Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  “What’s up?”

  “Come to the roof with me,” I say quietly, not quite answering him the way he expects me to. His eyes light up and he immediately stops cleaning the coffee machine. I swallow hard when he smirks.

  “How come I’ve never thought of that before?” he whispers, leaning closer to me across the worktop so that Emily can’t hear a single word we’re saying.

  “Tyler, this is serious.”

  His expression shifts from flirtatious to worried in a heartbeat, and I turn for the door, trying not to let him see that I’m on the verge of crying already. I try my best to stay strong, despite how ready I am to break down over all of this. If I open my mouth I might just scream, so I lead Tyler out of the apartment and up to the roof in silence. Thankfully, he doesn’t attempt to ask any questions on the way up, even when we’re standing in the elevator, several feet apart.

  It’s long after sunset by now, almost nearing 10PM, and the sky is a darkening shade of blue as I push open the door to the roof and step out onto the terrace. I scour the area to check there’s no one else here, and when I’m sure there isn’t, I slowly make my way across the concrete.

  From behind me, Tyler suddenly places his hands on my waist and nuzzles his nose into my cheek, murmuring against my ear, “Baby, is everything okay?”

  His voice only gives me chest pains, and a shiver runs down my spine, twice. I turn my body around in his arms, my eyes crinkling with a mixture of both pain and confusion as I face him. I still can’t believe I’m in this awful situation and I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say yet, but I do know that as I push Tyler’s hands off my waist, the look in his eyes begins to mirror mine.

  “Tyler, I need you to listen to me really carefully.”

  Nodding, he inhales a sharp breath. “I’m listening.”

  It takes me a while to build up the courage to say what I’m planning on saying. It’s the only logical excuse I can think of that would even begin to make sense to Tyler. The only excuse that could justify something like this. Even though my words aren’t the truth, they have to be believable. Unable to look at Tyler any longer, I drop my eyes to the concrete, to his brown boots, and my heart tightly clenches as I dare myself to finally tell him, “I want to stay with Dean.”

  “What?” I don’t have to look at him to hear the shock in his voice, to hear the way it cracks at the end. It pains me to hear it. It hurts to know my words are the reason.

  “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I say. “I love Dean.”

  Tyler’s lips part as he registers my words. The moment he really absorbs them, his eyes immediately dilate with panic. Taking a step toward me, he gently reaches for my wrist. I even catch him glance down at his bicep, at the tattoo of my name. He swallows hard and looks back up. “You said you wouldn’t do this. You said you wouldn’t change your mind.”

  Closing my eyes, I pull my wrist away from him and take a step back, forcing myself to keep mustering up words however much I don’t want to. “Seeing Dean again has made me realize that . . . that I want to stay with him. Not you.”

  He jerks his head to one side, exhaling a long breath as he walks away from me. Running his hands back through his hair, gripping tightly onto the ends, he tilts his face up to the sky and circles the terrace. When he looks back down again, he balls his hand into a fist and swings a punch through the air. “You can’t do this to me again.”

  Right then, my heart shatters. The pieces slice through my chest as my body trembles with guilt. I wouldn’t dare to give up on us again, but it’s out of my control. I have faith, however, that the moment Tiffani leaves New York, I’ll be able to explain to him what’s really going on. I have faith that he’ll understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. “I’m sorry.”

  Tears suddenly press at my waterlines, and when I meet Tyler’s eyes, the emerald in his has faded so much that it makes my stomach tighten. He’s shaking his head at me, and I realize I can’t stay up here with him any longer. Turning away from him, I try to blink back the tears as I head for the door.

  “Eden, wait,” Tyler calls softly after me, his voice raspy. I hear his feet hitting the concrete as he rushes after me, and by the time I’m inside the building he’s right behind me, his voice pleading. “Please. This isn’t fair.”

  “I’m sorry,” I splutter again, refusing to turn around as I keep on walking as fast as I can. I don’t want to take the elevator, because I don’t want to be forced to talk to him in such a confined space, so I take the stairs. I end up jogging down them, two steps at a time, while Tyler runs behind me.

  It’s as I’m turning the corner onto the fourth flight of stairs that he shoves his body in front of mine, grabbing my shoulders and stopping me from going any further. “Why?” he asks, voice still cracked, still raspy, still pained. “I thought everything was fine between us. What’s happened? Did I do something wrong? Tell me!”

  I can’t even begin to muster up a reply. The truth is, everything was fine. Everything was fine until Tiffani arrived. Tyler hasn’t done anything wrong, and there’s no way I can lie and tell him that he has, so I slam my shoulder against his chest and barge him out of the way. I break into an even faster jog this time, my Chucks pounding against the stairs as I try to tune out the sound of Tyler’s voice as he relentlessly yells my name. His voice isn’t coarse, though, nor is it firm and deep. It’s because he’s not angry. He’s not furious. He’s just . . . hurt. That’s all he is. Completely and entirely hurt.

  By the time I reach the twelfth floor, I really am crying. The tears are flowing down my cheeks and I don’t even have the energy to wipe them away. My throat has tightened so much that it feels like I’m struggling to breathe. Tyler’s breathing heavily and rapidly behind me, and as I reach the apartment door I pray that it’s still unlocked. I throw it open and it completely startles Emily on the couch, because she jumps and spins her head around to stare at us in shock, her eyes wide and her lips parted.

  However, neither Tyler nor I pay her any attention, because I head straight into his room. I keep my face down in an attempt to hide the fact that I’m crying, but I think Emily notices anyway. I even try to slam Tyler’s door behind me, but he presses his hands against it just in time, pushing it back open.

  “Eden,” he whispers as he follows me into the room. He clicks the door shut behind him, keeping his voice low. When I glance at him through my blurred vision, I notice the corners of his eyes are slightly swollen. “What made you change your mind? Why Dean? Why not me? Just answer me that. Please.”

  “Because Dean isn’t my stepbrother.” I’ve stopped looking at him now. My heart is racing instead, my chest constricting as I move around the room, sliding open the closet doors and reaching up to grab my backpack from the top shelf. I start rummaging around inside the closest, yanking a few of my clothes off hangers and stuffing them inside the bag before moving past Tyler to the chest of drawers.

  “What are you doing?” Tyler whispers, his shoulders dropping as he stares at me, his forehead creasing. For the first time in years, his eyes appear almost lifeless again, just like the way they always used to be.

  “I’m going to stay at Dean’s hotel.” My voice sounds so pathetic. My words are more like a sob and I’m not entirely sure if they’re even intelligible. Either way, I continue to grab some more of my things, fumbling around by the wall socket as I fetch my phone charger. I pile everything into my backpack and zip it shut, swinging it over one shoulder. I straighten up.

  “What can I do to stop you from doing this?” Tyler asks, but it sounds like begging more than anything else. He steps toward me again, one hand cupping my jaw and the other grabbing my hand. He squeezes his fingers around mine so tightly that it momentarily hurts, and the heat from his skin is burning hot against my jaw. “Is there anything I can do that’ll change your fucking mind?”

  With all my might, I pull my hand free from his. “No.”

  That’s when I leave. I grip the strap of my b
ackpack as I run my opposite hand through my hair, wondering if there could have been a way to get around Tiffani. She was right—I could have told Dean the truth before she did, and that way she wouldn’t have had anything to threaten me with. I was planning on telling Dean anyway, just not this soon. That would have been the only way to completely avoid doing what I’ve just done, but Tiffani already thought that through, and if I’d told Dean, she’d have moved on to our parents. I’m not ready for that.

  Tyler doesn’t try to follow me as I make my way out of his room and across the apartment. Even Emily doesn’t question me as I pull open the door, stepping out into the lobby. I don’t even care now that she can see me crying. She looks worried, and all I can do is offer her a sad smile as I close the door behind me. I don’t know what Tyler will tell her, but I do know that right now, I honestly couldn’t care less if he told her the truth about what’s happened, the truth about us. I just want to get away.

  I take the elevator this time, my lips quivering as I sob the entire way down, and even when I’m dragging myself outside the building and onto Seventy-fourth Street I still don’t care. I don’t care that I’m crying late at night on the streets of New York. All I know is that the night air feels relaxing as I breathe it in, and I squeeze my eyes shut for a few seconds as I slowly walk around the corner onto Third Avenue. My chest begins to relax and even my trembling begins to calm.

  It’s a twenty-minute walk to the Lowell, straight down Third Avenue and across Sixty-third Street. I don’t mind it, though. I like the space and the privacy, despite the fact that there’s still a flow of pedestrians on the sidewalks and a trail of traffic on the roads. It feels nice to just be alone for once. No Tyler. No Tiffani. No Dean and no Rachael and no Snake and no Emily. Just me. I do receive some curious glances from people as they pass me, and I wonder if I look like some runaway misfit. Again, I don’t care. What the general public of Manhattan think of me isn’t my biggest concern right now.

  The night is colder than I remember it being up on the roof, so I stuff my hands into the front pocket of my hoodie when I reach Sixty-third Street, sighing with relief as I pass the Santa Fe Opera again. I’ve run out of tears by the time I reach the hotel, and they’ve already dried into my cheeks. Now my eyes just feel swollen and red, so I rub at them in an attempt to hide the fact that I’ve been crying, but I think I only end up making it worse, because they begin to sting.

  There’s a different doorman this time, a middle-aged man with graying hair who opens the door and wishes me a good night’s sleep. I don’t tell him I’m not even a guest here and I certainly don’t mention that tonight I doubt I’ll be sleeping at all, let alone sleeping well. I just say thanks.

  I shuffle past the front desk and across the main lobby, tracing my way to the elevator as I try to remind myself of the route we took to get to the suite. I know it’s on the tenth floor, so I push the button and wait as the elevator smoothly heads up. It’s mirrored, so I stare at my reflection. My eyes look awful and it’s obvious that I’ve just been sobbing for what felt like fifteen minutes straight. I know there’s nothing I can do to hide this fact, and I’m pretty sure Tiffani will be thrilled when she sees me. In a last-ditch attempt to sooth away the swollenness, I dab at my eyes with the sleeves of my hoodie, right before giving up entirely.

  I head out of the elevator, focusing on keeping my breathing steady as I make my way along the tenth-floor lobby to the correct suite. When I come across it, I stand outside of the door for a long while. I really don’t want to go inside. I don’t want to face Tiffani’s satisfied smirks and I don’t want to face Dean. I think Rachael is the only one I’m not worried about seeing, but it does make me wonder how I’m supposed to explain myself to her and Dean. How do I explain why I’ve been crying? What reason do I give them for staying in their suite? I doubt Tiffani has filled them in on our arrangement.

  Once I’ve taken a few deep breaths, I finally knock on the door. It’s after ten by now, but I can still hear their TV. It doesn’t take long for someone to answer, and as I listen to the locks being released I brace myself for who it’ll be. I’m seriously praying that it’ll be Rachael, but it’s not. It’s Tiffani. It doesn’t surprise me.

  “Eden!” she exclaims in surprise, but at the exact same time a glorious smile spreads across her face. She’s draped in a silk dressing gown, which she holds closed with one hand as she holds the door open with the other. “What are you doing here?”

  I grit my teeth together and abruptly push past her. I can’t deal with her act right now, of all times, and as I force myself into the center of the living area I hear her close the door behind me. Dean jumps to his feet from one of the ugly vintage chairs, his eyebrows shooting up as he wonders why I’m here. He’s wearing a pair of black sweats and a white T-shirt and he immediately walks over to me. It doesn’t take long for the concern to show on his face.

  “What are you doing here?” he asks, ducking down slightly so that he’s smaller than me, allowing him to look up at me intensely from beneath his eyelashes. “Eden, what’s wrong?”

  I reach for his hand, interlocking our fingers. I find comfort in his presence. Dean’s always been able to put me at ease, even just with the sound of his voice. Always so caring, always so gentle. I step forward and bury my face into his chest, his shirt sticking to my damp eyes. “I had an argument with Tyler,” I whisper, even though it’s far from the truth. I’m also aware that Tiffani is watching us from a few feet away, but I ignore her by squeezing my eyes shut. “I thought I’d come stay with you.” It’s not true. It’s just an act. My grip on Dean, however, isn’t. I really do keep hugging him, not to keep Tiffani happy but because I need to. I need Dean right now. I need my boyfriend.

  He squeezes me even tighter, pressing his forehead to my temple as he breathes softly against my ear. “I’m glad you came here,” he says gently. “You’re more than welcome to stay with us. Right, Tiffani?” He steps back, but he keeps his arm around me, holding me close.

  “Of course!” Tiffani agrees, her voice sympathetic and laced with pity, as though she isn’t behind all of this. “I can’t believe you guys had a fight. You’re usually so close.”

  If I weren’t so damaged inside, perhaps I’d have the energy to cuss at her. All I can do for now, though, is press my body closer again to Dean’s again. I wrap my arms around his back and inhale his scent. Usually he smells like grease and exhaust fumes, but now that he’s three thousand miles away from the garage he just smells like plain soap.

  “Please don’t get upset,” he tells me as he rubs his hand up and down my arm. “Whatever happened will blow over.”

  “I just want to sleep,” I murmur, still sensing Tiffani’s watchful eyes. The TV is still echoing in the background, too, and in all honesty I really do want to go to sleep. I want to fall asleep and then I want to wake up and realize that none of this has really happened. I’ll feel better in the morning. Less broken.

  Dean drops his hand and loosely interlinks it with mine again as he carefully leads me across the suite. He pushes open the door to one of the bedrooms, and when I throw a glance over my shoulder Tiffani’s mouth has twisted into another one of her infamous smiles. She mouths something, but I don’t quite catch it, and I don’t quite care to either. I squeeze Dean’s hand harder as I turn back around, following him into the bedroom and clicking the door shut behind us.

  The room is large, with a huge king-sized bed right in the center, and there’s more complex artwork decorating the walls. His luggage is lying across the floor and he quickly kicks it all to the side, letting go of my hand.

  “Rachael and Tiff share the other room,” he says. “This is mine.”

  I nod. Swinging my backpack off my shoulder, I place it onto the bed and start to fumble with the zips. “Where is Rachael?”

  “Already asleep.” Shrugging, Dean moves around to one side of the bed and begins to adjust the pillows, throwing some to the side and pulling back the comforter. Every
thing is beige. He reaches for the hem of his T-shirt and swiftly pulls it off, folding it up carelessly and tossing it onto the single chair in the corner of the room. He looks worried again, his forehead creased with concern as he walks back over to me. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

  I press my hand to his bare chest, attempting to offer him a small smile. “Yeah. I’ll be better in the morning. I just need to get some sleep.”

  I can tell by the way he frowns that he knows I’m lying, but he doesn’t push it any further, and I’m glad, because I’d much rather not talk about it. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I couldn’t tell him that the only reason I’m here is because Tiffani has ever so smoothly worked out the perfect way to blackmail me, and I can’t bring myself to keep mustering up lies either. If Dean does ask, perhaps I’ll tell him my argument with Tyler was about our parents. That’d work.

  I strip off my clothes and stuff them into my backpack, and I realize I haven’t even packed half the stuff I should have. Sighing, I zip up my backpack and toss it onto the floor as I make my way around the bed wearing nothing but my underwear. As Dean turns off the lights, I slip into the bed and pull the comforter around me. The room dips into darkness and I can hear Dean shuffling around the floor, joining me seconds later.

  “Like I said, don’t worry about it too much,” he murmurs as he presses his body against mine, his skin slightly cold as his chest brushes against my back. He wraps an arm around my stomach, and I breathe in as I place my hand on top of his. “It’ll blow over,” he reminds me once more, and I really, really hope he’s right.

  By 2AM, I’m still awake. I’m lying still, staring at the ceiling and trying to force the image of Tyler’s face out of my mind. I can’t stop hearing his voice. I can’t stop thinking about him. I think of the way his eyes looked when I told him I wanted to stay with Dean and I think of the way he pleaded with me to rethink my decision.

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