If one more person in this shop tells me it’s not that serious, I’m gonna douse them with a bottle of semi-permanent jet-black hair coloring, and prove how serious it is. Anybody who knew Khem knew that his pride was his driving force. And there was no way he was gonna be cordial during a meeting with the man who was staking claim on my body. Which is why I decided that we’d be conducting this dysfunctional family meet and greet in public… in a well-lit area… with other witnesses.
“If you ask me, you’re putting too much thought into it.” Annette offered her two cents, slanting her eyes to the side at me in my station instead of at the head full of beautiful kinks sitting in the chair in front of her. “I mean why would he bring his wife if he was planning on acting a fool?”
“Because he’s Khembrell Watts.” I rolled my eyes. “He does what the hell he wants.”
I went back to straightening and wiping down my station, having finished my last client for the day. My feet were throbbing and my nerves were shot and in three hours I’d either be sipping a beverage and relaxing while my blended family blended, or refereeing a fight when shit went straight to hell.
“Can I ask you something, Camille?” Annette spoke but didn’t look up at me as she secured a section of her client’s hair with a clip.
“I’m sure you’re gonna do it anyway, so yes.” I sighed, pulling my combs from the sanitizing jar and laying them out on a clean white towel to dry.
“I’m glad you know it.” She smiled. “Anyway, my question is, are you really over Khem?” She clipped the other back section of thick, dark brown coils before moving on to parting the top half. “I mean really over. Y’all have history. Seems to me like you might’ve moved on too fast.”
“Annette, the man is married.” I said, watching her client’s curious eyes raise from the hair mag she was pretending to read. “And I didn’t know about it the whole damn time. There’s nothing there. All we have in common at this point is Khassidy. That’s it.”
“Sounds good when you say it.” She spoke under her breath.
“Excuse me?” My voice went up as I laid the last comb down and propped one hand on my hip. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you’re pretty good at saying things with your mouth. But I don’t believe you’re over the man. That’s what it means.”
“Well, I’m sorry that’s what you took from it, but I am.” I defended. “Why’s it so hard to believe that even after twelve years of being blind and stupid, a woman can open her eyes and be wiser?” I grabbed another towel and blotted the surface of the combs, then gathered them and dropped them in a bright pink cylinder that Khassidy bought me last Christmas to match the other bright accessories at my station.
“I didn’t say that.” She glanced at me. “I’m just saying the timing is questionable. Usually takes a little time to heal before we can just jump into something else. That’s all I’m saying.”
Annette and her theories. Always assuming that the same shit that applied to her life applied to everybody else’s. I knew she meant well, but I’m a grown woman and the shit was getting old.
“I took as long as I needed.” I grabbed my cooled marcel irons and dropped them each into their slots. “And it just so happened that a nice, respectful man came along at the same time. And he’s good for me. I’ve dealt with shit long enough to recognize sugar.”
That pulled a smile from her cheeks, which was nearly impossible to do when I wasn’t agreeing with every word she said. “Well, I hope you’re right, Miss thing.” She twisted the lid off a container of petroleum jelly and dipped her index finger in to gather a layer of it on her fingertip. “But if you’re not— “
“If I’m not, you can double my booth rent until I find the man of my dreams.” I interrupted, knowing that anything pertaining to lining her pockets was sure to settle any feud.
“Lord, now I need this man to be a terrible piece of shit.” She laughed, and so did her Eve’s dropping client. “Might have to call up some goons to break y’all up.”
“Annette, you ain’t got no goons.” I cracked up laughing, making the last step of straightening my chair so that it was facing the door, a welcome sight for clients walking in.
“Girl please.” She ran her greased finger around the perimeter of her client’s head. “My goons got goons.”
I screamed. Annette was speaking way below her age level and had no idea how hilarious it was. I needed that break from the dead seriousness awaiting me just a few hours up the road. Laughter and a stiff drink were the only things that could put me where I needed to be mentally.
“Mama, slow down!” Khassidy raised her voice as we made our way to the far end of Top Golf where we all agreed to meet.
I was too wound up to walk at a regular pace, and the sooner I laid my eyes on Stokely, the better off I would be. “We’re running late, Khassidy. You know how I hate being late.” I fussed, breathing like I was running a damn marathon, thighs swishing in my jeans, tennis shoes squeaking against the shiny waxed floor. “Just keep up.”
“But I’m tryna show you something. Daddy just sent me a text.” She said, speeding up her steps to try and match my stride. My poor baby’s ponytail was swinging like a horse tail behind her. There was no way she could understand the stress of this meeting.
“Well, you can read and talk at the same time, can’t you? Wat did he say?” I asked, still pushing forward as she swiped her phone beside me.
“Khas, what did he say?” I rushed when she didn’t respond instantly. And before she could open her mouth to answer my question, we were in the back section approaching Khembrell who was standing there alone.
“Stacey’s not coming.” Khassidy said as my eyes went from her to her daddy. “That’s what he—”
“Khem, where is your wife?” I cut Khassidy off, setting my eyes on the sexiest son of a bitch I ever hated.
“At home, I guess.” He shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. “She didn’t wanna come.” He breathed out. And I knew him well enough to know that there was more behind that statement.
“Why not? Is the baby okay?” I asked with true sincerity. She wasn’t exactly my favorite person but I wasn’t completely heartless.
“Yeah, the baby… the baby’s fine. Listen, tonight might not be the best time to do all this, Camille.” Khem’s voice was filled with a sadness I hadn’t heard since that night I left him standing on the porch. “I just showed up so Khas wouldn’t think I was backing out on her. I’m sorry baby girl.” His eyes went to Khassidy.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?” She walked over to Khem and grabbed ahold of his hand. “We haven’t hung out in a while. You sure you can’t stay for just a little bit?”
His body was saying no, but his honey brown eyes were saying yes. It was impossible for him to deny that little girl anything, even if he was going through something.
“Khassidy, maybe Daddy needs a break, baby.” I offered. “Top Golf ain’t going nowhere. We can come back any time.”
“But not together.” Khassidy wined. “You two can barely look at each other right now and you expect me to believe that you can just reschedule?” She smirked. “Come on. Just a few holes and you can go back to ignoring each other.”
“It ain’t like that.” I defended, even though my child was right. I was stand-offish for reasons I couldn’t explain. Seeing him sparked too many emotions. It took too much out of me tryna stay focused on hating somebody I used to be in love with.
“Yes, it is.” Khem spoke up. “And it don’t have to be.” He brought those eyes to me, sending a sensation down my spine that I thought had disappeared for good.
As I blinked my way out of the gaze that Khem was attempting to seduce me into, my phone vibrated in my pocket. It was Stokely, and I prayed to God he wasn’t calling to cancel.
“I gotta take this.” I raised a finger to step away and take the call. “Hey. Where you at?” I answered the phone with worry in my tone.
“Hey, babe.” He said, with a whole bunch of noise going on in the background. “I’m still at work. Sorry I didn’t call earlier but all hell broke loose out here and I’m not gonna be able to make it tonight.”
My whole heart sank to the pit of my stomach, and I swear I heard the blooper horn sounding in my ear. “Camille, you there?” Stokely’s voice broke me out of my thoughts.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m here.” I sighed.
“Baby, I’m so sorry. I’ll make it up to you and Khas, I promise. Aight?” He sounded so sincere. But that didn’t take away from the fact that now it would be me, Khas, and Khembrell at this family gathering. Didn’t even feel right calling it that given the circumstances.
“Aight.” I gave a dry response.
“Could you sound a little more cheerful? You’re making me feel bad.” He said.
“But I’m not cheerful.” I whined. “I want you here.”
“I know. And believe me, that’s where I’d rather be. I was looking forward to kicking ole boy’s ass at putt putt.” He joked. “You know that’s how men used to win ladies back in the day, right? Putt putt another nigga right out the picture.”
“That’s not funny.” I tried and failed to fight back a smile.
“But you’re smiling.” He called me out. “I can hear your cheeks against the receiver.” He laughed.
“Whatever.” My smile widened at the thought of his handsome brown face. “I’m holding you to what you owe me and my baby for standing us up.”
“I got you, little lady. Now I gotta get off this phone and get back to work. Did everybody else show up?” He asked, and for whatever reason, I didn’t feel right telling him the truth.
So, I lied. “Yeap, they’re all here.”
“Cool.” He took my word for it. Then I felt like shit. “Send them my apologies and tell Khas Breakfast Club’s on me in the morning. Love you.”
“Love you too.” I said without thinking. That was the first time we ever made that exchange. And before I could make a bigger deal of it than was necessary, Stokely hung up the phone.
“Everything okay, Mama?” Khassidy asked as I walked back over to her and her father.
“Yeah. Stokely’s stuck at work.” I said, trying not to sound too disappointed.
“So, it’s just us three?” Khassidy’s smile was way too wide. “Like the good old days.” She nudged Khembrell’s arm.
“Stop it.” I warned. “Let’s go get set up so I can kick your butt like last time.” I walked over and roped my arm through hers while Khembrell did the same on the opposite side.
“Hard to believe I used to hold that girl in one arm.” Khembrell observed as we sat side-by-side on a leather sofa, watching Khassidy play golf with a couple of her friends who happened to be there too.
“Yep.” I agreed. “One day she was a baby, and the next we’re shopping for tampons.”
“Tampons?” Khembrell shrieked. “Why the hell is she wearing tampons?”
“Cause, she got her period, Khembrell. Why else?” I scrunched my brows.
“I know that. I’m just… can’t she wear pads?” He whispered like anybody could hear our little conversation over the loud alternative rock blasting through the facility.
“She’s an athlete.” I looked at him like a math teacher giving instructions. “Pads are messy.”
“Oh.” He said, looking at me then away like he was ready to end that conversation. “Guess I gotta take your word for it.”
I giggled a little. There weren’t too many things that grossed Khem out. He’d even changed my tampon a few times because it turned him on to see anything entering and exiting my vagina, even if he couldn’t go in it himself.
“What’s up with you and Stacey?” I asked, feeling comfortable enough to pry. “I mean if you don’t mind my asking.”
“She asked for a divorce.” He said just as plainly as one would announce a ten percent chance of rain.
“What? Why?” I was genuinely surprised. She seemed dead set on punishing him with the whole til death do us part promise. The woman really had me fooled.
“Just shit, you know? All this was too much I guess.” He said, avoiding eye-contact.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” I pried even more. “It seemed like y’all were working through it. You got a baby on the way, Khem. You can’t just walk out on that.”
“Why not?” He said, eyes landing on me with full focus. “I left you and Khassidy, knowing full well that’s where I was supposed to be. Why can’t I leave a woman that I never really loved just because she’s pregnant?”
A lump got lodged in my throat that wouldn’t be easy to swallow. If Stokely was sitting next to me, this conversation wouldn’t even be taking place. But he wasn’t and it was, and I wasn’t at all prepared to deal with it. Why did he have to keep digging up shit when I’d convinced myself that I was done?
“Camille, I don’t expect you to respond to that.” He spoke before I had a chance to. “I know you found another nigga that you think can fill my shoes, but the truth is he can’t. The same way Stacey could never fill yours, that nigga can’t fill mine.”
“I don’t need a man to fill your shoes, Khembrell.” I adjusted myself on the sofa so that my body was turned toward him. “You could barely fill the damn shoes yourself.” I continued, watching his eyes fall to his lap then return to my face. “What I need is for you to respect the path that my life is taking. The path that your daughter’s life is taking, and support it. Hell, be a part of it without expecting me to be stupid enough to take you back.”
“Why would taking me back make you stupid, though?” He leaned forward, folding his hands together and resting his arms on his thighs. “You can’t act like we weren’t good together, Camille. You can’t sit here and tell me that everything we had was bad. There were good days. You don’t remember those?”
“Yes, I do, Khem.” I huffed out a laugh. “And those good days usually took place on the weekend when you were sneaking away to see me. I was too good for that then and I’m too good for that now.”
“Yeah, but it wouldn’t be like that this time.” He pleaded. And nothing dried my pussy faster than a begging man.
“Right, because your wife doesn’t want your ass.” I pointed out. “How old do you think I am, Khem? How long do you think a woman gets to be stupid before that shit expires?”
“Baby, just— “
“You do not get the privilege of calling me anything but Camille.” I cut him off, remembering how good it felt just an hour prior when Stokely called me baby over the phone. “We’re leaving. This ain’t what I came here for.” I stood from my seat on the sofa and grabbed my purse off the table in front of us. “Khassidy!” I yelled across the space. “Khassidy, let’s go!” I yelled again as she turned around in response to my yelling.
“Camille, come on now.” Khembrell pleaded, standing up in front of me forcing me to look up at him. “You don’t miss me? You stopped loving me just like that?”
“Quite the contrary.” I said with my face close enough to raise up on my tip toes and kiss his soft lips. “I do love you. Probably always will. But that doesn’t mean I have to be with you. I deserve better than a man who doesn’t value me and you deserve better than a foolish woman who settles. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” My breast pressed against his chest as he refused to step out of my way, until Khassidy approached us huffing and begging to stay a little while longer.
“Mama, please? Just another hour?” She pressed her hands together begging. “Daddy can give me a ride home. Right Daddy?” She sent her puppy dog eyes to Khem.
“Yeah.” He said, biting back the pain of rejection, lucky that Khas was too distracted with her own begging to pick up on it. “I got you.”
“See!” Khassidy almost jumped for joy. “Can I stay?” She asked me again.
“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “But no later than midnight. We got an early morning tomorrow.”
She rushed me with a hug and kissed me on the cheek before returning to the golfing station with her friends.
“Good night Khem.” I looked back up into those eyes, quickly warding off their hypnotizing effect with thoughts of Stokely swimming through my mind.
“Night.” He forced the words out and stepped out of my way, returning to the leather sofa alone as I quickly walked away.