Chapter 21

Chapter 21

During the ride to a new venue the night of the show, I always took that time as a moment of focus and reflection. Jamess and my assistant always knew not to say anything unless I asked. Other than that, it was nothing but silence. I hadn't heard from Shayla in a few days. While I'm not worried, I often wondered how she was doing. The babies are starting to move, and I can't even share that experience with her. When she told me, it only added to my excitement before I hit the stage that night. I couldn't tell a single soul the news that my children were kicking. And with Shayla being so far along, that is more of a reason to finally announce the pregnancy.


The fact that I'm on tour and that Shayla and I are expecting will undoubtedly send the world into a frenzy. They won't know what to do but congratulate us. Although it's been two years since the settlement, the world has still been on my back about those allegations, making ignorant jokes and anything else they can do to milk an already thrice dead story. But once they see that I'm expecting with my wife of thirteen years, those jokes will cease.


"Mr. Jackson, I'm sorry, but Mrs. Jackson is on the phone." My assistant held a mobile phone out for me to take.


"Hey, baby," I said into the phone as I looked out the window.


"Did I catch you at a bad time?" Shayla asked.


"No, we're just on our way to the venue. Are you okay?"


She sighed. "Yeah. We haven't talked in a while. I was just checking in. Where are you?"


"Mumbai. I was just thinking about you."


"Great minds think alike, huh?" She laughed lightly.


Something isn't right. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"


"I'm fine. It's just so hard without you here. I didn't expect to go through this alone, and I swear the further along I get, the harder it becomes to do this on my own."


My heart sank. I never even thought of it that way. "No one's been helping you since I've been gone?"


"I mean, Varg does what he can. And I've got plenty of support, but it'd just be ten times easier if you were around. And I feel like," she sniffled. "You're missing out on everything." I knew she wasn't entirely okay the second I heard her voice break. "Like, the doctors' appointments, the babies kicking and the fact that I can see their little noses and hands... I'm so grateful, don't get me wrong, but it's just my luck that I'd get pregnant when you'd be gone for months at a time. I never would have imagined this. Never and," she sniffled again. "I'm sorry. I just miss you so much. My hormones have been all over the place lately. You've been missing out on that too." We both laughed.


Listening to her cry like this is only breaking my heart. She's absolutely right. I'm missing out on a lot. I never saw myself missing out on something so important in our lives, but here I am. While it may be slightly out of my control, I made sure to end the tour's first leg before the babies are due. But after hearing all of this, ending the tour when I thought would be the right time doesn't even sound like it's enough.


"I play your music every night so that they know your voice. Guess what their favorite song is."


I raked my brain of all the songs I've recorded thus far. I have a pretty hefty catalog, considering I've been in the business since I was a child, but I honestly have no idea. "Is it from a solo album or something I did with my brothers?"


"Solo."


"Well, that certainly narrows it down a bit. Uh... recent or older?"


"Hmm... well, you recently re-recorded it, so I guess that makes it a little recent."


"Rerecorded?" I thought about it for a moment but gave up. "What is it?"


She sucked her teeth. "You know that one song that you recorded for 'Thriller' and then ended up re-recording a couple of years ago?"


I laughed, "babe, there are so many songs I rerecord."


"'For All Time.'"


"'For All Time?' I forgot about that one."


"I can tell. Your kids get a kick out of it, though. Literally. Especially, baby girl. She loves it." I couldn't help but smile at the thought of my daughter kicking because she loved the sound of my voice. She's going to be spoiled rotten. "They also like the original version of 'Human Nature.' You know the one that's seven minutes long? And I don't really like to play the loud stuff, but your son gets a kick out of hearing you and your brothers on 'Different Kind of Lady.'"


I laughed. "No way!"


"Yes way! He's already a ladies man. Sheesh..."


"He's a Jackson. It's in his blood." I shrugged.


"Mmhm. I hope you're this lenient on your daughter."


"Nah..." I shook my head. "She can't date 'til she's out of my house."


Shayla sucked her teeth and laughed. "Whatever! As bad as this is about to sound, she'll have her mother's wit, so she'll find a way around that."


"I'm sure she will. And when she does, I'll have my gun locked and loaded. I've never liked guns, but since you're giving me a daughter, I have to be prepared for the knuckleheads who plan on breaking her heart."


"With a father like you, a man would already be thinking twice before he did something as foolish as that."


"Exactly." I sighed as we pulled up to the Andheri Sports Complex. Because of this tour, my children only know me through my music. While I'm lucky that they at least have that because most people don't even have that option, it hurts that that's the only way they know me. I want to feel my daughter kick at kisses I give to Shayla's belly. And I want to see my son's best version of dance moves in the tiny space that is his mother's stomach. I'm missing out on a lot, and I didn't even fully realize it until now.

I covered the mic on the phone and asked my assistant, "how many shows do I have left?"


"In this leg?" He looked through his calendar. "Twenty-three, with the last two shows being in Honolulu."


"How many countries do we have left?"


"Seven, including the US."


I looked around trying to figure out if what I was going to ask Shayla would be feasible. "Baby."


"Hmm?"


"How would you like to meet me in Bangkok?"


"...for what?"


"I don't want to miss out on anything else. I just want to be with you. After every show, I want to walk off the stage to see your pregnant self waiting for me. I want to rub your belly and kiss you goodnight. We haven't been together throughout most of your pregnancy. Let me at least have these last few months. Once we're done, we'll fly straight home and wait for the twins to come."


"I-" she stopped herself as she thought of my suggestion. She could stay in the hotel every night for all I care. It just doesn't feel right that she's going through this pregnancy alone. "Michael, what about my doctors' appointments?"


"We can either have Deborah travel with you or find a traveling nurse."


"...I'll have to check with her... How many shows do you have left in this leg? The babies are due in February."


"Twenty-three. We only have seven countries left. With Debbie traveling with us, you'll be fine. I'm sure of it."


"Michael, I am seven months pregnant with your twins. Touring with you is not easy."


"I know, but we can make it easy. Once we get to our destination, you can just stay in the hotel if you want. Or if you're feeling up to it, you can see a show."


She sighed and took another moment to think. I know it's asking a lot, but I'd give anything to be with her. I'm tired of missing out on moments that we should be treasuring together. "Once I talk to Deborah, I'll let you know. But Michael, I'm going to need a lot of help."


I nodded. "I know."


"No, I'm serious. I'm really going to need you."


"I know. And that's exactly why I want you to be with me for these last few shows."


"I'll go visit her today and let you know what she says."


I smiled to myself. "Great."


"Michael, these babies are showing."


"I bet!"


"No, really. They are. And if we don't announce the pregnancy soon, the media will." She just read my mind.


"As soon as Deb tells you it's okay, meet me in Bangkok and I'll have everything ready for us to make our announcement."


She laughed. "Oh, so you just knew I wanted to announce it now, huh?"


"You know when it comes to the media, I've already got a few tricks up my sleeve."


"I'm telling you now, if all I do is sleep, you better not complain."


"I don't care how much you sleep, as long as you're with me."


"...you mean the world to me, Michael. I love you so much."


I nodded. "I know. I'll see you in Bangkok."


VII


After the show, I hightailed it to the hotel to pack any last minute items before my flight in the morning. The last time I was in Bangkok, it was the beginning of what the world thought was the end for me. This show has to be nothing less than spectacular. I have to give my all to my fans in Thailand because they had my back then, and judging by the forty thousand tickets sold, it's clear they still have my back now.

Shayla called back to tell me that Dr. Rowe wasn't too keen on the idea of Shayla traveling to undeveloped countries with two unborn babies. Still, as long as she had a nurse with her, she knew Shayla would be fine. Unfortunately, Deborah wouldn't be accompanying her, so I hired someone that she highly recommended. By the time Shayla lands, we'll have a photoshoot ready with my personal photographer and videographer. I've always dreamed of announcing our pregnancy in the most elaborate way. The fact that we'll be doing the photoshoot in Bangkok where I felt my absolute worst three years ago is a full three-sixty that I never would have expected.


"Mr. Jackson, you have a visitor." Jamess knocked on the door. I stopped packing and looked through the peephole to find Shana fiddling with her fingers. I sighed. This is the one time I didn't actually send for her, so I'm confused about why she's standing outside of my door. But I can't let her stand out there and cause attention to herself. I opened the door to let her in, but pretty soon she's going to have to go back to her own hotel.


"I didn't see you after the show. Where'd you go?" She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me.


I took her arms from around me. "I had to come back here and pack."


"You didn't call me. I had to call a cab myself and come over here. Thank God I know where your room is."


I sighed. "Are you packed? Because we have a flight to catch tomorrow."


"I know... Why do you sound so irritated?"


"I'm not. You kind of caught me at the wrong time."


"Do you want to talk about it?" She took my hands in hers and led me to the couch. "What's on your mind? Hmm?" Leaning in toward me, she pushed a strand of hair from my face. While I appreciate the gesture, I can't talk to her about Shayla and the babies. It would be too much.


"Shayla's flying in. She's meeting us in Bangkok."


She leaned back and stared me in the eyes. "Tomorrow?"


"She'll be there in two days." I watched as she looked away from me to the floor as her thoughts raced. I couldn't tell exactly what was on her mind, but one thing is for sure...


"What does that mean for us?" Bingo.


"We can't-"


"Nononononono. What do you mean 'we can't?' We can't what? Why is she even coming?" She snatched her hand away from me.


"Is she not allowed to?"


"She chose not to come on tour. Why won't she just keep her butt at home?"


"Because I asked her to come."


She looked taken aback for a moment, then narrowed her eyes at me. "You asked her to come?"


"Yes."


"Why? I thought she didn't make you happy."


"In marriage, sometimes your partner can make you unhappy. I miss her." I shrugged.


"Huh." She nodded. "You miss her? Where was this when you asked me to stay with you every night? Did you miss her when you asked me to spend the night with you three times in a row?"


As badly as I wanted to say yes, I couldn't bear to make her more upset than she already is. "We can't... do this anymore, Shana. My wife is coming on tour with us. I already feel guilty. From here on out, I just want to be friends with you. If you let me... But the kind of friends that don't have sex." Because throughout this entire time, I always considered her just a friend, but she thought we were way more than that... So, I have to make it absolutely clear that we can only be friends that don't engage in intercourse. I don't want her to expect anything out of me anymore.


This time, I noticed a different look in her eyes. The sweet, caring, understanding Shana had clearly been replaced by a new resentful version of her. Her lips grew tight against her flushed face, her right leg bouncing repeatedly.


"When did you even talk to her to ask her to come?" She tilted her head and squinted at me.


"All that matters is that she's going to be here in two days." I don't owe this woman an explanation.


"And I'm just supposed to be disposable to you, huh?" She asked in a soft, yet frighteningly still voice.

I took a sharp inhale. "I will always value our friendship. I just can't give you-"


"I should have known." She smiled to herself and looked down, still bouncing that right leg. "Because you never actually spoke of leaving her. Even though she causes you so much 'pain.' What is it, huh? What does she have that I don't?" My children. Shana will never have my children. She will never make a house a home. And she will never give me the love that Shayla gives me no matter how many times I may have taken that for granted. The only thing she can give me is lackluster sex and confuse that for love. "What is it about her?" She spat as if talking about Shayla disgusted her. As if the mere thought of Shayla repulsed her so much that she tried to fathom her entire existence.


"I love her, Shana. What you and I have will never compare to what Shayla and I have."


"But I was there for you!" She slammed her fists down on the coffee table. "When she wasn't there for you, you came to me! Don't act brand new, Michael. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be the person you are today."


"And I've thanked you countless times for being such a great friend to me. It means so much-"


"Nah..." She shook her head. "When are you going to tell her about us?"


"Excuse me?"


She scoffed. "You heard me. When are you going to tell her? No woman deserves to be left in the dark about these things. You really expect for everything to just move on like nothing ever happened? Newsflash! It did! And Shayla deserves to know like you see it fit to let me know that you're breaking up with me."


"I'll tell her in due time."


"What does that mean? Do you want me to be present or...?"


I squinted at her as if she had lost her mind, because clearly, she had. "What? What kind of question is that? No! I'll tell her on my own when the time is right."


"And what if you don't?"


"I will! Don't worry about what I have to tell my wife. You worry about you and how you're going to get over this while I worry about me and mine."


She looked at me and took a deep breath, her bottom lip quivering at the threat of tears. "You lied to me."


"If anything, Shana, I have always been upfront with you. There hasn't been anything for me to lie about."


"I trusted you."


"You can still trust me. We're still friends if you let me. This could all be water under the bridge."


"'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.'"


"We can still be friends." I insisted.


"No, fuck you, Michael." She stood up and left, slamming the door behind her. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. These last shows are going to be the longest. Shayla and I will have to avoid Shana at all costs before I have Jim get rid of her.


VII

November 3, 1996


Jamess and I waited patiently alongside Shayla's plane on the tarmac of Don Mueang International Airport. When I landed in Bangkok yesterday, everything was fine. While I was a little tense from the disagreement Shana and I had the night before, I wasn't too bothered by it. I didn't see her at all yesterday, so it's good to know that she's keeping her distance just as I'm keeping mine. I imagine it'd be incredibly awkward if we crossed paths.


Maybe I shouldn't have gotten with her again, but then again whether I got with her or not, she would always feel some type of way about me. I just have to make sure Shayla never sees her. That's only a disaster waiting to happen.


Once the plane door opened, I got out of the car, anxious to see my wife. The last time I saw her was in August. After two months, I desperately couldn't wait to see her. I know that twenty-five-hour trip did a number on her. Apart of me still wonder if it's even okay for her to travel with me, but as long as she has a nurse and me, I know she'll be fine.


Varg stepped down two of the stairs and turned around to guide Shayla down safely. Oh my God...


"Why don't they have a ramp?" She asked the flight attendant.


"Do you want one?" The flight attendant asked her.


"Uh, yeah! I'm not walking down these steep stairs after being on this long flight." I couldn't help but to laugh at her request as Varg hurried down the stairs to make way for the incoming ramp.


"How's it going, Mr. Jackson?" He came over to shake my hand.


"Everything has been well. How has she been?" I nodded toward my wife.


He shrugged. "She's been alright. Not going to lie, she's been wondering how she will do this with you, but we all assured her that she'll be fine. She was fine on the plane, but I won't lie and say she hasn't been a little difficult. Just a little though. Not a lot." I nodded as I watched her talk to the attendant as they waited for the ramp. She's pregnant alright. And she's right. It's time we announce the pregnancy. I don't know how she hid from the public since I've been gone, but she did a darn good job at it.


This is a new version of my wife. A version that I couldn't help but to look at in awe. She was practically a new woman. And it showed. She was the new woman I needed all along. Earlier this year, she was so down and upset with me. Now, I swear with every sentence, she had a smile. Yeah, she had gained a little weight, but what do you expect from a woman pregnant with twins? She was absolutely stunning.

Once the ramp came, Varg hurried to meet her at the top and helped her down. As soon as her feet hit the pavement, she took one look at me and smiled as if she has a huge secret to reveal. That beautiful look alone made me question everything. This woman loves me no matter what, and she's carrying my children. What have I done?


VII


After getting everything situated and changing into our new attire, we finally pulled up to the Wat Benchamophit Temple, also known as The Marble Temple. Dressing in clothing from another culture that we're not even from is pretty disrespectful in my eyes. So, Shayla opted for a white dress rimmed in red and gold while I wore a black military jacket accented with gold and red. We both matched the temple in our own way, and I know it'll make for perfect photos.


I chose The Marble Temple because of its elegance and history. Even though I'm on tour, I want the world to see the royalty of my wife and my children. And what better way to do that than to take photos in front of one of Bangkok's most beautiful temples?


Shayla's dress hugged her body so tight that I couldn't help but to stare and hide her from onlookers. Her belly and ass are the same sizes at this point. There's no way people wouldn't notice.


"I don't want to wear that crown. It'll look tacky on me." Shayla told the stylist as she took the sun shaped crown adorned with flowers off and placed it on the table.


"But Mrs. Jackson, not only does it match the dress that I so carefully picked out for you, but it represents Thailand culture. And you are in Thailand." The stylist insisted, placing it back on her head.


"Do I look Thai?" She snatched the crown off. "You want me to wear this crown and appropriate a culture just because it looks good? Yeah, no."


"But it shows that you appreciate the culture and its attire!"


"No! Next thing you know, I've got Thai people in America saying I'm using their attire for my benefit. I'm not wearing it. Where's my husband?" Shayla looked around for me. I adjusted my cufflinks and made my way over to her.


"Everything okay?" I kissed her cheek.


"Everything is fine! I just don't want to wear that crown. Is the photographer ready?"


"Mmhm," I took her hand in mine and helped her off the stool. "Come on," I led her to the setup they had ready in front of the temple.


"How do I look?" She looked down at her dress and smoothed it out.


"Like an angel," I pulled a curl that was tucked behind her ear and put it in front of her face. "You are so beautiful."


She pouted, trying to hide her smile. "You really think so? I feel so fat, Michael. You have no idea."


"You look radiant. You look like a Queen. Like... the mother of my children." That got her to stop talking down on herself. I kissed her forehead. "Thank you for coming out here. It means so much to me."


"It means everything to me..." The last time we called ourselves announcing the pregnancy, Shayla had a small bump, and the shots we took were just going to be a flicker in the video that showcased everything I had done in my career. Because of the miscarriage, Shayla wanted it pulled and instead of the whole world having it in their private home video collection, it's just in ours. But this time, the announcement won't be a flicker. My wife is seven months pregnant, and this will be front-page news with a ten-page segment featuring a new interview. I'm already sending the world into a frenzy with a tour. With this photoshoot, the world won't know what hit them.

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