Emma Carpenter looked at the piece of paper in her hand. It read 1125 W 50th Street.
She double checked the street sign that was three houses down on the corner. It said W 50th Street.
She looked straight ahead at the numbers on the house. The numbers were 1125.
After refolding the paper, she neatly slipped it into the back pocket of her jeans and let out a sigh.
When her cousin Aaron said his friend had a spare room at his place, she wasn’t expecting a posh, glamorous townhouse, like she was used to.
And when Aaron wrote down the address, she didn’t think the place would be much, but she was expecting more than what she stood in front of.
“Maybe I should just go back,” she whispered to herself, as her nostrils caught the scent of weed blowing from a neighbor’s open window.
She wrinkled her nose and fanned the front of her face. That stuff always smelled like skunk to her.
Refocusing her attention back at 1125 W 50th Street, she noticed a big chunk of concrete was missing on the third step that led up to a weathered, warped front door.
The house, at one point, was white, or so said the few speckles of paint still left on the siding. The windows, from the basement to the second floor, were smeared with many years’ worth of dirt and grime.
The other tall and skinny houses squeezed up and down that street were mostly the same, with some minor variations from house to house.
The need for a bit of TLC on this place would’ve been an understatement.
Emma knew that if she went back now, her parents would’ve just assumed she went shopping for the day, had dinner with a friend and caught a movie.
If she ran desperately for the taxi—which was now pulling from the curb and into light traffic—she knew it would stop for her.
The elderly driver gave such an expression as she got out, as if to say, “Are you sure you’re at the right address?”
But she just stood there and watched the yellow cab become smaller and smaller.
Emma picked up her suitcase, took a deep breath, and slowly climbed the stairs. Her suitcase suddenly felt much heavier than before.
Bass from a stereo inside vibrated through the door. She pounded loud enough for the people inside to hear. As soon as she knocked, growls and barks came from the other side of the door.
She silently hoped that it wasn’t a big threatening animal. Maybe a small dog with a loud, ferocious bark? Not likely.
The front door opened a few inches and a young man’s head stuck out. He looked her up and down, a bit confused, but pleasantly so.
“You lost or somethin’?” he asked with a slight hint of attitude, no doubt acquired from unfortunate past experiences.
Emma realized how out of place she must have appeared.
Fitted, dark jeans with a boot cut bottom, newer black pointy toed boots, a white, V-neck, long sleeved shirt, long, flat ironed blonde hair, and a black, suede autumn jacket.
Now, she wished she would’ve thrown on her baggy sweater instead.
“Um, hi. I’m looking for a Jamie Brown?” she said.
His hat was positioned with the brim sideways on his head, wearing a simple, worn black T-shirt, and jeans so baggy that, if it wasn’t for the belt, they probably would’ve fallen to the ground.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Who wants to know?”
“I’m Emma Carpenter. My cousin is Aaron.”
She ended her sentence more like she was asking a question to this young man who was probably around nineteen or twenty years old.
She hoped that the name sounded familiar.
The guy smiled, as though he was remembering what was going on. He opened the door.
He held onto a black Labrador by the collar. Its nose was in overdrive as it attemoted to find out who Emma was.
“Oh, yeah! I’m Jamie. Sorry, but I just assumed you would look more like Aaron.”
As he apologized he moved out of the way to let her in.
Her cousin was a heavier set guy and a basic T-shirt and jeans type of dresser. Emma hoped he wasn’t referring to the weight issue.
The living room was on the right, of the home’s entrance.
Two mismatched, dated sofas were arranged in front of a fifty-six inch flat screen TV and surround sound stereo system, as well as various gaming systems.
The mustard-yellow shag carpeting and peeling wallpaper looked awkward with this expensive entertainment unit.
Emma wasn’t surprised though. Most guys fresh from the nest will often get the best electronics, but have the shabbiest of everything else.
Jamie picked up a remote and turned down the stereo’s volume.
There was an awkward silence as Jamie’s dog decided to greet her by sniffing her crotch. Emma shyly smiled and pushed the dog’s nose to the side.
“So, um, living room.”
He waved his arms around in the air, then walked straight ahead to lead her to the small kitchen that had a two-person table with chairs.
The cabinets showed many years and many tenants worth of use. The plain wood doors had been painted a blotchy white and the original round steel door knobs were still on them.
Emma’s stomach churned at the sight of the dirty dishes stacked high in the sink, and on the counter, and the table. She wondered how long it had been since they were washed.
The partially overflowing garbage bag in the corner with paper plates sticking out suggested that it had been awhile.
The mold and rotting food that must have been accumulating on these dishes probably wouldn’t be worth washing anymore anyways.
Jamie opened a door that led upstairs. The stairwell was long and narrow. She wondered how they managed to move any furniture up since there was hardly enough room to walk.
A bathroom was at the top of the stairs. Then, they turned right.
He pointed at a closed door next to the bathroom. “This is my room.” And then he opened a door after making another turn. “And this will be yours.”
Emma didn’t say anything.
“My former roommate moved in with his girlfriend last month, so he left the bed. She’s got a big queen sized.” He snickered.
Emma tried to seem amused by this remark, but didn’t succeed. Jamie stopped smiling and cleared his throat, looking sheepish. This was followed by another awkward silence.
“So, is there a store somewhere close by where I could get a few things? Toothbrush, that sort of stuff?”
“Yeah. There’s a Wal-Mart on Thiessen Street. The bus stops at the corner here and goes right passed it.
“Honestly, though, you don’t wanna be walkin’ by yourself around here any amount, you feel me? Just go to the bus stop.”
Jamie emphasized his point by gesturing in the direction of the bus stop. Emma nodded.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, turning back to Emma just before leaving the room, “some of my crew is coming by tonight. Just to let ya know.”
Emma wanted to ask how many people that was, since a ‘crew’ sounded like a lot, but instead she just smiled and nodded again.
It was his house after all, and he was being hospitable enough by letting her stay.
Jamie gave a little wave and bowed out, softly closing the door behind him.
When she was finally alone, she put down her belongings and sat in an old wooden chair in front of a small desk.
She wondered how much, if anything, Aaron had told Jamie about why she was looking for a place to, well to be honest, hide.
The last few weeks had been so crazy and everything happened so fast. Now that things were beginning to settle, her mind was starting to move from feeling numb to feeling pain.
She gripped her thighs tightly, feeling a stinging behind her eyes as the tears began to steadily fall.
She remained silent. No wailing, no screaming out nor hyperventilating. Just tears, and the feeling of her nails piercing her skin.
So, this is what ‘scratch’ is, she thought, wiping her face with the back of her hand. ~A clean slate. Starting over~.
She never imagined, at only twenty-nine years old, she’d ever have to do that.
She felt lost, vulnerable, stripped of everything she had known, tossed into the jungle and forced to choose between life or death.
By now she had planned on being a successful massage therapist, maybe even own her own spa, with a loving husband, a few kids, a mortgage, and a dog.
But, when twenty-nine came around in May, she only had her career, minus the ownership of a prestigious spa.
She had found success in being a massage therapist, but she had to abandon all her clients and people she had known for five years to start over.
She truly believed leaving everything and everyone was the only option.
She needed to be somewhere where she could reinvent herself, be someone with an uninteresting past and exists just as a face in the crowd.
From scratch sounded promising. It gave Emma a glimmer of hope. But now, looking over at her suitcase on a secondhand twin bed crushed her optimism. Starting from scratch sucked.
“Snap out of it Emma! Don’t you dare feel sorry for yourself,” she reprimanded herself sternly, standing up and forcing herself to hold her head up.
She needed to appear collected before venturing out shopping. She was hoping it would be therapeutic.
There was no mirror in her little room, so she decided to try the bathroom. She opened the door, but her path was blocked by the big Labrador.
They looked at each other. He didn’t growl, but he did slowly approach her and cautiously smell her leg this time.
Feeling brave, Emma slowly held out her hand so he could smell that too. She loved dogs and was hoping maybe he’d let her pet him, eventually.
To her surprise, the dog licked her hand and put his head under her opened hand so she could scratch his head. His fur was very soft and soothing. He was actually quite gentle and affectionate.
For the first time in a while, she smiled a real smile, and her shoulders came down from being wrapped around her ears.
“You’re silly,” she quietly said to the dog. “You bark up a big game, but no follow through.”
“Joker!” yelled Jamie from the bottom of the stairs.
Immediately, the dog turned and left.
The brief moment of light heartedness was abruptly stopped when she flicked on the bathroom light.
A tiny little dirty bathroom. There was a ring of grime around the tub. Facial shavings clung to the sink and on the counter.
The toilet had the seat up and there was pee all over the sides of the rim accompanied by the reek of urine.
She’d seen public washrooms at truck stops cleaner than this. A cleaning liquid with bleach in it was the first thing she was going to buy. And gloves.
Emma decided to just pull her hair into a ponytail and put on the bulky sweater she was wishing she would’ve put on earlier.
She quietly went down the stairs, passed the kitchen and into the living room. Jamie was watching a police car chase on some TV criminal show, but looked up long enough to ask, “Headin’ out?”
Emma smiled and nodded, adding that she was heading to that Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies and would be back soon.
“Don’t get lost,” he joked.
Luckily the bus was pulling up to the stop when she emerged from the house. She quickly trotted to the sign, and climbed in.
Emma ran through her mental checklist again as she took a seat.
Bathroom cleaner, gloves, dish soap, towels, linens for the bed and a new pillow and blanket, toothbrush and paste, a novel, and maybe a new shirt to cheer her up.
It was just after eight in the evening and dark out. Emma assumed there wasn’t much to look out at, scenery wise, on this side of town anyways.
She watched as multiple vehicles drove alongside the bus.
It took about ten minutes for the bright, familiar Wal-Mart sign to come into view. The bus pulled up to the covered bus stop as per Emma’s request with the push of the next-stop-button.
The bus stop was about one hundred feet from the store’s entrance.
Even with lots of parked vehicles and people moving about, Emma decided to quickly run for it anyways, just to be safe.
Once inside, she got a cart and started maneuvering up and down the aisles collecting the things she needed.
People were passing her, not really paying any attention to anyone else, the same as she was. Just another shopper.
Emma casually pushed her almost full cart to the linen aisle. Unfortunately there weren’t any shirts that grabbed her attention, which was a little disappointing.
She did find a good mystery novel to entertain herself. She figured that she wouldn’t be doing much conversing with her new roommate.
After she had paid for everything and her items had been placed in bags, she realized that there were so many bags that she’d have an awkward time carrying them.
She was used to having her own vehicle and driving herself wherever she needed to go. She had recently sold it so that she’d have more money on hand.
She wasn’t sure how long she wanted to be incognito or how long it would be to find another massage therapist position.
This was going to take some getting used to.
Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now, she thought, letting out a sigh. She managed the bags as best as she could.
She was getting good luck though with bus timing. Again, she didn’t have to wait longer than a few minutes. It stopped at the glass bus shelter, picked up five people including herself, and continued on its usual route.
When she got off, it seemed even more dark than when she had left. Even though she could see the house, she felt nervous and surveyed her vicinity first.
The neighborhood had been very creepy when she first arrived, and then there was still some light, but now in the night that seemed even more so.
Tall, dark, crumbling buildings were all around her, closing in on her like mountains. A junky car clanked by and a man yelled out from the driver’s side, “Hey, sweetheart!”
Emma rolled her eyes and quickly went into the house.
As she entered the front door of her temporary home, three extra faces turned to look at her from the couch.
“No way are you Aaron’s cousin! You‘re totally hot!” exclaimed a heavier set guy, dressed in the same style as Jamie.
Emma gave a half-smile and said, “Yeah, well, here I am.”
“I’m Taz,” the guy went on to say. “That’s DJ,” Taz pointed to a preoccupied skinny guy sitting on the floor playing a video game, “and he’s Mark.”
Mark waved, but had a creepy way of looking at her.
“Hi. I’m Emma. Nice to meet you all,” she said politely.
She exited the living room and headed for the stairs.
In the kitchen, Jamie was grabbing a beer out of the fridge. He glanced over to Emma with her overflowing purchases.
“Did you leave anything there fo’ other people?” he teased.
“Probably not,” she joked back.
Jamie laughed, opened his beer and went back to his friends. Emma continued to smile.
This guy, so far, seems alright, kind of sweet.
She did a double take of the kitchen after Jamie left. The overflowing garbage can had been emptied and the mounds of dirty dishes had been washed and were drying in the adjoining sink. A definite improvement.
The floor still needed sweeping and a washing, and the countertops, she now noticed, were filled with food debris, but all in all it was better.
When she got upstairs, Joker was lying on the floor in her room, not sleeping, but just lying on his side with all four legs stretched out in front of him.
Emma gently put the bags down, watching for his reaction, but he just looked at her sleepily.
She slowly walked towards him, but still he just lay there.
Emma knelt down just in front of him, extended her hand and started petting him softly. Surprisingly he rolled onto his back, asking for a belly rub, which she happily obliged.
“You’re nothing but a teddy bear, ain’t ya?”
Emma loved dogs, and it had been many years since she had one. Animals, to her, were soothing, comforting, and listened when you needed to vent.
She silently hoped that Joker would stay with her tonight. She would certainly feel more secure then.
“Well, Joker,” Emma said, looking at her relatively empty room, “let’s personalize this a bit.”
She bought light blue sheets for her twin bed, a fluffy pillow and a cozy white comforter.
From her suitcase she pulled out a picture frame with a thick, black frame that she held onto tightly as she gazed down upon it.
It was a photo of her with her parents and sister, Abby, taken last summer at their cabin before things got all screwed up.
She placed it gently on the desk.
Now that a few familiar objects were out, it made the room feel more friendly and relaxed.
Lastly, she carefully took out her laptop and put it on the desk.
Emma was really hoping that Jamie had Wi-Fi.
Sitting down, she turned on the computer, and once fully booted, she found that Jamie had an unsecured Wi-Fi network.
She logged onto Facebook and activated her account.
Her Inbox had fifteen new messages.
Emma hesitated. “Should I or shouldn’t I?” she mumbled.
Twisting up her face in thought, she scrolled down onto a message from her sister and opened the message.
Emma could hear her sister’s high-pitched, concerned and disapproving voice already.
Abby was older by three years and always thought Emma should take everything she had to say like it was from God’s own lips.
Emma read on, already knowing what the rest would say
Emma was extremely annoyed by Abby’s comments.
She had left her parents’ house early that morning while her courage was up.
If she hadn’t, her parents and Abby would’ve talked her to death about how much they loved her and how they would get through all of this together.
Blah blah blah!
She was so sick of everyone talking. It was always the same thing over and over again, and she had said so the night that she finally decided to just leave.
“Just shut up!” she had screamed, clenching her hair between her fingers and pulling hard.
“You have no idea what is going through my head. I don’t even know! Just shut up and let me figure things out for myself!”
Then she had stormed out into the backyard and sat on the deck swing, crossing her arms over her chest, fuming.
She had to lash out. They weren’t listening to her. Her mom and Abby had even started talking about her like she wasn’t sitting across the table from them.
Everyone else—them, doctors—knew what was best for her. Well, what about her figuring out what was best for her?
Emma felt irritated. She logged out of her Facebook account and closed her laptop.
She sat in the stiff little chair, tilting it onto its back legs, pushing it up with the balls of her toes, rocking back and forth.
She stared at the blank white walls wondering what to do now.
That bathroom started screaming out at her, begging to be cleaned, like now. So, Emma decided to tackle the mess. A distraction would be good.
She took her new, yellow rubber gloves out of the plastic Wal-Mart bags and pulled them on.
From another plastic bag, she pulled out two kinds of cleaners—one for the tub, toilet and sink, another for the toilet bowl, each containing bleach.
With cleaners in both hands she stood in the doorway to the bathroom, looking like the bottles were her weapons and she was going into hostile territory.
She took a deep breath and stepped inside.
“Well let’s hope this whole bottle of cleaner will do the trick. Bathtub, you’re up first.”
For a good twenty minutes Emma scrubbed and scrubbed every porcelain nook and cranny until the whole room reeked so strongly of bleach that she had to open the tiny window above the tub.
The fall air rushed in fast, cool, and crisp, quickly dispersing of the strong odor.
She focused on the cleaning, even breaking into a sweat. If she were Snow White she may have started humming a tune, but it wasn’t a cheerful cleaning process.
It wasn’t even the fact that this bathroom, never mind the rest of the house, was disgusting, but perhaps she felt that she was scrubbing herself clean too.
After all of her hard work, the bathroom was now clean.
Emma admired her work. Wiping her forehead with the back of her arm she stretched her back out, which made several cracks, and smiled.
She felt assured that when she sat on the toilet or used the shower now that it would be sanitary. Although, the feeling of accomplishment didn‘t last as long as she had hoped.
After placing the cleaning supplies under the sink, Emma went back to her room. She closed the door securely behind her.
She sat on the edge of the bed, hunched over with her elbows on her knees, mouth resting on closed fists. She stared at the floor.
“Temporary. Just for a month of two. I can do this. I must keep it together. Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” Emma said, talking to herself sternly to install confidence, to add an extra layer of scales.
A soft whining came from outside her door.
Smiling, Emma walked over and opened it just enough for Joker to squeeze through.
“Come in. Make yourself comfortable,” she said.
He walked past her and made himself comfortable next to her bed, bumping into it as he lay down.
She sat on the floor next to him, her back leaning against the bed frame.
She patted his head and he took that as the cue to get into belly rubbing position. He rolled onto his back, front legs bent and crossed, but the back legs he just let flop open.
“Well, no modesty there, right?” she chuckled. “Where are the men of the world?”
She didn’t really care if Joker took interest, but happy to not be talking to herself.
“Guys like this Taz.
“He probably tries to pick-up every girl, and if by some miracle some chick wants to sleep with him, he’ll just toss the one night stand to the side after he’s done and start all over again.
“What happened to the guys who want to get to know you, romance you, have a relationship, a real relationship?”
Emma went from scratching Joker’s belly to scratching under his chin. Either spot seemed fine.
“Someone who respects your opinions, your feelings, who won’t try to change you or break you down, tell you that no matter what you say you’re wrong and he’s right.” She paused, looked down at the dog sadly.
“I was with someone like that Joker. Asshole that he was.
“And would you have protected me?” Her tone changed, wanting to end this depressing trip down memory lane before she got lost. She made his ears flop back and forth, turning his head this way and that.
“’Cause you’re a big ferocious lap dog, ain’t ya? Yes, I bet you attack so many spiders with such ruthlessness.”
Joker had no idea what she was saying, but her high-pitched tone was getting him thinking that she wanted to play.
He got up quickly, a smile on his face, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, with a twinkle in his eyes.
She pushed him a little and he came back at her a bit, then she pushed him again until he was bouncing all over the place.
When he started barking short happy barks, she laughed.
“No! Shhhh!” she said, putting a finger to her lips. She didn’t want Jamie thinking Joker was getting in her way. She wanted him to stay.
Joker took the hint and settled for just lying down next to her. Emma reached up onto the bed where her novel was. She decided to start reading.
“Just some time to myself tonight. That would be good,” she said, turning to the first page.
After reading several chapters her eyes started to feel heavy and the yawns were coming at more regular intervals. It was time to try and get some sleep.
She dressed into some warm pajamas, a long sleeved red shirt with matching red pants that had snowflakes on them.
She brushed her teeth in her freshly cleaned bathroom and washed the days’ makeup off her face.
She heard the guys downstairs, hooting and hollering when one of them did something great or awful on whatever game they were playing.
It was already a little past midnight, and she wondered how long they’d be down there being loud. She was suddenly exhausted and desperately wanted to sleep.
Turning off the bathroom light, she started making her way towards her bedroom when she heard Jamie call up the stairs at her.
Emma guessed he heard the floorboards creaking as she was walking.
“I gotta be at work by like six, so I’ll just lock the door when I leave, ’kay?”
“Oh, okay,” Emma replied, thankful for the information.
“Is Joker up there with you? Joker!” he yelled, not waiting for a response. Emma quickly stopped him.
“Oh, Jamie it’s fine. I’m used to dogs. He can stay if he wants.”
She tried hard not to sound like a timid child wanting to feel safe. Whether Jamie picked up on that or not he didn’t let on because he just responded with an okay and left it at that.
Crawling into her stiff sheets, and wishing now that she would’ve washed them first, she rolled onto her side, put her arm up under her pillow and rested her head on it.
Joker hadn’t moved from his chosen spot and was already making little paw movements against the carpet, chasing something in his dreams.
Well, she thought, ~if~ ~he has to work by six, I’m sure he’ll be shutting things down soon.~
She closed her eyes and hoped that for once her head would stop working long enough to let her sleep, and despite the guys still laughing downstairs.