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Chapter 42

Photographs of Drew and I were plastered everywhere two days after our day at the beach. Most tabloids hinted at a breakup, while others were convinced that we were arguing about Michael. The latter was true, but the rumors of a rekindling of Michael and I that continued are not. Alongside our argument, the news has also caused an even more immense strain on our relationship. I haven’t spoken with Drew since I left. Why can’t we all just get along? My children are babies. The last thing anyone would want is their children to have ill memories of their parents.

I checked my watch before heading toward the door. 9:53 p.m. Departure is in two hours. I need to hurry. This new TSA does not play around.

After a long drive to LAX, I was escorted to the tarmac, where I met Michael and the twins on a private jet. The flight attendants greeted me, asking if they could help in any way, but I declined and headed straight for my children, who greeted me with hugs and kisses. You’d think we were away for months by how they welcomed me. Afterward, I went over to greet Michael.

“You and Drew okay?” He asked as he pulled me in for a quick hug.

I sighed, “no. We probably should have been more mindful about paparazzi because that certainly doesn’t help our case.”

“It happens,” he shrugged. “What was the argument about?”

“He didn’t want me to come on this trip.”


“It’s complicated.” I turned around and hailed a flight attendant, “can I get a very strong vodka cran?”

“Absolutely,” she nodded and hurried to the galley.

“If you need to talk, we’ve got three whole days together,” Michael reminded me.

“Thanks. I’ll consider it.”

Michael and I got the twins ready for the flight, strapping them into their seats. They’re filled with energy now, but once we get in the air, they’ll be knocked out before we know it. As we prepared for takeoff, I noticed Michael gripping his armrests tightly.

“You still hate takeoff?” I offered a comforting smile.

He smiled nervously, “no matter how often I fly, I still hate it.”

I gestured toward the twins, who were halfway out of their seats, watching as the plane went up into the sky. “Look at your kids.” He looked over. As much as I knew he wanted to say something, he didn’t because he didn’t want to ruin the magic they were witnessing. “Just as fearless as ever.”

“I wonder who they get that from,” Mike looked at me. “Because based on what I look like right now, they definitely don’t get that from me.” We both laughed as we watched the twins take in the bird's eye view of Los Angeles.

I understand Drew’s concerns because I’d feel the same way if the shoe were on the other foot, but seeing this… Seeing my children excited for all of us to go on a family vacation is something that I could not pass up. They were elated when they found out their father was taking them to his hometown. And when they found out I was coming along, they were even more excited. I really want something like this forever. Every two years, we should really do something as a family. It’s platonic. That’s it. Drew only feels the way he does because of everything that has been going on this year. When we did this very thing two years ago, he had no problem. In another two years, he’ll be fine. We have to compromise somehow.

“Are you ready to get married again?” Michael asked me once we finally reached our cruising altitude.

I sighed, “I don’t even know anymore.”

“How come?”

“Drew and I had a huge disagreement a couple of days ago. It’s making me question everything now.”

“Question what?”

“How this is gonna work. Why all of a sudden, Drew is showing his true colors now. It’s just a lot to take in.”

“It seems like everything has been peachy keen. Now you guys are on the rocks?”

“I think his insecurities are finally surfacing. I just hate that I have to see it so close to the wedding.” I hope I’m not just brushing Drew’s feelings under the rug. I take his feelings to heart. He just has to trust me. “What really happened between you and Nina? She seemed like such a great fit,” I turned back to Michael.

“Oh… She just had a lot bottled up. Made for a pretty messy breakup,” he shrugged.

“I was hoping she would have been around for the long run.”

He sucked his teeth, a smirk making its’ way across his lips, “no, you didn’t.”

I laughed, “I did! Really! I didn’t expect her to be gone so soon.”

“You wanted her out, Mother wanted her out… You thought she had ulterior motives?”

“…did she?”

“She may have, but that’s not why we broke things off.”

“So, I was right!” I laughed. “I knew it. I could see right through her. But hey. The good thing is that you can find someone else in no time.”

“Eh… I think I’m gonna cool off for a little bit. She kind of showed me why I should lay low. Maybe being single is my calling right now. I can understand it.”

“You really think so?”

“I’ve got kids to raise. The last thing that should be on my mind is some woman.”

“Is that shade?”

He laughed, “no. You’re about to get married. There’s a difference. You deserve this. I’m happy for you, and I’m happy that the kids get to see a functioning couple.”

“Thanks…” Everything was functioning well until now, it seems. I don’t know if I want my children to witness this mess. I don’t want them to grow up with a jealous stepfather. I’d rather be single and do various things with Michael than be married to a jealous spouse and have to do something separately with the kids because of it. Now I have entirely too much to think about on this trip. But at least Drew and I have space, and by the time I get back to him, prayerfully, this will all be sorted out for better or worse…

The twins were asleep by the time we got to Chicago. Michael and I each had a child in our arms as we maneuvered through the airport to our rental and finally to the hotel. We put the kids to bed in Michael’s suite and convened in the living room before I went to my own suite.

“You okay?” Michael asked me before I went to my room.

“Yeah. Just tired. Got a lot on my mind. Thanks so much for inviting me. I guess I needed the trip,” I dragged my right hand across my right cheek.

“You’re more than welcome. This’ll be fun. I’m sure of it. Uh, here,” he handed me a piece of paper. “We kinda got a schedule. I hope you’re okay with that.”

I looked over the contents of the paper. Our day begins in four hours. I already can’t wait for the day to be over. “It’s okay. As long as the twins get to see as much as possible.”

He nodded with a small smile, “thanks for coming, Shayla. I really appreciate it.”

“Always,” I pulled him in for a hug. He held on a little longer than usual and finally let me go. I offered a comforting smile and went to my suite next door.

We may not be on talking terms right now, but I want to let Drew know that I made it to Chicago okay. I picked up the hotel phone. I could easily call him from my cell phone, but I want him to know exactly where I’m staying. I want him to see that he can trust me even though he feels he can’t.

The phone rang twice until I heard the voicemail. He declined my call…

“Hey, baby. I know you’re not the happiest with me, but I wanted you to know that we made it to Chicago okay. I’ll call you back later on today. I love you.” I put the phone back on the hook and went to my bedroom. It’s gonna be a long day.


Today is gonna be a long one. Gary is about thirty minutes from here. We’re meeting with the Mayor because Michael is being gifted the key to the city, and most importantly, we’re visiting Michael’s childhood home.

The twins were not too happy to be awake this early, but they perked right up once Michael and I got some food in them.

“Why do we have to dress up?” MJ asked us as we rode to Gary.

We’re being led into the city by a motorcade of police motorcycles, vans, and security. It’s been a long time since I’ve had something like this, and it takes me back to those years when I had no choice but to have it.

“Well,” Michael began. “Today’s a big day for Daddy. I want you guys to see where I grew up, but we’re also gonna meet some special people today.” He was dressed in a black ensemble with white and gold lace material on the shoulders. His infamous aviator glasses sat on top of his head while we were in the car, but he assured me he planned to wear them all day.

Mimi wore a black and white striped dress with a white flower on her left shoulder. We dressed MJ in an ensemble similar to his father’s, minus the white and gold lace. And to distinguish myself, I wore a black pink color block asymmetric shoulder bodycon long-sleeve dress.

I can’t match too much. The media already thinks Michael and I are getting back together. I bought this shortly before I left LA. With Drew on my mind, I didn’t want him to think we matched like a family. I had to find a way to distinguish myself somehow. Mimi wanted to dress just like me, but I told her she had to match with her father and brother. She didn’t like that too much.

“Who are we gonna meet?” Mimi asked.

“The Mayor and some people from City Hall. It’s gonna be a fun day. I promise,” Michael kissed her forehead.

“Will we get a chance to play?” MJ asked.

“Once we get you out of them clothes, of course, you can,” I told them. I’d hate for them to mess up these nice outfits. Fine children’s clothes are not cheap.

When we finally pulled into Gary, the same dilapidated buildings that were there the last time I visited in the eighties continued to stand tall.

“What is that smell?!” Mimi scrunched up her face as she pinched her nose. I chuckled to myself. She reminded me of a nine-year-old Mariah when we brought my family to visit.

“This used to be a steel town,” Michael told the twins. “Your Grandpa Joe used to work in one of the factories here.”

“Is that why it stinks so bad?” Mimi gagged.

Michael laughed, “there may be some environmental issues here. Look, there’s the baseball stadium where the RailCats play.”

“‘The RailCats?’” MJ was far from impressed. Michael and I couldn’t help but laugh.

As we drove around the corner towards City Hall, fans lined the streets screaming Michael’s name. The twins kneeled on their seats to look at the commotion outside. Fans held up homemade signs with Michael’s pictures, lyrics, and many “I Love You’s” to Michael. Michael finally pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes as he mentally prepared himself.

“All these people are here to see Daddy?” Mimi asked me.

“Mmhm,” I nodded.

“Why do you know all of these people?” MJ asked his father.

“I don’t know them,” Michael said softly. “They’re fans of my music, son.”

“So, you don’t know everyone in your hometown?”

“Nope,” Michael shook his head. “It’s important that I come home to show them that I appreciate their support. Had it not been for everyone here, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

We finally pulled up to the City Hall building, where fans lined the steps. The police had to make way for our limo because there were so many people. My little girl sat back in her seat while her brother looked out at the fans. I can already tell that she’s retreating into her shell.

“Now, we’re going to go inside and see those special people I told you about, okay?” Michael told the twins. “You ready?” They nodded.

Mimi took my hand, “is Daddy gonna be okay?”

“Oh, baby. He’ll be fine. I promise,” I smoothed out her hair.

Security opened the door. Michael got out first to a host of screams with MJ and Mimi in tow. Then Michael reached his hand out to grab mine and helped me out of the limo. Surprisingly, the screams got even louder. Mimi nervously bit her nails as she looked around at the screaming fans. MJ’s face was more serious than his father’s. And I just smiled. The last time I experienced this was two years ago.

“I knew they were back together!” A fan said matter-of-factly.

“She ain’t marrying that other dude. She and Michael belong together,” another fan sucked their teeth.

I wish I could tell them that this is just a family vacation. Everything is not as it seems.

I took Mimi’s hand while Michael took MJ’s hand, and both of the twins held each other’s, forming a family fence as we walked up the stairs to city hall.

As Michael turned to wave to the fans, a woman broke through the wooden barrier to get to Michael. Security tried holding her off until Michael told them it was okay. I stood back with the twins.

“How are you doing?” The fan asked like she didn’t completely put my children in danger. “Good to see you!”

Michael pulled her in for a hug, “good to see you too.”

“I- I hate to do that, but I-”

“Let me get up here so I can wave,” Michael turned his back on her and returned to us. “You guys okay?”

“We’re fine,” I told him.

“Who was that?” Mimi asked.

“No one. Come on,” Michael picked her up and walked up to the top of the stairs. MJ and I followed behind. “Wave to the fans, Milan,” Michael took her hand so she could wave. I stood beside Michael and made MJ wave as well. Fans and media snapped so many photos of us. I just know these will end up in the latest magazine alongside a headline saying something like “Michael’s Got His Family Back,” and I’m going to have to deal with Drew when he sees it. Maybe he was right about me. I shouldn’t have come.

We finally made it inside City Hall. Allotted people held up “Welcome Home Michael” signs and cheered as we walked through the building. It’s always been so interesting to see Michael like this. Greeting fans, taking photos and relishing in the praise he got. In our relationship, I never liked being in the mix of it. It made me anxious. But being with him and my children, I can’t afford to be anxious. I have to be as strong and look as resilient as Michael. Because if the twins see otherwise, they’ll exhibit the same feelings.

We were led to Room Twenty, away from all the mayhem. I can tell the twins finally feel like they can relax.

A man in a tan suit and white hair came up to us, “hi, Michael. I’m Mayor King. Mrs. Jackson,” he nodded and smiled at me.

“It’s Miss,” I corrected him.

“My apologies. And these must be your beautiful children,” he bent down. “How are you two today?” He gave the twins high fives.

“Fine!” Mimi beamed.

“I’m ready to go to my daddy’s house,” MJ said matter-of-factly. He’s ready for all of this to be over with. I can’t say that I blame him.

“Well, alrighty then,” the Mayor laughed as he stood back up. “Anyone in Mr. Jackson’s group is welcome to stay.”

“Mark,” Michael called. “I won’t be answering any questions to the press.” He turned to me, placing his hand on the small of my back. “You still doin’ okay?”

I smiled, “yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”

“I just wanna make sure. If you wanna go, just let me know. I’ll shut all of this down.”


“I’m serious.”

“I know. Go on. Mayor King is waiting for you,” I watched as Michael spoke with the Mayor. The twins stood patiently, waiting for our next move.

“Mommy, can we look out the window?” Mimi asked me.

“Yeah, let’s go,” I led them over to the window while Michael signed records and took pictures with the Mayor and other officials.

“I wish Daddy didn’t have to have all these people around all the time,” MJ said as we looked out the window.

“Ms. Jackson,” Michael’s security came up to me. “We’re about to go to the next room for the press conference. Are you guys ready?” He gestured towards the twins.

“Yeah. Come on,” I took the twins by the hand and followed everyone into the next room. We were escorted up to the front with Michael and the Mayor. The media took photo after photo while waiting for the press conference to begin.

Michael took the twins and made them stand beside him. I stood beside Mimi to avoid appearing too close to my ex-husband.

The Mayor began with a welcome to Michael, me, and the twins. I kept a smile plastered on my face as the Mayor presented Michael with a key to the city. Mimi's nails returned to her mouth, and MJ kept the same stoic look on his face.

Once Michael began to speak, I couldn’t help but listen intently. This is his element. It always has been, and it always will be. I will admit that I never liked it initially, only because we came from different backgrounds. And when we married, we tried desperately to hold onto the anonymity of life that I was accustomed to while simultaneously continuing to let Michael live the life that he’s always lived. It was hard for me to accept. And it was incredibly hard for him to have to choose. As he continued in his career, he wanted that normalcy that came with being an average person, but his upbringing outweighed that. I would chastise him for not being able to separate the two, which wasn’t fair to him. He chastised me for not understanding it like him. I didn’t understand his life even when we finally came out about our marriage and he didn't understand why I wanted to be as normal as possible. If only I had understood what this life entailed and had been gracious of every aspect of him as he did the same with me, maybe our marriage wouldn’t have ended.

I can’t help but be in awe at how he holds the audience's attention. How he goes in and out of being the superstar version of himself, a father, and the person I’ve always known him to be. He’s struggled for sure, but it seems as if he’s finally found a way for all aspects of him to coexist. In our relationship, he tried to succeed at it. Still, if it wasn’t a manager, the fans, people taking advantage of him, or, unfortunately, me, who inevitably wanted him to choose, he probably would have come to this much sooner.

The two can coexist. It just takes boundaries, acceptance, and understanding for it to. The twins being here forced him to finally separate the two. I get it now. This will always be Michael. No one can change that. Not even me. I shouldn’t have tried to make him choose. I should have just let him try to navigate the two properly. No one can do what Michael does daily, but he does it with ease. I hate that I’m finally coming to understand this now. Everyone is not built for this, but Michael was. That’s why people adore him. I’ll admit that I was never made for this lifestyle, but my love for Michael outweighed that and forced me into it. I guess I just always wanted the world to see what I saw, but now I know that it is okay that he reserved his true self for his personal life only. The whole world doesn’t deserve access to him like that. God, I wish I had understood that sooner.

The way he’s navigating these people, but turning it off for a quick second to check on me and the twins. The way he always makes sure I’m okay with Drew. He’s always been such a phenomenal person, even when we put each other through hell. We both still have our problems, but aside from that, we’ve always taken care of each other.

After the audience applauded, Michael took my hand and led me out of the room. I’d be lying if I said that simple act didn’t send shivers down my spine. Maybe Drew is right… I do still feel deeply for Michael. I don’t think I should be getting married if my ex-husband can still make me feel this way.

As soon as the doors to City Hall were opened, we were met with another series of screams. Michael stopped and waved to everyone.

“Wave at the fans,” he told MJ and Mimi.

“Again?” MJ groaned.

“We’re almost done, I promise,” I said behind a toothy smile.

“Michael, we love you!” Fans yelled as we walked down to the limo. I helped MJ and Mimi into the limo as Michael attended to his fans.

“Mommy, when I grow up, will people be like this for me?” Mimi asked.

“They’re doing this for you now, sweet pea,” I told her.

“Nuh uh! They’re doing it for Daddy. I want them to do this just for me someday.”

I laughed to myself, “it’ll happen just because of who your father is. But if you want them to do it for more than that, you’ve gotta live out your dreams.”

“Like Daddy did?”

“Yep. That’s why this happens to him all the time.”

“Okay,” she smiled as she looked out the window at the lined fans on the street.

Michael walked towards the limo and stood on the inside of the door to see more of the fans, which caused an even louder uproar.

“Why won’t they stop screaming?” MJ rolled his eyes just as his father sat on the top of the limo and stood on top of it so everyone could see him.

“Daddy’s crazy, mommy,” Mimi giggled.

The twins only see so much of their father doing things like this. I believe the last time was the thirtieth anniversary because we don’t want the twins out there like that. All they know is “Daddy,” but seeing this other side is like seeing a whole different person.

“Is everybody okay?” Michael asked once he finally got back into the limo.

“Can I give this to Michael? Can I give this to Michael?” A woman frantically asked one of the security outside.

Michael rolled down the window, “I have my children in here, but we can chat. What do you have?”

“Here!” She hurried past the security. “I drew this for you,” her eyes welled up with tears. “I want you to have this,” she handed him a medium-sized pink tube.

He opened it and pulled out a portrait of him from a photoshoot from nineteen ninety-five. “This is beautiful. Thank you!” He reached out to hug her through the window.

“Thank you! Are those your kids?” She pointed inside. “Hi, Michael and Milan! You guys are so beautiful! Hi, Shayla-Elizabeth! I hope you and Michael get back together. He needs his family together again. Oh my gosh, you have such a beautiful family, Michael! I love you!” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I love you too. I’ll cherish this. You did a wonderful job,” Michael signaled security to take her away so he could safely roll up the window.

“How does she know me and Mikey, Daddy?” Mimi asked once we started rolling.

“Because you’re my children. Everyone knows who you are because of me.”

“Daddy, why are these people running after us?” MJ asked.

Michael smiled, “because they’re excited that we’re here.”

“Are they gonna attack us?” Mimi asked.

“No. I’ll never let anything happen to you. I’ve let fans get in the car before, but while you’re here, I’ll never let that happen.”

That statement alone took me back to the days of the “Bad” and “Dangerous” tours when fans would hang onto our vehicles just to catch a glimpse of Michael. During the “Bad” tour, Michael would only allow so much so that I wasn’t seen, but during the “Dangerous” tour, when we got a little more lenient and made our announcements, he’d allow fans in the car, let them take pictures with us, or we’d have full blown conversations. He protected me then, and I’m glad he’s ten times more protective over our children.

We drove so slowly that fans planted themselves right on the windows and peeked through them. Several women’s breasts, both large and small, were planted hard on the windows.

“Look at all that fish,” one of Michael’s security smirked.

Michael chuckled to himself, “not in front of the kids. I don’t want to set a bad example.” He smiled, although he was staring rather hard at every size of the mammary glands squished against the windows.

“Cover your eyes, babies,” I told the twins.

“Why?” MJ groaned.

“Speed up, why don’t you?” Michael told the driver, laughing.

“Thank you…” I sighed.

“Can I uncover my eyes now?” Mimi asked just as we pulled up to the infamous house on Jackson Street.

“Yeah…” I told her as I looked around at the many fans along the streets and around the house. The last time I was here, it was so quiet. No one even knew we were coming. It’s such a big difference when Michael does something quietly and publicly.

“I can’t get around the house. There’s too many people around,” the driver told us.

“It’s okay! It’s okay! We’ll get in. They gotta do their job,” Michael sounded calmer about it, even with the slight irritation in his voice, than the driver.

“Are these all of your neighbors, Daddy?” Mimi asked.

“I’m glad we have Neverland,” MJ huffed.

“Not all of them,” Michael told them. “Most of them are from different places. Hey,” Michael turned to his security. “Tell them to stop. We’ve got a time schedule. They’re gonna blow the whole thing if we don’t get to the house now. Now! Tell ‘em I’m not playin’! I’m gonna turn around and go back.” Security shouted out the window to the motorcade to get us back en route to the house.

I knew this would be hectic, but I didn’t think it would be this hectic. I kinda hoped we could take the twins to see Uncle Luther. But that’s not gonna happen.

After three full circles around the block, we finally got through everyone and found a safe parking spot in front of the house. Michael helped me and the twins out. Mimi stuck to her Daddy like glue while MJ calmly held my hand. We all hurriedly went inside the house so the purpose of this trip could really begin for the twins.

Upon entering, we were met with Michael’s personal cameraman to document the experience. The house looked much different than before. Katherine still owns the house, but this time the house seems a little disorganized. Not like someone has robbed it, just that it needs better up keeping.

“Michael and Milan,” Michael said, causing our entourage to quiet down. “This is where I grew up. Your Grandpa Joe and Grandma Kate bought this house. Me and your aunts and uncles all grew up here.”

“In here?!” The twins asked in unison with disgust and surprise on their faces. Our entire entourage laughed, along with Michael and myself.

“Yep,” Michael nodded. “Your aunts, Rebbie, and LaToya slept in this very room. And,” he led us to one of the two bedrooms. “Your uncles and I slept in here. We had a bunk bed with three beds on it. And over here,” we went to the second and final bedroom. “Is where your grandparents slept with your Auntie Janet.”

“This is it?” MJ asked.

“How did you guys fit in here?” Mimi looks around.

“I can almost touch the ceiling!”

“I’ve never seen a ceiling before!” Everyone laughed at the twins’ outbursts.

If it weren’t for their Grandpa Joe, who knows what would have become of the Jacksons. Because of Joe’s hard work, sacrifice, and determination, his children went above and beyond to create a much better life for the second generation of Jacksons. My children have never seen a ceiling because of it.

“You guys didn’t have a pool?” MJ asked.

“Nope,” Michael shook his head.

“A movie theatre?” Mimi asked.


“A dining room?!”

“We had to make room in the kitchen.”

“I’m speechless,” MJ put his hands on his hips like an old man and continued to look around the house in utter disbelief.

“Give your Grandpa Joe an extra hug the next time you see him, okay?” Michael told the twins. “He did a lot for our family. He had his own dreams, saw that we had those same dreams, and helped us achieve them. Your family is rich in history. I never want you guys to forget where you came from.”

“Mommy, how come Grandpa Jim and Grandma Angie didn’t live like this? Their house is bigger than this,” Mimi looked up at me.

“We all grow up differently,” I told her. “You can’t compare the two. Just know that both of our different backgrounds gave us you, and now you get to grow up in houses with far more than my childhood home and your Daddy’s combined. Everyone did their best with what they had. Don’t you ever forget that, okay?”

“Okay,” she nodded. “Daddy, I’m sorry you grew up poor.”

I gasped, “Milan! That is not what I said!”

Michael chuckled to himself, “I didn’t grow up poor, Milan. I came from very humble beginnings. We made music in this small living room. If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today, I wouldn’t have met your mother, and you two wouldn’t even be here.”

“Huh?!” The twins asked in unison.

“Mmhm,” he nodded. “I’m appreciative of where I came from. I want you to be as well.”

The twins finally had space to run around and be themselves. At the same time, Michael took photos with the cameraman and spoke with members of our entourage. This would have been a lot better if Joe and Katherine had come. They could have really told stories about 2300 Jackson Street.

“Shayla, do you want to take a family photo before we leave?” Michael asked me.

“Sure,” I gathered the twins and met Michael in the living room.

“Once we’re done with this, we’re gonna visit Jackie’s high school and return to Chicago. Are you okay with that?”

“Yeah. I knew today was gonna be busy.”

“Are you having fun?”

I laughed, “are you?”

“I’m with you and the twins. Of course, I’m having fun,” he smiled and turned to face the camera, placing his right hand on the small of my back. He placed his left hand on MJ’s shoulder while I put both of mine on Mimi’s shoulders. Several photographs were taken capturing this moment that the twins will cherish for a lifetime.


We had dinner and finally made our way back to the hotel. MJ and Mimi were pooped and ready to go to bed. Tomorrow Michael wants to visit the mall to purchase a couple of things, and then we’d be on the flight back to LA. Today was eventful. I can’t wait to get out of this dress.

I helped Michael get the twins down. Because it’s still technically his week, the twins will be sleeping with him the entire trip. After tucking them in, I went to my suite to call Drew. We haven’t spoken in almost a week. So I really hope that he answers this time.

I picked up the phone and dialed his cell phone number, only to instantly get his voicemail this time. At least last night, his phone rang a little. “Hey, baby. I just got back to the hotel. I was just calling to check on you. Call me when you get this. I love you.” I sighed and hung up. He’s taking this harder than I expected.

I went to take a shower and got ready for bed. As I dried my hair, I heard a knock on the door.

“Coming,” I said as I went to the door to see Michael on the other side dressed in black silk pajamas. “Hey. Are the kids asleep?”

“Yeah. They’re knocked out. Mind if I come in?” He asked.

“Come on in. Are you okay?” I shut the door behind him.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay with you. It was a long day today, and I know you don’t like these things,” Michael stood off to the side.

“I’ve grown accustomed to it. It’s nice seeing you in your element now.”

“Yeah?” He smiled.

“Mmhm. It seems like you’ve got a good balance now.”

“On what?”

“Navigating ‘Michael Jackson’ and ‘Michael.’”

“Ya think so?”

“Yeah. You’ve done well with yourself. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks,” he blushed. “Did you get a hold of Drew? I know he’s probably worried sick about you.”

I shrugged, “nah. Drew and I haven’t spoken in a week now. I hate that all of this is happening before something so important to us.”

“A week? Yikes. I’m sorry about that… That’s not fair to you that he’s doing that.”

“It’s pretty traumatic if you ask me.”

“…yeah. You’ve been through that entirely too much. I’m to blame for that. I’m sorry, and I’m sorry that you have to deal with that before the wedding.”

“Maybe there’s some meaning to it. Maybe I’m supposed to see this side of him.”

“It’ll all work itself out. You both deserve happiness. He knows he’s messing up a good thing if he doesn’t get his act together about this. I’d know…”

“Thanks, Mike… You’re a good guy, you know that?”

He offered a small smile, “I try.”

I looked him over for a bit. Spending the day with him made me realize so much. I wish I could take back all the hurtful things we’ve done to each other. I wish we could make up and go back to where we once were. I wish we could be the family I always longed for. “I realized something today.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“Drew saw something in me that I couldn’t get rid of, which is why we haven’t been on such good terms lately. I’m always there for you the same way you’re always there for me, ya know? I feel juvenile for even saying this,” I chuckled to myself. “But I still love you.”

Michael swallowed. The air suddenly got heavy in the room. I may have crossed the boundaries we’ve tried to build, but I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t tell him what I’ll always feel. We may never get back together again, but the love I have for him, I will never ever be able to give to someone else. And it sucks. It sucks because maybe I had one chance to love someone with my entire heart, and I lost that with Michael. I gave my heart to him. I gave him everything, and now there may never be anything left for Drew, no matter how much I say that there is. It almost feels like I’m pretending sometimes. I had forced myself to get over Michael to move on, but how do you move on properly from love like that? From someone you’ve given your everything to? I see how he looks at me, and I know he sees how I look at him. The damage was done, but the love will always be there. We’re meant for each other, whether we’ll ever get back together or not.

“I know,” he nodded.

I chuckled to myself, “you knew all this time, huh?”

He gave a small smile and nodded again, “after everything we’ve been through together, there’s no way I could even try to do that with someone else. We’re meant to be together, but I let you fight it because I know you’re happy with Drew. I love you too much to try to take that away from you.”

“Now what?” I shook my head. He shrugged. “Drew saw right through me.”

Michael looked me over, “may I?” He nodded toward me. I nodded, not even knowing what he was about to do. He stepped toward me and caressed my face. I closed my eyes only for all of our memories to come back full force. This man is my soulmate, and here I am, trying to marry another who doesn’t even hold a candle to him. “I love you, but I want you to follow your heart. Let no one get hurt in the process,” he pulled me in and kissed me. I became putty in his hands.

The last time we kissed felt like eons ago. My heart raced, but I felt at home with him. If we include the separation before the divorce, Michael and I haven’t been together in seven years. Our favorite number… Seven whole years apart. Did we need this time apart to understand each other in our new stages of life? Seven years and now it feels like reconciliation is allowed?

No one else compares. When it comes to him, I am really gone. I want to cry. I want to tell him that I want him back. I want to break off the wedding, but it’s too late. This trip has reminded me that Michael is mine just as much as I am his. That’s probably why Drew didn’t want me to come. I’ve realized so much today. Michael and I have been on such good terms that it honestly reminded me how much he means to me. Drew saw it clear as day in that footage from ten years ago. He probably saw the same look in my eyes then that he sees now that I’ve try desperately to ignore. He saw the realization coming. A man his age can see things that I apparently I ignored. I guess he just wanted to suppress it. But you can’t stop this. Michael and I are meant for each other, and no one can stop it. How do I break this to Drew?

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