Chapter 36

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Living With Michael Jackson premiered here in the states yesterday without the section with Drew in it. Bashir was lucky to have been able to screen that portion to the UK but Drew ensured that the US would not see that mess. Since the airing, so many people have been blowing up my phone. From family to friends and acquaintances to complete strangers who somehow got my number. Not answering the phone only helped so much. I feared for my children, but they’ve been well so far. They’re all I care about because I don’t want this to affect them negatively. So far, it hasn’t, and I’m grateful. I don’t think I can ever feel embarrassed anymore. I’ve been through so much over the years that this is just rolling off my back. I feel some type of way for sure, but it doesn’t affect me anymore like it used to. I just know this will all be over soon the same way it was the last time, the last time, and the last time. I’m just patiently waiting for that day to come.

My parents think Michael lost his mind allowing Bashir to interview him after the way he did Princess Diana. Matt felt terrible that Michael allowed himself to be taken advantage of. Robert and David hoped this was the last time Michael bore his soul to a shitty journalist. And Mariah spent most of her time thwarting all kinds of media that tried to ask her about her ex-brother-in-law. I don’t blame her. Drew wants to focus on wedding plans, but I’m not even in the headspace to think about that right now. This shitshow of a documentary has officially mentally exhausted me.

Michael and I spoke earlier in the week because he wants to do a rebuttal documentary and asked me and Drew me if we wanted to be in it. Drew declined, but I told Michael I’d be more than happy to help him. Why wouldn’t I? Sure, I’m tired of being on camera, but I’d be a terrible friend and ex-wife if I didn’t help a friend in need. Besides, he said the last thing he wanted was for the world to think that I cheated on him with Andrew, and he wanted us to straighten that out. That’s fine with me.

Drew came into the living room with two men in tow and stood in front of me as I sat on the loveseat.

I looked up at him, “what’s this?”

“A stylist and a tailor. We’ve got five months until the wedding, and you still don’t have your dress picked out,” he gestured toward the two men who waved at me.

“Baby…”

“No, no, ‘baby.’ They have a binder for you to look through. The dresses are outside. All you got to do is pick. They’ll tailor it for you, and we can move on to the next thing.”

“Baby…”

“No. Come on, babe. They don’t have all day.”

I looked over at the two men, “you see who the Bridezilla is in the room, right?” They laughed a little to not offend Drew. I peeled myself off of the chair and went to stand beside the stylist with the binder. “All of these are right outside, huh?” He nodded. I flipped through the binder that was filled with white dresses. Some halters, some with trains, some sleeveless, and some with sleeves. None of them caught my eye. Not a single dress. None of them stuck out. None of them screamed, “this is the one.” “None,” I closed the binder and handed it back to the stylist.

Both men looked at Drew, who was looking at me.

“What do you mean, ‘none?’” He asked.

I shrugged, “none of them stuck out, babe. I didn’t see ‘the one.’”

“How couldn’t you? We imported these from Europe, Asia… South America!”

“I just couldn’t. Look, I want this dress to be just as special as you do, but if I don’t see it there, then it’s just not there, baby.”

He sighed and waved the men off to give us privacy, “baby, the wedding is five months away.”

“Exactly. Five months. We can find one by June.”

He gave me a blank look as if to ask if I was serious, “by June, I don’t even want to think of anything else but the rehearsal dinner.”

I took his hands in mind, “maybe we should just go to the courts and call it a day,”

“This is too special to me. I can’t do that,” he shook his head. “This isn’t special to you?”

I nodded, “it is, but I don’t care to get so worked up over it. I mean, I haven’t even pressed you about the fact that you want to see me in my dress before the wedding. You know you ain’t supposed to see me in it beforehand, right?”

He twisted his lips to the side, trying to hide his smile, “how come you aren’t so worked up about it?”

I laughed and kissed him, “I just care about me,” I pointed to myself, “and you,” I pointed at him. “That’s it.”

He nodded slowly, “I just want the important people to us to witness our union.”

“And that’s understandable, but don’t stress yourself out.”

He was quiet as his gaze went over to the binder that the stylist left on the coffee table, “you mean to tell me there’s nothing in there that you like?”

I went to get the binder and thumbed through it, “nothing.”

He nodded, “guess we’ll just have to go custom.” He pulled his phone out and went to find the two men.

I groaned and fell back onto the loveseat.

Custom. I guess that’s better than whatever they had in this binder. My mind raced with ideas of what I could have possibly wanted on this dress. Crystals, diamonds, halter, a veil? I’ll figure it out soon.

I looked at my watch. Two p.m. Bout time, we go pick up the twins. I got myself together and asked Drew if he was sure he didn’t want to say a few words in the rebuttal. He was sure. I told Michael I’d film my portion today since I’m already with him. That way, I can just get it over with. It’s too much going on, so I may as well knock this out while I have the chance because the way Drew’s so head over heels about this wedding, I won’t have time to do anything else.

I pulled through the gates of the school ten minutes before dismissal. I always park in the same spot. The kids normally meet me in the car, but I’d rather stand outside and get some fresh air while I wait.

Students began filing out of the Lower School Building. Some talk with friends, others run straight to their parents and rides. Teenagers stood outside of the Upper School Building talking about the latest gossip, meanwhile, middle school students were sneaking hugs or kisses to the cheeks of their “boyfriends” and “girlfriends.” Seeing all of this just lets me know that I need to cherish the moments where my children think the opposite sex is gross and the only “gossip” they have is who may have peed in the sandbox. I laughed to myself at the thought.

I watched the school doors open and saw my twins running to me like they always do. I smiled, ready to receive their hugs and kisses. That’s the one thing I really enjoy about picking the kids up. One day, they’ll never do this again. They won’t even want to talk about their day. I’d know because I did the same thing to my parents at one point.

I didn’t notice the smiling faces that I’d seen all week. Instead, Mimi’s face was red and drenched in tears, and the same with her brothers. My smile fell. I’ve never seen them so upset.

“Mommy!” Mimi screamed as she crashed into my chest. My arms were already open to embrace them both.

“I want to go home!” MJ shook tremendously against me. Instead of shushing them, I just let them cry in my arms. They’ve been here almost a year, and I’ve never seen them so upset. They love school. What could have made them so upset that they’d each cry to me?

I looked behind them to see the principal waltzing over to us. 

“Ms. Jackson, I’m so sorry,” Dr. Andrews took her sunglasses off.

“Why are my children crying?” I looked up at her.

“We had an issue in school today.”

“What kind of issue? Wait a minute,” I directed my attention to the twins and wiped the tears from their faces. “You guys sit in the car. Mommy’s gonna get to the bottom of this.” I started the car and cracked the windows open. The twins piled into the backseat, still as upset as they were when they came out. “Now,” I faced Dr. Andrews. “My children have never run to me crying. What happened today, and why wasn’t I alerted sooner?”

She took a deep breath and sighed, “Ms. Jackson, I’m afraid I had to pull the twins out of class today.”

“For what?” What’s taking her so long to get to the goddamn point?!

“Michael and Milan received a lot of taunts today about Mr. Jackson.” My heart skipped a beat. “Many words I don’t wish to repeat, but the other children likely repeated what they heard from their parents.”

“What did they say?”

“Well-”

“Come on, my children are in the car bawling.”

“‘Kiddie Diddler…’ Some parents don’t want their children to be friends with yours, and the kids made your children very aware of that. The twins didn’t know how to respond to the taunts. They told their teacher until it became to be too much. I finally pulled them out after recess. It got to be worse by then.”

“And you didn’t think to call me?”

“We did, but the call must not have gone through.” I was either on the phone or too hung up on ignoring calls.

“Did you call their father?”

She nodded, “we did, but we couldn’t get through to him either.” I rolled my eyes at our own negligence. Of all days, we decided not to be reachable today. How convenient.

“What did you do with the children who bullied mine?”

“We had an assembly about bullying and how it can hurt others.”

“An assembly… So, nothing was done to the other kids?”

“Well, no, because they didn’t physically harm your children. But I recommend taking the twins out for a week until this blows over.”

“Take my kids out?”

“Just until this blows over,” she reminded me as if it mattered. “I don’t think any of us anticipated what happened today after the documentary airing last night.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it. My children are the victims, but the aggressors get to stay in school? What kind of sense does that make?”

She was quiet because she knew how dumb that sounded. She finally said, “I had their teacher create a packet for them since they’ll be missing a lot of material,” she handed me two packets.

“Alright,” I nodded and went to get in the car. There’s nothing more to discuss.

“Once again, I’m so sorry, Ms. Jackson,” she tried.

“Yup,” I threw the packets into the passenger seat and shut my door.

I swear I feel like this is almost a repeat of what happened to me nearly twenty years ago. Thank God there’s security at this school, so no kind of paparazzi can get in here. But just like twenty years ago, the school couldn’t do anything. They think they’re fixing the problem by kicking the victims out, which is unfair. Michael was right. I just never thought it would happen, but he was right.

The twins' cries had turned into sobs throughout our ride. They informed me of the cruel things their “friends” had said to them. But the most gut-wrenching of it all was when Mimi told Juliana took her invitation back because her parents didn’t want some “weirdo’s kid at their house.” Mimi cried again while she repeated the heartbreaking news. People and their children can be absolute monsters.

I pulled up to one of Michael’s newest homes in the area. Joseph’s favorite Rolls Royce was right in the driveway. Prayerfully, the twins seeing their grandparents make them feel better.

The twins wiped their tear-stained faces and held my hands as we walked up to the door. I hate to leave my children feeling this way, so I think I’ll stay awhile until they feel better.

Nina opened the door with the biggest smile on her face. Upon seeing the twins upset, her smile fell instantly. “What’s wrong?” She cooed, trying to bend down to attend to them. I’m glad Michael took my advice and called her. She seems happy, and I hope she’s making him feel better.

The twins paid her no mind once they saw their grandparents walking behind Nina to greet them. They immediately let go of my hands and ran to Katherine and Joe. Their happiness set off another round of tears before reaching their grandparents.

Nina stood up and watched them with me, “rough day at school?”

I sighed, “you have no idea… Where’s Michael?”

“Downstairs. He should be up here soon.”

“Is he busy?” I asked, although I was already making my way to the basement door.

“He’s filming,” I heard her say as I walked downstairs.

I could hear talking. They’re definitely filming. It’s just not Mike. Hamid was being filmed talking about what he witnessed throughout the taping of the documentary.

I looked around to find a seat away from all the mayhem. Michael watched intently as Hamid spoke about his experience. He was so into it that he didn’t even notice I was in the room. That’s one thing I could never take away from Michael. He may be a workaholic, but he’s not a workaholic for show. He’s not only adamant but an absolute perfectionist at what he does. And in this case, he wants all the facts spoken for all the world to hear.

“Cut,” Michael called shortly after Hamid finished his story. “Thank you. I think that’s all we need.”

“You sure?” Hamid asked.

Michael nodded, “yes. It’s perfect. You said all you needed to say. I need to call Nina down here,” he stood up and turned around to see me. “Oh, Shayla, hey. When did you get here?”

“Like ten minutes ago,” I stood up to hug him.

“I didn’t even hear you come down.”

“I know.”

“Are the twins upstairs?”

“Mmhm.”

“Hey! While you’re down here, you think we can just get your portion out of the way?”

“Of course, but we need to talk first.”

“About what? I need everyone to go upstairs for a minute,” he called out to his camera crew and interviewees.

As everyone went upstairs, they all waved or said hello to me. Once we were alone, Michael took his seat and instructed me to sit across from him, “what’s going on?”

“Your children.”

“Are they okay?”

“Physically, yes. Emotionally, not in the slightest.”

“Can we bring them down here?”

“I think we need to talk first. I’m sure they’re feeling better being with your parents.” He nodded in agreement. “There’s no easy way to say that our children were bullied because of that shitshow of a documentary.” Michael tensed up immediately but continued to listen. I refuse to repeat what was repeated to me. Still, I think the worst of it was when Juliana uninvited Mimi to her sleepover because her parents said to.”

Michael shook his head. I knew he knew it would come sooner or later. I know he’s probably thinking, “I told you so,” and he has every legal right to feel that way. I just wanted our children to have a chance at normalcy, but it backfired.

“I imagine they heard the worst of the worst,” he said. I just nodded. There’s really nothing more to say. I guess we should just probably figure out what we’re going to do for their schooling.

“Oh, and here’s the kicker! It got so bad that the principal took the twins out of class and then had a school-wide assembly on how bullying is harmful. Dr. Andrews suggested we keep the kids out for a week so it can blow over, but she’s not doing anything about the children who bullied ours.”

Michael chuckled to himself, “isn’t that just like the school system? They can’t do anything, but when they ‘can,’ it’s toward the victim. Very reminiscent of twenty years ago, huh?”

“Yup…”

“You know what this means, right?”

“I have an idea.”

“They’re not stepping foot in that school again. Buckley can kiss that goodbye. We’ve got to look for private tutors now.”

I sighed, “you were right all along.”

“Hmm?”

“About this. We should have had them in homeschool.”

“I mean, yeah,” he nodded slowly. “But this isn’t an ‘I told you so’ situation. A small part of me wanted them to experience what I didn’t, but now we have to make the necessary calls to get our children out of there.”

Just as he said that we heard the familiar rumblings of two five-year-olds running down the stairs. The twins were no longer crying. No more long faces. They were happy once they were in Michael’s embrace. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight.

They talked over each other, trying to tell their father about their eventful day. No more cracks in their voices or tears streaming down their faces as they recanted what they heard today. It made me feel a little better, but it hurt hearing them repeat what they heard.

“Listen,” Michael spoke softly, which immediately stopped their chatter. I love how he never has to raise his voice to be authoritative. “Do you all enjoy being in school?”

“Yeah!” They said in unison.

“But do you like kids being mean to you?” Instead of responding vocally, they shook their heads no. “Mommy and I have a solution. So… Dr. Andrews thinks you all should stay home for a week. But we think we should find new schools for you.”

“What about our friends?” Mimi asked.

“Can I still go to Little League?” Asked MJ.

“Milan, we’re gonna get you some new friends because the ones you had at school weren’t really nice,” Michael told our daughter.

“How are we gonna get new friends for me?” She asked.

“Don’t you have friends in ballet?” She nodded. “We’ll find more in ballet and whatever other extracurricular activity you want to do.”

“Okay…”

“So what does this mean?” MJ wondered.

“From here on out, you two will have school at home. Your daddy did the same thing when he was younger,” I told them. “This means you and Mimi can be in the same classes. And with you advancing, MJ, you don’t have to worry about leaving Mimi.”

“How does that work?” Mimi asked.

“Welp, we’re gonna find you a tutor. I’m sure you’ll grow to enjoy it,” Michael told them. “Most importantly, no one can be mean to you at home. Mommy and Daddy will always be around. You can still attend Little League and ballet. It’ll be a little different, but nothing will change in the grand scheme of things.” The twins were equally quiet as they took in to understand what their new lives would be like.

“Will we be lonely?” MJ asked.

Michael and I shared a quick glance. What a profound question… But am I really surprised?

“No,” I assured them. “You’ll never be lonely. Everything will be fine. And hey,” I pinched both of their cheeks. “You don’t have to wear uniforms anymore, you get just a little more free time, and you get to spend more time with family. How does that sound?”

“Sounds okay,” they both shrugged.

“We just want you guys safe. I want to protect you all. That’s our job as parents. And we’re gonna do that the best way we know how,” Michael said. This level of protection surpasses any level my parents had. Still, it’s got to be on the same spectrum as what Joseph and Katherine had to deal with with all of their children growing up. “Do me a favor and go back upstairs with your grandparents. We’ll be up there soon, okay?”

The twins hugged each of us and raced back upstairs, slamming the door behind them.

“That was easy,” I sighed.

“I just hope they’re fine once we begin to homeschool,” Michael stood up and went to play with one of the cameras.

“You think they won’t?”

He shrugged, “I know they’re used to being around other children. While they enjoy the company of each other, I know the company of many kids has given them great pleasure. So we might have to find other things besides ballet and little league.”

“You’re onto something.”

“How long did you want to stay?”

“Welp, I wanted to get my portion of this interview done, and I was going to stay and make sure that the twins were okay. They seem fine, so I'll be on my way once we’re done with this.”

“More wedding planning?”

I sighed, “yeah… Question, was I a bridezilla?”

He chuckled to himself, “no. You were pretty cool. I think the only time you worried was the day of. But it was a hectic day for both of us, so…”

“Okay. I just wanted to make sure. Drew is the bridezilla here, so if you hear that I’m stressed, it’s because I’m dealing with his stress of wanting this wedding to be next to perfect.”

“I never took him for the type.”

“Me either,” I rolled my eyes and went to sit in front of the camera. “Do I need to be touched up or anything?”

He shook his head, “no. You’re perfect. I’m going to call everyone back down. I wrote down some questions I wanted the interviewer to ask you,” he handed me a piece of paper with at least ten questions.

I looked over it as he walked upstairs: What is Michael like as a parent? Why did you and Michael keep the letters? How did you meet Andrew, and how wasn’t it an affair? Allegations… This is going to be much longer than I anticipated.

Once everyone came back down and set up, the interviewer, Milo, asked me how I was feeling and if I was ready. I told him I was prepared to get this over with, but other than that, I’m more than prepared to help a friend.

The cameras began to roll, and so did his questions…

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