Lena dialed the number while she slowly walked down the aisle of the plane. She waited for everyone else to deboard so that she wouldn’t feel rushed.
“Lena, you’re on maternity leave. Why are you calling me?” Roderick huffed.
“I forgot a few things on that list I left you.”
“You know I run an entire office in London by myself.”
“So. You’re in my office in Miami. Things are a little different.”
“Yeah, y’all are too uptight here.”
Lena laughed. “Rod…”
“I assume your plane has landed.”
“Yes.” Lena smiled at Kareem as she walked over to him. He had arrived in Anguilla with his mother and the boys a day earlier. “Hey, gimme one sec. I gotta see about something at work.”
“No, you don’t,” Kareem said.
“No, you really don’t,” Rod responded as well.
Lena sighed. “I can’t do this with the both of you right now.”
“Give Kareem the phone. I want to say hi.”
Kareem took the phone when Lena handed it to him. “Hello?”
“Hey Kareem, it is Roderick.”
“Ah. Your work wife nagging you already? How long have you been in the states?”
Roderick laughed. “Arrived last night. Listen, we’re good here. Congrats on the new baby. Take her phone.”
“I’ll try.” Kareem chuckled. “Thanks.”
Lena reached for the phone but Kareem hung up the call. Then he put her phone in his pocket. He smiled and took her bag off her arm. She rolled her eyes. “I thought Tantie would have killed you.”
“She beat the crap out of me.”
Kareem rolled up his sleeve to show where Tantie had turned his arm almost blue. “Not playing.”
“Oh.” Lena stopped walking.
“She likes to pinch. I don’t have a concussion despite having been hit in the back of the head at least ten times.”
Kareem took her hand. “I had it coming. This is calmed down ass-kicking. Just imagine if she had gotten to me when you first moved out?”
Lena smiled. Pregnant woman hormones were running rampant through her body. She wanted to kiss him on the lips but settled for kissing him on the cheek. Despite the hormones, Lena knew that things between her and Kareem would never be as they were. Two months of therapy had told her that they weren’t what she thought they were, to begin with. Gloria had convinced them to go to couples therapy. Lena did four solo sessions with the therapist as well. She knew Kareem had done two on his own. Lena learned that she loved Kareem but was not in love with him. She may have been for a little while, but she wasn’t anymore. They still had a lot to work through but the arrival of their daughter prompted a holiday trip to Anguilla.
“So Roderick agrees that you shouldn’t be working.” Kareem and Lena began to walk to get her bags.
“He swears he can do his job and my job.”
“And you swear that you can do his job and your job. You both are psycho.” Kareem laughed. “Terry is going to attack you when he sees you. You can try to work with him wrapped around you if you want to.”
“What did you do to my son?”
“Nothing. He’s a mama’s boy.”
“Takes one to know one.” Lena pointed to her suitcase. “There it is.”
Kareem held in his retort and grabbed her bag. “This the only one?”
“Of course not.” Lena smiled. “I have another bag with presents.”
“My mom brought a bag full of presents.”
“This is the other one.”
“Hush.” Lena pointed to another bag. “That one.”
“Oh. Tantie wanted me to check and make sure you haven’t started having contractions.”
Lena sighed. “I talked to her right before I got on the plane.”
“And she said she thinks you weren’t telling her something.” Kareem took the bags out to the car and Lena followed him.
Lena refused to respond to Kareem. She hated that Tantie was always right and knew her so well. Lena had been having contractions. They were very far apart but they were there. Lena didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to be stuck in Miami. Each of her boys was born in Anguilla. Her daughter would be as well. When they got to the car, Lena smiled at Kareem’s Uncle Lamont. “Hey, Uncle Lamont.”
“Hello beautiful.” Lamont held the car door open for her.
“How are things going?”
“Good. Momma wanted you here a week ago.”
“Lawd. Well, let me get in the car and get to Tantie’s before she calls one of you to see what’s taking so long.”
Tantie walked into the bedroom in her house that she had reserved for Lena and Kareem to share. It was late but Lena was sitting up reading a book on her tablet.
“Are you working?”
Lena shook her head. “Reading.”
“Why is my grandson sleeping in the room with the boys?”
“How are you two supposed to work things out if he isn’t in the room with you?”
“I heard you went to some doctor.”
“What about dates?”
“We have been on a few since he moved to Miami.”
“And?” Tantie sat on the bed. She put her hands gently on Lena’s cheeks and looked at her face. “I thought you weren’t making any decisions while pregnant.”
“But you two are probably getting a divorce.”
“I don’t know yet.”
“I do.” Tantie stood up. “How’s the baby holding up in there?”
“She is a fidget.” Lena held up her tablet so Tantie could feel her belly.
Tantie turned her head as she heard screaming and footsteps come down the hall. The bedroom door pushed open and Terry was standing in the doorway. Terry looked at Lena and then at Tantie. “Tantie, I sleep here.”
“What scared ya boy?”
“Your daddy was right there.”
“Daddy sleep.” Terry walked over to the side of the bed. Lena pulled him up onto the bed and he curled up next to her.
Tantie shook her head. “This one is going to have a rough time when the baby arrives.”
“I told Kareem he’s a lot like him.”
“Twins.” Tantie smiled.
Lena looked down at Terry. He was already knocked out. “Evan is so much like me. He’s attached to his father at the hip.”
“I noticed.” Tantie headed to the door. “That baby is coming in probably three days.”
“Tantie, she isn’t due for another three weeks.”
“When have I been wrong?” Tantie raised her eyebrow.
Lena sighed. “Not once yet.”
“Okay then. I’m not even sure she will stay in there for Christmas.” Tantie headed out of the room and shut the door behind her.
Kareem sat in the booth and massaged Lena’s lower back. They were at the restaurant having a huge family dinner. It gave him a sense of deja vu as he looked around the room. Lena’s family had flown in to spend the holiday; complete with Kim’s fiance, Eric’s new girlfriend, and her two kids. Nathan, Macie, and Nate were there. Gloria, her boyfriend, and their combined six kids were also there. Kareem leaned close to Lena.
“This reminds me of the wedding.”
Kareem laughed. “Nathan’s.”
Lena nodded. “We are only missing Macie’s parents from that dinner after the wedding.”
“Nathan said they went to visit family in Chicago.”
“That makes me cold just thinking about it.” Lena closed her eyes for a moment.
Kareem noticed her do that twice already. He shook his head. “Are we going to have a repeat?”
Lena held her breath through the contraction. She wanted to laugh at Kareem’s question. The dinner they were both remembering was interrupted when she went into labor with Evan. Lena waited until her contraction was over to speak. “Um…”
“That’s what I thought.” Kareem stood up. “Come on. We might as well start making our way back to the room.”
Lena took his arm and got up. She stepped out of the booth so he could step out. Then she followed him across the room. Evan, who was sitting with Gloria’s daughter Cherie, stopped her. “Mommy, where are you going?”
She leaned down. “Sweetie, your sister wants to meet you.”
“Can’t she wait until after Christmas?” Evan pouted.
Annette came from out of the kitchen. She had a tray of food in her arms. “Why are you pouting now, Evan?”
“Mommy said the baby wants to come now but I don’t want the baby to come now.” Evan whined.
Annette put the tray down and hurried over to Lena. “How far apart are the contractions?”
Lena bent over as another contraction hit her. Terry jumped out of her mother’s arms and ran over to Lena. “Momma, okay?”
Before Lena could respond Terry ran into the kitchen, yelling for Tantie. Kareem put his arm around Lena to let her relax on his weight. “That was not a whole lot of time.”
Lena shook her head. “No. This little one wants to be just like her brother.”
“Which brother?” Evan asked.
“You.” Lena tried to smile.
Lena’s father put Lena’s arm over his shoulder. He and Kareem helped her back through the kitchen and out of the restaurant. There was a small house out back that Tantie used to deliver babies. It was where Evan had been born. Terry had been a bit more cooperative and was born at Tantie’s house. The house was only two rooms. There was a small kitchen, a table, two chairs, and a bed in the main room. The other room was a bathroom. Lena was able to make it over to the bed and sit down before her next contraction hit. She stood up quickly when she felt her water break.
Tantie was already in the house, setting up her things and fussing. Terry was following her around. Annette picked him up and started to carry him out of the room but he began to scream. Tantie turned quickly. “Best leave that chile in here.”
Annette walked back over to the bed and sat in a chair next to it. Terry sat on her lap and looked at Lena. Lena smiled at him. Terry reached over and touched her face. Annette shook her head. “This one won’t leave your side.”
“Don’t pick on that girl. Yours right there won’t let you outta his sight. Tried to getcha to come to college with him.” Tantie moved Kareem out of her way and sat some towels at the foot of the bed. She smacked him across the back of his head before heading back over to the kitchen area. “Marriage might be fine you grow up and not have your momma running your house.”
Lena turned her head. Her father was chuckling on the other side of the bed. Lena tapped him on the arm. “Daddy, stop.”
Her father kissed her on the forehead. “I’m going to head back over. You know your mother will be jealous if I get to be in the room with you.”
“She can come over.”
“You know she didn’t want to be in the room when she had her own kids.” Her dad patted Kareem on the back and then left the small house.
“Tantie, don’t yell at Kareem.”
“I will yell at my grandson and you will push my great-granddaughter out. Then we can continue dinner.”
Kareem stood where Lena’s father had been standing. He shook his head and held Lena’s hand. Lena sighed and tried to focus on the instructions Tantie was now giving her. She glanced over at Terry. He had his head rested on his grandmother’s chest but was keeping his eyes on Lena. After three rounds of pushing, Terry pointed to the end of the bed.
“Baby.” He squealed.
Lena relaxed back and tried to catch her breath. Kareem kissed her on the forehead before handing her some water. Annette handed Terry to Kareem and helped Tantie clean off the new baby. Terry made quick work of climbing out of his father’s arms and curling up next to his mother. A few minutes later, Tantie handed Lena her new daughter.
“She is gorgeous.” Kareem smiled. “Good job.”
“Thanks.” Lena could not stop staring at her baby girl. “Gwennie.”
“Gwendolyn is a beautiful name.” Tantie smiled. “I’ll be back. Gotta let them know she is here.”
Lena walked in the house and barely got the door shut before Terry came running in the room.
“Mommy.” He squealed and wrapped himself around Lena’s legs.
“Hey you.” She picked him up and carried him towards the kitchen.
“You look exhausted.” Annette put a pan in the oven. “Rough day.”
“Three meetings and two conference calls. Plus I’m on a deadline.” Lena smiled. “How was your day?”
“Terry worked on his colors. Gwennie actually took a nap with him today.” Annette sighed. “Evan got in trouble in school today. He’s in his room.”
“They didn’t call me.”
“They called Kareem. He went over there but made Evan stay the whole day.”
“Kareem didn’t call me.” Lena huffed.
“He didn’t tell me what exactly happened. Evan is upset that he’s in trouble. Kareem called me to tell me he was to be in his room until dinner.”
“Why wouldn’t he have called me?”
Annette sighed. “I don’t know. I’m just telling you what I know.”
Lena tried to smile. “I get it.”
“You sure you don’t need me tonight?”
“I’m sure. Go out. Enjoy your evening. I have these lunatics. I’m sure Kareem will show up at some point and explain.”
Annette nodded. “I put chicken in the oven. There is plenty for you to heat up with it.”
Lena took Terry down the hall with her. Evan was lying across his bed. When Lena looked closer she saw that he was asleep. She went in her room and sat Terry on her bed.
“Let mommy change her clothes and then we can go finish cooking dinner.”
Lena nodded. “Sure. We can make some potatoes.”
“I’m taking Gwennie over with me while I get ready.” Annette yelled from the living room.
“Okay.” Lena turned a short video on the tablet and propped it up so Terry could watch. Then she went into her closet and changed out of her suit. She was trying not to be irritated the Kareem hadn’t called her about what was going on with Evan. It bothered her that the school hadn’t called her either. She walked out of her closet and into her bathroom, after smiling at Terry. Once she washed her makeup off, she picked him up off the bed. The video had just ended. “Okay, let’s go finish dinner.”
Kareem was coming down the hall as she was walking out of her room. “Hey, why is the front door open?”
“Huh?” Lena paused. “I thought your mom went out the patio door like she usually does.”
“It was halfway open.” Kareem stopped at the boys room. He looked in and then looked at Lena. “Evan went with mom?”
“No. He’s sleep. She took Gwennie.”
“He isn’t in here.” Kareem walked in the room and looked around.
Lena stood in the doorway. “I just checked on him. He was napping.”
“Evan.” Kareem called. He left the room and walked around the house.
Lena put Terry in his crib. “Maybe he did go with your mom.”
“Check.” Kareem went up the steps to Lena’s office.
Lena went outside. She looked around the yard on her way across to Annette’s. The front door was open so she yelled through the screen door. “Annette, is Evan with you?”
“No sweetie. I thought he was asleep.”
“Can you check to make sure he isn’t hiding in Kareem’s room?” Lena’s heart began to race. She walked quickly over to the pool area. She looked everywhere, including on her patio. Then she went in through her room and looked around. Terry was standing in his crib, crying. “One second sweetie. We gotta find your brother.”
Lena found Kareem standing in the front yard. He had his hand on his forehead. “Hey, is Evan over there with you? I got home and the door was open and we can’t find him.”
Lena guessed he had called Nathan. They could see his house down from the yard. Her heart stopped for a moment when she saw the look on Kareem’s face. She knew Nathan was saying that Evan wasn’t there. Tears filled her eyes. “Evan.”
Kareem hung up the phone just after she yelled. “How long ago did you see him sleeping?”
“It was seven minutes. Terry was watching the little video while I changed my clothes.” Lena kept looking around. “Maybe he tried to go to the park.”
Kareem held both her hands. “Lena, baby, breathe. Calm down.”
“I can’t.” Lena looked and saw Macie running over to them.
“Nathan is coming. He is double-checking the backyard.” Macie stopped long enough to put her hand on Lena’s shoulder for a moment. “I’ll start checking with the neighbors.”
Annette came to the door. “Should I check with the other neighbors?”
“Yeah.” Kareem turned to Lena. “Do you want to call the police or do you want to look some more first?”
Lena didn’t know what she wanted to do. She began to cry. Kareem held her for a few moments. Then he looked at her. She wiped her eyes. “What happened today?”
Kareem sighed. “He threatened to smack a friend in the face because of something he said.”
“That doesn’t sound like Evan. What did the kid say? Which friend was it?”
“Shawn. They’re in soccer together.” Kareem paused. “Doesn’t he live near here?”
“Through the path we take to the Farmer’s Market.”
Kareem turned and headed towards the path. “I’ll be back. I’m going to check over there.”
“Ok.” Lena wanted to follow him but remembered her other two kids that were in the house. She sat on the step and cried.
Kareem hurried down the path while checking for Shawn’s address in his phone. He had the list of the soccer team members in his email. Kareem felt horrible that he hadn’t explained more to Lena but he needed to find Evan first. Lena wouldn’t be able to think straight until she had Evan in her line of sight. Kareem was sure of that. It was bad enough that he had to explain to her that Shawn had told Evan that he had seen Kareem kissing his mother. It was worse that it was the truth. Kareem and Veronica had become friends while watching their kids practice soccer. Veronica was recently divorced. After a game, the whole team went for pizza. Half the team fell asleep while the parents and coaches talked. Kareem put Evan in the car and then carried Shawn to Veronica’s car. The kiss was innocent enough. He kissed her on the cheek, thinking Shawn was asleep. Kareem honestly didn’t think anything of it until he had to go to Evan’s school.
Kareem found the house and let out a huge sigh. Evan’s bike was sitting on the front lawn. He walked closer to the front door and saw Veronica talking with Evan.
“Just tell me if you kissed my dad.”
“Evan.” Kareem startled both Evan and Veronica.
Veronica had her phone in her hand. “I was just getting ready to call you.”
“Boy, have you lost your mind?”
“You wouldn’t tell me so I wanted to ask her.” Evan yelled.
Kareem grabbed him by the arm. “I know you aren’t yelling at me. Your mother is losing her mind wondering where you are.”
“I’m gonna text her. Does she have her phone?” Veronica started texting.
“I don’t know.” Kareem responded, in a softer tone.
“I’m sorry, daddy.”
Veronica held her phone to her ear. “Hey Lena, Kareem is here. Evan came here. He’s okay.”
Kareem started to say something but Veronica held her hand up.
“Okay. They are headed back now.” She hung up. “Lena said for you not to kill him. She wants him home in one piece right now.”
Kareem nodded. He looked down at Evan. “Get your bike. You can walk it home.”
“Yes sir.” Evan walked over to his bike.
“Hey.” Kareem yelled.
Evan turned and looked at them. “I’m sorry for yelling at you Ms. Roni.”
“Apology accepted. Don’t scare your parents like that again, Evan.”
“Yes ma’am.” Evan picked his bike up.
Kareem looked at Veronica. He felt so many things in that moment. All he could do was nod and follow Evan towards the path. He knew he needed to sit down and talk with Veronica, but it would have to wait until after he dealt with Evan. They walked halfway home before Evan stopped. Evan looked up at Kareem but didn’t say anything. Kareem sighed. He didn’t have a relationship with his father, who disappeared when Kareem was only a few years older than Evan. Even before he left, Kareem never felt connected to him. Kareem didn’t want to ruin his relationship with Evan.
“Man listen. I did kiss Ms. Veronica on the cheek. It was only on the cheek.”
Evan wiped tears from his eyes. “You and mommy aren’t going to be married anymore?”
“I don’t know.”
“You two argued a lot when you slept in the same room. Now you don’t.”
Kareem didn’t know how to respond.
“When mommy stopped crying she has been okay.”
“You think she’s okay.”
“She spends more time with us.”
“Oh. I know you like that.”
Evan smiled for a second but then frowned. “I don’t want you to move away.”
“Man, I am not going to move far if I do move.”
“Can I come live with you?”
“Evan, I’m not moving…”
“If you move can I come. Mommy has Terry and Gwennie. I can stay with you.”
Kareem sighed and hugged Evan. “Let’s not think about this right now. Let’s get home so your mother can see you.”
“She is gonna yell.”
“Well, you scared her.” Kareem started walking again. Evan was half a step behind him. When they got to their street, Kareem saw Lena. She was surrounded by a few more neighbors in addition to Macie, Nathan, and Annette. Kareem leaned down to Evan. “You’re going to have to man up and take whatever punishment you get. I know you were upset and I will talk to your mom and tell her everything. However, you broke the rules.”
“Yes sir.” Evan handed over his bike as he got closer to his mother.
Lena snatched Evan up and hugged him tightly. She didn’t say anything. All she did was cry and squeeze him. Kareem took the bike in the house. He put it in the backyard and then checked on his other kids. Terry looked pissed and Gwennie was crying. Kareem walked towards Terry but Terry quickly climbed out of the crib.
“Really?” Kareem shook his head and picked Gwennie up.
After everyone headed home, Evan took an early bath. Annette cancelled her plans and finished making dinner. Lena was in her room, attempting to calm down. Kareem came to the door and knocked.
“Huh?” Lena wiped her eyes as he came inside.
“My mom is feeding the kids and talking with Evan.”
“I know she wanted to spank him.”
Kareem nodded. “She won’t though. She’s just glad he is okay.”
“I kissed Shawn’s mother. It was just a kiss on the cheek but Shawn saw it and said something to Evan.” Kareem had been trying to figure out how to start the discussion but hadn’t settled on anything. He finally decided to just say what was on his mind. “I explained to Evan that it was innocent but the whole thing opened up some stuff for both he and I.”
Lena sat and looked at Kareem. When she realized he was waiting for her to say something she moved her hand in a circular motion. “Keep talking.”
Kareem took a deep breath. “He’s worried about us splitting up, worried about me moving away. These are things he shouldn’t be worried about at 5 years old. Fact is, I don’t want to give up on us. I don’t want to lose you. I think we need to stop with the occasional date nights and actually fix this. I fucked up. It was like I said in therapy. I felt like I was missing something. I didn’t think I could talk to you about it. I know that I need to talk to you about things.”
Lena took a deep breath when Kareem stopped again. She looked at her hands for a few moments. It was more like looking through them. Lena wanted to carefully choose her words. “What do you like about Veronica?”
“Huh?” Kareem shifted his weight as he stood. “I told you it was innocent.”
“I understand that. I believe you.” Lena blinked, slowly. “What is it that you like about her? I’m guessing you are friends, which is fine. I’m just curious.”
“She’s cool. We talk while the kids practice and play games.”
“Could you talk to the girl you slept with?”
“Answer the question Kareem.” Lena was very careful not to yell, although she wanted to. It frustrated her that after all the open discussions in therapy he still was exactly the same.
“Yes.” Kareem huffed. “I didn’t have anything to lose. I could say whatever. Veronica knows I’m a fuck up. I introduced myself as one. She has absolutely no expectations of me. I don’t have to strategize what I do or say. I get that you have things that you need from me and I’m more than willing to work at making sure your needs are met. I will not cheat again.”
“I know you won’t.” Lena stood up and walked over to her work bag. It was still on the floor in the closet where she had left it. She reached in and pulled out a large envelope that she had been carrying around for three months. After another deep breath, she walked over and handed the envelope to Kareem.
“What is this?”
“What?” Kareem exclaimed. “Damnit Lena we can work this out.”
“This is not a fucking game Kareem.” Lena yelled. “And if you feel like it is then guess what, you lost.”
Lena went into her bathroom and slammed the door. Slowly she slid down the door until she was sitting on the floor. Tears fell from her eyes as she heard, and ignored, Kareem’s knocks on the door.
Kareem gave up after a few knocks. He took the envelope and headed out Lena’s patio door. He didn’t want to face his mother and children. Instead of heading to his room, he walked out of the yard and down the street. He started to go to Nathan’s but thought better of it. Instead, he walked to the park. The entire time he tried to figure out exactly where he screwed up again. Nothing made sense to him. Without thinking, he sent Veronica a text. She responded, inviting him to come and vent. It took him a few minutes to get to her house and another few minutes to explain to her what had happened while they sat on her back patio. Shawn was already asleep, having gotten punished for running his mouth and teasing Evan. Kareem had barely finished telling Veronica what happened before she started laughing.
“What about this is funny?”
“You’re a fucking idiot.”
Kareem wanted to be offended but he could tell by the way she was laughing that Veronica was not trying to offend him. “What do you mean?”
“You told me you were a fuck up and I guessed you were joking but you were deadass serious.” Veronica shook her head. “Kareem, you basically told Lena why she should divorce you.”
“You said it yourself. You can’t talk to her. She wants things from you that just aren’t who you are.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes, you did.” Veronica smiled at him. “I get that you love her but she’s right. You two don’t belong together. You’re forcing it and it’s going to end bad if you keep trying to force it.”
“Stop making excuses. You haven’t lost your family. Unlike me and my ex, you two are likely to be friends if you just sign the papers. Otherwise she is going to still divorce you but she will also hate you. You don’t want your kids growing up with parents who hate each other.” Veronica stood up. “Go home. Read your boys a bedtime story. Feed your daughter and then go to bed. Hopefully in the morning you will understand.”
“I don’t know about that.” Kareem stood up.
“Hey, it’s up to you. I’m just saying. Lena seems like the type that can make you suffer far worse than you think you are suffering now. I’d tap out if I were you.”
Kareem sighed. He smiled at Veronica, still not accepting what she said as fact but thankful for someone to talk to. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She pushed him toward her gate. “Now go. I am certain Lena is too tired and upset to deal with those kids and your momma needs a break since Evan ruined her night out.”
“I’m going. I’m going.”