Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame

  It doesn’t take long to reach the campus. I’ve drifted through it a couple times when I was younger, tagging along behind fifteen-year-old Amelia because she liked to imagine what it would be like to be a college student. She had every intention to head to Oregon State in Corvallis, but Portland State eventually won her over when the time came to decide. Maybe it was those aimless strolls through the campus that changed her mind. Either way, she never planned to leave Oregon, whereas I always had. Although I did once take a guided tour of the campus when I was sixteen, but that was only to please Mom. She held onto the hope that there might have been a chance that I could be interested in sticking around, but I never was. I wanted to leave as soon as possible, and college was always that ticket out of Portland that Mom could never say no to.

  It’s ironic now that I’m back here three years later, meeting Amelia on campus, as if time has been rewound and we’re fifteen again. The only difference is that this time, I’m not faking the smile on my face. This time around, things are better.

  I follow the signs around the campus before I eventually have to ask a couple of guys which way the library is. They point me in the right direction, just around the corner. As I spot the building, I pull off my sunglasses and start scouring the people that are sitting outside, some on the grass in the shade offered by the endless array of trees, some on benches huddled over books. It’s summer, so the campus is a lot quieter than it would be during the semester. It doesn’t take me long to spot Amelia out of the handful of people here.

  She’s on the grass, legs crossed, a book balanced on her thighs. There’s a half-eaten apple in her hand and her phone in the other, with the wires of her earphones tangled in her hair. She hasn’t noticed me yet, so I creep around a set of trees, stealthily edging my way toward her from behind. Then I pounce, leaping toward her as I grab her shoulders, and she jolts in fear, releasing a scream in surprise. Her apple flies halfway across the lawn.

  I’m shaking with laughter as I crawl around to face her, ignoring the fact that the attention of all of the surrounding students is now on us, and I grin back at her.

  “Jesus, Eden!” she says, almost breathlessly, as though I’ve sent her heartbeat rocketing. She yanks her earphones out of her ears and presses a hand over her chest, then she cocks her head and seems to forgive me, because she grins straight back at me. Tossing her book to the side, she reaches over and wraps her arms tightly around me, drawing me into the tightest hug I can recall having since that day on her porch. I squeeze her back twice as hard and we remain like that, embraced and unwilling to let go, for a good long minute. Finally, we pull away from one another.

  “Seriously, what the hell are you doing in Portland?” she asks, shaking her head as though she can’t believe that I’m really sitting in front of her. She must be growing her hair out, because it’s a lot longer than I remember it ever being, and I think she may have lightened it a few shades. It’s much blonder, I’m sure.

  I know I’ve told her it’s a long story why I’m here, but it really is quite simple. Still grinning, I pluck up the courage to just tell her, “My boyfriend lives here.”

  The word ignites something within me that sets my entire body on fire, and I can feel my skin heating up just from the joy of being able to use that word at last. I’m blushing and I know it, but there’s nothing I can do to suppress it. I am just so happy to be sitting here, under the Portland sun next to Amelia and being able to bring Tyler into the conversation as my boyfriend. I never thought this could ever be possible.

  “Woah,” Amelia says. Her eyes widen and she holds up a hand, right before she leans toward me and echoes, “Boyfriend? You’re dating someone from Portland?”

  “Actually,” I murmur, “I’m dating someone from Santa Monica who just so happens to now live here.”

  I think she may be on the verge of squealing. She’s always been a sucker for love stories and happily ever afters. Desperately, she demands, “Who?”

  The thought of saying it doesn’t scare me anymore. Saying his name is as easy as saying anyone else’s. However, it’s going to take some getting used to before it really sinks in. “I’m dating Tyler,” I tell her. My voice is firm and confident, my gaze never leaving hers. “Remember him? My stepbrother?” I’m never going to hide the fact that Tyler is my stepbrother. It’s the truth, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

  Confusion flits across Amelia’s freckled face. She seems to wait, as though she’s expecting me to burst into laughter and say, “Just kidding!” But I maintain a loose smile and pick at the grass, pulling a handful straight out of the ground before feeling guilty and trying my best to stuff it back into place. The Portland air must be getting to me.

  “Really?” is all Amelia says. Her tone is gentle, like she’s afraid the issue is a sensitive one, and she continues to blink at me in such a way that it’s clear she doesn’t really know what’s going on.

  “Yeah,” I reply, then casually add, “He moved here a year ago. I’m just visiting for a little while.” I don’t wait for Amelia to start asking questions, so I decide to change the subject as fast as I can. “How are things with you? How’s school?” I motion around me to the surrounding area of the campus.

  “Oh, Eden, it’s amazing!” Amelia gushes as her entire face lights up with enthusiasm. She picks up the thick textbook she was studying earlier and places it back into her lap, running her fingers down the cover. It’s something about chemistry, which I never understood but which Amelia always loved. “The program I’m in is fucking awesome and the parties here are even better. Did I mention I got arrested?”

  Now it’s my turn to gauge whether or not she’s being serious. Arrested? Amelia? Never. “You’re kidding,” I say.

  “Nope,” she says, then laughs sheepishly and pulls her bangs over her eyes. “People shouldn’t let me try to walk home after a party when I’ve drank too much. I had to spend the night in a cell and then pay two hundred bucks for disorderly conduct.” She rolls her eyes. “Apparently, yelling in the street is a criminal offense these days.”

  “You’re crazy,” I say, but I’m laughing. Amelia was always up for a good time, always up for fun. Nothing is ever too serious with her, and I miss hanging out with someone who lived their life that way.

  “I know,” she agrees. “I’m working on having more self-control so that my parents aren’t forced to disown me.”

  She begins to laugh along with me, and it feels so good to be laughing with her again that I never want to take it for granted. Knowing that Amelia is here only adds to the growing number of reasons why I seem to be falling in love with Portland. Maybe it’s selfish, but I want my life to be full of everything that I love. Like Tyler and Amelia, Portland and coffee, Rachael and Emily, college and adventures, Mom and Ella, reckless ideas and the chance to always feel as happy as I feel now. That’s all I want, everything at once, perfectly intertwined.

  My laughter subsides and I blink a couple times, snapping back to reality. My eyes find Amelia’s, and I purse my lips innocently at her. “Do you really have to be here right now?”

  “Not really,” she says. “Why?”

  I push myself up off the grass, getting to my feet and taking Amelia’s book from her. I grab her backpack and stuff the book inside, then reach for her hand and pull her up. She’s giving me a curious look, waiting for an explanation, so I pass her the bag and nod in the direction I came from. “There’re some people I want you to meet.”


  On the walk across downtown to the youth center, I have ample time to give Amelia the long story. I tell her that Tyler and I have been in love with each other for three years, but that we’ve only been official for approximately eighteen hours. I tell her about Dean and the real reason we broke up, which was most definitely not a mutual decision made on good terms like I’d once told Amelia before. I tell her about Dad, and that he’s an even bigger moron than he ever was before, that he hates Tyler and me together. I tell her about Tyler
leaving last summer and that I didn’t see him for a year, that he’d been here the entire time setting up a youth group. I tell her that when he turned up again, I wanted him gone. But then I also tell her that I’m glad I gave him a second chance, because now I’ve never been happier.

  And Amelia nods the entire time, trying her best to absorb my overload of information, and I think that at first she may possibly believe I’m not the same person she used to know. The old Eden would never have taken risks like I’ve taken. The old Eden would never have come back to Portland. The old Eden would never blush at the mere thought of a guy.

  “This is it,” I state, coming to a halt outside the huge black door to the center. There’s no sign, but I really think there should be. More people need to know what’s behind this door.

  I push it open, pressing my weight against it because it’s unbelievably heavy, then hold it open for Amelia as she follows me inside. The entryway is bright again, lighting up the stairs, and we steadily climb them. Amelia’s already nervous about meeting Tyler and Emily, but I think she’ll definitely approve of Tyler, and she’s bound to get along with Emily. It’s impossible not to love them, and I want all three of them to know each other.

  I can hear the music before we’ve reached the top of the stairs, and it only gets louder when I pull open the second door. It’s much busier than it was yesterday morning, perhaps because it’s the afternoon, and the place is alive with the sound of voices, music and laughter.

  “Woah,” Amelia says. I glance sideways at her. She’s taking in everything with wide eyes full of surprise, the same way I did yesterday. It really is amazing to see how big this place is, and how crowded. “Is that him?”

  My eyes snap from Amelia to Tyler. He must have spotted us when we walked through the door, because he’s already making his way toward me with that grin of his. It’s just after 1PM, so he’ll have been here for an hour already.

  “Yeah,” I whisper, my eyes never leaving Tyler, a smile spreading across my face, “that’s him.”

  “Mmm,” Amelia murmurs. “You’ve got my approval already.”

  I tear my eyes away from Tyler simply so that I can roll them at Amelia. She’s already adjusting her bangs, tucking them behind her ears and then running her fingers through the ends of her hair as Tyler reaches us.

  “Nice to see you again,” he tells me, smirking. It’s been less than two hours since I dropped by his work to grab some coffee, and here I am again, showing up at his other workplace as though I can’t possibly stay away from him. I can. I just don’t necessarily want to. Glancing at Amelia, Tyler arches an eyebrow and then looks at me for an answer. “Who’s this?”

  “Amelia,” I say. No further explanation required. Tyler knows exactly who Amelia is. I told him all about her years ago, my best friend from back home in Portland. My only nice best friend.

  “Hi,” Amelia says, blinking intensely, a sure sign of her nerves. There’s this awkward moment where she almost holds out her hand but then seems to think it’s too formal and ends up retracting it.

  “Ah,” Tyler offers. His teeth flash in a smile, his expression friendly and warm. “Great to finally meet you. I’m Tyler, Eden’s . . .” he trails off, glancing at me before he says it, like he’s worried I haven’t told her yet.

  But Amelia cuts in before I do, finishing, “Boyfriend and stepbrother?”

  “Yeah, that,” Tyler says with a laugh. He looks both relieved and pleased that I’ve told her. The two of us were never all that great at being honest before, but I like to think that we’re getting better.

  “Where’s Emily?” I ask. Scanning the crowds of people drifting around, I try to pick her out amongst them, but I just can’t spot her. I hope she hasn’t left. I really want Amelia to meet her.

  “She’s in the back,” Tyler responds, pointing to a door on the far wall. I didn’t notice it yesterday. “Come on through.”

  As Tyler makes his way across the carpet, Amelia and I follow behind him. She nudges me in the ribs and widens her eyes with enthusiasm, mouthing, “He’s hot,” while dramatically fanning her face with her hand. Some things never change. We used to gush about the hot seniors back in high school, blushing with humiliation in the hallways whenever they overheard us. Playfully, I push her shoulder and bite down on my lip to stop myself from laughing. Tyler is completely oblivious to it all, and when we reach the door at the back, he types a sequence of digits into a keypad and the door clicks. He pushes it open, holding it for us as we enter what appears to be a storage room. Tyler hovers by the doorway, keeping an eye on everyone else back in the main hall, and immediately, Emily’s face pops up from behind a stack of cardboard boxes.

  “Hey!” She dumps the batch of water bottles she’s holding on top of another unopened box, then skillfully maneuvers herself around the haphazardly stacked boxes that cover the floor, creating a path toward us.

  “Emily?” I hear Amelia say in a tone of recognition, and my gaze snaps straight over to her in surprise.

  “Oh my God, hey!” Emily exclaims. “What are you doing here?”

  Both Tyler and I glance back and forth between them, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. “You guys know each other?” I ask, confused.

  “Um, yeah,” Emily says matter-of-factly in the best American accent she can attempt, although it comes out curiously Southern. Then she promptly switches back to normal and explains, “She gives me free popcorn every time I go to the cinema because she’s trying to set me up with the guy she works with.”

  “It’s shameless, I know,” Amelia adds. Color floods her cheeks, and I’m trying to recall if she ever told me she worked at a movie theater. I can imagine her spilling popcorn all over the carpet hourly. “But Gregg is totally crushing on you and it’s so adorable. I still think you should give him a chance.”

  “Nooooo,” Emily says, but she’s blushing now too as she tries to wave Amelia away. I’m still blinking at them both, stunned at how easy this is. “I’ve never gotten your name,” Emily admits. “What is it?”

  “Amelia.” There’s a slight hesitation where she seems to realize that Emily doesn’t yet know why she’s here, so she quickly adds, “I’m actually, like, Eden’s childhood best friend.”

  Emily’s lips part as she looks at me, clearly taken aback by the news. “No way!”

  Next to me, Tyler clears his throat and says, “Do you guys mind if I borrow Eden for a second?” I fire him a questioning glance, but Amelia and Emily are reassuring us they’ll be fine together, and Tyler is already directing me back through the door.

  “Yes?” I ask once we’re back in the main area and surrounded by teenagers. My expression has caution written all over it as I look up at him.

  “My dad’s here again,” he states. His eyes study me, his features relaxed with a hesitant smile on his lips, like he’s apologizing. I know his dad is supposed to be this reformed guy who’s trying to fix things with Tyler, but I can’t shake the hatred I have for him. Even the thought of him is enough to make me grit my teeth. “Why?”

  “He’s just finishing up going through some stuff before he heads to the airport,” Tyler explains, nodding to the office. The door is closed. “He wants to meet you. Like, officially. He thinks you guys got off on the wrong foot yesterday, which is partly my fault for not warning you that he was around again.” That explains the apologetic smile.

  “Hmm.” Although I despise Tyler’s dad, my contempt for him doesn’t stop me from being utterly curious. Part of me does want to hear what he has to say. I’ve known about him for so long that it would be crazy of me to turn down a chance to talk to him. “Okay,” I say. “I’ll talk to him.”

  There’s a flash of gratitude in Tyler’s eyes before he takes my hand and leads me over to the office. It frustrates me that I feel nervous, and slowly, Tyler pushes open the door a little. He peers around the frame, and I hear him murmur, “Dad, Eden’s dropped by.” I don’t hear what Peter replies, but suddenly, Tyler’s sw
inging the door fully open and pulling me into the small room.

  His dad is sitting there in that huge executive chair, comfortable and relaxed, sheets of paper spread out on the desk in front of him. He’s wearing a pale blue shirt, buttoned straight to the collar, and there’s a fountain pen between his thumb and index finger. The gold watch on his wrist is poking out from the cuff of his shirt, and I wonder how a man with such a disgusting past can present himself as being successful.

  “Hello, Eden,” he greets. Like yesterday, his soft-spoken nature takes me by surprise, the same way the warmth in his eyes does. He is Tyler but shorter, with green eyes that aren’t as vibrant and a jaw that isn’t as defined. Yet, the similarity is going to take some getting used to.

  “Hi,” I say. There’s a silence in which I look at Tyler, perplexed to discover that he’s already backing out of the room.

  “I better get back to work,” he says. He glances between his dad and me for a second or two, offering us a tight smile before he nods and disappears through the door, pulling it shut behind him.

  We’re left alone, Peter and I. It’s unbearably awkward, no doubt because he can sense my hostility toward him. Plus, the fact that I’m lingering in front of this desk while he stares back at me from that chair makes the entire thing feel very authoritative. I’m grateful when he stands up and moves around the desk, coming to a stop a few feet in front of me.

  “I understand that you don’t like me,” he begins, and it’s so blunt and straightforward that I quickly swallow. “I don’t blame you. I’m not a huge fan of myself either. But you’re Tyler’s . . . You’re Tyler’s girlfriend, I’ve been hearing?”

  Uncomfortable, I shift my footing. “Yes.”

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