Chapter 22

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I took a sip of my homemade strawberry lemonade, admiring the beautiful hues of my cineraria flowers that were finally in full bloom.

Life has been smooth sailing since last year.

Invincible was dedicated with love to me and the twins. Michael put his entire heart into that album. Before gifting me a copy, he told me that he wrote and sang a good chunk of the songs with me in mind. However, after the events of 9/11, he told me that all he truly wants is for me to be happy.

I can tell that each of his ballads has me all over them.

“You Are My Life” brings me to tears each time I hear it. Admittedly, the song has been on repeat since I first heard it. I hold it near and dear to my heart. Drew knows and respects that.

9/11 brought us together in ways that I never would have expected it to. It either brought Americans closer together or further apart.

For months, I would have nightmares about seeing the airplanes hitting the twin towers. The thought of Michael actually being in the North Tower was always a recurring thought. And some of my worst nightmares included Michael actually dying in those towers, with the very last thing I said to him being that I would take his children away from him.

The number of times I’ve had that same nightmare since the attacks have haunted me. Sometimes the nightmare would include a funeral with Michael’s body bring found. Other times, there was just a memorial. Drew was always kind enough to be there for me when I’d wake up screaming, crying, or in cold sweats.

It’s July, and of 2,823 people killed, only 291 bodies have been found intact. I pray for the victims' families and survivors every single day.

I received calls from so many people. Even those I don’t talk to anymore. One of which being from Roland Bartholomew…

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that my continued involvement with him should be no more. After our situation, I kept in contact with him because I genuinely considered him one of my best friends, as he had been there for me in my darkest hours. But in therapy, I also found that I may have been keeping him around to spite Michael as well.

I have no ill feelings toward him, but keeping him around wasn’t healthy. There was a time I wanted him to be the godfather of my children. But that wouldn’t have been right. It also would have been among the greatest wrongs I’ve ever done in this life.

When my people got a call from him, I was surprised, but I accepted the call, thanked him for his concern, and left it at that.

Not too many days after that, I received a call from Michael’s people, requesting that I attend another will signing. Instead of leaving me with nothing like he originally planned, he’s practically leaving me with everything. I didn’t know how to feel about that. Still don’t. But he said that it was the right thing to do.

I left many things to my children, my sister, and anything I figured would be fitting to give to Michael in my own will. I guess we’re equal now.

9/11 truly changed everything.

Coparenting with Michael has become far better than I ever expected it to be. My relationship with Drew is solid as a rock. And after a slight back and forth on the twin's fifth birthday, Michael and I decided that private school would benefit the twins most.

I want my children to have as normal a life as possible, while Michael felt that normalcy is a luxury that they, unfortunately, can never afford because they're his children. I argued that it would be okay because they were only in the spotlight twice in their lives.

After much thought, Michael finally relented, and in the fall, they’ll be attending The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, which is only a twenty-three-minute drive from me.

“This is a beautiful property you have here,” Daddy told Drew as he sat in his lawn chair, taking in every acre of Drew’s property.

“Thank you, Mr. Johnson. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t my pride and joy once upon a time,” Drew replied, smiling as he too looked out at his property.

My entire family came out for a week to celebrate my niece Andrea who just graduated with a degree in Law from Howard University. Her reasoning in taking up the program was because she didn’t like the legal advice Michael’s lawyers gave him in ninety-four. Despite our divorce, she holds her Uncle near and dear to her heart and keeps in contact with him almost daily.

All of my nieces and nephews still care about their Uncle Mike. He’ll always be a part of the family, no matter what’s happened in the past.

When I introduced Drew to my family, they loved him immediately. And Drew was the furthest from nervous. He looked forward to making a good impression on my family, from my parents to my siblings to nieces and nephews.

Mariah finished touring with Janet in February and was clearly ready to go on another tour based on her stories for a curious Nori.

“How long have you all been dating now?” Daddy asked.

Drew and I looked at each other.

“A little over a year now,” I nodded.

“Well, whatcha waiting on?” Daddy asked Drew.

Drew laughed, “what do you mean?”

Daddy rolled his eyes, “I’m eighty. She’s seventy-eight,” he pointed to mom. “I done seen all my grandkids. My baby girl, Mariah, is too busy to get married. Shayla has been married and divorced and has been dating you for a year. And you mean to tell me you don’t know if she is marriage material yet?”

Drew smiled, “she’s definitely marriage material. We’re just waiting.”

Daddy squinted, “for what? Me to die?”

“Daddy, we’re just taking it slow right now. There’s no rush.”

“Hmph,” Daddy looked away.

“Hush, James. You can’t go rushing anybody to get married,” Mom chimed in.

I want to get married again, but I want to take my time now. After being with one person for eighteen years of my forty-two, I just want to take things slow…

We’ve talked about the possibility of marriage, but that’s it. The possibility.

“Mommy,” MJ ran up to me breathless.

“Yes, baby?” I wiped the sweat from his brow.

“MJ and DJ won’t let me play football with them.”

“How come?”

“They say because daddy wouldn’t want me to play football and get hurt,” he crossed his arms.

“Well, that’s not fair,” I grabbed his hand and walked over to his cousins. “Boys,” I called to them, only for them to look at me with identical stares. I had to hide the smile, ready to make its way across my lips.

In fact, Matt and David took my advice six years ago and raised their sons close. The two were more like brothers than cousins. And they acted like twins a good majority of the time. And since they were close in age with my son, I tried to raise him close to his cousins as well. Their connection was often stronger than it could possibly be with my boy, which would insight taunts like these.

“What did you say to your cousin?” I asked.

MJ and DJ shared a wide-eyed glance at each other, and each tried talking, creating a jumbled mess.

“One at a time!” I commanded.

MJ swallowed and opened his mouth to speak, “Daddy says we can’t play rough with Michael because Uncle Mike doesn’t want his son to play rough stuff.”

I looked back at Matt, cracking up at whatever Drew was telling everyone. “He said that?”

“Mmhm,” DJ nodded in agreement.

“Well, that’s a lie. If your cousin wants to play with you, you let him, alright?”

“But daddy said-”

“I don’t care what your father said. Give that football to Michael and let him play,” I took the ball from DJ’s hands and gave it to my son, who wiggled his eyebrows playfully and immediately ran with his cousins in tow.

I made my way back to the deck, “Matt, can I talk to you for a sec?”

“Yeah. I’ll be back,” my brother got up and came over to me. “What’s up?”

“Did you tell your son he can’t play rough with Michael?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because he just told my son you said that because his father wouldn’t like it.”

He shrugged, “is that not true?”

“Of course, it’s not true! What are you trying to say? That his father is soft and that his son will be the same?”

“You ever see your ex-husband play football?”

“That doesn’t matter. What matters is that your hatred toward Michael is trickling down to your son, which is trickling down to my baby, and that’s something I will not tolerate.”

“First of all, I don’t hate the brotha. Secondly, I’m just calling a spade a spade. The second Michael gets a scratch on his face or a knot on his head, you and his father, are gonna cry about it. And I don’t want my boy blamed for it like I’ve been blamed for being a potential danger to my niece and nephew by their father. That restraining order is still on my record.”

Okay. I see his point… But that doesn’t give me and Michael room to parent the way we see fit. And it’s ostracizing my boy.

“You have a point, but let us deal with that. No one would blame you for anything. They’re just kids. And most of all, they’re boys. I expect rough play. Michael can’t play rough with his sister. Aside from his cousins on his fathers’ side, MJ and DJ are all he has. You can’t rob my boy of that opportunity.”

“I just don’t want my son blamed for anything. Especially since he’s my boy. Michael may have lifted that restraining order, but we all know how both of us still feel about one another.”

“Just don’t tell your son things that make my son feel ostracized. That’s not what family is about.”

“I just hope you’re telling everyone on your end the same thing,” he said before walking back to the deck.

I sighed. The one thing I truly hope Matt’s son doesn’t inherit from my brother is his stubbornness. Because it’s a pain to put up with at any age.

My cellphone vibrated in my pocket. I took it out to see Michael calling.

“Hey! What’s up?” I answered.

“Hey… if I asked you to be part of a show with me, would you do it?”

“Well, that depends… what kind of show is it?” I walked to a nearby tree.

“Kind of like a documentary on my life.”

“Ooo, that sounds exciting. I love documentaries!”

“I know. It’s just to show people what I’m really like. Ya know, since the whole world has all these different feelings about me. It gives them a chance to see the real me.”

“What gave you the idea?”

“I had dinner with Uri Geller. You remember him, right?”

I nodded, “mmhm.”

“Yeah, well, he introduced me to his friend Martin Bashir. You know the guy who did that interview with Princess Diana?”

“Uh-huh…”

“He wants to call it ‘Living with Michael Jackson.’ I’m showing him the real me. There’s nothing off-limits. So, I told him to come to Neverland.”

“What will I have to do with it? I don’t live there.”

“You’re part of my life, aren’t you?”

“Yeah…”

“I mean, it’s like reality, but mostly documentary. His people and my people will be recording moments in my life for the next year.”

“I mean, I don’t mind. But what about the twins? You really want them exposed like that?”

“They won’t be in every shot, maybe like one or five at the most. They’ll be in school most of the time, so it really doesn’t matter. So, what do you say? I figured I’d go ahead and ask your permission first.”

“There’s nothing off-limits…? Do I have to sit down for anything?”

“Not unless you want to. It’s mostly candid. If you feel the need to sit down, by all means, go ahead and tell your story, but it’s not necessary.”

If this will give Michael a chance to show the world the real him after everything that’s he’s been through, why not?

“When does filming begin?”

“In two weeks. So, will you do it?”

“Sure, why not?” I shrugged.

“Yes! Thanks, Shayla! Once we get everything on paper and have our people send stuff to you and yours, I'll let you know. Drew’s more than welcome to be in it as well. After all, he’s a part of all of our lives at this point.”

My gaze went over to Drew, who gave me a thumbs up to make sure I was okay. I smiled and nodded.

“Cool,” I told Michael. “Sounds like a plan.”

“We’ll talk soon. Tell everyone I said hello and kiss the twins for me.”

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