Chapter 79

Emily was gently woken on her birthday morning by none other than Baylee.

“Miss Emily!” he whispered.

Emily peeked an eye open at him and smiled.

“Good morning, Baylee.” She mumbled.

“Are you awake?” he whispered.

“Yes.” She whispered back.

“Good. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” he screamed.

Emily laughed as she reached out to tickle his tummy.

“Thank you, Baylee. Did Uncle AJ send you in here?”

Baylee looked away. “No…..”

Right on cue, AJ walked in. “Baylee, I told you to let her sleep in!”

“I know, but I just wanted to tell her happy birthday! She can go back to sleep now!” Baylee explained, trying to dig his way out of trouble.

“It’s ok, AJ. I’m up!” Emily said, sitting up.

“Happy birthday, babe.” He said, leaning down and giving her a kiss.

Baylee giggled.

“Come on Little Dude; come help me in the kitchen. Come down whenever you’re ready to, Em. Take your time!” AJ said, throwing Baylee over his shoulder and marching out.

Emily remained in bed a few more minutes, stretching like a cat and yawning. It was the first year she had allowed herself to celebrate her birthday since Payton was born four years ago. She had forgotten just how much she enjoyed having a day to be fussed over. She threw on her white, marshmallow fabric robe (yet another item in her Bath and Body Works collection) and combed her hair before she went downstairs.

She had expected everyone to be up for a big breakfast, but she didn’t expect the entire kitchen and dining area to be decorated to the extreme for it.

“Happy Birthday!” Brian greeted her with a hug.

“Thanks! You guys didn’t have to do all of this for me!” she blushed.

“Actually, that’s not true. AJ said we had to.” Brian said.

“Brian!” Leighanne scolded. “You know the balloon arch was your idea! Happy Birthday, Emily.”

Emily laughed as she took in the sight before her. There was, in fact, a balloon arch behind the table against the wall. There were balloons and streamers everywhere along with several birthday banners. The table had a brightly colored table cloth on it and confetti had been scattered over it. Baylee was wearing a birthday hat and came over to insist that Emily wear one as well.

AJ came over to give her a hug.

“This is great!” she said to him.

“I’m glad you like it! Now, the seat of honor is right here.” He said, sitting her in a chair with a big balloon tied to it. It took her a few minutes to getting around to looking at what the balloon actually said.

Over the hill?!?” she screeched. “I am NOT that old!”

AJ and Brian snickered and pretended to look very busy at the moment.

“Which one of you did that?” she asked.

“He did it.” They each said, pointing at the other.

Emily rolled her eyes. “You two are real comedians, aren’t you?”

“We like to think so.” AJ answered.

Emily chuckled and shook her head as she looked at the balloon again.

“Are you ready for breakfast?” AJ asked, setting a hot cup of coffee in front of her.

“I’m starving and it smells great!”

Brian and AJ carried over all the food. There was French toast made with cinnamon bread, fruit salad, bacon, scrambled eggs and biscuits.

“Oh my God, I don’t think I’ll need to eat for a week after today!” Emily groaned after she finished eating. “What am I doing the rest of the day?” she asked AJ.

“What am I, your even planner?” he smirked.

“Usually, yes.”

“Well, in about twenty minutes Leigh is taking you shopping where you are to pick out a brand new outfit to wear this evening. Then you’re meeting up with me and I am going to take you to do something special. Don’t look at me that way, it’s a surprise and I’m not telling you.” AJ answered.

“You’re not taking me shopping? You love to shop! Something is defiantly going on here!” Emily said.

“I have some things to take care of. You’ll find out, don’t worry!”

Emily went upstairs to take a quick shower and get dressed for her shopping trip. Leighanne was waiting for her when she came downstairs, but Brian and AJ were nowhere to be seen.

“Where’d everyone go?” she asked.

“They just had some errands to run, that’s all.” Leighanne certainly wasn’t going to give any information. AJ had threatened death if anyone leaked any of his surprises for her.

Leighanne insisted on driving and the girls had a pretty good time together as they drove to the mall. They used the valet parking service and Leighanne led Emily into some of her favorite boutiques.

“So what kind of outfit am I supposed to pick out?” Emily asked, fingering a gorgeous cashmere sweater.

Leighanne pondered for a moment before answering. “I’d go with casual dress. Nice pants and a sweater would be good.”

Emily nodded. “I can work with that.” She picked up the cashmere sweater in a gorgeous sky blue to try on.

After trying on many possible outfits, Leighanne convinced her to settle on the cashmere sweater in a pink color instead of the blue with a pair of dark brown pants that were cut perfectly for her short, slightly curvy frame. Leighanne insisted on paying, informing her that it was on AJ for her birthday.

As they passed a high end lingerie store, Emily hesitated for a second and Leighanne took notice as she grabbed Emily and dragged her in.

“I’m sure you and AJ must have special plans for later tonight.” Leighanne said, trying to hide her grin.

Emily blushed. “Maybe.” She mumbled.

They were greeted by a very friendly but pushy sales lady.

“Are you shopping for a special occasion?” she asked.

“Oh, no, it’s nothing special.” Emily said quickly, to avoid further embarrassment.

Leighanne didn’t get the hint. “It’s her birthday and she’s got special plans tonight.”

“Oh, well Happy Birthday!” the saleslady said. “My name is Katie. Let’s get you something really special. What kinds of things do you like?”

Emily looked helplessly at Leighanne, who just raised her eyebrows back at her.

“I guess I like lace….”

“Lace is very in right now. What kind of style were you thinking? Night gown, teddy, something skimpy, maybe a matching underwear set with garters?” Katie asked.

Emily thought for a moment as her face grew even hotter. Leighanne excused herself to go pretend to look at a new bra. “Something skimpy.” She whispered.

Katie smiled. “Relax, dear. We’re quite used to ladies shopping for such things.”

Emily smiled and followed Katie over to a rack of very pretty lacy undergarments. After Katie took some measurements to determine the best size, she picked out the perfect gown, if you could call it a gown since it hardly covered much, and all she had to do was pick a color.

“Leighanne!” Emily whispered. “Come help me pick a color!”

Leighanne came over and inspected what Emily had picked out.

“Oh, he’s going to love that!”

“What color though? Black? White? Red? Pink?”

Leighanne cleared her throat. “Well, is this going to be your first…time….together?”

Emily nodded.

“Definitely the white. Guys really dig the whole pure thing.”

Emily took the white one and went to pay. This was one thing AJ would not be paying for although she hoped that after tonight he’d want to run out and buy her ten more just like it.


Chapter 80

Leighanne drove Emily home but there was still no sign of Brian, AJ, or even Baylee. Emily didn’t even bother asking Leighanne where they were. She knew better. Instead, she went upstairs to change into her new outfit Leighanne insisted she put her hair up, so she pulled back into a slick ponytail. She added a touch of makeup for good measure and a splash of perfume because she never left home without it.

By the time she was finished getting ready, AJ had arrived back.

“Is everything all set?” Leighanne whispered.

AJ had a huge grin on his face. “Everything is going according to plan so far.”

Leighanne nodded. “Good. Let’s run over the plan once more.”

AJ looked over his shoulder to make sure Emily wasn’t coming. “Ok. I’m going to take her as soon as she comes down. Then you sneak into her room and pack her bag, put in whatever you think she’ll need for the night then put it in the trunk of my car. Brian and Baylee are picking up the last of the supplies; he should be home any minute now, as soon as I give him the all clear that she’s gone. Then you guys start setting up for the party. When we’re ten minutes away, I’ll call the house phone, let it ring three times and then hang up. I’ll bring her in the front door and lead her out to where you guys will be.”

“Got it.” Leighanne said. “I hope everything runs as smoothly as it sounds! Did you remember to wrap her present?”

“Of course I did! I had it wrapped at the store when I bought it.”

Leighanne laughed. “Oh! Here she comes. I’ll scram.”

Emily walked down the stairs and smiled as she saw AJ standing there. He was dressed in jeans and a gray sweater.

“Hey stranger! Where’d you run off to?” Emily asked as he met her with a quick kiss.

“I had some business to take care of. You look fantastic!” he smiled as he checked out her new outfit.

“Thank you! I’m glad you like it since you bought it for me!”

“Are you ready to go?” he asked.

“I sure am! Where are we going?”

“You’ll figure it out when we get there.” Was all he answered.

They drove about twenty minutes before they arrived in a large, empty parking lot.

“You brought me to a parking lot?” she asked, now thoroughly confused.

“Yes.” He replied, getting out of the car.

“Why?” she asked as he opened her door and helped her out.

AJ didn’t speak; he simply looked up at the sky and pointed.

Emily followed his gaze and gasped as she finally figured it out.

A big hot-air balloon was rapidly descending on them, looking like it was going to land right next to them.

“Ever been on a hot-air balloon ride before?” AJ asked.

“I never have!” she replied, trying not to give away the fact that she was extremely afraid of heights.

“Well get ready because you’re about to!”

It only took a few minutes for the enormous balloon to land. AJ introduced Emily to Ned, the gray-haired man who was “driving” and helped her into the basket.

AJ sensed Emily’s apprehension when she asked Ned “Has this thing ever sprung a leak before?”

“Just once or twice.” He winked at her. When he saw the look of horror on her face had added, “I’m just kidding. It’s perfectly safe.”

AJ put his hands on her shoulders. “Trust me. It’s going to be well worth it.”

Emily forced herself to relax a little and Ned even let her pull the chain to turn on the flame, making the balloon begin its ascent into the air.

She had to admit it. He was right. Even though she was still a little afraid to stand too close to the edge of the basket, the view was incredible and it was amazingly silent up in the air. Ned, having escorted several couples up in his balloon stayed as much out of the way as he could given the small basket they were all in.

“It’s so peaceful!” she exclaimed.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” AJ replied, his gaze taking in the horizon.

“I wish I had brought my camera with me!” she said.

AJ grinned at her and produced a camera bag that looked an awful lot like hers.

“How did you get this?” she asked.

“I’ve got friends.” He responded.

She smiled. “You really are very into details. Are you sure you’re a man?”

AJ leaned in and whispered, “I think you’ll find out tonight, won’t you?”

Emily blushed and could find no response appropriate enough for Ned to overhear.

Emily took a few shots of the balloon and the wonderful view surrounding her before handing the camera to Ned and asking if he would mind taking a picture of the two of them.

Emily grabbed AJ’s hands and met his eyes as Ned was about to take the picture. She timed it perfectly.

“AJ, I love you too.” She said softly. So soft he almost missed what she said.

Ned managed to capture AJ’s face as he registered what she said.

She couldn’t have thought of a more perfect time. They were floating up in the air above everything, above all of their problems and simply taking in the pure beauty of the earth below. Everything about it was beautiful, just like AJ.

AJ realized that there were no words to be spoken. He hadn’t expected her to say it so soon. Not that he wasn’t thrilled about it. Deciding against saying anything that might accidentally ruin the moment, he pulled her to him and gave her a soft, passionate kiss that left them both feeling a little breathless. Ned turned and faced the other way, giving them their privacy and smiling to himself at the wonders of young love.

Emily was shocked to realize that they had spent more than a few hours up in the air when Ned told them it was time to begin going back down. AJ held her hand and gave it a squeeze as he winked at her.

Once safely on the ground, they both thanked Ned for a great trip and walked back to their car.

“Are you ok?” Emily asked. “You’re awfully quiet.”

AJ smiled at her. “I’m fine, I promise. I guess I was just caught off guard by you and it meant so much to me that I haven’t figured out what to say now.”

Emily smiled back and patted his knee. “You don’t have to say anything. I already know how you feel. Now you know how I feel. Now all I need from you is to tell me what’s happening next.”

“Emily, you should know by now that I never give away the secrets. All I’m telling you is that right now, we have to go home for a bit.”

“Ugh. It is my birthday, you know. That means you have to be nice to me and that means that you have to tell me what you’re planning!”

“Well, too bad! Now be a good girl or you won’t get your present.”

Emily decided against pointing out that it was also punishment to him if he didn’t give it to her.

AJ managed to sneak his cell phone out of his pocket and dial the number to Brian’s house letting it ring before hanging up without Emily noticing.

Signal given, Brian, Leighanne and Baylee flew into a frenzy to put out the finishing touches to Emily’s surprise party before heading out onto the deck where they would be waiting for them.

AJ pulled into the driveway and walked Emily in through the front door.

“It’s awfully quiet in here. Baylee must be playing outside.” Emily noticed.

“Must be. Let’s go see what he’s up to.” AJ said, trying very hard to hide his grin and not entirely sure if he was succeeding.

AJ followed Emily as she walked through to the back and stopped short in the doorway to the deck.

“SURPRISE!” They all yelled.

“You guys!” she squealed. “You didn’t have to do all this!”

“Happy birthday!” Baylee said, running up to her and hugging her legs.

“Thanks, Baylee!”

Emily fought back a few tears as she looked around. They had decorated the deck to the extreme for a fall themed cookout. There were bales of hay, corn stalks, all the pumpkins they had picked were scattered around. There were also more balloons and streamers and banners and Emily could smell the grill cooking. She was incredibly touched that they had gone to so much trouble for her.

“This is so sweet, thank you so much you guys.” She said, smiling. “I haven’t had a birthday like this since…well since I was a kid!”

“Come take a seat!” AJ said, leading her over to a bale of hay. “Can I get you anything to drink? We have Cherry Coke….” He tempted her.

“You know Cherry Coke is my favorite! Of course I’ll have some.”

“How was the balloon ride?” Leighanne asked.

“It was amazing!” Emily said, filling her in on the details of the trip.

Brian went to check his meat on the grill. “How do you like your steaks done, Em?”

“Medium well please!” she answered.

AJ handed her a can of cherry coke and went to supervise Brian’s grilling.


Chapter 81

“You guys, these steaks are perfect!” Emily complimented, still seated on her bale of hay.

“He learned from the master.” AJ said, gesturing to Brian.

“Whatever, I taught you. Don’t you ever forget that!”

“And who taught you Brian?” Emily asked.

“It’s a secret. I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you.” He said, winking at Leighanne.

“Daddy, I want another hot dog!” Baylee announced.

“One more hot dog coming up!” Brian said, handing Baylee another plate.

“This is so great!” Emily said, looking around, still touched by all of their efforts for her birthday.

“I’m glad you like it.” AJ said, kissing her temple.

“It’s a gorgeous day, too.” Leighanne noted.

Tyke was yapping up a storm at Baylee, begging for a piece of the little boy’s hot dog. Baylee was not helping the situation by teasing the poor dog.

“Baylee, stop teasing Tyke!” Brian scolded.

“Serves the little mutt right.” Emily muttered. AJ chuckled.

The four adults were finishing up their supper and laughing at one of AJ’s famous dog stories when they heard Baylee start to cough.

“Baylee, you ok?” Leighanne asked.

Baylee kept on coughing, looking scared and distressed.

“Oh my God, I think he’s choking!” Leighanne said.

Brian ran over to examine his son, whose face was turning bright red.

“Baylee, look at Daddy. Are you choking?”

Baylee could barely manage to nod.

Brian stood up, obviously frightened. “We’ve got to do the Heimlich.” He said, wrapping his arms around Baylee.

“NO!” Emily shouted. “Don’t do that!” She ran over.

“He’s choking for God’s sake!” Brian yelled. “We have to do something!”

“You only do the Heimlich on people who aren’t moving any air at all. As long as Baylee’s able to cough, he can breathe.” Emily said.

“So what do we do?” Brian asked, obviously not happy that he was expected to just let his son sit there and choke up a hot dog.

“First, you need to calm down. You’re starting to scare him and that’s not going to help.” Emily said softly but with authority. Brian looked at Baylee and got the message loud and clear. “Next, we wait. It’ll either come up, move further down, or stay. For now, we’re ok.”

Emily crouched down in front of Baylee. “It’s ok Baylee. Just keep coughing, ok? I promise, you’re just fine.” She rubbed his back to try and soothe him.

“Couldn’t we try hitting him on the back?” Leighanne suggested.

“You could, but sometimes that can just force the food to travel down further and it might get stuck even worse.” Emily replied calmly.

After a few more minutes of coughing, he stopped.

“Is he ok now?” Brian asked.

Emily cursed under her breath. “No, he’s not. Move.” She ordered, shoving Brian out of the way.

“Baylee, Miss. Emily’s going to help you, ok? Don’t be scared.” She reached around him and gave him a few thrusts of the diaphragm. Finally, the evil hot dog came out and Baylee gasped for air and immediately started crying. She left him to Leighanne and Brian who were both equally just as scared as he had been. Emily joined AJ, who quite possibly was more scared than Baylee’s parents were.

“Is he really ok now?” AJ whispered.

Emily smiled. “Relax. He’s fine.”

“How can you be so calm? I thought for sure you’d be throwing up right now.” AJ said.

“Do you think this is the first kid I’ve had choke on a hot dog?” Emily asked.

“Well, I guess yeah I did think that.” AJ said, beginning to relax. “But how did you know what to do?”

“You don’t get a certification in childcare without first aid and CPR training. Kids choke all the time. If you don’t know anything else, you should at least know how to handle that. But believe me, the first time it happened it scared the shit out of me.”

“And exactly how many times have you done that?” AJ asked, astounded.

Emily thought for a moment. “I guess this makes five.”

AJ’s jaw dropped. “No way! That’s unbelievable.”

“A little, I guess. Hot dogs really are dangerous for kids who don’t like to chew their food. 3 of those 5 have been hot dogs. One was bubblegum and the other was a quarter.”

“A quarter? Seriously?”

“Yeah. That little kid had a thing for eating foreign objects. I’m hoping he got over it by now.”

Emily was interrupted by Baylee climbing onto her lap.

“Thank you for helping me, Miss. Emily.” He said. He seemed to have calmed down quite a bit by now, though she didn’t think they’d have an easy time getting him to eat a hot dog any time soon.

“You’re very welcome, Baylee. I’m glad that you’re ok now!”

“Can we have some cake now?” the little boy asked.

Emily looked at AJ. “Cake sounds pretty good to me!”

AJ nodded. “One birthday cake, coming up! You want to come help me put the candles on Little Dude?”

Baylee took off running inside with AJ leaving Emily in her designated spot.

“Emily, thank you so much! I’m sorry for snapping at you.” Brian said, taking a seat next to her.

“It’s ok, I know it’s scary. I was just telling AJ that it scared me the first time it happened to me, but kids choke all the time so you come to get used to it.”

“Thank God you were here and kept calm.” Leighanne said, looking like she was ready to cry.

Emily gave her a hug. “He’s ok, Leigh. He would have been ok if I wasn’t here.”

“I’m going out tomorrow to sign up for a first aid class.” She responded.

Emily smiled. “That’s not a bad idea!”

AJ came out carrying a beautiful cake complete with candles. They all sang Happy Birthday to her.

“Make a wish!” AJ said.

Emily looked up at him right before blowing out her candles.

Baylee clapped. “Good job, Miss. Emily. You got ‘em all out!”

Leighanne took the cake inside to cut it up.

While they were waiting, Brian handed her the phone. “For you!” he said.

Emily looked confused. She couldn’t think of anyone who’d be calling her at that number that wasn’t already there.

“Hello?”

“Happy Birthday!” a deep voice said.

“Kevin, is that you?!?”

“You got it, darlin’. Are you having a good day?” he asked.

“I sure am, you won’t believe what everyone’s done for me. Leigh took me shopping and then AJ took me for a hot air balloon ride and then I came back here to a surprise party!”

“I’m glad! I’m sorry we couldn’t be there to celebrate.” He said, sounding truly regretful.

“Nonsense! You live on the other side of the country!”

“Well, we did manage to send you something. Kristin picked it out but I helped her.”

“Aw, you didn’t have to do that.” Emily said, feeling a bit embarrassed at all the attention she was getting.

“Sure I did! I love birthdays!” he laughed. “Anyway, I’ll let you get back to your part. Kristin sends her love; she’s at work right now.”

“Ok, thanks so much for calling and for sending a gift!” Emily said.

“You’re welcome. Happy birthday, kid!”

Emily smiled as she hung up the phone. “That was awful sweet of him!”


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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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