Chapter 31

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January 3, 2003


I don’t remember the last time I visited Hayvenhurst. There was a time when I frequented my family home, but I’ve isolated myself more as time progressed. If I’m not with my children, I’m by myself. I just don’t want to be bothered most times, and my family understands that. But for them to have an impromptu Family Day when I had the twins for the week, I simply could not pass that up.

As the interviews with Martin Bashir come to a close, I’ve come to peace with the sessions, and I know this is coming from a good place. The footage that Drew sought to see last year was reviewed by my team, and while we thought it was okay, Drew did not. In particular, he wanted the segment with the odd questions taken out. I understood where he was coming from and requested the footage be removed. I’ve looked over other footage of the documentary and see no fault. Martin has beautifully captured me at the ranch, in Vegas, and during the times I’m with my children. I just hope the final copy is just as beautiful as the rest.

I always said dating didn’t seem to be in the cards for me. I’m focused on my children, finishing this documentary, and all the events I have planned for this year. The last thing I care about is dating. However, my thoughts on that may have changed completely…

Nina Washington, a thirty-two-year-old real estate agent I met while looking for homes in Miami, has kept me somewhat sane since I met her. No children. Never married. Focused on her career. Black with a Masters in Business Administration. Professional. She was perfect in every way, and I would have been a fool if I had passed her.

Nina showed me a penthouse in Coconut Grove when I asked if she would accompany me to a late dinner. While surprised at first, she obliged, and much like my brothers and father, I managed to bed her within that week. Since November, I’ve visited her when I did not have the kids. This is the first time I’ve flown her out, so when Family Day concludes, Shayla will pick up the twins, and I will finish my evening with Ms. Nina Washington.


  Music escaped the compound as we rode up on the gates. A small circle of fans stood beside the brick wall attached to the gate. They pointed, squinted, and tried to see what family member was next to enter the gates.

Just as my parents always taught me, I rolled down the window to thank the fans that got me to where I am today.

“Ohmygod, it’s Michael!” A fan screamed, causing the other fans around her to scream. “Michael, hi! Are your twins in there? Michael, Milan? Hi!” She bent down, trying to look in the car to see the twins for herself.

The twins and I waved as the driver entered the code to open the gates.

“Can I have your autograph, Michael?” Another fan asked.

“Sure, do you have a pen?” I asked as I took her notebook out of her hand. She came prepared just as most fans did when they came to stop by the compound.

“I do!” Someone else shoved a pen in my face. “Can I get an autograph from your twins too?”

“No…” I shook my head as I signed the notepad for the first fan. “Thank you so much. Thank you for being here,” I gave the notepad back and rolled up the window. To ask for my autograph is one thing, but to request my children's autographs? No…

“Why did she want our autographs?” Michael asked me just as we drove past the gates.

“Because you’re a ‘Jackson.' I don’t want you to, but I must tell you that you have to get used to that. No one asks you two for your autographs at school, do they?”

“No,” Michael and Milan said in unison as they shook their heads.

“Good. If they did, it’s okay to tell them ‘no.’”

“Can I change my last name?” Milan asked.

“…when you’re married. Sure, why not? But that won’t change anything. You’ll always be a Jackson. It’s good to be a Jackson. Watch. All of your cousins and family will remind you of that today.”

School proved to be easy for the twins. They looked forward to Shayla or me driving them to school in the morning or picking them up. They were treated with fairness. Shayla and I met with the school administrators and teachers to make sure that our children were treated equally with no special treatment. But we also didn’t want them treated differently because of who their parents are. The school followed a strict privacy policy to protect all the children enrolled. Classes were small and intimate, just as I wanted them to be.

At first, I was very nervous about sending them off to school. Shayla and I both cried. But over time, we’ve seen how much the kids enjoy school and how well they’ve adjusted to it, and we enjoy hearing about the many friends they have made since September.

“What time is Mommy picking us up?” Milan asked as we got out of the car.

“In about six hours. You ready to leave already? You just got here. Don’t you want to see your cousins first?”

“Yeah, I was just wondering. Grandma!” She let go of my hand and ran over to my mother. Michael immediately ran to Joseph. One of the things I love most is seeing how my father has changed when it comes to his grandchildren. My children and nieces and nephews love him so much, and he shows just how much he loves them more.

“Milan, you’ve gotten so big!” Mother showered my daughter's face in kisses. “And Michael, you look more and more like your father every day.”

“Sure does. He doesn’t look like his mother at all,” Joseph laughed. “Bet he runs just as fast as you too, doesn’t he, Mike?” He asked me.

“You saw how fast he ran over here,” I laughed. “Hey,” I pulled my father in for a hug and planted a kiss on my mother's cheek.

“Y’all hardly ever come over anymore. Guess I’d have to call for a Family Day every day, huh?” Mother teased.

“I’ll come over more. Don’t worry,” I assured her.

“You hungry?” I overheard Joseph ask Michael. “Come on, let’s get some hot dogs. Your sister is starting to get bigger than you. You gotta beat her,” he got up and led my son over to the long picnic table that held all of the party's gatherings.

“I’m hungry too!” Milan followed behind, actually beating them over to the table.

“How’s everything going, baby? We haven’t talked in months,” Mother asked as I sat in Joseph’s seat.

“I know… I’m sorry. I’ve just been busy with so much. The twins starting school. Finishing up the documentary. Travel. I’m sorry. You know how busy life can be.”

“How do they like school?”

“They love it. You know I wanted them to be tutored, but Shayla suggested otherwise. I’m kind of glad that she did. I feel I might have robbed them of this experience.”

“They have friends?”

“Of course. What child doesn’t have friends? The amount of times I’ve been asked if their friends can come over is endless,” I laughed as we both looked over to watch the twins tell their grandfather what they wanted on their plates. “They’re going about life perfectly. I thought it’d be hard for them because of me, but no…”

“What did you expect?”

I sighed, “I thought they’d be hounded by paparazzi in school or treated differently because they were my kids, but…” I shook my head. “No. Shayla did her research. And I’m happy. I’m happy that they’re happy. I wouldn’t want them to be so isolated like me.”

“Why are you isolating?”

I shrugged, “you know I do that from time to time. It doesn’t mean anything. Just wanna make sure I don’t do the same to them.”

She sat up in her seat, “have you tried going out?”

“Yeah… I’ve been going in between Miami just to give myself a change of scenery.”

“What’s in Miami?”

“A new house. Thinking about buying out there. I’m not sure yet.”

“Hmm…” She nodded. “Are you dating?”

“Mom…” I winced, waving off the notion.

“What?”

“What do I look like talking to you about me dating?”

She laughed, “Ion know. A lot can change in a couple months. You might have finally found somebody.”

“As far as you should know, I’m just focused on raising my kids and work.”

She sat silent for a moment, nodding. “Shayla called.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmhm. Told me she’s getting married soon. You know about that?”

I nodded, “yeah, I found out a while ago… Is that why you’re asking if I’m dating yet?”

She shrugged, “partially. If she can move on, you can too.”

“I’ve moved on. Just not in an ‘I’m ready to get married again’ kind of way. She was looking. I was not.”

“Ahh… I told her I’m happy for her and that she’ll always be my daughter-in-law. They’re going about things very privately.”

“Yeah… They are…”

We continued catching up on my work ventures and the possibilities of dating in the future. She, like Shayla, just really wants me to find someone. Not sure why everyone’s so wrapped up in my love life. If they did know I was seeing Nina, they’d want to know everything about her. Not just what she did for a living, but who her family is. How much money does she make? They’d want to know the whole nine. I care about Nina, and I don’t want her subject to that right now.


Cornhole, water balloon fights, sack races, hula hoop contests, treasure hunts, Jenga, Twister, and bingo, were all staples during our Family Days. No matter who was hosting, we always had to have our favorites.

I won the water balloon fight, as usual. The game being my favorite sport was an advantage. My family and I have played for years, yet no one can beat me.

Milan and Genevieve dominated the hula hoop contest. And Michael was a master at Jenga. And everyone had an equal chance at winning bingo. This year's prizes ranged from Disney World tickets to the newest iPod, complete with a gift card to purchase music.

The day was filled with fun, laughter, and much-needed family bonding. Michael and Jaafar were the closest as they were closer in age, and Milan stayed up under LaToya, dubbing her as her “favorite auntie.” I wouldn’t be surprised if my daughter turned out exactly like my sister. Although, I do hope that with her brother, she is at least just a little rough on the edges. Just a little…

Towards the end of the evening, everyone congregated inside to watch an advance copy of Kangaroo Jack. Each one of my nieces and nephews were either cuddled up with one of their cousins or on the lap of a favorite aunt or uncle. Both of my children had abandoned me. I looked over to see Michael sitting on Joseph’s lap. My son is quite literally the spitting image of me. I feel like I’m looking back on a memory from my childhood; that’s how much my son resembles me. While I don’t have memories of the sort, I’m glad that my son and father will share memories like these forever.

Instead of being up under LaToya, Milan had migrated to her cousins Genevieve and Stevanna, where instead of watching the movie, they were focused on a tween magazine Stevanna had brought over.

My cellphone vibrated loudly in my pocket. I took it out to see an incoming text message from Nina:


How’s Family Day?

We’re finishing up now. Shayla should be by to pick up the twins shortly, and then I’ll be on my way to you.

I can’t wait.


I put my phone back in my pocket and focused on the movie.

Nina is different. Very, very different. She doesn’t expect nor wants much. On the first date, we talked about my children, our careers, and what we were looking for. I told her I came to Miami looking for a new place, but somehow I found her. I haven’t been able to stay away from her ever since. I’m not thinking about anything long-term. I’m in the present, and that’s all that matters.

“Hello…” I turned around to see Shayla tip-toeing in, kissing my mother on the cheek.

“Mommy!” Milan excitedly got up and ran over to her mother. I looked over at Michael to see him still sitting comfortably in his grandfather's lap. No one could move him for nothing when he was with his grandfather.

“Hi!” She whispered, trying not to disturb the movie. I stood up from my seat and went over to Shayla and the twins. “Hey!” She pulled me in for a hug. “Did you guys have fun?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” I nodded.

“I don’t mean to intrude so soon.”

“No, you’re fine. It’s been a long day.”

“Where’s Michael?” Shayla looked around the room. I pointed in Joseph’s direction. “Oh,” she smiled. “With his grandpa. Hmm. Well, you know how he is about his grandpa. Ima just leave him be.”

“You hungry? We’ve still got food around,” I asked.

“No. Drew just took me out to dinner. Thanks though! I think Ima stick around here for a little while. Everybody looks so cozy.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah!” She nodded. “I don’t have anywhere to be.”

“Okay. Well, uh, I took the twins' bags to my old room. They’ve been fed and all that, so I made your job easy for you tonight,” I smiled.

Shayla laughed, “thanks, Mike.”

I have never known this woman to call me “Mike" in twenty-four years. You’d think my family would have rubbed off on her to call me by that name, but nope. She’s getting it from Drew. Doesn’t feel right…

“You’re welcome.” I bent down to hug and kiss Milan and went over to Joseph to kiss Michael goodbye.

“Leaving so soon?” Shayla asked me.

“Yeah. I’ll see you next week. Tell Drew I said hey.” I bid everyone farewell and went about my way. It’s been a long time since I’ve missed someone. I don’t know what Nina did, but she’s making me miss her bad.


VII


The last time I had spent intimate time with someone that did not involve sex was sometime in my marriage. I don’t count my infidelity. This time I spent with Nina reminded me of the many times I courted Shayla. I wanted to take things slow with Nina. This was new for me, just as it was for her. I don’t want to ruin something that barely even had a chance yet. It’s almost been two months. I’m not falling, but I care deeply.

She was playful, kind, and charismatic. Everything I would have ever wanted in a woman. She respected me and my career and understood that I could never be just hers. With a career that had demanding fans, children, and an ex-wife, I could never just be hers, and she understood that completely, so she didn’t demand things of me. Nina just went with the flow, which I enjoyed about her.

I planned for a romantic evening at my ranch. This would be the first time I had invited Nina to the ranch. I’d just fly to Miami any other time to see her, but this time I flew her out and put her in a hotel. I didn’t want her to meet the twins. I wanted to show her the ranch without the busyness that came with children. I wanted to show her my home. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking of this all day. I had everything down to a T. I refuse to mess this evening up.

I checked my breath and walked through the fresh midst of my favorite cologne.

The driver should have her at my door any minute now.

Nina is making me feel like myself again. She’s been accepting, kind, and thoughtful. It only feels right to bring her to my most prized possession.

“Hello…?” A soft knock accompanied the soft voice that came from behind my front door.

I walked over to the door, straightened out any imperfections in my attire, took a deep breath, and opened the door, “welcome!”

The first thing my eyes laid upon was her hundred-watt smile. Her white teeth contrasted beautifully against her dark skin. Her hair was bone straight, straight back with no part in the side or middle. Quarter-sized gold hoops adorned her ears. She wore a white tank top with a yellow silk wrap to cover her shoulders and a yellow midi skirt draped past her knees but adored her hips. 

I was mesmerized. Captivated by her beauty. The full lips I’ve kissed were glossed over, while the eyes with dark brown irises, mascaraed lashes, and arched eyebrows were just as perfect as the day I had met her.

Growing up, I always found myself loving any kind of woman. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian… I never cared. And the difference in hue when it came to black women never concerned me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and just as Shayla is beautiful to me in her caramel, Nina is gorgeous to me in her cocoa.

“I missed you so much!” Nina’s voice was light as a feather against my ears as she pulled me in for a hug and brought her lips to mine, kissing me slowly and passionately.

I smiled against her lips and pulled her closer to me. She was awakening things in me that had fallen asleep a long, long time ago, and it made me wonder if I should have tried looking for someone sooner.

“I missed you too,” I said against crushed lips and entangled tongues.

“Your ranch… is so… beautiful,” she said between kisses.

We held each other for a little longer in each other's arms and mouths, not even breaking away to breathe. The honeymoon of any relationship. Although I’ve yet to call this a relationship, I hope this doesn’t go away.

Five. Seven. Ten minutes of standing at the door, making out like two hormonal teenagers. Who am I to complain?

I slowly planted my kisses to break away, “how was your flight?” I took her hand in mine and walked her into the living room.

“Wonderful. Thank you for the hotel too. I was getting lonely up there,” Nina said as she took in the splendor of my living room.

“I apologize for that. Family Day was hectic.”

“Nonetheless, I’m happy that you flew me out,” she smiled as she pushed a hair from my eyes. I didn’t realize how much I had missed small gestures like that. “Did you decorate this?”

I looked around the room that still held the decor Shayla and I put together so many years ago. I never changed it because it never crossed my mind to do so

“My ex-wife and I did a long time ago. Never thought to change it,” I shrugged.

“It’s pretty. You guys did a great job.”

“Thanks. I should probably get an interior designer in here. It’s been ages since this house has been revamped.”

“Nononono, it looks great! Can’t really imagine it any other way.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah! Maybe in like ten years, but now? It’s fine.”

“Okay…” I guess I’ll take her word for it. Shayla and I only decorated twice. It’s due for another one, but maybe in another ten years, just like Nina said.

“Wanna show me around the place?”

“Of course,” I stood up and held my hand out for her to take it.

I showed her every inch of the house, telling her the history of almost every room. Told her how I acquired the ranch and how my goals remained the same for it since I signed the dotted line.

“I’ve always admired what you did here,” she nodded as I helped her onto one of my golf carts. “It always reminded me of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. You’re a fan of Disney.”

“A big fan.”

“I can tell in every minor detail.”

“You’re a fan of Disney too?” I looked over at her in wonder.

“Absolutely. I’ve been to every park except for Tokyo Disney.”

“Oh no. We’ve got to get you up in there. Got any plans this week?”

“Being with you…”

“Then we’re going to Tokyo. We can prepare tomorrow and leave on Sunday.”

“Really?”

“Really. Don’t worry about packing too much. We’ll just buy what you need when we get there.”

She smiled and shook her head, “this is a fairytale. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I’m not dreaming.”

“What?”

“You. Being with you. I’ve been a fan of you since I was seven.” Given our twelve-year age gap, comments like that remind me that I was a mere nineteen years old when she was that age. “I remember having posters of you on my wall. I collected all of your records. And now, I’m in a place that I thought I would never be.”

“Why is that?” I tried to ignore some of the “fan” comments she would make, but I also know she can’t help but make such comments. There was a time when I needed that. When I missed being admired in that way. That’s what brought me to Shana all those years ago. Because I felt like my wife wasn’t my biggest fan anymore. She didn’t admire me like she once was. But since the divorce, I’ve learned that it’s the small things that matter most. Having a significant other as your biggest fan is needed, for sure. But not in the way that I expected. I don’t desire to be worshiped by my lover. I get that from fans every day. I just want to be loved, appreciated, and treated like a normal human being. I don’t get that with the fans. I get that with my lover. That’s the one thing I didn’t appreciate when I was with Shayla. Now, that’s all I want…

She shrugged, “this spot was filled. Like every other fan, I was jealous of your ex-wife, and I thought you two would be together forever. Never in a million years did I ever think you two would divorce. I don’t think anyone did. So when the news came out, I felt terrible, but I guess it also made us realize how normal you really are.”

“You didn’t think I was normal until I got divorced?”

“You’ve got to consider that everyone looks at you like you can get anything you want. You found the woman you wanted and married her. We all thought that would last forever. It took you from untouchable to incredibly down to earth when it didn't. It’s a good thing.”

“A good thing that hurt me badly.”

She pressed her lips together, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”

I shrugged, “you didn’t know. I’m human. No matter what I’m portrayed to look like, I hurt too, and that was a very traumatizing moment for me. I knew I had sunk low before, but that showed me that I could get even lower, clearly. It took me a long time to get over that if I ever got over it, but one thing’s for sure…” I looked her in the eye. “Meeting you has surely brought me back to life. I would have never thought I would feel again until I met you. So, thank you.”

She blushed and licked her lips, “do you still think of her?”

“She’s the mother of my children. I just saw her. I think I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of her. You kinda have to think of someone before you talk to them.”

“Ah-ha… you know what I mean.”

I shook my head no, “I try not to.”

She nodded slowly, “that’s a step. I won’t overstep that. I know it’s going to take some time. I just hope I’m not a placeholder.”

I stopped the golf cart right in front of Nestle Lounge. I had the tent decorated in her favorite colors of turquoise and white. Rose petals decorated the tent floor among a picnic basket filled with champagne, dinner, and desserts.

I stepped off of the cart and went over to her side. “No,” I said as I took her hand in mine and helped her off to the cart. “You’re definitely not a placeholder.”

“What is this?” She gushed as she looked over the decorated tent, distracted by the tent to finish our conversation.

“This is my gift to you. I hope you like it.”

Nina slipped her shoes off and carried them in her hand before walking into the tent. “This is beautiful!”

“I’m glad you think so. Took a minute to get together, so I’m glad to know that it paid off.” After taking off my own shoes and leaving them outside the tent, I lay down beside the picnic basket.

“Ooo, a projector and movies?” Nina asked as she picked up the DVDs beside the mini projector.

“Too much?” I asked as I began to pour champagne into our flutes.

“Perfect,” she shook her head as she looked through the DVDs. “Have you switched your entire movie collection to DVD yet?”

“No. I still have my videos and try to buy any more that are still being produced.”

“Don’t wanna make the complete switch yet?”

“No, I’m keeping both.”

“Both? That’ll take up a lot of space.”

“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me yet. One of them being that I’m a collector. Soon, videos and DVDs will become obsolete, and I’ll be lucky enough to have them among the many other cool things the world comes out with.”

“If you say so,” she shrugged and put the DVDs down.

I handed her a flute, “to your flight getting you here safely.” We toasted and took a sip. “And to you being with me tonight.”

We talked about her day at the hotel. I told her about the twins and how much fun we had at Family Day. I think this is one of the main things that I miss about having someone. Talking for hours on end. The laughs, flirting, and brief kisses. Absolutely nothing can be better than this.

“Are you ready for your documentary to be over with?” Nina asked as she lay on my chest.

“Yeah. I’m still glad it’s being done, though.”

“When will it be released?”

“In a month or so.”

“That’s fast.”

“I know… I’m thinking about having premiere night here.”

“Yeah?”

I nodded, “invite my family, friends, you…” I looked at her. “Would you want to come?”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “You want me to meet your family?”

“Too soon?”

She winced, “maybe… Other than doing each other, we still haven’t decided what we’re doing yet.”

“Fair.”

She looked up at me for a moment, trying to figure out what to say. “Have,” she cleared her throat. “Have you decided what we’re doing yet?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…” she looked away. “I know we’ve talked about not wanting to be in a relationship, but I think it’s important to me for us to establish what we’re really doing. I don’t want to get my feelings involved in something I don’t have to.”

“Are your feelings involved?”

“…no. I just want to make sure if it’s okay that I keep my options open.”

I looked down at her, “you’re not having sex with anyone else, are you?”

“No. I don’t get down like that. If the opportunity arises and I want to start seeing other people alongside you, is that something we’re going for or are we aiming for exclusivity?”

Too soon. Entirely too soon. Just as I began to think that she understood that I could never fully be hers, this conversation happened. She never demanded of me before, and now she’s doing just that.

I sighed, “honestly, babe… I like what we’re doing now. Nothing exclusive. Just enjoying each other's company.”

She nodded, “okay. So, you don’t mind that I see other people?”

I winced, “I do mind.”

Nina sat up and turned to look at me, “you want me to meet your family, you want exclusivity but not exclusivity, and you don’t want me to date other people?”

I sighed, “Nina…”

“It’s been two months. I just need to know where I stand with you. I’m about to be thirty-three soon. I dream of having babies and getting married. I’m no spring chicken by any means, and I’m not asking for you to marry me. I just need to know what we are.”

I pondered her outburst. It’s something I didn’t expect, but I knew it was bound to come up at some point. We’re doing everything a couple does, but I’ve yet to ask her to be a girlfriend or a friend or even establish that we’re just friends with benefits. And she’s right. Having her meet my children is something I shouldn’t ask of her if I don’t want to commit.

“What do you want us to be? Where do you see us next month?”

She sighed, shrugged, and looked away. “You’re flying me out. We’re having sex just about every week when you don’t have your kids. Is asking me to be your girlfriend too much to ask for?”

“Do you want to be my girlfriend?”

“Uh- Um,” she stammered. After all that, now she doesn’t know what to say. “I mean-”

“Do you or don’t you?”

“I mean, yeah, but-”

“But what?”

“Not like this! I don’t want to feel like I just forced you to ask me to be exclusive.”

“Look,” I sat up and caressed her face. “It’s clear that I don’t want to hear that you’re dating someone else. I don’t want you having sex with anyone else but me. And we’re more than just friends. Friends don't do to each what we do often," I smirked. "You’re right. We need to figure out what we’re doing. We’re getting older. It’s an insult to you for me to string you along. You’re worth far more than rubies. You deserve better. You deserve to know what we’re doing and whether it’s okay to get your feelings involved or not.”

She blushed and twisted her lips to the side to hide her brewing smile, “so now that it’s okay for my feelings to be involved. What do we do now?”

I shrugged, “what we always do.” I pulled her chin to mine and kissed her softly.

Now that I have a woman I’m interested in, I guess the end of this documentary will be about just that. Moving on.

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