Ms. Berry’s Sweet & Spicy Soaps – Lena – Episode Thirteen

There was a knock on the guest house door. Kareem thought it might be Lena, who always knocked first. He came into the living room as he was putting his shirt on and saw Veronica standing at the door. She seemed upset, yet smiled for a second before frowning again.

“Kareem, Lena is watching Shawn after school?”

“Yeah. She didn’t like the nanny the service sent over so she is working from home for the next week or so until we get one she likes.”

“I can put Shawn back in aftercare.”

Kareem shook his head. “You want to come in or fuss at me through the screen door?”

Veronica opened the door and stepped into the living room. “Like I said…”

“She doesn’t mind. He and Evan are best friends. She doesn’t want to change their routine.”

“This is weird.”

“My whole life is weird.”

“So stop being a weirdo.”

Kareem laughed. “I don’t know how.”

Veronica started to say something but sighed. “We’re heading home. I will see you tomorrow at practice.”

“Good night.” Kareem watched Veronica head back out and over to the main house. He groaned at the way her hips moved. His mind went back to the last time they took the kids to the pool and Veronica didn’t wear her customary shorts. She was in a two-piece bathing suit and Kareem just knew he was going to die out there. Her ass was a work of art. While she complained about her cellulite, he was imagining himself nibbling on it. 

“Daddy.” Evan yelled across the yard.

“Yes.”

“Mommy wants you to come here.”

“Did she ask you to yell that across the yard or were you given different instructions?”

Evan sighed and walked over the guest house. He looked up at his father through the screen door. He sighed again and knocked on the door. “Daddy.”

“Yes.”

“Mommy asked if you would come over cause she wants to talk to you.”

“Okay.” Kareem nodded. “That was better.”

Evan walked with his father over to the main house. Kareem got tackled by Gwennie as soon as he stepped inside the living room. He picked her up.

“Ma’am, what are you supposed to be doing?” Kareem gave Gwennie a kiss.

“When are any of our kids ever doing what they are supposed to be doing.” Lena stood over a pot, stirring the contents. “Evan…”

“I was going to sit and watch television.”

Lena put her hand on her hip. “Were you?”

Kareem noticed that Terry was standing by the back door with the soccer ball. He wanted to say something to Evan but had learned in recent weeks to let her handle it and only step in if absolutely necessary.

Evan looked to his dad for help but then looked back at his mother. “I guess I can play with Terry for a little while.”

“Look at it this way. The same amount of time you play soccer with Terry is the same amount of television and game time you get tonight.” Lena raised her eyebrow at him. “And if you don’t play nicely then you will be without all three for the rest of the week.”

“Yes ma’am.” Evan turned and walked to the door. “Come on Terry. I can show you that move Shawn did at practice yesterday.”

Kareem waited for Evan and Terry to go out in the backyard before turning back to Lena. Gwennie was playing with Kareem’s beard. “What’s up?”

“Daddy.” Gwennie put both hands on Kareem’s face.

“She needs to go in the play space.”

“Has she climbed out of it for you yet?” Kareem looked at Lena.

Lena put her hand on her head. “I can’t with your children.”

Gwennie giggled. “Momma eat.”

Kareem put Gwennie in the high chair. She fought him while he tried to buckle her in. “Nope. You’re an escape artist. You’re wearing this seatbelt or I’m going to smack your thighs like Na-Na does.”

Gwennie pouted but sat still.

“Okay. Look. I wasn’t going to fuss at you but you are worse than Eric with leaving me no choice.”

Kareem decided to get comfortable and sat in one of the bar stools. “Worse than Eric?”

“Yes.” Lena sighed. “Forgive me if I sound like your older sister but you have been acting like I’m your older sister for years so…”

“Hey…”

Lena put her finger over her lip and was about to tell Kareem to hush but Gwennie beat her to it.

“Shush daddy.” Gwennie put her finger over her lips.

“My bad. Go ahead.” Kareem sat back.

“Why are you trying to lose out on Veronica? Are you that dense?” Lena didn’t wait for him to answer. “I know you’re that dense so don’t answer that question. But you can tell me what you are afraid of.”

“Veronica and I are friends. I don’t want to ruin that.” Kareem sighed. “We are barely friends and it bugs me.”

“We are barely friends because we weren’t friends to begin with.” Lena went into the cabinet and pulled out a few potatoes. Gwennie began to squeal. “Girl, if you don’t hush.”

“Want me to peel them?”

“Please. Little Miss Thing doesn’t like to eat the peel.” Lena handed Kareem the potatoes and the peeler. “So, don’t use our relationship as the standard for any of your future relationships. We didn’t take the time to be friends. You and Veronica are friends. I know you like her. I can tell she likes you. She isn’t going to sit around and wait for you to grow up.”

“Grow up?”

“Kareem, you live with your mother.” Lena shook her head. “You live with your mother in your ex-wife’s guest house.”

“You want me to move out?”

“No. I want you to live your life.” Lena tried not to get frustrated with Kareem. Instead she smiled. “I’m fine with you living so close. I appreciate all the help with the kids. I see other divorced couples and I’m thankful. Evan is already a lot to deal with and I don’t see it getting any better.”

“Okay. So, what’s your point?”

“My point is that you can’t move on with your life staying stuck to me and your mom. There has to be a better way.” Lena paused. “I’m sure you will figure out that better way if you put your mind to it. In the meantime, you need to take Veronica out on a date. It can be a friendly date but y’all need to see if there is something there.”

Kareem sat quietly for a moment and peeled the potatoes. He understood what Lena was saying, but he was still nervous. “What about you moving on?”

“We aren’t talking about me.”

“Why not?”

“Because that is changing the subject.”

“I want you to be happy just as much as you want me to be happy.”

“I will get there.”

“For a moment I thought you should date your work husband.”

“Rod?”

“Yeah. I mean I don’t imagine you with a white guy, but…”

Lena laughed. “Oh my God, Kareem you really need to get your head out of your ass.”

“What did I say?”

“You want us to be friends, right?”

“Yes.”

“Start with going to my company’s website and looking around.” Lena shook her head. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Will you talk to me about your day at work?”

“Will you not try to make it seem like I’m boring you?”

Kareem laughed and nodded. “Yes. I genuinely want to hear about your day.”

Lena sighed. “Okay. Well, Paul is in Amsterdam still and I think I have officially overworked the office.”

“How so?”

“I snagged a really big client the other day and now I realize that we don’t have the staff to cover it.”

“Oh.”

“So I’m going to be doing a lot more work.”

“You have to go back into the office?”

“It doesn’t matter where I am. It’s just that I have maxed out everyone’s workload so I have to take on the extra until Paul gets back.” Lena sighed. “And he’s used to me doing everything so I’m not sure how excited he’ll be.”

“Why has he been in Amsterdam so long?”

“My colleague, Elaine, is sick.”

“Elaine, the woman you stayed with while you lived there before Evan was born?”

Lena smiled at his memory. “Yes. She came to our wedding.”

“I remember.” Kareem paused. “Rod didn’t come to our wedding, did he?”

“No. He had already had plans on taking his daughter to Disney World.”

“Oh.” Kareem handed Lena the last potato. “So what’s going on with Elaine?”

“I don’t know. I think it’s cancer but she won’t talk about it. She tried to come back to work and Rod sent her back on sick leave. Then Paul flew out to make sure she didn’t try to come into the office.”

“She sounds like you.”

Lena smiled again. “She loves her career. Her husband passed away…”

“Not too long after Terry was born. I remember. You flew out there.” Kareem smiled. “I pay attention more than you realize.”

“I’m glad.” Lena sighed. “I hope it isn’t serious, but she won’t talk about it and that generally means that she isn’t dealing with it well.”

“Well, what would you do if it were you?”

Lena was quiet for a moment. “I’m not sure I would talk about it either.”

“Okay.”

“If I went to Amsterdam…”

“The kids and I would be fine.”

Lena laughed. “I would take at least Gwennie with me. I would probably need to take Terry.”

“Who would watch them?”

“The new nanny.”

“She can watch them here.” Kareem looked at Lena’s skeptical face. “Okay, maybe you could take Gwennie but Terry needs to stay here. He is getting way to spoiled all up under you all the time.”

“Wonder where he gets that from.”

Kareem put both hands on the counter. “Listen…”

“What? What are you going to say?” Lena laughed. “I happen to love that you are so attached to your mother. I just think you need to let her live the life she wants to live and you need to stop picking on your son for being just like you.”

“I can handle Terry. He’s going to school most of the day.”

“Stop kidding yourself. He is going to lose his shit and you will complain to your mother and she will come back or want to come back.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

Lena paused. “Okay. Fine. On one condition.”

“What is that?”

“You ask Veronica for help.”

Kareem chuckled. “You won’t let this go, will you?”

“Nope. You’re friends with her for a reason. You have no other female friends.”

“I have you.”

Lena smiled. “True, but clearly we are different.”

“Okay. Fine. I will not only ask her for help but I will try and ask her out on a date before you go.”

“Great.” Lena looked out back. “Now go keep your sons from fighting.”

Kareem looked out back and saw Terry yelling in Evan’s face. “Yeah. Let me get them.”

 

“You want to go to dinner, without the boys?” Veronica leaned against her car.

“Yes.”

She was skeptical. In the time she had known Kareem, he had never invited her to do anything without the boys. Part of her enjoyed their friendship but the other part felt that there was no way he shared the attraction she was becoming unable to ignore. “Who is watching the kids?”

“Lena and Macie were taking the kids to the movies and for pizza. I asked them if Shawn could tag along.” Kareem was ready to beg her to say yes.

Veronica could see that in his face and laughed. “You look just like Evan when he is trying to get a second popsicle.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes.”

“Great.”

“Do I need to change?”

“Yes. We are going someplace that we normally wouldn’t take the kids.”

“Okay.” Veronica nodded.

“How long do you need?”

“An hour.”

“Okay. I will come by and pick you up in an hour.

Veronica got in her car and headed the few minutes to her house. She walked in and sighed. There was a letter in the mailbox from her landlord. Her lease was up in ninety days and they were planning on selling the house so she would have to find a place to live. The landlord had mentioned it when she paid her rent the previous month but she had hoped they had changed their mind. As she showered, she thought about how Kareem had once joked that they should just get a house together since their sons played together so much. Veronica thought he was insane when he mentioned it. While she put on lotion and picked out a dress, she thought about how much she had watched Kareem grow over the time they knew each other. He seemed to listen to advice she gave him. 

Kareem was a momma’s boy if she had ever met one. It bothered her at first, but she was starting to see that he really could stand on his own two feet. Veronica wasn’t put off by him being so close to Lena. She had watched the tail end of their relationship and felt like Kareem was doing what was most responsible. He wasn’t a fan of Miami but it seemed to be growing on him. 

Veronica looked at herself, in her emerald green hip hugging dress, and wondered if he really was ready for a relationship. She didn’t have time for games and enjoyed their friendship. The thought of going to a fancy restaurant did not appeal to her at all. Veronica was much more of a family style restaurant girl if she had to go out. She preferred to order in and watch movie or play games. She wondered if Kareem felt like he had to win her with fancy dates. For a moment, she wondered if he wanted to win her at all.

“Why are you taking me on this date?” Veronica asked as soon as she answered the door.

Kareem had to blink twice and attempt to breathe. Veronica looked so beautiful that it took his breath away. He had seen her in a dress before. He had seen her with her hair out and wearing makeup before. He had never seen her doing both at the same time. It was taking everything in him not to kiss her. “Huh?”

“Why are you taking me out on this date?” Veronica got nervous and shifted her weight.

“I wanted to take you someplace nice. We don’t get to do that very often.”

“Oh.” Veronica nodded. “Let me grab my purse.”

Kareem stepped inside her foyer and shut the door as she went down the hallway. “You don’t want to go?”

“I do. I mean I think it is sweet.”

“But you don’t want to go.” Kareem followed her voice.

Veronica was sitting on her bed. “Listen. I really like you. My mind is a million places. I don’t really like going fancy places but I really appreciate that you want to take me to fancy places.”

Kareem chuckled. “Roni, if you want to just go get burgers or we can order pizza and hang out. I don’t really care. I was just trying to spend time with you without our sons.”

Veronica stood up. “So how about you help me out of this dress, we order a pizza, and we can hang out here without the boys.”

Kareem walked up to Veronica. She had turned her back to him and moved her hair so that he could unzip her dress. He got just close enough to reach with his fingers and start her zipper.

“Kareem.”

“Yes.”

“You can come closer.” She glanced over her shoulder at him.

“You sure?”

Veronica smiled. “Positive.”

Kareem stepped closer and moved her zipper all the way down to the small of her back. “There.”

Veronica took a step backwards, so that she was pressed against him. “I’m totally fine with us remaining just friends but I need to know if that is all you want.”

Kareem leaned down and kissed her on the back of her neck. “I want to be your best friend.”

Veronica giggled as he traced his lips across her neck. “You kinda already are.”

“Good.” Kareem slipped his hands inside the opening of her dress and pulled her even closer to him. “Now, what if I want even more than that?”

“That would be interesting.”

“Interesting?”

“Yeah. Cause I’d like more than that too.”

Kareem turned Veronica around and kissed her. She melted for a moment and then felt like a fire was lit inside her. Before she knew it, she had Kareem pinned to the bed  they began to do things she had been thinking about since she first set eyes on him.

 

Lena looked to her right and smiled. Gwennie was leaning across the lap of Cherie, Gloria’s daughter, and looking out the window as the plane prepared to land. Cherie had taken a semester off from school and was home, driving Gloria crazy. When Lena asked if she wanted to go to Amsterdam with her, Cherie jumped at the chance to get away. Lena had told Paul that she was coming, but it was to visit Elaine. Paul was so thankful that he bought all three plane tickets. Lena didn’t tell Elaine she was coming. Paul told her that Elaine had a niece who had come to stay and help her. Lena talked to her. The conversation had been rough. Elaine was not doing as well as she was telling people she was.

“Gwennie, you gotta sit in your seat.” Cherie went to adjust Gwennie’s car seat straps.

“Mama, no.” Gwennie looked up at Lena.

“Just for a few minutes while the plane lands. You’ll still be able to see.” Lena helped Cherie get Gwennie settled. Cherie was much better with Terry, but Lena hoped that Gwennie wouldn’t give her too rough of a time.

Terry had thrown the biggest tantrum about not being able to go. Lena felt horrible but Kareem smacked Terry’s legs as soon as he began to kick and scream. Terry ended up taking a nap while Lena and Gwennie left in Lonzo’s minivan. Cherie and Gloria were already in the minivan. Evan didn’t seem to care that Lena was leaving, although he did want to know when she was coming back.

“I should only be gone a week.”

“Okay.” Evan nodded. “Terry will be fine. He’s just being a baby.”

“Be nice to your brother.”

Lena smiled thinking about her boys and how fast they were growing up. Gwennie, not to be ignored and clearly aware her mother’s mind wasn’t on her, put her hand on Lena’s cheek 

“Love you momma.”

“Love you too Gwennie.”

Paul had sent someone to pick them up from the airport and take them to the hotel. Gwennie did not like the cold or needing to be bundled up. As soon as they got in the room, she stripped off all of her clothing. She then proceeded to take off her pull up and put it in the trash, followed by her attempting to tie the small trash bag closed as she had seen her mother do.

“Lawd, child…” Lena huffed.

“I’ll give her a bath and then we will take a nap.” Cherie stopped Lena. “You should go and visit your friend and see how she is doing. We’ll be fine.”

Lena thanked Cherie. After Gwennie was distracted in the bathroom, Lena put her coat on and grabbed her purse. She let them know she would be back later and headed out the door. Lena still remembered the way to Elaine’s house and that it was actually walking distance from both the hotel and the office. Glen, Elaine’s husband, had picked it saying that it would possibly be the only way that he would see his wife. Lena laughed recalling that Glen was a writer and just as big of a workaholic as Elaine was. He simply was able to work from home all the time. Lena walked up to the house and smiled, remembering the many dinners she had there while she was in Amsterdam. She remembered Elaine being the one to tell her that she was probably pregnant and not getting fat from all the British pub food.

“We’re in the garden.” 

Lena had just rung the doorbell. She followed the voice to the side pathway. There was a well manicured garden path that led around the side of the house. Glen adored his garden. After he died, Elaine had to hire someone to come and keep it up to Glen’s standards. Lena wandered down the path until she got to the small sitting area on the side of the house. Elaine was sitting in a rocker, with a blanket over her lap. Her niece smiled at Lena.

“Auntie, you have a visitor.”

“Well I know that. I heard the doorbell too. I’m not going deaf.” Elaine turned and a shocked expression grew on her face. “Lena?”

“Hey you.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to see if you were bullshitting me about being okay.” Lena walked over and hugged her friend. 

Elaine looked so frail but still had a bit of light in her eyes that was the only thing keeping Lena from crying. Elaine smiled. “Today is a good day. Right Clara?”

Elaine’s niece smiled. “Right. You ate all your soup at lunch so I will not complain.”

“At least not until dinner.” Elaine rolled her eyes.

Lena laughed. She sat down in the seat across from Elaine. Lena looked down at the tablet. “You still trying to work?”

“Clara is a horrible assistant. I think she is doing it on purpose. I want to know what Paul is doing to my work. You know he is so out of practice.”

“He just got a bunch of work in with the Chicago crap. He also got to train new staff and a group of interns.”

“He won’t stop talking about those interns. I swear he wants to hire them all when they graduate.” Elaine laughed. 

“I’m fine with that.”

“You hand picked them.” Elaine scoffed.

“That is true. Rod got a chance to interview them as well.”

“That man. How do you even tolerate him? We fought the entire time he was here. He would not listen to any of my input.”

Lena laughed. “Elaine, you leave such thorough notes that he likely didn’t need you to repeat yourself. He got mad at me when I was out on maternity leave for Gwennie because I do the same thing.”

“Well I helped to train you.” Elaine began to cough.

Clara stood up. “I’m going to bring a fresh pot of tea. Would you like something to drink, Lena?”

“I can have tea.”

Elaine’s eyes got wide. “You drink tea now?”

“A little.”

“Oh.” Elaine wiped her mouth. She waited until Clara had gone in the house. “Paul is all up in arms not knowing for sure if you and Rod have a thing going on.”

Lena laughed. “He pays too much attention to gossip.”

“And we have known you both for over a decade.” Elaine leaned back in her chair. “I don’t deal in gossip. I simply asked Rod.”

“And what did he say.” 

Elaine smiled. “I’m not telling you that. You ask him yourself if you want to know.”

Lena groaned. “Why do you do this?”

“Because.” Elaine looked off into the garden. “I miss my husband but I’m not ready to join him just yet.”

“What are the doctor’s saying?”

“The surgeries have gone well. It’s the radiation that is trying to kill me along with any remaining cancer.” Elaine sighed. “I can survive this disease if I can survive the treatment.”

Lena reached out and held Elaine’s hand. “How many more treatments do you have?”

“One.” A tear came down Elaine’s cheek. “I barely survived the last one. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Well, let’s be practical about this.” Lena smiled at Elaine when she looked at her. “Isn’t that what you always say to me when I get frustrated?”

“Yes but…”

“No buts.” Lena shook her head. “If you don’t do the treatment you might die. If you do the treatment…”

“I might die.”

“Okay. So, I can tell you without doing any research on the matter that we are all going to die.” Lena bit her bottom lip gently trying to hold back tears. “So how about we put up a bit of a fight. At least as much fight as you would put up when Glen would try and get you to take a vacation.”

“That man was always on holiday. I swear. Everytime I turned around he wanted to get on the train or hop a plane to somewhere. I told him each and every time that I had work to do. I didn’t have time for his shenanigans.”

Lena laughed at the fire in Elaine’s eyes. “So tell him that now.”

Elaine squeezed Lena’s hand. “Deal.”

 

Kareem and Nathan were walking the kids down the street. They had just returned from the Farmer’s Market. Nate Jr and Terry ran ahead and began to play in Lena’s front lawn. Evan and Shawn were trailing behind, pulling the wagon full of the things they had gotten. A huge truck pulled down the street and attracted all the boys attention. They were delivering a portable storage container to the house next door to Lena.

“Hey Bill, you guys remodeling?” Kareem asked the neighbor.

Bill walked over to Kareem and Nathan after he gave instructions to the truck driver. “Hey guys. No. My job is transferring me. We got three weeks to pack up and move to San Antonio.”

“At least is it someplace warm.” Nathan chuckled.

“I’m thankful for that.” Bill laughed. “You guys know a good realtor? I need to unload this house ASAP. Nadine is already shopping for a new one and I can tell I’m going to not like the two mortgage life.”

A light bulb went off in Kareem’s head. “How much you trying to get for your place?”

“It still needs a few things done to it. I’m going to be reasonable because we are making out pretty good regardless. I just need a quick closing.”

Nathan stood back as Kareem and Bill talked numbers. Then he looked at Kareem. “You know someone.”

“I do and it may be faster to avoid all the agents.” Kareem nodded to Bill. “I will get back to you tomorrow.”

“Great. Thanks.”

Nathan followed Kareem into Lena’s backyard. “Who do you know that needs to buy a house?”

“Me.”

“Oh. You gonna move out now?”

“It’s next door. I can’t get better than next door.”

Nathan nodded. “That is true. He has a four bedroom though. You don’t need that much space.”

“I do if Veronica moves in with me.”

“Oh. So we are finally there with you two.” Nathan chuckled.

“Her lease is up and they are selling her place. I thought about buying it but they want too much and it’s too small.” Kareem turned to Nathan after unlocking the patio door to the main house. “Besides, Evan wants to move in with me wherever I move too.”

“Oh that is going to be rough.”

“I have mentioned it to Lena but she hasn’t really wanted to address it.”

“I can tell you, she won’t be happy about it.”

“But if we are just right next door, it shouldn’t be that big of an adjustment for anyone.”

“Facts.” Nathan nodded his head. “Hey boys, bring those things inside. Put them on the counter. Nate, make sure to separate your mom’s stuff.”

“Yes sir.” The boys all responded together.

“So, you’re going to buy a house and move her in with you?”

“I’m going to see if she will buy a house with me.”

“Woah. That is a commitment right there.”

“I’d marry her but I know she isn’t thrilled about being married again. We talked about moving in together. Her issue with the house thing has been having a down payment. I have that. Her credit is way better than mine.”

“So you two clearly make a good team.” Nathan shrugged. “Well Tantie likes her.”

“Does she?” Kareem rolled his eyes.

“She asks me about if you have stopped being an idiot or if you are going to fuck up with another perfect woman.”

Kareem groaned. “I just…”

Nathan laughed.

 

Lena spent two weeks in Amsterdam. Clara really needed the help with Elaine, as Elaine refused to hire a home nurse. Lena spent a lot of time with Elaine, even going to the final radiation treatment with her. Clara went as well. Other times, Clara offered to show Cherie and Gwennie around Amsterdam. It gave Clara a much needed break. She had been taking care of her aunt by herself for months.

Halfway through Macie called Lena.

“Hey girl, where do you hide your vibrator?”

“What?” Lena was loading Elaine’s dishwasher. 

“Your parents are on their way from the airport. Your mother insists on helping Kareem with the kids. They are going to stay in your room.”

“Oh shit.” Lena laughed. “It is in that heart pillow hiding place you got me for my birthday.”

“That was ages ago. You still have that?”

“Of course.”

Macie laughed. “Okay. Anything else I need to stash.”

“My life is not that exciting.”

“How’s Elaine?”

“I think we are at the tail end of the worst part.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“She is fighting though.”

“Well that’s important.” Macie paused. “Terry’s holding it together. He spent the night with us last night. Him and Nate stayed up until three in the morning watching cartoons.”

“Lawd.”

“I’m chugging coffee right now.”

“I told my mother that Kareem was fine.”

“I think it has more to do with Veronica than anything.”

Lena groaned. “My mother needs to mind her business.”

“When has she ever?” Macie laughed. “So when are you coming back.”

“Elaine said she plans on living long enough to kick me out of here so I can make it home for my birthday.”

“After we already cancelled our plans.” Macie groaned.

“We can do brunch the next day since that will be Sunday anyway.”

“Terry wants to fix you dinner on your birthday.”

“And I will be home in time for that.” Lena sighed. “So, what else isn’t Kareem telling me?”

“Girl, I’m not sure what he is plotting but my best guess is that he might be buying your neighbor’s house.”

“Evan said the neighbor was moving to Texas.”

“Why do you have so many scarves?”

Lena laughed. “Roderick Cartwright.”

“Oh.” Macie giggled. “Well, he was supposed to be showing it to Roni today. That is all I can get out of Nate. Nathan refuses to get involved in gossip.”

“Which means it isn’t gossip, it’s fact, and he is trying to stay out of trouble.” Lena smiled. “Well, let’s see what happens.”

“Exactly.”

 

“Kareem, why are we walking through your neighbor’s house?” Veronica put her hand on her hip. They were in the kitchen. “Clearly we need to let them pack.”

“What do you think of this kitchen? Bill just did the remodel a year or so ago.”

Veronica huffed. “It is very nice.”

“The main bathroom still needs work and these floors need to be replaced but…”

“Kareem!” Veronica yelled.

“Huh?”

“What they hell are we doing here?”

“I was thinking about us moving in here.”

“Us, as in together?”

“Yes.” Kareem said carefully.

“You want to rent this place?”

“No. I want to buy it.”

“I don’t have the money to buy a house.”

Kareem pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. He was prepared. “I talked with the bank. With the downpayment that I can come up with and a guess as to your financials, this is where we would be as far as monthly payments.”

“This is not terrible.” Veronica took the paper and read over it. “My credit score is higher than that.”

Kareem chuckled. “I was afraid to ask you for your information so we guessed.”

“You need to leave those credit cards alone.” Veronica shook her head. She had spent the better part of the first few years after her divorce rebuilding her credit while living with her mother. “Okay, half of this is way less than what I’m paying now.”

“That’s my point. I can swing this on my own but with your help I can continue to give Lena what I have been giving her.”

“And what is that?” Veronica took that as her opportunity to ask. She had never wanted to pry even though she had been more than willing to let Kareem know what she got from her ex.

“I pay the market rate rent for the guest house.” Kareem rubbed the back of his head. “She still makes way more money than I do and won’t accept child support or alimony from me.”

Veronica laughed. “You make a lot of money Kareem. Lena is an executive who works eighty hours a week. There’s no catching up to her.”

“I did pay her dad back for the downpayment on her house.”

“That was sweet of you.”

“Hell, she had put way more money than that into our LA house. It was the least I could do.”

“So you want to move next door to your ex-wife?”

“It is a step up from her guest house.”

Veronica laughed again. “This is true.”

“Evan wants to live with me.”

“I know. He said.” Veronica pursed her lips. “I can’t imagine how Lena will feel. She and I are so different. I would be raising hell.”

“Plus mom wouldn’t have far to…”

“Hold it right there.” Veronica held her hand up. “Kareem Thomas, I love you. I want to live with you. I’m willing to buy this house with you and possibly consider marriage again one day. However, your mother is not moving in with us.”

“But…”

“She lives next door. Put a fucking gate in.” Veronica walked to the front of the house. “This house is nice. It’ll take a bit of work. He is being fair on price so we should go for it. But you can forget it if you are trying to move your mother in here with us. It’s bad enough there is a spare bedroom and my mother is going to want to come and visit.”

Kareem shook his head and followed Veronica out the house. “Okay dear.”

 

“Paul has ordered your plane tickets.” Elaine sipped her tea. “You’ll have a layover but you’ll be home in time for your birthday dinner.”

“Are you sure you are going to be okay?” Lena pointed to the bowl of soup. “Eat that.”

“I’ll be fine.” Elaine paused. “Your young Cherie asked if I wanted her to stay and help Clara.”

“Cherie is finding herself.” Lena sighed. “I would like you to let Clara hire a nurse. You are doing better and you would only need the nurse during times when Clara needs a break.”

“But if Cherie stays…”

“You’ll still need a nurse.”

Elaine had a bit of her soup. She was proud that she was back to feeding herself. “Well, perhaps.”

“Good because I already had Paul hire one.”

Elaine groaned.

“You aren’t the only one who can get him to do what you want.”

“He is talking about buying a country house.” Elaine shook her head. “I have to get better or I will be stuck with him in Amsterdam and I don’t know if I will survive it.”

“Oh no. I need him back in Miami as soon as possible.” Lena glanced at her laptop. She had been working remotely. 

“I will gladly send him back to you as soon as the doctor’s let me go back to work.”

“Well, we aren’t going to rush that.”

“Perhaps you can borrow the London senior partner. I heard he has two junior partners more than willing to handle things while he is gone.”

Lena shot Elaine a glare. “He might be losing one.”

“Oh he likely is going to lose one. Paul was saying that he now wants every office to have a senior partner in it.”

“He was mumbling about shifting things around.”

“I guess we will find out at the summer board meeting.”

Lena pouted. “You likely won’t be able to travel yet.”

“I’ll teleconference in.” Elaine touched Lena’s cheek. “You are a dear friend my lady. I love you for this and a great many other things.”

“I love you too.”

“So, leave me Cherie and I’ll see if I can’t help her find herself.”

“You did an amazing job with Clara.”

“I guess it is a good thing she didn’t listen to me pester her about getting married.” Elaine sighed.

“Well, you didn’t hear it from me but she has been chatting with a young man who lives about ten minutes from here.”

Elaine’s eyes lit up. “Oh that is wonderful.”

“You’re such a romantic.”

“I want us all to live happily ever after. Sue me.” Elaine shrugged.

“I guess there is nothing wrong with that.”

“What did he send you?”

“Who?”

“Don’t try it.” Elaine took another spoonful of her soup. “What did Roderick send to you while you were here?”

Lena reached in her bag and pulled out an Apple Watch. “This.”

“Oh my.”

“He says this way I can have pictures of my babies on my wrist and get work emails at the same time.”

Elaine laughed harder than she had laughed in a while. “We are all sick, twisted workaholics.”

“That we are.” Lena giggled.

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