Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  “Don’t ever talk to me again,” he warns. His voice is raspy and coarse. Taking a step back, he increases the distance between us and roughly shoves his hand into the back pocket of his jeans, pulling out his wallet. His grazed cheek has started to bleed and I fight the urge to touch him, to help. “Here,” Dean spits after a few seconds. Harshly, he tosses a five-dollar bill at me. It hits my chest and I catch it before it falls to the ground, and when I glance down to look at it, I realize it’s our five-dollar bill. I look back up, my heart breaking even more than it already is. My lips are quivering as Dean mutters, “Five bucks for both of you to stay the hell out of my life.”

  Stuffing his wallet back into his pocket, he rubs at his cheek and turns his back on me. Without waiting a second longer, he storms off, marching down the lobby toward the elevator without even so much as a glance over his shoulder. I watch him leave, tears streaming down my cheeks as I stare after him, feeling entirely helpless. I press my back to the door of Tyler’s apartment as my knees weaken beneath me and I simply cannot remain standing any longer, so I slide down the door into a seated position. Burying my head in my hands, I sob even harder, and I listen to the sound of Dean leaving.

  The one thing I always hoped was that I would never lose him. I always hoped he’d be able to understand and be able to forgive us, even if it took a while. I always hoped Dean would be okay, but I clearly didn’t hope long and hard enough, because everything I hoped wouldn’t happen is exactly what has.


  The following morning, there’s some tension between us all in the apartment. I sensed it from the moment I woke up a couple hours ago. No one has been talking much, all four of us silently pivoting around one another. I think Snake is still trying to come to terms with the truth about Tyler and me, because every time I come within a two-foot radius of Tyler I notice Snake studying us intensely from afar. Tyler is quieter than usual today. I understand, because I am too. It’s hard to be bubbly when I feel so lost and upset over everything that has happened. Tyler and I don’t want to talk about what went down last night. We don’t want to talk about Dean. Dean, who I haven’t heard from since he turned his back on me last night. I’m not surprised. I doubt I’ll ever hear from him again, let alone the very next morning. I haven’t heard anything from Tiffani either. No texts flaunting her glee at being able to tell Dean the truth. No more sadistic taunts. Just silence. Rachael is the only one who’s messaged me, and it was for the sole purpose of demanding an explanation as to what’s going on, so I’m meeting her for coffee soon. I’m dreading it.

  Exiting the laundry room after miserably shoving mounds of clothes into the dryer for a half-hour, I make my way through to the kitchen and steal a glance at the clock on the wall. It’s nearing 11:30. I shift my gaze over to the living room, where Tyler and Snake are musing about the results of some football game. The room seems a little bare without the coffee table. It took us forever to clean up last night, and now we’re no longer allowed to walk into the living room barefoot, just in case there are still some pieces of glass hidden in the carpet.

  “I’m gonna get going,” I say. I’ve been ready for a while now, but I’ve kept myself busy while I wait for the right time to leave. I don’t want to be there too early, but I don’t want to be late, either.

  Tyler immediately gets to his feet, his forehead creasing with concern. His entire upper right arm is still wrapped in gauze. The glass cut him up pretty bad. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”

  “I think it’s just better if I explain it to her on my own,” I say, offering him a smile of appreciation at the offer. Of course I’d love for Tyler to be by my side, but I know it’s really only me who Rachael wants to talk to. I have to face her alone. “I shouldn’t be too long.”

  “Eden,” Snake says, snapping his fingers once in the air to grab my attention. When I look to him, he grins. “Tell Rachael I’ll come by her hotel tonight at eight to pick her up.”

  I fold my arms across my chest and frown at him, suspicious of his motives. “You are aware that she leaves tomorrow, right?”

  “Eden,” he says again, his tone stern as he shakes his head at me. He straightens up, looking back at me from the couch and pressing both hands to his heart. “Don’t you believe in true love? It has no boundaries. Distance ain’t nothin’ but a number.” He tries to keep a straight face, attempting to look sincere, but he can’t hold it for long: The words have only just left his lips when he snickers and drops his hands from his chest.

  “Give me a break.” Rolling my eyes, I laugh and reach for my keys on the worktop before heading for the door. Of course, I do throw a glance over my shoulder to Tyler before I leave. He’s still frowning at me. He looks helpless, like he wants to come with me so that I don’t have to explain our situation all on my own. I can only shrug and force myself to smile reassuringly back at him, despite how nervous I’m beginning to feel. Without hesitating, I leave the apartment.

  I take the stairs rather than the elevator, and as I make my way down all twelve flights of them I fire Rachael a text to let her know that I’m on my way. I’m meeting her at Joe Coffee, just around the block. I’ve only been there once, with Tyler, but it’s the first place I thought of and I remember their coffee being great. Rachael and I figured meeting at the Lowell would be a bad idea, given that Dean never wants to see me again for the rest of his life. So we’re staying clear of the hotel.

  As I make my exit from the building, that’s when the nerves really begin to take over. I’m not entirely sure what to expect from Rachael. She could be understanding. She could be disgusted. She could be furious. I’ve got a lot of explaining to do, about both Tyler and Dean. Based on the tone of her messages earlier this morning, I get the impression that she’s not very impressed with the decisions I’ve been making.

  Breathing deeply as I turn onto Lexington Avenue, I try to remain as calm as I possibly can be right now. Joe Coffee is just ahead, but I halt and press a hand against the window of a clothing store to steady myself. It takes me at least a minute or so to slow down my breathing and for the knots in my stomach to loosen. I just want all of this to be over already. I just want everyone to know the truth and to accept it. I just want to skip this part entirely, the part where we explain ourselves. Frowning, I realize the next people who are going to find out the truth are our parents.

  By the time I reach Joe Coffee, it’s just after 11:30. I head inside. It’s rather small, with only a few tables. I join the line and pull out a five-dollar bill from the back pocket of my jeans. Glancing down at it, I heave a sigh. It’s not that bill, but still, it’s enough to remind me of it. Am I supposed to keep the five-dollar bill I’ve shared with Dean for the past two years? The bill that he recklessly wrote all over? Am I supposed to just spend it? Throw it in the trash? Donate it to some homeless guy out on the street? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind that the bill is a little wrecked.

  The line edges forward, and as I continue to wait I end up staring at the jars of cookies lining the counter. I wonder what Dean’s doing right now. How he’s feeling. If he’s okay. I doubt that he is. Last night, he looked destroyed. I could hear the devastation in his voice and I could see it in his eyes. There’s no way he’s okay.

  My throat feels dry by the time the barista gets to me, so I croak out my order. I skip my usual extra shot of caramel. Too fattening. Swallowing hard, I drum the tips of my fingers along the counter as I wait, stepping to the side. I wish I could ignore the thoughts in my head. I don’t want to think about Dean. I don’t want to think about how despicable I am and how dreadful I feel.

  It doesn’t take too long for my latte to be served, steaming hot as requested, and I make my way over to the empty table against the front windows. I set down my coffee and pull out a chair, slowly slumping down into it as my eyes scan the avenue outside. Right now, I could be in the Refinery. I could be staring out at Santa Monica Boulevard. I could be back home, back in Santa Monica. At least it feels that way
for a moment. But then I remember that I’m not in the Refinery and that I’m not in Santa Monica; I’m still in New York. Part of me feels homesick. Part of me feels glad.

  Joe Coffee has a relaxed ambience, yet I feel anything but. My heart feels like it’s throbbing against my chest as my gaze rests on the faint reflection of myself in the window. Right now, I’m not proud of myself. For two years, I’ve been doing everything wrong. I’ve messed up, and now I’m wondering if it’s even worth it.

  Without thinking, I wrap my hands so tightly around my mug that I end up scorching my palms, and I recoil, snapping out of the trance I’m in. Feeling slightly empty, I stare down at my hands for a while, studying the creases of my palms.

  “Eden.” My eyes drift up to discover Rachael. She’s frowning down at me, her lips pressed into a firm line as she pulls out the other chair and sits down, placing her purse carefully onto the table.

  I watch her as she looks out the window for a while. The tension is clear. Neither of us is willing to speak first, and the silence feels strained. My throat feels tight, yet I know I need to say something, so I pick up my mug and take a long sip of my latte. Placing it back down on the table, I part my lips, but Rachael turns her head to face me at the exact same time and, surprisingly, she talks first.

  “I can’t believe you,” she says through gritted teeth, her voice low and hushed.

  “Rachael . . .” I try to think of what to say, how to explain myself, but she cuts me off before I have the chance to muster up another word.

  “No, Eden,” she snaps. “I cannot believe you cheated on Dean. And with Tyler. Tyler!” She scoffs and swallows hard, shaking her head in disgust and angling her body slightly away from me.

  “Please just hear me out,” I plead, glancing around us to ensure no one has overheard. I’d much rather the other customers aren’t made aware that I’m a horrible person.

  “Do you know how long it took me to calm Dean down last night? Do you have any idea at all?” Rachael flashes her eyes back to me, her expression irate and her tone sharp. “Because for three hours straight,” she continues, “I had to watch one of my best friends cry. Do you know how shitty that was? Watching him cry because you thought it was okay to cheat on him?”

  “I didn’t think it was okay,” I murmur. Looking away from her, I prop my elbows up on the table and bury my head in my hands. I exhale deeply against my palms, squeezing my eyes shut. I’m too ashamed to meet her gaze. I can’t justify my decisions and my actions, but I can at least try to explain the reasons behind them, so that’s exactly what I do. “I was involved with Tyler before I was involved with Dean,” I admit, my voice muffled by my hands. A lump grows in my throat. “All of this started two years ago when I first met all of you. Back then, it just wasn’t possible for things to go any further between Tyler and me, so I gave up on him. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to.” It still feels unusual talking to people about my relationship with Tyler. Being so open about it . . . It feels odd. Keeping all of this a secret has become far too familiar by now. I tilt my head further down, my words still murmured and quiet. “And then I realized I liked Dean too,” I admit. “But there was always something still there with Tyler. I’ve ignored it for a year and half, Rachael. I tried so hard to ignore it, honestly, I did.” Swallowing the lump in my throat, I run my hands through my hair. Slowly, I lift my head and glance sideways at Rachael. She’s listening carefully. “But then I came over here and I . . . I realized that I really do love Tyler. And that I want to be with him. We were going to tell Dean today, but Tiffani beat us to it.”

  Rachael doesn’t say anything for a while. She only glances between the window and me, her lips occasionally twitching. “I can’t believe you’re even saying that.”

  “Saying what?”

  “That you love Tyler.” She quite literally shudders as the words leave her lips. “Like, what the hell, Eden?”

  I groan under my breath and reach for my latte again, taking a long sip to buy time as I try to piece together a logical explanation. I can imagine it being hard for someone to comprehend unless they’ve ever been in the same situation under the exact same circumstances. “Let me put it into perspective for you,” I say. Leaning forward and shifting to the edge of my chair, I look at her hard as I place my mug back down. “Imagine your parents are divorced. Then imagine your dad got married to, say . . . Stephen’s mom.”

  Rachael tries to suppress the blush that rises to her cheeks, gnawing on her lips as she listens to me. Using Stephen to get through to her is the only thing I can think of. The only thing that’ll make sense to her.

  “So that means Stephen would then be your stepbrother. But would you really view him as your brother? No blood relation,” I clarify with great emphasis, and then fold my arms across my chest. “He would literally just be some stranger who you’re forced to consider a sibling. You can’t help it if you fall for him, can you? What if that person is The One, and the only thing stopping you from being together is some fucking marriage certificate between your parents? Because that’s what’s happened to Tyler and me,” I say, “and it sucks, Rachael. It really sucks.” I let out a long breath as I shake my head, saddened by the reality of it all. If my dad and Ella weren’t together, being in love with Tyler would be totally fine. But they are together, so being in love with Tyler is considered unacceptable. Glancing away from Rachael, I fix my eyes on the sidewalk outside again as I slump back against my chair.

  “I’ve looked at the two of you as siblings for years,” Rachael says quietly, “so obviously it’s freaking me out. Why didn’t you say anything before? I’m your best friend. Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “I was scared,” I admit with a shrug. I still am scared, just not as much as I used to be. The thought of keeping my relationship with Tyler a secret forever is definitely scarier than the thought of telling our parents. “I felt ashamed of it too. I felt like I was doing something wrong, but I’m over that now. I know it’s okay to feel the way I feel about him.” I glance sideways at her to gauge what she’s thinking, and I’m relieved to find that she no longer looks as angry as she did when she first arrived. She just looks overwhelmed by it all, like there are a hundred questions running through her mind that she’s dying to ask. And she does.

  “Do your dad and Ella know? Your mom?”

  “We’re telling them when we get home,” I say. I try not to dwell on this thought for too long. I might not be quite as nervous or apprehensive about it anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m still not dreading it. If I overthink it too much, I’ll end up thinking of everything that could go wrong.

  “And then what?” Rachael presses, tilting her head. Our voices have risen from low whispers to relatively normal levels. The churning and the steaming and the clicking of the coffee machines are giving us no choice. “You’re gonna get together?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Rachael frowns and throws her hands up in frustration. “Then what’s the point? What was the point in fucking Dean over like this if you and Tyler aren’t even going to get together?” Her chair screeches against the floor as she pushes herself away from the table and gets to her feet. “Honestly, I don’t know what you’re thinking,” she says. Grabbing her purse from the table, she backs a few steps away from me. “Dean loves you. You know that. He’s been nothing but good to you since the day you met him, yet you’re choosing Tyler over him? What do you even see in Tyler? You know what they say about kids who’ve been abused,” she murmurs, reaching for the door. A couple people from the communal table behind us have glanced up, surprised by the topic of conversation. Rachael doesn’t even flinch, just shrugs and pulls open the door as she finishes. “They end up being abusive too when they grow up. Don’t come crawling back to Dean when Tyler turns vicious.”

  I drop my hands to my lap, where Rachael can’t notice that they’re balled into fists. My teeth grind together as I will myself not to explode. I even bite back the shocked gasp that’s
rising in my throat. I’m well aware that Rachael has never really liked Tyler, despite the fact that they’ve always been in the same friendship circle, but that doesn’t give her the right to be downright rude and nasty about him. She doesn’t know him the way I do. She doesn’t understand how hard he’s tried to fix things, to be better. Trying to keep calm, I wrap my hands around my latte again, turning to face the window once more. “Have a nice flight home tomorrow,” I say stiffly. I refuse to listen to her opinion on Tyler. I don’t care what she thinks about him and I don’t care if she accepts the two of us together or not. I really, really don’t care anymore. I’m over it. “By the way,” I say, crossing one leg over the other and reaching for my coffee, “Stephen says be ready for eight.”

  And with that, a draught breezes over me as the door to Joe Coffee falls shut behind her. Rachael doesn’t hang around outside, only disappears out of view within a matter of seconds. Letting out a breath I didn’t know I was holding, I drop my gaze to the table and focus instead on the steamy wisps that rise from my latte.

  I don’t think I could be any more relieved to know that Rachael, Dean, and Tiffani are heading home tomorrow. The past few days have flown by in what feels like a painful blur, and I’m glad I no longer have to face them. At least until next week. Tyler and I are heading home too in just four days’ time, on Wednesday evening. Maybe by then Rachael’s anger and disbelief will have subsided, and maybe by that point I’ll be able to talk to her again. Maybe by then she’ll have forgiven me. Likewise, maybe I’ll have forgiven her for the remark about Tyler. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll finally understand that I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.

  I hang around at Joe Coffee for a while. It’s nice to be alone again. As alone as I can be in New York City. I trace circles on the wood of the table. I head back over to the counter for a second latte without feeling guilty about it. And I add a shot of caramel. I study the people walking by the window as they head along Lexington Avenue. I take a few minutes to reply to some texts from my mom and Ella, omitting the fact that I’m no longer dating Dean. Mom loves Dean. So does Ella. Sweetest guy around, they would say.

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