Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  Snake only rolls his gray eyes as he saunters over to the kitchen. It’s the first time I’ve seen him since he left to buy groceries last night and, surprisingly, he’s now dressed up rather nice. He’s even wearing a shirt, pressed and all. “Yeah, yeah, I took her out for dinner too. Gave her the grand tour of Manhattan.”

  “Snake,” I say, playfully throwing him a stern glance as I fold my arms across my chest, “who told you you could take my best friend out on a date?”

  I’m only kidding, of course, but he still spins around and narrows his eyes at me. “What’s she doing back here already?” he asks, directing his eyes to Tyler instead. But he’s only being playful too. “Are you guys best buds again?”

  “Actually . . .” I cut in, stepping forward and twiddling my thumbs anxiously. I want Snake to know the truth. I want to tell him the truth. We’ve never done that before, and right now I feel brave enough to try it. “We have something we wanna tell you.”

  I steal a quick glance at Emily, who’s now gnawing at her pen on the couch as she watches in anticipation, and then I look over my shoulder to Tyler. He’s smoldering his eyes at me as he smirks, but not in a malicious way, more in a let’s-do-this kind of way. He takes a step forward so that he’s by my side again. Snake studies the two of us with curious eyes.

  I don’t exactly know what to say or how to phrase the truth, but suddenly I no longer even have to say anything at all, because I’m being spun around by Tyler as he draws me toward him. Out of nowhere, he crashes his lips to mine for what feels like the hundredth time now.

  It takes me by surprise. It’s the last thing I expected right now, but at the same time I can’t pull away. I keep kissing him back, caught up in the familiarity of how his lips feel against mine. I’m most definitely aware that both Snake and Emily are watching us, yet I can’t bring myself to care.

  Tyler quickly draws away almost as abruptly as he kissed me in the first place, and he flashes his eyes back to Snake. “Give me your opinion,” he orders. “Right now.”

  I look at Snake. He’s staring back at us from the kitchen, his posture frozen, and he does nothing but blink at us. He’s a little stunned, but that’s okay. I expect people to be shocked at first. Slowly, he swallows and exchanges a rather concerned glance with Emily. “What the fuck?” he says. Pulling a face, he breathes an uncomfortable laugh, unsure of what to think and what to say.

  “I’m in love with her,” Tyler tells him, and his voice is so soft and so honest that I can’t help but smile sideways at him. I think I could listen to Tyler say those words over and over again, forever on repeat. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of hearing him say it out loud.

  “But . . .” Snake tapers off and glances to Emily again, as though he’s looking for backup. He must wonder why she’s not as shocked as he is and why she’s smiling as she watches the scene unfold before her. Snake shakes his head and exhales. “Aren’t you guys, like, stepsiblings?”

  “Yeah,” I say, brave enough to speak up and defend our case. I’m done feeling as though I’m doing something wrong just because I fell for my stepbrother. I know it’s okay. “So we’re not related by blood,” I explain. “We didn’t grow up together so we don’t view each other as siblings. Get it?” I widen my eyes at him as innocently as I can, praying that he’ll understand and that he’ll hopefully come to terms with it. Right now, he still looks a little taken aback.

  “Uhh . . . So are you guys dating or what?” he asks. He grips the edge of the kitchen worktop with one hand and then scratches his head with the other. “Is this even real right now or are you guys just messing with me?”

  “We’re not dating,” Tyler answers in reply to his first question, his voice firm. “It’s complicated. Just tell me what’s going through your mind right now.”

  Snake shrugs. “I mean, it’s a little weird,” he admits. “My parents are totally religious. I’m pretty sure they’d expect me to report you guys to Jesus.” He eases up a little, rolling his eyes, then turning to pull open a cupboard door and searching around inside it. He pulls out a bag of Doritos and opens it up. As he leans back against the farthest worktop, he tosses a couple chips into his mouth and chews loudly while studying Emily. “What do you think about all of this?” he asks her after a minute.

  “I already knew,” Emily says with a shrug. She shuffles the scraps of paper in her hands. “It doesn’t bother me.”

  Snake munches on several more chips as he thinks, tilting his head a degree to the side. “It’s a little weird,” he says again, “but I don’t have a problem with it.” He starts to smile but it quickly transforms into a smirk instead as he raises an eyebrow at Tyler. “So do you guys have kinky family traditions?”

  Both Tyler and I let out a laugh at the exact same time, but our moment of relief doesn’t last long. There’s a knock at the door that draws all of our attention. Not just any old knock, either, but a pounding rap that echoes around the apartment. It’s relentless and so forceful that it’s blatantly obvious it’s fueled by anger. I glance to Tyler as panic sweeps through me. It’s late at night. We’re all here. There’s only one other person who’d turn up at this time and there’s only one person who could possibly be livid enough to bang on the door like that. Tyler realizes this too, because his eyes pool with dread as he swallows. We both know it’s Dean. Tiffani must have finally told him the truth.

  “Don’t open the door,” Snake blurts out quickly in a low voice, squeezing the bag of Doritos tight in his hand. “Sounds like a cop.”

  “It’s not a cop,” I say quietly, but my eyes never leave the door. Dean’s still knocking. After a second he yells my name, and the moment I hear the strain in his voice, my heart breaks. He definitely knows. He knows the truth and he found out in the worst way possible. I know I have to open the door. I’ve got to face him, however much I really don’t want to.

  Tyler, Snake and Emily watch me in silence as I force my body across the apartment. My legs feel stiff and my stomach feels unsettled, and when I reach the door I slowly unlock it. I pull it open.

  Dean’s standing before me, breathing heavily as his tightened fist pauses mid-air, ready to keep knocking. His furious eyes meet mine, and my entire body freezes, the blood in my veins thinning as my limbs give way. The expression in his eyes is something I’ve never, ever seen before. They’re so dark, so sharp and so pained. It’s so not Dean, and that’s what’s so frightening. His cheeks are a flaming red as the anger consumes him. “Is it true?” he asks, voice strained.

  I grip onto the door even harder than I already am as I keep holding it open, and I feel so sick that I don’t think I can possibly speak. I squeeze my eyes shut and hang my head low. I can’t bear to look at him. It hurts too much, but my silence tells him everything he needs to know. My silence tells him that it’s true, that I’ve been in love with Tyler this entire time.

  Dean blows out a long breath as he processes this, and I can sense him shaking his head for a while, right before he demands, “Who?”

  Now I really do have to look up. My eyebrows furrow in confusion as I study him, tears welling in my eyes as I consider the harsh reality of the situation. I knew Dean would get hurt at the end of this. I knew it straight from the moment I arrived in this city, right from the second Tyler made it clear he wasn’t over me. It was inevitable. We had no other choice. If we didn’t tell him the truth, he’d get hurt. If we did tell him the truth, he’d still get hurt. That we understood. Dean’s question, however, I certainly don’t understand. “What?”

  “Who have you been cheating on me with?” he spits. His voice is seething with contempt as he glares at me in disgust. I can’t blame him. I hate myself for all of this too. “At least have the decency to tell me.”

  My throat tightens. Of course. Of course Tiffani didn’t mention Tyler. Of course she would want to make me admit it on my own. I don’t know if I can, though. I don’t know if I can say Tyler’s name. That would hurt Dean too much. I could lie. I could r
efuse to tell him or I could blurt out a fake name, but as I look at him again—really, really look at him—I see his agonized eyes, and I realize that honesty is really the only thing I can give him right now. I can’t lie to him anymore.

  Forcing myself to keep breathing, I throw a glance over my shoulder. Snake’s leaning over the worktop, tossing chips into his mouth as he watches Dean and I with extreme interest, and Emily is still gnawing on her pen as she listens, but she at least makes the effort to appear inconspicuous about the fact that she’s watching the fallout, because she angles her face down toward her notebooks all while looking at us out of the corner of her eye, and either Dean hasn’t noticed that we have company or he simply doesn’t care. Tyler, however, is already on his way over.

  He stops directly behind me, placing his hand on the door too, just above mine. Now that he’s holding it open instead, I let go and focus on Dean again. He’s still waiting for an answer, growing more enraged with each second that passes. I’m glad that Tyler’s come over, though. I’m relieved that I’m not doing this on my own, that he’s by my side, and that we’re in this together.

  I sense Tyler take a deep breath from behind me, and he dares to breathe the words, “She’s been cheating on you with me.”

  Dean flinches, his entire face consumed by disbelief as he steps into the lobby, backing away from us. He shakes his head fast. “What are you talking about?”

  “Dean,” I whisper, my voice hitching in my throat. I swallow back the nerves, fighting the urge to cry. “I love you. So much.” It hurts to say it, because it’s true, and that’s the worst part about this. I do love him. Perhaps all of this would be much easier if I didn’t. “It’s just that I love Tyler too.”

  “What do you mean?” Dean now looks more confused than furious. Our words don’t seem to be sinking in. Glancing between Tyler and me, he moves his lips as though he’s attempting to say something, but the words evade him.

  “Look,” Tyler starts, stepping forward. He tries to place his hand on Dean’s shoulder, but Dean aggressively shrugs it off, backing even further out into the lobby. Tyler continues, spluttering out an explanation as a messy string of words. “I’m the other guy she’s been seeing. We didn’t set out for it to happen like this. Honestly, we didn’t, but we couldn’t help it. You think I’d choose to fall for my goddamn stepsister? Because I didn’t. It’s just the way things have turned out and we were . . . we were gonna tell you. Trust me, we’ve wanted to for a long time, but we didn’t know how. I’m sorry, man. I really fucking am, but I—I need her.”

  Dean stays silent for several long moments, his mind trying to take in the new information he’s just been hit with. “The two of you . . .” he starts, struggling to get the words out at first. Curling his hands into fists by his sides, he flashes his glare to me. “How long has this been going on for?”

  “Two years,” I whisper. I know I’m going to burst into tears any second. I can feel them pressing at my waterlines, fighting to break free. I will them not to. “I fell for Tyler before I fell for you.”

  “Two years?” Dean echoes, gaping at me in disbelief, his eyes dilating with both disappointment and fury as he discovers that the entire time I’ve been with him, my heart has been in two different places. He’s trying to make sense of it all, and when he finally does he takes a step forward to close the small distance between him and Tyler. He edges his face toward Tyler’s, his lips pressed into a bold line as his pained, vicious eyes scour Tyler’s expression. Finally, their eyes lock, only inches from one another. “Have you slept with her?” Dean asks slowly. The question shatters him. He doesn’t want to hear the answer. He really doesn’t. “Have you fucking slept with her?”

  “Man, look,” Tyler tries, but attempting to muster up an explanation couldn’t be more pointless right now. His best friend has already snapped.

  “You fucking asshole!” Dean snarls. His knuckles turn white as he raises his fists, and within a split second he spirals his left into the side of Tyler’s face, just below his eye.

  Tyler stumbles backward into the apartment, his body nudging mine, and I lose my balance. I fall back a step, as does Tyler, and both Snake and Emily gasp from somewhere in the background. I forgot they were still watching. Emily’s now on her feet, her jaw hanging open as she struggles to decide whether or not she should get involved. Snake’s still ramming more chips into his mouth as he observes the scene with raised eyebrows.

  Tyler straightens up again as he regains his balance, narrowing his eyes across the room to Dean as he enters the apartment, fists still tightly curled. “Go for it,” he orders firmly with a nod. “Hit me again. I deserve it. C’mon.”

  Dean doesn’t object. Within seconds, he swings at Tyler once more, his knuckles grinding into the center of Tyler’s cheek with a dull aching sound. Dean’s cheeks are flaring hot with rage and he lifts his fists again, ready to throw another punch.

  Slowly, Tyler rubs the side of his face, massaging away the ache as his eyes start to look lethal. They never leave Dean’s. “Alright,” he says sharply, voice threatening. “Hit me again and I’m hitting you back twice as hard.”

  I suck in a horrified gasp as Dean spins his fist through the air once more, but Tyler swiftly blocks the hit, their bodies lunging into each other. They spiral backward, tumbling across the apartment as Emily darts out of the way just before they collapse into the back of the couch. Dean finally gets that third punch in, catching Tyler hard right on the bridge of his nose.

  Tyler has lost his temper for the first time in years, and he’s so riled up by this point that the depths of his eyes are now like storms, fierce and dangerous and unpredictable. He winds back his right arm and slams his fist into Dean’s jaw. His biceps are bulging, all his strength being transferred into his hands as he continues to spin his fist at Dean, hitting him so fast and so relentlessly that Dean doesn’t even stand a chance at swinging back.

  “Tyler, stop it!” I scream, but it comes out as nothing more than a strangled cry. I rush over, attempting to grab at the back of Tyler’s T-shirt to pull him away from Dean, but it’s like he doesn’t even notice that I’m there, because as he continues to throw punches each second, he ends up almost elbowing me in the face. I stumble backward, pressing my hands to my cheeks. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.

  Somehow, Dean manages to duck down, ramming his body into Tyler’s chest as he shoves him backward, both of them flying into the coffee table in the center of the living room. There’s a tremendous crash as the glass shatters beneath them and a sickening thud as Tyler’s body hits the floor first, surrounded by tiny shards of glass and all of Emily’s scraps of paper. It doesn’t stop them, though. There’s so much adrenaline running through both their veins right now that they don’t feel any pain whatsoever.

  “Do something!” I scream at Snake, firing my eyes over to him as he continues to watch from the safety of the kitchen. He’s the only one who’s strong enough to help, and I don’t even realize I’m crying until now.

  “Alright, alright,” Snake says loudly, tossing the bag of Doritos onto the worktop and quickly rushing around the counter into the living room. Rolling up his sleeves, he edges around the couches and grabs at Dean, wrapping his arms tightly around his torso as he tugs him up off of Tyler. “Fucking cut it out already!” he yells. Roughly, he throws Dean to one side, toward me.

  Even Emily rushes in to help, extending her hand to Tyler as she pulls him up from the ground. His jaw is clenched tightly as he glares at Dean from across the room, but then the adrenaline rush seems to fade, because he glances down at himself and his eyes soften up. There’s a lot of glass stuck to him and he doesn’t hesitate to reach for the hem of his shirt, quickly pulling it off. A series of scratches now decorate the skin on his back, but I’m more focused on his right arm. There’s blood gushing from his tricep, flowing straight down past his elbow, dripping onto the carpet. When he finally notices it, all he can do is blink as Emily runs into the kitc
hen to grab the first-aid kit.

  With tears flowing down my cheeks, I glance over to Dean to see if he’s okay. He doesn’t look too hurt in comparison with Tyler, although his jaw is deeply grazed and his left eye is swollen. Panting heavily, he squeezes that eye half shut as he looks back at me.

  “Get outside,” he orders, his voice still as harsh as it was when he first turned up at the door. He doesn’t wait for me. Storming across the apartment, he stomps out the door and into the lobby.

  Feeling sick to the pit of my stomach, I look back to Tyler before I make my move. He’s still standing amongst the glass where the coffee table once stood, his expression a little spaced out, as though he’s in a daze. Emily’s by his side again and Snake is offering his assistance, the two of them tossing bandages around. I want nothing more than to help too. After all, I caused all of this, but I know that right now I need to deal with Dean.

  Trembling with nerves, I force myself toward the door, following Dean out into the lobby. The second I get there and stand before him, he slams the door shut behind us. This time it appears he doesn’t want an audience, and at this point I feel too broken to speak, so I don’t. I just wipe the tears away while I struggle to meet his eyes.

  “You’ve been cheating on me,” Dean mutters, like he needs to say it out loud so that he’ll believe it. Cautiously, his narrowed eyes meet mine, and my heart shatters at his expression. Devastated. Destroyed. “I’ve loved you and the entire time . . . the whole entire time you’ve had this thing with Tyler. He’s my best friend, Eden! He’s your brother!”

  “I’m sorry!” I cry, my voice cracking. It’s far too late for apologies, but it’s the only thing I can do. I don’t think Dean’ll ever forgive me. I can tell by the loathing that has spread over his features. I’m not used to seeing Dean like this. I’m used to seeing his soft eyes and his gentle smile. I don’t think I’ll ever witness them again. “I don’t know what else to say.”

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