Chapter 9

Chapter 9

After a month of shooting "Ghosts," tomorrow is a wrap. It's bittersweet. Stan is one of the best directors I've worked with. The cast was simply fantastic. All the hard work we put into this will not go unnoticed. I'll make sure of that. I've done shoots for short films for much shorter than a month, but they were also not practically a full feature film. This short film is going down in history for something. If not anything else, it'll be that it's the longest short film of all time.


Surprisingly enough, during this entire month of work, it never dawned on me that I would become friends with my manager's secretary. Great friends at that. Whenever I've done a short film, co-star or not, I may or may not have made acquaintances, but someone I could consider a friend? Someone I could call and talk to well into the middle of the night? I was shocked the first time it happened. As was she, but we let things just run its course. And now, here we are. It got to the point where Stan would have to force me and Shana to quit giggling about something so that I could get back to work. Wow. I haven't encountered something this pure and genuine since... I sighed. It's been years.


"What are your plans after we wrap up?" Shana and I walked back to the set. It was our last lunch break here. Tomorrow begins with an early morning, watching the film, celebration, and an early out. I really got used to our lunch break talks. It actually became something that I looked forward to every morning.


"So, my agent has some things lined up for me." She pressed her lips together and nodded. "And I took your advice and enrolled in acting classes."


"No way!" I smiled.


"Mmmhm." She nodded. "I mean, it made sense. If I want to get better at my craft, I better start taking the classes to get there, right?"


"I'm so proud of you, Shana. I mean, you're doing well already, but I only want you to continue sharpening your craft and getting better out there. I want to see you up on the silver screen in a major role." I winked.


She giggled. "Oh, you will! One of these days for sure. I won't let you down."


"No, no, no. Don't do it for me. Do it for you. Pfft. For me? I'm nobody." I waved her off. "Don't do anything for me. You've got to do what's best for you and that's all that matters."


She blushed. "Thanks, Michael."


"I mean that."


"I know. That's what makes it ten times better."


"I mean... Okay, the only time. And I really mean this. The only time you should ever do something for anyone else when it involves your craft is when you're giving back to your fans. Because without the fans and of course the hard work you put in, you wouldn't be where you are. Like, at this point in my career, I just feel like I'm giving back to the fans. They love me. I love them. HIStory was a passion project. I put that one out for multiple reasons, but after that, it's just going to be me giving back to the fans. I still have so much I want to accomplish, but now I feel like I'm at the point in my career where I can just give back, ya know?"


"Absolutely!" She nodded. "I mean, it makes sense. How can you not give back to the fans? Without them... I mean, I don't want to say you're nothing, but having fans of your work really means something."


"Exactly. See? You get it. Some people don't understand that..." Some people even refuse to try to understand it. Here I am being looked at by someone I love like I'm selfish for wanting to give back to the fans and here I have someone I only just met less than five years ago who understands it to a tee.


"You okay, Michael?" Shana touched my arm.


"Yeah. Do you mind if we sit down for a second? Lunch isn't over for another fifteen minutes anyway."


"Yeah, sure!" We sat on a bench beside the hanger. While everyone was inside discussing God knows what, I wanted to take these last few moments with Shana because tomorrow is going to be so fast-paced, I might not even get a "hi" and "bye." "So, what does Shayla think about the short film?"


I shrugged. "She's excited about the outcome. We haven't talked much about it."


"Aww." She frowned. "Why not?"


"You remember she's an author, right?" I leaned over and rested my elbows on my thighs.


"Ohh! She's writing a new book?"


"Don't tell her I told you."


"Sounds interesting. I'm sure her writing is like you creating an album. So intense, you want everything perfect and you're extremely passionate about it."


"Yep."


"Oh, so both of you all are working hard right now?" I gave her a thumbs up. "Wow. Phenomenal." I laughed. "What?"


I shook my head. "Nothing. I just think it's cute that you're so positive about everything."


"Is there any other way to be?"


I sat up and looked her in the eyes. "No. I like you just like that. Don't change that for anybody."


"That's so sweet of you, Michael. People tell me all the time I have to look at the reality of things, but the reality isn't always pretty. Someone has to be optimistic. If everyone was a negative Nancy, nothing would get solved in the world."


"Yeah. Negativity is not the way to go." I looked out at the Van Nuys airport. You'd think I was numb to Shayla's negativity by now, but it really grinds my gears that she's no longer that optimistic beauty she once was. Even hearing Shana talk about negativity is making me cringe because it's like that's exactly what I have to deal with at home. And I'm tired of it. To be quite frank, with all the properties we have, I'm surprised we're even in the same place. But that's neither here nor there.


"Earth to Michael..." Shana waved her hand across my face. "Are you alright? That's your second time staring out into the abyss.


I nodded. "I just have a lot on my mind."


"Like what? You know we can talk about anything."


"I know and I thank you for that, Shana. But although I probably should talk about it, I won't. It'll put a damper on things. Let's continue to talk about you." I turned to face her, resting my elbow on the back of the bench. "What did your agent get set up for you?"


She smiled with excitement. "Well... oh! My movie comes out in two months!"


My eyebrows scrunched together. "Wait. You never told me about a movie..."


"I starred in a film with Shaq, it's called 'Kazaam!'"


"No way! Why am I just now hearing about this? Yikes. You work with a person for a month only to find out you don't know them at all."


"No..." She laughed. "I never mentioned it to you?"


"Never! Otherwise, I would have already bought tickets."


"Okay, well, that's my fault." She placed a hand on her heart apologetically. "But yes, I'm one of the 'Kazettes' in the film. Have you seen the commercial?"


"I don't watch television."


"Ugh!" She grabbed me by my shoulders and shook me a little. "You're missing out! It was so fun to work with Shaq, so if you get a chance to see the film, you've got to tell me what you think."


"What do you mean 'if?' Of course, I'm going to see it. You're in it! I wouldn't miss it for the world, Shana. Come on now. You're kidding me. But wait... Can Shaq even act?"


She stifled a laugh. "Just know he was excellent to work with."


"Oh my God..." I dramatically raised my hands and rolled my eyes. "You're gonna have me waste my money on a guy who should just stick to the basketball court."


"Wait, wasn't he on your HIStory album?"


"See, but he wasn't acting. He was rapping. There's a difference."


"Oh please! Cut the guy some slack."


"I'm kidding!" I laughed. "No, I'll support him. But if anyone asks, I'm just seeing it because a special extra is in the film and I just had to see her."


She blushed. "Uh-huh... What'll Shayla have to say about that?"


"She knows you're Sandy's secretary. She won't have any problems with it."


"Mmhm... Sure."


"Seriously! She knows you're in the short film and everything. There would be no beef. Trust me."


"I'll take your word for it... I think it's about time we head back. Don't you think?" Shana stood up but I took her hand in mine.


"Just a few more minutes." I ran my thumb across her fingers. "They don't start until I get there." She blushed a deep red as she sat down. She was a shade darker than my wife, but her hair was so different. It was a straighter curl. A texture that when associated with black people, one would wonder if they were mixed or not, because for some reason that's the reason why you have that grade of hair. Unbeknownst to them that black people can have any grade of hair and not be mixed with anything else. "Your hair is straight and curly. You got a perm in it or something?"


She looked a little taken aback but giggled at my question. "A perm? What? No!"


"You have no chemicals in your hair?"


"No... But wait until I tell my friends that Michael Jackson is more interested in my hair than me..." Her eyebrows furrowed together in confusion, but she was amused at my curiosity.


"No, I just mean like, a lot of black women perm their hair. Seldom do you see a black woman without permed hair."


"Shayla's hair isn't permed."


I rolled my eyes. "Aside from Shayla."


"It's not permed. I just have really good hair. Imagine being picked on by the black girls in school because of it. It was a nightmare."


"I imagine it was... You said 'black girls...' Are you not black?"


"I'm mixed. Black, Indian, and French. There's a lot going on over here." She laughed. "But I identify as black and no one can ever take that pride away from me."


"Stand in your blackness. Own it! Because I swear, they try to take that away from us too. I've had my bouts with racism and people trying to make it seem like I don't want to be black or that I'm not black although I'm one hundred percent. I think the vitiligo made them forget who I really was because I sure didn't forget who I was. I'm reminded every day. And trust me, those white folk remind me too. 'Michael Jackson' or not." I shook my head. "Take pride in that, Shana. Seriously. And I'm proud that you're proud. I mean, being mixed, you should be proud of all that you're mixed with. You should! No one should ever make you pick a side. That's not fair to have to pick and choose. Shoot, take pride in all of it. Black, Indian, French. I bet you know how to cook all those foods too, huh?"


"No."


"Aww, man!" I dramatically raised my hands. "You're breaking my heart, girl. You really are." We laughed. "No, but seriously, Shana. That's beautiful and you're beautiful. Don't ever forget that."


"Thank you, Michael." She giggled to herself. "Wait until I tell my friend's Michael Jackson gave me a 'Black Power' speech." We laughed so hard my sides hurt. It was the kind of laugh that you could only get from someone that could really bring that side out of you. Someone who wanted to make you laugh. Someone who found joy in sharing that laughter with you. And it felt good.


Shana wiped the tears from her eyes as she tried to compose herself. This whole month has been nothing but pure bliss. It was work, but vacation, if you will. It actually pains me to know that I won't be able to see Shana daily anymore. If there's been one light in this period of my life, it's been Shana. "What?" She tried to hold back a smile.


"Have you always had those freckles on your right cheek?" I pointed.


"Yeah. You're just now noticing them?"


"I am." I nodded. "They're beautiful."


"Thank you." I scooted closer to her to get a better look at her "newfound" freckles. They were cute. I don't know how I didn't notice them before. I pushed the hair away from her face and behind her ear. She's beautiful and she doesn't even know it. It's mindboggling to me. I'll never understand it.


"Can I..." She nodded without even letting me finish my question. She knew it. I knew it. What's understood doesn't need to be explained. She was nervous. I was nervous, but even then, it seemed like nothing else in the world mattered. She scooted closer to me and as she brought her hand up to touch my face, I took her hand in mine, interlocked our fingers, and kissed her. The sound from the crew in the hanger seemed to drown out. For a moment, I could have forgotten we were still at the Van Nuys airport. This was magic in its purest form. Magic, I hadn't felt in a very, very long time. Magic, I felt I've been deprived of for years. The faint smell of her familiar perfume filled my nostrils. I brought my hand up to her face and turned what was once a gentle kiss into a more affectionate kiss. Nothing else in this world mattered to me. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive...


VII


"Baby..." I called into the apartment as I opened the door. Shayla wasn't at the desk with her Powerbook like she normally is. I'm actually surprised because every night I come to this place; she's posted right there. However, this night was different. I guess today was different for both of us. I made myself dinner and plopped down on the couch. For the first time in a long time, I turned on the television and flipped through the channels. Nothing amused me enough to keep it on just one channel. This is why I keep videos at every property. I continued to flip to see Shaq on one of the channels and flipped back. Sure enough, it was the trailer to "Kazaam." Judging by the trailer, it looks like he can act, but I'll be the critic of that. It comes out a few days after Shayla's birthday. Maybe I'll get her the tickets to the film as a gag gift. Even if she doesn't get a kick out of that, I sure will.


After finishing dinner and my movie, I turned off the television and knocked on Shayla's door. "Babe?"


"Come in." She called. I opened the door to find her eyes glued to the television.


"How was your day?" I closed the door behind me.


"Good. You?"


"Great... You know tomorrow is the last day of production?"


"I know. You told me."


"Yeah... We're celebrating tomorrow."


"That's good." She never once turned around to look at me. Not once.


"I love you."


She sighed. "I love you too."


"And I miss you... A lot." I crawled in the bed behind her and kissed her neck.


A quick gasp escaped her lips at my touch. "Michael, what are you doing?"


"Do you know how long it's been?" I whispered, nibbling on her earlobes.


"Two m-"


"We're close to three."


"You were the one who decided to sleep in two different bedrooms. Not me."


"It was mutual." I kissed the back of her neck again and ran my fingers along the length of her body. It has really almost been three months since I've touched my wife. Smelled my wife. Shit, tasted my wife. That can do a lot to a man's psyche.


"You don't talk to me for how long and now you want some?"


"Am I wrong for wanting to be with my wife?" She shook her head no. I wanted to say, "at least I'm not trying to fuck somebody else." But I didn't want to take it there, ruin what would have been a good night, and probably end up doing just that. Kissing her shoulders, I slid my hands into her shorts to find that she wasn't wearing any underwear. She never has worn underwear to bed, but three months will make you think otherwise, even though I've been making love to this woman for over a decade.

I started to play with her pussy. Running my finger up and down the line, parting the lips that I've kissed just as much as I've kissed the lips on her face. Shayla didn't say a word. She couldn't. She wouldn't fight me when we've both been longing for this. She wouldn't dare raise a finger to me or let fighting words come out of her mouth right now. She missed me. I know she did because she's not saying a damn thing right now.


She rolled off her side onto her back and let me kiss her. The kiss we shared wasn't as magical as the kiss I shared with Shana today. It didn't give me butterflies. It didn't send me through the roof. Because I knew that this kiss was only being returned because I was about to give her what she was missing. Not because she was happy with me the way Shana was today. But the more and more I analyze how my wife is acting right now, the more it's going to take away from what I really want right now. And what I want is something my wife hasn't put on the table for three long months.


Dear God, I'm praying for Shayla's back right now. Because I'm about to blow her back out. All the shit's she's been talking. All that extra energy and pent-up anger is about to be released tonight. I may be having sex with Shayla, but I wouldn't be surprised if I thought of Shana. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry in advance. At least I'm not cheating.

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