Read Vacant Online

Authors: Evelyn R. Baldwin

Vacant (page 5)

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I know you probably don’t return these feelings, but I couldn’t go another second without you knowing. I understand if it makes you uncomfortable, and I’ll find another place to live if you feel like we can no longer be friends.

Love always,



I tightly clutch the notebook page in my hand.

How can she do this to me?

Doesn’t she know what she’s done?

No… it’s not right.

Not now, and without any further thoughts, I’m out the door.


When I finally look at the clock, I notice it’s been seven hours since I ran out on Emily and my feelings. As I look out in front of me, the gray asphalt blurring with yellow and white lines, I make the decision to keep going. I don’t want to be the one to ruin her.


No matter how far I drive, I come to the same conclusion over and over again. I must have given Emily some sign of my feelings for her. It was never my intention. I’m a stock boy at a grocery store. She needs someone to take care of her…buy her all the things she’s never had. She doesn’t need an orphaned schmuck with less money than common sense.


Usually, forty-eight hours doesn’t seem like a whole lot. However, it’s the longest I’ve been away from Emily in the time I’ve known her. It’s hard for me to believe I’ve only known her such a short time because she’s my whole life. How can your whole life be consumed by one person you haven’t known your entire life?

Since I don’t know the answer to that, I keep driving.


It’s Friday the 13th. I hadn’t actually realized it until I stopped for gas, and the lady in front of me was writing a check. She asked what the date was. The attendant answered her in a gleeful, yet macabre tone. Can onecelebrateFriday the 13th? If today is the thirteenth though, that means I’ve been sleeping in my car for six days.

Six days without her beautiful eyes.

Six days without hearing the slight lilt in her voice.

Six days since she told me she loved me, and I left her—like a thief in the night. Six days of thinking about kissing, touching and holding Emily. It’s the only thing I’ve thought about.

Suddenly, it hits me: I know exactly what the raccoon from yesterday felt like as the wheels of the truck ahead of me rolled over him crushing him from the outside in.


I drive and can’t help that my emotions are all over the place. I’m angry because I’ve been living in exile from the one… The one person who gives a shit whether I live or die… I left her alone to fend for herself.

I take my rage out on the steering wheel before pulling over; I need a minute to collect myself.

Two minutes.


It takes me half an hour before I’m calm enough to continue driving, but I rush because I want to get back to her. I want to touch her,bewith her. I realize how fundamentally wrong I’ve been about my feelings for her. While I thought I was doing what was best for Emily, I never considered that I was really just protecting myself. I hadn’t taken her feelings into account. I hadn’t thought about what I was doing to her by leaving…and in the same accord, making her declaration of love, trivial.

The anger fades and misery takes its place.

I’m sad because I miss her. I need her more than air.

I need air, and I need Emily.

Air is so much easier.

Before long, fear sets in. What if she isn’t there when I get back? Why would she be? I left her by herself for six days after I swore I’d take care of her.

I think about what I did as I continue down the lonely stretch of highway.

I worked so hard to separate myself from the drama and emotions of everyday life realizing I haven’t been living at all. I think of all the time I’ve wasted; all the time I could have been with her—been with her…

Her legs are bare and slender. I imagine what’s just beyond the small rectangle of terry cloth. Her hair tickles the tops of her breasts, teasing me with what’s just beyond the knot of the towel. One small flick and she’d be naked before me, her body as fantastic as I’ve always imagined.

My foot pushes a little harder on the accelerator as my frustration builds.

I’m tired and feeling the effects of driving ten hours straight. As I consider pulling over, the guilt seeps in again. I’ve already been away from her for too long. I can’t stand to be apart from Emily any longer, but the seconds continue to tick by and I can’t seem to get there fast enough. I push on, despite being a danger to others on the road due to my exhaustion. I see a gas station ahead, and force myself off the road and into the brightly lit convenience store. After hours of lonesome interstate travel, the intense glow of the fluorescent lights hurts my eyes, and only serves to remind me of the dim nature of my existence without Emily. I make quick work of refueling the car and myself and then rejoin the blacktop.

Finally,finally, I see the mile marker indicating my journey is almost over, an hour to go before I’m back with Emily. Anxiety weighs heavily on me because I think I could have gotten here faster; what if she just left? What if she’s been waiting for the last week and that was her limit?

I shouldn’t have left in the first place. I should have told her how I felt so we could be living a happily ever after. Regret won’t change things, though. It doesn’t serve any purpose now.

I pass the city limits sign, and a smile spreads across my face. I’m happy and hopeful. A hundred and one scenarios play out in my head as to how Emily will react when she sees me.

She throws open the screen door and rushes towards me. I catch her in my arms and spin her around. I tell her I love her and want to spend eternity with her. She smiles and says she wants the same thing...

We barely make it to the bedroom before I fully make her mine…

I open the door and call her name but no one answers. All her things are gone, and she’s nowhere to be found...

As I make my way up the walk, she stops me and tells me she doesn’t ever want to see me again. That I broke her heart and I’m a fuck-up she wants nothing to do with…

I’m brought out of my thoughts as a car horn blares behind me. Dawn has broken and there is slight traffic moving about. I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting at the stop sign on the corner before the car behind me demands attention.

It’s now or never, and never isn’t an option.

I stand at the door, my door—her door—ready to knock. It occurs to me how odd this is; I’m about to knock on my own door. Suddenly, I’m embarrassed. I look down and my clothes are dirty and unkempt. I smell—it’s been two days since I’ve cleaned up at all. How can I look her in the eye, kiss her lips, hug her body, when I look and smell like a homeless man?

I am homeless, though. Without her, without her love and care and warm eyes, I’m a man with a heart that has no home.

So I knock.


I knock, but there’s no answer. I let myself in and I’m immediately relieved to see Emily’s things still around the house, including her bedding on the couch. Remorse creeps back into my chest as I think about the numerous times I’ve tried to convince Emily to take my room—my bed—but she never has.

I kneel down on the floor in front of the sofa to worship the scent lingering in the sheets. She always smells like baby powder, the cheap off brand they sell at the Dollar Tree, but regardless of the price, it smells like heaven to me. I close my eyes and enjoy her essence while also promising myself to buy her name-brand lotion. No more generic.


The shouting startles me awake.

“I don’t care! Get the mother-fucking money. I don’t pay you to lose my shit!” Then I hear the unmistakable sound of a fist meeting flesh. My blood runs cold as I wonder if it’s Emily next door. The thought hits me like the fist from next door:What has she done to get money for herself?

I’ve had many neighbors while I’ve lived here. It’s to be expected, as the downtrodden are a transient population. That unit was empty when….when I left, so I hadn’t thought about a new tenant. I also hadn’t figured on undesirables moving in. I’d never worried aboutmysafety, but now I have to think of Emily’s safety and protection. This is no place for her.

I hear a feminine scream amid the sounds of skin being struck and I know it’s not my girl. I know what her scream sounds like after a spider infestation and that’s not it. It’s not Emily.

“Get up, Punta!”

I hear more ramblings and shouts in Spanish; the female cries in response. All I can think is,Thank God it’s not Emily. But it is someone—someone’s daughter, sister, or friend. I do the only thing I can. I call the police and let them handle it. While I’ve read heroic tales of men saving the day, it’s not safe or practical in this case. It’s very likely that the monster next door has a weapon, and I’m no good to protect Emily if I’m dead. The cops come and go quickly. The woman refuses to press charges, but the man is escorted off the property with a warning not to return. He’ll be back, though.

They always are.

My thoughts drift to moving to a better neighborhood, but then I realize I may not have a job because I’m a complete coward who left for a week without calling his boss; it’ll be a miracle if I’m not fired. How will I take care of Emily without a job?

I’m an idiot.God, how did I fuck this up so badly?

I dial Margie’s number and her cheerful greeting relaxes me a bit. “Hey, Marge, it’s Ethan.”

“Well hey, Sugarplum.  How was your vacation?” She knows I wasn’t on vacation, and I try to discern if there is sarcasm in her voice, but I can’t seem to detect any.

“Margie, I wasn’t on vacation.”

“Sure you were, kid. It’s on the schedule; I approved it myself. There’s paperwork and everything. The owners are glad you finally took some time off. You had more than three weeks coming to you. It makes them nervous that you’ve never taken a day off in five years.”

I’m confused and my silence must confirm this to my manager. “So, are you coming in tomorrow? I’m down a cashier and could use ya.”

Cashier? I’m a “back of the house” guy.The“make sure there’s always chips on the display” guy; low man on the grocery store food chain.

“Uhhhh…” is my incoherent reply.

“It’s time you take on more responsibility, kiddo. You have that pretty girl to take care of.”

She knows. She knows about Emily. How does she know?

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Ethan.”

I’m left holding the phone wondering what the hell is going on.


So far I’ve cleaned the bathroom, the oven, the refrigerator and vacuumed—twice. It’s after nine and Emily still hasn’t shown up. I’m starting to think that her things are simply a mirage, or maybe she just didn’t want to carry a lot of junk with her.

Maybe she’s staying with one of her school friends, and she didn’t need her hygiene stuff. Maybe my earlier thought about what she would need to do for money wasn’t that far off the mark. Maybe she’s out doing something dangerous, or worse yet, something has already happened to her. There’s no one but me to know she’s missing. How long do I have to wait before I turn her in as a missing person? I know she has to be missing for at least twenty-four hours, but maybe she’s already been gone for a couple days. Oh, God—what if she’s hurt and lying somewhere. Maybe she only has minutes left and I can’t get to her in time…

“Ow!” I hit my head on the bottom shelf of the linen closet, cleaning the dried and caked shampoo from the floor when the sound of the door closing startles me.

“Emily?” I hope it’s her. If it’s not, I’m going to call the cops and lie and tell them she’s been missing for days. I hear the slapping of tennis shoes against the linoleum, then a thud on the carpet. I turn and look down the hall to see a brown-haired beauty face down on the floor.

“Emily? Are you okay?” I almost—almost—laugh when she looks up at me with her hair tangled in her face.

“Ethan, it’s you! It’s really you!” She scrambles the rest of the way to me on her knees, spitting her hair out of her mouth and hugging me tighter than I can ever remember. Her smile is brighter than a sunny day at the equator. We settle on the couch, still holding on to each other. I can’t seem to let go. I never want to let go.

“Where have you been?” There doesn’t seem to be any anger in her tone. How could sheNOTbe angry with me?