Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame


  As Tyler heads around to the driver’s side and unlocks the vehicle, I stare across the roof at him in confusion until he shrugs nonchalantly and says, “I downgraded.” Then he slides into the driver seat, so I get in the passenger side, pulling the door shut behind me.

  “Why?”

  He shoots me a sideways glance, his expression solemn. “I needed the cash.”

  I press my lips into a small line and look away as he starts up the engine. The car smells vaguely of an aftershave I don’t recognize, and there’s also a lingering scent of multiple air fresheners. There are three trees dangling from his rearview mirror. As he drives, my eyes continue to flit around the car so that I don’t have to look at him. There are random brochures and shreds of paper at my feet, a trail of his T-shirts decorating the backseat and some dust accumulating along the dashboard. The black leather seats are well worn, but it’s still a pretty nice car.

  We’ve been driving in silence for a few minutes, the radio off but the AC on full blast, when Tyler quietly says, “I like your hair like that.”

  Because I’m still slightly off-balance from being around him again after so long, I don’t realize what he’s talking about, so I reach up to pull down my sun visor. I slide open the tiny mirror and study my reflection. Right. My hair. The last time he saw me it was almost double the length. Now it only barely passes my shoulders.

  I close the sun visor and pick at the threading around the tear in my jeans. “Mmm.”

  I think of all the other things about me that have changed too. Like the fact that I stopped applying mascara on a daily basis back in the fall because I grew tired of smearing it every time I teared up, and the way I sometimes take a minute to breathe before heading inside Dad and Ella’s house. Like the gradual shift in my temperament, from being able to remain relatively cool and collected to losing it and snapping over the smallest of things because I am so filled with anger. Like the few extra pounds I have gained here, there, and everywhere.

  A lot of things have changed.

  Too much has changed.

  My eyes fall to my lap and I suck my stomach in so hard that breathing is difficult, but it’s nothing I’m not used to. Back in sophomore year, I was an expert. I remain like this for a while. Occasionally, I relax for only a few seconds at a time when Tyler’s attention is focused fully on the road. Even when my hips start to ache, all I can think about is that I don’t want Tyler to notice my weight gain, so I keep on going, folding my arms across my stomach in an effort to hide myself and lifting my thighs slightly up off the leather passenger seat so that they don’t appear so huge.

  We drive for a while. We actually leave the city. Rush hour is upon us, so the traffic is already starting to build up, which makes the silence all the more painful. I don’t make an attempt at starting up a conversation, because I don’t have anything to say. Tyler is the one who has a lot of talking to do, not me, so we keep on driving for almost an hour despite how uncomfortable we both are, straight through Beverly Hills and West Hollywood until we pull onto North Beachwood Drive. I look up. And then I realize.

  “Why are we here?”

  Tyler doesn’t cast a glance over at me, only shrugs further back against his seat and releases a small sigh. His eyes rest on the Hollywood Sign, perched high and far in the distance. “Because I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been here in a while. Up there and in this city.”

  Understatement of the year, I think. Rolling my eyes, I shake my head once and firmly say, “I’m not heading up there with you. It’s, like, seventy out.”

  “You are,” Tyler replies with an edge of confidence. “I’ve got some water in the back.”

  More silence, but only because this time I’m trying to string together a decent argument for why I can’t fucking hike up Mount Lee right now, like: (1) because I’m wearing my best jeans and my new shirt, (2) because I really couldn’t care less about heading up there, (3) because it’s way too hot, and, finally, (4) because I really don’t want to do this with Tyler. The effort of arguing my case, however, seems like more hassle than doing the hike itself. So I keep my thoughts to myself and frown instead.

  We pass by the familiar sign for the Sunset Ranch and pull up a few moments later into the small parking area at the foot of the Hollyridge Trail. Like Tyler, I haven’t been here in forever either. I’ve only ever done this once before, and that was three years ago, back when things were a whole lot different to how they are now.

  When Tyler shuts off the engine, he doesn’t hesitate. He pulls the keys from the ignition and pushes open his door, stepping out and glancing up at the sky. I get out too and walk around the car to meet him by the trunk.

  “Just to be clear,” I say as he opens it, “I really don’t want to do this.”

  With one hand resting up on the lid of the trunk, Tyler looks at me from under his arm, and then looks away again. His trunk is full of all sorts of crap. Like more scraps of paper, a jacket, jumper cables and empty crushed cans of root beer, a small toolbox, and several bottles of water, which I doubt are fresh. He hands me one and shuts the lid.

  “Let’s get moving,” he says.

  In an act of defiance, I walk dramatically slowly while passing the warm bottle of water back and forth between my hands, humming. If it irritates Tyler at all, he certainly doesn’t show it. I keep up the act for a few minutes before I realize I’m acting like a complete kid and he’s way more mature than me. I quit it and catch up with him. And then we just walk, up and up, passing girls on horses and, later, a pair of middle-aged guys most likely on their way back down from the sign.

  The entire time, there is silence. I’m starting to worry that it’ll swallow us up soon. Somewhere between last July and now, we lost everything. We lost our inside jokes and our knowing glances, our special moments and our strongest promises, our courage and our secret. We lost the love and desire we shared.

  I think silence is the only thing we have left.

  We don’t stop to catch our breaths as we continue to head up Mount Lee, following the Hollyridge Trail as it contours around the slopes, but I do start walking backward the majority of the time. I figure the view is prettier that way. There’s something almost exhilarating about distancing yourself from the city and watching as it grows smaller and smaller beneath you. It’s better than having to look at Tyler, that’s for sure.

  There’s also something sad about being up here again, hiking over five hundred feet to see a bunch of letters perched on a mountain, winding around sharp turns under the burning sun. The first and last time I did this, I was with my friends. Or at least people I thought were my friends. Everything seemed a lot simpler back then and everyone seemed a lot nicer. I was friends with Tiffani. Rachael. Meghan. Jake. Dean. All of them. Or at least I thought I was. We were laughing and getting along and passing water around and jumping fences and being completely reckless together. But between then and now, over the space of three years, through arguments and fallouts and break-ups, I guess we all grew up.

  What Tyler said in New York last summer was right—everyone does drift apart, everyone does stop talking, everyone does go their separate ways after high school. Our colleges are scattered across the country. Illinois, Ohio, Washington, and even here in California. I heard a few months ago from Rachael that Dean got into Berkeley. He’ll be starting in the fall. Of course he didn’t tell me himself—who would want to talk to their ex-girlfriend? Especially one who cheated on him with his best friend. But even though Dean hates me now, I still want the best for him and I’m sorry for how I hurt him. I almost find myself smiling as I think about him getting into Berkeley. I know just how badly he wanted to go there.

  Tyler and I are on the paved road now, Mount Lee Drive, winding away from the sign only to curl back around toward it. I barely remember any of this. Along the ridgetop, I come to a stop and look out over the northern slope. I can see downtown Burbank. I don’t remember this from the first time. Back then, I think my attention was focu
sed on the Hollywood Sign and nothing else, so I take a minute to study Burbank while squinting through the harsh sunlight. I wish I’d remembered my sunglasses. Tyler has his.

  “That’s San Fernando Valley up there,” he says quietly, and he nods off into the distance, way past Burbank.

  “I know,” I say dryly. “I do live here.”

  “Okay.”

  We walk again, passing some communications equipment, and shortly after that we round the turn back onto the southern slope. And there it is for the second time: the famous Hollywood Sign. Huge and bold as always, grasping the attention of millions of tourists each year, sitting proudly on its reserved spot on the steep south side of Mount Lee and protected by a fence and security cameras that crush thousands of dreams each year when people climb all the way up here only to realize that it is, in fact, illegal to touch this global icon.

  There’s no one here right now, though, besides us. Tyler walks over to the fence, hooks his index finger around the metal, and then sighs.

  “Are you gonna jump it?” I ask. Because I don’t want to go through all of that again—touching the sign for a fraction of a second before making a beeline down Mount Lee and risking either a citation or death. I stay back and sit down on the dirt trail, crossing my legs. The ground is hot.

  Tyler glances over his shoulder, and suddenly he looks way too old for his age. He’s grown up so much. Maybe too much. “No.”

  He turns around and walks over to me, sitting down on the ground to my right. He doesn’t come too close, but he doesn’t leave a lot of space between us either. His legs are stretched out in front of him and his palms are behind him, pressed flat on the dirt. Anxiety is radiating from him and it feels almost contagious, because as I wait for how this conversation will start, I feel sweat on my forehead. I try to convince myself that it’s just the heat.

  It’s incredible that despite how busy the city is, up here everything is completely calm and still. It reminds me of New York and how being up on the roof of Tyler’s apartment building made it feel like we were cut off from the rest of the city for a while. Up here feels just like that.

  Tyler still hasn’t said anything. I shift my gaze from the fence, turning my head to look directly at him. He’s staring ahead, his eyes narrowed softly, his lips pressed together, and for the first time since I saw him this morning, I take a few minutes to really look at him. His hair is longer, and so is his stubble, which I used to find incredibly attractive. It traces his jaw almost carelessly now, messily making its way down his neck. My eyes trail from his lips to his arms, and finally I notice it.

  I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying attention or if I’d temporarily gone blind up till now, but I see my name. I’d forgotten all about it being there until right now. It’s those four small letters that I thought were so stupid, even more so now, and they have faded slightly after a year. But they’re no longer on their own. Around them, there are several new additions to his bicep, all connected and rolled into one huge tattoo, almost like half a sleeve. There’s a clock face and a whole bunch of roses all wrapped up together, surrounding my name, with a lot of swirls and dark shading. It actually looks pretty good, but there’s one question running through my mind.

  Why didn’t he cover up my name while he had the chance?

  I swallow and look away before he can turn to meet my gaze. My hands are resting in my lap, so I tilt my wrist up toward me. There are no longer any words there, because they’re covered up by a huge flying dove that I picked out of a book during spring break. It was when Rachael and I were in San Francisco. She got a string of flowers around her hipbone, and after she finally stopped crying with pain and after I stopped crying with laughter, she shoved a stack of the artist’s books into my arms. I told her I didn’t want another tattoo. She told me that wasn’t what she was trying to say—she thought I needed a better one. And she was right. The artist told me that a dove symbolizes a new beginning, like in Noah’s story in the Bible, and although I’m not particularly religious, I liked the idea of a fresh start.

  That was the day I really gave up on Tyler, and the words No te rindas—Don’t give up—were gone forever.

  I bury my hand and my wrist back into my lap and bite at the corner of my lip. Part of me feels guilty for erasing the motto we lived by last summer, but I can’t figure out why, because I have no reason to feel bad about it. I realize I’m shaking my head, but only at myself, and I try not to think about it. I look back to Tyler again instead.

  His head is lowered now, his eyes boring intensely into his jeans, and in the silence it’s easy to hear his long, slow sigh. “You’re mad at me,” he says. It’s a statement. A fact.

  “And why are you surprised?”

  Slowly, he lifts his head and fixes his soft eyes on mine. “I don’t know. I guess I never thought about what to expect. I just thought . . .”

  “That I’d be happy?” I finish for him. I’m much calmer now than I was earlier. Our voices are low and gentle, even though the atmosphere around us is growing tense. “That I’d be right where you left me? That I’d have spent a year waiting?”

  “I mean,” he murmurs, swallowing, “I guess so.” His chest rises again as he releases another sigh, this one much heavier. “I thought you understood.”

  I take a long moment to play my next words through my head before I say them out loud. Then I take a deep breath and I begin to explain.

  “I did at first. I got it. Everything that was going on was too much. Your dad, our parents, us.” I hesitate on that final word for only a brief second, and then my eyes flicker away from Tyler again and toward the Hollywood Sign as I anxiously squeeze the bottle of water in my hand. I stare at the huge “H”. “But didn’t you stop for a minute to think that maybe it was hard on me too? No, you didn’t. You just ran away like a coward and left me to deal with all the shit we got ourselves into.” I squeeze the bottle even harder and I drop my eyes, staring at the cap instead. “I couldn’t leave for Chicago until September, so I had to stick around here for two months. I wasn’t even allowed in your house. My dad didn’t talk to me, and the only times he did were when he was threatening to stop paying my tuition. Your mom couldn’t look me in the eye, and don’t even get me started on Jamie. You won’t have a fucking clue, because you haven’t been here, but he’s kind of an asshole. He hates us both. Oh, and by the way, everyone knows about us. Absolutely everyone. But you wouldn’t know that either. You wouldn’t know the things people have said behind my back and you wouldn’t know how they look at me. You don’t know anything, because you didn’t have to deal with any of it. I did, all on my own, and no matter how many times I called you just to hear your voice so that you could at least tell me it was going to be okay or something, you didn’t even answer.”

  Tyler is silent, but I can feel him staring at me with that intense gaze of his. I breathe fast and it’s hard to stop my cheeks from burning up. Don’t cry, I tell myself, over and over, until I’m mentally chanting it to myself like a mantra.

  Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

  You’re mad at him. You’re mad at him. You’re mad at him.

  Don’t cry—you’re mad at him.

  “I don’t know what to say,” he finally admits. His voice is so shaky and so quiet that it’s verging on a whisper, and he pulls his legs up toward him and leans forward, resting his arms over his knees.

  “You can start by saying sorry.”

  A sideways glance again. A pained look in his eyes. A crease of worry on his forehead. He angles his body slightly to face me and he reaches over to place his hand firmly on my knee, squeezing hard. “I’m sorry.”

  I stare at his hand on my body. It’s been a while. His touch is almost uncomfortable, and I don’t want it. I really don’t. Pressing my lips together, I push his hand off my knee and look back out over the city. The afternoon is almost hazy, but Hollywood still looks beautiful, the way it always does. I can see downtown LA and its patch of skyscrapers, and my ga
ze lingers on them as I think about what sorry really means for Tyler.

  Is he sorry for leaving in the first place? Sorry for our family turning against me? Sorry for being gone for so long? Sorry for ruining what we had?

  For everything that he has done, sorry does not feel like enough.

  “I am,” Tyler says after I don’t reply, and this time he doesn’t reach for my knee, but my hand. He doesn’t interlock our fingers, only grips my hand so tight that it almost hurts. “I really fucking am. I had no idea.”

  “Of course you didn’t.” I yank my hand free from his before pushing his chest back, shoving him away from me as my temper slowly flares up. “What did you expect? Did you think you’d just come home and everything would be fine? Did you think you’d just come back and I’d still be in love with you and our parents would accept us and everyone else would think we were super cute? Because it’s nothing like that. My dad is still furious at me. Everyone thinks we’re disgusting.” I look at him straight in the eye, glaring as fiercely as I can without bursting into tears. “And I’m not in love with you.”

  Tyler physically recoils, as though I’ve just slapped him again, as if my words have physically hit him hard. His expression twists and his eyes pool with confusion. I can see a million questions running through his mind all at once, but he doesn’t say any of them out loud. He only rests his elbows on his knees and presses his hands to his face before running them back through his hair. He pulls on the ends before dropping his hands again and tilting his head back. He’s looking up to the sky, but his eyes are closed.

  I kind of want to go home now. I don’t want to be here with him. Chewing at the inside of my cheek, I reach for a couple stones by my foot and gather them up into my hand. And then I throw them one by one toward the fence, toward the sign, toward the city. It distracts me from Tyler, because although I like to think that I don’t care, I don’t want to see how hurt he is.

  “Why?”

 
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