Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame

  “Everything’s fine,” she says, but something shaky in her voice tells me otherwise. “Just be quick.”

  When she ends the call, I immediately set off again, earphones in, music up, pace faster than usual. The house is over two miles away, so at best I’ll get there in fifteen minutes. Ella really doesn’t sound like she wants to be kept waiting, and as I carefully weave my way through the people on the sidewalks, I find myself mentally listing possible reasons for why she needs me so urgently. None of them seem probable, though, so I give up trying to guess and focus instead on running even faster. The quicker I get there, the sooner I’ll find out.

  With that mentality, I end up back at the house in just over fifteen minutes. I wipe my brow with the back of my hand, breathing heavily as I approach the front door. It’s the first time I’ve been here since I left on Friday night. I haven’t spoken to Dad at all since then either.

  The house is silent when I walk into the hall. No Jamie, no Chase, no Dad. Only Ella, dressed smartly in a fitted skirt and a blouse. I only notice her after I hear her faint footsteps at the top of the stairs. I gaze up at her and run a hand over my sweaty forehead as she peers down at me. My breathing is still a little uneven, and I try to bring it under control as I wait for her to tell me what it is that she so desperately needs me for.

  However, there’s no explaining, only an anxious frown as she nods behind her and quietly says, “Can you come up here for a second?”

  If I wasn’t worried before, then I certainly am now. I’m suddenly afraid that if I go upstairs, I’ll find my bedroom empty and converted into a guest room with whatever belongings I’d left here packed into cardboard boxes. That’s it, I think. She’s kicking me out. Not that I actually mind that much.

  Blowing out a breath, my entire body fatigued and aching, I force myself up the staircase, trying my best not to make too much eye contact with Ella. I’ll bet it was Dad’s idea to never let me stay here again, not hers. She’s just the one who has to break the news to me. Like, I’m sorry, Eden, but you’re too despicable and disgusting and dangerously reckless to stay in this house for a second longer.

  “Where’s Jamie? Chase?” I ask, glancing down the hall out of the corner of my eye to see if I can spot any boxes. There are none. I fix my full attention back on Ella, but she only turns around and walks through to her office, the room next door to mine. I follow.

  “Jamie’s taking Jen into the city for the day,” Ella says nonchalantly over her shoulder as her heels click against the floor, “and Chase is at the beach.”

  I stop a few feet into the room, not because it’s Ella’s private workspace, which none of us are usually allowed in for confidentiality reasons, but because this room hasn’t always been an office. It’s only been this way for half a year. Although the walls have been repainted ivory, I can still see the navy shining through from Dad’s crap painting skills. The old carpet was also pulled up and replaced with hardwood flooring. But other than a missing second coat of paint providing a reminder, it’s sometimes easy to forget that once upon a time this was a bedroom.

  “So Jamie isn’t grounded?” I want to roll my eyes. Incredible, really, that Jamie can come home drunk, throwing up all over the lawn, and be let off the hook.

  “He is,” Ella says, then pauses as she turns around to look straight at me, her blue eyes intense yet soft at the exact same time. “But today I didn’t want him in the house.”

  “Oh.” I press my lips together and tuck some strands of hair that have strayed from my messy bun behind my ear. Curious, I cast a quick glance over Ella’s desk and the stacks of paperwork that cover it. All cases she’s working on, all client information. I glance back at her before she can notice me looking. “Why don’t you want him here?”

  “Because I haven’t told him yet,” she says slowly. It’s not quite the answer I expected and, in fact, it surprises me. She swallows and places a hand on the back of her chair, and as though she can see how puzzled I am, she adds, “I haven’t told any of you yet. Especially not your dad.”

  Oh my God. The reason I’m here suddenly becomes so clear that I find myself blinking in disbelief, reaching for the door handle in order to support myself before I pass out, or hurl, or both.

  “You’re pregnant?” I splutter.

  “God, Eden.” Ella shakes her head fast and her cheeks flush with color. She presses her hand to her chest, composes herself, and clears her throat before saying, “Definitely not.” A little awkwardly, she gives me a small smile while she tries not to laugh.

  My rapid heartbeat slows as my chest relaxes and my shoulders sink with relief. I couldn’t imagine Dad doing the whole father thing again. He’s yet to be good at it. Slightly embarrassed at myself for jumping to conclusions, I bite at my lower lip and shrug, still as confused and as worried as I was before. “Then what are you talking about?”

  Ella takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, the entire house silent. My patience starts to wear thin. I don’t like this. I hate not knowing what’s really going on or why I’m here. Maybe she’s about to tell us that they’re moving across the country. Maybe she’s quitting her job. Maybe she’s planning to file for a divorce. But the latter is my wishful thinking, for her sake.

  Yet she remains silent, her lips moving only slightly, as though she’s trying to form words but doesn’t know what to say. After a few seconds, she doesn’t have to say anything at all. Her eyes say it for her.

  They’ve drifted over my shoulder to something behind me, her gaze concentrated and calm, and then I hear the voice that has the power to completely paralyze me. It’s impossible to mistake it for anyone else’s, which is why my breathing stops and my stomach twists the moment the first word leaves his lips, and why everything, absolutely everything, stops when I hear him say, “She’s talking about me.”

  Startled, I spin around. And he’s there. Just like that, after an entire year, he’s there in front of me, standing tall and broad, with black jeans, white T-shirt, dark hair, emerald eyes . . . is the person who was once my everything, and who I never realized was my everything until the moment he left and never came back.

  That person just so happens to be my stepbrother, Tyler.

  I retreat further into the office, stepping back defensively. Disbelief and shock consume me as my throat tightens and I shake my head at him. He hasn’t changed at all. He’s exactly how I remember him from last summer, from our time together in New York, with that same stubble and sharp jaw and huge arms and bright eyes that are set on me and nothing else. The corners of his lips quirk up into a smile.

  Yet in the tense silence that surrounds all three of us, I can’t help but feel as though I’ve been ambushed and lured here for no logical reason whatsoever. Ella knows I can’t bear to think about Tyler, let alone look at him, so I shift my glare to her. “What the hell is this?”

  Ella looks like a nervous wreck. She’s glancing rapidly between Tyler and me, her eyes wary and her forehead creased with worry. “I’ve got a meeting to get to,” she manages to say, her voice wavering. She turns away from us, gathering up her jacket and a pile of binders before quickly brushing past me. As she passes Tyler, she reaches up to squeeze his shoulder, and then she simply leaves. Her heels click against the stairs until she reaches the front door, and after a small thud, there’s nothing but complete and utter silence.

  I’m blinking fast as I try to wrap my head around the fact that Tyler is standing three feet away from me, and eventually I’m forced to look up at him. My eyes meet his, but unlike his sparkling pair, mine are flaming with anger. He takes a bold step into the office, a foot closer to me, and he does the most incredible thing yet again. He smiles. A huge, beaming smile that displays his perfect row of teeth, and it stretches so far up his face that it reaches his eyes.

  “Eden,” he murmurs. His voice is quiet, almost as though my name is delicate, and a small breath of relief escapes his lips.

  It infuriates me more than anything ever has before.
For him to appear out of nowhere after a year and smile at me as though everything is perfect and for him to even dare say my name is all it takes for me to snap, for a year’s worth of anger and hurt to explode all at once.

  Fuelled by rage, I can’t stop myself from swinging, and before I even realize what I’m really doing, my hand has already collided harshly against Tyler’s left cheek with a sickening slap. There’s so much adrenaline flooding through my veins that I don’t even notice that my palm stings until later.

  Tyler’s turned his face to one side, down to the ground, eyes tightly shut as he exhales a long breath. Slowly, he moves his hand to his cheek and rubs at his skin, as though to soothe away the pain I’ve inflicted—the pain I’ve yet to feel guilty about. I’m too furious right now, which is why when his eyes flicker back open and he stares at me in stunned silence, I find myself hissing, “What are you doing here?”

  With no smile left, his shock turns to confusion and he furrows his eyebrows at me as his cheek glows a bright red. “I told you I’d come back,” he says quietly. His voice is deep, with that same old husky undertone that I remember. That was back when I adored his voice and the way my name sounded on his lips. Now his voice only aggravates me.

  “And I thought you meant you’d come back after a couple weeks, or a month at most.” Swallowing hard, I take several more steps backward until I’m up against Ella’s desk and there’s nowhere else I can go. I can’t bear to be anywhere near Tyler. Not now, not ever again. Filled with the hatred that stems from the fact that he walked out and left me behind, it’s easy for the words to keep on spilling out of my mouth, and now I’m yelling, “Not an entire year!”

  Tyler’s perplexed stare falters, and his eyes fill instead with guilt and hurt. It’s as though he hadn’t ever thought there was a chance that I might be mad at him until now, and suddenly I can see the gears in his mind shifting as he looks across the room at me, wide-eyed and unsure of how to reply. He definitely doesn’t want to smile anymore. I’m not sure how he was expecting me to greet him, if he thought I’d throw myself back into his arms and be overflowing with joy, or if he thought that perhaps I’d kiss him like I’ve never kissed him before and be eternally happy. But whatever he was expecting, it’s clear he did not expect this—rage and contempt and a girl who is no longer in love with him.

  But I don’t want to stand here and yell at him. I don’t want to argue and fight. I don’t want him to try to explain or beg for forgiveness. I just don’t want to deal with him in any way at all, so I decide to leave: calmly, despite the way my chest is burning, but quickly, because the longer I’m around him, the more I feel like the anger might just turn to tears, the hot, burning kind. So I walk across the office without looking at Tyler, keeping my head up and my eyes ahead, and I head straight past him. I can sense his gaze following me as I descend the staircase, and when I pull open the front door, I hear his footsteps at the top of the landing.

  “Eden,” he says. “Wait.”

  But I don’t want to wait. I spent months waiting, wondering and guessing and driving myself insane as the days rolled into months and the months rolled into a year. I gave up on waiting a long time ago. I gave up on him a long time ago.

  I slam the front door shut behind me, and I run. I run as fast and as hard as I’ve ever run before, desperate to get as far away from Tyler and the house as I possibly can, my heart pounding and my ears ringing with each step I take. Yet the further away I get, the more aware of the situation I become, and the more aware I become, the more my adrenaline fades and the more nauseous I feel. Now I finally feel the pain in my hand. My palm is burning, so I tightly curl my hand into a fist and try not to think about it.

  I’m back at my mom’s place in under five minutes, and I’m still running until the moment I’m over the threshold and inside. Panting, I shove the front door shut and lock it, squeezing my eyes shut for a moment as I try to catch my breath. I can hear a talk show on TV, and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds for Gucci to appear and start nipping at my feet.

  “Please don’t tell me you’re running from the cops,” Mom says, and when I spin around to the sound of her voice, she’s already approaching me while drying her hands with a small towel, an eyebrow raised suspiciously. The faucet in the kitchen sink is still running.

  Keeping my dog entertained is the last thing on my mind right now, so I push her away from me and look back at Mom instead. She must gather immediately that something is seriously wrong, because her small smile falters, the warmth in her brown eyes disappears, and concern dominates her features. The wrinkles around her forehead seem to deepen as she studies me, and all she can say is, “Eden?”

  My lower lip quivers. I’m trying my hardest not to let my emotions overwhelm me, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. I didn’t think Tyler would ever come back. After a while, I just came to believe he was happy wherever he was and that he didn’t need any of us anymore. I never imagined that I’d be faced with this situation. I’m furious and confused and upset and frustrated, and my silence is only making Mom even more worried, so I swallow hard and murmur, “Tyler’s back.”

  And the moment I say his name out loud, I burst into tears.


  Mom lets me sleep for a while. But I’m not really sleeping, just laying in bed, wrapped up in my comforter, staring at my ceiling through swollen eyes. I cried for a while. Showered, pulled on a pair of sweats, climbed into bed. I haven’t left my room since, even though it’s long after noon by now and I’m wasting a whole lot of daylight. Honestly, I don’t want to move for the rest of the day, or perhaps the rest of the week. My head hurts too much and feels too heavy and is on the verge of exploding. So I’ll stick around in the comfort of my bed for as long as I can, even though I know Mom will never in a million years let me lock myself up in here for longer than a day, despite the fact that I so desperately wish I could.

  The truth is, I don’t think I can bring myself to face Tyler again. Whatever hope I had for us last summer is long gone. Maybe we had a real shot at being something back then. We were so close to finally being together, officially and openly, yet Tyler made the entire situation much more complicated than it ever needed to be. He didn’t have to leave, especially not when I needed him the most and especially not for so long. I understood, though. I got it. Eventually, after a few weeks, when the initial shock and pain of his abrupt departure finally eased off. I knew he was doing right by himself, but what I didn’t know was why I had been completely thrown out of the picture. I tried to call him, but he never answered. I left endless messages, but I doubt he listened to them. I sent text after text, question after question, but I never received a single reply. Even when I simply asked if he was okay, he was silent. Soon I grew tired of trying, and my calls and messages and texts gradually began to decrease in number as day after day went by, and by November, I wasn’t trying to contact him at all. I had college to focus on: new classes and new people and a new city.

  And that was great for keeping my mind off him. For a while, at least. Abusing caffeine while studying in the library, making late-night trips to convenience stores with my roommate whenever we realized we’d run out of food, and sneaking home drunk across campus in the middle of the night after a dorm party can only distract a person for so long. Sure, I met new guys and even went on a couple dates over the months, but every single one of those dates felt flat and far from special. By February, I was thinking about Tyler again. Only then, I wasn’t upset. I was livid.

  I simply couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand why Tyler spoke to Ella but not me, and I couldn’t understand why he still hadn’t come back to Santa Monica like he said he would. It’d been seven months. He should have come home forever ago, yet he hadn’t, which angered me. It felt like he’d forgotten about me, packed up and moved on and left me to deal with the mess we made together. I’m the one who had to cope with all the sideways glances and murmured comments whenever I was back here in Santa Mon
ica. Not him. I’m the one who had to deal with Dad and Jamie. Not him. I’m the one who got walked out on. Not him.

  And that’s why my fury continued to grow: because he left and never came back, because he couldn’t even bring himself to call me, because he was happy wherever the hell he was. And wherever he was, I wasn’t. Which meant he was happy and content without me, and that hurt a whole lot more than I ever thought it could.

  The first time he ever called me back was during spring break. I was in San Francisco for the first time in my life, hiking my way up the streets with Rachael by my side whining about the steepness, when my phone rang. I stared at my screen, contemplating whether or not I should answer, before the call rang off and went to my voicemail. Tyler didn’t leave a message, but after that he did start calling every day. I never answered a single one, because by then it was too late, and all I felt toward him was nothing but seething anger.

  It’s currently three weeks short of a year to the exact day he left, which is why I never expected him to come back now after so long. Even Ella gave up hope, back when she decided it was time to convert Tyler’s old room into an office so she didn’t have to keep working out of the kitchen. That’s when it became clear to all of us that even she didn’t think he’d come back. It’s fair to say that Dad was rather pleased that day, and he was quick to rush off to the hardware store to buy that ivory paint that he later made a complete mess of applying. If there’s anyone who’s going to be more furious than me about Tyler being back, it’ll be Dad when he finds out. That’s if he doesn’t know already, but I’m guessing by the way Ella was so secretive this morning that he doesn’t. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m pissed off at her too. Ella purposely put me in that situation, face-to-face with Tyler again, without warning, even when I’d expressed multiple times to her that I never wanted to see him again and that I was glad he hadn’t come back.

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