April 10, 1996
"I heard that you've been out here going on auditions. How is that going for you?" I asked Shana over the phone as I twisted my wedding band around my finger. Aside from her being Sandy's secretary, she has kindly lent a listening ear over the past couple of weeks. Like when I'd ramble on about Sandy or when Shayla and I argued about something that I didn't deem argue worthy. I see why Sandy hired her. She's a young woman that is truly chasing after her dreams and in the process, she's making sure that no one or anything gets in her way. If I could have, I would have hired her too. She's just genuinely a sweetheart. Even putting her job on the line by staying on the phone with me for hours on end. Missing important calls on Sandy's phone because we'd keep each other laughing on the phone or we'd actually talk about work. I often wonder why I didn't pursue a friendship with her earlier.
She sighed. "It's okay, I guess. I've been rejected a ton of times, but I guess that's show business, huh?"
"Oh yeah... I'm sorry to hear that. But hey, look at this way. I've heard 'no' plenty of times when it comes to my craft. You're bound to get a 'yes' one of these days though. I believe in you, Shana."
"Thanks, Michael. That really means a lot." I could hear the smile in her voice.
"Matter of fact, we're done casting for my short film, but how would you like to feature in it? I'll find somewhere to fit you in there." With the exposure my short films get, she's bound to get more acting opportunities. If I can help it, I'm more than willing. May as well. It sucks being told no. I know all too well what that's like, so may as well extend a helping hand.
"Are you serious?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, sure. I mean, you won't be my leading lady. That's not the vision I have for this specific short film. We're just focusing on a couple of characters I'll be playing and the dancers really."
"You're kidding me, right?"
"No. Why would I be? I'll have someone send you the call sheet as soon as possible. We start filming next week actually. I'd love to have you on set. That'd be one person I actually know."
"I'd love to, Michael! Oh, this is going to be amazing! I don't have to audition or anything, do I?"
"Nah. You're good in my book. Just don't tell anyone you were a walk on. I'd rather not hear Stan or any angry cast members." I laughed.
"Thank you, Michael. That really means a lot."
"You're more than welcome." I nodded as if she could see me. "Hey. Do me a favor and write down my number. I'm sure Sandy is sick and tired of you hogging up precious office time. Matter of fact, I know he's tired of hearing me put in a good word for you." I laughed to myself.
"Actually, he doesn't mind. He's caught wind of it after hearing you put in good words for me. He says it's actually cute that we're friends, he just wonders how Shayla thinks of you and I becoming so close."
"Shayla? Nah. She's fine. She knows you. She actually asked how you were doing a couple of days ago." I chewed on my bottom lip.
"Yeah? Oh, that's so sweet of her. Shayla is so lucky to have you, Michael. But," she giggled. "I'm sure she knows that."
"Yup." I nodded.
There was a small awkward moment of silence before she cleared her throat, "what's your number?"
"Oh, right," I gave her my mobile number. "Call me anytime, okay?"
"I will. Oh! And who should I expect to hear from for the call sheet?"
"Expect a call from an eight one eight number. After we get off the phone, I'll call them for you."
"Gotcha..." She said. Over time, I've learned that she writes a lot down in order to remember, so it's not odd of me to believe she's writing this down. "When do we start filming?"
"The seventeenth. They'll send you the location and everything."
"That's pretty soon! I've got to talk to Sandy about-"
"He already knew I was going to ask you. Don't worry about your schedule."
She sucked her teeth. "Oh, Michael." I heard the smile in her voice. "So, you already had it in your mind that you wanted me in this short film, huh?"
I shrugged. "I mean... I couldn't not ask you."
"You're something else. Well, I can't wait to see you on set."
Clearing my throat, I sat up in my chair. "Yeah, so, I'll see you next Wednesday. Put on your best, alright?"
"Of course. Thank you again, Michael."
"You're welcome, Shana. I'll see you then." I hung up the phone before she got the chance to say anything. Last time we were on the phone she told me she loved me, but I just chucked it up to her being a fan. Fans say that to me all the time, so I didn't take what she said literally. Sometimes I wonder if she feels like this is more than a friendship. I sure hope not. I'm just being kind. Lending a helping hand out to someone I just so happened to form a friendship with. Just like she lent a listening ear in my times of need.
Shayla and I haven't argued much. Mostly because I've stayed away from the house majority of the time. That doesn't help much because she either pages me or calls Sandy to get a hold of me. It's embarrassing to know that Sandy has had to tell Shayla that I either wasn't there or that she couldn't talk to me because I was in an important meeting. It's becoming frustrating. She's never been the nagging type, so I'm trying to figure out where this new naggy Shayla came from. It's unusual and I don't want to have to put up with it. Something changed in us in ninety-four and while I feel like I've tried to fix it, it's only gotten worse in Shayla. Maybe it's her biological clock that's ticking and it's really getting to her. I don't know. But she's pushing me away without even realizing it.
My mobile phone rang. I looked at the number I didn't recognize but decided to answer it anyway. "Hello?"
"Michael? It's Shana." Her familiar voice rang in my ear.
"Ah. So, this is your number?"
"Yep. Don't forget to save it. I wanted to call to make sure you didn't give me a dummy number."
I laughed. "I wouldn't do that to you, Shana. Come on. You know me better than that by now."
"I can't put anything past you, Michael. I've heard you play around a lot."
"Guilty." I smiled. "But I'll save your number for sure. I'm glad you called actually. I forgot to tell you we'll be filming for a month."
"Oh, this is going to be quick, huh?"
"Very quick. It'll be the longest, shortest month of your life. I have such high hopes for this short film. It will be one of the best short films to date, I promise you that."
"I'm going to hold you to that, Michael."
"Go ahead. You'll see."
She laughed. "Alright, I gotta go. I love you, Michael."
"Okay." I hung up and put my phone on the table in front of me.
"Ladies, we're pregnant!" Remi beamed as she waved spirit fingers at me and Carol over brunch.
"Who's pregnant?" Carol had an eyebrow raised in confusion.
"Me and Roni!"
Remi sucked her teeth. "Come on, guys. You know Roni. Can we please stop acting like this is weird?"
"I thought you were bisexual." Carol took a bite of her salad.
"I am. Roni and I really love each other, and we decided to share our love with a little one."
I touched Remi's shoulder. "Well, I'm happy for you all."
"Thank you, Shayla." She smiled appreciatively.
"When's the baby due?" Carol asked flatly.
Remi rolled her eyes. "You know what, Carol, if you don't care, why even care to ask?"
"I'm just saying! You and Roni aren't married. What if you all decide you don't want to be together anymore. Then what happens?"
"Co-parenting. Like every other single-parent household. It's no different."
"Is Roni excited?" I asked.
Remi looked over at me and smiled. "Ecstatic! We couldn't be any more happy. Roni's always talking about whether it'll be a boy or a girl and trying to figure out if we should buy pink or blue clothes. But I'm over here like, why do we have to limit it to pink and blue? I want our boy stuff to be green and our girl stuff to be purple. I'll let you all know before the baby shower for sure."
I smiled. "I'm gonna be an auntie!"
"You're gonna be an auntie!" Remi squealed excitedly. Yep. I'm gonna be an auntie again. It didn't take Remi and Roni long at all to get pregnant. They've only been together for two years. Isn't that something? Something they wanted so badly happened so easily for them, but it has to be hard as hell for me when I want it all of a sudden.
"When are y'all gonna get married?" Carol asked.
"I don't know." Remi shrugged. "Maybe when our kid is five so they can be the flower girl or ring bearer. Who knows?"
Carol rolled her eyes. "I'm just saying... Don't you want your kid to be raised in a stable household?"
"Love is stable enough, isn't it?"
"Okay, Remi. I'm just asking."
"And I'm just answering." Remi shrugged.
"Ladies, come on..." I begged. "Carol, let's just be happy for Remi, okay? She and Roni have wanted this for such a long time. Some people only dream of having kids. Why not be happy for them?"
"I never said I wasn't happy. I just want to make sure this is what they really want. Having kids isn't easy. And if you let it, children can make or break a relationship. Hell, some people even think that children can mend a broken relationship." Carol looked between me and Remi.
"When have you ever seen me and Roni unhappy?" Remi challenged only not to get a response. "Exactly. We're probably the happiest couple you've ever met. Our relationship isn't just based on the romantics. We were best friends before all of this. We're practically the definition of a happy relationship."
"I just want the best for you, Remi."
"Thank you, but you have to learn to accept my choices alongside wanting the best for me. I'm happy. We're happy. And we're going to have children. In fact," Remi turned to face me and took my hands in hers. "Roni and I were wondering if you want to be god mom. You would make the most perfect mother. If anything were to ever happen to me or Roni, we need our child to know that they'll always have you."
"Aww, Remi..." I pouted. "Seriously?"
"Yes! You and Michael would make the perfect godparents. I couldn't possibly think of anyone else."
"Shoot, that's better than 'auntie.' I'll be their godmother." I smiled.
"Aww! I love you!" Remi pulled me in for a tight hug. "Cheers!" She lifted her mimosa filled flute. "Cheers to new beginnings, new lives, love, and happiness." We clinked our glasses and took a sip from our mimosas.
"Wait. If y'all are pregnant, you shouldn't be drinking, right?" Carol gave Remi the side-eye.
"Oh, girl, we got a surrogate. Ain't nobody got time for all that. Do you see how hard I work for this body? Call me selfish if ya want to. Roni likes my body just the way it is and had no problem with me wanting a surrogate." Remi threw her head back and let out a hearty laugh. It was one of those laughs that you just knew came from her belly. She was truly happy and couldn't contain it. When I first met Remi, I liked her immediately. She spoke her mind and did things without caring about what everyone else thought of her. A part of me admired her. She always had it together. And if there was anything I didn't have together; she was sure to tell me immediately. When she and Roni officially got together, I couldn't have been anymore happier for her. They had been friends since forever. It just took them forever to realize they had feelings for each other. But the way Roni tells it, the feelings were always there, it just took forever on Remi's part. I'm just happy to see Remi happy and that's all that matters.
"A surrogate?" Carol blinked for a moment as she watched Remi laugh. "Okay... Anyway, how are you and Michael doing, Shay?"
"We're fine," I said a little bit too quickly.
"Uh-huh..." She nodded, unconvinced. "What's going on?"
"Nothing." My lips pursed as I shook my head slowly. I'm making this too easy. She's going to keep asking me until she gets something out. I just know it.
"Nothing?" Remi finally stopped laughing. "Quit lying, Shayla. You and Michael have been having issues for a couple of months. Matter of fact for over a year, to be exact."
I rolled my eyes and sighed. "Okay... But that doesn't mean I want to talk about it..."
"That's the problem. You don't talk about it. What's going on?" Carol leaned forward and looked me in the eye.
I shrugged. "Nothing. We're fine."
"You're not fine."
"Seriously, we are. We just hit a bump in the road. That's all."
I exhaled quickly and looked between Carol and Remi. "Ladies, I'm serious. We're fine. We don't talk much. He's always out. We barely say two words to each other anymore. We're not bad! Just... fine."
It's funny because every time I look down at my wedding ring and think about the vows I made; I wonder the same thing. "We just lost the spark."
"How though?" Carol wondered.
"I don't know. I don't think I've done anything wrong."
"So, you're blaming him?"
"I don't think I'm blaming him, Carol. I think we both play a part in this. I just don't know what I've done wrong. It's so easy to see what he's done wrong all this time, but what have I done wrong to receive the treatment I've been getting from him lately?"
"From what I've heard, you've been starting the arguments over there." She looked at me with raised eyebrows.
"I don't even like to argue. Why would I be starting the arguments? Nine times out of ten he doesn't want to have certain conversations, or he just avoids me altogether. And when I force him to have a conversation, he turns it into an argument. Who have you been talking to? Has he called Marlon?"
She shrugged. "Once or twice. Michael feels like you're pushing him away."
My eyebrows drew together. "Pushing him away? He's never told me that. I don't do anything to even give him that idea."
"The nagging. The arguments. I'm just regurgitating the small things he's told Marlon. I don't know the specifics. That's why I want to hear from you. Look, I'm your friend and sister-in-law. I've seen you and Michael through it all. It doesn't get any better than that, sis. You've seen what Marlon and I have gone through and we're getting through it. It's tough, but that's marriage. I'd hate to see you and Michael end up like the rest of them over something that can be worked out. What is this rut?" I feel like what really tore us up was the allegations. Ninety-four was not a good year for us. It was just one thing after another. We've weathered those storms. But that's it. We never really got through them. Some things remain undiscussed, like when he called security on me. That was the lowest of lows as far as I'm concerned. We just brushed that under the rug like it was nothing. Like he didn't offend me. When we both know he did. And we both know what power he held in order to even want to utter those words. And then for one thing to-
"Y'all need counseling." Remi shook her head. "Y'all do! Y'all went through too much to not have gone through counseling. You entered a new decade into your marriage. As a couple, you're different people. You're not the same people you were ten, thirteen years ago. You're definitely not the same people individually. Y'all ain't kids no more. The sooner y'all realize that the sooner y'all will get through your issues. How y'all got all these problems and don't have kids yet? I guess it's a good thing y'all don't have kids yet, cause honeyyyyyy..."
"Seriously, Remi?" Carol cut her a look.
"I'm serious! They can barely communicate themselves. How do they expect to communicate when it comes to their children?" She shrugged. "I'm just being honest. I love y'all. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made y'all godparents. But love is honest. I have no choice but to be honest with you, Shayla."
"I know." I nodded. She's right. We're in a new decade of our marriage. Before you know it, we're gonna hit twenty years. I don't want to have the same issues then that we do now. Maybe counseling would be best for us.
"She has a point, Shay. Maybe y'all need to talk to somebody because it's clear y'all ain't talking to each other. Y'all probably need individual and couples counseling."
I sucked my teeth. "Oh, come on now. It can't be that bad. Even I know it's not that bad. Couples counseling would be fine, but individual? Y'all doin' too much."
"Just saying." Carol shrugged.
"Thanks." I gulped down the rest of my mimosa.
"See? See that? Counseling. ASAP!" Remi took a sip of her own mimosa. My lip curled up in disgust. They're right but come on. We're not Jermaine bad. We're not Joseph bad. We're just... bad. I want to work it out. I'm sure Michael does too. I don't think he'd mind counseling. He might even look forward to it, to be honest. I don't know.
I opened the door to our apartment to find Michael helping himself to dinner on the island in the kitchen. Just standing in his boxers without a care in the world, flipping through the paper, and eating Chinese. We got this apartment in Westwood so that we could have a place close to the Hayvenhurst compound. That way if Katherine ever needed anything, we're only fifteen minutes away. Or shoot, even if she or anyone else wanted to get away, the apartment was right here. We're not always here, so it's nothing to lend it to someone else.
"Hey," I said as I walked through the kitchen.
"Hey," he said with a mouth full of rice without looking up from the paper.
"How was your day?"
"Good. What about you?"
"I just got finished hanging with the girls. We went out for brunch today." I rested my elbows on the other side of the island to face him.
"How was that?"
"Remi and Roni are having a baby."
That caught his attention. He looked up at me with a surprised look on his face. "Already?" I nodded. "When did this happen?"
"They got a surrogate."
"Oh. Well. Good for them, I guess." He looked back down at the paper.
"She asked if I'd be the kids' godmother, so I accepted. Guess that makes you godfather." I laughed a little.
He looked up at me again. "Godparents?"
"Mmmhm." I nodded.
"Oh wow. Okay. Cool. That's nice." I don't know if he was genuinely happy, he didn't care, or I just caught him at a bad time.
"Um... Carol and Remi also suggested we go to counseling."
He narrowed his eyes at me then looked away. "For what?"
"You know what. We're not as great as we used to be. Maybe we need to talk it out with a third party. Maybe they can help."
"Help with what though?"
"Us, Michael. We need all the help we can get."
"You think so?" I nodded. He rested his chin on his hand as he thought about it. He knows they're right just like I know that they're right. We need it or we're never going to come out of this rut. We'll be a stale couple with nothing but bitterness toward each other. "Not right now."
"What do you mean 'not right now?'"
"Just what I meant, 'not right now.' I've got too much going on. Fourteen-hour days on set. There's no way I'm going to be able to squeeze in a therapy appointment."
"Even if it means that it'll save your marriage?" I challenged him.
"Don't do this." He shook his head at me. "Please. I've had a long day. I don't need your nagging right now. I just told you that I have more than twelve-hour days on set coming up. You know where my priorities lie. My marriage being first on that list. You seriously expect me to squeeze that in when I'm dog tired? Be logical here, Shayla."
"I am being logical, Michael. I'm just asking a question. That's it." I raised my hands in surrender.
"No. You're trying to guilt-trip me because I told you I can't do counseling right now. We'll only be on set for a month. We can go to counseling after. How does that sound?"
"So, what? I'm supposed to sit in this crappy marriage for a month?"
"Gahhh!" He threw his hands in the air in frustration. "I knew it. I knew you were going to take it there. You know what? I'm going to bed. I don't want to do this tonight." He walked past me and slammed the door to the guest bedroom. Really? It was just a question. Whatever. I closed the box to his food and placed it in the refrigerator. It's crazy how I can't even ask questions now. Some days it's like I can't make an observation, now I can't even ask a question. Nice. I see why our communication has gone to shit. I went to our bedroom and shut the door. For the past couple of weeks, we've been sleeping in separate rooms. It started in Neverland and now no matter what property we've decided to go to, we've just slept separately. I never would have thought my marriage would have ever reached that point. I guess that's why they say, "never say never."