Did I Mention I Miss You? by Estelle Maskame

  “Will you?” Jamie fires back. Ella lowers her head, presses her fingertips to her temples again, and exhales a long sigh.

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” I drop my hands to my hips and glare down at him on the floor. I’m used to Dad throwing remarks at me these days, mostly because he’s been doing it for years now, but I’m still not accustomed to Jamie muttering under his breath and complaining every time I’m around, so it’s much easier to snap at him than it is to snap at Dad. I think Dad likes it when Jamie and I fight. If I’m a troublesome kid, it makes his loathing for me seem more valid.

  “Both of you stop,” Ella orders, her voice so loud and clear that we immediately do. Jamie and I glance over to her.

  “Are we moving or something?” Chase asks quietly, removing his other earphone and twirling the wires around his index finger. “Because if we are, can we move to Florida?” Ella only shakes her head back at him.

  These so-called family meetings are very unusual for us all—so unusual, in fact, that we’ve never had one before. I guess it’s because we’re not a real family. Real families don’t hate one another like we do. Real families aren’t as strained as we are. Real families don’t have to deal with the stepkids falling in love like Tyler and I did.

  Since the moment last summer when Dad and Ella found out the truth about Tyler and me, everything has changed. They argue more. They have fights that don’t get resolved for days. Dad only lets me stay in the house every second week when I’m home for the holidays because he has to, because that’s what fathers do. But he hates it. He absolutely hates it and he doesn’t hide it. If it weren’t for Ella and Chase, I doubt I’d agree to it.

  Jamie’s turned to rebellion, fighting back against our messed-up family. He doesn’t want to be associated with us, because we’re an embarrassment, something to be ashamed of. Tyler hasn’t even been here, so I’m not sure if he even counts as a member anymore. I think Chase is the only one holding us all together. He’s the only one who remains accepting and innocent and happy.

  I guess in a way we’re all just broken pieces, hoping somehow to fit together to become a perfect picture, a real family. But that will never happen. We will never, ever fit.

  “We aren’t moving anywhere,” Dad clarifies for Chase, but his words are gruff and he quickly shoots Ella a questioning glance, as though he’s checking this is true. She nods. “So what is this all about?”

  “I need you all to keep your cool,” she begins. Her eyes flicker around the room as she rests her gaze briefly on all of us, even me: as though I don’t already know what the big news is, as though I have no idea that Tyler is standing in the hall. She looks at Dad a little longer than she looks at the rest of us and she says, “Especially you.”

  “I hope you’re not quitting your job,” Dad mumbles, but at least now he’s giving her his full, undivided attention. I think he’s even starting to worry slightly. Ella’s usually not one for dramatic announcements like this.

  “New car?” Jamie guesses.

  “Are you being sued?” Dad asks after clearing his throat. He sounds much clearer now, and I can see the brief panic in his eyes.

  Chase sits up. “Wait. Lawyers can be sued?”

  Ella loudly exhales and throws her hands up in frustration. “Can you all stop jumping to conclusions just for one second?”

  They all shut up. The room goes silent. All four of us look at her. We wait for her to say something, but she doesn’t. At least I know what’s going on. I’d be going insane if I didn’t, because all Ella is doing now is pacing the living room back and forth. She ends up nervously circling the coffee table while murmuring under her breath, most likely testing the truth on her lips before she reveals it out loud. In a way, it saddens me that she’s so anxious about her own son being home. I might not be able to bear Tyler anymore, but it’s still uncomfortable to see how fearful she is of the rest of the family knowing the truth. It shouldn’t be like this.

  “Maybe we wouldn’t jump to conclusions if you would tell us what this is all about,” Dad remarks dryly after Ella’s been pacing for a good minute. He’s leaning forward now, sitting on the edge of the couch, his hands interlinked between his knees.

  Ella stops walking. She glances over at me, presumably for some kind of reassurance or encouragement, but she gets neither. I only fold my arms across my chest again and sit down on the arm of the couch next to Chase. He offers me a small smile before focusing his attention back on his mom. We’re all still waiting. It feels like this morning all over again, with Ella unnecessarily dragging out the all-important fact that Tyler is back and he’s here and he’s in the hall and there’s about to be a riot in this house.

  “Now listen,” she finally says, but we already are. We’ve been listening for several minutes now. “This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you, because we all knew this was going to happen eventually. And you need to keep in mind that things have changed and certain situations aren’t the same, so there’s no need to cause a scene.” She catches my eye only briefly, and I realize exactly what she means about things having changed. She means: It’s okay, there’s nothing to be worried about now, Tyler and Eden aren’t like that anymore, they’re not crazy, they’re normal again. I like to think we’ve always been normal.

  “Ella . . .” Dad straightens up on the couch and then pauses for a moment. “Don’t tell me . . . I swear to God. Do not tell me that that damn kid is moving back in.”

  She looks at Dad and only at Dad. “And what if I did tell you that? He has every right to move back in. He’s my son.”

  “Wait,” Jamie interjects. He pushes his laptop off his thighs and gets to his feet. “Tyler’s moving back in?”

  “That kid is not moving back in here,” Dad answers stiffly, but his eyes are trained on Ella rather than Jamie. He stands, leaning over her by several inches, as he fixes her with a fierce look that only the bravest of people would challenge. “I will not have him here, and that’s final, so if that’s the big news you’re about to tell us, don’t.”

  “If he wanted to move back in, then I’d let him,” Ella says, and her voice is strong and clear, all signs of nervousness long gone. She’s one of those brave people. “But he’s not. He’s just visiting for a few days and that’s all.”


  “He’s already here,” she says a little more quietly. Spinning around, she walks toward the door with her head held high, refusing to back down when it comes to defending Tyler. I think I’ll always admire her for that.

  “Here?” Dad echoes, staring after her in disbelief. “He’s here?”

  Ella doesn’t answer, only glances at me as she passes. She swings open the door into the hall and disappears for a second. All I can think is that I would not like to be Tyler right now. The thought of him walking into this room makes me nervous, because it’s clear that it is not going down well with either Dad or Jamie.

  “Don’t you dare get any ideas,” Dad hisses at me while Ella’s gone, like he honestly believes I’d throw myself at Tyler and kiss him right there and then in front of them all. News flash, Dad: I already know he’s here, I’ve already set things straight with him, and I’ve already gotten over him.

  “I couldn’t care less about Tyler,” I say. Although I could. Tyler being back is still uncomfortable, still awkward, and still painful. But trying to tell Dad this would only be a waste of time, as always. Like Jamie, no matter how many times I have tried to emphasize the fact to Dad that there’s nothing between Tyler and me anymore, he still doesn’t believe me. Dad once told me that if we were able to lie about our relationship before, then we’d be able to lie about it again. I remember thinking at the time, There’s no relationship to lie about.

  Ella reappears by the door, but, of course, this time Tyler is with her. He walks into the room first, brushing past me and Chase, and then through the middle of Dad and Jamie before heading around the coffee table and stopping in front of the large bay windows. Ella doe
sn’t follow him but instead lingers by the door, standing right by my side.

  “Mom’s right,” Tyler says, and his voice is tight and clear. He looks at everyone but me. “I’m not moving back in. I’m only back in town to see how everyone is doing. I’m leaving on Monday.” Unbelievably, the corners of his lips pull up into a soft smile. “Surely you guys can put up with me until then, right?”

  But the joke doesn’t go down well at all, and it becomes immediately obvious that Tyler has underestimated just how strained our family really is. No one laughs or heaves a sigh or rolls their eyes as though to say, Well, whatever. You angered us all, but that was a year ago, so I guess we’re over it now, because no one is thinking that. No one wants him here, besides Ella and possibly Chase. Tyler standing over there in front of us all makes him look isolated, and there’s this sense of sadness somewhere inside of me again. I know how much it hurts to feel like the rest of your family is against you.

  “Are you kidding me right now?” Dad spits, his voice sounding guttural as he flashes his eyes to Ella in complete disbelief. She rushes over to him while stammering a series of useless pleas.

  “Why wait until Monday?” Jamie says casually at the same time as he takes a threatening step toward Tyler, like he’s gearing up for a fight. They’re both pretty much the same height now, and they’re eye level with one another. “Why not leave now? No one here wants to talk to you, except—I don’t know—Mom? And your girlfriend, I guess.” He throws a disgusted glance over his shoulder in my direction.

  The confusion and surprise is evident on Tyler’s face and his expression contorts, his eyebrows drawn together and his jaw clenched. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, he and Jamie actually got along. “What the hell, man?” He looks over at me on the arm of the couch, almost like he’s begging for an explanation as to why his brother is suddenly against him.

  “I did warn you,” I say loudly over the sound of Dad and Ella arguing, but then I remember the “girlfriend” reference, so I turn to glare at Jamie instead. “And damn it, Jay. Does it look like I’m totally damn thrilled that he’s here? Because I’m not. I’m just as pissed off at him as you are.”

  Jamie only grinds his teeth together and fixes his eyes back on Tyler. “Isn’t that another reason for you to get the hell out of here? We don’t need you here and we’re all better off when you’re gone.”

  “Why are you so mad?” Tyler asks, and he is so lost and unsure of what’s going on that it makes him appear vulnerable and young. He’s struggling to comprehend why things are so drastically different to how he remembers them, but that’s because he hasn’t been around to witness them changing. “I mean, I get why Dave is . . .” He frowns at Dad and Ella, who are still arguing. “But why are you? I haven’t done shit to you, man.”

  “Except make school hell. I’m your brother. That’s all I am. Tyler Bruce’s brother.” Jamie hesitates for a second to keep his temper, blowing out a long breath. “You know what people are saying now?” he asks. “They’re saying that insanity runs in our fucking genes, man. That we’ve got no morals. First Dad, then you, and guess what? Apparently it’s my turn to do something sick and twisted next. A couple months ago, some kid I don’t even know asked if I was already hiding something, because apparently we’re all infamous for keeping secrets in this damn house.”

  Dad and Ella’s raised voices seem to fade out, because all I can hear over and over are the words Jamie has just spoken. I stare at him with wide eyes, the same way Tyler is staring at him. I had no idea that Jamie felt that way. He has never expressed himself so openly before, but now that he has, his attitude finally makes sense. He isn’t just disgusted by the thought of Tyler and me together; he is being tormented over it the same way I have. And I understand that now. I understand that the kids his age, that the people he faces every day, must think that we’re a joke of a family. I’ll bet they laugh about it. I’ll bet they snicker about the guy whose siblings apparently dated one another. I never thought about the way the truth about our relationship would impact everyone else until now. I can’t blame Jamie for being hostile and distant, because it’s our fault, and now the truth about his dad’s violent nature and his brother’s inappropriate love interest are being used to taunt him.

  And for all the time I have thought that Jamie and I are nothing alike, maybe we aren’t so different after all. Maybe we lash out because it’s the easiest way to cope.

  I rise to my feet and warily steal a look at Tyler to determine whether or not the reference to their father has triggered a nerve, but it appears it hasn’t. He would be furious right now if it had, because for as long as I’ve known Tyler, he’s never been able to handle the sensitive topic of his father. And I can’t blame him for that. I can’t blame him for hating his dad after the abuse he put him through. I can’t blame him for the way he flipped out last summer when he heard about his dad being released from prison.

  But today, for some reason, all Tyler has done is take a step back from Jamie, who is much more enraged than he is. Jamie’s cheeks are flaming such a vibrant red that I fear he might just burst a blood vessel any second now. Tyler looks relatively still in comparison, but I’ve known him for years now and I have a pretty good idea of just how easily his temper can snap. I scamper over to the two of them.

  I want to tell Jamie that I’m sorry. That I didn’t understand until now. That I didn’t mean for any of this to become such a mess, so damaged and so broken. I want to tell Ella that I’m sorry for ruining her relationship with Dad. I want to tell Dad that I’m sorry for disappointing him. I want to tell Chase that I’m sorry about all the arguments he has to witness. I want to tell Tyler I’m sorry that this is the family he has come home to. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

  “People are acting like that?” Tyler finally says, but his voice is low, like he’s not really registering how serious all of this is. I think he’s possibly still in shock over just how much of a war zone this house has become. Jamie nods once, so Tyler moves his attention back to me. There are thousands upon thousands of questions in his eyes, but I don’t have the energy left to keep giving him answer after answer. I’ve already done that today.

  “I did warn you,” is all I can say again. Maybe back at the Hollywood Sign he thought I was exaggerating. Maybe he thought I was just being dramatic when I told him everyone knows about us, that Dad’s an even bigger asshole than he’s ever been before, that Jamie can’t stand us. Maybe if he had believed me, this wouldn’t have come as such a surprise to him. Maybe then he wouldn’t be lost for words right now.

  I hear Chase quietly ask, “Why do you guys have to fight? Why are you guys fighting in the first place?”

  I hadn’t even noticed Chase edging himself between me and Jamie until he spoke. We’re in a circle now, the four of us, and our eyes scour each other as we wait for someone else to answer, because none of us know what to say. It’s not that Chase is clueless—he knows about Tyler and me; he watched the fallout last summer, he didn’t say much for a few days after—but the unspoken rule in this house is that we keep him out of all of the drama.

  “I don’t want you to leave,” he says. He’s looking up at Tyler. “You just got back. And hey, I like those.” Lifting a finger, he points toward Tyler’s bicep and the design that will forever remain there. He doesn’t appear to notice my name amidst the roses and the swirls and the clock face, and if he does, he certainly doesn’t point it out. “Did it hurt?”

  Tyler’s eyes fall to his arm as he angles his bicep toward him, like he’s forgotten that the tattoos are even there, and he pulls up the short sleeve of his T-shirt to reveal even more of the picture. “Like a bitch,” he says in such a low voice that it’s almost a whisper, and then he smirks and holds out his hand, palm up. Chase low-fives him and then, as though the atmosphere in here isn’t toxic and suffocating, Tyler steps forward and pulls him into a hug, wrapping his arm around the back of his brother’s neck and holding him tightly. “Miss
ed you, kid. You keep getting taller. Last time I saw you, you were—what?—maybe this high?” He holds his hand out flat against Chase’s shoulder, laughs in a way that is genuine, and then releases his grip on him. Chase is sheepish as he backs away, and Tyler’s playful expression falters back to a solemn gaze that ends up resting on Jamie. “You too,” he says. “Seriously, I have.”

  “Don’t even try it,” Jamie warns him.

  I’m about to say something at this point, but Ella grasps my shoulder and pulls me out of the sibling-rivalry circle. I hadn’t even noticed that the arguing with Dad had ceased until now, when an uncomfortable silence falls upon the living room and Ella spins me around to face her. It’s like she’s suddenly developed years’ worth of wrinkles in the space of a few minutes just from the stress of the situation that she’s in, because her taut, worn-out expression suddenly makes her seem much older than she really is.

  “God, everyone just stop!” she yells in exasperation, but her throat is dry and her voice is croaky. Squeezing her eyes shut, she concentrates on slowing her heavy breathing before she talks again and, like before, we all wait.

  Dad’s standing at the opposite side of the room, his hands on his hips, his wide stance intimidating. He’s shaking his head as though he’s still refusing to accept any of this. Like Jamie, the anger in his eyes is impossible to ignore.

  “There’s something else,” Ella says.

  Now she’s got my attention. Something else? I knew about Tyler being back, but I didn’t know about this. I didn’t know that there even could be anything else. What is there left to tell? What can she possibly throw at us now? Tyler and I exchange a sideways glance, but it seems he’s searching my expression for answers the same way I’m searching his, and neither of us have them.

  “What now?” Dad quite literally groans. His voice is still strident and hard, but that’s nothing unusual. “Has he brought a criminal record home with him? A probation order? Do we need to pay for a damn lawyer next?”

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