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Chapter 13


Standing in front of Tisha’s apartment door, I felt nervous, like I needed an antacid. I had never experienced that when it came to women, that somehow, I would mess up, make a fool out of myself. I wanted her to be happy to see me, for her face to light up the moment she saw me, to grin until her cheeks hurt. My stomach ached because I wasn’t sure how she would receive me. Maybe I had doubts about how she felt about me because for most of the years she’d known me, she didn’t like me, whereas I didn’t have any feelings toward her either way. She was Kam’s best friend, but she lived in another state and as long as Kam loved me, I didn’t care what her best friend thought. Or maybe it was the way I handled our last conversation and that I had refused to answer her texts or calls. Or maybe because I knew she had a man who she seemed to love and all I would ever be is a friend. Or maybe she reconsidered forgiving me for ghosting her for a month after we’d had sex.

Damn, that night. That night had been so unexpected, so needed, so special, so full of passion that I ran from it. I literally eased out of her bed, gently kissed her forehead, grabbed my discarded clothes, dressing in a hurry as I let myself out of her apartment. I’d driven to the airport, confused with so many emotions on how two people who barely tolerated each other, shared an unbelievable night of passion.

“Aaron? Are you okay?”

Shaking my head to clear the naughty memories of us and focus on the here and now, I clasped my hands in front of me to hide my arousal. I sheepishly smiled at a frowning Tisha who’d just opened her door.

“What are you doing here? You don’t speak to me for weeks and you just show up? Dewayne could have been here.” She wore a long pale pink Minnie Mouse cotton nightshirt and a black scarf around her head and self-consciously touched the satin as she explained, “I heard a noise and I thought it was Kam.”

“So beautiful,” I murmured, soaking her in from head to her pretty gold-polished toes. “I needed to see you.”

The edges of her lips finally curved, and she backed up to let me enter her place. I moved past her and stood just inside her cozy apartment.

Closing the door, Tisha rested against it. Her partial smile gone, arms folded across her braless breasts, probably protecting them from my view. “So, what do you want?”

I started to respond “you”, instead, I answered, “I had to make sure you accepted my apology for how our last conversation ended and I figured face to face visit was the best course of action.”

Tisha snorted. “Next time bring a gift.”

I solemnly pulled a small white bag with a cinnamon roll from West Egg Café out of my jacket pocket. “I did.”

Tisha rolled her eyes, grin returning as she reached for her favorite treat. “You totally suck, you know that?”

“I know and I would tell you my selfish ways won’t happen again, but…”

“You would be lying.” She pointed at me. “Look, we can be angry at each other, but you can’t cut me out of your life when it suits you.”

Nodding, I opened my arms for a hug needing to touch her. “I can promise that because I missed you too much to ever cut off communication again.”

She shook her head. “No, you just trying to cop a feel. I don’t have anything under this.”

When she moved forward, I blocked her path, and her eyes widen slightly. “My body is fully aware that the only thing separating me from your sexy body is that thin piece of cotton.”

Tisha blushed though she pushed me aside using my chest. “Boy, let me put something else on because you and I are not having sex.” She gestured toward her gray sofa. “Take a seat and I’ll be right back.”

As she walked past me, I grabbed her and hugged her from the back, and kissed her cheek. Although she swatted at my arms around her waist, her body relaxed into me and she let her head fall back on my chest. She exhaled and admitted, “I missed you too.”

I squeezed her to me and whispered in her ear, “Let me show you how much I missed you.”

Tisha teasingly brushed her thick ass against my hard dick. “I can already tell.” She unwrapped my arms from around her and spoke over her shoulder while she headed to her bedroom, “If you need to take a cold shower, you know where my bathroom is because you’re not getting any this morning.”

I groaned in disappointment and flopped down on her sofa, willing myself to mentally focus on the friend I needed more than the lover. She’d been right to stop anything from happening. I was still caught up in the memory of that night of shared passion, but Tisha and I had become more since that night.

A few minutes later, Tisha walked back in the room with leggings and a Hillman sweatshirt, fluffing her short, relaxed shiny black hair that framed her brown round face well. “I heard it didn’t go well with you and Kari.”

I propped my arms against the back of the sofa, while she sat down and tucked one leg underneath her, and faced me ready to talk.

“How much did Kam tell you?”

She touched my arm. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?” 

“In a minute…did you eat yet?”

“No, but suddenly I don’t have much of an appetite.” She covered her face with her hands and then peeked through them at me. “Why do you affect me so?”

“I don’t know because I feel the same. I stood outside for the longest scared to knock, scared you would reject me after how I’d treated you. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared to approach a woman.”

Tisha gave me a soft smile. “You’ve been through a lot. I wasn’t angry with you. I just hoped you believed me that Kam didn’t ask me to look after you and that you would speak to me again.”

“Did you really miss me?” I asked.

“I can ask you the same question.”

I laughed loudly. “Tisha, I drove four hours exhausted and slept in the car because I didn’t know if you had company. What do you think?”

She quirked one eyebrow. “Maybe you drove all the way to see Kam, thinking she was here.”

“I did have breakfast with Kam but seeing her wasn’t the plan.”

Wrinkles marred her countenance. “You had breakfast, what happened?”

I teased, “You’re sounding jealous again.”

Now, she looked annoyed. “No, just concerned. You two haven’t seen each other for a long time.”

“Our conversation went amazingly well. Jealous?”

With a slight roll of her neck, Tisha snapped, “No, that would be I’m jealous of you and Vonni.”

I moved my arms from across the back of the sofa and shifted my body towards hers. “Whoa, what did Kam tell you?”

“Bakari told her that you and Vonni behaved like a couple.” She stared into my eyes defiantly, but I could see the hurt. “Are you getting back with her?”

Her question was a complex one that I wasn’t quite ready to answer. I hopped up and pulled a reluctant Tisha into the kitchen, leading her to her glass table. “I’m going to cook you something to eat.”

She chose to sit with her back facing the window, so she could watch me. “You cook now? Kam said you rarely cooked?”

“And I didn’t. I’m different now. I realize that I need to take care of my next woman more than just financially.”

Tisha warned, “I’m not going to be your woman.”

I opened her pantry searching for pancake mix. “In time.”

“Aaron, you have too much shit going on. And Dewayne is simple.”

Cringing at the truth of her statement, I placed the box on the counter and went to her refrigerator. “I remember you don’t like eggs. How about pancakes and turkey sausage? Is Lacy here?” Lacy, “Sweetpea”,  was Tisha’s seventeen-year old daughter.

“No, she slept over her best friend again thinking she grown since she a senior in high school. Pancakes and sausage sound good.”

I listened at the familiar irritation in her voice.  Tisha and I had countless conversations about her teenage daughter who often gave her the blues with her sass and smart mouth.  I told her they only butted heads because they were too much alike, but Tisha couldn’t see how similar she and her daughter really were. “What time does baby Kari wake up?”

“Any minute. She loves pancakes too, but Kam and Kari don’t give her meat.”

I smiled at Tisha. “I can’t wait to hold her again. I should’ve brought her a doll or teddy bear, so she can remember her Uncle AJ.”

“That’s what you want her to call you?”

“That was my nickname until Kari started calling me ‘Ron Ron’. I mean no one else called me that but once he started, the rest of my family began to call me Aaron.” I brushed off the twinge of sadness at Kari’s insistence of calling me the name he did when he was a little boy.

I grabbed the plastic container of apple juice and poured her a glass before placing it in front of her. Tisha looked at me warily. “Are you trying to make me love you?”

Holding on to the back of the empty chair next to her, I looked down at her. “You already do, just aren’t ready to admit it.”

Tisha threw her head back dramatically. “Damn, Aaron. You are too much.” She then straightened and confessed,  “I do love you but I’m not in love.”

“Okay.” I backed up to the counter, heart full at her admission. “Good enough for now.” I smiled at the exasperation in her sigh.

While I made a quick breakfast of pancakes and sausage, we talked about the latest world news and pop fluff, an unspoken promise to not address anything serious until I finished cooking.  The moment I handed her a plate of two pancakes and almost burnt sausages, I eased down in the chair next to hers. “Truth time.”

Tisha ingested a forkful of pancakes. “Needs some work on your batter, turned down the gas while cooking the sausages, but it’s a start.”

“Not talking about the food. You asked me a question about Vonni and I want to be as honest as I can with you.”

“Please do. How can you expect me to take you seriously if you still have another woman on your mind?”

“She’s not on my mind as much as you.  And I don’t know how I feel about Vonni. I’m still attracted, and she is to me, but I’m not sure we fit or should be together. Especially after she tried to hit on Kari.” Still uncomfortable with the thought of the two of them, I looked down at the table.

“The fuck?” She dropped her fork. “Kam didn’t tell me that part. Did Vonni really try to get with Kari? For the record, though your brother is a babe, I have never wanted to be with him that way.”

I reminded sarcastically, “I didn’t need to hear that he’s a “babe” from you.”

She held her hands up. “Being honest, I’ve always told Kam that the Youngbloods are beautiful people. That even your dog was sexy.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, if we had a dog, my mother would have picked out the most attractive one.”

“Back to Vonni, so she hit on him this weekend while she was trying to get back with you?”

I shook my head vehemently. “Years ago, Kari beat up one of her dudes, who’d been abusive and because she was feeling grateful, she tried to kiss him. Kari moved before she could make contact.” I picked up her glass of juice and sipped.

“Is that why you left in the middle of the night? Because you were upset?” She squinted her eyes assessing me. “Did you sleep with her?”

I met her intense, speculative gaze. “Yes, and yes. I left angry because it was too much of a reminder of Kari and Kam. Surprisingly, I believed Kari when he swore that nothing happened. I guess after having such a good moment with her, it was disappointing to find that she would try to get at my brother.  Especially when I wanted to see if she and I were possible again. 

We hadn’t been intimate, for years, and we’re both available now. Timing is everything and maybe it’s our time. The thing is there’s a large part of me that feels like I would be settling if we were to have a relationship, even before I knew about her and Kari. Vonni’s a good woman and all but there’s something missing between us that I’ve never been able to explain. The compromise of being with her, which is almost worth it, is that I get to be with my son on a full-time basis. And maybe it really is about me choosing my son’s happiness over mine.”

“Does Dominick want you to be with his mother?”

“He’s never said, but he used to hate whenever I left him. I hated it too. Like every time I had to go, I lost a part of me. I really should’ve told Kam about him, not for the sake of our marriage but for the sake of my sanity. Living a double life took a toll on me, pretending to Kam that the most important part of me lived in another state missing me.”

Tisha pushed her plate away. “Surprised you’re being this honest with me.”

“I don’t have anyone else that I trust to talk to about these things, so at the risk of losing you by talking about another woman, I hope you allow me to do so.”

“Can I talk about Dewayne to you?”

I groaned. “I don’t like talking about your man with you.”

“If I have to hear about you having sex with your child’s mother, then you have to hear about Dewayne.”

Snatching a link off her plate, I took a huge bite before speaking, “Fine. I guess I do need to know about my enemy.”

“Your enemy?”

“Well, he sure in the fuck not my friend.”

She grinned. “You two would like each other. Maybe we can do a double date.”

“Fuck no. You sound crazy. I don’t want to be on a date with another man who knows how it feels to be inside you.”

She took the rest of the sausage out of my hand. “Just checking. Because if you and I are going to be friends, this sex and love stuff has to go. I have a man and it’s enough I slept with you and occasionally fantasize about you while being with him. You and I can only be friends.”

“Mm…fantasize?” I wiggled my eyebrows. “Am I your love slave? Walking around naked, except for a bow tie, waiting on you hand and foot, while doing whatever you want me to do to your body at your command.”

Tisha giggled. “Why are you so fucking stupid?” She tapped my forehead. “What goes on in there?”

I enclosed her finger in my hand. “Why don’t you see me as potential?”

“Umm…because you go through women like water. You were just with your ex either last night or Friday, right?”

“So, like you just hadn’t been with your man at some point this week.”

She sighed loudly, “Aaron, you don’t know what you want. Besides, you still hurt over Kari and Kam. Maybe that’s why you bonded with me because I am the one person you can talk to about the pain you still feel. Maybe it’s not that you’re falling for me, maybe I’m just a comfort and once you’re fully healed, you won’t need me anymore.” Her voice drifted off.

Entwining my hand with hers, I protested, “I know I have things to work out with my child’s mother, my child. And every day the thought of Kari’s betrayal hurts less and less. I just want to know if I’m at least potential for you. Like I want to date you. I come to see you, you travel to see me.”

“While you mess with all these other women?”

I asked pointedly, “Are you planning to drop Dewayne?”

“Why would I give up a perfectly good man who lives here to just date you in another city?”

Confidently, I responded, “Because I would make you happier.”

Instead of her expected retort, Tisha took another bite of her pancakes with her free hand.

“Look, if you worried about Kam, I’m almost certain she approves of us.”

She almost choked before she bit out, “You told her?”

“She guessed there’s something between us because she did catch me outside waking up in my car.” I squeezed her hand tighter and added softly, “She also said some bullshit that I smile brighter when I say your name.”

Her eyes sparkled when she looked at me. “You really like me, don’t you?”

“Yes. I do. I more than like you.” I leaned closer to her. “But your friendship is most important. I told myself that on the drive here if all you ever wanted to be is my friend, I would accept it. That maybe that’s all we were meant to be. And that special woman for me is still out there and you’re only in my life to show me that it’s possible to trust and love again.”

Tisha’s eyes now glistened as she reached across the table and traced my lips slowly with her index finger, her eyes focused on her actions, and I opened my mouth to taste her skin again. When I sucked on her finger, her gaze raised to meet mine and as I pulled her to sit across my lap, once again a Kari intervened in my love life. The cutest little person I’d ever seen with Kam’s curly hair and dimples like her father ambled in the kitchen rubbing her eyes. Although she couldn’t possibly know me, since the last time I’d seen her she’d been about three months, baby Kari smiled and raised her arms to me. I let go of Tisha’s hand to joyfully pick up and cradle my niece to my chest falling in love with her all over again.

I cooed, “Your Uncle AJ is here. You hungry…want some pancakes?”

Her little chubby hand happily tapped my mouth. “Hi.”

Tisha commented wryly, “Damn, you even have an effect on baby girls.”  

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Chapter 12

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?”

“I don’t.”

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!!!****

Chapter 11

Thanksgiving  (Two years ago)

“Aaron, dude, where are you?” Jamal asked. “If you’re trying to make nice with Kam, you better get your ass over here. Now, isn’t the time to be bullshitting.”

I’d gotten caught up in the Knicks game and time had slipped. “Shit. I’m on my way.” I jumped up from the sofa and hurried to the coat closet.

“Why didn’t you come over here with your wife to help out in the first place? You don’t act like a man in the doghouse.”

“Trust me I’m locked deep in the doghouse. She’s sleeping in the guest room and she won’t let me touch her. I barely got her to agree to even come today, so I didn’t want to push it by insisting we ride together. Is Kari there yet?” He hadn’t attended a holiday gathering since he left for college, I figured as long as I beat him there my lateness wouldn’t be so noticeable.

“He’s here with his fiancée,” Jamal said. I could hear the humor in his voice. No one seemed to care for Leela.

I stopped putting my arm in the sleeve of my jacket, shocked about this tidbit of news. “What? He asked Leela to marry him?”

“You didn’t know? I know how you two keep your little secrets.”

Used to my brother’s guarded ways, I wasn’t surprised nor hurt he hadn’t shared his plans with me. Just jealous. “No, I didn’t know. We don’t tell each other every motherfucking thing.”

“Hey…why you sound bothered?”

“I’m good.” I finished pulling on my jacket and admitted, “Aggravated I guess that I can’t get my wife to agree to be with me, let alone renew her vows and my little brother is all happy in love.”

“Oh, I thought you were bothered because you don’t like Leela.”

I put my earbuds in my ear, so my hands could be free. “It’s not that I don’t like her, I don’t really know her. She’s just not wifey material.”

He contradicted. “Every woman is someone’s wifey material.”

Grabbing my keys off the holder by the kitchen door, I responded, “I meant for Kari, for our family.”

“Ooh… let me not insult the Youngblood family. I’m just a lowly Carter.” Jamal was my maternal cousin and he’d always joked that my family behaved like we were the black royalty of the DC area.

“Man, fuck you.” I laughed. “Let me get off this phone, so I can make it in time to sit at the table.”

*****

As I walked up the driveway of my parents’ home, past all the cars, I felt confident that I would get my wife back. It was Thanksgiving. The holidays. She loved my family and they loved her. She wouldn’t want to lose them, and I couldn’t lose her. These last couple of weeks without her had been horrible. I couldn’t function, I couldn’t sleep or eat. When we had that fight the day, she left me, she’d hinted that there was someone else. I agonized over whether she really would cheat on me, and I’d resolved that she’d only said that to get back at me. Kam wouldn’t cheat on me. She wouldn’t betray me that way.

Kam had been a good wife, better than most from what I heard from other men about their wives. I’d taken her for granted and hadn’t been the best husband to her. She accused me of being selfish and controlling. And maybe I was spoiled and wanted things my way. But honestly, a large part of me had been that way because I hadn’t been able to tell her the truth that some of those “business trips” were trips to spend time with my son. Or that I chose our house without her having seen it because I owed child support and I needed to choose a house that I could maintain and still take care of my son. Kam knew how much money I made and would think we could afford a much bigger house if I left it up to her to choose. So, I found a home, based on her preferences and my affordability and bought it. Kam had been pissed when I first told her. But once she saw our house, she fell in love and made it our home.

Thinking of our home and how I didn’t want to live in it without her, I became even more determined to earn her trust and love back. I would own up to my cheating with Vonni and ask for her forgiveness. I would wait until we were alone tonight and tell her about Dominick and maybe we could go together and visit him for Christmas. I had to make this right and show her she made the right decision when she allowed me to be her husband almost ten years ago.

I opened the front door, and I could hear laughter and the clatter of plates coming from the dining room. When I walked through the entryway, I clapped my hands and announced, “I’m here. Now, Thanksgiving can really get started.”

Everyone groaned good-naturedly used to my arrogance. I loved my family. I really did. As much pressure as my parents put on me and Kari, I loved them and all our extended family. It made me love Kam more that she fit in so well with them. With Kari back in the fold, our family felt whole again.

Jamal clasped my shoulder in greeting as he passed me on the way to his seat at the table. “Just like you to show up in time to eat, so you don’t have to help.”

“This the part where the woman does all the work anyway.” I smiled searching the room for Kam. Warmth flowed through me when we connected eyes. She looked beautiful. I always liked it when she straightened her hair which she only did for special occasions. She’d tapped the seat next to her.

“Okay.” Jamal nodded. “Let’s see if your ass gets up when it’s time for the men to clean.”

I dapped him. “Why you have to be so negative all the time? Ye of little faith. Besides the last family dinner, Kam pinched the shit out of me for not helping. She might kick my ass this time.”

He chuckled and strode to the other side of the table next to his pretty wife while I bent down to kiss my own wife’s cheek and sniffed her favorite coconut flavored hair oil. I eased down in the chair next to her, grateful that she’d saved me a seat. Kam had been such a part of my family we didn’t always sit together during celebrations and dinners. So, it meant something that she saved me a place next to her. Just then Kari and Leela walked entered the room. She positively glowed from happiness. My brother, however, seemed uncomfortable. Then again, he never liked to be the center of attention and with his appearance at Thanksgiving and a woman on his arm, he was the main attraction.

Leela rushed to Kam. “I was wondering where you were. This family is so huge. It’s going to take a while for me to get to know everyone. We’re moving here soon, so we need to have lunch or something the next time I visit. I don’t know anyone yet.”

I wanted to snicker at Kam’s barely veiled dislike of Leela with that weak ass hug she gave a painfully clueless Leela. Kam responded drily, “Once you get a job here, I’m sure you’ll have no problems making friends.”

“That’s just it. Bakari doesn’t want me to work yet in case we have to travel for his job,” Leela bragged. “I don’t mind since he’ll be making enough to take care of me. I want to stay at home and have children anyway.” She flashed her left hand in front of Kam, begging for Kam to acknowledge it and I knew my wife enough to know she wouldn’t. She hated when women gloated about their upcoming nuptials.

Leela then looked expectantly at me and I obliged by standing and hugging her politely. I picked up her hand and teased Kari, “Dude, you didn’t tell me. Congratulations! Ma, did you know?”

Ma had just walked in the room and her pained expression clearly showed her dislike of her baby boy’s choice of a wife. “They just told me. We have a wedding to look forward to.

In the face of my mother’s disappointment, Kari seemed beyond uncomfortable. My protective instincts kicked in and I grabbed him into a hug, hoping to loosen him up. “Congrats. I’m happy for you. When?”

Leela answered looking at Kam. “We’re thinking about a traditional June wedding, and I would love for you and Aaron to be in the wedding. I think it was you two that convinced this man that marriage could be a good thing.”

Kam quickly placed her glass down on the table and cleared her throat.

Amused that Leela still couldn’t read Kam’s “fuck off” body language, I glanced at Kam with a smirk. “We would love to, right, Kam?”

My wife gave the weakest smile I’ve ever seen as sheanswered, “Sure.”

Bakari tugged on Leela’s sleeve and added, “Hey, no pressure. We don’t have to decide anything yet. The wedding is a few months away.”

While the three continued to speak, Ma beckoned me over. I headed to Ma to kiss her soft cheek and whispered, “Ma, get that frown off your face. Do like me and pretend at least for a little while. Guarantee he won’t go through with it.”

She looked up at me with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “You’ll make sure of it?”

“Have I ever let you down?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?”

I kissed the top of her fluffy hair. “On that note let me speak to Dad.”

Dad stood at the head of the table, talking to my uncle David, his younger brother.

Uncle David smiled. “Tell him that the Wizards have a good team this year.”

My dad will always be a Laker fan, even though he was born and raised on the East Coast.  Raising my hands up,  I said, “I’m too smart to argue with this man, Unc. You would be wise to keep your opinions and your money to yourself.”

Dad laughed. “My son is definitely smarter than his uncle.”

I patted my dad on his back. “Time for grace, Dad. The sooner we eat, the sooner we can catch the Lakers game.”

He nudged my uncle’s shoulder. “Yep, definitely smarter than you.” 

*****

During dinner, although I made sure to remain by her side and not spend time with my relatives, I noticed that Kam kept her attention focused on Kari and Leela. I leaned close to her ear. “Kam don’t worry about it. I don’t care for her either and I can’t see them getting married.” I spoke for her ears only. “Living here in DC, he’s going to meet another woman more suitable for him, and he’ll forget about her. She’s too caught up in her looks. I know him—he likes women who have beauty and brains.”

Kam cleared her throat and wiped her mouth and looked at me pointedly. “I’m not worried. We have bigger problems, like our own marriage right now.”

“That’s true.” I stared into her brown eyes, knowing what I needed to do to prove my desire to be a better man, a better husband. Wiping my own mouth and tossing my napkin on the plate, I stood and held her hand in mine. “Can I have your attention please?”

The room fell silent, and everyone turned their focus to me. “I need to say something to my wife, and I want all of you to hear. Okay, before I do, I want to say congratulations to my brother and his future bride, who recently got engaged. I wish them the best of luck.” I nodded my head in their direction where they sat across from us and next to Ma.

There were hand claps, cheers, and shouts of congrats as Leela beamed proudly while Kari barely smiled.

“I couldn’t be happier that Bakari will be moving back to DC. We haven’t always been close, but the older we get, the more we understand each other, and I look forward to having a better relationship with you.” I nodded again, meaning every word because I loved my brother. Kari seemed pleased by my words and held his glass of wine up toward me.

I then turned to look down at the beautiful caramel brown face of my wife. “What I want to say to Kameron, who will be married to me ten years on December fifteenth, is that I love you, and I’m sorry for all the things I’ve done over the years to make you doubt my love for you.” She smiled although the uncertainty of my intent shone brightly in her eyes. “I want to be honest with her, and I want to show her how serious I am about making a change. What better way to do so than to say this in front of my family?”

I looked at the faces of my family and continued, “We canceled our renewal ceremony in large part because she suspected I had been unfaithful to her. She left me because I wouldn’t tell her the truth—I had cheated on her. I figured she would just trust my word as she always has.”

They were gasps all around.

I looked back down at Kam, wishing I’d been honest as Kari told me to be years ago. I held back tears, at the reality that despite my best intentions, I could lose this woman who meant so much to me. Afraid I would break down in front of everyone, I shifted my focus back to my family. “I took her for granted, didn’t listen to her, or make her feel she mattered. I did whatever I wanted in our marriage, and because Kam is the woman she is, she allowed me to be me. But I didn’t give her that same space to be herself. She left me almost two weeks ago, and I can barely function. I landed one of the biggest deals I ever have the other day, but it didn’t matter because my wife wasn’t there for me to share my good news. I watched her today and saw how much she fits in with my family. I can’t believe how I could be such an idiot and let this beautiful, intelligent, caring woman slip through my hands. We all love her, dearly.”

There were murmurs of agreement all around me, and one of my aunts wiped her eyes. I was too afraid to look at either of my parents whose love was so pure that they had been so disappointed when they found that I’d cheated on Kam with Vonni. They probably hated that I confessed my sins to the family and shattered the image of the perfect couple that Kam and I probably appeared to be to the family. But I no longer cared about my image and pretending to be the couple we weren’t. I wanted us to be real, accepting of our flaws. Kam and I were damaged, and I hoped like hell, my confession was a start, and we could become whole again.

“I can’t believe I messed us up like this. She did nothing wrong except love me the way I deserved, and I didn’t return the love in kind. I’m telling all the people I love most in the world that from this day forward—if she gives me another chance—I will be the husband I should have been all of these years. My parents were a good example that I didn’t follow.” I finally looked at them both as they silently stared at me, expressions unreadable. Not to be perturbed by them, I turned to Kam, the only one whose opinion mattered to me anyway. “Kam, I’m not asking you to say or do anything right now. I’m not trying to put you on the spot, because I know you’re hating this moment. I just wanted to show you that I’m done with all the lies. I know you don’t trust me, and you have every right. But I will do whatever it takes for you to believe in me again.”

Tears streamed down her face and I bent down to kiss her sweet lips and my heart swelled with relief when she kissed me back. She held tight to my hand when I sat back down next to her. My family nearest to Kam and I patted us on the shoulders while catcalls and whistles were thrown at us along with wishes of good luck.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Bakari said, breaking into the moment. “Ma, I can’t do it.”

I turned stunned eyes to him. What is he about to do?

Bakari,” Ma warned.

“You done with lying? Is that what you just told all of us?” Kari asked with a raised voice so that he was heard over the family noise. He still sat but his fists were balled on top of the table.

My whole body grew tense at the anger so tangible it practically spewed from his pores. Warily, I responded, “Yeah. I’m done.”

“You still lying, bruh.” He sneered at me. “You make this big, shocking announcement, and I’m thinking that finally you’re going to tell her the truth.”

I stared at my brother wondering what the fuck he was trying to do. I had told the truth and I planned to tell her about Dominick later tonight. So why the fuck is he so pissed?

“What is he talking about?” Kam asked me with worried eyes.

“I told you the truth.” I glared at Kari as I answered Kam, in disbelief that this motherfucker wanted me to tell her about Dominick in front of everyone. She’d just accepted my apology and now he was ruining it because he hated that life seemed to work out for me.

“Tell her, or I will,” Kari threatened.

Old resentments resurfaced as I snarled, “Kari, always hating to be second best. Can’t stand to let me shine. Trying to throw shade where they ain’t none.”

Kari averted his gaze to Kam. “Ask him to tell you about Dominick.”

“No, not this way,” Ma cried out and my stomach dropped painfully.

Kari pleaded with my mother. Ma, we can’t keep lying for him. We tell Kam we love her, but we keep lying to her for him. He started it by telling all of us how there are no more lies. It’s time.”

I couldn’t believe my brother thought he had the right to tell my wife anything that I shared with him. He had the audacity to even say my son’s name out loud to my wife. I don’t give a good fuck, that he thought I should have told Kam years ago. It was my secret to tell. My cross to bear. And no matter what I said, Kam would never believe I planned to tell her later tonight when she and I were alone. She would think that I had no intention of ever telling her about my son.

“Who’s Dominick?” Kam tugged on my hand that gripped hers. She seemed so scared, that the truth would somehow destroy her. And I couldn’t do anything to comfort her because the truth the way that Kari chose to reveal it, could destroy her. Destroy us. The room had become silent again, but this time, a sense of foreboding prevailed. That this time the confession wouldn’t end in happy tears and forgiveness.

My eyes begged Kam for understanding before my fury returned when I stared at my brother who looked back at me with righteous indignation like he didn’t have a secret that he didn’t want others to know. I shook my head hating him, wanting to hurt him as he’d just hurt me. “I don’t know why I ever thought I could confide in you, trust you with my secrets. Tried to give you the benefit of the doubt because of your issues. Ma and Daddy were always so careful with you, scared that you couldn’t handle shit.”

“Tell her who Dominick is, Aaron,” Kari continued, though his eyes darted away from my unrelenting gaze.

“No secrets, huh? We’re telling the truth, right?” I’d become the calm before the storm uncaring who got damaged in my wrath as I smiled at Leela. “Leela, did your new fiancé ever tell you he has mental issues? Huh? You know, he gets so fucking depressed he disappears?”

“Please, Aaron.” Kam squeezed my hand. “Just tell me the truth.”

I dropped her hand, unwilling to retreat. Kari started the war and I refused to surrender. “I’m still waiting to hear if Leela knows ‘the truth’ about the man she’s about to marry. Shouldn’t she know everything about him, Ma?” I glanced at my mother whose eyes were sad before I returned my focus to Kari. “Did you tell her what happened when you were sixteen? Huh?”

“Stop it!” Ma yelled. “Stop it now! This is my house!”

Kari closed his eyes for a long moment before he opened them again. “Who is Dominick?” His voice trembled with emotion.

I taunted, “Yeah, you’re right, I should finally say something to Kam. I see your voice is already shaking. I better hurry. Is all of this getting to you? Is this too much? Are you going to try to hang yourself again like you did when you were sixteen? Wait… is that the only time? I mean, we only see you every other year, so—”

Kari jumped up, seething. He leaned across the table. “Fuck you!”

Game over. I slowly rose from my chair, determined to act unfazed. “Just telling the truth, bro.”

Kari began to curse me and call me vile names, and in my rage, I can’t recall anything I said to him in return. My mother stood in front of Kari trying to hold on to him, trying to calm him. Jamal jumped in front of me, demanding I shut up. Nothing no one could say could stop this release of pent up animosity, jealousy, and sibling rivalry as we continued to hurl insults at one another.

Except for my father.

“Enough!” My father thundered. His booming, paternal voice scared Kari and me into immediate submission. He’d always had that effect on us.

He stormed over to me and I took a step back almost involuntarily. “How dare you talk to your brother that way? I have never been more ashamed of you. You sit here making this announcement about truth but still won’t tell your wife that you have a son who is almost ten years old. We all allowed you to hide Dominick from Kameron, and I will always regret that we let you keep up the lie. Then you have the audacity to be mad when Kari forces your hand and use his past— something that nearly destroyed him, me, and your mother—to get back at him. You should be thanking Bakari for helping to take care of and be there for your son. Instead, you act an ass.”

My father’s admonishment directed only at me and the insinuation that Kari cared for my child more than me, infuriated me even more. Kari and I were both wrong tonight and as usual, only I received the blame. “I take care of my son, and I love him,” I finally admitted with a mix of pride and anger. “Once again, you take up for Kari, even though he ruined our dinner. And believe it or not, what he did when he was sixteen nearly destroyed me too.” I wanted to add that I was the one, not my mother, who fucking walked in on him as he stood on that damn chair and tried to put the other end of the belt around the ceiling fan, leaving unseen scars that could never be healed. Scars that made me frightened of my own emotions. Instead, I simply left Thanksgiving dinner without another word unable to handle seeing the utter disappointment on Kam’s face.

I jumped in my car and sped off, simultaneously beating myself up for allowing my anger to go too far by drudging up one of the most horrible days of our family’s life and for leaving Kam alone to deal with the aftermath of my behavior. How could I win back my wife with what I just did? I yelled in frustration and hit my steering wheel. Why did Kari have to push me so far? Why couldn’t he have pulled me to the side later and tell me how he felt then I could have told him that I had every intention of telling Kam about Dominick tonight. Before he said anything, I could tell in her eyes that she was willing to forgive me and start anew. Now I can’t impossibly imagine how she feels and then caught up in my anger, I fucking left her like she didn’t matter. FUCK!

I looked in my rearview mirror and drove across all three lanes to immediately get off the exit. I had to get back to her and beg for forgiveness. I had to get her to believe that we could get through this together. As I made the loop and entered the highway again, driving back to my parents’ home, my mother called. I pressed the button on my steering wheel.

“Ma, I know I fu…messed up. I’m on my way back to fix this. I…”

“Aaron!”

My heart fluttered at the panic in her normally soothing and peaceful voice.

“We don’t have time for apologies. Get your selfish behind to Memorial Hospital. I’m in an ambulance with Kam.”

“What?” I swerved and almost hit the car in the next lane. “What happened?”

“She fainted not long after you left. Your father said she’ll be fine, but we called the ambulance to be on the safe side. Just get to the hospital. You need to be there when she wakes up.”

I defended. “You’re saying that like I don’t want to be there like I’m not already on my way.”

Ma spoke sternly, “You did walk away without so much as a goodbye, too caught up in your own self to make sure Kam was okay. So, no I don’t know if you have the common sense to be at the hospital when she wakes up.”

“Ma, I don’t need this right now. I’m on my way.” I clicked off the cell and sped to the hospital, praying that after all had been said and done, it wasn’t too late for us.

*****

Present-day.

Little did I know that at that time, she’d already loved someone else. She loved my brother and he hated that she was falling for me again. Anyone that night could see that she’d taken the first steps in forgiving me. And Kari saw it too and he did the only thing he could do to stop her from coming back to me. He told her about Dominick, destroying any chance that she would truly be able to trust me again.

As I rose out of the car, wordlessly I enveloped my former wife within my arms. My stomach clenched at the familiar scent of the coconut oil in her hair. She laid her head on my chest and I closed my eyes, holding her even tighter. We remained locked in a timeless embrace and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was still disappointed in me. And if she ever regretted leaving me. 

Chapter 10

Vonni whispered against my lips, “You’re still the sexiest man I’ve ever been with. It’s been so long since we’re both been single. I just want to fuck you so bad. No need to hide, feel guilty, or rush.”

I sucked on her tongue, my hands drifting underneath her coat, feeling her naked, round flesh, and teased, “Technically, one of us is single.”

“Semantics, I need some dick. And I haven’t had good dick in a very long time.”

“Mm…so you think my dick still good?” Smiling, I slowly unbuttoned the five clasps and opened her coat wide. Yep. She was completely naked underneath except, the black high heels. Her body fuller, curvier, sexier because of the two babies she carried. “And you’re still fine as fuck. You were my weakness for so long.”

Vonni pressed her supple body against mine. “And you were mine.”

Pushing the coat off her shoulders until the material pooled around her heels, I grabbed her ample bottom and lifted her up, wrapping her legs around me, and carried her to the bed. I laid her down and hovered over her, wondering if maybe Vonni had been the one for me all this time. She had my son, and he would be my only seed. Maybe that meant something. Maybe we were meant to be, and I got caught up in who she was at the time and not who she would become. I pushed back her braids so I could see her face and smiled. “Hey.”

Her plump, red-stained lips curved displaying her one deep dimple. “Hey.”

Lowering my head, I kissed her slowly, thoroughly, sensuously, savoring her mouth. Her arms circled my neck, and she caressed the back of my head, giving me her tongue willingly. My hands slid down the sides of her body, to press her ass into my erection. I kissed down her neck, licking and tasting her sweet skin, encouraged by her moans and pleasure-driven writhing underneath my tongue as I traveled down her body. I cupped her heavy breasts, first indulging on one stiff nipple and then the other while my finger dived in and out of her dripping, slick mound, readying her for my carnal invasion. I needed to fuck impossibly hard and I had to make sure she was ready to receive what I needed to give without hurting her. When she started gyrating against my hand and groaning loudly, I reached for my wallet on the bedside table.

Her eyes drowsy with pleasure, she stopped my hand. “No. Let’s not use anything.”

I smiled and kissed her swiftly but deeply before answering, “Tonight, is about missing and needing each other and I want to protect you. If we decide to really do us again, then we can be raw with each other.”

She nodded though I saw a flash of sadness in her eyes. Wanting the passion to flow and not ebb away from us, I quickly donned the condom and raised her hands above her head with one hand and, lifted her ass with the other as I penetrated her wet walls completely and forcefully. Slamming into her over and over, the only noises were our animalistic, guttural groans and our bodies slapping against each other. I held Vonni’s wrists tight against the headboard, rendering her immobile, as she kept her legs strong and open despite my powerful thrusts, giving me free rein to use her body. I fucked and fucked until all the pent-up emotion I had inside since I first heard Kari’s voice earlier burst from within me.  Seconds after I yelled out in ecstasy, Vonni cried out my name.  Instead of collapsing on top of her, I rolled us over so she can lay her naked body on top of mine. I placed soft kisses on her face thanking her for knowing exactly what I needed until she soon fell asleep with a satisfied smile. I stayed awake long after her, wondering if I would ever be as content with her as she had always been with me.

****

Vonni prepared a celebratory dinner at her home in honor of Dominick’s victory. Although he finally lost in the Finals, he would now be ranked sixth in the county in his division of tennis. Vonni’s parents and sister and her family joined us at her home for a home-cooked meal. I grilled steaks and chicken in her backyard. Vonni made potato salad, mac and cheese, and green bean casserole. Her sister brought desserts. Kari handled drinks for the adults and the children and kept the children entertained by playing video games in the living room. All in all, it had been a wonderful day of tennis, family and without the presence of Vonni’s estranged husband, her family treated me like I was her man. Once they realized that I was committed to being a father to their grandson despite my marriage to another woman, I’d had a good relationship with her parents.  And since everyone knew about my divorce, subtle comments, and hints about us finally becoming official, abound.

Kari and I had been polite yet distant which hadn’t gone unnoticed by Vonni. We were in the kitchen cleaning after her family had gone home. Kari had taken Dom and Dallas to get ice cream. She had been surprised when I offered to help her clean the kitchen since I’d notoriously eschewed household duties most of my life. Having a housekeeper during my childhood and an ex-wife who loved cleaning, practically ruined me for being any good to a woman who expected her man to help around the home.

Vonni wrapped her arms around my waist and rested her head on my back while I washed the dishes. “Mm…I love whenever you visit, I just feel safer. Even when I’ve been with other men, including my husband, no one makes me feel as safe as you.”

Hands still in the sink water, I twisted to kiss her cheek. “So why did you and Phil separate?” I straightened back up to finish the dishes. After we had sex, we’d woke up in the wee hours of the morning, showered together, and I followed her back to the house. We hadn’t talked about a possible future or much of anything, but we had been touching each other and sneaking hopeful glances all day.

She lifted my sweater to kiss my back and though she lowered my sweater, she kept her hand underneath gently rubbing my stomach. “Why did you and Kam?”

“Answer me first.” I debated whether to tell her now or later, but I would tell her the truth of what went down with my marriage. Especially if we were going to start seeing each other again.

“I got tired of doing everything alone. He kept losing jobs and I had to stay on him about finding another one. He had absolutely no ambition but plenty of pipe dreams. He fooled me with his dreams into marriage. And though he didn’t drink often, when he did, he made me uncomfortable, because he could be mean. I’d already dealt with a man who laid hands on me before, I wasn’t doing it again, especially not with my husband.”

I placed the plate I’d been drying down on the counter. “Wait, what the fuck happened? Some man used to lay hands on you?”

Vonni tapped my stomach. “Aaron it was years ago. I was dating this guy. He was before Phillip and after you. The guy had too much to drink. We’d already been having issues and we got into argument about his baby’s mama. It got heated and he hit me in the stomach hard, and I fell against the wall, causing the mirror to fall and shatter. Kari was in town and he had taken Dominick for the weekend. Well, he happened to stop by to pick up Dom’s jacket and he heard the noise. He rushed in and knocked the guy out with one punch because he was drunk. Kari asked if I wanted to call the police. I told him I didn’t because I was done with that guy anyway. Kari told me to pack an overnight bag and take Dom and go by my mother’s and he would handle the bastard. All I know is the next afternoon, Kari told me to meet him at my house and I’ve never seen or heard from that man since.”

I pulled her next to me so I can see her face. “Why didn’t I ever hear about this?”

She glared. “You were in D.C enjoying marital bliss. I asked Kari not to tell you.”

“So did this guy abuse you?” I demanded, “Answer me, did my son witness you getting smacked around?”

Vonni snorted, “Your son? What about me? You don’t care if I used to get hit as long as Dom didn’t see?”

I waved my hand dismissively. “So, he did abuse you. Did you date other men who abused you? Did Phillip ever hurt you? Dom and Dallas shouldn’t have been exposed to that.”

She threw the dishcloth in the sink water. “You really don’t care what happens to me.”

I protested, “I do care. But you’re a grown woman, and if you’re stupid –“

Vonni’s head jerked back. “Stupid? Are you calling me stupid?”

I dried my hands using a nearby napkin. “If you stay with a fucking abuser, when you’re more than capable of taking care of yourself, then I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to call it.”

She jabbed her finger in my face. “Fuck you.”

Moving her finger away from my face, I continued, “Fuck me? For what? Because I call it like I see it. You can fuck around with your life but not with your children, especially my child.”

Vonni yelled, “Damn, Aaron. I wasn’t abused by anyone okay? That was the only time with that guy. Phil and I had crazy arguments and I’ve thrown things at him, but he never put one hand on me. I left him because he couldn’t get his shit together and I can do bad by my damn self.”

I frowned. “Then why are we arguing?”

She folded her arms. “Because you just made it clear, your concern wasn’t for me.”

I lifted her chin. “You are my concern, but Dom is a child and my concern for him will always be stronger until he’s grown. I can’t have my child in a fucked-up environment because of the men you choose to date.”

Vonni’s voice began to quiver and she removed my hand. “You can be so self-righteous. You left me here in Tallahassee all alone to raise your son and have the nerve to judge me like you never made any mistakes.”

Kari came into the kitchen. “Hey, what’s going on? I can hear you as soon as we walked up. I told the kids to go to Dom’s room and play video games.”

Annoyed that I’d managed to piss off Vonni, I accused, “How come you never told me what happened that time Vonni’s man tried to attack her? I thought you didn’t keep secrets?”

He moved closer, pleading expression. “Nothing happened okay or will ever happen. She was just confused.”

I looked at Vonni whose expression changed from anger to fear. “Confused about what?”

“Shit.” Kari stepped back. “I thought you were arguing about…about…”

Vonni hugged herself and looked away.

I addressed Kari. “What did you think we were arguing about?”

He turned worried eyes to Vonni and then back at me. “It meant nothing. She was grateful that I got rid of that guy and…she tried to kiss me.” At my thunderous expression, Kari continued in a rush, “I moved my head before she could, and she apologized multiple times. We were both embarrassed and promised never to speak of it again because nothing happened.”

Vonni took my hand and held it against her heart. “I was vulnerable, and I’d been lonely because you were living in another city with Kam, barely taking my calls. As soon as I did it, I regretted it and I apologized and begged Kari to not tell you. I thought maybe he finally did, which is why you were angry with him.”

I snatched my hand. “No, I’m just pissed because you’re the second woman who can’t seem to stay away from Kari. I’m out of here.” I shook my head at Vonni and sneered, “I can’t do this shit again. I need to say goodbye to Dominick.”

She grabbed my arm. “Wait, Aaron. I only want and love you. Always and you know that. Kari reminded me of you and how you would’ve handled that man the same way. I was missing you like crazy. It was years ago.” I shrugged her arm away.

Kari moved out of the doorway, silently as I strode toward him. She tried to snatch my wrist, but I jerked it back. “I’m not going to fight Kari again, I’m telling my son, bye.”

From behind me, she asked nervously, “What do you mean by ‘fight’ him again and I’m ‘the second woman’?”

I stopped in front of Kari whose eye contact never wavered from mine, whose hands rested by his side though I knew he would defend himself if needed. I looked at him and then over my shoulder at Vonni. “Ask Kari who his new woman and soon to be wife, if they’re not already married, is?”

Kari shook his head, his forehead deeply furrowed with lines. “Not like this Aaron.”

“Like what then? Huh? Truth is truth, right? I never told the truth to Kam for years, right? Well, I’m about, to tell the truth to Vonni just like you told Kam at Thanksgiving about my son.” I looked at Vonni dispassionately. “Kari and Kam had an affair while Kam and I were still married. She left me for him. So, you can understand why I can’t trust it when you say, you want only me.” Vonni’s face crumpled into first disbelief and then she burst into tears while I brushed past Kari angrily.

He called, “Aaron. Come on, don’t leave like this. We had a good day, and nothing has to change between you and Vonni.”

I didn’t bother to look at him and said with barely veiled contempt, “Don’t be here when I leave out of my son’s room.”

I strode down the hall and opened the door to my son and his sister yelling playfully at the game. Dominick’s wide smile immediately changed into a frown when he noticed me. “Daddy?” He immediately dropped his controller and rushed to me.

I hugged him and rubbed his head. “I have to go, I’m too angry right now to stay. But I’ll call you tomorrow. And I want to spend spring break with you. Just you and me, wherever you want to go, okay?”

“Daddy, what’s wrong? Is it Uncle Kari?”

I breathed impatiently. “It’s okay, Dom. I need to go, okay?”

Dominick held on to my waist tight and looked at me. In a couple of years, he would be my height. “Can I go with you?”

I shut my eyes to his quiet request. He’d stopped asking me that years ago because his mother would get visibly upset anytime he asked. He thought it was because she was too attached to him. I knew it was because she couldn’t fathom the thought of me and Kam raising him. I grabbed his shoulders. “If you want to live with me, say the word and I’ll make it happen. You are not responsible for your mother. She’s a grown woman. You’re still a child and I would love nothing more than for you to live with me. But right now, you need to stay here with your mother, continue being the strong, young man you’ve always been. I’ll be back soon, or I’ll fly you in to see me. Whatever you decide. But I need to go right now.”

His eyes threatened tears.

“Have I ever made a promise to you I didn’t keep?”

Dominick shook his head. “No, sir.”

“And it won’t start today.”

I kissed his forehead and reached for Dallas to join us in a hug. She scrambled up and her small arms encircled me along with her big brother. “Love you.”

Dominick said quietly, “Love you.”

Dallas chimed in, “I love you more, Mr. Aaron.”

I smiled and backed from the embrace. “Call you tomorrow, okay?”

He nodded and sat back down on his bed and picked up his controller. Shoulders and back straight, he didn’t look my way again, used to biding me goodbye over the years. I stood for a moment watching my son patiently play the videogame with his sister, who obviously had difficulty understanding the game. Their age gap was about the same as me and Kari. I rarely showed the same kind regard and patience when we were children. Maybe I wouldn’t be fleeing from Vonni and Kari right now if I did.

The living area was empty, and I could hear Vonni in her bedroom crying. Kari was gone. I closed the front door behind me, unsure if I was closing yet another door on a relationship with a woman who loved me.

*****

The early chirps of birds greeting the sun drifted into my consciousness. I slowly opened my eyes weakened by the blinding light and I shifted in my seat. It was Sunday morning, and I had no idea if Tisha would be home or if she would be home alone, but I needed to see her. She had become my calm, my comfort, my compass. After the emotionally wrought weekend I just had, I needed peace that I struggled to find on my own. So, I drove four hours to Atlanta from Tallahassee and had been asleep in the parking lot of her apartment complex for the last three hours.

Tisha and I hadn’t spoken in over a month and she had tried to reach out a few times and I ignored her still trying to sort through my emotions. I hadn’t seen her in person since the day after we had sex and she may hate that I showed up on her doorstep unannounced. Tisha may curse me or punch the shit out of me, but I didn’t care. I would beg for forgiveness, stop making sexual comments, and innuendos with her, keep it at a friendship level, whatever she needed from me to be in my life again. I just wanted no… I needed my friend back.

I picked up my cell to text Tisha and suddenly there was a tap on my window. If I were a woman, I would have screamed bloody murder the noise in the quiet morning shocked me so badly. I turned prepared to explain to security why I slept in my car and my already rapidly beating heart caught in my throat. I saw the ends of her curly hair against her pink sweater first before she leaned down to give me a gentle, warm smile. Happy to see me.

Only metal and glass stood between me and Kameron Patterson. My Kam. My first love. My wife. And for so long… my life. 

***Whew…Chapter 10 was another intense chapter***

What do you think so far?

Chapter 9

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…

Unforgettable Man is Live

It’s here!!! Unforgettable Man!! Now Available!!!

BLURB

Every Queen needs her King…Prominent and successful attorney Devin Toussaint has notoriously had more than his fair share of women. Healed from his very public and painful divorce and now a better man, Devin has his mind set on the gorgeous Royalty, the only woman who has ever tamed his wandering heart.

Royalty James has it all—a successful career, a brilliant son, and is dating a good man. The only thing missing is an all-consuming passionate love, which she once had with one man. A man who still has the power to set her body and soul aflame with a simple touch. Devin Toussaint, a man who could destroy her once he discovers that her son is also his.

As he slowly melts her defenses and they grow impossibly deeper in love, Royalty wonders if Devin will forgive her and if their flame will continue to burn hot, or smolder into embers once he learns the truth.

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Chapter 8

“Dad, did you get the paperwork for my passport? Mama can’t do the application without your approval,” Dominick reminded during our usual twice-weekly phone call.

I rubbed my head thinking I needed a haircut, as I sat back in my leather chair at my home office. “I thought you were waiting until I came to town to complete everything?” My son had just turned twelve and he’d traveled with his other grandparents to Disneyworld, so I hadn’t seen him since the Christmas holidays and looked forward to seeing him.

“That’s two weeks away.”

“And plenty of time to get your passport. You’re not going to South Africa for two months. Relax.” Dominick would be going with classmates on a special trip abroad with his seventh-grade class in May. I’d wanted to go with him, but only one parent could attend and Vonni volunteered.

He urged, “This trip is important.”

I acknowledged, “I know that, but we have time.”

“What if you can’t visit in two weeks?”

“Dominick…” I warned. “I’ll be there.”

“Even if Uncle Kari is here?”

I straightened in my chair. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He plans to come to my tournament too.”

I cursed under my breath. Of course, Dominick would invite his uncle. “You still didn’t answer why you think I won’t be there if Uncle Kari is there? Did he say something to you?”

“No. But you don’t talk about him and he asks about you like you and he doesn’t speak. I thought maybe you got into an argument.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Well, I miss spending time with both of you at the same time. The three of us were supposed to go paintball and that was when I was ten.”

“You and I can go paintball when I see you.”

“With Uncle Kari too?”

“He may not be able to make it.” I wasn’t ready to see Kari yet and I should’ve realized that Kari would travel to see Dominick in the tournament. He had always been a good uncle, taking time out of his busy schedule to travel to Tallahassee to spend time with his nephew. From our conversations I’d known that Kari remained in touch with my son, even visiting him a few times since Atlanta was only a four-hour drive from Tallahassee. I would listen quietly as Dominick told me about the fun time, he’d had with his uncle. I waited with bated breath, at one point would Kari tell Dominick about his daughter or Kam. As far as I could tell he hadn’t.

“He’s going to make it. I just talked to him earlier today.”

My pulse quickened. “Did you? What did he say?”

“He said he would be here and asked if you would be here too. I think he wants to apologize, and you should accept it.”

I didn’t respond.

“Daddy, as much as Dallas annoys me, I’m always her big brother,” he said proudly.

Vonni had gotten married and had a daughter when Dominick had turned six. Shortly after, Kari finally told my parents about Dominick. I remember feeling relief more than anger at Kari for doing so. Ironically, I’d felt the same way when he yelled that I had a child at that embarrassing Thanksgiving dinner in which I’d been decidedly a low human being for throwing my brother’s painful suicidal attempt in his face. Although I hated how it all went down, I’d been relieved it was finally out in the open. I thought Kari did it out of frustration that I’d kept Kam in the dark, when the heart of the matter is that he couldn’t stand that Kam and I were trying to work out our issues. He wanted to destroy us, and he did.

“I hope you always feel that way about your sister, but some things are hard to forgive. And how do you know it’s something that he did to me?”

“Because he asks about you all the time and you never ask about him. Should I be mad with him too?”

Slinking down in my chair, I tapped the ends of my mahogany desk. “No, Kari hurt me but I’m glad that he’s still in your life and that’ll never change. He loves you as much as I do. Whatever is between us isn’t going to affect how we feel about you, and you shouldn’t treat your uncle any different, okay?”

“I haven’t been, and I won’t.” He paused before adding, “So paintball with Uncle Kari?”

“We’ll see,” I answered noncommittally. I had no intention of doing paintball with Kari and I damn sure didn’t want to spend a weekend let alone a day with him. “I have a meeting, call you tomorrow? Make sure you study your French. Your mama told me you barely passed your last test.”

“I got it under control, she didn’t have to tell you anything.” He sounded annoyed.

“Yes, she did. We expect great things because we both know you can do anything you put your mind to. I won’t tolerate failure without a lack of trying,” I said, sounding more like my father than I ever thought I would. I then took a breath and softened my tone. “Look, no extra pressure, just know that I want to know everything concerning you. I’ve always hated that we lived in two different cities. And if I didn’t think your mother would literally die, I would have you live with me.”

“Now that you’re divorced or always?” He and Vonni knew I was divorced but not the details.

“I’ve always wanted you with me,” I said truthfully. I did want him and maybe I would have been honest with Kam if I thought there was a remote chance in hell that Vonni would have given me custody. She had been fiercely protective over Dominick and had been an awesome mother, a better mother than I thought she would be. Most of our arguments were about her bitterness toward Kam who she believed refused to acknowledge Dominick. Even when I told her that she still didn’t know about my son, she thought I was lying and protecting Kam. We’d finally resolved that we wouldn’t talk about our lives outside of Dominick and rarely did we disagree about decisions she’d made about our son. “Maybe she’ll let you spend your high school years with me.”

“I would’ve loved that so I can see Nanee and Grandpa all the time, too.”

“Maybe your mama will let me. I can talk to her and give her time to adjust to the idea since it’s two years away.”

“No, Daddy. I can’t live with you now. Mama needs me since Mr. Philip moved out.” Mr. Philip was Vonni’s husband for the past six years. I’d never particularly cared for him, he seemed too dependent on a woman to take care of him. He’d moved into Vonni’s home and he didn’t elevate her living condition going from job to job. He’d always been cordial and friendly toward me and Dominick, so I held my peace since he was Vonni’s problem and not mine.

“When did that happen?”

“It’s none of your business,” Vonni retorted. She must have taken the phone from Dominick.

“Hey, I didn’t ask him to tell me anything. I don’t ask about your personal life if it doesn’t impact Dom.” I paused a beat, unable to resist. “So, what happened? I thought you two were in marital bliss.”

She snorted. “I’d rather not talk about it, just like you won’t tell me what went down between you and your precious Kam.” I heard a door close and she whispered, “Unless you want to tell me now since we both have failed marriages. Dom is in another room.”

I leaned back in my chair, contemplating whether to tell her everything. I’d known Vonni longer than any other woman because of our son and believed I could confide in her. Then again, I believed the same about Kari. “Maybe when I come to town, we can talk more. We haven’t just had a moment to talk in years.”

Vonni responded softly, “I would like that.”

My dick stirred at the tone in her voice that I hadn’t heard since I cut off the sexual part of our relationship years ago. I could tell she’d never stopped loving me, even after she started dating and married Philip. Vonni would find opportunities to touch my arm or my waist and her expression would always soften when she looked at me when her husband wasn’t around. It’s why as much as she threatened to tell Kam about Dom, she never did because she didn’t want to hurt me that way. I wasn’t sure getting involved again with Vonni was a good idea now that we were both uncoupled. She could be manipulative and hateful, but we were older now and I had broken her heart. “Okay, maybe we can talk after dinner when I’m there or something. You good? Do you need any money?”

“I could use some help with the mortgage, but I can manage. I’d been paying for most of the bills anyway for years,” she said with irritation.

“I’ll put two thousand in your account extra once we get off the phone.”

“Aaron…I don’t want you to think you have to take care of me, now. You’ve been more than fair with Dom.” Surprisingly, having Dominick motivated Vonni to return to school and finish her degree in nursing. She’d wanted to better provide for him and had been doing well with her job at one of the local hospitals.

“I know I don’t have to take care of you now, just giving you some help. You’ve been a good mother to my son.”

“Why you have to be so arrogant? Your son? I carried his heavy butt for nine months,” she teased.   

I bragged. “He’s my son and a Youngblood.”

Without the usual sarcasm whenever she mentioned my family, Vonni added, “You and your family are like a black Dynasty.”

“Better recognize.”

She giggled. “Speaking of fam, your brother is coming to the tournament with us.”

I sighed. “I know and I don’t like it.”

“I figured something is up between you too. Whatever it is you need to squash it. Dom and I were devastated when we thought he’d been killed. It’s a miracle he’s alive so whatever it is, can’t be worth not talking to him.”

“I’m glad he’s alive like everyone else but —”

“—But nothing Aaron. Work it out. He’s your brother and he’s always had your back.”

Bristling at her belief that Kari would never hurt me, I snapped, “Alright, I got to go. I’ll put the money in your account and see you in a couple of weeks.”

She paused on her end, before she reluctantly said, “Bye, Aaron.”

As soon as I clicked off the phone, I texted Kari.

Skip the tournament. Visit Dominick another weekend.

He must have been on his phone because he immediately responded.

Not happening. I can’t disappoint him.

He’ll get over it.

He invited me.

I appreciate that you still in his life and I won’t ever come in between you and him. But I don’t want you there.

You already coming in between us. I just told him I would be there, and I can’t lie to him. I’m not letting Dom down because you can’t get past what happened. He doesn’t even know he has a cousin because I’ve been trying to be respectful of your feelings. Our parents missed out on six years of Dom’s life. I don’t want my daughter to miss out on knowing Dom or you.

I shut my eyes, heart aching at him discussing his daughter, who Kam named Kari when we thought Kari had been killed. I’d been there by Kam’s side when she brought her into the world, and I’d looked forward to being an uncle. I didn’t want Dominick to miss out on knowing his beautiful baby cousin either and I missed baby Kari, too. Why couldn’t my brother have chosen another woman? I can accept that Kam no longer wanted to be married to me, but to have a constant reminder of how I fucked up my marriage to a woman I really did love was too damn hard.

I texted.

Fucking stay home.

Fuck you.

That’s what you did when you took my wife.

Kari texted back after a couple of minutes had passed.

Fine Aaron. I won’t go.

Thank you.

After I hit send. I toyed with calling Tisha and decided not to. It’d been more than two weeks since we’d spoken, and I’d been miserable without her raspy voice. I wanted her advice on how to handle Kam and Kari and the baby. I recognized I’d fallen in the same pattern of avoiding the truth at all costs. I just didn’t know how to break that habit without falling apart. I had to keep control of my emotions. I had to. And all Tisha would do is remind me that I was still being selfish.

****

When I pulled into the driveway of Vonni’s home, Dominick opened the door with the widest gap-toothed smile so like mine and hurried to my car. Joy spread through my core at the only constant in my life, the love I have for my son. He would be a much better man than me and I could see it in his patient and kind regard to everyone he met. I stepped out of the car and grabbed him in a chokehold playfully. “Can you break loose?”

He struggled, though I held fast. I’d been doing this with him since he was five, looking forward to the day he would be strong enough to win. Every time he grew stronger and I had to fight harder to hold on to him.

I heard Vonni’s soft voice that always reminded me of a girl instead of a woman. “When are you going to stop tussling with that boy? One day you’re going to hurt him.”

“No, he won’t.” Dominick panted and he fought harder determined to break free.

“Did Aaron used to do that to you?” she asked someone.

“Yeah, and he won’t hurt him.”

I looked up at the sound of Kari’s voice. And Dominick used the slackness in my body to slide out of my arms. I slumped against my car as Dominick jumped around in victory. Bakari Youngblood, my younger brother who invoked so many painful emotions, stood at the door with his hands in his jean pockets with a half-smile. “Hey, Ron Ron.”

Barely nodding my head in acknowledgement, I wondered why through the swirl of my emotions, I detected an overwhelming sense of relief rather than the anger I expected at seeing my brother again.

Unforgettable Man Pre-Order Link

Release Date: 11-12-20

Every Queen needs her King…

Prominent and successful attorney Devin Toussaint has notoriously had more than his fair share of women. Healed from his very public and painful divorce and now a better man, Devin has his mind set on the gorgeous Royalty, the only woman who has ever tamed his wandering heart.

Royalty James has it all—a successful career, a brilliant son, and is dating a good man. The only thing missing is an all-consuming passionate love, which she once had with one man. A man who still has the power to set her body and soul aflame with a simple touch. Devin Toussaint, a man who could destroy her once he discovers that her son is also his.

As he slowly melts her defenses and they grow impossibly deeper in love, Royalty wonders if Devin will forgive her and if their flame will continue to burn hot, or smolder into embers once he learns the truth.

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