Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  Tyler glances between Rachael and Tiffani for a long moment. His eyes rest on Tiffani longer than they do on Rachael, and I can quite literally see the way he’s fighting the urge to refuse them entry. He eventually takes a step back from the door. “Fine, come on in,” he mutters.

  Rachael leads the way into the center of the apartment, Tiffani close behind her. As Tyler shrugs at me, I frown back and turn to reach for Dean’s shirt, pulling him over the threshold and kicking the door shut behind us all. Both Snake and Emily get to their feet, awkwardly studying our fellow West Coast guests. Snake’s gaze never leaves Rachael, and Emily’s never leaves Tiffani.

  “Alright,” Tyler says. He briefly runs over the introductions, stating everyone’s names and summarising everyone as briefly as possible. Snake’s the roommate from Boston. Emily’s the Brit he toured with. Rachael’s a friend. Tiffani’s just Tiffani. Dean is nothing more than the guy I’m dating. Tyler doesn’t mention that once upon a time they were best friends. There’s no point. That friendship is going to end within the next four days.

  Snake makes a beeline across the room for Rachael once the awkward greetings are over with, and I try to shoot him a warning glance, but either he doesn’t catch it or he chooses to blatantly ignore it. His gray eyes are set on her, and as he holds out his hand he reintroduces himself. This time, surprisingly, as Stephen.

  Rolling my eyes, I glance over to Tiffani. She’s studying Emily intensely from a few feet away and I watch anxiously as Emily closes the gap between them, her expression nonchalant.

  “So you’re Tiffani?”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” Tiffani narrows her eyes, taken aback by the tone of Emily’s voice.

  If only Emily lived in Santa Monica, she’d know not to mess with Tiffani Parkinson. But unfortunately she doesn’t, so she’s not aware of this basic rule of survival. She keeps on going. “Oh, nothing,” she says with a curt shrug. “I’ve just heard a lot about you, that’s all.”

  “Really?” Tiffani’s face lights up at the thought of it, like she thrives on the idea of her name being tossed around in everyone else’s conversations. Most of the time, the words that follow after her name are not flattering.

  Emily smiles, but it’s not genuine. For the first time, she seems like she’s got her guard up. She’s usually more vulnerable, more soft-spoken and quiet. Not today. “Sure have. Don’t worry, though, I’m certain everything I’ve heard is entirely accurate.”

  I don’t get to hear what kind of bullshit Tiffani musters up next, because my attention is drawn to Tyler as he steps closer to Dean and me. He’s smiling. Sincere? I don’t think so.

  “So, Dean, how about I give you the grand tour?” he suggests.

  Dean shakes his head at the offer as he says, “I think we’re just gonna head out. I don’t want to waste anymore time.”

  “Nah, man, c’mon, let me show you around.” Tyler throws his arm around him, pulling him away from me as he tightens his grip on his shoulder. I don’t think Dean would be able to get away from him even if he tried. “Come check out the view first. We’re facing Third Avenue.” He leads Dean across the room and gently pushes him in front of the windows, holding him there. As Dean looks out to the street below, Tyler throws me a cunning smile, and I can only roll my eyes in return.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Tiffani heading over to join them. She barges her body in between theirs, throwing an arm over their shoulders. Tyler promptly shrugs her off. “So what are we looking at?” she asks.

  On the opposite side of the living room, Snake’s still talking to Rachael. She’s twirling strands of her hair around her fingertips, her lips parted slightly as she listens to whatever the hell it is that Snake talks to girls about.

  The entire thing just confuses me. I don’t know why, but my life in Santa Monica has felt completely separate to my summer in New York. The two were never meant to collide. Now that they have, I’m endlessly feeling nauseous. For the past month, New York has felt like a safe haven. It’s like I’ve been able to completely shut off my life back home. Forget about our parents, forget about our friends, forget about Dean. The best part of it all is that New York has made me forget that Tyler’s my stepbrother, right up until now. Reality has hit us at full force. And, God, it hurts.

  “Bloody hell,” Emily murmurs under her breath as she pads across the carpet to me, folding her arms across her chest. She stands by my side and nods to Tiffani. “She’s exactly how I pictured her. Walking in here like she’s all this and all that.”

  “You shot her down pretty quickly,” I say. I glance sideways at Emily, studying the way she’s glaring at Tiffani from afar. I keep my voice low. “What was all of that about?”

  Emily shrugs and shifts her stare to me, her eyes softening a little. “Tyler told me all about her,” she says. By the windows, Tyler’s pointing out stores and cafés on Third Avenue, all the while continuing to ignore Tiffani’s persistence as she pushes herself closer against him. “What she did was awful,” Emily adds. “I can’t stand girls like her. Besides, I stick up for my mates.”

  “Watch yourself,” I murmur quietly, my eyes never leaving Tiffani. She’s got one hand on the back of Tyler’s shoulder blade, the other on her hip. “Her wrath isn’t something you wanna suffer.”

  Emily steps forward and turns around slightly so that she’s directly facing me. She laughs and asks, “Speaking from experience?”

  “Indeed.” Dealing with Tiffani was hell. It’s hard to be around her now because of it all. She carries with her a sense of power, both in the way that she smiles and in the way that she talks. It’s terrifying.

  Speaking of Tiffani, she must have decided to give up her efforts at trying to weasel her way into Tyler and Dean’s conversation, because she spins around and waltzes toward Emily and me instead. She sighs as she approaches, her eyes set solely on me. She smiles and, as always, it’s fake and bitter. “Eden. Outside. Right now.”

  I don’t even flinch, only remain where I am. “No, I’m good.”

  Tiffani doesn’t take no for an answer, because she promptly grasps my wrist and roughly yanks me toward the door. I throw Emily a glance over my shoulder and she shrugs back at me with wide eyes. I’m unwillingly pulled out into the lobby, and as Tiffani clicks the door shut behind us, she finally lets go.

  “What do you want?” I fold my arms across my chest, taking a step back as she spins around to face me.

  Further along the lobby, a guy is leaving his apartment. Tiffani waits in silence as he brushes past us, heading for the elevator. Once he’s gone, her smile turns devious and her eyes grow narrower. “The short answer? I’m starting to miss Tyler.”

  It’s so ridiculous that I laugh. I can’t suppress it, and before I even realize it, I’m smiling at how unbelievable she sounds. Maybe it wouldn’t sound so hilarious if their relationship had been honest and real. It wasn’t. She can’t miss someone she never loved. Still laughing, I ask, “And what’s the long answer?”

  “I’m starting to miss Tyler and you’re gonna help me get him back,” she shoots back at me without missing a beat. Folding her arms across her chest, her smile turns into a thin line.

  I stop laughing. Now it’s just pitiful. She really is deluded. “You know that’s never going to happen, right?”

  “Why won’t it? He’s coming back to California, we’re both single, and is it just me or has your brother gotten so much hotter?” She blows out a breath and dramatically fans her face, cheeks tinted with a rose hue.

  “Go to hell, Tiffani.”

  “God, why are you so snappy?” She gasps and moves her hand to her heart, as though I’ve wounded her, but I only roll my eyes. She’s always so dramatic. “Wait,” she says. For a second, she seems to drop the act she’s putting on, because she looks at me with a perplexed expression that is nothing but sincere. I can see the expression in her eyes shifting as she studies me, and the moment she’s done thinking, she parts her lips and exhales. “Yo
u’re not still hooking up with him, are you?”

  I’m so taken by surprise by the question that I don’t reply. Even if I tried to deny it, she’d see straight through me. She always does. Blinking at her, I swallow the lump in my throat and then drop my eyes to the floor. Tiffani makes it sound so casual. We’ve never just been “hooking up.” It’s always been more than that.

  “Oh my God,” Tiffani says quietly. The shock is evident in her tone. For once, she’s neither taunting nor sneering. “You are?”

  I glance back up at her, but I quickly squeeze my eyes shut and press my hand to my face. My cheeks feel rather flushed and all I can murmur through my hand is, “It’s not that big of a deal.” I know I’m lying to myself. I know it’s a big deal. It always will be.

  “Not that big of a deal?” Tiffani echoes. She seems to get over the surprise of finding out Tyler and I are still into each other pretty quickly, because now her voice is laced with the glee that she’s trying so, so hard to hide. “But, Eden . . . you’re dating Dean.”

  Shaking my head, I turn around and start to walk back to the apartment door. I’m biting down hard on my lower lip and breathing slowly to stop myself from crying. It hurts knowing that the one person who’s aware of my relationship with Tyler is the one person who’s cruel enough to tell everyone. I can tell she wants to, and the fact that she has yet to do so is the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. She’s keeping our secret safe for a reason, and knowing Tiffani, it’s definitely not because she’s trying to be a good friend.

  “Wait,” Tiffani calls. I stop walking, but I don’t turn around. I just keep my eyes shut and I listen. “Enjoy your date with Dean. Are you gonna mention that you’re cheating on him?”

  I grind my teeth together. I don’t have to look at her to know that she’s smiling right now. She’s loving every second of this. I don’t give her the satisfaction, however, of knowing that her words are infuriating me, because I keep my mouth shut and start walking again.

  “Eden,” she calls again once I reach the door to the apartment. I pause with my fingers tightened around the handle. I know I shouldn’t listen to what she has to say, but I can’t stop myself. “Have you gained a couple pounds since I last saw you?”

  Her words immediately hit me right where it hurts. It’s a phrase I haven’t heard in years, the type of phrase I used to hear back in Portland and the type of phrase I used to fear more than anything else. I thought I was finally over worrying about my weight, but a split second after the words leave Tiffani’s mouth every single ounce of self-esteem I’ve built up over the past few years disappears and my pulse races as I fight back the tears that press at the corners of my eyes. Even if I wanted to say something to Tiffani, I couldn’t. Even if I wanted to look back at her, I couldn’t possibly bring myself to. Not anymore.

  I throw open the apartment door and get myself inside as fast as I can, slamming the door behind me and utilizing every lock possible. There’s no way she’s coming back in this apartment. Not after that.

  Breathing heavily, I notice how silent the apartment is, and when I slowly turn around, everyone is staring at me. Rachael and Snake have stopped talking. Emily’s standing alone exactly where I left her, her eyebrows raised. Tyler and Dean are in the kitchen, Tyler with his coffee in hand and Dean with a defeated sort of expression on his face. It’s Rachael I look at for the longest time. Tiffani didn’t throw that remark at me by chance. It was intentional, and the only people in this room who could have possibly told her are Tyler, Dean, and Rachael. It’s not hard to figure out who to blame.

  I don’t intend to draw attention to myself, but I fear I might just burst into tears any second now in front of them all, so I call Rachael’s name as I head straight for the bathroom. I push past Dean and Tyler and shut the door behind me, only opening it again a few seconds later when Rachael taps her knuckles against the wood. I reach out and pull her inside, and this time I lock the door.

  “What?” she asks immediately, confused.

  “Did you tell Tiffani?”

  “Tell Tiffani what?”

  “About . . .” I take a deep breath and walk around her, leaning back against the sink before glancing up again. If I could see myself right now, I’m pretty sure I’d look devastated, because that’s exactly how I feel. “About me,” I finish. “About why I work out.”

  The creases of worry in Rachael’s forehead deepen as she frowns. “I mean, I may have told her like forever ago,” she admits quietly. “She asked me why you were such a running freak.”

  “Rachael!” I groan and throw my head back, throwing my hands into my hair and staring at the ceiling. I’m starting to regret ever confiding in her. I’m starting to wish I hadn’t told anyone at all. “Now she knows the best way to insult me,” I murmur as I tilt my head back down to face Rachael. She guiltily runs her thumb over her lips and keeps quiet, unsure of what to say. “She just asked me if I’d gained a couple pounds. Have I?”

  I glance down at myself, scouring every inch of my body. Lately, I’d been happy. I’d finally found the perfect balance between eating healthy and working out, without being too extreme about it all, without monitoring every single thing I ate. I no longer skipped meals. I no longer felt guilty for missing a run. Not a single thought has occurred to me in months regarding my weight, but now it’s like everything hits me at once. I start trying to figure out how many slices of pizza I’ve eaten while I’ve been in New York. I try to count how many extra shots of caramel I’ve been adding to my lattes over the past year. I wonder if, perhaps, allowing myself to take it easier was a bad idea from the get-go.

  “Eden, you look absolutely fine,” Rachael says. Her hands gently cup my jaw as she tilts my face back up away from my body, fixing me with a pleading stare. “Stop it,” she says firmly. Taking a step back and dropping her hands to her sides, she sighs. “Look, I’m gonna talk to Tiffani. She knows making comments like that isn’t cool. But please don’t get upset about it. Just go enjoy your date with Dean.”

  I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that now. I don’t even want to leave the bathroom anymore, let alone go out in public with the guy I’m going to be breaking up with pretty soon. In a mood like this, I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up the act.

  There’s a knock at the door and both Rachael and I glance over. Dean’s voice vibrates through the wood. “Are you guys okay?”

  There’s another knock, this time much gentler, and the voice that follows isn’t Dean’s but Tyler’s. “Eden?”

  “She’ll be out in a sec!” Rachael calls back. When she turns to face me again there’s already a tear rolling its way down my cheek, and she rushes to wipe it away with her thumb. “Hey, it’s okay,” she tells me softly. She wraps her arms around me then, pulling me into a warm, tight hug. “I’m sorry,” she says into my hair. “You don’t have to be friends with Tiffani. I won’t mind.”

  “I sure hope you won’t,” I murmur, “because it’s never going to happen.”

  Dean takes me out for dinner, to a restaurant named Bella Blu, four blocks south on Lexington Avenue. It’s small and Italian, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Dean’s always been proud of his Italian roots, the same way Tyler’s always been proud of his Hispanic genes, despite the fact that he gets them from his dad.

  We end up being late for our reservation by twenty minutes, partly due to Tyler purposely holding Dean up and partly because I locked myself in the bathroom with Rachael. Before I walked back out again, I dried my eyes and let Rachael redo my eye makeup, much better than I’d originally done it. No one asked what had happened and no one asked why Tiffani was locked out in the lobby. No one dared to.

  Rachael had returned to her conversation with Snake as I left with Dean. Tyler had scowled at me. Emily had kept staring at me intensely, her gaze not only curious but also suspicious. Out in the lobby, Tiffani was leaning against the wall with her arms folded across her chest and a smile on her lips as she told us to enjoy th
e evening. Dean had said thanks, apparently unaware of the scheming undertone to her voice, and I didn’t so much as glare at her as she took the opportunity to enter the apartment again. I didn’t have that confidence anymore to stand up to her. I just wanted to hide.

  At Bella Blu, however, the night is starting to get worse. I feel too guilty being here. On my first night in New York I was in a situation exactly like this, seated at a table in the middle of a cozy Italian restaurant. Only then the restaurant was Pietrasanta, not Bella Blu, and I wasn’t facing Dean, I was facing Tyler.

  “So I swear,” Dean says as he swallows another bite of his lobster ravioli, “I’m definitely going to college next fall. I know I said I was gonna apply this year, but it’s actually kinda nice working with my dad. No classes, no studying. Just cool cars.”

  I pick at my Caesar salad with my fork, not entirely focused, my stare blank. I’ve been moving the croutons around for the past ten minutes, barely eating any of it. I don’t want to. “Uh-huh.”

  “And I know I was set on Berkeley, but I’ve been looking at the business programs in Illinois and—”

  “What?” My eyes flash up from my salad to meet Dean’s gaze, as warm and as bright as ever.

  “Illinois,” he says again with a smile. “So that we’re closer.”

  My stomach twists and I try my best to keep my apprehension hidden. We’ve both always been aware that I’m moving halfway across the country in two months, but we don’t often bring it up in conversation. Neither of us wanted to. It was always hard to talk about, us being separated for four years. We’d have summers together. Spring break. Winter break. Thanksgiving. We’d see each other, but it would be different and it would be difficult. Now I’m not worried about moving away from Dean. In fact, I think by the time he leaves New York, he’ll be glad I’m moving out of state. I don’t think he’ll ever want to see me again.

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