Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  “I can explain,” Tyler says quickly, turning to face me directly. It’s like he can see the growing list of questions in my head, the panic and bewilderment in my eyes, the same way I can see the stress and anxiety in his. More explanations, I think. Just when I believe I finally know everything, it turns out there are still some things he hasn’t thought to mention.

  “You haven’t told her yet?” his dad asks. Again, I think, What the fuck? He sounds surprised, and when I glance over in contempt at every single fiber of his being, his green eyes read disbelief. He doesn’t look like how I imagined him to, like a criminal. He presents himself well. I never expected to ever lay eyes on him, but if I did, I never expected him to look so average. I expected harsh glares and grazed knuckles and lips set in a permanent scowl. I expected him to look like someone who’s capable of inflicting abuse. But he doesn’t. He looks respectable, and that’s even worse.

  “I was getting to it,” Tyler mumbles in reply. He closes his eyes and presses a hand over his face, rubbing his right temple. Then he adds, “I thought I had until next week.”

  “Well,” the asshole across from me says, “I’m sorry for dropping by so unexpectedly.” He tucks the folder under his arm and switches his gaze back to me, his lips boasting a warm, friendly smile. It’s the most infuriating thing in the world. “Peter,” he says, giving me a clipped nod.

  “I know who you are,” I snap back at him. My voice is seething with disgust, my glare fierce. I can’t suppress it. I hate this man and I just can’t bring myself to tolerate him, to be nice to him. He doesn’t deserve my respect, and never will he gain it.

  “What the hell is going on, Tyler?” When I flash my eyes back to him, he looks as though he’s desperate to disappear. The discomfort is evident across his features.

  “I can come back later . . .” Peter offers, holding a hand up as though in surrender as he backs away. He’s frowning now, seemingly unsettled by the tense atmosphere. That, or my fueled temper. Perhaps his first impression of me isn’t a good one, but right now, I really don’t care.

  “No,” Tyler says. He drops his hand from his face, straightening up and releasing a long breath, shoulders broad, chest out. “Give those files to Emily,” he orders, fixing his dad with a firm look, which is the strangest yet most satisfying thing I believe I’ve ever seen him do. The control in his voice and in his eyes and in his stance is comforting, because surprisingly, that power isn’t Peter’s. “Eden, let’s go.”

  Urgently, he reaches for my hand, his fingers automatically intertwining around mine, like they simply belong there. Tugging me desperately down the stairs, we leave his dad behind, and I throw one final glance over my shoulder only to find that he’s staring down at us, running a hand through his hair the exact same way that Tyler does. I grit my teeth as Tyler pulls me outside onto the sidewalk, the door slamming shut behind us.

  We hesitate there on the street, looking at each other as strangers stroll past us. Tyler breathes heavily as he squeezes his hand even tighter around mine. Then he leans back against the window of the tattoo studio, perching himself on the window’s ledge, and he draws me closer toward him. When he looks at me, his gaze is a mixture of a hundred and one different emotions, like he can’t decide how exactly he feels.

  “That’s what I needed to tell my mom,” he murmurs, and then even quieter, he adds, “It’s what I needed to tell you.”

  “What is?” I ask, retracting my hand from his and folding my arms across my chest instead. “I have no idea what’s going on right now. Please can you just tell me what the hell your dad is doing here.”

  “The short version?” He swallows hard. “He’s been back in my life since September.”

  I draw in a sharp breath as deep creases of surprise develop across my forehead. Slowly, I relax my arms and drop them to my sides. It takes a great amount of effort just to remain calm. “Why . . . ?” I ask. I don’t understand, and it’s making me feel exasperated. I simply can’t fathom why Tyler would even let this happen. It makes my head feel heavy, like I’m drowning in questions that desperately require answers. “How?”

  Tyler straightens up and his eyes dart from left to right as he warily scans the people milling around. Then he reaches into the back pocket of his jeans for his car keys and clenches his fist around them, his lips forming a tight frown. “Come back to the car,” he tells me, starting to walk. His steps are quick and his free hand finds mine again. Because I’m in a total state of shock and disbelief, I am numb to the feeling of his skin against mine. “What I need to tell you,” he explains, “I can’t say out here.”

  I don’t know what to think as we trace our way back to the parking garage. My eyes aren’t focused on anything in particular, and I’m entirely zoned-out as Tyler leads me back past the coffee shop on the corner where he works, past Pioneer Square. I hardly take notice of them. All I can do is blink, my mind elsewhere. Questions and questions and questions, all of which I need answers to in order to understand what’s going on—but the most important question cannot wait until we get back to the car.

  Glancing sideways up at Tyler, I simply ask, “Are you . . . Are you okay?”

  Immediately, he looks down at me. He doesn’t seem to be freaked out about his dad turning up, so clearly, this isn’t the first time they have come face to face, but yet Tyler is still incredibly unsettled. “Yes,” he says. “I just wasn’t . . . ready.”

  He looks away again as he begins to rub soft circles over the back of my hand with his thumb. At first, I think it’s to reassure me that all of this isn’t as crazy as it appears, but then I realize he’s doing it because he’s nervous. Over and over again, he bites down on his lip before slowly releasing it, his eyes in a distant trance, as though he’s in deep thought. A mental list of explanations and possibilities of what he could possibly be about to tell me grows longer with each second that passes.

  We get to the parking structure and climb the stairs, his hand still so tight around mine that my fingers are growing stiff. For all of the confidence that Tyler has, he has double the anxiety. I fear he might pass out from the nerves he seems to be battling right now. Somehow, he manages not to, and once his car is in sight, he lets go of my hand. He unlocks the vehicle and slides behind the wheel the slowest I’ve ever seen him do, throwing his keys into one of the cup holders by the center console. I join him inside the car as I slip into the passenger seat. When I shut the door gently behind me, silence falls over us. The strangers on the street are gone. The parking garage is empty and quiet. It’s just us. I gaze at him impatiently. “What the hell is going on?”

  Tyler’s lower lip is, surprisingly, still intact after all the gnawing he’s done. He stares at the dashboard for a long moment before leaning forward and slumping himself over the steering wheel. He presses his forehead against the wheel and wraps his arms around his face so that I can’t see his expression. “I hadn’t figured out how I was gonna say this yet,” he admits, voice muffled, “so bear with me.”

  “Just tell me why your dad is in Portland, Tyler.” That’s all I need to know. That’s why we’re here right now, because of his asshole of a father. I can’t comprehend it, and the lack of information from Tyler isn’t doing much to justify the reason why his dad is within a fifty-mile radius of him.

  “Because he funds the youth group,” Tyler says quickly, loudly, as he lifts his head. He’s still hunched over the wheel, but he tilts his face toward me, his eyes crinkled at their corners. “He pays the insurance,” he explains. “He pays the rent. He takes care of the legalities. He takes cares of everything that I can’t afford to.”

  “That’s it?” I shake my head, pulling my legs up onto the seat and crossing them. His words don’t exactly offer me the answers I’m looking for. At least not all of them. “How did this even happen? When did you start talking to him again? How did you start talking again?”

  Tyler winces with each question I throw at him. At the same time, a man walks past the car, ma
king his way back to his vehicle, and Tyler shifts his eyes over to him, watching. He waits until the man has disappeared out of sight, as though he would have been able to hear us from outside the car, before he looks back at me. “It’s not easy to tell you,” Tyler admits.

  “It wasn’t easy for you to tell me the truth about him in the first place,” I remind him as gently as I can. Sometimes Tyler just needs a little pressure before he opens up, a small nudge. “But you still did it. I’m listening, okay?” My mouth forms a small smile. One that’s tight and reassuring, a smile that lets him know I care. I’ve always cared. I think sometimes he forgets that.

  He swallows hard and nods once. Then he shifts back from the wheel, leaning against the driver’s seat with his shoulders slouched. It’s almost like he’s physically deflating right in front of me. He touches the bottom of the steering wheel with the tips of his fingers, his eyes studying his hands. His veins are bold and blue. “The night that I left . . . ” he starts, and immediately I prepare myself for a long story, for the full story. Tyler never delivers anything less. It’s either nothing or everything.

  His voice is low and he continues to anxiously run his fingertips along the lower rim of the wheel. “I didn’t know where to go,” he admits. “So I just kept driving, and when I was driving through Redding, I stopped by my grandparents’ place. I’d been driving all through the night and I was exhausted. I think the last person they ever expected to knock on their door was me.” He finally glances up and his hands tighten around the wheel. The corners of his lips curve into a small smile, but that’s all. I’m glad when his gaze remains on me. “I actually spent a couple days there while I figured out what the hell I was actually doing and where I was going to go. But those photos all over the walls? The ones with my dad? I couldn’t cope with them.” Slowly, he exhales, pursing his lips. “I tried to take them all down, but Gramps told me to leave. I was so pissed. I started yelling at them, and they told me I was out of control.” He pauses once more as hurt flashes across his face. It’s as though the mere thought of his grandparents saying such a thing is too much to bear. “And the worst part was that I knew I was. That’s why I left Santa Monica in the first place, and I knew I had to do something about it as soon as possible. I didn’t want to be that angry.”

  I’m frowning. There’s always something so heartbreaking about the way Tyler opens up. Something so honest, so sincere and so raw that I get this sinking feeling in my stomach. I think it’s because his past is so tragic. So unsettling and so unfair, so upsetting and uncomfortable. Everything about Tyler’s life seems that way. “No one can blame you for feeling that way about your dad,” I say, having to force myself not to reach out and wrap my arms around him the way I always used to whenever he needed some comfort and reassurance that everything was going to be okay.

  “But they can blame me for not controlling it.” His tone is harder now as he turns his eyes back to the windshield. The parking garage may be packed with cars, but there’s not a single person in sight. “I wanted to see you.”

  “What?”

  “When I was mad about those photos,” he murmurs, “I wanted to see you.” He runs his fingers around the full circumference of the wheel. Once, twice, three times. He’s staring blankly at the old Ford parked in the spot opposite us. “I already knew it wasn’t healthy for me to depend on you so much. I couldn’t live my life depending on you to tell me to calm down, or to tell me that everything was okay, or that I should just breathe for a second. That’s why I didn’t turn back after that. I could have. I fucking wanted to. But turning back would have been the easy way out.” He stops tracing his fingers around the wheel. His eyes have flickered back to me, and for a moment, he is completely still. “I was halfway between Portland and you,” he states. “And I knew I had to choose Portland, because if I couldn’t have you, then I could at least have a part of you.”

  There are goose bumps along my arms now, and my throat feels parched. I focus on my breathing because I’m afraid that I may forget to do it unless I think about it. Inhale, exhale. “Did Portland lead you to your dad?” I ask. “Is that where this is going?”

  Tyler shakes his head. “Just listen,” he says. It’s forceful and abrupt, like he doesn’t want me to interrupt. So I gaze apologetically back at him as I hold up my hands in surrender. No more questions. Just listening.

  “I got all the way up here,” he continues, “and for the first couple of weeks, I seriously did nothing. I was just pissed off every day and I didn’t know how to make myself feel better without, you know, hitting something.” He curls his left hand into a fist and holds it up as a tiny smirk tugs at the corners of his lips. Then he drops both his hands into his lap and his frown returns. “I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my dad was out, and I needed a way to release all that anger I’d been holding onto for years. I didn’t know how to do that until I really started thinking about my options.” His voice keeps getting quieter with each word that leaves his mouth. He’s swallowing between each sentence and he’s staring at his hands in his lap, interlocking his fingers. “And I finally realized what I needed to do, even though I hated the thought of it. It was . . . It’s embarrassing.” Another pause. He takes a deep breath as his hands freeze. “At the end of August, I gave in and booked an appointment with a . . .” He can’t say it, because he heavily exhales again. Then, he squeezes his eyes shut and through stiff lips, he whispers, “I booked an appointment with a therapist.”

  Silence.

  I don’t know what I expected Tyler to tell me, but it certainly wasn’t that. The word carries with it a weight that immediately thickens the atmosphere surrounding us. All three syllables are ringing in my ears. Tyler hasn’t opened his eyes again. In fact, I think he’s squeezing them closed even tighter.

  I’m blinking, partially in surprise and partially in disbelief. Even my lips have formed a round “O.” “Therapy?”

  He nods once, and his hands fly up to his face, covering it. I’ve never seen him look so humiliated in all of the three years I’ve known him.

  “Mom always wanted me to talk to someone,” he murmurs. His voice is muffled behind his hands. That word still echoes around my head, bouncing back and forth. “Back when it all happened. When Dad got locked up. She always wanted to get me a therapist so that I had someone neutral to the situation who I could vent to. But I refused.” Slowly, he drops one hand away from his face. He rubs at his eyes with the other. They’re still closed. “I was thirteen then. I was starting eighth grade that fall. I didn’t want to be that kid who needed help. I wanted to be normal.”

  “I wish I’d gone back then,” he says. “I kept thinking that maybe things would have been different, and that’s when I realized that they still could be. So I looked into it, booked an appointment, and regretted it the second I walked through the door. The first session had me feeling like the biggest moron in the world. I felt so stupid sitting there on that couch with some plant towering over me, and a woman double my age asking me how I was. Her name is Brooke. She wanted me to tell her why I was there, so I blurted out my speech that I used on the tour last year. I have it memorized, so now it’s nothing but a script to me. It’s easier to talk about things if I feel disconnected from it all.”

  I know Tyler doesn’t want me to interrupt. I know he doesn’t want me to keep asking questions. But I just can’t fight that urge to react, to say something. I extend my hand toward his almost subconsciously, and carefully, I lace our fingers together. I like it better this way. His skin against mine; my skin against his. I keep our hands there, squeezed tight together and resting against his thigh. My gaze has yet to leave his face. “Like what you’re doing now?” I ask.

  Almost immediately, he pulls the hand down from his face and his eyes flutter open. It’s slow, and there’s no energy in his movements as he angles his head to look at me. It’s like he’s numb, forcing himself to blink, because his eyes are wide and the expression within them is empty.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbles. He looks at our hands, radiating warmth between us. He doesn’t glance back up, but he does release another long breath of air. “It’s hard to look at you.”

  “That’s okay.” Tyler may be getting better over the years when it comes to opening up, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less uncomfortable for him. I know he hates doing this, yet he always pushes through and does it anyway. He’s a lot better at it than I’ll ever be, so I remain patient. “So then what happened?”

  He shrugs and keeps his eyes trained on our hands. “We just . . . talked. I was seeing her twice a week. It turned out not to be that bad until three weeks down the line, when she asked if I’d ever considered talking with my dad. You know, like confronting him in a controlled environment. She said it’d help. I thought she was insane.” He moves his free hand to my wrist, where he traces soft circles around the bracelet I’m wearing. “But when I went back a couple days later, I told her I wanted to do it. It made sense, and I’d always wanted Dad to have to look at me. I didn’t want him to get it easy, so I called up Uncle Wes and hung up the second he answered. Then I called back and asked him to tell Dad to be in Portland the following Monday. Passed over the address of the office and said it was the only chance I was ever going to give him. Then I hung up again before I could regret it.”

  “And he came?”

  “He came,” Tyler confirms. “I felt so sick waiting that morning, I seriously thought I was going to pass out on Brooke’s floor. I had a feeling he would bail, and honestly, I was kind of hoping that he would. Brooke was a little more optimistic and she was right to be, because he actually turned up right on time.” His eyes drift to meet mine now, and he gives me a closed, tight smile. It’s another one of those sad smiles that I will never believe in. “It was the weirdest fucking thing. He walked in and sort of just froze, and he just stared straight at me, even while Brooke was introducing herself and shaking his hand. He didn’t say a word, and I was glaring at him, wondering why he still looked the exact same as to how I remembered him. I wanted him to look different so that he’d seem like a different person.”

 
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