Chapter 25

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I watched as people went up to Shayla's table to have their books signed and pictures taken. She was all smiles as she signed each and every book handed to her and was even happier when her fans wanted to take photos with her. You could tell Mom and Dad were proud of Shayla. They couldn't stop smiling when she explained her book or when she answered the questions thrown at her with the grace and class they raised her with. Every single time something was said in Shayla's favor or when she said something clap worthy, Matt made sure to let everyone know that was his sister, hooping and clapping causing everyone in the room to laugh, including Shayla who was more than likely embarrassed. The kids were so well behaved and quiet as Shayla conducted her book signing. The whole event was surely something to remember. I'm so glad I came to support her. Although I wanted her to come back out to California to celebrate Valentine's Day, it was better that she actually couldn't so that I could visit her out here.


When the last fan left, Dad clapped with the biggest smile on his face, "that's my daughter!" We all clapped as well. "I am so proud of you, Shayla!" he pulled her in for a hug.


"Thank you, Daddy," Shayla smiled. "I couldn't stop smilin'. Could you tell?"


"I was wondering why you were up there smiling so much," Matt told her.


"Because my entire family is here. I was just happy."


"Well, we're happy for you, baby," Mom pulled Shayla in for a hug as well.


"We need to take a photo real quick. Dad, hand me your camera," Rob held out his hand. Dad took the camera from around his neck and gave it to him.


"Remi, can you take this photo for us?" Shayla turned around to ask her as she was speaking to the manager.


"Yeah, give me one sec," Remi hurried to finish up the conversation.


I walked over to Shayla and kissed her cheek, "you did absolutely amazing today, babe."


"Aww, you think so?" she smiled up at me.


"You really did. I'm so proud of you. As I sat back there, all I could think to myself was, 'that's my baby.'"


"Michael..." she blushed. "The fact that you came means the world to me."


"It means the world to me that I got to see you do what you do best."


"Alright, everyone," Remi finally took the camera and stood in front of the table. "I want everyone with Shayla behind the table. Shayla, her husband, mom, and dad should be in the middle," she said as we all moved where she told us to. This is going to be a great yet funny photo. I'm literally taking a photo with my family in a disguise. At least they know it's me though. Having to explain this photo to others will be interesting though. "Oh, you all are so beautiful. Shayla, you have such a beautiful family. Alright, everyone, say 'cheese!'"


VII


As soon as we got back to Mom and Dad's house, I was eager to take off this disguise and put on my own clothing. While I'm grateful for it, there's only so long that I can actually be dressed up like someone's grandfather, especially with the kids telling me I looked like Dad. Once I came downstairs, I met everyone in the living room. Nova was perched right in Dad's lap. The other kids were outside in the backyard and everyone else was chatting about God knows what. I went to sit beside Shayla and rubbed her back.


"I'm so glad you changed," she laughed.


"Who are you telling? That outfit was really giving me Grandpa vibes," I agreed.


"Michael, are you staying with Shayla for the remainder of her book tour?" Mariah asked me.


"Um, no. I actually have to get back to California. No hard feelings, right, babe?" I asked Shayla.


"Oh, no, I get it," she assured me.


"Oooh, Shayla. I've got to tell you something. Come on," Mariah grabbed Shayla's hand and pulled her away from the rest of us.


"So, how have you been, Michael? I've been seeing you and Shayla all over television," Mom asked me.


"I'm doing great. I've had so much lined up and it's only February. I finally get to relax, I guess," I nodded.


"When are you and Shayla going to announce this ancient marriage? I've got people asking me why they've seen Shayla hanging out with you so much."


"We plan to announce it very soon, trust me. I just really want to announce it with her. We never really have the time to do it though."


"I'm just wondering because I'm sure the world is getting very suspicious. It won't be long before they begin to figure it out themselves. Y'all share the last name. You're famous, she's famous. You won't be able to hold out for too long. Keep waiting and someone will announce it for you," she pressed her lips together and raised her eyebrows at me.


"What's the big deal? Y'all been married ten years now," Rob asked me. "Will people even care at this point?"


"Baby, it's Michael. Of course, people will care," Mary assured him.


"I mean, but y'all been keeping this a secret to the public for years... What's the point in even announcing it at this point? What will y'all even get out of this now?" Rob pressed.


"Why not?" I asked him. "It's important to me and it's important to Shayla that we announce our marriage to the world. Our fans deserve to know, of course. And it's only been private to the public, Rob. You know we've told people close to us. I've told people I work with. Shayla tells everyone she works with. It's just a matter of our fans at this point." I understood what he meant in a way. Shayla and I have been married for ten years. Why would anyone even care now? "And it's not a matter of what we'd get out of it. It's just a matter of letting the world know."


"Why now though?" he asked. "Is it for publicity? Is it because the two of you are finally at the height of your careers? Why'd it take you ten years to announce that you've been married to my sister all this time? You know they're gonna ask that."


"I know," I nodded. "Rob, you and I both know the first couple of years aren't always easy. In fact, it can either make or break your marriage. I've been in the public eye my entire life. You know this. If I let the public know about our marriage in the beginning, do you really think Shayla and I would have made it this far?"


"Had you announced it earlier, it would have been a test to your marriage, yes, but marriage always has it's trials and tribulations," he reminded me.


"And I've thought about that... But I think we took the best route. Now that we're ten years solid, I- We think it's the perfect time to announce our marriage."


"Rob," Rachel cleared her throat. "I know I'm new to the family and whatnot, but I'd actually have to agree with Michael on this one. Being an international superstar and letting the world know you're married, would have been a very difficult task and would have probably raised problems in their marriage. Shayla and Michael are perfect together. Honestly, I don't know if they'd be the perfect couple if they let the world and media talk about their marriage in the beginning. As he said, the first couple of years of marriage can either make or break it."


"Thanks, Rachel," I nodded. "It's just important that we finally announce it now. That's all that matters."


"All that matters is that Michael finally lets the world know he's been married to my daughter for the past ten years," Dad said to no one in particular. "He's been faithful to her without the public in their business and he'll be faithful even after the announcement. That's all that matters." Everyone was quiet. Dad wasn't much of a talker, but when he spoke, it either began or ended a conversation. This was the latter.


"Well, what else do you have planned for you, Michael?" Matt asked.


"The Grammys are coming up," I told him.


"The Grammys?!" Everyone gasped. Even Dad.


"Will Shayla be going to the Grammys with you?" Mary asked me.


"I wish. She's still on tour, ya know? I'm either going alone or I'll find someone to go with," I shrugged.


"Is Shayla okay with you going with someone?" Dad asked me, finally tearing his eyes away from the television to look me in the eye as if to warn me.


I laughed, "she's actually the one who asked me if I'm bringing a hot date."


"Oh," he rolled his eyes and looked back at the television.


"Take Mariah," Mom suggested.


"Mariah would love that," Mary nodded in agreement.


"I mean, you've had her out in public before," Mom shrugged.


"Angie, Mariah was a child then. How would Michael look having brought Shayla with him to all these televised events, then he brings Mariah, a much younger woman? Not that it matters to us, but to the world, it will matter. We know Mariah is his sister in law, but the world doesn't. How on Earth do you think he and Mariah would look? Especially after he told Oprah he's in love with Shayla. Shoot, next thing you know, I've got rumors out about both my daughters and my son in law. No."


Mom sucked her teeth, "James, it's not even that serious. As I said, Michael has had her out in the public with him before. She's just a little older now. I don't see the issue." She turned to look at me, "Michael, Mariah would love if you-"


"Michael," Dad looked me in the eye again. "I said, no." He turned to look at Mom, "I meant what I said, Angela." Although I wasn't even considering the suggestion in the first place, it wouldn't look good for a multitude of reasons. Dad was right. I don't care how many times I had Mariah out with me in the past, she was a child then. Mariah is practically a grown woman now. I'd rather not the press say or make up anything regarding me and Mariah. How would I look telling Oprah and the rest of the world that I'm in love with Shayla and then out of the clear blue sky I bring a much younger woman out with me? Mariah is my sister in law. It's not a big deal to me, but the media would certainly misconstrue it to be something other than what it actually is: a brother in law taking his sister in law to the Grammys. I know how viciouss the media can be and I'd rather not take that chance.


"Well, if not Mariah, then who?" Mom asked.


"I don't know really," I sighed. "Maybe I'd be better off going alone."


"Good answer," Dad nodded.


Shayla finally came back in the living room and sat on my lap, "what y'all talking about?" she looked between me and her father.


"I suggested Michael take Mariah to the Grammys with him, but your father said no," Mom told her.

Mariah hurried back into the living room at the sound of her name, "the Grammys?" she gasped. "Why'd you say no, Daddy?"


"Because I said so," he said as he focused on whatever was playing on the television.


"This could have been my chance, Daddy. Come on..." Mariah begged.


"I meant what I said, Mariah. I'm not explaining myself. I don't even know why your Mother brought it back up."


"Okay then," Shayla awkwardly smiled.


"Michael, what was it like to meet Oprah? I watch her show religiously," Rachel asked me.


"She's a sweetheart, Rachel. She's honestly a woman of class. Once Shayla and I finally announce everything, I should arrange for her to meet you all. I'm sure everyone would love it," I told her.


"Meet Oprah?" Mom clutched her invisible pearls. "I'd have to wear my Sunday's Best!"


"Oh, Angie," Dad rolled his eyes.


"She was asking some hard-hitting questions," Matt told me.


"Yeah..." I nodded. "I think I answered them well though."


"It was really insightful to learn about your childhood. Have you talked to your father about it?" Mary asked me.


"Oh, um," I cleared my throat. "We discussed it." There's no point in getting into the nitty gritty of it all. The conversation I had with Joseph was a failed attempt at expressing my feelings.


"What'd he say?" Mom asked.


I winced, "it's not really something I want to talk about right now..."


"Understandable," she nodded.


"Shoot, I'm glad you finally shut down those stupid skin rumors. I was waiting for you to say something!" Rob said.


"Yeah, I was pretty glad to talk about it too..."


"Do you know how many times I have to hear people tell me you're trying to be a white man? It takes everything in me not to set them straight. I can't wait until you announce this marriage. Once I tell these people you're my brother in law, it's over. I don't want to hear anything else about you," he shook his head in frustration.


"People talk about him to you?" Shayla asked him.


"Every day! You know it's just casual conversation, but I get sick of hearing how people think Michael bleached his skin and what not. They don't know what he's been through. How it's taken a toll on him, on you, and how he has to explain his condition. I'm glad you set the record straight, Michael. It was about damn time."


"Look," Matt shook his head. "Once Michael and Shayla announce their marriage, anyone who has anything negative to say about them are getting set straight. I've had to keep quiet for ten years. I've been defending you, Michael, trust me. But once these jokers find out you're family, I don't want to hear another word." It never really dawned on me how Shayla's family had to deal with the fact that we haven't announced our marriage yet. My family had it easy. We've been dealing with rumors our whole lives. But Shayla's family? No way. I'm glad that they're defending me. It really means a lot, but ten years? I should have thought about that. It must have been hard having to hear all the cruel things people say about me only to not be able to do anything because instead of it looking like he's defending family, it would look completely different.


"I'm sorry you all have had to keep this to yourself for ten years," I told them. "I didn't think about that."


"I mean, it's not bad, ya know? Just your typical skin and weird jokes. But even that's enough to make me mad. You're my brother and I haven't been allowed to tell people that," Rob told me. "Whenever I defend you, I've had people ask me why I'm sticking up for someone I don't even know. Little do they know, you're family, so I've had to stay mum on the situation."


"Yeah, so when y'all announce this marriage, it's over. Everyone's getting hit if they say the wrong thing," Matt laughed causing the rest of us to laugh too.


"Hey, when we announce this marriage, try not to let the rumors you'll probably hear get to you. I know it'll be hard since you're not all that used to it, but it'll get easier along the way," I assured them.


"You say that, but I've been waiting for ten years, Michael. I'm coming out swinging thesecond y'all announce the marriage," Matt boxed at the air.


"You're a mess, Matt," Shayla laughed. "Thanks, guys. Seriously. I love y'all."


"We love you too, sis. Just looking out for you," Rob told her. We've had good reason not to announce our marriage, but now that I've been made aware of this, I kind of wish we'd announced it earlier. That was selfish in that aspect. I had no idea Shayla's brothers had to keep quiet when people talked about me negatively. Imagine what they'll hear once the marriage is out. Hopefully more good than bad.


"Well, Michael and I are gonna get outta here," Shayla stood up and went to give everyone a hug and a kiss.


"You're not staying the night?" Mom asked.


"No... I have to head to Columbus tomorrow morning for another signing."


"What does that have to do with you spending the night?" Dad asked her.


"Um... I just want to spend time with my husband, if y'all don't mind."


"You only see us maybe twice a year. You're away from your husband for what? Two weeks and you want to be up under him?" he asked.


"Daddy, come on now... You know how it is..."


"Shayla, I was gonna cook dinner and everything," Mom frowned.


"Oh, Mom... You're gonna make me feel bad now. Don't do that."


"We can stay..." I said.


"See," Mom gestured toward me. "Your husband said you can stay. Come on and help me in the kitchen so we can get started on dinner."


"Okay, well, let us go get Bill and let him know the change in plans," Shayla took my hand and led me outside. "You ruined my plans. You know that, right?"


"What was that?" I asked her.


"You know what I'm talking about," she raised her eyebrows at me. "And you know I'm not doing it in my parents' house."


"Hey," I stopped walking and pulled her into me. "We can keep quiet, can't we?" I flirted.


"I am not doing it in my parent's house," she laughed.


"We can if you keep quiet."


"Michael," she sucked her teeth. "You ruined it. Ain't no way. My parents are down the hall. Mariah is down the hall. And Bill is gonna be in the house. I just wanted it one more time and you just..." she clenched her teeth and shook her fists at me jokingly. "Ugh! You ruined it! Anyway, are you coming to Columbus with me?"


"Mmm..." I kissed her cheek and neck. "I can't."


"Why not?"


"I have to get back home so I can meet with Sandy about the Grammys. And... I've still gotta find my date since you can't come."


She sighed, "okay. That's cool. It meant a lot to me that you came all this way to surprise me."


"Anything for you, Shayla. Come on now," I smiled.


She smiled too, "thank you, baby... Now, come on. We've gotta get a room or something. I'm not gonna see you for another couple of weeks and you're not about to have me have sex in my parents' house," she took my hand and led me to the car. Sheesh. It's only two weeks. You'd think I'd had her waiting for months.

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