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Chapter 34

I woke up to Shayla getting dressed and singing. I looked at my watch: 9:30. Great. I have two hours before I have to put that cream on again. "Shayla," I groaned.

"Rise and shine, sleepy head! Get up and get ready. We gotta get going." She put on her boots.

"Go where? And at what time?" I sat up.

"There's a farmer's market Mama goes to every morning after Christmas. They have tons of deals after the holidays."

"I know you're not about to have me outside when it's twenty degrees out, Shayla." I fell back on the bed.

"No, it's indoors. Now hurry up and get up. We've got to get going. You don't want to be left behind, do you?"

"How long are we going to be out? I have to do something at eleven thirty."

"Like what?" She asked.

"Remember that lotion I put on last night? I have to put it on today too and I'm going to need your help on my back again. I can't put it on past eleven thirty."

"Oh, we'll be back before then."

"Are you sure? You know how moms can get when they shop, Shayla. Maybe it's best I stay behind. I don't want to miss it."

"You won't miss it! I promise! Now come on!" She said and left me as she went downstairs. I sighed. Knowing Shayla and the fact that she hasn't been around her mom for a while, we're going to be out way past eleven thirty and I'm not risking that chance. She's not about to have me out here with rashes and bumps on my body. I went to the bathroom to get ready and examined my skin in the mirror. I know this cream won't work overnight, but it's going to be interesting to see what happens over time. Dr. Klein said the same time every morning and night and if I want to wean myself off of it, it's best if I skip the morning or night. We'll see the results and I'll decide. I put on a shirt and made my way downstairs to find Shayla and mom at the front door.

"Good morning, mom." I gave her a hug.

"Michael, you're not dressed?!" Shayla asked.

"No... I'm not going. I don't want to risk it, babe."

"Risk what?" Mom asked.

"Nothing. He got this fancy lotion he had me put on his back," Shayla rolled her eyes. "We'll just see you afterward, okay? Daddy and Mariah are still here. I'm sure you'll stay busy with Mariah around."

"Okay, babe," I kissed her cheek. "You all have fun."

"See you later, Michael." Mom said as they left and shut the door. I went to the kitchen to find Mr. Johnson reading the paper.

"Good morning," I hesitated. I've never been able to call Joseph 'dad' before so to be able to call Shayla's father, 'dad' makes me feel kind of weird. It almost feels unnatural. "Dad..."

"Good morning, Michael! How'd you all sleep last night? Do you drink coffee? I've got some extra brewing in the pot over there." He mentioned.

"No, I'm okay. I'm not much of a coffee drinker. I slept great for the most part. Thank you for allowing me into your home."

"Michael, you're family. You're always welcome here, son." He smiled. It warmed my heart to hear him call me 'son.' I hate that I'm comparing him with my real father, but Joseph has never called me 'son' in an endearing way and I don't know if he ever will.

"Thanks..." I smiled to myself. "I was, uh, teasing Shayla about the corn thing Ohio's got going on and she was so adamant about the fact that not everyone in Ohio lives around corn fields, but Mr. Johnson, I mean, dad... We drove by so many corn fields to get here, it's not even funny." I laughed.

He laughed, "I guess it's an Ohio thing because I don't even notice the corn to even say that all Ohioans live near them."

"Yeah, because as we were driving, I had noticed them all and Matt and Shayla didn't even pay them any mind."

"I guess the myths are true, huh?" He laughed.

"They sure are."

"Hey, son, aren't you from Indiana? Now, I know they have corn over there too. You can't be making fun of Ohio and our corn when Indiana is right next door."

"I lived in the north. Ever been to Gary, Indiana? That's where I'm from. It's near Chicago."

"Chi-town! Wow, do you miss it?"

"I haven't been in a while." I shrugged.

"Well, why you're over here you and Shayla should go, don't you think? Show her what it was like for you growing up."

"Eh... While I'm proud that I come from Gary, I don't know if I want to show Shayla."

"Why not?"

"It's not an LA or a Cincinnati..."

"That's my point, son. Take that as a moment to remind her where you come from. Not everyone starts from the top. Most of us have to start from the bottom to get to the top, and you, Michael, are a perfect example of that. Give her a little history about your life when you were younger. Baby girl loves her some history, so I know she'll enjoy the trip." I took that into consideration. He's right. Maybe it will be a good reminder for me too. It's crazy just thinking about the fact that my parents raised a family of eleven in that two-bedroom house that was the size of a garage. Maybe it's time I remind myself of my own roots.

"I like that idea... Thanks, dad. You know we're supposed to be over here soul searching anyway. I know I definitely need it, after all, that's going on."

"Hey! Maybe my wife, Mariah and I could tag along too if you don't mind? That way you and Shayla aren't going alone. And no offense, Michael, but I just know you don't know how to drive in snow." He laughed.

I bust out laughing, "you're right about that! I don't know the first thing about it. Yeah, let's make it a family trip. I'll have to contact my cousins up there, so we can get a copy of the key to the house and we can all check it out."

"Sounds like a good idea, son. Speaking of trips... How long do we have the pleasure of seeing y'all?"

"Do you mind if we stay here for a while? Honestly, with Shayla adjusting to the spotlight and everything, we just want to lay low for a while."

"Stay as long as you need. There is no rush. Besides, Mariah needs her big sister around anyway. I love my youngest, but, sheesh..." He shook his head. "Although she has four older siblings, she is definitely an only child."

"I have a question about that if you don't mind me asking. When I first met Shayla, she told me Mariah was the youngest but the reason you all had her when you did was that Shayla grew up too fast and you wanted another baby. Is that true?"

He sighed, "Angela was the one crying about a new baby. I was fine. Now, I love Mariah, don't get me wrong, but Michael, I am sixty-one years old. What do I look like with an eight-year-old running around my house? I am tired! By the time, Mariah graduates, I'll be seventy-one. By then, I should have been a great-grandfather. Not still raising my babies." He shook his head. "You're gonna have to ask Angie that one, son. She asked for another baby and I gave her one. Now, look at me. Half the time Angie leaves Mariah with me." Just as he said that we heard Mariah coming down the stairs, "good morning, baby!" He called as he rolled his eyes at me. I laughed to myself.

"Hey, daddy!" She jumped on his lap.

"Oh! Baby girl, I'm an old man. You can't be jumping on my lap like that."

"Sorry, daddy. Where's mama?"

"She and your sister went to the farmer's market. You got up a tad bit too late, darlin'."

"It's okay," she shrugged. "I'd rather hang out with you and Michael anyway."

"Mariah, out of all of your siblings, who are you closest to?" I asked her.

"Um...." She thought about it. "Andy!"

"Andy is your niece, Mariah. How many times do I have to tell you that?" Dad shook his head.

"I know... But she's like a sister to me. Besides, David, Robby, Matthew, and Shayla are too old for me to be close to them anyway."

"Woah, there," I laughed. "I don't think Shayla would like to hear you calling her old."

"She is! I'm eight and she's, what? Like, thirty years old?" She shrugged.

"Sheesh, if you think she's that old, how old do you think I am?" I asked her.

"Um..." She looked at me hard, "you've gotta be like thirty-something too. Everyone's older than me. I never have anyone to play with!" She whined as she hopped off her dad's lap and went to the refrigerator.

"Well, at least Shayla's back now, sweet pea. That way you all can hang out."

"We have nothing in common, daddy! I like barbies, she likes Michael Jackson. I like cartoons, she's on the news. We're nothing alike except for the fact that we have the same parents."

"Well, they're going to be here for a while, so I'm sure you all will find something you have in common with each other."

"Sure. That'll be the day when pigs can fly." She rolled her eyes.

"You see what I mean?" Dad looked at me. "The girl is lonely. I tried telling Angie that, but she insisted, now I, not my wife, I deal with this on my own." We laughed. "Do me a favor son, when you and Shayla decide to have children, make sure it's when you're still young enough to keep up with them. Mariah keeps me young, but I'm not trying to be that young."

"Yes, sir." I laughed. I looked at my watch: 10:30. It's almost that time. I already know Shayla isn't going to be back in an hour. "Hey... dad, do you happen to have a back scratcher or like a back brush or something? I have this lotion that I have to put on my back."

"Mariah, go get Michael the back scrubber from the bathroom." He told her. I'll just put a glove over the brush. I don't want this cream to affect anyone else. I can already tell like will be pretty peaceful over here in Ohio. No paparazzi. No one knows where I am. No one suspects anything. And the fact that I'll be around Shayla's family a lot will be perfect because no one will suspect a thing. I'll just blend in with Shayla's family the best way I can. Life is good in corny Ohio.

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