Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame


  I’m half looking for the baggage carousels and half looking for a pair of green eyes. Around me, I can see people hesitating, looking. People in suits holding placards. Families searching the crowds flowing off the escalator. I study them in return twice as thoroughly. I know exactly who I’m looking for. For a moment, I think I see him. Black hair, tall. But just as my heart’s about to stop, he draws a woman into his arms and I realise that it isn’t him at all.

  My eyes return to roaming the concourse as I make my way toward baggage claim, still forcing my feet to move, however numb my legs feel. I’m stealing glances at the line of placards as I pass, taking in the last names and wondering what all those people are coming to New York for. My thoughts don’t last long, however, because suddenly one placard in particular catches my eye. It draws my attention, of course, because I see my name scrawled on it in black Sharpie, each letter slightly out of alignment with the next one.

  And that’s when I see him.

  That’s when I see Tyler.

  He’s holding this stupid placard of his just below his eyes, and the second mine meet his, they crinkle at the corners. He’s grinning. Suddenly, everything calms. The tightness in my chest relaxes. My heart stops thumping against my ribcage. My pulse no longer throbs beneath my skin. And I just stand there, in the middle of the arrivals area, allowing myself to be nudged by my fellow travelers. But I don’t care that I’m blocking the way. I don’t care that I look like I’m lost. All I know is that Tyler’s right here, that we’re in front of each other again, and that everything immediately feels like it’s back in place. It’s like it hasn’t been three hundred and fifty-nine days since he last smiled at me the way he is now.

  He’s slowly lowered the placard to reveal his face fully, and his grin and his jaw and the color of his eyes and the way one eyebrow slowly arches reminds me of some of the many things I used to adore about him. Perhaps I still do love these things, because now my feet are moving again. And fast. I make my way straight over to him, gaining speed with each step, my eyes locked on him and nothing else. My beeline forces the people around me to move out of my way, and by now I’m running. The moment I reach him, I throw myself into his arms.

  I think it takes him by surprise. We stumble back a step, his placard fluttering to the ground as he grasps my body, and I’m vaguely aware of some people around us gushing “Aw!” as though we’re some sort of long-distance online couple meeting for the very first time. It might look like that because in a way it’s true. It has been a long-distance relationship. Stepsibling relationship, that is. Nonetheless, I don’t pay attention to our small audience. I wrap my legs around him and bury my face into his shoulder.

  “I think they’re getting the wrong idea,” Tyler murmurs by my cheek, laughing slightly as he stabilizes us. I might have heard his voice on the phone each week over the year, but it’s entirely different hearing it in person. Almost like I can feel it.

  “Maybe you should put me down,” I whisper, and he does exactly that. With one final, firm squeeze, he gently sets me back on my feet. That’s when I glance up to meet his eyes, up close this time. “Hi,” I say.

  “Hey,” he says. He wiggles his eyebrows at me and there’s just this sort of relaxed and positive vibe radiating from him. I find it impossible to stop grinning. “Welcome to New York.”

  “New Jersey,” I correct, but my voice is a mere whisper as I stare at his face. He looks like he’s aged four years in the space of one, but I think this is mostly due to the stubble that now decorates his jaw. I try not to think about how attractive it looks, so I shift my eyes to his arms instead, which only makes the whole thing worse. His biceps are bigger than I remember, so I swallow the lump in my throat and stare at his eyebrows instead. Eyebrows can’t possibly turn me on.

  Seriously, Eden, what the hell?

  “New Jersey, whatever,” Tyler says. “You’re gonna love the city. Thank God you came.”

  “Hold up.” I take a step back and stare at him curiously, tilting my head. I’m pretty sure he just placed emphasis on his vowels. “Is that a . . . Is that a New York accent I hear?”

  He rubs at the back of his neck and shrugs. “A little. Kinda rubs off on you, you know? Doesn’t help that Snake’s from Boston. You’re lucky I’m not walking around dropping my R’s.”

  “Your roommate, right?” I try to recall all of our phone calls over the year, when Tyler would fill me in on which school he visited that day or tell me about something cool that happened, like when winter rolled around and he got to witness snow in real life for the first time, but I’m too distracted by the slight change in his voice. I don’t know why I never noticed it whenever he called. “What did you say his real name was again?”

  “Stephen,” Tyler says with a quick roll of his eyes. “C’mon, we should get outta here.”

  He turns in the direction of the exit, but I quickly make him aware that I still have to grab my luggage, and he sheepishly directs us over to the baggage carousel instead. I’ve wasted five minutes by throwing myself at him, so thankfully it’s not so crowded by now. I spot my suitcase after only a minute, and soon we’re making our way out of Terminal C and into the parking lot, with Tyler pulling my suitcase effortlessly along behind him.

  It’s extremely hot out. Like, hotter than Santa Monica and hotter than Portland. I shrug off my hoodie and stuff it into my backpack just as we near his Audi, which, surprisingly, is still in pristine condition. Honestly, I assumed it would have been decorated in graffiti by now, or at least have had a window or two kicked out.

  Tyler yanks open the trunk—which is actually at the front of the car—and places my suitcase inside, right before slamming it shut again. “How’s your mom holding up?” he asks, but he’s smirking.

  I roll my eyes and slide into the passenger seat, waiting for him to join me inside before I answer. “Not that great. She’s still acting like I’m moving here permanently or something.” I run my fingers along the leather of the seat and inhale. Firewood. Febreze. Bentley cologne. Oh, how I’ve missed that damn cologne. “Dean’s mad too.”

  Tyler’s eyes flicker over to study me for a moment. He looks away, starts up the engine, and pulls on his seatbelt. “Are you guys still good?”

  “Yeah,” I lie. Honestly, I have no idea if we’re still good or not after our argument this morning. I think we are. Knowing Dean, he’ll most likely let it blow over. “We’re alright.” I stare at Tyler out of the corner of my eye and wait to see if he’ll react, wait for something to happen, anything. His jaw to tighten. His eyes to narrow. But all he does is smile as he backs out of the spot.

  “Good,” he says, which immediately shreds any ounce of hope that I possibly had. Of course he’s not mad that I’m still dating Dean, because he’s totally over me. “How’s he doing?”

  I swallow and interlink my fingers, trying my best not to look disheartened. I shouldn’t be, anyway. I shouldn’t care. “He’s okay.”

  A simple nod. His attention is now focused on the road as we peel toward the exit. “So how’s my mom?” he asks, his voice soft. “I feel like every time she calls, she gets more and more frustrating. Like, ‘Yeah, Mom, I’m doing my laundry. No, I haven’t set the apartment on fire and no, I haven’t gotten into any trouble.’ ” He gives a small laugh and then adds, “Yet.”

  “Except for that ticket you got when that cop pulled you over for speeding,” I point out. Just act normal. Casual, I tell myself.

  As we pull out of the winding parking lot and onto the interstate, he throws me a small smirk. “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. But serious question: Is Jamie’s girlfriend hot?”

  I stare at him, and he shrugs innocently. “You’re such a guy,” I say. “But yeah, she’s cute.” I don’t get to see Jen much, mostly because Jamie is adamant that I stay away from them after I supposedly embarrassed him the first time he brought her to the house. Apparently, informing your stepbrother’s girlfriend that he recites “The Road Not Taken” in
his sleep is against the sibling code of conduct. “Hey, guess what happened the other night?”

  “What?”

  “Chase was asking your mom if he could have some girl in his class over to study, but it’s summer, so what the hell are they studying for?”

  “Studying,” Tyler scoffs. “That’s smooth for an eighth-grader. He’s finally switched video games for girls.”

  My lips curve into a teasing smirk, but he’s not even looking at me. “Looks like they take after their brother when it comes to getting a girl.”

  “I’m gonna kill them both when we get back,” he murmurs, but he’s laughing. “Stealing my high school reputation. Totally unoriginal.”

  We’re heading along the interstate, but it’s rush hour, so the traffic is moving slowly. I reach for the sun visor and pull it down. The sun is starting to hurt my eyes and my shades are in my suitcase, which in retrospect was a stupid place to put them. “Do you think the year has passed fast?”

  When the traffic rolls forward to another standstill, Tyler takes the opportunity to look at me. He thinks for a moment and then shrugs. He’s not exactly smiling anymore. “No. Feels like each month lasted twice as long as it should have. It’s been hell waiting for summer to come around.”

  “I thought it would have gone quickly for you,” I say. “You know, with the touring and stuff. You were always busy.” Whenever I spoke to Tyler, he always kept me up to date with the program. There was a lot of traveling around schools and other organisations, raising awareness of child abuse by sharing the story of the violence his dad inflicted on him when he was a kid. Sometimes he’d be in Maine. Other days he’d be in New Jersey. A lot of the time he was hardly in New York at all. Although he was often tired, I believed he’d enjoyed his time over here.

  He shakes his head and looks back to the road, the traffic moving again. “Sure, on dates that we had an event, the days would go by fast, but the nights seemed to drag on forever. I’d get home and Stephen would be messing around on his computer trying to finish up assignments for class and so half the time I was bored as hell. You run out of things to do in New York after, like, a month when you barely know anyone.”

  Tyler never mentioned that he was ever bored. During our phone calls he was always telling me how much he loved the city, and how much better the coffee in New York tasted, and that he was having a kickass time. It didn’t occur to me that he was lying. “If you’re so bored, why are you choosing to stick around for another six weeks?”

  For a second, I think he almost smiles. “Because you’re here now.”

  “What’s that supposed to—?”

  “Hey, I love this song,” he interjects, reaching over to crank up the volume of the radio, tapping quickly at the screen. I don’t get the chance to finish my question, so I arch an eyebrow at him as he nods his head in sync with the track. I think it’s Drake’s new single. “Kanye West dropped his new album today.”

  “Uh-huh,” I say, but I’m barely paying attention. Honestly, I really couldn’t care. I don’t even like Kanye West. Or Drake.

  I’m not exactly sure what our conversation is even about after that point. It’s mostly just Tyler commenting on something pointless and me agreeing. Like the amount of traffic there is, and the fact that the weather is great, and that soon we’ll be leaving New Jersey and entering New York. That gets me a little stoked. Finally.

  The car spirals around some sort of helix until we approach a line of tollbooths. Tyler merges into a cash-only lane and edges toward the barrier. “You know what I think is weird about the Lincoln Tunnel?” he muses as he pulls out his wallet.

  “What?”

  “You can head to New Jersey for free, but you gotta pay to head eastbound to New York.” He shakes his head, cash in his hand, and then pulls up to the booth. “Kinda makes sense. No one really wants to go to New Jersey.” I laugh as he rolls down his window, and the car is so low to the ground that he has to almost stretch out of the window just to reach up to the booth.

  The guy manning it takes the money, murmurs, “Nice car,” and then lifts the barrier for us, which Tyler promptly shoots through. And not without revving the engine, as though in reply to the guy’s comment.

  I fold my arms and angle my body to face him. “Some things never change,” I remark playfully.

  Tyler smirks, but it’s a little sheepish. “Force of habit,” he says with a small shrug.

  Only a matter of seconds later, the sunlight that’s been beating down on us disappears as we enter one of the three tunnels, leaving us in a warm orange glow. My eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness. Once they do, I peer out the window despite there being not much to look at besides concrete walls. I lean forward and glance up at the roof of the tunnel.

  “What are we under?”

  “The Hudson River,” Tyler tells me.

  “That’s so cool.” I gnaw on my lip and settle back against the seat, suddenly reminded of the fact that I am actually in New York for six weeks. Over the past half-hour I seem to have forgotten where we’ve been heading, but the mere mention of the famous Hudson is enough to bring me back to reality.

  “Now welcome to New York,” Tyler says after a minute. He lifts his hand to point out the windshield, and I follow the direction of his outstretched fingers as he points to the wall of the tunnel.

  There’s a vertical line running down the wall. On one side of the line, it says “New Jersey.” On the other, “New York.” We’re passing the state line, which means we’re in New York, finally.

  “We’ll be in Manhattan in a couple minutes,” Tyler adds. I think he can sense my excitement, because despite the fact that I’m too overwhelmed to say anything, he still smiles at me as he drives. “And I was thinking that if you aren’t too exhausted, we could head to Times Square later. You know, since it’s your first night in the city and all. You gotta spend your first week getting the tourist must-dos outta the way.”

  “Times Square sounds good,” I say. I’m trying to act collected, like I’m not about to squeal any second. I’ve never left the West Coast until now, and not only am I over here in the East, I’m over here in New York City, of all places. Quite possibly, other than Los Angeles, the greatest city in the country. At least that’s what people say.

  Soon, I’ll find out if they’re right.

  3

  The light slowly begins to filter into the Lincoln Tunnel as we reach the end of it, and once we’re back outside in the daylight, the sunlight almost blinds us. I squint through it, nonetheless, because I don’t want to miss a second of the city. I want to see everything.

  And at first, everything feels almost familiar.

  The excessive amount of traffic on the roads. The constant flow of people making their way down sidewalks, running across streets. The height of the buildings, which for a moment almost makes me feel slightly claustrophobic. Santa Monica feels like a field in the middle of Arkansas in comparison. Everything feels so packed in, so tall. The buildings do, however, offer shade from the sun. There also seems to be this complete and utter sense of . . . busyness. Nothing seems calm, or relaxed, or slow. Everything just looks fast-paced, like everyone and everything is rushing to do something, and I think that’s why it feels familiar. It’s exactly what I expected, only without the steam emitting from the manholes. The movies must exaggerate that.

  “Woah.”

  “I said the exact same thing,” Tyler says with a laugh, but he’s watching me from the corner of his eye as I take everything in, and at the same time he manages to slowly maneuver his way around pedestrians and cabs, heading along Forty-second Street. “Feels kind of crazy, right?”

  “I mean, it’s New York,” I say. “New York freakin’ City.”

  “This is the Garment District,” he tells me. “We’re heading toward Midtown.”

  I’m vaguely paying attention to him, hearing his words but not exactly taking them in immediately. My eyes are being drawn to the towering buildings surrounding us,
and the trees that line the sidewalks, and the fact that a lot of the streets are one-way. I lean forward so that I can get a better look out the windshield at everything above us. “Your apartment’s on the Upper East Side, right?”

  I focus on Tyler again, so I notice his smug smirk. We come to a stop by some traffic lights. “Did you expect anything less from my mom?”

  “No,” I admit. “There’s no way she would have put you somewhere like Harlem.”

  He tuts and shakes his head at me playfully. “Oh c’mon, Eden, I thought you wouldn’t be so stereotypical. East Harlem isn’t actually that bad, but that’s probably because I can speak Spanish, so I totally fit in. It’s these Hispanic genes, seriously.”

  “Tyler, you’re, like, 25 per cent Hispanic. You don’t even look it.” I try not to pay attention to the crowd of people gathered on the corner of the sidewalk waiting to cross the street who are snapping a quick picture of Tyler’s car as we wait, but it’s almost impossible not to see what they’re doing. Tyler ignores it.

  “Still Hispanic genes,” he says defensively, “which is awesome, all thanks to Grandma Maria. And my dad, I guess.”

  For a moment, I don’t say anything. I’m a little surprised that Tyler even brought his dad up, and I’m waiting for his jaw to tighten or his mood to shift, but he just keeps on smiling as he points out the windshield. He must be okay with talking about his dad by now. He’s been doing it for a year.

  “In case you haven’t noticed, Times Square is right there.”

  “What?”

  The lights flash green just as my eyes are flickering over to the street ahead of us, and Tyler immediately floors the gas so that the car shoots off around the corner, leaving a plume of exhaust fumes behind us, which will no doubt impress our audience back on the curb. I snap my eyes back over to Tyler.

  “We’re taking a detour,” he explains, grinning at my bemused expression. “I don’t want you to see it yet. Not until tonight.”

  “Really? You’re really going to tell me that Times Square is right in front of me and then drive off before I get to see it?” I fold my arms across my chest and turn to look away from him, dramatizing my irritation but smiling too.

 
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