“What do you think this means?” Leighanne asked after she filled Brian in on AJ’s strange note.
Brian sighed. “Not good. Not good at all.” He frowned. “Something went wrong last night. They were fine when they left here.”
“Oh God. Do you think this is about s-e-x?” Leighanne asked.
“Maybe. I don’t think they would have been doing much else.”
“Those kinds of issues are the worst. They’re both probably too embarrassed to talk about it, emotions are running high. This could possibly get very ugly very quickly.” Leighanne stated.
“I hear you. Hey…Baylee’s watching a movie. What do you say we go work on our sexual problems?”
“Brian, we don’t have sexual problems.” Leighanne said.
“Yes we do. I want you night and day. I’d say that’s a problem.” Brian said, getting up and leading her upstairs.
Emily wandered through the woods behind Brian’s house and back. She managed to convince herself that she was over-reacting and that she had read too much into what AJ’s note had said. Or rather, what it didn’t say. She walked back in the house and looked at her watch. AJ should have just gotten home. One of the first things he always did was check his e-mail. She got on her laptop and sent him a quick note.
Just checking to make sure you go home ok. Call me tonight!
She knew he had gotten it a few minutes later. She saw him sign onto Instant Messenger, a sure sign he was checking his e-mail. She decided to let him make the first move. He’d either send her a message, an e-mail, or he’d call her.
He didn’t do either. AJ sat at his desk and read her e-mail. If she really wanted to make sure he’d gotten home, she would have called. This was just her way of pretending to care. He stayed online a few minutes, hoping she might send him a message, but gave up when he realized she wasn’t going to.
Emily slept with her cell phone next to her pillow and her new kitty, Guapo, curled up on her chest. She managed to hang onto a shred of hope that he was just very busy catching up with business matters and he’d call her as soon as he got a minute. When two in the morning rolled around, she gave up and turned off her phone. AJ had always found a few minutes to talk to her before. If he hadn’t called by now, it was because he simply hadn’t wanted to call her. And if he was going to call her later, she wanted to make sure he couldn’t get a hold of her. Guapo woke up and stretched with her movement. She smiled as she pet him, making him purr and fall back asleep on her.
AJ fell asleep with two phones in bed with him. His cell phone and his house cordless. If she really cared, she’d call when she didn’t hear from him. A few times he checked his phones to make sure they were working, and then he’d check his voice mail to make sure he hadn’t missed her call while doing so. When three in the morning came and went, he tossed the phones across the room and went to sleep.
Emily woke up the next morning, still hurting and insecure about AJ, but ultimately she decided to push him out of her mind and go back to business as usual.
“Good morning!” she said, brightly as she walked into the kitchen.
Brian and Leighanne assumed that she and AJ had worked things out.
“Hey Em! So did AJ get back ok?” Brian asked, digging for some info.
“Beats the hell out of me. I haven’t heard from him yet.” Emily answered with a phony smile.
Brian and Leighanne flashed each other a troubled glance.
“Well, Brian and I have a business meeting this afternoon. We should be back before dinner. I promised Baylee he could play in his sand box a bit today. And he’s been dying to play with Guapo this morning.” Leighanne said.
Emily smiled. She loved that little kitten. Too bad he reminded her of AJ. But she wouldn’t hold that against Guapo. “He’s up in my room asleep on the window ledge right now. You should have seen him last night. He slept right on my chest!”
“I can imagine. While you were gone, he slept in our bed with Leighanne.” Brian grumbled.
Emily sent Brian and Leighanne on their way and chased down Guapo, who was wrestling in her comforter, for Baylee to play with. Guapo loved Baylee and was always very gentle with him, never biting or clawing him. Eventually, Guapo wore himself out and curled up on Baylee’s bed to take a nap. Tyke was not happy at all with Guapo’s presence. He was so terrified of the small kitten that he spent most of the day hiding under Brian’s bed. Emily had to work hard to assure Brian that Tyke would soon adjust and that it was ok to let him sulk a bit.
Emily’s phone rang while she was playing with Baylee in the sand box. She checked the caller ID. It was AJ.
“Hello.” She said flatly.
“It’s AJ.” He said, sounding unsure.
“I know.” She responded.
“Oh. Good. You just sounded weird. Look, I think we need to talk.” He said. He was fully prepared to admit to being a jerk and work things out with her. At least, that’s what he thought.
“Actually, now’s not a very good time. I’m playing with Baylee.” She blew him off.
“Bullshit! Don’t use Baylee as an excuse not to talk to me.” he accused.
His accusation floored her, as did his tone of voice. She’d had enough of his childish games and felt like playing along.
“Actually, AJ, I don’t need an excuse not to talk to you. Your not wanting to talk to me has made it very easy for me not to talk to you.”
All thoughts of working this out flew out of AJ’s mind. Why did she have to be so damn stubborn?
“You could have called, you know!” he flung at her.
“You could have said a proper goodbye instead of sneaking out when I was asleep and leaving a note that didn’t really say much!” Emily said, her voice beginning to rise. Why was it all her fault? He was just as much to blame, if not more!
“Well you made it very clear that you weren’t interested in talking to me so I thought I’d spare you the trouble and just leave!” he yelled.
“WHAT?!? How DARE you! Are you just that clueless that you honestly believe that?!?” Emily yelled back.
She was quickly brought back to earth when she felt Baylee tugging at her.
“Miss Emily! Why are you yelling?” he asked, his little blue eyes full with worry.
Emily froze. She had just broken one of her biggest parenting rules. Never argue in front of the kids.
She signed. “Miss. Emily’s not yelling she’s just very excited about something, that’s all.” She assured him.
Softly, she said, “Look AJ, I have to go. Now is not a good time to be doing this. In fact, I don’t think we should be doing this at all. Call me when you get a clue.” And she hung up before he even had the chance to respond.
When it came to playing the part of the stubborn bull-headed one, Emily and AJ were an even match. Neither one wanted to be the first one to give in and make the first phone call. Still, they each both continued to sleep with their phones for the next four days. Brian and Leighanne were incredibly confused. Emily was acting like there was absolutely nothing wrong while they continued to notice she had no contact with AJ and always changed the subject when it came around to him. AJ was the same way whenever he communicated with Brian.
It had been nearly a week since the last time AJ and Emily had spoken. AJ came home from a particularly rough day at work and felt the sudden urge to hear her voice. Dialing the phone before he chickened out, he crossed his fingers that they could at least have a civil conversation.
Emily was watching a video with Baylee when she heard her phone ringing in the other room.
“Baylee, I’ll be right back, ok?” she said, getting up to answer it.
“OK.” Baylee said, not taking his eyes from the screen.
Emily was surprised to see that it was AJ calling. Maybe he’d finally come to his senses.
“Hello?” she answered, warily.
“Hey you. It’s me.” AJ said.
Emily gave in and allowed herself to smile at the sound of his voice. “Hey.” She said softly.
AJ cleared his throat. “So, uh, how are you?”
“Me? I’m alright. Been a bit of a crazy week but nothing too out of the ordinary. How about you?”
“Eh, I just had a bit of a rough day and I wanted to hear your voice.”
“I’m sorry. What happened?”
AJ explained his day of hell with his lawyers and record label and told her how the release of his solo album had been pushed back yet again.
“It’s like they think I can’t cut it or something. Like this stuff is too far out of the box to be accepted by people. What happened to all that talk they gave me when they signed me about looking for something new and different from everything else? Those assholes are the biggest pieces of chicken shit I’ve ever worked with since we left good ol’ Pearlman.” AJ ranted.
“I’m sorry. Is there anyway you can terminate your contract?”
AJ sighed. “Not really, but that certainly hasn’t stopped me from threatening that. They’ve got me by the balls and it’s like they’re enjoying it or something.”
Emily didn’t really know what to say. “If it makes you feel any better, Tyke peed on my bed yesterday.”
She heard him chuckle. “The little mutt’s still out to get you, huh?”
“Yeah. So I sent Guapo after him. He loves Tyke. Too bad it’s not mutual.” Emily said.
There was an awkward pause in the conversation before AJ said, “Well, I guess I’d better get going. It was good to talk to you.”
“Yeah, ok. It was nice to hear from you too. Will you call me tomorrow?” she asked, hopeful.
Another awkward pause. “Uh, yeah, I’ll try.”
Emily sighed as she hung up the phone. So things were still really awkward, but at least he called her. That was a step, right? Although it certainly wasn’t anything more than a friendly conversation. Their typical ‘I miss you’ conversation was missing, as was their usual flirting banter. Maybe their night together on her birthday had changed their relationship beyond repair since neither one of them seemed to be mature enough to actually discuss what happened and how they felt about it.
For the next month, AJ and Emily’s awkwardness continued. They talked twice, sometimes three times a week and not longer than fifteen minutes at a time. They only talked about trivial stuff. Tyke’s vendetta against Emily, AJ’s dogs. Nothing personal or important. There was never any expression of feelings, no indication of where they stood. Brian tried as hard as he could to intervene but he got nowhere. He could only assume that what had happened was personal and awkward and Emily and AJ were behaving like teenagers. It was a few days before Baylee’s birthday, which was only two days before Thanksgiving. It gave Brian the perfect excuse to get AJ up for a visit.
“Hi AJ. It’s Brian.” He said when he called.
“Hey man, what’s up?” AJ asked.
“Well, Baylee actually wanted to talk to you. He says he has something really important to ask you.”
“Ok, put him on!” AJ said. He loved it when Baylee called him. It always put a smile on his face.
“Hi Uncle AJ!” Baylee’s voice greeted.
“Hey Little Dude! I hear you have something very important to ask me!”
“I do!” Baylee stated.
“Well what is it?” AJ asked.
“Will you come to my birthday party on Tuesday?” he pleaded.
AJ stalled for time. He wasn’t ready to see Emily yet. But how could he turn down that cute little voice?
“Are you having a birthday already?” AJ asked, pretending to sound shocked.
“Yep! I’m gonna be four!”
“No you’re not! You just turned two last month!” AJ said.
Baylee giggled. “Uncle AJ! I’m almost four!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep.” Baylee answered.
“Alright then. Is there going to be cake at this party of yours?”
AJ sighed. He was sunk. “Alright then. I suppose I could come if you promise to share your cake with me.”
“I promise! YAY! DADDY HE’S COMING JUST LIKE YOU SAID HE WOULD!” Baylee screamed into the phone.
AJ smiled as he held the screaming phone away from his ear. He should have known Brian was behind this.
Brian picked up the phone. “So you’re really coming? Great! Baylee’s thrilled!”
“Yeah, I can tell.”
“Well, since his birthday is two days before Thanksgiving, why don’t you stay up the whole week? We can watch football until we drop from too much turkey and pie.”
AJ didn’t really know if that was a good idea or not, but he was seriously tempted by the fact that he didn’t have any Thanksgiving plans. His mom was in Europe with her husband and no one else had invited him. As awkward as it would most certainly be seeing Emily, he simply couldn’t pass up turkey and pie.
“Sure, why not? I’ll see you Tuesday morning.”
“Perfect! See you then.” Brian said, grinning at Leighanne as he hung up.
Brian had sworn Baylee to secrecy about AJ’s arrival for the birthday party, but knowing Baylee all too well, Brian realized that he would have to tell Emily very soon before Baylee spilled the beans.
Emily was washing some dishes Sunday night when Brian came up to her.
“Hey Em. How’s it going?” he asked, almost too casually.
“It’s going about the same I guess. You?”
“Pretty good. I can’t believe Baylee’s turning four already. It seems like just yesterday he was born. He really is growing up way too fast for my liking.”
“I know what you mean. He actually used the word ‘conspicuous’ last night. Where he got that, I have no idea.” Emily laughed.
Brian chuckled. “He’s a smart one, that’s for sure. Are you going to be around for his birthday party on Tuesday?”
“Of course! I wouldn’t miss that for anything! Wait until you see what I got him!”
“Good. Baylee will certainly be glad to have you there. He’s pretty excited that AJ’s coming too…..”
Emily dropped the dish she was washing into the sink. “AJ’s coming?”
“Yeah, I thought he would have told you that.” Brian said.
Emily turned around. “Brian, stop pretending. You know we hardly talk anymore.”
Busted. He did know that, but he was trying to dig up a little more information. “I know, I guess I figured he still would have told you. It’s not a problem, is it?”
Emily cleared her throat. “Not a problem at all. I’m just surprised, that’s all. It’ll be just fine!”
Brian smiled. “Good, because he’s staying for Thanksgiving.” He said, before making a quick exit out of the kitchen, followed by the sound of another dropped dish.
Emily couldn’t stop thinking about it as she lay in bed that night. AJ was coming. But he wasn’t coming to see her, right? He was coming for Baylee’s birthday. But he was staying for the whole week, so maybe he was coming to see her. Or maybe he was coming to see Brian? Maybe he was just using Baylee’s birthday and Thanksgiving as a reason to come see her because he wasn’t sure she’d want to see him otherwise. Or maybe he didn’t want to see her at all and that’s why he didn’t tell her he was coming. But then, he never told her when he was coming. It was always a surprise. Why did he have to be so damn confusing?
Emily woke up for the fifth time Monday night and groaned. She was a nervous wreck over AJ’s impending arrival and was completely beside herself. He hadn’t called since Brian told her he was coming and she was still trying to figure out what it all meant. She knew only one thing for sure: she was tired of their charade. One way or the other, they absolutely needed to settle things between them.
She sighed, realizing she was never going to get any sleep and decided to flip on the TV to help pass the time. Late night television really sucked, she realized as she watched an infomercial on the Sweep-n-Mop. She felt incredibly tempted to order it within the next half hour to receive not one but two mops along with a lifetime supple of replacement heads. Luckily, she finally fell asleep.
Emily had no idea what time AJ was due to arrive; she could only assume it would be before three o’clock as that was when Baylee’s party was starting. She also didn’t want to ask anyone because she didn’t want to give away that she didn’t know, nor did she want to seem interested in his coming, either. Brian’s parents had already arrived that morning and Leighanne’s were expected any minute. Emily kept herself busy in the kitchen, decorating his birthday cake, helping slice up a vegetable tray, putting out the chips and dip, mainly keeping herself busy and out of the way. When she had done all she could in the kitchen, she ordered the pizza Baylee insisted on eating for his birthday dinner and set about finishing decorating the dinning room. There were balloons and streamers all over the place by the time she was done. In fact, she’d been so busy that she didn’t even know AJ had arrived. She stepped down off the chair she was standing up to tape up the streamer and turned around, startled to see him standing in the doorway of the room, watching her.
“Oh….uh…hi…..sorry, I didn’t know you were here yet.” She stammered.
“Yeah, I uh…just got here a few minutes ago.” He stammered back.
“Did you have a good flight?” she asked, trying not to look at him.
“Wasn’t bad. Do you need a hand?”
Emily looked around. “No, I think I’ve done enough damage in here. We’re just waiting for the pizza to get here. I was just going to check on things in the kitchen.”
AJ nodded. “I’d better get back to visiting with everyone.” He said, turning and walking back into the living room.
Emily leaned against the cupboard in the kitchen and sighed. God that had been awkward. Her mission to clear things up probably wasn’t going to be quite as easy as she had planned for.
“Everything ok?” Leighanne asked, quietly.
Emily shrugged. “Fine, just making sure everything’s ready.”
Leighanne stood next to her. “You don’t have to pretend. I know you’re avoiding him. I can’t say I blame you, I saw you too talking just now. Looked awkward.”
Emily nodded. “You have no idea.”
“Look, I already have a reputation for butting in, so I’m just going to do it again anyway. AJ is stubborn, and from what I’ve seen, so are you. I don’t know about you, but I know that AJ has a horrible time admitting he’s wrong. It’s much easier for him to act like this than it is for him to express himself over something tough.”
Emily was walking a fine line, and was pretty close to losing it. “Yeah? Funny, he’s all, ‘Let’s talk about our feelings’ all the time, then we hit our first real bump together and you’re telling me he doesn’t talk about his feelings? That’s bull! He’s always been very open with me before the night we….never mind, the point is that I know he’s done with me, let’s all just stop pretending, make it official, and move on with our lives.” Emily said, before going to let the pizza man in.
Leighanne sighed. She had thought Emily would be the approachable one about this. Clearly, she had gambled wrong.
Dinner was awkward. Baylee was so excited to have everyone he cared about around him to celebrate that he wouldn’t stop talking the entire time, even through his bites of pizza. Emily and AJ sat on opposite ends of the table, avoiding eye contact. Everyone in the room sensed the tension between the two, even Baylee, who asked AJ why he wasn’t sitting with Miss. Emily.
“Oh, I just wanted to sit by the birthday boy, Buddy, that’s all!” AJ tried to fake his way out. Baylee wasn’t too sure about that and looked at Emily for confirmation. Emily simply nodded her head.
After pizza and a very messy chocolate cake, Baylee demanded his presents. The little boy was absolutely showered with toys and games. There was no denying it, he was spoiled. He got a few new toy cars and trucks, some board games, some new movies, and a Leap Frog learning pad. AJ got him a brand new Tonka truck and a hat that said “Little Dude” on it. Baylee turned his eyes on Emily, waiting for her to give him her present.
“Baylee, my present for you is out in the back yard, I couldn’t bring it inside!” Emily said. Baylee’s eyes grew wide as he tried to imagine what it could possibly be. Everyone followed him as he took off running for the back yard and laughed at his squeals of delight when he found it, complete with a bit red bow on top.
“You got him a Power Wheels Hummer?” AJ asked.
Emily grinned. “Every little kid needs one!” She went over to show Baylee how to turn it on and he took off driving around the yard.
“Brian’s ok with this?” AJ asked, sure that Brian would find such a toy far too dangerous for his precious son.
“Of course he is. I wouldn’t have bought it without asking them if it was ok first!” Emily nearly snapped at him.
AJ sighed. “No, of course you wouldn’t.”
Emily and AJ spent the rest of the evening avoiding each other. All she wanted was to feel his eyes gazing at her the way they used to. Now, he wouldn’t even look at her. All he wanted was to see her smile up at him and light up the room the way she always used to do. He noticed that smiles hardly even crossed her face that day.
It took much convincing to tear Baylee away from his new toys and family to go to bed, and Emily stepped in for Brian and allowed him to scream and throw a fit before he finally relented and went to sleep. Leighanne’s parents drove home shortly after and Brian and Leighanne took his parents out for a drink leaving the sleeping Baylee in Emily’s care. AJ claimed he was tired and wanted to go to bed early.
Emily finished cleaning up after the party, leaving up the balloons like she had promised Baylee, and decided to enjoy a glass of wine in the darkened living room. She left all the lights out enjoying the peace that came with the darkness, sighing as she sat down in the overstuffed chair.
“Do you always drink in the dark?” a voice from across the room asked.
“Jesus, AJ! You scared me, I didn’t think you were in here!” she said, wiping the spilled wine off her chin.
“Sorry. I’m on the couch. Guess you can’t see me, huh?” AJ said.
Emily squinted to see. “Not yet, my eyes are still adjusting. What are you doing in here?”
“Probably the same thing you are. Minus the wine, of course.”
“And what exactly do you think I’m doing?” Emily asked.
“You came in here to enjoy the peace and do some thinking, am I right?”
Emily rolled her eyes. Did he always have to be right? “I guess so.”
“So, anything in particular troubling you?” He was giving her this chance to talk to him about it.
“I’m pretty sure you don’t even need to be asking me that question, you already know the answer.” She responded, dryly.
“I do, huh? Would you mind telling me because I’m having a damn hard time trying to figure you out lately.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked hotly.
“You know what I mean!”
“Yeah, I guess so because I can’t figure you out either. What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I came to see Baylee for his birthday.” AJ responded. He couldn’t bring himself to admit that he was here for her. Not until she would grow up and tell him what her problem was. He was here to give her one last chance.
“That’s what I thought. You know, suddenly I’m not in the mood for peaceful darkness anymore. Goodnight AJ.” She said, walking out of the room and up to her room.
Emily downed her glass of wine and angrily started cleaning up her room. She knew she’d been a fool to think he’d actually come to see her. What she didn’t know was just how capable he was of acting like a child. No wonder. She was a nanny. Of course she attracted a child!