Chapter 52

Emily could feel the butterflies building in her stomach as she got dressed. AJ wouldn’t tell her where they were going but he did tell her to wear a dress. Actually, his request was for a ‘sexy dress’.

He was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs as she started down. He breathed in a sharp breath as he laid eyes on her. She was wearing a black spaghetti strap dress that fell to just above the knees. It looked like it was made for her as it hugged every curve just right and the neckline hit her cleavage perfectly. He had a whole new respect for the power of the little black dress. She had put her hair up and wore a pair of black heels and an intoxicating perfume.

“You smell good.” He said as he hugged her and then offered her his arm to escort her to the car.


“What’s it called?” he asked.


He smiled. “How fitting.”

Emily already knew what he smelled like. She could only label it AJ.

“You look beautiful.” He whispered in her ear.

She smiled at him. “Thank you. You look pretty good yourself.”

“This old thing?” he said. Emily could hardly take her eyes off of him. He was wearing black pants with a dark blue shirt and silver tie topped off by a tailored black sport coat.

Emily’s hands were shaking as he helped her in the car.

“Are you nervous?” he asked.

“A little.” She admitted.

“Me too. I almost couldn’t even tie my tie!”

Emily laughed and relaxed a little. She didn’t know if he really was nervous or just trying to make her feel better. Either way, he had succeeded.

“So, where are we going?” she asked.

“To dinner first.” He answered as he backed out of the driveway.

Emily loved to watch him drive as much as she loved to watch him on the sail boat, so strong and in control. He made her feel safe.

“Where are we going after dinner?”

“You’ll find out after dinner!” he said.

“AJ, you’re impossible!” she moaned.

“So I’ve been told.”

As they got into the highway, he reached over and grabbed her hand, giving it a squeeze. About twenty minutes later, they were in downtown Atlanta when AJ pulled up to the restaurant called Paris! . AJ handed the valet the keys to the car and walked her inside, opening the door for her.

“I like how it’s called Paris ‘exclamation point’ instead of just Paris.” Emily said.

“The exclamation point makes all the difference. If it was just Paris, it wouldn’t be any good.” He said, as they walked inside.

AJ spoke to the host and they were immediately taken to their seats. Emily looked around as they walked through the restaurant. Right in the middle was an Eiffel Tower from floor to ceiling complete with lights and a fountain. There were plants all over the place and the floor was made of cobblestones giving it the look of an authentic French café. AJ pulled her chair out for her as they were seated.

“This place is amazing!” she said, looking around. “How on earth did you ever pick this?”

“Well, I wanted to take you somewhere special and romantic, and I thought to myself, Paris is supposed to be the most romantic place in the world, so why not?”

Emily smiled at him. “So much for a non-romance date! Not that I’m complaining…” she added quickly.

“I didn’t think you would.” He smiled, opening his menu.

Emily opened her menu as well only she found herself unable to stop looking at AJ long enough to read it. AJ looked up at her over his menu and caught her staring at him. He stared back for a moment, casting her a slight smile before turning back to his menu. Emily cleared her throat and forced her gaze down to the menu, which happened to be completely in French.

“Don’t they have like, an English version of this?” she wondered.

“What’s the matter, can’t read French?” AJ teased.

“Oh, and you can?”

“I know enough to pick out what I like and what I don’t.” he said.

“So, where’s the chicken section?”

AJ leaned over and pointed out a few things to her. He was also nice enough to teach her the French words for fish and other types of seafood. In the end, he basically ended up ordering for her and she prayed that he wasn’t going to try and be funny tonight by ordering her snails or something.

Their meals arrived in a timely fashion and Emily was relieved to find that she had a very delicious chicken and pasta dish. They made small talk while they ate, every once in awhile one stopping to watch the other. AJ never imagined she could be more beautiful, but tonight she had succeeded. He was nervous, this being their first real date but he was relieved to see that she had relaxed and seemed to be opening up. He kept catching her staring at him with those deep, sexy blue eyes and when he did, he would stare right back at her.

Emily had never seen AJ look sexier. She didn’t know if it was the remembrance of how long it really had been since she last had sex, or if it was just AJ looking damn fine, but either way she was feeling pretty restless and kept wondering what it might be like to kiss him.

After their plates had been cleared away, the waiter brought over the special dessert that AJ had ordered, in French of course, so that Emily would be surprised. It was two slices of the best looking chocolate molten cake she had ever seen. This time, her mouth was watering because of the cake, not AJ.

Chapter 53

After they finished their dessert, AJ paid the bill and escorted her out to their waiting car. He opened the car door for her again and helped her in before closing it and climbing in the driver’s side.

“Thank you so much for dinner. It was wonderful.” She said, turning to look at him.

AJ glanced at her out the side of his eyes as he pulled onto the highway. “You’re welcome.”

“So where are we going now?” she asked.

“You’ll see when we get there.” He stated. He knew it was driving her wild not knowing his plans, and he rather enjoyed it. He could also think of a few other things he’d like to do to drive her wild, but that would have to wait.

AJ pulled up at the local family fun center. Emily gave him a quizzical look, waiting for her explanation.

“We’re going miniature golfing!” he said.

Emily smiled. “You are just full of surprises, aren’t you?” She had never expected to be going mini-golfing on her romantic date.

“Well, I was thinking of all the trivial date activities, you know, dinner and a movie, dancing, and then I thought of this. It’s perfect! It’s just like we’re teenagers again, out on a first date!”

Emily laughed. She had to give him points for creativity. “Come to think of it,” she said, “I think my very first date was to play mini-golf! And the guy was nice enough to let me win, not that I needed the help. I’m pretty good.”

“Well, obviously you’ve never played against the pro.” AJ said, puffing his chest.

Emily gave him a look. “Hey, my dad used to win tournaments! It’s in my blood!”

“Is that a challenge?” he said.

“You bet. But speaking of teenagers, how exactly do you think you’re going to walk in there without being attacked?” she pointed out.

“I’m already one step ahead of you. It’s a private fundraiser night. There’s no one but the Atlanta Elite in there.”

“A fundraiser, here?” she asked. “For what?”

“I believe Brian’s invitation said it was for the Children’s Hospital’s new cancer wing.” He answered.

Emily’s face clouded over briefly but she got a grip before AJ could notice.

“That’s nice! So you stole Brian’s invitation?”

“No, he gave it to me. He thought I might like to go in his place.”

AJ grabbed hold of Emily’s hand as they walked inside. Emily had never seen so many old men in suits and tuxes playing mini-golf before and she had to laugh at the sight.

AJ and Emily were well matched for each other when it came to playing. They were neck and neck the whole game as AJ made it very clear that he wasn’t the type to let a girl win just to be nice, which Emily was ok with because truthfully, she didn’t really like that.

The game became so competitive that they had to resort to nasty tricks to try and distract each other. Emily became very well aware of AJ’s reaction every time she bent down to pick up her ball and she milked this to the extreme, making sure to always be facing away from him when she did to give him the best view possible.

AJ knew exactly what she was up to, not that he didn’t enjoy it, and used his own tricks. He would decide to help her with her grip and come up behind her, pressing his hips against her backside and whispering in her ear, “Just grip it this way.” When the effect of that wore off, he learned that he could shake her just be staring at her intensely with his eyes.

Emily could feel his eyes on her. She knew he was doing it on purpose and it was driving her completely insane. Her insides turned to mush when he looked at her like that. By the time they were on the last hole, Emily’s hands were shaking and AJ wanted to put his hands all over her. The score was tied. Emily went first and AJ realized this was his last chance to win. Right as she was about to putt, he reached out and pinched her rear.

Emily jumped and took a horrible putt. She glared at him and he smiled back at her as she managed to sink the ball in 2 more strokes. Now was the time to get even.

AJ knew he had to watch his back for fear of revenge, and Emily knew he would be watching her. She stayed on the other end of the green and waited for her moment. Right as he was about to swing, she yelled out, “Man, are you happy to see me or what? Is it supposed to be that big?”

AJ completely fumbled his swing. He wasn’t embarrassed. He wasn’t the type to embarrass easily. But he couldn’t stop laughing. He never would have expected that, and that’s exactly what she had been counting on. People turned to look at them, some appalled, some laughing. AJ was still wiping tears from his eyes and laughing as he finished.

“So that was…wait, how many? 4 strokes? That’s right, baby! You lose! I win!” Emily chanted, doing a little victory dance with her club.

“Only because you’re the better cheater!” he said, swatting at her rear as they walked towards the exit. He leaned in towards her ear and whispered, “And it’s absolutely supposed to be that big!”

Emily blushed furiously.

He helped her back into the car again and drove off to their next stop.

Chapter 54

“So now where are we going?” she asked.

AJ was tempted to screw the rest of his plans and stop at the Comfort Inn and show her exactly how big it was supposed to be, but he had to get a grip on himself.

“Somewhere special.” He answered.

It took about twenty minutes to get there, and this time Emily was thoroughly confused.

“Are we camping?” she asked as they pulled into a camp ground.

“Not exactly. We’re just going to sit around the campfire and roast some marshmallows and talk. It’s all the fun and romance of camping without the sleeping on the hard ground in a tent part.”

AJ pulled two camp chairs out of the trunk along with some firewood and smores supplies. The air was much cooler out in the woods and Emily shivered. AJ pulled a small bag out of the trunk and handed it to her.

“What’s this?” Emily asked. She opened the bag and discovered a pair of sweat pants and a sweatshirt along with some socks.

“You women are all the same, always cold! This time, I came prepared!”

Emily rolled her eyes at his comment but was so relieved to have warm clothes that she bit back her retort.

“Thanks.” She said.

“You can change in the car, I won’t watch I promise.” He said, laying wood for the fire.

Emily got into the backseat and tried to maneuver out of her dress and into her sweats. She managed to get the pants on without problem but she was having a hard time with her dress. She was reaching around for the zipper when she slipped and banged her head against the window. “Ouch!” she said.

AJ looked up and laughed as he saw her trying to reach the zipper in the small space of the back seat. “Would you like some help?” he asked, walking over to the car.

“You promised you wouldn’t look!” she said.

“I couldn’t help it; I heard you bang your head and decided it was time to give you a hand. Here, let me.” He opened the door and guided her out. He turned her around and slowly unzipped her dress. Once he had the zipper down, they both stood there for a minute.

AJ cleared his throat and handed her the sweatshirt. “I think you can take it from there.” He said.

“Thanks.” She mumbled, unable to stop remembering the feeling of his hands on her. Once she was changed, she realized that these were clearly not her clothes. They sweatshirt was huge and she had to roll up her pants to keep from stepping on them.

AJ laughed as he saw her in his sweats that were obviously too big for her.

“You were in your room all afternoon, I couldn’t get in to steal anything of yours.” He said.

Emily smiled. “Actually, I kind of like wearing yours. They’re pretty comfy with all this extra room.”

AJ had the fire going and sat down next to Emily, pulling her feet onto his lap and rubbing them. Emily sighed and leaned her head back.

“Are all of your dates like this?” she asked, finally breaking the silence.

“Like what?”

“So…special, romantic, creative….”

“Well, I’d be lying if I said I’d never had a romantic date before, but no, I don’t put quite this much effort into every date. Just the special ones.”

“What’s your most memorable date?” she asked.

AJ thought for a moment. “Maybe my first one. I was pretty young and I remember all I could think about was whether or not she was expecting me to kiss her when I walked her to the door.”

“Did you?”

AJ laughed. “No, her dad was standing in the window watching us.”

Emily laughed. “I bet you got the heck out of there!”

“You got it!” he answered. “How about you? What’s your most memorable date?”

“I’d have to say this one’s taking the top position right now.” She said.

AJ smiled. “You’re just saying that to be nice.”

“No, really, I’m not. I’ve had special dates before, but nothing so thoughtful. I feel like we’ve had three dates in one tonight, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.”

“I would have.” AJ mumbled.

“Oh yeah? What would that be?”

“I would have won the damn mini-golf game, that’s what!”

Emily laughed. “I guess we’ll have to have a re-match sometime.”

AJ got up to poke the fire. “So, tell me about your family. I know your dad died, but I haven’t heard about anyone else.”

Emily’s face saddened a bit. “I miss them. I feel like I’m not a part of my family since I’ve been gone. I’ve missed everything that’s been going on.”

“Do you regret moving?” he asked, gently.

Emily shook her head. “No, it was what I needed to do. My mom spent a few years grieving for my dad. They had such a good relationship that I was never sure she would ever snap out of it. I spent a lot of time angry with her for that. I know it seems selfish but no kid ever wants to see their parents come apart, you know? Anyway, eventually things got better. She’s actually dating someone else now.”

“How do you feel about that?” AJ asked, wrapping an arm over her shoulders.

“It was strange at first, but he seems very nice and she seems happy, so how can I not be supportive? My brother took longer to warm up to the idea, but I think he’s coming along.”

“Is he older or younger than you?” AJ asked.

“He’s 4 years older. He’s in the army now, stationed in Texas at the moment.”

“What does he do in the army?”

“He’s a Load Master. He’s in charge of loading the cargo planes correctly and dropping the supplies where they’re needed. Basically, he’s the guy that stands in the open door of a low-flying plane in Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan or wherever he goes. I worry myself sick every time he’s away but so far, we’ve been lucky and he’s never been sent to any of the hot spots.”

“What about your grandparents?” AJ asked.

“Well, my mom’s mom died before I was born of cancer. My mom’s dad died from Parkinson’s disease when I was in college. My dad’s dad died from complications of Alzheimer’s, which was really a blessing in disguise. He didn’t know who he was, who anyone was, he couldn’t remember how to talk or eat or swallow. He was trapped inside his mind. No one should have to live that way. My dad’s mom died a few months later of a stroke.”

“I’m sorry.” AJ said. “I know what it feels like to lose a grandparent.”

Emily looked up at him and they shared a look of comfort.

Emily filled AJ in on all the gossip of her aunts and uncles and cousins before turning the tables on him.

“So, tell me about your family.”

“Well, I don’t really know my dad. He left when I was real young. My mom has been there through my every struggle and my every success. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s dying to meet you, actually. I think she’s getting tired of me talking about you.”

Emily blushed. “You telling people about me, McLean?”

“Emily, I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen about you.” He whispered.

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"Never Gone" is a work of fiction.
The characters and events portrayed are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

Copyright 2006
All Rights Reserved
No part of this text may be copied or reprinted
without the author's permission.


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