Chapter 20

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We held each other for a while. I honestly don’t even care how long we stand here in each other's embrace.


As we held each other, something seemed to wash over me…


Healing. Complete and total healing.


I initially thought healing came from the endless amounts of therapy I paid for.


No. This healing was different. It reminded me that none of my choices were in vain. The memories Michael and I shared serve their purposes. And it meant that from this moment forward, no matter what happened in the past, all that matters is our children, our everlasting love for one another, and living our lives to the fullest. Even if it means separately.


“How are you gonna get out of here?” I asked against his chest. Drew, the kids, and I will have a pretty long trip back home. With Michael only finding out about everything when I called him, he may not even have a plan in place yet.


He kissed my forehead and pulled away from me, holding my hands in his, “immediately after we got off the phone, I called my family. I ordered a bus and a couple of limos for them to go back home. I’m gonna stay in Jersey with a couple friends.”


My eyebrows immediately knit together in confusion, “Jersey? You’re gonna stay here?”


A weak smile spread across his lips. He knows I don’t even like the idea of that! “I still have work to do.”


“You can’t do that at home?”


He shook his head no, “I know you don’t like the sound of this…”


“I don’t! New York is a war zone right now! The Pentagon was hit. Who knows the next major landmark they’re gonna hit? There’s just so much going on right now. You should come home with us,” I held his hands tightly. “Come on! Drew got an RV. You can ride back home with us and continue working once we get there.”


“After last night, I’m sure the last thing Drew would want is for me to be within any close distance of him.”


“The last thing on our minds is what happened last night,” I assured him. “The world is going crazy right now. Are you sure you’re gonna be safe in Jersey?”


“I’ll be fine. I promise. I’ll call you once I get to the house.”


“Who’s house?”


“A family I met not too long ago. The Cascio’s. I called to make sure they were okay, and they insisted I stay with them until everything blows over.”


I nodded. There’s not much else I can do. He’ll be safe. That’s all that matters. “Okay. I’ll let you know when we make it back home,” I pulled him back in for a hug.


“Please do. Can I walk you downstairs?”


“Yeah… Just let me stay here for a while. Not gonna lie, I’m still getting over the scare your mother gave me. Hugging you actually feels very unreal right now.”


He let out a light chuckle and held me tight.


It’s been a long time since I’ve held him. He still wore the same cologne that I loved so much. When Katherine told me Michael was supposed to be in the North Tower, my whole life flashed before my eyes. And now, everything we went through ran through my mind like I was watching a beautifully curated film. The bad didn’t even matter anymore. He could have perished amongst thousands in those buildings. Yet, he’s here in my arms.


My cell phone rang loudly, simultaneously vibrating in my pocket.


“That must be Drew,” Michael let go of me so I could pick up the phone.


“Hey, baby,” I answered.


“Traffics getting real bad down here. Is he okay?” Drew asked me.


“Yeah, yeah,” I nodded. “We’ll be down in a second.”


“Alright,” he hung up without another word. It must be real bad down there. That or he’s just being very dry so I could catch the hint.


“Time to go?” Michael asked me.


“Yeah… Traffics getting bad. You better get a head start on Jersey soon.”


“You’re right,” he nodded. “Come on. Let’s get you home,” he opened the door to the twins digging in a jar of gummy worms. “Y’all ready?”


“No…” Our children replied in unison.


“Can we stay with Daddy?” MJ asked me.


Before I could get a word out, Michael replied, “once I get back to California, we’re gonna spend every waking moment together. I promise. Right now, I need you all to go with your mother, okay?”


“Promise?” Mimi asked her father.


“I promise. Now,” he clasped his hands together. “Let’s get you downstairs to that RV Drew got you.”


Once we got downstairs, the streets were pure chaos. Sirens were much louder. Traffic was backed up. And people were either walking around like it was a typical day or standing in a daze.


Here we are all the way in Central Park, away from the mayhem of everything going on in Manhattan, and it was still pure chaos.


“Hey, Drew,” Michael said as soon as we stepped foot in the RV.


“Hey, man. Shayla, you good?” Drew asked me without paying too much attention to Michael.


“Yeah, I’m fine. Ready?” I gave him a quick hug.


“Yeah. Hey man, I’m glad you’re safe,” Drew told Michael. “You have a plan out of here, right?”


Michael nodded, “I’m going to Jersey.”


Jersey?!” Drew shared the exact same question I had before.


“It’s safer than being here. Hey… Thanks for protecting my family, okay? I know we may have disagreed last night, but Shayla really chose right when she chose you. I meant it before, and I certainly mean it now.”


I could tell Drew didn’t know what to say. Instead of questioning the notion, he just said, “you’re welcome. You know I’d do anything for this woman.”


“She deserves that,” Michael said before hugging the twins and me one last time before we left. This was by far a better send-off than whatever we would have left each other with the previous night.


VII


After getting through the immense traffic, we finally made it onto I-95. While we were moving, it still felt like we were going absolutely nowhere.


The New York Skyline had a thick white cloud surrounding the bottom where the Twin Towers once stood. Helicopters hovered over the area, most likely capturing video and photos of the now demolished towers.


I tried so hard not to look, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.


New York would forever be different. Our nation will be changed from this point forward.


I never thought I would say that the infamous Twin Towers are now only in my memory…


I remember the first time my parents took us to visit my aunt in New York, who had worked in the Twin Towers since its opening in nineteen seventy-three. She had just retired earlier this year… When my parents took my brothers and me before Mariah was born, we were just as amazed and bug-eyed as the twins.


I remember when Michael would have Windows on the World closed down just for us to dine in peace.


The time Michael kissed me atop the South Tower with so much passion, it literally knocked me off of my feet…


And the first and what I never thought would be the last time I would share the experience of being in the twin towers with my twins…


Usually, places that hold memories as grand as these are torn down in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately, not in this case.


“Mommy,” Mimi tugged at my arm.


“Hmm?” I tore my gaze from the skyline to my daughter.


She pointed outside to where the twin towers once stood, “where’d the World Trade Center go?”


No matter how much I tried to shield from them today, the New York Skyline was something I couldn’t, nor did I even think to shield from them.


I couldn’t find an answer. Not one explanation could be child-friendly enough for her to understand what had happened and what the whole world and I had just witnessed.


“They’re gone, baby,” was all I could say.


“Gone?” MJ came over to us. “But weren’t we just there?” I nodded. “Did they tear them down?” I shook my head no. “Who tore it down?”


“Some very bad people.”


“Who?” Mimi inquired.


At that point, I didn’t know what to say, because I no longer had the answers to their questions. No one knew.


“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” I said. Because by then, I’m sure we’ll all have the answers.

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