Chapter 39

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I hope this party is good. It’s been a while since I’ve gone out, and amongst everything going on, I need relief. Since the private home videos aired a couple weeks ago, nothing negative has been said about me. If I knew that all I had to do was put out family videos of me to make the public see that I’m a good person, I’d have done this a long time ago. Now I know for future reference. If anything, people have wanted to know if they could see more of my private home videos. But I can’t allow that. I’ve shown what I wanted to show, and that’s all the public will get.

Since the airing, there’s been news about the possible rekindling of Shayla and me, but Shayla and I both shut that down. Drew actually put out the word that the wedding is still happening. I didn’t expect that of him since he seems to not be bothered by what the media says, but I guess he felt the need to talk about this one. And me? I’ve just let it roll off my back. I show the world that I’m happy in my own relationship my own way.

“Do I look okay?” Nina walked out in a silver halter dress that barely touched her knees. Her shoes were clear with diamonds encrusted along the toes and sides, and her hair was bone straight. She looked like a true seventies goddess. And she’ll look perfect on my arm. With me in my silver military jacket and large afro wig and her looking the way she does, it’ll look like we walked straight out of a movie.

“You look perfect,” I kissed her forehead. “What about me?” I stepped back to do a small turn so she could get a good look at me.

“Ssss,” she touched my shoulder with her finger and quickly took it back. “You’re hot!”

“Thank you,” I blushed. “Let’s get going. I don’t want to be too late.”

We walked out to the car and got in. We watched the airing of the home videos together, and she loved it. Surprisingly, she never asked any questions like she did when we were watching the mockumentary, but it’s okay. Everything has been fine since then, and I couldn’t be happier.

When we arrived at The Forge, we were welcomed with a red carpet and opened arms. I made sure to hold Nina close, so the world knew there was no possible rekindling of Shayla and me. I even kissed her forehead for a couple of photos. The public must know that I will not ruin my ex-wife’s wedding. I wouldn’t even be able to forgive myself if I rid her of that happiness. All I’m focused on is keeping Nina happy. That’s what the public needs to focus on.

“Michael, you look amazing!” My good friend, Al Malnik, greeted me with a hug. “Who’s this lovely lady on your arm?”

“This is my girlfriend, Nina. Nina, Al,” I introduced the two. Al pulled Nina in for a tight hug and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“I hope you all are ready for some fun.”

“How old are you, Al? You don’t look a day over thirty!” Nina gushed.

“Would you believe that I’ll be seventy next weekend?”

“Seventy?!” Her jaw dropped. “I would have never guessed.”

“Seventy is the new forty. Here, let me get you guys some drinks. I want both of you out on the dance floor!” Al hurried to the bar.

“I can’t believe he’ll be seventy. He looks so good for his age!” Nina told me.

“I hope I look as good as him,” I shrugged.

“Please. You’ll look better,” she kissed my cheek. “Ready to dance?”

What she doesn’t realize is that I am incredibly shy when I’m not onstage. She may think it’s easy for me to cut a rug out there, but nope. I might actually need a drink or two to let loose.

As if on cue, Al walked up to us with two drinks in hand.

“One for you and one for you. It’s strong enough to get you there but light enough to not put you over the edge,” he handed us a cup of the mysterious drink.

“What is it?” Nina asked.

“Long Islands,” he laughed.

“Oh, you’re tryna get me drunk,” I laughed as I took a sip.

“When’s the last time you went to a party?”

“Touche,” I shrugged.

The bass lick to Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” began causing Nina’s eyes to light up.

“We’ve gotta dance, come on,” she grabbed my hand and pulled me to the middle of the dance floor. She shimmied and danced a circle around me, shaking exactly what her mama gave her. I truly enjoyed the sight until she pulled me toward her and wrapped her arms around my neck. I held her waist as we danced closely. “See? I’m just as great a dancer as you.”

“That you are,” I nodded. Just then, the DJ beautifully mixed in “Do You Wanna Funk?” I did my infamous side shuffle and stepped back to twirl Nina around me. Before we knew it, a circle had formed around us, cheering us on. I incorporated Nina into every popular dance of mine. Moonwalking while making her walk with me. Dipped her and immediately went into a toe stand afterward. Nina had a smile on her face the entire time as we danced for the excited partygoers.

A series of “Go Michael’s” began, so I spun Nina into the audience and got into my own zone as The Trammps “Disco Inferno” began to play. Memories of growing up in the seventies clouded my mind as the audience slowly faded away, as if I were in the room all by myself. My days at Studio 54 when Disco was really alive. Now, those days are themed parties.

I gave one final dance, and as if I was back on stage, I stood in the middle of the dance floor, hand outstretched toward the heavens as I caught my breath.

The audience came back as their applause echoed throughout the room. I opened my eyes and took a bow before walking over to Nina.

“Michael, that was incredible! How do you just do that?” Al asked me.

“I just dance to the rhythm,” I smiled.

“Simply astounding,” he shook his head smiling.

“You did amazing out there,” Nina kissed my cheek.

“Thank you, baby.”

“Do you miss it?”

“Miss what?”

“Being onstage.”

“Sometimes, but I’m enjoying what I do now.”

“What’s that?”

“Spending time with you and my children. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

She smiled a closed-lip smile and nodded, “well, if you miss it, I think you should go back to it.”

“Why’s that?”

“You seem at home on the stage.”

“I have a lot more priorities than I used to. I don’t want to go back to performing,” I went for a sip of my drink.

She nodded, “like getting back with Shayla?”

I nearly choked on my long island, “excuse me?”

“You heard me,” her eye contact with me became rather intense.

“Am I missing something? We just had a ball out there,” I pointed at the dance floor. “Are you okay?”

“You still love her.”

“Again. Are you okay?”

“I saw how you were looking at her.”

I looked at her glass to see that her long island was long gone. She finished it while I was on the dance floor by myself. “We’re gonna talk about this tomorrow. I think you’ve had too much to drink.”

“No, let’s talk about this right now. You don’t look at me the way you look at her.”

I sighed, “Nina-”

“No!” She shouted, pointing her finger in my face. Her bottom lip trembled violently. I grabbed her hand and led her to a corner away from everyone. Tears were now streaming down her face. Where is this coming from?! “You don’t look at me the way you look at her. You don’t smile at me like you do when you’re with her. Hell! You even treat her better than you do me, and she’s just your baby mama. She’s not your woman anymore, Michael!”

“Nina-”

“The whole world saw it. The way you flirted with her as if you two were still together. Disrespecting me, disrespecting Drew. Even with Drew’s announcement, people are still convinced that you and Shayla will get back together. Where does that leave me, huh? You flaunt her in my face. You embarrassed me when you aired those videos.”

“Embarrassed you?!”

“Yes! You’ve been embarrassing me all year. No one even believes we’re together because you hide me.”

I looked around, “are we not out and about like you wanted? I’m not hiding you. If anything, I’ve been protecting you.”

“Protecting me? You don’t need to protect me. Protect me from what? Ridicule? Yeah, well, I’m getting that anyway. I could take the Martin Bashir doc. I could take the rebuttal criticism. But this? You and Shayla’s private home videos? Seeing you and her relive all those memories as if you wanted to get back together?” She shook her head. “That’s the final straw for me. I don’t think I can do this anymore,” she sniffled. Mascara ran down her cheeks, creating a beautiful mess of black streaks.

I licked my bottom lip, “we’ve got to get you home and sober. One drink and you’re lashing out like this-"

She looked at me and scoffed, “I say all of that, and you completely dismiss it.”

“Because you’re drunk, Nina. Off of one drink, mind you. I had no idea you were this much of a lightweight… And we’re here to celebrate, my dear friend, but we’re in a corner doing…this!

“Do you love me, Michael?”

I sighed, “don’t you think it’s a little too soon to be asking me that?”

“No, because I’ve loved you all my life, and the fact that we finally got together makes me love you even more.”

“There’s a difference between the love you had for me when you were just a fan and the love you could have for me now that we’re together.”

She shook her head and wiped her face with the back of her hands, creating an even bigger mess, “no, it’s not.”

“Nina, I’m beginning to think something’s wrong.”

“You’re right,” she nodded. “We can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?”

“Us. This. I can’t do this if I’m last on your list. You still love your ex-wife. It’s been six years, and you still love her. How can I compete with that?”

We looked at each other in silence. Tonight wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were supposed to dance the night away. We were supposed to make the news to dispel the rumors. I would have never thought tonight would have turned out like this.

She swallowed, “I’m going home.”

“You can’t go. We’ve still got-”

“No,” she shook her head. “I’m going home. I can’t do this anymore. This hurts.”

“I’m going with you.”

I followed her to the front of the building and waited for the valet to bring the car.

“Michael, are you leaving so soon…?” Al caught up to us, his voice trailing away upon seeing Nina’s mascara-stained face. Cameras flicked away, capturing everything that was happening.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “Um… I’ll send you something.”

“Is she okay?”

I shook my head, “I’m gonna take her home.”

“Please call me once you’re safe and sound. It was a pleasure meeting you, Nina.” She ignored him.

I didn’t know all of that was eating her up inside like that. I didn’t know that she considered Shayla competition. I didn’t realize I was giving that impression… Shayla and I know where we both stand with each other.

We got in the car as it pulled up. I opened the door for Nina, but she slammed it shut on her own. Paparazzi was getting a good show with this exchange.

“Take me home,” she reminded me once I got in.

“You haven’t even given me a chance to speak.”

“I don’t need to. I saw all I needed to see. You still love her. You’ll never love me.”

“I just think you’ve had too much to drink and that this can all just be solved in the morning.”

“No,” she turned to look at me. “Take me home. We’re done.”


VII


“Baby, take this to the kitchen for me,” I gave Mimi my finished bowl of grapes.

I’ve finally gotten a dress. Drew said he’d take care of everything else from here on out, and I’m fine with that. It saves me the stress. Planning a wedding is entirely too stressful.

The past couple of weeks, Drew has buried himself in more wedding planning more often than not. He wants this to be over with by June so that he can have a month of rest before the big day. I’m okay with that too.

Homeschooling the twins is better than I thought it would be. MJ and Mimi surely miss their old teacher and classmates, but it doesn’t bother them much. They’ve adapted to their tutor and still enjoy their extracurricular activities. It feels good to have them back to their usual selves after what happened because of that documentary. I hate that their first time in school had to be this way.

My family and friends loved the private home videos. Many asked if Michael and I were getting back together, but I shut that down with a quickness. We’re good friends and nothing more. Although, during the airing, I could definitely see why people may have thought we were getting back together. Drew wasn’t too keen on it, but he swept it under the rug.

When tabloids came out about the possible rekindling of Michael and me, Drew ensured that the world knew our wedding was still happening. I could tell it bothered him a little because he could care less about the media. But this time, I could see him visually cringe at the rumors. Since then, we’ve been fine.

I rose from the couch and went to my office while the twins returned to their tutor. I turned on my iMac G4 and scrolled through the contents of my age-old project. With me helping Mike overcome this smear campaign, fans have been wondering about my latest project. It’s been a cool decade since my last book. Between my life struggles, losing a friend and partner in my company, and managing new writers, the last thing on my mind has been writing a new book aside from this thing that I edit from time to time. If I ever release it, fans will be sick when they find out I started writing it in nineteen ninety-six. I chuckled to myself at the thought.

Ten years is a long time. I really should try to get back into the right headspace to write. I miss it terribly. It’s my happy place away from the real world. I sighed as I scrolled through the contents of my latest draft. The amount of pages this has is insane, but someone will love reading it someday if this ever makes it to that point.

My cellphone rang with Carol’s ringtone. “Hey,” I answered on the second ring.

“Your mother called me…” she replied.

“Hmm?” My head involuntarily cocked to the side in confusion.

“Yeah… she wanted to know how I felt about your wedding.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I found it odd for her to call me out of nowhere about that.”

“Hold on. Lemme call you back,” I hung up and immediately called my mother. She has never called Carol. Ever.

“Hello?” Mom answered.

“Why did you call Carol about my wedding?”

“Oh, Shayla. Hey, baby. Drew called me about your wedding.”

“Excuse me?”

“He’s wondering if he’s doing the right thing because he’s noticing you’re not interested.”

“Huh?!”

“He doesn’t even know if he should go through with it because you’ve been so occupied with Michael. I told him that you’re just helping out your friend and that you love him and want to marry him… Don’t you?” Why didn’t he come to me about this? He needed to go to my Mother?!

“Of course I love him; otherwise, I wouldn’t have agreed to marry him. That’s absurd, but why did you have to involve Carol? Why didn’t you just call me? Because now this run around is getting messy.”

“Because I wanted to know if you told her anything that contradicted what you may have been telling Drew and me. I called her and your sister. They said you still want to get married as far as they knew.”

“And I do! But now I’m concerned that my fiancé doesn’t want to marry me because he feels unsure.”

Mom sighed, “I think you two need to talk. Maybe all this running around with Michael and the tabloids have been getting to his head.”

“I just wish he had come to me instead of getting other people involved,” I sighed. “I’ll call you later. Love you,” I hung up and immediately called Drew.

“Hey, baby,” he answered on the first ring like he always does.

“Don’t ‘hey baby’ me. Why are you talking to everyone else but me about your uncertainty about marrying me? Don’t you think that’s a bit messy?”

He was quiet for a moment. He must not have thought I was going to find out. He excused himself from someone in the background. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how that may have looked.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah. I got a little ahead of myself because I was scared.”

“Scared? Scared about what?”

“That I may be losing you to Michael.”

My heart dropped. “…lose me to Michael?”

“The way you’ve been running to save him after that Bashir doc… The media has a ton to say about a possible rekindling between you two. You keep trying to convince me that you’re all in with me, but…” he sighed. “You help your ex-husband clean up his image more than you’re trying to help me plan our wedding. And those private home videos looked like y’all damn near fell in love again. You tell me you’re all in, but I’m not convinced, Shayla. So, I called the people closest to you to be sure nothing’s changed.”

I stared at the computer screen in disbelief. Why is this the first time I’m hearing of this? There were no signs that he was feeling this way. I’ll admit that I haven’t been all into the wedding, but that’s only because planning a wedding can be stressful. I didn't think that he thought I was putting Mike over us…

“Why didn’t you just come to me?” I finally asked.

“Because you may have given me the same answer. That you love me and that nothing’s wrong. Carol and your mother said that you’re committed to this. Your mother said she could understand why I felt the way I did, but she assured me that if you agreed to marry me, then that meant no double backs to Mike.”

I scoffed, “I could have told you that.”

“I’m sorry. I think all this mess has just gotten to me.”

“Next time, just sit me down, okay? I’m sorry I made you feel uncertain, but baby, I’m not agreeing to marry someone if my heart is with someone else. My heart is with you, so… Don’t ever think otherwise, okay?”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“…okay. I’ll see you at home. I love you.”

“I love you too,” I hung up and leaned back far in my desk chair.

I didn’t know I was about to enter a new marriage with uncertainties, but now I know. This whole time it was me messing up a good thing. Here I am, trying to be a good friend to my ex-husband, not realizing I’m nearly neglecting my next husband. I’ve got to lay down some boundaries.

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