Vacant (Chapter 9 Love)

The words are ringing in my ears: "I love you."

It occurs to me I may have misheard. It's the only possible explanation.

"So, you're okay? Don't listen to those girls, Emily." I'll just pretend those three little words aren't hanging in the air – regardless of whether they were actually said.

"Ethan, did you hear what I just said?"

What do I say? I have no idea how to approach this, so I just stare at her wide-eyed.

After a few moments, I feel warmth creeping up my thigh and realize its Emily's hand. At first, it's an attempt to get my attention, but as her hand ascends, I realize the intent is not so innocent.

"We have to go. It's time to go," I say, stilted, like Rain Man talking about his Kmart underwear.

I grip the steering wheel for dear life because if I don't, the car and my life will go careening into the abyss. I've spent all this time convincing myself that Emily and I could never be anything but friends. Knowing that she may feel the same about me as I feel about her will complicate things, and I suddenly feel trapped.

It's so quiet as we drive, that I hear a small plinking that would go unnoticed otherwise, but as I near the duplex, the sound the car is making increases. I briefly wonder if it's because the plink is getting worse or the quiet is just so intense. I make a mental note to find the origin of the plinking before putting too many more miles on the car.

I should be thinking about the woman sitting next to me and her recent declaration instead of small pings, but I'm not… I can't.

If I do… no.

I can't think.

I'm not even sure how I get here, but I'm sitting in the middle of my bed, having an argument with myself.

It's no surprise that I'm winning.

"She told you she loves you."

"She says she loves to cook. She loves lots of things."

"She's in there and you're in here."

"You really need to clean the ceiling fan blades."

I can't help but roll my eyes at myself.

When I finally exit my room, the apartment is dark and quiet. Emily is asleep on the couch with a tight grip on the blankets. Little does she know she's gripping at my heart the same way.

The notebook on the side table catches my eye, and I can't help but snoop. As I near it, I see there are several wads of paper strewn across the floor – discarded because they weren't perfect. The top piece, still clinging to life in its spiral bindings, is flawless.

Dear Ethan –

Sitting down to write this, I've never felt more like a young girl than I do right now. For the past two years, I've looked at you every day in hopes that someday – you'd feel for me, what I feel for you. But now I see that we perceive different things regarding our relationship. Maybe it could be classified on my part as hero worship, but I'd like to think I'm smarter than that. I think I know the difference between infatuation and love.

I know there is a difference in our ages, but who cares? My heart has no idea how old your heart is. I just know that if I don't tell you, it will fester inside me, and I'll die a slow painful death. I've only ever loved my mom and never really knew what it was like to care for another person until I met you.

I didn't fall in love with you that first day, but after many months of learning to appreciate your care and concern, I could see how kind your soul – your whole being is. That's when I knew another kind of love existed. It isn't the type of love between family members, or a crush, but a true love that is unconditional and lasting, a love that I can no longer hide.

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,

Emily

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.