Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  “Amazing,” I say, but my eyes have wandered to my mom’s hands. I study them with great intensity just in case anything major might have taken place while I’ve been gone. But nope. Still no ring. Sigh.

  Mom turns to him and rests her hand on his arm, her smile warm. “They look a little tired. How about some coffee?” She throws a pointed glance at both Tyler and me. “You look like you could both do with some good old caffeine,” she tells us.

  “I’m on it,” Jack says, rubbing her shoulder before he brushes past me, heading for the coffee machine.

  “That’s okay,” I say quickly. I fire Tyler a glance and nod once at him, right before I look back to my mom. “We’re not staying long. We haven’t seen Dad or Ella yet, so we gotta drop by their place too. Actually, Mom, could you just sit down for a sec? You too, Jack.”

  I think the shaky tone of my voice makes it pretty damn clear that the two of them should be worried, because the moment the words leave my lips, that’s exactly how they both suddenly look. Their smiles fade and their eyebrows arch in suspicion. They exchange a cautious glance and then follow me over to the living room.

  “Oh God,” Mom groans, pressing her hands to her temples as she walks over. Even Gucci comes bouncing back through from the other side of the house as though to hear the news, brushing up against Mom’s legs as she sits down. Jack joins her. “What happened in New York? What did you do, Eden?”

  When I glance at Tyler, he offers me a small smile of reassurance, and this time it’s sincere. He slides his bag off his shoulder, letting it drop to the floor, and then he walks over to me. Pressing a hand to the small of my back, he directs me toward the opposite couch, and we both sit down. When I look up to see my mom and Jack facing back at me with wary gazes, that’s when it hits me that we’re really doing this. We’re really about to confess the truth. We’ve done it before. We’ve told Snake the truth—or rather, we’ve shown him the truth—but telling our parents is different. Ella and my dad are the ones who really matter, because they’re our parents, but telling my mom is still a big step too.

  “Eden?” Mom presses. Anxiously, she tucks stray strands of hair back into her once-neat pin-up. “What is it? You’re scaring the hell out of me.”

  I know that if I stay silent for any longer, Mom will most likely jump to conclusions. She’ll think I committed murder in New York. She’ll think I robbed a bank. She’ll think I broke every single law ever known to mankind, so I know I need to start talking pretty soon. Tyler seems to sense my apprehension, because he leans forward slightly, placing his hand on my knee and squeezing to get my attention. My eyes flicker sideways to meet his, and he looks back at me from beneath his eyelashes, parting his lips as though he’s about to speak for me. But thankfully, he doesn’t. He only nods. We both know I have to be the one to tell my mom the truth, and I’m hoping that Tyler will do all the talking when it comes to telling Dad and Ella.

  I shift my eyes to Gucci. She’s sprawled out on the floor by Jack’s feet now, breathing heavily. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I let out the breath I’ve been holding. “What we need to tell you is really important,” I begin, still staring at the dog. Tyler’s hand has yet to leave my knee. “So please keep an open mind.”

  “Eden,” Mom says. “What’s going on?”

  I glance up. She’s folded her arms across her chest now, her expression growing more stern than worried. Even Jack looks a little exasperated, as though my slow unraveling of the truth is torturing the pair of them. I can’t help it. It’s hard to force the words out. Tyler squeezes my knee even harder. “Okay,” I say, mostly as an attempt to convince myself that I can do this. My stomach twists as I try to meet Mom’s eyes, but it’s hard. I’m afraid that in a few moments from now they’ll pool with disgust and disappointment. “Okay,” I say again. Breathing deeply, I rest my eyes on Mom’s shoulder, and I force myself to bluntly utter the words I’ve always dreaded having to say. Only three words. So simple, and most definitely the easiest way to phrase the truth. And so I murmur, “I love Tyler.”

  Silence ensues after that. Mom and Jack only stare at me. I want them to say something. Anything. Growing frustrated with the lack of reaction I’m getting, I glance at Tyler for help, but he’s too busy furrowing his eyebrows to even attempt to offer me a suggestion. I turn back to my mom, and as though to emphasize my words, I place my hand on top of Tyler’s on my knee and shift my body closer to his on the couch. Still no reaction. “Like, in love with him,” I clarify. She doesn’t even blink. “Like, this Tyler. Him,” I add, jabbing my finger toward Tyler in a final attempt at making myself clear. “You know, my stepbrother?”

  Finally, Mom slowly parts her lips. She and Jack exchange a look. I’m waiting for her to explode, to demand an explanation for my irrational feelings, but instead, she playfully pushes Jack’s shoulder. “You owe me seventy bucks!”

  Jack groans, but he’s laughing as Mom’s lips curve into a smile, and all I can do is rapidly blink back at them. Now I’m the one waiting for an answer. Even Tyler rubs his jaw from beside me, attempting to understand why the people sitting across from us are laughing. Laughing. Perhaps Mom thinks I’m kidding. Maybe she thinks this is all a joke.

  I remove my hand from Tyler’s, shaking my head in confusion. “Mom?”

  Her gaze shifts from Jack back to me, and her small laugh subsides, but her smile remains. As she sighs, her shoulders relax. “We made a bet,” she admits. “Fifty bucks that there was something going on between you guys,” she continues, nodding to Tyler and me, “and another twenty bucks if you told us about it.”

  “What?” I breathe in disbelief. Even Tyler laughs now, but I still don’t understand. I’m not sure what’s going on. I don’t get why I’m not being yelled at.

  “Eden, please,” Mom says, rolling her eyes as she leans down to scratch behind Gucci’s ears. “I’m your mother. I notice everything about you, especially the way you look at him,” she murmurs, glancing up from the dog for a second to grin at Tyler. “I always thought it was similar to the way you look at Dean.” Immediately, she pauses and sits back up. Her smile falters and once again her forehead creases with concern as a new thought occurs to her. “Eden . . . What about Dean?”

  My chest tightens at the mere mention of his name. I’m still drowning in guilt. I’ve been trying not to think about Dean too much, but it’s difficult. It’s hard to ignore the fact that I hurt him. Bile rises in my throat, but I swallow hard and blow out some air. “He knows,” I murmur quietly, unable to meet my mom’s eyes. “It’s over. He hates us.”

  “Oh, Eden,” Mom says, her lips pursing in sympathy. She must see the way my expression shifts and she must surely notice the way Tyler rubs my thigh as though to make me feel slightly better, because she frowns at the two of us before she says, “I’m sorry about Dean. He was a nice kid.” Her words only make me want to burst into tears, and she must notice, because she quickly attempts to lighten the mood by asking, “So from now on whenever I see Liz at the grocery store, do I have to give her the my-kid-broke-your-kid’s-heart smile? Or would you rather I kept my head down and kept walking?”

  “Mom,” I say sternly. “Be serious right now. You really don’t care?” Just to be clear again, I motion between Tyler and me.

  “Of course, it’s not ideal,” Mom admits, “but know that if you go ahead with this, I doubt it’ll be easy. You’re going to get people who won’t like it. You’re going to get people who won’t support you. But when it comes to me, I don’t mind. Who can blame you?” She throws a dazzling grin in Tyler’s direction, her eyes sparkling as she gives me an understanding nod. It’s almost horrifying, in fact, given that she’s, like, forty.

  “Mom!” I gasp, mortified. When I look at Tyler, he’s blushing a little sheepishly as he laughs under his breath. And as though to validate my mother’s point, I notice that his eyes have begun to smolder. It wouldn’t even surprise me if he’s doing it on purpose. That’s just Tyler.

k pats Mom’s thigh quickly and gets to his feet, playfully shaking his head in disapproval. “I don’t know about you guys, but I definitely need some coffee. And Karen? Stay away from the teenagers.” Winking at her, he moves around the couch and heads over to the kitchen. Gucci gets up and follows.

  Mom rolls her eyes at Jack and then leans back against the couch, crossing one leg over the other. “So I take it you haven’t told your father and Ella?”

  “Not yet,” Tyler answers for me, shifting his body to the edge of the couch and leaning forward slightly. He clears his throat after having been silent for a long while. “That’s what we’re doing next.”

  “You guys are brave,” Mom says as the coffee machine churns to life in the background. “Good luck.”

  “We’ll need it,” I say, smiling. Pushing Tyler’s hand off my leg, I get to my feet and reach for my mom’s hands, pulling her up from the couch and drawing her tightly into my arms. Acceptance. Again. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over how great it feels. “Thanks, Mom. Honestly. Thank you,” I whisper, burying my face into her shoulder as I hug her close against me.

  “Hey, I’m okay with anything you decide as long as it makes you happy,” she tells me. As she pulls away from me and steps back, I think she’s just about to smile, but then her expression falters. She grasps my wrist, examining the scabbing words on my skin. “What the hell is this?”

  I smile wide and pull my wrist away from her. Quickly, I spin around and reach for Tyler, sliding my hand into his and yanking him up from the couch. I think I almost dislocate his shoulder in the process. “Sorry, Mom, gotta go!” I call, pulling Tyler toward the front door. I let go of him, rushing into the kitchen to grab my car keys from the key holder on the wall, almost tripping over Gucci at the exact same time. Jack raises his eyebrows at me, but I shrug and dash back over to Tyler, who’s grabbing his bag from the floor.

  “Eden!” Mom yells, but I’m already over the threshold.

  “Your kid is way too reckless!” Tyler calls back into the house, wholeheartedly laughing as he pulls the front door shut behind us. He’s still laughing as he jogs to catch up with me, his lips moist and his eyes soft. Neither of us expected the past five minutes to go down the way they just did. Neither of us expected it to be so easy.

  “Next up,” I say, my voice mocking that of a TV commentator, “we have the ultimate showdown.” Unlocking my car, I run around to the driver’s side and slip inside, starting up the engine. It feels a little odd being behind the wheel of my car again.

  Tyler throws his bag onto the backseat before he jumps into the passenger seat, a lopsided smile playing on his lips. “Just think,” he says as he pulls the door shut behind him, “this is the final time we ever have to do this.”

  “That’s why I can’t wait,” I tell him, because he’s exactly right. After we tell our parents, we’re done with having to tell the truth. Everyone that matters will know. No more secrets. Even the thought of this is enough to make me grin as I maneuver my way into the road, beginning the short ride to our parents’ house. “By the way,” I add, “this time all the talking is on you.”

  Tyler laughs again, leaning back in the seat as he places his hand on my thigh. I think he does it without even thinking about it, but on my end it’s awfully distracting. “No problem,” he says. “It’s your dad I’m worried about most. He hates me enough as it is. Wait until he hears I’ve been sleeping with his daughter.” Scoffing, he squeezes my thigh tighter, and I quite literally almost crash into a parked car.

  “Yeah, do me a favor and don’t mention that to him,” I murmur, throwing Tyler a sideways warning glance as I regain control of the vehicle. He’s smirking, though, and so am I. We both know my dad would kill him if he were to find out. Dad was never happy with the fact that sometimes I’d spend the night at Dean’s, and he liked Dean.

  “So how’d you like me to word it?” Tyler asks, angling his body to face me as I drive. He’s got a stupid expression on his face, almost giddy in a way, and he dramatically clears his throat and uses his free hand to sync movements to his words. “Mr. Munro, may I take a second out of your holy time to inform you that I totally have the hots for your one and only daughter, who, by the way, is no longer a minor and can make her own decisions,” he says, his voice mockingly solemn as he adopts a sophisticated tone. “Also, David Munro, your stubborn and persistent and intelligent and gorgeous daughter has an incredible ass.”

  I pull around the corner onto Deidre Avenue, rolling my eyes at Tyler. He’s on the verge of bursting into laughter, but he’s biting it back. “Well?” he urges. “You think he’d like that?”

  “Let’s not take that route either,” I say. Tyler finally gives up on the joke, letting out the laugh he’s been suppressing, and I can’t help but think about how nice this feels. The two of us laughing right now, of all times. I like that we can make the situation seem humorous, even when it’s far from it, and I like that we’re only minutes from the house, yet I don’t feel nervous at all.

  Only seconds later, we pass Dean’s house. It’s impossible to ignore the way the atmosphere in the car immediately thickens. Both Tyler and I glance over at the house at the exact same time, our eyes never leaving it as we drive past. Dean’s car is parked on the drive. So is his dad’s truck. The one Dean and I once wrecked the tires of. As though Tyler feels guilty, he takes his hand off my thigh.

  “You think he’s in there right now?” he asks, voice quiet.

  “I don’t know,” I say.

  Swallowing hard, I shift my eyes back to the avenue ahead and keep driving, pressing my foot down on the accelerator even harder so that I can get away from Dean’s house faster. I refrain from looking back in my rearview mirror. I only keep on driving. From now on, I’ll start tracing a different route between my mom’s place and my dad’s place. A route that bypasses Dean’s house entirely.

  It’s after nine by now and the sky is continuing to darken, but our house is well lit as I pull up behind Tyler’s car out on the sidewalk. Dad’s Lexus and Ella’s Range Rover occupy the drive, the same way they always do, forcing us kids to use the road. Jamie’s car is missing, of course, because of that dented bumper he mentioned.

  “I’m guessing they’re home?” I joke, nodding through the windshield toward the house. Every single light possible must be switched on, and the entire place looks like a giant light bulb. Even the light in the room I sleep in when I stay over is on, which stresses me out for a split second as I wonder why the hell that is.

  “Hey, I’m just glad my baby got here in one piece,” Tyler says. He points to his Audi, smiling with satisfaction as he pushes open my car door and steps out. Grabbing his bag from the backseat, he heads off without me to circle his vehicle, probably searching for any suspicious scratches that might have resulted from lousy handling as it was shipped from one coast to the other.

  Sighing, I cut the engine and slide out of my car, which looks like a piece of junk next to Tyler’s, and then glance between the house and my stepbrother. Now I’m starting to feel a little nervous. “So are you coming?”

  “Uh-huh,” Tyler says, a little spaced out. Sliding the strap of his duffel bag over his shoulder for what feels like the hundredth time today, he pats the hood of his beloved car and then walks over to join me on the lawn. Slowly, his lips quirk up into a small smile, and at the exact same time, we both turn to face the house.

  Side by side, we’re about to face our biggest fear after two years. It’s been a long ride, one that’s been rough from the moment it began, but it’s a relief to know that it’s finally all about to be over. Our parents always needed to find out eventually. It’s taken us two years to accept the truth and build up the courage to admit it to those who matter most, and now that the final hurdle is right in front of us, it’s impossible to back out now.

  Exhaling from beside me, Tyler’s hand finds mine and tightly he interlocks our fingers. We exchange a sideways glance. Both of us are smiling.
br />   “Let’s do this,” he says.


  As always, the house smells like lavender. It’s Ella’s trademark. When you’ve been gone for a while, it always seems to be more noticeable when you return. As Tyler and I edge into the hall, we linger by the bottom of the staircase. We glance into the living room, but there’s no one there despite the fact that the TV is on.

  Tyler drops his bag onto the stairs, relaxing his shoulders before he clears his throat and yells, “We’re home!”

  For a few seconds, we wait. There’s some commotion as Ella comes rushing through from the kitchen at the exact same time as we hear footsteps upstairs, but Ella is the first to reach us. She’s in tears before she’s even said a word, a huge smile on her face as she grasps Tyler in her arms and pulls him against her. He’s much taller than her, but she rests her hands on his hair as he hugs her back. I watch them with a small smile on my lips, a smile that’s both sad and content. Ella and Tyler have always had a close bond, and I know first-hand just how much she’s missed her son over the past year. All the time, she would talk about him. Mention how proud she was. Ask if calling him five times in one day was too much. Dad would often roll his eyes and leave the room. I’d always stay. I’d always tell her that I missed Tyler too.

  Ella takes a step back, cupping Tyler’s jaw in her hands as she gazes up at him with undying love and affection. “You’re really here!” Almost bubbling with joy as the tears continue to escape her eyes, she smothers his face in kisses.

  “Mom, c’mon.” Tyler says as he turns his head to the side. Reaching for her wrists, he moves her hands from his face and lets out a laugh. “Gross.”

  Ella sniffs, her smile sheepish as she wipes away her tears with her thumb. She’s just about to part her lips to say something else at the exact same time as Chase comes through from the kitchen, but Tyler doesn’t even get a single second to acknowledge his brother, because suddenly our attention is drawn to the pounding on the staircase.

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