After all the introductions had been made, Emily excused them and took John upstairs to her bedroom to talk.
“So what’s really going on?” she asked, once the door was shut.
“What do you mean?” John asked, sitting down.
“Well, you never call and you barely even respond to my e-mails so you have to admit that it does seem a bit strange that you’d just show up here, miles and miles away and completely unannounced. Plus, I know you. You have that look on your face. It’s something bad isn’t it? Is it Mom? Is she ok?” Emily asked.
“It’s not Mom. Everyone’s fine.” John said quietly.
“Then what is it?”
John sighed. “It’s me. I’m being shipped out. To Iraq. I have to report tomorrow evening.”
Emily sat there for a moment, completely stunned. “To…tomorrow? To Iraq?”
“I’ll be ok, Em. Please try not to worry. I really hated having to come here and drop this on you at Christmas but there’s something else I need to talk to you about.”
“What else could there possibly be?”
` “I’ve changed my primary emergency contact from Mom to you.”
John shrugged. “Mom’s been through a lot. She’s finally starting to put herself together. If something happens, I don’t want her to be the one to have to handle everything. You’re my only other next of kin. I hope that’s ok with you.”
“I just need your employer’s phone number in case you’re not here. They just want to be able to locate you as quickly as possible to tell you that I’m going to be fine.” John smiled. “Would that be Brian?”
“Well, normally but he’d be even harder to locate than I would. I’ll give you the numbers to his manager. They’d pretty much know where he is at all times and he’d probably know where I was.”
“That should be fine.”
“John are you going to be ok?” she asked, her eyes full of worry for her older brother
“I’m going to be just fine. It’s you I’m worried about!”
“Why me? Aside from you going into a war zone, everything else is pretty damn good right now. I love my job, I love living here. Things are finally falling into place for me, you know?”
“And what about AJ?”
Emily rolled her eyes. “Oh here we go. Look, AJ’s a great guy. He takes care of me and he’d do anything for me. Just ask him about what I did to his house for Christmas!”
“Well, I’m sure you’d understand if I said I don’t really trust your judgment in guys anymore. And he really doesn’t seem good enough for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh I don’t know, the drugs, the booze, the tattoos all over the place, the weird hair……not to mention he could probably have his pick of women if he ever got bored.”
Emily scoffed. “Look, I know why you’re concerned but until you know him, you have no right to judge him on those things. He’s always been very open about his addition, the tattoos aren’t that bad and the hair is weird, I don’t know what he’s thinking right now so I’ll give you that. But you have to give him a chance. He’s different from any other guy I’ve been with and you owe it to me to give him the right chance before you leave!”
John sighed. “Fine, I’ll give him a chance but if he so much as puts a hair out of line, he’s a goner!”
“Thank you. Now, I have to get back downstairs because I promised Baylee I’d help him wrap his presents for his parents.”
Brian had just arrived home from his last minute shopping adventure when they came downstairs.
“Brian, all I’m saying is that if you’d bother going earlier you wouldn’t have to deal with all the crazy shoppers!”
“But this is how I’ve always done my shopping! Why can’t everyone else go earlier?” he whined.
“Daddy I made a cookie for you!” Baylee announced, carefully carrying his sugar cookie masterpiece across the room
Brian took the cookie from him. “You made this?”
“It’s fabulous! Almost too pretty to eat!” Brian exclaimed.
“You should though, they taste really yummy!” Baylee said.
Brian took a big bite out of the cookie. “Mmmm..itsh shymmmy.” He said, with his mouth full.
“Brian,” Emily interrupted, “This is my brother John, He came for a surprise visit! John, this is Brian.”
Brian quickly swallowed his cookie and shook John’s hand. “Hey, nice to meet you!”
“Actually Brian, I was wondering if I could have a word with you.” John said.
“Sure!” Brian said, leading him out into the hall. Emily rolled her eyes at her brother. He never did let her handle anything on her own whenever he was around.
“What can I do for you?” Brian asked.
“Well, I’m not going to be here long. I just came to tell Emily that I’m being shipped out. I wanted to see her before I went, and also to handle some business.”
“I told her that I’ve changed my emergency info and put her at the top of my list. If anything should happen to me, she’s the one they’re going to come looking for with the bad news. Anyway, they want to know where to find her at all times including work numbers. She said maybe I could give them your manager’s numbers?”
“Yeah, sure. That’d probably be best. They usually know where I am before I do! Come into my office here, I’ll get them for you. I’ll give him a call tomorrow and let him know, just in case.”
AJ came up behind Emily and wrapped his arms around her. “Everything ok?”
Emily nodded. “He’s being shipped out.”
“Damn! Are you ok?” he kissed her on top of the head.
Christmas was, to sum it all up, typical. Baylee woke everyone up just after dawn screaming about Santa and all the stuff he left under the tree. Baylee got plenty of new toys to keep him entertained all day and keep Brian busy putting things together.
Emily bought AJ some new clothes, which he of course loved, a new digital camera because he’d been whining for a month about how much his sucked, and a nice new watch. AJ bought Emily some diamond earrings to match the necklace he’d gotten her for her birthday, a few sweaters, a gift card to her favorite, Bath and Body Works, some cat toys for Guapo, and another gift card to the local scrapbook supply store.
John had to leave just after lunch and Emily about had a heart attack when he joined AJ on the deck for a quick smoke.
“Oh God! He’s going to say something stupid.” Emily muttered.
“Who, John or AJ?” Leighanne asked.
“Both of them! Do you think I should go out there?”
“No, I think they need to come to a quick understanding. John probably needs to know you’re in good hands and AJ wants to let him know that.”
“Hey, can I bum a smoke?” John asked AJ.
“Sure.” AJ said, handing over his pack.
“My sister give you a hard time about these things?”
AJ smiled. “All the time.”
“Yeah, me too.”
AJ didn’t really know what else to say so he waited for John to speak.
“You know you could be the most upstanding guy in the world and I’d still think you weren’t good enough for my sister, right?”
AJ nodded. “Yeah, I get that.”
“Good.” John said. “Because she’s been through some rough shit and I’d hate to see her go through that again.”
“So would I.” AJ replied, breathing out a big puff of smoke.
“So then you probably also know that I’ll kick your ass if you ever hurt her.”
AJ nodded again. “To be expected. You’re not the first older brother I’ve dealt with.”
“Good. So long as we’re on the same page.”
They finished their cigarettes in silence.
“Well, I guess it’s about time for me to hit the road.” John said.
AJ shook his hand. “It was good to meet you, bro. Be safe over there, ok? Don’t worry about your sister, I promise I’ll take good care of her.”
John looked AJ square in the eye and nodded.
It wasn’t easy for Emily to say goodbye. There was a constant fear nagging at her that this might be the last time she ever saw him. He was, after all, going into a war zone. She kept herself distracted the rest of the day by soaking up the Christmas spirit and enjoying the time she had with her new family, AJ, Brian, Leighanne and Baylee.
When they went to bed that night, AJ decided he didn’t care what Emily said, he was sleeping with her. It had to have been an emotionally draining few days for her and he just wanted to be there for her.
“So, are you coming home with me tomorrow?” he asked.
“Yeah. I almost completely forgot about that! What time is the flight?”
“Not until noon. You’ll have time to pack. Who’s going to take care of Guapo?”
“The housekeeper is still going to come by every day to do some ‘deep cleaning’ as Leighanne put it, and she agreed to feed the kitty and that monster they call a dog.”
AJ laughed. “You don’t feel that way about my dogs, do you?”
“No, your dogs are nice.”
“Mom invited us over for dinner tomorrow night.”
“You’re not still afraid of her, are you?”
“Well, look at it this way. I met your brother today, surely you can handle meeting my mother tomorrow.”
“Good point. Ok. Pick me out something to wear then before we leave.”
“Fine. But don’t be surprised if I dig out your leather mini skirt or something.”
“Well if that’s really what you think your mom would like…..”
“Oh yeah. Mom always said, ‘The trampier the better!”
Emily elbowed AJ in the ribs.
“So tell me. Is that pool of your still heated?”
“Yeah, why do you ask?”
“Because I just recall having such a great time in it the last time I was there and I was hoping to take another swim!” Emily hinted.
“Absolutely! And just so you know, I got my hot tub fixed too.”
Emily and AJ made it safely to Orlando the next day. AJ had a car service pick them up at the airport and drive them to his house. The dogs were out in the yard when they pulled up and were very anxious to greet her.
“What? I don’t get a hello bark?” AJ asked, scratching them on top of the head. The dogs just looked at him. “I guess we know who their favorite is.” He mumbled.
“Don’t take it personally. I fed them treats the last time I was here.” Emily admitted.
AJ brought Emily’s bags upstairs to his room. “Why don’t you get freshened up and relax a bit while I go and confirm dinner plans with my mom.”
Emily had just washed her face and brushed her teeth. She had just started re-applying her make-up when AJ came in, leaning on the door frame to watch her as she applied her mascara.
“Does this turn you on or something?” she asked, trying not to stab herself in the eye.
“No, not really. I just like seeing you here in my house. It’s nice. Normally I’m the only one here.”
“Dinner still on with your mom?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
“Of course! She made her famous pot roast. You’ll love it. Oh…and she said to tell you to relax, that just knowing you’re nervous tells her all she needs to know about your character.”
“You told her?!?!” Emily said, dropping her eye shadow and whirling around to look at him.
AJ’s eyes widened. “Is that a problem? I thought she’d think it was cute!”
“I don’t want her to think I’m scared to meet her! She probably thinks it’s only because I have reason to be!”
“Not at all! She’s heard enough about you to know that you’re a great person, so in her eyes you being nervous just tells her that you have high respect for her and that it matters to you what she thinks of you which also tells her that her son is important to you, otherwise you wouldn’t care what my mother thinks.”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought of it that way…but still!”
“Emily would you relax? You’re going to love her, and her pot roast!” AJ said, wrapping his arms around Emily.
Not long after, Emily found herself on the doorstep of Denise McLean. It was a nice looking house, small enough for one person without being too small. The yard was well maintained and the flowers looked beautiful. The door opened and AJ gave his mom a hug.
“You know, you’d think we don’t live in the same city anymore, I never see you!”
“I know, I’m sorry Ma!” AJ said, kissing her cheek.
“And this must be Emily!” Denise said, reaching out to hug Emily.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Ms. McLean.” Emily managed to say, returning the hug.
“Please! Call me Denise! Anyone who’s managed to tame my Alex deserves a ton of respect from me!” she winked at Emily.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” AJ asked.
“Nothing.” Emily and Denise said at the same time.
“Great. I’m already being teamed up against and they just met!” AJ mumbled.
“Come on in you two! Dinner will be ready very soon. AJ, why don’t you get us something to drink while I show Emily around my castle?”
AJ rolled his eyes at already being ordered around by his mother. Emily laughed. She liked Denise’s house a lot. Each room was decorated perfectly, and each room flowed with the others. It was feminine enough to say a woman lived here without being too feminine that a male, mostly AJ, would feel uncomfortable there.
“Dinner smells great!” Emily said as they made their way back to the kitchen.
“Thank you! It should be ready now, why don’t you two go sit down and I’ll serve it up!”
AJ helped Emily into her seat and winked at her as he sat down across from her. Dinner went off without a hitch. Emily finally relaxed and found that AJ was right. She and Denise did get along great, especially when it came to ganging up on AJ. Denise asked enough questions of Emily that she felt like she was genuinely interested in hearing about her life, without asking too many questions that would have made it seem like she was grilling her. Emily was surprised when AJ said it was ten o’clock and that they should be getting home.
“Thank you so much for dinner, Denise!” Emily said as she walked them to the door.
“Anytime dear! Alex I hope I get to see you too again this week? That is, if you have time for you old ma!”
“Sure. We’ll have brunch this week, I promise.”
“Boy, you sure seemed in a hurry to get out of there!” Emily said once they were in the car.
“I am! I want to get you home so I can make love to you all night!”
“Oh. Well in that case, is there any way you can drive faster?”
AJ laughed as he floored it down the street.
Once they were home, AJ scooped her up in his arms and carried her inside.
“Wait right here!” he said as he set her down in the living room.
“Ok. Are you going to be long?”
“Nope!” AJ said, climbing the stairs two at a time. He came back a few minutes later. “Right this way, my love!” he said, taking her by the hand and leading her upstairs. He led her into the bathroom where she found he had filled the whirlpool tub with bubbles and light candles all over the bathroom and bedroom.
“Wow! It’s like straight out of a Danielle Steel Novel.” Emily said, taking in the scene.
“Huh? Who’s that?”
Emily laughed. “It just means you’re very romantic.”
“Oh. Ok then. Here, let me help you undress.”
AJ gently removed Emily’s clothes and carefully helped her step into the tub.
“Oh my God, that feels incredible!” she said as she sat down in the warm water. “Are you coming in?”
“Of course!” AJ got undressed and joined her in the tub, sitting behind her and resting her back against his chest.
“I’m glad you’re here.” He said, softly.
“I’m glad I’m here too.”
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“How do you mean?”
“Just that I’m sure this Christmas must have been kind of rough for you, with your brother and everything.”
“I’m honestly just trying not to think about it. I’ve always known it was a possibility and now it’s a reality. Worrying won’t change anything, it won’t make him safer.”
“You have a point. I just don’t want you to shut down again either.”
“I know, I promise I won’t. I just want to enjoy my time with you while I have it.”
AJ started kissing the back of her neck. “Does this help?”
He started running his hands over her body. “How about this?”
“I think that helps. Better keep doing it to be sure.”
AJ’s hands continued to explore her, the bubbles making her skin slick.
Emily turned around to face him, wrapping her legs around his waist. He kissed her.
“Would it help if I took you right here, right now?”
Emily looked into his eyes and smiled. “Absolutely!”
He gently lifted her hips and placed them back down on his shaft. She moaned loudly as she sank onto him.
“God, I missed you!” she said.