Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame


  “But you’ve always wanted to get into Berkeley,” I say quietly.

  “I know,” he says, “but we’ll be two thousand miles apart if I choose to stay in California.” He forks up another bite of his ravioli and takes a minute to swallow, reaching for his drink and taking a quick swig. Slowly, he leans forward. “I’ve been looking into Northwestern,” he tells me. “The economics major there is meant to be great, and you wanna know what the best part is?” He pauses, not because he’s expecting an answer but because he wants to grin at me. “It’s in Evanston. Only twenty miles away from the University of Chicago.”

  I rest my eyes on the flower in the center of the table, taking in its brightness as I try to process what Dean’s saying. He’s willing to give up his dream college so that we don’t have to be apart. That’s just Dean. He’s always been selfless, always been so considerate and willing to make sacrifices for the people he cares about. He could have started college last year, but he didn’t because his dad always wanted him to work at the garage. I know he likes the cars, but I also know how badly he wants to build a career in business. Yet he’s putting it on hold for another year, because he’s living the Carter family tradition first. He’s willing to apply for different schools because he doesn’t want us to be thousands of miles apart. “I think you should keep Berkeley on the cards,” I say, but I’m not looking at him. I’m still looking at the flower, still thinking.

  “What’s the point?” Dean asks.

  “It’s an amazing school.”

  “So is Northwestern,” he points out, “and it’s right next to you.”

  I glance up at him again now. Pushing my plate away from me, barely touched, I interlock my hands together on the table in front of me. “But you’ve always said you didn’t want to leave California.” I think Dean expected me to be thrilled at the idea of him potentially moving to Illinois next year, because his smile has slowly begun to fade. He frowns.

  “Eden,” he says firmly, eyes crinkling at the corners as he locks his gaze with mine, “I already have to go a year without you. It’s almost a thirty-hour drive, but I could take trips over to Chicago every month, and you’ll be coming home for the holidays, and I could even get a second job so that I could come see you more often. But that’s for a year. I don’t think I can cope with that for four.”

  “Dean.”

  “That’s why when I go to college next year, I want to be near you,” he continues, ignoring me. He leans back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest as he grins again. “Hey, imagine that. You’ll be a sophomore and I’ll be a freshman. Talk about role reversal.”

  If I was planning on staying with Dean, I think maybe I would be thrilled at the idea. However, it’s so hard to hear him talk about our future plans together when I know that there is no future for us, and I don’t think there’s anything I can possibly say right now to change his mind regarding college. When Tyler and I tell him the truth, I think that’ll change his mind. Then, I’m sure he’ll be keen on Berkeley again. He definitely won’t want to be anywhere near me.

  “Dean,” I murmur. It hurts to look back at him, to see the way he looks at me with eyes bright and full of nothing but honesty and love. I wish I could look at him in the same way. He deserves that, and so much more. I do love him. Since we got together, there’s never been a time when I haven’t. It’s just that my heart belongs to Tyler. Letting Dean go is the right thing to do. “I love you,” I say. My eyes never leave his. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m even blinking. “You know that, right?”

  Reaching across the table, he takes my hand in his, and as his smile reaches his eyes, he says, “Of course I do.”

  And in that moment, I can do nothing but hope that he truly does.

  23

  By the time I return from my run the following day, the decision is made that the girls and the guys are to hang out separately. I’m not sure who exactly made this decision, all I know is that I’m against it. Tyler, Snake, and Dean head off to some vintage car show just outside of the city, while the rest of us head out to Times Square. Again, I have no say in the matter, and when I try to object to the plans that have been arranged for me, I get absolutely nowhere. Even Emily is hesitant about spending the afternoon with Rachael and Tiffani.

  And so, for the several hours that we spend making our way around Times Square, Emily and I linger at the back. I can’t even look at Tiffani, let alone talk to her, so I keep my distance at all times. Sometimes when she and Rachael dart into stores, Emily and I don’t even join them. We stand outside, musing to each other, hoping that neither of them will notice our absence. Besides, I’ve visited Times Square a lot over the past four weeks, so the novelty has worn off by now, and it has for Emily, too. After all, she’s lived in New York for over a year. For Rachael and Tiffani, however, Times Square is as fascinating and as mesmerizing to them as it was to me the very first time Tyler took me here. For that sole reason, I don’t mind when they stop every so often to take pictures.

  “Does she seriously walk like that or do you think she does it on purpose?” Emily asks under her breath as we follow our two companions along Forty-third Street. The gap between us and them is slowly increasing, and Emily tilts her head to one side as she studies the way Tiffani walks. She struts like she’s on a mission.

  “On purpose. She never used to walk like that,” I murmur back, careful not to be heard. I don’t think it’s possible that they could hear our conversation even if they tried to, because Times Square is as loud and as buzzing as ever. “You know, she was actually nice when I first met her, and then it all went to hell.”

  “What happened?”

  “Long story,” I say. I don’t think I could explain it even I tried to. So, Emily, Tyler broke up with her for me! Yeah, right. As if I could say that. “And don’t say you have time, because I really don’t want to talk about it.”

  “I wasn’t going to push it anyway,” Emily says, and when I glance sideways at her, it suddenly occurs to me that I’m choosing to be with her instead of Rachael, my best friend. I feel guilty for disliking Emily to begin with, but that was before I knew there was nothing going on between her and Tyler. Now I’m starting to consider her a friend, and our mutual dislike of Tiffani is a surprisingly great way to bond.

  Only minutes later, Tiffani disappears into the Brooklyn Diner while Rachael lingers at the door, waiting for us. It’s almost three now and we haven’t had lunch yet, so we don’t mind stopping. It gives us a break from dashing between stores.

  We’re given a booth over in the far corner, right by the windows, but Tiffani’s shopping bags take up half the space on their side. I sit by Emily, of course, and I ensure that I’m opposite Rachael. Tiffani’s diagonal to me, which helps because the only way I can see her is if I look out the corner of my eye, which I don’t. I set my eyes on the table and nothing else, fumbling anxiously with my hands in my lap.

  All three of them take a while to study the menu, yet I don’t bother to pick one up. Rachael notices after a couple minutes, and her eyes narrow at me over the rim of the menu in her hands and she nudges me under the table with her foot. I promptly ignore it, shifting my gaze to the window to watch the flow of Times Square instead. The locals weave their way through the slow-paced tourists. The tourists don’t even seem to notice that they’re blocking the sidewalks as they come to a halt to study maps, to take pictures, to most likely ask their partners which direction they should head in next. Even from inside, I can feel the locals’ frustration.

  “So you’re from England?” I hear Tiffani ask Emily. I prop my elbow up on the table and rest my chin in my hand, still staring out onto Forty-third Street. I do, however, keep listening.

  “Yeah,” Emily says, voice wary. “Just outside of London.”

  “Were you living here before or did you move over just to take part in the awareness tour thing?”

  “I came over for it,” Emily says quietly, keeping her replies as short as possible. I don’t
think she’s particularly in the mood for a conversation with Tiffani. I can’t blame her.

  “So you were abused?”

  My jaw falls open the moment the words leave Tiffani’s lips. I’m so shocked that it’s enough to make me spin my head around to look at her in disbelief. She’s blinking at Emily, lips pressed firmly together as she awaits an answer.

  “Tiffani!” Rachael gasps, horrified. “That’s so insensitive.”

  “It was just a question,” Tiffani says as she throws Rachael a sideways glance. Her eyes settle back on Emily, and she shrugs. “So? Were you?”

  “She doesn’t have to answer that,” I say stiffly, narrowing my eyes across the table straight at Tiffani. I don’t want to draw her attention, but she’s crossing the line.

  Tiffani’s gaze flashes to mine. “Shouldn’t you be choosing everything you’re gonna eat instead of butting into conversations?”

  “Tiffani,” Rachael murmurs, biting her lip awkwardly as she offers me an apologetic glance. Tiffani just shrugs again as though she doesn’t see what the problem is.

  My stomach twists again as I try to let her remark go over the top of my head, but it’s difficult to ignore. It’s hard to pretend that it doesn’t hurt, that it doesn’t make me feel even sicker than I already do. I don’t want to sit around here and wait for our waitress to arrive, because that way I’ll receive a frown from Rachael and most likely a smile from Tiffani when I don’t end up ordering anything, and I’d much rather avoid it completely.

  “Excuse me,” I murmur, and Emily immediately gets to her feet to allow me to slip out of the booth. Rachael furrows her eyebrows at me suspiciously, questioning my departure, so I quickly say, “Restroom,” and head off in search of them.

  They’re over by the opposite side of the diner, and as I quickly slip through the door I realize they’re rather small. Only a couple stalls, couple sinks. Thankfully, there’s no one else here, so I lean back against the wall by the hand dryers, heaving a long sigh.

  I don’t want to go back out there. I don’t want to face Tiffani again. I just want to get out of here, get back to the apartment, and find solace in Tyler. For a minute, I try to picture the layout of the diner, trying to work out if it’s possible for me to get from the restrooms to the main exit without Rachael or Tiffani or Emily even noticing. But then I think more carefully about Emily, about the fact that she’s sitting out there with two complete strangers, one of whom she already dislikes. Tiffani’s picked up on that, and I’m now convinced that she’s adamant on ridiculing Emily the same way she’s trying to ridicule me. I’m wishing I asked Emily to come to the restroom with me. I’m wishing I hadn’t left her. For Emily’s sake alone, I know I’ll eventually have to force myself to rejoin the group. Just not yet. In the meantime, I can only hope that Rachael will have her back if Tiffani makes anymore inappropriate remarks.

  My peace in the restrooms doesn’t last for long, though, because after five minutes the door swings open. The person who walks through it is the one person I’m trying to get away from.

  “What’s taking you so long?” Tiffani asks, folding her arms across her chest as she steps nearer to me. I don’t even look her in the eye. I just barge past her, my body brushing against hers as I make for the door. “Wait,” she says.

  “What, Tiffani?” I snap, spinning around on the balls of my feet. I will never be able to tolerate her. “What?”

  “I was up late last night,” she says calmly. “Thinking.” She begins to pace the restroom, walking back and forth between me and the hand dryers on the farthest wall, her hands on her hips. She’s purposely trying to be dramatic, as always. I don’t buy it, though. I just fold my arms across my chest and sigh as I wait for her to continue. “So last night while you were out with Dean, I spoke to Tyler. Apologized for what’s happened in the past. He was totally cool with it,” she says. I’m not entirely sure if she’s lying or not, because Tyler certainly didn’t mention any of that last night when I got back from my dinner with Dean. He never mentioned an apology, or that he was cool with it. “I think I could have another shot with him,” she says as she comes to a halt in front of me, her eyes meeting mine. “Of course, that’s if you weren’t in the way.”

  I get what she’s hinting at almost immediately, and I can only laugh. “You really think he’ll break things off with me so that he can be with you?” I roll my eyes at how pathetic it all sounds. That’s the only thing that isn’t terrifying about Tiffani—her ridiculous schemes. I think they’re getting worse the older she gets. “God, you really are deluded.”

  “Of course I don’t,” she says. Almost so slowly that it’s agonizing, her lips curl up into a tight smile. “I know he won’t do that: that’s why I need you to do it.”

  “Wait,” I say. Her words no longer seem humorous. “What?”

  “End whatever is between you and him,” she orders sharply. Her eyes narrow as she taps her foot impatiently against the tiled flooring.

  I shake my head quickly. She must seriously be crazy if she thinks I’d ever do such a thing. “That’s not happening,” I state, my voice firm despite how weak I feel in comparison with her.

  “I guess I’ll give Dean a call then.” Reaching into her purse, she fishes out her phone. She takes a few seconds to tap around on the screen, and when she glances back up, she smiles at my horrified stare. She holds her phone up for me to see, and Dean’s name is on the screen, his number already dialing.

  “Don’t!” I scramble forward as I attempt to snatch the device from her hand. My heart has dropped into my stomach and I feel like I can’t breathe. The blood throughout my body has thinned, the color has drained from my face.

  Tiffani smiles in such a way that she appears sinister as she stretches out her hand, holding me back. With her other hand, she holds her phone up in the air, as far out of my reach as she can keep it. She puts it on speaker, allowing the monotonous dial tone to echo around the restroom. “Cut it off with Tyler and I won’t tell Dean. Deal?”

  “Fine!” I yell. I have no other choice. Even my hands are trembling now, and my chest is heavy.

  Immediately, Tiffani pushes me back a step, and she ends the call before Dean has the chance to answer. I’m so numb that I can’t even feel relieved about it. “So here’s what’s gonna happen,” she says with a wide grin, so malicious that it’s hard to keep my eyes trained on her. Now I really do feel sick. Now I really do wish I’d escaped the diner when I had the chance to. “I need you to do it tonight. Say whatever you want to Tyler, as long as you make it clear that your gross fling is off. After that, I need you to come stay at our hotel.”

  “What?” My voice is a feeble whisper now, not firm and strong like I wish it would be. It’s just weak. Defeated.

  “You know, for dramatic effect.” Tiffani’s grin stretches even wider, and I’m not sure how it’s even possible for her to smile back at me, for her to enjoy how stunned and how petrified and how numb I really am. It’s sadistic, really. “And besides,” she says with a nonchalant shrug, “I’m not stupid. You could tell Tyler all about this conversation, so I think it’d be best if you came and stayed with Dean. I’ve thought all of this through, so when it eventually occurs to you—and it will, if it hasn’t already—that you could just tell Dean the truth yourself before I can, don’t waste your time. I’ll call your parents instead and let them know what’s up, and I know you won’t beat me to that, because there’s no way in hell you’ll tell them the truth over a phone call.”

  She suddenly seems a lot smarter than I’ve ever given her credit for. This scheme doesn’t seem as comical as it did a few minutes ago. I’m being forced to decide who to hurt between Tyler, Dean, and my parents. She’s got me cornered exactly the way she wants, with no other option but to do as she asks. “You’re blackmailing me?”

  “No,” Tiffani says. Her grin finally turns into a smaller smile as she steps closer to me, her voice threatening. “I’m just ensuring you know what’ll happen if you don??
?t do me this favor.”

  “If you think it’s going to work, it won’t,” I murmur, swallowing. “He’ll never go back to you.”

  “Oh, but Eden,” she says, her features relaxing as she takes a step back and lets out the smallest of laughs, “we both know how Tyler is with distractions, and ever so conveniently, I’ll be there to distract him from you.”

  I part my lips to argue back, but the door to the restrooms swings open once again, and this time it’s Emily. She peers around the frame, her eyebrows arched. She glances between Tiffani and me rather suspiciously before asking, “What are you two doing?”

  “Just making a pact,” Tiffani answers, stepping even closer to me and throwing her arm around my shoulders, squeezing my body tight against hers. I can sense her smiling again as her cheek brushes against mine, but I’m still too paralyzed to react. I can’t force a smile for Emily’s sake. I can’t frown. I can only attempt to breathe, totally zoned out as I stare at the sinks to my right.

  Tonight, I’ve got to hurt Tyler for the greater good, and I have never, ever felt so terrified.

  24

  Tyler’s been wandering around the apartment for a while. He carries some of his clothes from his bedroom to the laundry room. He helps Snake replace the hinges on one of the cupboard doors in the kitchen. He cleans the coffee machine in silence, licking his lips in concentration, humming to himself every once in a while. The entire time, I’ve been watching him from the couch, my stomach in knots as I figure out the best way to do what I need to do. Emily’s been sitting beside me, flicking between TV channels and occasionally asking me if I’m okay. I keep telling her I’m absolutely fine, but the truth is I’m nowhere near it.

  It’s not until Snake decides to head out on a late grocery shopping spree that I decide to just take a deep breath and get it all over with. Pushing myself up from the couch, Emily watches me curiously as I head across the living room, stopping at the kitchen counter. Tyler glances up from the coffee machine, smiling warmly at me.

 
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