Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  Reaching out for him, I grasp his hand in mine and pull him toward me as our bodies intertwine beneath the flow of water once again. Only this time, there are no interruptions.

  22

  On Thursday, Tyler has the morning off, so he and Emily switch shifts at the center, meaning she has the morning free to hang with me instead. It’s nearing noon, and we’ve been strolling around downtown for thirty minutes already, drifting in and out of stores. The weather isn’t as great today. It’s still warm, but there’s a thick layer of clouds preventing the sun from shining through, so the streets are dull.

  “What do you think of this one?” Emily asks. She’s modeling a black mini skirt and studying it intensely before glancing at me, waiting for an answer.

  I’m not sure why she’s asking me, because I don’t exactly have the greatest fashion sense. “What for?”

  “Say, for a party?” she says.

  “Then it’s cute,” I tell her, and that must seal the deal, because she decides to buy it. While she’s changing and paying, I make my way back to the exit and wait for her there.

  These past two days, I haven’t been entirely focused. Physically, I’m here. Mentally, I’m not. There’s too much going on inside my head right now, too many things to fix and work out, too many questions needing answers. Piecing my life together is turning out to be a lot harder than just introducing my friends to one another. Yesterday morning, it seemed to slowly dawn on me that although I love being in Portland, this is all just temporary. I need to go back to Chicago in two months, and when that happens, everything has the potential to fall apart. Now I just can’t shake the thought that very soon, Tyler and I will be separated again, and it’s making me feel nauseous.

  “We should go visit Amelia,” Emily suggests when she appears next to me again with her Forever 21 shopping bag in tow. “The cinema she works at is like four streets away.”

  “I think you mean it’s four blocks away,” I correct, my tone teasing. “But sure. Let’s go.”

  Amelia had been invited on this casual-walk-turned-shopping-trip, but couldn’t make it because she works at the theater on Thursdays. I’m sure she’ll be grateful to see us, because I can imagine it being pretty empty there at this time on a weekday. Emily leads the way, although I quickly figure out which movie theater we’re headed for.

  Yet even the thought of seeing Amelia isn’t pulling me out of the disconnected mood I’m in. The truth is, I don’t just hate the idea of having to leave; I’m terrified of it. Everything is finally the way I always dreamed of it being, and Tyler and I being apart may just damage the relationship we’ve fought so hard to have. Maybe we won’t be able to handle it.

  “Emily,” I say, slowing my pace down a little. I have to swallow back the anxious lump that’s growing in my throat. “Can I ask you something?”

  She gives me a quick glance out of the corner of her eye. “You know you can.”

  And she’s right. Emily’s always great at giving advice. I love talking to her, because I know she’ll be honest and real with me no matter what. “Do you think Tyler and I would be able to do long distance?” Ugh. Long distance. Just the sound of it sucks.

  Emily immediately frowns and stops walking, looking me straight in the eye. “Is this about uni?” she asks, but she already knows that it is. “Because, yeah, I do think you would be able to do it. You guys are used to spending time apart.” She pauses when she sees the sadness that crosses my face. Even I can feel it, in every single inch of my body. “Eden, c’mon,” she says soothingly. “Try not to think about it too much. Just enjoy your summer.”

  It’s hard not to think about it, but I nod and start to walk again. She does have a point. I don’t want to spend the limited time Tyler and I have together being upset.

  We make our way along another two blocks to where the movie theater sits. There are a couple people milling around when we walk through the doors, but there are no lines snaking all over the place like there are at theaters on Friday nights. It makes it much easier to spot Amelia, sitting behind the ticket counter and staring at her hands. As predicted, she looks as though she might just die of boredom. When she looks up as we’re approaching the counter, her eyes spark with the sheer joy of having another human being to talk to.

  Sliding off her chair, she pulls open the door to the small booth and steps out. “Hey!”

  “Nice hat,” I tell her, but I’m laughing already. She looks ridiculous in her uniform, and because she’s a close friend of mine, I’m allowed to tease her about it. “I really love the pants,” I comment, my laughter muffled as I try to hold it back.

  “This job makes me feel like I’m burning in hell,” Amelia says. Reaching up, she pulls the cap off her head, but it leaves her hair static and a little wild, so I end up laughing even harder. “What did I do to deserve this? I’m a good student. I’m taking freaking summer classes. I’ve never told my parents I’ve hated them. I’ve only ever hit my sister once. I’ve never cut someone off on the interstate. Yet one little time I yell in the street and get arrested, and God thinks I deserve all of this?”

  This is what I’ve missed about Amelia. She’s always so dramatic. I suspect it stems from the fact that she was a total theater freak back in high school, performing in each school show.

  “When do you get off?” Emily asks her, I think mainly just to shut her up.

  “Two,” Amelia says. She looks at the huge clock on the far wall, then heaves a loud, long sigh when she realizes it’s only 12.30PM. “Then I’ve got a lab from three to five. Seriously, Thursdays suck. Oh, and Gregg has clocked you.”

  She nods across the foyer to the short guy behind the concession stand. He’s wearing a cap too, only his has a damn hot dog extending from it. He’s already watching us, yet when we all glance over, he doesn’t even make the effort to look away. He appears to be in his twenties. Seeing us, he smiles way too enthusiastically and waves, all directed at Emily.

  She doesn’t wave back, only presses a hand to her temple and turns her back on him, shaking her head. “Bloody hell. Amelia, why did you tell him I was interested?”

  “Just look at him!” Amelia says, pouting sympathetically. At Gregg. Not Emily. “How was I supposed to tell that adorable face that you didn’t want to go on a date with him?”

  Emily says something in reply, but I’ve tuned out by then. A movie seems to have just ended, because a small flow of people exit through a set of doors and into the foyer. There’s a trio of guys, and Emily and Amelia will most probably think that I’m checking them out, but I’m not. I’m staring at their clothes, at the Portland State University apparel they all seem to be wearing. One, a green hoodie with PORTLAND STATE emblazoned across the front in white. Another, a PSU snapback. The third, a green PSU VIKINGS T-shirt.

  Suddenly, that’s the only thing running through my mind.

  Portland State University.

  The apparel. Amelia’s classes there. The campus yesterday. Mom’s years of relentless attempts to convince me to apply there.

  The decision is instantly crystal clear. It’s like everything clicks into place.

  “Eden?”

  “Huh?” I snap my eyes back to Emily, who seems genuinely concerned. I guess I’ve zoned out, because both she and Amelia are looking at me questioningly.

  “Amelia’s asking if we want to see a movie,” Emily explains, still looking at me funny. “I mean, we could. I don’t have to be at the center until after two.”

  “Emily,” I say, and the firm solemnity of my voice takes them both by surprise. “I’m really sorry, but there’s something I need to do.”

  “What?”

  I’m already backing away, my steps increasing with speed with each one I take. There’s no time to explain it to them, because now that the idea is in my head, there’s a sense of urgency to it. Turning for the door, I manage to quickly call over my shoulder, “There’s a campus I need to take a second look at.”

  * * *

 
I’ve got a stack of notes in my hands as I make my way from the MAX station back to Tyler’s apartment. It’s just after 6PM and it’s a lot brighter now, as the sun has finally broken through the clouds. I know that Tyler will be at the apartment, because he left the center at 5. He texted me an hour ago wondering where I was, and I told him that I’d be home soon.

  And I will be, because I’m on my way now, consumed by excitement. Over and over again in my head, I practice what I’m going to tell him, trying to get it right. I can’t wait to see his reaction. I’ve made a decision that makes so much sense, that feels so right to me. It’s the vital step I need to take in order to live my life the way I intend to, with the people I love around me, in a city I once took for granted but have now learned to appreciate. The way I have felt this past week is the way I want to feel every single day.

  By the time I reach the apartment courtyard, my throat feels dry. It’s not necessarily because I’m nervous about making such a huge decision, but because I’m anxious about saying it out loud to Tyler. Once I say it, that makes it all feel real.

  The door is unlocked when I reach it, and as soon as I swing it open, I’m hit with the overwhelming fumes of paint. They make me feel faint. There’s music playing too, and the couch is gone. Instead, those ugly shower curtains are spread across the floor, and Tyler has already painted most of the room. He’s shirtless, and I think it might just be the most amazing view in the world to come home to. The muscles in his back, the broadness of his shoulders, the curve of his spine . . .

  He hasn’t heard me walk through the door, so I keep my steps light as I skirt my way around the shower curtains toward him. Then silently I wrap my arms around his body, planting a soft kiss against his shoulder blade, against guerrero. He jolts at the sense of my touch, startled until he realizes that it’s just me.

  “Finally,” he says, turning around. He sets the roller brush down into its tray and then straightens back up. The view from the front is even better, and I’m staring at his chest rather than his eyes as he says, “Emily told me that you randomly bailed this morning. Where’d you go?”

  When I glance up, I’m grinning. I step closer to him and envelop him in a hug, absorbing the warmth of his skin. But suddenly, every single sentence I have rehearsed seems to disappear. I can’t remember the dramatic speech I strung together, so the moment isn’t as special as I’d planned it to be when the only words to leave my lips are, “I’m staying in Portland.” It’s blunt, but it’s simple.

  Immediately, Tyler looks perplexed. There are flecks of paint on his chest. “For the rest of the summer?”

  “No,” I say. My smile is small but warm, and very slowly, I tell him, “I’m staying in Portland for good.”

  “But . . . ” He’s unable to process what I’m saying, because he draws his eyebrows together and shakes his head in confusion. “But you can’t. You’ve got to go back to school.”

  “And I will be going back to school,” I reply, my eyes drifting downward as I move a hand to his chest, tracing circles on his skin. “Only I’ll be attending Portland State.”

  Silence ensues for what seems like forever as Tyler remains still beneath my touch. His only movement is his heavy breathing, his chest rising and falling, and when I look to see his expression, he’s blinking at me with eyes full of panic and alarm rather than the delight I was hoping for. “What?” is all he says.

  Disappointed by his reaction, I step back from him, breaking our embrace. My smile is gone, replaced instead by blank features. The moment is pretty lackluster. Nothing like I expected. Now I’m left standing here in front of Tyler with my shoulders sunk low and with nothing to do but to keep explaining myself. “I’m going to transfer,” I state. Then to make it clear, I add, “Schools, Tyler. To here. To Portland State.”

  Again, silence. But this time, it’s only for a few seconds until the moment he explodes with, “Are you crazy?” He throws his hands up in exasperation. I can tell by the hard edge in his voice that he’s pissed at me, and I take another step back, surprised at his outburst. “I can’t let you transfer fucking schools, Eden. We can do long distance. I’ll fly out to Chicago to see you. Whatever happens, you can’t transfer. You never used to shut up about that damn school, and you’re just going to give it up? Where the hell did this even come from?”

  This definitely isn’t going as planned, and the only thing I can think to do is thrust my stack of notes at him. “I’ve been researching it all day at the library on campus. Amelia let me use her account,” I say quickly, as though I have to defend myself and my decisions. Tyler glances between the notes and me as I begin to ramble off the speech I prepared earlier. All of this negativity seems to have cleared my head. “Sure, it’s not as great as Chicago, but the psychology program is still one of their top degrees, and my credits can easily transfer. And you know I love Chicago, but it’s so far away from everything else that I love. I have friends there but not best friends, whereas you’re here, and Amelia’s here, and Emily’s here—for a little while, anyway—and Mom’s only one state away. It’ll mean that Dad will be permanently closer to me again, which is unfortunate, but I can live with that. And Portland State has a super high transfer acceptance rate. If I’m transferring from a school like Chicago, they’re bound to accept me.”

  Tyler passes my notes back to me, although I don’t think he’s even glanced at them. They have everything taken into account, with everything that I need to know and do, all scribbled down hours ago in a rush of excitement. “How long have you been considering this?” he asks, tone sharp. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

  “I only made the decision today,” I admit. I know it must seem so rushed to him, like I haven’t thought any of this through, but I have. I can’t just ignore how right transferring seems. It’s an all-consuming feeling, one that’s been taking over every single one of my thoughts since this morning.

  “Why are you even making such a decision?” he throws at me. Shaking his head again in disbelief, he walks around me and moves toward the window, pausing the music that’s been playing from his phone and then leaning back against the glass. All of the walls are wet with paint. Folding his arms across his bare chest, he stares across the room at me, although his gaze is softer around the edges now.

  “Don’t you want me to stay in Portland?” Even the thought of it almost paralyzes me, but I can’t pinpoint any other reason why Tyler is reacting so negatively to the idea of me living here permanently.

  “Of course I do,” he murmurs, exhaling a long breath of air. He glances at the floor, then back up again, his features gentle. The hardness is gone, both in his expression and in his voice. “But not on these terms,” he says. “Not with you messing with your education. Because I swear, Eden, I fucking swear . . . If this is just because you don’t want to be over in Chicago while I’m here, then don’t do this. It’s so damn irrational, and you’re making me feel guilty for it, like I’m the reason you want to give up that school.”

  Ah, I think. That’s why he’s acting like this.

  Slowly, I approach him again, my eyes locked with his as I make my way across the floor. I stop only a few inches in front of him and glance up, my gaze sincere. “When I ask myself which city is the hardest to leave . . . ” I murmur. “It’s Portland, Tyler. I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for myself. You made your changes, now it’s time for me to make mine.”

  Tyler’s eyes are already widening in surprise as relief fills his expression. “You promise?”

  Nodding, I close the small gap between us and wrap my arms around him once more, my body fitting against his. “I swear. I’m happier here,” I tell him. “That’s why I want to stay. I want to live my life here.”

  He moves his hands to my face, gently cupping my jaw as his warm skin brushes against mine. Tilting his face closer to me, he studies my expression carefully, before he quietly asks, “Are you sure about this?”

  “I don’t think I’ve ever been more s
ure about anything in my life.”

  “Then move in with me,” he whispers, skimming his lips over mine, so softly and so delicately that a shiver surges straight down my spine. “Move in with me,” he says again, his face brightening with a smile as his words become more rushed. He continues to plant a series of sharp, eager kisses against my lips until move in with me, move in with me, move in with me is the only thing I can hear. “I may not have much furniture yet, but I do have freshly painted walls. Nice neighborhood. Lots of dogs. A short drive downtown.” He’s grinning by the time he pulls his mouth back from me. “What do you say? Surely this is much better than the student dorms.”

  “I say hell yeah!” We both laugh, then I press my lips back to his for a lingering moment. “But first things first,” I say, leaning back from him, “I need to go back to Santa Monica as soon as possible. I’m going to book a flight back.”

  Tyler’s perplexed again, as though he can’t possibly see a reason why I would need to go back home. “Why?”

  “Because there’re so many things I need to fix,” I admit, heaving a long sigh. The thought of going home to deal with my parents is daunting. “Before we all went to Sacramento, I was arguing with my mom, so I owe her an apology, but the main thing is that I need to set things straight with my dad. I need to tell him that we’re together, but I also need to find out where he and I stand with each other, because right now, I have no idea.”

  “Okay,” Tyler says, nodding. He gets it, because he knows how damaged my relationship with my dad currently is. “We can leave on Saturday, drive down through the night, then take the Pacific Coast Highway back home on Sunday. What do you think? Nothing beats a summer road trip along the coast.”

  “Oh,” I say, stepping back again. I would have gone on my own. It’s too much to ask of Tyler to take more time off work. “I wasn’t expecting you to come too.”

  “I know,” he says, “but there’s some things I have left to fix too. I need to tell my mom that Dad’s back in my life, and I really need to talk to my brothers, especially Jamie. Besides, I think both of us should break the news to our parents that we’re officially together, because this time around, you’re not dealing with all of this on your own.”

 
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