Being in Sacramento for those few days and spending my nights alone allowed for reflection. Although Leela was admittedly not all there, I shouldn’t have had sex with her. No matter my pain or how flirtatious she’d been. She was my brother’s ex. And regardless of Kari’s and Kam’s actions, anyone my family dated had always been off-limits to me. I violated my own rules and that’s why I was in the mess I was in with Leela. Every night I spoke with Raquel, I wanted to tell her about Leela. Even about Tisha and how deep my feelings had grown for my former wife’s best friend. But real fear would kick in about losing Raquel before we ever got started. And I would punk out and berate myself recognizing I was following the same patterns that I did with Kam.
Then my thoughts would turn to Vonni. I’d hurt her deeply with my callous and selfish behavior that though she allowed it, I shouldn’t have placed her in that situation. I knew how much she loved and wanted to be with me. I used that to my advantage most of our relationship. I vowed that I would do my best to keep us out of court if Dominic continued to be serious about living with me for high school. I would keep lines of communication open between us. I’d already sent her a long apology text about my old behavior since she refused to take my calls. Vonni didn’t respond but I wouldn’t stop doing my all to bring peace between us. I just hope in the end that the love she has for Dominic and wanting the best for him overrule any fear or skepticism she has about our son living with me.
I didn’t like thinking about Tisha because my heart would ache, I missed her so much. I’d even contemplated calling her and seeing if somehow we could keep it at the friendship level but realistically we couldn’t just be friends or move forward to an intimate relationship. I didn’t want to go back to that dark place when I first lost Kam so I would focus on being happy for Tisha and not regret ending our friendship. Tisha was with a man she loved and though I didn’t yet love Raquel, I felt sooner or later it would happen. For now, I enjoyed being in her presence and sharing my life. I looked forward to seeing what love had in store for us.
When I returned home Monday morning, I looked at Raquel’s door as I opened mine, missing her. Raquel had returned to Jackson for a friend’s wedding and although she wanted me to go with her, I had the conference that I’d committed to attending prior to our relationship. I promised I would make a trip with her in the future. She said she understood. I hoped she did. Because of Kam’s reticence to tell me her real feelings, I found myself second-guessing Raquel’s responses and reactions. I consoled myself that we were a new couple and over time we would learn and know each other. And the first thing I needed to do was to really talk to her about my past with Vonni and Kam and how I didn’t want to fuck up with her as I had with them. I rode the fence about telling her about Leela since she technically was a one time fling before I met Raquel. I would make that decision based on the outcome of Kari’s visit.
I would have to deal with Kari’s disapproval but ultimately he had done Leela wrong first and I was the brunt of her hurt since she could no longer communicate with him. I recalled how hurt I’d been for her when I made the call to tell her that Kari had died when we first heard the news. And when he returned he hadn’t thought enough of her to reach out to her. However we viewed her, she was a woman with feelings that we disregarded for our own reasons. She wouldn’t leave the Youngbloods alone until we atoned for our sins against her.
“Ma, your profit margins are good. You worry too much.” I sat next to my mother in my office reviewing her revenue for her consultant business. She had worked in Corporate America for years and since her retirement, she served as an advisor to minority and women-owned businesses. “You and Dad are set to live the rest of your lives blissfully debt-free. I need to get myself together.”
“I’m sure you already have your retirement in place.” She smiled. “That’s one thing I never worried about with you. You’ve always been good with your money. You taught us how to handle our money better.”
I teased, “Well, if you must brag.”
She tapped my knee. “Still my confident son.”
I said wrily, “Most days.”
Her eyes softened. “Don’t let your hurt take away who you are, who you’ve always been. You’ll always be my brilliant, confidant, albeit arrogant, son. It’s apart of your charm.”
My mother’s praise did little to lift the self-doubt that had been creeping in ever since Kam left me. “Who I am has hurt those I love whether I mean to or not.”
“Aaron, we all have done things that hurt others, sometimes unintentional. I haven’t given you enough credit for the good things you’ve done for me, for the family. Regardless of your mistakes, I’ve always loved you deeply, wanted nothing but the best for you.”
I shrugged. “I keep making mistakes. Scared of losing Raquel already.”
She clasped my hand tightly. “You can always rectify a mistake as long as you don’t keep making the same one. Don’t let your fear of what happened in your last relationship, affect this one. Your father already likes her, and you want to introduce us, so you must care about her. Trust her, trust in your relationship, and be honest with her, no matter how new your relationship is, do you hear me?”
I nodded, mulling her advice. “Yes, Ma’am. Thanks, Ma.”
“When am I supposed to meet this woman that you and your daddy seem so excited about? Inviting her to galas without making sure I approve.” She smiled but I knew she was serious. Ma didn’t play when it came to her sons and their women.
“Soon, Ma. I’ve been busy.” I checked my watch. “Actually, she just got back today from Mississippi and she’s supposed to meet me here so we can grab dinner nearby in a little while. You more than welcome to join us.”
She smoothed her suit. “No, no. You’ve both been away from each other for a few days. I’m sure, she’s missing you and I have to run to a meeting anyway. Just set something up this weekend.”
This weekend. I hadn’t said anything when my mother popped up at my office asking me to review her financials. I didn’t know if Kari had told her about his visit yet or if he planned to bring Kam and little Kari. Ma hadn’t mentioned him during her impromptu visit. “Umm…Kari will be here this weekend. Did he tell you?”
Ma looked at me sharply. “He didn’t. Why is he coming here?”
“I asked him. I need his help with some things.”
Her lips spread into a wide smile, her eyes tearing. “You’ve forgiven him?”
I averted my gaze, unsure if I was ready to completely forgive. “It’s still a work in progress.”
Ma placed her hand over her mouth for a second. “You’re relying on each other again. That’s good enough for me. When will he be here?”
“Well, make sure both of you come by for dinner on Saturday. I hadn’t seen my boys in the same space in a long time. Do you want me to let him know that you told me about his visit?”
I cocked an eyebrow. “You will anyway. I’ll check with Kari once he gets here and either he or I will let you know what time. I don’t know if he’s bringing his…family.” It was the first time I acknowledged Kam and lil Kari as his family. My stomach churned for only a moment. They were his family. Kam would be his wife soon. Lil Kari was his daughter.
Ma reached for my hand and squeezed. “If he does bring them and you’re not ready, it’s okay. You don’t have to come. But if he’s alone, can we please have dinner, just the four of us again, like old times? I miss my family.”
Taking a deep breath, I wondered if I was really ready for our family to reunite. I’d been so focused on getting him to help me with Leela, I’d forgotten that my parents would expect that all was forgiven and we could move forward. I didn’t think I could move forward until we all dealt with what happened the day he attempted suicide. “Ma, remember you promised that the next time he visited you would tell him.”
Her mouth curved down and her shoulders sagged.
“Ma, if you’re not ready to talk because you didn’t expect him this weekend, that’s also fine. But I honestly don’t think I can forgive him until he truly understands how I’d always been there for him. And why it’s so hard for me to forgive his betrayal.”
She nodded. “I have to be ready. I’ve been telling the same lie for so long it’s become true and contributed to this divide between you, two.” Ma then chuckled lightly. “I tell you to be honest and brave with your new lady friend and I can’t be that way with my son. I guess like you, I’m so afraid to lose someone I love again. My heart can’t take losing Kari again.”
I placed my arm around her. “Like you just told me, trust him, trust your relationship with him. Kari is different now. He wants to be around the family, which is why he wants me to forgive him. He can handle the truth. He’s stronger now.”
She rested her head on my shoulder.
There was a knock on my door.
Ma lifted her head and I stood. “Come in.”
My receptionist opened the door. “Mr. Youngblood, you have a guest.”
I smiled. “Bring her in.” I looked down at my mother. “Guess, you’ll get to meet Raquel after all.”
Ma wiped her eyes with Kleenex she grabbed off my desk and rose. My greeting lodged in my throat.
“Mrs. Youngblood, I didn’t expect to see you,” Leela sashayed inside my office, in a fitted black dress and high heels, as if I really was her man and we were headed for a night on the town. “Aaron didn’t tell me you would be here.”
Ma glared at me, shaking her head before reluctantly giving Leela a hug. “I dropped by unexpectedly or I’m sure he would have warn…told me.”
I refused to hug Leela when she reached her arms to me and growled, “I didn’t know Leela would be here either. I don’t like surprises.”
She waved her hot pink manicured hand around. “You’re no fun.” Leela then planted herself in the chair my mother just vacated. “Are you staying or…?”
Obviously there was no love lost between these two women who didn’t try to exchange any more pleasantries. Ma straightened her shoulders. “I have a meeting. Take care, Leela. Aaron, walk me out.”
“Oh…okay. Ma. Um…Leela…” I stuttered completely at a loss what to do. I needed to walk my mother out but afraid to leave “psycho bitch” in my office. Ma clearly thought I was seeing Leela behind Raquel’s back. And I guess in some respects I was.
“Now, Aaron,” my mother said firmly, and I felt like a chastised boy again.
I quickly hurried to my office door opened it and ushered my mother through it. I looked back at Leela and whispered angrily, “Don’t touch shit in my office.”
Leela merely tossed her hair, turned away from me, and picked up her cell.
I shut my door firmly behind me and my receptionist looked apologetic as I and my mother hurried out of the office.
The minute we made it to the hall in front of the elevator, Ma lit into me. “Is that God awful woman the mistake? Are you messing with her? Is this why Kari is coming here? Are you trying to get revenge on Kari? What in the hell is going on Aaron?”
I pleaded, “Ma…I…it’s not what you think. It’s not about revenge and I’m not messing with her. I promise. But I can’t talk right now because I don’t trust her alone in my office.”
The elevator chimed and my mother lifted her Hermes bag higher on her arm. “You better call me as soon as you get a chance and explain or I’m coming over tonight. I mean it, Aaron.”
“Aaron?” I heard Raquel’s voice. She walked off the elevator, beautiful in her blue dress and her long thin braids in a neat bun.
My mother looked at her and then me. She recovered quicker than I did and opened her arms. “Raquel, right? I’m Constance Youngblood, Aaron’s mother. He’s told me so much about you.”
Raquel’s face brightened and she hugged my mother. This time I could feel genuine warmth between the women. “He didn’t tell me you would be here.”
“He didn’t know. I dropped in for some advice. He invited me to join you for dinner, but I figured you two would want to be alone.” She touched my hand and looked at me pointedly. “Unless you need me to entertain Raquel while you finish with your meeting?”
“Um…” For the first time in a long time, I was utterly speechless. Ma was actually covering for me. She’d always told me and Kari she wouldn’t help or endorse her sons cheating on our women. She’d only kept the secret about Dominic – though she’d been pissed with me – because Vonni was married at the time when she found out about her grandson. Maybe she believed that I wasn’t cheating on Raquel already with Leela. Or maybe she didn’t want World War Three if Leela and Raquel ran into each other. Maybe she sensed like I did that Raquel wouldn’t back down from a fight if Leela stepped to her wrong.
Raquel smiled. “I actually would like that. There’s a coffee shop downstairs in the lobby.” She then kissed my cheek. “Once you finish, just come join us.”
With relief, I wrapped my arms around Raquel tightly and kissed her forehead. “Sounds good. My two favorite ladies getting to know each other.” Releasing Raquel, I bent down to kiss my mother’s raised cheek. “Thank you, Ma. Love you.”
“Hmm…mmm.” She pinched the back of my arm hard and I had to grit my teeth not to yelp. “Don’t keep Raquel waiting, Aaron.”
“I promise I won’t.” I pushed the down button for them, trying to quell my fury before I went back into my office. I’d been feeling sorry for mine and Kari’s treatment of Leela, but with this stunt, I didn’t give a fuck how she felt. The elevator immediately opened and the two women already discussing the upcoming Howard Alumni Gala stepped on. I’d turned around to go back into my office when Leela pushed open the glass door.
“There you are. I thought you were trying to ghost me again?” Leela announced.
I quickly looked back as the elevator door closed but not before I saw the hurt expression on Raquel’s face.
Why the fuck is this happening to me?