Chapter 26

Chapter 26

January 3, 1997

Honolulu, Hawaii, USA


"I love you!" I told my fans as two children came to escort me off the stage. When Shayla told me she was going to watch me from the audience, I was terrified. Her being around all those people and their germs make me nervous. And she's due next month... I just want her to be safe. But thank God Varg was able to be down there with her. Now, I just want to get the next night over with so we can go home and get ready for the twins.


I couldn't spot my wife throughout the entire show. Either she blended in well or was taking frequent bathroom breaks. One of the two. Whatever it is, I hope she and Varg hurry up so we can get going.


I went to my dressing room to be met by Karen, who was also standing in Shayla's section for a while.


"Did you see Shayla down in the audience?" I asked her once I sat in my chair.


"No. There was so much going on down there. I couldn't spot anyone if I tried!" She sighed as she got her makeup wipes from her bag. I nodded. Well, she'll be up here soon.


"Did you enjoy the show from down there?"


"It was different, but the energy was astronomical. If I could watch you from down there more often, I would."


I laughed. "Is that so?"


"Mmhm." She nodded. "I'm sure Shayla loved it too."


"You didn't see her down there at all?"


"No. But I'm sure she'll be up here soon. Don't worry about it."


I took a deep breath. "I was already nervous about her being down there in the first place. Now I have to worry about her coming back in one piece. Fans can be so vicious sometimes. I just want my family safe, is all."


"I know... Are you excited?"


I smiled. "More than you know. I've always wanted to be a father. This gives me a chance to start over in so many ways. I can't mess this up, Karen."


"I'm so happy for you and Shayla. You all deserve this." I nodded. She's right. We deserve this chance to have a family. There's no such thing as the perfect parent, but we're going to strive to be better than ever. I'm sure of it.


Jamess entered, closing the door behind him. "Mr. Jackson, may I have a word with you?"


"Yeah, what's going on?" I asked him as Karen continued to wipe the makeup off my face.


"Um," he cleared his throat. "Ms. Faye, could you excuse us for a moment?" My face scrunched up as I opened my eyes. Why is he asking Karen to leave? Is it about Shayla? Karen looked at me as if to ask if that was what I wanted. Although confused, I nodded. I don't know what this is about, but if Jamess asks Karen to leave, it must be important.


"Just let me know when I can continue," Karen said before she exited the room.


"What's going on? Is everything alright?" I asked him.


"Mr. Jackson, I don't really know how to tell you this..."


"What is it? Is Shayla okay? Did someone touch her?" I stood up quickly and hurried over to the door.


"No," he shook his head. "It's not that. Mrs. Jackson left."


I tilted my head to the side, confused. "Left? Left to go where?"


"She went home."


"Home? Why on earth would she do that? I have one more show. What did she go home for?"


"She didn't tell me. She just told me she's heading back home."


"And you didn't stop her? Did she not want to stay for the show tomorrow?"


"I couldn't stop her. She was determined to leave. No matter what I did or said, she was going to go regardless. She said she was going to catch the first flight out of here."


"The first flight out? Did she have a reason why?" I hurried over to my mobile phone to contact my wife. Why would she leave without telling me? What was so urgent that she had to go? "Did she say anything else? Certainly, she had you pass me a message."


He opened his mouth to speak but instead hesitated and said, "she just told me she was leaving."


"What?" This isn't making sense. One minute, she's standing out in the audience; next minute she's gone? When did she leave? She didn't leave me a note or anything? Is it the twins?


I called her phone repeatedly, only to not get an answer each and every time. She must be on the plane. I can't even pinpoint when she could have possibly left. The flight is five hours long, so who knows when she'll finally get back to California?


I guess I'll just have to call her tomorrow. I can't do anything now.


"Thanks, Jamess. Can you have Karen come back in here?" I sighed. He nodded and exited as Karen reentered.


"Everything okay?" She asked me.


"Did you know Shayla left?"


Her eyebrows furrowed together. "No. Where'd she go?"


"Apparently, she went back home. I just don't understand why she didn't tell me. She could have left a note or waited to leave until after the show. What was so urgent?" I'm honestly lost. What happened that she had to leave so quickly without even telling me so that I could plan accordingly... I just pray that she and the babies are fine.


It was our plan to leave together tomorrow night, go back to the ranch, and prepare for what little time we have left for the twins. Tomorrow night was supposed to be the start of even more bonding than we've done since she's been on tour with me. Obviously, being on tour, we couldn't do as much as we wanted, but it still sufficed. Tomorrow was supposed to be the start... Why would she leave so quickly?


"I'm sure she's fine. Maybe it was something with the babies, and she just wanted to be safe." Karen assured me.


"Without telling me? She couldn't even pass a message to Jamess about it? That's what's confusing me. There's no doubt in my mind that she isn't fine. I just want to know what was so urgent that she had to leave... Is it her family? Is it my family? Why leave without communicating? I thought we worked through that." Karen and I went silent. She didn't have any answers for me, and I'm still trying to comprehend what happened.


I need to know that my wife is okay.


VII


"Hey baby. I just want to make sure everything is okay with you. I've called plenty of times, but I have yet to get an answer. I just need to know that you're okay. I love you. See you when I get home." I sighed and hung up the phone. That had to have been the fiftieth message I've left. Shayla has not answered any of my calls. Knowing that I'm not in contact with my wife is driving me mad. Something could have happened to her, and I would have never known it because no one answered the phone! I was this close to calling off the show and flying home. But I couldn't do that to my fans... They paid too much money, and I'm sure some have flown here knowing that this was my only US destination. I couldn't just stand them up like that, just like my wife has somehow done. So, I gave them the show that they paid for.


Even though it pained me.


Even though the whole time, I was thinking about my wife.


Even though I kept wondering why she didn't answer any of my calls.


Even though I couldn't get the thought of something possibly happening to my family out of my mind.


For once, my tears during "You Are Not Alone" were real. I can only imagine how the lucky lady felt seeing me cry...


I just don't understand what happened.


We were fine, and now you leave and can't answer my calls?


Once the show was done, I had every single one of my crew meet me in one of the conference rooms in the tunnel before we departed. I need to thank everyone, but most of all, I have to tell them that I need to be with my family. This show was probably not my best, and I'm sure it showed.


"Is everyone here?" I asked Jamess as some stragglers filed in.


"I think so. That should be everyone." He nodded and went over to close the door.


I took my place in front of everyone and took a deep breath. I'm just ready to go home, but it wouldn't be right for me to leave everyone without saying anything.


"First, I'd like to thank each and every one of you because, without you, this tour wouldn't be what it is today. The first leg is already the toughest. Once we get to the second leg, everything will be fine. But other than that, thank you. Uh..." I wiped the sweat from my brow. "The last show is always the best. You all did amazing; however, I fell short, and I apologize for that... Since last night, so much has been going on with me..." I scanned the crew only to lock eyes with Shana. I haven't spoken with her, nor have I really seen her in the past couple of weeks. She looks sad. But it's not in my best interest to figure out whatever her sadness is about.


"My wife is pregnant, and she's due in a little over a month. I just want to be with my family... Thank you so much for everything. I have to go." I hurried to the door to leave as the crew applauded me. If I could have stayed longer, I would have, but I need to find Shayla. "Has she called you?" I asked Jamess as we loaded into the limo on our way to the airport. All he could do was shake his head no. I've asked him all day as I made my calls to Shayla as well. I'm sure he's tired of me asking, but he doesn't understand how worried I am. Anything could have happened, and no one's notifying me a thing. "Did you get a hold of Varg?"


"I did." He nodded.


"What did he say?" Urgency laced my voice to see what Varg could have possibly told him.


"He said he couldn't tell me anything."


My eyebrows furrowed together. "He couldn't tell you anything? What does that mean?"


He shrugged. "He just couldn't tell me. I'm sure if you call and ask, he'll have something to tell you."


I nodded and pulled my mobile phone out to call Varg again. He has to know something. I haven't seen him since last night either. The phone rang over and over again, only to not be answered. "This is a joke, right?" I scoffed and looked out the window. What is going on? Why won't anyone talk to me. Did anyone even think about how worried I would be?


I shook my head and bit my lip. Anything could have happened to my wife, and I'd never know it because no one wants to communicate with me.


Why would Shayla do that?


Why would she just up and run without telling anybody?


I turned to look at Jamess as a lightbulb lit up in my head.


"What?" He asked.


"I have to call Carol. She'd know where Shayla is. Carol's the first person Shayla would call." I dialed the number to my brother's house in hopes that someone would answer. Carol has to know what's going on. I don't know why I didn't think of her sooner.


"Hello?" Marlon answered groggily.


Welp, I was hoping it'd be Carol, but he'll do. "Hey, it's Mike. Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. I just have a question."


"What's going on?"


"Have you or Carol heard from Shayla?"


"Shayla called here last night, but Carol spoke with her. Not me."


"What'd she say?"


"Look... I don't know what Shayla said to Carol, but whatever happened made Carol fly out to Vegas first thing this morning."


My brows knit together in confusion. "Vegas?"


"Yeah, man. Carol didn't tell me what was going on because apparently, Shayla told her not to tell me anything. But uh... yeah. Your wife's in Vegas."


"Why would she fly to Vegas?" I asked myself.


"I don't know. Have you tried calling her? She sounded distraught."


"Distraught?"


"Yeah... It must be them babies or something. Got her thinking irrationally. What happened?"


I shook my head. "I don't know, man. She left me in Honolulu last night. We were supposed to fly back home together tonight, but she just up and disappeared. I had to find out from Jamess after the show that Shayla left."


"Welp, she's in Vegas."


"I do not understand why she would leave me to fly to Vegas. But yeah, you're right." I sighed. "The babies probably have her thinking irrationally. Thanks, man. I'll call you when I find out what's going on." I hung up the phone and looked out the window.


"Mrs. Jackson flew to Vegas?" Jamess asked me.


I nodded. "Yeah... Why would she leave just to rush to Vegas? That's not making any sense."


"Change of plans?"


"Yeah. Change our flight to Vegas instead. I have to find out what's going on."


VII


As soon as we landed in Las Vegas, I had Jamess book a room at The Mirage while I tried Shayla's phone again. Nothing. I tried Carol's only to get nothing as well. I don't know what kind of game they're playing right now, but I'm going to get to the bottom of this.


I dialed Varg's number and waited for him to pick up. I'm tired. I've been on this long godforsaken flight. I'm worried about my pregnant wife. I need to sleep, but that's the furthest thing from my mind right now. If I have to search every hotel in this city, I will. She can't just leave me in the dark like this.


"Hello?" Varg answered alert. I can't even be surprised that he's up this early.


"Varg, I know Shayla's in Vegas. I have a suite at The Mirage. Where is she? Can you put her on the phone?"


He sighed. "I'm sorry. I can't do that, Mr. Jackson."


"What do you mean 'you can't do that?' Put her on the phone."


"She gave me a couple days off."


"Why would she do that? Are you all in the city or not?"


"We are."


"Okay, you know what? I don't even care. Where is my wife, Varg? I need to know how she's doing. The way y'all just up and left Hawaii, you would have thought somebody died or something."


"I can't disclose that information, Mr. Jackson. I'm sorry."


I took the phone away from my ear and looked at it as if Varg had lost his mind because clearly, he had. Who does he think he is to not tell me where my wife is? "Where is she?"


"I can't tell you."


I sighed. "Varg, Ima ask you one last time. Where is my wife?"


"I cannot disclose that information, Mr. Jacks-"


"She's pregnant, Varg! Did you forget about that? You're on my payroll. Not the other way around. If you don't tell me where my wife is, I'll see that you're fired. And I mean it. I'll have your termination papers sent to your house today!"


He sighed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson. Those were my orders." My ear met the dial tone as it signaled that he had hung up on me.


Orders?


Did he just hang up on me?


Is he out of his mind?


What kind of childish games are he and Shayla playing?


Why would she tell Varg that he can't tell me anything?


I thought everything was good between us. Everything was fine! Our marriage is out of the gutter. We're getting ready for the babies. I've rebuilt this marriage from the ground up only for this to happen?


What is going on?


I just need to know if my wife is safe and sound.


Is she okay?


How are my babies?


Did the stress of the tour get to her so much that she had to leave?


Where the hell is my wife?


VII


I stared at the bustling streets that were the Las Vegas Strip. People were drinking, and it hadn't even hit noon yet. They partied from sundown to sunup without a care in the world. I only wished I could be as careless as them. But my thoughts remain consumed with the idea of my husband having sex with Shana Mangatal.


Her words replayed in my mind over and over and over and over again: "He told me he loved me, and I believed him. Now I know he was using me."


I have desperately tried not to think of her words. But when I did, which was frequently, I couldn't help but cry.


Carol has done her absolute best to keep me from thinking about it, but she can only do so much.


I've had no appetite since I left.


I haven't left this suite since I got here.


And with Michael calling all through the night yesterday, I had to turn my phone off.


I can't do this anymore.


I can't stay with him.


I thought we squashed everything, but I've only been reminded that this marriage was never going to make it like I thought it would.


I cannot bring my children into a loveless marriage.


There's nothing to hold onto.


We have nothing here.


And now I'm bringing children into this.


Children.


I pulled another tissue out of the box and wiped my eyes.


The tears just never stop.


No matter how hard I try. They just never stop.


This is it.


There's no coming back from this.


No matter how much he begs or pleads, nothing can save this.


Not even our children, like I once thought they would.


"I've reached several divorce lawyers that can do it as soon as possible." Carol sat beside me on the couch with a fruit tray. "Here. Eat. Even if it's just a little bit. You're not about to starve those babies." I swallowed the lump in my throat and reached over to pick up a slice of mango.


When I said I wanted to come to Vegas, it completely slipped my mind that this was the fastest place to get a divorce. I could be divorced by February, and it'll all be over with without even a murmur from Michael. He wouldn't know what hit him. Custody arrangements would be decided, and he wouldn't even realize it until the twins are born.


"What do you want me to do?"


I cleared my throat. "Set up an appointment with the best lawyer money can buy tomorrow. I can't stay in this marriage anymore, Carol."


Her sad eyes bored into me. "Are you sure?"


I nodded. "I'm sure."


Nothing can change my mind. The cruelty in me divorcing this man as fast as I can is honestly me being kind.


He doesn't have to hear from me until the babies are born.


There will be nothing to hash out.


I take what's mine. He'll keep what's his.


I don't know how we'll do it, but we'll manage to raise newborns in two different homes.


I just can't bear to see that man.


And I refuse to act like I can.


The last time I saw him, he was happy and on stage.


The next time I'll see him will be in the hospital after giving birth to the twins.


After that, the only times I want to see that man is as he's coming or going with the twins.


There is nothing to salvage here.


We were defeated a long time ago. We should have ended the marriage then, but I couldn't process a divorce with so much going on and zero communication. And for some strange reason, holding onto that toxic situation felt better than letting go and starting over. Now I know I should have let him go a long time ago. There was already so much space between us. I tried to fight. He did his best at "fighting." But nothing could save it. Even when I tried to keep going, like everything was fine. It was never fine. We were over. Lucky me, to get pregnant and become hopeful. This only made things worse. Now I have to break up a family...


"Shayla..." Carol placed the fruit tray on a nearby table and took my hands in hers as I began to bawl again. "What are you thinking about?" I couldn't get a word out as the fit took over me. Tears coated my dry lips as I continued to cry. I'm breaking up a family. A family that didn't even have a chance because we both gave up a long time ago, and tried to rekindle our relationship at the last minute... Carol grabbed a tissue and wiped the tears from my face. I would have never expected to go through something so traumatic during my pregnancy. "Shayla..." She asked again as she rubbed my hand. "Talk it out, sweetheart. I know it hurts."


"...my family..." I croaked. "My children will never have a true family. I'm breaking up a family that didn't even have a chance."


She watched as I tried my best to collect myself. "No... Michael broke up this family. You're doing the right thing. You don't want your children born into this toxic situation and you're making sure they're around a healthy dynamic. If a healthy dynamic means that you have to divorce your husband, then so be it. You're not doing anything wrong. Do not blame yourself for something Michael did."


"But Carol-"


"No. He ruined this. Not you." How am I to believe that when I must have driven him to do what he did?


"I was raised in a two-parent household. That's all I've ever wanted for my children. But..." I sighed. "I can't do that because I don't ever want to see him again."


"Six weeks. Vegas can do it in six weeks. By then, the twins will be born or on their way here. Just heal right now, Shayla. I know it's easier said than done. You won't ever have to see him again after that if you don't want to."


So much has changed me over the years being with him. But this time, he won't be able to save me.


Six weeks.


He won't know what hit him.

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