Chapter 40

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June 5, 2003


May came and went, and now the twins are out of school. They were ecstatic to be relieved of schoolwork for almost three months. Now we have more free time than ever. Especially since we’re done with planning the wedding for next month. After my talk with Drew, I’ve picked up any extra slack. I could tell he was happy that I was helping much more than I had been before. I didn’t realize that the energy had shifted, but now we’re happier than ever. The wedding is in exactly a month. And for some reason, I’ve been getting the jitters… I’m unsure why. Maybe because this doesn’t feel real that all of this is happening again. I’m in a new season of my life. The wedding is six days before my forty-third birthday. My children will be going to first grade this year. There’s so much going on, I guess. So, it’s a good thing Drew wanted all of June for nothing but peace and quiet because the next couple of months will be hectic.

Drew treated the twins and me to ice cream before taking us to the beach. We had our own cabana to ward off onlookers. Paparazzi still found ways to sneak pictures. They may try to hide, but I’m always spotting them. Plenty of photos with me looking at them head-on has been published in the papers. Do I care? Absolutely not.

I lay back against the lounge chair, so my skin could soak up the sun and give me a nice sun-kissed glow for the season. I always loved it when I was a bit darker in the summer. It made certain colors pop. Drew lay beside me and reached over to hold my hand in his. The familiar screams and giggles of children playing in the water and the cool breeze brushing past my skin let me know that summer is truly here. And I’ll be Mrs. Shayla-Elizabeth Hammond before I know it. Time flies.

“You okay? You seem a little tense,” Drew rubbed my hand with his thumb.

“Just thinking about the paparazzi snapping photos of my kids for sport,” I sighed as I closed my eyes.

“I hate how they just find us.”

“You and me both.”

“You wanna leave?”

“No. We’ll be fine. I don’t want to rob the kids of this opportunity. They’ve been talking about going to the beach for weeks.”

“You’re right.” We returned to silence.

I think I want another baby. I’m beginning to understand why my parents had another kid after me. My babies are growing too fast. One more wouldn’t hurt, really. And besides, I’m starting to miss being pregnant. I never had a conventional pregnancy. And I certainly didn’t have a traditional birth. I want to try that again. I want to be surrounded by the man I love while I give birth to his child. This new season of life must be giving me baby fever as well. I’m getting up in age. If I want to do that, I better act now because I ain’t getting any younger.

My cell phone rang deep in my beach bag. I groaned and turned over to pull it out. It’s Michael…

Since the conversation with Drew last month, I have had my own conversation with Mike. We’re just friends. Nothing more and obviously nothing less. We may have been close before, but we have to lay down some boundaries: only talk about the kids, only see each other for the kids, and if we must call, it has to be about the kids.

So far, we’ve been adhering to those rules just fine. The last time we spoke was yesterday so I can drop off the kids tomorrow. So, why am I hearing from him today?

“Hey, Mike,” I leaned back against the lounge chair. In my peripheral, I could see Drew tense up. He may have told me he was over it since our conversation, but the tabloids are still discussing a possible reconciliation. And I know it’s still eating him up inside, no matter what boundaries Michael and I have been adhering to.

“Shayla, you busy?” Mike asked.

“I’m at the beach with Drew and the twins. Is this an emergency?”

“No, but I-”

“Then this can wait, right?”

“Uh- I mean, yeah. But no! I kinda need to talk to you about-“

“If this isn’t an emergency, can we talk about this when I drop the twins off with you tomorrow?”

“Well, that’s exactly why I’m calling. Because of when you drop the twins off.”

“Oh,” I relaxed. “Okay… What’s up?”

“I’m planning a trip to Gary to show the twins where I come from and… I wanted to know if you want to come. They’ve seen your hometown. I think it’s about time they see mine. We’re going on the tenth. I haven’t told the twins yet because it’s a surprise. I’ve got a hotel in Chicago, drivers… The whole nine. I just need you to say ‘yes.’”

“Uh…” I looked over at Drew, who was still facing ahead with his eyes closed behind his sunglasses. “You don’t need me to go with you, do you? What about Nina? Is she not fit to come?”

“…we broke up last month. So, I don’t think that’ll be a good idea.”

“Yikes… I’m sorry to hear that. She seemed like a lovely girl.”

“It’s whatever. I only asked you because I’d love for the twins to have a memory of us on a family vacation. Plus, I couldn’t think of a better person to accompany me. I mean, I could bring the nanny, but I just want their memory of going to Gary with me to be something worth having, ya know?”

“What about your mom? I’m sure she would be a better fit.”

He chuckled to himself, “she actually recommended you. Come on. It’ll be fun. Drew won’t mind, would he?”

“Actually, I’m sure he would.”

“I mean, he could always come too.”

“Let me see… Babe,” I turned toward Drew.

“Hmm?” He gaze stayed toward the sky.

“Would you be interested in going to Gary, Indiana, with me, Mike, and the twins?”

“Absolutely not,” he said without a bit of hesitation.

“Well,” I cleared my throat. “Drew’s not interested,” I told Michael.

“Okay… Well, what about you? Don’t you think it’ll be a good vacation? The twin towers two years ago was the last family event we did together. That’s a pretty good time frame, right? Maybe we should do that? Have family vacations every two years? Come on. It’ll be fun.”

The crazy thing is, despite our conversation about boundaries, Michael actually has a point. We haven’t done anything with just the kids since the twin towers. Drew was okay with it then, so I can’t see him having a problem with it now. It’s a vacation to show the twins their father’s roots. What could go wrong?

“I’ll go,” I sighed.

“…wait, you will?”

“Yeah. When will we be back?”

“The thirteenth. Just in time for it to be your week, and we’re back on schedule with the twins.”

“Sounds perfect,” I shrugged. “I’ll need my own room, though.”

“Done. Any other requests?”

“Nope. Just text me all the details.”

“Will do. Thanks so much, Shayla. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow,” I hung up and put my phone back in my beach bag.

“So you’re going with him to Gary?” Drew sat up and took his sunglasses off.

I sighed, “yeah. He wants to show the twins his roots.”

He turned to look at me, “and he couldn’t do it without your help?”

“He asked his mom and she recommended I go so we could have another memorable family vacation. You know, the last one we had was before the twin towers went down.”

He sighed and shook his head, “you’re not his wife anymore, Shayla. You don’t have to take any family vacations with him.”

“…yeah, but I’m the twins’ mother and I want them to have good memories of their parents even if we’re not together.”

His eyebrows furrowed together in confusion, “so you don’t see a problem with this?”

“What’s the problem?”

“This!” He raised his hands to illustrate how “big” of a problem this apparently was. “This completely negates the conversation we just had. It crosses all the ‘boundaries’ you and Michael claim to now have. And furthermore, this doesn’t help that I still feel like I could be losing you to him. What do I look like letting you go be with him for a couple of days when I just told you how I felt about you two?”

“First of all, you’re not ‘letting’ me do anything. Secondly, all three of us have established that nothing is going on. After you and I talked, I discussed with Michael how you felt, we put up boundaries and adhere to those boundaries, and now that he wants to take the kids on vacation with me after not doing so for two years, it’s a problem?”

“No, Shayla,” he finally turned his whole body to face me. “The problem is how you let him walk over everything we’ve built together. You let him control you… Weasel his way into your life as if everything is fine and dandy. You don’t even put up a fight!”

“So, what? You want me to just not go help him with my kids?”

He took a deep breath and calmed his voice, “I want you to call him back, tell him to hire a nanny or a family member with all that money he got, and tell him you’re not going.”

“Now I’m not going?”

“No. You’re not,” he put his sunglasses back on and lay back on the lounge chair.

“So, this is how our marriage is gonna be, huh? You just tell me what to do, and I’m just supposed to follow suit?”

“And you’re telling me that you’re just not gonna listen to me and my feelings in our marriage?” He shot back up. “Because that’s how I’m feeling right now. I poured my heart out to your mother about how I felt that I was losing you. She assures me I’m not. She calls Carol and your sister to assure me I’m not. And then you call me to assure me the same thing. I tell you exactly why I feel as though I’m losing you. And what do you do? You put up ‘boundaries,’ but the second Mike says ‘jump,’ you’re quick to ask, ‘how high?’ You’re putting him over me, Shayla, and it’s unfair! Don’t spin this on me. If you’re telling me our marriage is going to be nothing but you putting your shitty ex-husband over me, then I’m telling you that this may not work out.”

I nodded. He’s acting like I’ve put Michael over him for our entire relationship. I’ve only just recently begun to help Michael out. It’s only been five months. I’ve done nothing more than be by Mike’s side when he needed me. Ten years ago, Mikes friend’s dropped like flies. I’m literally probably the only one that he has had since then. Ignoring the fact that I was his wife.

“I heard you then, and I’m hearing you now, but one thing you can’t do is control what Mike and I decide to do with our children,” I swallowed.

“Shayla…” he rubbed his hands together. “If you go on that trip with him, this will never work.”

“It can. You just don’t want it to.”

“What grown man is okay with his fiancee going on a trip with her ex-husband? Riddle me that. If my ex-wife wanted me to go on a family trip with Andrea and Sundai, would you seriously be okay with it?”

“Your children are grown.”

“That’s not the question, and you know it.” I was quiet. Of course, I wouldn’t be okay with it, so why do I expect him to be okay with me going on a trip with Mike and my children? Because my kids are still babes… Why can’t we just- “Your silence just told me all I needed to know. Call him and tell him you’re not going,” he took his sunglasses back off. His eyes were pleading with me. Begging me to listen to him and tell Michael that I simply couldn’t do it. But it’s not about Mike or me. It’s about the kids… Isn’t it? “You still love him… Don’t you?”

I sucked my teeth, “Drew-”

He shook his head, “it’s a yes or no question. Do you still love him?”

“No.”

He nodded, “if you go on that trip, I’ve got my answer.”

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