Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  I only realize I haven’t replied when Tyler steps toward me and asks, “Are you okay?”

  “It’s just . . .” I shake my head and press my hand to my cheek. “This is crazy, Tyler.”

  Emily glances between Tyler and me a few times, then slowly backs away. “I’ll let you guys talk,” she mumbles in that accent of hers, her features gentle. “I’m really glad you actually came, Eden. I’ll catch up with you later, yeah?”

  I nod, and she wanders off across the room. I watch her closely as she throws herself into conversation with a group of young girls in the corner by the vending machines, laughing and smiling as though they’re her best friends, despite the fact that they look to be freshmen in high school.

  I turn back to Tyler and ask, “What exactly is it that you do here?”

  “C’mon.” He nods at a door in the opposite corner. With our coffees still in tow, he reaches for my hand and gently leads me across the carpet.

  As we’re making our move, a young guy cautiously approaches. He can’t be much older than sixteen. Anxiously, he pulls the sleeves of his hoodie over his hands as he says, “Hey, Tyler. Emily said you weren’t gonna be here again until tomorrow.”

  “Yeah, I know,” Tyler answers. We stop just outside the door, yet he doesn’t immediately let go of my hand like he would have done a year ago the second anyone came near us. It’s an odd feeling standing here, surrounded by people with our hands tightly interlocked. It’s a feeling I could grow used to. A feeling that one day I just might not feel guilty about. “I got back into town yesterday. Any news about your mom yet?”

  “Nothing yet.” The kid drops his eyes to the floor and shrugs. “My dad’s gonna call me later once she gets out of surgery.”

  “That’s good,” says Tyler. “I’ll come talk to you in a sec, okay? This is Eden, by the way.” He lets go of my hand at this point and throws his arm over my shoulders instead, so casually and so easily. It’s difficult to focus on anything else besides his constant touch, but I force myself to keep my eyes trained on the kid opposite us.

  “Hi,” I say, offering the gentlest of smiles my features can possibly allow.

  But he doesn’t say anything back, only nods at the ground and turns around, shuffling toward the laptops.

  “That’s Bryce,” Tyler explains, pressing his back against the door and pushing it open. “His mom’s been in the hospital for the past couple weeks, so he hangs out here to keep himself occupied. He’s super reserved.”

  I follow Tyler through the door and into a smaller room. It’s an office. In the center sits a huge oak desk with a black leather adjustable chair behind it. The floor is hardwood, the walls red to match the room we just came from. Lining one wall are filing cabinets with folders piled on top of them.

  Tyler clicks the door shut and takes my coffee from me, placing it down on the desk and urging me to sit.

  I shoot him a look. “Huh?”

  “Sit down so I can talk to you,” he says, laughing softly.

  Slightly hesitant, I seat myself in the chair. It’s extremely comfy. I spin around once or twice, then I rock back and forth, nodding with approval. “Nice,” I say.

  Tyler chuckles and slides some of the sheets of paper out of the way so that he can perch himself on the corner of the desk. It makes him look so professional, like a lawyer or a principal who’s getting ready to bombard me with information.

  He flips off the lid of his coffee and places it on the desk, then takes a long sip. “So,” he begins. “Welcome to my non-profit. We’re open every day from eight until ten in the summer. Emily’s here from eight until five. I turn up at noon after my shift at the coffee shop and stay until ten, so there’s always one of us here, if not both of us, plus a small group of extra volunteers to help out. As for what we do?” His smile widens and his eyes grow bright. “We’re just here to talk, to provide someplace where people can come if they need to. All sorts of kids turn up—from sixth grade to seniors. They come for all different reasons. Some come to make friends. Some come if their parents have argued and they want to get out of the house. Some come just so they have someone to talk to. And I think it works that we’re only twenty ourselves, you know? We’re not some fifty-year-old parents trying to tell them what’s wrong or what’s right. I think they find it easier to talk to us, because we’re more on their level.”

  I nod, taking his words in, but before I can ask more about what he does here, Tyler continues.

  “You know what was crazy?” He glances down, picking the lid of his cup up and turning it over in his hands. “There’s a sophomore called Alex who’s here all the time, and a couple months back, I got a text from him late one Friday night just as I was packing up to leave here. He was at some house with a group of guys he didn’t really know all that well and he was supposed to be staying over, but they started pulling out acid tabs, and Alex is a good kid. He didn’t want to stick around, but he doesn’t have his license and he didn’t want to have to call his dad, so he called me. I drove all the way over there and picked him up, yet he didn’t want to go home because then his parents would wonder why he’d come home and he didn’t want them questioning him. So he stayed at my place.” He stops playing with the lid and glances at me, and it only occurs to me then that for once, he’s actually stopped smiling. His lips are pressed together and his gaze is soft yet almost pained in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. “I think that’s when I realized that Hey, I’m actually doing something good here.” He tilts his face down, his eyes trained on his lap, and I stare numbly back at him, wondering just how exactly it’s possible for someone to grow as much as he has, to make such a drastic turnaround, to become so . . . So inspiring. In that instant, I realize there isn’t a better person to run this group than Tyler. He’s been through a lot, from abuse to addiction, from the breakdown of his family to manipulative relationships, from feeling alone to having to act like everything is fine. He understands the struggle that some of these kids may be facing. He knows how they feel.

  “It’s supposed to be a positive environment,” he says as he gets to his feet. “Somewhere people can come to distract themselves, to get advice, to have fun. Emily likes to call it a safe haven.”

  “I think this is amazing,” I say honestly. Yet I can’t help but think that perhaps things may have been different if he had just told me long before now. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so mad, maybe I would have understood more. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent twelve months wondering what was really going on. “Does your mom know about all of this?”

  “For the most part, yeah.” Tyler turns around, his back to me. Slowly, he moves to a filing cabinet in the corner of the room, opening the first drawer. He spends a good few seconds rummaging through files before pulling out a folder, which he opens briefly to skim, then he looks back at me over his shoulder. “I don’t tell her everything, you know? There are a couple things I’ve never mentioned.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like the same things I haven’t mentioned to you.” He gives me a small smile and slams the cabinet drawer shut, reaching for his coffee and turning to face me. “But I’m getting to it. I just have to think of the right words first.”

  I roll the chair back across the carpet and stand, joining Tyler. “When you say shit like that, you stress me out,” I tell him. “Did you know that?”

  He grins. “My bad.”

  There’s a soft knock on the door, and then it opens up a crack. Emily peers around the frame. “Am I interrupting?”

  Even though I’m nowhere near what is considered close proximity to Tyler, I still take a subconscious step back. “No,” I say.

  Emily pushes the door open fully and moves into the room, her hair now scraped back into a high ponytail that swings around her shoulders. Her gaze settles on Tyler. “Bryce is waiting for you. He’s been asking for you all weekend, and I know it’s your day off, but would you go talk to him?”

  “Yeah, I’ll go catch up with h
im right now.” He makes a start for the door, but then he seems to remember that, unlike usual, I’m here too, because he pauses and glances back at me. “Eden?”

  I wave my hands toward the door. “Go.”

  There’s gratitude in the smile he gives me before he leaves. Then it’s just Emily and me. Alone, Emily crosses the room toward me, her eyes lit up in the most content and happiest of ways, and I wonder then just what exactly that must feel like.

  “I’m seriously so happy that you’re here,” she says, reaching for my arm and gently tugging me through the door and out into the main room. “It’s been so bloody long.”

  “And I’m seriously so confused that you’re here,” I reply. I still can’t get over the fact that Emily is by my side right now. “This entire time, I thought you were back home, suffering at the hands of the British weather you used to complain so much about.”

  Emily laughs uneasily as she leads me over to the windows that allow the morning sunlight to stream into the property, keeping it bright. “Honestly,” she sighs, “being back home was the worst, so I couldn’t say no when Tyler called me up and asked if I would consider coming over here to help him out over the summer. It took a few months, but eventually I was on a flight over.”

  “You came back just like that?”

  She shrugs and then pulls herself onto the window ledge, crossing her legs. I mirror her actions so that I’m up there next to her, with the sun beating down on us. “I wasn’t really doing anything productive anyway,” she admits, tucking some loose strands of hair behind her ears. “I was in the same position as Tyler. It’s like you come home from the tour and reality hits you and you have to think, Shit, what now? When Tyler rang, I was so bloody bored working checkouts at Tesco that it wasn’t exactly a hard choice to pack up and give him a hand. So far, I think I actually like it here better than New York.”

  “Seriously?”

  “It’s a big city with a small-town vibe,” she says. “That’s rare to find.” I nod in agreement before turning my attention to the teenagers around us. A couple of them are watching us out of the corner of their eye, most likely wondering who the hell I am. A few others are just starting to arrive.

  I can’t help but marvel at the space, at all the technology in it, and the way these kids gravitate toward it. It’s a weird feeling knowing that this is what Tyler has been doing for the past year, but at the same time, it’s satisfying. A good feeling. It’s nice to know that he’s been doing something good, something productive and worthwhile, something meaningful.

  Observing all the activity, I voice my thoughts. “How are these kids even awake? It’s summer. And it’s not even ten yet.”

  “Trust me, this is when it’s quiet,” she laughs. “Wait until after noon. That’s when it gets busy.”

  My eyes find their way to Tyler. He’s at the opposite end of the room with the kid from before, Bryce. He’s relaxed, his shoulders low and his expression warm and inviting. He nods each time Bryce finishes talking. Watching him, I can tell he really does belong here. This place has changed him in ways I never thought possible.

  “I should introduce you to everyone,” Emily says out of nowhere, and my eyes immediately snap back over to her. “Most of them know about you, anyway. They know that the reason Tyler took a few days off was to go see you.” She slides off the window ledge, landing softly on her feet. “But tell me,” she continues, hands on her hips, eyes studying me, “how would you prefer to be introduced? As Tyler’s stepsister, or as his . . .” Her voice tapers off, and she gives me an anxious smile as though she’s afraid she may have hit a nerve.

  “Stepsister,” I say. Whatever the hell Tyler and I are, I am definitely not that word. I never have been. And given our circumstances, I’m still not sure if I ever will be. Even if Dad and Jamie do eventually come around and accept us, I still have to go back to Chicago in the fall, over two thousand miles away from here, from Tyler. It just seems so impossible.

  Emily nods in understanding, then leads me over to the nearest group of teens, a small huddle of girls stretched over the chairs in the corner. She introduces me as Eden, Tyler’s stepsister from LA, who is actually from here, from Portland. And there’s some ohhing and some quiet heys, and then they turn back to what they were doing and we move on, repeating the process over and over again until every single person in this building knows my name.

  By that time, Tyler is free again, and he pads his way across the carpet toward us with his never-ending smile still dominating his features. Seeing him smile like that really does hurt, and I don’t know why. “What’s up?”

  “I’ve introduced Eden to everyone,” Emily tells him, then she glances quickly between us. “But seriously, guys, you don’t need to stick around here. Go and spend the day together, and Tyler, don’t come back until tomorrow like you were supposed to.”

  My gaze finds Tyler’s, and I wait for him to say something, secretly hoping that he’ll agree with her. I wouldn’t mind spending the day with him, just the two of us. That’s why I came back to Portland with him in the first place. I came to find out if we had anything left, and with each day that has passed since Thursday, with each hour, each minute, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we do. I came to find out if we’re worth saving. And just maybe we are.

  “You’re right,” Tyler says. I bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from smiling like a fool. Luckily, he doesn’t notice, because he’s taunting Emily by asking, “Are you sure you can handle it?”

  “Please,” she says with a scoff, “I’ve been handling it all weekend.”

  All three of us laugh, but it’s brief, and then we say our goodbyes until tomorrow. Emily heads off while Tyler and I turn for the main door. He walks slowly, with his arms swinging by his hips, and it’s so, so tempting. So fucking tempting.

  “Anywhere specific you want to go?” he asks, and I tear my eyes away from the veins in his hands and pray he doesn’t notice the color rising to my cheeks.

  “Not particularly,” I murmur. Tilting my head down, I allow my hair to fall over my face, hiding my expression so Tyler can’t read it.

  “I’ve got an idea,” he says quickly, his voice light and enthusiastic.

  I turn around then to face him, expression curious. “Which is?”

  “I’ll show you.” His eyes bright with mischief, he reaches for the door and pulls it open, and I spin back around, ready to descend the stairs back to the street.

  But I don’t get very far, not even one step, because I’ve already collided into something before I even get the chance to make a move. It’s something hard, a person, a kid running up the stairs too fast, most probably.

  In the instant that it all happens, I find myself retreating back while mumbling, “I’m sorry,” as fast as I can.

  And then Tyler reaches for my arm and moves me to the side as he steps forward, and that’s when I finally look up at the poor kid I’ve most likely tumbled halfway back down the stairs. However, I’m entirely perplexed to find that it’s not a kid at all.

  In fact, it’s an adult, a man. He’s standing there near the top of the stairs, mere inches in front of us, eyebrows arched so high in surprise that they may just disappear into his dark hairline. There’s a folder clutched tightly in his hand, a shining gold watch on his wrist, and his shirt is tucked neatly into his pants, a tie loose around the collar. At first, I think he’s in the wrong building. This is a youth group, not a conference center or an office complex, and I continue to think that until Tyler talks, making it clear that this is no stranger.

  “What are you doing here?” he asks. There’s some urgency in his tone, but for the most part, he just sounds confused. “You weren’t supposed to fly in until next Friday.”

  The man, who still appears relatively young, maybe nearing forty, glances at the folder in his hand and then raises it. “The accountant finished that forecast we wanted earlier than planned, so I thought I’d come drop it off.” He’s surprisingly soft sp
oken for such a strong-looking man, and there’s something about his features that draw my eyes to his clean-shaven face. “And I should ask what you’re doing here. Weren’t you heading home for a few days?”

  “Yeah, but I got back last night.” Tyler shifts his footing, uncomfortable, both hands stuffed anxiously into the front pockets of his jeans. The man gives a pointed look in my direction, and I notice the way Tyler swallows the lump in his throat before forcing himself to say, “This is Eden.”

  “Ah,” the man says. He studies me, analyzing my expression as he gives me a tight, tense smile. I’m staring back, not because I’m curious, but because I cannot tear my eyes away. I’m so drawn in by him, and my stomach slowly starts to twist as I take in his tanned complexion and the dark hair and the bright eyes that I’m slowly realizing are much more emerald than they first appeared. He’s familiar, and the resemblance to the person standing opposite him is impossible to deny.

  “And Eden, this is . . .” Tyler’s voice catches, and he swallows once more, exhaling shakily. He takes a second to compose himself and control the sudden anxiety that seems to have hit him. When he speaks again, I’ve already realized what he has to say before he’s even opened his mouth. “This is my dad.”

  17

  I say it out loud. I literally splutter, “What the fuck?” Almost defensively, I find myself shifting backward, closer to Tyler, away from the man standing opposite me. The man I’ve grown to loathe over the past few years. I feel sick to my stomach. So sick, actually, that I have to hold my breath to stop myself from throwing up. My thoughts are all over the place, and I can’t focus on a single one. I am so confused, so taken aback and so shocked.

  Eventually, the only thing running through my head is still, What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck? Because I don’t know why he’s here. I don’t know why he’s in Portland, why he’s here in this building, why he’s standing here in front of us.

 
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