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Chapter 16

“Happy Birthday, Daddy!” Michael and Milan blew their noisemakers after they sang the happy birthday song to me.

I only ever celebrated my birthday for my children because they enjoyed the cake and festivities that came with it.

When they were one and two, I didn’t bother celebrating my birthday. After my divorce, I didn’t even care to celebrate it anymore. During my marriage, I only observed it because of Shayla.

Once the twins caught onto the idea of birthdays, they pressured me into celebrating mine. I couldn’t tell them no. They want to celebrate their daddy. I couldn’t do such a thing when I was growing up, so who am I to rob my children of that experience? That’s all part of being a kid.

So, like last year, I had a cake prepared, made sure the living room was decorated, and we celebrated my birthday alone in Neverland.

As if today wasn’t already a reminder of my first child’s death and the death of my ex-sister-in-law, Dee Dee, in the same weekend, young singer Aaliyah Haughton passed away on the twenty-fifth in a car crash.

Shayla would always have her CDs playing, and Janet often spoke highly of her, hoping to meet her someday as Aaliyah had made it well known that she was a big fan of my sister.

At twenty-two, Aaliyah had her whole life ahead of her, so it hurts to know that she died at the hands of pure negligence.

I called the Haughton family to send my deepest condolences. They told me that they had received a similar call from Shayla and were grateful to hear that my ex-wife had been a fan of their daughter. Aaliyah was hurt about our divorce, but it was her dream to have met us someday. I told them if they needed anything that I’d help them in any way I could, to which they happily obliged.

Even with all of this on my mind, my children still had a good time.

“Make a wish! Make a wish!” The twins chanted.

“Okay, okay,” I laughed as I stood up to blow out my candles.

“Remember, daddy, you can’t tell what you wished, or it won’t come true,” my daughter reminded me.

“Thank you, baby,” I said before closing my eyes.

“Make it a good wish!” Michael encouraged me.

After thinking long and hard, I finally blew out my candles. Michael and Milan screamed yays and clapped.

“Can we have cake now?” They jumped up and down excitedly.

“Let me cut the slices first,” I grabbed a plate and instructed them to sit down.

If anyone were to see me now, they’d probably think I was miserable. In truth, I’m having one of the best days in my life.

For the second year in a row, I’m celebrating my birthday with my kids. It doesn’t get any better than this. And now I’m looking forward to my birthday all over again.

After giving each of them a slice of cake, Michael immediately began to eat.

“Wait, Mikey!” Milan stopped her brother. “Daddy hasn’t said grace yet!”

“For cake?” He asked with a mouthful.

I couldn’t help my laughter, “yes, Michael. We still have to thank Jehovah for our cake.”

“And for Daddy’s birthday!” Milan chimed in.

“Exactly,” I nodded.

Michael slowly chewed and finally swallowed his cake, “sorry.”

“It’s okay. Now you know for next time,” I told him and grabbed my children’s hands for prayer.

I thanked Jehovah for another year, my children, family, and whatever he has in store for us in the future. I also asked him to shower the Haughton family in his love and finally thanked him for the cake, which prompted my son to dig in again before I could fully get “amen” out.

Milan carefully cut her slice of marble cake with her fork and began to eat.

Out of everything I’ve created, my children are my most incredible creations. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

“How’d you like Mr. Hammond?” I asked. A couple days after meeting with me, Shayla told me that she let Drew meet our children. She took my last statement as my blessing and arranged a day for them to go out. It wasn’t necessarily my “blessing,” but I couldn’t really argue with what I said.

“He’s cool,” Michael said nonchalantly.

“He’s so nice!” Milan gushed.

“Is he?”

“Mmhm,” they both nodded.

“Where’d you go?” I’m nosy, but I also genuinely want to know what they think of the man that Shayla has brought into our lives.

“We saw Osmosis Jones,” Milan counted on her fingers. “Got pizza, and then he and mommy took us to the fair so we could do bumper cars!”

“But we’ve got bumper cars here,” I pointed to the backyard.

“Yeah, but this was the fair, daddy,” my son reminded me.

“Who’s to say we can’t have a fair here?”

“But we were with mommy, daddy… Mommy doesn’t really come here.”

“That’s true. Well, did you guys enjoy the fair?”

“Mmhm!” They both nodded enthusiastically.

“I wanna go again!” Milan beamed.

“Do you like the fair better than Neverland?”

“Yes!” Milan proudly proclaimed.

“No,” Michael said as he handed me his plate for another slice of cake.

My heart sank at Milan’s proud proclamation. Everything the fair has, I have more of and then some. And she’s so fortunate to call this place home. How could she prefer the fair over Neverland?

“Why do you like the fair more, Milan?”

“There are so many people!” My shy girls’ eyes lit up in excitement. “And so many kids like me! There’s nobody here, daddy. Just us,” she scrunched up her face in disapproval.

“But I didn’t like all the lines,” Michael groaned. “Here, we don’t have to wait in line with so many people. Those lines took forever!”

“I bet,” I nodded.

“But I got to play with other kids. And Mommy and I got to hit other people’s bumper cars! At Neverland, I’m only hitting your car, Mikey….” That statement alone hit me like a ton of bricks.

When I created Neverland, my intent was to bring everything on the outside in because I couldn’t experience it out in the real world without being hounded by fans and the media. Of course, there have been lonely days. That’s why I would open my home to the public to enjoy. It’s why I didn’t mind if Family Days, weddings, or birthdays were held here.

Once the raid happened, I cut back on a lot, only allowing family events and private events. So, I figured my children would enjoy it since everything is ours. But now, my shy girl is telling me that she prefers the opposite of everything I created this for… She picked the very reason why I chose to have a place like this to call my home.

She will never fully understand why I created this place until she gets older, but I respect her reasoning for now.

I cleared my throat, “would you prefer if we invited more people here?” I asked her.

“No… I just wanna go back to the fair,” she beamed, not understanding that her denial was slowly breaking my heart.

I guess I never thought about this. Or maybe this is only because she’s four, and being around more kids at the fair is just exciting to her now. Once she gets older, she’ll understand and enjoy the serenity that I created Neverland to have.

“We’ll go back to the fair,” I forced a smile.

“Eeeee!” She squealed. I’ll do whatever I can to keep a smile on my daughters’ face. Even if it comes at my own expense…

“But back to the topic at hand… Mr. Hammond was okay?” I asked.

“I like him,” Michael shrugged. “He kept kissin’ mommy, though,” he stuck his tongue out in disgust.

I covered my mouth to hide my laughter.

“Yeah, that was nasty,” Milan agreed. Well, I guess that’s one thing we can all agree on.

“Daddy, if you get a special friend, don’t kiss her. That’s nasty,” Michael told me.

I laughed, “I’ll try not to.”

“No. Don’t try. Do. Because kissing gives you cooties,” he affirmed.

“So, you’re telling me your mother has cooties?”

“Yeah! She can’t kiss me no more!”

“Well, I’ll make sure to pass the message.”

“Good!” He nodded matter of factly.

“I’ll be back,” I stood up. “When you’re done with your cake, go outside and play on the jungle gym. I’ll be out shortly, and then we’ll go to the carousel. Got it?”

“How long are you gonna take?” Milan asked.

“Five minutes. Cake and jungle gym, alright? Nothing else.”

“Cake and jungle gym. Got it,” they said in unison. That twin telepathy will always be unique to me.

I kissed the top of their heads and headed back to my room to retrieve medicine my latest doctor has allowed me for my unbearable pain.

I’ve been cautious as to how much I take and how often I use it. Very rarely do I ever take it around the kids. But all this Andrew talk has me on edge…

After taking my medicine, I went outside to find the kids hanging upside down on the monkey bars.

I clasped my hands together, “ready to go to the carousel?”

“Yes!” They jumped down and ran over to me.

“Daddy, you look like you need to take a nap,” Milan said as she looked up at me.

“Me? A nap? Noooo. Come on, let’s go.”

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