Chapter 3

Chapter 3

"Yes, Shayla?" I answered as soon as she picked up the phone.


"Hello to you too."


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


"How did the meeting go?"


"It was fine. I sold half of the catalog to Sony."


"How do you feel about that?"


I shrugged. "It's business. We're set. That's for sure. What's going on? You okay? I know that's not why you called the office in the middle of that meeting."


"It's not..."


"So, what happened?"


"I just wanted to let you know that David and Audrey had the baby. It just so happened that Matt and Rachel did too."


"That's funny. Two babies born February twenty-ninth. What are they gonna do when it's not a leap year?" I managed a laugh.


She kind of laughed too. "That's what I need to know. They both had boys. Made them both juniors."


"What are the odds that they were both boys?"


"God works in mysterious ways, doesn't he?"


I sighed. "Sure does." Both sides of our families are having kids. And what are we doing? Wishing, wondering, and congratulating everyone else. This isn't how I imagined my life at thirty-eight.


"Anyway. I wanted to go congratulate David today. Then maybe we could fly to Ohio tomorrow and congratulate Matt?"


"Ah..." I sighed, hanging my head low. "Sure. What time are you tryna go today?"


"Whenever you get back is fine."


"Alright." I sighed. "I'll be home shortly."


"Sounds good. I'll see you when you get here then. I love you."


"Love you too." I pressed 'end' on my mobile phone. I often wonder if Shayla and I would have had a boy. To have a namesake would have made me the happiest man in the world. If we had a girl, she would be my world... My princess... It's not like we haven't tried over the year. I guess when you just want something so bad, it won't come right away versus if you didn't want it as badly. It's hard though. My side of the family has been popping out kids since the seventies. Aside from Janet and LaToya. I waited- We waited for a reason, but now it's like now that we want it, everything keeps getting in our way.


Maybe we should have started when we were younger. But then again being so busy, would I have been able to go so far in my career? Would Shayla had been able to open her own publishing company? I won't say that it would have been nearly impossible to do so, but I also don't regret the way we did things. We did things right, but now I'm just wondering the "what if's."


Had things worked out, our child would have been one going on two right about now. It's been tough. When my birthday came around last year, we didn't know whether to celebrate or not. It was more awkward than anything. After Shayla got me into celebrating my birthday, I had gotten into the swing of things, now it's like... I understand why the church was so adamant about not celebrating birthdays. Shayla celebrated hers with no problem, but once mine came around, everything felt so stale. I hope the feeling goes away after a while, but then again, a parent could never fully get over losing their child. It's just something we're going to have to grow through.


VII


"Hey, Audrey!" Shayla smiled as we entered David and Audrey's room. Their room was adorned in blue balloons and streamers. My guess is Audrey did this because there's no way David would do it, as nonchalant as he is. "You look so beautiful..." Shayla crooned as she walked over to stand beside Audrey.


"Hey, Mike." David nodded at me. I haven't seen him for such a long time. My first thought was to hug him, but it's clear from him still sitting in his seat that he doesn't want to be bothered.


"Hey. How do you feel?" I asked him.


"To be honest with you, I'm scared." He chuckled. "I'm in charge of this little person and I still feel like I don't have my own shit together."


"When do we ever have our stuff together?"


"Shoot. You and Shayla have had your stuff together since the beginning of time. I'm tryna get like y'all."


"Don't go comparing yourself to us," Shayla said as she stroked David Jr.'s little leg with her finger. "You all are doing just fine..."


"We're alright..." David rolled his eyes. "The store is booming, but I just feel like I'm not where I'm supposed to be right now. And bringing a child into the mix doesn't make me feel any better. I mean, I'm glad. And I'm so proud. Trust and believe me, but at my age, Dad was doing so much better than me."


"David we're doing fine!" Audrey sighed. "Shayla, you wanna hold him?" She held David Jr. out for Shayla to hold. "Don't listen to him. We're fine. We've got enough saved up. The store is booming. The house is fine. He's just scared. You know your brother never wanted kids. Now he's got one. And he's adamant that DJ will be his last, but that's a lie because I want two more. Don't listen to him."


"How is it that Audrey is the one who had the baby and out of the two of you she's the one that's not delusional?" Shayla laughed.


"Because she's not the one who has to provide for this family," David said sarcastically.


"Bye, David." Audrey rolled her eyes.


"He looks just like you, David..." Shayla kissed DJ on the forehead as she went to sit in the rocker. "But cuter." She teased.


"Because he looks like Audrey. That's why." Just as David was admiring his wife, I was admiring my own. Shayla looked so beautiful holding DJ. Seeing her hold or attend to any child has always been beautiful to me. But just seeing her glow while holding our nephew made it more apparent. Almost like a reminder of what I have standing before me. We may have our problems. We may have our differences. But she's still my wife. The woman I chose to stand by my side 'til death. The woman I chose to eventually have my children. And my God she looks so beautiful right now.


"You want to hold him, Michael?" Shayla looked up at me.


"Yeah, sure." I made my way over to her and took DJ into my arms. Yep. He looks just like David with a hint of Audrey. I've always been "Uncle Mike" and I often wonder if I'm always going to be just that. Maybe that's the role I'm supposed to be in this life instead of someone's father. I don't know. I've literally been an Uncle since I was thirteen years old. I'm pushing forty and still just somebody's Uncle. I've achieved so much, but I don't feel complete until I've had my own child. I want more than Shayla to be my legacy. We need children to be able to pass our wealth down. I'd hate for there to ever be confusion as to where our wealth will go when we're gone...


"Did you call Matt?" Shayla asked her brother.


"Yeah. It's funny we can't visit each other right now. But I told him I'll bring DJ over there one of these days."


"Wait. Which one is older?"


"Technically DJ because of time zones."


"Ha!" She laughed. "That's funny."


"Yeah. Dee was born at two forty-five. And in Ohio, it was five forty-five. DJ is only older because he was born a couple of seconds earlier than Matthew."


"Y'all got it down to the seconds?" I laughed.


"If you want to tell which one is older in two different time zones, that's the only way to find out." David laughed too. "It's crazy, I know. I was mind blown when Dad told me Rachel literally gave birth the same time Audrey did. Like, how do you do that kind of math in two different time zones? After we figured it out, I've been trying hard not to think too much about it. It makes my head hurt."


"I bet."


"You know you have to make sure they're close, right?" Shayla said.


David sighed. "I'll do my best, Shay."


"No, seriously. They're cousins born on the same day. They have to be close. On the same day on a leap year. You just can't get any cooler than that. When are you guys going to celebrate DJ's birthday?"


"We kind of like March first." Audrey chimed in. "But when his real birthday comes around, it's going to be a celebration out of this world. Believe that."


"Did Matt say when he would celebrate Matthew's birthday?"


"He didn't tell us." David reclined back in his chair.


"I think when their real birthday's come around, you all should celebrate together. Even if you have to take turns between being in Ohio or California. Celebrating February twenty-ninth with his cousin would be fantastic."


"I agree, baby." Audrey looked over at her husband.


"I'll think about it." He closed his eyes and sighed.


Shayla sucked her teeth. "You never go home anyway. May as well make that one of the days you actually do go home."


"Yeah, well, when you have kids, you make sure to let people tell you how to raise them too, okay?" Shayla's face went blank at David's remark.


Audrey gasped. "David..."


"What? She's over here telling me how to raise my son. She better be just as open to allow others to tell her how to raise her kids whenever she has them."


"That wasn't called for, David." I gave DJ back to Audrey.


"What?" He held out his arms in confusion. "What was so wrong about what I said?"


"Forget it." Shayla shook her head and went over to kiss Audrey and DJ. "I'm glad we were able to come up and see you all, okay? I love you. Let us know if you need anything."


"Don't mind David, Shayla. You know how your brother is." Audrey tried to get us to stay.


"That's the problem. He's never gonna change. I love you guys. Come on, baby." Shayla took my hand and led me out of the room. Did he just forget what we went through? Or was he just too stuck in his own head to care about what he said? David has always been the oddball. He's never seemed to care. But for one moment, he couldn't keep his comments to himself although his sister was giving him some pretty sound advice?


"You okay, baby?" I asked Shayla once we got in the car.


She shook her head no. "He knows he hit a soft spot. And as soon as he said it, I felt like I was literally getting stabbed in the back. I just want my nephews to be close, ya know? When we have kids, they have to be close to their family no matter what."


"I hear you." I nodded.


"I'm serious, Michael. All this family we have. There's no reason they shouldn't be close." She sighed. "That's just my brother though. I guess that was our cue to go. I hope DJ takes after Audrey. Ain't no reason he should be as off-putting as David." I rubbed her back as she continued to ramble on about her brother. It's interesting how everyone in Shayla's family is so family-oriented except for David. It's like he doesn't want anything to do with his family and you can't help but wonder why when they're so loving. He acts like they did something to him when in actuality they never did anything but show him love. Maybe it's just the fact that he wants to be his own person instead of being lumped in with his close-knit family. I don't know. The man is about to be forty soon. It's about time he gets over it. Especially since he just brought a child into the world. "DJ was so beautiful though, wasn't he, babe?"


"He is. Watching you hold him was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." I kissed her cheek.


"Aww, Michael." She blushed. I haven't seen her blush in a while.


"I'm serious. You were glowing holding DJ. I can only imagine how much you'd glow holding our own child. It was like a breath of fresh air watching you hold him."


"Really?"


I nodded. "You're beautiful, Shayla."


"I feel like I haven't heard you say those words in a long time."


"I always tell you you're beautiful."


"Yeah, but the way you sound tonight is so different from any other time you say it."


I smirked. "How am I saying it?"


"Like... you admire me or something."


"I do." I pulled her chin toward me with my finger.


"Where is this coming from?" Her lips curved into a smile.


"I just love you... That's all." She was right. It had been a while since we flirted or played coy with one another. For some reason, this felt new. Refreshing. Like, I think I have my wife back. I don't know. I just hope these feelings last, because we've seemed to have lost it a while back.


VII


I haven't been able to stop smiling since I woke up this morning. It had been such a long time since we made love like we did last night. If walls could talk, they'd have plenty to say about what they saw and heard last night. From the way, I sang my husband's name to how long we held eye contact as he was on top of me, all the way to how many times he reminded me that I was his just as much as he was mine. I can literally feel the strokes he gave me last night and it's a brand new day. A brand new day in a whole new state. It was so sensual. So memorable. That's how good it was. Had it really been that long since we had good sex like that? I was starting to forget what good sex even felt like. I don't know what caused it, but I'm so glad whatever it was made it happen because if I thought the magic in our relationship was gone, it certainly came back last night. I can't stop smiling.


"What are you over there smiling about?" Michael asked me as we made our way down the hallway to Matt and Rachel's hospital room.


My face went hot as I blushed. What did he do to me last night? I feel like a newlywed all over again. "Nothing." I shook my head.


He laughed to himself. "Yeah. A'ight." He stopped walking and pulled me in for a kiss. "I haven't seen you glow like that in a while."


"I could say the same about you."


"Let's keep it PG, okay? Being stuck in your parents' house for the weekend kinda ruins my plans in giving you more from where that came from."


"Oh. We can book a hotel. That ain't no problem."


"I'll think about it. Come on." We made our way to my brother's room. Shoot. The way Michael made love to me last night, I may end up like Audrey and Rachel.


"Is that my sister?" Matt asked as we walked into the room. He stood up and pulled me in for a hug that felt larger than life. "Damn, sis. You haven't changed at all."


"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" I squinted.


"Well, you don't look like you're thirty-something. You look good, sis!"


"As do you, old man." I winked as I went over to Rachel and the baby.


"My man, Mike. How you feeling?" Matt pulled Michael in for a hug.


"Never better. Congratulations, man. I'm really happy for you." Michael smiled.


"Thanks. MJ is gonna be my twin for sure. You don't know how bad I wanted a boy. Nova has been all over him. She's so happy to be a big sister. Nova come over here and give your Uncle Mike a hug." Nova hopped off the bed and ran over to Michael to give him a hug.


"Rach... He looks just like you." I looked at MJ in awe. "He's so beautiful..."


"Thanks, Shayla. The only thing he took from your brother is his eyebrows." Rachel laughed. "Here. Hold him while he's asleep because once he wakes up, it ain't happenin'." I took MJ into my arms and kissed his forehead. What are the odds both of my nephews were born on the same day? How did I get to be so lucky to be an aunt to such beautiful children?


"Girl, I was just telling David that you guys have to make sure these two are close. They were both born on the same day. They can't not be close."


"I know, right? Matthew said the same thing. You know he wants nothing more than for his family to be close."


"When are y'all gonna celebrate his birthday?"


"March first makes the most sense. Ain't no sense in doing it February twenty-eighth. That just seems so backward to me."


"Really? I never even thought of it that way. You know David and Audrey are doing the same thing for DJ."


"So, we've heard. I told Matthew that we should make sure the boys celebrate their actual birthdays together. He said it might be tough for David to agree with, but other than that, he's more than down for it."


"That's too funny because I was just telling David that. Y'all better send an invite. You know Michael and I will be in there for sure."


"Oh, I know y'all wouldn't miss it for the world. Oh! By the way." She snapped her fingers. "We saw the interview you and Michael did with Diane. Y'all handled that so well."


"Who did you let do your hair, Mike? You couldn't find anyone better to do that shit?" Matt laughed.

Michael shrugged. "Your sister liked it." We all bust out laughing. "No, but seriously. Karen did it. I think it looked fine."


"Karen had you out there looking kinda uhhhh...." Matt laughed. "Nah. I'm kidding. It was nice to go down memory lane as y'all talked about ya lil relationship."


"And I think you guys handled the fight question with absolute class. Shouldn't nobody be in your business about that kind of stuff anyway." As soon as Rachel said that, I swear I felt an immediate shift in the room. I looked up from MJ to Matt to find his smile turn into a scowl as he nodded in agreement.


"You're right. It was nobody's business." Michael's jaws clenched quickly.


"Damn, right. I'm kinda surprised Diane didn't bring up your nose job when she asked about that fight. Shayla's got hands and we all know who she got 'em from." Matt's jaw tightened.


"Okay, Matt. We're here to congratulate you and Rachel on the baby. Not bring up old news." I tried to remind him.


"I know. I thank you for that. It's been a couple of years since I've seen my brother-in-law. I didn't forget about what he did to you, Shayla. Did you?"


Michael sighed and looked over at Matt. "Is there something you want to talk to me about?" I gave the baby back to Rachel and made my way over to my husband.


"We've got a lot to talk about. Don't you think?"


"Then let's talk." Michael shrugged.


"Matt, now is not the time. Come on now." Rachel tried to calm Matt down.


"I haven't seen Michael in years. At this point, any time is the right time."


"You really want to do this in front of your children?" I gestured toward Nova and MJ. Nova watched her father in confusion and curiosity. Matt is smarter than this. I know he's upset. He's been upset about it for years now. Michael purposely chose not to visit my family after the incident for this reason alone. I understand wanting to protect me and whatever else it is that brothers do, but we don't have to do this in front of the children.


Matt relaxed his jaw and unclenched his fist as he stepped back from Michael. "You know what?" He shook his head. "Just know we've got a lot to talk about." He pointed at Michael.


"You know where to find me." Michael pressed his lips together. "Excuse me." He excused himself from the room. I need to talk to Matt about what he just did, but my first priority is my husband. I know he's livid.


"You okay, baby?" I asked him once I met up with him in the hallway. I sat beside him and rubbed his arm.


"Your brother is so full of shit, Shayla." He shook his head.


"Don't you think he has every legal right to be upset with you?"


His brows drew together in confusion or anger as he turned to look at me. "You're sticking up for him?"


"No, I'm not. I'm just saying he has every right to be upset about what happened. We haven't seen him in years. Granted, it wasn't the right time for him to express his anger, but-"


"I cannot believe what I'm hearing right now." His mouth fell agape. "I stuck up for you when David said what he had to say about you yesterday, and you can't even do the same for me?" He scoffed. "I feel like you just set me up."


I raised a brow. "Set you up? You're kidding me, right? You think I knew Matt was still going to be upset about that?"


"He's your brother, Shayla. You know how much of a hothead he is." He snatched his arm away from me. "Had you and Rachel not said anything, his ghetto ass would have probably tried to fight me in the damn hospital."


"Ghetto?!"


"Ghetto. You heard me. I'm catching the first flight out of here tomorrow. If you want to join me, by all means. If not, I'll see you when you get home." He stood up and pulled his mobile phone out to make a phone call before I saw him exit the hallway.


Did he seriously just turn this around on me? His issue should be with my brother, not me. He's lucky I even came outside to talk to him about it. Granted, it wasn't the right time, but Michael knows my brother. He knew Matt was going to bring it up one way or another, especially after not seeing him for a while. It was bound to be brought up. How is it my fault? That's just like Michael to blame me for this instead of being a man and taking accountability for his actions. Wow. Now we're back to square one.


VII


"There are two songs that I really liked that should have been on the HIStory album, but unfortunately they didn't make it. Mostly because they didn't fit the album." I said into the phone as I scribbled on a piece of paper as I sat at the desk in Shayla's childhood room. As soon as I left the hospital, I quickly made my way to Shayla's parents' house. We could have easily booked a hotel room, but there was a sense of normalcy that I really loved when I came to visit Shayla's family. As juvenile as it felt, it gave me that down-to-earth feeling that I desperately needed from time to time. Plus, James and Angie's place is so big, there's no use in wasting the money. There's nothing like being with family and I'll always love Shayla's family just as much as I love mine, no matter the differences we may have. They've always treated me normally. Not just because I was family, but even before I became family, they treated me like I was a regular guy. Escaping to the Johnson haven was even an escape from Neverland sometimes because even when I'm at home I'm "Mr. Jackson."


"Will you be putting those songs on another album?" Shana asked me.


I shook my head no. "Nah. Maybe in like a greatest hits and unreleased combo or something, but on an actual work of art? No. Hey, Sandy told me you were an up and coming actress?"


"Yeah! I've been on a couple of episodes of 'Family Matters' and 'A Different World.' Still just up and coming though." She giggled nervously.


"Oh okay. Well, I actually have a project coming up and we'll be casting for it pretty soon. If I need you, I'll let you know."


"Gee, thanks, Michael!"


"Do you think Sandy is done with that meeting yet?"


"Probably and he's going to eat me alive when he realizes that I've missed several calls because you've been hogging up his line."


"Eh..." I waved off the idea. "I'll put in a good word for you. You'll be a'ight. You know what? Just have him call me back later."


"Are you sure?"


"Yeah. I'm with family right now. You have a good day, okay?"


"Thanks, Michael. You too." I pressed 'end' on my mobile phone and put it in my pocket. Sandy has been giving me a bad taste in my mouth ever since the allegations. At this point, I'm beginning to wonder why I'm even letting him manage me. He hasn't been the same since the incident. Granted, none of us have, but he works for me. You'd think he wouldn't change his opinion on me, but I honestly feel like he thinks I did what I was accused of. No matter how many times I tell him, I think he believes otherwise.


As I made my way downstairs, Mariah was just making her way into the house.


"Angie?" Dad turned around to see Mariah walking into the house in tight leather pants, a black and white houndstooth coat, and black stiletto boots. "What does your daughter have on?" He sighed as he turned back to face the television. I sat adjacent to him on the couch and propped my feet up.


"Oh, Daddy." Mariah rolled her eyes as she went to kiss him on the cheek.


"You ain't cold?" He asked her. I laughed and shook my head.


"I'm not actually. Hey, Mike. Where's Shayla? Did you see the baby already?" Mariah took off her coat, revealing a black midriff sweater to showcase her newest belly ring.


"Yeah, I saw the baby. Shayla's still at the hospital."


She snarled in disgust. "Why'd you leave her?"


"Because your brother was going to fight him in the hospital." Mom came in from the kitchen to greet Mariah. "Oh, baby! You look beautiful!"


"Don't you go gassing her up like that, Angie. The girl turns twenty-one and doesn't know how to dress all of a sudden." Dad quickly shot down the compliment. He looked Mariah up and down. "Ya look crazy."


"James, quit all that. She looks stunning. Is that a new belly ring?" Mom squinted as she lifted the new jewelry dangling from Mariah's belly button.


"Yeah. Dre picked it out for me."


"Who's Dre?!" Dad turned around quickly.


"Nobody serious." Mariah gave a dismissive wave to the notion. "When are you and Shayla having kids, Mike? I'm actually enjoying this auntie role. It's like natural birth control."


I sighed. "You'll have to ask your sister that."


"Uh oh. Trouble in paradise?" Mariah smirked.


"Stop teasing." Mom pinched Mariah right on her piercing.


"Ow, Mom! Why would you do that?" Mariah looked down at her belly.


"Why would you ask him that after you know what they've been going through?"


"It was an honest question!" Mariah winced. "Ugh! You know what? I only came for the weekend to pick up a couple of things. Excuse me." She marched upstairs. As grown as she portrayed herself to be, she will always be the baby of the family and she surely acts accordingly.


"Who were you talking to on the phone?" Dad asked me. "You were up there for quite a while. Came in talking on the phone and you're only just now coming downstairs?"


"My managers' secretary. I couldn't get through to Sandy, so we were just chatting for a moment."


"Do you have any new projects coming up?" Mom asked me.


"I'm working on a short film. We should be casting for it soon actually."


"Any room for Mariah? You know she likes to dance. She needs some ex-"


"Uhn-uh. I got school." Mariah came back downstairs in bright pink pajamas. "Ain't nobody got time to go out to La La Land right now."


"I thought you wanted to be a dancer," Dad questioned.


"I do, but not to Michael's music."


"Oh." He pursed his lips. "You want to be one of them video vixens."


"There is nothing wrong with being a video vixen. Besides Dre is gonna help me."


"Who is 'Dre?'" Dad asked again.


"You may have heard of him." She shrugged. "Dr. Dre? N.W.A.?"


"From that rap group? Oh hell no. Mariah, you need to drop him. That man ain't nothing but trouble."


"He's not even in that group anymore, Daddy. He has his own label."


"How did you even meet him?"


"The girls and I went to a concert a while back and I just so happened to get in contact with Dre. He's a sweet guy, Daddy. Nothing too serious. I promise. I told him I want to dance, he said he'll make it happen."


"How old is he?"


"...thirty-one."


Dad struggled to sit up. "This man is ten years your-"


"Mariah, you're gonna give your father a heart attack. Leave Dre alone, please." Mom went over to rub Dad's back. Mariah just sighed and shook her head. I've actually been meaning to get in contact with Dr. Dre so he can produce a couple of tracks with me.


"Mariah," I whispered.


"What?" She asked loudly. So much for trying not to give Dad a heart attack.


"Do you happen to have Dre's number?"


"Why?"


"I've been wanting him to help me produce a couple of tracks."


"Hmm..." She looked me up and down. "I'll ask him if it's okay for me to give it to you."


"Thank you." I mean, whether she does or doesn't, I can always get someone to give him a call for me. It's no big deal.


"Hello, everyone!" Shayla walked through the front door with a huge smile on her face. "Mariah! When did you get here?" She asked and kissed her sister on the cheek.


"Not too long ago. Doesn't the baby look just like Rachel?" Mariah asked.


"Girl, he is her twin," Shayla said as she went around hugging and kissing Mom and Dad. "Michael, you and I need to talk upstairs." She pointed at me.


"How you in trouble and Shayla just got here?" Mariah laughed.


"Can I have my dinner first? Your mother is cooking." It sounded like I was asking, but to be honest, I was telling her that I wouldn't be moving, and she knew it.


Mom, noticing the tension between me and Shayla, took Shayla's hand in hers and led her to the kitchen. "Help me finish dinner so we can get it out to the table. You too, Mariah."


Once the ladies were all in the kitchen, Dad looked over at me. "You must have really upset Shayla."


"I didn't do anything wrong." I insisted.


"She didn't even say hi to you, Michael. She just told you to go upstairs. You did something wrong. You just don't want to see it." I don't know why he thinks I did something wrong. If anyone was wrong, it was Shayla for taking up for her brother. She should have had my back, not Matt's. The guy was trying to fight me in a hospital for Pete's sake!


"James! Michael! Come on in the dining room. Dinner is ready." Mom called out to us.


"Nobody ever taught you that your woman is always right? You's a fool, Mike." Dad shook his head. Why is it okay for Shayla to be right in a situation where she was completely wrong? Seriously? "Michael, say grace," Dad said once we all took our seats at the table. I took Shayla and Mariah's hand in mine as I prayed over dinner. Not gonna lie, it's been such a long time since I've prayed over food, but hey. It's a good reminder. I actually want to instill this practice with my own children someday. Once I finished, everyone took a helping of food.


"When do you plan on getting married, Mariah?" Shayla asked her sister.


"I'm not." Mariah declared nonchalantly as she took a bite from her biscuit.


Shayla's eyebrows drew together in confusion. "Why not?"


"Oh, gee. I don't know, Shayla." She shrugged. "Maybe because not every woman dreams of getting married. I'm still in school. The last thing on my mind is getting married. I'm a nineties woman. It doesn't get any better than this, sweetie."


"What are your goals for the future then?"


"See? I like that question a whole lot better. You should have asked me that first." Mariah took a sip of cranberry juice. "Well, you know I'm studying dance. So, pretty soon you should be seeing me on 'Soul Train.'"


"Then what?"


"We'll see. I was just telling Daddy about..." Mom cut Mariah a look. "I'll tell you about who I got the hook up with some other time. Ooo! Mike! You think Janet can hook me up sometime? Maybe I could be one of her background dancers for her next tour or video or something."


"I'll see what I can do." I wiped my mouth with a napkin. "Favor for a favor?"


"Ugh!" She rolled her eyes. "I knew you were going to say that. Yeah, sure. Whatever. I'll give you his number after dinner. Anyway, I'm still bumping 'That's The Way Love Goes.' I've got the choreography to 'If' down pact. I figure I can work with her or maybe make it onto 'Soul Train.' I wanted to do 'In Living Color,' so I could be one of the 'Fly Girls,' but that ended."


"I'll give you her number and let her know you'll be calling." I nodded.


"Yes! Thank you!" She beamed.


"Well," Shayla took a sip from her own cup. "I'm glad you know what you want to do with your life, sis. You remind me of myself when I was your age and how I just knew I wanted to be a teacher, but that changed pretty quickly. I admire your free spirit. You're not dating. Not looking for any kind of commitment. You are truly taking advantage of your youth and I can't do anything but admire you for it. I'm proud of you."


Mariah smiled. "Thanks, Shayla. That means a lot coming from you."


"Shayla, how's your publishing company coming along?" Dad asked.


"It's coming along great actually. Remi and I have fifty authors under us now. It sounds like very little, but it's a lot for two years, trust me."


"Fifty authors? That's a lot, Shayla! Congratulations, baby!" Mom clapped. "Are you going to write again any time soon?"


Shayla sighed. "I feel like I don't have time anymore. With managing all these people, maintaining a business, trying to start a family... I have no time to write at all, it seems."


"It'll come to you eventually. I'm sure some inspiration will hit you so hard you have no other choice but to stop everything you're doing to focus on your new book."


"Well, with everything that's gone on in that past couple of years, I'm sure I can come up with a ton of material." Shayla took a forkful of mac and cheese into her mouth.


"I'm glad to hear all of my children are successful." Dad nodded. "It makes me proud. I guess I did something right in this life. Are y'all gonna be here for babygirls' graduation?" He looked between me and Shayla.


"When is it, Mariah?" I asked her.


"May third. If y'all don't want to come, it's perfectly fine with me. I want all the attention on me. Not no 'Mr. and Mrs. Jackson.'" Mariah made sure to let us know.


"You know we'll be there. Even if we have to wear disguises. Come on now." Shayla pursed her lips.


"Alright..." Mariah held her hands up in surrender. "The second someone calls out for Michael, I'm raising hell. That's all Ima say."


"Watch your mouth, Mariah," Dad warned her.


"I'm just saying, Daddy." Mariah shook her head. I stood up to take my plate to the kitchen only to see Shayla do the same. Shayla and I washed our dishes in silence. I know she wants to say something. I just know it. She better save it for upstairs though, because there's no way I'm about to argue with her in front of her family.


"Can we talk now?" She turned to look at me.


I sighed. "Let me tell your parent's goodnight first." I shook my head and made my way back into the dining room to bid everyone goodnight. Shayla followed behind me, giving everyone kisses and hugs before we went upstairs and closed the door to her bedroom.


"Look," Shayla began. "I'm sorry if you felt like I was taking Matt's side. I really wasn't. I just wanted you to see both sides of things. I wanted you to understand where he was coming from."


"If I wanted to know where he was coming from, I would have pulled him to the side. I didn't want to have to hear that from my wife. The only thing I should have been hearing from you was... Oh, I don't know." I threw my hands up in the air. "How you understood why I was upset at your brother?"


"I knew why you were upset, Michael. I just wanted you to understand why Matt was upset." She sighed. "He hasn't seen you in years. You know how he is about me. He was going to bring it up in one way or another."


"And you're still taking his side! Shayla," I slapped the back of my right hand into my left palm. "You should have been on my side. You should have asked me why I was upset. Instead of telling me, he had every legal right to be upset with me, you should have been saying that I had every legal right to walk out of that room while your brother was about to pick a fight with me in the damn hospital!"


"What did you want me to do, Michael? Lie? For what? He does have every legal right to be upset with you. I'm just stating the obvious. I don't see what's so wrong with that."


"Yeah? Well, maybe I should have been okay with what David said to you yesterday, huh?" Shayla looked taken aback. "David knew what he was doing when he said what he said, and he didn't take it back either. What did I do? I told David that wasn't cool. I stood up for you. And to see that I can't get the same type of support that I give my wife hurts, Shayla." She didn't know what to say, because she knew I was right. If I were to say some backward crap about how David had a point, I'd be the problem. But when I call her out on her crap, I'm the problem. Yeah. Whatever.


"I'm sorry. I don't know what else you want me to say."


My face scrunched up. "Maybe take back what you said?"


She shook her head no. "If I take back what I said, I'd be lying."


"Wow." I nodded. "Goodnight, Shayla." I picked up my pajamas and went to the bathroom. My wife is delusional.

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