Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame

  Dad is definitely not thrilled to see us. He comes storming down the stairs, his eyes narrowed and his cheeks a flaming red. Before he even reaches the bottom, he’s already growling, “Is it true?” He’s not looking at Ella. He’s not looking at Chase. He’s looking at Tyler and he’s looking at me.

  It’s perfectly clear what my dad is referring to. We both know it. My entire body deflates; my heart sinks in my chest. I can’t bring myself to answer, and neither can Tyler. We’re too taken aback by Dad’s question to even react.

  “Dave . . .” Ella murmurs, stepping forward and turning to face her husband. Her expression is perplexed, her eyebrows knitting together. “What are you talking about?”

  A figure moves at the top of the staircase, which immediately catches my eye. I glance up, looking past Dad, to find Jamie. He’s hovering on the landing with his lips pressed into a firm line and his arms folded across his chest as he watches the scene unfold. It’s not difficult to make sense of the situation, to know that Jamie simply couldn’t keep quiet until we got here, even when Tyler made it clear that we wanted to tell our parents on our own. Telling them ourselves would have been the right thing to do. Jamie being the one to break the news to Dad is quite literally the worst thing that could have happened. It makes it seem like we weren’t planning on telling him and Ella the truth in the first place.

  Tyler must notice Jamie too, because he lunges toward the stairs with his hands balled into fists, muttering something under his breath that I don’t quite catch. Without a second of hesitation, however, Dad blocks him from going any further by grabbing his shirt and pushing him back across the hall. He slams Tyler against the wall, pressing his arm firmly across his chest as he holds him there. Ella sucks in a horrified gasp at the exact same time as she jumps forward, attempting to shove Dad off Tyler by pushing at his shoulder, but he’s too strong for her and doesn’t even budge.

  “Is it true?” Dad yells again, his face only inches from Tyler’s as he leans harder against his chest. There’s suddenly a waft of booze in the air too, and I squint at my dad suspiciously when I realize it’s coming from him.

  Ella takes a cautious step toward him and Tyler. Her eyes slowly widen as she quietly asks, “Is what true?”

  “The two of them!” Dad almost chokes on his words, so wrapped up in fury and disbelief that he can hardly string his sentences together. His voice is still loud and coarse, though, and he manages to give a clipped nod in my direction. “Him and Eden! God, I—I don’t even know what to think!”

  Tyler finally pushes Dad away from him with one firm shove, immediately straightening up. The veins in his neck stand out as he mutters, “Let us fucking explain.”

  Ella still doesn’t understand what’s going on. She glances around Dad, Tyler and me for a few moments as though she’s searching our expressions for answers. Dad’s breathing heavily, both hands pressed to his temples as he shakes his head at the floor, trying to comprehend this new information. And so she turns to Tyler instead, her features twisting with worry the same way my mom’s did. I can only imagine what’s running through her mind right now. “Explain what, Tyler?”

  Tyler runs a hand back through his hair as he looks at her, taking a second to think of the right words to say. Dad’s glanced up again to glare at him as he waits to hear what the explanation will be, and his breathing is so loud that the only sound we can all hear right now is that and the TV. But Tyler doesn’t even look at my dad. He only keeps on looking straight at Ella and occasionally at Chase, who doesn’t really know what’s going on but is listening anyway. And after a while, Tyler finally drops his eyes to the floor and exhales, ready to talk for us both. “None of this was supposed to happen,” he says quietly, never looking up, “but all of it did. I can’t feel bad about it and I can’t feel sorry about it, because I’m not. It’s just the way things have turned out, and honestly, it’s not our fault. If it’s anyone’s, it’s yours.” He tilts his face up now, glancing between Ella and my dad. He swallows hard. “It’s your fault for putting us together in the first place.”

  Dad immediately scoffs, placing his hands on his hips as he turns to face the opposite direction, still shaking his head. Ella, however, only blinks. She looks more perplexed than she did a few seconds ago.

  “What are you talking about?” she asks.

  “I’m talking about Eden,” Tyler says without a moment’s pause. He glances over his shoulder at me, locking his eyes with mine. They soften briefly, and he nods, so I edge forward, joining him by his side. I’m so thankful that he’s doing all the talking. I can hardly even look Dad and Ella in the eye, let alone come clean to them. Tyler, on the other hand, keeps on going now that he’s gotten started. “I’m talking about the fact that I’m in love with her. Have been for two years. So sure, Dave, it’s true.”

  Ella’s jaw falls open slightly and she barely manages to whisper, “What?” as she blinks fast and rapidly.

  “This is disgraceful! You’re making a mockery out of this family! Is that what you want to do? Make us all look like fools? God, can you imagine the laughter if this ever gets out!” Dad spits, turning back around to face us all. The wrinkles around his eyes seem even more noticeable right now, perhaps with how narrowed his glower has become. And as though he can no longer bear the sight of us, he begins to walk away, muttering, “You disgust me.” It’s to me, of course, and as he storms by, he shoulders me out of the way.

  Suddenly Tyler jolts from beside me, taking a step forward and hurling his clenched fist through the air. It hits the exact center of my dad’s cheek with a sickening thud. Dad instantly spirals to one side, his body falling against the stairs as he lands in a sprawling heap.

  “Tyler!” Ella yells, jumping forward. She doesn’t go to her son, though. She goes to Dad, bending down to check if he’s okay, rubbing softly at his face.

  At the exact same time, I turn to Tyler. I throw my hands up in exasperation at him, wondering what the hell he’s playing at. His chest is rising and falling rapidly as he breathes and his eyes are still set on my dad, so as a precaution I grab his fist. Just in case.

  Jamie has descended a few steps toward Dad while trying his best not to make eye contact with Tyler and me. His cheeks are rather flushed by now and maybe he’s feeling too guilty to get involved, because he just lingers in the background, observing but not helping. Even Chase decides to stay out of the situation. He backs slowly away toward the kitchen, watching from afar.

  “Hey, Eden,” Dad mutters in contempt, drawing my attention to him as he rises to his feet again, his eyes fierce, “even if Tyler wasn’t your damn stepbrother . . . is this the kinda guy you wanna be with, huh?” He points to his cheek and then nods toward Tyler. “Some out-of-control kid who’s gonna end up in a cell just like his father?”

  “David!” Ella gasps.

  Dad’s words are so cruel that I momentarily feel sick at the fact that he thought it was okay to say such a thing, no matter how furious he is. It’s enough to cause me to become enraged myself, and I grind my teeth together so hard that I fear my entire mouth might just shatter. When I force myself to glance sideways at Tyler, I can see the pain and devastation in his eyes, and he reacts to Dad’s words the only way he knows how: with anger and violence, the way he was raised. The muscle in his jaw is twitching and his fist is clenching even harder beneath my hand, so I let go. Dad deserves it.

  Tyler throws another punch without hesitation. Of course he does. This time, I can’t blame him. In fact, I even feel rather satisfied when his fist catches Dad’s nose. Dad only falls back a step or two this time, managing to keep his balance as he reaches up to touch his face, checking for blood. There is none, but he still raises his eyebrows and manages to smile in disbelief.

  “Look at this!” Dad bellows. “Assaulted twice within a minute! God, Eden, your life choices are fantastic! First you choose some bullshit school halfway across the country and now you choose this asshole! Your stepbrother!” He starts to laugh,
his entire demeanor vicious as he leans against the wall.

  Tyler steps toward him again, ready to throw another punch. “Look who’s talking.”

  Honestly, I think I could swing at Dad too by now. Ever since he walked out on Mom and me, my relationship with him has been strained. Maybe it’s the fact I didn’t see him for three years. Maybe it’s the fact he didn’t want to see me for three years. Something changed when he left, and ever since then it’s been hard, but it’s been stable for a while. We’ve been trying to get along and it’s been working, until now. He’s never been so nasty before, never so harsh. I’m trying my best to keep my temper cool, but it’s hard not to explode. There are a million things I could yell back at him, but before either Tyler or I can do anything stupid, Ella comes running through from the kitchen. I didn’t even notice her disappear, but she’s suddenly in front of us again, pushing both Tyler and I backward and away from Dad.

  “Look, get out of here,” she says quickly in a low voice, forcing Tyler’s car keys into his palm and squeezing his hand closed around them. “I don’t know what to think right now and I’m sorry about him.” She throws a glance over her shoulder toward Dad. He’s still laughing, but now Jamie is attempting to shut him up, and when Ella turns back to face us, she’s frowning. “He’s got the rest of the week off work, so he’s had a few drinks and . . . Look, you two, I’m really sorry. We need to really talk about what’s going on between you both, but right now you need to leave.”

  “Don’t be mad at us,” I whisper, swallowing hard. “Please don’t.”

  Ella releases a heavy sigh, glancing back to check on Dad again. Her frown deepens. “Just let me think about it. Now go.” Gently, she pats Tyler’s cheek. “And fix up that hand.”

  Both Tyler and I glance down at the exact same time. I don’t think he’s even noticed until now, but he’s busted open two knuckles on his right hand, and he’s bleeding. He sighs, shaking his hand and glancing back up. I try to meet his eyes, but he refuses to look at me. Instead, he reaches for his bag, which has been knocked onto the floor, at the same time as Ella returns to Dad, helping Jamie to calm him down. Chase is still hiding in the kitchen.

  Tyler doesn’t say a word as he turns back around for the door, only brushes his shoulder against mine as he walks past me, heading straight outside. I immediately spin around and follow close on his heels, jogging to keep up with his strides as he marches across the lawn toward his car.

  “Tyler,” I say. No reply. Just silence. “Tyler,” I say again, reaching for his elbow. When he senses my touch, he finally stops walking and turns around to look at me.

  “What the hell do we do now?” he asks, eyes dark. All the color in his face has completely drained and his expression is blank.

  “You can stay at my mom’s place,” I say immediately. Mom won’t mind. Mom likes Tyler, and given the circumstances, I’m sure she’ll let him spend the night. “C’mon, follow me over.”

  “Okay,” is all he says. He turns and walks the final few feet to his car as I study him, wondering if it’s safe to let him drive. He looks slightly numb and spaced out, like he might just pass out any second, but he slides into his car nonetheless and starts the engine.

  I drive my own car back to my mom’s house, with Tyler trailing along behind me, and the entire time I wonder why I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel upset. Not angry. Not anymore, at least. Not frustrated. Not anything. In a way, the outcome is almost like I always expected it to be. Dad was never going to take the news well, sober or not, and Ella . . . I don’t know about Ella. I can’t quite figure out if she’s repulsed or just shocked. Dad, however, is just an asshole, the same way he always has been. I’m used to it by now. Sometimes he’s alright. Sometimes he’s the guy he is tonight.

  I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I don’t know if by tomorrow everything will have calmed down again. All we need is a chance to explain ourselves, to make them understand, and that can only happen if Dad and Ella give us the time to do so. Tonight, they certainly didn’t. Maybe once the initial anger and confusion and shock wears off, they’ll hear us out. They have to. They don’t have another choice. What else can they do? Kick us out of the family forever? Forbid us from being together?

  I bypass Dean’s house on the way home, tapping my fingers impatiently on the wheel as I drive in silence. I keep glancing in my rearview mirror to check that Tyler’s still there. He is, of course, tailgating me to the point where I firmly believe that any second now he might just rear-end me. Both our cars make it back to my mom’s place without a scratch, however, and I waste no time clambering out of my vehicle.

  It’s after ten by now, and I walk around to Tyler’s car door and wait for him as he steps out. He still looks as pale as he did when he first got in and his hand seems to have gotten worse.

  “I’d say sorry for hitting your dad,” he says quietly as he reaches back into the car for his bag, “but I’m not.” Slamming the door shut, he turns and advances along the footpath toward the front door. Again, he doesn’t wait for me, and I’m starting to get the feeling that he’s mad at me.

  “Did I do something wrong?” I ask once I catch up to him again. I fall into place directly opposite him as we pause by the door for a second before heading inside.

  “No,” he says. As he glances out onto the street, he sighs and presses a hand to his forehead before his eyes meet mine again. “I’m sorry. Tonight has been a mess. I’m thinking about my dad and I’m thinking about Jamie and I’m thinking about my mom and I’m thinking about your dad and I’m thinking about you,” he murmurs. Slowly, his lips pull up into a half-smile. “But mostly just you.” He drops his gaze to his watch, and when he glances back up, he shrugs. “You know, it’s after 1AM in New York. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.”

  I wasn’t tired, but now that Tyler has brought it up, I suddenly feel my body sinking with fatigue. It feels like New York was forever ago, but the truth is we were still there this afternoon. So much has happened since then, with a six-hour flight in the middle of it all, and with the time difference thrown in too, I really do want nothing more right now than to just head straight to bed. So I say, “How about we deal with this in the morning?” to which Tyler nods, and we head inside.

  Mom and Jack are watching some Lifetime movie on TV when we walk in, both of them sprawled out on the couch, wrapped up in each other’s arms. Gucci’s asleep on the floor, and although she does open her eyes to the sound of our entrance, she doesn’t bother to get up and greet us. Mom and Jack, however, immediately pause the TV and pull themselves up into a seated position.

  “You guys don’t look all that relieved,” Mom comments, furrowing her eyebrows. She’s draped in her gown by this point, so she holds it closed with one hand as she gets to her feet. “Tyler, what are you doing back here?”

  “It didn’t go great,” I admit, glancing sideways at Tyler as I shrug. He still seems quiet. “Dad was drunk, so he was a jerk and Ella told us to leave.”

  A huff of disapproval leaves Mom’s lips as she shakes her head in rebuke, most likely at Dad, and she floats across the living room toward us. Quickly, she becomes sympathetic, smiling softly at us both. “I’m sure everything will be okay,” she reassures us, her tone soothing. “Just give them some time to come to terms with it.”

  My head feels heavy, and I frown. “What if they don’t?”

  Mom thinks about my question for a short while, even glancing at Jack for help, but all he does is shrug, so all she can do is pull a face and shrug too. “I don’t know what to tell you, Eden,” she says.

  “Can you clean up Tyler’s hand?” I ask quickly, changing the subject. I’m kind of done with Dad and Ella right now. I’m too tired to deal with them, and Tyler’s hand is still busted up, so I focus on that instead. Gently, I reach for his hand and hold it up for Mom to examine.

  “God, what the hell did you do?” she blurts as her eyes flash up to meet Tyler’s. Now he looks embarrassed.

  “He hit Dad,” I answer for him. “Twice.”

  “That’s too bad for Dave,” Mom murmurs, but she’s suppressing a smile. “Tyler, come on over to the sink.”

  Mom only takes a few minutes to fix up Tyler’s hand. In those minutes, however, Jack manages to offer Tyler a beer and I manage to awkwardly ask if Tyler can spend the night, and Mom agrees. According to her, anyone who can throw a punch at Dad is more than welcome to stay. Tyler’s thankful for the hospitality, although he does decline the beer. He’s too tired.

  “We’re gonna get some sleep,” I tell Mom as she tidies up in the kitchen while Tyler tightens and relaxes his hand repeatedly, as though the exercise will make the cuts disappear. “It’s late in New York.”

  “Well, I hope you both feel a little better about everything in the morning,” Mom says, angling her body to face me as she pulls me into a brief hug, and then both she and Jack wish us goodnight as they return to their movie.

  I reach for Tyler’s hand, interlocking our fingers as I pull him toward the hall. My room is the very first door, yet I’ve barely even touched the handle when I hear Mom clear her throat from behind us. I quickly let go of Tyler and turn around.

  “I know I’m a super-cool mom and all, but I’m not that cool,” she says, giving Tyler a pointed glance, her expression stern. “Tyler gets the guest room.”

  “No problem,” Tyler says.

  Rolling my eyes, I turn back and head straight down the hall. The guest room is the last room on the left and it’s the one room in the house that’s hardly ever used, so I lead Tyler over and then halt by the door. The lights in the hall are off too, so when I turn to face him, I end up looking at him through the faint darkness. I keep quiet for a moment while I allow my eyes to adjust, and when they do, I realize that Tyler’s staring at the floor.

  “Are you sure you’re okay?” I ask, now growing more concerned than anything else. I try to force his gaze to meet mine, but it doesn’t.

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