Chapter 67

Brian and Leighanne had ordered Chinese take-out for dinner and they decided to take advantage of the gorgeous weather and eat on the deck.

“It’s so good to be home! I’ve missed our favorite Chinese restaurant!” Brian said.

“Emily, you’ll have to show me all your new clothes after dinner. I’m dying to see what you bought.” Leighanne said.

“Ok. Hey does anyone want a ride in my new car? Maybe we can get some ice cream or something.” Emily suggested.

“You just want to drive your car again, don’t you?” Brian teased her.

“Yup. It’s the first new car I’ve ever had, and I have you to thank for it, I might add.” Emily said.

“Me? Why me?” Brian was confused as he tried to pick up his rice with his chop sticks, spilling it all over the place and causing Baylee to giggle at him.

“Because you pay me too much.”

“Oh, come on, Em. You know that this job is more work than any of your other families. You’ve basically given up your life to us. You deserve every penny.” Leighanne insisted.

“Well, you might be right but I’m still very grateful. I mean, along with the salary, I get to travel tons and meet new people.”

“You mean AJ?” Brian teased.

Emily blushed. “Yes, I mean AJ. And other people.”

“How is AJ?” Leighanne asked, trying to hide her grin.

“He’s fine. He said he was pretty busy today so he didn’t have much time to talk and that I’d probably just hear from him tomorrow.”

“So, do you have anything special happening tomorrow? I know you wanted to make sure you had the day off.” Brian said.

“Well, actually I’m just taking the day to myself. You know, relaxing. You probably won’t see much of me. I plan on sleeping a lot and watching a lot of TV.”

“I remember when I used to get to do that. Then I had a child.” Leighanne said.

After dinner, Emily modeled her new outfits for Leighanne, who was so impressed that she asked where Emily went. Emily filled her in on the store and the salesgirl that helped her.

“Seriously, Em. You look really good! AJ’s going to flip when he sees you next if you’re looking like that!” Leighanne said.

“That’s the goal!”

Leighanne left her and Emily got changed into her night clothes and tried to watch the news. She had done a good job of keeping herself distracted all day, trying not to think about it but now that the day was over, it was all she could think about and she knew tomorrow would only be worse.

It was afternoon when AJ arrived at Brian’s house, and Emily still hadn’t come out of her room yet. Brian and Leighanne had just assumed that she was still sleeping and didn’t want to disturb her. Brian met AJ outside with Baylee as he parked his rental car.

“Hey Little Dude!” AJ said, tickling Baylee and making him squeal with delight.

“Hi Uncle AJ!” Baylee said between giggles.

AJ stood up and greeted Brian. “How’s it going?” Brian asked.

AJ grinned. “Much better now that I’m here. I was so excited yesterday I had to tell her I didn’t have time to talk to her; I was so afraid I’d mess up and say something to spoil the surprise. Does she suspect anything?”

“Not a thing. Actually, she hasn’t even gotten up yet today. You’ll probably have to wake her up.”

AJ cringed. “Waking Emily up is not usually the best of ideas if you value your life.”

“Nah, I think she’ll be happy to see you.” Brian said.

AJ walked past Emily’s new car. “Who’s here?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s Emily’s new car! She went out and bought it yesterday.”

AJ whistled. “Not bad for a nanny! I half expected her to get a station wagon or something, not an SUV.”

Brian laughed. “A station wagon? Really?”

AJ walked in and quietly said hello to Leighanne before sneaking upstairs to see Emily. He had been planning this trip for over a month, ever since Brian tipped him off about her birthday. She had told AJ once when her birthday was but he hadn’t been smart enough to write it down. Brian randomly came across it when he saw it written on some of her paperwork that she had given him when he hired her. As the trip got closer, AJ got more and more excited. He couldn’t wait to wrap his arms around her again.

He knocked softly on her door and when there wasn’t an answer, he let himself in. He was stunned at what he saw. Emily was sitting on her couch looking at that same photo album he had come across when he helped her unpack. Her back was to him but he could tell by her shaking shoulders that she was crying. No, not crying. She was sobbing. Sobbing so hard that she couldn’t even make a sound.

Chapter 68

AJ was so surprised at the site that he stood there frozen for a minute before reacting. He didn’t quite know what he should do. Surely she didn’t intend for anyone to see her this way and she was sure to be embarrassed at him having found her that way. But he also wasn’t able to just walk away and pretend like he never saw anything. He wanted to comfort her and to find out what was wrong. Finally, he decided to announce his presence.

AJ cleared his throat and Emily jumped at the sound, thinking she was completely alone. A series of reactions crossed her face in a matter of seconds as she registered he was there.

“Surprise.” He said softly, not moving from the door.

Emily furiously wiped at the tears on her face, standing to greet him.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I came to surprise you for your birthday! I’m sorry for barging in on you. Brian said you were still sleeping and I….”

Emily stopped him. “It’s ok.” She realized that she needed to get a few things out of the way, and his walking in on her was probably a sign that now was the time to do it. “Where’s my hello hug?”

AJ wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him. It had been several months since the last time he’d gotten to feel her in his arms and it felt just as good as he remembered.

“Do you want to talk?” he whispered, still holding her.

Emily nodded. AJ let go and led her over to the couch where she had been sitting. He waited patiently for her to start. Emily struggled to find a way to begin and finally decided that the best way to tell him was to be completely up front.

“Today is my son’s birthday.” She whispered, her emotions rising again.

A look of confusion passed AJ’s face as what she said just registered. “You have a son?!?”

Emily bit her lip. “I had a son.”

AJ waited for her to go on.

“He would have been four years old today.” She said.

“What happened?” he whispered.

“Payton, that was his name, was born with cancer. A neuroblastoma. It’s a type of tumor.” She was looking down, picking at the cushion of the couch as she spoke.

“He was born with it?” AJ asked.

Emily nodded. “It showed up on the ultrasound but everyone told me not to worry too much, that many babies have it and usually it’s benign. When he was born, they did the tests and found out it was cancer.”

Emily picked up her scrapbook and handed it to AJ. He searched her face a moment before slowly opening it. The first picture was clearly taken right after he was born. Emily was holding him, looking exhausted from the delivery but absolutely glowing with pride over her new son.

AJ flipped through the pictures and found some shots of Payton laying in an isolete with tubes going everywhere.

“They took him right to Children’s Hospital and began the chemo treatment but for whatever reason, the tumor wasn’t responding. They told me that there wasn’t much hope and that I might want to consider letting him go peacefully. The chemo was making him so sick. He was sedated most of the time, always in pain. Joe wanted to let him go. He couldn’t handle it. I spent every hour of every day at his bedside. I couldn’t hold him or feed him. I just sat there. Joe never came. Not once he realized how sick his son was. But I just couldn’t let him go. I wasn’t ready to lose my son. He was a baby for Christ’s sake! Babies aren’t supposed to die of cancer. Not like that!” Emily’s voice was rising, full of emotion. Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she spoke. AJ sat quietly, letting her talk and holding back his own emotions.

“I got opinion after opinion until I found a doctor who suggested a very experimental treatment. He said it was a long shot and that it would make him horribly ill from the side effects. He outlined all the possible complications Payton could suffer later in life as a result, but all I could see was hope that my son would live. So I begged him to try it. He went through three rounds and it was hell on my poor baby but I couldn’t stop. After the third round, they told me that the tumor still wasn’t responding and that it didn’t seem to be working. They tried one last round. I went home to try and get some sleep when the hospital called me back. The chemo had caused major bleeding in his brain and he was brain dead before they could even try to stop it. The fight was over, and I lost. They took him off life support the next morning. I had to stand there, all by myself, and watch my son slip away, two days before Christmas.”

“You were alone?” AJ whispered.

Emily nodded. “Joe wouldn’t come. He blamed me for the whole thing. That was basically the end of our relationship. He said it was my fault he had cancer, that I must have done something wrong when I was pregnant. Maybe I did, I don’t know. Then he blamed me for pushing the treatment so hard, making him suffer the way he did.”

“What about your family?”

“My brother was away with the Army. My mother wasn’t speaking to me. She didn’t even know. She stopped talking to me when I told her I was pregnant. I didn’t want her there anyway.”

AJ flipped the page in the photo album and saw a picture of Payton’s grave.

“Emily…I’m so sorry. I had no idea….” He tried to find the words, but there just weren’t any.

“You couldn’t have known, AJ. If you hadn’t found me like this, I don’t know if I’d have ever been able to tell you. It’s just because it’s his birthday, every year I go through this. I look at Baylee and think to myself that he’s just the age Payton would be. They both even have blonde curly hair and pretty blue eyes.”

“Does Brian know?”

Emily shook her head. “No. And please don’t tell him. I don’t want anyone to know yet. I can’t stand the way people look at me when they know. Like they feel so sorry for me, like they’re analyzing every single thing I do in a whole new light.”

“I promise I won’t tell a soul.” AJ whispered, kissing the top of her head. “Is that why you became a nanny?” he asked, hesitantly.

“Yes. I had all these maternal feelings that I couldn’t get rid of, you know? And I found that it gave me an outlet for them. I know I can’t bring my son back, but taking care of other people’s kids helped me deal with it.”

AJ pulled her onto his lap and held her close. “I’m so sorry, Emily. I’m sorry you had to go through all that, and that you had to do it alone. I wish I could make it stop hurting.”

Emily laid her head against his shoulder and cried. AJ soothed her as best he could and eventually gave into his own emotions. It was hard for him to see her hurting so much, and to think of what she’d been through. The pain of losing a child was inconceivable to him, but just the thought of what it must be like was enough to make him feel sick.

AJ held Emily as she wept until she had cried herself to sleep, exhausted from the emotions. He would have loved to stay with her as she slept but he knew that Brian and Leighanne would be wondering what was going on and didn’t want to risk them walking in on her. He laid her down on the couch and covered her with a blanket and quietly let himself out of her room. He went and joined Brian on the deck.

“How was the reunion?” Brian teased. Then he saw the look on AJ’s face. “What happened?”

AJ sighed. “Let’s just say I learned the demons of her past that she’s been hiding from and now I completely understand why she’s so reluctant.”

Brian’s eyes widened. This had to be good, he thought to himself. “What happened?”

AJ met his gaze. “I promised her I wouldn’t say anything. It’s nothing like, scandalous or anything, she’s just been through some incredibly painful times and today is sort of an anniversary for that pain, which is why she was so insistent on having the day off.”

Brian wanted to press for details but judging by the look on AJ’s face, he was completely serious that he wasn’t going to reveal it, meaning that it was serious enough to keep even AJ quiet. “What can we do?”

“We need to make sure she has a kickin’ birthday, that’s what. She needs some major cheering up starting tomorrow.”

Brian and AJ put their heads together to formulate a plan.

Chapter 69

After Brian and AJ had finished their conspiratorial birthday party plans, AJ decided to go up and check on Emily. He was surprised to see that her door was open and when he peeked in, he saw that Baylee was sitting on Emily’s couch with her, showing her his new toy truck that Brian had brought him. AJ sat down next to them and Baylee began to show AJ all the new features of his truck, right down to all the noises it made.

“Baylee, why don’t you go bug your dad to give you some ice cream?” AJ suggested.

Baylee perked at the suggestion and took off.

“Are you ok?” AJ asked once Baylee was gone.

Emily smiled. “Yeah.” She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Listen, I understand if you’re totally freaked out by all this. I know that it wasn’t exactly what you were expecting to find out and I’ll understand if it’s something you don’t want to deal with.”

AJ was stunned. “Emily, don’t be ridiculous!”

“I’m not being ridiculous! I understand that people might not want to be with me because of this. It’s not something most people really want to put up with. No one wants to be with a depressed woman.”

“Is that what Joe told you?” he asked, hotly.

Emily was quiet.

“Emily, answer me.”

“He might have said something along those lines.” She said softly.

AJ was really starting to hate this guy as he clenched his fists in anger.

“Really, AJ. I’ll understand. You wouldn’t be the first guy to leave me over this, and you won’t be the last.” Emily said.

AJ really didn’t know how to respond. Emily took his silence the wrong way.

“Listen, I’m going to go out on the deck for a bit. You think it over and come find me.” And with that, she left.

AJ got up and starting pacing around her room, rubbing the back of his neck.

Brian stopped when he walked past, seeing AJ’s distress.

“Hey, is everything ok?”

“Yeah. At least I think so. It’s just….I’ve never really had to deal with a situation quite like this before and I don’t want to screw it up, you know? Sometimes, there just aren’t words to express how you’re feeling.”

“Is she ok?” Brian asked, beginning to get concerned. “Baylee said she was crying but that she told him her eyes were just irritated.”

AJ smiled. You really couldn’t get anything past Baylee, and that was one of the things that truly made him Brian’s son.

“She’s ok. Just a bit shaken up.”

Brian nodded. “Look, I don’t know the situation so I don’t know what it is you’re trying to express but what I do know is that when you have trouble finding the right words, just say whatever’s in your heart. Don’t hold back.”

“Thanks, man. Listen, do you mind if I stay in here with her tonight?” AJ asked.

“Why are you asking me?” Brian asked.

AJ grinned sheepishly. “Well, because it is your house and with Baylee around and everything, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to offend anyone.”

“What am I, like your dad now? You’re too old to have a chaperone. Baylee’s already asking me if Miss. Emily is going to be his new aunt. Listen, just lock the door if you’re doing anything, you know, adult-like in case Baylee wants to visit. In fact, I’d rather you stay in here and take care of her.”

“Did you fill Leigh in on our party plans?” AJ asked.

“Yeah, she said it all sounds great.”

“Cool. Alright, I’m going to go find my woman now.”

“AJ, are you sure she’s ok?” Brian asked, still concerned. He could sense Emily had laid a bombshell on AJ today, and whatever it was, it was eating at both of them.

“Yeah Brain, she’s ok.” AJ said.

AJ went onto the deck and sat down next to Emily.

“So, have you made your decision?” she asked softly.

“Emily, I have some things to say to you and I just want you to listen, ok?”

Emily nodded.

“Good. Now, first off, I am not leaving! I’ll admit, you shocked the hell out of me but it doesn’t make me want to leave you. If anything, it makes me want to grab hold of you and never let go until you stop hurting. Look, I don’t really have the right words to say to comfort you the way I want to but I do want to say this. I am not Joe. I’m not going to leave you because something gets tough. I’ve been falling for you since the day I met you and all I want is to be there for you. I feel honored that you confided in me and I want you to let me be there for you. I want you to tell me more about it. I want you to understand that if you want to be depressed over this, you have every right to be and it’s not going to make me stop loving you.”

Emily’s head shot up.

“That’s right, I said loving you. I know I haven’t said it before and I’m not really going to say it now because it just isn’t the right occasion but you’re not getting rid of me. I’m not going to let you do this alone again. If you need me to, I’ll sit here all night and tell you over and over again. I’m here.”

Emily felt so relieved that all she could do was cry again. It was exactly what she needed to hear the most. When Joe left her, she blamed herself. A part of her still did. She had always been afraid that AJ would be turned off by what happened, that he wouldn’t want to deal with her emotional past and that he wouldn’t be able to understand. And yet here he was, sitting right next to her, making her love him and finally feeling able to let him love her. She knew she still had a long way to go before she was completely over her insecurities, but the fact that he was still there was a giant step forward. And so she simply sobbed into his shoulder again. She cried for her son, for the pain of losing him, and she also cried with relief that she hadn’t scared AJ away like she had been convinced she would.

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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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