Chapter 10

Chapter 10

For the first time since we started this short film, I showed up with the rest of the crew at six a.m.. I wasn't the only one who thought this was a bittersweet moment. That's one thing that I've always enjoyed being in showbusiness. The people you work with over a long or maybe short period of time become family. I can call up Stan whenever I want. LaVelle and Travis have always had my personal number. And I never would have thought that Shana and I would have ever gotten this close. A woman I'm sure I would have never met had she not worked at my manager's office. Someone I've been friendly with over the past couple of years... She means a lot to me now. And it's truly bittersweet that someone I once saw every day for a month, I won't be able to see as often anymore.


A cake was delivered with a photo of me and the cast on it. And before the day was over, we watched the complete film as one big happy family. I'm going to miss this. Just as much as I'm sure everyone else will miss this. Throughout the day, Shana and I were practically attached at the hip. Travis and Stan joked that we were acting like a couple, to which Shana and I laughed off. It's nothing too serious. But it's funny that everyone else thought so. Even Stan wanted to know why we were up on each other the way we were today, to which I simply told him, it's not like this was anything new. We were always cracking jokes or hanging out at my trailer together. I don't know why everyone found it funny to point it out today of all days. But whatever.


When everyone wrapped up to go, I pulled Shana to the side away from everyone else's view.


"Michael, what's going on?" She giggled. "You know Sandy expects me at eight a.m. sharp since he knows we're done shooting h-" I pulled her in for a kiss. This would be the second and last time I'd be able to do so so freely. Her lips curved into a smile against mine, which only made me smile too. Her innocence was so cute to me.


"What are you smiling for?" I backed away.


"I actually did not expect that at all." She blushed.


"I didn't offend you, did I?"


"Of course not. I just thought the kiss yesterday was a onetime thing."


"Yeah, well, I couldn't let you leave without knowing how I felt about you."


"Oh?"


"Yeah..." I bit my lip. "You've truly been a breath of fresh air. It's like any problem I had disappeared when I was with you. It's like you wouldn't even let me be sad or think about my issues at home. That means a lot to me, Shana. I'll never forget the time I've spent with you and I really hope we can continue to be friends after this."


At first, all she could do was smile. But then she said, "of course. I told you I'd always be here for you, Michael. Why would you think I'd stop when this was over?" I laughed and shrugged. "You've got a friend for life with me. Okay?" She wrapped her arms around my waist and looked up at me.


"Thanks, Shana."


"This month changed my life too. In more ways than one. You know you're my first kiss, right?"


I laughed. "Get outta here!"


"I'm serious. And now you're my second kiss. That means a lot to me too." I looked into her brown eyes staring up at me and pressed my lips together. I don't think she really understands how much this time with her has really made me better in more ways than one.


I planted a kiss to her frontal lobe and rubbed her back. "You mean a lot to me..." And as true as those words were, I felt so guilty because for once I wasn't thinking about Shayla.


VII

June 11, 1996


When "Ghosts" ended, Shayla and I still went about our separate ways, only seeing each other in passing in the house. Kenny Ortega and I began rehearsals for the HIStory tour coming up, so seeing each other in passing wasn't anything new at this point. Prior to the short film ending, we discussed the possibility of going to a marriage counselor. I never forgot that, but with her being so deep into writing her book, she could have cared less about a marriage counselor. It was evident and I wasn't going to pressure her. Just as I was with my music, she was with her writing. If there was one thing we respect in this interesting time of our relationship, it's our respected profession. I respect her work ethic and the time she needs to write just as she respects mine and just like I don't like to be interrupted, neither does she. At least we still have that.


At this point, my wife feels like my roommate. And that is saying a lot seeing as though I've never been in the position to even have a roommate. But that's what it's beginning to feel like, and I have no other way to describe it.


"How's the book coming along?" I wondered. We were back in Neverland. Living arrangements were pretty much the same except she took the downstairs part of our bedroom, while I took upstairs. Since the last time we had sex, we haven't had any. It's null and void at this point. That last time was good, but I often wonder if it was good because I missed my wife or if it was because I was thinking of Shana... Since "Ghosts" ended, Shana and I have kept in close regular contact. There wasn't a day that I wasn't talking to her. I wanted to keep that breath of fresh air for as long as I could and apparently, so did she. So, it all worked out... Anyway, with Shayla and I just seeing each other in passing, it actually came as a shock when I would catch her in the same space as me. Today must be my lucky day.


"It's going well. I don't know if I'm almost finished or what." She scrolled through the pages on her Powerbook.


"Still not gonna tell me what it's about?" She shook her head no. There once was a time when she was excited to tell me about her novels, but that's since changed. "How far along are you?"


"I've got... 640 pages."


"Already?!" She nodded. "This must be a good book."


"It is." Her eyebrows furrowed as she rubbed underneath her breasts.


"When do you want to have it done?"


She shrugged. "I don't have a time frame. This work means a lot to me, so when it's done, it's done. I just pray the public likes it."


"I'm sure they will. They loved your previous works."


"Yeah, but it's been a couple of years since I've put a novel out." She sighed. "This will be the moment of truth.


"Mmm." I nodded slowly.


"How are rehearsals?"


"They're coming along. You know the tour starts in September... Are you coming?" Apart of me wanted her to say yes, because maybe just maybe the time constraints of the tour would bring us together. Another part of me wanted her to say no so that I could enjoy those five months to myself.


She sighed. "I don't know. I'll let you know." I guess she feels the same way. She reached into her shirt and held her right breast. If there was one thing I know about women or Shayla, in particular, it was that for some reason grabbing one of their breasts brought some sort of comfort. I'll never understand it. I saw my sisters do it and for the past eleven years, I've seen my wife execute that same behavior.


"You know it seems the more we stay away from each other, the less we argue."


"Ha..." She offered a dry laugh. "I know. Why do you think I said, I'll let you know if I'll go on tour with you or not?"


"It's weird that we're happier that way."


Her lips pressed into a thin line. "Sometimes I look at you and I just want to scream. So... it makes sense that we're happier this way."


My heart sank at that confession. "Really? How so when you hardly see me? I'm never around."


"Exactly." I swallowed the small lump that grew in my throat. I wasn't going to cry. It didn't even feel like I was going to cry, but if there wasn't a sign before that told me this was it between us, here it is right out in the open.


"Do you still love me?"


"I always have."


"That doesn't answer my question."


She winced and massaged her right breast. "I still love you."


"Then why do I feel like you don't?" She shrugged. "I love you, Shayla."


"I love you too."


I nodded. "You're just not in love with me anymore."


She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Michael, I'm-"


"If you didn't want to be with me anymore, why didn't you just say that? You don't want to work on us. The thought of counseling hasn't crossed your mind since Remi and Carol brought it up. If you want me to go, just tell me." She looked me in the eye. Sadness in her own eyes as we stared at one another. She opened her mouth to say something but couldn't find the words to say and pressed her lips together. "Shayla, I love you. I don't want you to ever forget that. And I don't want you to forget that I've been the only one here trying to fix us." I left. She's emotionally checked out. It's evident I lost her a long time ago. I guess I just wasn't paying attention.


VII


"So, what are you going to do?" Shana asked me as I looked between both of my suitcases. I have no idea why I have two laptops. I normally leave one at the ranch and the other goes with me wherever I go. I must have been in such a hurry that I grabbed my home-based laptop as well. I'll have someone take it back for me. While Shayla is at the ranch, I decided it best to create more space between us and stay at a hotel all the way in Beverly Hills. I don't know how long I'll be here. Nor do I care.


"I don't know yet. Katherine said divorce shouldn't even be an option even though I told her the emotional connection between us isn't there anymore. My mother still insists."


"Mother always knows best."


"Katherine is still legally married to a man who has cheated on her countless times and had a side child on her. She stays because the church told her to. I think my mother ought to sit this one out."


"I'd hate to see you all get a divorce. You all are 'America's Power Couple.' The people love you!"


"'The People' only see what we want them to see."


"Millions of people look up to you all."


"That's nice. Where are my cufflinks?"


"Is she okay since you spoke to her earlier?"


"We both weren't okay. As of right now, I have no idea. I will say, unlike any other time, she actually didn't oppose me leaving her without me telling her where I was going for however long. She didn't care. She doesn't care."


"Do you do that often?"


"Only twice."


"What happened?"


"Well, the first time, her sister totally disrespected me, so I left for a couple of weeks. The second time was when she hit me after the kiss on the VMA's."


"Why'd you leave?"


"We needed space. She broke my nose. I had to leave the show for surgery. I told Bill to get my clothes from the hotel because I needed to stay elsewhere. She went home to the ranch. And I just never went back until I was ready."


"...oh."


"Yeah. This makes number three. I don't know if I'll ever go back this time."


"Well, I think she still loves you."


"I don't doubt that. She's just not in love with me anymore. She's emotionally checked out of our marriage. She's gone. I can't do anything about that. So, when the time is right, I'll ask her for a divorce. Until then," I plopped down on the bed. "I'm chillin.'


September 8, 1994


"She broke my nose!" I tried to keep my composure as I held the painful and bloody center of my face. Varg escorted Shayla out. She wasn't kicking and screaming like the last time he tried to get her out. She was crying, breathing heavy, and tired. All that energy she had before went into her fist and connected with my nose. I swear I heard the bones actually crack. "Get me out of here," I told Bill. Janet is going to be hurt that we couldn't stay, but when she finds out that Shayla assaulted me, she'll understand.


Once we got in the car, I told Bill to gather all of my belongings from the hotel Shayla and I were initially staying in together. I refuse to see her right now. Who knows what she might do next? We made reservations for another hotel and called the closest hospital to tell them I was arriving. I need this fixed ASAP.


VII


I winced as I touched the bandage covering my nose. Something that was supposed to be special ended up in disaster. My wife really raised her fist to me. People saw. Photos were taken. The damage is done. After that, I just can't be around someone so mentally unstable so as to strike me.


Janet called all night, it seemed, to figure out what happened, but I could only get back to her this morning. She was baffled at the news. Asked where Shayla was. Asked why Shayla did it. She was upset to know that I didn't have the answers for her. As of right now, I could care less where Shayla is or why she assaulted me. I'm actually trying my best not to think about it. But she's my wife. How can I not think about her?


I promised her that I would never leave her again after I left her with no notice. But the best thing for me right now, for my safety... to keep a sane mind... is to stay as far away from her as long as I can. She won't hear from me until I'm ready.


If you would have told me eleven years ago that my wife-to-be would assault me, scream at me, cheat on me with the bodyguard I hired for her, and that by now we wouldn't have children because she's mentally and emotionally unstable, I wouldn't have believed you. Now here I am contemplating if I should call the police on her to present her with an assault charge. But I love her too much. I would hate to see her in jail. She and her family would hate me until my dying days. I won't do her like that. But it's taking everything in me not to call Sandy and have him handle it. He's actually been calling me all day to figure out what the news is about, to which I had Bill pass the message that Shayla and I are fine. To sue anyone who even thinks about publishing those photos. And to shoot down the rumor that Shayla and I are getting a divorce. As absurd as a rumor as that was, I really wish it was true.


VII

July 1, 1996


"Girl, that's your fifth time peeing since we've been out. Are you okay?" Remi asked me once I returned from the ladies' room. Remi and Roni's surrogate is four months pregnant and she wanted to show me the sonograms over a mimosa-less brunch. Who invites someone out for brunch if they can't have a mimosa?


"I'm good. You know I'm trying to get my body right. I've been drinking water like crazy to lose this extra couple of pounds. I swear it's like I've gained ten pounds overnight."


"In all the right places!" She pursed her lips and looked me over. "What are you eating, girl? Cause them child-bearing hips have surely gotten bigger."


"Apparently, too much." I rolled my eyes. "Stress eating."


"What does Michael think about the extra weight gain?"


"Don't know. Don't care." I waved off the thought. "He came to the ranch once after he left. Told me he was going to help Taj 'n 'em with a short film and went about his merry way."


"Well, he doesn't know what he's missing then."


"Can we not talk about him? Last time we talked about him; I was distraught. When I don't talk about him, I'm happier. Let's keep it that way." When Michael questioned the fact that I wasn't in love with him, I was hurt. It's not that I'm not, I just don't feel it with him anymore.


"Your call, sweet pea."


"Am I having a niece or nephew?"


Remi beamed. Talking about her baby has brought her so much joy. "We want it to be a surprise, so when Moana gives birth, we'll find out then."


"So, if she has a boy...?"


"'Jared.' And if she has a girl, 'Joanna-Marie."


I laughed. "If that ain't the most country name I have ever heard."


She sucked her teeth. "Laugh all you want, but you inspire the name."


"How so?"


"Your parents are just as country Mrs. Shayla-Elizabeth. Just cause the media has called you 'Shayla' for the past nine years, doesn't mean you ain't as country as the rest of us."


I squinted at her. "Touché, bitch." We laughed whole-heartedly. I was happier with my girls and away from Michael. Over the past couple of months, I've come to accept that and the fact that Michael and I will never be back to where we once were. When he claimed to have been the only one trying to fix us, I couldn't say he was lying. He was the only one "trying." But what exactly is "trying" when we were still sleeping in separate rooms and only seeing each other twice a day? And the one time we slept in the same room was so that he could get some coochie. Yeah. "Trying." That's why I've come to terms that being away from him was better than whatever he considered "trying."


"Ooo! Roni told me to tell you, good luck with the book. How many pages do you have now?"


"825."


"When do you think it'll be done?"


"Unsure. It's a personal work of mine. I'm not pressed to release it. It means a lot to me. So, I want it to mean just as much to other people."


"Understandable. Well, whenever you want me to read it, you let me know."


"Of course."


"How's Roland?"


"I haven't- Hold on." I held my stomach and stood up to make my way back to the ladies' room. "I'll be right back.


"The way you're peeing, I'd swear you're pregnant! But I know you and Michael ain't fuckin', so that's never gonna happen." She laughed. That's the one thing I hate about drinking water all the time like this, you pee every damn second. I might have to find a new detox or diet regimen because, at this point, I'm spending more time in the bathroom than anywhere else.


VII


After brunch, I hightailed it to the hideout in Century City and slept forever. The last time I slept this good was... probably never. I haven't slept this good in years. All we had was waffles and fruit. I didn't think it would do that much damage, but apparently, it did. If I ever want a hearty meal like that again, I'm definitely going back there.


I went into my purse and pulled out my floppy disk. Thank God for these little things. They made life so much easier. Especially when I didn't want to bring my Powerbook everywhere. I sat down in front of my newest desktop computer and inserted the floppy disk that held all of my documents. 825 pages of pure history and bliss. They say that's what happiness is, right? Over the past couple of months, this has managed to keep some kind of smile on my face. So, I know it'll bring joy to everyone else. If anything, some understanding of what Michael and I went through during the allegations. Other than that, this is purely for me. I wouldn't care if no one bought the book or if it never charted, this one is for my own sanity.


I scrolled through the novel. I have never written these many pages in my life, but it makes sense why I am now. It's my own form of therapy. Sure, the thought of marriage counseling crossed my mind, but once Michael was doing his thing with that short film and I began writing this, I didn't need it anymore. Michael puts everything he has into his work, so I thought marriage counseling was a distant thought. It seemed true because once he was done with the short film he never mentioned going. I took that as a sign to keep writing.


I closed my eyes as a dizzy feeling overtook me causing me to feel lightheaded. I groaned. Not when I'm trying to write... Come on... I've been doing so well. I just want to make it to 850 pages. That's it.

My body betrayed me as an overwhelming pain in my abdomen ripped through. Apparently, those waffles I had aren't sitting well with me. I went to the kitchen to find some type of Pepto Bismol or something but couldn't find anything. We really need to keep medicine stocked in all of our properties. I don't see how we've survived this long without. I picked up my mobile phone and called Varg so he could escort me to the nearest drugstore. There's no way I'm driving under these conditions.


He arrived in less than thirty minutes. Thank God for it too, because once I locked the front door, I turned and vomited right into the bushes.


"Shayla, are you okay?!" He gasped.


After catching my breath and trying to wrap my mind around why I didn't feel that coming, I nodded. "I ate something bad for brunch today. Change of plans." I wiped my mouth with a handkerchief. "Take me to the hospital. It's probably food poisoning. Pepto Bismol isn't going to be able to fix this."

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