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Vacant Chapter 3 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.

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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; I need her 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 I do not need 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 pulging 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.”

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