I felt a soft tap on my shoulder as I flipped over the last burger on the grill. I didn’t need to turn around to know whose hand rested on my forearm. Her familiar touch broke my concentration instantly.
“Come with me.”
Her raspy whisper snapped me out of my trance. I slowly turned around and noted the worried look etched on her face, a drastic contradiction from her warm smile. Then again, Camille seemed full of contradictions lately. Always saying one thing and doing another. Before I could inquire why she suddenly needed alone time with me, she grabbed my hand and pulled me toward her.
“Come with me,” she repeated.
I glanced around the crowded backyard. No one watched us, and even if they did notice her hand locked in mine, they pretended not to care. My feet followed after her footsteps before my brain convinced me otherwise. I let her pull me away from the party and into the wooded area behind Sean’s home, the only place we had any real privacy.
My heart raced when she turned around and looked at me - the worry in her face now magnified with anxiety and fear. She chewed her bottom lip in silence. Her nervous tick no longer excited me because it usually meant I was about to receive news. Bad news. So I braced myself.
And after a minute of silence my estranged wife rattled off two words I waited three years to hear.
I took a deep breath to calm down, unable to stop the smile spreading across my face. She held up her hand to silence me before I could respond.
“I don’t think it’s yours.”
And just like that, Camille tore my heart out my chest and stomped a hole in it.
I closed my eyes and inhaled, trying to make sense of her confession but incapable of processing the words that came out of her mouth. Those five words haunted me already. I doubted they would ever stop.
I don’t think it’s yours.
“Derek. Please say something. You’re worrying me.”
Exhale. I opened up my eyes and scowled. Now she was worried about me? Since when did my feelings come first? I glanced toward the house, my fist clenched tightly together.
“Is it Terry’s? Is he the possible…is he the…” I let the question hang in the air. I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence. The thought of Camille raising a family with my cousin Terry made my stomach turn over.
“Don’t make this about him. Please.”
I ignored the pleading look in her eyes. “Answer the question, Camille.”
She shrugged, failing at her attempt to remain nonchalant. I smelled her fear the moment she pulled me away from the grill.
“I think so.”
I grunted, no longer withholding my disgust for her or my cousin. It didn’t matter that they dated first in high school or waited months after we parted ways to resume the relationship. Or the fact that she claimed, “It just happened one day. Everything just clicked between us. None of this was planned." None of that conversation mattered as I looked down at my right hand.
I held my hand up in the air. “You may not wear your ring, but I still wear mine. It still means something to me.”
“Don’t do this, Derek. You’re the one who wanted out, remember? You told me you didn’t want to be married to me anymore a year ago. You moved out. Not me. You left me. Or did you forget?”
Of course I remembered. I regretted the day a few months after it happened. Our differences became too much to overlook, especially our stance on children. She denied me the privilege of being a father for three years. So I thought it’d be best for us to part ways. Figured I’d be happier without her.
I was wrong.
“I told you I made a mistake.”
“You only told me that when you found out I moved on with Terry.”
“Well it didn’t take you too long, did it?”
“How long did you want me to wait? Until you figured things out? I held out for eight months, Derek. And after our last rendezvous you told me you still weren’t sure if you wanted to come home. I knew I needed to move on. You wanted to be separated but you wanted to have your cake and eat it too. I’m done.”
I often thought about our last night together, which happened four months ago. I casually stopped by the house that Sunday afternoon to fix the faucet, even though I knew my ulterior motive was to get her upstairs. It didn’t take long to get there. Camille was right. I wanted the goods even though I was unsure about the marriage. Once I confessed that, she stopped inviting me over and moved on with Terry shortly after that.
I did the math in my head. “Well if you’re four months pregnant, that means you got with Terry right after our last night together.” I shook my head at her. “Unbelievable.”
“Don’t judge me. I’m done chasing you. I’m in love with a man who wants to be with me. Just do us all a favor and stop refusing to sign the papers. Let us all move on with our lives. I’m sorry if this hurts. I’m sorry for all of this, but we need to get on with it.”
“Are you really sorry? Sorry that I asked for a child for three years and the minute we split, you decide to carry another man's child. Are you really sorry about that Camille?”
She nodded. A single tear fell down her cheek. “Yes, I really am sorry about how everything went down. And you should be too.”
I stared at her, a mixture of shock, hurt, anger and sadness coursing through every part of me, making it hard for me to stand. I owed Camille an apology, but after seven years of marriage, we owed each other so much more. Forgiveness. Love. We deserved to give us another chance.
But I couldn’t utter any of those words out loud, so I slowly backed away from her to distance myself.
“I gotta go.”
I turned around and headed toward the house, ignoring her as she called after me. Determined to leave my friend’s party unnoticed, I grabbed my keys off of the kitchen counter and headed toward the front door. I forgot we had so many mutual friends, and many of them showed up to the party today. I’d let her stay. I needed to leave.
“Going somewhere, honey?”
I locked eyes with Mrs. James, the kindest woman I ever met and one of my favorite people in the world.
“Yes, I’m not feeling too well, so I’m taking off.”
She frowned. “Oh that’s no good. I’d hate to see you leave before we give Sean his surprise gift for his housewarming. Go in the den and sit on the couch. I’ll make you some tea. And then leave if you’re not feeling better after that.””
“I don't think I'm wanted here, Mrs. James.”
Even though I didn't mean to tell her that, she nodded her head knowingly, as if she understood everything.
“Trust me you are. Now go have a seat.”
I respected Sean’s grandmother too much to disappoint her, so I headed to the den and waited. As promised, she brought me a hot cup of tea. I sipped on it in deep thought, letting the hot water burn the back of my throat.
I walked over to the window taking in the scene of happy people dancing around in the backyard of Sean’s new home. I was anything but happy. I no longer belonged here. My eyes zoomed in on Camille standing off to the side, her arms folded across her chest having an intense conversation with Terry, who apparently just arrived. I fought the urge to run outside and pummel him to the ground.
Terry suddenly shook his head, grabbed his keys and headed down the driveway to his car, speeding off as soon as he jumped inside. A sad-faced Camille looked on after him.
Mrs. James popped her head into the room. “How you feeling now, Derek? You staying or you going?”
I took the last sip of my tea, my eyes drawn back to the window at a lonely Camille. She stood out among the happy faces gathered together for a line dance. Like she no longer belonged.
A tiny smile formed on my lips as I gave Mrs. James a slight nod.
It looked like I'd be hanging around after all.
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