Kareem leaned back in his desk chair and took a deep breath. He had read Lena’s email five times already. Each time he read it, he heard it in her voice. It reminded him of the Lena that he had met almost eight years earlier. In a calm and professional manner, she informed him that she and the kids were not coming back to California. She didn’t mention divorce at all. She simply said that she would make sure that Evan’s tablet was on so that he could talk to him and see Terry whenever he wanted. She asked him to stop texting and calling her.
Kareem closed the email and picked up the phone. He called his mother first. “Hey, mom.”
“Did you talk to her?”
He sighed. “She sent me an email.”
“An email Kareem?”
“Yes. She won’t answer my calls and she leaves the room when I am talking to the kids.”
“What did the email say?”
“She is staying in Miami.”
“For how long?”
Kareem swallowed hard. “Forever.”
“Jesus Christ.” Annette sighed.
Kareem knew she was holding the phone away from her ear and shaking her head. “Mom…”
“Did she say she wanted a divorce?”
“Okay. So there is still a chance for you, not that you deserve one.”
“What does that mean?”
“Boy, I have told you several times…”
“That you would have had a lawyer contact me by now.”
“After I whipped your ass,” Annette yelled. “I don’t know what the hell you were thinking running around with that woman.”
“It only happened once, mom.”
“You knew her longer than one night. I am certain of that. Don’t lie to me. Just because you only slept with her once doesn’t mean y’all weren’t building up to it. Get your story straight before you try to come at Lena with that crap. It doesn’t work on me and surely won’t work on her.”
“Your Tantie and I both agree, you got Lena too easy and you hadn’t earned her.” Annette sighed. “Maybe she will give you another chance. Maybe she won’t. You have to decide how bad you want your family back.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Figure it out.” Annette paused sharply. “I have to go and help on the grill.”
“Is Mommy near you?”
“Yes, but she still does not want to talk to you.”
“I don’t know what else to tell you Kareem and now my pressure is up. I will talk to you tomorrow maybe.” Annette hung up the phone.
Kareem started to put his phone down but then decided to call Nathan. He was shocked when Nathan answered on the second ring. “I figured you still weren’t talking to me.”
“I wouldn’t be, honestly. I’m still sleeping on my couch because of your stupid ass.”
“Don’t you have a guest room?”
“Macie banned me from the guest room.”
Kareem wanted to laugh but didn’t want to piss Nathan off. He honestly did feel bad for how in the middle Nathan was. Kareem told him what was going on before Lena found out. Nathan warned him about the relationship and, after it crossed the line, kept telling him to break it off. “Man, I’m sorry.”
“Yup, you really are.” Nathan chuckled. “Macie just called me. Lena apparently is looking for a house and has transferred back to the Miami office of her company.”
“Yeah. I got an email.”
“Oh shit. An email?” Nathan got quiet for a moment and then laughed.
“What is so funny?”
“That is the Lena I know.”
“You and my mom are talking in code.”
“No, we aren’t. You are just slow as fuck.” Nathan paused. “What did Auntie say?”
Kareem repeated the conversation he had just had with his mother. “She won’t explain and Tantie still isn’t talking to me.”
“You don’t want Tantie to talk to you. Trust me. She spent a half-hour yelling at me last night.”
“Because you’re like a brother to me I am going to attempt to help you out. This time, you better damn sure listen.”
“Lena changed for you. She changed her entire life for you and all your dumb ass had to do was get her pregnant. You were complaining about her working so much but that is who she is. That was the only aspect of her that stayed the same after y’all got together. Thing is, your ass didn’t change at all. Pretty girl come through and catch your eye.”
“She filled a void.”
“For like five seconds. Now the void is as big as the Grand Canyon. How is that working out for you?”
Kareem shook his head.
“That’s what I thought. You and Lena got a lot of work to do. If you are lucky, she might be willing to put in the work.”
“You think so?”
“The Lena I know wouldn’t have bothered to email you. You would’ve had to just put two and two together.”
“Yeah, I was thinking that too.”
“So, you notice the change?”
Kareem thought for a moment. “I noticed that she isn’t who I thought she was.”
Nathan laughed. “She is exactly who you thought she was. You’re about to be well acquainted with Lena.”
“I hope so.”
Nathan sighed. “Give her some space but not too much. If she decides to keep you around, you’re going to have to win her.”
“I want her back.”
“Knucklehead, you never had her. You had the Lena she tried to be to make it work. She was wrong for that but you were far worse. Never forget you fucked up way more than her not being herself.”
“I know. I know.”
“Always think in your head that she was too angry to kill you.” Nathan sighed. “My wife would have killed me.”
Lena woke up to her phone buzzing next to her on the pillow. She looked at the picture and saw it was Eric.
“Why are you calling me so early?”
“That is early for you.”
“Tell me about it.” He sighed. “Come let me in and don’t kill me when you do.”
Lena huffed and got out of bed. Terry and Evan were taking up most of her brand new, king-sized bed. It took her two weeks to find a house that she liked and was relatively move-in ready. Her father lent her twenty thousand dollars from his retirement fund so that she could buy the house without touching her savings. He said he had no plans to retire and he wanted her to have that money to make changes and take care of his grandkids. Lena lucked up and found a house in Macie’s neighborhood. It was a three-bedroom house. There was a nice sized yard with a fence and what used to be a pool house. The pool was screened in and off to the side. The house had been transformed into a two-bedroom apartment. Lena was planning on using it for visitors. Her parents had already said they were planning on visiting more often.
Lena tied her robe and opened the front door. Eric was leaning against the wall. Kareem was standing next to him. Lena shut the door and closed her eyes. She took a few deep breaths and then opened the door again. “What are you doing here?”
“Delivering your things. I figured the boys would be more comfortable in their own beds.” Kareem stood up straight.
“You could have just let the movers bring it.”
“This fool drove the stuff here himself.” Eric shook his head.
“What?” Lena looked back at Kareem.
“I needed time to think.”
Lena looked at the Uhaul truck in her driveway. “Well, Evan will be happy to see you. He has been crying after you guys get off the phone.”
“May I…” Kareem slowly took a step forward.
“Yes. They are down the hall. Master is all the way at the end.” Lena stepped to the side and Kareem walked past. She turned and looked at Eric. She didn’t say anything as she waited. Then she heard Evan and Terry squeal in joy. She sighed. “So…”
“Oh, I punched him right in the chest.” Eric smiled.
“Naw. He took it. He earned it.” Eric pushed Lena’s locs out of her face. “He is miserable.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“No, you aren’t.”
Lena shrugged as Nathan pulled up. She looked at him. “Where is Macie?”
“She still wants to choke him so she felt it best she and Nate stay home. Glo is on her way.”
Lena turned and saw Evan dragging Kareem out of the master bedroom. “Daddy, our room is here. I am sharing.”
Eric put his arm around Lena. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Well, get dressed so you can tell us where to put all this stuff. I got a date tonight.”
Lena went into the master and got dressed. When she came back out she found Eric, Kareem, and Nathan bringing in boxes. Evan was following his father. She found Terry out in the front yard with Gloria. Gloria was feeding him applesauce. Lena turned as Evan followed Kareem out of the house.
“Evan, come on and eat something.”
“Aye, what did your mom just say?” Kareem turned and looked at Evan.
Evan stopped and hung his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
Lena led Evan inside and fixed him some cereal and cut up a banana for him. She didn’t have much in the fridge. Evan kept looking back at the hallway as the guys carried things in. He shoveled all his cereal in his mouth and then jumped out of the chair.
“Awwww but…” Evan stopped as Kareem came in the room and sat at the table. Evan climbed back in the chair and began to eat his banana. A tear came down Lena’s cheek as she watched the two of them. One thing she knew she loved about Kareem was how great of a father he was to his boys. Evan looked up at her. Then he shoved all the banana in his mouth. “No cry mommy. I ate all my breakfast.”
She wiped her eye and smiled. Then she turned to avoid making eye contact with Kareem. “Okay. Go finish helping.”
Evan took his bowl off the table and put it in the sink. He hugged Lena’s leg and then headed out the door behind his father. The guys spent the next two hours unloading the truck. Kareem had brought all of the boys’ things and all of Lena’s things. He also brought her the living room set that she had just gotten for the house in California. Her office items went up in the second-floor loft space. Lena was thankful that Kareem took the time to pack up everything. She knew that he wasn’t happy about them moving out but he was putting on a great act for the boys.
After the truck was empty, Kareem took both boys in the master bedroom and they stretched across Lena’s bed. About ten minutes later Kareem walked back out into the kitchen. Nathan, Gloria, and Eric were helping Lena unpack dishes.
“I thought your ass was going to take a nap.” Nathan laughed.
“I almost did.” Kareem leaned against the counter. “Those guys are knocked out.”
“Thank you.” Lena unwrapped a plate.
“We’re going to take the truck back.” Kareem paused. “If it’s okay with you, I was going to come back and put things together.”
“That would be okay.” Lena nodded. “Could you bring something for dinner?”
“Gotcha.” He paused. “Do you mind?”
Kareem opened the fridge and sighed.
“Don’t you dare say a word.”
Kareem put his fingers to his lips. He knew how much Lena hated shopping. He could only imagine how hard it was for her to do it with their two boys. His mother typically took care of that for them.
Eric gave Lena a hug. “I’m not coming back. I will holla at you later.”
“Have fun tonight.” Lena watched as the guys all left out of her kitchen and then out the front door.
Lena was upstairs in her office when Nathan dropped Kareem and a large number of groceries off. She wanted to fuss at him but held her tongue. He put the groceries away while she went back upstairs to unpack more of her office.
Kareem came up to her office when he was done. “Glo bailed?”
“She had errands to run.”
Kareem nodded. “I’m going to get started in the boys’ room. You sure you want them to share?”
Lena wanted to look up at him but decided against it. “Yes. Evan is really determined to make sure Terry is not lonely. I think Evan is the one who doesn’t want to be lonely.”
Kareem chuckled. “Yeah. Okay.”
Lena put her head in her hand once Kareem went back down the steps. She had so much that she wanted to say to him but it barely made sense in her head. If she couldn’t make sense of things there was no point for her to share it. Lena had her office mostly set up when she heard Evan scream.
“Daddy!” Evan jumped out of bed and ran down the hallway to the front door.
Lena ran down the steps before he opened the front door. “Evan, what are you doing?”
“Yo, I’m right here.” Kareem walked towards them. “What are you screaming for?”
Evan wiped the tears from his eyes. “Daddy, why can’t you stay with us? Mommy said you were staying in California.”
Lena put her hand over her mouth and turned her head as tears came flooding from her eyes. Terry ran down the hall and wrapped his arms around Kareem’s leg.
Kareem knelt down on the floor. “Guys, my job is still in California.”
“Get a new job.” Evan stomped.
“It isn’t that easy.”
“Mommy did it.”
Kareem lifted his head up and looked at the ceiling. He was doing his best not to cry. “Listen, mommy and daddy are going to work this out. For now, we have to be apart. I will come and visit as often as I can.”
“Na-Na is coming here, right?” Evan looked up at Lena and then back at Kareem.
“I have to talk to your mother and your Na-Na about that.”
“When are you going?”
Evan wrapped his arms around Kareem’s neck and held tight. “I don’t want you to go.”
Lena walked down the hall to her room, unable to control her tears.
Lena was putting away her clothes when her cell phone rang. She saw it was Macie and put the phone on speaker. “Hey, what’s up?”
“It is like ten and Nathan is worried you killed his cousin.”
Lena laughed. She took the phone off speaker and held it to her ear as she walked down the hall. Kareem was asleep in Evan’s bed. Evan was curled up under his arm and Terry was stretched out across his chest. “He’s been abducted by his sons. It’s actually kind of cute.”
“Oh. So you’re going to let him stay the night?”
“Let me call you right back.” Lena hung up and took a picture. She sent the picture to Macie. Then she waited until she had gotten back to her closet before she called Macie back. “I don’t want to deal with my boys if I make him leave. Evan had a meltdown earlier.”
“They’re too cute.” Macie sighed. “This is going to be hard.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Are you up for it?”
“I have to be. I don’t have a choice.”
It was Lena’s turn to sigh. “I felt trapped.”
“Behind walls you built yourself.”
“As you’ve told me, several times.”
“So even if he hadn’t cheated…” Macie trailed off.
“This was bound to run into problems.”
“So you’re going to get a divorce?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Nope. You didn’t.”
“I can tell you are smiling.”
“Sorry.” Macie laughed. “Look, I totally agree that you need time to think. You need to figure out what you want.”
“I know I am still very pissed at him and I have no plans of going back to California for anything more than a meeting or two.”
“You hated it that much?”
Lena was quiet for a moment. “Yes.”
“Well, you should tell him that.”
“There is a lot I should tell him.”
“Are you going to talk to him?”
“I’m not ready.”
“Before all this, when was the last time you two talked for real?”
“We talk about the kids and day to day shit.”
Macie groaned. “Lena, you are more than a mom.”
“You gotta let him know that.”
Lena hung up her last suit. “He brought all of our stuff, Macie.”
“He drove it across the country.”
“What if he just wants to get rid of us?”
“What if he just wants you to be happy?”
“You can call me in the morning.”
Evan yawned. “Can’t you stay, daddy?”
“We talked about this. I circled on the calendar when I will be back.” Kareem pointed to the calendar he hung up on the wall in the boys’ room.
“I call you when I wake up.”
“Okay.” Kareem kissed Evan on the cheek. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” Evan fell asleep for a second and woke up. “I love you, daddy.”
“Love you too.” Kareem stayed still for a few minutes until he was sure Evan had gone to sleep. He walked over to Terry’s crib and kissed him as he slept. Then he walked out of the boy’s room.
“What time is Nathan coming to take you?” Lena was sitting at the dining room table.
“I told him not to worry about it. The shuttle is coming in twenty minutes.” Kareem sat across from her.
“Oh. Okay.” Lena looked down at her hands.
“Lena, listen. I know you don’t want to talk about things but there is one thing I really want you to consider.”
“Having my mom come and help you out. She said she tried to talk to you about it.”
Lena sighed. “Yeah, she did.”
“She also said you didn’t seem open to it.”
“It wasn’t that. It’s just…” Lena looked at him. “I can take care of my kids.”
“I know that.”
“I can get a nanny and I can do this. I don’t need help.”
“I know that too.”
“So, how about you accept the help anyway? The kids are used to her taking care of them. I think it will make the transition easier.” Kareem paused. “It doesn’t have to be forever.”
“Evan has been struggling.” Lena leaned back in the chair. “Okay. Fine. Maybe I don’t need the help but I would appreciate it.”
“You want me to talk to her?”
“I will call her in the morning.”
Lena looked down at her hands. She was trying not to look Kareem in the eye. There was a mix of emotions going through her. She wanted to yell and throw things. She wanted to cry. There was also so much love she felt for him at the same time. Lena wasn’t sure how to process it all.
Kareem wanted to apologize and plead his case. He also knew that it wasn’t the right time. He could see she was conflicted. He didn’t want to make things worse. They sat there quietly and after a few minutes, Kareem’s phone rang. He told the shuttle driver he would be right out. Then he got up and grabbed his duffle bag and backpack. Kareem walked to the door, unsure of what to say. When he got to the door he realized that Lena was walking slowly behind him. He turned to her.
“Let me know if you need anything.”
“I am a big girl. We will be fine.”
Kareem smiled. “Lena, I know you’ll be fine without me. I know so well that it scares the fuck out of me.”
Lena went to say something but didn’t.
“I just gotta keep praying that one day you will let me fix this.” Kareem wanted to kiss her so badly but opted to just smile and walk out the door to the shuttle that was waiting in her driveway.
Lena watched the shuttle pull off and then closed the door. She leaned against it after she locked it and sighed. She wanted to kiss him so badly but was afraid she would lose herself again. Lena placed her hands on her belly and took a deep breath. Despite what Kareem had done, for some reason, she still trusted him. She trusted that he was right and that she would be fine without him. The problem is there was a huge part of her praying that she would eventually let him fix it.