Chapter Thirty


'Good morning, my child.'

Brooke opened her eyes and grinned at her mother, who leaned over her smiling and stroking her hair. The rising sun was shining brightly through the curtains.

'I remember the day I married your dad like it was yesterday. Although I was quite a bit older than you', she added with a chuckle. 'Here's some breakfast for you.'

She placed the tray on her lap and Brooke embraced her heartily.

'I'll go do my makeup now. Please eat.'

Brooke thanked her and started to eat as fast as she could. Once she was done, she took the tray to the kitchen and went to open the door for Charlotte, who immediately barged in carrying heavy bags full of all kind of accessories she thought were needed to make Brooke look like a proper bride. She didn't really care even if Brooke had explained her multiple times that this wedding was going to be a small one: it was a wedding nevertheless and Charlotte was more than happy to put all his energy into making sure Brooke would look her absolute best today.

'First we'll do your hair', she stated and made Brooke sit down on a pillow. Since Charlotte - whom she had been friends with for as long as she could remember - was a professional hair stylist, Brooke was happy to let her do whatever she liked with her hair.

And the result was nothing short of impressive: when Teri, Brooke's mother, exited the bathroom she actually broke into tears at the sight of her daughter.

'You look absolutely heavenly', she sobbed and hugged her daughter from behind. 'Oh let me take a picture of you.'

After two hours of preparation, Brooke was finally ready to put on her dress and get into the limousine, which would take her to Michael's Encino mansion. They had agreed to have the wedding there, to avoid any paparazzi attention. The press did know Michael and Brooke were up to something (of course they did), but they didn't know the date nor the place yet.

However, Brooke was proved wrong when the limousine turned onto the narrow road leading to the main gates of the Hayvenhurst mansion. In addition to the ordinary crowd of fan girls swarming in front of the house there was also a bunch of thirsty paparazzi who freaked out when they spotted the limousine. It took Brooke full 15 minutes to get through the mob and when the guards finally managed the close the gates, she and Charlotte shared nervous giggles at the absurdity of the situation.

'I can't believe we just did that', Brooke said and leaned her head against the car seat. 'Okay, you can safely say that's going to be all over the news in no time.'

Janet straightened up Michael's tie. Then she took a step back and scrutinized him. Michael's shiny, inky-black curls dropped on his shoulder in a charming way and his lean and muscular body looked really attractive in a tuxedo. He was every bit as elegant as a groom should.

'What do you think?' Michael asked worried.

'Not bad', she decided and gave him a glass of water. 'You could do with less blush though.'

Michael laughed and swatted her playfully on the arm. Then he looked out of the window and spotted Brooke's limousine parked in front of the garages. A lump formed in his throat.

'I'll go take care of her. You could maybe use some time for yourself."

Michael nodded. After Janet left, he put the empty water glass on top of a drawer and moved closer to the window, watching the arrival of the wedding guests. He was relieved at the thought there wouldn't be more than forty of fifty people in total attending the ceremony. Luckily Brooke wasn't into big and pompous parties either.

Michael glanced over at the clock and saw it was about the time for him to go downstairs. A little bit reluctanctly he left the window and took the rose from the small vase that graced his bedside table and pinned the it carefully to his lapel.

Then he opened the door into the hallway and walked down the stairs. He could heard the merry chatter of the guests somewhere far away.

It all sounded very distant to him - but then again, so did everything.

At the end of the stairs he ran into Annie.

'Michael, one of the guests wants to meet you. Now.'

Michael raised his eyebrows. He followed Annie into a small chamber located near the front door, curious to see who it was, and stopped in his tracks when he saw Freddie sitting on one of the couches.

Freddie seemed worn out somehow and he looked definitely older than Michael remembered: his skin had a greyish tint to it and his eyes - who stared intently at the wooden floor - had lost their spark.

Annie excused herself and closed the door leaving the two men alone. After a short while, Freddie took his gaze from the floor to Michael and his lips tightened into a thin line.

'I'm sorry I came in like this, but I had to come', he said matter-of-factly and beckoned Michael to sit down.

When he didn't, Freddie let out a dry laugh.

'Don't be afraid, I'm not here to spoil your special day. I'm here to... to tell you something I should have told you ages ago. And I hope it's not too late.'

Michael wasn't sure if he wanted to hear what Freddie was about to say but he listened anyways, standing in the doorway still trying to digest the fact Freddie had actually come all the way from London to meet him.

'I want you to know that the reason why I left you in last September... was not because I wouldn't have wanted to be with you anymore. It was because I got to hear something that changed... Well, I don't know it "change" is the word I'd use...'

He cleared his throat awkwardly. Michael could sense it was hard for him speak for some reason and he felt a surge of pity for him.

'Michael, I was diagnosed with HIV.'

Michael listened to him with a sinking heart. HIV would eventually develop into AIDS and that was a fatal illness. He didn't want to think about what that meant.

'It's something I can't get rid of and I don't know how long I've had it. But it's highly contagious and because we... we... you know.'

That's when Freddie's voice broke. Michael stood up and walked slowly toward him, kneeling down before him. He touched Freddie's shoulder very carefully.

'Freddie, I know.'

Freddie looked back at him in disbelief.

'You do?'

'I do', Michael replied quietly. 'I met Andy last night and somewhere along the way he told me to go see doctor. And I did.'

'What did he say? The doctor, I mean?' Freddie asked anxiously.

'He told me I'm completely clean.'

Freddie's worried countenance melted into a relieved smile. He reached out and grasped Michael's hand that was still resting on his shoulder and squeezed it gently.

'That's... that's wonderful news, Michael.'

'It would have been nice to hear it from you though. Since you knew', Michael continued, frowning a little.

'Yes, I should have told you earlier', Freddie admitted and let got of Michael's hand, shaking his head regretfully. 'I'm really sorry for that. Somehow, I couldn't get my head around it any sooner and once I heard that you are getting married...'

Michael grimaced but didn't say anything.

'... I knew I had the last chance to warn you before it would get even worse. God, I'm so happy for you, Michael and I'm sorry that I hurt you. If you just could ever forgive me.'

A sudden loud noise coming from outside the chamber startled both of them and woke Michael up from his thoughts. He realized he had been staring at Freddie. Hastily, he ran a thumb across the older man's forehead and then took a hold of his chin, looking him straight in the eye.

'I forgive you', he said firmly and noticed Freddie's lips cracking slightly.

Michael had an urge to kiss him but he couldn't give in to the thought. It felt wrong. Instead he just drew Freddie into a deep hug and held him as close as he could, savoring the familiar smell of his shirt and the warm, solid chest against his own.

'Thank you', Freddie whispered back and gave him a little peck on the cheek.

'I really have to go now', Michael said in a dull voice.

'I know.'

They parted and looked at each other and somewhere in Freddie's eyes Michael could still see the of longing and the love for him - but mostly just relief, knowing sadness and acceptance. Freddie caressed his cheek a sad smile curving his lips.

'You know, Michael. I honestly wish that the things would have turned out differently between you and I. But I guess it wasn't meant to happen, it was too much to life or something like that. Please promise me you'll treat Brooke well. Better than you have so far. She deserves that.'

Michael wanted to cry.

'I'll try', he said in a choked voice and embraced Freddie again.

'Take care of yourself.'

'I will.'

Freddie rose up and picked up the Michael's rose that had dropped on the ground at some point. He fastened the flower back to its place and turned to leave.

Michael wanted to say something, something meaningful but the words didn't find their way out of his mouth. He watched how Freddie walked out of the door and only after he was gone, he let the tears fall.

'Gosh', he said to himself and crouched down. 'There must be more to life than this.'

'Michael?' he heard Annie's voice call him from behind the closed door and Michael stood up, trying his best to compose himself for what laid ahead of him.

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."

Michael and Brooke glanced at each other and shared a brief smile before turning back to the priest.

'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. May I have the rings?'

Michael nodded at Tito who pulled the box out of his pocket and gave them the rings.

'Michael Joseph Jackson, do you take Brooke Christa Shields for your lawful wedded wife, to live in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love, honour, comfort, and cherish her from this day forward, forsaking all others, keeping only unto her for as long as you both shall live?'

'I do', Michael replied.

'Brooke Christa Shields, do you take Michael Joseph Jackson for your lawful wedded husband, to live in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love, honour, comfort, and cherish him from this day forward, forsaking all others, keeping only unto him for as long as you both shall live?'

Brooke smiled.

'I do.'

They exchanged the rings. After the procedure, the priest completed the ceremony and finally said:

'I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.'

And Michael captured Brooke's lips in a loving kiss, thousands of emotions running through his heart. But above them all he felt blessed and redeemed. Brooke's lips tasted like they always had tasted: sweet, honey-like and perfect.

After the kiss they turned around to face their families. Everyone was cheering and applauding at them. Brooke had the most beautiful light in her eyes and there were white lilies in her hair.

Michael knew he didn't deserve her, but at the moment he didn't care. He had made his promise and sworn in front of his family, her family and Freddie to keep it. It didn't matter what had happened in the past: from now on he would try to be the best husband he could possibly be despite his weaknesses and defects.

It was his life after all. And now it wasn't just his but Brooke's as well.