Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame

  Tyler drops our hands so that he can take in my expression fully, like he’s searching for signs of weakness. But I’m not lying to myself: I know I can handle it. I want to handle it.

  Right then, there’s a thundering rap against the passenger window, startling us. I pull my hand away from Tyler’s and spin toward the window. In response, Dad raps his knuckles so harshly against the glass that I’m surprised it doesn’t shatter.

  “If you’re so eager to come talk to me then get out of the damn car!” he orders, bending down to glower at us. Up close, there’s a fire in his eyes that is sparked by hatred and fueled by contempt.

  “What a jerk,” I hear Tyler mutter. He would never say it to Dad’s face these days, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still think it. And he’s right, because Dad is a jerk. A jerk who is pounding relentlessly on the windows of Tyler’s car, as though he was a kid. It’s sad, really. He’s supposed to be the parent, yet he’s the most childish. Slowly, Tyler pushes open his car door and steps out onto the sidewalk.

  I follow suit, swinging the door wide and almost hitting Dad with it. “Dammit, Eden!” he growls.

  It’s an accident, because he’s the one in the way, but nonetheless, he is adamant in believing that I’ve done it on purpose.

  “Are you trying to break my hip?” he hisses at me. I’m starting to forget what his regular voice sounds like, because the gruff tone is the only one I’ve heard for so long.

  “No,” I say, fixing him with a hard look as I shut the door and move around to join Tyler. “I’m trying to be civil with you. Can you at least do the same?”

  “Civil,” Dad barks. He even rolls his eyes, as though it’s a bizarre request when really, it’s the least I could possibly ask of him. Is it really too much for a father to just be calm? To just quit with the aggravation for once and hear his daughter out? Apparently, it is.

  “Yes. Civil,” Tyler says, and I shoot him an alarmed look, warning him not to step in for me. Please, I’m thinking. Please don’t start an argument. And thankfully, he doesn’t. “Just for Eden.”

  “Oh, look,” Dad says, folding his arms across his chest and taking some thundering steps toward Tyler, “it’s the drugged-up kid who dragged my daughter off to Portland.”

  Anger ripples through me, but I remind myself to keep it together, to continue breathing deeply. Showing aggression toward him today will not help, and although Dad’s words are tainted by judgement and scorn, Tyler doesn’t react. It’s remarkable to not see him so much as clench his jaw.

  Instead, he presses his lips together and takes a step away from Dad. “I’m not here to talk to you, Dave,” he tells him calmly, but firmly. “I’ve already said what I needed to say to you, and you completely shut me down, so I’m not going to waste my breath trying to fight for you to like me. I’m a good guy, and if you can’t see that, then that’s your problem. I’m only here to talk to my mom and Jamie.”

  Dad’s a little taken aback by his attitude, and as Tyler gives me a tight, reassuring smile before he leaves us and heads across the lawn to the front door, I can swear there’s a flash of disappointment in Dad’s expression. It’s almost like he was hoping for Tyler to lash out so that his contempt for him could be justified. But the truth is, there aren’t any reasons for Dad to loathe him anymore, because Tyler has changed. The only thing he has done lately that is even remotely wrong is tell Dad that there was nothing going on between him and me anymore. That was a lie, but we were lying to ourselves too, so I’m not sure if it counts.

  There’s silence between Dad and me as we watch Tyler make his way toward the house. I know his anxiety will be killing him now, and I spot Ella at the living room window, peeking through the blinds at the scene outside. Upstairs, Jamie and Chase peer out my bedroom window but dart out of sight when they realize I’ve noticed them. Then Tyler is at the open door, quickly drifting over the threshold and disappearing inside.

  “Dad,” I voice, returning my gaze to the man standing opposite me. When I look at him, I feel nothing but a pain in my chest. He’s my father. I should feel love, but I don’t. “We need to talk,” I say. “Really, really talk.”

  “I have nothing to say to you.”

  “Too bad, because I have everything to say to you.” I turn toward the house and make a move for the front door. Behind me, Dad groans. Then, very reluctantly, his footsteps stomp across the lawn after me. I think he knows he’s going to have to talk to me whether he wants to or not.

  He follows me into the house, saying nothing. The house is silent too, and I glance into the living room as we pass, only to find Chase sitting on the edge of the couch, anxiously playing with his hands.

  “Hey,” I say, stepping into the room. He looks up. “Where’s your mom and Tyler?”

  “The office,” Chase says, shrugging.

  “And Jamie?”

  “He’s there too.” Chase looks almost sad, like he’s desperate to have some involvement in everything that’s going on rather than constantly being left out of the important conversations that happen within this house, but the reality is that there’s just too much he doesn’t know about his family’s past and too much for him to learn. Ella has always made it clear that the truth would hurt him more than the lies do. “Are you going to have a fight?” he asks, frowning at Dad and me. “Because I don’t think you should fight. I’m bored of the fighting. Can we all go to Florida instead?”

  “We’re not going to have a fight,” I reassure him, although maybe I’m lying. My intentions are to remain calm and confident, but I may just explode in a fit of rage if Dad pushes me enough. “We’re just going to talk and sort some things out.”

  “And your mom and I will take you and Jamie to Florida,” Dad adds gently, and the sudden change in his tone is infuriating. When I cast a glance over my shoulder at him, he’s giving Chase a smile, and I will never understand the way he can be so great with Jamie and Chase but not with Tyler and me. The boys aren’t even his own kids. I am.

  Chase almost falls off the couch with excitement. Ever since Christmas, he hasn’t shut up about the damn Sunshine State, so his face lights up with joy. “Really?”

  “Really,” Dad confirms with a nod. “But only if you stay here and let me talk to Eden. Alright, buddy?”

  Chase nods back with enthusiasm, scrambling across the room to grab the TV remote. He turns it on and quickly flicks through the channels, finding something to watch as he settles into the couch, attempting to look busy and distracted.

  Oh, Chase, I think. He will never know the truth about his family’s past. Maybe in a few years Ella will decide to tell him the truth about his real father. But for right now, my dad is his dad.

  I retreat out of the living room, pulling the door shut after me. Then I look at Dad. Of course, his smile is gone and his scowl has returned. “The kitchen?” I suggest. I don’t want to go upstairs because that will distract Tyler from his own task, so I lead the way down the hall and into the kitchen. It may be Sunday, but there is nothing peaceful about this house right now.

  Dad stands at the opposite side of the island in the center of the kitchen, his hands pressed against the worktop as he impatiently drums his fingers. Not impressed, he stares at me, waiting.

  “Sit down,” I tell him. I want to be in control, and having him tower over me doesn’t exactly put me at ease. He looks more threatening that way, and I’m not here to challenge him. I’m here to be honest with him.

  “I’m not sitting down,” he argues.

  “Sit. Down.”

  The firmness to my voice continues to surprise him, and I’m so relieved that today he isn’t putting up much of a fight. I’m driven by determination and I think he must see this in my expression, because he’s giving up much quicker than he usually does. I’m so adamant on talking to him that he’s not even attempting to stop me.

  Heaving another sigh of defeat, he pulls out a chair from the table and sits down, leaning back and crossing his arms again. “Alrig
ht, Eden,” he says. “What is it?”

  I run my eyes over him, really studying his expression. He doesn’t seem so furious now that Tyler isn’t here, but his eyes are still narrowed, conveying his annoyance. I don’t know why we have allowed our relationship to get so strained. Once upon a time, we were close. I used to adore him the way a daughter always should. When I was younger, I counted down the days until the weekend when Dad would get off work because I knew he’d have something cool lined up for us to do together. But it’s all so different now. We’re different now. The whole point of me coming to Santa Monica three years ago was to improve my relationship with him, but it seems to have done nothing but the opposite. All I can say to him is, “Why are we like this?”

  There’s an awkward silence which passes because neither of us can muster up an answer. I think we’re broken because of multiple reasons that have built up over the years. It’s hard to find the root cause of it all, although Dad isn’t putting much thought into it, because he only shrugs and says, “You know why.”

  “No, actually, I don’t,” I say, leaning back against the island. “Can you tell me?”

  Dad is silent again. He unfolds his arms and rubs his jaw, his eyes fixed on the floor. I’ve learned that Dad isn’t great at being truthful, and as he contemplates whether or not he’s actually going to give me an answer, he purses his lips. Then he meets my eyes and exhales. “Eden, why are you here?”

  “I’m here because I have a dad that I don’t have a relationship with,” I answer immediately. Unlike him, I have actually spent a lot of time thinking all of this through in the past few days. I have prepared my words and the points I want to make, and finally, I can express myself. “I don’t want to keep going on like this, arguing and fighting every single time we so much as walk into the same room as each other. I want to have a relationship with you, but I can’t if you’re going to treat me the way you do. I’m your daughter. You’re supposed to support me, not tear me down and criticize my decisions even if they’re stupid ones. You’re supposed to be on my side, not against me.”

  “Eden,” he starts.

  “No,” I cut in, my voice firm. “Listen to me. This family is a mess and you know it. We all do, and you’re so persistent on placing the blame on Tyler and me, but the truth, Dad? The truth is that we’re not the problem at all. You are. You caused this. This is your mess. Your anger is tearing us all apart when you have nothing to even be angry about. We were honest with you and Ella, and do you have any idea how terrifying that was to have to come in here and tell you both that secret? Because it was the hardest thing I’ve done in my entire life, and you threw it back in our faces by reacting the way you did. We never expected you to agree with what we were doing, but we did want you to accept it. Maybe not at first, but eventually, yet you never have. Why have you been so against us? Why is there so much hatred for us? Where is that coming from?” I’m out of breath by the time I stop, my words tumbling from my lips in one huge rush. My pulse is racing, because I desperately need answers. Finding out the truth from Dad is the only way we are going to be able to make progress, to move on from this.

  “Alright,” he says, sitting forward. “Forget the fact that you’re stepsiblings. I can live with that, but what I can’t live with is my daughter being involved with someone who’s so unstable. I liked Dean. He was a nice kid. He treated you good. But Tyler?” He shakes his head, almost in disgust. “Tyler is just a kid who’s only good at avoiding all of his problems.”

  “The same way you’re only good at avoiding all of yours, right?” I shoot back at him, growing defensive. “Like the way you avoided Mom because you didn’t just want to try and fix things with her? Like the way you’ve avoided me because it’s easier to hate me than to accept me?” Now I’m becoming exasperated, and I straighten and throw my hands up. “How many times do you want me to tell you that Tyler is not the same person he was when he was seventeen? I couldn’t stand him when I first met him. I hated everything he was doing. So trust me when I say that if he was seriously still like that, I wouldn’t be in love with him.”

  “Huh,” Dad says after a moment. “So now you’re in love with him again, even though you’ve told me repeatedly that you aren’t.”

  “Because I wasn’t,” I tell him, and there’s a weight in my chest that seems to grow heavier. “He left me, Dad. He just walked out and never came back. You know how angry I was, but I’ve . . . I’ve heard everything Tyler has to say, and leaving really was the best thing for him. I can’t continue to be mad at him for it, and I forgive him.” I pause, because I know there’s still something more I need to tell Dad, and now feels like the right time to say it. “I don’t know if Ella has already told you,” I mumble, fiddling with my hands, unable to meet Dad’s glare, “but Tyler and I are together now. We’re a couple, and I’m moving to Portland. I’m transferring to Portland State. My decision is made.”

  “Well,” Dad says with an air of sarcasm, “isn’t that just great?”

  “It is great,” I answer, “because I’m happy, and shouldn’t that be what you want for me? Happy and content and living my life the way I want to live it?”

  “I do want you to be happy,” Dad admits, his voice softer and quieter. “I just don’t think you can be happy with Tyler.”

  “How would you know that, Dad? Only I can know what makes me happy, and that’s Tyler.”

  I take a deep breath as I gather my thoughts, pulling out another chair and sitting down too, directly in front of Dad. The tension in the air seems to have dispersed, and I think remaining calm is definitely the best approach I could have taken. There is no room for anger here. Only honesty.

  “Please just hear what I’m saying,” I say gently. I look back at Dad with pleading, sad eyes, begging for him to actually absorb the words I’m saying. “Tyler has changed, okay? People do that sometimes. They change for the better. And Tyler . . . he’s off the drugs for good. There’s no anger in him. His temper is under control. He’s happier and more easygoing. He’s caring and he’s thoughtful. He has his own place. He has a job. He runs a damn youth center voluntarily. He’s even been to therapy and been in contact with his dad, which is actually what he’s telling Ella right now.” I can see Dad’s eyes widening as I tell him this information, because I know it doesn’t sound anything like the Tyler he knows. “And Dad,” I say, “he cares about me. He really does. He would never do anything to hurt me.”

  “A youth center?” Dad repeats.

  “Yes, and it’s amazing. He’s trying to help other teenagers who might be going through the same shit he was,” I explain, and I find myself smiling as I talk about it, because I’m still so proud of him. “Now don’t try and tell me that he’s just some guy who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, because he does, and he’s completely turned his life around.”

  Dad falls very silent and very still. He looks all around the kitchen, his eyes flickering everywhere but me. “If this is true . . .” he eventually says, “then the guy can have a chance.”

  Progress, I’m thinking, but that’s all this is. Just progress. Tyler may be getting a second chance from Dad, but that doesn’t mean that I am. Our relationship is still non-existent, and until we find out why we can’t seem to get along, none of this matters. Having Dad tolerate Tyler from now on will help, but it’s still not enough.

  “Why didn’t you seem to like me even before you found out about Tyler and me? I know we were trying and things were slowly getting better, but I still felt like you didn’t want to have me as your daughter. Like you’d be happier if I wasn’t around. I still feel that way. How come you’re a great dad to Jamie and Chase but not to me?” My voice is growing more brittle with each word that leaves my mouth, because now that I’m actually saying it aloud to him, it’s starting to hurt a lot more than I originally thought it would. “Do you want to hate me?”

  Dad releases another sigh as though each time he does, he’s letting go of more of his anger. The fire i
n his eyes has burned out. Instead, remarkably, he’s listening to the way he has made me feel, his expression ridden with guilt. “I don’t hate you. I don’t want you to think that.”

  “Then what is this, Dad?” I ask, but I think I’m going to cry at any moment. I didn’t expect Dad to actually hear me out today, but now that he’s reacting to what I’m telling him, I’m realizing how long overdue this is. We should have done this a long time ago, because things can never be fixed unless words are exchanged. “Because it’s certainly not love.”

  “I don’t know,” Dad says, tilting his head down, facing the floor. He seems ashamed, like he knows he’s been treating me wrong and is now having to face up to his mistakes.

  “Tell me why,” I order, although my voice isn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be. I’m starting to sound weak. “Just tell me why, Dad. Just give me a damn reason why you have always been so hostile with me.”

  “Because you took your mom’s side, alright, Eden?” he snaps, firing straight out of his chair and onto his feet, exploding under the pressure. He’s breathing heavily as his cheeks grow red, and he squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

  I blink at him, confused. “What?”

  “With your mom and me,” Dad says slowly, opening his eyes, “you took her side. You made me the bad guy even though I was a good father to you. Your mom and I . . . We fought because we were incompatible with different views and different opinions on just about everything. We didn’t fight because I was a jackass, and I know she made it sound like that, but it wasn’t fair for me to get the blame when neither of us was at fault. And I know you were only young, but every single time there was an argument, you would sit with your mom and glare at me when it hadn’t even been me who’d started the fight in the first place. I was going through hell too, Eden. Not just your mom.”

  Having Dad finally open up and hearing him give me a damn explanation for once is enough to make me speechless. I never knew he felt that way. I never knew I made him feel that way. I have always grown up believing that Dad is the reason behind the divorce, even though I’ve always known it was down to the simple fact that Mom and Dad just didn’t click anymore. It was always easier to just blame Dad for it.

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