Warily, I looked at Kari whose anxious expression ironically reminded me of the little brother I’d always protected. He remained near the front door, probably uncertain if he should approach me.
Vonni nervously wrung her hands as she walked toward me. “I invited Kari to come after he told me he didn’t think it was a good idea. You and he are Dominick’s family, and this tournament is important.” Dominick had the chance to be ranked nationally in tennis if he at least finished in the top four. He’d already been ranked third in his junior division in the state of Florida.
I spoke in a low voice, “You shouldn’t have done that.”
Dominick stopped celebrating his victory over me and grabbed my hand, pulling me toward Kari. “Come on, Dad. This is my most important tournament ever. I need both of you here. It’s bad enough Nanee and Grandpa can’t make it.” My father had a Cardiology conference this weekend in Sacramento and he was one of the speakers.
Vonni nodded enthusiastically and hurried to Kari, tugging him to me and we met midway on the pebbled path to her home. Kari offered his hand, his slightly haunted eyes pleading with me, with only a hint of his twin deep dimples. He needed a shave and a haircut or maybe this was his new look since he still appeared strong and healthy.
I looked at his outstretched hand for a long moment, before taking it in mine. Once I did, he grabbed me into a hug and apologized near my ear, “I’m sorry for hurting you.”
Trying desperately to hold on to my emotional brick wall that threatened to crumble at seeing his vulnerability, I put my arms around him, and held tight. He looked like he did when he was sixteen and I had to quickly block out the flashback of that horrible day years ago.
We pulled apart and I averted my gaze toward the front door not yet ready for the healing we both needed. Healing meant true forgiveness and I’m still unwilling to accept his apology for the intentional act of stealing my wife away from me.
I looked down at Vonni who stood near Kari. “So, did you cook or are we going out for dinner?”
Kari cleared his throat. “If you don’t mind, I would like to take all of us out to dinner.”
Barely meeting his direct gaze, I smiled. “Can’t ever turn down a free meal as long as I drive.” I then instructed Dominick, “Get my bag out of the car. I might have something for you.”
“Yeah!” Dominick ran back to my rental car.
Vonni wrapped her arms around my waist and smiled flirtatiously. “You’re always spoiling that boy.”
I kissed her soft cheek, close to her lips. She looked good in her t-shirt and jeans, with long thick brown braids that complemented her similarly toned skin. “Hey, Von. How are you?”
Vonni pecked my lips. “Glad you’re here.”
The touch of her lips on mine sparked a long, dormant attraction back to life and I glanced at Kari expecting a disapproving frown he’d worn in the past whenever he thought my interactions with Vonni were inappropriate. Surprisingly, only a pleased, smile graced his features. Then, it occurred to me that now I was free to behave any way I wanted to with her, and she was free too. I hugged her to me and whispered in her ear, “Tonight.”
She rested her head on my chest and not for the first time I wished I’d loved her more than Kam, that the minute she told me she was pregnant, I ended my engagement with Kam. That I made Vonni my wife. Then my brother would have never betrayed me. And we could have been the happy intact family I always wanted for my son, and Kari would be my brother and best friend and not my enemy. I followed everyone into the house, hoping that I could keep the peace with Kari for the sake of my son.
Observing Kari at dinner quietly, I sipped on an Arnold Palmer wishing I had something stronger. He, Dominick, and Dominick’s bubbly little sister were bent over Kari’s phone laughing at something while we waited for the entrees after polishing off spinach dip and wings. I watched their obvious closeness without envy or jealousy. Dominick and Kari were more alike in temperament and interests than me and my son, which made their bond deeper than uncle and nephew. Their relationship had assuaged my guilt that when I couldn’t be there for my son, Kari would. We’d visited him at different times over the years so that Dominick had never been without one of us for extended periods of time. Dominick had always enjoyed it the most when both of us visited him at the same time which didn’t happen often.
Vonni leaned towards me and touched my hand. “You’re unusually quiet. I hope you’re not still mad about my decision to invite Kari anyway?”
Shrugging my shoulders. “I’m not mad, just don’t know how to feel.”
She lowered her voice. “I know you haven’t always been the closest, but I’ve never known you to be angry with him, especially now that we have him back. What happened?”
Kari must have overheard us because he looked up and gave a subtle shake of his head. Staring, I wondered why he didn’t want me to say anything. Kari had always been the one who believed in truth no matter the cost. So, why didn’t he want me to tell Vonni why we were at odds? I needed to know. “It’s just something between us. Don’t worry, we’ll both be on our best behavior this weekend.”
Kari nodded in agreement before returning his attention to his phone.
Once we made it back to Vonni’s house it was after nine, and we had to be up early for the tournament that began at eight. Kari jumped out of the backseat of my car. “I’ll say good night now and will be back in the morning by seven.”
“Yeah, me too. I’m still exhausted from the drive.” I looked through the rearview mirror at Dominick. “You need to get your rest, don’t worry about tomorrow. Stay relaxed and confident and you’ll soar.”
He grinned with my smile and with a rare arrogance he claimed, “I got this, Dad. I’m a Youngblood, remember? Like you and Uncle Kari.”
Kari leaned back down and held his fist out for Dominick to dap. “Yep. You’re a Youngblood.”
Vonni who sat in the passenger seat next to me picked up my hand. “You’re not coming inside?”
As Dominick and his sister moved out of the car, I entwined our hands and promised, “We’ll celebrate tomorrow. I think we all need to rest.”
She looked disappointed but opened the door and followed her children into the house. Once Vonni reached her doorstep, she turned back, her forehead wrinkled with worry when she noticed that Kari hadn’t moved from his position next to my car. With my hand, I gestured for her to go inside. She reluctantly went inside and closed the door.
Kari walked around the car and slid into the passenger seat. “We riding and talking or sitting here?”
Focused on the darkness in front of my windshield, I responded, “Driving not a good idea. I don’t want to risk an accident.”
Kari sighed deeply. “Okay, Ron Ron.”
“Aaron,” I corrected firmly. “Whatever you have to say, say it.”
He chuckled wryly. “I’ve been picturing this moment for so long and now that you’re listening, I don’t know where to start.”
“What about why you don’t want me to tell Vonni about you and Kam?”
“Because this weekend is about Dominick. I thought you may have told her already, but since you didn’t, now isn’t the time.”
“Really? And whenever I would say something like that about timing, you would bust my balls.”
Kari tapped the console between us. “Years, Aaron, you waited years and you still didn’t tell the truth. I’m only asking you to not tell her until after this weekend.”
“Fine. I won’t say a word,” I said through clenched teeth and inhaled deeply before speaking again, “You know there’s really nothing left for us to talk about. I thought we said all that needed to be said the last time I saw you.”
“Ron…Aaron, the last time we spoke, was the day I returned home after everyone thought I was dead. I had so much to process. I didn’t expect, let alone know that you and Ma would be in Atlanta.”
“Yeah, I think it was duly noted that your concern was getting to Kam first. You didn’t even let your mother who almost died with grief know that you were still alive.” I glared at Kari.
“I planned to as soon as I saw Kam, I swear. I couldn’t call anyone until I made it to the states, the government still monitored me and thought it was possible that I was a target. Besides, I’m different now. I’m done with running from the family and I talk to Ma almost every day and dad at least once a week.”
“I’m sure she loves that. She got her favorite son back.” I dropped my head against the leather rest, hating that jealousy of my mother’s love for my brother had reared its ugly head.
“She loves both of us.”
“She loves you more. Just like Kam loves you more,” I said the last part quietly.
“Are we ever going to get past this?”
I shifted in my seat to look at him. “Um…Let’s me think about it for a second. You used everything you knew about me, used parts of my life that I shared with only you, to take Kam away from me.”
Kari protested, “She straight up asked me had you cheated on her, and I refused to tell her. Almost lost her because she didn’t understand how I could say I loved her but still be loyal to you. I didn’t feed her information hoping she would leave you for me, I didn’t want her love by default. I wanted her to love me, period.”
“I’m not talking about whether or not you shared all my secrets with her. You used what you knew about me to justify your own fucked up behavior.”
Kari shook his head. “Same old Aaron, refusing to take responsibility that you fucked up and lost her. I didn’t steal her from you. You know as well as I do that if you did right by her, she wouldn’t have given me a second look.”
I bellowed, “No, I’m not the same old Aaron. I can fucking admit and take responsibility for the shit I did.” I gestured toward Vonni’s home. “That I had a son, a family that my wife had no clue about. I can let go of Kam not wanting to be with me. Hell, maybe I wasn’t the man for her, and the right woman is still out there for me.”
Jabbing him in his chest with my index finger, I yelled, “What I can’t get over, is that I trusted you more than anyone in this world, and you fucking stabbed me in the back. How do I trust anyone now? You didn’t just take my love away from me, you took my ability to trust another soul. Everyone keeps saying it’s time to meet someone, give another woman a chance. How can I do that with a broken heart? Huh?”
His eyes teared and he responded hoarsely, “Aaron, you broke Kam’s heart first with your lies. If you loved Kam so deeply, why did you cheat on her, lie to her?”
Frustrated that Kari still didn’t get it, I wiped the lone tear that fell down my cheek impatiently. “I wasn’t talking about Kam. I’m talking about you. You broke my heart, Kari. The day I read your text messages to her, and realized that you were the other man was the second, worst day of my life.”
He asked quietly, “What was the worst day?”
I looked at Kari, my brother, who had been my confidante though I’d never been his. “The day I thought you were killed.”
Wilting under my unblinking stare, his shoulders now slumped, Kari closed his eyes tight as I continued speaking, hearing my own trembling voice, “I will always love you and hope that you live to be an old man. But I’m not your Ron Ron, your big brother, or your protector any more. I will be cordial and respectful whenever we do see each other at expected family events because I owe Dominick and our mother that much. But whatever relationship you and I had is over. You have my permission to tell Dominick about your daughter, about Kam. I just don’t want to be around when you do.”
I started the ignition, signaling the end of our conversation.
Kari slowly opened his eyes and reluctantly opened the door. “It doesn’t matter if you never forgive me or even speak to me again, you will always be my big brother, my protector, my Ron Ron.”
Watching him walk to his car, parked on the street, I finally allowed my tears to flow for what could have been. For the brotherly bond, I thought we’d been building as adults that we didn’t cultivate as children. Once he drove away, I contemplated knocking on Vonni’s door, needing comfort, but she would want an explanation for my tears. And I was too drained to confess everything that had transpired between me, Kari, and Kam.
I backed out of her drive and about an hour later, I’d finally settled down enough to sleep, when I heard a soft knock on my door. I climbed out of bed, not bothering to worry about a robe. My gut told me it was probably Vonni. If she came to my hotel room without calling first, she only had sex on her mind. And I needed her body to make me feel anything, to take over the numbness that now filled me.
Without peering through the hole in the door, I opened it unabashedly nude. Vonni stood before me, with a white trench coat that hugged her body so exact she had to be wearing the skimpiest of lingerie or she was buck ass naked. Her eyes drifted to my already rock hard dick and she pulled my head down and slid her tongue in my mouth, as she pushed me back into my room…