Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame


  We head inside, and although we’re slightly late our waitress takes us over to our table without a problem. It’s right at the back, by the collection of Italian wines. I sit myself down opposite Tyler and quickly study the restaurant. The tables are wooden, the lighting is dim, it’s rather small, and there’s a soft breeze finding its way inside through the open doors at the front. I prefer it back here, out of sight of those passing by on the sidewalk. I listen closely as I try to decide whether or not I can hear music playing, and after a moment I realize that there is none, only the voices of the people around us, mixed with some occasional laughter. The atmosphere feels intimate.

  Tyler taps his fingers on the table in front of me to reel my attention back in. His eyes are smoldering when I glance up. “Good enough to stay or bad enough to walk out?”

  “Good enough to stay,” I say, with a nod of approval. “I like it.”

  “Hopefully the food doesn’t suck.” He picks up my menu, opens it, and then hands it to me. He reaches for his own. “Choose anything and everything you want. It’s on me.”

  “You’re being too nice.” I study him suspiciously over the top of my menu, but he just shrugs, still smiling. I’m starting to wonder if he’ll ever stop.

  “What can I say? I’m the nicest guy around.”

  I press my lips together and lift the menu up higher to hide my face. “I think your roommate’s egotism has rubbed off on you.”

  He laughs, but it’s soft and gentle, and just as I think he’s about to reply, our waitress approaches us to order our drinks. She’s young, perhaps around our age, but she’s sweet. She disappears for five minutes to get our drinks while we scan the menu.

  Tyler ends up squinting at the endless list of Italian words, biting his lip repeatedly as he struggles to comprehend the language. I’d point out that the English translation is on the reverse side, but his confusion makes him look cute, so I keep quiet.

  “This is so confusing,” he says after a while, glancing up at me. My eyes are boring into his, but I don’t bother to look away. “Why couldn’t you love Spanish food?”

  I lay my menu down, having decided what I’m going for, and then prop my arms up on the table, resting my chin in my hands. “Say something.”

  “What?”

  “In Spanish,” I say. “Say something in Spanish.”

  Tyler furrows his eyebrows at me. “Why?”

  “I like it when you do.”

  For a long moment, he thinks. I can see the gears in his mind shifting as he considers what to say to me, almost like he needs a minute to string a sentence together. Maybe he’s not so fluent after all. “Me estoy muriendo por besarte,” he murmurs quietly, almost rasping. Leaning forward, he folds his arms on the table and looks at me intensely, and I become aware that we’re in such close proximity to one another that I can almost feel his breath as he speaks. It causes mine to catch in my throat. “I just told you that the waitress is coming.”

  I glance to my left and, of course, our waitress is approaching us with our drinks, and Tyler immediately leans back in his seat. I wish he hadn’t moved.

  Tyler orders the capellini primavera (without the chicken broth, of course, given he’s a vegetarian), giving his best attempt at Italian pronunciation, while I expertly order the lasagna alla nonna. And when the waitress takes our menus and leaves, my eyes drift back to Tyler, only to find that he’s arching an eyebrow at me.

  “That accent was mad good,” he says, impressed.

  “And that New York slang is going to get annoying.”

  Slowly, his lips curl up into a grin, and he clears his throat to correct himself. “Sorry. That accent was hella good.”

  “Thanks. All I do is mimic Dean’s mom’s voice.” I reach for my glass of water and Tyler follows suit by picking up his glass of Coke, and as we each take a long sip, we never cease our staring. My eyes mirror his over the rim of my glass. Swallowing, I breathe a sigh of satisfaction and set my drink back down. “Can I ask you something?”

  There’s concern on Tyler’s face for a split second, but he doesn’t make it too noticeable, and soon he’s giving me a go-ahead nod. “Sure.”

  I take a deep breath and interlock my hands together on the table. I still haven’t looked away from him. “How is everything? You know, with you?”

  “Really, Eden?” Tyler’s taut expression relaxes as he shakes his head at me, losing all seriousness. “You’ve asked me this so many times.”

  “I know.” I’m not smiling anymore. Instead, I’m worried. I have a bad habit of asking if he’s definitely okay, but it’s hard to tell over the phone whether or not he’s telling me the truth. “I need you to answer me honestly, face to face. I’ll be able to tell if you’re lying or not.”

  He rolls his eyes, almost smirking at how relentless I must seem, but then he straightens up and leans forward again, his lips pressed into a firm line. He’s even closer to me than he was before, and I think I might have stopped breathing again. Slowly, he parts his lips to speak. “I’m as fine as I can be, Eden. That’s the truth. I’m not lying to you.”

  He widens his eyes dramatically, as though to prove that he’s sincere, so I squint back at him as I search for anything in his features that’ll tell me otherwise. He doesn’t give me long, though. Only a few seconds, and then he retreats, settling back against his seat.

  “C’mon,” he says gently. He tilts his head down slightly, looking up at me from beneath his eyelashes. “You know I would have been kicked off the tour if I’d messed up.”

  I consider this for a moment before realizing that he has a point. If he’d been caught drunk, high, in handcuffs, or involved in any trouble whatsoever, he would have been taken off the program. His job was to tell his story and set a positive example. The fact that he took part in every single event right until the end only proves that he didn’t get into any trouble. Which means he is okay. But it’s hard to forget the way things used to be a couple of years ago, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever end up in that state again. But for now, he’s doing good.

  I’m not even sure why I had to ask him to clarify this for me again. I should have known he was telling me the truth, that New York would be the best thing for him. From the moment I saw him at the airport, there’s been nothing but a positive vibe radiating from him. I think that’s why I keep smiling.

  When I draw my attention back to Tyler, he’s waiting for me to say something, but I can’t muster up a single word. I can’t stop staring at him, at his eyes that are still wide, at the stubble that’s making him look years older than he really is, at the corner of his lips as he holds back a smile. And then it finally occurs to me that it isn’t any of these things that attract me to him so much. It’s that positivity around him. It’s the way he’s managed to change his entire mindset and attitude within the space of two years. I can only imagine how hard it was for him to stop hating everything around him, for him to finally get over the shitty childhood he had, yet he managed. He did it.

  That’s why I’m even more attracted to him than I ever was before. That’s why this sucks. It’s been two years since our first summer together. By this point I’m supposed to be over him, but now it seems like I never will be. New York was a bad idea. I should never have come. I should be in Santa Monica with Dean, not here, falling even harder for his best friend.

  My stomach churns, and I can only hope that it’s out of hunger and not guilt. Reaching for my water, I take another long sip and buy myself some more time to collect my thoughts, to think of something to say. After a moment, I think of Tyler’s words back at the Seventy-seventh Street subway station. I place my glass back on the table and look at him, curious. “Who gave you strict orders to look after me? My mom?”

  Tyler sighs at my change of subject before folding his arms across his chest, his posture still straight. He offers me the smallest of shrugs as he drops his eyes to the table. “Yeah. Your mom, my mom . . .” He glances back up. “And Dea
n.”

  “Oh,” I say flatly. It’s not surprising. It’s such a Dean thing to do. Frowning, I stare at my glass and run my fingers around the rim, not quite sure what to think. “What did he say to you?”

  “He said that I have to make your trip worth it. You know, since you chose this over him.” Tyler shrugs again, and I can feel the tension growing around us. Or perhaps it’s only me who can notice it, because I’m the guilty one. I’m the one who’s gazing at Tyler in the middle of an Italian restaurant in New York City while my boyfriend is on the other side of the country, most likely still mad at my departure. “He’ll be pissed off if you don’t even have a good time.”

  “What did you tell him?”

  “I told him that I’ll guarantee it,” Tyler says, and he smiles again, wide and sincere.

  Silence ensues. It’s mostly because I have no idea how to navigate the whole Dean situation, but partly because I’m desperate for Tyler to look uneasy. He looks too comfortable talking about Dean and I, like it doesn’t bother him anymore, which is only more evidence that he’s over me. Totally and completely over me.

  My heart sinks, and I decide right then that I’m just going to go for it; I’m just going to blurt it out and ask. I just need to man up and get it over with, otherwise I’ll spend my entire vacation wondering “What if?” I just need him to tell me straight up. I think hearing him admit it will kill me inside, but hopefully it’ll help me to get over him too. I have to.

  I swallow down the lump in my throat and take a deep breath, trying my best to keep calm, but Tyler still notices how panicked I must suddenly appear, because his smile slowly fades away.

  “Are you okay?”

  I force my eyes to find his, and when I finally do, I part my lips to speak. My voice is nothing more than a quavering whisper when I dare myself to ask, “Does it bother you?”

  Tyler’s eyebrows immediately furrow. “What?”

  “Dean,” I say. The group of people on the table next to us erupts with laughter, and both my and Tyler’s attention is grasped for a split second before Tyler’s eyes return to study me. I press a hand to my temple and lower my voice even more. “Does it bother you that I’m still with him?”

  “Eden.” There’s no trace of a smile left. Now his lips are a bold line, his eyes sharply narrowed. “What are you doing?”

  “I’m just wondering,” I splutter quickly, and I’m so nervous that I can’t even look at him, so I press my hand over my eyes and tilt my head down toward the table. “It still bothered you a year ago, before you left. I just want to know if it still does now.”

  “Eden,” he says again, his voice coarse, firm. He pauses for a long moment. I’m too scared to move my hand away. Eventually I hear him slowly exhale, and his words are even slower. “Are you asking me if I still . . . you know?”

  “I’m trying to,” I whisper.

  “We’re not talking about this here,” he says abruptly, loudly. Loud enough for me to lift my head and remove my hand from over my eyes. His jaw is clenched, the muscle twitching.

  My voice rises to match his, and I keep on pushing. “Are you over me?”

  “Eden.”

  “Have you met anyone else? Are you single?” I’m so frustrated and terrified all at the same time that it ends up fueling some sort of adrenaline, and within a matter of seconds I’m brave enough to look him straight in the eye, and he must be even braver to stare back. “When did you get over me? I just need to know, so please just tell me.”

  “Eden,” he says, more forcefully this time. “Please stop talking.”

  “So that’s it?” I shake my head in disbelief, my temper quickly rising. All of this has been going on for far too long. I need to know whether I’m wasting my time. I need to know whether he and I are a lost cause. “You’re not going to give me an answer? You’re just going to leave me to go insane over this?”

  “No,” he says, and his voice is much calmer than mine, despite how hard his features have grown. He has definitely grown up. Two years ago, he would have lost his temper by now and he would have been muttering and cursing and glaring at me. Instead, I’m the one who’s losing it. “I’m just not going to answer you here.”

  “Then where?”

  “When we get back to the apartment,” he answers, and he narrows his eyes into smaller slits as he fixes me with a firm look, as though to tell me to give up for now, which I do, but only because our waitress is arriving with our food.

  She must think I’m rude, for I’m too busy glaring across the table at Tyler to even thank her when she places the dish in front of me, and I barely even blink. Once she disappears again, Tyler leans forward to grab his cutlery, and within a matter of seconds his smile has returned.

  “There’s something I still need to show you,” he murmurs, swiftly twirling pasta around his fork, his eyes on his plate.

  “What?”

  He pauses and tilts his head up, a small smirk on the corner of his lips. “It’s a surprise,” he says. “But here’s a hint: It has an amazing view, and we’ll talk about all of this there.”

  6

  Tyler remains nonchalant for the rest of the evening, acting so casual that it’s almost as though he doesn’t care that I desperately need an answer to where we stand with each other. He muses on irrelevant things during dinner, tells some jokes on the walk back through Times Square, and even attempts to cheer me up while we’re on the subway by relentlessly wiggling his eyebrows at me until I eventually crack a smile. It’s fake, of course, and the second I turn away from him I wipe it from my face.

  “So where’s this place with the amazing view? Empire State Building? Statue of Liberty?” I fold my arms across my chest and watch him, awaiting an answer.

  But he only grips the railing even tighter and shrugs, and I swear he looks as though he’s about to laugh. I’ll bet he was being sarcastic back at the restaurant. I’ll bet he’s going to show me the ugliest spot in the city, the perfect place to shred my heart to pieces. “Not exactly,” he finally says. “C’mon, our stop is next.”

  We linger by the doors for a few seconds, the train vibrating and the noise drilling into my ears. I’m starting to understand why the majority of the people around us have earphones in. But it’s bearable for the few minutes that we’re on here, and when the train screeches to a halt at the next station, Tyler promptly reaches for my wrist and yanks me onto the platform.

  I immediately recognize the station. It’s the Seventy-seventh Street one, which means that we’re not venturing anywhere other than Tyler’s apartment, it seems. This becomes even more obvious when we head out of the station and back the way we came from earlier. Tyler keeps on talking the entire time, but I’ve tuned out by now. I’m kicking at the sidewalk with my Chucks as I walk, slowly starting to feel sick the longer Tyler drags all of this out. I’m switching so fast between being frustrated and being nervous. One minute I’m mad at him for not getting this over with back at the restaurant, the next I’m wondering why I even brought it up in the first place.

  We pass his car (and the truck and the Civic) and just as we’re about to head inside the apartment building, I come to a halt on the sidewalk. I tilt my head back and squint up at the building, which is taller than those surrounding it.

  Tyler lingers by the entrance as he swings open the door, leaning back and pressing his weight against it as he folds his arms across his chest. “What’s up?”

  I drop my eyes to his. “You said a nice view, didn’t you?”

  “Yeah.” I think he knows what I’m about to ask next, because his mouth is forming another one of those smiles of his.

  It’s cooler now and the breeze has picked up only slightly, but it’s enough to blow my hair across my face, so I tuck some strands behind my ears and ask, “Is it the roof?”

  Tyler doesn’t even reply to begin with. Only locks his eyes on mine as his smile grows into a grin. Eventually, he murmurs, “Maybe.”

  I’ll bet the view from up there
really is beautiful, but honestly, I want to tell him to just forget it. There’s no need to take me all the way up there to simply say the words I’m expecting him to say. It’s like he wants to be cruel.

  “It’s not much,” he says as I follow him inside and toward the elevator. He pushes the button for the twentieth floor, the final one. “I mean, there are some chairs and some plants, but it’s mostly just concrete. It’s cool, though. You know, to go up there.”

  I stuff my hands into the pockets of my jacket and stare at the floor of the elevator, biting the inside of my cheek as I try to think about how much the next few minutes are going to hurt. I think I might cry when he admits it, but I’m praying I’ll be able to hold up, at least until I get away from him. I’m worried that I’ll look pathetic, but even more worried that this talk we’re about to have will only make the rest of our summer together awkward.

  The elevator door pings open, and this time Tyler doesn’t stand back to let me out first. Instead, he clears his throat and makes his way into the lobby. He’s trying to act casual, but I can tell he wants us to hurry up. Some guy squeezes past us, heading in the opposite direction, but we keep on walking until Tyler comes to a stop by the very last door on the left, one that looks different from the rest. It’s because it’s not an apartment but simply a door opening up to a flight of metallic stairs.

  “Just up here,” he calls over his shoulder as he makes his way up, three steps at a time.

  It’s dimly lit, but it’s only one flight of stairs, and when I reach the top Tyler is waiting for me by the fire exit. He offers me a closed smile before shoving the door open. We step out onto the rooftop, and it’s twilight by now, so at first all I can see are the tops of some of the other taller buildings in the area. As Tyler already told me, there are some wooden deckchairs dotted around, complemented by some matching tables, and some pots of plants that appear to have dried out in the heat.

  Just as I’m glancing around, Tyler moves his body behind mine, and out of nowhere I feel his firm hands grasp my waist. My breath catches in my throat the second I feel his touch, and I lock my eyes on the tip of a building a few blocks away as I try not to focus on the fact that I can feel him breathing on the back of my neck. His lips creep closer to my ear, suddenly murmuring, “Come check this out,” in a husky tone. It’s enough to send a shiver surging down my spine. With his hands still on my waist, he directs my body toward the edge of the roof.

 
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