Vacant (Chapter 13 Forgive)

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 she NOT be angry with me?

I'm ashamed at my answer. "I drove. I didn't really go anywhere. I was just running away, Emily." I hang my head, embarrassed that I don't even have a good reason for leaving her.

"I know it won't make any difference now because you probably hate me, but I love you too, Emily. I have since…forever, and I'm sorry I waited so long to tell you. I should have said it to you a week ago instead of running away like the coward I am. But, I can't hold back any longer without you knowing how I feel about you. I've never been in love before, but I'm pretty sure this is what it feels like. I can't think about anything else but you – how you laugh, the way you comb your hair, the way you smell right after the shower… God!"

Something stops my rambling, something soft, warm and moist. Emily's lips are on mine and her arms are wrapped around my neck. She's kissing me, and I don't ever want her to stop.

Her mouth on mine is awesome! And I think about other things I want her to do with her mouth.

While there are a hundred synonyms for how kissing Emily feels, the only thing in my head the at the moment is "woo-hoo". If I really think about what is actually happening, I'll make her stop. This is wrong – not the kissing part, but the part where she's willing to forgive all my sins and just take me back without a second thought. Now that I'm thinking about it…

Damn it! Now I'm mad. I pull away while her lips linger. "Emily," I sigh, not really knowing where to start. "We have to talk about this," I motion between us. She nods begrudgingly. It's written all over her face; she thinks I'm going to reject her again.

"Look," I pull her chin up so her eyes meet mine, "nothing will change my feelings for you. They haven't changed in the last few years, and they won't change in the next few, either. What I have to know, though, is how you are feeling."

She starts shaking her head, telling me not to worry, but that's precisely the problem. She should be angry with me.

"Emily, you should be upset with me. Yell, scream, hit – anything to let me know how you feel!" I'm almost shouting near the end of my declaration. I pull back and get myself in check before I completely lose it.


"What?" It's a stupid question because I heard perfectly well what she said. It's a stall tactic on my part.

"I'm relieved, Ethan."

"Why aren't you-"

"Do you know how many people there have been in my life who I cared about or who cared about me?"

I'm pretty sure I know the answer. I'm hoping it's two, but know for sure it's one – her mother – but I'm always careful not to bring up LouAnne. I just squeeze her hand, which I'm still holding onto like the piece of wood Leonardo DiCaprio was holding onto after his exit from the Titanic.

"Two, Ethan. Two."

Now I'm relieved.

"And one of them can't ever come back, but you did. You came back and I don't care where you went or what you did. You are here now, safe."

The tremble in her voice as she says, "what you did," tells me she's a little scared of what – or who – I might have done, so I hope I'm about to put her fears to rest.

"I just drove and slept in my car. I ate a few times, but honestly, Emily, the only thing I did was think about you and how much you mean to me. I was an asshole for leaving you. I didn't take your safety or well-being into account and for that, I'm sorry. You should be upset with me."

"I was scared, Ethan. At first, I thought maybe you were just blowing off some steam, off figuring out a way to tell me to leave, but when you didn't come home that first night or the next morning, I started to get worried. Then Margie came by and said you hadn't shown up for work."

So, this is how Margie knows about Emily.

"I wasn't really sure how much she knew, but I could tell she was surprised to find me here. She was so nice though. I told her how highly you speak of her and how much we appreciated the deal she and her husband gave on the car. Then I lost myself for a little bit and told her about you surprising me and taking me to graduation." Emily pauses and smiles, then looks down as if she's a little embarrassed.

"It was nice to have a woman to talk to again. It reminded me a little of my mom."

Emily continues to tell me about Margie coming to the house. She said she cried for a little bit because she didn't know what to do, that she'd been relying on me for so long. She didn't know what she would do if I didn't come home. She also tells me how Margie asked her about a job and what she liked to do. It seems they went to the public library and Emily applied for a position. She can work there part-time and still go to school. Apparently, she works until closing and that's why she came home so late. Margie also got her a bus pass and rode with her the first time to make sure it was safe.

There isn't a bouquet of flowers big enough for Margie right now.