The flight back home was long. And quiet. Surprisingly enough, it had nothing to do with Shayla. It had everything to do with me. My sister is back home after being gone for nearly a decade. I haven't talked to her in such a long time. In fact, when she said all those nasty things about me, I specifically remember saying she could kiss her good graces with me goodbye. Knowing she's alive and well, I can't continue to harbor such hard feelings toward her. I miss my sister a great deal. It's been hard not hearing from her or knowing where she was. My family and I had a feeling her antics were because of Jack, because knowing LaToya, she would never do or say such terrible things about her family. Let's see how true that is... If all the crap happened because it's what she wanted to do and say, so be it, I suppose... I'm just glad to have my sister back.
The front of the Hayvenhurst Home was filled with cars which meant everyone was here. After leaving Mariah's graduation, we celebrated and hightailed it back to California. Shayla's family was sad to see us go so soon, but they understood after I told them about LaToya. They had their own opinions on her of course: Shayla's parents weren't too keen on the Playboy centerfold, Robert felt bad for even seeing it knowing she's family, Matthew felt some type of way that she said those awful things about me three years ago and Audrey wanted to know if the things she put in her book were true. Needless to say, they aren't too keen on the idea of LaToya just like the rest of the world. It's understandable. We've all had our feelings about my sister lately, but we're about to get to the bottom of it today.
We followed the sound of everyone congregating to the backdoor and went outside. Everyone was happy to see LaToya. My nieces and nephews were up under her like they missed her a great deal because they did. Rebbie was all smiles. Janet's face read cold but understanding. I could tell that she had been crying earlier. Katherine couldn't stop the tears from flowing, and Joseph couldn't keep from smiling.
"There goes your brother." Jackie nodded towards me and Shayla as we walked over to everyone. LaToya looked up and smiled as if she was happy to see me, but just as quickly as that smile spread across her face, she frowned and instantly became sad. I smiled weakly and made my way over to her. For some odd reason, the chatter quieted, and everyone watched as I went over to my sister. Shayla went to hug everyone else before coming over, probably because she felt like LaToya and I needed time.
I looked over my sister. I could see the healing yellow bruises on her wrists that her long sleeve shirt just couldn't cover, no matter how many times she tried to pull it down. The purple bruises that seemed relatively fresh on her calves just below the edge of her beige capri pants. As I looked over her, all the ill-mannered things she said about me suddenly didn't matter anymore. When I pulled her in for a hug, a sigh of relief seemed to come from my family. LaToya immediately cried in my arms and repeated how sorry she was. How she didn't mean anything that she said. Gordon had told her to say those awful things. Gordon had told her to write that godawful book about her family. Gordon made her do Playboy. That wasn't her and I should know that. Deep down inside she's still the same LaToya she was when she grew up. It was Gordon that made her out to be this nasty person. The "black sheep" of the family.
I listened to my sister's revelations and consoled her. We all had an inkling that all of that was Jack's doing, but we all wondered why LaToya didn't stand up for herself against him. I guess when she did, she was met with a physical fight. As much as I wanted to ask if she was okay, I chose not to because anyone with eyes could tell that she wasn't. My sister had been through more than enough. She wasn't okay. And to be honest, I don't know when she ever will be.
After a while, she decided we should talk alone. She had much more to get off of her chest and I had some things to tell her as well, so I was actually okay with it. Although Shayla hadn't been able to talk to her yet, LaToya and I need this time.
"Can I confide in you?" She sat down in the booth in the kitchen.
"Of course, you can. What's going on?"
LaToya looked me in the eye, her eyes welling up with tears and took a deep breath, "I didn't want to come here."
My face scrunched up in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"To Hayvenhurst. I didn't want to come to Hayvenhurst. It took a lot to get me here."
"Why didn't you want to come? This is home. This is always home."
She swallowed. "Gordon," she cleared her throat. "Gordon would always tell me that Mother was out to kill me."
I was taken aback. "What?"
A tear rolled down her cheek and she sniffled. "He's been telling me stuff like that for years. Years, Michael. When I called Randy and he and Tony came to get me from New York, the first thing he told me was that we were going to Hayvenhurst. If you ask him, he'll tell you that I did not want to come here. I didn't. Gordon filled my head with so many..." she clenched her fists as she looked for the right words to say. "So many things. So many preposterous things about my family. About you, Mother, Joseph... And I was a fool. I was a fool enough to believe it. We, um, we ended up diverting to Las Vegas for a while. Thank God for that, because I was able to get my divorce from Gordon. I wanted to stay in Las Vegas. I did not, for the life of me, want to come here to Hayvenhurst. But... Randy and Tony convinced me that I'd be better off here for a while. To heal, get my life back for a moment, and then go on about my business. When I finally came here, I was deathly afraid, but as soon as Mother hugged me..." She shook her head and closed her eyes. I could visibly see the relief pass over my sister's face. "I broke down. And then to see my nieces and nephews and everyone else... And now you and Shayla..." She smiled a broken smile. "I missed you all so much. And I'm sorry. I am so sorry for the pain I caused this family. I feel so ashamed. So broken. So..." I moved from my side of the booth to sit beside LaToya and hug her. "I am so lucky. So, blessed to have such a loving family."
I didn't have much to say. At this moment, I figured it was best to just listen to her. It was apparent that she had so much bottled up anger and resentment toward this man for manipulating her, stealing from her, abusing her, taking her kindness for weakness, and especially for ripping her away from her family. There wasn't much for me to do, but listen, because I know in all those years, she had no one to talk to.
How could he get away with this so effortlessly? Did no one see how he was treating her? The times I saw my sister in the media, she always looked done up, except for that one time when a photographer caught her with a black eye. There were red flags before, but when my family and I saw that photo, we were outraged.
All that matters is that she's safe now. That's all I want for her. Although everything she has done is cemented in history forever, I can forgive her. I can forgive her for the things she has said about me. I can forgive her for the "autobiography." I can forgive her for the heartache and embarrassment she caused the family as a result of her Playboy centerfold. My parents have their daughter back and I have my sister back. That's all that matters.
"Ugh! Enough about me." She wiped her nose with a tissue. "How are you and Shayla? Since the allegations, is everything alright? That was such a tough time. I can go on and on about what Gordon had to say, but I don't want to talk about him anymore."
I nodded. "We're good. We've got some things to get through. Aside from that, we're good."
"I heard what happened."
"Ha." I laughed a little. "What part?"
"The fight was big news, of course. I can't believe she hit you..." She shook her head.
"Did Janet do anything? You know how she can be."
"No. She and Shayla shared some words, other than that, no. We're grown."
"What'd she say?" Yep, same old LaToya. Just nosy as ever.
"Why don't you ask them that?" I laughed.
"Because I asked you!" She pushed me playfully.
"Janet understood why Shayla did what she did. There were no hard feelings. You know Janet loves Shayla. Now if it were anyone else, she would have threatened that that would have been the last time they hit me. But Janet didn't care."
"And the baby..."
I sighed. "The baby."
"I know how bad you want children, Mike." I nodded. "I'm so sorry that happened to you all."
"There was a lot going on." The wounds are still there. They'll always be there, but at this point, it's been two years. It's not that I'm tired of talking about it. I'm just tired of opening that wound over and over and over again. At some point, you have to let that wound heal, so that the scab will fall off naturally and become the scar it was destined to be. But no one is letting us do that. Talking about the miscarriage is like getting scratched and bleeding all over again like the first time.
"I mean, I'm sure you all are trying again, right?"
I shook my head and looked away from my sister. "Hardly, but we're not going to talk about that. I'm actually working on a new short film. It's going to be the longest short film in history, just you wait."
Although LaToya was caught off guard at me switching the conversation, she smiled and said, "I can't wait to see it. I know it's going to be stellar."
"LaToya?" We both turned to see Shayla coming around the corner. She smiled a little and came over to us.
"What perfect timing. We were just talking about you." LaToya invited her to sit down. "Are you okay?"
"Are you okay? You've been through so much, Toy! We missed you so much!
"I feel better now that I'm with family. I have so much to tell you. So much has gone on for all of us the past couple of years it seems. But we made it."
I nodded. "That we did." As they caught up, I excused myself to go outside to be with the rest of my family. We all have a lot of catching up to do. One simply cannot just make up for ten years in thirty minutes. We all have a lot of healing to do and that's okay. I feel bad for lying to Toy about me and Shayla, but I didn't want to burden her with my marital issues when she's literally been through hell and back. That's a different conversation for another day.
"And... scene! Excellent job everyone. Let's take thirty. Michael," Stan turned to me. "When we come back, we're going to work on the skeleton scene. So, get ready to suit up."
"Sounds good. Um, can we make it forty-five? I've got a lot..." I asked. Stan gave me a thumbs up and I made my way to my trailer. Two and a half weeks on set. Fourteen-hour days and for some reason on this one day, I feel drained. I just want to go home without being bothered, to be honest. We've got almost two weeks to go. I can do this, but God, I just don't want to be here today. LaToya is home safe and sound, which I am so happy about, but aside from this short film, I feel like I have nothing. My wife and I are at odds and I don't know how much longer I can take this. She's right. We do need counseling, because this? This isn't gonna work.
I sat down on my couch and pulled out my mobile phone to call Shayla twice only for my calls to go unanswered. I want to apologize for whatever I've done. I want to tell her that we need to fix this because this is starting to affect my work. How I feel incomplete without her. And the fact that we choose to sleep separately is really starting to get on my nerves. I haven't had sex in weeks. That's enough to drive a man mad. I don't know how women do it, but I-
A knock came to my door. The kids have an open invitation to drop by whenever they want to play games. I feel bad that I have to tell them no, but I really need this time to myself right now. I stood up and peered through the blinds to see Shana waving up at me. Oh.
I gave my best version of a smile and opened the door. "Hey, come on in. What brings you here?"
"Well, I saw you had booked it over here. You didn't look the best. Are you alright?" She took a seat beside me on the couch.
"I could be better, but I'm alright for the most part." It's probably not the best that I keep what I've got going on to myself anyway.
"What's wrong? Is it Sandy?"
"No. Why? Has he said anything? Have you said anything?" I knew I shouldn't have told her.
"No. I just remember you saying you wanted to fire him."
"Oh." I sighed a breath of relief. "No. It's not him. We're okay right now."
"What's going on?" Instead of burdening her with my marital issues, I told her that LaToya had just come home and that she had been through a lot with her manager. "Wait, her manager? So... everything she's done in the past ten years was because of him?" I nodded. "Wait, wait, wait." She shook her head and placed her hand on her forehead to collect her thoughts. "So, everything I know to be the 'new' LaToya Jackson is a lie?" I nodded again. "Woah." She leaned back against the couch. "That's a lot to unpack at once."
"That's why you shouldn't believe everything you see in the media. The dark forces behind the scenes have more control than you think."
"Well, is she okay?"
"No. He really messed my sister up. There's still some remnants of the old LaToya still in there, but she's a whole new person after Jack."
"How do you feel? I remember her saying such awful things about you during the allegations." She placed a hand on mine. There was slight electricity when she touched my fingers. Something I haven't felt in a long time and to be honest, it confused me.
"Given all that she's been through, we just have to let bygones be bygones. She apologized. I forgave her. That's all that matters right now if I'm being honest. I'm just glad to have my sister back."
"As any brother would! I'm so glad you forgave her... If you don't mind me asking, how did you feel when she said those awful things about you?"
I laughed a little. "I told my wife that 'LaToya could kiss her good graces with me goodbye.' I wanted nothing to do with her after that. But here we are. I'm just glad that she's alive and well."
"Me too. I had no idea she was going through that." Shana shook her head.
"None of us did. I mean, we had a feeling Jack was turning her into something that she wasn't, but other than that, we had no idea. Now we know. And we can't let people like that into our family again."
Shana nodded slowly. "After talking about it, do you feel better now?"
"You know what?" I turned to look at her. "I do. Thank you, Shana. That means a lot that you came all this way to talk with me today."
"I mean, when I saw you storm off of set, I knew something had to be wrong. And I'd hate it if someone I considered a friend didn't come to check on me."
"Yeah..." I nodded. "Ha. You want to know something funny?"
"What?" Shana sat up eagerly.
"Before I married my wife and I was at the height of my career with 'Thriller,' I would walk outside of Hayvenhurst and down the street in search of a friend. I kid you not, I would literally ask people if they would be my friend, but in me asking that, I'd wonder if they wanted to be friends with me or friends with me because of Michael Jackson. And here you are... fourteen years later... I didn't even have to ask you and you're already my friend. That really means a lot to me, Shana."
"Aww, Michael! You really did that?"
I shook my head and laughed. "I kid you not. I'd walk out of the house at like nine, ten at night, and walk down the street."
"Did you ever run into anyone?"
"First, they were shocked. Some confused, rightfully so, I guess. Sometimes I could get the question out, other times I couldn't because they were too busy figuring out how they could get an autograph or something."
"Wait. Were these like neighbors or something?"
"Some neighbors. Some people just in the area."
"Oh my gosh!"
"Yeah, I can't do that anymore. I was a fool to even do it then."
"You know..." Shana sighed and looked up at the ceiling in search of the right words. "Friendship just has to come naturally. It's not really something you can force. You know? You read someone, they read you then you all figure out if you could continue a relationship. May it be business, friendship, or some other relationship."
"I think our friendship began pretty naturally. Don't you?" I asked her.
"Most definitely! You know the first time I saw you in the office, I was fangirling so bad." She blushed in embarrassment. "But as time progressed and we would talk briefly before I would connect you to Sandy or something, it was much easier to tone it down."
"Still a fan?" I smirked.
She laughed and playfully pushed me. "Of course. I can't not be a fan of you. I've been a fan of you since I was a kid."
I almost forgot how old she was. "Twenty-five, right?"
She nodded. "They tell me from here on out time just speeds up."
"They didn't lie. After twenty-five, I felt like I didn't even accomplish as much as I wanted yet."
"You're kidding me. Wasn't that 'Thriller?!"
I nodded. "I completed one big goal for sure. I was disappointed with the lack of recognition, 'Off the Wall' received, so I had to go bigger and better. Thus, 'Thriller.' And even after that album, I knew I had more work to do."
"Wow." She smiled and shook her head. "You're truly amazing. Not gonna lie, if I had just finished 'Thriller,' I would have felt like that was it. I would not have felt like I needed to accomplish more, because you accomplished so much with that album and in that era. I mean, because of that album, you made it to where black artists were featured on MTV. You covered so many genres on that album. You did sooooo much!" Shana gushed.
"But I did do so much more after that album though." I reminded her.
"Oh, no doubt! Wow!" She shook her head again. "Michael Jackson felt like he still needed to accomplish more after 'Thriller.' That's something. No wonder you're such an inspiration. You just continue to raise the bar. You're the standard. No doubt." She was surely stroking my ego, but it's not something that I haven't heard before. "How does Shayla feel about all your success?"
"Oh." I chewed on my bottom lip. "She's proud of me. Always has been. She's been there every step of the way. I can't really say much, except for the fact that she's been there, ya know? She's always supported me."
"That's good. I mean, she'd have to support you. Do you think she's ever thought it was hard to be your wife?"
My eyebrows drew together. "I- I've actually never thought about that." I really haven't. I mean it's easy to be her husband, so it never crossed my mind that she ever thought it was hard to be my wife, but now that I think of it... "Maybe she has thought that before."
"I mean, yeah. In the beginning, of course not, because I was too busy protecting her to the best of my ability. But as time progressed... I guess she probably did think it was hard to be my wife at some point or another."
Shana winced but kinda smiled at the same time. "I don't mean to get all therapist on you. It was just a random question."
"It was a good question though. I'd actually have to ask her that one of these days." I wonder what Shayla would say. That it's been extremely hard being my wife? That it's hard work being my wife? Hopefully, it's easy, but being all we've been through, the likelihood of me getting an answer like that is slim to none.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm good."
"I hope I didn't-"
"No, no. You're good. You know, my wife was actually telling me we should go to counseling."
I nodded. "What you see in print and on television isn't always what it seems."
"Oh no. Is everything okay between you two?"
I shook my head no. "We've been going through it for two years now. I'm starting to think we'll never get back on track."
She frowned. "Don't say that. You all can get through this. I know you can. If you all can get through the allegations, the miscarriage, the fight, you guys can get through anything."
"I appreciate your youthful optimism, Shana, but we haven't gotten through those things." She was surprised like when I told her about LaToya. Yep. Everything you once believed is all a lie.
"But in the interview, you apologized to her. You told Diane that you all forgave and forgot."
I shook my head no. "You can't forgive and forget those things. You have to learn from them and grow. We... We never really talked much about it to grow from those experiences. We moved on like it was any other day and acted like everything was fine. I didn't help in those instances. Shayla wanted to talk, I didn't. That's why we didn't grow from it."
"Wow. I am," she placed a hand on her chest. "so sorry to hear that. Wow. I just pray you all get through this."
I shrugged. "It's just not the same anymore."
"Well, I'm always here, Michael. If you need anything," She took my hand in hers. That electricity flared again. "I'm here for you. I may not know what it's like to be married and feel like my marriage is failing, but I have feelings too. So, I know what it's like to feel sad or unwanted."
"Thank you, Shana. That means a lot." I smiled a little.
"You have my number, don't you? You never use it though." She squinted at me and smiled.
I lifted my hands in surrender. "Guilty as charged."
"Use it, okay? I don't give my number to just anybody, ya know? If I give you my number, it's to be used."
"Don't worry. I'll call you one of these days."
I opened the door to the apartment to see Shayla typing rapidly on her Macintosh Powerbook. She told me that she was going to write a book, but didn't tell me any details of it, saying that it was not only something that she needed to put out but also her own form of therapy. Understandable. That's how I am with my music. When I walked into the room, I don't know if she was pretending I was not there or not, because she didn't turn around, stop typing, or nothing. Just continued to stare at that screen, just typing away.
"Hey." She responded, without looking away from her Powerbook.
"Can we talk for a second?"
"I was thinking about you today."
"Yeah?" She continued typing.
I nodded. "And I wanted to talk to you because I don't like the way things are going around here."
She finally stopped and turned to look at me. "How things are going around here?"
"Sleeping in separate bedrooms?"
"Something that you started?"
"You're not happy, are you?"
"Are you happy?"
"I want to be, but I feel like I've let you down."
"Tell me something I don't know."
I ignored her sly comment and walked over to her. "I've been thinking about that counseling proposal."
"I'm willing to give it a shot when I'm done filming. I just want to get back to where we once were."
She let out a slight laugh and turned back to her Powerbook. "That'll never happen. This is the new us. If anything, a new version that'll come from where we are now will come out, but otherwise? Nah. We can't get that old couple back. That old couple is dead and..." she typed, pressed save, and closed the laptop. "Gone."
"You sound so over it... So over us."
She sighed. "I'm not over us. Just over it. We barely even talk anymore."
"That's why I'm trying to talk now."
"Well..." she looked away from me for a second. "You did great with my family earlier this week."
"As did you."
"No one suspected a thing."
"As it should have been. I mean, I told LaToya some things, but other than that, no one suspects a thing... Have you ever thought it was hard to be my wife?"
She squinted at me. "Is that a serious question?"
She sat with the question for a moment. I knew the likelihood of me getting a 'no' from her was slim to none. She's about to give me a million reasons as to why it's hard being my wife. "I've gotten used to it."
"That didn't answer the question."
She sighed. "Yes." I knew it. "It's not as bad as it used to be, but there was a time when it was hard. There were times that I questioned myself on how easy I thought this was going to be. It was never going to be easy. In fact, being married isn't easy, so let me not just make it about you. Being married isn't easy at all. But being married to a superstar makes it a tad bit harder. I've gotten used to it." As good as a question as it was to ask, I didn't know what to do with that information. "What made you ask that?"
I shrugged. "I was just wondering. It's been pretty easy being your husband. You don't want much."
She shook her head. "Not at all."
"Just quality time and to be listened to."
"That's about it."
"I've lacked in the latter."
"I want to work on it."
"Do you now?"
I nodded. "I want to make it right."
"You said that last time, ya know?"
"Yeah, but I mean it."
"You said that last time too."
"Okay. I get your point. I'm just tired of feeling like we're two different couples. One couple in front of the cameras and another when we're alone."
"You know that's mainly you, right?" She winced.
I rolled my eyes. "Are we just going to continue to blame me? You had a part in this too."
She scoffed. "Please. Enlighten me."
"You cheating on me with Roland was the worst thing you could have ever done to me!"
"I never cheated on you. It was a kiss and that's it."
"Oh, so an emotional affair isn't cheating to you?"
"You left me no other choice!"
"No other choice, but to cheat on me, Shayla? Really?" What once was a peaceful conversation, or so I thought, was now turning into another argument.
"He was there for me in more ways than one. Before the allegations, he was always there for me. Shoot, sometimes it felt like you pushed me into his arms!"
"But at my most vulnerable moment!" I shouted.
"I was vulnerable too!" She shouted back at me.
"All you had to do was sit there, be my wife, and support me in the public. Instead, you chose to wallow and cry on another man's dick."
"You know what?" She stood up and picked up her Powerbook. "No. I'm not doing this. Because at this point, I think you make that shit up because you get off to the thought. Knowing I never slept with that man. Good night."
"The fact that you never talk to me about him tells me all I need to know, Shayla." I shrugged.
"Please. That was two years ago. You didn't listen then, and you won't listen now." She closed and locked the door to her bedroom.
Yeah, whatever. That's the elephant in the room right there. She never wants to talk about her and Roland. Ever. They loved each other. That's the exact reason why she doesn't want to let me in when it comes to him. Fine. I tried talking about it. I tried reasoning with her. I've tried not having an argument for once! But even then, I just can't win. Fine. She's over it? I'm over it too.