Chapter 70

AJ did sleep with Emily that night. They didn’t do anything “adult-like” as Brian had put it, he just held her and watched over her, making sure she was resting and that she was ok. Emily slept great. AJ however, hardly slept a wink. He couldn’t stop thinking about how much he had changed since he met Emily. He’d met girls before who had baggage and he was quick to dismiss them, not wanting to deal with it. That was before rehab. He guessed it had changed him for the better. It had forced him to admit to his own baggage and he supposed that opened his eyes to be more accepting of other people’s as well. Or maybe it was just Emily. She was so loving, so caring, always asking him about his day and how he was doing, and she was truly interested in his answers. He loved her humor. Somehow she always found a way to make him laugh. He loved her for all these reasons and so much more. Now all he wanted to do was to love her back in the same way.

AJ drifted off to sleep around dawn but was woken up later by a soft knocking on the door. He got up to answer it quietly, not wanting to wake Emily. He squinted at the light as he opened the door.

“Good morning!” Brian whispered. “Sleep well?” he winked at him.

AJ rubbed his eyes. “What do you want?”

“Leigh’s making a big breakfast. She wanted me to see if you guys wanted to join us.”

“What’s she making?” AJ asked.

“Waffles, bacon, sausage, eggs, fruit, coffee……”

AJ had heard enough. His mouth started watering back at bacon. “Yeah, we’ll be down in five minutes.”

AJ crept back into bed, preparing to wake Emily.

“What did you just volunteer me to get up for?” she mumbled.

“You’re awake?”

“I am now. I’m a very light sleeper; I don’t sleep through much at all. I heard Brian knocking. What did he want?”

“Leigh’s making a huge breakfast. He wanted to know if we wanted to join them.”

“What’s she making?”

“Waffles, bacon, sausage, eggs, fruit….”

Emily sat up. “You had me at bacon.” She said. She got out of bed and headed for the closet. “Don’t you need to go get dressed?”

AJ smiled. “I will, but I don’t want to miss my chance to watch you get dressed! You know I haven’t stopped thinking about you since I left. That goodbye kiss was killer!”

Emily smiled. “You been fantasizing about me, McLean?”

AJ smiled back. “What, like you haven’t been doing the same? You know you’re dying to kiss me again!”

“Maybe. It is, after all, almost my birthday. I’ll be needing some presents……”

AJ groaned inwardly. He’d give her one hell of a birthday present. He couldn’t wait to put his hands all over her body, and she had apparently decided to tease him with a preview by dressing in front of him. AJ looked her up and down in appreciation. Emily smiled, her back to him, knowing he was watching her and perhaps even drooling. She pulled out some jeans and a t-shirt. Now was not the time to preview her sexy outfits. It was far too early in the morning for that.

“Now will you get dressed? I’m starving!” She announced once she was fully clothed.

“In a minute. First, I want to do this.” AJ stood up and quickly pulled her against him as he leaned down and gave her a hard, passionate kiss. She was breathless when he pulled away and went to get changed.

“That,” he said from the doorway, “Is a sneak peak at one of your birthday presents.”

Emily’s face was still flushed as she and AJ walked downstairs, following the smells of breakfast.

“Good morning!” Leighanne greeted them. “You’re just in time!”

AJ pulled out Emily’s chair for her before he sat down next to her. Brian walked in and smiled as he saw them together. It seemed that most of the tension from the previous day had resolved. The only evidence left was found on Emily’s face. Brian knew that look. In many ways, Emily and Leighanne were a lot alike and it was for that reason that he had an easier time than most reading Emily. He’d seen that look on Leighanne’s face before, but he couldn’t pin down what it was about. He knew it was a look of pure sadness.

“Hey guys!” Brian announced. “How’s it going Emily?”

Brian was looking at her like she was about to shatter or something. “It’s good, thanks. I suppose you knew about AJ’s surprise visit?”

“He might have mentioned it once or twice.” Brian winked at her.

“So you really were playing dumb about my birthday then, weren’t you?”

“If there’s one thing Brian can be good at, it’s playing dumb.” Leighanne said.

“Hey!” Brian said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Point proven.” Leighanne laughed.

“So, what are you guys doing today?” Emily asked.

“We actually promised Baylee we’d spend the whole day with him. I believe there will be a lot of outdoor activities involved.” Brian answered. “What are you two kids doing?”

Emily looked questioningly at AJ. “Well?” she asked. “You’re the one with all the surprises up your sleeves, what are we doing today?”

AJ stuffed his last piece of bacon into his mouth before answering. “You are taking me for a ride in your new car. We’ll see where the open roads take us! Then, this evening, we have a date.”

“And where might this date be?” Emily asked.

“Out on the town.”

“Oh! You can wear one of your new outfits! Wear that one that I said made your….” Leighanne stopped. “Never mind. I won’t spoil it, but you know what I’m talking about, right?”

Emily laughed. “Yeah, I think so.”

“New outfits, huh?” AJ asked. “You went shopping without me?”

“Yes. It won’t be any fun to watch your reaction to my new outfits if you were there when I picked them out!”

“Yeah, I think she must have bought out the entire store. I had to help her bring her bags in.” Brain complained.

“Oh, a woman who shops ‘til she drops is a woman after my own heart! I love it when you get to buy so much that you can’t even carry it all yourself, it’s so thrilling!” AJ said.

The other three just laughed at him. Clearly, AJ could not be trusted in a mall.

Chapter 71

AJ packed a cooler with some snacks and drinks before they left on their adventure.

“I love being spontaneous!” Emily said. “It’s so much better than sitting at home watching a movie or something. Who knows where we’ll end up?”

“Me too. A little adventure always keeps me on my toes.” AJ agreed.

They were just climbing into the car when Brian came running out.

“Hey Emily, wait up!” he said. “I think you guys might want this.”

He handed them a map of Atlanta and its surrounding areas.

Emily laughed. “Thanks!”

“We wouldn’t want you two getting lost in the middle of a cornfield!” Brian said. “Have a good time!”

Emily and AJ climbed into the car.

“This is a nice car! Very comfy!” AJ said.

“I know! I love it! There’s dual temperature controls so you and I don’t have to argue over the temperature, the seats are heated, which really doesn’t matter today, and I upgraded the stereo system so we can bump it!”

“What are we going to listen to?” AJ asked.

Emily pulled out her Ipod Nano. “It even has a jack to plug my Ipod into! I’ve got tons of play lists on there, you can put on whatever you want, just try to keep it upbeat!”

AJ scrolled through her lists and decided to start their trip off with the Thong Song. Emily laughed.

“I knew you’d like that song.” She said. “You know, some of your fans seem to think that Sisqo is your long lost twin. They even have pictures of the two of you in very similar outfits doing the same pose. It’s a tad creepy.”

AJ laughed. “How do you know all that?”

Emily blushed. “Oh, I don’t know, I suppose I might have browsed some ‘I Love AJ’ fan sites a few months ago.”

AJ laughed at her. “You gotta show me that Sisqo thing.”

Emily pulled out of the neighborhood and headed for the highway. “East or West?” she asked.

“Hmm…East.” AJ said.

Emily and AJ were cruising along for nearly an hour, windows down, music blaring when they started seeing signs for Amicalola Falls State Park.

“Let’s check that out.” AJ suggested.

Emily agreed and followed the signs, pulling into the parking lot. AJ grabbed their cooler as they hoped out of the car and followed the first walking trail they saw. Since it was a weekday afternoon, it wasn’t all that crowded despite the gorgeous, warm fall day. The trail led them to the falls themselves and they stopped just to appreciate the beauty of the flowing water surrounded by the trees in peak fall color.

“Wow! Who knew something so beautiful was this close?” Emily said.

“I ask myself that every time I see you.” AJ whispered.

Emily blushed. “I meant the waterfall!”

“Oh, yeah that too.” AJ smiled.

Emily pulled out her digital camera and began snapping pictures.

“Is that your new camera?” AJ asked.

“Yeah. I carry it with me wherever I go. You never know when you’ll want to take a picture!”

AJ and Emily sat down on some rocks next to the water and picked at some snacks and drinks from the cooler, soaking up the warm sun and enjoying the scenery. They dipped their feet in the water when the sun got too hot and then decided to hike around a bit. They climbed the trail up to the top of the falls and took more pictures. Emily was even kind enough to let AJ use her camera and found that he actually had quite a good eye for photography.

They walked back down to the base of the falls and AJ asked a nice looking old lady if she would take their picture in front of the falls.

“Sure! Just show me which buttons to push.” The lady said.

AJ showed her. “Thank you so much! I wanted to capture this special occasion with a good picture of both of us.” He said, as he and Emily got into their pose.

“Oh yeah? What’s the occasion?” the lady asked, getting ready to take the picture.

AJ looked at Emily. “It’s the first time I told her I love you.”

Emily was stunned, and AJ had timed it perfect so that the nice lady would catch her face in the picture. The lady smiled and decided to keep taking pictures as the young couple spoke.

“But I….” Emily stammered.

AJ held his finger up to her lips. “I love you, Emily. Every single thing about you, I love. All of it. I…love…you.”

Emily was speechless. She knew he had said something very similar the night before but she hadn’t expected him to come out and say it today.

“I…don’t know what to say!” Emily said.

“Look, I know that you’re feeling conflicted about everything and I didn’t expect you to be ready to say it back. I just couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. Don’t say it to me because I said it first. I want you to be ready to say it, in your own way and in your own time.”

Emily smiled as she looked up at him. “Thank you.” She whispered, trying to fight the tears that stung her eyes. “You really are quite the sweet, romantic guy aren’t you?”

“Yeah, that’s the word on the street.” AJ said, before leaning down and kissing her. This time, it was a soft and slow kiss. Very sweet and tender. The little old lady took a few more pictures, capturing this emotional moment for them.

AJ thanked her as he retrieved the camera.

“No need to thank me, seeing you two reminded me of the time my dear Hector proposed to me. He did it right here, right about where you two were standing actually.”

“That’s very sweet!” Emily said.

“Yes. He’s been gone almost six months now. Every once in awhile, I come back to our special spot just to remember him. Seeing you two I think was his way of reminding me how great our life was together. You two remind me a lot of us. You’ll be very happy together some day, I can tell.”

Emily and AJ thanked the lady and headed back to the car.

“She was sweet.” Emily said.

“Yeah. It’s so nice to get to talk to older people who were still so happy together. Even though she’s widowed now, you could just tell they were always happy right up until the end.” AJ said.

As Emily drove away, she could hear Brian’s lecture about looking for signs ringing in her ears. She didn’t need him to tell her what a huge sign that was. What were the odds? AJ picks a little old lady out of nowhere to take their picture for an important moment in their relationship only to have her end up telling him that she and her husband got engaged in that very spot? If that wasn’t a sign, she didn’t know what was.

Chapter 72

AJ pulled out the map Brian gave them and plotted the way home using back roads instead of highways. It was a much more scenic route and they pulled over several times to take pictures of things like goats eating grass in the middle of what looked like a junk yard and the small group of cows that were crossing the road.

“Do you want to drive?” She offered, as they waited for the cows to finish crossing.

“You’d trust me with your new car?” AJ asked.

“As a matter of fact, I do trust your driving. But I get control of the Ipod.”

Emily and AJ got out and switched seats. AJ had a hard time getting into the driver’s seat as Emily’s legs were considerably shorter than his and she had the seat pulled up to far for him.

“Damn women and their short legs.” He muttered.

“Hey! I thought you liked my legs!”

“I do, I do.”

Emily settled back in her seat, glad to have a break from driving. She watched AJ out of the corner of her eye and smiled as she watched his strong arms take over the wheel. Somehow, just knowing that AJ was in control made her feel safe, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to her given AJ’s crazy personality, but she trusted him nevertheless.

Eventually, they made their way back in town. AJ insisted on running Emily’s car through a car wash before going home.

“It’s still a baby, you gotta keep it all pretty and after driving on all those country roads, she needs a bath!

It was about six o’clock when they got back to the house and AJ was immediately kidnapped by Baylee, who wanted to take him out back and show him the tent that he and Brian had set up to sleep in that night. Emily went upstairs to take a shower and get ready for her date. She bumped into Leighanne in the hall.

“Hey! How was your trip?” she asked.

“Oh, it was great! I’ll have to show you our pictures!” Emily said.

“Do you need any help getting ready for tonight?” Leighanne offered. “My boys are outback camping and I’ve been informed that as of right now, there’s no girls allowed!”

Emily laughed. “I heard. Baylee dragged AJ out to see his tent. Actually, I kind of wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Sure.” Leighanne said, following Emily into her room. The two sat down on Emily’s couch.

“This is kind of awkward for me and if I’m a little over the line, just tell me.”

“Just spit it out already, Emily!” Leighanne said, laughing at Emily’s obvious nervousness.

Emily cleared her throat. “Today, AJ told me he loves me.”

Leighanne gasped. “That’s great! Isn’t it?” she added.

“Yeah, I think it is. Only, I didn’t say it back to him and he said he knew I wasn’t ready to and all this stuff. But, I’ve been thinking about it all day and before I can say it back to him, I need to know something.”

“Shoot.” Leighanne said.

“What’s it like?” Emily asked.

“What’s what like?”

“What’s it like being in a relationship with someone so high profile?”

Leighanne knew immediately what she was getting at. Emily was worried about AJ’s public lifestyle and about all the crap she would have to endure along with it.

“I won’t lie, it certainly isn’t easy, but in a lot of ways, it’s also great.”

“How do you mean?” Emily asked.

“Well, I think you already know. Once word gets out AJ’s got a serious girlfriend, people will start talking and as you’ve seen, media certainly isn’t always friendly. On the other hand, it’s almost easier for you than it was for me. I will never let Brian hear me say this but the group just isn’t quite as popular as it was when he and I started seeing each other seriously. And now that two of them are married, the fans and the media have grown accustomed to the fact that they are people who want to have lives outside teeny bopper heaven. I learned really fast to grow a thick skin and ignore some of the shit and in return, I got to marry Brian. I know he loves me with all of his heart and that he’ll always take care of me. He’s shown me the world, literally. I get to be a part of something huge and it’s incredibly awesome!”

“So, it was worth it?” Emily asked.

Leighanne nodded. “Completely. Like I said, it wasn’t easy but it was worth it. I had the same fears that you did back in the beginning, but look how far we’ve come together.”

Emily nodded. “Thanks. I guess I just needed to hear that before I got too far in.”

“I understand, believe me. If you ever need to talk more about it, please don’t hesitate. Brian and I are really rooting for you two. Besides that, you’re the first girlfriend of AJ’s that I’ve actually really liked.”

Emily laughed. “Thanks, I guess.”

“One other thing, Emily. There is a sort of rule amongst the girlfriends. Never, ever let yourself read what the fans are saying about you on the internet. It’s tempting but take it from a veteran. Just leave it. Now, show me the outfit you’re wearing tonight!”

Emily walked over to her closet and pulled out the form fitting black pants that Leighanne said made her rear look like a smaller scale version of J-Lo with the tight, silky dark purple tank top with subtle beading around the neckline. Leighanne said that shirt accented her chest in just the right way. After a few conversations about shoes and hair, Leighanne left Emily to get showered. She was dying to tell Brian what Emily revealed to her but Baylee wouldn’t let her set foot in the backyard so it would have to wait until later.

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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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