"Shayla-Elizabeth, what is going on with your husband out there? Did the UK make him coo-coo?" Mom asked me.
I sighed, "no, ma'am. Don't pay attention to the tabloids. Trust me. They aren't real."
"Then why do I continue to see Michael in the news next to these ridiculous stories? And I know his dear mother is heartbroken about him leaving the Witnesses."
"I don't know... I haven't spoken with her in a while. We've been home for almost a week now and I have yet to hear from her."
"Well, you tell her, I'm here if she needs me."
"I will, mom."
"Matthew is engaged to that girl," I could hear the irritation in her voice.
"You mean, Vivian?" I corrected her.
"No. You heard me right. I refuse to bring her name into my house. I don't see what he sees in that woman."
"She's a sweetheart, mom. What isn't there to like about her?"
"Well, she doesn't want to invite any of us to the wedding!"
"Who told you that?"
"Matthew! He says she thinks I don't like her. So, she doesn't want any negative energy during such a positive day. I mean," she scoffed. "I don't like her. But you don't not invite the groom's family to the wedding. I don't see how Matthew doesn't see anything wrong with this."
"Yeah, same... Let me call you right back. I'm actually about to call him about that."
"No use trying, honey. He doesn't want to hear it. Call me back!" She hung up the phone. Vivian is a sweet woman. But then again, I've only heard about her through mom and Matthew. I have yet to meet her to make a real judgment of her. But this certainly rubs me the wrong way. The phone rang just as I was about to call Matthew.
"Hello?" I answered.
"Shayla, it's Katherine. Is everything okay?" Mother asked.
"Yes, ma'am. Why? Are you okay?"
"I've just been seeing all these things about Michael in the media. I know it's all Frank's doing, but one of the stories just happened to catch my eye. Do you mind coming by to talk about it?"
"Sure! I'll be right over. See you in a bit," I hung up the phone and gathered my things. "Mariah, I'm going over to see Katherine. Want to come along?"
"Is it okay if you drop me off to see Joh'Vonnie?"
"Eh..." Mariah has been hanging out with Joh'Vonnie a lot and while I'm glad she has someone her age to play with, I feel like I'm going behind Michael's back each time I grant Mariah the time to go over there. It's bad enough he won't claim Joh'Vonnie as his sister but will boldly declare it about Mariah... "Sure. Call her mom and see if it's okay." Mariah ran to the phone quickly to dial the number. I can only wonder what story in particular Mother is talking about. Was it the John Merrick one? Because that one was definitely one that the entire world, including myself, found interesting. Or was it the story about him leaving the Witnesses. Oh, God... I'm almost certain it's that one because she already ripped into Frank about the elephant man story.
"She said, yes," Mariah ran back to me. We got our things together and made our way out the door. I'm not at all prepared for this talk with Mother.
After dropping off a very excited Mariah, I drove through the gates of the Hayvenhurst residence. I still don't know what I'm going to say to mom. I don't know why I'm nervous. I just know that I wish Michael had talked to mom himself about this instead of her having to find out through the news. I unlocked the door and found mom in the kitchen fixing herself a snack.
"Hey, mom," I kissed her cheek.
"Hey, Shayla. How's Mariah doing?"
"Well. I just dropped her off with her friend," no matter our previous discussions about Joh'Vonnie, I've learned that Mother's mood always switches when she hears Joh'Vonnie's name, so I've always been extra cautious of it now.
"I'm so glad she's making friends out here! I know she's going to hate to leave California."
"I think so too! After living in California and skipping the Ohio winter, who would want to go back to the Midwest, right?" I laughed.
"Well, I go visit Gary every once in a while," she shrugged.
"You're the only outlier, mom."
She laughed half-heartedly, "I guess so... Shayla, did Michael really leave the church or is that another one of Frank's fabricated stories?" I knew it was coming.
I couldn't lie, "it's true."
She paused, staring down at her hands and sighed, "I just don't know who he is anymore, Shayla," she shook her head. "I know the majority of these stories aren't true. I've told Frank to stop spreading lies, but he feels like he knows what's best." I didn't know how to tell her that it was, in fact, Michael orchestrating these stories. In her mind, Frank is probably the reason Michael decided to leave the church too. "Frank is a terrible manager, but I'm sure you already know that."
I nodded, "I've known for quite some time. We've worked through our issues, but his goal is to make Michael the biggest entertainer on the planet."
"By spreading lies and making him leave his roots?"
"Michael was actually the one who wanted to leave the church, mom... He was getting tired of the elders hampering down on him for trying to exhibit his creativity. He just had Frank cut the ties for him."
"That makes it even worse! Why wouldn't Michael do it himself? Instead, he has that idiot go and do it for him. Shayla," she shook her head. "Frank is the reason my son is changing. I need you to keep a close eye on him. Because I know my son. Frank is a bad influence on him." I nodded. She was right. In my opinion, Frank has calmed down. But to Mother, he's just getting started. And I get it, but I'm sure Michael can't do anything about his manager before he releases a new album. The album will be out any day now. "I was going to ask Michael about it, but you know that's his business, so I didn't even know where to begin... Is he okay, Shayla?"
I nodded, "yes, ma'am. He's just preparing for his upcoming album."
"What is it called?"
"'Smooth Criminal.' There's a song on the album of the same name."
"'Smooth Criminal?' Well, that's different. I don't know how I feel about that, but it's creative. And how is everything with you, sweetheart? Is Michael treating you okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," I smiled. "He's treating me well as usual. I'm sad because Mariah has to go back home soon. I've grown accustomed to having her around the house."
"I'm sure! Does she make you want to have kids at all?"
I blushed, "soon for sure. There's so much going on with Michael and me that I don't know where I'd ever have the time for children. I mean, I think I've been doing a great job with Mariah, but she's my sister. I'm releasing my book soon!"
"That's right! What's it called again?"
"'Beyond the Dance.' It's a romance."
"And what is it about?"
"I don't want to spoil it for you... But to sum it all up, a man falls in love with a world-renown ballerina and while she's perfect on the outside, he isn't prepared for everything that goes on behind the scenes. Hence, 'beyond the dance.' I loved writing it and you know I had Michael read my drafts all the time. It should be out soon!"
"Are you doing a book tour?"
"No, this is my first book, ya know? Maybe when I get big, I'll go on book tours. Until then, not right now."
"So, are you writing under a pen name or your real name? I know authors choose one or the other sometimes."
"My publisher said my name is too long to say, which I actually agree with. So, I'm writing under Shayla Jackson. Just drop the Elizabeth. Besides, that's what made my name long anyway," I shrugged.
"Very true. Well, when your book comes out, I'm coming to you for a signed copy and I want your whole name signed in it, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," I nodded. I'm so happy for my book to be released. I'm literally a nobody in this book scene, but just to get my name out there will get the ball rolling and that's all I need.