July 1, 2003
The day after Drew and I broke up, the news of our wedding being off made headlines. I received calls from friends and family members like there was no tomorrow and everybody had something to say. I tried not to tune in, but with my family asking me about it every five seconds, I couldn’t not see what the rest of the world had to say. Many people said I just used Drew to get Michael back. Others believed Michael and I were going to get back together all along. And some were even convinced that the whole thing was a hoax. Drew was like a second father to my children; there’s no way our relationship was a hoax.
My father liked Drew, and when I broke everything down, he understood but warned that Michael better do right by me the second time. I told him we were taking things slow, but he wanted to hear nothing of it, saying, “I know what taking it slow means. You think I was born yesterday?” I mean, he’s not wrong, but Michael and I want to start anew.
Many media outlets tried to reach out to Drew, Michael, and I for comment, but we didn’t give them the satisfaction. I didn’t expect Drew to say anything, and I’m glad he didn’t. Unfortunately, I believe he’s embarrassed enough.
Explaining to my children how things were going to change was easier than I assumed. Michael and I will still live separately and have the kids at our designated times, but if we happen to be together, it is what it is. Mimi wondered if her father and I were going to get remarried. I told her that if the time is right, we just may, but our focus is on raising her and her brother. She was satisfied with that answer and expressed her excitement for having her parents together like her cousins. MJ is just going with the flow, but he was curious about why Drew and I didn’t work out. I just told him we didn’t see eye to eye like we thought. He, too, was satisfied with the answer I gave him and moved on from it.
Michael had his own talk with the twins, telling them that he promised to do right by me this time and that they didn’t have to worry about him hurting me. After he told me that, I felt it was my duty to tell the twins the same. Over the years, I’ve always blamed Michael and never myself. The twins had to know that I was at fault too sometimes and that I’d never hurt their father ever again. Since then, we’ve spent more time together as a family in the privacy of the ranch. While the world is busy talking and searching for an answer, we just want to be left alone and away from all the scrutiny and gossip of our relationship, both past, and present. We just want to move on peacefully, and I want the world to do the same. Yeah, we got back together very messy, but we don’t want to focus on that. The damage is done, but we fixed what we once had with each other. That’s all that matters.
Invitations to today’s Family Day were sent out the day after all hell broke loose in the media. My family hesitated but obliged, and Michael took care of their flights. When Joh received her invitation, she immediately called me to ask if what she had received was genuine. I promised her it was and told her how excited Michael was to finally meet her and Yasmine. She couldn’t believe it. She wanted to know if this was a prank, but I promised her it wasn’t and assured everyone would be excited to see her there. It didn’t take much convincing, but it definitely took much listening on my end to understand how this made her feel.
My family was put up in the many guest houses on the ranch as they had been seven years ago. Despite our differences, each family member welcomed each other with open arms. There were no age-old beefs or grudges held against each other. Sure, my brother Matthew was a little hesitant going in, but one thing about them Jacksons is that they are huggers, and once each of them pulled him in for a hug, you could tell that all was forgiven. Joseph only gave him and my father a handshake, but he was still cordial. That’s all that matters.
Interestingly enough, Michael didn’t offer a guesthouse to Joh. He changed enough to invite her over, but I guess he is still not open to treating her like family. I offered to take care of the hotel bill she would incur, but she declined, saying she was happy to finally meet her brother. She didn’t need any “handouts,” as she called them. “Handout” is far from the word considering she still gets anything she wants from Joseph, but that’s none of my business.
“So, I’ve started choreographing for one of the nation's biggest up-and-coming stars,” Mariah said loud enough for everyone at the table to hear.
We were finally seated for lunch before our next family activity, The Dunk Tank. All the younger nieces and nephews were sitting at the kid's table, talking about God knows what. And it really is God knows what because the kids range between three and twelve, so I can only imagine what they’ve found common ground to talk about.
“Who is that?” LaToya asked.
Mariah was practically unable to sit still as she prepared to tell us who she would be working for next, “Beyoncé’s people called me and-”
“Beyoncé?!” Mimi screamed, running over from the kid's table and into my lap. Everyone laughed at her outburst.
“Mimi wants to be just like her when she grows up,” I informed everyone.
“Is that so?” Rachel asked her.
“Mmhm!” Mimi nodded frantically. “You’re gonna work for her, Riah?”
“Yup,” Mariah nodded. “I guess Ms. Beyoncé has seen my work and wants me on her team. We were just in Michigan for her first solo concert last month. Come November, we’ll be in the UK for her first tour.”
“Can I come with you, please?!” Mimi begged.
“Maybe when you’re older. This tour is going to be very quick. I wouldn’t want to lose you in all the mayhem.”
“Can you tell her how I want to be like her?”
“I’ll do you one better and let you speak to her one of these days. How does that sound?”
Mimi’s eyes lit up in excitement, “thank you so much, Riah!” She pulled her aunt in for the tightest hug she could manage.
“She must have seen your work with me, huh?” Janet asked.
“Yup. You know she’s y’all’s biggest fan.”
“Beyoncé is sweet. I’ve met her on a couple occasions,” Michael confirmed.
“It’s her southern charm for sure,” Mariah nodded. “I’ve only met so many good people from Texas, but she’s one of them. Her mother, Tina, reminds me so much of you, Mrs. Jackson.”
“Oh, really?” Katherine perked up. “How so?”
“She designs Beyoncé’s costumes too. She’s like her righthand woman. Like what Mr. Jackson was to the brothers, I feel Ms. Tina is to Beyoncé. She’s never not there.”
“Well, hook us up with some tickets, why don’t you?!” Jermaine laughed.
“I’ll see what I can do. Just know, it’s only up from here,” she winked.
I looked over at Joh, who watched everyone converse in silence. I stood up and pulled a seat beside hers, “you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good. It’s nice to see you and your in-laws get along well. Y’all act like one big happy family,” she couldn’t hide the growing smile on her face. “I ain’t never seen a group of in-laws be as close as y’alls are.”
I shrugged, “we’re alright. Have you had a chance to talk to Michael yet?”
“No,” she shook her head and leaned in to whisper. “Truth be told, it seems like he’s avoiding me.”
“Yeah?” I looked over at him as he talked among his brothers. “We’ll change that shortly. He’s just not used to you being around, is all.”
“I know… Hey, so what’s going on with you two? The news keeps saying that y’all are practically back together after Drew called off the wedding.”
“We’re taking things slow right now. As you can see, we’re clearly trying to reacquaint the family,” I shrugged. “We’re getting there, but we are most definitely working towards being a family. I think that’s more important right now than jumping into a relationship again, dontcha think?”
“What y’all two over here talm ‘bout?” Mariah squeezed herself between us.
“Yo brother-in-law,” Joh teased.
“Aht aht, he ain’t my brother-in-law ’til he put a ring on Shayla’s finger again. ’Til then, he just her baby daddy.”
“Girl, bye!” I playfully shoved Mariah. “He’s my children’s father. You know Ion play that. Just like I told Joh, we’ll be getting there. Just give us some time.”
“Uh huh,” Mariah rolled her eyes. “Valencia,” she called her my niece over.
Since Mariah grew up here, she’s always kept up with Valencia and Joh. They’re like three peas in a pod when they’re all together. That’s why I’ve had no real problem giving Joh a chance. Maybe if the circumstances were different, I’d probably be just as standoffish as Michael, but because they’re not, I believe I’ve always pushed Michael to just say hello to his sister.
“Is everyone done eating?” Michael called out to everyone. A series of “yeahs” were shouted. “The Dunk Tank is ready, and uh…” he smirked as he rubbed his bottom lip. “Matt, you’re up.”
Matt burst into laughter, “is this your way of getting back at me?”
“I mean… I might be the first to make the first throw, but that’s neither here nor there. Your change of clothes is in the bathroom.”
“You definitely had this planned from the get-go, but I’ll let it slide,” Matt laughed as he went to change.
We all got up and returned to the gardens to prepare for the next activity. We began our day with prayer and breakfast and then proceeded to the carnival rides. The next half of the day is dedicated to lawn activities for children, adults, or all together. Today is a long day, but everyone will sleep well.
“Are you having a good time?” Michael asked as I walked beside him.
“Of course! Are you?”
He smirked, “it feels more complete with you here.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah. You’ve always been around, so the times that you weren’t definitely felt strange. I’m just glad you’re back,” he pulled me in for a side hug and planted a kiss on the top of my head.
“Michael?” We heard someone ask and stopped to see who it was. It was Joh. “I know you’ve heard about me. You can call me ‘Joh,’ if you want. I didn’t get to properly introduce myself when I arrived this morning. This is my daughter, Yasmine.” Yasmine stood before her mother, looking up at her Uncle.
Michael looked between his sister and his niece. I can see the wheels in his head turning as he tries to figure out what to say to the sister that he’s avoided his whole life. Seeing her in the flesh for the first time must be surreal for him. Everyone else in his family has met her except for him. And now, they are both adults finally meeting for the first time.
“I’m glad you could make it, Joh’Vonnie. Thanks for coming,” he finally spoke, his voice cold and stoic. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-nine,” she told her brother.
“Your birthday is August thirtieth, yes?”
“Yep,” she nodded.
He nodded and looked down at Yasmine, a smile finally making its’ way across his lips as he bent down to greet her, “and how old are you, Yasmine?” His voice became warm and light with his niece, unlike how he spoke with his sister.
“Nine,” she smiled shyly. She’s seen me so often that I’m surprised at how shy she is with Michael, but it’s her first time meeting him. I should have expected it.
“Nine? You’re not much older than my Milan. You’ve met your cousins, right?”
“Yeah, I see Michael and Mimi all the time,” she waved off the notion like it didn’t even matter.
“Come on,” he grabbed her hand. “Let’s go dunk Shayla’s brother in the dunk tank. It was nice meeting you, Joh’Vonnie,” he said as he led Yasmine away.
“So, that’s it?” Joh asked me after Michael was out of earshot.
I bit my bottom lip and sighed, “sorry, Joh.”
“This is my first time meeting my brother, and he’s more focused on my daughter?”
I don’t know what to say. Maybe Michael feels like Yasmine is innocent in this situation and is extending his kindness to her because she’s a child. But he fails to realize that Joh was once a child too, and she was innocent in all of this. It’s not her fault, and he has to stop making it her fault. Although it was brief, I’m still glad Michael has changed enough to invite her here. This is the first time she’s ever been to a Family Day, and while I know she’s probably disappointed in their first meeting, I know there’s got to be a tinge of happiness that she’s even allowed past the gates after being shut out for many years.
“You said he changed, Shayla…”
I rubbed my lips together, “it’s still going to take some time, I guess. But at least you’re here! At least you get to be amongst family, right? Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?”
“I’ve wanted my family to accept me, not treat me like a fan. He swears by his mother, but he’s not even half as great to me as she is. Rebbie treats me like family. Jackie does. Literally, everyone else does besides Mike and Janet. What’s up with that? Are their heads that far up their asses to-”
“Joh,” I placed my hands on her shoulders to calm her down. “Getting upset about it isn’t going to make it better.”
She rolled her eyes, “these people are sumn else.
“Joh’Vonnie?” Katherine and Rebbie came up to us. “Want to come inside and have some iced tea? It’s hot out here, and I’m not about to be throwing some ball to dunk someone in the water.”
Joh sighed, “sure, Ms. Katherine.” She followed her inside as Rebbie stayed behind with me.
“We heard y’all over there,” Rebbie told me. “I understand she’s upset. She’s been upset for years, understandably so.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely understandable. If I were in her shoes, I’d probably feel the same way,” I shook my head.
“We’re just gonna help her cool off a lil bit. We’ll be outside shortly. You want to come in?”
“Nah. I’m gonna stay out here. Thanks for the offer,” I made my way over to Michael, who now had Yasmine on his hip.
“You okay?” He asked me.
“Yeah, I’m fine. You?”
“Yup. Yasmine here has been telling me everything about her and her mother. I am glad I finally got a chance to meet her.”
“Please make sure you tell her that, okay?”
“I will before she leaves.”
Matt came outside in a blue t-shirt and black basketball shorts, making his way to sit inside the dunk tank. “Y’all don’t know nothin’ about aim,” he teased as he took his seat on the stool. “Ima be the driest person to come outta this game.”
Michael put Yasmine down and went to the three baseballs sitting before the dunk tank.
“Aww, sookie sookie now,” Matt continued to tease. “Everybody’s righthand man is gonna try to dunk me in the water.”
“You hot, Matt?” Michael asked.
“Nah, I’m good! Sitting here waiting for you to throw that ball is leaving me high and dry out here, my boy!”
“Let me cool you off anyway,” Michael wound his right arm up, making the perfect pitcher's stance as he threw the ball with immense force at the target. The ball made instant contact with the target, causing Matt to fall into the tank without giving him a chance to hold his breath. Everyone erupted in laughter.
“Oh, you wrong! You are dead wrong!” Matt came up laughing.
“Why don’t you sit back up there?” Michael winked as an assistant prepared the tank stool again.
“You ain’t go nobody else prepared for this?” Matt asked.
“Nah, it’s all you right now.”
“I see,” he nodded. “You’re a fair man, Mike. Very fair. Come on,” my brother sat back on the stool. “Give me ya best shot.”
Making another perfect pitcher's stance, Michael threw the ball right at the target, causing my brother to fall right back into the tank. This time, he had a chance to take a deep breath.
“Had enough yet?” Michael asked.
“I want to see you up here!” Matt shouted.
“Nah, I’m the host. I say you give me one last throw. Then maybe I’ll give you a break.”
Matt sat on the stool again, “only because I believe in fairness, Ima let you dunk me one more time. After this, give someone else a try.”
“Says the man who didn’t give me a chance all them years ago, but Ima let that be water under the bridge,” Michael once again smirked as he threw the ball right into the target, making Matt come crashing down into the water again. “Now Ima get somebody else to do it.”
Michael’s siblings were hooping and hollering like Michael had just ended their age-old beef for real this time. In a way, he did. And now I hope that all of this is truly beneath us like I once thought it was. I don’t even want to think about it. I just want to move on.
After a full day of fun, we all bid each other goodnight. By tomorrow morning, everyone will be on their way back home. It’s been such a joy seeing my family at the ranch again. I missed seeing my family and Michael’s together as one big happy family. We got along so well. And just like Joh said, I have never seen a closer pair of in-laws like ours. I don’t know how we did it, but I wish every family could be like this.
“Michael?” Joh said before leaving.
“Yes?” Michael turned his attention to her. He wasn’t as cold as before, but still very reserved.
“I just wanted to say thank you for inviting me out here. I’ve waited my whole life to meet you, and the fact that I’ve finally met all of my siblings makes me feel complete. I just hope that this can be the start of a good relationship between us.”
He swallowed, “I’m, uh, glad you came. I really am. I’ll have someone reach out to you for the next event.”
I saw the hope drain itself from her face as she became pale in embarrassment, “well, Yasmine really had a good time here.” She pulled me in for a hug, “Call me when you can, okay, Shayla?”
“I will,” I promised. “Love you.”
“Love you too,” she quickly said before leaving.
I think Joh believes that after meeting, they should have just jumped into being the closest siblings, but that’s going to take some time. They just met. They have to feel each other out first. Eventually, something good will come of this. I’m sure of it. It wouldn’t do me any good to talk to Michael about it. Truth be told, I’m so proud of him for even inviting her, welcoming her into his home, and finally acknowledging her existence. I know that had to be a massive step for him. I couldn’t imagine finally meeting my sibling in adulthood. But I’ve got to say that without my help, I don’t think they would have ever met. Between that and Michael becoming a better man, this is all a step in the right direction.
“Let’s go check on the twins,” Michael took my hand and led me upstairs to their rooms.
We first went to MJ’s room. He was sprawled out on his bed, still in his outside clothes. Drool rolled out the corner of his mouth as he slept soundly. Michael and I carefully pulled off his shoes and tucked him in bed for better sleep. When we went to Mimi’s room, she managed to get into her nightgown and tucked herself to sleep. I doubt she took a bath, but at least she knew to get out of her outside clothes. We planted a kiss on both of her cheeks before going back downstairs.
“I’ve got the downstairs bed made up just for you. I’ll sleep upstairs, so I’m not bothering you,” Michael said as we entered his bedroom.
“You won’t be a bother,” I shook my head.
“But still… I want to make sure you’re comfortable, ya know? I don’t want to make things awkward.”
“You’re making things awkward by saying it’s going to be awkward. Come to bed with me,” I took both of his hands in mine.
He raised a suspicious brow, “you sure?”
“The last time we slept in here together was what?”
“It’s been a very long time.”
“Exactly. Now, I ain't sayin’ Ima sleep witcha,” I laughed. “But I would love it if you went to bed with me again.”
“Like in Chicago?”
“Just like Chicago. We’re gonna take this slow.”
“How slow?” He brought his index finger to my chin, which caused a chill to race down my spine.
“Very slow… You’re home to me, and I just want to make myself comfortable again.”
“Is it too soon to ask you to move back in with me? Because of this back-and-forth thing, although it’s not happening as much as before, it’s still too much. Seeing you and your family again reminded me of the good ol’ days. It almost felt like we were married again. And I know we’re not there yet, but I miss feeling like it.”
“I’ll stay, but I can’t move in yet.”
I winced, “kinda. Just give me some time.”
“That’s all we have. Is time. And even if it takes forever, I’ll do it if I can just do it with you.”
I searched his eyes. I know he means it. I know he wants to try again. And I know he wants to make it right this time. If I could do life again, I’d do it all over again with him in the same way if it’ll lead us back to the overwhelming love I’m feeling for him at this moment.
They say when you have children, nothing surpasses that love. And it’s true. I’ll do anything for my babies. That kind of unconditional love is unheard of. But I wouldn’t have that, and I wouldn’t have them if it weren’t for the unconditional love I have for Michael. He’s waited patiently though time has undoubtedly moved slowly. And even though I was with someone, that void I tried to fill with Drew just didn’t work because Michael was designed for me, and I for him. We’re meant to be. So much has tried to stop that, but you can’t stop love when it’s real. They say true love’s the greatest weapon to win the war caused by pain. But every diamond has imperfections. And my love’s entirely too pure to watch it chip away. Nothing real can be threatened. True love has certainly breathed salvation back into me. Every tear I’ve shed over this man came to redemption. And the man who was once my torturer became my remedy.
“How I missed you, my love...” I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him down to kiss me.
TO BE CONTINUED