I looked at Michael, waiting for him to speak up and say something. Anything. His reason for keeping me in the dark all these years. His reason for keeping our relationship a secret but he just stared back at me, stuck in his own thoughts.
“Say what you want, and maybe it's because she has a baby but Pia has been more involved with this family than you. Even came to the last Moon Run and was kicking it at the table with the cousins---”
“Michael and I kept our relationship private for a reason,” was all I could say to keep from lashing out with erratic emotions, “he introduced me to his father---”
“Daddy didn’t mention you,” Caroline said with a shake of her head as she looked to Michael, “you kept her away from us because you were scared we would push her away? Are we that bad? Pia hid a baby from us for two years and she still was able to have a seat at the table with our family so what was it about Ryan that we couldn’t see? You brought her to our parents house early in the morning thinking nobody would be there but them. Then you thought you could propose to her in secret? Why hold something that big away from family? You’ve always had girls around us that you were dealing with so why is she any different?”
“Michael ain’t the relationship type,” Homer said, trying to step up for his brother, “when have you known him to be in a serious relationship? He wanted to keep Ryan to himself---”
“But even as a girlfriend? As a girl he was dealing with and clearly cheating on with in the beginning? He didn’t take her seriously in the beginning. I can name three girls he didn’t take seriously and we still knew about them,” Caroline stated before she looked at me, “can you see where we’re coming from? Ryan, I’m sorry but Michael carried on as if he was single and not settling down any time soon and that can go back as last summer. No mention of you or even having a girlfriend in general. He’s been single in our eyes for years, but never had an issue with us involving any of the girls he slept with. Including some of our friends.”
“Mmmph,” Siren huffed with a roll of her eyes towards her brother, “now you got Ryan standing here looking foolish for trying to defend yall relationship, and you were ashamed of it all along---”
“Last summer?” I repeated with my arms falling at my sides as I stared at Michael for answers.
“If you’re going to blame us for being these evil sisters who are set out to ruin your lives, at least be honest Michael,” Caroline started as Michael’s face dropped with guilt. “That’s the real reason why you probably didn’t say anything or mention her to us but she felt comfortable enough to step to us. You knew we would have said something about it because,” standing up as she grabbed her keys and purse, “you know we don’t play that. You didn’t introduce us to her because we would have called you out on the cheating and lies but you kept her hidden so you could protect not her from us, but from your cheating ways. She’s a sweet girl from what I can see but I can tell she’s not the type to take no shit.”
“Last summer?” I repeated, eyes never leaving Michael as he dragged his hand down his face. “We decided to have a fresh start a year, almost over a year ago with no incidents Michael so what is this, last summer? What is she talking about? We were in a relationship last summer. It’s not even spring yet. We’re still in winter so---”
“Like I said… all before,” Siren muttered as she got up, “I wasn’t trying to start anything by saying he was with my homegirl last year. Maybe he didn’t physically cheat but---”
“Aye, cut it out,” Homer cut in, “all of yall cut it out. This ain’t nobody’s business but---”
“Michael?” I called out again with my heart racing. “You never stepped out on me since we decided to work things out. Since you decided you wanted to marry me and go out and buy a ring to propose to me…”
The entire house was silent with the exception of slow dragging feet moving against the carpet. Kenneth Skye appeared from the hallway as he stared at his son.
“Didn’t I tell you that lie was gonna come back and hit you on the ass boi? You love her, you will tell her the truth. No matter what. If she loves you, she ain’t going nowhere but you gotta come clean with yo dirt before you jump that broom. Otherwise trust is damaged, marriage is doomed from the start.”
I could feel my body weakened, eyes growing blurry with tears as my hands began to tremble. I couldn’t go through this again. Not again. Not with a ring on. Not with my wedding being planned.
“I had a lapse in judgement,” Michael spoke in a low voice as he dragged both hands down his face with a heavy sigh. “Ry you gotta believe me when I say it was a one time thing. Just when I knew I was gonna propose to you, I went out with J and em to Charlotte for the weekend and it was a mistake. One night, too many drinks. I was so fucked up, I had to get Homer to come get me and take me home but I haven’t messed around since. I’ve been good. I’ve been the best man I can be for you and our relationship. I just had one night where I made a mistake, and I stand firm on not telling my sisters about you because of this like this. They will break you down, and tear us apart---”
“Are you serious Michael?!” Caroline laughed. “You just---!”
“You just did what we asked you not to do,” Homer laughed. “You telling folks business that ain’t yours. You putting his girl on the spot. So you don’t know her, it don’t matter how they met and got together, and what he do ain’t nobody’s business but them two. What matters now is that she’s here and she’s getting married to him. You want the gay jokes to stop, and all the disrespect to come to an end when you can’t even do it!”
“But he cheated on her! Time and time again!” Siren laughed. “Why is that our fault?!”
“It’s yall fault if you constantly sticking your nose in places where it don’t belong,” Homer said.
“So you lied…” I retorted angrily with tears coming down my eyes, “you lied about protecting me from your sisters when really you just wanted to have the freedom to fuck around.”
“I mean, that should have been obvious,” Siren said with a pout.
“Stop it Siren! Just stop!” Caroline snapped. “It wasn’t cute then, it's not cute now so stop it! Just because you think you got this perfect ass relationship with a man that has YET to propose to you doesn’t mean you need to disrespect the next, so stop!”
Caroline turned to look at her brothers after having enough of all of this.
“I want the gay insults and jokes to stop. Singling out Dre and threatening to fight Ahmad. It’s constant! Nobody wants to speak about the side remarks and comments you and everyone else has made about DJ and I. Only thing yall focus on is Pia. Pia this Pia that. Why does she get more respect than your own sisters and she hid your child from you with another man raising her? Why does that take precedence over Trinity’s husband who has been nothing but respectful and loyal to her or Junie who is raising your niece, taking care of his family and worships the ground Nevaeh walks on. That man has done more for us in the past two years as a brother in law than you two have in a fucking lifetime. Why does that not get brought up!? Maybe if you got to know Ahmad, sat down with Dre, or chilled with Junie you would see they are good men just like Tucker but you can’t seem to hop off his yellow dick to save your life, but you like pretty things Homer. I get that, you and me are the same. That’s why we’re the oldest. You’re attracted to pretty things and pretty people like Tucker so he gets treated with the utmost respect but you got three other brother in-laws wanting to bond with yall and you too good to deal with them and you KNOW! You KNOW! Whatever you do in this family, the rest will follow.”
“I’m talking! Since we wanna blame Caroline and the sisters for ruining relationships and lives, let Caroline speak!” she screamed, looking and sounding exactly like her mother. “You keep on treating them the way you do, and I will make sure Pia’s life is a living nightmare. TRY ME IF YOU WANT TO! Respect your sisters and the men or women they choose to be with and we won’t have any problems. You know I’m good on my threats and you know I don’t play about my sisters. I don’t care who you are. It's them over anybody. Even my brothers. Michael, you deserve whatever is going to happen because you, like Delilah, stay in everybody’s business while covering your dirt. Don’t blame us for ruining your relationship. You clearly did that all on your own.”
With that, she slipped her shades on and started for the door.
“Ryan, do you need a ride back to Augusta. I’m going home,” she said, jerking the door open.
“Hold up, Ryan?” Michael called out, almost tripping over his own feet to get to me, “Ryan lemme talk to you for a second.”
I struggled to take the engagement ring off before tossing it in the yard as I walked to whatever car was closest.
“Ryan?! Ry?!” Michael shouted, running out the door until I felt a hand grab my arm, “listen to me. You gotta believe me when I say that is all I did. Just one night---”
“Michael leave her alone---”
I turned to face him as he grabbed both hands before looking down realizing the ring was off.
“Ryan, I swear on everything baby please believe me when I say I haven’t done anything since,” he pleaded. “I haven’t been with anyone since. I wanna marry you. I’m tryna start a life with you. I want us to have a family, get this house we've been looking at, but you gotta find it in your heart… I know you sick of my shit, and you bout sick of me but believe me when I say I’m done.”
The tears swelling in his eyes used to do it for me and for a moment, I felt like I could really believe this could work. Michael gathered my hands together to bring to his mouth like he was praying.
“Ryan you know I’ve been on it since we started back. I’ve done everything right. I’m ready to settle down. I wouldn’t have asked you to marry me. I wouldn’t have introduced you to my parents---”
“Aye, you dropped this. Don’t leave without this on her finger bruh,” Homer said, picking up the ring from his yard to give to Michael. I could feel his hands trembling when Michael tried to shove the ring back on my finger before kissing my hand again, refusing to let go.
“I’m sorry Ryan, you know I’m sorry. I’m not perfect. I don’t claim to be perfect but you know I’ma lose my mind without you, just please…”
His sisters and his Dad at this point were standing in the yard with everyone staring at me, waiting for my response.
“As much crap as he talks,” Omni said with a grin, “it's obvious my brother is obsessed with you. Never seen him like this with another woman, that much I can say.”
“Everybody makes mistakes baby girl,” Kenneth let out, “but I think you made him a better man for it. Ain’t no telling how he’s gon act if you break his heart and say no. Just let him make up for it. Nigga was crying at my house about it.”
“Break his heart?” Caroline retorted in a snobby manner, “what about hers? He’s the one that cheated, and you’re talking about his heart breaking? Him being hurt?”
“Don’t project your infidelity issues onto them,” Trinity laughed. “You and DJ aren’t the same---”
“I know she’s hurt. I’m not excusing my son’s behavior,” Kenneth said as his eyes remained on me, “but I know he will spend the rest of his time between now and the wedding to make it right with her. I was there when he came dragging his feet into my house in tears and that boy never cries so I know it was a mistake he was going to regret, but I also know he loves this girl. Damn near crazy about her.”
“Besides, who wouldn’t want to be a part of this family?” Siren let out sarcastically with a smile at me. “I could use another pretty sis. The ones I have now ain’t really on my level.”
“Bitch fuck you,” Trinity retorted as Michael kept his eyes on me.
“Ryan please don’t make me do something crazy to get you back,” he whispered with desperation. That same crazed look in his eyes I was all too familiar with. “Ima end up doing something stupid, get myself arrested tryna win you back and I won’t stop. This is me, this is my family, we made it this far. That was months ago. I ain’t seen the bitch since. I can’t tell you what she looks like because I was drunk… Ry please don’t make me lose my mind tryna come after you…Let’s go get married baby,” kissing my hands, “we got time to work it out before the date. I’ll be more involved. I’ll do whatever you need me to do, just don’t leave me… Ain’t no other woman on this earth like you.”
My eyes traced back to his family standing behind him, having his back as a few nodded for that extra push that just felt more like pressure to say yes.
“Okay,” I said, pulling my hands back from him as his eyes widened. Michael’s smile stretched before he wrapped his arms around me for a hug, repeatedly kissing the side of my face as I stared blankly at his father who mouthed, “thank you.” Only to turn and walk back into the house.
“I know my baby bout sick of me more than she loves me but I’m working on changing that!” Michael laughed as he pulled back. “Come on, you hungry? You ready to eat? You ready to go? Whatever you want, the world is yours for the rest of yo life on GAWD!” he exclaimed as his brother laughed.
I turned to Caroline who was popping the door open to her Jeep when she stared at me with a knowing look.
“You still want a ride?”
“Please?” I let out softly.
“Leave her be Michael,” Caroline fussed. “You got what you wanted. You all pressured her into saying yes. She’s still with you, she still has the damn ring on but give her some space. She just found out you cheated on her again and lied using your sisters to blame. On top of that, she has to plan a wedding to marry your sorry ass. Give her some damn space. Isn’t this what you wanted? Us to bond? Well this is how we’re doing it. Nevaeh come on,” helping her pregnant sister into the passenger seat, “and remember what I said about Pia! You have brother in-laws waiting in Atlanta! Act accordingly or I will continue to do me!”
“I hear you!” Homer waved off.
“You smoking?” Trinity could be heard asking as her, and Homer turned towards the house. Michael stood in the yard watching me get in the back seat while Nevaeh sat in the front until we pulled off in silence.
“What a morning,” Nevaeh sighed to herself as Caroline glanced over at her before looking back at me. “I’m starving.”
“We can stop and feed the baby. Have you been on your vitamins?”
“Not as of late no. Just keep forgetting to take them.”
Caroline reached over like a mother hen and pressed her palm against Nevaeh’s forehead to check her temperature. Only to then press her hand against her cheek.
“You’re trying to run a fever. I told you not to stress coming up here Nay. I’ll stop by Niecey’s house to make some tea and grab a bite to eat on our way to Augusta. I’ll remind you or Junie to take your vitamins.”
“I know you will,” Nevaeh mocked playfully as she looked at her older sister.
“Honey don’t do me. I’m already having PTSD from Michael… just thinking about DJ and that woman in our bed just started me up again but I’m living… I’m okay. We’re about to open up shop soon...DJ is history as far as I know… and life is good. We have a baby shower to plan. Delilah refused one for ego reasons but---”
“I most definitely want a baby shower. Sooner rather than later,” Nevaeh said as Caroline smiled like she’d been given the keys to the city before turning to glance back at me.
“Ryan, you need to put your address in the phone so I know where to go. I’m not familiar with Augusta.”