We slipped out of the theater unnoticed shortly before the film was finished. Just like any other time, we’ll have to catch the end on DVD or something.
The Cincinnati skyline shined so beautifully against the night sky. Seeing Cincinnati grow into the city that it is today blows me away at times especially knowing that had Shayla never been from here I’d have never experienced the city as much as I have. Had it not been for her, like everyone else, I don’t think I would have ever visited Ohio outside of the occasional concert. I’ve been to all the major cities before having met Shayla, but I probably would have never returned if it didn’t have to do with what I do for a living.
As we walked toward The Purple Bridge, with Bill and Javon following behind us, Shayla and I gushed over how great of a film “Dreamgirls” was, deemed it appropriate for our ten year olds, and spoke of how stellar of a performance Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, and Beyoncé had done. We had taken the twins to see “The Fighting Temptations” in 2003. It was our first time going to the movies as a family. I have many great memories, but that is among the greatest. At six years old, the twins were so excited to see a movie with their parents that they could hardly stop talking. Beyoncé was starring in the film (hence why we saw it at Mimi’s begging), and much like many of Mimi’s early days, she was amazed to see how well versed in just about every version of art Beyoncé seemed to be. That day, Mimi also decided that she also wanted to be an actress. I wanted to tell her to pick one thing and stick to it, but I couldn’t tell her that. She could be anything she wanted and Shayla and I told her just that. Since then, that’s the reason we have her in vocal, dancing, and acting classes.
Walkers were sparse tonight. Some decided to ride bikes and scooters and because so many people were doing that, we, too, decided to purchase scooters. We didn’t care that we were wearing dinner attire. We just wanted to have fun without the twins for a change. And we did. Feeling the wind blow through my hair felt so metaphoric to how I’ve been feeling within the past couple of years.
Without a care in the world.
I suppose this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever really felt this way. There were times when I thought I felt true freedom, but that hardly compares to how I’m feeling today. Sometimes, it still blows my mind that I have everything I could have ever asked for and then some. I couldn’t imagine not having a family of my own. When I was younger, I thought it was a luxury I simply could never have ever afforded, yet here I am, enjoying raising my children with their mother, my lover.
Bill and Javon put our scooters away as we walked hand in hand along the bridge again. The late night walkers recognized us, prompting us to sign a couple autographs, take some photos or simply exchange pleasantries. Exchanging pleasantries is always my favorite kind of fan exchange because those people respect the fact that we’re people who want to enjoy ourselves. I’ve always appreciated those type of fans. What they don’t realize is that they are the people that sort of restore my faith in humanity. Everybody isn’t crazy. Being treated like a normal human being is something some people take for granted. People want to be famous but what they don’t realize is that being famous requires much sacrifice. Anonymity is lost. Privacy suddenly becomes a luxury that I can’t afford even though I can afford everything else in the world. And people talk about you every chance they get, whether it's good or bad, people will talk. It can be daunting and depressing, but thank God for protecting me and my family.
“Javon,” I stopped walking. “Did you get that thing I told you to get?”
“Right here, boss,” Javon pulled a sharpie and a white key lock out of his pocket. Shayla turned to look at the lock wall right beside us and smiled.
We have locks in Paris, Prague, Seoul, New York City, Amsterdam, Krakow, Frankfurt, Ottowa, and Rome, Venice, and Milan, Italy. All of which dating from 1985 with our most recent being 1995. What a shame that we don’t have a lock in Shayla’s hometown. Much like the others, I’m sure one day it’ll be removed to make room for more, but for now all that matters is that we’re going to lock it on this bridge tonight.
“Would you like to do the honors?” I held out the lock and sharpie for Shayla to take.
“Why don’t you write your initials and I write mine and the date?” She suggested. I went ahead and wrote my initials and handed the lock to her. Being that it was now midnight, she wrote 1/9/2007 beneath our initials and a heart beside it. She handed the lock to me so I could attach it to the wall. Many locks with so many initials and dates covered the gate. I don’t know who many of these people are and the beauty of us doing this is that ours will be just as anonymous. I handed the keys to Shayla just like I had done in previous years and pulled her in for yet another passionate kiss without a care in the world of who witnessed my public display of affection. I claimed her as mine for the “whole world” to see. Our private moments would remain private because Cincinnati and Newport in the middle of the night are far from places that are riddled with paparazzi who are looking for a quick come up because they captured this photo of us. Just know that this photo would easily sell for a cool million.
“I’m thinking about writing a new book,” Shayla said as we walked back to the car.
“Yeah?” I peered over at her. “What about?”
“I don’t have a plot yet, but I already have the title.”
“Well, let’s hear it!”
“‘A Love Rejected.’”
“Hmm,” I fixated my gaze ahead. “Sounds autobiographical.”
She shrugged, “could be. Maybe I drew inspiration from my previous engagement. Maybe not.”
“I’m sure it’ll be therapeutic for you. And it may finally give your fans a peek inside your mind about the situation. Especially since you’ve never publicly talked about it.”
“Yeah. I can see it as that. It’s a thought that’s been brewing inside me for a while now.”
“I think it’s time you get that out, love,” I opened the back door of the truck for her and held my hand out for her to take. I know her so well. As a writer, she can pull from real life experiences to inspire her work. The same goes for any work of art. Real life. Pain. Tears. Smiles. Joy. Love. It can all be inspiration for a work of art no matter the outlet. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to make art by means of music and being able to share a piece of myself through it just as I’m sure she’s grateful to do it with her writing. Sometimes people love what you put out, sometimes they don’t. Art is subjective. It’s not made to be liked by everyone.
I wrapped my arms around her, pecking her neck and jawline with yet another series of kisses. It’s truly been a long time since it’s just been the two of us. Parenthood takes up so much of our time. Sex and dates have to be scheduled, no longer spontaneous. The only spontaneity being when we’d kiss each other only to be met with “eww’s” from our children. But now we’re in our own little world, blocking out the murmurs from Bill and Javon. I can’t seem to keep my hands off of Shayla tonight. Sure, whenever we’re in our bedroom we have the kind of fun that two consenting adults can indulge in, but I guess no one prepared me for how little that may or may not occur.
“Mr. and Ms. Jackson?” Bill called back.
I turned away from Shayla only to still have her pecking at my neck and cheek. “Yeah?”
“We made it home,” Javon chuckled to himself.
I looked around to find that we were stopped in our driveway. “Oh.”
“Ion know about y’all but we’re going to bed.”
“We’re right behind you. Get some rest,” I called out, trying to straighten myself out, but Shayla still had a tight grip on my collar. It seems I’m not the only one in the mood tonight.
The guys shut their doors and went to the guesthouse while Shayla and I stayed in the backseat of the car. I slipped my hand underneath her dress, running my finger up and down the dampness that was her panties. Sex gets better the older you get. Older people didn’t lie when it came to that revelation. Although sporadic, the love making Shayla and I have shared in recent years is worth being documented and sold to the highest bidder. But I’d never. I’d never want to share what I’ve got with the world. This is sacred. Sharing such intimacy is private, but with the rise of celebrity sex tapes, nothing is private anymore. That’s not to say that Shayla and I haven’t made our own. They’re just locked away at the ranch.
“Let’s take this upstairs,” Shayla cooed, ripping me away from my immature thoughts. I nodded and helped her out of the car. We snuck in the house like teenagers trying not to get caught by strict parents. Becoming parents has certainly taught us one thing, one small sound will wake the deepest sleeping child. So sneaking around to avoid making noise is like a superpower at this point. Once we got to our bedroom, clothes couldn’t come off fast enough. Our giggles had turned into full blown laughs at the clumsiness of trying to take off dresses and tripping over pant legs.
“Tell me we’re getting too old without telling me we’re getting too old. I’ll go first,” Shayla began as she fell back onto the bed. “Trying to take off all these fancy clothes like we’re twenty year olds is only making me tired,” she laughed.
I nodded in agreement as I fell beside her, “you’re telling me. I about broke something trying to take these pants off.”
I sighed in slight disappointment, looking over at the clock. It’s three a.m. “Yeah, it’s time to hang it up. We can try again tomorrow.”
“Or the next day.”
“Or…the next day,” I chuckled, finally kicking my pants off from around my ankles and pulled her into me, kissing the back of her neck.
Before children, we used to make love whenever we wanted. Be as loud as we wanted. Marking our territories. Now with children, making love is quieter, so as to not wake or scar anyone. It’s kept in our bedroom. No longer able to leave our mark and scent in the living room, kitchen, dining room, library or studio. That’s another thing I miss about the ranch. At least our bedroom is two floors so we can live a little like our former selves. Now, we’re subject to scheduling sex, hoping that it even happens…
“Shave and a Haircut” was rapped loudly on our bedroom door, forcing us to wake up out of the best sleep I probably ever had. I woke up out of Michael’s embrace, as usual, turning to look over at him. His glare was just as strong as mine because he was just as annoyed.
“Uncle Mike!” Three loud knocks were rapped. “Aunt Shayla! Daddy’s here and I’m leaving!”
“I knew that wasn’t my child,” Michael groaned and turned over, trying to block out any and all noise with a pillow.
I sat up and looked at the clock to find that it was eight-thirty in the morning. The twins should be in school right now. I opened the door to find Nova about to knock again.
“Hey, Auntie!” She beamed. “Daddy’s here to take me to get my license. I just wanted to let you know that I’m about to leave.
“Happy Birthday, Nova,” I tried to sound excited but getting ripped out of a good sleep ruined that.
“Thanks! The twins already had breakfast and they’re in school as we speak.”
“I hope y’all had fun. See you later!”
“Aht aht! I want to talk to your father before you leave,” I shut the door behind me.
“Tell him I’ll be down in ten minutes.” I went to the nearest bathroom to clean myself up. My makeup was smeared due to my negligence of not taking it off last night and my hair looks atrocious. Even if he is my brother, I can’t let him see me like this. I cleaned my face of any and all traces of what could have been an amazing nightcap and finished it off with rose water. I can’t wait until Mimi gets a little bit older so I can teach her proper skin care. Rose water is the truth and I’d never tell anyone otherwise. The amount of times I’ve been featured in somebody’s magazine because of how flawless my skin is is endless. I’ve never revealed my “secret,” but I enjoy reading what people speculate I’ve done. From botox to plastic surgery to filler. When in actuality, it’s just water from a flower.
By the time I got downstairs, Nova was yacking it up with a friend on her hot pink Motorola Razr, meanwhile Matt was typing something on his Blackberry.
“Hey, Matt,” I walked up to my brother to give him a hug.
“Hey, sis. Give me one second. I need to finish typing this email… And… Done,” he looked up at me, mirroring the same smile his daughter had done moments ago. “How’s it going?” He pulled me in for a bear hug.
“Good. Your daughter just woke me up, but I’m good.”
“I know y’all had fun last night, though, right?”
“We did,” I nodded. “It was nice to get out without the kids for a change.”
“Y’all staying in Ohio for the long run?”
I shook my head no, “just for a while. It’s a nice escape. We’ll be heading back home soon.”
“To the ranch?”
“Yeah. I miss it. The twins don’t too much, but Michael and I do.”
“Fair. Whatever makes everyone happy. We all miss visiting anyway, so whenever y’all go back. Plan a lil somethin’ for the family, okay?”
“Will do,” I nodded.
“We’re gonna get out of here. As soon as I got here, Nova’s been talking about that damn license.”
“I wanted to talk to you about that, by the way,” I pulled him off to the side. “Thanks for letting Nova babysit, but having Nova drive up here by herself wasn’t the brightest idea, ya know?”
Matt’s face turned up in slight disgust. “Are you serious?”
“You know the cops don’t play out here.”
“Did she get caught?” His face went soft for a moment.
“So, what’s the big deal? She’s sixteen now, Shayla. Is this why you wanted to come down to talk to me? We could have been on our way to the BMV. Had I not let her come up here, you wouldn’t even have had a babysitter, now would you?”
I shook my head, “that’s not the point and you know it.”
“Don’t tell me how to raise my child. When you and Mike were busy taking the twins to Youbeckistan, no one said anything about that. So don’t worry about what I’m doing with me and mine. Come on, Nova,” he turned away from be, shouting toward his daughter. “Let’s go get your license before your bougie ass aunt has something else to say.”
“Yeah. ‘Bougie!’ Living all the way out in the middle of nowhere. Hell yeah, you’re bougie,” he shook his head and left.
When you have siblings and your siblings have children, it’s almost like their children are your own. Not really, but kind of. Yes, Nova turned sixteen as of twelve hours ago, but that would have meant absolutely nothing to the Middletown Police Department had she been caught. Maybe I should just mind my business. You’d think I’d learned that a while ago, but when it comes to children, I suppose I forget all about that.
I went to check on the twins as they were being tutored, made some breakfast for myself and Michael, delivered it to him, and retreated to my office to turn on the computer.
Just as I was finishing my yogurt, I had a staring match with the blinking cursor and the white canvas that Pages had to offer. My mind is as blank as this white page staring back at me.
After Nova banged on our door, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Which, I guess was a good thing. I needed to get to work. After having breakfast and being updated with the small drama between Shayla and I brother, I retreated to my home studio. Writing lyrics for new songs, looking over what could be changed on “Thriller,” as the twenty-fifth anniversary is coming up. I don’t want to touch it, but between the demands from Sony because I still have some contractual agreements with them and me wanting to give back to the fans, I gave in. Pretty soon I’ll be working with the hottest in music. But as of right now, I need to figure out what I want to add. Demos included. I’m sure the fans will get a kick out of those.
I looked over my notes and reclined in my chair. I’ve enjoyed not having to work for the past five years. Not “real” work. I’ve been working on my family and I’ve been enjoying that. But the money is dwindling. It’s not noticeable, but it’s there. And with Shayla somewhat being the new breadwinner, it’s kind of taking a toll on me. Having Shayla take care of some things was never how I saw our relationship. Now a days, she’s paying mortgages and other bills I may have in regard to the ranch. That wasn’t how this was supposed to work.
Most days when it comes to working, I think of turning towards filmmaking. I’ve done it a couple of times, but I want to do more. I want to have a film studio. I want to direct, produce, and release films under my company. I want to mentor up and coming actors. I want to give back to the community, finding actors and actresses in places no one would ever imagine. But with having other obligations, my dream is being hindered. It’s going to happen one day though. One way or another. Doing music would probably mean that I would need to tour and I don’t want to be away from my family or subject my family to anything regarding the lifestyle that comes with that. Filmmaking would keep me grounded. And maybe, just maybe, I could get my daughter started in the business through my own company, that way she wouldn’t be subjected to the weirdos of Hollywood.
Everybody wants me to do music and while I love music, I just want to expand into other areas. I’ve cemented my legacy in the music industry. Why not be able to do the same with film? I want people to know that I’m multifaceted, because I am. But unfortunately, sometimes this machine doesn’t run unless I’m producing some kind of music…
I picked up the phone to call Raymone. I don’t like to speak to her often, but when we do get in contact, she knows it's important.
“Have you made a decision yet, Mr. Jackson?” She answered without so much as a hello. Sometimes I wonder why I hired her.
I cleared my throat, “hello, Raymone.”
“Hello, Mr. Jackson.”
“Instead of the residency, I’ll take up on the anniversary of ‘Thriller.’”
She sighed, disappointed, “you do realize that that’s significantly lower than what you’re being offered for the residency, right? The advance for the album is only-”
“I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it to celebrate the fans. Without them, you and I would’t be where we are today.”
She sucked her teeth, “what they’re willing to pay for this anniversary album isn’t going to cover everyone you have to pay, you do realize that, right?”
“You work for me. Make sure who needs to be paid is paid. I’ll just work on the music.” I hung up and looked over my control booth.
After this, I won’t ever touch another masterpiece. They better not ask me for an anniversary for “Bad” or “Dangerous.” “HIStory” may still get that Book Two in four years, but until then, I want to put my hard work toward something else. But for now, I’ll put my work into what the fans want. It’s been six years since I’ve last given them something.
I know I said it’s not about the money, but if I don’t do something, I’ll also be subjected to taking out another loan. Shayla doesn’t know what I’ve been doing to stay afford the lifestyle we’re used to. Taking out loans and mortgages just to keep the ball rolling. I’ve never had to do this before, but it appears my lavish spending and donating has caught up to me. Hopefully, with this anniversary album, I’ll be able to relax a little.