Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  Knowing he’s going to be with me is reassuring, and I like that feeling of us being in this together. “Then great,” I say, “I’d love for you to be there. Now pass me a paintbrush and let’s finish painting my living room.”

  Tyler releases a loud laugh, then sets his phone back down on the window ledge as he restarts the music. He kisses my cheek as he drifts past me in search of a paintbrush, then when he finds one, he dips it into the bucket of paint and hands it to me. We get started on the walls again, our walls, humming to the music and casting smiles over our shoulders to one another.

  I know then that I’ve made the right decision, that Portland is the best place for me, and we are heading back to Santa Monica in two days to deal with our parents once and for all, to set things right, to tell the truth, to fix things. But unlike last time, we’re not scared. This time, we are ready.

  23

  The walk back to Tyler’s apartment isn’t that bad. It’s Friday evening, just after 9PM, and the sun has only just disappeared beneath the horizon, leaving the air warm and the sky a deepening blue. Fridays, Tyler has informed me, are now our official date nights, which means that every Friday from now on, I get to dress up nice, as does he. Tonight, he has taken me out for dinner at a popular French restaurant in the downtown area, and now we are currently making the forty-minute walk back home, with my skirt swaying in the breeze.

  “I still can’t believe the waiter spilled that drink on you,” I say, looking to Tyler. There’s still a damp stain on his blue button-down shirt, and I’m giggling as soon as I spot it.

  “That’s why he only got half the tip,” Tyler says, laughing alongside me. His hand is in mine, and although he should really be at the center right now, Emily has his shift covered, which means that tonight, he’s all mine.

  We’re only a couple blocks away from the apartment, but Tyler suddenly stops walking. “Jump up,” he says, letting go of my hand. He nods over his shoulder toward his back then crouches down low.

  “I’m wearing a skirt,” I say.

  “So?”

  It doesn’t take much for Tyler to convince me to do just about anything these days. I’m giving in already. Placing my hands on his shoulders, I pull myself onto his back. He slides his hands under my thighs as he stands back up again, straight and tall. He begins to walk rather effortlessly as I play with his hair, twirling the thick strands around my fingers.

  “Can I ask you something?” Tyler says quietly, breaking the comfortable silence that had settled over us.

  “Sure,” I say. My cheek is resting on the top of his head, his hair soft against my skin.

  “Were you really that mad on the Fourth of July?”

  The question is so out of the blue that I have to lift my head and think about it for a second. I can’t see his face, so I can’t read his expression. “Well, yeah,” I admit, shrugging against his body. Ella must have told him. “That’s like our day. We’ve always been together on the Fourth, except the year you moved to New York, and I don’t know, Tyler . . . Don’t you think it just feels special? The Fourth of July is kind of where everything started for us.”

  “Didn’t everything start when you kissed me?” he teases, attempting to glance over his shoulder at me. I’m glad he can’t see me because right now I’m so totally blushing.

  “Can you blame me? I was sixteen and I hated you. Kissing you was the only way forward.” We both burst into laughter, and as the apartment complex comes into view at the end of the street, Tyler sets me back down on the sidewalk. His hand immediately finds mine and our pace falls back into sync, side-by-side once more, strolling aimlessly toward the entrance of the courtyard.

  “So you were really that mad, huh?” I hear Tyler murmur, and when I glance at him, he has a smirk on his lips and one eyebrow raised.

  But before I can say anything, he places both his hands on my shoulders and spins me around, gently pushing me forward. In that instant, there’s a collective yell of, “SURPRISE!”

  The outburst startles me, and for a moment I’m frozen beneath Tyler’s hold. I blink, trying to absorb the scene in front of me.

  The place is entirely different to how we left it only hours ago. There’s a string of mini US flags tangled around the branches of the trio of trees that stand tall in the middle of the courtyard, with even larger flags poking into the grass, blowing very softly in the small breeze. Music immediately starts playing too, from a speaker which I can’t quite spot. A collection of lanterns spreads out across the courtyard, creating a warm glow in the darkening sky.

  But the thing that really takes me by surprise is the circle of deck chairs surrounding a makeshift fire pit on the center patch of grass and the people rising from them with wide grins on their faces.

  Emily’s here. Amelia too. Mikey from the coffee shop. Gregg from the movie theater.

  And Rachael’s here. And so is Snake. I can’t believe it!

  I’m so shocked that I don’t even react. I can only stare blankly at them all with my mouth slightly agape, trying to process what’s going on.

  Tyler’s hands drop from my shoulders down to my hips. He latches firmly onto my body as he pulls me back against him. I feel him lean forward over my left shoulder, with his stubble tickling my cheek and his breath hot against my neck. He presses his lips to my jaw and then in a breathy whisper, he says, “Happy Fourth of July, baby.”

  I shake my head in disbelief, still staring at our small audience that is beginning to laugh at my expression. “But that . . . That was two weeks ago.”

  Tyler laughs too as he steps back and twirls me around to face him. He has that remarkable grin of his on his face, the same grin that was once so rare but is now so normal. His eyes are bright and glistening as they smolder down at me. “Yes,” he answers, “but we’re celebrating the Fourth again. Together this time.”

  It’s then that I register what all of this is, and my shock and confusion is immediately replaced by joy and disbelief that Tyler has done all of this for me, because he knows he should have been with me the first time around. My expression immediately turns into an unbelievably wide grin as I stretch onto the very tips of my Converse and wrap my arms around him. No one has ever done something like this for me before.

  Tyler hugs me back just as tight, and after I pull away from him, I turn back around to study our company.

  Rachael is the first person I run to. I haven’t seen her since the day I left for Sacramento, and there is so much that has happened since then that I really need to tell her about. She’s wearing that American bandana in her hair again, the same one from the real Fourth of July. I seem to have accidentally nudged it out of place as I draw her into a tight hug, because she quickly adjusts it once we pull away from one another. As always, she bears the overwhelming scent of her signature perfume. Her hair is in loose waves, her makeup noticeable but not too heavy.

  “What are you doing here?!” I question, because Rachael has never once stepped foot in the state of Oregon, let alone Portland, believing we’re all nothing but tree-huggers.

  “Tyler’s skilled when it comes to persuasion,” she tells me, nodding in his direction. I’ve only just noticed that there’s a drink in her hand. I wonder what it is. “He actually called me up a few days ago, but I kept refusing his calls, and so he called our fucking landline. Who the hell, in the twenty-first century, calls someone’s landline? Talk about persistent.” She shakes her head, and I’m smiling as I listen to her, because this is all just so typically Rachael. I love the way she gets so worked up about the smallest of things, and I love the way she relays the information back to me even more. “So my dad walks into my room like, Tyler Bruce is on the phone, and I’m thinking to myself, Are you kidding me? So I take the call, only so I can tell him to leave me the fuck alone, but then he starts asking me to come all the way up to Portland for the weekend. We spoke for, like, twenty minutes. And I thought this whole idea was cute, so here I am. Ain’t a party without your best friend by your
side, right?” She bumps her hip against mine whilst winking, then thrusts the red cup she’s holding into my hand. “Here. Keep it. I’ll make myself another.”

  My eyes drift to the guy standing by her side, who is none other than Stephen Rivera. I haven’t seen him since last summer in New York, where I know he’s spent the past year finishing up his senior year at college. He looks exactly as I remember him, with his pale blue eyes that are almost gray and his short blond hair, with a crooked smile and an expression that is forever playful and mischievous. However, his skin is a lot tanner than I remember. He’s also wearing a huge flag as a cape, tied in a knot around his neck.

  “Stephen! You’re here too?”

  “Um, hell fucking yes I’m here,” Snake says. His Boston accent is still as thick as ever. With a can of beer in one hand, he throws his other arm around my shoulders for a brief hug. When he moves a step back, he takes a quick sip of his beer and adds, “I’m here to celebrate the Fourth of July on July Eighteenth, like every other normal person does.”

  Over the sound of the music, I laugh and gently push his shoulder. Snake’s always been a joker, and I’m in such a good mood I can’t seem to stop smiling. “When did you guys get here?”

  “This morning,” Rachael answers. She and Snake exchange a glance as they beam at one another, then she links her arms through his and huddles closer to him. “Stephen drove to Santa Monica first, then we flew up together.”

  Curious, I give them a questioning look. Last summer, they went on a couple dates in the limited time that Rachael had in New York, and they seemed to really like each other. “Together?”

  “Yeah,” Snake says. “I actually moved to Phoenix last month, after graduating and finding a job. That means,” he pauses, beaming to Rachael, “I’m only a five-hour drive from this beauty.” That’ll explain his tan. He slides his arm out from around Rachael’s and throws it over her shoulders instead, ruffling her hair and sticking his tongue out at her.

  Rachael’s never once mentioned Snake in the past year. She’s never told me that he was in Phoenix nor that they’ve been in contact, and the more I think about this, the more something becomes clear. “All those times you were visiting your grandparents . . .” I murmur, cocking my head at her with a suspicious yet teasing glint in my eyes, “Were you really just in Phoenix?”

  Rachael’s face immediately floods with color as she blushes, sheepish at the fact that she’s kept it such a secret. Snake’s a great guy. He’s hilarious, and they’re both so similar that I really do think they’re a great match. There’s nothing she needed to hide from me.

  “Yes,” she admits, covering her face with her hands, too embarrassed to look at me. “I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to be that best friend that gushes about her boyfriend while you were so down about Tyler. I knew it would only make you feel worse, and don’t say it wouldn’t have, because you used to glare at every other couple you ever walked past.”

  She has a point, and as much as I want to defend myself and the shitty mood I was in constantly, I can’t. My eyes widen as a pleased grin spreads across my face. “Boyfriend?” I throw Snake a glance. He looks smug as he holds Rachael even closer and tighter against him.

  “Uh-huh,” Rachael says, and the glow that radiates from her as she smiles tells me everything: she’s happy, and she deserves to be. “And you and Tyler, huh?! Where the hell did that come from?”

  “I guess we just stopped worrying,” I tell her, but even my voice feels light and feathery, like the positive energy that’s running through my veins is sinking into every fiber of my being.

  “Aww,” Snake coos. He pats my head the way he did a year ago when I first met him. “My roommates are growing up. Also, it’s about fucking time this happened.” The three of us laugh, and I think Rachael’s shock and anger at Tyler and I being together has subsided, because right now, she seems to accept it.

  “I’ll go grab you a beer,” Snake tells me, then strolls off after pressing a quick departing kiss to Rachael’s temple.

  As soon as he’s gone, I flash my eyes back to Rachael, gaping at her. “I can’t believe you guys are dating!”

  She releases her excitement now, springing forward. “I know!”

  “I’m so happy for you,” I tell her, because honestly, I am. In the past, guys have tended to play her and mess with her head. Snake’s not like that.

  “Have you met Amelia yet?” I ask her then. Rachael’s my best friend from Santa Monica, Amelia’s my best friend from Portland, and Emily’s my best friend from New York. The first time Rachael met Emily last summer, they got along well, so I’m hoping she’ll like Amelia too. Having my best friends not get along is definitely not part of the perfect life I’m trying to build for myself.

  “Yeah, Emily introduced us,” Rachael says. She grabs her drink out of my hand and takes a long sip before she passes it straight back again. “She complains just as much as I do, so I love her already. Someone should set her up with the hot guy from the coffee shop. That one.” She lifts an unsteady finger, and my eyes follow in the direction she’s pointing, straight to Mikey.

  It’s different seeing him without his black shirt and apron on. He’s wearing a tank top now, his fully tattooed arms on display, and his biceps are a lot more muscular than they seem at first glance. He’s standing around the fire pit alongside Tyler and Snake, laughing about something as they crack open some more beers.

  “You’re right. He’s super nice too,” I say, looking back to Rachael. “And Amelia’s been trying to set up Emily with Gregg. The short one.”

  “He’s cute too,” Rachael comments, nodding in approval.

  I grin at her, glad that both she and Snake have made the journey here just for this yard party, because it sure wouldn’t be the same without them. I’m impressed by Tyler too. It was thoughtful of him to invite them, getting all the people I care most about to be here.

  With Rachael by my side, we saunter over to the circle of deck chairs around the fire pit to join everyone else. Snake hands me a fresh beer, which I thank him for, and I exchange a wide smile of gratitude with Tyler over the glow of the fire, right before I sink down into a chair next to Emily. Amelia is next to her, then Gregg.

  “Welcome back to the Fourth of July,” Emily says. She leans forward, clinking her beer against mine and then chugging the remainder of it all at once.

  I’m not sure how long everyone else has been waiting for Tyler and me to come home, but judging by the amount of empty beer cans and plastic cups stashed into a trash bag by the trees, it seems they’ve been here for a while. I run my eyes over Emily’s outfit too. She’s wearing that black skirt she picked out earlier in the week. It seems that this is the party she was talking about.

  “Did you seriously not have any idea about this?” Amelia pipes up, pulling her bare legs up onto the deck chair and crossing them. She has a drink in each hand. “Tyler’s been planning it all week. He told us all about it on Tuesday, so we’ve been keeping it a secret since then, but really? You didn’t know?”

  “No idea whatsoever. He’s never once mentioned the Fourth of July until right before we got here,” I admit, taking a sip of my beer. I have never been someone who loves parties, but this type of party is different. A small one, with only the people who really matter around you, and with nothing but good vibes in the air. This kind is the best.

  Amelia pouts and says with a small hiccup, “Aww! Tyler’s so sweet to do this for you, Eden!” I think she may be tipsy already. That’s another thing she has in common with Rachael: not only are they both full-time complainers, but also lightweights.

  I can’t hide my smile. I feel so lucky to have Tyler, someone who goes to such lengths just to see me happy.

  “Emily,” I say, glancing over at her, “who’s at the center?

  “No one,” Emily answers, laughing. “We’re closed for the night under special circumstances.”

  My gaze moves to Gregg. He’s watching the thr
ee of us talk, a small smile on his lips, and I realize I’ve never actually spoken to him. I saw him briefly yesterday at the theater, but I’m not sure if he even knows my name yet. I look at Amelia and raise my eyebrows suggestively, throwing a pointed look in Gregg’s direction.

  “Oh,” she says after the realization hits her. “Eden, this is Gregg. Gregg, this is Eden.”

  “Hey,” I offer. Amelia has most likely insisted that he be here tonight, so that she has another opportunity to set him and Emily up. Right now, Emily doesn’t seem to mind, otherwise she would be nowhere near him.

  “What’s up?” Gregg asks, and the deepness of his voice takes me aback. It doesn’t match his appearance, and now I’m beginning to wonder if he’s a lot older than I first thought. He’s definitely cute, and with his eagerness aside, I’m starting to think that maybe Emily should just give the guy a chance.

  “Alright,” I hear Tyler say, and we all glance over to him. I don’t know who’s controlling the music, but whoever it is, they lower it. Rachael and Snake drop down into a pair of deck chairs, and Mikey sinks onto the grass, drawing his knees up to his chest as he continues to nurse his beer. The fire continues to crackle as it lights up our faces with a warm, orange glow.

  “I was going to get fireworks,” Tyler tells us, “but I didn’t want to have the cops turning up. Those days are over. Sorry, Eden.” He chuckles at me, then clears his throat. His can of beer is dangling from his fingertips by his thigh. “But we can party out here for as long as we want, as long as we turn the music down after midnight. I’ve spoken to all my neighbors and told them what this is for, and even though I can see Mrs. Adams watching us from her window right now, she’s totally cool with this. Told them all that they can even come out and join us if they want. They’ve promised not to tell our landlord. And one last thing,” he says, glancing at me once more, grinning as he holds up his beer. “Happy Fourth of July, everyone.”

 
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