“I am so loving my job already. Just being on campus around the students gives me life.” Raquel practically glowed. “Aaron, this was such a good idea to come here to celebrate my first day with the students. I am so glad I decided to move here. My job, my condo, and meeting you has been the best new start I could have ever imagined.”
“We needed to celebrate. You’ve been so nervous about meeting the students.” She and I were having dinner and listening to a live jazz band. It was our first official date. Sans the two days I traveled to Sacramento for work, we had been inseparable in the almost two weeks since we met. We would share meals at each other’s homes. We’d already developed a routine in which she and I would greet each other on our respective balconies and disappear in our individual worlds at dawn and whoever finished their solitude first would bid the other goodbye. I’d learned that she liked her own space and peace, too. We were compatible in and out of the bedroom. I observed her positive, hopeful energy with a smile as she spoke about her first day at work. I liked this woman. She’d been so unexpected and whether I realized it or not, necessary in my healing. The ache of lingering pain whenever I thought of Kam or Kari had finally dissipated. The old me, who loved life, had returned.
“And I thought I’d been hiding it well.” She shook her head.
“Here’s to new beginnings.” I held up my glass of a tasty white wine that Raquel had chosen, determined to make a wine lover out of me.
She raised hers to click against mine. “And hopefully good endings.”
I grinned. “I can cheer to that.” Raquel was definitely wifey material. A woman most men would love to have on their arms. She was beautiful, intelligent, strong, and ambitious and had no qualms about being submissive to me during sex. Thinking one night soon, we needed to fuck on my balcony which was a little more hidden by trees than hers.
Raquel ran her finger along the rim of her glass. “It might be too soon to ask, but Howard has a fundraising gala for their Alumni in June, and I would love for you to be my date.”
Slight worry lines crossed her forehead. She’d already anticipated rejection and I hated this part of the dating game for her and for me. The unknown of the future. When I was married to Kam, I always had a date for any function or event. When we separated, I’d stopped attending various events I’d previously attended with Kam. I didn’t want to go alone and then I didn’t want any of the women I’d been seeing to think because I invited them to a black-tie affair, they meant something to me other than a good time. Raquel was already different than any woman I’d dated since Kam and I broke up.
“Aaron?” I heard the familiar deep voice of my father. I looked up and he approached with a couple of his frat brothers.
“Dad.” I put my napkin down and rose to hug my father. I then grasped his two old friends’ hands in a familiar greeting. “I thought you would be home with Ma this time of night.”
He grinned. “Yes, she’s been calling me wondering why I hadn’t made it home yet because she wants me to stop and pick up ice cream. I just bought vanilla yesterday, now she’s saying she wanted strawberry.”
I chuckled. “That’s her. Always has some errand she needs one of us to run.” I then looked down at Raquel who had a soft smile on her face watching me and my father interact. “Dad, this is Raquel, Raquel my dad, Dr. Aaron Youngblood, Senior. She’s new to the city and working at Howard. My father is an alumnus of Howard, actually.”
When she attempted to stand, my father quickly said, “No need. I don’t want to interrupt your dinner but now I see who has my son so occupied he hasn’t stopped by to check on his old man.”
She smiled brighter, more beautiful, her dark chocolate skin luminous even in the dim light. “Very nice to meet you, Dr. Youngblood.”
“Family and friends call me Big Aaron,” my father responded kindly.
I observed their interaction as he chatted briefly with Raquel. I loved my father deeply, had been proud of his accomplishments, proud to be named after him, proud that he was such an upstanding human being who saved countless lives, and who loved my mother with a passion I’d longed to have for my own woman. I’d inherited my mother’s dark skin but everything else had been my father, including our big personality, height, and gap-toothed smile. Most of my life I lived to please him, even more than my mother. And I often felt I disappointed him, especially when it came to my relationship with Kam. I could tell my father was pleased with my choice in Raquel. Ironically, I doubt that my dad would be as pleased with Tisha if she were sitting in front of me instead of Raquel. But if she ever gave me a sincere chance, I wouldn’t care. I had to stop comparing Raquel to Tisha. I hadn’t heard from her since that night she told me she contemplated leaving Dewayne for me and I’ve been giving her space. Maybe we did need to stop speaking so much since she did have a man and for now, I had Raquel. I had to be respectful of Tisha’s boundaries and if Raquel and I continued the way I believed we would, I had to be respectful of my new relationship.
Touching Dad’s shoulder, I said, “Dad, Raquel and I were just talking about the alumni gala in June, maybe we can meet you and Ma for drinks before.” I then looked at a beaming Raquel. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you that my parents attend that gala every year and are generous with their donations.”
My father enthusiastically nodded. “Your mother will love it. Now, let me let you two get back to your meal.” We hugged again. “Son, you should bring Raquel over for dinner soon.”
“Will do.” I eased back down in my chair as my father walked away. “Timing is everything, right? You invite me to the gala that my parents have attended every year and my father walks up to our table. I can tell he already likes you and is going to run home and tell my mother. Then she’s going to call me wanting to know all about you and when I’m bringing you to meet her. My mother is something else but you’ll like her.” I took another sip of my wine.
Raquel simply stared at me.
“You really are going with me to the gala and comfortable with me meeting your parents. You don’t think it’s too soon?”
I shrugged. “I’m old enough to know what I want. How much time should I say is enough for you to meet my parents, for me to agree to go with you to a gala that I’ve gone to in the past? I could wait a few more weeks or months or I can take a chance and say now is enough time. I really like you and I do want to see where we go from here.”
She leaned across the table, grabbed my chin, and kissed me so softly, so sexy, my lower body stirred. When she pulled back, wiping her lipstick off my mouth. “Thinking I need to have you for dessert instead.”
Getting even harder at the thought of her pretty mouth around my dick, wordlessly I quickly stood, threw two hundred down on the table, enough to cover bill and tip.
“We didn’t even finish our meal,” she laughingly protested as I took her hand and led her out of the restaurant.
The next day, I used the alarm code to get into my parents’ home. I’d learned years ago to text or call though I had access to their home. Once I’d walked in on them barely dressed with my father chasing my mother around the kitchen. I wanted to burn my eyes out. I’d been used to them being affectionate with one another but being sexual was another story that I never want to read again in life.
“Ma,” I called as I went to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water. As expected, she’d called me this morning with questions about the new lady in my life. I told her I would stop by after work. We hadn’t spoken about Kari and I had no intention to discuss him today. I wanted to spend time with my mother and tell her about Raquel. She also had a gift she wanted me to bring to Dominick when I traveled to Tallahassee this weekend for Spring Break. He and I were going to Disney World and then the beach. I would also spend some time with Vonni and try to make amends for how I’d treated her over the years.
I gulped down my water and headed to the great room and turned on the flat screen to CNN. “Ma!”
“She ran to the store because she wants to cook your favorite,” my father responded as he joined me on the sofa.
“I didn’t plan to stay long enough for salmon.”
“Well, unless you have set plans, might as well settle down. Besides, we haven’t had time to talk in a long time.”
“If you want to talk about Kari…” I warned.
“No. That’s between you and your brother. I keep telling your mother to stay out of it.” He waved his hand almost dismissively. “Either you will work it out or you won’t, both of you are still my sons.”
I nodded. “Appreciate it.”
My father had been the only one who didn’t ask me about Kari, hardly surprising given that he rarely intervened between me and Kari when we had our arguments, which used to piss my mother off. She had been the disciplinarian and he would only become involved when she’d reached her wit’s end about either one of her sons’ behavior. My father could be considered chauvinistic at least regarding the woman’s place to care for home and family. I realized I’d adopted his stance on a woman’s place in how I treated both Kam and Vonni. I worked hard, provided for them, and expected them to care for my home, and my son, respectively, though both worked full time, demanding jobs. I never asked if they even wanted that role.
We both silently watched the news while I waited to see what my father really wanted to discuss. Dad had something on his mind because it wasn’t him to say that we haven’t “talked” in a while. He finally cleared his throat. “Your mother wanted me to speak to you about the new woman in your life.”
“Raquel? So, it’s really you who wanted to see me and not Ma?”
“Well, we both wanted to see you but she thought it was important that you and I speak alone first.”
“And you didn’t agree?”
He glanced at me before returning his focus to the screen. “I do agree. Just not my thing to interfere with your love life.”
“Interfere?” I straightened my shoulders. “Do you know something about Raquel I need to know?”
“Oh, no, no. She seems fine. I…I just wanted to talk to you man to man about love. Since it looks like you starting to get serious about a relationship again, I thought maybe you and I could talk. Your mother doesn’t think I did a very good job with you in teaching you how to treat women.” He chuckled. “She doesn’t know that I could never tell you anything. You were too headstrong, wanted to do things your way. That you love playing the field much more than me or your brother.”
I shook my head. “Dad, that’s not true. I mean I do love women, but I’ve always wanted what you and Ma have. I got married at twenty-three for God’s sake. Lied to my wife about my son, afraid to lose her and my marriage. And I did and do want things my way, but who doesn’t? I still needed your advice about love, about how to fix it with my woman when I mess up or avoid messing up in the first place. I needed to know how to make my wife feel comfortable expressing herself. You should have been the first person I went to when I found out Vonni was pregnant with my son while I was engaged to Kam.”
He argued, “I’m not the blame for the mistakes you made with Kam.”
Putting my hand up, I explained, “Woah, I’m not saying all that. I know I was the blame for the failure of my marriage, at least a large part of it, but I should’ve been able to confide in you. Ask you for advice. Come on, Dad, you’ve been in love and married to the same woman forever.”
“I gave you advice, you didn’t take it.”
“You gave me advice when I was a teenager, not when I got engaged and not the day of my wedding and definitely not when Kam and I separated. You never pulled me to the side like you’re doing right now when you saw my marriage failing. Even when you found out about Dominick, you were so angry with me, you didn’t give me the space to explain myself”
My father bellowed, “You kept my grandson from me for six years and you didn’t think I would be upset. Why would you even lie to me and your mother all that time?”
I struggled to keep my voice level at his rising anger out of respect. “Did you ever ask yourself why Kari knew from the beginning and you didn’t, huh? Because he understood more than anyone in my life what it would mean for me, for this family to have a child outside of wedlock. That I would tarnish the Youngblood name. He kept my secret because I asked, and he understood why it would be impossible to tell you.”
He jabbed in the air. “You were a grown man, Aaron. Not some scared teenage boy who knocked up a girl. You’ve always had trouble owning up to your mistakes, even as a boy. You always had a rebuttal, an argument anytime anyone said anything to you. And would lie in a heartbeat to make your point.”
His accusations hurt, though much of what he said had been true. “Anytime I lied was because I couldn’t stand to disappoint you and Ma. Do you have any idea how hard it was to be your son? Your namesake? How growing up you only paid attention to me when I got in trouble, to remind me, that Youngbloods don’t behave like that? How many track meets did you attend? How many honors night did you attend? Did you ever tell me I did a good job when I aced a test or did well on my SATs?”
Dad’s brown face reddened. “What did you expect me to do Aaron? I am a cardiologist, my patients couldn’t wait until I returned from my son’s track meet. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend every event. And you didn’t need my praises about school because learning came easy to you just like me. Besides you had your mother.”
“Who you knew only focused on Kari. But who looked out for me? Who had my back?” I shifted to face him. “I remember I got into a fight in the fifth grade and I was going to be suspended and Ma managed to talk the principal out of it because I had been one of their best students academically. Then she lit into me on our way home about how I embarrassed her and that suspensions were unacceptable and that I was lucky it wouldn’t go on my record. She sent me to my room, and I couldn’t go to Jamal’s birthday party that I’d been wanting to go to forever. You get home, it’s even worse because you’re barking and yelling at me about people finding out that “your son” would get suspended, about being embarrassed, and how you’d never been in trouble in school. Even when I told you why I got into a fight, you told me in no uncertain terms that there was no excuse for my behavior. Do you remember why I got into a fight?”
My father clenched his jaw and slowly shook his head.
“Because some boy in my class made fun of Kari who was only in kindergarten at the time. He told me my brother was – excuse my language – a sad fuck because Kari started crying on the playground. And I kicked the shit out of him because I was defending my baby brother. Instead of praising me for sticking up for my brother, I got punished because being embarrassed was more important than being loyal to family. So, you tell me why I didn’t feel comfortable telling you I found out I had a baby on the way, while engaged to Kam?”
He sank back into the sofa with his eyes closed, his anger gone.
I took a calming breath and continued, in a quieter tone. “I want you and I to be closer, not just watch games, go fish, or attend functions together. I want to be able to talk to you like we just did. Be real. Be honest. I’m not perfect, nor will I ever try again to do the impossible. I know you love me and Kari, but you made us feel it was conditional. Both you and Ma made us feel that way, and whether you meant to or not, that’s how I felt. Kari didn’t come home for years because that’s how he felt.”
My father frowned deeply, his eyes still closed. “Do both of you still feel that way?”
“I can only speak for me but you’ve been trying to be there for me more. You need to ask Kari yourself about how he feels because you practically ignored him, and his scars are probably deeper.”
He opened his eyes alarmed. “I wasn’t trying to ignore him. I just didn’t know how to deal with him, but I always loved him. Scars?”
I confirmed. “Yes, scars. Your son tried to kill himself. I think it’s time you and Ma really talk about that day with each other and then do the same with him. We spent too many years trying to act like that horrible time in our lives never happened.”
Nodding in acknowledgment he looked at me. “What were your scars?”
Unable to meet my dad’s concerned gaze, I looked down. “Unlike Kari, I needed you and Ma too much to live somewhere else but that came at a cost. Everything you accused me of, lying, refusing to accept responsibility for my behavior, not wanting to listen, being selfish, too afraid to show emotion. Trying to live up to an image of perfection, trying to make my marriage perfect, like yours, and then losing my wife. All scars.”
My father rebutted. “I never expected you to be perfect and our marriage is far from perfect.”
I lifted my head. “Really? Because I never saw the imperfect part. Yeah, I would hear you and Ma argue but it was always about Kari. Never about the two of you. You and she always seemed happy and when I met Kam, she fit who I thought should be my wife, who I thought you would approve of. I knew she would click with my family. Yet, I didn’t know how to handle temptation from another woman, and I failed. And I couldn’t come to you and ask advice about whether I should have even married Kam when I impregnated another woman. Hell, I couldn’t come to you about how to stay away from other women while in a relationship, period. You would’ve judged me because you would never have made that type of mistake with Ma.”
“I might have judged you because you were wrong to put yourself in that type of situation, but I wouldn’t have judged you as a person. I’ve never cheated on your mother. Have I been tempted? Of course, I have. Women are attracted to men like you and me. I just made sure not to place myself in situations where temptation would be impossible to ignore because I’m only human. I did that because just the idea of hurting my wife was and is inconceivable to me. She’s your mother, but she’s my world. There’s no other woman for me.” He touched his chest. “For years I fixed broken hearts, and I used to joke to my colleagues if your mother ever left me, my heart could never be repaired. But I’m sorry if any of my judgments seemed more of a personal attack on you as my son instead of the situation, or made you feel you had to live up to impossible standards. I’ve made my mistakes, been selfish in my marriage. Made mistakes with my sons. Mistakes I doubt you would make. Although you don’t live with Dominick, I can see that you are a more involved father than I was to you. I see it in Kari too. Both of you are better fathers to your children than I was to you. My focus was my career and your mother, and I didn’t take the time to really know my sons. Maybe we can learn from each other. I help you be a better husband to your next wife and you help me be a better father.” He held his hand out. “Deal?”
“Deal.” I smiled wide and shook it. “Besides I already need some advice.”
He frowned. “Vonni? What about her?”
“She’s going through a divorce and the last time I saw her, thought about trying again.” I decided to omit that she tried to kiss Kari because I’d already moved past that.
My father chuckled. “No offense, son, but you would only be doing that to be with Dominick. I know people give up love to be with their children all the time. I just don’t think that makes sense. All Dominick would see is his parents barely tolerating one another because it will come to that at one point. Of course, if I’m wrong and you’re crazy about her, go for it. But you wouldn’t be asking me for advice if she were the one and I hope you wouldn’t be making plans two months in the future with another woman if you were thinking about getting back with Vonni. No judgment, just saying.”
“No, I wouldn’t have made plans with Raquel. I care about her and wouldn’t want to hurt her like that. Just wanted your opinion about a decision I already been leaning toward even before I met Raquel.”
“Raquel…I already like her, though it’s not about who me and your mother like anyway. I mean neither one of us cared for Leela, but we were ready to accept her.” I cringed thinking of my wild night with Leela and her friend at hearing Dad mention Leela’s name. I wanted to be honest with my father but telling him I had a menage a trois with his other’s son’s ex-fiancee might be way too much information for him to hear.
My father continued, “I think I smiled for the rest of the night after I saw you with her. You seemed happy and that’s all I really want for you and Kari.”
I reminded, “I was getting close to happy before her, and I don’t have to be with a woman to be happy, Dad.”
He conceded, “No, you don’t. But I missed seeing my son smile like you did last night. I feel like I finally got both my sons back. You must really like her.”
Smiling, I pictured her pretty face. “I do. It’s only been two weeks, but I do. Kind of want to just see where this one goes.”
He tapped my knee. “This time around, be honest about everything and be yourself. Be with someone who you can talk to about anything, even when you make mistakes. She has to be your best friend and your lover because intense passion fades over time.”
I shook my head vehemently, half to erase the image of Tisha that flashed in my mind. “That’s not true with you and Ma. You two are still a bit much.”
His deep chuckle rumbled through me. “We still have passion but trust me son it’s not as intense as our first few years together.”
“Thank God, I was too young to see all that.”
Dad winked. “Yeah, we were a little too much. Surprised we didn’t have a house full of babies.” He moved to the edge of the sofa. “And don’t worry about your mother, she’s hard on any woman who loves her sons.”
He nodded. “Except for her. She couldn’t be mad at Kam no matter how much she hated that she came between you and Kari.”
I acknowledged with a long sigh. “Kari and I had issues before Kam.”
Quietly, Dad agreed, “I know. Realizing me and your mother had a lot to do with that.”
I nudged his shoulder. “So, did he and I. We’re grown men now and whatever we need to work out or not work out, we will.”
We heard the chime of the alarm as my mother walked into the kitchen and called out, “Aaron, I saw your car before you act like you’re not here. Come help me with these groceries.”
Pretending to be offended, I said, “Ma, why you have to be like that? Like I’m lazy.”
Both my parents, who were in different rooms answered at the same time. “Because you are.”
I responded, “Hey, not lazy…I don’t help around the house because I figure you both could use the exercise.”
My father hit the back of my head.
I exclaimed, “Ouch. That sh…that hurt.”
Ma yelled, “Did you get him good?”
Dad grinned. “Yep.”
Rubbing my now aching head, I stood up and teased, “How I get hit for telling the truth? Both of you getting old.”
Dad jumped up. “I can still beat you in a little game of one on one outside, while your mama cooks.” My parents had never taken the basketball hoop attached to the garage when I was a kid. He and I would play from time to time though it had been months since we had.
“If you win it’s because I don’t have my tennis shoes.” I gestured at my Ferragamos.
“Already making excuses.”
I threw my arm around his neck and we taunted each other as we headed into the kitchen to help my mother. And I spent the evening laughing and talking with my parents, feeling blessed I still had them in my life. Proud to be a Youngblood.