Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  Back then, Portland was lame and boring and really fucking indy.

  It still is indy. It just doesn’t seem that lame anymore. It actually seems cool.

  By 9:30, we’re parked and making our way down the street. My bearings are a little off at first despite how familiar everything is, but having Tyler lead the way doesn’t quite feel right. It should really be the other way around.

  “You know,” he says, “Portland isn’t as bad as you made it out to be.”

  I don’t want to admit that he’s right, that I was wrong to portray it as the worst city in the world, so I just shrug and keep on walking. We’ve only walked two blocks when I suddenly know exactly where in downtown I am. Pioneer Square.

  When Tyler tries to turn left around the corner, I reach out for him and yank him back. “Portland’s living room,” I murmur, although I don’t mean to say it out loud.

  “Yeah,” he says, “I know.”

  I throw him a dirty look. Even though I’m kidding, I can’t help but also feel irritated. Maybe it’s selfish of me to be so protective of Portland, but I’m still getting used to the fact that he’s now calling it his home when really it’s mine.

  We’re standing on the corner of the block, right next to Nordstrom. Tyler remains quiet while I take a few moments to study the square. It’s meant to be one of the best in the world, and I couldn’t agree more. Pioneer Square takes up an entire city block, with the center shaped like an amphitheater. The bricks used to pave the ground are inscribed with thousands of names. Unlike Hollywood, you don’t have to be famous in Portland to have your name on the ground. You just have to pay.

  I used to adore coming here before I moved. There’s always something going on, like the lighting of the huge Christmas tree the week after Thanksgiving, which Mom and Dad took me to every single year without fail, and the Flicks on the Bricks events during the summer, where a giant screen is rolled out and hundreds gather around the steps, pulling out deck chairs and picnic mats, all to spend the evening together watching a movie.

  Santa Monica may have its beach and it may have its pier and it may have Third Street Promenade, but Portland has the Willamette and Mount Hood and Pioneer Square. They seem a million worlds away from each other, two entirely different cities that are unique in their own way.

  “Cool, huh?” Tyler says. He has his sunglasses down over his eyes again, so I can’t read his expression fully as I fire him a look of disdain. I think sometimes he forgets that I did live here for sixteen years. “We can come back later if you want to. Maybe later in the week, when we’re free.”

  I step around him so that I’m directly opposite him, my chin tilted up. “When we’re free?” I echo.

  “When I’m free,” he corrects, adjusting his shades until they’re resting snugly against the bridge of his nose. “Like I said, not all of us are on vacation. Now can we please just get some coffee?”

  “Yeah, yeah.” I shake my head quickly and glance one last time over my shoulder. “Sure.”

  We round the corner and not long after come to a stop almost immediately at the end of the block. Before us is the door of a small indy coffee shop. It’s one I’ve never actually tested out before, because although us Portlanders live for coffee, there’s just too many places to try and not enough time to do so.

  “Forget about the Refinery back home,” Tyler says. “This place blows it out of the water. But maybe I’m biased.” He chuckles and reaches for the door, pulling off his sunglasses. I can’t help but grin, noticing the way he holds the door open for me and lets me enter first. It’s something he’s done for as long as I can remember, and never once has he forgotten.

  Inside, it’s nice and small and cozy, just as all coffee shops should be. It’s busy too, with a line snaking all the way back to the door. No doubt it’s full of those dropping by for a coffee to-go during their morning commute.

  Tyler slips his sunglasses off and hangs them over his flannel shirt, reaching for his wallet. “Extra hot vanilla latte with an extra shot of caramel, right?” He glances at me in that subtle, smoldering way of his, and he’s trying his damned hardest to suppress his smug smile.

  I stare back at him and hope that the thrill this gives me isn’t noticeable in my expression. “You remember my order?”

  “It’s not exactly what I would call complicated.”

  “Yeah, I guess.” I run my eyes over the line of customers, over the employees behind the counter, over my body. Even though I’m wearing a sweatshirt, I still feel self-conscious. “I’ll skip out on the caramel for today,” I tell Tyler. I doubt it’ll make a difference, but at least I feel less guilty about taking the latte.

  “No problem,” he says, and then he scours the small shop and nods to a table over by the large windows that face out onto the street. “Save us those seats? I’ll get the drinks.”

  I make a beeline for the table and plonk myself down on the chair. Usually, I like to angle myself toward windows whenever I can because I like to people-watch, but today I want to look at Tyler.

  The odd thing is that he blends straight in, which he shouldn’t, because he’s from LA. But Tyler seems so ordinary here, so normal. It could be the shirt. It could be the stubble. It could be the tattoos on his arm. It could be the fact that he’s standing in a coffee shop. It could be the laid-back, easy-going attitude. I just don’t know why he seems to fit in so well, like he belongs here.

  He starts up a conversation with the guy standing in front of him, the pair of them chatting a lot more than what is considered small talk. There must be a few jokes thrown in there too, because Tyler laughs a couple times. When he reaches the counter, he’s talking to the barista too, a young guy with multiple piercings on his face. They greet each other with fist bumps and grins, like how you’d greet a best friend, and I realize then that perhaps Tyler is one of their best customers. Maybe he comes here every single day, because they talk non-stop over the top of the coffee machines as the guy makes our drinks. Once he hands the two to-go cups over to Tyler, Tyler turns around and points one toward me. The barista raises his eyebrows, smiling widely at me and lifting his hand to wave.

  I panic and quickly offer him a small wave back in the I-don’t-know-who-you-are-or-why-you’re-waving-but-it-would-be-rude-to-ignore-you sort of way. And luckily, Tyler laughs and makes his way over to me, placing my latte on the table and sitting down on the opposite chair.

  “Who was that?” I ask.

  “That’s Mikey,” Tyler says, nodding toward the register. “He knows all about you. He wants me to let you know that he’s glad to finally see you.”

  I look over at the counter again, and although Mikey is working away behind the espresso machine, he still manages to throw me a thumbs up. As fast as I can, I glance away, my eyes back on Tyler. It’s a little weird that he talks about me to one of the baristas here, but I decide not to question it. Instead, I nod to the guy who was standing in front of him in the line, the guy who’s now sat at a table on his own at the other corner of the shop. “And that guy? Who was he?”

  Tyler has to follow my gaze, smiling. “His name is Roger. He comes here every morning, and it’s always before nine. He takes a medium, half-shot decaf latte with no foam, and he likes it in a large cup.”

  I blink at him as my eyebrows knit together. “What the hell, Tyler?”

  “And that lady right there—” he nods to the one that’s at the counter, with her hair in a ponytail and a backpack slung over one shoulder “—is Heather. And she’s most likely just ordered a large, two-shot white mocha with no foam, but with one shot of strawberry, one shot of vanilla, cream and cinnamon dust on the top. Super light on the cinnamon.”

  It only takes me a fraction of a second to piece together the obvious. “You work here?”

  Tyler just smiles and leans back in his chair, his coffee in hand, dangling from the tips of his fingers. “Yep. I’m usually the one serving them.”

  “Really?”

  He laughs at f
irst, then takes a sip of his coffee and leans forward again, resting his elbows on the table as he sets his cup down. “Sure do,” he says.

  I study him, because my first instinct is to think he may just be messing around. The thought of Tyler serving up coffee doesn’t fit with my image of him. But it actually makes sense. Tyler loves coffee as much as I do. He has the friendly smile for it. It doesn’t require a degree. It’s easy to get a job as a barista here in Portland. Hell, half the college students work in Starbucks. “This is where you’ve been working for the past year? You’re a barista?” My eyes drift toward the counter again, where Mikey and a girl are navigating swiftly around each other as they alternate between brewing coffee and serving customers. I try my best to picture Tyler doing the same. And in all honesty, I can imagine him there behind the counter.

  “Yeah,” Tyler says. He traces a pattern on the table with his index finger, his eyes never leaving mine. “Every single morning, from six until noon. Gotta earn some money on the side.”

  Now he has me confused again. “On the side of what?”

  “The other thing I do,” he says cryptically. He knows that I don’t have any idea what he’s even talking about, and I think he likes it, because there goes that smug glint in his eyes again that he’s trying so hard not to show. “I have to balance both.”

  I haven’t even had a sip of my latte yet, because I’m too focused on hearing what Tyler has to say. “The other thing?”

  “Yeah,” he says, “and it’s where we’re headed now.” He gets to his feet, pushing his chair back and reaching for his coffee. “It’s not far from here,” he tells me as I stand too. “Only a couple blocks away. Usually when my shifts are over, I just head straight over.”

  “Are you working two jobs?” I question.

  “Not exactly.” When I open my mouth to take another guess, he holds up his free hand. “Don’t ask. Just wait. You’ll see.”

  So I shut up from there on out, brimming with curiosity. There is nothing I hate more in this world than not knowing something I am desperate to know. And it’s like Tyler wants to make me wait as long as possible, because he heads back over to the counter one last time to tell Mikey that he’ll see him tomorrow when he’s back at work. Which makes me think: Shit, what the hell am I supposed to do tomorrow and every single day after that while Tyler’s here doing his shift? But I decide that I’ll think about it later, because right now I can’t focus on anything other than where Tyler is taking me.

  We head outside, coffees in hand, sun beating down on us. For a second, it almost feels like we’re back on the streets of New York, thousands of miles away from anyone we know, free to act and feel however the hell we want to. I miss those days of being carefree together. Even being in Portland is risky, despite the fact that the odds of anyone recognizing me after all these years is low. I just can’t bring myself to brush my hand against his. And I hate feeling like that, like it’s wrong. I absolutely hate it.

  We head east, toward the Willamette, which splits the city in two, the east and the west, and I find myself actually enjoying the walk around downtown Portland again. It’s refreshing to see something other than just chain stores and restaurants. We’ve only walked a couple blocks—just like Tyler said—when his pace slows to a halt. He points in front of us, to a large black door wedged between a tattoo studio and a clothes boutique. And that’s all it seems to be: just a door.

  “Come on in,” Tyler says. As he takes another gulp of his coffee, he pushes open the door. Holding it open with his shoulder, he lets me step over the threshold. I am greeted by a small entryway with nothing but a set of stairs. I guess they lead up to the second floor above the tattoo studio and the boutique. The fluorescent lighting is extremely bright.

  And if I wasn’t already confused before, then I am absolutely clueless now. Even slightly worried. “Where the hell are we?”

  Tyler takes a few steps up the stairs, then stops to look back at me. He’s smirking as he says, “Come upstairs and you’ll find out.”

  I follow him, anxiously biting my lower lip. I’m not sure what I’m expecting there to be up here, but knowing Portland, it could be anything.

  I am completely relieved and surprised when we reach the top of the stairs and Tyler pulls open a second door to reveal something I never expected to see.

  Music immediately sweeps over us, loud but not too loud. As Tyler reaches for my wrist and pulls me a few feet into the large open space, I’m gawking. We’re in a large area with vibrant red walls and a soft black carpet. There are a lot of people here, too. It’s all teenagers, both guys and girls. Some are slung over the bright, plush chairs in the far corner. Some are competitively hunched over the handful of foosball and air hockey tables that are in the center of the room. Some are lingering around the multiple vending machines against the walls. Some are glued to the row of laptops propped up on a long, low shelf that runs along the length of the far wall. There are even a couple plasma-screen TVs mounted up there, and when I look at the ceiling, I notice it is covered in words. Quotes and phrases. Mottos and mantras. Inspirational and hopeful.

  “What is this, Tyler?” My eyes focus back on him.

  His gaze is intense as he takes in everything that’s going on, a small smile on his face as he watches, but he seems to snap out of it when he hears my voice. Slowly, his eyes meet mine, his look serious. “A youth group.”

  “A youth group?” I echo. “You work here too?”

  “For starters, it’s a non-profit organization,” he says matter-of-factly, like I should know, although he’s being gentle about it. “So I don’t work here; I run it. Voluntarily, hence the job on the side.”

  I cross my arms as I try to process his words, to actually make sense of them. “This place is yours?”

  “Sure is,” he says with a beaming grin. The pride in his voice and in his smile and in his eyes is impossible not to notice.

  “And you run it all on your own?”

  Just then, a voice yells Tyler’s name. A female, British voice, followed by footsteps jogging across the carpet. And I know it’s her before I’ve even turned around, because there’s no other person that voice could possibly belong to. Yet at the same time, there’s so much new information to absorb that I’m beginning to feel disoriented, so when I do eventually spin around, the sight of Emily rushing toward us is enough to make me dizzy.

  16

  I haven’t seen Emily in a year. Not since last summer in New York. Tyler and I left for LA. She left for London. And I never really expected to see her again, but apparently I was wrong to assume that, because here she is now, pulling Tyler into a brief hug.

  “You’re back early!” she says as she steps away from him, her eyes wide with surprise. “I thought you weren’t supposed to be back until tomorrow.”

  “It didn’t take as long as I thought it would to convince someone to come with me,” he says, the corner of his lips curling as he gives a pointed glance in my direction.

  “Ah, Eden! You’re actually here!” she exclaims, almost leaping into my arms at the same time. The perfume she’s wearing smells amazing, and her hair is soft against my face as she wraps her arms around me. It’s darker than I remember it being, and she notices the difference in mine too, because when she stands back to examine me, she asks, “Did you cut your hair?”

  “A long time ago,” I murmur, glancing down at the tips of my hair and running my hands through the ends. When I glance back, I have to shake my head at her. “What are you doing here?”

  “I’m volunteering here,” she says. “I’m helping Tyler out for a few months.”

  Tyler’s sheepish now, and he anxiously touches his sunglasses as he steps in front of me, side-by-side with Emily. It’s unlike Tyler to be shy. “I eventually got to a point where I realized I couldn’t do all of this on my own, so I called Emily up and said, Hey, want to come back to the states and live in Portland?”

  “And of course I said yes,” she finishes, flas
hing Tyler a dazzling grin. I can’t seem to fathom just how proud they both look in the humblest of ways. “Best decision I’ve ever made, besides the tour, obviously.”

  “Both of you have been here in Portland?” I ask. It’s Emily I’m looking at. Not only did Tyler keep me in the dark about this, but apparently she did too. Neither of them ever thought to tell me, and it makes me feel as though they didn’t trust me enough to keep me in the loop. “And you didn’t mention it to me?” A pang of hurt jabs at my heart, but I try to push it away.

  Emily’s smile slants into an apologetic expression, her eyes dimming as though asking for forgiveness. Then suddenly she throws her head back and covers her face with her hands. “Ahh, I know. I’m sorry. Tyler didn’t want me to bring it up, because then you’d ask what I was here for, and then I’d have to lie.”

  I think about this for a second, and I understand it. I get the whole thing about Tyler needing space. I get the part that he didn’t want anyone to know where he was. What I don’t understand is what stopped Tyler from telling me about this, about what he was doing. He could have sent one text. One damn text, telling me that things were fine and everything was going well for him, because for the past year, the only news I ever got was from Ella, when she’d find ways of slipping small pieces of information into daily conversations when Dad wasn’t around. She never appeared to be worried about him, so I guess I always knew that he must have been okay. By the time he did start calling, it was far too late. My contempt for him was overbearing and I could never bring myself to answer. Maybe if I had answered, he would have told me everything he is telling me now. Just maybe.

 
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