Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame

  Emily dramatically applauds while Snake whoops, and we all hold up our drinks in unison, simultaneously cheering, “Happy Fourth of July!” The neighbors in this small complex may be cool with what we’re doing tonight, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think we’re idiots for it. We’re celebrating our nation’s independence two weeks late, as though it’s perfectly normal. I love how spontaneous and unique this all feels, creating even more special moments for me to cherish and hold on to.

  “Actually,” I say loudly through the clash of voices as I get to my feet, “while you’re all listening, there’s something I need to tell you.”

  Tyler flashes me a look of concern, but it doesn’t take him long to figure out for himself what I’m about to say. He knows exactly what it is, and he must approve of my decision to tell everyone at this moment, because he gives me a single nod and a reassuring smile as he presses his can of beer to his lips, watching me intensely from over the rim.

  Everyone else, on the other hand, is staring at me with curiosity and intrigue. So I don’t keep them waiting, and as I kick anxiously at the grass with my Converse, I bite down on my lip before glancing back at them. I run my eyes around the circle, and I realize that these people right here . . . These are the people who really matter to me.

  “I’m transferring to Portland State,” I announce, releasing the breath I’m holding. “I’m moving here to Portland.”

  There’s a split second of silence until a deafening scream of excitement escapes Amelia’s lips. She drops both drinks and leaps out of her chair, hurling her body into mine and almost knocking me off my feet. Now I can tell that she’s definitely tipsy, because as she locks her arms around me, she can’t stop squealing in my ear while jumping up and down, almost dislocating my shoulder. We’ll be attending the same college, just like she always wanted us to. Her reaction has me grinning, until I open my eyes and look over her shoulder to find Rachael’s expression faltering. Her face falls in disappointment as she watches Amelia and I together, and I’m not sure whether she’s jealous of us or if she’s just taking time to absorb the news I’ve shared.

  Amelia finally lets go of me, and as the volume of the music increases again, everyone starts mingling with each other while throwing me remarks such as “That’s so awesome!” and “No fucking way!”

  Rachael, however, hasn’t said anything. She’s sitting still and alone in her chair, appearing out of place against the movement of everyone else. Her eyes stare blankly at the grass, her grasp tight around her drink. I navigate around the fire pit, weaving my way past Snake and Gregg, and then sit down in the deck chair next to her. I don’t know what to say, but luckily I don’t have to say anything at all, because Rachael glances up from the ground with her eyes wide, quietly asking, “You’re seriously moving?”

  “Yeah,” I say, shrugging. To Amelia and Emily, the idea of me moving to Portland seems great, because it’s where they are. To Rachael, however, it means I’ll be leaving Santa Monica. I may already live in a completely different state, but we both always knew that Chicago was just temporary until I graduated. Moving to Portland is permanent.

  “But you’re still going to come back to Santa Monica to visit, right?” she queries, her words quick, almost panicked. “Just like you do now? For Thanksgiving and Christmas? For summer?”

  “Duh,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. I nudge my knee against hers and give her a small smile. “Besides, it looks like you’ll be in Phoenix half the time anyway. You won’t even miss me.”

  “True,” she says, blushing again as her eyes latch onto Snake. I wonder if she even realizes that she smiles whenever she so much as glances at him. He’s talking to Tyler, and I’m so thrilled to know that he lives much closer to us all now. Maybe we’ll get to see him more often. “And by the way,” Rachael murmurs, fixing her gaze back on me, “you were right. I was so wrong about him.”

  At first I think she’s talking about Snake, but then she nods to Tyler. I’ve spent a long time trying to convince her that he has changed, that his head’s in a better place now and that he’s much happier, but I think it’s one of those things where people can really only believe it if they see it for themselves firsthand. “He’s different, isn’t he?”

  “Completely,” Rachael agrees. Her eyes flicker to the drink she’s holding, then she presses the cup to her lips and takes a sip. Suddenly, she shoots upright and dumps the drink on the grass, grabbing my arm and almost yanking me off the chair. She holds my forearm up in front of her face, only she’s grasped my left, which has nothing but that awful dove on my wrist, so she lets go and reaches for my right instead. She studies No te rindas intensely, rolling her eyes at the tattoo and shaking her head at me with a teasing smirk on her face. “Still stupid,” she mutters under her breath, but I know she’s just kidding. “Although when it comes to dating Tyler . . . Not so stupid. I can see now why it was so easy for him to win you over, because he’s won me over too, and I know you don’t need anyone’s approval, but you definitely have mine.”

  I can do nothing but grin at her, relieved that finally she has seen Tyler for who he really is.

  As the music bounces around the courtyard, I get to my feet and pull her up with me. We danced on the first Fourth of July, so it’s only right to dance on the second. My hand finds hers and I twirl her around on the grass while whipping my hair around, dramatically nodding my head in sync with the music. Amelia rushes over to join us, dragging Emily with her, and as the music seems to increase in volume once again, the four of us dance together. There’s some air guitars, some cartwheels. Some lousy footwork, some falls, but the entire time, we are laughing.

  When I pause to catch my breath, I’m still grinning as I watch my best friends, perfectly wrapped around each other as they sway together like they’ve been friends for years. And I realize how lucky I am to finally have three incredible best friends, the kinds of friends who accept me for who I am no matter how crazy my decisions in life may seem, the kinds of friends who are willing to dance like fools with me in the courtyard of an apartment complex in Portland as we celebrate the Fourth of July on July Eighteenth.

  Lately, everything just feels that way. Just finally, like I’ve waited my entire life for things to be this way. It’s the only word that’s running through my head, so heavy that it’s pressing down on me.

  Finally, finally, finally.

  Finally, everything is starting to feel perfect. Finally, I’m truly happy.

  * * *

  As the night wears on and the sky shifts from blue to black, we all end up slumped around the fire pit, slouched in our deck chairs and playing Truth or Dare. Mikey has climbed a tree in nothing but his boxers. Amelia has confessed to getting arrested a second time, this time for skinny-dipping in the Willamette last summer. Rachael has downed a beer, only to throw it straight back up.

  It’s just after midnight and although it’s dark, the lanterns keep the courtyard lit and the fire keeps us warm. I have Emily on my left and Tyler sitting on the grass to my right. It’s Snake’s turn to spin the empty beer can we’ve been using, and it lands on me. His eyes glint with glee as he leans back in his chair, feigning deep consideration and rubbing his chin. Then he sits back up and smirks deviously at me. Loud and clear without offering me a choice between a truth or a dare, he says, “I dare you to kiss your stepbrother.”

  We all know he’s just being playful and teasing as always, but everyone else decides to join in on the act too. Gregg is saying, “Woah, dude, that’s totally crossing the line,” and Amelia is gasping in fake disbelief.

  “Yeah, Stephen,” Rachael says, clucking her tongue in mock disapproval. “Too far.”

  I glance at Tyler, who’s shaking his head at the grass as he bites back laughter. For once, I think he’s actually blushing, and when he looks up and his eyes meet mine, I decide to joke around too. Scrunching my face up in disgust and making my voice as high-pitched as possible, I simply say, “Ewww. That’s so gross.”
  And then I promptly spring off my chair, straight into Tyler’s embrace, throwing my body against him. Within a heartbeat, my lips have found his, and I’m kissing him there on the lawn, sitting in his lap with his hand on the small of my back, holding me close. I’m smiling against his mouth, my eyes squeezed tightly shut as I hold his jaw in my hands. The kiss is energetic and fast, fueled by the rush of excitement at kissing him with an audience.

  When I hear Rachael start to cheer, I can’t hold back my giggling, so I throw my head back and release a laugh into the air. My cheeks are flushed.

  “That’s all you’ve got?” Tyler challenges. When I tilt my face back down to his, he has a mischievous look on his face and his eyes are daring me to kiss him again.

  I move my lips to his ear so that no one but him can hear me, and in a quiet whisper, I murmur, “That’s all I’ve got until we head back inside.”

  Sharply, I press a kiss to the edge of his jaw and then roll off him. His expression is priceless as he stares at me, the seduction evident across my features, and he swallows hard.

  Emily cracks a yawn then as the laughter dies down, and Mikey checks his watch. It’s 12:30AM, and although it’s still technically early when it comes to parties, we’re all exhausted. We’ve enjoyed the night and we’ve enjoyed each other’s company. It’s been our own personal Fourth of July. It’s been special. I think now is as good a moment as any to turn in, and everyone seems to think the same, because they get to their feet and stretch their legs.

  With there being only eight of us, everyone feels as though they have some responsibility to help clean up. We close up the deck chairs and stack them into a pile, and we tear down the flags from the trees and pull them out of the grass. We throw all the empty cans and cups into trash bags, and we turn off all of the lanterns, and then finally, we extinguish the fire until only a tiny flicker of a flame remains.

  Mikey is the first to leave. His younger sister turns up to give him a ride, and he promises that the next time I drop by the shop for coffee, it’s on the house. Amelia and Gregg catch a cab, and Emily ends up joining them. I think maybe Gregg is growing on her. Rachael and Snake are the final two left as they wait for their own cab to turn up to take them back to their hotel downtown.

  “Are you only here for tonight?” I ask Rachael. We’re leaning against the fence, watching the street as we wait for a cab’s headlights to come into view.

  “Yeah,” she says, shrugging. “We fly home tomorrow. Stephen has to go back to work on Monday, so we couldn’t exactly stick around to explore this lame old city. Your words, not mine.”

  Gently, I elbow her in the ribs. “It’s not that lame,” I say, although she’s right. I did once think that about Portland. Not anymore. “By the way, we’re going back home on Sunday to talk to our parents, so I’ll drop by your place before we travel back up.”

  “Ah,” she says, pulling a face, “your parents. Do they know yet?”

  “No,” I admit. “Not unless Jamie has told them.”

  “Well, good luck.”

  Just as the words leave her lips, their cab pulls up outside the apartment complex. We draw each other into one final farewell hug as Tyler and Snake approach us. I’ve loved having both Rachael and Snake here tonight, so I hug him too, and just before the two of them slip inside the cab, we promise to meet up again soon. Maybe like a double date.

  The doors slam shut and the cab accelerates off down the road, leaving Tyler and I alone for the first time in hours. The courtyard is in dark silence now, and it feels odd after it being so full of life only twenty minutes ago. The air is much cooler too and I’m getting a slight chill, so I fold my arms tightly across my chest and hug my body as I drift toward the remnants of the fire. There’s nothing but a glow of ashes as the flame burns out.

  I feel Tyler following across the small lawn behind me, and I end up pausing at the fire pit, absorbing its dying warmth. Tyler lingers on the opposite side, staring back at me through the darkness of the night. It’s almost 1AM.

  “Thank you,” I tell him, my voice quiet. My eyes never leave his. They’re twinkling back at me, vivid and glossy. “Just . . . Thank you for doing this, Tyler. It seriously means a lot.”

  Tyler gives me a solemn nod, then he kicks at the ashes of smoke. He looks so perfect right now, with his hands in his pockets and his features soft, his lips forming a small smile and his gaze full of love. “Anything for you,” he murmurs.

  The glow of the ashes dies out then, fading to black as Tyler captures my lips with his, as perfectly as always.


  We left for Santa Monica late Saturday evening, drove through the night and took turns in the driver’s seat, switching every couple of hours to let each of us catch some sleep in between. By 8AM the following morning, Tyler took over for the remainder of the journey and I fell into a deep slumber, curled up against the passenger seat with the radio on low, Tyler’s hand on my thigh and a smile on my lips.

  I don’t wake again until just before noon. I must have a sixth sense, because my eyes are fluttering open just as Tyler is following the exit road off the 405 and into the city we will no longer call home. The sudden brightness of the sun shining through the windshield dazzles me, and my eyes feel strained as I push myself up and pull the sun visor down.

  “Oh,” Tyler says once he notices I’m awake, casting his gaze quickly on me out the corner of his eye while trying to keep his attention on the road. “Morning. We’re here.”

  I run a hand back through my hair and shift my gaze to my right, studying the city through the car window. I love Santa Monica. It’s a great city, but for reasons that are so different than the reasons I love Portland. I love the pier and the beach, the surrounding cluster of amazing cities and neighborhoods to explore, the glamor of Hollywood and the occasional A-list celebrity who slips past you unnoticed. I graduated high school here. I met Tyler here. My family is here. I’ll always have ties to this city, but Portland has always, always been my home.

  I look to Tyler as he brakes for a stop sign. “Can we go to my mom’s first?” I ask him. We don’t exactly have a plan to follow. I think we’re both just winging it. “I need to be fully awake before I try to deal with my dad.”

  Tyler nods and takes a sharp right, accelerating a little too roughly down the street. He seems on edge, more so than I am, and I know exactly why. He’s terrified of telling Ella about his dad, the same way he was terrified of telling me. I think he’s worried she’s going to be furious at him for being in touch with his father again, and honestly, I’m not too sure how she’s going to take the news. Shocked, yes. Pleased, no. I don’t think she’s ever forgiven Peter for everything he has done, and I doubt she’s going to feel comfortable with him being around Tyler again. But Tyler knows what he’s doing, and Ella’s always been so understanding and caring, so I believe she’ll trust him on this the same way I have.

  I, on the other hand, have to deal with both my parents today. My mom first, then my dad. But it’s my dad I’m dreading the most. I’m not nervous, because I’m ready to stand up to him now after so long of sitting back. I have spent the past couple days preparing exactly what I’m going to tell him. I have the words etched into my mind, ready to spill out as soon as I get the chance. I don’t want to be aggressive with him. I just want to be honest, because there is nothing more meaningful and raw than sincerity, and I hope Dad will appreciate that more than he would appreciate me yelling at him.

  As we’re approaching Mom’s house, we inevitably have to pass Dean’s. Every time I have passed his house this past year, I have experienced the most sickening feeling in my stomach as my throat dries. Usually, I can’t bear to so much as glance at the house, but today, I’m staring. Tyler releases a slow breath of air so softly that it’s almost inaudible. I wonder if we’ll ever forgive ourselves for the wrong we committed against Dean and if he’ll ever forgive us. Tyler and I have made a lot of mistakes in the past, but we’re learning from them.

/>   A matter of minutes later, I can see my mom’s place ahead. I’m relieved to find both her car and Jack’s truck parked in the driveway.

  “Is that my mom’s car?” Tyler asks suddenly, squinting through the windshield. I follow the direction of his eyes until my gaze lands on the white Range Rover parked directly opposite my mom’s house.

  “It looks like it,” I reply. My eyebrows knit together, perplexed, as I rack my brain for an explanation as to why Ella could possibly be parked there. “What’s she doing here?”

  Neither of us expected Ella to be here, and quite frankly, I don’t know why she even is. She and my mom get along well, but they aren’t close friends or anything. They stop and talk for a few minutes if they pass each other in the street, and they did get a little drunk together at my graduation party, but other than that, they haven’t done much socializing, and they definitely don’t drop by each other’s houses for casual visits. Although Mom does like Ella, there will always be a hint of jealousy.

  “No idea,” Tyler says, shrugging. There’s confusion on his face too as he pulls up behind Ella’s car and shuts off the engine. He’s been driving for a few hours now, and he heaves a sigh, relieved to have finally come to a stop. After rubbing at his bloodshot eyes, he steps out of the car.

  I slide out after him, my body stiff and knotted from having slept in such an uncomfortable position. We exchange one final look of concern before we make our way up the small footpath to Mom’s front door. Tyler’s hand finds mine the way it always does, our fingers intertwining with unspoken reassurance and support.

  Gucci must hear our footsteps as we approach, because she starts barking before I’ve even touched the door handle. She’s on the other side, her paws scratching against the wood. I know for a fact that she will tackle us both as soon as I swing the door open, so I knock instead, waiting patiently.

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