Authors: Evelyn R. Baldwin
The past year has been filled with much patience and restraint on my part. As I realize Emily is still a child in the eyes of the law, I struggle to keep my mind on a virtuous path. Sometimes I swear she’s torturing me. This morning she decided to get a drink of orange juice after taking a shower but before getting dressed. She says she likes the taste of orange juice while the mint of the toothpaste lingers. I walked out of the bedroom, and there’s Emily... bending over... reaching for juice...in a towel. And because I’m frugal, our towels are cheap and on the small side.
I think she knows she’s torturing me when she stands there, flexing her leg. I leave the house without my lunch or coat in haste to escape. I don’t want to continue down this path with my thoughts. I’ve made a vow to myself that my relationship with Emily will remain chaste, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have to redirect my thoughts on a consistent basis.
I’m only human.
On my way to work I make a mental note to save some money so I can buy her a robe... with full coverage.
The temperature has dropped since our arrival at the shelter this morning, so we walk quickly. This is our Christmas tradition now. Emily asked that we visit last year as a way to remember her mother. Now, I see how lucky we truly are with what we have. There are so many who have nothing. Our home may lack many of the modern conveniences and technological advances of most, but we are healthy, bellies full, and we have a roof over our heads. Helping to serve dinner and visit with the shelter patrons is a way for Emily and me to pay it forward.
We don’t exchange expensive gifts. Instead, I always get her a new kitchen gadget from the Dollar Store, and she always bakes me butterscotch cookies. It’s not much, but it’s meaningful and the only thing that counts to us.
As my arm swings with the rhythm of my feet, I brush Emily's fingers with my own. It’s an innocent accident, though the sudden warmth in my chest is anything but. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep up this ruse, playing her brotherly protector. While Emily has never spoken about boys in her class or voiced interests of the romantic sort, I know it’s inevitable. She has blossomed into a beautiful creature who has no idea of the devastation her beauty wreaks upon me and, surely, the boys around her. Her smile is infectious, and it’s only a matter of time before a suitor comes knocking at our door. I kind of feel sorry for the poor boy, as my first time meeting him will most likely be ugly. I’m a fierce guardian where Emily is concerned, not just because it’s my duty to protect her but because seeing Emily with another guy will end me.
I want to reach out and take her hand in mine as we walk, but I don’t. I have calculated the difference in our ages. Five years doesn’t seem all that much when she is twenty and I’m twenty-five. However, she is seventeen and still a minor, which is the only important difference, no matter how hard my libido begs to differ. I have to prepare for her to have romantic feelings for someone her own age, not a twenty-two year-old guy who has to act like her older brother.
Sisters rarely hold hands with their brothers.
"Why don’t you go out on dates?" Emily suddenly asks in the middle of New Year’s Day dinner. She insists on serving black-eyed peas because they are lucky if you eat them on the first day of the year. They taste like shit, but as usual, I humor her by eating them.
"Huh?" I stall. She’s familiar with my deliberate stall tactic and narrows her eyes at me.
"I’ve never seen you with a woman." She pauses, like she’s unsure how to broach the next part. “I mean, you’re a good looking guy. There have to be opportunities for you to go out..." She stops and takes a deep breath as if preparing herself for my answer.
"Never mind, Ethan. I can tell it’s not a topic you want to talk about."
With that, she leaves the table and her half-eaten plate and heads for the bedroom, one of her only options for privacy . The door closes and I’m left feeling more confused than ever. I’m learning that girls are confusing, especially where Emily is concerned.
"Happy anniversary!" Emily yells at me as I exit the bathroom having just completed my morning ritual. She’d be disgusted if she knew
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
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.
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."
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
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
is getting worse or the quiet is just so intense. I make a mental note to find the origin of the
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.