"Babe, I told you you didn't have to bring a dish. Mom has everything prepared."
"Yeah, well, where I'm from it's customary to bring a dish." Shayla said as she held onto her macaroni and cheese for dear life.
"Indiana is literally next door to Ohio. You make it sound like Ohio is in a far away land or something."
"Didn't you leave Indiana when you were like eight though?"
"And you're how old now?"
I sighed, "twenty six."
"So you've been in California for sixteen years. I'm sure you've adopted more California customs than the Indiana customs you probably don't even remember. Remember Michael, I've been in Ohio-"
"'All your life.' I know, I know." I kissed her cheek. "Aren't you glad I pulled you out of that hell hole?"
"Bye, Michael!" Shayla laughed as we finally got to the door. Just as I was about to open the door Rebbie beat me to it.
"Shayla! I'm glad you could make it." Rebbie smiled and pulled Shayla in for a hug. "What'd you bring?"
"Macaroni and cheese."
"Thanks! I'll go ahead and put it on the dinner table. Everybody else is already here, so go ahead and grab your seats." We followed Rebbie to the table. Everyone looked mad. I knew this wasn't a good idea. Jermaine sat with sunglasses on. Hazel had the most fake smile on her face. Marlon didn't look too bad. In fact, he actually looked happy to see me, unlike everyone else. I pulled Shayla with me so that we could sit beside Marlon and Carol. Tonight would be a long night. When Rebbie came back, Mother and Joseph came to the dining room. Mother smiled although I could tell she was upset about how everything was turning out. Joseph kept his gaze to the floor. I already know he has plenty to say.
"I'm so glad everyone made it." Mother finally said. "This family has been through a lot these past couple of weeks. I figured now would be a perfect time for a family dinner, since we haven't had one in such a long time. Joseph, could you please say grace?"
"Our father who art..." Joseph began saying the prayer. I held Shayla's and Marlon's hand and bowed my head. From the corner of my eye, I could see Hazel to my far left staring at me. I closed my eyes and sighed. I cannot wait until this dinner is over with. "...as we forgive those who trespass against us. Amen."
"Amen." The rest of us said in unison. I reached for Shayla's macaroni and cheese so that I could be the first to try it, but Randy had already snatched it away. I may as well wait until everyone else gets what they want. No use in trying now.
"Janet," Mother began. "How is the album coming?"
"It's coming along great. I'm glad Marlon is back to help me finish it though." Janet replied.
"You've been helping her with the album?" Mother asked Marlon.
"Yeah. Gotta make sure her album is in good taste, ya know?" He laughed.
"I mean... you don't have to help me with it anymore. I got this." Janet teased.
"Yeah, right. You need me for this album."
"Psssh. Don't gas yourself up now!" They laughed.
"Speaking of family needing family." Jermaine started as he looked directly at me. I rolled my eyes. Here we go. "You mind telling everyone what happened at the concert, Mike?"
"I'm not here to talk about that." I told him.
"Well, it needs to be discussed. Now that the whole family is in one room, I think it should be discussed."
"Jermaine, he said he's not going to talk about it." Mother told him. "Please, not at the table. Eat your dinner." That shut him up. I ate my dinner as well. Suddenly an awkward silence took over. I knew Shayla and I shouldn't have come.
"Well..." Janet started. "How was the spa day, Shayla and Hazel?"
"Spa day?" LaToya asked with a confused look on her face. "What spa day?"
"Shayla and Hazel had a spa date with the other ladies."
"Without me?" LaToya gasped.
"It was a spa date for the wives."
"Oh. Well, I'll plan a spa date for all of the Jackson women to attend." LaToya smiled.
"Well, ladies?" Janet looked at all the wives. "How was it?" No one spoke.
"Did everyone have fun at least?" Mother asked.
"It was lovely, Mrs. Jackson. The ladies and I bonded so well, didn't we ladies? You see our manicures? I had them done by only the best." Hazel showcased her hands to the table.
"I'm sure you all had a lovely time. I'm glad all the wives were able to get together like that. Who arranged it?"
"I did. I had to. I didn't think anyone else would do it. Plus it was the perfect time to schedule it."
"Why is that?"
"Well, after everything that has gone on, I figured it be best that the wives got together to get anything off their chests. And believe me, a lot was said."
"I hope nothing hurtful..."
"Oh no, ma'am! Everything that was said needed to be said and if what was said hurt anyone, maybe they needed to hear it..." Hazel looked right at me.
Mother noticed the tension immediately, "Michael, were you there?"
I tore my gaze away from Hazel and looked at Mother, "no, ma'am, it was a date for the wives. Husbands were not allowed."
"I only invited the wives. Maybe the guys will have their day soon, I hope." Hazel made a face.
"That's a great idea! Who is going to plan it?" Mother tried to be excited. None of us said anything. "You all aren't going to plan a get together?" She asked again.
"I would do it, but you never know... One of us may not even show up and probably won't tell anybody." Jackie shifted in his chair.
"Why would you say that, Jackie?" Tito asked.
"Well, ya know, people do that a lot now."
"You're right. They probably wouldn't tell us or anything." Randy looked at me.
"You know what?" Joseph finally looked up from his plate. "It amazes me how I raised fine young men, but y'all want to sit here at my table and taunt each other like a bunch of fucking five year olds."
"Watch your words, Joseph." Mother said gently.
"If you're not going to be about it, suck it up or shut up." He finished.
"I've got a lot to say about it. Why would you leave us hanging like this, Michael? Why would you embarrass the entire family like we deserved something like that, huh? You couldn't face us like men and tell us you were leaving us?" Jermaine finally took off his shades and looked directly at me. I sighed. "Answer me!" He raised his voice.
"Don't raise your voice at the table, Jermaine." Mother gently told him.
"Michael wants to be all big and bad and not tell anyone anything, but decides to embarrass all of us in front of our fans? Well, he can be big and bad in front of the family and tell us all why he didn't tell us he was done with the group." He finished. At that, everyone was silent. Everyone had their eyes right on me and waited for my response. Shayla held my hand underneath the table. "Go on, Michael. We're waiting to hear your excuse." He pressed.
I took a deep breath to calm my racing heart, "you know, it amazes me that you're on my case about leaving the group the way I did, but you act like there was nothing wrong with you going solo and staying with Motown."
"Bullshit." Hazel and Jermaine said in unison.
"Michael, I'm going to tell you like I told your little wifey over there," Hazel pointed to me and Shayla. "The only reason you and your family made it as far as y'all did is because of my daddy. Nobody else was checkin' for y'all if you want to get technical. My daddy invented you and your whole Michael Jackson persona. So if anything, Jermaine did right by staying right where he started. He wasn't being selfish like you."
"I'm going to ask you all one more time to watch your mouths." Mother said again as calmly as she possible could.
"You think anybody is checking for you, Michael? Nobody would be checking for you if it weren't for Berry."
"I've yet to hear anyone talk about your last album. You release an album almost every year and still can't get a break. People are still talking about Off The Wall and that was what? Six years ago?" I mentioned.
Jermaine shot up from his chair as if he was going to jump over the table, "you know what you big headed piece of-"
"Jermaine! Your mother has told you one too many times to watch your mouth. Get it together or get out!" Joseph commanded.
"You know what? It might be time for us to leave." Hazel began gathering her things.
"Sit down, Hazel." Mother was at her whit's end. "Now, I've had enough of this." She looked at Jermaine. "Now, we've all had our problems and mishaps, but we are still family and we will not settle this like two hoodlums on the street. I don't care how mad you are. You will discuss the matter like adults. Michael, it would have been better had you talked to one of us about you wanting to split from the group. To break the news to your brothers like that was disrespectful. You are no better because your album sold more. You still started out the same way everyone else did, from the bottom. Don't you let this get to your head now."
"I never let it get to my head." I said.
She cut me a look, "and you, Jermaine, this rage of jealousy has got to stop."
"What have I got to be jealous of?" Jermaine scoffed.
"You did the very same thing Michael has chosen to do. You left the group. Did you really think one of your younger brothers weren't going to follow in your footsteps too? You were the leader in the pack. I understand it was a conflict of interest for you to choose your father-in-law or go to CBS with your brothers, but you put yourself in that situation. Nobody told you to marry that girl." Randy snickered. "But you did what you wanted to do by marrying her and by choosing to stay with Motown. There is nothing different between the choice you made and the choice Michael made. The only reason you married Hazel was to get out from under Joseph, but you and I both know you were not ready to get married. Everyone told you not to get married, but you did it anyway. And if that girl continues to disrespect me or my house again, I'm putting you both out. I am so sick and tired of my children arguing. I am so sick and tired of all this fame that is tearing this family apart. Michael,"
"Yes, ma'am?" I responded.
"Apologize to your father and your brothers."
"He doesn't have to apologize to me." Joseph chimed in. "I'm sick of him pulling these selfish stunts. If he wants to keep being selfish, he can. Leave me out of it."
"Michael, apologize to your father. He's hurting, whether he wants you to know it or not."
"Mother, with all due respect, I believe I did what was best for me. We aren't kids anymore. We don't have to keep making music together to make ends meet. Our needs have already been met. I love music and I want to continue to do it on my own. I want to see all that I can do and how far I can go. If I fall, you guys can say I told you so. But if I succeed, you can congratulate me if you want to. I just don't understand why I'm receiving so much hate. I'm not the only one to go solo here. I just want you guys to support me the way I support you all. I apologize for not telling you guys my plans and just dropping the bomb during a concert. But I will not apologize for wanting to chase my dreams."
"So that's what it's all about, huh? Chasing your dreams?" Joseph asked sarcastically.
I sighed, "yes, Joseph."
"Well, you already chased your dreams once I put you in the group with your brothers when you were five. What more could you want, Michael? Quit being so selfish and continue to make music with your brothers. They need you."
"No, Joseph. You need me. You need me to keep the cash rolling in. You need me to be the cash cow in this family. And I was never chasing my dreams when I was in the group. I was chasing your dreams. And if I'm selfish because I want to live for me and follow my heart, then so be it." I got up from the table with Shayla in tow and headed for the door. I can't take this anymore. I knew this would all be trouble. I refuse to be made a fool of in this family. I refuse to be a cash cow for Joseph anymore. It's time I live for me. As soon as Shayla and I stepped foot out the door, lights flashed from every angle and direction. The sounds of shattering glass from different camera light bulbs sent Shayla in a frenzy as we quickly raced to the car.
"What is that?! Who are these people?!" Shayla screamed once we got in the car. Paparazzi took pictures in through the windows, almost causing me to drop my keys. The flashing lights continued to blind me.
"It's paparazzi. I don't know how they could have gotten in the gates." I hurried to start the car and honked the horn so that they would move. Once I was able to get away from them all, I called mother from the car phone to warn her of the paparazzi outside the door and instructed her to call the police.
How could the paparazzi get in like that?