top of page

Chapter 1

January 7, 2007

“Today is…” My eyebrows furrowed together in confusion as I thought about the day of the week. I peered from behind my new camcorder to look at Shayla. “Baby, what’s today?”

She straightened up and turned around to look at me, “ain’t no way you forgot it’s your children’s birthday.”

I sucked my teeth, “no, I mean the day of the week.”

“Sunday,” she went back to setting the table.

I looked back through the screen of my camcorder, “today is Sunday January seventh two-thousand seven and the twins are turning ten years old today. How do you feel Mimi?” I walked over to Milan to record her reaction.

“Baby, you forgot to take the lens cover off,” Shayla walked over and screwed the cover off of the camcorder she got me for Christmas.

“Guess I was too excited. Now, Mimi, how do you feel?” I looked back over at my daughter through the camcorder screen who was already annoyed with my antics.

“Dad…” she groaned as she looked up at me instead of looking into the camera.

“Quit complaining and smile!” I smiled behind the camera. “How does it feel to be ten years old?”

“How did you feel about turning ten?” She flashed a sarcastic smile.

“That’s a good question! I couldn’t celebrate my birthday at the time, but I felt really good about turning ten. Now back to you. How does Milan feel about turning ten?”

“It’s a step closer to sixteen,” she forced a fake smile this time.

“Yeah, well, we’ve got a long time until we get there,” I rolled my eyes as I panned over to my son. “MJ! How do you feel about turning ten?”

“Ion know,” he shrugged and looked side to side awkwardly. “How am I supposed to feel?”

“Excited! When I was your age, I didn’t get a chance to celebrate my tenth birthday. You do, so you should be excited!”

“Yay…” he sarcastically waved his hands in the air.

“Quit actin’ spoiled,” Shayla’s Mother said out of frame. “I swear, Shayla, your kids act like teenagers already. Allat travelin’ they done did, now they act like they can’t appreciate nothin’.”

“Or…” Shayla began. “Maybe they just want to blow out their candles and eat their cake. You of all people know that I do not raise spoiled children.”

“Hmph. If you say so,” Mom rolled her eyes the way annoyed elderly people do: long, hard, and exaggerated so that you know they’re annoyed.

“Can we sing ‘happy birthday’ now?” Matt’s son, MJ, asked.

“Go on, MJ, start it,” I told my nephew as I went to set the camcorder down to get a good view of everyone singing to the twins. Sometimes I wonder where the time went. My ten year olds are definitely acting like tweens instead of the teenagers Mom claims them to be. Yeah, they may be a little more mature than the average ten year old, but they’re far from spoiled.

Shayla moved into the ranch with me just before Christmas of 2003. It was our first Christmas as a family and one that I hold near and dear to my heart. After we all moved in together, we stayed on the ranch 24/7 to avoid any scrutiny and paparazzi. It definitely served it’s purpose. Shayla and I were fine hiding out on the ranch, but the twins quickly became bored, wanting to be amongst people again. That’s one thing I did not expect from my children. I didn’t expect for them to be such social butterflies, but they are. And in a way, I’m grateful because they are in fact normal children who want to do what other normal children do. So, in order to satisfy both the twins and keeping our privacy, Shayla and I did what we do best: vacation.

Over the course of two years, we visited Paris, Bahrain, Dubai, England, Oman, Germany, Venice, Rome, Japan, and Ireland. Our two year world tour ended in the twins birthplace, Las Vegas, where we met a new appointed bodyguard, Bill Whitfield. It’s comforting to have a “new” Bill running the show. Two years ago while we were in Bahrain, we were alerted of Bill Bray’s passing. It took a toll on me. I did everything in my power to attend the funeral, but unfortunately we couldn’t make it. I contacted his family and told them that I’d take care of anything they needed just as I had done for Bill. I’m just grateful that he was able to see the twins and Shayla and I get back together. Under Bill Whitfield’s recommendation, we also met another new security guard, Javon. Both men are very down to earth. It’s been a little under a month with them and I swear they’ve got to be the most down to earth security we’ve had. Well, Bill is more serious than Javon. Which, I understand, but I do want them to feel like they can live a little.

Vegas was home for a little under a month before paparazzi got to be too much after learning of our return to the states. Shayla and I discussed going back to the ranch, but after the twins alerted us that although we had been away for two years they still didn’t want to go back, we ruled that out. It was time for new scenery in the states. We just wanted to raise our children as normal as possible. While Shayla finally understood that I’ll always be who I am, I came into understanding long before her own realization that she just wanted a quiet life. That’s who I am now, only coming out of hiding when need be, which I don’t seem to want to do much. I just want to raise my children and enjoy my family. It’s what I’ve always wanted and living in California, Nevada, or New York will not give me that luxury. So, we weighed our options between places where people would leave us alone: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maine, Vermont, Washington, Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia, and Ohio.

After Shayla reminded me of how reserved Ohio can be, we settled on Middletown, Ohio for its privacy, lush green landscapes, the nice people in the area, and it gave us a chance to be close to Shayla’s family for once. We were able to obtain a nice house with five bedrooms and five baths sitting on one hundred three acres. Everyone loves it. Our neighbors were starstruck at first but they mostly mind their business. That’s one thing I like about Ohioans, they know how to mind the business that pays them. I never thought I would actually like Ohio as a place to live, but within the month we’ve been here, it’s proved to be a place that I enjoy. We’re unsure of how long we plan to stay here, but for now it’s everything we could have ever wanted.

This is my first time celebrating the twins birthday with Shayla’s family. Everyone is practically grown now. All of Robert and Mary’s children are out of the house except for Kyla, who’s graduating high school this year. And Matt’s daughter, Nova, is a sophomore. James and Angie are well over the hill by now enjoying their grandchildren. They’re still as fit and alert as ever. Nothing gets past them. It feels good to be back in the good graces of my in-laws. It didn’t take much, thankfully. Matt’s son, MJ, comes over the house more often than not, especially since Mimi doesn’t care too much to be bothered with her brother. It makes me sad that she’s slowly become irritated with her brothers existence, but she’ll get out of this phase soon enough. She’s just being a tween girl. Mimi was once my shy girl, but over the years, she has become quite the outspoken one. We keep her involved in many extracurricular activities. I want her to have fun before we get a head start on the career she so desperately wants for herself. I really don’t want her to work until she’s twenty-one, but Shayla warns me against sheltering our baby because of what I went through. When she tells us she’s ready, we’ll put her out there. MJ was once the outspoken one, but over the years he’s become more reserved, drowning himself in history books, Marvel, movies, his game systems, and whatever the heck Club Penguin is. He’s not interested in becoming an entertainer or anything else of the sort. He just wants to be a kid and I respect it. I think my little girl is trying to grow up too fast and it scares me sometimes.

“Happy birthday, M&M!” Kyla screamed over everyone else once we finished singing to the twins.

“Stop calling us that,” Mimi rolled her eyes at her older cousin and turned back to her cake. After sharing the same cake for six birthdays, the twins decided that they wanted individual cakes. Since then, they’ve had their own with their desired themes. As a big fan of Beyoncé, Mimi’s cake was decorated to feature the B’Day album, while MJ’s was a basic blue and gold. I was once warned that girls mature faster than boys, but the simple choice in cakes reminded me that Mimi is truly maturing faster than her brother.

“Can we cut our cakes now?” MJ looked up at Shayla.

“‘How old are you? How old are you…’” Dad’s bass voice started up the rendition of the continuation of the birthday song.

I went over to pick the camcorder up and panned over the entire family as we sang the second song. Ever since Shayla got me this camcorder, I’ve been recording everything. The HD resolution on this thing is priceless! I recorded the rest of Christmas Day on here, our New Years Celebration that we decided to have here with Shayla’s family, and I can’t wait to record more after today. Since we’ve gotten back together, I don’t take anything for granted. We’ve spent the last four holidays together, celebrating all of our birthdays, and I do my absolute best to make sure that everyone knows how close knit of a family we are. This is all I’ve ever wanted in life and I cherish it every single day.

“Shayla, I don’t know why you insist on all these individual candles,” Angie shook her head after the twins took several breaths to blow out each candle. I have to agree. I don’t understand why we didn’t get a one and a zero, but whatever makes Shayla happy.

“This is the last year we’ll be able to do it!” Shayla protested. “I’ll probably stop once they turn sixteen. By then it’ll be too much.”

“Daddy, Auntie Toya said I could call her once we’re done. Can I call her now?” Mimi turned to ask me.

I pointed the camcorder at her, “can’t you open your presents first and enjoy the family you have right in front of you? We’ll call her later, okay?”

“But she said she has a surprise for me!” Mimi pouted and crossed her arms.

“I know you ain’t pouting when you got cake and presents,” Shayla warned. “This attitude is getting out of hand. Can you cut her cake, hon?” She looked at me.

“Yeah,” I set the camcorder down so that I would be recording myself. “We’ll call her before the day is out, I promise.”

“You say that now but every time I remind you guys, somehow somebody forgets,” Mimi rolled her eyes.

“Roll them eyes again and somebody gon’ knock them eyes right outcha head, ya hear?” Mom warned. “Who does she get this attitude from?!” She looked between me and Shayla.

“I swear it happened overnight,” Shayla shook her head.

“Milan,” Dad started

“Yes, Grandpa?” My daughter turned to face him.

“Come here. Let’s take a walk,” he stood up, cane in hand as he reached out his other hand for her to take.

“Yes, sir,” she sighed and followed him out the door.

“Uh…” my son looked around the room awkwardly. “Can we cut my cake now? I’m ready to eat.”

I chuckled, “of course, son. Who are you gonna hand the first slice to?”

“Mom, cause she deserves it.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet, baby!” Shayla kissed his forehead.

This is only the second time I’ve seen the twins interact with Shayla’s family. They love her family so much. I hate that I tried to keep Matt away from his niece and nephew, especially since our sons are like two peas in a pod. Nova is like Mimi’s older sister. Maybe that’s why Mimi has a slight attitude now a days, her sixteen year old cousin has a slight influence on her. I have to find a way to keep Mimi a child. She needs to understand that we don’t get to stay children forever, so she needs to stop trying to grow up so fast. I wish someone had warned me about my little girl growing up to have random attitudes. It could be puberty, but so soon? We haven’t even given the twins “The Talk” yet. We planned on doing it sometime this year, but at this point, should we do it tomorrow?

Dad followed a skipping Milan back into the room. Whatever they talked about, Mimi is a whole new person. Grandparents have a certain charm to them that I am forever clueless about. I understand that they’ve raised children before, but how come they have the magic touch?

“Sorry, Daddy,” Mimi planted a kiss to my cheek. “Sorry, Mom,” she did the same to Shayla and went to sit in front of her cake. “I can’t wait to talk to Auntie Toya later, but for now, I’ll enjoy the family I have here.”

“That’s my girl,” Shayla smiled. “Daddy, what did you do?” She squinted at James with a smile playing at the corner of her lips.

Dad sat back down in his seat and smiled, “that’s my grandbaby. She apologized, didn’t she?”

Mom rolled her eyes, “he swears he has a special connection with the twins.”

“Jealous much?” Dad peered over at her, flirting.

“Hardly,” she playfully rolled her eyes.

I can’t wait to be that old flirting with Shayla. When we got back together, we were doing “official” things, like going out on dates and getting to know the new versions of ourselves, because after everything that had happened we were in fact new people. I learned a lot about the woman I’ve known since my early twenties. She’s mentally stronger than she used to be. She doesn’t take a lot of crap anymore. She’s incredibly defensive of our children, as she should be. “Titanic” by James Cameron is her favorite movie. She watches it every year and ugly cries each time because she loves how Jack taught Rose to live life to the fullest. After 9/11, she loves New York even more because of how resilient its people are. She takes working out much more seriously than before. If she misses a day at the gym, it throws off her entire week. She doesn’t write like she used to, but she has a passion project that she works on every once in a while. And therapy helped her in more ways than one. It was interesting peeling back the new layers of her and she enjoyed doing the same for me. I’ve come to understand that we actually needed that time apart in order to come back to each other stronger than ever. We had been together since she was nineteen. We grew up together and I don’t think a lot of people are fortunate enough to have done that. You hear stories about high school sweethearts and whatnot, but in reality those stories are slim to none. Most people meet their soulmate in their late twenties and up. Shayla and I grew up together and I don’t believe a lot of people realize the nuances behind that. A lot comes with growing old with the person you love, especially during the important years in your life that are supposed to lay the foundation for your later years. We needed that time apart to get to know new people, rediscover ourselves, and to come back to each other. I couldn’t imagine my life without Shayla before, but now I know that there is no one else out in this world for me.

After eating several slices of cake and finally opening presents, Mimi raced to the living room to catch the newest episode of “Hannah Montana” on Disney Channel and MJ and MJ migrated to the computer room to play Club Penguin together. I don’t understand how they can play Club Penguin together when they have two separate accounts. I’m still unsure about these computer games. I do my best not to be so protective so that the kids can enjoy being children, but I can’t help it sometimes.

“You gon’ turn that camcorder off?” Shayla pointed at the camcorder as she came to sit on my lap.

I looked up at her and planted a kiss to her lips, “maybe I want to capture this moment too.”

Mom scoffed, “y’all just don’t have no kind of manners, do you?”

“Let them be,” Dad told her.

“I would if they would just get married again. Over there acting like the teenagers they swear they ain’t already raisin’,” she shook her head.

“We’re not in a rush,” I shrugged. “We’re just focused on raising the twins.”

“The twins deserve to see their parents married.”

“The twins deserve a two parent household,” Shayla replied matter of factly. “That’s all that matters right now. It’s not like we haven’t been married before, Mom. It’s really not that serious.”

“Yeah, well, don’t come crying to me when your children are doing the same thing in the future. Unwed and having babies and carrying on,” Mom rolled her eyes.

“How come you don’t have this same energy toward Mariah?” Shayla asked.

“Because Mariah ain’t never giving me any grandbabies. And she for damn sure ain’t worried about getting married. What is she on boyfriend number six or girlfriend number three now? I can’t keep up with that child.”

“That’s the thing, Mom. She’s not a child anymore,” I chimed in.

She scoffed, “I still don’t understand this. First she’s dating married men, then she’s dating every man that lays eyes on her, dumps ‘em the minute he wants a full blown commitment, and now she’s laying up with women?! I’m just trying to understand where we went wrong!”

“We didn’t go wrong, Ange,” Dad chimed in. “We did exactly what we were supposed to do. We raised amazing children who follow their dreams, make their own choices, and live their lives to the fullest. Who cares if she likes men or women? She’s happy, right?”

“Hell, I don’t know what she’s feeling anymore,” Mom waved off the thought.

“Which is why you should call her.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

As of right now, Mariah is preparing for another tour with Beyoncé, which is why she wasn’t able to attend the twins birthday. My sister-in-law has really set out to accomplish all of her dreams and it doesn’t look like she’s gonna stop any time soon, which is why James and Angie have quit bothering her about getting married or having children. Since Shemar Moore, she’s been linked with the likes of Michael Ealy, Omari Hardwick, and Rick Fox. And since she’s dated two women, Mom doesn’t know what to think. Even though Mariah has been single since her last girlfriend, Mom is still hung up on the fact that she even dated a woman. No one cares but her. I think she just wants Mariah to settle down like everyone else, but I also believe that since Mariah has seen everyone else settle down, she doesn’t want to do the same. That’s one of the perks of being the baby of the family. You see where everyone else messed up and you do your best not to emulate that. Mariah and Janet are alike in that way. Being the youngest, I feel they have more freedom than everyone else and I truly enjoy that for them. When I was in my thirties, while I flirted with the idea of having children in the moment, I stayed just as busy as Mariah is now. Yeah, my in-laws were pressuring me to have children, but I’m glad we waited. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I’m sure Mariah feels the same way.

Shayla nuzzled her nose against my neck and ear, “wanna go upstairs?” I gave her my undivided attention so as to not cause any attention to ourselves and nodded. “Come on.” I helped her off my lap and stood up to finally turn the camcorder off.

“Where y’all goin’?” Robert asked.

“Nowhere,” Shayla shrugged as we made our way to the stairs.

“They just bein’ a healthy couple just like how you and Mary were back in the day. Leave ‘em alone,” I heard James say before a violent cough erupted from the dining room.

Shayla stopped dead in her tracks and turned around to go back downstairs. I immediately followed behind. “Is everything okay?” She asked upon reentering the room.

Matt was patting Mom’s back while Dad stood off to the side worry stricken. “Hand me a tissue, Shay. She’s coughing up blood.”

“Grandma?!” Mimi hurried into the room.

“Go back to the living room,” I told her. This is the last thing I would ever want her to see.

“Is she gonna be okay?” Worry fell across my daughters face.

“I’m okay, baby,” Mom said between coughs. “Listen to your father.” Mimi reluctantly walked back to the living room, her eyes on her grandmother the entire time before she was finally out of sight.

“How long has this been going on?” Shayla asked no one in particular.

“This is the third time in three months,” Dad shook his head.

“Three months?!”

“Y’all don’t worry about me. I’m alright. It’s just the weather,” Mom waved off the thought as she grabbed the tissue and wiped her mouth.

“No, it’s not. You’ve been saying that for the past three months,” Robert shook his head. “We’ve got to get you to a hospital, Mom. You can’t keep telling us no at this point.”

“I said I’m alright!” Mom insisted. “If you take me to the doctor, that’s just gonna be another bill I have to pay.”

“I’ll pay. Come on,” Shayla went over to grab her Mother’s hand.

“Shayla, I said I’m alright!”

“How is it that you can take care of everyone else, but the minute someone tries to take care of you you don’t want the help?” Dad opened his mouth to say.

“It’s not that, James, and you know it.”

“It is and you know it. We’re going to the hospital, Ange. I’m tired of seeing you like this. Come on,” he collected his coat and helped Mom put on hers.

“I’ll stay back with the kids. Y’all go on ahead,” Mary said as she went to the living room.

“You okay?” I asked Shayla. Worry was clear across her face. In the past, it was always James that was having health issues. He’s been fine over the years, but now Angie is the one having health problems. Now that they’re both in their eighties, health problems like these are far more critical.

“Yeah. You comin’?” She looked up at me, a flicker of fear flashed across her eyes.

“Of course,” I grabbed a pair of sunglasses before following her outside.

“What’s goin’ on, Boss?” Bill asked once we got outside. Javon was in tow as he saw our entire family rush outside.

“We’re taking Shayla’s Mother to the hospital. Mary’s in the house with the twins. Come on,” I said before throwing Bill the keys and sliding into the back of the GMC.

We all piled into our respective vehicles and made our way to the nearest emergency room. Dad decided a local clinic just wouldn’t cut it after Mom had been dealing with this for months. He wanted to know once and for all what was wrong with his sweetheart and I don’t blame him. I’d have done the same thing. After driving twenty-three minutes to the Middletown Regional Hospital, Mom got out of the car more irritated than she was before.

“I can’t believe y’all drove me all the way out here for some nonsense,” she sucked her teeth.

“If you deem your health nonsense, then so be it,” Shayla replied. “Come on. We’ll get you in and out of here.”

“After this, I want to go home. I done seen my grandbabies for their tenth birthday, y’all making me coming here against my will. Just take me home. I’ve seen all I needed to see.”

We walked into the emergency room where patients had clearly been waiting for hours to be seen. That’s one thing I’ve always hated about the hospital. I don’t understand how someone comes to “emergency” only to sit for hours on end. While Shayla, Robert, and Dad took Mom to the front desk, Bill, Javon, Matt and I sat in the waiting room. Patients peered to see if I was who they thought I was while trying not to look so obvious. It didn’t work. It never does.

“How’d you get picked to work for Mike and Shay?” Matt nudged Bill.

“Mr. Jackson’s people liked my resumé and the rest is history,” Bill shrugged as if it were no big deal.

“You like doing security work?” Matt looked over at Javon, who sat on the opposite side of me.

“It’s a nice gig,” Javon nodded.

“How long y’all gon’ be working for them?”

Bill had a slight smirk, “who knows? At first, it was just supposed to be a night job. Now we’ve been here for about a month. It’s nice, though.”

“Cool, cool. Listen, The Jackson’s are cool peoples. We Johnsons are just as great. I just want y’all to know that,” Matt looked between them.

“Noted,” Javon nodded.

“Don’t try to fuck my sister either. I’m sure y’all heard about what happened to the last guy who tried that. You told ‘em about that, right Mike?” Matt smirked. I opened my mouth to speak but was cut off by Bill.

“Your sisters in good hands. You ain’t gotta worry about us being like anyone else. You just worry about keeping your hands to yourself. I didn’t hear about the situation with Ms. Jackson, but I did hear about the altercation between you and Mr. Jackson. His previous security did a great job, but unlike him, I don’t give out warnings, right Javon?”

“Y’all know that’s water under the bridge, right?” Matt looked between my security guards. “Mike and I forgave each other.”

“The same way Mr. Jackson forgave Ms. Jackson. So, let’s not bring up old dirt.”

Silence fell over the three men. I wanted to smirk, but I kept that inside. I don’t even know why Matt would bring up old mess like that. Yeah, we’ve forgiven each other, but one things for sure, as old as Matt is, he’s still going to remain the same. That’s pitiful, to be honest. At fifty-one, he knows what’s distasteful and what’s not. He should have just kept his comment to himself.

“What y’all over here talm ‘bout?” Mom came over to sit.

“Nothing. When are you going to be seen?” I asked her just as Javon stood up to allow Shayla to sit beside me.

“Soon. You know how these emergency rooms are. Bill and Javon, y’all gon’ get some cake when you get back to the house? Y’all do so much protecting and trying to be unseen, I almost forgot y’all were at the party until we came outside.”

“Tryna watch my figure, Mrs. Johnson,” Bill smirked.

“Not me. I’ll have a slice from both cakes,” Javon laughed, causing everyone else to laugh.

An older white man with a Cincinnati Reds ball cap walked over, “are you-”

“Hold up. You can’t just come walking over here like that,” Bill immediately stood up.

“I just wanted to see if that was Michael Jackson,” the man told Bill before peering over his shoulder to look at me. “I’d heard that you moved here, but I didn’t believe it. You moved here of all places?”

“I did,” I nodded.

“Whatchu want? An autograph or somethin’?” Javon came over to ask.

“Can I get a picture?” The man peered over at me. Bill peered back at me as if to ask if it was okay.

“Well, I’m with my family right now. I can get you an autograph. You got a pen?”

“Yeah!” The man quickly went into his pants pocket and pulled out a pen and a balled up receipt. “It’s all I got, but it’ll work.” Bill and Javon moved aside to let the man through. He shook his head, “I can’t believe I’m meeting you right now. My daughter is gonna flip! She’s one of your biggest fans! What brought you in these neck of the woods?”

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Eugene, but you can call me ‘Gene.’”

“Gene…” I said as I scribbled my name on the receipt paper. “I’m with my family right now. That’s what brought me here.”

“So you have a house here?” He continued to prod.

“My family and I stay in the area. Here,” I handed the paper back to him. “Thank you for your support.”

“Aww man,” he smiled as he put the receipt back in his pants pocket. “Are you gonna release any new music soon?”

“I’m working on something,” I nodded. “You’ll be hearing about it soon enough.”

“Well, I look forward to it. I’ve bought every single one of your albums including the ones with your brothers. I wish-” he stopped talking once he saw Shayla. “Is it true that you two are back together after that Andrew Hammond fiasco?” At that, I quietly signaled for Bill to escort him away and sat back down.

“Time to wrap it up,” Javon came back over to the man and gently placed his hand on his forearm.

“Oh! Well, it was a pleasure to meet you all!”

“Thank you,” I nodded as Javon escorted him back to his seat.

“Mrs. Angela Johnson?” A nurse called out. We all rose at the call of Mom’s name. “I just need the patient.”

“No,” Mom said. “These people done dragged me here. They all comin’ in here with me.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnson, but there’s not enough room for everyone.”

“Well, let our security stand out in the hallway, but my children and husband who forced me to come here are coming with me whether you like it or not.”

The nurse nervously tapped her foot as she looked over all of us. Upon looking at me, she squinted, “is that-”

“Yes. Now, come on,” Mom walked through the double doors.

“I’m terribly sorry. Had I known-” the nurse began as she hurried to walk alongside Mom.

Mom stopped walking, “so, because it’s him, you’re going to treat us slightly better than the other patients outside?”

“No. I’m sorry if that’s how it came off,” she shook her head nervously.

“I’m already annoyed. You treating us better because of my son-in-law is only going to give me a migraine. Hurry up and get us in this room so I can get out of here.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the nurse finally led us to the nearest room. “The doctor will be in shortly. I’m just going to take your vitals really quickly.”

Javon and Bill stood outside of the room while the rest of us went in and stood off to the side. Dad stood beside the exam table as we waited for Mom to complete her vitals.

“This has been going on for three months, Dad?” Shayla asked. Dad nodded. “Why didn’t anybody call me?”

“The boys had it taken care of. You were busy traveling the world. Your mother didn’t want to worry you,” he sighed.

“Well, someone should have told me something. Three months is entirely too long for her to have been doing this. And for her to have never gone to the hospital until now?” Shayla looked between her brothers. “What’s up with that?”

“She didn’t want to go,” Robert shrugged. “Your Mother is just as hard-headed if not more than your Father was back in the day. We couldn’t force her.”

“If I didn’t know about this until now, there’s no way Mariah knows about this.” All three men shook their heads no. Shayla sighed heavily and closed her eyes, “I just hope it’s nothing serious.”

“It’s not,” Mom said as she sat on the exam table.

Shayla sucked her teeth, “how do you know? You’ve been telling everybody not to get you checked out.”

“Because I do. It’s never been anything serious with me before and it’s not going to be anything serious with me now.”

“Whatever. I just don’t want you coughing up anymore blood.”

“I won’t. I just don’t want y’all to keeping worrying about me like I’m ‘bout to die or something.”

“You could be since you haven’t let anybody get you checked out!”

“So, you want me to die, Shayla?”

“Shayla, please,” Dad begged. “Angela, our daughter is just looking out for you. The tables turned a long time ago.”

“I may be old, James, but I still know how to take care of myself,” Mom clapped back.

“It’s okay to admit that we need a little help every once in a while.”

“Who said anything about needing help?”

“Mrs. Johnson?” The doctor finally walked in and scanned the crowd, his eyebrows raising at the sight of all of us. “Oh, I didn’t realize we were having a party.”

“Your nurse tried to prevent my family from being in here, but since they dragged me here I told her they have to come with me,” Mom said matter of factly.

“Fair. How is everybody?” Everyone nodded with their sentiments. “Normally, we don’t let the entire family in, but I understand Mrs. Johnson’s concern. Mrs. Johnson, you do understand that everything I discuss with you will be heard by your entire family, correct?”

“Isn’t that why I brought them all in here? They’re the ones who brought me here, they need to hear what’s going on.”

“Okay, well, let’s hear your breath and get some blood work.”

If all of this leads to something serious, I don’t know what I’ll think. To know that Mom has been dealing with this for three months and has never wanted to be seen by a doctor is concerning. What if that simple act cost her something that could have been prevented a long time ago? Thank God Shayla was so adamant about bringing her Mother here. I understand the slight pushback her brothers and Father may have felt, but sometimes you’ve got to push against the grain. They should have got Mom help a long time ago.

This makes me think of my own parents. I have to call them. The last time we spoke was New Year’s Day. Only six days ago, but while I’m witnessing this I just want to make sure they’re okay health wise. Katherine has had a few health issues here and there, just as Joseph has. Thankfully it’s never been so serious to have to bring them to the ER.

“Alright, Mrs. Johnson, here’s what we’re gonna do,” the doctor went over to his clipboard after conducting all of his tests. “You live in Cincinnati, right?”

“I do,” Mom nodded.

“So, I heard some abnormalities in your lungs when you breathed for me. Have you had any issues with breathing?”

Mom’s eyebrows furrowed together as she thought about it, “I’ve noticed some issues, but I just chucked it up to old age.”

He shook his head, “it’s not old age. We’re going to do some tests on the blood I collected and we’ll get you back in here if we notice something odd. By the sound of your breath, I can tell you now, something isn’t right.” A noticeable weight seemed to blanket across the room. “So, I’m going to get you in to your local hospital so we can get you in for a chest X-ray and a spirometry. If what is found that I think it may be, we’ll have to get you in for a bronchoscopy.”

“What do you mean ‘think?’ What do you think it is?”

“It could be a lot of things. Bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, pneumonia… It could be a lot, so we need to do these tests to pin point exactly what it is.”

“Doc, I… I’ve never smoked a day in my life. I’ve never really been sick. Where could this have possibly come from?” I could hear the concern in my Mother-In-Law’s voice. At first, the thought of coming to the hospital annoyed her. Now that she’s getting important information that could affect her health, she’s taking this more seriously.

“Not all of these come from smoking, Mrs. Johnson. It could be a variety of things. The air you breathe in day in and day out could be affecting your lungs. It could be a lot, but that’s why we’re here. To figure out what’s going on. It’s a good thing your family brought you in,” he nodded at us with a slight smile on his face. “They care about you. That’s always a beautiful things to see.”

“That they do…” Mom said more to herself than to anyone else.

“I’m gonna get you signed off here and my nurse will give you the information you need to set up your appointments. Do you or anyone else have a question?” The doctor looked around.

“She’s been dealing with this for three months, unbeknownst to me,” Shayla spoke up. “Do you think that may have made anything worse since she hasn’t been treated?”

“More than likely,” he nodded. “But we’re going to get this taken care of now, that way it doesn’t get any worse than it is now.”

“Okay. Thank you,” a look of content washed over my lovers face.

“Welp, you all have a safe drive home and uh,” he walked over to me. “It’s a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Jackson. I’ve heard so much of you living in our town and I just want to say that it’s an honor.”

“Thank you for helping my Mother-In-Law,” I shook his hand, bringing his attention back to the situation at hand. This isn’t a meet and greet. We’re here to make sure my Mother-In-Law is in good health.

“It’s an absolute honor to serve your family,” he smiled before leaving the room.

Mom sighed, “now what?”

Now,” Dad began. “We make those appointments so we can get you checked out. Why didn’t you tell anybody your breathing changed?”

“It felt like it was just from old age!” Mom protested.

“‘Old age’ my butt. You knew your breathing wasn’t right. We could have gotten this taken care of last year.”

“I just want to go home,” Mom shook her head.

“Yeah and once we get there we’re gonna set those appointments. I’m ready to go,” Dad shook his head in disbelief. I understand him. Mom was always so urgent in getting help for Dad when his health wasn’t right, but when it came to her, she never wanted anyone to help. Maybe it’s because she’s just always felt like she needs to help people. That’s understandable, but we have to understand that we too will need help someday. You can’t do life alone no matter how much you try. And the sad thing is, even in marriage, people try to do life alone. I know that all too well.

“Please call me when you guys go to the appointments, okay?” Shayla hugged each of her parents. “I said I’ll pay. I mean it.”

“Insurance will cover it,” Dad reminded her.

“They won’t cover all of it. Call me the second you get a bill, okay?” Shayla looked at her Mother. “I love you, Mom. I just want you here for a long time. Is that okay?”

Mom playfully rolled her eyes, trying to hide the smile that forced its way across her lips anyway, “I know. I’m going to be here for a long time. Once I beat whatever this is, you’ll see me on God’s green earth until I’m at least one hundred fourteen. Isn’t that right, James?”

“Yep. I’ll be one hundred sixteen by then,” Dad smiled proudly.

Shayla sighed a breath of relief, “I’ll be seventy-eight by then. That’s perfect.”

“So, stop your worrying, okay?” Mom planting a kiss to Shayla’s cheek. “It’s just life. Sometimes we have hiccups and sometimes we cough up a little bit of blood.”

“That’s not funny,” Robert reminded Mom.

“Never said it was,” Mom shrugged. “It’s a metaphor I just made up.”

“In the mean time, we need to get you around cleaner air!” Matt tried lightening up the mood.

“That we do. As a matter of fact, your Mother and I are going to take a walk in Winton Woods before we go home.”

Shayla laughed and shook her head, “I can’t believe you guys are this sharp in your mid-eighties. Please keep your cellphones on, okay?”

“Rach and I will go with them and make sure they get home alright,” Matt volunteered before looking over at me and Shayla. “Y’all okay with keeping Nova and MJ for the night?”

“On a school night?” I reminded him.

He closed his eyes and sighed, “that’s right. We’ll pick them up after we get Mom and Dad home, cool?”

“Fine by me.”

We all hugged and bid our farewells before leaving the building and making sure everyone got in their vehicles okay. Shayla and I slid in the back of the GMC while Bill and Javon took the front two seats to drive us home.

“Who would have known such a celebration would have turned into this, huh?” Shayla sighed as she leaned into me.

I kissed her forehead, “what’d your Mother say? That’s life, right?”

“Yeah, I guess. Mimi looked scared, didn’t she?”

I nodded, “she did. We’ll just have to explain to her and MJ that their grandmother will be alright.”

“And she will. She’s just stubborn.”

“Exactly. Now, I see where a younger Shayla-Elizabeth and now my daughter got it from,” I chuckled to myself.

She laughed, “I’m glad you said that was the younger me instead the me of today. Mom’s asking where Mimi got her attitude when she should clearly look in the mirror. My Mother is the source.”

“At first, I thought she got it from Nova, but at this point they both get it from their grandmother.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” Shayla rolled her eyes. “Well, like it did me, I’m sure it’ll go away from them soon.”

“You sure about that?” I raised a suspicious brow.

She sat up to look at me, “yeah… why?”

“Mariah is about to be thirty-two and she’s still acting the same.”

Shayla shook her head until I noticed something else on her mind. “Mm. Between my Mother, Mariah, and having LaToya for an aunt,” she raised a suspicious brow at me and smiled. “Mimi doesn’t stand a chance, does she?”

“Now, why’d you have to bring Toy into it?” I laughed.

“Our children have genes from you and me. It took two to tango, boo,” she smirked.

“We’re raising a diva, aren’t we?”

“That we are.”

“We gotta nip that in the bud before it’s too late,” I told her.

“Way ahead of you.”

48 views6 comments
bottom of page