April 22, 1996
I hardly ever see Michael because he's on set all the time. In fact, I can't really remember the last time I've seen him. He's out before the crack of dawn and comes back well past the time I'm already in bed and he starts over again just like that the very next day. It doesn't help that we've been sleeping separately. However, this is giving me some time to reflect and really consider the possibility of individual therapy. Outside of my mother, my sister-in-law, and Remi, I never really spoke about the effects of my miscarriage and how it not only affected me but my marriage. It's an opportunity worth taking, but a big part of me wants to pour all of this into a new book instead. Perhaps, it would be my own form of therapy. Not only would I talk about what's happened to me, but the allegations and how it affected us. It would certainly explain my silence to my fans. Surely, they miss reading my work. What better way than to give them a glimpse into my personal life? I guess I'm going to take a chapter out of Michael's book and give something to my fans. They just might enjoy it.
I walked into my office building to find the lobby filled with prospective authors. Everyone looked up in awe as I entered the room. Sometimes I wonder if the look of awe is because I'm Shayla-Elizabeth Jackson the author turned President and CEO of my own publishing company or Shayla-Elizabeth Jackson, Michael Jackson's wife. Even if it is the latter, I should be used to it by now. I don't think people know how hard it is to read book after book after book day after day. It's a miracle I don't need glasses by now. As busy as it is being President and CEO, I've never thought it beneath me to read manuscripts that could be under my company. So, the editors Remi and I hired never found it odd when I would just pop in and pick up a manuscript despite all the other crap I had to do. There's nothing like escaping into a new book. Even if it isn't a published work. I look at it as not only an escape but also as help. Remi has joked that we hired editors for no reason, but who wouldn't want the President to chip in? As an upcoming author, I'd consider it an honor that the CEO and President even considered reading my work.
While Michael has been burying himself in his own work, I've essentially done the same. Every day, nine to five, I've found myself in the office. A place that I'd normally avoid because I don't even really have to be there unless I needed to be. But now a place that I've apparently found solace and escape. There was a time when all I ever wanted to do was work to make a living. Then it was my husband supporting me, but that was short-lived. Now, I'm making a living that just goes to a savings account. A living where I can make my own money without having to depend on Michael. A living that I'm very proud of because it's my own. However, while I'm proud of it, I never thought I'd be in here day in and day out. At thirty-six, I truly imagined myself chasing after toddlers or children by now. But I guess God has other plans for me. Ugh. I need a vacation. This ain't it.
"Mrs. Jackson, there's a call for you on line one." My receptionist, Monica, told me just before I went to my office.
"Who is it?"
"He didn't say his name."
"Well, is it the press?"
"No." She shook her head. "He said he was an old friend."
I sighed. "Mo, if this is a stalker..." I opened the door and put my phone on speaker and pressed 'one' as I took off my jacket. "SJ&R Publishing, this is Shayla-Elizabeth speaking."
"Congratulations, Shayla." A familiar male voice said over the phone.
My eyes narrowed as I looked at the phone in confusion. "May I ask who's calling?"
He laughed. "Yikes. It's been that long?"
"I'm afraid so..."
He laughed to himself again before he said, "Roland."
I swear my heart fell right into my stomach. "Wow... How-"
"I saw your interview with Michael a couple of months ago. And I heard about all the good things you've done after everything happened. I wanted to sincerely congratulate you on starting your own publishing company."
"How did you-"
"It wasn't hard. There aren't many people named Shayla-Elizabeth out there who has a friend named Remi."
I smiled and sat back in my chair. "Did you look me up on the internet or something?"
"I did... Dial-up is a pain though, let me tell ya." He laughed.
"You called at the right time, ya know that? I literally just walked into the office."
"Look at you. How are you and Mr. Jackson?"
"Good." I lied a little too quickly. I can't tell this man who was infatuated with me that my husband and I are having marital issues. Even if he already heard about it on television. "Have you found anyone special yet?"
"Shortly after I left you all, I went back home to Ohio to soul search or something. During that time, I found someone. She's amazing, to say the least. I think you'd like her."
"Please give Mrs. Bartholomew my kindest regards. She's got a good one there."
"Thanks, Shayla..." Words can't describe how happy I am for him. It took forever, but it all came at the right time, I suppose. "Is everything okay with you? That interview spilled a couple of things."
I sighed. "I know... I'm good though. Just trying to stay on the right track. Michael's off filming, so he's out all hours of the day and-"
"Yeah, I'm sure. But I'm asking about you. Are you okay, Shayla? Everyone heard about that fight a couple of years ago. I probably should have called you sooner, but given everything that went on..."
"Um..." I thought about it. I'm generally fine. I have my issues, but who doesn't? I wanted to tell him how bad I needed him at that moment. How I really wished it was him there instead of Varg. How although I felt so alone during that time, I would have felt less alone with him there. But that's a lot to unpack on a person after two years of not speaking to them. "I'm just going with the flow at this point." Knowing Roland, he's probably shaking his head in disappointment. "Going with the flow" is not the way to live life. "But how are you and the Missus, Roland? I am so happy for you! I know you've wanted to be married for quite some time."
"We're great. I couldn't be any happier. No kids yet. We're still enjoying each other right now."
"As you should! There's no rush, ya know?"
"How about you? I know you and Michael are ready to have children."
My lips pressed together. "In due time. We have a lot going on."
"Understandable. Well, I wanted to congratulate you on your endeavors. You're just as amazing now as you were then, Shayla. Never forget that."
"Thank you, Roland... Can I take down your number? It's been a while since we've talked or anything. Maybe we can catch up soon. I need a break from all this work. It'd be nice to catch up with an old friend."
"Are you still in California?" I asked him after I wrote down his number.
"Nope. Settled in Ohio. Found a nice house in Cincinnati. So, it's safe to say I'll be here for a while... But my wife and I are about to go shopping, so I'll catch up with you later."
"Thanks for checking in on me, Roland."
"Of course..." He hung up. I sat back in my chair and stared down at his number. The history Roland and I have is something. He was such a positive influence in my life that when I lost him, I felt like I lost everything. A large part of me still misses his presence. Maybe I'll take some time to visit him. I don't think he really knew how important he was to me.
"So, who was it?" Mo opened the door and peeked her head in.
"An old friend."
"I knew it." She smirked and hurriedly tiptoed in to sit down.
"Who's up front?"
"No one. I told everyone I'd be back in five minutes for tea."
I raised an eyebrow. "I don't see any tea."
"Oh, trust. I got the tea, sis." She laughed. I rolled my eyes. "He's not anyone Mr. Jackson should be worried about, right?"
"Aren't you overstepping boundaries, Mo? That call was off the record, okay?"
"Mmhm..." She peered at the phone number written on a post-it.
I snatched it away. "Off the record. Go on back up there."
"Does Remi know about him?" She stood up. I pointed at the door. "He sounds sexy!" She said before exiting. That's the only problem that I've had being up here dang near every day. Mo thinks we're friends for whatever reason. Maybe it's because she sees how Remi and I are with each other. But we've been friends for years. I'm beginning to think she's an off-brand version of Remi. The closest she'll ever get to me is probably if I decided to be her mentor but as a friend? No, ma'am. She tried it.
I stopped and closed my eyes to take a deep breath after completing the complex choreography Travis and Barry created. The room erupted in applause with hoots and hollers scattering throughout. I opened my eyes and smiled. "Thanks, guys. But these people right here," I pointed at the dancers. "They were simply phenomenal." I joined in on the applause as the dancers bowed. "I need to see that playback, but first, let's go to lunch. I'm starved!" I picked up a towel to dab the sweat off of my face.
"Michael, that was great. If you like the take, we'll use it. If not, we'll do it all over again." Stan followed me to the tent outside.
"We'll see. Let me get my lunch first, get a clear mind, and I'll get back to you." A line was forming at the catering table, so I waited until everyone else got their share. Once I got my plate, I scanned the tables to see who I'd be chatting with today. I don't feel like talking about work right now, so Stan is a no go. I don't feel like talking about the choreography yet, so Travis and LaVelle are going to have to wait. I scanned the tables again to see Shana laughing with the kids at her table. Well, there's my escape for the day.
"Do you all mind if I join you?" I asked them.
"No! Come on, Michael!" Keisha looked at me like I was crazy and waved me on.
I took the only open seat beside Shana and sat down. "What are y'all over here laughing about? I heard y'all all the way up there."
"Well," Shana began. "Kendall was over here saying how boys are better since God made them first, but then Keisha said..." She pointed to Keisha.
"I said, 'God had to make a rough draft before he made a final copy.'" Keisha shrugged, causing everyone at the table, including me, to erupt in laughter again. "Did I lie?"
"No, that's the best part about it." Shana laughed.
"Michael, I'm glad you're here." Kendall looked over at me. "Seth said you have a PlayStation in your trailer. What games do you have for it?"
"Uh. I've got Mortal Kombat, Destruction Derby, Battle Arena... Pretty much any game you can think of. Why?"
"Say... during a lunch break, I want to play one of those games..."
I laughed. "You're more than welcome to go in there and play. I don't mind."
"See! I told you!" He looked at Loren.
"What's Mortal Kombat?" Shana asked me.
"It's a fighting game. Wait..." I gasped. "You've never played Mortal Kombat before?" She shook her head no. "Oh, girl, you're missing out. You must not be too fond of video games then."
"Can't say I have the time to play." She shrugged.
"One of these days, we've got to get you to play. I don't know which one is best right now, but Mortal Kombat 3 is really something. The graphics are just amazing. Yeah, we gotta get you in there." I took a bite of my sandwich. "I can't believe you've never played before..."
"Well, I guess I better take this opportunity to learn, huh?"
"Darn skippy!" We laughed.
"Say, Michael?" Loren asked me.
"You're always in your trailer for lunch. What's got you out here today?"
"I get lonely in there. I mean, I need a break from people every now and then, especially since I've been on set all day. But I figured, why not eat with you guys today? I need the energy you all have over here."
"Sounds about right." Seth nodded. "You're slipping up, old man." Shana choked on her soda, causing it to run out of her nose. The boys erupted in laughter.
"Yikes. Come on. Let's get you some tissue." I helped her out of her seat and led her to the nearest bathroom. "You okay?"
"When I tell you, this burns..." She tried to laugh as she held her nose. As bad as I felt for her, she actually looked pretty cute holding her nose like that. It's crazy how something so embarrassingly innocent can be so cute.
"I'll be right out here when you're done." I held the bathroom door open for her.
"Thank you, Michael." She hurried in. The kids are something else. Always cracking jokes and whatnot. While being on set is fun, they brought fresh energy around here. While all the adults brought their adult problems with them on set, the children didn't have that problem. They were as happy on set as they were as happy offset. "Whew!" Shana shook her head as she walked out of the bathroom.
"Have you ever had soda run out of your nose?"
"Can't say that I have..."
"My nostrils are still tingling, but I'll be alright." She laughed.
"Those kids are something else." I shook my head.
"No, seriously. They're so funny. Aside from you, they're like the only ones I don't mind hanging around here. Everyone else seems kind of uptight."
I gasped. "So, I'm not the only one who noticed that, right? I thought I was tripping!"
"Nope." She shook her head. "I don't know what it is, but everyone is pretty interesting around here."
"You know, I thought to myself, 'only a handful of people on this set are actually pretty down to earth. Why the heck did I hire the rest of these bozos?'"
Shana laughed again. "No, seriously. They need to lighten up and have some fun. It's not every day you get to work for someone so fascinating, ya know?"
"Eh..." I shrugged. "I wouldn't say all that. But yeah. They most definitely can lighten up. Were you done eating?"
"Pretty much. I don't eat a lot."
"Interested in learning Mortal Kombat for the rest of the lunch hour?"
"As juvenile as that sounds... Why not?" She shrugged and followed me to my trailer.
"It's really easy. You say you haven't played before, but I assure you, it's not hard to learn."
"I mean, if Shayla can learn it, I can learn it too, huh?" She asked as she sat down on the couch.
"Shayla isn't really into all that, to be honest." I turned on the television and the PlayStation and handed her a controller.
"Nah." I shook my head. "It's not really her thing. Just like writing books isn't my thing. We have our own things we're into. I mean, it's not like she doesn't support me in it though. She's bought me a couple of games and played with me a couple of times, but hey."
"Shayla is such a sweetheart. And she has so much class... I've looked up to her for quite some time, ya know?"
I turned to face her. "Yeah?"
"Yeah! She has such poise. The elegance she carries... Every time she comes into the office with you, I'm just amazed. And even though that interview may not have been the greatest, she didn't let Diane take her out of her character. If there's one woman I want to be like when I grow up, it's Shayla for sure. She's just something else." She smiled, shaking her head. My gaze shifted down to my controller. It's amazing what marriage does to you. There are people out there who look at my wife as if she's Princess Diana or like she's the greatest woman in the world. And while she's still so amazing to me, I fear that I've become so used to her... So, bored by her that when people remind me what they see in Shayla, I'm reminded myself of who I married, because somehow, I've forgotten. "Michael, are you okay?" Shana tapped my shoulder.
I tore my gaze from the controller and looked up at the start screen on the television. "Yeah, I'm good. Um..." I pressed 'start' and made the game for two players. "So, you're going to choose a character. 'Square' is a high punch." I reached over and pointed at the buttons on her controller. "'X' is a low punch. 'Triangle' and 'Circle' are both kicks. Don't forget, okay?"
"You're going to take it easy on me, right?"
"Eh..." I laughed. "Maybe for the first round. I'll let you win for a while."
"Don't forget I'm new at this."
"It's always you newbies that end up kicking butt. Don't worry, I'll be nice." As we started to play, the score was pretty even. She wasn't half bad. And she says she hasn't played before... Yeah, right. "Have I told you I'm thinking of getting rid of Sandy?"
I sucked my teeth. "He made so many sly remarks concerning the allegations. He never really said that he believed that I didn't do it. So, that's why he and Jim aren't allowed on set. Simple as that." I shrugged. "I don't need anybody breathing down my neck. It's unnecessary, uncalled for and to be quite frank, I don't need that kind of negativity on my set."
I paused the game and turned to face her. "If I tell you something, you promise to keep it to yourself?"
She nodded. "Yeah, Michael. Of course."
I contemplated telling her what was on my mind. She works for Sandy, so I'm taking a huge risk in telling her this, but I also feel like we've built something to where I actually feel like I can really trust her. "To be completely honest with you, I'm thinking of dropping Sandy after we're done shooting."
I nodded. "The allegations really showed people's true colors. It's been two years too long with me putting up with it. I'm sick of it. As if I didn't already have to deal with it enough on the outside, now I have to deal with it in my inner circle?" I shook my head. "I can't do it anymore."
"Have you been looking for new managers?"
"Yeah. I'm looking around. Just don't tell anyone, okay?" As she nodded, all I could do was laugh to myself.
"I'm really taking a huge risk telling you this. You work for him... You owe no loyalty to me. I just feel like I can trust you enough to tell you this and I really hope I have your word."
"You do. My lips are sealed. This isn't my business to tell." She pretended to zip her lips.
I nodded. I really hope so. "If Sandy asks what's going on on set, you're not going to tell him, are you?"
"Nope. If you had wanted him to know, you would have asked him to visit."
I smiled. "You know, out of all the people here, you're the only one I can talk to and have a genuine conversation with. I guess it was pretty selfish of me to want you on set. I wanted to know at least one friendly face here."
"I mean, it makes sense. I consider you my friend. I hope you consider me the same..."
"You know, I've been telling myself about you. How you've lent a listening ear and have been a friend to me all this time. I do consider you a dear friend, Shana. Seriously. One of few. You're kind, sweet... You remind me of Shayla. That's probably why it's been so easy to talk to you."
She gasped. "No way. Don't tell me that... Shayla is a force to be reckoned with. I couldn't even hold a candle to her."
"When's your birthday?"
"July first, why?"
I nodded. "Yup. Makes perfect sense."
"What?" She laughed, begging to know.
"My wife's birthday is on July thirteenth. It all makes sense now. No wonder."
"Seriously? I never knew that."
"Yup. No wonder it's been so easy to talk to you. I thought it was all a coincidence."
"Me too! Well, please tell her it's an honor to share the same birth month as her."
"I will for sure." My mobile phone began to ring, and I immediately picked it up. "Hello?"
"We need you on set so we can watch that take from earlier," Stan answered.
"I'll be there shortly." I hung up the phone and turned off the television. "Stan needs me back on set to watch the playback. Want to watch it with me?" I extended my hand out to her to help her up.
"Stan wouldn't mind?"
I waved off the thought. "Of course not. Come on. You can help me find something we might need to fix." I held her hand as she walked down the trailer steps. It's been almost two weeks since we've begun. This short film is really coming together. I see it as nothing less than the best. In fact, I think it'll be one of the best short films the world has ever seen. And the fact that it's going to be made in so little time, will definitely make it a record-breaker. The world doesn't know what I've got coming for them.