Vacant (Chapter 8 Celebrate)

"Happy anniversary!" Emily yells at me as I exit the bathroom having just completed my morning ritual. She'd be disgusted if she knew everything it entailed, not to mention the full coverage robe I was supposed to buy, which means Emily still walks around in tiny towels. Of course, I spend extra time in the shower stroking out my morning wood so that I'm able to have some semblance of decency the rest of the day. Walking around with an Emily induced boner would certainly make our situation uncomfortable.

While the topic of dating and relationships hasn't been broached since January, that doesn't mean it has gone away. Instead, it's been the elephant in the room for eight long months.

"Is there an anniversary song?" Emily asks jokingly. "There's one for birthdays." She starts singing Happy Birthday, replacing "birthday" with "anniversary."

I can't help but smile given the joy the woman before me holds for the simplest of things.

"It's two years today, Ethan; two years ago you came over and opened my window, two years since you recognized I was alone and in need. Two years ago you opened your home and heart to a perfect stranger."

When she says heart quieter than the rest, mine skips a beat.

Her voice wavers at the end of her speech, indicating tears are about to follow. I reach out to her, pull her into me, and hold her tightly as she surrenders to the sadness. This is the only touch I'm allowed – the only appropriate embrace.

Looking in the mirror, I see a man whose extraordinarily proud. While I may not be the mama bird watching her baby bird fly from the nest, there is still pride deep in my chest. Emily graduates today from high school. It's an accomplishment, which given the circumstances, is astounding. Today is special, and it's the first time I've ever worn a tie, so I check it one last time. My tie isn't the only surprise I have for Emily today. I purchased my very first car this morning, and I plan to drive Emily to her graduation in a 1998 Toyota Corolla. It belonged to Margie, my boss, but her husband bought her a new one. He sold me the Corolla with 160,000 miles at an unreasonably low price. I'd say he was giving me a bit of charity, but no matter, it's mine.

Mine and Emily's.

"Get-out!" Emily shouts moments later as she looks at the champagne colored car parked on the street and then back at me. Her mouth is hanging open, unsure of what to say.

"Come on; get in. We have a graduation to get to."

"Your brother is way hot," I hear the blonde say. Emily doesn't respond, but another high-pitched voice does. "That's not her brother, you clueless bitch." Emily told me about this once, where females call each other names as terms of endearment, but I don't get it. If one of the guys at the store called me a bastard or asshole, I'd punch his face, endearment aside.

"Gretchen…" I hear Emily plead. "Please don't."

"What? He's not – which, of course begs the question, why aren't you bangin' his brains out, little Emily Evans?" Truth be told, I want to know Emily's response. It's not like I haven't thought about it a thousand times, but I'm curious to know if she thinks about it too.

"I have to – " then I hear footsteps rapidly retreating. I decide to make myself known and walk out of the hallway where I've been hiding since the conversation seems to be over.

"Hey, Ethan, you just missed Emily." The blonde motions down the hall in the direction Emily went.

I follow.

The sound hits me immediately as I near a classroom with an open door. Thankfully, it's a sound I haven't heard for a while, but hearing it now cuts me like a hot knife through cold butter.

"Emily?" I call to her as I enter the nearly empty room. The desks and chairs are stacked, waiting patiently for another round of students in the fall. Emily looks up, red-faced and glassy-eyed. She regards me for a moment, then bursts into another round of sobs. For a second, I think about how ugly crying is. I think Emily is beautiful, but the way her face contorts… it's just so unattractive. This crying mess in front of me doesn't look like Emily at all. Then the few remaining scraps of humanity I think I have left kick in, and those superficial and negative thoughts float away. All I'm seeing now is my Emily in pain – and I want to make it stop. I go to her as fast as my legs can carry me and take her in my arms, holding her close. We've only embraced a few times, but for me, it's special every time.

After several minutes, Emily has calmed and she raises her head to look at me. Her eyes are clear now, and as she gazes into my eyes, I think about how beautiful she is. It's all I can do not to place my lips over hers. We're so close that just a few inches forward would connect us. I want her so much sometimes it's hurts. But that's not meant to be, and my sinful thoughts have to remain hidden.

"Ethan, I have to tell you something. Well, ask you something, really. I mean I'm going to tell you something, but then I'm going to – " I cut her off by placing my hand gently over her mouth. She rambles when she's nervous, plus my hand will keep me from kissing her.

"Deep breath," I coach her and myself. After a few relaxing sighs, I encourage her to start again.

"You can tell me anything, Emily. I'm here for you. You can trust me."

But never in a million years would I expect what she says next.

"Ethan, I love you."