Chapter 31

Chapter 31

I woke up to hearty laughter ringing throughout the house. Prince must have arrived. There's no way Varg could make Carol laugh like that.


Once we got into Prince's residence last night, I called to let him know we were settled in. He offered his bedroom to me, saying that it was only right since I gave birth; meanwhile, Varg and Carol chose from the guestrooms. Upon thanking him, all I could do was cry. And of course, once he heard me crying, he knew something was wrong. It didn't take him long to book a ticket to come by today. In his words, this is a face-to-face conversation. You can't just have this kind of discussion over the phone. And he was right. I wasn't as paranoid as him and Michael, but I always kept an eye out for listening ears no matter where I was. The number of times I've had to get a new mobile phone or change my phone number is endless.


As soon as I sat up, a knock came, and the door opened without me giving any kind of permission to enter.


"Ah, you're awake." A tall, slender black woman with straight, kinky hair walked toward me. "I'm Doctor Johnson. You called for assistance last night, and we scheduled to talk this morning. How are you feeling?" She sat a black bag down on the bench in front of the bed, and reached in for her supplies.


"Fine." I watched as she retrieved a stethoscope.


"Just 'fine?'" She questioned.


"To be honest, I feel like shit. But I'll just say 'I'm fine.'"


She nodded. "In my humble opinion, your best bet was to stay at the hospital."


"I'm sure."


"But... I can do whatever the doctors at the hospital can do, so no worries. Did they give you any sanitary pads?"


"Plenty. How long should I expect this to last?" She placed the diaphragm on my chest and asked me to take a couple of deep breaths.


"It varies from woman to woman, but it can last for up to six weeks."


"Great." I thought back to the miscarriage. Those two weeks seemed like forever. Six weeks is an eternity.


"Did they give you any stitches?"


"Yeah."


"The good news is you won't need me beyond tomorrow! The only reason you really needed me is that the doctors normally want to monitor you to make sure any anesthesia has worn off, or to see if any problems have developed. Your heart sounds fine. Your stitches aren't bothering you, are they?" I shook my head no. "Has the anesthesia worn off?"


"As far as I know. I didn't get any epidural. They did give me something for the stitches though." I shrugged.


"It may hurt to use the bathroom. I'm sure you've probably already experienced some pain sitting down..."


"Yep."


"Just use the pads the hospital gave you for any bleeding. When you run out, I personally recommend adult diapers. It's just easier, in my opinion. But whatever makes you feel better. I was able to talk to the hospital. Milan and Michael will be able to leave in a week and-"


"A week?" I turned to look at her.


"Yeah, they're doing well so far. They were taken off the oxygen today. They won't be in there for long, Mrs. Jackson."


I closed my eyes as I let out a sigh of relief. "Thank God."


"If you need anything, here's my number." She handed me a card. "Is Dad excited?" She smiled. I'm sure she couldn't wait to ask that question.


"Sure."


"Oh." Her smile fell. "I'm sure he's excited... Get some rest. I'm a call away if you have any issues. And you have such a great support system downstairs. I'll tell them you're awake. Have a great rest of your day, Mrs. Jackson." She collected her belongings and left.


My breasts feel like watermelons, and I can't even breastfeed. They're so sensitive. And my stomach looks like I'm still carrying. I should have asked how long until my belly goes down. But in due time, it'll be gone, I guess.


As soon as I stood up, a sharp stabbing feeling shot right between my legs. I didn't feel this yesterday, but I guess the adrenaline from me being upset at seeing Michael took all that pain away. I took several deep breaths before I began my walk to the bathroom. Nothing could have prepared me for this.


"Shayla," I heard Carol's voice accompanied by a knock. She opened the door right as I was entering the bathroom. "Do you need any help with anything?"


"No, I'm fine. I've got everything I need." I called out to her. We've got to go to the hospital to see the twins.


"Prince is here. He couldn't wait to see you, girl. You got flowers and gifts not only for you but the twins too. Shoot, you probably should have married his ass."


I flushed the toilet. "Ha ha ha. Very funny."


"He's been asking about you all morning. You gettin' dressed in there?"


"No." I finished washing my hands and opened the door.


"Well," she looked me over. The bags under my eyes were atrocious, and the nightgown I wore to bed could have been better. "You gon' change, right?"


"Yes, I'm changing. I'm not going down there looking like this. The man let us stay in his house. The least I can do is make sure I look presentable. You call Marlon?"


"More like he called me. You know he ain't expect me to be gone this long, especially since he doesn't even know why you called me out here."


"You didn't tell him?"


"No. He said congratulations, though. Everyone can't wait to see the twins."


I sighed. "Me either." I shuffled over to my suitcase and opened it to find a variety of maternity clothes. I'll be wearing these for a while longer than I expected to.


After getting myself together, Carol helped me down the stairs to the living room. I haven't seen my friend in such a long time. I don't even want to guess what he's going to say when he sees me. I did the best I could to muster up a smile, but after hearing me cry last night, I know he's going to want to know all about it.


"Mrs. Shayla-Elizabeth." Prince smiled and stood up from his love seat. "You get better with age, girl, I'm tellin' you." He pulled me in for a hug.


"As do you." I made sure he didn't hug me too tight.


"How are you feeling?" He looked me over.


I gave my best attempt at a smile, my lips quivering in the process. "I'm okay."


"Mmm." He groaned. "Give us a minute, will you?" He asked Varg and Carol and waited for them to exit. "What happened to you that you're grieving instead of celebrating the birth of your children?"


"Everything." I pressed my lips together.


He led me over to the couch and sat down. "What's everything...?"


"You really want to know?"


"I want to know why my friend is crying tears of sadness instead of celebrating the birth of the babies she's wanted for so long."


"In short... he cheated. In long... he cheated while I was pregnant."


His eyes widened. "He what?"


I told him everything without leaving out any details. He's been there. He's seen what Michael and I have been through. While we may not have been in contact all the time, we picked up right where we left off whenever we spoke. We had a lot in common now. Both being very private individuals, he didn't want everyone in his relationship like I didn't want everyone in mine. But with Michael, that was impossible. Thankfully, he didn't have that issue with Mayte. When he lost his child, Amiir, I was one of the first people he called last year. We bonded. We cried. We understood each other's pain. And now here he is listening to the crap my husband put me through once again.


Prince shook his head slowly. "You didn't deserve that."


I swallowed the growing lump in my throat. "I know..."


"Why would he do that? What was the rationale behind him deciding that it was okay to cheat on you? Now, Shayla, I'm a man. I know men have needs. Shoot, women have needs. We know this. But he has everything anyone could ever ask for. His career is simply astronomical. He overcame that stupid trial. He's been married and linked to one woman for the past about to be fourteen years. You've been there for him and then some. What more could the man want? What was the reason?" He begged the question. "And when you were pregnant, Shayla? That's a different kind of low. I thought he was selfish before... Nah. This confirmed that. You don't deserve that, Shayla. What did your family have to say?"


"I haven't told them yet."


"Oh, when they find out..."


"I know... Since I found out, I haven't called them. I don't want to hear their reactions right now. I'm already going through enough."


He let out a slight laugh. "Your brother Matt..."


I laughed a little too. "I know. He's not gonna take this lightly. That's why I'm not saying anything. My brothers don't play that."


"You have to at least call your parents, though. I know they're worried sick about you."


I shook my head no. "I can't talk to them right now. Before they'll want to rip Michael to shreds, they'll get to me first. They were supposed to be here for the birth, but they had to find out through the media. I'd rather not."


He shrugged. "That's fair. So... what are you going to do as far as you and Michael?"


"Well, a couple of hours before the twins were born, I was meeting with a divorce lawyer. I actually went into labor right in front of him."


Prince's eyes got wide again, and he pressed his lips together. "Well, shit, after finding out my spouse cheated on me from his side chick, I guess I'd go into labor too." He laughed. "But divorce... Is that something you really want to do?"


"It's something I have to do. I can't subject my children to this mess. It's going to be hard. But I have to do it..."


He nodded. "Well, if you've got your mind made up, I have no choice but to support you. How long until the twins can go home?"


"I was told a week. I hope that's the case. Once they're released, I'm going home."


"How about this? I'll stay here to help you with anything you need. You stay in my room. I'll sleep in one of the guest rooms. But if you need anything, I'm here for you, Shayla. Always have been. Always will be. Shoot, I'll even go visit the twins with you. You don't have to worry about a thing. I know you're hurt right now. But you have a strong support system, whether it be your family, Varg, Carol, or me, you've got plenty of people who are here for you. You are not alone in this."


I swallowed another growing lump in my throat. "Thank you. It's just so much to focus on right now. I got the twins, tryna evade and divorce this man. It's too much all at once."


"Right now, focus on your children. They need you more than anything right now. Everything else will fall into place. I promise you."


VII

January 21, 1997


Although we were told that the twins had to stay in the hospital for a week, the doctors decided an extra couple of days would benefit them greatly. I was reluctant at first, but as long as I'd be able to take my babies home, I didn't care. After being taken off of their IV's, I was finally able to nurse my babies. The emotions that ran through my body at the opportunity to finally be able to do what I was made to do was all too much. At first, it hurt. No one told me it would hurt, but after a while, the pain subsided. It didn't hurt too bad; it was just different.


They passed every requirement they needed to before being released. I couldn't have been any more grateful. I'm counting down the hours until I'm able to take them home tomorrow.


These past two weeks have been interesting. I pulled a Michael on Michael. Since I've been staying with Prince, Michael didn't even know my whereabouts. I made sure we didn't cross paths at the hospital. And every time that man called, I ignored him. If it weren't for the children, I would have changed my number a long time ago. Since I never saw him and he could never catch me, every time he went to visit the twins, he would leave a dozen roses accompanied with a note. The first time I saw it, I was heated. The second time, I told the nurses that whenever he left them to immediately trash the note and donate the flowers to someone else in the hospital. I didn't need them. It may have been cruel of me to do, but if Michael thinks that some flowers and a note will win me back, he has the wrong idea. This is over.


Ironically, the last thing on my mind was getting everything together for this divorce. My first priority right now is the twins. Obviously, getting them out of here and back home is priority number one, but I have to figure out a routine when I get home. We have to figure out how we're going to parent separately. Once I have everything together, I'll be able to start the process hopefully by next month.

With me avoiding Michael at all costs, I don't even know how we're going to parent, to be honest. All I know is that I don't want to be in the same room, much less under the same roof as him. I'm staying at the ranch. I refuse to go to one of the hideouts to raise my babies when I have everything set up at our real home. With all those guesthouses on the property, one of us will be staying in one of them, and it won't be me. I need to stay in the main house. Granted, we have all those extra rooms, but just knowing we're in the same building would be enough to piss me off. It's better that he just go on and stay in a guesthouse. That's the only way we'll be able to do it.


I finally got a hold of my family. And when I did, they went berserk. Asking me why I didn't let them know about the birth. Asking me why I called them so late. I was surprised at Mariah's anger. It seemed like she wanted to be present for the birth more than my mother did. They couldn't figure out why I chose to give birth in Las Vegas. But when I finally told them, their initial anger towards me switched to Michael. And when he called them to find out my whereabouts, it ended in a screaming match between him and my mother.


While Mariah was pissed, my mother reminded her that she was still sleeping with a married man, so she couldn't have much say in the matter. To which Mariah called bullshit, saying that her anger was justified because her situation had nothing to do with me and Michael's.


Daddy was so disappointed that he couldn't say much without his health being threatened.


My mother had plenty to say on the matter. Saying she knew that that single mentality would eventually get to him, whether our marriage was public or not.


David didn't say much. He was just glad the babies were born and that they're healthy despite having to stay in the hospital for two weeks.


Robert was just as disappointed as my father because he was always rooting for Michael despite everything we had going on.


Matthew wanted to catch the first flight out to Las Vegas, find Michael, and teach him a lesson. But I stopped him. Saying it wasn't worth it. Michael is suffering enough with me avoiding him. But that wasn't enough for my brother. I've had to hear "that nigga ain't shit" all too many times at this point. Matt has had it out for Michael for a while now. This was just the cherry on top. It was safe to say that he couldn't wait to see him. Michael ought to be grateful. I'm saving him, and he doesn't even know it.

Aside from Joseph, the first person I heard from on Michael's side was Katherine. She called me immediately after she found out the news. I don't know who told her, but she told me she had just found out and wanted to be there for me in the best way she could. She apologized for Michael's actions saying that that was not how she raised her children. She said they may have seen Joseph step out of his marriage, but they also saw how it affected her. Michael was often the first person to console her. Often telling her to leave Joseph and that she didn't deserve what he was putting her through. So, it completely blindsided her to hear that Michael had done the same thing as his father and brothers. Although we had our issues, she always thought that we were the only ones to truly work it out and move on. So, to hear that he had betrayed me in the worst way, especially to be so careless and to do it while I was pregnant with his children, broke her heart.


Katherine let me know that she understood what I was going through. She let me know that if I ever needed any kind of advice or help with anything, she was there. The betrayal of adultery is like no other. She knew it all too well. Even so much to step out of her character to attack a woman she suspected Joseph was cheating with. It wasn't one of her most significant moments, and she knew that. But with all the infidelity, Joseph had driven her to that point. She couldn't take it anymore.


I asked her if she regrets never leaving Joseph or if she still considers it, to which she responded that she and Joseph love each other. They have a family, and she feels she did what was best for her family. That didn't answer my question. If anything, it completely avoided it. So, instead, I asked her if she felt that was the best choice for her. My mother-in-law hesitated for a moment until she finally said yes.

Joseph and Katherine live in separate houses. His baby mama lives down the street from the Hayvenhurst residence and she's been living there for a while. They show up together for events, as they should. But I highly doubt my mother-in-law made the best choice for herself. Maybe in living separately, she feels like she has rectified the situation. Who am I to say that she didn't make the best choice for herself? But I will never forget the hesitation in her voice before she answered that question. That told me all I needed to know.


It wasn't too long before I heard from Michael's siblings. My family advocated for me to leave after everything Michael had put me through over the years. Michael's family understood why I wanted to go, but they also reminded me that I have newborns. That I have to think about the best thing for them before thinking of myself in this situation. They reminded me that Michael loves me and that he wants his family together so that he could try again.


I can't fault my in-laws for thinking this way. Their loyalty lies more with their son/brother than it will ever lie with me. Just like my family's loyalty lies with me than it does Michael. Understandably, they wanted to see me and Michael get through this. But the difference between my family and Michael's is that they knew our marriage was over way before this even happened. While Michael's family remained hopeful through it all, my family saw through the smoke and mirrors. It was only a matter of time before I called it quits. It just hurts that I have to do this with two babies. And it didn't help that I kept having to hear that aside from Michael and me, Rebbie and Marlon were the only ones who were still on their first marriage. I swear, it was a way to guilt-trip me into staying. But that's not going to work.


I walked into the courtesy room that they moved the twins into. A couple of days ago, Carol went home, taking most of my belongings back to the ranch for me. Tonight, I'm sleeping with my children before our early departure tomorrow morning. I've been waiting for this day for two weeks.


"Hi, my babies!" I beamed as I walked over to their bassinets, showering their little faces in kisses. "You look so pretty, Mimi! Did your daddy buy you this? So pretty..." I smiled as I examined the long-sleeved pink onesie that my daughter was in. Small flowers adorned her chest, and a matching headband sat atop of her head. From what I could see, Michael was doing a great job. I didn't even have to see him to know that he was doing well. "We're going home tomorrow, Junior. We won't have to be in this dreadful hospital anymore. I promise. Um," I turned to the nurse who stood in the door waiting for me to excuse her. "Michael already came by, didn't he?"


"Yes, ma'am." She nodded. "He left maybe two hours ago."


"Should I expect him sometime tomorrow?" In all honesty, I should have spoken with him about taking the twins home, but the space and not having to hear his voice has been peaceful.


"Mr. Jackson said he would return tomorrow morning to take the twins home."


"What time?"


"Eight."


"Okay." I nodded. Instead of turning anything into a scandal, we're just going to have to leave this hospital together. Paparazzi has died down as the birth of the twins became old news. So, thank God our departure will be pretty quiet. At first, I wanted to fly, but with the twins being premature and at the behest of my doctor, it's better to drive. I couldn't bear to have the twins separated, so if I have to stomach being in the same car as Michael for five hours, I will. After that, I won't have to see him. I don't care where he goes once we get home. He just better not be near me.


After she left, I checked to see if the twin's diapers needed to be changed and put little nightgowns on them. Varg helped with Mimi while I changed Junior. As time has gone by, I can see a little bit of me in my son. One day Mimi will look like me, while the other day, she'll look just like her father. Just the perfect little mix, I swear. After changing them, I went to nurse both of them, and before rocking them to sleep, Varg and I burped them. I've really got to get a routine down. When I'm at the house, Varg won't be there. I've got to get a nanny soon since it'll just be me in the house. I don't want her to have to take care of everything. I would just want her help. That's all.


Shortly after the twins went to sleep, Varg left; I took a shower and called my mother. She's been checking in on me every day, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. Prince is right. I'm not alone in this. It may feel like it for a moment, but I honestly am not alone. I have the strongest support system. This is something I'll never forget.


"Are you sure you'll be fine alone?" Mom asked me after I told her that we're going back to the ranch tomorrow.


"I'll be fine. I promise. I'll be in the main house. Michael will go elsewhere until we have this figured out. I'll be okay."


"Have you called David or Mariah? Two newborns by yourself, Shayla? That's a lot. You've never had children before. How are you going to be able to manage?"


"I know. I'm hiring a nanny, so it won't be too bad."


"Okay... How are you feeling?"


I sighed. "I'm okay. Just ready to take the twins home."


"No, I mean, how are you feeling knowing that you're going to see Michael tomorrow?"


I took a deep breath. "...I'm only anxious because I know he's going to bombard me with questions. You know I haven't talked to him in weeks."


"Exactly. And you're going to be in the same car with him for five hours? Why don't you just ride in separate cars?"


"I don't want to split the twins up."


"Why don't you make him ride in a different car?"


"I can't keep him away from his children..."


She sighed. "This is going to be a long and grueling process."


I sighed too. "I know."


"I try not to talk about it, but it really grinds my gears that he would do that to you. Your father keeps telling me Michael better not step foot on his property, all the time."


"Where's daddy?"


"In the bed sleep. I'll have him call you tomorrow when y'all get settled down. What time do you think you'll make it home?"


"'Round two."


"Okay, that's about five our time. I'll have him call you at six, so expect the call."


"Yes, ma'am."


"Ima go to bed. Kiss the twins for me. I love you, Shayla."


"I love you too, mom. Goodnight." I hung up and went to kiss the twins.


My mother has always told me that a parent never wants to see their child in pain. Whatever pain they see their child in, they just want to take it for themselves, so their child wouldn't have to experience it. In having my own children, mom told me I'd feel the same way. Upon learning of Michael's infidelity, it only reminded my mother of everything he had put me through. And each time, my mother never wanted me to have to experience that hurt. When I suffered the miscarriage, not only was that a heartbreaking moment for me, but it hurt her as well. Especially since she had never experienced one herself. She didn't have the answers for me, but she didn't want me to experience that kind of heartache. And the infidelity... I cried, but her being the amazing mother she is, she stayed strong. I learned from Robert later on that she did, in fact, cry. She never wanted any of her children to experience that. My parents have never cheated on each other, thankfully. But she knew all too well the effects of adultery, as her own mother experienced it from her father. As if I hadn't been through enough with my husband, this, apparently, was the cherry on top.


VII


I haven't seen or spoken to my wife in weeks. The only way to ensure she heard from me was to send flowers and letters every day. And I hope she understands the pain behind every word written to her.

The twins have been progressing so well. When the nurses told me Shayla was able to nurse them, I only wished I was there to witness such a beautiful moment. They've been taking their bottles great as well. Milan looks just like Shayla, while MJ looks just like me. I couldn't have asked for anything more perfect.


When I was told that the twins could be released today, I was elated. Not only because I'd be able to take them home, but also because I knew that it would be guaranteed that I would see Shayla after she's been avoiding me all this time. I had no idea where she was staying. She wouldn't answer any of my calls. And when I called her parents to see if they knew, they cussed me out. She told them what I did. I have no one to blame but myself for how they treated me. It was only so long before I could take their berating any longer before I hung up. I felt bad because these are people I have grown to love over the years. They love me as a son-in-law, and I love them as family. Now, I don't know who these people are. I've never seen that side of them. The closest I've seen was when the whole Tatiana situation erupted. Other than that, that was a side of them I'd like to never see again. I know they'll forgive me eventually, but it's going to take a while.


I was told that Shayla opted to drive all the way to the ranch at the behest of our doctor. It's going to be a long drive, but all I need is five hours to get her to listen to me. That's it. Once we get home, parenting will bring us back together. I just know it. She may hate me now, but when she sees how much I love her and the twins, she'll come back to me.


As I walked into the courtesy room, Shayla looked up at me for a brief moment but went back to getting Milan together. The look in her eyes hasn't changed. She's still harboring some form of hate toward me that I thought had dissipated a long time ago.


"I'll take it from here, Varg. Thank you." I went over to MJ and finished where Varg left off, pulling a onesie over my son's head. "Hey, Shayla."


"Hey." She said without looking at me, continuing to get Milan dressed.


"You haven't returned any of my phone calls. This is the first time I'm seeing you in weeks. I've been worried about you and-"


"Not in front of the kids, okay? I just want to get home."


"I missed you."


She sighed. "Did you see the truck out there?"


I pressed my lips together in an attempt to hide the rejected look on my face. "Yeah. You can't keep me away from my children, Shayla. I'm riding with you whether you like it or not."


"I know." Relief washed over my body. This is her giving me a chance. "You ready?" She looked me in the eye then down at MJ. "So, you want my son to freeze?" She scoffed and turned the bassinet towards her so that she could put him in a zip-up coat that sat on the edge.


"I'm sorry. I didn't see it."


"It was right there." She pointed as she hurriedly put MJ in the coat.


"I haven't seen you in weeks. This is how you treat me?"


"You really expect all of this to change in two weeks? Doesn't work that way. Varg, Jamess, we're ready to go." Shayla placed Milan in a pink car seat while I put MJ in his blue car seat. We picked them up and made our way to the exit.


"I'm just glad to see you," I told her without getting a response. This is going to be a long car ride.


Before exiting, we thanked the staff for all of their help. Their help has been truly appreciated. We couldn't have asked for a better team. Not only did they take great care of our children, but they protected them against any paparazzi and onlookers. I'm going to have to donate something on behalf of Shayla and me.


Shayla scoffed and turned to me as Varg and Jamess opened the door to leave. "Seriously?"


"What?"


"You just had to make this a publicity stunt, huh?" Select cameramen took photos as we stood in the doorway. "We couldn't leave in peace? Everything has to be a show with you."


"I just want everyone to know that we're okay."


"No. You did this for publicity. I can't- You know what?" She shook her head and hurried out the door, heading to the GMC.


I offered a small smile and waved to the cameramen I hired. I just wanted people to see that we were okay. The babies are fine. And that we're going home. That's it, that's all. I didn't mean for this to come off as a publicity stunt. I only want my fans to know that we are doing well. And if our families caught wind of the photos, they'd know just as well that we're okay.


Shayla sat in the back of the truck with Milan sitting beside her, so I took the seat closer to the front and sat beside MJ. This is going to be a long ride for sure.


"Do we need to make any stops before we get on the road?" Jamess asked. I looked back at Shayla.


"No." She shook her head as she attended to Milan. I shook my head no too.


"Alright, let us know if y'all need to stop anywhere." He said and started to drive.


"How have you been?" I asked my wife.


"Fine."


"You look great." She sighed and leaned her head back against the headrest. "My grandfather passed away yesterday."


That sort of got her attention. "I'm sorry to hear that. I'll call Katherine as soon as I can."


"She wants us to come to the funeral, but I told her we wouldn't have any time with us going back to the ranch and getting the twins together. The funeral is next Sunday."


"Where is it?"


"In Indiana." Does she want to go?


"I'll see if I can make it."


"Are you sure you'll be able to with the kids and-"


"I'll see if I can make it."


"Okay." Our conversation is so awkward. I don't even know where to begin.


"Where have you been all this time? You left the hotel as soon as you could, huh?"


"Michael..." She closed her eyes. "My whereabouts are none of your concern. We're here now. Leave it alone."


"I was worried about you. You didn't let me know anything."


"Look at the pot calling the kettle 'black.'"


"What is that supposed to mean?"


"I pull a you on you, and you don't know how to act, do you?"


I shut my mouth. Okay. She has a point there. "I feel like you should have at least told me something like I would expect the mother of my children to do. Your wellbeing is a reflection of me. If anything happened to you, everyone would be looking at me."


"Well, my wellbeing won't be a concern of yours pretty soon, so get used to it."


"Your wellbeing will always be a concern of mine, Shayla. You're my wife."


"Okay." She looked out the window at the strip as we passed through.


"I can't change what I did. I'm sorry, but the only thing I can do is change how I move forward, so-"


"We need to discuss how we plan to parent." She looked at me.


"What do you mean?"


"I mean, we need to figure out what we're going to do. I plan to stay in the main house. I think you should stay in one of the guesthouses. Maybe we could..." Her lips moved, but I heard nothing. What is she talking about? Guesthouse? What? Does she plan to live separately to raise our children? You can't raise babies like that. "So, I was thinking, you take the kids for one week, and I'll take them for another week. What do you think?"


"What do I think? No! That's what I think. That's no way to raise newborns, Shayla. Have you lost your mind?"


"No, but maybe you have if you think we're staying under the same roof."


"All them rooms we have in the house, and you want me to stay in a guesthouse where visitors stay? Nooo. You can sleep in the downstairs bedroom, and I'll stay upstairs. The twins already have their own rooms. You'll be fine."


She shook her head no. "That's not going to work."


I sucked my teeth. "Shayla, you're unreasonable. You're childish, actually. I understand you might not like me right now, but you can't think about yourself now. Think about the fact that we have two two-week-old babies to take care of."


"I am thinking about them. Babies can feel energy, ya know? Why would I subject them to our mess? Someone has to go, and it's not going to be me."


"It's not going to be me either, because I'm not going. You're not about to kick me out of my own house because you're upset about something that I've already apologized for."


She sighed calmly. "Okay, Michael."


"I mean it. You're selfish, Shayla. I don't see how you don't see it."


"Okay." She closed her eyes and leaned back against the headrest again.


What kind of sense does that make? All them rooms we got in that house, and she wants me to go clear across the ranch when I could just stay upstairs? Make it make sense. It don't.


I get she's upset. I get she's angry, but how long is this going to last? She can't be mad at me forever.


"Shayla."


"What?" She hissed.


"I want to fix this, but you're not letting me."


"You want to know how I want you to fix this?"


"Please..."


"By letting me sleep. These next couple of hours, I just want peace and quiet. Don't make this harder than it has to be."


We stared each other down for a moment before I finally turned around in my seat.


Fine. I won't say shit.


VII


That was the longest shortest five hours ever. Michael didn't make it any better with his constant need to try to talk to me. We only stopped once to get gas. Other than that, we made significant progress on the road. The twins were perfect. I only had to nurse them once. Other than that, they were either sleep or looking around.


It was an excellent idea for me to bring my Walkman. Once I was done with my "Dreaming of You" tape by the late Selena, I was fortunate enough to switch to whatever radio station I wanted. While Jamess and Varg chatted about whatever they wanted to talk about, Michael was sulking because I chose not to speak with him. It is what it is.


"We're home!" I smiled at Mimi as Michael opened the door. "Mommy's going to give you a bath and-" I paused as I looked around the entranceway to find flowers in every single corner. "Wha- Who are these from?" With all the flowers Michael sent me via the hospital, I actually really hope he's not trying to win me over again with this new round of flowers. I went over to one vase to find a note from Remi. We haven't talked since last year, so to see this actually warms my heart. I went over to another vase to find more flowers from Prince. He is truly a godsend. I couldn't have asked for a better friend.


Amongst the vast number of flowers, one especially touched my heart:


Shayla-Elizabeth,


You are going to be the greatest mother a child could ever ask for.


Many people's hearts that you've touched are lucky to call you daughter, sister, friend, and wife, but the luckiest title you will ever have is "Mother."


We look forward to meeting the twins soon.


Rest up and call us when you get a chance.


- The Bartholomew's


I have to call Roland as soon as possible. The first person I thought of to make a godparent of my children was Roland. He deserves that title more than anyone else in this world. I love him so much. Although he quit and didn't talk in years, nothing could ever break that bond. He's a lifelong friend for sure.


I'll let these flowers sit here for a while. It's beautiful to see once we open the door.


Michael and I both went upstairs to get the twins situated in their own rooms. I haven't been home in such a long time; I'm actually surprised at how well I decorated.


"You haven't cried this whole time. You're such a good baby." I picked Mimi up out of her car seat and kissed her cheeks. "We're going to get you changed, so that-"


"Can we talk?" Michael came into the room.


I looked him up and down. "Where's Junior?"


"Asleep in his room."


"Well, Mimi is up. I'm going to feed her real quick."


"That's fine. We can talk while you feed." He took a seat on the edge of the chaise in the corner.


"I'd rather not. I just want to settle down without any arguing, Michael."


"I just wanted to let you know that I'm staying right here, and I'm not going anywhere."


I rolled my eyes as I went over to the rocking chair. "Why not?"


"Because I'm not a fool, Shayla. I know that it's not going to be easy raising two newborns on your own."


"It's not easy to raise kids at all. To be honest, Michael, I just need space."


He scoffed. "How much space do you need?! Were two weeks not enough?"


"No."


"How do you expect us to fix this if you keep wanting space every five seconds?"


"I don't want to fix this. You can't fix something that's been broken for a while, Michael."


"You don't want to fix this?"


"No. I don't." He watched as I pulled my breast out to nurse Mimi. "I honestly don't want to be anywhere near you. So, we need to figure out how we're going to split our time with the twins. May it be weekly, a couple of days out of the week... Something."


He blinked his way out of his trance, as he was just as amazed to watch me breastfeed as he was the first time. "Do you hear what you're saying? You expect me to raise these babies on my own?"


"I'm hiring a nanny tomorrow."


"I want to do this with you, Shayla. Not some stranger."


"And I don't want to be around you for more than five seconds, so something's gotta shake." I shrugged. If he's not going to leave, that's fine. I will. I planned on staying in the main house, but if this is how he wants to do things, by all means.


I could move back home with my parents for a while. But then again, my parents are old. Living with them and two newborns probably isn't the best idea. But if I decide to go home, my parents will make sure Michael doesn't seek to find me.


"I'm not leaving. I don't care how much space you think you need; we're going to work this out. This is my house. I'm not going anywhere."


I've remained so calm today, but that statement alone was the trigger that just made my blood boil with rage. "So, let me get this straight. You cheated on me, and you want me to work this out?"


"I want you to at least take some accountability for how you've been treating me these past couple of weeks!"


"How I've been treating you?!" I leaned forward. "Michael, I try not to say two fucking words to you! You've been the one harassing me all this time! Tryna get me to talk to you all the time like I'm the one who did wrong."


"You won't listen to me! You won't accept my apology. What am I supposed to do? You leave me no choice, Shayla. I just want to get this over with, but you're not making it easy. It shouldn't be this hard to get my wife back."


"I don't want you back!" I shouted, causing Mimi to get upset. "Look what you made me do." I leaned back and tried to calm her down. "This is exactly why we need to be under separate roofs. If you don't leave, I will, because I refuse to have my babies around this mess. You're out of your mind."


"So, you're just going to take my children to one of the guesthouses where we have nothing set up for them?"


"Why don't you just leave?!"


"Because this is my house!" He shouted.


I ran my tongue across my teeth. "Yeah, no. I'm not doing this." I got myself situated and put Mimi back in her car seat.


"You're really gonna go? You're going to take my kids from me?"


"You'll see them next week. I'm not doing this."


"So, now that it's gotten hard, you don't want to get through it, huh?"


I looked at him like he had gone mad. How did he turn this onto me? How is this suddenly my fault? Because I don't want to be around him? Because I don't want to work this out, it warrants all of this? "Not today, I'm not." I went to put Junior in his car seat and carried both car seats downstairs.


"Think about what you're doing, Shayla." Michael followed behind me as I got the GMC keys and went to put the kids in the backseat. "So, this is what we're doing, huh? You're just going to leave? You're running away?"


I pressed my lips together as I tried to hold tears back. Now I'm running away? How many times has this man run away from me? How many times did he leave me in the dark? Did I ever harass him like he's doing me? "You'll see your children next week." I got in the car and drove off to the furthest guesthouse we had on the property. He probably didn't stop me because although we're so far, we're still on the same twenty-seven hundred acres.


My tears refused to stop once I pulled in front of the house. I'm trying to heal. I really am, but he's making this harder than it has to be.


My hands shook as I continued to hold onto the steering wheel. My babies whimpered in the back, sensing the negative energy I was giving off.


I've been crying for far too long. I used to be so strong. And even when I try to stay strong in this, it's like weakness overtakes everything I was taught. What did he do to me?


I picked my phone up and called my brother Matt.


"You okay?" He answered on the first ring.


"He wouldn't leave."


"Say less."

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