Read Vacant Online

Authors: Evelyn R. Baldwin

Vacant (page 2)

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The next morning shows no signs of life from my neighbor, but that’s no surprise. The noise coming from her side of the duplex kept me up well into the night, so I’m sure she’s sleeping in. I, on the other hand, take part in my free exercise routine—running. I do this early in the morning for two reasons: one, I avoid those who may feel the need to hassle me for money. They are not early risers, ashasslingis a mid-morning and post-lunch activity. Two, it gets hot as fuck here in the summer, and running in 105 degree temperatures is just stupid.

I crest the hill on my street, nearly completing my three miles, and seehersetting out the trash. New girl is looking around nervously, probably in hopes of going undetected since she’s barely dressed in her tiny shorts and tank top. It’s not leaving a whole hell of a lot to the imagination, and my mind wanders as I catch a glimpse at her ass. I see her throw a couple of empty boxes to the curb then turn and rush inside. I’m close enough that I can see the blackened bottoms of her feet as she scurries inside, then wonder how often she goes without shoes.

~

A few days pass before I see her again as I return from my run. This time she’s leaving a few plastic grocery sacks out for the trash. Once again, she’s dressed in the same tank and shorts she wore on Sunday. After my cool down stretch, I make my way inside and gather my things to shower. Only then does it occur to me that I haven’t heard the water turn on in neighbor girl’s unit at any point since she moved in, not even a toilet flush. The only sound I hear from her side of the wall is the crying each night. I recall her statement about not having electricity. I’m guessing she doesn’t have the water turned on yet, either.

A knot forms in my stomach.

Don’t get involved. Keep things simple. Take care of yourself!

I can’t help it and walk out my door, knocking on hers seconds later. It takes a moment before I realize I’m only wearing my shorts, but it’s too late. She opens the door a crack and eyes me.

“Ethan,” she greets, and then opens the door a little wider, looking around cautiously.

“Emily, right?”

“Yeah. What’s up?” She’s smiling again, just like when we met.

“I noticed that you, um…don’t have electricity yet, and you don’t have water either, huh?” She bites the inside of her cheek nervously.

“No.” Her reply is so small, just like she is, and I can tell she’s embarrassed.

“Come on,” I say, motioning for her to follow me. “You can shower and wash your clothes at my place. I pay a flat fee for the water, so you using it won’t cost me any more money.”

Don’t get involved. Keep things simple. Take care of yourself!

It’s too late, though. I’m already involved. It’s no longer simple, and for the first time ever, I’m offering to care for someone other than myself.

~Involved~

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this, Ethan.” She’s wrapped tightly in one of my towels, and I feel a… stirring. I wonder if she understands she’s half-naked in front of a stranger. I try not to be obvious in my perusal of her form; her body is small, but her tits are high, round, and a little large for her frame, though no complaints. I briefly wonder what her nipples look like, and lick my lips but catch myself before my ogling turns creepy.

“It’s no problem,” I answer hastily, refusing to look further at her.

I stop short before making my next statement. No matter how much I tell myself to mind my own business, I can’t seem to help dispensing advice. “You know, you can’t live without utilities, Emily.” I wonder where this girl comes from that she thinks living with no water or electricity isn’t a problem; my level of concern is now elevated a notch or two.

“I know, but—” she stops herself. “Yeah, I know.”

I have this feeling that there’s something off here, and I can’t ignore the fact she seems to be without essentials. “I typically shower in the morning, so if you want to come over at night and shower until you get the utilities turned on, that’s cool.” I turn away, wanting to give her privacy to dress because she needs to get dressed; Ineedher to get dressed.

“So like, what do you do all day?” I can hear the snap of the elastic on her panties against her hip as she finishes putting them on. Shit, these duplex units are too small!Or is my hearing that good?I can’t help the thoughts that run through my head. Thinking about her body is a complication Ido notneed or want. However, chiding myself doesn’t stop me from picturing the slight curve of her hips, her shapely thighs, or perfectly muscled backside.

“I go to work,” I snap, feeling guilty. Seconds later, her voice is right behind me. “Oh yeah? Where do you work?” Her tone is light and her remark impulsive. “I need to get a job.”

I turn so we’re face to face and she can see my eyes. Sometimes, emotion seeps out through the eyes. I don’t want her to see any vulnerability in mine. Once you’re seen as weak, people are quick to take advantage.

“I work down at the grocery store.” She smiles and looks down. She doesn’t want me to see her eyes.

“That’s really close, so I could walk there. You think they’re hiring?”

“Don’t know.” I have to keep it uncomplicated. Expanding on my answers will only lead to divulging more than I intend to offer. We stare at each other for a few more seconds before I break the silence. “Well, I—”

“Oh gosh, I’m sorry. I’ve done it again. You must have to get ready for your day. I come barging in here and ruin your routine!”

“It’s fine; I just have to take a cold shower before work.” The words are heavy in the air. They aren’t meant as they sound as I’m sure she’s used all the hot water in the small hot water tank, but after thinking about her showering and changing in my bathroom, perhaps a cold shower for another reason isn’t a bad idea.

“Yeah, okay. I’ll see you later.” Great... now, she thinks I’m a pervert.

~

I don’t see her for two days. . .

And for 48 hours, I worry.

-

Don’t get involved.

Keep things simple.

Take care of yourself!

~

DAMN IT!

It’s 10 p.m., and I can’t stand it anymore. I know something isn’t right. No utilities, no furniture, wears the same clothes, and I can hear her. I hear the sobbing every night through the thin-ass sheetrock.

“Emily,” I say in a slightly raised voice.Fucking non-existent walls.

“Yeah?” she sniffles.

“Can I come over?”

The pause seems to go on forever before she answers. It’s a “yes” mingled with sobs.

Don’t get involved.

Keep things simple.

Take care of yourself!

 

It’s too late. . .

~

I sit on the edge of her mattress not knowing what to do.

“Thanks for coming over. Nights…they’re the hardest.”

“Emily? What’s going on? Tell me the truth. I’m not going to rat you out or anything.” I chance a look at her face and the fear is evident. I refuse to focus on her in her thread bare tank and panties.

“You’re not renting this place, are you?” I surmise aloud. I think I’ve known this for some time but just didn’t want to admit it. Admitting it makes it real. Making it real means I’m stuck; I can’t walk away now, realizing what I know.

“Please! Please don’t tell anyone!” She’s frantic, on the edge of mania. I scoot closer in hopes of easing her.

Not too long after I moved into my first group home, the baseball my father gave me when I was seven, got stolen. It was one of the few personal items I owned. A staff from the group home tried to comfort me when I discovered it was missing by hugging me and patting my hair.

I attempt to mimic the same gestures for Emily, because it’s the only comfort I know. She clings to me like a lost swimmer gripping a buoy in an endless sea. Finally, she quiets and the knot in my stomach comes back. I know I have to find out what’s really going on. I need to press her for more information since it seems I’m intent on helping her.

“Tell me.”

~Questions~

We sit in silence for quite some time, and I can tell she’s nervous about telling me what’s going on. I don’t want to force her. When she’s ready, she’ll let me know. As I wait, I realize it’s the first quiet night I’ve had since she moved in.

I really don’t want to make assumptions because things aren’t always what they appear. However, as I sit playing protector to this girl, scenarios run rampant through my mind. She has very few clothes. Irregular bathing does not bother her. She is careful, but trusting—not at all shy. She’s young and alone; she has no furniture and no utilities. All evidence points to her being parentless and homeless.

I can relate.

Don’t get involved.

Keep things simple.

Take care of yourself!

_

Don’t get involved.

Keep things simple.

Take care of yourself!

_

Don’t get involved.

Keep things simple.

Take care of yourself!

_

No matter how many times I recite the mantra in my head, it’s useless. This life isn’t suited to girls who are alone, no matter how equipped they are to deal with the shit life flings at them. Women are taken advantage of in the blink of an eye when the opportunity is given. I make a mental note to be sure Emily doesn’t suffer the same fate, particularly by my hand.  I’m sitting on Emily’s mattress, my head against our shared wall. She’s leaning into my side, quiet, in what I hope is peaceful sleep.

After thinking this situation over for a while I shake my head, realizing I’ve already talked myself into this, into helping Emily; I find it nearly impossiblenot tonow. Eventually, I drift off with determination and the realization I’ve opened a big-assed can of worms… for both of us.

Hours later, my inner alarm clock wakes me. There is a little drool on my shoulder and it’s kind of gross. I lay Homeless Girl down on her bare mattress and make note to bring over an extra set of sheets. Who knows where she even got the mattress? I’m sure it’s infested with who-knows-what. I may be poor, but I like clean. There are some things that shouldn’t be bought in used condition. Shoes, underwear, and mattresses quickly spring to mind.

During my run, I think about the upheaval I’m getting myself into, and the reality of the situation is weighing heavily upon me. As a kid, I was lucky enough to be moved to a safe place where all my basic needs were met. I never had to fend for myself in thephysicalsense;emotionally, though? That was another story. I run an extra two miles trying to process everything. I decide this is my chance to pay it forward. I ignore my mantra as it only serves to confuse me further at this point. The fact remains I’ve already gotten involved, and I try to rationalize how much trouble one small girl can really be. Part of me feels like it’s none of my business what her personal situations is, but if I’m going to help her, then I want some basic information. She doesn’t have to tell me her life story, but I need to know her circumstances.

After I get home from work and knock on the bedroom wall, I chuckle to myself thinking it may as well be a shower curtain for all the privacy the thin, flimsy wall provides. I yell, telling homeless neighbor girl I’ve ordered pizza and she should come join me for dinner.

~

“You’re the best! I can’t believe you got us pizza!” She won’t stop gushing about how nice I am or how “awesome” the pizza is. When she came over, she looked a bit skeptical, like she wondered what I wanted from her in return, but I didn’t even want to think about whatthatmight mean.

Food, clothes, shelter. That’s all...

As we eat, I try to think of the best way to bring up her state of affairs. I find that being direct is the best solution. I watch as she inhales her third slice of pizza, I rationalize I need to start referring to Emily by name. Calling her Homeless Girl and Neighbor Girl isn’t helpful for either of us. I need to see her as a meaningful person, not a ‘problem from next door’.Emilyneeds to hear her name, if for nothing else, so she knows she exists.

“So, I have a couple questions. I’ve been thinking about this since last night,” I pause making sure she is receptive to my inquiry.  She nods indicating her permission. “Question number one: Where are your parents?” She eyes me quickly, and then takes a bite of pizza, chewing slowly.

She’s stalling.

“I don’t know my dad, and my mom passed away recently,” she says quietly. I take her answer at face value because I know how difficult the loss of a parent is.

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