Chapter 24

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The ride to Cincinnati was much longer than I remember. Probably because I'm so exhausted. Michael kept me up all night. I couldn't go to sleep if I tried. Now I have to get my energy up not only once we get the house, but for the book signing later on. Remi paged me as soon as eight a.m. hit to ask if I was on the way, to which I called her to let her know we'd be there by eleven. I couldn't mess up the schedule. Even if my husband is in town. He's never late to his cities and concerts, so I can't be late to my cities and book signings. Period.


"We're here," Bill pulled up slowly in front of my parent's house. The driveway was filled with cars. Moms and Dads, Mariah's, Robert and Mary's, and I'm assuming the newest car is Matthew's and Rachel's. Living all the way out in the west coast made me miss my family so much. It sucked that I couldn't be around my nieces and nephews often, but that's what happens when you live clear across the country. Michael got out and opened my door.


"You coming in, Bill? I'm sure Daddy would like to see you," I asked him.


"Yeah, yeah. Here I come. Just let me relax a minute," he put the seat back and put his hat over his face. I won't be seeing him in the house any time soon. Michael helped me out and walked with me to the front door.


"You think everyone brought their kids?" Michael asked me.


"Of course! You thought they wouldn't?" I laughed as I knocked on the door. I'm so excited to see my family. I hadn't been here in a year. I saw Nova when she was born and that was it. I'm sure she's big now.


"Shayla!" Mariah opened the door and hugged me. "We were just talking about you! Hey, Michael," she pulled him in for a hug too. "We didn't expect you to come."


"I surprised Shayla," he told her as we walked in the house.


"Aunt Shayla and Uncle Mike?" Andrea came from the living room.


"Hey, Andy," I pulled her in for a hug. "Oh my gosh, girl. How old are you now?"


"Twelve. I'll be thirteen before you know it, Aunt Shayla," she reminded me.


"You're growing up too fast for me, Andy. Too fast. Slow it down, why don't you?" Michael laughed as he hugged her. I went to the living room to find Mom and Dad seated in front of the television. Nova was sitting right in Daddy's lap. Out of all of my parent's grandchildren, Nova had the strongest bond with Daddy. I'll never know what it is. It was like that when she was born and I'm sure it'll continue for the rest of their lives.


"Shayla-Elizabeth, my daughter, the author," Dad smiled.


"Hey, Daddy," I went over to kiss his cheek.


"Is that Michael with you? I thought you were coming alone," Mom asked.


"He surprised me for Valentine's Day," I went over to hug her.


"Well, that was sweet of him. Is he coming to the book signing?"


"Um... I don't know yet. It would cause quite the commotion, don't you think?"


"Do I think? Has he been to one of your book signings?"


"No."


"Oh, well, we might be in for a ruckus then." Did Michael plan on attending the book signing or just visiting the family? I hope the latter. As much as I'd love for him to be there to support me, his presence would cause an uproar.


"No one told me Shayla and Michael were here!" Matthew came into the living room and gave me the kind of bear hug only a brother could give his sister. "You know we can't wait to see you do your thing downtown. You know that, don't you? I've been telling everyone my sister is the one and only Mrs. Shayla-Elizabeth Jackson. No one believes me. But they'll see today."


"Matthew, when aren't you bragging about me?"


"When I'm bragging about my wife and daughter. Rachel, hurry up! Shayla's here!" he called.


"Uncle Matt, I have to steal Aunt Shayla for a teeny second," Andrea took my hand in hers and led me to the back door. "Everyone was too busy playing to hear me, so I decided to bring you outside to them. RJ, Nori, Nate, and Kyla, Auntie Shayla's here!" she called out to her brothers and sisters. Andrea was the definition of a true older sibling. She kept her younger siblings in check, and they looked up to her like she was their one and only role model. Everyone stopped what they were doing and ran over to hug me. It still baffles me that my parents have six grandchildren and they're still busy worrying about when Michael and I will have some. Shoot, as far as I'm concerned, Nova will always be Paw Paw's little girl.


"Is Uncle Mike here?" RJ asked.


"He's inside. Come on," I took Nori and Kyla's hand as we all walked back inside.


"Shayla, I decided on the school I'm going to," Mariah pulled me to the side to sit on the bench in the hallway.


"What school?"


"Fisk," she beamed.


"Oh my gosh, Mariah! I wanted to go there! You're going to absolutely love it. I already know it. It will really suit you," I hugged my sister. She wasn't a little girl anymore. She's practically a grown woman with the whole world in the palm of her hands. After everything she'd grown through, she really turned out to be a beautiful, smart, and kind young lady whom I am absolutely proud to call my little sister.


"I'm going there for Psychology, but I'm going to be a cheerleader. You'll be seeing me out there on the football field cheering for the Tennessee Titans pretty soon."


Dad cleared his throat, "and you bet not be out there wearing those teeny tiny cheerleader outfits."


Mariah rolled her eyes, "I have no choice but to wear it, Daddy. It's uniform."


"You better have it altered or something. No daughter of mine is going to have her naughty bits out for the whole world to see."


She sighed, "anyway, you and Michael will come to my games for sure, right?"


I sucked my teeth, "is that even a question, Mariah? Come on now. I'll make sure Michael is disguised the best way possible or something. We're going to the games. No ifs, ands or buts about it."


"I knew I could count on you!" she hugged me again.


"Where's Robert and Mary?"


"Girl, I don't know. Probably making another baby after they swore Kyla was the last one," she shrugged. As she stood up, her camisole rose up to reveal a small shiny stud in her navel.


I gasped, "Mariah!"


"What?" she looked down at me.


"Is that a-" I began to point at her stomach.


"Please don't tell Daddy," she begged. "Mom is the only one who knows."


I pretended to zip my lips, "my lips are sealed. It's cute though, girly. You wear it well," I stood up.


"Thanks, sis," she smiled. Sheesh. Where did the time go? My baby sister is out here wearing belly rings and going to be a Cheerleader. She was just a bratty kid. What the heck? I went back to the living room to find Nova fussing in Rachel's arms.


"Hey, Shayla," she waved as she tried to calm Nova.


"I don't know why you took that girl away from her granddaddy. She was perfectly fine until you came in here bothering her," Mom rolled her eyes as Rachel struggled with Nova.


"It's alright, Angie. It's about time for us to go anyway, isn't it, Shayla? Your book signing starts soon, doesn't it?" Daddy asked me.


"Yeah, in about an hour," I told him.


"Well, come on. We got to get headed downtown. Robert and Mary would y'all come on!" he shouted loud enough for anyone upstairs to hear him. I just know they weren't shacking up in Mama and Daddy's house...


I went over to Michael who was busy fiddling with his pager. "Baby, are you coming to my book signing?" I asked him. Nervous that he would say yes, I also knew I'd be bothered if he said no too.


"Yep. Are we ready?" he put his pager in his pocket.


I scanned his attire, "baby, I don't know if-"


"Michael, go on upstairs and tell Robert and Mary to come on. And while you're at it, find something to wear in my closet upstairs," Dad interrupted.


"I already asked him if he could help me with a disguise. I want to be at your book signing. No matter what it takes. Even if it means dressing up as a grandpa," he laughed.


I smiled, "thanks, baby."


"What'd we miss?" Robert and Mary came down the stairs just as Michael went up. "Hey, Shayla!" Robert hugged me. "Book signing, right?"


"Right..."


"Why y'all just now coming downstairs? What were y'all doing?" Mariah squinted at them.


"Mind yours! This is grown folks bidness," Robert mushed her face.


"You better had washed that hand," Mariah rolled her eyes.


"Shayla, you know I've been on the pill since Kyla was born. Ain't no more babies coming from us," Mary whispered to me.


"No more babies, but a hell of a lot of baby-making, huh?" I asked her.


"I feel like I'm in my twenties again, girl," she laughed.


"My entire crew, I need you all to get in your cars so we can go," Dad announced. "Matt, I'll be taking Nova. For some reason, y'all act like y'all don't know how to raise a child," he took Nova from Rachel and went outside to the car.


"I want to ride with Aunt Shayla and Uncle Mike!" Andrea raised her hand.


"Me too!" Nori, Nathaniel, and Kyla raised their hands too. As much as I wanted to say only two could ride with us, I just let them all come. They rarely get to see us anyways. What's one car ride? Michael came back downstairs sporting a loose black sweater, clearly made for grandpas, Some of my dad's boots, sunglasses, and a black beanie. Yeah, no one would ever know it was him.


"Did I hear everyone is riding with us?" he asked as he kissed me on the cheek.


"Everyone except for RJ," I told him.


"Well, this is going to be a fun car ride. How do I look?" he spun around slowly.


"Like someone's hip grandpa," I laughed.


"That was the exact look I was going for. Come on, girl," he held his arm out for me to take and led me outside with the kids in tow. The fact that my family is attending my book signing already made this trip special, but the fact that Michael is coming now makes it even more special.


VII


Shayla and I have been out in public before quite a few times now, so it shouldn't have bothered me to want to go to her book signing, but it was important to me that I go. I wanted to support my wife as she's supported me. I wanted to attend something she worked hard for. Her book signing was equivalent to one of my concerts, only smaller. It was important to me to go to the book signing in disguise because this moment is about my wife. It's not about me and I didn't want to make it about me. Sure, the kids wondered why I was wearing a disguise, but what they didn't understand was that if I were to go to the book signing as myself, all eyes would be on me when they should be on Shayla. I don't want to steal the spotlight from my wife. It's her day. Her event. And her time to shine. And I didn't want her to feel like her moment was being taken away from her by me just being there as me. As long as she knew I was there, that's all that mattered.


I looked up at my wife as she spoke about her book and what inspired her to write it, even mentioning that I had a small part in inspiring the book. This is her time to shine and she's doing such an amazing job at doing what she's always wanted to do. And I know she couldn't be anymore happier knowing that her entire family is here supporting her.


"One last thing before I open it up to questions, my entire family is here with me today, y'all," she smiled as she gestured toward all of us. The audience looked back and applauded. "I wouldn't be where I am today without my family. My parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews, but most importantly, my husband. He's supported me through the thick and thin, and I don't know if I'd be here standing before you talking to you about my book had it not been for him," she looked me dead in my eye and clapped. The audience clapped too, looking around as Shayla didn't gesture who exactly I was. "I love this man so much. Y'all just don't know," she cleared her throat. "Now, I'll open it up to any questions."

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