Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame

My hand hovers in midair as I raise an eyebrow at him. “Why what?”

  “Why aren’t you . . . ?” His voice tapers off into silence and he simply can’t force the words out of his mouth. He shakes his head fast instead. “What happened? What changed?”

  “Are you kidding?” I lower my hand and quite literally laugh, but it’s more out of contempt than humor. “Are you seriously fucking kidding?” I have to stop for a second to compose myself and control my anger before I explode like a grenade right there in front of him. Breathing in and out, I squeeze my eyes shut and count to three before I open them again to look back over at the complete moron by my side. “You disappear for a year and you expect me to be that girl who sits around and dedicates her life to waiting for a guy? No. I’ve studied hard and I’ve met awesome people and I’ve loved living on my own and despite all the other bullshit that I’ve had to deal with, my year has been pretty damn good. So in case you weren’t aware, I can live my life without you. I can survive without the mighty Tyler Bruce.”

  I run out of steam then, so I stop, even though there’s so much more I could say. I don’t want to admit the entire truth, however. I don’t want to tell him how many tears were shed the first few days after he left, I don’t want to tell him that the reason I’ve gained weight again is because eating junk food and ice cream with Rachael were the only things that comforted me, I don’t want to tell him that the longer he was gone the angrier I became.

  The truth is, I have not been hopelessly in love for the past year.

  I have been endlessly furious.

  “Come home with me,” Tyler says quickly, but his words are too fast and too urgent, and his voice is too cracked and too broken. “Come back with me, even for just a couple days, and let me show you. Let me show you what I’ve been doing and let me show you how much better I am and let me show you that I’m sorry and let me . . . let me . . .” He trails off to catch his breath before he lowers his voice to a mere whisper and says, “Let me fix this.”

  “You’re already home,” I blankly state. With both hands, I motion in front of me toward the sprawling city.

  “No,” he says, and he runs his bright eyes so intensely over my face that it makes me uncomfortable. “I don’t live here anymore. I only came back for a couple days to . . . to see you. I got here last night and Mom’s put me up in that swanky hotel by school that I can’t even pronounce, because she doesn’t want your dad to know that I’m back, which I get. I go home on Monday.”

  I blink at him for a long while. “What?” My mind feels far too slow as I try to process what he’s saying. There’s information missing, yet I’m still pathetically trying to piece things together. Going home on Monday? He’s already home. LA is his home. He’s supposed to struggle to integrate back into the family and he’s supposed to argue about his room being converted into an office and he’s supposed to fight with Jamie the same way I do. That’s what coming home means. “You’re leaving again?”

  He nods only once. “But this time I want you to come with me. My life’s in Portland now and—”

  “Portland?” I cut in so sharply that Tyler quite literally freezes, his lips still parted and his words caught in his mouth. “Portland?”

  “It was the first place I thought of,” he admits.

  My blood immediately heats up with so much fury that my skin feels like it’s on fire. My grip around the bottle of water in my lap tightens so hard that it almost explodes. I push myself up off the ground and get to my feet, taking up my stance directly in front of Tyler as I glare down at him. “You’ve been in PORTLAND?”

  I know I hate Portland. I know I shouldn’t care where he’s been, because it shouldn’t matter to me. No matter which city he’s been in for the past year, it’s the fact that he was gone that I found difficult. But there’s something about the thought of him in Portland, in the city I was born in, walking the streets I once walked that is really getting to me. I suddenly feel far too protective over Portland, like the city is mine. I don’t want Tyler taking anything that’s mine. Out of all the other cities in this damn country, why did he have to end up in the one I once called home? What’s even more surprising to me is that I didn’t know any of this until now. I’ve spent an entire year without knowing where the hell Tyler was. For a while, especially at first, I figured he most likely would have gone back to New York. But apparently not. Apparently, shitty Portland with its shitty rain and its shitty mountains was enough for him.

  “Come back with me,” he says again, only now his voice is pleading. He stands, takes a step toward me, and grasps my waist with both hands, his touch firm against my hips. “Please just come to Portland and give me a chance to fix this fucking mess, alright? Just for a few days, I swear, and if I’m not worth sticking around for any longer than a couple days, then you can go home. That’s all I’m asking.”

  I stare straight back at him and I take a minute to really, really look at him up close. His eyes haven’t changed at all. It’s easy to search them for answers, for hidden truths and masked emotions. That’s something I think I will always adore about him. And right now, he seems completely exposed. I can see absolutely everything in his eyes, from panic and worry to pain and anguish, all wrapped up as one powerfully intense gaze that is drawing me in. To think that I was once so utterly and entirely in love with this person is almost too hard to believe now. I have so much resentment toward him these days, so much contempt, that sometimes it hurts.

  I do not want to go to Portland with him.

  “We’re done talking,” I murmur, and then I press my hands to his chest and shove him a step back, breaking his hold on me once more. Pushing him away is what I’m best at now.

  If I thought he couldn’t look more pained than he already did, then I was wrong. His lips form a bold line as he stuffs his hands back into the front pockets of his jeans, and his eyes never leave mine. He has nothing else left to say. Watching me is all he can do.

  I glance over my shoulder at the city one last time. And then I begin to retreat, slowly backing away from my stepbrother until I’m several feet away from him. For the first time, my words seem to catch in my throat and it proves difficult to get them out, but when I finally do, it’s such a relief to hear my own voice say, “We’re done, Tyler.”

  6

  The ride home is even more awkward and unbearable than the ride here. Tyler and I haven’t said a word to each other in over an hour. I didn’t even walk back down Mount Lee alongside him; I walked ahead and he kept some distance between us, lingering about fifty feet back. But only until we reached his car, and we’re now trapped in a confined space with one another and have nothing to talk about. We’ve said everything we needed to. Yet although the atmosphere is tense, I feel content, because I am consumed by relief. Talking to Tyler turned out to be a good idea. It was like I finally got some closure.

  Rush hour is over by now, so the traffic isn’t so bad on the route back to Santa Monica. We’ve been gone for almost four hours, so while Tyler focuses on his driving, I type out a text to my mom, letting her know where I’ve been and that I’m on my way home, but then I remember that I’m still mad at her, so I delete the message rather than sending it. I glance at Tyler out of the corner of my eye. He’s driving with both hands under the bottom of the wheel, his eyes empty and his stare never leaving the road, his jaw clenched tight. I decide to text Rachael instead, and she’s grateful for my information overload, because apparently her grandparents are driving her insane as per usual.

  So I tell her everything. I tell her about the way Tyler ambushed me this morning. I tell her about the argument with my mom. I tell her about Tyler waiting outside my house and demanding we talk. I tell her about the Hollywood Sign and the conversation that unfolded. And I tell her about Tyler living in Portland the entire time he’s been gone and his insane request for me to go back there with him.

  Her replies come fast.

  WHAT DO U MEAN TYLERS BACK??

  OMG you seri
ously hit him?

  why would he live in portland? no offense or anything

  he took you up to the sign????

  I hope you didnt forgive him

  Talking to Rachael makes the journey home that slightest bit more bearable.

  * * *

  It’s almost 7PM by the time we get back. The sun is already beginning to dip toward the horizon, even though it shouldn’t really set until an hour from now, and I keep my eyes trained on it with such extreme concentration that I don’t even realize Tyler has pulled up on Deidre Avenue, right against the curb outside Dad and Ella’s place.

  I push the sun visor up and angle my body to look at him. “I’m staying at my mom’s place,” I blankly point out, then cough, because my throat feels dry from being so quiet for so long.

  “I know,” Tyler says. He isn’t looking at me; he’s cutting the engine and releasing his seatbelt. “But my mom wants us both here.” It’s only when he’s pushing open his car door that he seems to hesitate, and I watch the way his eyes narrow at something through his windshield. I realize after a second that he’s staring at Dad’s Lexus parked up on the drive.

  He’s home from work. Of course he is. Dad usually gets home most days just after six unless he gets held up. I tend to like it when that happens. Today that isn’t the case, though, and it appears Jamie is home now too. His BMW is parked carelessly out on the street just ahead of us and his wheels are pressed against the curb, most likely adding even more scratches to his already-wrecked alloys. Ella’s been telling him for months now to be more careful, but he doesn’t listen, because he’s Jamie, and Jamie never fucking listens.

  I glance over at Tyler again. “I hope you know that if you step one foot over that threshold right now my dad will probably have you arrested or something. If there’s anyone he hates more than me, it’s you.”

  Tyler pulls the car door shut again, and just when I think he’s about to finally take me home, he takes out his phone and calls Ella instead, pressing the device to his ear. He still hasn’t looked at me. I don’t think he has since we left the Hollywood Sign and made our way back down from the top of Mount Lee. I’m finding it difficult to gauge how he’s feeling, because for once his eyes aren’t providing me with the answers. I can’t tell if he’s upset or furious or if he simply couldn’t care less.

  But his nonchalance doesn’t last for too long, because as soon as Ella picks up the call, he becomes incredibly tense. “Yeah, hey, we’re outside.” He pauses. “I thought you weren’t going to tell him.” He’s quiet again as he listens, and finally his eyes flicker toward me for a second before he lowers his voice and murmurs into his phone, “Mom, you know he’s gonna kick my ass if I walk through the door with her.” Another pause. I’m so curious, and the fact that I can’t hear what Ella’s saying is driving me insane. “Alright, but I can bet that this will backfire,” Tyler says, and then hangs up.

  I raise my eyebrows at him, my expression one huge question mark.

  “We need to go in the back,” he tells me, and then he promptly opens his car door again and steps out, slamming it behind him. So much for an explanation as to why the hell Ella wants us both here.

  Sighing, I follow suit and step out onto the parking strip. The grass is bone dry and patches are fading to brown in places, but, like everyone else across the state, we just have to deal with it. If we turn on the sprinklers, we’ll most likely be hit with a fine for wasting water during such an exceptional drought. It hasn’t rained since April.

  Tyler heads straight up the driveway, and he seems light on his feet and his movements are fast, like he’s on a secret mission or something and he’s trying not to get caught. In a way, I guess that’s true. He’s trying to avoid Dad. I am too, so I trail on his heels, following him through the gate and into the back yard. The pool is drained and several of Chase’s soccer balls are lying at the bottom.

  As we head across the dry, patchy brown lawn toward the patio doors, Ella scares the hell out of both of us when she appears out of nowhere on the other side of the glass. Frantically, she slides open the doors and ushers us in, telling us to shush and remain quiet, and then grasps my wrist.

  “Stay in the hall until I tell you otherwise,” she hisses to Tyler, her hold on me tightening as she begins to pull me across the kitchen. She’s still in her suit, although now she’s a few inches shorter without the heels and her steps are silent.

  I still have no idea what’s going on or why I’m here or why Ella isn’t uncomfortable with Tyler and me turning up together. Explaining that doesn’t seem to be her priority right now. Pulling me into the hall is.

  “Can I ask you something?” I murmur, keeping my voice low.

  Ella stops tugging and glances over her shoulder at me, and then at Tyler, who is following behind, before she rests her gaze back on me and raises an eyebrow as though to say, Well?

  “What’s going on?”

  “Family meeting,” she says without missing a beat. She fixes Tyler with a firm look, and he seems just as perplexed as I am. “Now wait here.”

  He does as she asks and he leans against the wall, hands in his pockets, watching us both closely. At the other end of the hall I can hear voices, muffled slightly by the sound of the TV, but Dad’s voice is impossible to ignore no matter how loud the TV is. Ella’s still pulling me toward the living room, closer and closer, until she whispers, “I’m sorry,” and then leads me into the room, leaving Tyler behind in the hall.

  I’m not sure what she’s apologizing for, but it immediately makes me anxious and unsettled. Why is she insisting on putting me through hell? First she ambushes me with Tyler and now Dad. But maybe this time it’s the other way around. Maybe she’s ambushing Dad with me. He’s slumped back against the couch, his tie resting over the arm of it, with a cup of coffee in one hand and his feet up on the coffee table. He doesn’t bother to lower the volume of the TV. “Look who decided to show up,” he remarks, and then nonchalantly takes a sip of his coffee as though he couldn’t care less. This is the first time he’s seen me in almost a week.

  “I told you she’d come back,” I hear Jamie mutter from the floor. My eyes flicker down to him, but he hasn’t even glanced up. He’s sitting with his back pressed against the other couch, and his eyes are focused rather lazily on his laptop, which is resting on his knees. He’s scrolling endlessly through a forum.

  Chase is sprawled out on the couch, his phone in his hand and his earphones in. I don’t think he’s even realized that Ella and me have entered the room.

  “How long will you be staying this time?” Dad asks, but he’s verging on laughter as he sits up. Leaning forward, he takes down his feet from the coffee table and places his coffee there instead, and then he looks at me the way he always does, with contempt and disgust and a sense of sadness because he’s unfortunate enough to have a daughter like me. “The full week? A few days? A couple hours? Let me know, Eden, just how long you’ll stick around this time before you drive off like a brat again.”

  I look back across the room at him the same exact way, with that same contempt and disgust and sense of sadness because I’m unfortunate enough to have a father like him. I can sense Ella rubbing her temples beside me. “Don’t start sweating, Dad. I’m not staying.”

  “Alright,” he says with relief. “Then what are you doing here?” He’s deadly serious as he asks this and his expression is blank despite the fact that I’m almost certain I can see dread in his eyes. It’s like it’s impossible for him to fathom the idea of a relationship between a father and his daughter where they actually want to see each other. But, luckily for both of us, I’d rather be anywhere else than here right now, so he doesn’t have to worry about me dropping by to ask if we can spend a good old father–daughter day together. The thought almost makes me want to laugh.

  “I don’t know why I’m here,” I say, and then I fold my arms across my chest and turn to Ella with a glare, my eyebrows knitting together while I wait for an explanation. ??
?Maybe you can help me out.”

  Ella looks anxious again, even more so than she was earlier, right before she decided to throw Tyler back at me, and I’m not surprised. If there’s anyone who’s going to take the news of Tyler’s reappearance any worse than I did, it’s going to be Dad. Ella has every reason to be nervous, yet she builds up the confidence to walk into the center of the room, yanking Chase’s earphone out of his ear as she passes. “Turn it off,” she says to Dad once she’s standing before us all in front of the TV.

  “I’m waiting for the weather report,” says Dad.

  “Blue skies and still no sign of rain. There’s your weather report,” she says, and then places her hands on her hips. “Now turn it off.”

  Dad doesn’t look too pleased, and as he reaches for the remote and finally switches off the TV, he’s scowling as though he’s a kid who’s just been scolded. He’s not exactly the kind of person who likes to be told what to do; he’s more the kind of person who likes to do the telling.

  “Jay,” Ella says, but he doesn’t look up from his laptop despite hearing her perfectly clearly. He purposely ignores her and switches tabs on his screen, pulling up Twitter and typing so fast that his fingers hitting his keyboard is the only thing we can all hear. He’s most likely complaining about his dysfunctional family again. Ella clears her throat and swaps her firm voice for her stern voice, which you’d think are similar but are surprisingly easy to differentiate. Her stern voice is so sharp that the second you hear it, you know not to challenge her. “Jamie.”

  He looks up, dramatically sighs, and then shuts his laptop. He folds his arms across his chest and presses his lips together. “Tell me why we all have to stop what we’re doing just because Eden decides to show up.”

  “That’s not what this is about,” Ella says. The stern voice is gone. The anxious one is back.

  But Jamie’s constant digs always aggravate me, so I end up talking over the top of Ella, saying, “Will you ever just cut it out?”

 
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