When Kari walked into the restaurant, I almost didn’t recognize him. It had been five months since I’d seen him at his graduation and in that time, he’d grown taller and fuller. He had also cut off his twists and now sported a growing beard and mustache. My baby brother had become a man. A man who behaved as if he had the world on his shoulders instead of his as his oyster. His expression was sullen, as he unzipped his hoodie and headed towards me. He rarely smiled around us anymore and that saddened my mother who continued to worry about him. She wanted Kari to go to school in DC and he’d only applied to out of state colleges. I tried to keep my worry at bay, consoling myself with the notion that after the “incident”, my parents made sure he had the best treatment, that he started dating and became more social overall. Even at his graduation party, he had been friendly and appeared to have fun dancing with Kam, which admittedly made me jealous since I didn’t like dancing and Kam loved it.
Hoping to make my baby…my brother smile, I jumped up and surprised him with a big hug almost lifting him off his feet. “Good to see you. You already seem grown.”
“I am… eighteen, soon to be nineteen.” Kari shrugged me away slightly, unused to public displays of affection. At least by me.
I replied, “Dude, I know how old you are. You just don’t seem like my little brother anymore.”
He rubbed the top of his head. “Got rid of my twists.”
Assessing Kari’s discomfort made me sad. We were brothers but had a hard time being around each other. I gestured for him to sit. “Maybe that’s why you seem older.”
“Maybe. What’s up?”
“I ordered burgers and fries and got us two strawberry cheesecakes. I remember how much you like it.”
Kari frowned. “I like the turtle one.”
“I thought it was strawberry. You’re sure?”
He responded sarcastically, “I know what kind I like.”
“Chill, bro.” I sighed and waved at the waitress. “Just switch to the kind you like.”
Shrugging he settled back in the booth. “Why are you here? It’s a long way from Florida.”
“I went home first and then decided to come see you.” I don’t know why I lied and didn’t tell him that I hadn’t been to DC yet, that I’d felt an overwhelming need to see him first.
“You took a chance coming all the way up here without calling?”
“It was a spur of the moment decision. I needed to tell you something.”
“Me?” He touched his chest, his thick brows raised.
“Yeah. You’re older now and on your own. Maybe it’s time we start being brothers.”
He snorted. “I never stopped being your brother. You were the one who didn’t claim me.”
Guilt forced my head down before I looked at him. “I’m here now.”
“Okay. So talk.”
I leaned forward. “I came home to tell Ma and Daddy, that I have a baby on the way.”
Kari’s eye widened for a second before he retorted, “You already engaged so what’s the big deal?”
I exhaled and said quietly, “Because it’s not Kam’s baby.”
“What?” He sank back against the leather seat, his expression surprisingly wounded.
Pulling nervously on my goatee, I explained. “I cheated on her with an ex before we got engaged, and Vonni just told me she’s pregnant. The baby is due in February.”
At that moment, the waitress placed our cheeseburgers and fries in front of us. Neither of us touched our food.
“How did Kameron take it?”
Now it was my time to sit back. “I didn’t tell her.”
He accused, “Shouldn’t you have told her first before our parents?”
“We’re getting married in two months, and I don’t want her to leave me. She can’t stand Vonni. If Kam knew I fucked around and got Vonni pregnant, she’s done with me.”
Kari argued, “That girl is crazy about you. Kameron ain’t going nowhere. She’s not going to leave you, so you can just go back and fuck around some more with Vonni without guilt this time. You should know that. That’s how women think. They’ll hold on to you just so you can’t mess with the woman you cheated on her with.” He sipped his water. “She’s going to be pissed, but she’ll get over it. You can hide cheating but not a whole baby.”
Hating that I didn’t have the same confidence he did that Kam wouldn’t leave me, I didn’t know how to respond so I grabbed my burger. I tried to take a bite but had no appetite, so I placed it back down on my plate.
“Why are you telling me all this?” Kari asked.
“I couldn’t tell Ma and Daddy. I tried. Couldn’t do it. But I wanted to tell you because you understand more than anyone else why I can’t.”
Kari nodded. “I do, but what you plan on doing, act like you don’t have a child? Come on, Ron Ron, don’t be no deadbeat.”
I bristled. “I’m going to be a father to my child. If I wasn’t, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“You’re grown now. Don’t worry about what Daddy will say. He gives no one room for error. Ma is going to be mad, but she’ll forgive you.”
Shaking my head, I reminded, “Easy for you to say. You don’t care what our parents think about you, but I do.”
Kari snapped, “And I’m happier for it.”
“Well, I can’t be you.”
His eyes flashed. “Wouldn’t want you to be.”
Shit. I didn’t come to argue with Kari. I took a calming breath and began again, “Look, I’m trying, Kari. I was a shit to you for a long time, and I’m trying to fix that. I’m coming to you man to man because I needed to tell someone, and I can trust you. I promise I’ll tell them right after the wedding, so they can be there when the baby is born.”
His jaw clenched and he averted his gaze as he asked, “And Kameron? When do you plan to tell her?”
I clasped my hands together, unsure if I really could tell her two months away from our nuptials. “Soon. I’ll tell her and our parents before the wedding.”
Kari’s voice raised. “She needs to know you have a baby on the way now.”
“I will tell her. I got this, okay?” I pleaded for him to believe me, hoping I would keep my own word.
“Okay.” He finally smiled our mother’s dimpled smile and reached across the table and we dapped.
Gladly reaching for my still hot, melting cheese over the side burger, my appetite returned with a vengeance. Relief that I’d told at least the first person in my family about my baby, I just never planned for it to be years before I told anyone else.
Four months later…
“I don’t get it. It’s bad enough you haven’t told our parents that they’re about to be grandparents but you haven’t told Kam yet either?” Kari paced back and forth in the hotel suite. “I thought she would be here too and you’re telling me she doesn’t even know.”
I slouched with my head on the back of the sofa. “Kari, I knew you wouldn’t come if I told you that I hadn’t told her yet. I need you here with me. Vonni’s whole family lives here and waiting for her to go into labor. You’re the only one who knows and I can’t show up for the birth of my son alone.”
His eyes flashed. “Whose fault is that Aaron? This is such bullshit. You have this whole other life going on and you’ve only been married two months.”
“And I want to stay married.”
He shook his head. “Kam is not going to leave you. Her head too far up your ass to see who you really are.”
I pushed off the sofa to face Kari. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”
He stopped pacing and glared at me. “You heard what the fuck I said.”
I sized him for a second. We were the same height now and he had grown thicker than me, more muscle. “Okay, then tell me who I am.”
Kari sneered, “A punk-ass bitch. Too selfish to even get that she deserves to know the truth and let her decide how to handle it. I’m younger than you and I get that you don’t lie to your woman. Ever. Fucking man up and tell your wife that you’re having a baby with another woman.
Clenching my jaw, I tapped his chest with the back of my hand. “You don’t get it. I can’t lose my wife. I love her and if you ever have a woman like her, you would be afraid to lose her, too. But then you have nothing to lose, so of course, it makes sense to you, to tell the truth even if it means my wife leaves me. You think you see me well I definitely see you. You don’t give a fuck about anyone but yourself. You’ve been ready to run from our family forever. You don’t care to have connections to us anymore. Mama already told me how you only came home for the wedding and you don’t call home ever. And you damn sure don’t call me. So, baby bro, give me advice about my wife when you get one yourself. Hell, when you meet someone you actually care about, then tell me how easy it is to tell her that you fucked up so bad that she has every right to walk away and never look back.”
Kari’s chest heaved up and down and his fists tightened. “If I didn’t give a fuck about anyone but myself why did you call me? Why am I here?”
I stared him down, not afraid of his blustering. We’d never fought because he had been five years younger than me and for a long time a lot smaller. I’ve hit him or punched him when we used to play fight or he annoyed me, but never a physical fight. I know my decision to keep my baby a secret from Kam didn’t make sense to him and honestly it didn’t make sense to me either. I thought Kam and I had the type of relationship where we could tell each other everything. I’d even contemplated being truthful with her about sleeping with Vonni until common sense hit me that I would be doing it to assuage my guilt. All my confession would have done is hurt her and tarnish any trust between us because Kari was right, Kam wouldn’t have left me then. Now, I’m not so sure.
The closer we approached the wedding date, she had been different with me. That stumped me. We had been inseparable and so in love. I thought she would’ve been thrilled and ready for our life together, but she seemed reticent whenever I wanted to discuss wedding plans. She kept saying that we could have a long engagement and wait until after graduation. When I asked her, what would be the point in waiting if we both loved each other and were committed, Kam couldn’t give me a reason, so we had an expensive wedding paid mostly from my family.
After we married, Kam seemed like my Kam and happy again. I attributed her behavior before to wedding jitters. We’d settled in a routine in our townhome that we’d happily picked out together. A routine of waking and going to bed with her every night, making love almost every morning. A routine that I used to think would bore the fuck out of me. But with Kam every day was a brand new day of love. I walked a little taller with her by my side. Yet, there was a small part of me that wondered if the world seemed brighter to her because I walked by her side. I kept thinking that in time, I would be confident in her love that I could tell the truth and together we would figure out how to be parents to my son with another woman. That time hadn’t happened yet.
“Huh? Why did you ask me to be here if you think I don’t care about my family?” Kari interrupted my thoughts.
I relented because whatever issues Kari had with our family, he did show up when I called. “Look, I shouldn’t be laying all of this on you, but I need you with me when Vonni has the baby. He will be a part of us, our family, and I want to celebrate the birth of my son with you. A baby is a gift no matter what. I don’t regret having him, I just wish the circumstances were different.”
Kari opened his fists and nodded before he dropped down on the sofa and looked up at me warily. “Do you seriously think you can be an involved father in another state once you and Kam move back to DC and not tell her?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t tell her before we married and now that I know how much I love being married to Kam, I’m scared out of my mind.” I eased down next him. “I’ve never been afraid of anything. But I’m afraid to lose my wife.”
He whistled, shaking his head ruefully. “Kam is a beautiful woman. I would be afraid to lose her, too. But I also wouldn’t have been an idiot and cheated on her in the first place.”
I sighed loudly, “Not helping.”
My brother crossed his arms, let his head rest against the sofa, and closed his eyes. “I sure hope and pray that your baby can hold off coming into the world until tomorrow. It’d be a damn shame for Kam to have to celebrate her first Valentine’s Day with her husband’s brand new baby.”
Unable to disagree with his sentiments, I stared at the ceiling wishing I had the fucking courage to tell Kam. Between being there for Kam and trying to be there for Vonni, so she wouldn’t tell Kam, had taken a toll on me. I barely remembered to take my exams or turn in assignments, let alone remember what today was. Kari had just reminded me that I’d made no special plans for my wife because I’d forgotten it was Valentine’s Day.