Did I Mention I Love You(10)

By: Estelle Maskame


“Who the hell is this chick?” he demands, his eyes flashing sideways to Ella as he awaits an explanation for why there’s a clueless teenager on his staircase looking like she’s doing aerobics.

I can see the hesitation cross Ella’s features as she carefully considers how to reply. Gently, she reaches for his arm. “Tyler,” she says, “this is Eden. Dave’s daughter.”

Jackass—or, more formally, Tyler—snorts. “Dave’s kid?”

I push myself up a little and get to my feet, but he’s still looking away. “Hi,” I try. I’m about to hold out my hand, but then I realize how stupid I’ll look, so I interlink my fingers instead.

His eyes finally move back to mine. He just stares at me. Stares and stares. It’s like he’s never seen another human being before, because to begin with he appears confused, and then angry, and then perplexed again. His sharp eyes make me feel uncomfortable as he studies me, so I drop mine to his casual brown boots and jeans for a second. When I steal a look at him, he slowly swallows and glances at Ella. “Dave’s kid?” he repeats, this time his voice much quieter, laced with disbelief.

Ella sighs. “Yes, Tyler. I already told you she was coming. Don’t act stupid.”

He’s facing Ella, but out of the corner of his eye, he’s looking me up and down again. “Which room?”

“What?”

“Which room is she staying in?” It feels odd hearing him talk about me like I’m not even here, and judging by his reaction, I’m guessing he wishes that was the case.

“The one next to yours.”

He dramatically groans, exaggerating his annoyance at knowing I’ll be near him, and then turns back to fully look at me. Now he’s glaring. Does he think I want to be living in this house with this pathetic excuse for a family? Because I don’t.

Once he’s glowered at me, as though to make a statement, he nudges Ella to the side and then barges past me and storms upstairs.

For the several long seconds that it takes for us to hear a door slam, Ella and I remain silent. Waiting for him to slam a door before talking again seems like it must be a daily occurrence in this house.

“I’m sorry,” Ella apologizes. She genuinely looks stressed and mortified, and I find myself feeling sympathetic. Maybe even empathetic. If I had to deal with as big a moron as him every day, I’d probably have three breakdowns every twenty-four hours. “He’s just… Look, let’s head back outside.”

No thank you. “Actually, Chase spilled his drink on me, so I’ve got to change my shirt.”

“Oh,” she says. Her eyebrows arch as she studies the damp stain on my tank top with a slight grimace. “I hope he apologized for it.”

As she makes her way back to the yard, I finally move up the staircase—swiftly this time, without looking deformed—and collapse into my room, breathing a sigh of relief the second I get the door shut. Alone at last, with no one to irritate me.

For exactly eight seconds, until music starts blasting from the room next door so loud I fear the wall might collapse. Rachael said she hoped my room was nowhere near Tyler’s. Forget being near—I’m right next door. I feel speechless and annoyed and tired as I stand in the center of my room and stare at the far wall. On the other side of it, a moron sleeps at night.

Thankfully after about five minutes the music dies down until it’s silent again, the only noise the sound of a door opening. Perhaps my stepbrother has calmed down by now. And it’s this hope that draws me toward my own door, pulling it open slowly to meet the fierce, far-from-calm eyes outside.

“Hi,” I try again. If this person is now a permanent fixture of my new “family,” I need to at least make an effort. “Are you okay?”

Tyler’s emerald eyes laugh at me. “Bye,” he says. With the same red flannel shirt on his back and brown boots on his feet, he smoothly descends the staircase and heads out the front door without a single person noticing his departure besides me. He is quite clearly grounded, but it seems he couldn’t care less.

I simply sigh and shuffle back into my room. At least I tried, which is far from what he did. I slip off my blazer and haul off my tank top, dropping it on the floor before collapsing onto my new bed for the first time. The foam mattress engulfs my body, and once I develop the ability to tune out the faint pumping of music laced with drunken laughter, I stare at the ceiling and just breathe. I breathe even when an engine growls to life outside and catapults a car down the street. Presumably Tyler.

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