Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  “After-party?” Rachael echoes. We exchange glances and I can tell immediately by the look in her eyes that she’s keen to go.

  “Yeah, yeah,” Jake says, his voice overflowing with enthusiasm as he grins down at us through that beard. “There are kegs and everything! C’mon, it’s the Fourth of July. It’s the weekend. You gotta come. Everyone’s gonna be there.”

  I frown. “Everyone?”

  “TJ and all the guys, Meghan and Jared are already there, Dean’s coming by later, I think Austin Camer—”

  “Pass.”

  Jake stops talking and his grin twists into a frustrated scowl. He looks to Rachael, and for a brief second, I’m convinced he’s just rolled his eyes. When his bloodshot gaze focuses back on me, he gently grabs my shoulders and shakes me around. “Helloooooo?” He dramatically widens his eyes and pretends to scour every inch of my face. “Where the hell is Eden? I know I haven’t seen you in a hell of a long time, but surely you can’t have gotten this boring in the space of two years.”

  Not amused, I shrug Jake’s grip off me and take a step back. Because he isn’t a close friend, or even a friend at all anymore, I don’t find it necessary to explain myself to him. So I remain quiet, staring at my Chucks and hoping Rachael will step in and save me as usual, because that’s all I’ve been depending on lately. I depend on Rachael to remind everyone that I never actually dated my stepbrother and that I never will. I depend on her to get me out of situations where I might bump into Dean. I’m still too ashamed to face him after everything that’s happened, and I doubt he wants to deal with me either. No one wants to deal with their ex-girlfriend, especially one that cheated on them.

  As always, I hear Rachael tell Jake, “She doesn’t have to go if she doesn’t want to.” I continue to stare at my shoes, because every time Rachael comes to my rescue, I feel more weak and pathetic than I did before.

  “You can’t avoid him forever,” Jake mutters. He suddenly sounds solemn, and when I glance up, I realize it’s completely obvious to him that the reason I don’t want to go to this party is because of Dean. I can’t deny it, so I only shrug and rub at my temple. There’s a second reason, of course. It’s the same reason my stomach has tightened. I’ve only been to TJ’s once before and that was three years ago. I was there with my stepbrother. Tonight of all nights, I really don’t want to head over there again.

  “You go,” I tell Rachael after a moment of silence. I can see how desperately she wants to go to this party, yet I know she’ll most likely turn down the offer so that she doesn’t leave me alone. That’s what best friends do. But best friends also compromise, and Rachael has already spent her evening making sure that I’ve been okay on this dreaded day, so I really do want her to go have some fun. After all, the Fourth has landed on a Friday this year, so many people are making the best of it. Rachael should too. “I’ll go find Ella or something.”

  “I don’t mind.”

  Even I can tell she’s lying. “Rachael,” I say firmly. I nod toward TJ’s condo, off in the distance. “Go.”

  Apprehensive, she pinches her lower lip between her fingers and contemplates for a short while. She’s hardly wearing any makeup tonight—she rarely does anymore—so she barely looks seventeen, let alone twenty. “Are you sure?”

  “Positive.”

  “Then c’mon!” Jake explodes, his overbearing grin back on his eagle-tattooed face as he reaches for Rachael’s hand, yanking her toward him. “We’ve got a party to get to!” He begins to pull my best friend away, hauling her down the boardwalk and away from the pier. She manages to wave goodbye just before they disappear through the crowd.

  Once they’re gone, I check my phone for the time. It’s after 9:30. Both the Marina del Rey and Pacific Palisades firework displays are over by now, so there are a lot of people beginning to head home. I pull up Ella’s number and start to call her. Unfortunately, my mom and her boyfriend Jack are both working this evening, so only my dad and my stepmom are out here at the pier to celebrate the Fourth of July. They’re my ride home, so I’ve got no choice but to hunt them down. But what’s even more unfortunate is that it’s Dad’s turn to have me stay with him for the week. That’s the worst part about having divorced parents: being thrown back and forth between different houses. I hate staying at Dad’s place, and he loathes it even more than I do, mostly because it’s unbearably tense and awkward. Like Jamie, Dad only talks to me if it’s absolutely necessary.

  Ella’s phone is busy, so the call is directed straight to her voicemail. I don’t leave a message, only hang up as quick as I can. I dread the idea of having to call Dad instead. I scroll through my contacts, pulling up his number and calling it. It starts to ring and I feel myself frowning as I wait for his coarse voice to answer.

  Yet as I’m standing on the boardwalk with people milling around me and with my phone pressed to my ear, something catches my attention. It’s my youngest stepbrother, Chase. He’s lingering over by the Bubba Gump restaurant, and he’s alone, when he shouldn’t be. Despite this, he doesn’t look too worried, mostly just bored as he paces slowly back and forth.

  I hang up the call to my dad and head over toward Chase. He spots me as I approach and instantly he stops pacing and looks sheepish.

  “Where are your friends?” I ask once I reach him. I glance around, searching for a group of soon-to-be-freshmen boys, but I can’t see them.

  Chase twirls a thick lock of his blond hair around his index finger. “They took the bus to Venice, but I didn’t go because—”

  “Because your mom told you not to leave the pier,” I finish, and he nods. Chase’s friendship circle is prone to getting into trouble often, but he’s smart enough to know when not to break the rules. I’m sure his friends’ parents don’t want their kids sneaking off to Venice on the Fourth of July. It’ll be pretty rowdy over there right now, so I’m glad Chase has chosen to stay behind. “Wanna hang with me?”

  “Sure.”

  Throwing my arm over his shoulders, I pull him away from the restaurant and head toward Pacific Park. Chase loves the arcade games, but before we’ve even gotten within a twenty-foot radius of the Playland Arcade, I have to stop when my phone starts to ring. Picking up the call, I have to take a second to prepare myself mentally before I can answer when I see that it is Dad calling me.

  “What did you want?” is how he greets me, his tone gruff. That’s all it ever is these days.

  Angling my body slightly away from Chase, I press my phone closer against my ear and tell him, “Nothing. I was just wondering where you guys were.”

  “Well, we’re at the car,” Dad shoots back, as though he expects me to know that already. “Hurry up and meet us here unless you want to ask your brother to give you a ride home instead, which I’m sure he won’t.”

  With that, I promptly hang up the call without saying anything more. Most of my phone calls with Dad usually end like this, with one of us hanging up mid-sentence, and most of our conversations face-to-face end with one of us storming off. Admittedly, I’m the one who hangs up the calls. Dad’s the one who storms out.

  “Who was that?” Chase asks when I turn back around.

  “We’re heading home,” I answer, dodging the question. It’s not that Chase is oblivious to the fact that my dad and I can’t stand each other, it’s just easier to keep the tension to a minimum when it comes to the rest of the family. Whatever our family is. I pull Chase even closer against me as I spin him around once again, this time away from Pacific Park and back toward the city. “No arcade games tonight.”

  Chase shrugs under my arm. “I already won a load of tickets earlier.”

  “How many?”

  Slightly smug, he grins and pats the back pockets of his shorts. They’re both bulging with yellow tickets. “Over seven hundred.”

  “No way. What are you saving them for?”

  “I’m trying to reach two thousand.”

  We talk about the arcade games and the tickets and the Pacific Wheel and th
e fireworks and Venice as we make our way back down the boardwalk and out onto Ocean Avenue, tracing our steps back to the car. Parking on the Fourth is always incredibly hectic, and after spending a couple minutes disagreeing with Chase over where Dad parked earlier in the evening, I realize I’m the one who’s wrong. We’re not parked north of the freeway like I’d thought, but south of it, down on Pico Boulevard and Third Street. It’s a good half-mile away, so we walk pretty damn fast. Dad doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Ever.

  The Lexus is wedged against the sidewalk between two other cars when we reach it ten minutes later, and to my surprise, Dad’s standing outside the car. Arms folded across his chest, foot tapping the ground impatiently, same ugly expression as always.

  “Oh, good, you found your brother,” he says sharply, emphasizing that final word. Jamie and Chase are never simply just “Jamie and Chase” anymore. For the past year, Dad has always referred to them as my brothers as though to prove a point. Jamie hates it as much as I do, whereas I don’t think Chase has picked up on it at all.

  I keep my cool and instead of growing irritated at Dad’s disdainful tone, I glance over his shoulder, resting my eyes on Ella. She’s in the passenger seat of the car, her body turned away from the window, but I can still see her phone pressed to her ear. Most likely still the same call she was engaged in when I called earlier. I look back at Dad. “Business?”

  “Uh-huh.” He leans over and raps his knuckles harshly and quickly against the window, startling Ella to the point where her phone almost flies out of her hand. She spins around in the seat and looks back at Dad through the glass, only for him to nod his head toward Chase and me. Ella nods back, moves her device back to her ear, murmurs something, and then hangs up. That’s when Dad finally tells us to get inside the car.

  Chase and I clamber into the backseat, pulling on our seatbelts as Dad slips into the driver’s seat, fixing me with a firm glare in the rearview mirror, which I ignore. As he starts to drive, Ella cranes her neck over the back of the passenger seat.

  “Don’t you want to stay out a little later?” she asks me, blond hair framing her face. It’s nearing ten by now, so I’m not sure what she was expecting me to stay out for. The last thing I wanted to do was go to that party at TJ’s, so I’m happy to be going home.

  “Not really,” I tell her. I don’t mention the party. Nor the fact that the entire night has sucked.

  “What about you, buddy?” Dad cuts in, nodding to Chase in the rearview mirror. “I thought Gregg’s mom was going to take you all home later.”

  Chase stops texting to glance up. He fires me a sideways glance, so I rack my brain for a second before telling Dad, “He didn’t feel too good, so I told him to come home with us.” To make it sound convincing, I look at Chase with fake concern and ask, “How are you feeling now?”

  “Better,” Chase says as he plays along, pressing the back of his hand to his forehead and rubbing it soothingly. “I think the Pacific Wheel was giving me a migraine, but I’m totally fine now. Can we stop for burgers? Please, Dad? I’m dying over here. You don’t want me to pass out, do you?”

  Ella rolls her eyes and turns back around in her seat. Dad only says, “Let me think about it.”

  With neither of them paying much attention to us, I curl my hand into a fist and rest it on the middle seat. He bumps his own fist against mine immediately, and we subtly smile at one another. If Dad knew about the trouble that Chase’s friends often got themselves into, Chase would never be allowed to see them again. It’s better not to mention it, even when Chase always does the right thing.

  We end up dropping by the Wendy’s drive-thru over on Lincoln Boulevard on the way home. Dad and Chase both get burgers. I get a vanilla Frosty. A large. I spend the rest of the car journey home eating it, staring out the window at the dark skies, listening to Dad and Ella talk over the ’80s music they’ve put on in the background. They’re wondering if Jamie will be home before his curfew at midnight. Dad reckons he’ll be an hour late.

  We’re back on Deidre Avenue within ten minutes due to the traffic having eased slightly, where Dad parks up on the drive by Ella’s Range Rover. With my empty cup in my hand, I push open the car door and step out once Dad switches the engine off. I’m about to make my way up to the front door when Ella catches my attention, calling my name over the roof of the Lexus.

  “Can you help me get some groceries out of the trunk from earlier?” she asks in a firm voice, and gives the Range Rover a clipped nod. Because I like Ella, I make my way over to her car without hesitation. She follows me as she fumbles in her purse for her keys, and once she finds them, she pops the trunk.

  I glance down, ready to reach in to gather up a bunch of grocery bags, but I’m perplexed to discover that the trunk is empty. Wondering if Ella’s having a moment of forgetfulness, I arch an eyebrow and look up at her. Her eyes are suddenly wide and wary and she’s surreptitiously peering around the car, watching Dad and Chase make their way into the house. Once they’re inside, her eyes lock on mine.

  “Tyler called,” she says.

  I take a step back, defensive. His name feels like a weapon. That’s why I never say it anymore. That’s why I never want to hear it. It always hurts far too much. Already my throat feels tight as I forget to keep breathing and a shiver runs throughout my body. The earlier call wasn’t a business call at all. It was Tyler. He always calls Ella, once a week or so, and I’m perfectly aware of this. She desperately awaits his calls, but she never mentions them to the rest of us. Not until right now.

  She swallows and glances back at the house before she talks again, fearful that Dad might hear her. No one is allowed to mention Tyler’s name around me. Dad’s strict orders, of course, and I think it’s the only thing we’ve ever agreed on. Yet Ella continues, looking at me in a way that’s both pitying and sad as she quietly says, “He asked me to wish you a happy Fourth.”

  The irony almost makes me laugh, but it angers me to the point where it’s impossible to find it funny. The Fourth of July, three years ago, Tyler and I were in the hallways at Culver City High School during the firework display. That’s where all of this mess really started. That’s when I realized I was looking at my stepbrother in the way that I shouldn’t have been. We got arrested for trespassing that night. The Fourth of July, last year, Tyler and I weren’t at a firework display. We were in his apartment in New York City, alone in the dark as the rain drenched the city. He quoted a Bible verse. Wrote on my body, said that I was his. They were the other Fourth of Julys. Not this one. To wish me a happy Fourth tonight is almost like some sort of joke. I haven’t seen him in a year. He walked out and left me when I needed him by my side the most. I’m not his anymore, so how dare he wish me a happy Fourth of July when he’s not here to spend it with me?

  As my mind tries to process everything, I feel my temper flaring up. Ella’s waiting for me to say something back, so before I turn around and storm into the house, I reach up and slam the trunk shut.

  “Tell Tyler it’s been far from it.”

  2

  I get a call from Rachael just after midnight. I’m not quite asleep, but I’m getting there, so the interruption only annoys me. I reach out and answer my phone, rubbing my eyes and fighting the urge to roll them as the sound of music and yelling echoes through my device. “Let me guess,” I say. “You need a ride?”

  “Not me,” Rachael says after a second, her voice loud and, surprisingly, not slurred. “Your brother.”

  It’s the last thing I expect her to say. It takes me so much by surprise that I quickly sit up, already reaching for my car keys on my bedside table. “Jamie?”

  “Yeah. TJ wants him out,” she explains. She sounds almost sober and I can sense her frowning. “He’s playing with the set of knives in the kitchen and he just threw up.”

  “What the hell is he doing there in the first place?”

  “TJ’s brother is here and he invited a bunch of his friends over, so there are seniors running around
all over the place and it’s making me feel really old.” Rachael pauses for a moment as someone in the background yells at her to shut up, most likely one of the aforementioned high school kids, and after cursing back at them she moves her phone back to her ear. “Actually, can you come get me too? This whole thing is kinda lame.”

  “I’ll be there in five.” Once I’ve hung up, I sigh and swing my body out of my bed, flicking on the light and grabbing my same red Chucks from earlier. Keeping my pajamas on, I pull on a hoodie over the top and then leave my room.

  The house is quiet. Not because Dad and Ella are asleep, but because they’re not here. They’re across the street at Dawn and Philip’s house, Rachael’s parents, who’ve been hosting some sort of Fourth of July get-together all night. Dad and Ella promised them they’d drop by later. I can imagine it already: all the middle-aged moms and dads drinking beer and cocktails, socializing to the crap music that they considered cool back when they were my age. I’m glad they’re there, however, because it lets me make an easy getaway to rescue Rachael and Jamie without Dad interrogating me.

  I make my way downstairs without having to tiptoe around the house and I don’t bother to tell Chase that I’m heading out because I don’t want to wake him. Before I leave, I grab a bucket from the backyard and take it with me. The last thing I want is my stepbrother throwing up all over my seats. I lock up and make a quick dash for my car, just in case Dad or Ella happen to be standing near the front window of Rachael’s living room. The lights are all on and behind the closed blinds I can see the shadows of everyone milling around. I don’t dither, just throw myself and the bucket into my car and get going.

  The roads aren’t busy at this time, so it’s only a five-minute drive to TJ’s place, straight down Deidre Avenue and onto Ocean Avenue, along the beachfront. The pier is closed by now, so everything feels too still compared with how it was a few hours ago. TJ’s condo, on the other hand, is far from still. The streets are lined with cars, including Jamie’s BMW, and it’s impossible to pull up and park, so I wait in the middle of the road, ready to move if I cause a late-night obstacle. I text Rachael to let her know I’m here, and I also text Jamie and tell him that he needs to get his drunken ass outside within a minute.

 
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