Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  When I finally glance at my watch, I realize I’ve been here for almost two hours. It’s nearly 1:30. Tyler must be wondering where I am by now, because although our relationship is complicated it certainly doesn’t take two hours to explain it.

  So I head back to the apartment, my pace slow and out of sync with the rest of the city. I walk as though I don’t have a motive, because I don’t. I’m just strolling down Lexington Avenue and onto Seventy-fourth Street feeling . . . Well, nothing. That’s just it. I don’t feel empty or deflated or sad, nor do I feel overjoyed or thrilled. I just feel nothing. I’m numb.

  By the time I climb up the twelve flights of stairs to Tyler’s apartment, half of me is ready to collapse into bed and sleep for an eternity. The other half? The other half is ready to kiss Tyler endlessly.

  And when I unlock the door and push it open, Tyler is the first person to greet me. He’s already walking over from the kitchen with a butter knife in his hand, his forehead creased with concern the exact same way it was before I left. I highly doubt he’s relaxed since the moment I walked out the door.

  “How’d it go?” he asks immediately. He pushes the door shut behind me as I head into the living room, and then he stands still as he waits for an answer.

  “Let me put it this way,” I murmur, pressing my lips and frowning. “When we get home, I don’t think we’re gonna have many friends.”

  Tyler’s eyebrows slowly arch. “I’m guessing it didn’t go that great.”

  Cocking my head to one side and glancing over his shoulder, I run my eyes over Snake and Emily. They’re in the kitchen, arguing with plates in their hands while waving cutlery around. In this apartment, making lunch is always a group task, and it never runs smoothly. I look back to Tyler and sigh, saying, “I swear, you better be worth all of this. You better be worth losing Dean and you better be worth arguing with Rachael for.”

  Almost in slow motion, the corners of Tyler’s lips pull up into the smallest of smirks. He takes a step toward me, his eyes smoldering. “I don’t know about that,” he says quietly, “but I really hope so.” His smirk widens into a grin, mirroring my own smile, both our faces aglow. Carefully, he cups my jaw with one hand and leans down to kiss me.

  “Hey!” Snake yells from the kitchen. It’s so abrupt that Tyler and I immediately pause, flinching away from each other before our lips can even brush. We both flash our eyes over to Snake, only to find that he and Emily are staring back at us from behind the kitchen counter. They’re both smiling, their expressions playful. With a plate in his hand, Snake points it toward us. “No immoral kissing in the living room!”

  And for once, all four of us laugh.


  Four days later, I’m struggling to accept that my time in New York has come to an end. For an entire year I counted down the days until I could come to the city, and now the experience I was so excited about is all over. My six weeks are up. Tyler’s year here is done. It’s time to head back to Santa Monica and the beach and the promenade and the pier. It’s time for us to go home.

  As I’m rolling my suitcase into the living room, I’m beginning to feel nostalgic. It’s true what people say about New York City—it really, really is incredible. I’ll miss being woken up by the sound of the traffic outside. I’ll miss the constant flow of people on the sidewalks. I’ll miss riding the godawful subway. Central Park. The endless buzz of noise. Baseball. The hard accents. I think I’ll miss every single thing about this city, and it’s clear now why it’s so iconic.

  “Are you ready?” I hear Tyler ask as he walks up behind me.

  I glance over my shoulder to him and wistfully sigh, my smile sad. “I guess so.”

  He looks younger today, mostly due to the fact that this morning he decided to shave completely. Now there’s no stubble whatsoever and his jaw is smooth and bare. It’s knocked a few years off him, so he looks nineteen for once. Walking across the room, he dumps his black duffel bag on the couch and then turns back to face me, eyeing up my suitcase. It’s completely overpacked. It could be that I’ve bought a lot of stuff while I’ve been in the city or it could be that everything has just been thrown in carelessly, but either way, it looks so huge that I’m starting to worry that my luggage will be over the weight limit. It took me five minutes to zip it up, and even now I can see it threatening to burst open.

  “You know, you could have just shipped half your stuff when I did,” Tyler says, finally letting out a laugh. When he walks over, he tilts my suitcase onto the floor and crouches down, opening it. I fold my arms across my chest and watch him as he grabs a pile of my things, then moves back across the room to place them into his own luggage. “Try it now,” he says.

  Rolling my eyes, I attempt to zip up my suitcase once more, and this time it closes much more willingly. I straighten up and smile, and then quickly dart into his bedroom one last time to grab my shoes and my backpack. They’re both lying on the floor, but before I scoop them up I run my eyes over the room. It’s completely bare. No posters on the walls. Nothing in the closet. The room usually smells like Tyler, of cologne and firewood, but not today. Today the room is empty. Tyler’s car and the majority of his belongings were shipped across the country three days ago.

  The past few days, we’ve hardly been in the apartment. We’ve been too busy trying to fill our final days with as many memories as possible, like revisiting the main tourist attractions once more before we leave and searching for coffee shops that we haven’t yet stopped at and playing baseball again at Central Park and spending an entire day traveling between each of the four other boroughs. Last night, Tyler even took me to Pietrasanta again to conclude our summer the exact same way we started it, and it couldn’t have been any more perfect.

  Slipping on my Converse and carrying my backpack through into the living room, I frown. Tyler’s smile fades, his expression questioning. “I don’t want to go home,” I admit.

  Tyler doesn’t reply for a while, only looks at me with his head angled a degree to the side, his eyes smoldering. “Aren’t you excited to tell your dad that you’re so deeply in love with me?” he finally says, trying his hardest to suppress both his laughter and his smirk.

  “Oh, I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.” My voice is dripping with sarcasm, yet I’m smiling. “You know, since you’re quite the charmer.”

  Tyler chuckles as he shakes his head. We both know he and my dad have never really bonded all that well, so out of all the guys I could have fallen in love with, I don’t think my dad will be too impressed that it’s Tyler. And that’s if he can even get over the fact that we’re stepsiblings first.

  The door to Snake’s bedroom swings open and Snake sticks his head around it, leaning against the frame. “You guys are still here?”

  “You think we’d leave without saying goodbye to you, Stephen Rivera?” Tyler shoots back, narrowing his eyes challengingly as he advances across the room toward his roommate.

  “God, I’m so glad I’m getting rid of you,” Snake mutters, and he grins as they embrace one another in one of those half-hugs, thumping each other on the back.

  It feels just like yesterday morning all over again, when all three of us were saying goodbye to Emily. It was just after 5AM and we were all half asleep, and Emily was getting upset. We promised we’d all stay in touch. Even joked about a yearly reunion. These kinds of goodbyes are the scary goodbyes. The goodbyes where you know the chances of seeing each other again are very slim. Emily will be back in London by now, and by tonight Tyler and I will be in Santa Monica. Snake’s the only one left in New York, with his final year of college still to go. Honestly, I don’t think I could have asked for two better people to enjoy my trip to New York with, and I still couldn’t be more grateful for their acceptance. I’m really going to miss them both.

  Tyler and Snake reflect on the past year for a while, laughing and playfully insulting each other before sighing. Snake even draws me into a hug at that point. He tells me that I’m not that bad, and I tell him t
hat he’s not that bad either. We smile at each other before he musters up one final Portland joke, and then Tyler and I grab our luggage and we leave the apartment for the very last time.

  It’s nearing eight back on the West Coast by the time we arrive in LA. We’re at LAX, of course, and Tyler and I spend a good twenty minutes lingering by the baggage carousel before our luggage is the last to roll around. It’s what we get for being among the first few people to check in back at Newark. And even though Tyler has grown gruff with impatience, he manages to lighten up again by the time we start to make our way across the arrivals level of Terminal 6.

  It doesn’t take us long to spot Jamie. It’s hard to miss him. He comes out of nowhere and makes a beeline straight for us, throwing a hand up into the air to grab our attention. His entire face is dominated by a grin. It’s a rather warm feeling seeing Jamie happy to see us, and for a moment coming back home doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

  “There he is,” I say, and when I glance sideways at Tyler, he’s barely even listening to me. He’s too focused on his brother, his smile reaching his eyes.

  Only a few moments later Jamie finally reaches us, and Tyler immediately draws him into a hug. I hang back a step or two, my own smile growing as I watch the two of them. After spending six weeks with Tyler, I’ve forgotten that the rest of our family hasn’t seen him in over a year.

  Tyler pulls away after a while, resting his hands on Jamie’s shoulders as he studies him with wide eyes. “Man, I hardly even recognize you!” Tyler says with a laugh. “When’d you get this tall? And what’d you do to your hair?”

  Jamie shrugs a little sheepishly, awkwardly reaching up to touch his hair. I don’t really see that much of a drastic change, mostly because I haven’t been gone for so long, but Jamie has grown several inches and cut his hair over the past year. It’s been cut short for months now and his height is quickly catching up with Tyler’s. Both of them are way taller than me. “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Jamie says, slightly embarrassed. He averts his eyes to me instead. “How was New York?”

  “Amazing,” I say. I refrain from exchanging a knowing glance with Tyler, and instead I bite my lip and keep my eyes trained on Jamie. “Did you manage to get here alright?”

  “Yeah. Eventually,” he answers. Reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, he pulls out a set of car keys. “Ended up on the lower level first. Finally found my way up to the parking lots. Mom’s directions weren’t that clear.”

  “Hey,” Tyler says, lunging forward. He snatches the keys from Jamie’s hand and holds them up, scrutinizing them before he shifts his gaze back to his brother. “She gave you the Range Rover? What the hell? Mom never let me drive it when I was your age. Didn’t she buy you that BMW? Where’s that?”

  “Uh, I totaled the front bumper last week,” Jamie admits, dropping his eyes to the floor of the terminal as color rises to his cheeks. “I hit a street light. It’s at Hugh Carter’s garage right now, so you can tell Dean to fix it up real nice for me and then throw in a discount while he’s at it,” he jokes, but neither Tyler nor I laugh.

  We exchange a sideways glance, our smiles faltering. Tyler runs a hand through his hair and sighs just as there’s an announcement over the intercom. It allows for us to be silent for a moment without Jamie wondering why we’ve gone quiet. Perhaps we should mention the fact that Dean no longer wants to deal with Tyler and me and that I don’t think Dean or his dad will be offering discounts to our family on our car repairs anytime soon, but it just doesn’t feel like the right time.

  “Let’s get going,” Tyler says, shrugging the strap of his duffel bag further along his shoulder as he nudges Jamie forward, nodding toward the exit. “I wanna see these shitty driving skills of yours.”

  “Better than yours,” Jamie mutters, but he’s still grinning as he grabs the keys back from Tyler. He dangles them from his index finger and I notice that there’s a photo attached amongst the collection of key rings Ella has added over the years. It’s only a small photo, one of Tyler, Jamie and Chase when they were much younger. I bet Ella can’t wait to see her eldest son. I can picture her already, probably pacing the house as she waits for him to return.

  As Tyler and Jamie head off, Tyler’s arm slung over his brother’s shoulders, I wheel my suitcase along behind them. I slowly exhale, finding myself smiling almost sadly. It’s hard to believe that Tyler’s been gone for an entire year, and honestly, I’m not quite sure how he’s managed to cope with being on his own for so long. Sure, he might have smoked weed again over the past year, but not anymore. It’s comforting to know that he’s here again. That he’s home.

  “Hey, have I ever hit a street light?” Tyler shoots back at Jamie, his tone light and playful. “Never, because I’m the better driver.”

  “Really?” Jamie asks with an air of sarcasm. “Because your car arrived last night and you definitely need some new tires. What the hell did you do to them?”

  “You can blame Eden for that,” Tyler murmurs, glancing over his shoulder at me. He smirks and I glare back in return, pushing the back of his shoulder.

  We head out of the terminal, making our way across the roadways to the Terminal 6 parking structure, following Jamie deep inside the lower level until we spot Ella’s car. It’s wedged into a tight spot and Tyler immediately clucks his tongue in disapproval as Jamie pops the trunk.

  “What?” Jamie demands as he folds his arms across his chest in agitation, lingering by the door to the driver’s seat.

  “Shit parking skills too,” Tyler comments. Throwing his duffel bag into the trunk, he turns around and takes my suitcase from me, still smiling as he places it inside. It still weighs a tonne and I couldn’t even pull it off the baggage carousel on my own without his help, let alone lift it, so I say thanks and then slide into the backseat.

  Tyler slams the trunk shut again with a thud before both he and Jamie climb into the car, throwing several more remarks at one another while Jamie starts up the engine and begins the difficult task of navigating his way out of the airport grounds. Kudos to him for offering to pick us up, because if I were him, I’d have definitely said no. Far too many looping roads. Far too easy to end up on the wrong boulevard.

  Nonetheless, with Tyler’s help, Jamie manages to get us onto Lincoln Boulevard, heading north straight for Santa Monica. It’s the easiest route back to the city. I relax in the backseat as he drives, slumped against the leather while I gaze out of the window. It feels strange being able to see what’s in the distance. It feels odd not having buildings and skyscrapers towering over us. By now the sun has slowly begun to disappear, the sky a gorgeous orange. The radio is playing quietly in the background as Tyler and Jamie talk softly for the majority of the ride, catching up on a year’s worth of conversations and laughing every few minutes. I keep out of the conversation and instead fumble around with the AC in the back so that it’s directed straight at my face, and then I cross my legs on the seat and close my eyes, resting my head against the window. So peaceful. So chilled out. So California.

  Twenty minutes later, just as we’re arriving into Santa Monica, my attention is grabbed when I hear Jamie say, “There’s something I need to tell you. But later.”

  “Why not tell me right now?” Tyler asks. Slowly, I peel open my eyes slightly, not moving an inch as I listen.

  “Uh,” Jamie says, glancing in the rearview mirror at me. I squeeze my eyes shut again, hoping that I’ll pass as being asleep. “Eden’s here.”

  “And?” Tyler fires back. His tone is no longer gentle, but aggravated. “Unless you’ve knocked up that girlfriend of yours or something, then whatever you gotta tell me you can tell me right now. What is it?”

  When I peek through my eyelids again, I notice the way Jamie turns to look directly at the road, both hands gripping the steering wheel. He remains quiet for a while, his posture stiff. Tyler angles his body to face him as he narrows his eyes, waiting. Very slowly, Jamie’s shoulders sink as he sighs deeply. “I’m only telling you th
is because Mom was planning not to, and I just think you should know,” he says. He sounds nervous and he pauses again for a long moment. Finally, he glances directly at Tyler, and that’s when he says the words I least expect to hear. “Dad’s out.”

  Tyler’s lips part. “What?”

  “He got out a couple weeks ago,” Jamie says, voice feeble. When I glance at the rearview mirror, I can see him frowning. Tyler, however, turns pale as he falls back against the seat, staring blankly out of the windshield as he tries to process the news Jamie has just hit him with. The radio is still playing, the quirky pop song out of place in the tense atmosphere of the car.

  I really do open my eyes wide this time, pushing myself up from my slumped position. I’m a little shocked too. I’ve always known their dad was in prison. I’d only ever imagined him being locked up in a cell. But what I’d never thought about was the fact that one day he’d be getting out, because that’s the part you don’t think about. You don’t think about that person walking the streets again. You don’t think about that person having the free will again to do whatever they want. You don’t think about that person living a life again. That’s the scary part. That’s the part that no one wants to think about.

  “It’s been seven years already?” Tyler asks almost in disbelief as he shoots forward, his body upright. Pressing a hand to the dashboard, he releases his seatbelt and turns directly to face Jamie, eyes fierce, voice angry. “I thought it’d only been six,” he snaps. “It’s only been fucking six!”

  “It’s been seven,” Jamie mumbles. He glances between Tyler and the road as he tries to focus on his driving, but Tyler’s growing fury is making it difficult for him. “Mom’s hardly telling me anything,” Jamie continues, “but do you remember Wesley Meyer? He came around so often we used to call him Uncle Wes?” Again, he glances quickly at Tyler to gauge his response, but Tyler’s only clenching his jaw in return. “Well, Mom thinks Dad’s been staying at his place.”

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