Chapter 27

Chapter 27

"Shayla, I know you're in Vegas. Varg is fired, by the way, so stop being childish and answer the phone. Call me." I pressed 'end' on the phone and held it against my chin as I looked out the window. I haven't had an ounce of sleep since I've been here. This entire situation has me frustrated. I haven't been myself since Friday. It's now Tuesday, and I have had no communication with my wife. I've sent voicemail after voicemail after voicemail, and I'm tired. I've had Jamess visit every hotel and ask for her under the name she always uses. But every single one of those assholes told him they can't release guest information. What if it were an emergency? Shoot. It is an emergency. And they can't release guest information??? These past couple of days have been absolute hell. And she caused it by being inconsiderate.


I ran my fingers through my hair, stood up, and grabbed a jacket. I'm going to find Shayla my damn self. This is absurd. I've tried being nice. I've tried to be considerate of her privacy. If she had just answered the phone, I would have left her alone. But now, I'm pissed. Who is she to just up and go like that?


"What's going on, Mr. Jackson?" Jamess' door opened as he heard me exit my suite.


"I'm going to find Shayla."


"By yourself?"


"You're welcome to come. Just keep up. I'm tired of this." I continued to walk down the hallway toward the elevator. When I find her, we're going straight home. I don't want to hear anything about what she put me through these past couple of days. To be frank, at this point, I don't even care why she left. I just want to go home and pick up wherever the hell we left off.


"Mr. Jackson, I've checked every hotel. We're not going to get anywhere." Jamess trailed behind me.


"You're not her husband. Once I tell them who I am, they'll give me the details. I can't go like this forever. Five days is enough. She's had her fun. It's time to come home." We entered the elevator and stood in silence. Jamess doesn't understand. This is my wife. Not some random chick on the block. My pregnant wife at that. The woman is ready to pop. What the hell went through her mind to make her think that it was even remotely okay not only to leave me but also to fly all the way to Vegas of all places??? Who does that? "You tried every hotel, right?"


"Every single one." He nodded.


"Guess we're going to try again." I sighed. "Let's start at Caesar's."


VII


Day five.


This heartbreak will never go away for as long as I live. I know that for sure.


The fact that I will have to explain this to our children someday makes it even worse. Even if it is a long way away. They'll want to know why Mommy and Daddy were never together. And that's what pains me.


The initial shock still remained like I just heard the news yesterday. I'm already tired of reliving this. It feels like a piece of me died that night...


I took a deep breath, closing my eyes, and opened them only to find Carol standing right in front of me with her hands on her hips, her expression blank. God bless her for dealing with me these past couple of days.


"I set up an appointment with a Cecil D. Bryant. We've got an hour and a half before we meet with him. I know you're hurt, baby, but you've got to get up if you want this divorce to be handled sooner rather than later." Just as many times as I've told Carol that I have to divorce this man, I've also wondered if this was truly the right decision. At the end of the day, it's more about my children than me. I don't want them to see Mommy hurt because of Daddy. I never grew up like that, so I refuse to allow my children to grow up to see that. But in the same breath, I cannot bear to rip a father away from his children. I cannot accept being another statistic.


Another single black mother.


"Jackson" or not. I would still be a statistic. Just a wealthy, famous black statistic.


"Come on..." Carol took my hand in hers and helped me up from the couch that I had made my new home, only rising from it to use the restroom.


With my hormones running amok, I swear this feels like a dream rather than reality.


A nightmare that I couldn't awake from no matter what method I used.


Carol led me to the bathroom and turned on the shower. Steam emitting from the sweltering water hitting the walls of the bathtub.


"Let me know if you need anything. I'll be right outside this door." She shut the door behind her, leaving me alone in the foggy bathroom.


My stomach churned. I can't believe I'm actually going to see a divorce lawyer.


After eighteen long years, am I really prepared to separate from my husband and the father of my children, both living and dead?


Am I really prepared to separate the family that I've longed for?


Hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I peeled off my clothes like a second layer of skin. Careful, yet with purpose.


Why didn't he tell me something was wrong?


Was I not listening?


My family is going to kill him. I already know it.


Over the tour, I called my parents. But since this happened, I couldn't bear to speak to them.


I'm embarrassed.


I don't want my family to think less of him.


I don't want any conflict.


My family will simply not accept what he's done to me.


I can't even accept it. My family wouldn't dare...


If I ever decide to tell them, the built-up anger they've harbored for him over the years will become hate.


Much like me, they won't be able to take this.


I took a deep breath to calm myself and went to the mirror, wiping away the built-up condensation on the glass.


There is no remnant of the woman I used to be behind the sunken eyes and dull expression. This heartbroken woman is someone else. This isn't the person people have grown to love. Where is the life in my eyes? The excitement that I once had for my babies? The glow that came from the joy in pregnancy?


Michael took that away from me. All too many times...


At that moment, my heart hardened.


I know what I have to do.


And staying in this goddamn marriage isn't one of them.


I pulled back the shower curtain and stepped into the tub, tipping my head back to allow the water to wash through my curls.


It's time to tap into the strength that my parents instilled in me.


Become the fighter my father and brothers taught me to be since I was born.


I may not be able to fight for this marriage anymore, but I will fight tooth and nail for the sanity of myself and my babies to get out of it. I will fight to bring my children into this world unscathed from what Michael put us through.


VII


People stared and whispered as Jamess, and I entered the lobby. Some people knew. Some were unsure. Most didn't want to disturb me. Others were in awe. I love my fans, but today is not the day.

I stood off to the side as Jamess waited in line at the counter. This hotel has been around for as long as I can remember. Shayla and I often frequented it, so it wouldn't surprise me if she was here the whole time. I should have gotten a room here. But I wasn't thinking. Shoot, I haven't been able to think straight for the past couple of days.


I just want this all to be over. I want to forget all about this and go back home.


What made her leave?


I have raked my brain of all the possibilities.


No one on my side of the family nor on her side has called to inform me of anything. So, everything is okay with them.


Dr. Rowe nor the traveling doctor told me anything. So, the babies must be okay.


Varg didn't tell me anything. Or he was "told" not to tell me anything.


Jamess' answer was vague...


Shayla seemed so happy.


We were happy...


The only time I saw a short fall from grace was when she noticed the tension between Shana and me. I did my best to ignore it, but Shayla clearly noticed something...


I never addressed it even when I told her I would.


Since that night, they never crossed paths.


I made sure Shana didn't get an invite to the baby shower.


I told Shana I told my wife about the affair.


I covered my tracks, so there's no way in hell she would have found out about that. There's just no way.


"Mr. Jackson," Jamess gestured toward me from the counter.


I sighed and went over to him. "What's the problem?"


"Mr. Jackson?" The front desk clerk asked. Part excited, part nervous. Very new. Great. He cleared his throat. "You need access to a room?"


"Yes. My wife might be here under the name Nia Brown."


"Well, normally, we don't give out guest information, but let me see what I can do..." He typed on the computer to search. I looked behind me to find people taking photos on disposable cameras. Even in my worst moment, fans are enamored. "I see someone by that name, but I can't-"


"May I speak with a manager? This is an emergency." He nodded and picked up the phone to call a higher authority. So, she's been hiding out here this whole time? "You said you checked here, right?" I asked Jamess.


"They wouldn't even check to see if she was here when I asked." He rolled his eyes. I nodded. Figures. Sometimes you have to have clout to get what you want around here.


I looked behind me to see that a crowd had formed. At least they're respectful enough to know that I'm busy. The last thing I want is to be bothered right now.


"He'll be here shortly." The clerk offered a small smile. "What brings you to Las Vegas, Mr. Jackson?"


I shrugged, offering a small laugh. "I'm still trying to figure that out myself."


Noticing my slight discomfort, he nodded. "Congratulations on the twins!"


"Thank you. Is there any way we could take this to the back or something? There's a crowd forming, and I'm kind of in a rush." I nodded toward the murmuring gathering of fans behind us.


"Absolutely. Just follow me. I'll just take you to the manager myself." As we followed him, I gave a small wave to the crowd, only for their murmurs to turn into complete and utter madness.


I've been staying next to her this whole time, and I couldn't get in touch with her once? I'm not even mad anymore. I'm over it. I just want to bring my wife home. This is stupid.


It's childish, to say the least.


Shayla has to be upset, but I have to beg the question of why.


Shana wouldn't have been bold enough to tell her anything.


No one on the crew would have ever said a thing.


My tracks were covered, so I refuse to believe anything was told to her to make her leave. Because for what reason would someone want to sabotage me like that?


Yeah, that's highly unlikely. Something happened, but I'm sure it wasn't that.


"Have a seat here. Mr. Martinez will be right with you." The clerk gestured toward some seats outside of an office. "By the way, Mr. Jackson, may I have an autograph?" He asked nervously.


"You got a pen and paper?" I asked once I sat down. He quickly handed me a folded piece of paper and a hotel pen. I unfolded the paper and wrote "thank you" alongside my autograph.


"Thank you so much, Mr. Jackson! Good luck with everything!" He beamed, stuffing the paper in his pocket and hurrying back to the front desk.


"Even when I'm going through a crisis, people want something from me." I laughed half-heartedly as I ran my fingers through my hair.


"Do you ever get tired?" Jamess asked.


I shook my head no and shrugged. "Joseph always taught us to expect it even if we didn't like it. Better that it's his one and not all those people out there."


"You're right." He shrugged.


"My wife is right upstairs, and these people are taking forever..." I said to myself more than anything.


"At least we found her."


"Bet she won't know what to do when she sees me. All this time avoiding me, and she thought I wasn't going to find her? Pfft."


"What do you think it is?"


"I don't know! That's the problem."


"You don't think she found out about you know who, do you?"


"Do you?"


He shrugged. "I don't know."


"If she had, she would have said something to her and me. Don't you think?" He stared forward, offering nothing else. "I know my wife. She would have aired me out. She's done it before. She doesn't know about that situation. I'm sure of it."


"Mr. Jackson?" Mr. Martinez walked over to us. I stood up and shook his hand. "Pleased to meet you."


I nodded. "I'm in a bit of a rush. My wife is staying here under a different name, and I was told that I couldn't have access to her room."


He held up a key and smiled. "Come on. I'll escort you up."


"Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to me."


"It's no big deal. Congratulations on the twins, by the way. I figured that's probably why you need to be with her so badly."


"Absolutely. You're a godsend. When we get to the room, tell Jamess what you need, and I'll see to it you get it."


He laughed. "Oh, no. That isn't necessary."


"It is. You just don't realize it." I sighed. I can't wait to see the look on Shayla's face when she sees me.


"What brings you and Mrs. Jackson to Las Vegas?"


Jamess and I looked at each other. I shrugged. "Guess we needed a vacation after the tour. She beat me to it, though."


"I see. My associate manager, Sabrina, was here the night that she checked in."


"Yeah? Did they say how she was?"


"Well, she was shocked to see how upset she was. Her bodyguard handled everything for her. Mrs. Jackson didn't speak."


"She didn't?" My heart sank.


"Nope. Sabrina was kind of stunned but helped anyway." I just don't understand how she could have left in a frenzy and so upset like that. Something must have happened down on that floor. I knew she shouldn't have watched from the audience. "But it's been a pleasure having her here. I don't think she's left her room much, if at all. I'm sure she wants to relax with her being pregnant and all."


"Yeah..." We went up the employee elevator to the top floor. Mr. Martinez continued to ramble on, but all I could think about was what I would say to my wife when I saw her. How I could comfort her from whatever she went through down in that audience that made her so upset that she had to leave... I guess I just have to listen to whatever she has to say. We'll get through it together.


"Here we are. I'll leave this with you. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call me." He handed me a business card along with the room key. I passed the card to Jamess and looked down at the key.


"I'll have Jamess call you. You've helped a lot, Mr. Martinez. Thank you." I nodded and entered the key into the door. He left, leaving Jamess and me alone in the hallway.


"You okay?" Jamess asked.


"I just don't know what I'm going to say when I see her." I sighed. "There's only one way to find out." I took the key out of the slot and opened the door. "Shayla?" I called into the suite. Every curtain was drawn shut. The television was off. The room was left pristine, besides a small trashcan beside the couch filled with tissue. She's been crying. "Shayla?" I called again, opening the bedroom door to find a small suitcase that wasn't Shayla's. Carol. Drabby clothes were left on the bathroom floor, semi-wet.


"She's not here?" Jamess asked me.


"Nope. But this is definitely her room."


"Now what?" He met me in the bedroom.


"We wait. They'll be back soon." I nodded, scanning the room. She won't be gone too long.


VII


The churning sensation in my stomach returned as we pulled up to Cecil's office. I was determined before, but I'm nervous again.


How could I allow my husband to steal my joy so many times?


How was my husband the catalyst for every moment of stress I've felt since the tender age of twenty-two?


If I do this, divorcing Michael is as much for my children as it is for me. I want us to have a stress-free life.


I want the next several decades of my life to be about my children and to find the woman that I somehow lost years ago because of Michael.


An assuring kick came from Mike Jr.


I'm making the right choice.


I pulled my scarf over my head and changed my sunglasses before we got out of the car. The dark sky and grey clouds matched precisely how I was feeling. Wind slightly whipped past my face as we walked up to the front door.


"How are you feeling?" Carol scanned me head to toe, focusing on my chest as I took rapid breaths. This is all so sudden. Am I moving too fast? I'm due in a little over a month. I just found out about my husband's affair. And now I'm trying to divorce him at such a critical time as this?


But then again, how long am I supposed to sit on having found out about this, given all that he's already put me through?


I looked at the door as if opening it meant that I chose my fate. "I feel like I'm going to be sick." My face went from hot to being instantly cold as the blood drained from my face.


"We can reschedule." She suggested.


"No." I opened the door, indefinitely sealing my fate.


A petite pale red-headed woman with red nineteen-sixties schoolteacher glasses occupied the seat behind the receptionist desk. "May I help you?" She eyed my protruding belly as we walked up to her desk. I scanned the desk to find a name bar indicating that her name is "Joyce."


"I have an appointment with Mr. Bryant in fifteen minutes."


She looked down at her calendar to verify. "Name?"


"Jackson."


"Have a seat. He'll be right with you." She gestured toward the chairs.


As I sat in my seat, I scanned the room to find degrees and photos with various people. Cecil is the real deal.


"Thank you." I touched Carol's hand.


She squeezed my hand in hers. "I'll be with you every step of the way."


"I know." I nodded, looking down at the floor.


I still can't help but wonder if I'm moving entirely too fast.


When Michael and I brought in the New Year, I pictured a happy family, not me being stressed out and meeting with divorce lawyers.


1993 was Michael's worst year.


1997 is apparently mine.


"Mrs. Jackson?" A tall, slender man, his skin the color of cinnamon, walked over to us. With all of his credentials, I would have thought this man was in his early fifties. Much to my surprise, he didn't look any older than thirty-five. And he's black. Thank you, Carol.


I pushed myself out of my seat with the help of Carol and Cecil. "Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice." I shook his hand only to find him look between Carol and me in confusion.


"I'm sorry. Mrs. Jackson?" He asked again, trying not to make it evident that he was looking at my overgrown stomach.


I peered down at my stomach and back at Cecil. "We're both 'Mrs. Jackson,' but I'm the one looking for the divorce, not her."


"Oh... Congratulations!" He tried to mask his surprise with a smile. "Follow me." He gestured toward his office. My heart sank. His expression alone makes me question everything. What am I doing?


"I guess everyone's situation is different, huh?" I sat down in front of his desk.


"Yes, you're right." He nodded, taking the correcting of his offense in stride. "How may I help you, Mrs. Jackson?"


"Well," I pulled my scarf down and took my sunglasses off. As if he wasn't surprised the first time, he was definitely in awe now. "My husband and I have been married for thirteen years, and... I don't want to be with him anymore. Simple as that."


"Oh, okay. Well," he pulled out a monogrammed notepad. "Normally, when I meet with a client, they bring in details about their finances, income, and anything regarding children, but since this is such short notice, I'll see how I can work with you. Why are you considering divorce?"


I swallowed. "When does this become confidential?"


"It became confidential as soon as you stepped in this office."


I nodded. "He had an affair."


"Have you sought counseling?"


"No. I tried, but it never worked."


"Maybe consider counseling before making such a rash decision."


"No, no, no." I shook my head quickly. "The woman he cheated with was a woman we both knew. Last week, she came to me and told me about the affair. He cheated while I was pregnant. There's no coming back from that, Cecil. I'm due in a month. The last thing I want to do is cause even more stress on my babies by going through counseling weeks before they're due. We need to go our separate ways. How long will this take?"


"Well," he sighed. "In the state of Nevada, a divorce can be processed in six weeks. Even less if you don't have children. But," he nodded toward my stomach. "Six weeks will be what we're working with here. Um, tell me when this all began. Walk me through why you want to divorce your husband."


"From the beginning?"


"From the beginning." He nodded.


I took a deep breath. Carol rubbed my back as a way of saying that everything was going to be okay. "Our problems began when he made Frank Dileo his manager..." It's interesting how before him, we never had a problem. The only issue we had was the publicity. The spotlight. Michael keeping me out of the public's view. My oh my, do I miss that. With Michael being such a world-renown entertainer, we were fortunate to keep our marriage under wraps for ten years. Looking back, sometimes I wonder how I even managed to do that. Kudos to my younger self, because I couldn't do that for the life of me now.


As I walked Cecil through every situation of what went wrong in my marriage, anger rushed through my veins while I relived each and every story.


The disrespect that came with Frank had me so bewildered at the time. When I reconnected with Michael in eighty-two, he was a superstar. I never really experienced that with him. It was like when he was in contact with me, he turned it off. I never saw it when we got married. When he went on the Victory tour, I was working, so I didn't see it. When he finally brought me to the last concert, maybe I ignored it, I don't know. But I swear, it was like he turned it off... For years actually. It wasn't until Frank and that self-absorbed Bad album that I finally saw him in his superstar ways. And don't get me started on the idiocy that was me when we played like I was some fucking fan for his Disney film. Looking back on that, how stupid could I be? Who in their right mind would agree to that? But you know what? I was young. I wanted to be by my husband's side for such a groundbreaking moment without the weight of being his wife at the time. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. In the end, I just ended up looking stupid.


Tatiana Thumbzten was another thorn in my side. It was like Michael forgot he was married. Tatiana walked so Shana could fucking run. Damn. It was right there in my face. The flirting, the snide remarks, those photos... God, those photos did something to me. To this day, I don't know what it was about her, but Michael saw something in her that he obviously didn't see in me. That single persona got to his head even when he told me it wouldn't. Even when my parents said it would, and I disagreed with them. Even when Frank convinced me that Michael could separate public life from private life. He could only separate so much. Because that single persona slipped into our marriage quickly.


That fucking Chandler family is what really put our marriage through it. I don't know what it was about them that made Michael want to help them out so much. They helped when our car stopped. Whoop-dee-fucking-doo. Michael just couldn't let it go. I think it had to have been because Michael wanted children so badly. That was really our season to try and have kids. But he wanted to play stepdaddy to a child that already had a father and a stepdaddy. Lord... No matter what I told him, it went in one ear and out the other. I think that also had to do with the fact that I didn't want it to be this big thing when we announced our marriage. I wanted it to be small. And because he didn't necessarily get what he wanted, he used that family to spite me. Because of that, that family did whatever they wanted to do, even to the point of lying. Shoot, at this point, I'm convinced that if he had left that family alone and not spited me, we wouldn't be where we are today. Maybe... I don't know.


Lucky me to get pregnant after that. My first child. We were so excited that we couldn't keep still. We had to be all over the world. Did interviews for damage control because of that stupid child molestation accusation. Watched people either defend or offend us. Damage control did more damage to me than helping, in my opinion. Michael didn't care when it came to parading me all over the place. He acted like a whole child as he excitedly pulled me every which way he wanted. That was the first time I ever had a panic attack... I planned a wedding for our friends while my baby was dead, unbeknownst to me. And we found out on my husband's thirty-sixth birthday, days after we found out our sister-in-law was murdered.


While I was mourning my baby and sister-in-law's death, my husband saw it fit to exploit my grief. I think about that all too often. That was the day he lost me. I was never the same after that. When I look back on that day, I really wish I had chosen not to go. I was not in the right state of mind. I wasn't really there. I really shouldn't have been at that show. At all. I should have put my foot down, but I didn't. I wanted to support Janet, I guess. Although I was hurting, I guess I hoped that celebrating Janet would help that. I was wrong. Michael wanted to do even more damage control. And as much as he says that that kiss wasn't planned. It was planned. Just not by me. He had it set in stone in his mind the whole time. I just didn't know about it. He didn't even tell me we were opening the awards until the very last minute... That was his plan all along.


That was the first time I had ever laid a violent hand on my husband. I never came from a violent household. So, the fact that I had even raised a hand to him came as a surprise to me, but I continued because it was justified. I was pissed. And then he called security on me... That will forever go down as my lowest moment. My husband called security on me. I will never forget that for as long as I live. Even now, it makes me hot. Literally... My face is the deepest shade of red that it can possibly go. Not out of embarrassment, but out of sheer anger.


"Shayla, sweetie..." Carol placed a hand on mine. Her eyes wide as she looked me in the eye.


A trickle of liquid ran down my leg past my ankle. "Oh, God. I think my water just broke."


Cecil's eyes widened in shock, staring at the wet spots on my pant legs. "Uh, uh, um-"


"Cecil, call an ambulance," Carol spoke calmly. He hurriedly picked up the phone and called 911.


Is this really happening right now?


"Um..." I pat myself for my phone.


"You need to call your midwife."


"I know I'm trying to find my phone."


"Here," Carol whipped it out of her purse and handed it to me. I hurriedly dialed the number to my midwife, mistakenly pressing the wrong numbers. "Relax. Breathe..." I closed my eyes and did exactly as Carol said, then redialed the number.


I don't feel anything besides the wetness in my pants and a small pain in my back that's been there since last night. Jesus... I've got a month left. You mean to tell me these babies are ready to come out now of all times?


"Ms. Shayla, how are the babies doing?" Sharon answered the phone joyfully.


"My water broke."


She cleared her throat. "Excuse me?"


"I'm in Vegas. I have no out of town plan. You're not here. I'm currently with a divorce lawyer, and I-"


"Did someone call an ambulance?"


I took another deep breath. "Yes. The lawyer is on the phone with them right now."


"Okay. We need to get you to that hospital ASAP. Are you in any pain?"


"I just have a small pain in my back that's been there since yesterday."


"Yesterday? How bad does it hurt on a scale from one to ten."


"Uh... About a three."


"Okay. When it gets to five or six, you need to tell the doctor." Doctor? "Is anyone with you, or are you alone?"


"My sister-in-law is with me."


"Great. There's only so much I can do since you're out of town, sweetie. But the doctor's will be able to do everything that you need."


"Sharon, that wasn't the plan. I wanted to have a home birth. I didn't plan to be in someone's cold hospital with people staring and prodding around my crotch."


"Desperate times call for desperate measures, Shayla. You can do this. You just have to let the doctors do what they're trained to do." At that, my eyes welled up with tears. This was not the plan. But I guess we all can't have what we want, can we?


I bit my lip. "Okay. Thank you, Sharon."


"Call me if you need anything, okay?" I nodded and hung up the phone.


"What did she say?" Carol asked me.


I shrugged. "Get to a hospital."


"Why do you look so sad?"


"Because that's the last thing I wanted to do."


"An ambulance is on its way." Cecil stood up and exited the room to give us privacy, I guess. Or maybe he's embarrassed. He couldn't possibly be as embarrassed as I am right now.


I bit the inside of my lip as I dialed another number.


"Who are you calling now?"


"Joseph. My parents can't be here, but Joseph can."


VII


Doctors hurriedly wheeled Shayla through the hallway at Lake Mead Hospital. The pain increased to ripples of hampering agony that left her gasping for breath at each uterine contraction.


Once the ambulance came to pick her up from the divorce lawyer's office, the pain had gone from a three to a six real quick. The affair's stress and the oncoming divorce made her body want those babies out in an orderly fashion. Which only brought even more pressure onto Shayla as she prayed that God would make sure that her babies come out healthy despite the situation.


Upon entering the ambulance, she begged the paramedics not to tell anyone of her circumstance. If she could control anything as much as she could, it would be the privacy of the ordeal. The last thing she wanted to see was the news of her early birth. Questions would swirl around what caused such an early delivery, and she didn't want to explain that. No one needed to know. The original plan was to give birth in Neverland and release the news days later. If she could still do that, at least one thing could still go to plan.


Mmmmmm. Shayla closed her eyes as she held onto the side of the gurney. Getting her to her room couldn't take any longer, it seemed. The pressure in her lower abdomen increased, letting her body know that these babies were ready to come at any moment.


"Mrs. Jackson, we're going to lift you and lay you on this bed, okay?" A nurse asked without waiting for an answer as they lifted Shayla off of the gurney onto the hospital bed. Her eyes fluttered open to see the nurse mouthing something else, but for the life of her, she couldn't make out a word she was saying because of the loud internal thumping in her ears. One nurse cut off her shirt while another nurse pulled a hospital gown over her head before pulling her pants down. This is exactly what she wanted to avoid, people all over her, telling her to move this way or that, touching everything and whatever whenever they wanted.


"Mrs. Jackson, do you want an epidural?" Another nurse asked. "You won't feel anything from the bottom down."


"Yessssssss..." Was the only thing Shayla could get out as she closed her eyes tightly, waiting for the current contraction to pass. When it came to the home birth, she didn't want any medication. Just a natural birth to say that she did it, and that was it. But as a first-time mother, she underestimated the pain that came with the delivery.


The room seemed like a whirlwind as nurses went this way and that, preparing for the delivery of her premature twins. Carol stood off to the side, staying out of the nurses' way until she could stand beside her sister-in-law in support.


When Shayla called Joseph, he told her he would make his way to the hospital as quick as possible, wondering why she was in Las Vegas in the first place. Without telling him the whole story, she just said she needed a break from Michael and figured Las Vegas was the best place to go. Confused but somewhat understanding, Joseph accepted the answer and beat Shayla and Carol to the hospital, waiting down the hall.


Ahhhhhh, Shayla sighed, rubbing her stomach as another nurse came in to see how dilated she was.


"Nooooo, I gotta push." Shayla sat up on her elbows, pressing her lips together as a tear rolled down her cheeks.


"You have to push?" A nurse asked.


"Yes, I'm in- ahhhhhhh," her uterus contracted strongly. Trying to push the babies down toward the birth canal.


"No, no, you can't push yet, Mrs. Jackson. Here, scooch down toward the edge." The nurse shook her head and put on her gloves.


"Huh?" Shayla looked at the nurse, bewildered.


"You don't see how much pain she's in?" Carol looked at the nurse as if she had lost her mind. Just as expected, the nurse brushed off Shayla's pain as minor. Telling her to hold the babies in while her uterus continued to contract, pushing them down toward the birth canal.


"I can't- I can't hold these, babies! I have to OWWWWWWW!" She screamed, rising up off her elbows, her pelvis scooting back to make a path for the babies on the bed.


The nurse who initially told her no took a deep breath and finally went into delivery mode. "Okay, Rebecca, I need you to lift her legs up so we can put them in the stirrups. Paris, fix this light for me. And Maria, go get Doctor Avis and tell him the babies are coming now." Shayla watched as the nurses scrambled to their positions. Rebecca took Shayla's legs and guided them into the stirrups, the light shining bright and warm between her legs.


Shayla always pictured this critical moment with her husband, holding her hand and rubbing her back. Offering sweet affirmations as he encouraged his wife to bring their children into this world. Not once did she ever think that she would experience this alone. But here she was in Las Vegas, Nevada, five hundred miles away from home, with her sister-in-law. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she processed her new situation. This would be her new life as a single mother.


Paris came around to recline the hospital bed while another contraction passed through Shayla's abdomen, causing her to scream. Carol rushed to her sister-in-law's side and took her hand in hers. All of Carol's children were grown or in their teens, but it felt like yesterday that she was in the same shoes as Shayla right now. Reliving each moment, she gave birth to her own children. She knew the pain that came with bringing a child into this world, and with no epidural, Carol knew precisely what Shayla was feeling. The only thing they missed was checking to see how dilated she was. But if Shayla was talking about pushing, there was no need to even check. Those babies were ready to go.


"Mrs. Jackson, Doctor Avis is here, I need you to breathe, mama. Listen to every instruction Paris and Maria give you." The head nurse told her as Doctor Avis pulled a stool up to the edge of the hospital bed.


Shayla's chest rose and fell at each rapid breath she took. Not only would she have to push one baby out, but two. She reached for the bed handle with one hand and held Carol's hand tightly in the other. "I'm sorry in advance. " She warned her sister-in-law. Carol shook her head, understanding how severe and painful this experience would be. Because of the pain that brought her children into the world, Shayla and the twins would be bonded forever. Absolutely nothing could break the bond between a child and their mother.


"Okay, Mrs. Jackson, lift up really quickly for me." Dr. Avis said as a nurse came with a wet pad to put underneath Shayla's behind. Shayla's face scrunched up as she impatiently waited for the instructions to push. Every muscle in her body was ready to push the little ones out. If no one said anything soon, Shayla was going to push no matter what.


"Shayla, look at me." Maria looked Shayla in the eye. "When you inhale, make your exhale a push, okay? Don't forget to breathe. Help your body push the babies out. You're going to do amazing. Trust me." Maria and Carol seemed to be the only kind people in the room. As the head nurse tried to undermine Shayla's pain, and it seemed like everything Paris did just caused more pain.


"Okay, Mrs. Jackson, I need you to push." Dr. Avis finally instructed from the edge of the bed.


At that, Shayla took a deep breath and pushed with all her might, her face turning red as she strained. After not getting anywhere, she stopped and panted quickly.


"Keep going, Shayla, you're doing well," Paris told her. Another inhale, and another push ensued. Pushing through the pain and the lack of epidural that Shayla realized that she actually needed.


"Oh my God!" She screamed at the top of her lungs after pushing only to not get anywhere again.


"You're doing great, mama. Just keep pushing," Maria instructed. Shayla squeezed her eyes shut, clutching Carol and Maria's hands tightly, pushing harder than the first time. "Keepgoingkeepgoingkeepgoingkeepgoing," Maria peered at Shayla's vulva, noticing a small patch of black. "We see the head. Keep going, mama."


"The head?" Shayla panted, lifting her head as if she could see, knowing she couldn't see past her stomach for the past eight months. My body is going to do what it was made to do. I was made to do this. You were made to do this. "Okay, okay..." she sighed, took in another breath, and pushed as hard as she could, grunting as she did her best to push her baby out.


"Keep going. The head is coming out, mama. The baby is almost here."


Shayla winced, laying back against the bed to collect her thoughts and strength. Fuck Michael for cheating and making her have an early labor. She barely wanted to remember her pregnancy spent alone the entire time, let alone her birth. And now he's nowhere to be found during this moment. Fuck.

The head. The head is right there. Now, she has to push this baby out so the other could come. Shayla took a deep inhale and pushed with all the strength in her body, letting out a loud wail. Her skin red and hot from the constant pain, pushing, and strain.


A scream to God ensued as she felt a considerable burning in her vagina. "Oh, my God, it burns..." She closed her eyes tightly, her nose tingly and fingers trembling.


"You got it, breathe. You got it." Paris said as she and Maria pushed Shayla's legs back away from the stirrups. "Strong pushes. Strong pushes. Keep going. Go, go, go..." I was made for this.


7:00 p.m.


"It's a girl!" Dr. Avis announced as Rebecca hurriedly took the baby over to a clear plastic bed on a rolling table. Shayla's eyes followed. Her baby girl came out with a head full of black hair, covered in blood and a white sticky substance. Even though her baby was born prematurely, she didn't get to experience immediate skin-to-skin contact. This is exactly why she wanted a home birth. The lack of intimacy that came with having children in a hospital burned her up inside. All she wanted to do was touch her baby for the first time. Look into her eyes and tell her how much she loved her, but she couldn't.


"A girl? She looks normal, right? Is she okay? Is she breathing?" Shayla desperately questioned.


"She's breathing a little, but I'm going to hook her up to her some oxygen. She's so tiny that she can't open her mouth to let in into her lungs herself." Paris told the anxious mother.


"She's beautiful, Shayla." Carol cooed as she wiped a tear from her own eye.


"Alright, Mrs. Jackson, we've got one more to go." Dr. Avis instructed. God, how long is this going to take?


"Are you ready to push?" Paris asked. Shayla nodded and prepared her mind and body for what she was about to put herself through again.


"Push, mama. Push..." Maria instructed her again as Shayla took another deep breath and pushed with all her might. One baby down, one more to go. Her daughter's face was all she could think of as she did what her body required of her. All she wanted to do was see what she looked like. Carol could see her baby, and Shayla couldn't. While these doctors are helpful, they don't care about intimacy and the bond. This is the exact reason why Shayla pushed for a home birth. Sharon would have definitely allowed for skin-to-skin contact. Even if only for a moment. "Keepgoingkeepgoingkeepgoingkeepgoing."


For some odd reason, this time felt slightly less strenuous than all the effort she had to put into bringing her daughter into the world. Almost as if her daughter had left an open path for her son to slide right through.


"There's the head! You can do it!" Rebecca peered at Shayla's vulva, noticing another head full of hair. Another head, another instruction to push with all of her might. Breathe. You can do this.


"Oh, Jesus. I can't do this." Shayla's head fell back against the bed.


"You can, and you will. You're doing great. The baby is almost here. Come on," Maria instructed her.

Shayla closed her eyes and let out an audible exhale. "Okay." She sighed and sat up on her elbows, took in a deep breath, and pushed. She couldn't think about anything else but pushing her son out and into the world. That's all she wanted to do.


7:07 p.m.


"We have a boy." Dr. Avis smiled as Maria took the baby in a cloth and took him over to another clear plastic bed.


"Michael..." Shayla cried uncontrollably. Calling out her son's name only made her think of her husband. How he wasn't here. How he cheated. And how Michael would have loved to see his children come into the world.


"Is that his name?" Dr. Avis asked.


Shayla gathered herself and nodded. "He's named after his father."


"Well, congratulations." He said as he took off his gloves and exited the room. His job here was done.


"How does he look, Carol?"


Carol shook her head and smiled. "He looks just like his daddy."


Shayla sighed and laid back against the bed as the nurses cleaned her up. "Can I see my babies?" Maria nodded and adjusted the hospital bed upright as Rebecca wheeled the babies over. One look at the twins, and all she could do was sob. "They're so beautiful..." She ran her fingers up their tiny legs. "I love you so much." Tears rolled down her cheeks as she examined their small bodies. Their little chests slowly rising up and down as they took in each and every breath. "My miracle babies..."


VII


Today, I regret the day I ever put that ring on.


To be alone on a day that means the most to me is something I would have never imagined.


I dreamed of this day.


I longed for this day.


Michael was supposed to be by my side.


Instead, Carol and my father-in-law were with me. I'm grateful to have not been able to do this entirely alone, but my husband was missing, and I will never forget that.


Neverland was where we were supposed to have this memory. Not some cold, insensitive, germ-infested hospital.


My babies are in the NICU.


That is something I would have never imagined.


Milan Nicole Jackson was born at 7:00 p.m. and weighed 3 pounds and 7 ounces.


Michael Joseph Jackson Jr. was born at 7:07 p.m. and weighed 4 pounds and 5 ounces.


They weigh far less than the average newborn.


Aside from seeing them shortly after their birth, I haven't seen them since. As if my heart wasn't already broken. I can't even see my babies the way I want to.


Our children were born a whole eight weeks earlier than expected due to the stress of my learning about my husband's affair.


And they are in the condition they are currently in because of his selfish ass.


I've thought about how easy it was for Shana to tell me that she and Michael had an affair. If it's so easy for her to do that, I'm sure she'd spill the beans to the press for the right amount.


And because of how interesting my birth was and the people involved, I sincerely hope the press doesn't find out about the delivery. I warned the paramedics, who escorted me to the hospital. I didn't get a chance to tell all the nurses, however. I hope for the right amount, they don't spill the beans as well. If I announce it prior to the twins' actual due date, I want it to be on my own accord.


The initial betrayal was already there, but I feel like since I've brought our children into the world, it's truly set and stone. They're not here because their due date was near. No... They're here because I was so damn pissed off and stressed out about what their daddy did.


Who cheats on their pregnant spouse?


Like, what registers that that is even remotely okay?


Cheating itself is already despicable.


But to cheat on the very person that is bringing your children into the world?


I've heard that you should be careful with who you have children with, but I would have never guessed that I should have ever been careful with having children with my own husband.


How a man treats you before pregnancy says a lot. But how a man treats you while you're carrying the life he put in you tells a lot about his character. I thought my husband was selfish before; he truly showed his ass while I was bringing forth life.


He is now the shell of a man I once knew.


I don't know who that man is anymore.


This wasn't the man I married.


This isn't the man I father gave me away to.


If I knew this would be my future, I would have never let this man marry me. Let some other woman have this, but I can't do this anymore.


I experienced so much prior to this.


It took me damn near two years to fully trust my body again. To say, "you can do this. Your body was made for this. It's okay to try again."


I didn't expect to get pregnant when I did, but my body did exactly what it was supposed to do the second time. And for that, I am thankful.


For me to finally overcome that personal hurdle of mine only for Michael to violate me in the worst way a woman could ever be broken by the man she loved...


I hate him.


I changed so much for him.


So much.


I did things that were expected of me as the wife of a megastar. I put on a smiling face even when I didn't want to be in certain places. I let the world into my private life. The world has not only criticized him but me. And I took that in stride because I'm his wife, and whatever my husband goes through, I go throug as well.


After 1994, I became a shell of my own self. After what he did, he lost me. Forever. Or so I thought.


After that, I closed my mouth even more than before. Was no longer soft. Became hard. I was on autopilot. There was nothing else for me to strive toward as far as the marriage was concerned. Slowly did not want anything else to do with him.


And now.


I hate him.


I have nothing else to say.


Shayla-Elizabeth Jackson Johnson


January 7, 1997


VII


"Sir, we've been here for five hours now. Don't you think we should call it a night?" Jamess asked me from across the living room. Neither Shayla nor Carol has returned. I've been waiting patiently for their arrival, and it's getting late. So, you come to Vegas, rent a room, you're pregnant and out all night? How does that work?


"I'll stay here. You go on and get some sleep. I have to be here when they come back." I ran a hand over my face.


"Are you sure?" He raised a brow at me.


"Yeah," I nodded. "I don't have anywhere to be."


"Alright, then." He shook his head, standing up from his seat so he could leave. His mobile phone rang loudly in his pocket as he opened the door. "Hello?" They'll be here before the night is over, I'm sure of it. "Varg?" Jamess turned to look at me as he closed the door. What's Varg doing calling my employees? "What? ... Okay, we'll be right there. Wait, what hospital did you say?"


"Hospital?" I shot up from the couch.


"Lake Mead. We'll be there in ten minutes." Jamess hung up the phone and took a deep breath before he said, "Shayla delivered the babies three hours ago."


"What?"


"Yeah, boss. We gotta go." We quickly gathered our belongings and left. Jamess picked up the phone and called for someone to take us to the hospital. I don't care who he gets. I just need to get to my wife.

How come I'm just now finding out that she gave birth?


So, this is what she came here for?


Why Las Vegas out of all places?


The last place I wanted my babies to be born is in Las Vegas. But you know what? I don't have a say in that. Now I understand why Shayla left. She must have had labor symptoms last week. That's why she left so fast. That's why the manager saw her distraught. Probably because once she got here, she was told that she couldn't deliver yet or something. Something happened. But everything makes sense now... But why go through all that trouble when we could have easily given birth in Hawaii? I guess the islands were too far away from her. She wanted to be close to some kind of family... Whatever floats her boat.


But it still begs the question of why Shayla didn't want Varg to tell me about her condition. Isn't that something you would like the father of your children to know? That's the only thing that's not making sense to me. Otherwise, it's all coming to me now.


I just wish I was there to witness the birth.


The plan was to have a water birth in the comfort of our own home. I dreamed of that day. I couldn't wait for February to come so that I could kneel beside my wife as she sat in the inflatable pool. That's all I wanted. I wanted to witness my son take his first breath, and my daughter's first look at the world. That's all I ever wanted. But I guess God saw things another way. I just wish my wife didn't have to go through that alone.




Come to find out, Jamess called the local police to escort us down the busy strip. It made sense. We had an emergency, and if we took any random cab, we wouldn't have made it fast enough. The police officers were ecstatic at the news that my wife had given birth and that they were escorting me to the hospital. I couldn't leave without giving them an autograph. It was the least I could do.


Once we got to Lake Mead Hospital, we were escorted up to Shayla's room. My heart raced. I'm finally seeing my wife after nearly a week, and my children are here. My emotions are all over the place. The part of me that was upset with Shayla's disappearance went away as soon as I found out she had given birth, but I still want to know.


"I'll stay out here," Jamess said as he took his stance beside the door.


"Thank you." I nodded and took a deep breath. This moment only calls for excitement and all the love and praise my wife deserves after bringing my children into the world. I smiled and turned the knob to open the door. "Congratulations!" I looked around the room to not only see Shayla but Carol and Joseph sitting on the couch in the corner. Neither Shayla nor Carol smiled. Joseph just shook his head.


"Come on, let's give them some privacy." Joseph stood up.


"What's going on?" I asked him.


He sighed. "Congratulations, boy." He pat me on the shoulder before he and Carol left the room.


I looked at my wife and swallowed. This moment is supposed to bring joy to her eyes, but I see nothing but sadness instead. A sadness even worse than I had seen in her eyes before. She's upset because I wasn't here through it all.


"I'm sorry." I walked over to her and tried to kiss her, only for her to turn her head. I tried pulling her in for a hug, only for her to bring her hands up and reject me.


"No." She shook her head. "You need to see your children. They're downstairs in the NICU."


"NICU? What's wrong? Why didn't you tell me you were in labor? You've been ignoring my calls. You told Varg not to tell me anything. You could have given birth in Honolulu. What is going on?" She tilted her head to the side, her eyebrows knitting together, chest rising and falling quickly. Her eyes were no longer sad but confused or upset. "Baby, I'm sorry I couldn't be here. I didn't know you wanted to leave so soon. You didn't communicate with me. Y-You didn't tell me anything! I would have canceled that last show if it meant my children were coming earlier than expected."


"Ughhhh..." She groaned, closing her eyes and shaking her head. "I hate you."


"Excuse me? What did you just say?"


"I HATE YOUUU!" She screamed at the top of her lungs. I took a step back and looking at my wife, who now had hate in her eyes. She went from sad to confusion to hatred. What did I do?


Carol hurried into the room and tried to calm Shayla down.


Is it because I left her to give birth alone? She left on her own terms. That wasn't my fault. She knows I would have been there. What would make her say she hates me after she just gave birth to our children?


...did she really find out about Shana?


I exited the room to allow my wife space. Joseph and Jamess both stood outside, talking about God knows what. It's crazy how my own father was here for my wife's birth, but I wasn't notified until three hours later.


"You're in trouble. You know that, right?" Joseph nodded toward me.


I sucked my teeth. "For what? For missing the birth of my children when I wasn't even told my wife was in labor?"


"No. Because you're sloppy."


"What does that even mean?"


"You cheated on your wife while she was pregnant?" The heat in my face immediately went cold at the realization.


"Who told you that?"


He shook his head. "Just like I said. You sloppy. You don't cheat on a woman while she's bringing your children into the world."


"Oh, so what, cheating on your wife outside of that is perfectly fine?"


"Remember who you're talking to." He warned. "I'm still married. You... might not be very soon. Congratulations, son." He nodded before walking down the hallway.


Jamess and I looked at each other. He called it. Shayla knows... I have to plead my case somehow.

I took a deep breath and reentered the room to see Shayla crying against Carol's chest. Carol shot daggers with the way she was looking at me. "Can you leave us alone for a moment, Carol?" She continued to stare at me like I was the devil. Like, how dare I even ask her that question. Despite what she may think happened, I'm still Shayla's husband, and I should be respected as such. "Please?" She looked down at Shayla and mouthed something, prompting my wife to nod and finally look at me. Her hate-filled eyes retreated back to sadness. Yeah, she knows.


Once Carol left, silence remained in the room with Shayla and me, aside from new "congratulations" and chants of my name outside our window.


Shayla scoffed, rolling her eyes. "You couldn't wait, could you?"


I pressed my lips together. "I only told the police who escorted me here."


"Why am I not surprised?" She shook her head.


"Why did you leave me?"


"Why did you cheat?"


"I didn-"


Shayla cut her eyes at me. "Don't lie to me. Shana told me everything." Shit.


"That's why you left without telling me?"


"Would you stay with you if the roles had been reversed?" I can't answer that question and say that I would.


I looked down at my fingernails. "What did she tell you?"


"Does it matter? All that matters is that you had sex with that woman. I think that's all that's important here. And you did it while I was pregnant... I-" She looked toward the window and shook her head. "You are so lucky I can't get up without tearing one of my stitches right now."


"I didn't mean to hurt you. You were never meant to know."


She softly laughed to herself. "As if that's supposed to make me feel any better. So, what? Were you going to continue to sleep with her or...?"


"I stopped shortly before you came to meet me on tour. I couldn't do it anymore."


"Well into the tour? Wow!" She nodded. "I figured it lasted a while since she said she had fallen in love, but damn, y'all were fucking on tour? Bet you were glad when I said I couldn't come, huh?"


"No..." I shook my head. "That was never the case."


"I'm sure. So, why did you do it, huh?"


I shook my head again. "I didn't do it to hurt you."


"So, why did you do it? To spite me? Was it the final straw? Like, what was it?"


"I've been through a lot these past couple of years. I didn't feel like myself anymore."


She squinted her eyes at me. "So, sleeping with Shana made you feel like yourself again?"


"No, no, no," I walked over to stand beside her. The chants were louder over here. "I'm so sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen. You don't know how worried I was when I found out you left. I didn't know what happened to you. I was scared for the twins. You mean so much to me. I planned on telling you eventually, but I didn't know how to because you were pregnant. I didn't want anything to happen to the twins."


"That's stupid. Whether I found out from you or her, something was bound to happen. You should have never cheated, to begin with. Now you have to live with the fact that your babies are in the NICU because of you. We're lucky they're alive."


"Shayla... It's still me." I sat on the bed.


"Is it?" She cocked a challenging brow at me.


"I'm sorry! What else do you want me to say? That I'll never do it again? Because I won't. I dead that situation a long time ago. This is a new chapter in our lives. I'll never do that again."


"YOU BROKE US!" She shouted in my face. "You broke our marriage a long time ago. This isn't the first time you broke me, but your stupid ass now has to live with the fact that you broke up our family. We will never be together again after this. Go see your kids downstairs and get out of my face."


"Shayla-"


"I don't ever want to be near you again. You disgust me." She spat.


This... this is not my wife.


I made my way to the door and turned back to look at my wife, only to find that she had started crying again. I don't know whether to comfort her or leave.


"Get out!" Her voice cold and devoid of emotion.


"Congratulations, Michael! We Love You!" Fans mocked outside. They don't know any better, but for the love of God, I wish they'd shut up.

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