward me. My legs almost feel numb as he runs his hands from my knees to my thighs, and his lips are so close now that his forehead is against mine, both with our eyes closed. “This,” he whispers.

  But I can’t do it. Not yet. There’s too much left to figure out, too many things to fix. Kissing him now is the easy way out.

  Carefully, I cup his jaw in my hands and shake my head no against his. I keep my eyes closed, and the small smile on my lips is almost apologetic as his touch slowly disappears. First from my face, then my legs. I interlock my hands and place them in my lap.

  Tyler takes a step back, and when my eyelids flutter open, he’s staring at me. I can tell by his eyes alone that he’s not angry at being rejected. More disappointed than anything else. He nods once and gives me a warm, understanding smile, then turns away, back to the stove where he turns the heat back on.

  My body feels strange, different. I reach for my cereal, but it’s turned to mush, so all I can do is twirl the spoon around and around in the bowl again. But the entire time that I do, my eyes aren’t on the Lucky Charms that I wanted so badly.

  They’re on Tyler, who I might just want even more.

  15

  It feels like I’ve slept for no more than an hour when I wake. I feel so groggy, and my head is heavy. It’s almost impossible to open my eyes, so I squeeze them shut and pull the blanket closer to my chest. I’m starting to regret not sleeping on Saturday night, because now the mere two hours of sleep I had are catching up with me. Yet the hand that’s massaging my shoulder is persistent. It feels nice, but it’s pulling me out of my slumber, so I quickly nudge the hand away by jerking my body to one side. And if that isn’t enough to display my irritation, I also release a quiet groan.

  And then there’s that familiar laugh, and I don’t even have to look to know that it belongs to Tyler. A brief wave of excitement surges through my body at the thought of him next to me, at the simple fact that he’s here, and my eyelids ping open, suddenly startled.

  For the briefest of seconds, I have no idea where I am or why I’m even with Tyler, alone, until I blink a few times to wake myself up fully. That’s when everything comes back to me, and I think: Oh, Portland. It’s a rather sobering thought to wake up to.

  Tyler’s crouching down by the couch, fully dressed and smelling of cologne, and he’s looking directly back at me. My face is level with his, his eyes bright.

  “I’m sorry for waking you,” Tyler says. His arms rest along the edge of the couch, his hands interlocked, thumbs twiddling.

  Despite the fact that it feels like it’s the middle of the night, daylight is streaming through the large windows. My eyes are too sensitive, so I narrow them into slits and push myself up into a seated position. I can feel the heat on the back of my neck and the way my hair is stuck to my skin.

  “What time is it?” I ask. Even my voice croaks, and I’m completely exhausted. I idly wonder if it’s possible to feel hungover without having even touched alcohol. Like a different type of hangover, like a travel hangover, or a stepbrother hangover. I feel lousy.

  “Just after eight,” Tyler says slowly, and he smiles, small and crooked.

  “Eight in the morning?” I blink some more, and I don’t even care that I probably look like a ferret on steroids. “On a Monday? In the summer?”

  “I hate to break it you,” he says, laughing, “but the rest of us don’t get summer vacation. The rest of us have work to do.” He presses his hands against the leather of the couch and pushes himself to his feet.

  “Work?”

  “Of some sort.” He tilts the watch on his wrist toward him, frowning slightly. Then he looks back down at me. “What are the chances of you being ready to go within the next half-hour?”

  “What sort of work?” I ask. It’s not quite the reply he’s looking for, because he heaves a sigh. I’m a little taken aback, because although it makes complete sense for him to have spent his time doing something this past year, I’ve never once considered what exactly that could be.

  “It’s . . .” He pulls a face and shrugs. “It’s complicated. And because I wasn’t supposed to leave Santa Monica until today, I still have the day off. So I don’t really go back to work until tomorrow. But yesterday you asked me how I’ve spent the past year,” he says, that incredible, raw smile of his capturing his lips once again, “so today I’m showing you.”

  And that alone is enough to get me out of bed. Or off the couch. Whatever. Quickly, I’m on my feet and making a beeline for my suitcases in the spare bedroom. I don’t even care that I have knots in my back or that my neck is stiff, because I’m too busy throwing myself into the bathroom to shower. I’m too keen to get ready, too desperate for Tyler to give me insight into the life he’s been living for the past year. That’s why he wanted me to come back to Portland with him in the first place. He wants to show me what exactly it is that he left for.

  He’s definitely impressed when I drift back into the living room twenty minutes later, my hair already dry, dressed and ready to go. I’ve pulled on my burgundy U of C sweatshirt even though it’ll probably hit eighty out at some point today, and on my feet I’m wearing my white Converse.

  Tyler turns off the TV and stands up, pausing and angling his head to one side, looking curiously down at my Chucks. I know exactly what he’s wondering: if it’s the pair he bought me in New York, the pair that has his handwriting scribbled along the rubber.

  “They’re new,” I inform him, my voice blunt. I even lift up my foot to show him that there’s no writing. The pair he gave me last summer has been in the back of my closet for a year now. I couldn’t bring myself to wear them any longer, so I bought a new pair. But even though Rachael urged me to throw the old ones in the trash, or drop them off at a thrift store, or burn them, I couldn’t do it.

  “Okay,” Tyler says quietly. It’s slightly awkward, and judging by how uncomfortable he looks, there’s no doubt that he’s not exactly thrilled. But he understands, because he adds, “I get it,” and then immediately changes the subject as he grabs his car keys from the arm of the couch. “First things first, we gotta stop for coffee.”

  “I can’t object to that,” I say, and just like that, we’re back in neutral territory.

  Portland has some of the best coffee around, even if I do say so myself. We’re kind of famous for it, and I firmly believe that no one can be a true Portlander unless they crave it first thing in the morning, like I do now.

  We lock up and head outside, and it’s nice to actually see a lawn that’s green for once. It isn’t even nine yet, so the sun is still relatively low but bright, and the air is clean and fresh. I may not like early mornings, but I like mornings like these.

  “Before we get going,” I say once we’re inside Tyler’s car, “please tell me you don’t buy your coffee from Starbucks.” As I’m pulling on my seatbelt, I lock my solemn gaze on him, never blinking. I wonder if he thinks I’m kidding, because at first he laughs while starting up the engine.

  “I don’t.”

&n
bsp; I relax my features and lean back against the seat. “Good. So,” I say, “where are we headed?”

  “Downtown.”

  “Yes,” I say, “but where?”

  Tyler turns to face me, his small smile spreading into a wide grin that makes me wonder if he’s okay. He’s shaking his head slowly, grinning like he’s won the lottery, and I’m pulling a face back at him as though to say: What the hell?

  Tyler has an extremely clever way of avoiding giving answers to questions he doesn’t want to answer. He always has.

  “I’ve missed your questioning,” he says instead. Still wearing that huge grin, his perfect teeth shining back at me, he continues, “And how opinionated you are. And how persistent. And how you jump to the dumbest of conclusions. And how you never fucking back down.”

  “Do you want me to get out of the car or something?” I ask, reaching for the door handle and pushing open the car door a few inches. “Because you’re really making it sound like you don’t want to be around me.”

  “I said I’ve missed those things. Not that I hated them.” He leans across my body, reaching for the car door and pulling it shut again with a small thud. His arm brushes against my chest, and I have to bite down on my lower lip and hold my breath to stop myself from reacting. Then he sets his hands back on the wheel and smirks.

  We make for downtown Portland, and the good thing about Portland, unlike LA, is that the morning traffic isn’t horrific. Sure, it takes a little longer, but the traffic never really comes to a standstill, because if people aren’t using the MAX to commute, then they’re taking their bike. Which means less traffic on the roads.

  The journey takes just under twenty minutes. It’s a refreshing start to the day, and being back in the vibrant and diverse downtown region of the city makes me feel even better.

  I think I took living in Portland for granted, because I don’t recall ever appreciating its weirdness as much as I do right now. This city has its pros and its cons, and this is obvious as we’re navigating the city blocks that are home to hundreds of independent stores, breweries, movie theaters that actually sell beer, and an endless array of strip clubs. The city blocks where you won’t find a fast food joint for miles, where the restaurants don’t believe in gluten, where the homeless population is spiraling out of control, where driving a car isn’t considered cool and where people walk wherever the hell they want. We even pass Powell’s, the largest independent bookstore in the world. Long gone are the days where I would spend hours there, searching through their millions of books for the correct textbooks back in sophomore year.

 
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