Chapter 53

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I rubbed my bottom lip and the only thing I could think about was the fact that the only man I've kissed in my life was my husband. That is if I don't count Bobby Holland from the second grade... The magic that came with kissing Michael slowly began to dim because of how used to it I was. Not because I no longer loved him. Not because I no longer had feelings for my husband. And most definitely not because I was out of love with him. I was just used to him. I knew when he would kiss me, how long the kiss would last and had become accustomed to the way his breath smelled with each and every peck. I wonder if he felt the same...


The kiss with Roland lit a fire within me that I am desperate to put out. He caught me by surprise when he leaned in, invaded my space, and planted his lips on mine. But also, the electricity I felt was something I hadn't felt in a long time, which is exactly why I melted. For a moment there, I wasn't Michael Jackson's wife. I don't know who I became in those thirty seconds, which was why I had to push him away. I remembered who I was. A married woman. And a married woman wouldn't disrespect her husband in such a manner... But... No, no, no. I can't hold onto the past. That kiss happened a whole five years ago. What kind of woman would I be to hold onto something as ancient as that and justify why this kiss with Roland is okay? It's not and never will be.


I hung my head low and rested it in the palm of my hands. How am I going to tell my husband? This was all a misunderstanding? It was Roland's fault? No, I had a part in this too. I didn't cheat on him. It was just a kiss... Just like that kiss he shared with Tatiana. It was a kiss that meant nothing... But probably meant a lot of something. Ugh! I can't tell Michael this. This is something Roland and I are going to have to keep to ourselves. With everything Michael is going through right now, this will only make matters worse. But what am I going to do about Roland now? I don't want things to be awkward between us. I don't need things to change between us, because if they change, people will know. And if people find out, Michael will find out and I don't need that at all. This was all a mistake. What the hell am I going to do?


VII


"Shayla, we have to talk about the elephant in the room," Roland said as we ate our breakfast at the table. A Chef friend of Michael's had prepared breakfast and had it delivered to the house at Michael's request. It was nice that we didn't have to go out for breakfast, but I also really wanted to try this restaurant Roland had been recommending. Three days had gone by with no mention of the kiss we shared. We moved on like nothing ever happened and left it at that, but now all of a sudden, he wants to bring it up.


"We really don't have to talk about it, you know?" I reminded him as I cut up my eggs.


"No, we really do, because I feel like it has not only messed with our work relationship but our friendship. You're avoiding talking about it and I feel it's disrespectful to me."


I looked up at him. "Disrespectful to you? Don't do this."


"I'm serious. We share feelings for each other, it's evident. We made a mistake. Okay! But let's not act like it didn't happen, because it did, and I apologized for it. I don't want to continue to dance around this like it meant nothing. It meant something for not only me but you. I'm not asking you to leave Michael. I would never ask you to do that because A: I know you're not. And B: it's not going to happen. All I'm asking of you is to acknowledge that it happened so that we can move on the right way and quit acting childish about it like it didn't."


I drummed my fingernails on the table. "What do you want me to say, Roland? I'm married. I'm over here trying to figure out how I'm going to explain this to my husband who also happens to be your employer. I think I have a lot more on my plate than you do."


He shook his head no. "Acknowledge that it happened. Quit acting like I'm a stranger, Shayla. I understand you're married. But damn, does that have to come with you treating me like you never knew me all of a sudden? I'll tell him myself I kissed you. You don't have to worry about that."


My nostrils flared. "You wouldn't."


"I would and you know it. I just want this awkward place we're in right now to go away. I can sweep my feelings for you back under the rug. That's no problem. But our friendship..." he reached over and took my hand in his. "That's something I never want to go away." I looked down at our hands. My heart is racing, and I have the slightest idea on how to move forward from this acknowledging that it happened but in the same breath acting as if it didn't.


"What do you want me to say, Roland? That I kissed you? Because it didn't happen that way. You kissed me and I let it happen."


"Because..."


"Because of what?"


"I don't know. That's for you to answer." He took his hand back and went back to eating his breakfast.


"If you're trying to get me to admit something-"


He shook his head. "That's not what I'm trying to get you to do at all. You let me kiss you for a reason."


"How do you know that?"


"Because it took you a while to tell me to stop." I ran my tongue across my teeth and clenched my jaw. He wants to hear me admit to him what I admitted to myself a while ago and I'm not going to let that happen. Just because I felt the magic with him that I hadn't felt from Michael in a long time doesn't mean that he has to know that. That's something I'm going to keep to myself because if I admit it to him things could go further, and I would never... "You and Michael haven't been doing well for a long time. I know. I don't want you to think I'm trying to persuade you to do anything, because I'm not. It's just merely an observation and when I kissed you that night, I felt everything that you hadn't felt in a long time..."


"Roland, I acknowledged it. Now what?"


"I just want my friend back."


"Am I not here?"


He shook his head. "No. You're too busy mulling over the situation and trying to figure out how-" The doorbell rang instantly ripping me away from the conversation. We stood up and made our way to the front door. I frantically opened the door to find Elizabeth... Why didn't I look through the peephole so I could have ignored her?


"Oh!" Elizabeth looked between Roland and me with a fake smile plastered on her face. With Roland standing so close behind me, if I were her, I'd have had the same expression on my face too. In the past couple of weeks, she hasn't visited or called to check up on me. Why is she coming over now of all times? "Well, are you going to let me in or let me stay out here in the cold?"


"Come on in," I moved out the way so that she could come in. Roland helped her with her coat as I shut the door behind me. "What brings you here?"


"Why, yes, Shayla, I'd love a cup of hot chocolate."


"I didn't ask."


"Oh, Shayla, now you know it isn't good manners that you don't offer your guest a beverage."


"I'll get it, Ms. Taylor." Roland hurried to the kitchen. I tolerated her because she was Michael's friend. I'm grateful she helped us pick a good rehabilitation center. But I will never consider her my friend.


I led her to the island in the middle of the kitchen and sat down on one of the stools. "So, what brings you here, Elizabeth? After a couple of weeks, you couldn't call to check up on me or anything?"


She sighed loudly and in the most dramatic way possible. "I spoke with your husband, dear. I told him I'd drop by to see how you were doing."


"I'm doing well, thank you."


"He told me he'll be getting out soon."


"How soon?"


"He believes either this week or next. Thank you, Roland." She smiled as she took the mug from him and placed it on a coaster. Roland raised his eyebrows at me and came over to stand beside me.


"I spoke with him a couple of days ago. He didn't tell me when he would be released. He said he was fine and that all he had to do was get through therapy."


"Yes," she nodded as she took a sip from her mug. "Therapy is kicking his butt. I told him it would. They're trying to dig deep. Get to the root, but he doesn't think there's anything left to get to."


I sighed. "I keep telling him there's more that he's not opening up about."


"It will come to him eventually." She looked between Roland and me. "How are..." she pointed between us. "Things between you two? Everything alright? I still think it's awfully strange Michael recommended he stay in this house with you, but that was his choice."


"We're fine." I shrugged. "Roland is doing his job and he knows I can't wait until Michael comes home. Isn't that right?" I looked up at Roland.


"Everything has been fine." He nodded.


"Hmm." She took a small sip from her mug. "Has anyone said anything to you about this case?"


"Johnnie is handling it right now. I haven't heard anything about it since Michael went in. I'm more worried about my husband's welfare than I am about this stupid case."


"Oh, are you?" She nodded, looking between Roland and me again. "Well, I think, and this is just my opinion, but I think you should focus on that case too. People have been saying such awful things about your husband and with you being so focused on just his welfare..." she cleared her throat. "It doesn't seem to come off like you care at all right now."


I rolled my eyes. "Elizabeth, don't come up in here talking to me like-"


"Have you the slightest idea of what they're saying about Michael?"


"Enlighten me."


"They're saying he's hiding. Now you and I both know that isn't true, but I bet you had no idea that they want him back in the states before this year is out so that he can carry on with this civil trial."


"He's getting help in rehab for his addiction. He told the entire world that. Why would they say he's hiding?"


"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps because his wife has yet to say anything on the matter. He asked me why you weren't saying anything good for him, Shayla."


"Because I'm focused on his welfare. Why hasn't he asked me these things? You've got to be making this up because-"


"Here," she tossed a copy of People magazine on the counter.


"Don't throw anything at me, Elizabeth."


"I didn't throw it. I tossed it on the counter. This just came out today."


I rolled my eyes. "They always have something ignorant to say about Michael. Why would you bring this here?"


"So, you can read it! Look, I came here because I promised my friend that I'd come by to check on his wife. I didn't come here to be disrespected like I always am by you, Shayla. I've been nothing but kind to you."


I scoffed. "In what world?"


"In this one. It's been like this with you since day one, Shayla and I can't seem to understand it."


"Did you not forget that it was you who mistook me for the help when we first met?"


"That was nearly a decade ago and if you would have seen what you were wearing that dreadful day, you would have thought you were the help too!"


"I don't see what Michael sees in you."


"I could say the same about you." She looked between Roland and me again.


"And why do you keep looking at us like that? Do you have something to say?"


"Aside from the obvious? No." She gave a small smile and stood up. "I recommend you have your publicist or someone put something out for the press that way they don't think you and Michael are hiding. And whatever it is, make it good. They think he's guilty and hiding and they think you're an accomplice in all of this."


"Anything else? Because it's time for you to go."


Elizabeth rolled her eyes and made her way to the front door to put her coat on. Roland opened the door for her to leave. "Oh, and quit cheating on Michael with your bodyguard in his house. Could you be any less tacky?"


"Tacky?!"


"Bye, Shayla." She sang as she waved her fingers and made her way to her car. I don't care how kind she was to help Michael with this whole rehab thing, but this friendship ends now. It should have ended all those years ago when she felt it okay to disrespect me. But she's continued to disrespect me, and Michael has done nothing about it all this time. This is the final straw. I can't with this old woman. She's lucky she's old enough to be my mother.


"Ignore her, Shayla," Roland said as he closed the door.


"She just called me tacky and accused me of cheating, Roland. She won't be hearing from us again. I can promise you that. You've seen the way she's treated me all these years. She's got to go."


"Aside from that..." he placed his hands on my shoulders and started to rub them. "What is the first thing you're going to put out to the press?"


"I'm not putting anything out to the press. I don't care what she says. The press hasn't heard a goddamn thing from me and they're not going to start hearing things from me now. Michael already told them he's in rehab. What more do those pricks want?" I made my way back to the kitchen and picked up the magazine Elizabeth called herself tossing at me. "'Michael Jackson cracks up. Sex, drugs and the fall of the world's biggest star.'" I scoffed. "Why would she bring this in this house? She knows how Michael feels about tabloids. Whether he's here or not, she should still respect that. I flipped through the magazine to find the article and skimmed through it. Yup. They feel like he's hiding. But how when he made it so public that he is struggling with addiction? Maybe it is time I say something. But what? And to who?


The phone on the wall rang and although I was reluctant to answer it, I did so anyway. Michael was the only one who actually called here, but he normally doesn't call until the evening. My family didn't call much because of the time difference, so I was the main one who called. "Hello?"


"Shayla," Michael answered.


"Oh, hey, baby. What's up? I normally expect you to call in the afternoon. Is everything okay?"


"What's going on between you and Roland?"


My heart dropped and suddenly my mouth felt dry like cotton. "Huh?"


"If you can 'huh,' you can hear. What's going on between you and Roland?"

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