Chapter 51

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Day in and day out it's the same thing: wake up, make my bed, have breakfast, clean this, clean that, group therapy, group activity and or individual therapy, dinner and lights out. I felt like a prisoner, but if this is what I need to do in order to continue on my road to recovery, then so be it. It's been a while since I've last seen Shayla. I've been here for two weeks and within those two weeks, she's visited with our families a couple of times and that was it. I didn't expect her to visit every day, because I needed this time to myself, to be honest. My wife can handle her own and I trusted Roland to be there for her as well. How ridiculous is it that I've always known Roland has always felt some sort of attraction towards my wife? He's never been disrespectful though. That's the only reason why I never terminated him. No matter how attracted to my wife as he thought he was, he's never disrespected our union and that's what kept him on my payroll. It wasn't intentional but suggesting that Roland stay in the house with Shayla, definitely puts him up for the ultimate test. I didn't want him to stay in a hotel too far away from her and I didn't want to rent a whole new home just for him. He knows I trust him as I have for the past six years, but if he in any way jeopardizes his job, it's a done deal. He won't know what hit him.


"Michael, do you need to use the phone?" A fellow patient, Gadiel, asked me. I nodded and made my way over to the phone. I wanted to call Shayla, but I have to get a hold of Sandy today. The last time we spoke was when I had him put a statement out for me. I dialed out for an international call and waited for an answer.


"Gallin-Morey Associates. This is Shana speaking. How may I help you?"


I smiled a bit. It felt good to hear a familiar voice from the states. "Shana, it's Michael."


She gasped, "Michael? Oh, my goodness! How are you?"


"I've seen better days. How about you?"


"I've been fine. I've picked up a couple of acting gigs, but are you okay? Everyone at the office has been worried about you. Especially since we haven't heard from you since you wanted Sandy to put out that statement."


"I'm okay. Things have been getting better. Whatever you do, don't wind up in rehab. It's a nightmare!" I joked.


"It can't be that bad if they're helping you get better."


"It's the same routine every day. Pretty soon, it's going to drive me crazy."


"How soon until you get out?"


I shrugged. "Well, once I start opening up in therapy and get to the real root of my problems then I'll be closer to getting out of here. Until then, it's basically like I'm just holding myself back at this point. It's bigger than what it seems..." I didn't want to tell her too much about what I was going through. Shana is young and not only that, but I don't need her all in my business like that. She, like the rest of the world, knew that I was in rehab, so there was no talking around that.


She sighed. "I wish this never happened to you, Michael. I want you to know that I don't believe a lick of what they're saying about you. Everyone here knows you're innocent. We all go through tough things sometimes and it sucks that this has pushed you into doing something that was unfortunately self-destructive..."


It truly made me happy to hear that she and everyone else at the office didn't believe anything they heard. Everyone all over the world has been saying that I'm guilty, but to hear Shana say that she believes in my innocence is heartwarming. "Thank you, Shana."


"You're welcome. And I want you to know that as a fan and your manager's front desk lady," she laughed. "Along with all of your fans all over the world, we all love you very much."


I smiled. "You're too kind, Shana. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I love you too. That means a lot."


"You're more than welcome, Michael. Did you want me to go ahead and put you over to Sandy?"


"You know what? Never mind. It's just going to be the same thing with him probably. Just let him know that I'm doing well, and I'll be out of here in no time. Thank you for talking with me, Shana."


"You're welcome, Michael. I'm rooting for you. We all are." We said our goodbyes and hung up. I don't even remember what I wanted to discuss with Sandy. No use in talking to him anyway because he'd probably just end up saying something I didn't want to hear anyway.


"Michael?" A nurse called for me. "Dr. Ingram is ready for you." I sighed and made my way to his office. The individual therapy helped me more than the group therapy, but in truth, I hated opening up to a complete stranger. In the beginning, I was nervous to say anything because I didn't want anything I said taken out of context and leaked to the press, but Ingram assured me that he had no choice but to have confidentiality with all of his patients and that I could trust him... That he wouldn't tell anyone what I told him no matter the price... He said he understood my fear, but he didn't understand. No one understood until they were in my shoes. If I trust the wrong person and say the right or considered "wrong" thing, I'm done for. At this point, the pain pills are a nonfactor. They helped ween me off of it and now I feel the hardest part is talking about my problems.


"Welcome back, Michael. How has your day been so far?" Ingram greeted me as I shut the door behind me and took a seat.


"Okay. I just got a pep talk from my managers' secretary."


"Yeah? How did that go?"


"Great. I needed it. She's always been such a sweetheart."


"That's good to hear. How's your wife doing?"


"Okay, I believe. I spoke with her yesterday. She's still hurt about me being in here, but I know she's remaining strong. It hurts me to know how hurt she is about this."


"She also supported you in coming here. Her and your dear friend, Elizabeth."


"Yeah... but I'm sure it wasn't easy, nor has it been easy to deal with my absence knowing I'm in here."


"Have you tried calling her today?"


"No. I'll call her before I go to sleep."


"She's been a great source of support throughout all of this, hasn't she?" I nodded. He was starting to dig deeper and a good majority of the time, that didn't sit well with me. It honestly made me feel uncomfortable. "She's always been a great source of support, right? If I recall, you all have been together for ten years now."


"Ten wonderful years with Shayla, yes."


"How has that been?"


"What do you mean?"


"Ten years with Shayla... How have they been?"


I blinked and looked at him for a moment before I answered again. "Wonderful." I just said that.


He chuckled to himself. "No, Michael. I mean, I've been married to my wife for seven years now. Those seven years haven't always been wonderful. We've had our ups and downs like everyone else. Surely, you all may have had some kind of hurdle in your marriage..."


"Are you trying to get me to speak ill of my wife?"


"No, Michael," he shook his head. "Let me rephrase this." He thought to himself. "You've seen the good and bad sides to Shayla just as much as I'm sure she's seen yours."


"Okay...?"


"Your wife knows more about you than anyone else in this world."


"Correct."


"And vice versa. I guess what I'm asking is, Shayla knows things about you that you'd probably never share with the world or perhaps you have like when you spoke about Joseph on Oprah. Do you believe Shayla has formed her own opinions on how your relationship with Joseph has made you into the person you are today?"


I shrugged. I understood his question, but I'm honestly trying to figure out where he's going with this. "More than likely."

"Just as I'm sure that you've formed your own opinions on how she became the woman she is today based on her own upbringing."


"What are you getting at? What's the end goal question here?" I was beginning to get frustrated with him dancing around the question.


"Mr. Jackson, a couple of days ago you believed that Joseph was the root of your problems. You felt like he was why you've had all the problems you have. I'm not trying to discredit that claim at all, but from what you've told me, you fired Joseph as your manager in eighty-three. Since then, his only relationship with you has been familial. He is your father, so you are going to take after him, but there are some toxic traits that we learn that we are now responsible for unlearning. I'm saying Shayla has certainly seen these toxic traits just as much as I'm sure that you've seen hers. What are some toxic traits that you still hold onto? Because now, Joseph is no longer responsible." I stared at him for a moment. This is what I'm talking about. This is the deep stuff I don't understand. What is he even talking about? Toxic traits? That I'm responsible for? What does that have to do with anything?


I cleared my throat. "I'm having a hard time understanding what this has to do with anything that we've discussed thus far."


"We're trying to get to the root, Michael."


"We already did."


"You make your father seem like he's the enemy."


I shook my head. "No... I never said that."


"I never said you did. I'm just saying you make it seem like he is."


"No. I just said he's the reason why I missed out on an imperative part of my life. Joseph isn't my enemy. He's my father."


"Even our parents can be an enemy, but that's not the point I'm trying to make. Do you feel you could possibly be your own worst enemy?"


I squinted at him as if he had lost his mind because clearly, he has. "How did we go from my wife to Joseph to me being my own worst enemy? No. I don't feel like I could be my own worst enemy. You're taking things out of context. This is what I was talking about. You're putting words in my mouth."


"I'm just trying to get you to dig deep, Michael."


"Well, you're trying to dig awfully deep if you're trying to suggest that I'm my own worst enemy." I stood up. "Are we finished here?"


He looked bewildered. "We're not, but-"


"I think we are done here because if you expect me to continue to sit here, you're going to be mighty disappointed because we're going to be sitting in silence the rest of the session. Have a good day, Ingram."


VII


"Elizabeth called me last night," Roland said as he cut his hamburger in half. We decided to have lunch in an upscale secluded restaurant in West London away from the paparazzi and any possible fans. I had no regrets about spending the evening with Roland last night. It was all in friendly innocence. I wasn't cheating on my husband and by the time we got home, we went our separate ways and went to bed. In fact, I'll tell Michael all about how Roland was kind enough to take me out. It was surely an experience I'd never forget. It gave me a sense of normalcy again and although it wasn't something I was able to do with Michael, it will be something I'll cherish in my heart forever.


"What'd she say?" I asked as I cut my salad into smaller pieces.


He looked up at me, "she's pregnant."


"Oh!" That's shocking. My heart actually broke for him. "I don't know whether to say congratulations or to apologize that that happened to you since you care about her so much..."


He waved off the notion. "We weren't together. We're both single. I can't be upset."


"Surely, you must feel some kind of way." I placed my hand on his.


He sighed. "I just expected more from her, is all." I didn't know what to say. It's clear he still cared about Elizabeth although she was out doing her own thing, but he was right. They're both single. "A small part of me hoped she'd wait, but I couldn't expect that from her. I don't know, Shayla. Ever since I began working for you, my standards just became too damn high," he laughed.


I placed my hand on my chest and laughed. "What do you mean?"


"The way you carry yourself with such grace and class... In all honesty, you're the kind of woman men could only dream of having. Michael is an extremely lucky man. He just doesn't realize how blessed he truly is." That's his second time saying this...


"I believe my husband does know how blessed he is to have me, just as I am for him. Why do you think he doesn't realize it? What makes you think so?"


"I've worked for you all for six years."


"I've known my husband for fourteen years. I think I'd know if he didn't appreciate me or not."


Roland searched my eyes and took in what I said then looked back down at his meal. "You're right. I'm overstepping a boundary. I apologize."


"Do you know something I don't? Has he said anything?"


"No, ma'am." He shook his head.


"Don't get all formal on me, Roland. We've been on a first-name basis for a while now. Don't do that. Do you know something that I do not?"


He finally looked up and offered a very small closed-lipped smile. "I know nothing. I promise."


"I find that hard to believe."


"Trust me. I'm on Mr. Jackson's payroll, but I work for you. If I knew something, I'd tell you." I side-eyed him and slowly chewed my salad. "Trust me."


"I think you are keeping something from me." I pointed my fork at him.


"Oh yeah?" he laughed. "What's that?"


"You'll tell me eventually. I'm not going to force it out of you, but it's something. I know it is."


"Ha ha ha. Very funny, Shayla. I'm not keeping anything from you."


"I think you are, but I'm not going to keep talking about it. It'll come eventually."


He shrugged. "If you say so." I don't know if it's something pertaining to Michael or what, but there's something he's keeping from me. No matter how long he's worked for me, he knows things that no one else in the world would know about my husband and me. Just because he's paid to keep quiet and "see nothing," doesn't mean he's going to keep this one thing from me. I'm going to get it out of him eventually.


Roland cleared his throat. "Anyway. I scheduled something for you to help keep your mind off of things."


"Oh, this ought to be good. That club last night was amazing, so I can only imagine what you have planned this time around."


His lips curved into another close-lipped smile, but he tried hiding it by twisting his lips to the side. "You've been to Somerset House, haven't you?"


I nodded. "Yes..."


"I figured. So, I decided we're going to the V&A today."


"Oh, you decided, huh?"


"The executive decision has been made. We're viewing fine art today to get your mind off of things." We paid for our meal, he took my hand and we were on our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We'd been to the museum before, but they had a new exhibition that Roland desperately wanted me to see by Bing Davis, an Ohio native. As Roland explained it, Bing has worked in China, Russia, and Ghana, but it would be his first time in London. I'd heard of him growing up but was never too much into art to know his work. However, Roland was adamant about us viewing this once in a lifetime exhibit.


"What do you think?" Roland asked me as I viewed a couple of pieces.


"They're beautiful... Since when have you been about your art, Roland?"


He scoffed and laughed. "Since forever, Shayla. Look," he took my hand in his and led me over to a piece adorned in orange, red, white and black triangles. Standing behind me, he pointed over my shoulder at the painting and asked, "that's beautiful, isn't it?" I nodded. "See, Bing puts all these other artists to shame. You don't mess with a true artist like him."


"Why do you say that?"


He took my hand in his and raised it up toward the painting to outline over the piece. "Each and every corner, curve, line, and shade has meaning to it. You can just feel it. You know it. Bing made sure to do that. He wanted whoever to see his work to gain a sort of meaning and feeling from it. This one is powerfully vibrant like the traditional Kuba cloth..." I turned around to face him. "I study my work..." As soon as our eyes met, the look in his eyes told me all I needed to know. I finally realize what he has been keeping from me all along. In all six years that he's been working for us, I don't know when it truly began, but his devotedness to me has been strong not just because he works for me. He's been hopelessly devoted to me because this man is infatuated with me. And not only that, as much as I've considered this man a close friend, a confidant, and a listening ear, I realized at that moment, being with him made me feel so carefree and for once in the past couple of months, genuinely happy.

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