Did I Mention I Need You? by Estelle Maskame


  “Where are the ball fields?”

  “There are some in the Great Lawn. Kind of in the center of the park, so we need to head this way.” He tilts up the bat and points the barrel north along Fifth Avenue. “Now’s probably a good time to tell you that I’ve only stepped foot in Central Park maybe, like, five times. So if we end up lost, it’s totally on me.”

  “Five times? In a year? And you live right next to it?” I stare at him in disbelief, my lips parting as he laughs.

  “It’s not my kinda thing,” he says, right before fishing out his phone from the pocket of his jeans and pulling up a map. He studies it for a while before saying, “Alright, this way.”

  We make our way along the side of the wall running along the outskirts of the park until we arrive at an opening to a footpath. There are some carts on the sidewalk selling hot dogs and pretzels, but we quickly shuffle past them and into the park.

  The paths are winding and are surrounded by fencing that blocks access to the trees and shrubbery, which are quite literally everywhere. Everything is so green that it almost feels as though a filter has been added. Everywhere I look, I see green, green, green. It feels so relaxing. People are jogging and cycling and rollerblading past us as we stroll along. Tyler doesn’t seem to mind that I’m walking at a leisurely pace in order to take in our surroundings, because he saunters along by my side while swinging the baseball bat gently.

  “There’s a track, right? A running track?” I don’t look at him as I talk, simply because I can’t tear my eyes away from everything. It’s so calm and relaxing, nothing like Manhattan as a whole. It’s like we’ve stepped into a completely different city.

  “Yeah, around the reservoir,” Tyler says knowledgably, even though he’s admitted he doesn’t know his way around. He keeps checking his phone every few seconds when he thinks I’m not looking, but I still see the way he scrunches his face up at the screen before telling me, “It’s this way.”

  We cross under a bridge, keep following paths, cross over a road (which takes me by surprise, because I had no idea that it’s possible to drive through the park) and keep heading north on the winding route that Tyler’s leading us on. It doesn’t even feel like we’ve been walking for twenty minutes when we stop for a short break by a pond. Several other people seem to have the same idea, and they stand and observe the water alongside us. We look at it for a while before discovering that it’s named the Turtle Pond. When I ask Tyler if it’s named that because turtles live in the pond, he laughs and says, “Duh.”

  We set off again and it’s only a matter of minutes before the trees seem to disappear to create a clearing. And sure enough, it’s the Great Lawn: open and huge, surrounded by a footpath running around the fenced perimeter. If I squint enough into the field, I can see the light dirt of several ball fields.

  “There’s one free over there,” Tyler points out. I can hardly even see the ball fields, let alone tell if they’re occupied or not. He clears his throat and starts walking again, heading along the fence. “Do you remember what you need to do?”

  “Hit the ball,” I say, “and make my way around the bases until I get a home run. Unless you’re a jerk who purposely goes out of your way to catch the ball and put me out.”

  Tyler lets out a laugh and passes the ball back to me. His skin finally brushes mine. It’s only for a split second, but it’s enough. “I warned you already, I won’t go easy on you.”

  “But I want that home run.”

  He doesn’t reply for a moment. Instead, he stares ahead at some tourists taking group photos. They look European and he studies them for a long while before switching the baseball bat over to his opposite hand. “Aren’t you a base kinda girl?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You know,” he says, smiling. “Bases. Don’t you wanna stop at them?”

  “Not unless I have to.”

  He shakes his head and laughs again, but it’s under his breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice how he’s ended up closer to me than he was only a minute ago. There are three inches between our bodies, max. He’s biting his lower lip as we walk. “Don’t you think bases are too slow? First base, second base, third base . . . Satisfying to get to, but slow. I’m more of a home run kinda guy.”

  And suddenly, the husky tone of his voice and the glint in his eyes and the way he’s trying not to grin all suddenly click together.

  I slow my pace down until he turns around to look back at me. His smoldering eyes meet mine and I almost feel too nervous to ask the question that’s in my mind. A rose hue tinting my cheeks, I force myself to quietly ask, “Are you really talking about baseball here?”

  A corner of his mouth pulls up into a smirk. He drops his eyes to the concrete path, his jaw tight as he tries his hardest to press his lips into a bold line. But I can still notice the way his eyes are crinkling at the corners, and when he parts his lips to speak, his voice is laced with both honesty and mischief. “If only.”

  9

  I tilt my face up to the sky. It’s a dull blue, almost gray, and I run my eyes over the tips of the trees, over the mass of greenery. Behind it, the buildings of Manhattan stand tall. It’s so beautiful. So New York.

  “Ready?”

  I drop my eyes back down to Tyler. He’s standing directly opposite me on the pitcher’s mound, a playful smile on his face as he tosses the ball back and forth. I angle my body slightly to the side and raise the bat, preparing myself. I want to impress him. “Hell yeah.”

  “Eyes on me,” he calls. It’s the easiest part of all this. Eyes on Tyler? Ha. They hardly ever rest on anything else. “All you have to do is swing. Not too soon, not too late.” His voice is husky despite the fact that he’s talking loudly, and I try to keep my attention focused on the task at hand rather than how attractive his voice sounds. “You gotta swing at just the right moment.”

  I nod and hold my stance, narrowing my eyes as I lock them onto the baseball in Tyler’s hand. Please hit it, I tell myself. Please look cool.

  Smirking, Tyler kicks at the dirt before narrowing his eyes straight back at me. He firmly draws his arm back and, in a split second, hurls the ball at me. It comes whistling through the air and I panic, flinching as I swing the bat, almost dislocating my shoulder. I miss by a mile and the ball flies past my cheek, forcing me to jump to the left.

  Tyler’s laughter echoes across the field as I glare at nothing in particular. Baseball isn’t as easy as I thought it would be. “C’mon, bring it back,” he yells.

  Huffing, I prop the bat under my arm and stalk off across the lawn to fetch the baseball, which has rolled to a stop. The first swing doesn’t count. I’ll get it this time for sure. I reach down and scoop up the baseball before jogging back over to the home plate, carefully tossing the ball across the field to Tyler, who’s still laughing.

  “Okay,” he finally says, clearing his throat. He smirks. “You swung way too early. Don’t panic this time. Just focus.”

  I press my lips into a firm line, concentrating hard on the ball in his hand as I take up my stance again. The bat hovers in the air by my shoulder and I say nothing, just wait.

  Tyler nods once and pulls back his arm once again, snapping it forward and releasing the ball. It comes spiraling in my direction but this time I don’t panic, only remain still until just the right moment. With as much strength as I can possibly muster up, I swing, and suddenly there’s a thunderous crack.

  It doesn’t hit me at first what’s happened until I see the ball curving back across the field, soaring over Tyler’s head as he raises his eyebrows, surprised. I lose sight of where the ball lands, but I realize that I’m still standing on the home plate. I shouldn’t be. I should be running.

  I turn for first base at the exact same time as Tyler runs off to collect the ball. My heart pounds in my chest and my eyes almost feel blurred, but I keep going, passing first base within a few seconds. I head for second, but I can see Tyler turning around in the distance and making his w
ay back over, perhaps running just as fast as I am. I try to speed up, almost sliding on the dirt as I round second base. I want a home run, I think. I really, really want a home run.

  “Don’t do it!” I yell as I set my eyes on third base, but Tyler keeps getting closer. He’s right. He’s not going easy on me. I start to panic as he approaches, willing myself to make it, my pulse racing.

  But just as I’m within touching distance of third base, Tyler’s body swings in front of mine and I collide with him before I even get the chance to stop. He grabs my waist and pulls me down with him, tackling me to the ground until we land in a heap on the dirt.

  He starts laughing while I try to catch my breath, my breathing just as ragged and uneven as his. The ball has landed several feet away from us.

  “That’s so not fair,” I mutter, but I don’t mind that much. My body is touching his, and I quickly roll off him and onto my back. I rest my head on the ground by his side as we both stare up to the gray sky. It keeps growing darker. “I wanted that home run.”

  “Welcome to the world of baseball,” Tyler says, but he’s still chuckling. He eventually calms down and sighs, sitting up. His green eyes are smoldering. “How badly did you want that home run?”

  “I wanted it more than anything,” I say, folding my arms across my chest and turning my head away from him. I’m still out of breath. “I wanted to look totally badass.”

  “Get up,” Tyler orders. I sense him getting to his feet, and his towering body casts a dark shadow over my body, despite the fact that there’s not much sun. “C’mon.”

  Heaving a sigh, I push myself up from the ground and brush myself off. Standing straight, I arch my eyebrows at Tyler and wait for an explanation. He’s smiling gently.

  “I didn’t touch base or tag you,” he says slowly, his smile widening, “so you’re still in. The home run is all yours.” He must see my confusion, because he shakes his head. “Didn’t you listen to anything I told you on the way over here? Didn’t you listen to any of the rules?”

  “I’m not out?”

  He rolls his eyes and doesn’t even bother to answer me. Instead, he reaches for my hand. I should be used to the feeling by now, but I’m not. We’ve gone so long without seeing each other that now even the slightest touch is overwhelming. I can’t seem to figure out why our hands seem to fit more perfectly together than Dean’s and mine. It could possibly feel this way because Tyler’s hands are smoother, whereas Dean’s are calloused from working at his dad’s garage. It could even feel this way because Dean’s hands are often cold and Tyler’s are often warm. I don’t know. It just feels different. My body never reacts to Dean the same way it reacts to Tyler, and I can’t figure out if it’s because I’m more in love with Tyler than I am with Dean, or if it’s simply guilt that causes my heart rate to pick up. Tyler and I are wrong for so many reasons. We’re wrong for not being over each other. We’re wrong for flirting behind Dean’s back. We’re wrong because we’re stepsiblings.

  We’ll always be wrong.

  Tyler’s pulling me along behind him, his skin smooth and warm. We leave third base and head across the dirt, but I’m not focused. I’m still thinking about our interlocked hands, and I’m thinking about Dean, and I’m thinking about how much of a mess everything is turning out to be. This summer is going to be hell and I highly doubt I’ll be able to survive until the end of my six weeks here. Dean was right to be worried. I’m spending the summer almost three thousand miles away from my boyfriend with the person I’m in love with. Is there a difference between loving someone and being in love with someone? Because I think that’s what separates Tyler and Dean.

  I love Dean, but I’m in love with Tyler.

  And to think I used to believe that nothing could ever be more confusing than AP Biology.

  After only a few seconds, Tyler comes to a halt. He releases his grip on my hand and turns around to face me directly. His emerald eyes stare down at me as he moves one hand to my hip, and he nods to my feet.

  I drop my gaze to the ground and only then do I realize where I’m standing. I’m back on the home plate, right back where I started. I kick at it with my Chucks before firing my eyes back up to meet Tyler’s. I furrow my eyebrows at him.

  He takes a moment to swallow before squeezing my hip and taking a step back. Quietly, and with a small smile on his lips, he says, “You got your home run, badass.”

  We keep playing until it rains. To begin with it’s only drizzle, but gradually the sky darkens even more and the rain grows heavier, and soon it’s pouring down over the city. Everyone else seems to have abandoned their ball fields by now and only Tyler and I are insane enough to stick around. Finally, after my hair is drenched and Tyler’s shirt is soaked against his chest, we decide to give up.

  We even run, and we laugh while we do so. It’s not because we look ridiculous or because we’re running a little awkwardly. It’s because it’s just so typically messy of us. Tyler keeps falling behind and I keep having to stop and wait for him because I don’t know the route back. The rain keeps getting into my eyes and I drop the ball a couple of times on our way out of the park. Even my new Chucks are becoming squishy. I worry that Tyler’s writing will wash off, but it doesn’t even smudge.

  “I’m so not used to rain!” I call over my shoulder as I leap out onto the sidewalk, pushing my wet hair out of my face. I blow out a breath and scan the avenue. I’m pretty sure we need to head right.

  Tyler joins me by my side, out of breath, his hair flat. Drops of rain roll down his forehead, but he doesn’t make the effort to wipe them away. “Looks like you’re losing your Portland roots,” he says, loud enough for me to hear him over the sound of the rain pelting against the concrete.

  I roll my eyes and push his shoulder. He’s right, though. How I survived rain like this for the majority of the year, I’ll never know. After living in Santa Monica for two years, I’m now accustomed to the constant sun and heat.

  “Trust me, I don’t think I ever had any Portland roots to begin with,” I say. He leads me right, just like I thought he would. I’m slowly getting my bearings. “I hate Portland. The only good thing about it was the coffee.”

  “Better coffee than the Refinery?”

  “For sure.”

  Tyler doesn’t reply until we’ve made a lucky dash across the avenue, back onto Seventy-fourth Street. The tourists are soaked to the bone and look disgruntled, but I can’t blame them. We keep weaving our way around the damp flow of people still out on the sidewalks, and Tyler finally glances sideways at me, rain rolling off his eyelashes. “Do you still go there? The Refinery?”

  “All the time.” I don’t think I’ve ever bought coffee from anywhere else the entire time I’ve been in Santa Monica. It would feel like betrayal if I did. “Best coffee in the city.”

  “Did we ever tell you how we found that place?”

  “Is it because it just so happens to be on the main boulevard?”

  “Ha. No.” He smiles a little and runs his free hand through his hair, pushing it back. We’ve stopped running by now, despite the fact that the rain’s just as heavy, and he swings the baseball bat loosely in his hand. “Back when we were all in freshman year, we skipped classes after lunch and headed downtown because we wanted everyone to see us. Don’t ask. It was lame.” He shakes his head and gives a small laugh. “Rachael needed to find a restroom and we were passing the Refinery, so she ran inside and begged them to let her use their toilet. They wouldn’t let her because she wasn’t a customer. So she bought a mocha.” His mouth pulls up into a soft smile, like he’s fond of the memory of Rachael’s restroom dilemma. “She came running back out and told us that they served the best coffee. We ended up hanging out there for five hours, and we started going most days from then on.”

  I study the warmth in his expression and I try to picture it, try to imagine them all together. It’s hard to think about it now. The moment they graduated, they all headed off to do different things. Tyler moved to Ne
w York. Jake’s in Ohio. Tiffani’s up in Santa Barbara. Meghan’s in Utah. So much has changed in a year. “Do you still talk to them all?”

  Tyler’s smile quickly shifts, almost turning sad, and he gently shakes his head. “Mostly just Dean. Sometimes Rachael,” he says. “I mean, Meghan’s kind of disappeared off the face of the earth with that Jared guy, and Jake’s still an asshole. Did you know he’s dating three girls now?”

  “Last I heard it was two,” I murmur. Jake hardly ever stays in touch with any of us, but when he does decide to drop one of us a text, it’s usually to Dean, informing us of the current total number of girls he’s conquered over in Ohio. Dean never replies. “I knew the long-distance thing wouldn’t work with Tiffani and him, but I at least thought they’d give it more than three weeks.”

  “Tiffani needs a guy by her side and Jake needs a girl by his. Of course it wasn’t going to work.”

  I look away from him for a moment and stare at the traffic, all wiper blades on at the fastest possible speed. I swallow and squeeze the baseball in my hand even tighter. “Do you ever talk to her?”

  “Tiffani?” I can feel Tyler’s eyes latching onto me, but I’m too scared to look back. I focus on the sidewalk, on my sneakers, as we walk. He takes my silence as agreement. “That’s a dumb question. Do you ever talk to her?”

  “No,” I answer immediately.

  Tyler doesn’t say anything back. He only gives a brief sigh, swinging the baseball bat even harder. His narrowed eyes glance away from me and I doubt he’s planning on looking at me anytime soon. He hates it when I mention her. No one ever really likes to discuss their ex, especially when that ex is Tiffani. She put him through hell before, and once she discovered what was going on between Tyler and me, I swear she despised us both. “So when are Rachael and Meghan coming over here?”

  I arch an eyebrow at his quick change in subject, but I don’t mind. I don’t particularly enjoy talking about Tiffani either. “The 16th. Meghan’s still gonna be in Europe with Jared until then, so they’re taking her birthday trip a little later than they planned.”

 
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