Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  On Saturday, I’m perched on the kitchen worktop, my legs crossed and a frown on my lips. My eyes follow Tyler across the living room as he slips back into the apartment and makes his way to the kitchen for the third time now. He’s carrying another crate of beer, and he flashes me a small smile as he slides it onto the worktop beside me, right next to all the others.

  “Is all of this necessary?” I throw a pointed glance down at the worktop. Covering every inch of it, except for my reserved spot, there’s alcohol. Endless amounts of it, from crates of Corona to bottles of Cazadores to vodka, it’s all there, waiting.

  “Did she just ask if this was necessary?” Snake gasps, slightly dramatically as he slides through the door. He kicks it shut behind him as he carries over the final crate of beer, dumping it atop the rest. He turns to me then and shakes his head in disapproval. “Oh, little Eden from the forests of Portland, welcome to the real world.”

  “I live in California, Stephen,” I shoot back. I place emphasis on his real name, drawing out the syllables slowly as I raise my eyebrows at him. “I’m well aware of the real world.”

  Snake’s smirk falters and he looks to Tyler for backup, but he’s standing there watching us with his arms folded across his chest and a smile on his lips. He shrugs, and Snake quickly fires his eyes back to me. “Don’t call me that.”

  “Don’t call me ‘little Eden from the forests of Portland’ and don’t assume that I’m not game for a party.” I smile, victorious, and hold out my hand, which Snake hesitates to shake. He eventually does, though, and he rolls his eyes at the same time. Agreement made, I place my hands back in my lap and glance at the alcohol once more. “What I meant was,” I say, clearing my throat, “is all of this necessary for ten people?”

  Snake fixes me with a hard look, his gray eyes narrowed. “Of course it’s necessary. No one likes a party that runs out of booze after the first hour.” Slowly, his mouth alters from a bold line to a small smirk. “Except small girls from the forests of Portland, apparently.”

  Tyler lets out a laugh just as I raise my fist in a threatening manner, and even though I’m only being playful, he reaches out and clasps my wrist. Just in case. “Alright, alright,” Tyler says, wiggling his eyebrows at me. I snatch my hand back and flip Snake off instead. “As great as it would be to watch you kick his ass, we’ve got a party starting in three hours.”

  Snake scoffs and grabs a crate of beer, yanking out a bottle and popping the cap on the edge of the worktop by my thigh. He shakes his head at me again, but he’s smiling as he tilts the bottle to his lips. It’s right then that the bathroom door creaks open, and Emily steps into the kitchen with her hair damply thrown up into a ponytail.

  “Ah, the Briton has finally decided to join us,” Snake remarks. He points his beer to the collection of alcohol next to me. “Impressed or nah?”

  Emily runs her eyes over all the bottles and breathes a small laugh. It’s light and giggly and it makes me want to sigh out loud, but I refrain from making my irritation known, so I close my eyes instead. I’m trying my best to like her, but it’s getting more difficult each day.

  “Dude, I thought you said we had limes?” Tyler says from the refrigerator as he glances over his shoulder, his lips parted and his eyebrows furrowed.

  Snake’s eyes widen. “We don’t?”

  Groaning, Tyler gently elbows the refrigerator door shut and reaches for his car keys on the counter. “I’ll head back out.”

  “I’ll come with you,” Emily offers.

  Immediately, I push myself off the worktop and get to my feet, blurting, “I’ll come too.” No, I think. No way in hell is she spending any time alone with him.

  Tyler glances between the two of us for a second before shrugging at me apologetically. “Only got two seats, Eden,” he says. Shifting his eyes to Emily, he smiles at her right before the two of them make for the door. I stare after them in disbelief, and just before they disappear, Tyler calls over his shoulder, “Don’t kill each other.”

  There’s a moment of silence after they leave and the only sound I can hear is Snake gulping more beer. He sighs in satisfaction, yet he doesn’t say anything.

  “Did he really just do that?” I ask, finally. He chose her over me?

  “What’s the big deal? You really wanna go get limes?” Snake laughs as though he’s mocking how pathetic I must sound and he turns for the speakers, resting his elbows on the worktop as he starts to play around with the settings, attempting to connect his phone. “You’re better off here, where you can get a head start.” He gives the pile of alcohol a sideways glance.

  I’m just about to roll my eyes, but suddenly his words give me an idea. A head start. Exactly. A head start is beneficial to me, only it’s not the kind that Snake’s thinking of.

  “I’m gonna go get ready.” Grinning, I spin around and make my way out of the kitchen and through the living room, barely giving Snake a second glance as I slip into Tyler’s room.

  “Already?” he yells, but I don’t reply. I’ve already shut the door.

  I’m still smiling to myself, and I’m feeling pleased because I already know exactly what I’m going to wear. It’s the one thing every girl owns and it’s the one thing I made sure to pack—a little black dress. A necessity. Ella helped me pick it out a few months back while telling me that it would be sure to impress Dean. Ironically, I’m now wearing it to impress her son.

  Slipping the dress over my arm, I grab some more of my things and make my way back into the living room, weaving my way around Snake as I claim the shower before he can. If I’ve learned anything over the past two weeks, it’s that it takes forever for four people to get ready when there’s only one shower available. Sometimes Snake even gives up entirely.

  “Are you sure you don’t want anything?” he asks as I pass.

  “Totally sure,” I say.

  I dart into the bathroom and ensure the door is locked behind me—I even double-check, just to be sure—and get myself freshened up. I go all out, using my most lavish body wash and my most expensive perfume, all in a pathetic attempt at outdoing Emily. I know I shouldn’t stoop to this, but I can’t think of anything better. Emily has that accent. Her hair looks softer than mine. She’s shy in a way that makes her seem nicer than me. She’s intelligent. And, more importantly, she seems to have Tyler’s attention more often than I do. The only thing I can do is resort to my little black dress.

  I only spend fifteen minutes in the bathroom once I decide not to wash my hair, making my way back into the kitchen only once I smell like vanilla and my legs are smooth. I’m wrapped in nothing but a towel, but it doesn’t even bother me as I brush past Snake once more, my dress over my arm again. I’m too afraid to let it out of my sight.

  “They’re not back yet?” I call over my shoulder just before I reach Tyler’s room.

  “Nope.” Snake pops his lips on the “p” and shrugs. Still drinking that Bud Light. Still listening to that same music that I’ve never heard before.

  I click Tyler’s bedroom door shut behind me and carefully lay the dress down on his bed, worried I might crease it. I’m glad that Tyler and Emily aren’t back yet. The more time I have, the better. If Tyler saw me right now then my pathetic attempt at grabbing his attention would be ruined. Unless, of course, I dropped my towel a little lower.

  God, Eden. I shake my head at myself and turn for my makeup bag, perched safely on Tyler’s bedside table. I drop down to the floor, crossing my legs and edging close to his mirrored closet doors, and I start. I can hear Snake increasing the volume of the music from the kitchen and it soon becomes loud and clear enough for me to hear it through Tyler’s closed bedroom door. I might not have heard the music before, but it’s not half bad. Slightly indie, but mainly rockish. I nod my head in sync with the guitars, which results in some uneven applying of my makeup. I go for dramatic but not too heavy. I spend most of my time working on my eyes, concentrating carefully on creating the perfect smokey eye, but it doesn’t qu
ite end up the way I hoped it would. It’s enough, though, and once I’ve convinced myself that I look nice, I turn my attention to my hair.

  That’s another task altogether. It’s been thrown up into an extremely messy bun all day, and when I try to take it down I discover it’s matted and horrifically tangled. I have no option but to sheepishly video call Rachael. Thankfully, she answers, but I’m pretty sure she wishes she hadn’t once she sees the mess I’ve gotten my hair into. She gasps for a while, but eventually talks me through the steps necessary to convert my hair into a subtle, sexy updo.

  “So how’s life in the city?” she asks. She’s observing me through the screen as I follow her instructions, carefully attempting to pin back the specific strands of hair she’s told me to.

  “Everything is so different,” I murmur, my voice slightly muffled through the hairpins that I’m holding between my lips. I’m looking at my mirror, concentrating on my hair, but my phone is perched up against the glass, angled toward me to allow Rachael to see my progress. “I seriously love it here. How’s this?” I turn my head to one side and show her the braid I’ve been working on, the one I’ve added to the updo without her guidance.

  “Cute, but loosen it up a little,” Rachael says. I turn back around, dropping my eyes to my phone, looking at her. She’s laying in her bed, propped up against her pillows, a bagel in one hand and her phone held up in the other. For once, her hair is tangled up in a messy bun atop her head and she’s not wearing any makeup. I can hear her TV in the background. “So this party is in the apartment?”

  “Yeah.” I start to finger the braid, loosening it up and making it seem a little messier. “What about you? Are you doing anything tonight?”

  “Sounds awesome. I’m jealous.” Rachael takes a bite of her bagel and glances at her TV as she swallows. She sighs as she looks back at her phone. “Do you know Gregg Stone? He was in the grade above me, so you probably don’t, but anyway. He’s throwing a party at his place tonight. Tiffani and Dean are going, but I might just stay home. Got cramps.” She takes another bite of her bagel. Actually, she takes two.

  “Dean’s going?” I ask, pausing what I’m doing, dropping my hands from my hair. “He never mentioned it.”

  “Yeah,” she says, mouth full. “He wasn’t going to at first, but Tiffani convinced him that he won’t miss you so much if he’s drunk. So yeah. Now he’s going.”

  “Why couldn’t she just stay in Santa Barbara for the summer?” I mutter under my breath, but Rachael hears me anyway, because she throws me a stern glance. Peacemaker. That’s Rachael. If there’s one thing she hates, it’s when her friends don’t get along, which is ironic, given that she still can’t bring herself to get along with Tyler. I raise my voice and say, “Seriously, why is she telling him to get drunk? Where did that logic come from?” Dean’s never been all that into drinking.

  “It’s not a bad idea,” Rachael says quietly. She shrugs, lays the remainder of her bagel down on her bedside table, and sits up. “He’s been kinda down ever since you left. He needs to live a little.”

  “Oh.” Swallowing hard, I reach for the hairspray and quickly spray some over my hair, setting the updo in place, but not without feeling guilty. Here I am, trying my best to look pretty for Tyler and not Dean. Dean, who’s on the other side of the country, being persuaded by my dear friend Tiffani to get wasted. I wish Dean didn’t miss me so much.

  “What about you? How are you coping without him?”

  My eyes drop back down to my phone. “What?”

  “Dean,” she says. “Do you miss him?”

  I think about this for a second. Do I? Do I really miss him? I’m not entirely sure. I like to believe that I do, that I think about him every second of each day, but the truth is, I don’t. I’m too preoccupied with being with Tyler again after such a long time that I don’t have much time to spend missing Dean. Yet Rachael is waiting, so I say, “I miss him more than anything,” and once the words leave my lips, I feel like the most awful person in the world. “But hey, thanks for your help,” I say, forcing a smile as I motion toward my hair. It’s finished now, and I like it. “It’s almost seven here. I should finish getting ready. Take care of Dean for me.”

  “You can count on it,” Rachael says.

  We say our goodbyes and shut off the video call, and I focus my attention back on getting ready for the party later, rather than on Dean. I can’t bring myself to think about him right now.

  In the end it takes me around forty minutes to perfect my makeup and my hair, and once I have, I’m extremely satisfied. Satisfied enough to finally put my dress on.

  It fits just the way I remember: tight but not clingy, sexy but modest. I like the way it seems to enhance my figure, and I end up staring at my reflection in the mirror for a short while. It’s the first time in months that I’ve gotten so dressed up. The last was back in March for Rachael’s birthday.

  I’m still staring at myself in the mirror when I hear voices for the first time in the past hour, voices that don’t belong to Snake. Voices, in fact, that sound exactly like Tyler and Emily’s.

  Instantly spinning around, I almost trip over my makeup bag as I make a dash across the room. My suitcase is still kicking around on the floor, containing nothing but shoes by now, and I flip it open and grab the only pair of heels I decided to pack. They’re black to match, and in fear of Tyler walking in any second, I slip them on as fast as I can and take a minute to balance myself.

  And before I can doubt myself, I head straight for the door without even stealing a glance in the mirrors as I walk by. I still feel rather shameful for trying to coerce Tyler with my little black dress, but I try not to think about it too much as I reach for the door handle. All I can think as I swing open the door is, God, jealousy sucks.

  I topple into the living room, suddenly nervous, and immediately my eyes drop straight to the carpet beneath my heels. I can feel the three of them looking at me, sense their gazes. From beneath my eyelashes, I see Snake sitting on the worktop where I was sitting earlier, and I can just about see Tyler widen his eyes beside him. Emily is at the other side of Snake and, surprisingly, she’s the first to speak.

  “Wow!” she says, her accent strong. “You look amazing, Eden!”

  I glance up then, because I wonder if she’s being sarcastic. I study her so intensely that again I must appear rude. I never seem to reply to her. Or smile at her. Or even acknowledge her half the time, for that matter. But her expression seems honest, and I realize that she’s not kidding at all. She’s genuinely complimenting me. It’s always been something I’ve loved—girls complimenting other girls. And now, suddenly, I feel so awful for gaining satisfaction at the thought of her appearing less than me simply because she’s still wearing jeans and a hoodie while I’m in a dress and heels.

  “Thanks,” I murmur. I can’t look straight at her, mostly because I feel a little ashamed, and so I turn to Tyler and Snake instead. Tyler doesn’t look like he’s head over heels in love with me yet, whereas Snake’s nodding.

  “Little Eden from the forests of Portland brushes up alright in the end,” he comments. There’s a mischievous smirk on his lips once again and I believe he’s waiting for me to mutter something back at him, but I’m no longer in the mood to have another playful argument.

  Tonight, I’m in the mood for Tyler.

  “You look nice,” he finally murmurs.

  I shift my gaze to his. He’s looking at me, his eyes running my body up and down, and as Snake turns around to change the song and Emily fixes herself a drink, he smiles. Just a small one.

  It’s not enough for me, so I breathe a sigh and head for the couch. Admittedly, I strut my way across the living room, kind of hoping that he’s still looking, but I doubt he is. I sit down on the couch closest to the windows, the couch that sort of belongs to Tyler, the one he’s been sleeping on. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now that I’m ready too early, so I simply stare out the windows instead. The evening sun is
shining in, and down below the traffic is forever endless, but that’s nothing new. I start to focus on the people on the sidewalks, who look tiny from up here. I wonder if they live here in Manhattan. If they’re here on vacation. Business trips. Visiting family. Runaways. I wonder about them all so thoughtfully that I barely register Tyler sitting down by my side.

  I glance sideways at him. “Hello,” I say. The second the word leaves my lips, I mentally roll my eyes at myself. Hello?

  It’s like he doesn’t even hear me, because instead of saying anything in reply, he slowly moves his body closer against mine so that we’re touching. It takes me by surprise, especially with Snake and Emily only a few feet away from us, and he even goes so far as to place his hand on my knee as he leans in close, right by my shoulder. “You look better than nice,” he whispers. His voice has adapted that edgy, husky tone once again. I stare at the veins in his hand on my knee as he breathes against my ear. “But I know you understand that I couldn’t say out loud that you look hot as hell.”

  He squeezes my knee gently as he draws away from me, expression nonchalant, as though he isn’t flirting. Innocently, he raises his eyebrows. I’m now completely content, not only because my little black dress seems to have worked well, but also because Tyler’s by my side again.

  Unable to reply, I blush and bite down on my lower lip. That’s when I catch a glimpse of Emily again out of the corner of my eye, and I focus back on Tyler. “What took you guys so long? You were gone for an hour.”

  All Tyler can do is shrug. “Uh, yeah, we got talking and—”

  Talking? He and Emily got talking? What’s that supposed to mean? What was there to even talk about? All they were doing was buying some freakin’ limes. “Okay, that’s it,” I say, pushing his hand off my knee as I press myself up to my feet, “now I definitely need a drink.”

  I can hear Tyler sigh as I walk away from him, and as I make my way back into the kitchen, Emily heads off to get ready. It’s a good thing that she does, because if she stuck around here with me the only type of acknowledgment she’d get is a glare every five minutes. Once she brushes past me, I lean back against the worktop and smile rather widely at Snake. It’s my best attempt at hinting that I’m now ready to start drinking.

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