Did I Mention I Love You(9)

By: Estelle Maskame


“Eden,” he says as he approaches. He says my name so slowly and so carefully that it’s obvious he’s testing it on his lips. “Eden,” he says again, this time much faster and blunter, “where’s the soda?” His friends slowly edge toward us, their wide eyes innocent and anxious. Right, I think, because I am oh-so-intimidating.

“Probably on the table,” I suggest. “Ask your mom.”

“She’s inside,” Chase says. And then one of his friends shoves him forward, laughing as though it’s the greatest prank in the world, and Chase bumps into my body with a soft thud. He reels back immediately and is, quite obviously, a little embarrassed. It’s then that I realize my tank top is damp. “Sorry,” he blurts. He glances down at the empty plastic cup in his hand. It was a quarter full a second ago.

“It’s fine,” I say. In fact, it’s great. Now I get to head inside and escape this terrible barbecue while I change my shirt. I make my getaway then, almost gleefully twirling into the house. Hopefully Dad will have one beer too many and won’t notice if I decide not to head back out there for the rest of the night. I’ll hang out in my ever-basic room and call my mom or video chat with Amelia or maybe break both my legs. Any one sounds better than standing alone outside.

I heave an exhausted sigh—it’s been a hell of a tiring day—and make for the staircase. But I’ve barely set foot on the first step when I hear explosive yelling bouncing from the walls of the living room. And I’m too curious, too intrigued to even think about ignoring it. So I don’t. I edge toward the small gap in the door.

From my limited view, I see Ella close her eyes and bury her head in her hands as she rubs her temples. “I’m not even late,” a male voice says from somewhere at the opposite side of the room. His tone is harsh, and I immediately realize it belongs to Jackass.

“You’re two hours late!” Ella yells, and I find myself taking a slight step back as her eyes snap open. I’m afraid she’ll spot me.

Jackass laughs. “You really think I’m gonna come home to watch a damn barbecue?”

“What is your problem this time? Forget the barbecue,” says Ella, and she begins to pace back and forth across the cream carpet. “You were acting like a little kid before you even got out of the car. What’s wrong?”

He’s a little out of breath as he clenches his jaw and angles his face to the side. “Nothing,” he says, his teeth grinding together.

“It’s clearly not nothing.” Ella’s tone is stern and scolding, which is a far cry from the sweet tone I was offered just fifteen minutes ago. “You just humiliated me again in front of half the neighborhood!”

“Whatever.”

“I shouldn’t have let you leave,” Ella says, more quietly this time, as though it’s herself she’s mad at. “I should have just made you stay, but no, of course I didn’t, because there I was, trying to cut you some slack, and you throw it back in my face as usual.”

“I would have left anyway,” Jackass retorts. He steps into my view, shaking his head as he chuckles at Ella. His back is turned, and it gives me a chance to get a half-decent look at him—he stormed past us all so quickly the first time that I barely had a chance to take in anything. “What are you gonna do? Ground me again?” His voice is deep and husky and his hair is almost jet black. It’s tousled yet neat, and his shoulders are broad, and he is tall. Very tall. He towers over Ella by several inches.

“You’re impossible,” she states through gritted teeth. But as she says this, she glances over his shoulder for a split second and fixes her gaze directly on me.

My breath catches in my throat as I scramble away from the door, desperately wishing that she hasn’t actually seen me, that perhaps she was glancing toward the door and not the person hiding behind it. But my wishing proves to be a waste of hope when the door swings open seconds later, before I’ve had the chance to make my escape.

“Eden?” Ella steps into the hall and her eyes drop to mine, for I’m half sprawled across the staircase. My pathetic attempt to quickly clamber upstairs hasn’t worked out that well.

“Um,” I say. If my arms weren’t frozen stiff, I’d be face-palming right now.

And then the worst thing in the world happens. Jackass sticks his head around the door frame and moves out into the hall beside us, and that’s when I get a good look at him up close for the first time. His eyes are emerald—too bright to be considered a mere green and too vibrant to be considered normal—and they narrow at me in a way that sends a shiver down my spine. His jaw clenches again, wiping the smirk completely off his face.

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