Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame


  “So I opened this video by accident and I swear I only watched the first ten minutes or so and . . .” Her words taper off as she glances back at the laptop. She reaches for it, picking it up and gently placing it on my lap. “Well, I just think you should watch it. You might want some space, and you might want to get comfy.”

  I furrow my eyebrows at her as she gets to her feet, feeling curious yet slightly suspicious at the exact same time. My eyes follow her as she heads back over to the kitchen to fetch her water, her loose ponytail swinging around her shoulders. She’s always been so nice to me. Always.

  “Emily?” Anxiously, I bite down on my lower lip as I wait for her to turn around. When she does, she raises her eyebrows at me and listens. “I’m sorry,” I tell her.

  She tilts her head slightly to one side. “What?”

  “For the way I treated you at first,” I say, and then I shrug rather sheepishly as I admit, “I thought you and Tyler had a thing.” Embarrassed, I throw my head into my hands and groan.

  Now Emily laughs. Really, really laughs, and I join in with her. “Don’t worry about it,” she reassures me. “I can’t blame you.”

  It feels nice to be laughing after everything that’s just happened. Despite the fact that Tiffani is most likely storming her way back to her hotel suite to tell Dean the truth and despite the fact that Tyler’s disappeared to God knows where, I’m still smiling. I’m smiling because our secret no longer seems so wrong or so scandalous or so terrifying.

  I stand up, the laptop resting on my arm as I look back to Emily once more. “And thanks,” I add.

  “What for?”

  “For not judging us,” I say softly. She doesn’t reply, only nods. She’s the second person to know yet she’s the first to accept it, and for that I’ll forever be grateful. Acceptance feels nice.

  With one final exchange of smiles, I turn and head over to Tyler’s room, scooping up my backpack from the floor with my free hand and then closing the door behind me as I lay the laptop down on his bed. The curtains are closed, like they haven’t been opened all day, and Tyler’s bed isn’t quite made. I can’t blame him. He must have been so hungover earlier. Sighing, I carefully pull off my hoodie and throw it to the side along with my bag. That’s when I remember the new addition to my wrist.

  I flick on the lights, holding my arm up as I study my skin up close. The Saran Wrap feels damp and clingy, and the letters are bold and dark underneath it. As delicately and as carefully as I can, I remove the plastic. My skin is slightly raised and a little inflamed, but looking good. It’s exactly what I wanted, just the way I imagined it.

  Along my left wrist, the words No te rindas stare back at me. It’s in Tyler’s handwriting, exactly as he wrote it on the Converse he gave me. His words. His writing. His one simple request. He’s the only one who’ll understand it, and for that reason alone, I adore it.

  Tossing the plastic wrapping into the trash can in the corner of the room, I turn the lights back off and grab my earphones from the bedside table. Getting comfortable, I adjust the pillows and place them up against the headboard, climbing into the bed and leaning back. I pull the comforter over me and reach for the laptop. Without wasting another second, I plug in my earphones and stare at the dark screen. I hit the play button.

  At first, nothing seems to be happening. The video does shift slightly, but it’s too dark to make out what exactly I’m supposed to be looking at. I increase the volume, and to my surprise I hear Tyler’s voice. Low and hushed, nothing but a gentle whisper.

  I close my eyes and listen, feeling my stomach twist as I hear his voice. He tells the camcorder my name. He tells it my birthday. My favorite color. My birthplace. The color of my hair and the color of my eyes. Slowly, he keeps going. It takes him a minute to describe my eyes alone, and that’s when I decide to pause the video. I wave the cursor over the screen to bring up the timeline, and the moment I see it, I blink and check it again.

  The video lasts for four hours and twenty-seven minutes.

  It has to be a glitch. There’s no way.

  For four and a half hours, I listen to Tyler’s voice, endlessly whispering and quietly laughing. He tells the camcorder about the first time we met. He talks about all the things he loves about me, some of which are habits and mannerisms that even I’ve never noticed before. He talks and talks and talks, hardly ever pausing and without a single second of hesitation at all as he reflects on the moments we’ve shared together. Of conversations and kisses, trespassing and parties.

  As the video goes on, as the hours go by, the darkness gradually lessens. It continues to brighten over time, and outlines begin to become clearer. After the second hour I can see Tyler’s entire face, his bright eyes. He’s in his room, right in the spot I’m in now. By the third hour, he turns the camera away from himself and points it at me. Me. Right there, right next to him, sleeping the entire time.

  By the time the video wraps up, it’s daylight on the screen. Tyler doesn’t even look tired as he mentions La Breve Vita, and that’s when it all begins to sound familiar. His words after the point . . . I’ve heard those words before.

  It’s at that exact moment that Tyler turns the camera on me again, his soft voice murmuring, “Hey, you’re finally awake.”

  “What are you doing?” I sound half asleep as my tired eyes stare straight into the lens. I stare back at myself through the screen.

  “Just messing around.” His voice echoes through my earphones, and I shake my head in complete disbelief. Just messing around? He’s been talking about me for over four hours. It’s almost as though he never wanted me to see this, never wanted me to know about it.

  I listen to us briefly talk about the Fourth of July, just like I remember we did, and then he moves the camera to the bedside table. That’s when I pull him toward me and he presses his face to mine and we kiss. We’re laughing in between it all, right until I ask him to switch off the camera. He asks if we can keep it on. Seconds later, he scrambles toward the lens and the video shuts off. It ends.

  After spending my entire evening hearing what Tyler had to say about me and hearing everything he’s remembered over the past two years, even the smallest of details, he’s managed to reduce me to tears. They’re rolling down my cheeks in warm waves as I stare at the screen. It’s gone black again, straight back to the beginning of the video when it’s the middle of the night, and I can see my reflection looking back at me. I’m not crying because I’m upset. I’m overwhelmed. My entire body feels numb. To really understand just how deeply Tyler loves me, to really feel it . . . I think it’s the most comforting yet frightening thing in the world.

  I play the video again, this time skipping straight to the two-hour mark. I jump back and forth for a while within a half-hour time frame, searching for a specific moment. It’s my favorite one from the entire video, the only time Tyler directly speaks to me rather than the camera as I’m still sleeping. When I find it, I exhale, leaning back against the pillows. Hitting the play button once more, I close my eyes, and I listen.

  “I don’t know what being in love with someone is supposed to feel like,” Tyler admits with a breathy laugh, “but if being in love means thinking about someone every second of every day . . . If being in love means your entire mood shifts when they’re around . . . If being in love means you’d do anything and everything for them,” he murmurs, “then I am endlessly in love with you.”

  27

  It’s almost ten by the time I shut down Tyler’s laptop. I’ve been lying here for a while. Just thinking. About Tyler and about the video and about him and me. I wonder where all of this is going. When Dean finds out the truth and when we break the news to our parents, what happens then? What’s next? Will Tyler and I get together? Are we supposed to wait a few months and let everything cool down first? I don’t know. All I know is that I’m growing tired of waiting. It’s been two years and we haven’t gotten anywhere yet. Two years and I have yet to be able to proudly introduce Tyler to pe
ople as my boyfriend. Will I ever get to do that? I can only hope and I can only pray that no one looks back at me with wide eyes and shocked gasps.

  I’m still sitting alone in silence, comfortable in the dark, when the door slowly opens with a creak. I glance up expecting to see Emily, but instead I see Tyler. His head is hung low as he lingers at the door, his hand resting on the handle. He appears calm now. Not confused or angry, but not quite relaxed either. Just calm.

  “Can we talk?” he asks quietly. There’s a nervous undertone to his voice, like he’s expecting me to say no. I might not be able to clearly see his face, but I can tell that he doesn’t want to look me in the eyes right now. He’s staring at the ground.

  I don’t reply, only nod once and hope that he can see it. I press my palms down on the mattress and shift my body over to the other side of the bed, closest to the window, and I wait for him to join me in the warm space I’ve just left. That’s exactly what he does. In silence, he closes the door behind him with an inaudible click and makes his way over, gently slipping into the bed by my side. He stays on top of the comforter, putting an arm around me as I rest my head against his shoulder. We both breathe softly for a while, and even though he asked if we could talk, neither of us wants to. We both just look ahead of us to the mirrored closet doors opposite the foot of the bed, staring at the reflections of our outlines through the dark.

  After a short while, Tyler decides to finally say something, but he doesn’t move an inch as he clears his throat. “What happened yesterday?” he asks so quietly that it’s almost a whisper. The silence feels too fragile to speak any louder.

  I squeeze my eyes shut and try to consider everything that happened today and yesterday. Everything has gone wrong since Tuesday, since the moment Tiffani stepped foot in Manhattan. I’m just relieved now that although I made a mess of it all and that Dean’s probably already been told the truth by now, Tiffani didn’t get her way. It backfired. The fact that Tyler’s here with me right now already proves that he’s taking my side, that it’s me he believes. “Tiffani wanted you back,” I admit, my head still against his shoulder. His chest rises and falls. “She thought the only way that would happen was if I wasn’t in the way. She said I had to cut things off with you or she’d tell Dean the truth. If we beat her to it and told Dean first, she’d tell our parents.” It’s a little more complicated than that, but I simplify it all for the sole reason that I don’t particularly want to talk about it. I try to glance up at Tyler, but from my angle I can only see his forehead.

  “Fuck,” he murmurs. I see him run his free hand back through his hair as he exhales a long breath. Slowly, he shakes his head and squeezes my body tighter against his. “I’m sorry for being such an asshole earlier. I was just pissed off at you and I wasn’t thinking straight.”

  “I’m sorry too,” I tell him.

  He manages to laugh a little, a quiet, breathy laugh, just like the times he laughed during the video. I don’t think I’ll tell him that I know about it. I think I’ll keep that a secret. “Seriously, I thought you’d given up on me,” Tyler admits. “Don’t ever scare the hell out of me like that again.”

  I don’t think I’ll ever give up, especially not now, and I think this exact moment is a better time than any to show Tyler the new addition to my wrist. I don’t need to reply to him right now. I think his own words, his own quote is the only reply he needs. Smiling, I hold up my hand and raise my pinky, purposely angling my wrist in Tyler’s direction as I say, “I promise I won’t.”

  He’s just about to interlock his pinky with mine when he pauses, grasping my wrist instead and bolting upright, then leaning forward. When I glance sideways at him, he’s squinting through the dark at the words inked upon my skin. He looks to me with wide eyes. “What’s this?”

  “You might want to turn on a light,” I say, biting down on my lower lip as I grow slightly anxious. I can imagine Tyler’s eyebrows shooting up as he unwraps his arm from my body and reaches over me to turn on the lamp on the bedside table, his other hand never letting go of my wrist.

  The room immediately brightens up, setting both our faces aglow, and I don’t even look to my wrist. I look at Tyler, admiring the way his eyes gloss over and his lips part, his entire face lighting up with surprise in the most adorable of ways as he studies my wrist with great intensity. “No way,” he says, blinking at me with an expression full of innocence. It all makes him seem younger in that exact moment, like he’s just a kid again.

  I laugh and pull my wrist free from his hand, scanning my new tattoo again for myself. It’s still rather red and occasionally I can feel a hot sting, but it’s all worth it for Tyler’s expression alone. “I got it this afternoon,” I say, answering the question he hasn’t even asked. I know he’s wondering about it, though, so I continue to explain. “It was the only thing I could think of that would make sense to only you and me. It’s yours. It’s what you wrote.”

  “You were way more thoughtful than me,” he says with a sheepish smile as he lifts his left arm up a little, glancing down at his own tattoo, the one on his bicep and the one that’s only four letters long. “I wasn’t that original. Hey, the ‘te’ looks a little squint,” he says, pointing to the words on my wrist again.

  “That’s because you wrote it a little squint,” I fire back at him, rolling my eyes, and he seems to realize only then that my tattoo is in his very own handwriting, because color rises to his cheeks and he looks away. I roll out of the bed still smiling, dropping to my knees on the carpet and looking back across the bed to Tyler. It’s hard to believe that this afternoon everything went wrong and now everything feels right again. “By the way,” I say, “Emily knows.”

  “Knows what?” Tyler asks, his eyes never leaving mine.

  “About us,” I say slowly. I push myself up from the floor and get to my feet. I look down at Tyler, still in the bed, studying me. “She knows that we’re more than just stepsiblings.”

  “You told her?” Immediately he pushes back the comforter and slides out of the bed, straightening up as panic pools in his eyes.

  “She figured it out herself,” I tell him. His expression shifts from worry to confusion as he tries to process the fact that Emily knows the truth. “And,” I say, walking around the bed with a wide grin toying at my lips, “she doesn’t even care. She’s totally cool with it.”

  Tyler’s eyes are wide again as they follow me across the room. “She is?”

  “Yeah.” When I reach him, I cup his face in my hands and stretch up to kiss him, pressing my lips to his before pulling away to add, “People knowing the truth isn’t that bad after all.”

  He looks at me hard for a moment, his eyes searching mine. I wonder if he thinks I’m kidding, but I’m most definitely not, so I kiss him again almost as a way to reassure him that everything is okay for once. I can’t stop myself. I’m smiling against his lips, squeezing my eyes shut, and I bask in that feeling of acceptance again. It’s so overwhelming and so incredible that I don’t quite know how to handle it. I’m no longer terrified of people discovering that I’m in love with my stepbrother. We’re just two people with a label plastered upon us. That’s all it is.

  Even though he struggles to tear his lips from mine, Tyler pulls away, and he drops his hands to my waist and gently pushes me back a step. “Does Snake know?”

  “Don’t think so,” I say, shaking my head once. Slowly, a smile fueled by nervous excitement grows on my lips as I reach for one of Tyler’s hands. I remove it from my waist and twist my fingers around his. “Is he back yet? We should tell him. C’mon, can we tell him?”

  Tyler lets out a laugh, throwing his head back at the same time as he pulls my body against his. “If only you were this enthusiastic about breaking the news to your dad,” he murmurs, smirking as he reaches for the door with his free hand.

  He leads me into the living room, and it’s the first time I’ve left his bedroom in almost five hours. I was too caught up in the video Emily showed me. The on
e that lasts for four hours and twenty-seven minutes.

  Speaking of Emily, she’s perched on one of the couches in the living room, surrounded by notebooks and odd scraps of paper that decorate the coffee table. The TV is on, but the volume is low, as though it’s only on in the first place to serve as background noise. She glances up when she hears us shuffling our way across the carpet, and immediately her lips curve up into a smile. “So I take it you two have sorted everything out?”

  Tyler doesn’t answer her question, only walks me over to the couch instead. He lifts up our interlocked hands and arches his eyebrows at her. “You know?”

  “Yeah.”

  “And it doesn’t freak you out?” he asks, just as confused as I was earlier. For two years straight, both of us predicted reactions that were nothing like hers. Tyler drops our hands back down, letting go.

  “Nope,” Emily says. She shakes her head and clicks her pen a couple times, expression nonchalant. “Honestly, just do what you guys want to do. Life’s way too short not to.”

  Her words make me smile and I wrap my arms around Tyler’s bicep as I squeeze him tight. “La breve vita,” I murmur, glancing up at him. “Life is short.”

  Just as he’s about to open his mouth to say something back, there’s some commotion at the door. Some tapping and some fumbling. All three of us glance over, and at first I think it could be Dean trying to ram the door down so that he can kill both Tyler and me, but I breathe a sigh of relief when I hear a key being inserted into the lock. It’s Snake, finally.

  The door swings open only moments later and out of habit I let go of Tyler and jump back a step or two. Besides, we haven’t told Snake yet.

  “That was one hell of a long lunch date,” Emily throws at him, leaning forward on the couch so that she can see him past Tyler and me. She bites down on the end of the pen in her hand as she wiggles her eyebrows at him, teasing him a little.

 
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