Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  “I don’t believe you,” I whisper.

  Out of nowhere, I hear Snake groan, “What the hell, guys?” His voice is raspy, and both Tyler and I glance sideways at the exact same time. Snake glowers back at us from the couch, propped upright, his eyes heavy.

  I look back to Tyler. He’s shaking his head, either at Snake or me or both of us, and with his expression still hard, he turns and makes for the door. He doesn’t even bother to go back and pull on a shirt.

  “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” I yell, exasperated. How dare he walk away? If anything, it’s only making him look guilty. Nothing is resolved and I feel even more upset than I did a second ago.

  “The roof!” Tyler snaps back, slamming the door behind him. I stare at it in disbelief.

  “Jesus Christ,” Snake says. “The fuck is wrong with you guys?” He gets to his feet, glaring at me as though it’s all my fault as he drags himself over to the kitchen. He’s not all that well balanced and there’s a slight possibility that he might still be drunk. Through all the commotion, however, Alex doesn’t appear to have even flinched. He’s still asleep.

  “Tyler’s a liar, that’s what’s wrong,” I mutter. Snake’s eyes never leave mine as he lingers by the coffee machine. He squints back at me curiously, as though he’s expecting me to update him on what’s happened. It’s an explanation he’s not going to get. “Snake,” I say, “please, please make me some coffee before I die.”


  I flash my eyes in the direction of Emily’s voice. She’s hovering by the door of Tyler’s room, only now she’s pulled on some clothes. Tyler’s clothes. The shirt he was wearing last night. It only pisses me off even more.

  “What?” I fold my arms across my chest, over my creased little black dress that no longer looks appealing.

  Emily touches the tips of her hair, twirling strands around her fingers. “Can I talk to you?” Admittedly, she does look mortified and her voice is trembling a little. It doesn’t make me feel any sympathy. In fact, it only makes her appear guilty, too.

  “I don’t think there’s anything you can say that’s gonna justify you,” I state, loud and firm, just to ensure she gets the memo that I’m far from happy. I can hear the coffee machine churning in the background and I’m aware of Snake’s eyes on us, so I make the decision right then that I’d rather he didn’t get involved. Pressing my lips together into a firm line, I add, “But fine.”

  With my arms still folded, I march back across the living room and into Tyler’s room, brushing against Emily as I squeeze past her. Thankfully, she has the common sense to shut the door to give us some privacy, and she flicks on the lights. This time, no one is complaining.

  “Eden,” she starts, “I know what it looked like and I know why you’re mad. Like, he’s your brother, so it’s weird for you, isn’t it?” Her hands move as she talks and her eyes are wide and it seems like she’s trying to trick me into believing she’s innocent, but I stand my ground, only blinking back at her. “We didn’t sleep together,” she says quietly. “Honestly, we didn’t. We’re just mates.”

  I think I could stand here and argue with her all day, but her words start to sink in and I take a moment to collect my thoughts. He’s your brother, so it’s weird for you. That’s what it seems like to her. I must come across as the crazy stepsibling who’s way too overprotective, and I realize then that for the past ten minutes I’ve totally forgotten that none of them know. Alex from the couch doesn’t know. Snake doesn’t know. Emily doesn’t know. None of them know that I’m in love with Tyler. None of them have any idea.

  And now, I just seem insane.

  I know I need to chill out, whether they did or didn’t hook up, otherwise my anger will seem uncalled for. Guilty or not, I need to let them off the hook. I can’t tell yet if they’re telling the truth or if they’re lying through their teeth, but I sigh, anyway. “Whatever,” I say. It’s hard to force myself to seem nonchalant, to look as though it doesn’t bother me, but I do it. I do it because keeping my secret with Tyler is more important. “I know it’s not really any of my business. You know, it’s just weird with this being my room while I’m here.”

  “Honestly, Eden, I’d never go there,” she says.

  Part of me wonders if she’s lying, but a stepsister wouldn’t question it, so I keep quiet. It seems like every day it gets harder and harder to keep pretending that there’s nothing going on. I forget to remind myself that to everyone else we’re just stepsiblings. To Tyler and me, we’re so much more.

  There’s the tapping of knuckles against Tyler’s door and Snake swings it open without waiting for us to give him the all-clear. He wanders in with three mugs of steaming coffee and passes one to Emily and one to me, keeping the third for himself.

  “Seems like you guys needed it,” he says with a nod. He’s still wearing his clothes from last night too, only the buttons on his shirt are undone. There’s a tattoo of a sun on his chest and he notices both Emily and me staring at it. “It’s ’cause I’m just as hot,” he answers before we can even ask. I can’t tell if he’s kidding or not.

  Anyway, my head is still pounding and I wrap my hands tightly around the mug of coffee as I steal my way back into the living room without so much as a glance back in Emily’s direction. There’s still that awful waft of booze that seems to be clinging to the air throughout the apartment, and as I perch myself down on the couch, I stare across the coffee table at Alex for a while. He still hasn’t moved an inch.

  As Snake stumbles across the room to sit down next to me, I shoot him a sideways glance and then nod to the guy who’s spent the night here. “Can you wake him?”

  “Nah,” Snake says with the shake of his head. “I’ll get Brendon to come get him.” He takes a loud gulp of coffee, sighing as he swallows. “Shit, I feel like hell. How about you?”

  “Not that great,” I admit. It draws my attention back to the fact that my head is throbbing and suddenly it seems much worse than it originally was. I’m grateful, however, that I don’t feel like I’m going to throw up. “Do you guys have painkillers?”

  “Second cupboard along from the left, top shelf,” Snake informs me, pointing his mug to the kitchen.

  I get to my feet, taking a long swig of my coffee before laying it down on the coffee table, and shuffle my way over to the kitchen. It takes effort to even walk. My back hurts from sleeping on the floor and I could do with some rest, but I’m way too riled up to sleep. I open up the cupboard and stretch up on my tiptoes, rummaging around. My hands only seem to be grasping at lighters.

  “Do you smoke or something?” I call over my shoulder to Snake.

  “Huh?” he says, perplexed. I hold up a lighter as I continue to search with my free hand, never turning around. “Oh, those,” he says. “Nah, I don’t. You find those painkillers yet? Red box?”

  “Got them,” I say. I fetch myself a glass of water and take a couple of the pills, hoping to feel much better, and head back to the living room to grab my coffee. I don’t sit down, only fix Snake with a defeated look. “I’m gonna go freshen up.” I frown at Alex once again. I’m starting to wonder if he’s even alive anymore. “Make sure he goes home.”

  Snake nods in agreement as he slumps further into the couch. Behind him, Emily darts from Tyler’s room to Snake’s, which is technically her own. Just like Tyler’s is kind of mine for the summer. She’s still wearing Tyler’s shirt, but she’s carrying her dress and her heels, looking rather shameful. At least the walk home is only two feet across the room.

  I’m thankful she’s left Tyler’s room, though, because now I can actually go grab some fresh clothes. With my coffee in hand, I head over, and when I enter the room, I’m surprised to find that Emily has tidied the place up. The curtains are drawn back and the windows are pushed wide open to allow the sun and some fresh air to come in. The bed’s been perfectly made, the pillows fluffed up. Even my own crap that’s been lying around seems to look neater.

ickly, I grab some sweats and a hoodie and dash to the bathroom before Emily can beat me to it. Hot showers are the best when it comes to soothing away a hangover, so I increase the temperature and stand under the water, my back against the shower wall and my eyes closed. I stand there for a while, motionless, just breathing. I try my hardest to relax, but I don’t think I can. I’m still mad at Tyler. Emily? Not so much. It’s not like she knew about Tyler and me, and at least she was brave enough to stay in the apartment, unlike Tyler, who ran away at the first chance he got.

  Dithering in the bathroom for thirty minutes, washing my hair and pulling on my clothes, I pull the hood of my hoodie up over my head and float back into the apartment. I’m holding my little black dress. The one that I think I’ll never wear again. I swoop down and grab my heels from the living room floor as I pass by, and I also notice that Alex is gone. Emily and Snake seem to come out of nowhere, both diving for the bathroom, but Emily gets there first, shutting the door on him as he groans.

  “Seriously?” he yells through the door. “You girls take forever. I only take five minutes. C’mon. Let me in first.”

  “You can help me clean up,” I suggest from the other side of the room. Snake cranes his neck and looks at me hard. “What?” I say. “We’re gonna have to do it at some point anyway.”

  I drift into Tyler’s room to toss my dress and heels onto my suitcase, not bothering to pack either away, and then join Snake again. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much to convince him to help me. In the twenty minutes that Emily takes in the bathroom, the two of us make a start on cleaning up the apartment. We start in the kitchen, ramming the leftover booze into the refrigerator and piling the empty bottles and cans into trash bags. The worktops are sticky with spilled drinks, so while I wash them down, Snake gathers all the shot glasses, cups and straws from throughout the apartment, groaning as he does so.

  He makes a beeline for the bathroom the second Emily opens the door, and they switch roles. It’s Emily’s turn to help with the cleaning, although neither of us talks while we get on with what we need to do. The silence starts to feel too tense, so I turn on the TV as background noise. I open up every window possible and spray air freshener around the place. Emily trails the vacuum cleaner out from the laundry room and vacuums the whole apartment, even the bedrooms. I leave her to finish everything off while I shut myself in Tyler’s room to dry my hair, and the longer time ticks by, the more I start to wonder what’s taking him so long.

  He’s been up on the roof for over an hour now. He never used to take this long to calm down before. When Snake gets out of the shower, I send him to check what Tyler’s doing. He rolls his eyes at my request, but he does it anyway. Five minutes later, he returns.

  “He’s not there,” he says with a shrug.

  I look up from the TV, eyeing him with a skeptical frown. I’m not sure if he’s messing with me or not. “What?”

  “He’s not on the roof.”

  “Then where is he?” I’m not sure where else he could have possibly gone. There’s no way he’d leave the building. He’s wearing nothing but jeans.

  “No idea,” Snake says. He shrugs again and leans against the kitchen worktop, and then it’s his turn to look at me with a skeptical expression on his face. “What were you guys all arguing about, anyway?”

  “Nothing,” I say immediately. He’ll probably find out eventually, but right now I don’t want to talk about it.

  Snake scowls at me and I’m expecting him to press the matter further, but he doesn’t bother to waste his time. He heads around to the refrigerator instead, rummaging around inside for something to eat.

  I look back to the TV, but I’m not entirely focused on it. I’m thinking about Tyler. Despite the fact that I don’t particularly want to talk to him right now, I decide to try calling his phone, but it’s no use. I hear his phone ringing from his room. I hang up and let out a long breath that sounds something between a sigh and a groan. Where the hell is he?

  It’s not all bad, though. Lady and the Tramp is on TV. Snake mocks me from the kitchen for fifteen minutes straight as he rams sandwiches into his mouth, but I ignore him, increasing the volume each time he opens his mouth to speak. Disney movies aren’t childish, as he believes. They aren’t dumb, either, and once he stops laughing at me for choosing to watch them, he decides to visit the girls from apartment 1201 to see if they’re as hungover as him.

  It’s nice to get some peace once he leaves. Emily, on the other hand, hasn’t come out of Snake’s room in over forty minutes, and I think she might have fallen asleep. I have the comfort of the living room to myself, with no one left to complain about my choice of movie, and I take advantage of this by spreading out on the couch and getting comfortable, snuggling into the cushions.

  I finish watching the entire movie before Snake comes back and before Emily wakes up, and it’s now been almost three hours since Tyler stormed out. I can’t think of where he could have gone. He could be hiding out at 1201 or Alex and Brendon’s apartment three floors down. He could have locked himself in his car as a way to avoid me. He could be anywhere in the building. Sooner or later, he’s gonna have to come back and face me.

  Right then, I hear the apartment door unlocking and I assume that it’s Snake. Pausing the TV, I push myself up from the couch and look to the door. My eyes meet Tyler’s.

  “It’s about time,” I say. Looking anxious, he shuts the door behind him and drops his eyes to the carpet. He’s somehow managed to change into a pair of black shorts and a gray T-shirt. “Where’d you get the clothes from?”

  “My gym bag was in my car,” he says quietly. He chews on his lower lip for a second before bracing himself and walking over to me. “Where is everyone?”

  “Snake’s with the girls from the other apartment and I think Emily is asleep, so right now is the perfect time for you to be honest with me.” I get to my feet as I turn off the TV completely, silence forming around us as I walk around the couch. I don’t stop until I’m in front of him. “Please just tell me what’s going on.”

  “Nothing is going on, Eden,” Tyler says. His voice is soft and sincere, much calmer than it was before. His eyes are gentle and faded again, although a little bloodshot. “I don’t get why you won’t believe me. What have I ever done to make you doubt me? How many times do you need me to tell you that Emily and I are just friends?” His voice grows firm. “Nothing happened last night,” he states slowly. “Nothing ever has and nothing ever will.”

  “Nice to know you cuddled up close with her in bed and left me on the floor,” I mutter, because it’s the only thing I can think of to say right now. It feels like Emily has priority over me. Like Tyler had the choice of who to take care of last night, and he clearly chose her, which doesn’t exactly back up what he’s saying right now.

  “You slept on the floor? I didn’t know that.”

  All I can do is stare back at him. He seems honest, but Tyler’s great at acting. Years ago, he had everyone fooled. No one ever suspected he was broken inside and not the tough, badass guy he made them believe he was. Keeping secrets is what Tyler is best at. He could be lying to me right now. “I just don’t know what to think, Tyler,” I murmur eventually.

  “Do you see me looking at her the way I look at you?” he asks. Taking a step closer to me, he looks down at me from beneath his eyelashes, his eyes crinkling at the corners.


  “Exactly, Eden,” he says, frustrated. “It’s stressing me out that you keep doubting me, and I thought for a while about how I can prove to you that you’re the one I want.” He stops for a second and shakes his head, heaving a sigh. “You know what? Fuck it. I don’t want you. I need you.”

  “Need?” I echo.

  “Need,” he confirms, nodding once. “I need you because you’re one of the few people I trust. I need you because you saw me the way I used to be and you still stuck around. I need you because I’m in love with you, Eden, and I have no idea how I’ll ever get over you.?
?? His words hit me so hard that I don’t think I even blink in response. I stand there, listening to him, and it becomes clear that he’s definitely not putting on an act. His voice even sounds on the verge of pleading. “I got something to prove it,” he says.

  Slowly, he rolls up the left sleeve of his T-shirt to reveal his bicep, huge as ever, wrapped tightly in Saran Wrap. Underneath, glossy black ink stares back at me. Biting his lip, Tyler carefully unwraps the plastic and tilts his arm for me to see. Inked in small lettering, black and bold, is my name. Nothing else. Just four letters. So simple, yet so stupid. At first I’m taken aback by it, but then I quickly become irritated.

  “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Why would he even think about doing something so insane? I squint at the tattoo for a moment longer as I attempt to figure out if it’s only henna. I’m hoping that it is, but his skin is red and raised and there are some traces of blood, and I feel my chest sink in dismay.

  “It’s real,” Tyler says, stating the freaking obvious. “Permanent.”

  “You’re so irrational.” I take a step back from him without my eyes ever leaving his arm. My name. Doesn’t he have any idea that people can be temporary? Isn’t he aware that things can change? Right now, it feels like whatever is between us is real and endless, but the truth is, neither of us knows what could happen in the months and years to come. Still stunned, I manage to tear my eyes away from the tattoo and back to his. “What if I choose Dean, Tyler?” I whisper.

  “I know you’re not choosing Dean,” he says with a shake of his head.

  “Why do you think that?”

  “Because if you were really planning on staying with Dean, you wouldn’t have made that deal with me,” he says, and he’s right. “You wouldn’t have cheered your ass off for Derek Jeter.”

  “I still haven’t chosen yet,” I blurt. I think I have, though. I think I know already that in the end, it’s going to be Tyler. If I knew there were any hope for Dean at all, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I wouldn’t be avoiding him at all costs. “This is still so stupid, Tyler,” I murmur, nodding to the tattoo on his arm.

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