From the moment, we walked into the swank restaurant and Leela saw Kari, she burst into tears. He immediately strode to the booth where she sat, pulled her into his arms, and held on tight. I stood back watching them and signaled to the waiter who was about to approach them, to give them a few minutes. Seeing her visible emotions toward my brother, I knew I’d made the right decision to call him. We’d underestimated how much she loved him.
Kari finally pulled back holding on to her hands. “I’m sorry. I should’ve called you myself.”
Leela wiped her eyes, her head down, she couldn’t seem to give him eye contact. I’d never seen her vulnerable. Maybe she didn’t trust herself to look fully at him because she knew ultimately, he wasn’t coming back to her. “It hurt to know that you didn’t care enough to call me.”
Kari sat down and pulled her down next to him. He looked at me and I eased down across from them. I responded, “Kari and I don’t really speak anymore. He didn’t know I’d called you to inform you about what happened to him overseas.”
He added. “It wasn’t that I didn’t care enough to call. We ended on horrible terms, mostly my fault. I didn’t think you would want to hear from me, not even for me to say that I’m alive and well. Regardless, I had no idea that Aaron had called you in the first place. Or that he had the heart to call you after I returned to the states.”
She looked at me and her eyes teared up again. “Thank you.”
I nodded before reaching in my pocket and pulled out a folded note. “Although I don’t think you will post anything now, I still need you to sign this agreement. In case you have a flashback of either one of us and get pissed all over again, you won’t post any of those pictures.”
Leela rolled her eyes and took the paper and I passed her a pen. She didn’t even read the document and signed it. I then looked at Kari. “See you back at my place, later?”
“Yeah. I’ll text when I’m on the way.” We were still not completely trusting of Leela and I suggested meeting at a restaurant near my condo. I would be waiting if needed to come back. Kari had called Kam and told her that he would be meeting with Leela. He didn’t give her the details of my involvement with Leela, just that he needed to offer her closure again, because she hadn’t been well.
On my way back to my condo, Kam called me. She’d kept the same number, though I’d removed her as a contact, I still knew her number. I answered, “Yes?”
“Um…are they together right now?” Her anxiety was tangible through the phone.
“Yeah. He’s going to come back to my place once they finish talking. Kam, you have nothing to worry about.”
She reminded, “They were engaged.”
“I know that. But he doesn’t want her anymore. He was scared to meet with her actually.” I chuckled.
“I don’t blame him. She went after him with broken glass and destroyed his property.”
“Well, then you know he ain’t trying to get back with that.”
She laughed. “Men love crazy.”
“We like crazy in the bedroom, not stalkerish shit.”
“Leela’s been stalking you? Maybe you shouldn’t have left him alone.” Wary crept back in her voice.
“Kari is a grown man, and they are in a public restaurant. He just didn’t feel like the drama, not that he’s really afraid. She was all teary eyed and grateful to see him again. She’s not going to hurt him, and he won’t do anything to hurt you. So relax.”
Kam sighed. “You’re right. I have to trust him.”
“Enough talk about him, I hear you have a new woman.”
“Who told you? Kari? Ma?” I asked wondering how she knew about Raquel.
“Tisha did…Wait… Ms. C met her already?”
“Both my parents did, and they liked her.
“Ooh…if Ms. C likes her, then she must be solid.”
With pride, I said, “She really is.”
“I am happy for you. You sound like my Aaron…sorry, old habits.”
“It’s all good. You will always be my Kam, my first wife. I hope I am even better than ‘your’ Aaron.”
“You’ve been for a long time now.” She paused before continuing, “With the exception of sleeping with Leela.”
I accused, “Kari told you? He said he wouldn’t.”
“He didn’t tell me. I figured it out. I could tell Leela was attracted to you back then and for you to call Kari all secretive and ask him to see you in DC, I knew it was more than the crap he fed me. It wasn’t just a situation where you ran into Leela and she seemed upset, so you called Kari. You might have changed, but you haven’t changed that much.”
“Fine, I fucked up. But don’t tell Tisha. She already thinks I’m a fuck boi. She doesn’t need to know about this.”
“Because you are.” She giggled. “But I swear your secret’s safe with me.”
“Good. I don’t need Tisha calling me pissed after we ended on good terms.”
Kam admitted softly, “She misses you.”
I took a ragged breath. “Okay…this is weird, right? You telling me about how your best friend misses me.”
She giggled. “So weird, especially because she couldn’t stand your ass since the first day she met you. Now, I’m wondering if she always felt for you but because you were with me, she pretended to hate you.”
I thought back to the first day we met which was at me and Kam’s wedding. She wasn’t the friendliest to me, but I was so happy that day she barely registered. “I’m thinking she wasn’t pretending. She didn’t like me at all.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“So, you two talk about me?”
“No. I can just tell. Once you visited and then told her that you met someone, she’s been different. I figured that’s why she’s been quiet, well, quiet for her.”
“Yeah, you know Tisha. Never let them see you sweat.”
“Yeah.” I slunk lower in my seat. “She’s protective over her heart.”
“I’m sure your girlfriend is cool, and I like Dewayne, but if you ask me, I think you and Tisha would be better together.”
I folded my arms and spoke to my car radio like Kam was sitting in front of me. “It doesn’t matter anyway.”
“If it’s because she’s my friend and it seems too enmeshed, don’t worry about all that. We don’t all have to hang out. What I know for sure, is that there’s nothing like being with someone who’s meant for you. Maybe that’s you and Tisha. She’s never said a word to me about you. But I know her and you affect her differently.”
I closed my eyes in anguish because I’d started believing that too. “Answer me honestly, does Tisha want any more children?”
Kam grunted. “Depends on the day and how annoyed Lacy makes her.”
“Seriously, does she want more children? Because Raquel doesn’t want children.” One night we were discussing our future goals and when she didn’t mention children, I asked her. She told me that she once wanted children but had already decided she wouldn’t be an older mother once she passed thirty-five. I’d then confided that I couldn’t have anymore and that had been a worry of dating again, especially to a younger woman or a woman who never had children. I saw how my inability to have a child affected Kam. I didn’t want to do it to another woman.
Kam exclaimed, “Oh Aaron. I’ve never told her that you can’t have anymore.
“I haven’t either and I’ve been scared to ask her that because I see how she is around lil Kari and she told me once how she wished she had a partner for her first pregnancy and that she can’t wait to share the whole experience of pregnancy in the future. And I can’t give her that. Yeah, it would be weird for me to be with your best friend, and she’s a reminder of my past with you, but not the way you think. I don’t want another woman to feel your frustration and anguish because I couldn’t give you a child.”
“Maybe you should talk and see if she really wants a child or is that a compromise she can make. It’s not like she doesn’t have the experience of being a mother.”
“Why should she have to make a compromise to be with me when she’s already in love with a man who can probably give her all that she wants? No, I’ll leave her alone and she can find happiness with Dewayne or some other man and I will with Raquel,” I responded firmly.
“Okay…okay, Aaron not trying to upset you.”
“Not upset. Just want to move on and focus on the future.” I stared out my front window into the barely lit parking lot. “You know I just realized how many conversations I have in my car. Like this has become my confession space.”
“I remember in junior high when I had all these girls liking me I swore that I would never settle down with one. But then I met you and all I wanted then was to be with you and be like my parents. Have this great friendship, this great passion, this great love. Especially when I noticed how rare it was to find someone like that. You fit all the boxes I guess unconsciously I had for my wife. I was so busy trying to emulate my parents, trying to be them, have what they have, that I didn’t realize I needed to create my own life with my wife. I tried to pattern our lives like my parents instead of you and I deciding what our life should be. That’s why I was always scared to lose you, to lose us, because our marriage was an illusion and not real.
You felt it long before me. Hell, I’ve didn’t really understand until Tisha and I became friends, and I could be myself and not this image of what I wanted the world to see. Don’t get me wrong, so far Raquel has been easy to talk with, we flow well. She’s forgiving and understanding and challenges me. I need that. She knows the me I’ve become and not how selfish and self-centered I used to be. Not that I don’t still have work to do on myself but I’m not perfect and have no intention of trying.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Hearing you confirm what I feel for Tisha scares me. That I won’t get to have that great love because let’s face it, everyone doesn’t get to have a Kari or in my mother’s case, my father.”
Kam sighed deeply.
“Or maybe it’s my old way of thinking and Raquel and I can create whatever road we want and travel it until the wheels fall off.”
She said softly, “Your life can be whatever you want it to be.”
“Yeah.” A text notification appeared on my car display. “Hey, Kari just texted me.”
“What did he say?”
“That all is well, and he should be back to my place soon.”
“Okay.” I could hear the relief in her voice. “Do you want to talk more?”
“No. I said too much already. I’m not your problem anymore,” I said wrily. “Just tell Tisha the next time you see her that I wish her a happy life.”
“Okay. Take care, Aaron.”
“You, too.” I pressed the button ending the call. I stayed in the car longer, mulling my thoughts. I’d finally admitted the real reason I’d pushed Tisha away when I had a chance to be with her. I didn’t want to disappoint another woman.
Later that night, after Kari and I had dessert with Raquel next door, we were lounged out in front of my TV, catching ESPN highlights. I looked at him. “What you think of Raquel?”
“I can see why you like her. And the parents approve.”
“But what do you think?”
“I’m the last to tell you anything about another woman. You don’t trust me anyway, so what difference does it make.”
Exasperated, I said, “Humor me, Negro.”
Kari glanced at me and then back at the television. “I think she’s beautiful, smart, confident, and will look good on your arm. She would look good on any man’s arm.”
“There’s a but.”
He shrugged. “I want you to be happy and if she makes you happy, Raquel will always be alright with me.”
“She does. Time will tell if she’ll end up with my name.”
He picked up the remote and switched to another basketball game. “Then I think she’s good for you.”
“Why do I feel like you holding something back?”
Kari retorted, “Why do you care?”
“Because you’re the only one who will be completely honest with me.”
He tried to unsuccessfully hide his smile. “You and Tisha got that fire. I took one look at you and her when I walked through her door and knew.”
“So, Raquel and I don’t?”
“I mean…I can tell both of you are attracted to each other, there’s chemistry. But I’ve seen you and Tisha together.” Kari patted the space between us. “You and Raquel just getting started and could have the love of a lifetime, so what do I really know?”
“Yeah, we are just at the beginning of our relationship.” I agreed as I snatched the remote out of his hand and changed it back to ESPN. “You think Leela will move on?”
Kari looked up at the ceiling warily. “I hope so. Who knows for sure? We caught up on our lives after you left, she knows I have a child and engaged. She said she has a man but who knows for sure. Leela does appear at least careerwise doing well. She actually said she had to go first which surprised me. I walked her to her car, we hugged, she snuck in a kiss and I cut it off gently. She seemed more sad than hurt or angry and I watched her drive away. At least we got her to sign that NDA. If she violates it, you can sue her for everything she has.”
“Well, I hope your dimples and charm worked like it used to on Ma and all the women in the family when you wanted your way. That paper wasn’t legal.”
He shifted on the sofa. “It wasn’t legal?”
“I didn’t want to waste money or time on a lawyer. I created the document myself. I figured she would be so shook by you, she wouldn’t notice. And I was right,” I said smugly.
Kari chuckled. “Why you do shit like that? You could’ve gotten a real NDA probably for free. All the contacts you have, two of your frat brothers are lawyers.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t even think about getting her to sign anything until earlier today.”
“One good thing came out of this crazy situation.”
He gestured between us. “This.”
“We never did this. Just hung out and talk at each other’s place.” At my silence, Kari looked at me. “If we did this, been like this, I wouldn’t have stepped to Kam.”
Not wanting to drag up barely healed wounds, I stretched my arms before I stood. “You’re supposed to be with Kam. Maybe everything happened as it should have. No more regrets, Kari. It’ll eat you alive. Forgot to tell you Ma wants us over for brunch instead of dinner and I’m exhausted. I’m assuming you staying here instead of a hotel since your ass acting like you have no place else to go. So you staying out here or going to sleep in the guest bedroom?”
Kari pulled the throw I kept on the nearby stand over him. “Out here, you don’t have a TV in that room. I can’t sleep in silence.”
I frowned. “Did you ever get back in therapy?”
He responded firmly, “No.”
I sighed, hoping that he really had control over his emotions now. “Good night.”
“You don’t have to worry about me anymore. I got this.” He looked at me. “Don’t want to be your cloud anymore.”
I grimaced at my words thrown back at me. Knowing an apology wouldn’t matter or even be sincere for the truth I expressed to him in anger, I simply touched my heart with my fist.
He did the same thing and I headed to bed, hoping he really would be alright after tomorrow once Ma helped him remember.
I pulled up in the circular driveway of our childhood home and noticed Dad’s Escalade was absent. “Daddy must be running last-minute errands for Ma.”
Kari opened the passenger door. “Probably ran to the store. Maybe we’ll have time to shoot hoops before brunch.”
I laughed loudly as I shut my door and began walking to the front of the house. “Why you want to play yourself like that? You know I’m still the better athlete.”
“Yeah, but I have more muscles.”
“Which means nothing in basketball.”
He snorted derisively. “You better hope food already ready.”
“As hungry as I am, I hope it’s not. So I can spank that ass quick.”
When I opened the front door, I smelled food burning. “You smell that?”
“Yeah.” Kari yelled, “Ma? Daddy?”
I didn’t hear a response then the smoke alarm blared. We covered our ears and rushed to the kitchen. Smoke billowed from the food cooking on the island. Ma’s prone body laid on the floor, her forehead bleeding. I rushed to her side, and Kari turned off all the knobs and threw one of the pans in the sink. He quickly rushed to get the broom to shut off the alarm.
I gingerly lifted Ma’s head, and her eyes were closed, her breathing shallow. I searched the room for clues and the only thing I could guess is that she slipped and hit her head on the edge of the island.
Kari joined me on her other side, shaking her gently, already crying, “Ma…Mama. Get up, wake up.”
I reached in my back pocket, for my cell when she started convulsing. Kari’s eyes grew wide and fear I’d never known that this woman who had meant everything to me, to Kari, to my dad, to my family could…I banished the ominous thoughts. I had to have faith.
Kari shifted and gingerly turned Ma on her side. He placed her head on his lap, hunched over, whispering in her ear, trying to soothe her, keep her alive as her body suddenly stopped moving. He quickly checked for her pulse and his face relaxed.
I managed to dial the three numbers and quickly informed the respondent of the emergency. I didn’t bother calling our father. I just wanted to be next to Ma, there for her for as long as I could. So, Kari and I both held her on the floor, praying for her life. When we locked gazes, I knew we were both wondering how we would make it without her…