1:45 p.m.

“Is AJ coming over?” Paris asked as she climbed onto the counter to retrieve her favorite box of Trix Swirls from atop the refrigerator.

“No, we’re going out,” Michael sucked his teeth as he watched his daughter struggle to reach for the cereal. “Get off of the counter, Paris.”

“But I can’t- Oh.” She grinned as her father handed her the box. “Thanks, daddy!” She jumped off the counter, box clutched to her chest as she went to get a bowl and a spoon.

“AJ,” as the children affectionally called Athena, changed all their lives for the better when she met them.

In 2006, when Michael quietly moved back from Bahrain, he was on autopilot. Raising his children to the best of his ability in California and Virginia, Michael was used to being a self-imposed single parent.

Sure, he’d indulge in adult activity with women from time to time. Two of which he nicknamed “Friend” and the other “Flower,” Friend being the favorite amongst the two. But even though she was his favorite, he never brought her or Flower anywhere near his children. She’d be lavished in gifts, booked in the finest hotels, and would be lucky enough to be taken out on a date or two, but she was never afforded the privilege of meeting his children.

That all changed when Michael met Athena.

Once he met her, he had to let Friend and Flower go. Interestingly enough, Flower took it much harder than Friend did. Friend understood their arrangement. Flower did not. She always wanted more than Michael was interested in giving her.

In the middle of a quick business trip to LA from Middleburg, Virginia, Michael decided to shop along Rodeo Drive. While browsing the finest jewelry Buccellati had to offer, screaming fans gathered along the windows and locked doors to catch a glimpse of their idol.

Michael, unphased by what he’s dealt with his entire life, didn’t even look their way. He was kind enough to wave earlier, but that was it. He just wanted to shop.

“How much for this necklace?” Michael pointed at the 18k gold and diamond pendant lying beneath the glass.

“The ‘Rombi?’” The saleswoman slid the backdoor of the case open and pulled the pendant out. “Eleven thousand five hundred dollars.”

“May I see it?” Michael held his hand out for the saleswoman to place the pendant in his palm.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

“Very…” He held it up so he could get a closer look at the diamonds inside.

“I bet this happens a lot, doesn’t it?” She giggled.

“What?” He continued to examine the gold-encrusted diamonds.

“That.” She nodded toward the fans.

Michael slowly turned his head to look, causing the crowd to erupt. “Oh, yeah…” he was mid-shrug when he paused, mouth agape as he caught sight of a mature woman walking past the crowd.

Skin as dark and smooth as a fresh coffee bean. Legs long and feminine as they supported her slender frame. Hair straight and jet black with a part directly down the middle of the top of her head. She looked toward the shop and peered over her white sunglasses to see what the fuss was about, only to lock a deep pool of russet brown eyes with Michael.

He knew he looked like a complete fool with his mouth wide open like a dog salivating over a bone. As he closed his mouth, licking his now parched lips, the unbothered woman faced forward and continued to take long strides past the store.

“Mr. Jackson? Are you interested in purchasing this piece?” The saleswoman asked, pulling Michael back to earth.

Almost like a force was pulling him, it was nearly impossible for him to face the saleswoman as he was watching the mysterious woman walk away.

“Um, yes. Package it up for me. Javon,” he finally turned to face his security guard. “Can you handle that for me?” Michael turned back to look outside in search of the woman, only to find her gone.

“See someone you like?” Bill grinned at his boss.

Michael smiled sheepishly. He had been caught. “Can you get her number for me?”

Bill laughed out loud. “How do you expect that to go? ‘Hey, can I get your number? It’s for my boss, Michael Jackson.’”

Michael looked up at him like something was wrong with the statement. Many people had done that for him before. He and his brothers were notorious for it back in the day. That was the only way they could get in contact with girls they liked. Otherwise, it’d be complete and utter mayhem. “Yeah. Just tell her I requested her number.”

“And if she declines?”

“Give her mine.” He shrugged.

“Sure, like that’s gonna work.”

It did.

Later that evening, Michael received a call from a 310 area code.

Athena Aldridge was stunned when she heard Michael Jackson’s voice on the other end of the phone, but when asked why she wasn’t so stunned when she saw him in Buccellati’s, she simply replied, “there was nothing to be stunned about.” She was only stunned to hear his voice on her phone. Never in a million years would she have ever guessed anything like that would have ever happened.

Sure, his ego was bruised just a little, but he reverted back to how shocked she was when she heard his voice on the phone.

They spoke for the rest of the night.

He told her that he was in town for business but would return if she agreed to go on a date with him. Won over by the charm bestowed upon Michael by his father, Athena agreed.

It only took three dates for Michael to decide that he wanted this to be long-term.

Friend and Flower exited what Athena had already entered.

In three months, Athena met Michael’s children as they were all introduced to her seven-year-old son Jayce. The mother and son duo would take trips back and forth between Middleburg and LA bi-weekly. It didn’t take long for the two families to become one.

By Fall 2007, Michael and his children moved back to LA to be closer to Athena.

October 7th, a day he would never forget, he told her he loved her, and the two have been inseparable ever since.

AJ made daddy happy. Prince, Paris, and Blanket could tell. And while Grace was their nanny, AJ showered them with the kind of love that only a mother could. And because of that, they finally knew what it felt like to have a mother.

Just last year, Blanket called AJ “mom,” followed by Paris. It took Prince a little longer only because he was the oldest, and while he knew he had a real mother, she was never around. He was comfortable only having his dad. But when he finally came to, he let everyone know that Athena was, in fact, his “mom.” Whether his father married her yet or not, he now knew what a real mother was.

“You’re going to see AJ today?” Prince asked his father. “Can I go?”

“No… It’s just going to be me and AJ tonight. You’re in charge, okay?” Michael told his son as he looked in the fridge for fruit.

“You say that every time. And every time, Grace reminds me that she’s in charge.”

Michael laughed. “Okay, okay. I’ll tell her you’re in charge tonight. She’s just there for backup if you guys need anything, alright? Did you and your siblings settle on a movie to watch?”

“Not yet. Paris wants to watch ‘Another Cinderella Story,’ while Blanket wants to watch ‘WALL-E.’ We’re never going to be able to decide.”

“Well, aren’t you supposed to be the tiebreaker?” 

“I don’t want to watch either!” Prince threw his hands in the air.

“Well, let Grace be the tiebreaker then.” Michael giggled as he made his way to the stairs. “Mind everything Grace tells you!” He called out before going to his room.

With his thin frame of one hundred twelve pounds, many clothes were baggy on him these days. But he made it work.

Athena would ask time and time again why he’d lost so much weight, to which he would only respond with, “I’m preparing for the tour.” She didn’t buy it, but she went along with it anyway. Whenever she got the chance to take him out to eat to try and “fatten him up,” he’d get full after two bites. Saying that he was fine only eating one meal a day. She couldn’t win, but he assured her that he’d get back to his normal weight soon. But at this rate, even he couldn’t predict when that would be.

Michael twisted his lips to the side as he looked in his closet.

Those jeans wouldn’t fit.

That shirt would look ridiculous on him.

And that jacket swallowed him whole.

He sighed as he looked at the vast amount of clothes before him that just wouldn’t work. Nevertheless, he reached in and pulled out a black t-shirt and a pair of black slacks.

“Guess that'll have to do.” He thought out loud as he went to change out of his rehearsal clothes.

Once he put his new clothes on, he went to admire his unique appearance in the full-length mirror in the master bathroom.

Undoing the ponytail holder in his head, Michael grabbed a comb and combed through the thin strands of curly hair sitting atop his head. Slicking down his edges with a little bit of gel, he pulled the hair back into a new ponytail, leaving two strands to hang on either side of his face.

Michael pressed his lips together, hoping that Athena liked what she saw. Although slightly insecure about his new look, he knew Athena would love how he looked regardless.

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