(For the sake of this story, this photo was taken September 17, 1996 🥴)
"I love youuuu!" I shouted to the audience, waving as I prepared to go backstage. We practiced the rocket man where I or a stuntman would put on a jetpack and fly over a small portion of the crowd during rehearsal. This time, it's the stuntman's turn as I have to get ready for photos with a small selection of fans and some of the crew.
As someone handed me a towel, I noticed Shana off to the side, beaming and clapping along with everyone else. Since the tour started, as shameful as it is for me to say it, I've been avoiding her at all costs. If I happened to have seen her in a room I was going into, I'd simply go back the way I came. If everyone was chatting backstage, I'd simply retreat back to my dressing room. Aside from actual showtime, it wasn't hard to avoid her because I stayed in a different hotel from the crew. But when it was time for the show, I honestly did not want to see her. Because if I did, it'd be hard to resist her when I knew I'd wanted her so bad.
"Great show, Michael!" She kept her eyes on me. I nodded, wiping sweat from my forehead. I feel she knows I'm avoiding her, but I won't let that deter me.
Karen caught up and walked beside me as we hurried to my dressing room. "Shana sure does have an eye out for you, doesn't she?" She asked once we closed the door.
"Why do you say that?" I asked as I began to change out of my costume into a red dress shirt and black slacks.
"Since the tour began, not only has she taken every opportunity to watch you perform when Jim didn't need her, but whenever someone mentions your name, she giggles like a schoolgirl."
I chuckled to myself. "She's probably just excited to be on tour. You know she works for Sandy and Jim. I asked her to join me on 'Ghosts' earlier this year. She probably just feels like the luckiest girl in the world or something. I don't know." I sat in the chair in front of the vanity as Karen opened her makeup kit.
"I don't know. She acts like those fans out in the audience. In fact, if she didn't have to keep her cool, I'm one thousand percent sure she would have fainted plenty of times by now."
"Come on now. Leave the girl alone." I smiled, closing my eyes as Karen worked her magic.
"Why couldn't Shayla come? It actually feels weird with her not being here this time around."
"It's nothing new to her anymore," I shrugged. "I told her I'd be taping the shows, so we'll watch them together later."
"Oh, come on. That's no excuse." She scoffed. "Shayla loves to tour. Just as much as you do. She must be working on a book or something."
"...all done!" She backed up to admire the work she'd done on my face. "And your hair looks fine. I think you look good. What do you think?" She moved out the way so I could look at my reflection. I look like I just got off stage and put on some makeup. You can't really hide the exhaustion on my face. This is just gonna have to do.
"I'm good. The fans won't care otherwise." As we walked down the hallway to the reception area, I was met by my assistant, who kept me up to date on who called my phone and any messages that I had received. One message stuck out over everyone. It was nine-thirty in the morning in LA, and Shayla was on her way to visit Dr. Rowe. That was a little over two hours ago. She should be calling back soon.
This is only my fourth show, but it's been hard knowing that I can't keep up with Shayla and her appointments. I've been gone since September hit. It doesn't get any easier. But someone has to keep the bills paid. Well, it's not even that, but we honestly would have never guessed that we would have gotten pregnant now of all times. God works in mysterious ways, I guess. With the babies on my mind more than anything now, it certainly kept me away from Shana. It's crazy how when I was around Shayla, I only thought of the twins in passing because I had so much going on. But now, they're all I think about.
However, even in avoiding Shana for my children's sake, I still admired her from afar. Even in crew attire, she always looked good. She brought a freshness to the backstage crew where there would otherwise be a staleness. I can only admire from afar. That's what helped me keep my head straight.
"Michael, we've got the girl you brought on stage, a couple of kids and their families and a couple of diehards. They're all lined up over there." The photographer's assistant told me as I went to stand in front of the red backdrop. Only a handful out of thousands of fans was chosen to take photos with me tonight. I'm sure they'll treasure this moment forever.
After I took photos with the fans, it was time for the crew. Although Karen was always there, she wanted a photo. Some of the new crew members got a snapshot, and then there was Shana, who quietly stood in line as she waited her turn. I bid Shawnette farewell as she thanked me for the photo and looked at Shana, who patiently waited. Not knowing what to say to one another, we both smiled. After avoiding her all this time, it was clear that at this moment, I could no longer do that. It made me happy to see her genuinely smile at me because the last time we were together, the last thing she wanted to do was smile. I can't continue to play these childish games. She knows it, and I know it.
"You gon' stay in line or you gon' take this picture?" I looked her over. She blushed deeply, biting her bottom lip as she came over to me. "How have you been?" I pulled her in for a hug that she least expected.
"Fine. I'm actually surprised you're speaking with me right now, seeing as I know you've been avoiding me since the tour started."
I heard her comment, but I ignored it as I was too busy reading her shirt that read Why Be Normal? in an upside-down font. "Where'd you get that?" I wondered.
She looked down at her shirt. "Somewhere in Florida."
I looked down at the shirt again to find "Florida" written in bold letters underneath the text. Duh. "You having fun so far?"
"I'd have even more fun if you'd stop avoiding me," she smirked.
I ran my tongue across my teeth and turned to face the camera, placing my hand on her lower back right on the rise that was her behind, "smile for the camera." She snaked an arm around my waist and faced the camera. With her being last in line, all eyes were on us, because everyone was equally exhausted. I can't blame them. But with all eyes on us, talking longer than we should have probably raised some eyebrows.
"That's a wrap!" The photographer announced and was met with applause.
I turned to face Shana, "What hotel are you in? What's your room number?"
"Why? You plan on coming over tonight?" She cocked a brow at me.
"I just want to talk. I'll call you from my hotel, if that's okay."
She sighed. "It'll have to be. Here," she took out a pen, clicked the end twice, took my hand in hers and wrote the corresponding numbers on my palm. I looked around to find that no one was looking our way but Jamess. No one cares. "Don't forget to call me, okay? We've got plenty to discuss."
"I won't. Go on." She stuffed her pen in her pocket and went about her way. Jamess and my assistant escorted me to the limo with my assistant talking a mile a minute.
"Mrs. Jackson called again. She says to call her back. It's urgent." He said as he handed me my mobile phone. Jamess and I slid into the backseat and shut the door. Being in different countries, seldom would I get a phone from the country to communicate, but if I needed to, I would. Other times I'd have to get a new sim card or more often than not I'd have to take all of my calls from my hotel room. In order to keep up with Shayla and what was going on, I opted for a new sim card because it was much easier that way. I dialed her number quickly. It had to be around noon over there now. The time zones always got me while I was traveling, but the only reason I remembered this one was because of the timestamp Shayla gave in her voicemail.
"Hey, baby!" Shayla answered on the second ring.
"Hey. What's going on?" I tried ignoring the screaming fans following the car.
"First of all, how was the show?"
I sighed, "it was great. We're in Moscow tonight. We'll be in Warsaw in a couple of days."
"I got your message earlier. How did the appointment go?"
She took a deep breath. "Baby, I found out the sexes today?"
My eyes lit up. Suddenly, I was the only person in the vehicle, and I couldn't even hear the screaming fans anymore. "You did? What are we having?" I never really had a preference, however in my heart I hoped for a boy...or sometimes a girl. My daughter would be my little princess. But my son.... I could teach him everything there is to know. If we had twin girls, that's double the trouble. Those little girls are going to be spoiled rotten. If we had two boys, my oh my. The world wouldn't know what to do with my sons. Talk about legendary.
"I never had a preference. I told myself that I didn't care what the sexes would be, just as long as I was able to give birth to beautiful, healthy babies. But God really answered my prayers this time... We're having a boy and a girl." If I could describe the feeling in my heart, I would, but I can't. I'm having a son and a daughter. We never got to find out what our first would have been. I always liked to believe they were a boy, whereas Shayla thought they were a girl. Now, look at us. Having both. Jamess is the only one on the team who knows about the pregnancy, so I have no one else to be excited with. "Babe, did you hear me?"
I nodded as if she could see me. "Yeah, I heard you. You're giving me a son and a daughter."
"Yeah..." I heard the smile in her voice. We were both quiet as I processed the information. In short, I'm overjoyed. I sincerely wish she was here so that I could kiss her belly and tell my son and daughter how I can't wait to meet them.
"Which one was Baby A?"
She giggled to herself. "Your son."
"Wow..." I smiled to myself. I knew it by the sound of his heart beating so strong. He's ready to conquer the world!
"I was just calling to let you know the news so that you'd know you're having a junior. But," we sighed. I already knew what she was going to say. "We really have to figure out a name for our daughter."
"How about 'Elizabeth?'" I suggested. "It's your second name. Why not make her a namesake as well?"
"Absolutely not. Your friend, Ms. Taylor, has such a big head that she'd believe that we named our daughter after her. I'll pass." After all this time, they still only tolerate each other for the sake of me. "How about 'Nora-Jeane?' It's pretty and simple."
I rolled my eyes. "It's country. Just like you suggesting two first names in the first place is country."
"Haha. Sure, thing, Michael Joe."
"That's my middle name. I'm not a country bumpkin like you and yours." I laughed.
"Oh, you got jokes now? You never thought it was country when you'd say my full name while we were getting busy."
"It was country then too!"
She sucked her teeth. "Yeah, whatever. We've got plenty of time to think about it."
"Five months to be exact."
"Exactly, so you better start buying baby name books in all those different countries you're going to. She might end up with a foreign name."
"She just might."
"...I love you, baby. And let me tell you, I love you so much more than you'll ever know. In a way, I feel like I'm falling in love with you all over again. Shoot, my entire being right now is love. I just wish you were here to experience it with me."
I gave a small smile. "I love you too."
"I'll talk to you soon. Good luck on your next show." She said before hanging up. I leaned back against the seat, staring at the partition in awe.
"A boy and a girl, huh?" Jamess smiled at me.
I nodded. "Yup. We don't know what we're gonna name her."
"Well, whatever you do, don't name her 'Shana.' That may ruffle a few feathers."
I switched my gaze from the partition to him, "you saw her write in my hand, didn't you?" He nodded. I sighed and looked back at the partition. "Just don't say nothin'."
"I won't. Can't say anything about something I didn't see."
"Then why even mention it?"
"Just to let you know everyone in that room saw. I'd never tell, but you've got a few birdies in there that would love to sing for the right price."
I sat up. "Like who?"
Once I settled down in my room and made the necessary calls to get an NDA out by sunrise, I called Shana's room in hopes that she would answer. Prayerfully, she didn't go to sleep yet. I have to get a couple things off of my chest, and this couldn't wait. A large part of me wants to share my excitement about the kids with her, but I can't do that because I'd risk losing her. Besides those kids, she's a monumental reason as to why I've been so happy this year. I don't want to hurt her or lose her. I'm going to have to tell her eventually but now is not the time. Even if I have been avoiding her for a couple of weeks. We both know what we shared was special.
"Hello?" Shana answered after a couple of rings.
I licked my lips. "I have a cab waiting for you downstairs. Come over. I want to celebrate."