In the quiet of the cold morning, Kam pulled back first and averted her gaze for a moment before meeting my steady gaze. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. Not trying to confuse things between us. This is the longest we’ve gone without talking or seeing each other in years.”
I reminded, “That’s what happens when couples divorce.”
“I know.” Her eyes looked sad for a moment and she rocked back on her leather boots, twisting one of her curls around her finger.
I placed my hands in my pocket and leaned against my car, too afraid I would pull her back in my arms. I missed holding her, being with her. But as I observed her nervously twirling her hair, I realized I made her uncomfortable. And I never wanted her to feel that way because even after we’d first divorced, we’d been comfortable around another. We’d even become friends. “It’s fine, Kam. We were married for years. We always hugged when we saw each other after one of my trips. You used to always massage my temples whenever I got a headache, and I would rub your feet. We were used to touching each other. Sometimes old habits are hard to break.”
“Yeah, sometimes.” Kam’s hands remained by her side as she quickly perused me from head to toe and her face relaxed into a smile. “You look good. You’re growing your hair out too.”
“Thank you, yes, I am, and you’re beautiful as always,” I responded. She could make the simplest fit stylish and her sweater and jeans hugged her curves perfectly. Tugging on my own sponge styled thick hair, I teased, “Is this what Kari’s doing? He looked a little rough. He’s usually more groomed than me.”
Mentioning Kari’s name seemed to ease the nervous slightly uncomfortable energy that remained between us. Kam nodded happily. “He’s deciding whether to get locks and he’s letting his beard grow. He’s always had to be clean-cut or have low cut hair and beards for his jobs. He’s a contractor now and can do what he wants.”
“So he’s finally doing his own thing? I’m sure he sees, it’s better than working for someone else.” I’d been pushing him for years to do his own thing, even wanted him to work with me at one point. Before Kam.
She shrugged. “After what happened in Paris, he just wants the freedom to do what he wants.” Kam started twirling her hair again. “You just saw him Aaron how come you didn’t know he was a contractor? You haven’t spoken to him since the day you left Atlanta and this weekend was a chance for you to really talk. I thought you were going to at least try to work it out because you missed him so much when we thought he was dead. Well, he’s alive and he’s offering you an olive branch. He told me what you told him, that you can’t forgive him. If you can forgive me, why can’t you do the same for him?”
I tightened my jaw, not wanting to have this conversation with her. I came here for peace, not to be asked again to forgive Kari.
Kam folded her arms across her chest. “Why did you come here?”
I didn’t know if Tisha would want me to tell Kam, that I drove four hours in the middle of the night to see her best friend. I dug my hands even deeper in my pocket. “I don’t know. I just jumped in my car and the next thing I know I’m here.”
“You must know Kari is still in Tallahassee. He waited around hoping you would calm down and talk but you’re here in Atlanta.” Her foot started tapping and her voice went up an octave. “What did you hope to gain from talking to me and not him?”
I gently unfolded her arms. “Don’t do that. Not trying to start a fight with you or Kari. Where are you going anyway this early?”
Kam grudgingly answered, “I’m sure Mrs C. told you Kari and I brought a house and don’t live in the complex. I spent the weekend with Tish because I didn’t want to be alone. She’s watching little Kari this morning so I could get some work done.”
Warming at the thought of my adorable niece, I smiled. “Ma did tell me. I also heard baby Kari is getting into everything.” Ma and Tisha had shared pics of the baby with me over the past few months, and she continued to look more like Kari than Kam.
Kam beamed. “We had to babyproof everything she’s so into everything. She may look like her daddy, but your Mama swears she has your energy as a baby.”
“Ma did mention that a time or two…” My voice trailed off in regret and longing. I did miss not being a part of baby Kari’s life.
“You can see her anytime no matter what Aaron. In fact, we can go inside, Tish and the baby are still asleep, but we can wake them up.” She started to walk toward the apartment, and I squeezed her hand stopping her. Suddenly, I didn’t want to see the baby and especially Tish, at least not with Kam still heavy on my mind.
“Can you and I go grab breakfast at West Egg Café and after that they should be awake? If you can spare some time, I do want us to talk.” I crossed my heart with my index finger. “Promise, I won’t try to charm you.”
She quirked a brow and commented wryly, “Aaron, charm oozes from you. Yeah, we can talk. Follow me and I can head to work from the cafe and you can stop back over here.” As she slid into the white Lexus SUV I just noticed parked to my rental, Kam winked. “I’m sure your ‘best friend’ would love to see you.”
Wait. Did that mean she suspects or knows something is up between me and her best friend? Or was she being sarcastic because she believed that Tisha and I were still contentious toward one another? Hmmm…
After we placed our food orders, I sipped on my hot coffee, two creams, two sugars and watched Kam send a quick text to someone, probably Kari. “Are you telling him you’re having breakfast with me?”
She looked up. “Yes. We tell each other everything.”
“Everything?” Thinking about Kari and Vonni.
With a slight roll of her neck, Kam confirmed. “Yes. We don’t have secrets. I knew about Vonni trying to kiss him before you did.” I scowled at the reminder that the mother of my child had tried to kiss my brother. “Come on, we’re talking about Vonni. You can’t believe he ever wanted anything from her. He wasn’t remotely interested in her.”
I propped my elbows on the table and rested my chin on my clasped hands. “You and she never liked each other, but she’s a sexy woman and Kari is a man. And this was years ago.”
“Sexy? Ugh! Men are so shallow. She just has a big chest and ass. That’s all.”
I teased, loving that I could still get under her skin. “That’s all I need.”
Kam frowned as she stirred her coffee. “Kari said it looked like you two were getting back together. Is that true?”
I shrugged. “She is the mother of my child and going through her own divorce.”
She then unwrapped the napkin from around her utensils avoiding looking directly at me. “Aaron, you can do better.”
Although I was still pissed with Vonni, Kam talking about her didn’t sit right with me. “Kam, you don’t know her anymore. She’s been a good mom to Dominick and has grown over the years.”
Kam said rather snidely, “Somehow I doubt it. You thought you could do better, which is why you chose me.”
“And you see how that worked out. Besides, why do you care?”
Chuckling, I straightened up and took my elbows off the table. “You do care, but you and I are not together, and you don’t get to have an opinion on my dating life.”
She observed the family leaving the table next to us before she looked back at me. “Yeah, can’t argue with that. But I do have an opinion about you and Kari, and you wasted an opportunity to start fresh with him this weekend. Just like you and I are enjoying a meal together, you could’ve extended the same courtesy to him.”
“Kam, Kari and I, are all talked out. I have nothing more to say to him. I think I’m being more than fair. I’m not going to avoid family events or ask him not to attend anything else. Our parents want to be able to see their sons at the same time at some point. I’ll always be respectful to him but I’m keeping my distance.”
Kam implored, “You have to forgive him, Aaron, as you’ve forgiven me.”
Leaning toward her I explained, “It was easy to forgive you, especially after the shit I did to you. I owed you that much. But Kari used my secrets against me to get you.”
She punctuated her words by tapping the wooden table. “He didn’t do that.”
I glared at Kam. “I confided in him, I trusted him about my mistakes with you. Told him I was scared to lose you. I didn’t hold anything back from him. But he held one fucking important thing from me —his love for you. If he truly cared about me, he should have asked me straight up, how I felt about you before he stepped to you. Not assume that my actions meant I didn’t love you. You don’t do that to your brother.” I lowered my voice. “What if I told you that Kandy once asked me to have sex with her? What would you say?” I wanted to use Tisha as an example but that was too close to home. And I knew Kandy had always been protective over me. She’d been the biggest supporter in my marriage to her sister and Kam might think it was possible for Kandy to hit on me.
“When did she do that?” Her response was quick, her tone sharp.
“You sound angry… are you?” I took another sip of coffee gauging her reaction.
She straightened her shoulders and inhaled deeply. “Aaron don’t play games with me. My sister would never do that to me.”
I put my coffee down hard. “And I thought my brother would never do that to me.”
Shaking her head, Kam reminded, “But you and Kari aren’t me and Kandy.”
My voice rose before I could stop it. “That’s because he didn’t allow it, Kam. I reached out to him over the years and you know it.”
She protested, “Yeah, but you barely talked about Kari, and the two times I was around the both of you in the past, you seemed annoyed with each other.”
“And how did I seem when he visited us?” I insisted. I needed Kam to stop trying to defend Kari and see it from my point of view.
She admitted grudgingly, “You wanted him to visit.”
“I even wanted us to work together. Bragged on him, proud that he’d been asked to work for the Pentagon, that he’d had achieved so much at a young age. And all he did was make me look like the biggest fool for believing in him, believing he and I had a chance to be really close,” I finished angrily, though even a deaf man could hear the underlining hurt.
Kam blinked back tears and she whispered, “You still have a chance.”
I sat back in my chair, waving my hand at her tears. “This is why I don’t like talking about this. Everyone wants me to forgive Kari. And I can’t. Look I love him, I do. I don’t need to forgive him for you and him to be happy.”
“Well, he needs you to forgive him. Kari thought it wouldn’t matter, but it does. The guilt eats at him. He’s not sleeping worried about you. When he does sleep, he’s reliving whatever happened to him over there. He won’t tell me what happened all those months he was gone from us, but it was much more than what he led us to believe.”
I argued, “Didn’t you just say he tells you everything? So, maybe what he told us about his time overseas is the truth and he just can’t handle the consequences of his actions towards me.”
Kam’s hands clenched into fists. “Why do you have to be so cold? I thought you were different. But at the end of the day, you still the same old Aaron focused on how everything impacts you. Unable to think outside yourself. Once again, you still have no empathy for your brother and what he’s going through.”
She rose out of her chair and I pulled her back down by her wrist. “Like only Kari has been through a rough time these last two years. There are consequences to actions, period. I lost you because I couldn’t be truthful with you because I didn’t honor you or value you. I live with that regret every single day and I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve had. And Kari lost me because he betrayed my trust. That’s the plain fucking truth. Did you really think that you and he could be together happily ever and there would be no aftermath, no trouble, no turmoil?”
Kam’s face crumpled for a second and then she shook her head. “Isn’t the fact that we both thought we lost him forever enough punishment? That maybe that was the universe’s way of punishing us for our sins? You helped me get through losing him. When I thought I would die without him, Aaron. You helped me. No one else could. Don’t you remember, we both wished he were still alive and tried to understand why God would take him from us. Well, his life was spared and he’s here now. Forgive him and try to work things out. And you’re not in love with me anymore, anyway…unless I’m wrong.” She peered into my face. “Is that why you drove here in the middle of the night and slept in the car, hoping to see me and get me back?”
Unsure how to respond without explaining Tisha, and our special friendship, I didn’t say anything. I still missed Kam, still thought of her often, but was I still in love?
Kam continued, “If you’re still in love with me, then I won’t expect you to forgive him and I’ll tell Kari that he just has to move on and be respectful of your wishes. So, how do you really feel about me?”
Contemplating my true feelings, words lodged in my throat. The waitress placed our food next to us and left quietly without asking the usual, “if we need anything else”. She must have sensed that food no longer mattered to either one of us.
Kam picked up my right hand. “Aaron, we spent almost seven months together without Kari, living together most of that time and you never tried to hit on me, ask for us to get back together, or even start over. I’d like to think that we’d even become friends.”
I responded softly, “We did become friends much better than when we were married. I loved spending time with you, but I didn’t press up on you because you grieved Kari.”
She nodded. “Maybe at first, but by the time I had little Kari, you knew I was in a better emotional place and yet you did nothing.”
“I’m confused. Are you telling me you still wanted me and because I did nothing, you settled for friendship?” My heartbeat raced, beads of sweat formed on my forehead. What if she only proceeded with the divorce because she thought I no longer wanted her?
She dropped my hand to poke me hard in the chest, causing me to wince. “I know you. If you really wanted me, then you would’ve stopped at nothing to get me back. But you didn’t.”
I protested, “You made it clear that Kari is the only man for you. Remember that whole conversation we had in the hotel right before you moved here.”
Kam groaned in frustration before she asked slowly, “Aaron, are you still in love with me?”
I inhaled deeply and as I exhaled, I answered truthfully, “No. I’m not.”
Relief crossed her pretty features. “Then why are you holding on to so much anger?”
“I swear I’m not trying Kam. I don’t like being this person, this sad and angry man. But I caught the look on your face when I said Kandy wanted to have sex with me. You don’t love me anymore but for a second you were pissed and questioning everything you ever knew about her. And I promise you she never tried anything or looked at me as anything beyond a brother because you’re absolutely right, she would never betray you in that way.”
Recognition and understanding of my difficulty in forgiving Kari flickered across her countenance.
I added. “If Kari is really having nightmares about what happened to him with that explosion, he needs professional help more than my forgiveness. He needs to work that shit out in counseling. It helped him before and maybe he needs to get back in treatment.”
Kam contradicted quietly, “It’s not just that, Aaron. He won’t marry me until you forgive him.”
My mouth gaped open momentarily at her words before I exclaimed, “Well, that’s just stupid.”
She laughed out loud and laughed until fresh tears rolled down her face. “I feel the same way. Doesn’t he know how fucking stubborn you can be?”
I started laughing too, partially because Kam rarely cursed. “He must have forgotten. Look he’s your problem now, not mine. But I’m not forgiving him so he can feel right marrying you. Remind him that he chose to pursue you regardless of my feelings, that he loves you and you don’t need to waste any more precious time.”
Her full lips curved into a beaming smile. “Does that mean you’re giving us your blessing?”
“Woman, please. I hope you get divorced in a year.” I winked and leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Take care of my brother.”
Before I could move back to my side of the table, Kam grabbed my chin firmly and gazed into my eyes. “Whoever wins your heart again will be a lucky woman.”
I smirked. “Tell me something I don’t know.” Sitting back down, I moved my plate in front of me, suddenly ravenous. “What do you think about me just showing up at Tisha’s door asking to see my niece?”
“Thinking I’m going to take myself to work and let you tell me, how she reacts. Although something tells me she will be pleasantly surprised.”
I scrutinized her expression. “Wait…you do know something. What did she say?”
“Absolutely nothing. Let’s just say, that infectious smile of yours just brightened when you said her name and you sure didn’t sleep in your car overnight waiting to see me.” She smiled slyly before sucking her orange juice through a straw.
I returned her smile, certain now that Kam had no qualms about me with Tisha. I settled back in my chair, finally able to enjoy the beautiful woman in front of me and my blueberry pancakes. And a peace I hadn’t felt in a very long time washed over me at seeing Tisha again. My impromptu trip to Atlanta might be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
****I truly hope each and every one of you has a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. I hope that you focus on what you have and leave all negative thoughts and emotions behind if only for one day. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!****